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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 90: History of the Mohawk Valley from 1865 to 1900.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1340-1350 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. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

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The record from the close of the civil war to the end of the nineteenth century — The period of great manufacturing development — The Conkling-Blaine Republican feud from 1881 to 1888, results in election of Cleveland in 1884 — Mohawk Valley Republican politicians shape national history — Building of West Shore Railroad, 1883 — Spanish-American war, 1898 — Elihu Root appointed secretary of war, 1899.

While the period, from the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 to the end of the Civil War in 1865, was one of town building, railroad building and the general beginning of manufacturing in the Mohawk Valley, the years from the close of the Rebellion to 1900, were marked by industrial development on a large scale along our river. There was also considerable activity in general railroad and street car line development in our Valley. These subjects are covered at length in special chapters as well as in the chapters relative to Mohawk Valley towns and cities.

The following period witnessed the development of our present free school system.

In 1866, the first wood pulp paper manufactured in the United States was made at Herkimer by (later U. S. Senator) Warner Miller. Senator Miller's paper factory grew into a large industry, which was subsequently eliminated in a corporation merger. Mr. Miller was one of the best posted men on the subject of paper and paper making in the United States.

Palatine Bridge became a village in 1867.

Railroad construction in 1865 and 1866 eventually made Schenectady a railroad center of considerable importance. In 1865, the Albany-Binghamton Railroad was constructed. This later (in 1873) connected with the railroad from Schenectady to Duanesburgh. The Albany-Binghamton road (now part of the D. & H.) constructed branches from Cobleskill to Sharon Springs and Cherry Valley and from Oneonta to Cooperstown. This diverted considerable trade which had formerly gone north from the Susquehanna Valley, notably to Fort Plain and Canajoharie.

In 1866, the railroad running from Schenectady to Athens on the Hudson was built. This later became a part of the West Shore Railroad, when it was built in 1883.

[Cover Page of Fairfield Seminary Circular of 1872]

Another important feature of railroading in the Mohawk Valley, at this period, was the construction of the Wagner palace car by Webster Wagner in 1867. The Wagner Palace Car Co. was organized which operated successfully until its consolidation with the Pullman Palace Car Co. about 1890, prior to which time, the New York Central Railroad used only the Wagner drawing room coaches. In this year, the Utica, Clinton and Binghamton Railroad was built, which is now the Utica branch of the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad. The Middleburg and Schoharie Railroad was constructed in 1869.

In 1869, the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad was formed by the consolidation of the two lines, which gave the present through line railroad from New York to Buffalo.

In 1868, Horatio Seymour of Utica, was nominated for the presidency on the Democratic ticket. He was defeated by General U. S. Grant, the Republican nominee. Although Seymour received a large popular vote he secured only 80 electoral votes to Grant's 214. Seymour was a compromise candidate who was put over as the nominee in the final sessions of the Democratic national convention in New York City. Seymour had a large following in and out of his party. He had a fine record as a Democratic war governor and was a well-equipped executive, who would have made an excellent President of the United States.

Seymour carried New York state by 10,000 plurality over Grant.

In 1868, Blood's broom factory started manufacturing at Amsterdam. Broom corn was then extensively raised on the Mohawk flats. There were many small broom factories but Blood's was the first large one to begin operations in the Valley. This industry has developed until Amsterdam was the largest broom making city in the United States in 1925. In 1868, the manufacture of caps began at Utica. Cobleskill became a village in 1868.

In 1869, Cohoes became a city.

In 1870, Mr. David H. Burrell established a factory in Little Falls for the manufacture of dairy machinery. This has developed into the largest works of its kind in the country. The enterprise proved extremely profitable and the resulting numerous benefactions of Mr. and Mrs. Burrell to their home city are covered in the chapter on Little Falls.

New Hartford became a village in 1870.

In 1870 the City of Rome received its city charter. In that year the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad was constructed. The Utica, Chenango and Susquehanna Railroad, running from Utica to Waterville and Richfield Springs was completed in that year. The manufacture of threshing machines and agricultural machinery was started in St. Johnsville about 1870.

Sharon Springs, Schoharie County, received a village charter in 1871.

In 1872 the manufacture of knit goods was begun at Little Falls and Herkimer. This is now Little Falls' greatest industry.

In 1873, President Grant offered Senator Roscoe Conkling of Oneida County, the Chief Justiceship of the Supreme Court of the United States and the office of Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Both of these offers were declined by Senator Conkling, who probably then had his eye fixed on the Republican presidential nomination in 1876. In 1873, Senator Conkling was a trusted adviser of President Grant and the dominating figure in Republican National politics.

In 1873, leather tanning and finishing started at Little Falls. This has developed into the largest calfskin finishing works in the United States.

Northville, Fulton County, was chartered as a village in 1873.

In 1873, James Densmore came to Ilion. He was a partner with Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, who was the inventor of a machine which Sholes called a "typewriter." At the earnest solicitation of Henry Harper Benedict (who was then a member of the Remington organization and was living at this writing in 1925), Philo Remington signed a contract with Densmore for the manufacture of the new machine. Work was begun immediately and, in 1874, the Remington Model No. 1 was produced, which was the first practicable commercial typewriter. The typewriter was not a success at once, but gradually gained in popularity. (See chapter on Ilion).

In 1873, the Schenectady and Duanesburg Railroad was completed. This became later the Schenectady branch of the D. & H. and gave Schenectady a railroad outlet to the Schoharie and Susquehanna valleys.

In 1874, the Shipmans moved their spring and axle works from Springfield Center to Fort Plain. This industry became the largest spring and axle works in the world. It was removed to Chicago Heights, Illinois, in 1894.

In 1874, Alfred Dolge came to Brockett's Bridge, present Dolgeville. In 1875, he purchased a discontinued tannery plant there and started manufacturing operations which developed into felt, felt shoes, piano cases, piano sounding boards, and piano hammer factories. Dolge was one of the most remarkable industrial geniuses who ever lived and worked in the Mohawk Valley. Although Mr. Dolge became financially involved in 1898, the industries he founded are in a thriving state today, and make Dolgeville an interesting and important industrial center of the Mohawk Valley. Although felt is no longer manufactured at Dolgeville it is the largest producer of felt shoes in the United States. The felt shoe industry has also been instituted in the adjoining towns of Little Falls and St. Johnsville. (See chapter on Dolgeville).

In 1874, the famous old wooden covered bridge, crossing the Mohawk River at Schenectady, was torn down and the Remington Bridge Works of Ilion, built the present (1925) highway bridge on the old bridge's stone piers. This bridge now carries the tracks of the Schenectady Railways Co. The Schenectady river bridge was a toll bridge, from the time of its first building, in 1808, to March 11, 1920, when tolls were abolished.

In 1876, besides the great Centennial exhibition at Philadelphia, a series of country-wide Revolutionary centennial celebrations was inaugurated. On August 6, 1877, the centennial of the battle of Oriskany was celebrated on the battlefield. Special trains were run and the occasion brought a big crowd. The celebration was the beginning of the awakening of public interest in the wonderful history of the Mohawk Valley, which has continued to the present time. A movement was soon afterwards inaugurated by the historian, Jeptha R. Simms of Fort Plain, to erect a suitable monument on the battlefield, which was successful. The Oriskany centennial was the only celebration of the many important Revolutionary events which transpired in the Mohawk Valley.

In 1876, the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad extended its line to Northville, on the Sacandaga River.

In 1876, Senator Roscoe Conkling, of Oneida County, was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, in which effort he was unsuccessful. Rutherford B. Hayes secured the nomination and election over the Democratic candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, in a close and bitterly contested election.

In 1878 the manufacture of brass began at Rome. In that year the Chenango Canal was abandoned. Its course ran, from the Erie Canal at Utica southward along Oriskany Creek and the Chenango River, to Binghamton.

Nelliston, Montgomery County, received a village charter in 1878.

In 1879 Clinton Liberal Institute removed from its former location at Clinton and occupied the remodeled building of the Fort Plain Seminary at Fort Plain, which latter institution had been discontinued. Clinton Liberal Institute had an active educational existence until it was destroyed by fire in 1900.

In 1879, the Oriskany Battlefield Monument was erected. It stands on a sightly location and is seen from the north and south shore Mohawk Turnpikes, the New York Central Railroad, the Utica-Rome electric railroad and the Barge Canal. It has been the scene of many Valley patriotic gatherings.

The manufacture of dairy preparations was begun at Little Falls in 1881. Middleburg and Richmondville, both in Schoharie County, became villages in 1881.

From 1879 to 1883 the West Shore Railroad was constructed, running along the south shore of the Mohawk River, from South Schenectady to Utica and westward. It seriously disfigured the village of Canajoharie and its original line took in all of the east side of Canal Street, Fort Plain, which would have eliminated a great part of the town's business district. The railroad company was induced to change the route to one on the flats, which proved much better both for the road and the town. The line through the Little Falls Gorge necessitated a great amount of blasting along the face of the cliff known as Lover's Leap. On the opening of the road in 1883, there was a serious accident to the first east and west trains, which were supposed to pass at Fort Plain, as only one track was then completed. The trains met in a head-on collision in the cut at Diefendorf Hill. Several people were killed and many injured. It was an inauspicious opening for a road which never proved a success. The line was absorbed by the New York Central Railroad January 1, 1886. The West Shore and New York Central tracks, from Albany to Syracuse, constitute the Central's Mohawk Division, both roads being operated from one train dispatcher's office. The two lines, (New York to Buffalo), form the only six-track railroad in the world. The West Shore railroad shops at first were established at Frankfort. They were later removed to Depew.

The defeat of United States Senator Roscoe Conkling of Utica, for the Republican nomination for president in 1876, started influences which affected national politics and American history, during the ensuing fifteen years. These political influences emanated from the Mohawk Valley and, largely, from four men who were residents or former residents within its borders. These were United States Senator Roscoe Conkling of Utica, United States Senator Warner Miller of Herkimer, President Grover Cleveland, formerly a resident of Clinton and Holland Patent. Oneida County: President Chester A. Arthur, a graduate of Union College, Schenectady, in 1848. The first three, Conkling, Miller and Cleveland, were the great influences upon our national politics and it is interesting to note that Conkling and Cleveland, at one time, were living within ten miles of each other in Oneida County and that, after 1865, Miller was located at Herkimer, Herkimer County, only fifteen miles distant from the home of his later rival, Conkling, in Utica. These three men, who were to shape the history of the United States, in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, were not only residents (at one time or another) of the Mohawk Valley but resided in a very limited area of the Valley — not more than twenty-five miles apart.

The presidential campaign of 1880 brought on a crisis in National Republican politics, which had previously been largely dominated by Conkling. His political opponent, James G. Blaine, was the chief aspirant for the nomination. Senator Conkling probably realized that he could not secure the nomination and so he backed the candidacy of General and ex-President U. S. Grant. Conkling controlled the New York delegation to the convention and brought about their instruction to "use their most earnest and united efforts to secure the nomination of U. S. Grant."

Both Grant and Blaine failed of the nomination after a hot fight in which the third term issue was most bitterly fought over — perhaps for all time. James A. Garfield, of Ohio, was nominated and elected president while Chester A. Arthur of New York became vice-president. Garfield's leanings were toward the Blaine element, while Arthur's affiliations were with the Conkling branch. One of the most violent partisan struggles, in this history of the United States, now began with Conkling and Blaine as the opposing leaders. Conkling's partisans became known as the "Stalwarts" while Blaine's were called the "Halfbreeds." The crisis came when President Garfield nominated State Senator W. H. Robertson, Collector of the Port of New York. He was opposed by the Conkling party machine of New York. Vice-President Arthur of New York, the two United States Senators from New York, Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Platt, and Postmaster-General Thomas L. James of New York State, joined in a request for the withdrawal of Robertson's name. President Garfield refused to bow to this party machine dictation, whereupon Conkling and Platt resigned on May 14, 1881, and left Washington.

President Garfield's attitude was almost epochal in our politics, marking a change from the machine rule and dictation which had marked Republican presidential policies since Lincoln's assassination in 1865.

The political situation caused great interest and considerable excitement throughout the country. Since the Civil War, machine party rule by both political parties, had been accepted as a matter of course by the American people and the new turn of affairs became decidedly interesting.

Conkling and Platt became candidates for re-election in the New York State Legislative session. Between May 31 and July 17, forty-eight ballots were taken, Warner Miller of Herkimer and Elbridge G. Lapham, being elected United States Senators from New York on that date.

Instead of quieting this bitter controversy this second defeat of Conkling's machine, made the battle rage even more violently. On July 2nd, a lunatic named Giteau, made violent by this fury of public opinion, shot and mortally wounded President Garfield, who died on September 19th. Vice-President Arthur succeeded him, giving Conkling once more national power. Garfield's tragic death had no effect in stilling the Republican battle, which was solely caused by the vain ambitions of two individuals, Blaine and Conkling, whose animosities were at a point where they seemingly would have wrecked the country to secure a triumph or revenge.

The Republican machine was triumphant in nominating Judge C. J. Folger for governor of New York in 1882. Charges of fraud in the convention were made and Grover Cleveland, the Democratic nominee (formerly of Clinton) was elected by the then unprecedented plurality of 193,000 votes. Cleveland's triumph of 1882 made him the nominee of his party for president in 1884 and he was elected over James G. Blaine in a very close contest. The election depended upon New York State and Cleveland carried it by a little over one thousand votes. Oneida County, home of Roscoe Conkling and a normally Republican county, gave Cleveland over a thousand plurality. The Republicans called for a recount and the bitterness of partisan feeling is shown by the fact that Conkling became attorney for the Democratic party in the contest. The recount gave the election to Cleveland. Grover Cleveland's election has been called one of the greatest American triumphs for popular government, by a leading Republican statesman (in 1924). United States Senator Warner Miller of Herkimer was defeated for re-election in 1887, in another bitter fight. Roscoe Conkling died in 1888. The partisan battle, in the Republican ranks did not die out until the re-election of President McKinley in 1896.

The bolt of the Progressives from the Republican party in 1912 has been the only partisan struggle comparable with the Stalwart-Half-breed of the years between 1880 and 1888, and the Progressive defection lasted but one or two years and the breach was soon healed. Another Mohawk Valley and Oneida County man, Senator Elihu Root, bore an important part in this second conflict, as later pages will show.

Senator Conkling's handsome stone mansion stands in Rutger Park, Utica, while another stone mansion, built by Senator Warner Miller stands on the western edge of the village of Herkimer. It is difficult to realize, at this time, that these two valley homes were the residences of men who fought in one of the most bitter and senseless partisan affrays which have ever endangered our existence as a nation. There were no great principles back of this struggle on either side — merely the vain human endeavor to shine, lead and control other men. It is significant of our advance in politics that present-day political leaders are compelled to advance some reasons of public policy for their election and success, rather than openly appealing to the prejudices and passions of their partisans.

In 1885, the present Mohawk and Malone Railroad was built from Herkimer to Remsen. It is now part of the New York Central Railroad.

In 1885, Amsterdam became a city and Holland Patent, Oneida County, received a village charter.

In 1886, the manufacture of typewriter cabinets began at Herkimer for the Remington typewriters. Later, desks were made and this industry has developed until Herkimer is now the desk manufacturing center in the United States. (See the chapter on the history of manufacturing in the Mohawk Valley.)

In 1886 the Edison Electric Co. removed from New York to Schenectady. This was the beginning of the vast electric works in that city, which have made it the chief electrical manufacturing center of the world and the manufactory the largest single industry in the State of New York. In 1892, this organization became the General Electric Co., which changed the Schenectady of 1886, from Old Dorp, with its 18,000 Mohawk Dutch population, to a city of over 100,000 people in 1925. (See the chapters on Schenectady and the General Electric Co.)

In 1887, the manufacture of copper began at Rome. This has developed into the city's greatest industry and made Rome one of the chief copper manufacturing centers of the country. In 1925, ten per cent. of all the copper manufactures of the country were made at Rome. In 1887 the making of knit goods began at Fort Plain.

High water and ice knocked down the Fort Plain bridge stone piers and carried away the bridge in 1887. Following this the present iron bridge was built, one of the longest single span bridges in the Mohawk Valley.

In 1889, the manufacture of player pianos and piano actions began at St. Johnsville.

In 1890, Gloversville became a city. Poland and Middleville, Herkimer County, and Waterville, Oneida County, received village charters in this year.

In 1891, the Beech-Nut Packing Company of Canajoharie, had its inception in a small concern started there for the curing of hams. This has developed into one of the leading industries of the Mohawk Valley, with model factories, which are annually visited by thousands of visitors.

In 1891, Dolgeville was incorporated as a village.

Hagaman, Montgomery County, became a village in 1892.

In 1892, the Little Falls and Dolgeville Railroad began operation.

The first St. Johnsville factory for the manufacture of knit goods started operations in 1892.

On May 21, 1891, the cornerstone of the Masonic Home at Utica was laid by John W. Vrooman, Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York. It was dedicated on October 6, 1892, by James Ten Eyck, Grand Master.

The last covered bridge over the Mohawk was that at St. Johnsville, which was replaced by the present iron structure about 1895.

Little Falls and Johnstown both received city charters in 1895. In that year the first college course in electrical engineering was established in Union College, Schenectady. Schoharie, Schoharie County, was chartered as a village in 1895, and Mayfield, Fulton County, in 1896.

In 1896, a monument, 60 feet in height, was erected over the grave of General Nicholas Herkimer at his home at Fall Hill, about three miles east of Little Falls. In recognition of General Herkimer's heroism, the Continental Congress, in 1777, appropriated $500 for a monument to be erected to the brigadier's memory, but the money was never expended. In 1847 Warren Herkimer (son of Joseph Herkimer, grandson of George and grand-nephew of the General) placed a headstone on the grave of the hero of Oriskany, this being his first monument. Through the agitation of the Herkimer and Oneida county historical societies and the Valley D. A. R. chapters, the New York State Legislature in 1895 and 1896, appropriated $5,500 for a monument here to General Nicholas Herkimer. The present granite obelisk, 60 feet high, and the stone wall, around the burial plot, were erected and dedicated in 1896 with imposing Masonic exercises. Col. John W. Vrooman, president of the Herkimer County Historical Society, was the president of the General Herkimer Monument Commission. The obelisk can be seen for several miles from the New York Central Railroad and the Mohawk Turnpike.

Dolgeville was the pioneer town in hydro-electric development in the Mohawk Valley. The first hydro-electric power plant in the Mohawk Valley was established at Dolgeville in 1897. This is now a plant of the Utica Gas and Electric Co. This was the beginning of hydro-electric development in the Mohawk Valley, which is now one of the most highly developed water power regions in the United States. In 1898, the hydro-electric power plant at Beardslee Falls, East Creek, began operations. St. Johnsville was its first customer and the first Mohawk River town to use electric light and power hydro-electrically generated.

West Winfield, Herkimer County, became a village in 1898.

The Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. All the Mohawk Valley National Guard units were engaged in the service of the United States army in this conflict. A number of men also enlisted for service at the different recruiting stations opened in the Mohawk Valley. For the activities of our Valley Guard in this war, see the chapters on the National Guard companies of Schenectady, Amsterdam, Gloversville, Mohawk and Utica.

In 1899 President McKinley appointed Elihu Root of Clinton, Oneida County, Secretary of War. Although Mr. Root had been prominent as a lawyer and in the Republican party, this was the beginning of his career as one of the most distinguished and constructive statesmen America has produced.

The last year of the Nineteenth Century in the Mohawk Valley was punctuated by the burning of Clinton Liberal Institute, at Fort Plain, in 1900. The main building was completely destroyed, ending the activities of a Middle Mohawk Valley school, which had existed for nearly half a century.

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