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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Thomas Dale

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 394-396 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Thomas Dale was born at Carncastle, County Antrim, Ireland, on June 3, 1813. His father, Samuel Dale, was a farmer, the Dale farm being known as "The Whins", the house still standing in 1924, a mile and a quarter from the shore and about four hundred feet above the water, giving on a clear day a plain view of Scotland thirty miles across the channel, the change in the color of the land revealing to the Carncastle observer when the Scotch farmer begins to plough the fields in the spring and reap the harvest in the fall. When Thomas was eighteen months old his mother, who was Agnes Brown before her marriage on May 9, 1804, died on December 24, 1814, leaving her husband with three children: William, aged seven; Robert, aged three, and Thomas, the youngest. Sixteen months later, on April 27, 1816, Samuel Dale, leaving the three-year-old Thomas in care of a sister, Nancy, sailed with his oldest son William from Belfast for New York, where he landed on June 15, after a passage of forty-nine days.

Early in the following year Samuel Dale, his brother Dan and his son William settled at Little Falls, then a hamlet in a wilderness, with only two streets, forty dwellings and five or six stores, besides a school house, two taverns, grist and saw mills and the unfinished Octagon church, the two brothers being employed as general mechanics. In an old account book there is a record dated March, 1824, of Samuel Dale having "put down 101 clamps in the aqueduct for a Mr. Rogers". The document found in the gilt ball on the steeple of the Octagon church states that Dan Dale was one of the workmen who completed that famous edifice in 1818.

Thomas attended the Carncastle school about a third of a mile from his home, passing on his way the churchyard where his mother was buried, and in later years often spoke of his invariable habit of visiting his mother's grave on his way to and from school. When he was eighteen years old he left his home in Ireland to seek his fortunes in the New World, sailing from Belfast on June 16, 1831, and landing in Quebec on August 2 after a passage of forty-seven days. For three years he worked in the woods back of Ottawa, where he was noted for the skill with which he wielded the ax in felling trees. He left Canada in 1834 to join his father, arriving in Little Falls on Hallowe'en of that year. He went to work at once for Robert Stewart to learn the mason's trade, his wages consisting of board and clothing, and in addition twenty-five cents per day for the first year, fifty cents for the second, and seventy-five cents per day for the third year. Soon after completing this apprenticeship he formed a partnership with James Sanders, under the name of Sanders & Dale, which continued for several years.

On December 27, 1840, Thomas Dale was married to Fanny Sherman, daughter of Jireh Sherman of Little Falls. Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Dale: William H. (1842), George B. (1845), and Samuel S. (1859). William H. and George B. Dale learned the trade of their father, and the three worked together until Thomas Dale's death on November 3, 1877.

The old account books kept by Thomas Dale show wages and prices of building materials that seem incredible at the present time (1924) when masons earn from $12 to $18 for an 8-hour day. Here are a few items taken at random from the old accounts, the wages being for a day of 10 hours: In 1839: lathing and plastering, $2.00; cutting stone, $2.25; 152 days work on academy and in quarry by Thomas Dale at $2.25; work on the factory, $2.50; common labor in quarry, $1.00; sand, 25 cents a load; lime, 19 and 21 cents a bushel. In 1841; laying stone, $2.00; burning lime, 75 cents and $1.00; pine boards, $20 per thousand feet. In 1842: laying stone, $1.75; work in the quarry by Thomas Dale, $2.00; common labor, 75 cents; brick, $4.62 per M; hemlock boards, $7.50 per M. In 1853: lathing, $2.00; stone mason (Chance Shell), $2.00; mason's tender (Godfrey Rehm), 88 cents; brick, $5.00 per M. In 1855: mason $1.75 and $2.00; labor in quarry (Geo. Dygert), $1.25; mason's tender (Godfrey Rehm), $1.50; common labor (Tom Leahy), $1.00; stone mason (Chance Shell), $2.25; work (Wm. H. Dale), $1.00; drill boy in quarry, 25 and 37 1/2 cents; sand, 25 cents a load.

It was on such a low level of wages and values that the buildings at Little Falls were erected by Thomas Dale, his sons William H. and George B., and their workmen, who not only did the actual work of building, but extracted the raw materials from nature's recesses, quarrying the sandstone and gneiss rock, burning the limestone to obtain lime, and digging the sand from the banks. Only a few of the buildings erected in Little Falls by Thomas Dale and his two sons can be mentioned here, for a complete list would fill many pages of this history. Thomas Dale worked on the mile-lock on the Erie canal where the highest lock in the world is now located (this when associated with Mr. Sanders); he had charge of blasting the cut at the Gulf curve when the two-track railway was put through Little Falls (associated in this job with Wm. I. Skinner and A. Ward). Among the buildings erected by Thomas Dale are the following: Gilbert's starch factory; Benton Hall, part of the old Academy; the George Ashley block, now known as the Burney block, on Main street; the Fox block, still standing as when built, corner Main and Second street; the Wheeler block where the Herkimer County Trust Company's building now stands; the Cronkhite block; Harry Burrell's residence, now the home of E. J. Burrell; the Ashley residence; the Harding residence on Gansevoort street; the Universalist church; the Warrior Mower works; the Elboeuf mill, built in 1866 to take the place of the mill destroyed by the flood in 1865; the first building of the Little Falls Knitting Mills; the Roman Catholic church, the foundation of which was the last important work of Thomas Dale, the church on this foundation being built by Wm. H. and George B. Dale after the death of their father in 1877.

For thirty-two years from the death of Thomas Dale in 1877 to 1909, William H. and George B. carried on the business of mason builders together under the name of Thomas Dale's Sons. Since the death of George B. in 1909 William H. has continued the business and at the present time has the distinction of having, been engaged continuously in business in Little Falls for sixty-seven years, a longer period than any other resident of the village can boast, the two sons of Thomas Dale having continued the course followed by their father in respect to good work, honest dealing and good citizenship. Among the buildings erected by Wm. H. and George B. Dale are: the Catholic church already mentioned; the Universalist church; the brick mill corner Main and Sixth streets; Rodney Whitman's residence on Gansevoort street; Jacob Zoller's residence on Garden street.

From the day he set foot on United States soil Thomas Dale was a one hundred per cent American, always taking a deep interest in public affairs. To one who once reproached him for being a foreigner, he calmly and proudly replied: "I am an American citizen by choice; you are one by chance. Which condition carries the stronger assurance of loyalty?" He joined the whig party, was a great admirer of Henry Clay, and an enthusiastic follower of General Harrison in the "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" campaign of 1840. When the whig party disappeared, he became and ever after remained a republican.

In 1852 Thomas Dale was a member of the committee having charge of building a watchhouse an the north side of Main street. In 1851 he was elected trustee of the village and reelected in 1852, 1862, 1864, 1866 and 1872, his service as trustee comprising a period of ten years. Reared amid the peaceful surroundings of the farming community of Carncastle, Thomas Dale, a youth of eighteen, came to America wholly free from the prejudice and discord that has prevailed in many sections of his native land. Always calm, genial and even-tempered, tolerant of the opinions and beliefs of others, intent on doing justice, ever ready to lend a helping hand to those in distress, upright in all his dealings, industrious, cultivating a pride in doing well all the work that came to his hand, a studious lover of books and learning, Thomas Dale left a record whose influence for good will outlast even the enduring buildings that he erected.

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