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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 108: The City of Cohoes.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1550-1555 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Cohoes Falls — Early days — Part of the Colonie of Rensselaerwyck — 1811, the Cohoes Manufacturing Company — 1915, Cohoes Power and Light Corporation — 1832, Egbert Egberts begins the manufacture of knit goods — 1836, Peter Harmony establishes the Harmony Mills for the manufacture of cotton cloth — Hydro-electric development — 50,000 Horsepower produced from Cohoes Falls — Other city features — Home of the model of the Half Moon.

By J. F. Noe, Secretary Chamber of Commerce.

[Photo: Cohoes Falls]

Historically as early as 1642, the "Chahoos" of the Iroquois was a place-name, meaning "Beyond the Falls", and for one hundred and fifty years it was "rugged scenery". The precipitous banks of the Mohawk, the falls and the rapids, the pine clad hills and deep ravines, the thunderous roar of its massive cataract, its savage and restless current masked by the spray flung mist, made it the show place of America and the goal of travelers who, surfeited with old world marvels, came here to see and be charmed.

History records that the roar of this mighty cataract could be heard for miles, so great was the volume of water from this fall. What with civilization more or less denuding our forests, only in the spring floods do these great falls approach their former scenic grandeur. At the foot of these falls is now located one of the largest hydraulic electric power plants in the United States, furnishing power and light for industrial and domestic purposes in the Capital district.

Previous to the year 1811, the present site of the city was a large tract of land centered by this great water fall. The Cohoes south shore section was part of the great manor of Rensselaerwyck set up in 1636. It is probable that this Mohawk River outlet section of the "Colonie", as it was termed, had some settlement soon thereafter. As the Colonie lands were then leased, there is little record of white occupancy of this region in those early days. There was a small settlement at Cohoes after the Revolution but the present city's area then mainly consisted of farmland and waste land.

In 1811 the Cohoes Manufacturing Co., which was incorporated for the manufacture of cotton, woolen and linen goods, ironmongery, etc., purchased this course of land and built a factory and several buildings. The water power for the factory was supplied by a wing dam extending into the river. This company operated with more or less success until 1827, when the factory was burned. Then the property was sold to the Cohoes Company, which was incorporated March 28, 1826, which started the city in its great manufacturing career. This company owned the entire water power of the river from one-half mile above to one mile below the falls. The stone dam above the falls is one of the most substantial structures of its kind in the country. It was built in 1865 and is 1,443 feet in length. By means of this dam, the entire waters of the Mohawk can be directed from its natural channel and impressed into the service of the manufacturers.

A series of canals branching from the main outlet of this dam supply water power to the industries which yearly were attracted to Cohoes by this vast water power. In 1915, the Cohoes Company changed hands, all water power and property rights to the old company passed to the new owners, the Cohoes Power & Light Corporation. This company immediately began the erection of the present hydro-electric plant which now supplies electric current for power purposes to all Cohoes industries.

This plant was built in 1915, at which time there were installed three units of 10,000 horsepower each. In 1921 there was installed the fourth unit of 10,000 horsepower and the plant at the present time has a capacity of 40,000 horsepower. By 1925 the fifth unit of 14,000 horsepower will be installed, which will give this plant a capacity of 54,000 horsepower. The advancement is more clearly shown by the continued increase of power output as shown over each year, i. e.:

YearTotal Kilowatts Generated

The knitting business, now one of the most important industries in the country, was first established in this city some ninety years ago. The business was inaugurated by Egbert Egberts, then a resident of Albany, N. Y., who employed the mechanical genius of a young machinist by the name of Timothy Bailey of Ballston Spa. In the latter part of the 16th century, there had been invented by a young curate of Calverton, England, by the name of William Lee, a hand knitting machine. It is said that more than three hundred improvements have been made to this machine since that time. In the latter part of the 18th century the Lee machine was brought to this country and set in place in Philadelphia, Germantown, New York City and several other places in the middle and eastern states. Mr. Egberts bought one of these machines and Bailey invented the first power appliance to be attached to a knitting machine in this country. With the invention of this machine Mr. Egberts built a mill in Cohoes in 1832 and started the manufacture of knit goods, the first of its kind in the United States. From this starting point Cohoes has grown to one of the largest knit goods centers in the United States.

In 1837, when Cohoes was a village of about 1,000 people, the Harmony Manufacturing Company as it was then known and composed of New York capitalists, commenced the erection of a cotton factory, the first of its kind in Cohoes, on Harmony Hill, the germ of the immense establishment which is now foremost among the manufacturing concerns of this city. The capital was $100,000, which was increased in 1839 to $150,000. The building, which is now standing immediately south of Mill No. 1, of which it forms a part according to the present arrangement of the company, was erected by Joshua R. Clarke and was completed the following year.

In 1866, while excavating for Mill No. 3 of the Harmony Manufacturing Co., workmen unearthed a pothole in which an almost complete skeleton of a mastodon was found. The bones were mounted and form the celebrated "Cohoes Mastodon", now on view in the State Museum in Albany. Alongside the skeleton stands a life-like, life-sized reproduction of the mastodon and the skeleton and reproduction forms one of the most interesting exhibits of the kind in the country.

Cohoes is located in the center of one of the best agricultural and dairy producing districts of the United States. The soil and climate are admirably adapted to the production of all kinds of crops. It enjoys facilities for transportation by river, canal and railroad which are unsurpassed by any city of the union. The development of the Deeper Hudson project will bring the products of the mills and factories of the city within less than a mile of a point where they may be shipped direct from a deep sea port to all points in the world.

[Photo: Van Schaick House on Van Schaik Island]

In the eastern part of the city, on the banks of the Hudson River, stands the Van Schaick Manor house, practically in its original condition, which was used by General Philip Schuyler as headquarters in the Revolutionary war.

On an eminence in the western part of the city, commanding a fine view of the Hudson River Valley and surrounding country, stands the new High School, one of the most modern in construction and complete in equipment of any structure of its kind in the State and costing $300,000.

[Photo: The Half Moon]

In 1924, the fine model of the Half Moon, which formed such an important feature of the 1909 Hudson-Fulton celebration, was presented to the City of Cohoes and placed in its park. The occasion was marked by an appropriate celebration.

Cohoes boasts of a City Hall built without the usual political graft, of a city government administered for the best interests of the city, of a co-operative public spirit and a welcome to all desirable newcomers.

Cohoes is a flourishing city of 25,000 population, located at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. Its principal industries are knit goods, cotton cloth, cotton batts, machinery, iron pipe, wall paper and paper stock, and brick. It is one of the oldest knit goods centers in the United States.

Two Railroads, the New York Central and the Delaware and Hudson, enter the city, giving unequalled shipping facilities to all points, north, east, south and west. The State Barge Canal runs parallel with the eastern boundary of the city.

Twenty-two churches, comprising all denominations, minister to the religious wants of the people; and Athletic and Social Clubs and Fraternal Societies abound for their secular desires. 400 mercantile establishments give every advantage for home trade and serve the city efficiently. Cohoes has one of the most efficient Fire Departments in the state, as evidenced by a Class A rating by the State Underwriters.

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