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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 128: The Village of Ilion.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1805-1817 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Ilion Gulph — Ilion, 1725-1920 — Eliphalet Remington and the Remington rifle, 1816 — The Ilion Remington Works — Remington rifle in Civil War — First commercial typewriter — Birth of card index — World War — Ilion's rifle centennial.

Ilion was incorporated as a village in 1852. Ilion is twelve miles from Utica on the Mohawk River and the West Shore and the New York Central railroads. Trolley systems connect with Little Falls, Herkimer, Oneonta, Rome and Utica.

In 1919, Ilion had fourteen factories, with 6,004 workers; 9,191 primary horsepower; $17,759,000 capital; annual value of manufactures, $13,702,000 (1920 U. S. Census report). In 1924, Ilion manufactured typewriters, rifles, ammunition, cash registers, steel office fixtures and filing equipment, show cases, store fixtures, etc.

In 1912 the Ilion industries employing over 1,000, were typewriters, 2,851; firearms, 1,127. Ilion is unique among New York towns for it had 4,570 factory employes (in 1912) compared with a population (officially estimated in 1912) of 7,023. This is explained by the fact that many of Ilion's workers come from Herkimer, Mohawk and Frankfort. There were thirteen factories in Ilion in 1912.

There are possibilities of water power within ten miles of the village. The adjacent farming country is devoted to general agriculture and to dairying; considerable quantities of strawberries are shipped from Ilion. The village has a hospital, municipal water and electric lighting systems and sewers. It is a rapidly growing, progressive community and the center of the Mohawk-Ilion-Frankfort village community with a combined population of 17,286 in 1920.

A Barge Canal terminal dock is located at Ilion, which is about the middle point on the waterway from the Hudson to Oswego (by way of the Mohawk River) — a famous historical and important present day commercial water route, traversed by the New York State Barge Canal.

[Photo: Oak Hill, North Ilion]

Ilion lies on the Mohawk flats and in the valley outlet of Steele's Creek and on the hills rising therefrom. The situation of the town is picturesque with Oak Hill opposite the village, on the north shore, rising sharply to a height of 600 feet above the Mohawk and 980 feet above the sea. The surface rock here is Hudson River (Utica) shale. There are commercially valuable clay deposits at Ilion.

The Herkimer-Mohawk-Ilion-Frankfort community is one of the most interesting civic districts, historically and commercially, on the New York-Buffalo railroad and highway. This community is largely the outgrowth of the talent and enterprise of Eliphalet Remington, one of the most remarkable of American inventive geniuses of the nineteenth century.

Ilion takes on great importance as the place where the typewriter, the Remington rifle and the magazine rifle were perfected.

Ilion Gulph — Automobile Route to the Unadilla River and Binghamton

[Photo: Ilion Gulph]

One of the most picturesque scenic features of the Mohawk Valley is the beautiful deep ravine extending southwestwardly along Steele's Creek and its western branch nearly to Cedarville, an airline distance of over five miles. This small canyon is known as the Ilion Gulph and its creek as the Gulph stream. Its rocky walls rise in steep cliffs, at one point, four miles south of Ilion, reaching a height of 700 feet above the brook and a sea level elevation of 1,580 feet for this summit. This beautiful route forms a natural gateway to the headwaters of the Unadilla River, a main headwater stream of the Susquehanna, which rises eight miles southwest of Ilion near Dayville. The Ilion Gulph is resorted to by geologists for the collection of fossils and the geological study of this deepest of Mohawk Valley ravines.

The Ilion Gulph is commercially important as the site of the second Remington rifle factory (1816, the first being on the farm at Crane's Corners). The old stone forge is marked by a tablet alongside the Gulf road.

Road to Great Western Turnpike

An automobile highway runs up the Gulph to Cedarville and thence to West Winfield, on the Unadilla River and the Great Western turnpike, there connecting with Richfield Springs, Otsego Lake, Cooperstown, Cherry Valley and Sharon Springs and roads running south, from West Winfield, down the Unadilla and the Susquehanna to Binghamton.

[Photo: Masonic Temple]

Jerusalem Hill, 1,720 Feet

Five miles airline distance southwest of Ilion a summit of the Mohawk-Unadilla divide rises to a height of 1,720 feet above the sea or 1,337 above the Mohawk. It is one and a half miles west of the edge of the steepest Gulph cliff and lies between the Gulph stream and Moyer Creek. This Gulph summit rises 200 feet above the surrounding plateau, with Crane's Corners on its eastern slope and a small pond lying at the foot of its western side. This is the highest elevation of any point within five miles of the Mohawk River along its course from Schenectady to Rome, and is known as Jerusalem Hill.

This Mohawk upland and summit is historically interesting, as it was at Crane's Corners, at its eastern base, that Eliphalet Remington, Senior, settled in 1800, and here, on his father's farm, Eliphalet Remington, Junior, made the first Remington rifle in 1816, and not at the Ilion Gulph forge, which was erected later in the year, to make a factory where young Remington could manufacture rifle barrels, then in great demand. Nothing but a pile of stones marks Remington's forge of 1816, at Crane's Corners.

Ilion, Historical — 1725-1920

The history of the Mohawk-Ilion-Frankfort community until after the Revolutionary war is comprised under that of Herkimer and Fort Herkimer, given on previous pages. Herkimer and Fort Herkimer were the business, farming, social and religious centers of the Colonial and Revolutionary German Flats, during which periods this south shore tri-village community comprised the river farmlands of the German pioneers, with the forests crowning the hills.

Following the Revolution a number of New England people settled in the Ilion neighborhood, among whom were the Remingtons.

Eliphalet Remington and the Remington Rifle, 1816

Eliphalet Remington, Senior, bought fifty acres in the present town of Litchfield, March 22, 1779, for $275. His son, Eliphalet, Junior, was born in Connecticut in 1793. In 1800 the senior Remington removed his family to his new farm at present Crane's Corners, about five miles southwest of Ilion. He was both a farmer and a mechanic and built a forge and blacksmith shop in addition to his other farm buildings. In 1807 and 1808 he purchased more land, some of it comprising part of the Ilion Gulph, where he built the creek forge in 1816.

In those days game was plentiful in the Mohawk forests and Eliphalet Remington, Junior, wanted to go hunting. Money was then very scarce and there was none to spare for a rifle, so, like a true Yankee, in the year 1816, young Remington set to work and made one. He first made the gun barrel and walked fifteen miles over the hills to Utica to have it rifled. The Utica gunsmith highly complimented the young farmer's work. Eliphalet also made a spring, lock and stock. The Utica gunsmith fitted the lock to the barrel and young Remington placed the parts in position and thus completed the first Remington rifle.

Ilion Gulph — Remington Forge, 1816-31

[Photo: Remington Home, About Three Miles South of Turnpike]

Neighboring farmers flocked to see young Remington's gun and ordered gun barrels or guns for themselves from the young mechanic. To supply these demands the senior Remington, in 1816, built a stone forge in the Gulph about three miles northeast of the farm and about three miles southwest of Ilion. The Remingtons ran their factory by water power and cut their first grindstone from a red sandstone ledge in the gorge. These grindstones were used for smoothing down the welded edges in gun barrels, as the barrels were not drilled from solid steel until 1850.

The Remington Gulph forge and factory made anything in its line that could be sold in the neighborhood — rifles, shotguns, crowbars, pickaxes, farm tools, etc. Guns sold better than other products and orders came from great distances and shipments were made on the new Erie Canal. For a while, as packages were small, they were taken to the canal bridge, a board lifted from the floor and a package dropped onto a boat as it passed under. There was no bill of lading. Remington took down the name of the boat and notified his customer by mail, so the latter would know which craft was bringing his guns.

Gillespie & Son had a store in Ilion in 1816, at which time the western section of present Ilion was called London. When the Erie canal was constructed, in 1825, the present town was called Morgan's Landing, from the nearby Selden Morgan farmhouse. On the canal list it was called Steele's Creek from the Adam Steele farm located thereon.

The Ilion Remington Works, 1831

In order to take advantage of the Erie Canal shipping facilities, Eliphalet Remington, Senior, bought 100 acres of farmland in present Ilion, from James A. Clapsaddle, on January 1, 1828.

At that time the village consisted of the following houses: Clapsaddle farmhouse, Daniel Dygert house, in which was the Cary grocery, Dennis Dygert house and storehouse, Selden Morgan farmhouse, Adam Steele house, Esquire Helmer house, Lawrence Helmer house. These seven buildings housed eight families with about fifty persons in 1828, and that hamlet was the nucleus of present Ilion.

In 1828 Eliphalet Remington, Senior, suffered an accident which caused his death. His son built a factory here and in 1831 removed the Gulph works to this place.

Remington ran his Ilion shop by water power from Steele's Creek and installed considerable gun-making machinery, including a big tilt hammer, several trip hammers, boring and rifling machines, grindstones, etc. He secured iron from ore beds in Oneida County and also by scouring the country for scrap iron. The chief fuel was charcoal, burnt by farmers in the hill country around Ilion. In 1832 twenty men were employed in the Ilion Remington works.

The fame of Remington spread and soon his Ilion shop was a mecca for inventors seeking his aid in developing their inventions in his factory. An enormous number of ideas and inventions were here worked out — many of which became successful.

Ilion's Name — Ilion Village, 1852

The Remington industry gave the name Remington Corners to the place until 1843. A postoffice was here established and a controversy arose over the name of the postoffice, as Mr. Remington objected to the use of his name. At a popular vote the name Fountain (for the creek) won over Vulcan (for the gun works). The district Congressman substituted the name Remington, but Eliphalet Remington objected again, and David D. Devoe, the postmaster (an admirer of Homer), suggested Ilion, which was adopted, the seventh name borne by the locality in thirty years.

Ilium is the Greek name of ancient Troy, the city of Asia Minor, captured and destroyed by the Greeks, whose exploits form the theme of Homer's Iliad.

Eliphalet Remington secured his first big gun contract during the Mexican war (1846-8), when he bought an army contract for several thousand carbines from the Ames Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, removing the latter works to Ilion in 1845. The Remington pistol was here perfected in 1852 and later adopted by the U. S. army.

The first solid steel gun barrel was made here in 1850 in the manufacture of Harpers Ferry muskets. Previous to this all gun barrels had been welded. The drilling of small-bore barrels from solid steel, the drilling of double-barrel shotguns from one piece of steel, the drilling of fluid steel and nickel steel barrels were all done for the first time at the Remington shops.

Ilion was chartered as a village in 1852. In 1855 it had a population of 812. The 1855 population of Frankfort was 1,150, Mohawk 1,335, and Herkimer 1,311, the four towns then having a combined population of 4,628, with Ilion as the smallest village.

Remington Rifle in the Civil War

In 1856 the firm of E. Remington & Sons was formed. "When Fort Sumter was fired on, Uncle Sam turned to the Remington plant, among others, for help out of his dilemma of unpreparedness." Remington's first Civil war contract was for 5,000 Harper's Ferry rifles, which took two years to complete.

As a result of the strain of those early war days, Eliphalet Remington died August 12, 1861, aged sixty-seven years.

The demands of the United States government on the Remington Ilion works was so great that the plant was largely increased, day and night shifts worked constantly, steam power was installed and a separate plant was opened at Utica to manufacture army revolvers. The Remington breech-loading rifle was perfected in 1863 and 10,000 were ordered by the U. S. army.

At the end of the Civil war in 1865 a million-dollar corporation succeeded the Remington firm, and the plant valuation was then $1,500,000. Both of these financial figures were enormous for those days. A period of financial depression followed the Civil war, as it did the World war. The Civil war depression affected Ilion strongly, as work was greatly reduced at the Remington plant.

The Remington breech-loading rifle showed its superiority, in the Civil war, over the muzzle loader. After 1866 this arm was perfected at Ilion, and before 1870, 200,000 of these guns were made for the U. S. navy and foreign countries. The Remington works also changed the Civil war muzzle-loading Springfields into breech loaders for the U. S. army after that conflict. During seven months, in 1870-1, during the Franco-Prussian war, the Ilion works made 155,000 rifles for the French government, an arms making feat unapproached up to that time.

The local activity of the Civil war period increased Ilion's population to 2,876 in 1870. In 1870 the Mohawk and Ilion street railroad was built, it being extended to Herkimer in 1871, and to Frankfort in 1872. The manufacture of lumber and house finishings here began in 1871.

The First Commercial Typewriter — The Remington, 1873

In 1873 the Remington works of Ilion made the first practicable commercial typewriter from the model invented by Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wis. Since 1714 many "typewriters" have been made, but the Remington Model 1 was the first commercially successful typewriter, and thus, in 1873, one of the greatest inventions of the age was perfected at Ilion, in the Mohawk Valley.

In 1866, Sholes and Samuel W. Soule, ex-printers, worked on a model for a page numbering machine in Milwaukee. Carlos Glidden, an inventor associated with them, suggested that they develop a typing machine. Sholes produced a crude machine in 1867, patented June 23, 1868, and later an improved one (embodying many typewriter principles), patented July 14, 1868, which Sholes called a "typewriter". Soule dropped out and James Densmore, another printer, bought an interest. Sholes and Densmore worked out the universal keyboard, practically as at present. Sholes' typewriter was used for court reporting in 1868 and for directly typing telegraph messages in 1869.

Thirty models were made from 1868 to 1873, when Densmore brought the latest model to Ilion, where he signed a manufacturing contract with Philo Remington, March 1, 1873. Sholes sold Densmore his interest for $12,000. W. K. Jenne perfected the Sholes model and produced the first successful commercial typewriter in September, 1873. It was put on the market in 1874 and sold in London in 1876. First sales were very slow and the Remington typewriter was a failure as a feature of the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, where Bell's telephone made a big hit. Twelve hundred typewriters were sold in 1881. Mark Twain, in 1874, was the first author-typist and his "Life on the Mississippi" was the first typed literary manuscript.

Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, then sales agents, bought the typewriter business from the Remingtons in 1886, using the former agricultural works as their factory. In 1903 the corporate name became the Remington Typewriter Company.

[Photo: Sholes-Remington Typewriter Bi-centennial Memorial]

At Ilion on September 8, 1923, the Remington typewriter celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, under the auspices of the Herkimer County Historical Society. A boulder marker was unveiled commemorating the event. Mrs. Charles L. Fortier of Milwaukee, daughter of Sholes, and the first woman typist, and Charles E. Weller of Laporte, Indiana, the first man typist, were present. The celebration caused world-wide interest in the Remington typewriter, Sholes, its inventor, Ilion and the Mohawk Valley.

Herkimer County holds a great place in the industrial advancement of women. General Spinner, a resident of Mohawk, was the first man to give government employment to women, while the Remington typewriter, manufactured at Ilion, only a mile or so from the Spinner home, gave world-wide employment to women.

First Magazine Rifle, 1874

James P. Lee designed the first military rifle with the bolt type of cartridge chamber, the parent of the military rifle of today. The model was made at Ilion and tools and machinery made here for its manufacture in quantities. It afterwards became the basis for the British army rifle, the Lee-Metford and the Lee-Enfield, which were made here in Ilion in vast quantities for England during the World war, as well as for use in the American Expeditionary Force in France (1917-8).

The Remington double-barrelled breech-loading shotgun was here developed, as well as a hammerless breech-loading pistol and a magazine pistol and a magazine pump rifle. Vernier and wind gauge sights, attached to any rifle, were here manufactured.

The Remingtons' activities covered too wide a field, with adequate financial returns along but a few lines. The period from 1878 to 1882 was one of financial embarrassment for the firm.

In 1886 the typewriter works were sold to Wycoff, Seamans & Benedict. In 1886 the Remingtons went into the hands of a receiver and, in 1888, the arms works were purchased by Hartley & Graham, dealers in guns, ammunition and sporting goods. Marcellus Hartley, in 1867, founded the Union Metallic Cartridge Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the Ilion and Bridgeport industries were consolidated under the name of Remington Arms Union Metallic Cartridge Company. It was at Bridgeport that the center fire cartridge was first made. Mr. Philo Remington died in 1889. Mr. Marcellus Hartley died in 1902.

[Photo: Remington Bridges, Ilion]

The south shore village community was boomed by the building of the West Shore R. R. on the south shore of the Mohawk (1879-1883). Knit goods manufacture was begun in 1886.

Birth of the Card Index

In 1876 Melvil Dewey, librarian of Columbia University of New York City, organized a company which originated the card index, card ledger, vertical filing system and many other important modern office devices. This company, now known as the Library Bureau, removed to Ilion in 1901, and manufactures steel and wood office furniture and filing equipment.

World War (1914-1918) Arms Center

A vast quantity of rifles for the Allied armies was manufactured at the Remington works during the World war (1914-1918). A thousand Lee-Enfield guns for the British armies were made here daily, and the same rifle was also manufactured for the U. S. Army during its years in the World war (1917-18).

In defense of its liberties, the United States of America would have been badly off had it not been for the genius and enterprise of Eliphalet Remington, whose influence on American and world history, through the Remington rifle, has been tremendous.

Ilion's Remington Rifle Centennial

In August, 1916, the people of Ilion held a three-day celebration of the centennial of the making of the first Remington rifle. One of the central figures of this anniversary was Eliphalet Remington (3d), then ninety years old and the son of the Eliphalet Remington (2nd), who forged the first Remington rifle. The celebration attracted thousands of visitors. Among those present and speaking were Gen. Hugh A. Scott, chief of staff of the U. S. Army, U. S. Senator (later President) Warren G. Harding, and Governor Charles S. Whitman. To commemorate the occasion, the village of Ilion gave bronze statue trophies, representing Remington at his forge, to the National and State Guard organizations of every state in the Union, to be competed for as perpetual prizes for proficiency in marksmanship.

In 1921 the manufacture of cash registers was begun at the Remington works.

Eliphalet Remington (3d) died in Herkimer in 1924, aged 98 years.

The inventions of the Remingtons and those of others perfected in the Remington works form a remarkable list.

These inventions and machines include the following: The first model of a Yale lock with a flat key, burglar proof bank vaults, the first match-making machine, gas engines, horsepower fire engines, surgical instruments, iron and steel bridges, sewing machines, agricultural machinery, early velocipedes, tandem velocipedes, bicycles, job printing presses, typesetting machines, deep well pumps, rock drills, radial forge hammers, cotton machine spindles, button-hole, cigar-making, tobacco bag making, leather sewing, broom-making, shoe-making, pill-making, button sewing and pleating machines. The first steam street cars and the first steam canal boat engines and propulsion machinery were products of the Remington mechanical "laboratories". Here was made the model of a mercury scale which could register an ounce or weigh a ton.

The Naylor battery magazine gun of a rapid-fire type was here perfected as well as many other gun inventions. Rifle cartridge and cartridge making machinery were here perfected. The first test of high power firearms ammunition was made at Ilion by an inventor named Merriam in 1880.

Many agricultural implements in general use were here devised. Hoes, rakes and forks were here first made by the rolling system, now in general use.

The Remingtons were among the first experimenters in electric lighting and power. Dynamos, arc and incandescent lamps were here made and installed, on the Parker system, in five Mohawk Valley towns (Rome, Utica, Dolgeville, Schenectady, Cohoes) and other places. Thus Schenectady, the present center of the world's electrical industry, was first lighted by Remington apparatus. Experiments were here made for braking trains by electricity.

The first transmission of electricity for power in printing and perhaps in any line, was accomplished when a dynamo in the Remington plant was connected with another dynamo in the office of the "Ilion Citizen", following an accident that deprived that paper of power, and the first newspaper was there and then printed by electrical power.

Probably no other plant in America, and perhaps in the world, has produced such a varied line of perfected and useful machines and devices as the Remington Ilion works, and Ilion will doubtless make other important contributions to the industrial life of mankind in the years to come.

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