After the Revolutionary War, people from the New England states started to move westward. By an act, passed March 7, 1788, the western portion of the state of New York was divided and the town of Whitestown was formed. The strip of land lying on the west bank of the Sadaquada Creek, a name given by the Indians and later changed to Sauquoit Creek, from its mouth to a distance of three miles was immediately settled. Within the limits are now included the village of New York Mills.
Very soon after, the first settlers arrived, a school district was organized and a school house was built. There is no information about this school, but through a personal interview with a resident, I was told that her mother had attended a school in that part of the village which is now known as new Hartford Street. From a map of the town of New Hartford, a school house is shown on the road from New York Mills to New Hartford, and I believe this is the school that was built at that time although I have no other proof than the map.
Benjamin Marshall was among the early settlers arriving from Rhode Island in l803. Benjamin
Stuart Walcott, another early settler came in May l808. At this time, cotton mills were flourishing in Rhode Island and Marshall and Walcott could foresee a future in establishing mills in the new settlement. A partnership , known as Walcott and Company was formed on October 13, l808. The stockholders who purchased one share apiece were Benjamin S.Walcott Sr., William M. Cheever, Seth Capron, Asher Wetmore, Thomas Gold, and Theodore Sill. Benjamin S. Walcott, Jr. and Newton Mann each bought two shares, the price of which was $l,500 each. The Walcotts paid $239.07 in addition to cover the cost of the land and water rights for the factory. This land was on the east side of the creek, not far from its mouth and it was here that the Lower Mills was to be built. The Sauquoit Creek was an excellent power source and a very valuable asset to the factories which were to be built in New York Mills during the next fifty years. The forests and swamps helped to maintain a constant supply of water.
Construction of the mill started at once. Cheever deeded enough land to the company to build a canal from the creek to the factory and land for a tail race and blacksmith shop. This was the first cotton mill in New York State and it was completed and began operating in l809. This was under the supervision of Benjamin S. Walcott , Sr. who was familiar with the necessary machinery and who knew a great deal about mill construction. The carding and spinning of cotton was done in the mill. The course yarn was put out to families in the area to be woven into cloth on hand looms. About eighty families did this work, but it did not take long to discover that the work was not uniform and to secure a good quality of cloth, a skilled weaver would have to be secured. Ezra Wood from Rhode Island came and opened a weaving shop.
It is interesting to note that one Joshua Lincoln received wages of $1. Per day, which classed him as an expert, and the members of his family received from 50 cents to $l.75 per week. His rent was $17.50 per year in the company owned home.
On March l0, l810, Walcott and Company had a reorganization since it wished to include the manufacture of woolen cloth. The company was incorporated as “Oneida Manufacturing Society,” a name it kept for many years, until l85l—when it sold out to the New York Mills, but the stockholders in the Walcott and Company retained their stocks in the Oneida Manufacturing Company.
In l818, the introduction of the power loom at Whitestown was a major step in the industrial work in this area. While the weaving shop had improved the quality of the cloth, it was still a slow process as the weaving was done by hand, while the spinning was done by machinery. This invention proved so valuable that in five years, there were l24 looms in use in Oneida County.
From l808 to l825, the only communication with Albany was by team and this took three days, and goods shipped this way was slow and expensive. With the opening of the Erie Canal on October 26, l825, and improvement in other means of transportation, it was now possible to transport more goods and supplies at a lower cost as the company purchased and operated its own canal boat “The Cotton Plant” to carry these goods from Utica to Albany.
By an act of the Legislature on March l7, l809, the factory in Whitestown had its agents, superintendents, and workmen exempted from serving as jurors. This was the first cotton factory in New York State and probably this is the only instance where such action was taken by the Legislature.
A second mill, a large five story brick building was built on the Sauquoit Creek about one half mile up from the Oneida Manufacturing Society. This was completed in l827 and became known as the New York Mills. It was named after Benjamin Marshall’s place of residence in New York City. Up to this time, there mills were always referred to as Whitestown Mills. This second mill has always been called the Middle Mill and the manufacturing of fine sheeting was started here.
Directly behind this mill, a wheel house was built and used until sometime between l857 and l874 when it was razed. Two additional wings, one a five story brick structure, the other a stone structure housing a machine shop and picking room, were added to the original mill before l830.
On May 13, l828, the first factory (Lower Mill) of the Oneida Manufacturing Society, a wooden structure burned to the ground. Immediate, plans for a new factory were made. This building was much larger and made out of stone at a cost of $70,000. Most of the machinery for this mill was manufactured locally and the following year the mill was in operation again.
The Mill yard also started to develop, a blacksmith shop was erected, and a wheel house and power canal was made.
Business was flourishing and by l838, the New York Mills had become the largest cotton manufacturers outside of New England. This increase in business led the company to feel that another mill was needed so plans for a third mill were made and Mill No. 3 was erected at the Upper Mills on the site where there was a grist mill known as the Buhr-Stone mill. The name Buhr-Stone was derived from the fact that French burh stones were used to grind the grain. This new mill, made of stone, was 229 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a cupola to house the curfew bell. The bell, which still rings at 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. was cast in Troy and placed in the cupola about l840. For many years it was a warning to all children to be in their homes at 9 p.m. or their parents would be called to the mill office and reprimanded.
When the mill burned in l904, the bell fell and was cracked. It was sent back to Troy where it was remodeled and repaired. When it was returned, it was again placed in the tower of the new Burrstone Mill, which had been built in the meantime. When the Mills were sold in l952, the bell was placed on top of the village fire station where it still rings out at 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., but no longer does it call the village people to work or mean a curfew to the village children.
Before l825, there were only two homes built in the vicinity of the Oneida Manufacturing Society. The company started to build houses in l825, building twenty two homes and two boarding houses – one for the males and one for the females. This was the beginning of the village of New York Mills and, since these homes were built around the mills, it led to the division of the village into three settlements; namely, the Lower Mills, Middle Mills and Upper Mills. These homes were story and a half structures and nearly identical in appearance. Later, lean-to additions and sheds were added. Between l840 and l850, more homes were built around all three mills and a large boarding house was erected at the Middle Mill. Houses were built on Asylum Street (now known as Burrstone Road). A three story frame boarding house was built on the corner of Mill Place and Main street at Lower Mills, sometime between l857 and l874. This is still used as a boarding house and is now known as Slitz Hotel.
The residence of George H. Warner was built not far from the home of his father-in-law, Samuel Campbell. This was a beautiful two story shingled structure with two large extra rooms finished in the attic. This home is now the Rectory of the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church.
The barn of the Samuel Campbell Estate was also a large shingle type structure. This later became the club house of the “Utica Golf and Country Club” which today is known as the very popular Twin Ponds Golf and Country Club.
In l840, a new building, known as the warping, beaming and drying house was constructed at the Upper Mills.
A series of transactions took place in l847. Benjamin Marshall sold his shares in the Middle and Upper mills to Benjamin and William D. Walcott. Benjamin S. Walcott gave part of his shares to his son, Charles, D. Walcott, who, in turn, as well as William D. Walcott, sold part of their shares to Samuel Campbell. Samuel Campbell had come from Scotland in l831 and started working as a spinner in one of the mills. He advanced rapidly and in due time became the superintendent of the Middle mills.
A new company was formed, the New York Mills Company, with these four partners. It operated until l856 when Benjamin S. Walcott retired, selling his interest to William D. Walcott and Samuel Campbell. Charles D. Walcott died in l852 and his shares went to his brother, William D. Walcott , and
Campbell. Thus, the company of Walcott and Campbell was formed on May 12, l856.
Samuel Campbell was a man of great physical power, tremendous energy and his ambition was to make the firm of Walcott and Campbell equal to any in the world. This became a very successful business, accumulating large fortunes for the owners.
Production increased steadily with the finished cloth being sent to New York City.
In l884, the firm was incorporated under the name of New York Mills Corporation with a million dollar capital. Later. $400,000 of preferred stock was issued. During this period of prosperity, new buildings were built. A two story stone wheel house was built in l854 behind the Oneida Manufacturing Society factory. A three-story brick bleachery was built west of the wheel house in l859. A boiler house, a kier house (a building used to house vats for boiling and bleaching cloth) and a dry shed were built between l857 and l874. These buildings were all needed to complete the operations with raw materials, power and bleaching facilities. A new and much larger brick structure was erected in l8880 in back of the Lower Mills factory and the old mill was torn down.
Not many changes were made at the Middle Mill, the original wheel house built in l825 was replaced with a new one story structure and a stone boiler house. Stone houses and a pipe shop were built between l874 and l888 and a two-story brick office building was erected in front of the mill on Main Street.
Only one building, Mill 3 had been built at the Upper Mills. In l868, a wheel house, a three story structure was built on the south side of Asylum Street (later named Burrstone Road). An enclosed bridge, which passed over Asylum street connected the wheel house and Mill No. 3. A modern factory, Mill No. 4 was built north of No. 3 in l870 plus a passageway connecting the two mills. A four story brick picker house was built behind Mill No. 4 in l870. This also connected Mill No. 4 by a three-story bridge. More brick buildings; a bleach and dry house, an engine house and a boiler house were built in l872. In l878 an addition was made to the wheel house.
During these years much of the timber had been cut along and around the Sauquoit Creek, greatly diminishing the water in the creek, and adequate power to run the mills was becoming a real problem. At this time, the total number of employees in all the mills was about l,000, and the cloth manufactured was among the best in the United States.
Acquiring equipment to transfer the power source from water power to steam completed, the transition from water power to steam power became a reality and water power was used for a reserve only.
Samuel Campbell died on September 22, l885; and five years later, William D. Walcott died, but the business was successfully conducted by the sons, Samuel R. Campbell and W. Stuart Walcott for several years.
After the death of W. Stuart Walcott on September 4, l905, the common stock was sold to A>D>Juilliard and Company of New York City. Within two years, Samuel R. Campbell died, and the two families which for almost a century had been in control of this large manufacturing plant ceased to have anything to do with the concern. This new company became interested in the manufacture of corduroy.
Juilliard sent a delegation to England to study and learn the methods of manufacturing corduroy and velveteen, and to purchase the necessary machinery. The goods were woven at both the Middle and Lower Mills and brought to the Upper Mill by horse to be finished. A Dressing and Scouring department was set up in the basement of the main mill; the first and second floors were used for cutting the material and the two upper floors were used for finishing and packing. Singeing was carried on in the carpenter shop. This business was successful and profitable for the next few years.
During this period, the Power Plant was rebuilt, the washroom building, dressing building, warehouse and dye house were erected.
There were constant labor demands and labor difficulties during this period.
The year of l9l6 was an eventful year in the factories of New York Mills. There was general dissatisfaction among the workers. Many felt that they were underpaid and that their work load was too great since they were required to handle more machines than was safe. On Tuesday, July l8th, more than l,000 workers walked out in an effort to enforce their request for more pay and better working conditions. The average pay was from $8. To $ll. Per day.
Attempts were made to form a union, but there was little cooperation between the Polish, Italian and Syrian strickers; and, certainly, no communication with the mill officials. They had given a pay raise in the spring previous and had improved many of the homes.
Conditions constantly grew worse and, on July 28, l916, a notice went out stating that anyone living in the company house must vacate since he was no longer an employee.
Many fights between strikers and deputies took place, which led to rioting and many arrests. After five weeks, as conditions constantly grew worse and there didn’t seem to be any way to settle the strike, without outside help, the State Militia was called in.
Gradually operations began at the mills, first with only a skeleton crew of workers, but eventually more and more workers returned until the mills were running full force and nothing had been gained by striking.
Soon during World War II, the corduroy business boomed with government orders and the New York Mills Company was one of the two manufacturers in the north. In a short time, however, other manufacturers started to make corduroy and the business became overcrowded. Government contracts ceased, operational costs increased and operations at Mill No. 2 discontinued. Five hundred persons who had been employed for the past twenty years were gradually laid off during the last two months of operation.
In l950, the 124 tenement homes, most of them two-family, were sold and in most cases the tenants who occupied them purchased them.
In l952, the lower and middle mills were sold to Roger Pratt, a Utica attorney. Juilliard still retained the upper mills, but this was purchased by United M & M in October, l953. The M & M continued to run this mill for a short time but it, too, was soon to close its doors.
Some of the mills have been torn down while others are being used for small industries or businesses, and the village that was once the center of the cotton manufacturing ceases to operate any mills and the inhabitants who once worked in the mills have been forced to find employment elsewhere.
In l8l8, a Presbyterian Sabbath School was started in New York Mills by Ezra Wood, a member of the Whitesboro Presbyterian Church. Benjamin S. Walcott took an active interest in the school and by March l930, the Presbyterian Society was formed with forty-four members from the church at Whitesboro.
The first church was a wooden structure built in l830 on the site where the present church stands. On February l6, l833, it burned as a result of an overheated stove in the basement. It was replaced by a brick structure at a cost of $3,000.
The semi-centennial was celebrated from March l4 to March l8, in l880.
Benjamin S. Walcott had left $10,000 for building a new church. This was supplemented by a considerable larger sum donated by his son William Dexter Walcott. There were other generous contributions from the devoted members. Consequently, the new church, the “Walcott Memorial Presbyterian Church” with all its furnishings, beautiful stained glass windows and pipe organ, was erected in l881 at a cost of $33,000 entirely free from debt. The name of this church refers to the family which so closely identified itself with the history of New York Mills. The work of this church has been carried on without interruption and still continues with a loyal and devoted membership.
In l825, William N. Pearne, the first bookkeeper at the Mills, and also a preacher, organized a Methodist Society with the meetings being held either in the Mill or various homes. It was soon evident that a church was needed. A lot on Main Street was obtained from Mr. Marshall and work was started at once. The building was completed in sixty five days and was ready for dedication. By l832, there was a membership of 474. By l859, there was need for a larger edifice, so the old church was sold, moved, and made into a two-family residence on a lot opposite the present elementary school and is still being used. A fine new wooden building was erected in l852,
On Sunday morning March l7, l872, the steeple was struck by lightning and the church burned to the ground. This was replaced by a much larger brick structure at a cost of $25,000. During the Centennial year l926, the entire church was redecorated and improvements made such as a vapor steam heating plant and removal of the steeple, which was considered unsafe.
One of the oldest living members of the church and the community is Mrs. Arthur D. Cheetham who was 94 years old in November. Mrs. Cheetham joined the church in l888, having been a member for 78 years, and a Sunday School teacher for adults for 60 years.
During the early l850’s, many immigrants came from Wales and secured employment in the cotton mills. About l852, a society of Welsh Congregationalists was formed and a church was erected. This was a wooden structure and for many years used by an active organization—the sermons being delivered in the Welsh language. As the Welsh people began to move to different places and there was an influx of Polish, French and Assyrian people, it was no longer possible to maintain the church, and services were discontinued in l954. The building was sold and remodeled for a private home.
In l881, the Episcopalians built a church, between the Lower Mills and Middle Mills at the corner of what is now Sauquoit Ave., and Main Street. St. James Church was a rather small wooden structure with beautiful stained glass windows. At this time many English people settled in the Mills and for forty years this was a very active society, but, as the population changed, the church was forced to close its doors about l921.
Because of the dissatisfaction of some of the parishioners at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church, they broke away from that church and a parish of the Polish National Catholic Church was formed. In l923, this group purchased the property of the St. James Episcopalian Church, called the parish the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and is today an active church in the community.
About l900 there was a great influx of Polish immigrants settling in New York Mills. For about
Ten years they traveled to Utica to attend the Holy Trinity Church, but it was soon evident that the Polish Catholic Church was needed in the Mills. The estates of Walcott and Campbell, with its numerous buildings and large spacious grounds seemed to be the logical site. A large barn was converted into a church and on August l4, l910, the first service was held in this church. In l915, a Parochial Grammar School was built. In l958 extensive remodeling was done throughout the church. New stained glass windows were installed. In l959, a convent was constructed, and in l960, St. Mary’s celebrated its Golden Jubilee.
Although there is very little information about the schools, I believe the first school was the one aforementioned and built on the road to New Hartford. A school house was built in l827, and it may be assumed that it was the school at Middle Mills, according to a map at the Dunham Public Library. This was replaced by a two story brick building, and used until the Middle and Upper Mills School districts consolidated. Then, the new Grammar and High School building was erected in l916 near the Upper Mills on Main Street. The old school building was converted into a town meeting house and fire station, and recently, part of it becoming a village library.
A small two room school was built on Asylum Street. This was later moved to Prospect Street and later converted into a home. The reason for this being that a new two story frame structure was erected on the site of Asylum Street, now called Burrstone Road. In l915, this school burned, and it was at this time, the two districts combined and built the large brick building on Main Street. In l924, a Grammar School was built at the Lower New York Mills and continued to serve the children of that district until l956 when the village consolidated the school system. A Jr.-Sr. High School was built on Burrstone Road. The old high school was converted to a K-6 school.
There are some interesting facts about the people who settled in New York Mills and have had a part in making the history of the village.
When Samuel R. Campbell and Stuart Walcott settled in New York Mills, they built two identical beautiful brick mansions with immense green lawns. Mr. Campbell raised cattle as a hobby, making his herd a large and valuable one. It was later auctioned off for a total of $400,000.
Mr. Walcott turned to flowers and spent thousands of dollars for flowers to plant in his garden.
Orvile and Matt Risley started the first commercial creamery in New York Mills. They were the only milkmen and ice cream manufacturers at that time. Risley Cold Springs developed from this enterprise and is still a flourishing business today.
Charles Clark established the first Photography Gallery on Porter Street. Tintypes sold for five cents.
In l824, there was a cinder path, later a log or corduroy road with logs measuring eighteen to twenty inches in diameter. This was a tiresome, bumpy road from one end of the village to the other. As the population increased, a macadamized road was built from Yorkville to Burrstone Road and was given the name of Main Street. The work was done by prisoners from Utica and Rome jails who worked with a ball and chain attached to their feet. Stuart Walcott was so incensed at this brutality and upon making complaint had the ball and chains removed at once.
At one time there was a tannery on the corner of Elm and Main Street.
The first picnic ground was at the Utica Belt Line Street Road. This was later changed to Wilson’s Grove and still later became Glod’s Grove where it is still a very popular place for large picnics.
The first horse-drawn street car was in l886 and the first electric car was in l890. This street car service continued until the early l930’s when buses were put into use.
The first automobile was owned and driven by Mr. Pettibone. This caused much excitement, frightening the horses every time it passed by.
During the Walcott’s reign, no alcoholic beverages were publicly sold because of his dislike for liquors and the influence he had upon the townspeople.
Dr. Norton Porter, after whom Porter Street was named, was one of the first physicians to settle in Oneida County. He came from Massachusetts in l791, settled in Westmoreland for a few years, later moving to New York Mills. His practice took him many miles over the countryside for forty years.
Robert Fraser started his career as a merchant in New York Mills by carrying and selling his goods from a pack, going from door to door. Later, he established a dry goods store at the middle village and still later built a large department store in Utica, known as the “Robert Fraser’s Department Store.
The Certificate of Incorporation of the Village of New York Mills was issued by the Secretary of the State of New York on the 29th day of March l922.
The first election was held on the 15th day of April l922, and the following officers were elected;
President – Dr. D.S. Harrison; Trustees – Robert Healy and W S H Baker; Appointments: Village clerk, W S Thomas; Village attorney –W S Mackie; Registrar of Vital Statistics—R S Hughes; Tax Collector J B Gorton; Treasurer – G W VanLuven; Health Officer – Dr S L Gifford and Police – Charles Wayering.
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Nilah H. Quimette generously and kindly submitted her cherished papers and scrapbook to enrich our knowledge of the village of New York Mills during this celebration of this 75th anniversary. An entire copy of her papers, which are footnoted and documented in bibliography are now available in the New York Mills Public Library for further research, reference and study. The NYM 75th anniversary committee is for the information and material that became available.
Nilah H Ouimette is a former teacher, resident and a two gold star mother of New York Mills.