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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 135: The City of Rome.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1880-1885 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]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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Oriskany swamp of twenty years ago — Construction of Barge Canal — Development of the great brass and copper industry — Various other industries — The City of trees — "One-tenth of the copper used in the United States is manufactured in Rome" — Noteworthy twentieth century civic features.

By E. D. Bevitt, Secretary Rome Chamber of Commerce.

Another Rip Van Winkle, awakening in Rome in 1925, would find several things to excite his wonder in addition to the changes incident to the growth of over 60 per cent, which the city experienced in the first twenty years of the present century.

Remembering Rome as being located on the north edge of the Oriskany swamp, he would find immediately south of the city 500 acres of valuable muck land producing the finest kind of celery, lettuce, carrots and other produce with 2,900 acres more awaiting the gardener's hoe.

Informed that twenty years had passed since his last waking hours, he might visualize a city of 28,000 people with a corresponding increase in the size and number of its varied industries but he would not expect to find "The Copper City" with eight flourishing copper mills consuming as raw material more than one-tenth of the copper used in the United States.

[Photo: Court House and Gansevoort Statue]

[Photo: The Rome Club]

The Oriskany swamp of twenty years ago became the muck lands of today by reason of a fortunate circumstance in connection with the construction of the New York State Barge Canal. Rome is on the divide between the Hudson and Oswego rivers. It was desirable to hold the number of locks in the canal to a minimum and the engineers found it feasible to cut through the summit of the divide and obtain a single level from New London to Carey's Corners. This brought the Canal through the north edge of the Oriskany swamp ten feet lower than the old Erie Canal and several feet below the water level of the swamp.

Thus the swamp was drained and thus Rome received a material benefit not foreseen when the Barge Canal was first projected.

The construction of the Barge Canal wrought other changes in Rome beneficial on the whole but not without their drawbacks. The new line of the Canal crossed the tracks of the New York Central Railroad in two places within or near the city limits. In order to avoid this, the main line tracks were revised to keep them south of the Canal, thereby eliminating several very dangerous grade crossings in the heart of the city, but necessitating the removal of the passenger station to its present somewhat remote location south of the tracks near Mill Street. Two of the old main line tracks have been retained as industrial tracks. They are connected with the main line east of the city, but do not cross the Barge Canal in the west end.

The building of the Barge Canal on a new alignment was one of a long series of changes in the waterways in and around Rome. First there was the building of the Inland Lock and Navigation Company's Canal connecting Wood Creek and the Mohawk River. This canal has entirely disappeared, although its alignment is known. Later came the construction of the original Erie Canal about a half mile southwest of the city. The old channel of this canal is an open drainage sewer. Still later when the Erie Canal was enlarged, Romans exerted their influence to have the alignment changed so as to carry the canal through the city. This canal has been abandoned and the lands occupied by it are in the course of being transferred to the city. The Mohawk River itself is now in the Barge Canal from a point just south of Rome eastward for a number of miles and its former channel is still to be traced through the lowlands of the valley, which carries some water in its course.

A power race which left the Mohawk River about the intersection of First Street and joined it again near the present Mill Street bridge has disappeared. The march of events has rendered the Black River Canal obsolete and its abandonment at an early date is foreseen. These changes together with the draining of the Oriskany swamp and the creation of Lake Delta four miles north of the city constitute a series of changes in waterways not equaled perhaps at any other point in the country.

[Photo: The American Corner, Rome]

[Photo: Stryker Home, Rome]

The development of the great brass and copper industry in Rome is a monument to a group of able and progressive Romans headed by the late Mr. J. S. Haselton, all of whom seem to have had a natural talent for it.

While brass and copper is the predominating industry, Rome is not a one-industry town.

In addition to its brass and copper mills Rome has substantial and flourishing plants producing knit goods and underwear, metallic bedsteads, merchant iron, soap, lubricating oils and greases, canned goods, tin cans and sporting goods. Another large plant rebuilds and repairs locomotives. While still others produce in no mean quantities clothing, cheese, noodles, macaroni and zwieback, aluminum ware, vacuum cleaners and brooms, cigars, tents and awnings, hydraulic rams, harness, leather novelties, wagon gears, plastic fire brick, protective paint, wooden boxes, woodwork, castings, channel steel barges, cast stone products, extracts, cold cream lotions and other articles.

Indeed, if there were nothing here but the brass and copper mills, the city would still have what in common parlance is known as a diversity of products. Brass and copper are basic materials and enter into the manufacture of a wide range of articles.

This will be understood when one scans the following list of articles produced by the Rome brass and copper mills and takes note of the wide range of uses to which they are put: Brass and copper sheets and rods, seamless and brazed tubing, commutator and bus bar copper, copper rivets and burrs, bare and covered wire, hollow wire and tubing, wire cloth, copper wash boilers, tea kettles and kitchen utensils, bronze and brass tablets, automobile and aeroplane radiators, — and considers further that one of the mills has a large jobbing shop in which all kinds of brass and copper articles are made on contract. It will be noted that many of these articles in turn serve as materials for the manufacture of other things.

For instance, copper wire in its various forms enters into the manufacture of electric generators and motors; the latter may be used to drive machinery in plants, street cars, or electric fans. Again wire is used in the construction of wire cloth and screen, telephone and telegraph instruments and in the circuits connecting them, in wiring houses and buildings for lights and connecting them with the central plant, for door bells, buzzers, etc. Wire is also used in automobiles and several automobile accessories.

As with wire, so is it with sheets, rods and other articles, until it has been said that if there is any business in the country at all, there is business for some of the brass and copper mills.

The New York Central Railroad has an important plant at Rome, where its railroad ties are put through the creosoting process.

Rome is also known as the Outdoor Cathedral or the City of Trees, because most of the streets as far as the eye can see, are completely arched over by immense trees, mostly maples and elms. Arrangements have been completed by the Chamber of Commerce whereby elm trees will be planted on James Street from Linden Street to Ridge Mills, from which point there are already large trees along the sides of the road to Smith Corners. Romans of the present day are endeavoring to be as considerate of the future as were the Romans of fifty years ago.

Regular travelers on the New York Central frequently refer to Rome as the city with the electric signs. On the Mill Street Barge Canal bridge, the Chamber of Commerce maintains a large electric sign containing the words: "One-tenth of the copper used in the United States is manufactured in Rome."

Other electric signs displaying the company names are maintained by the Rome Brass and Copper Company, the Rome Wire Company, the Rome Manufacturing Company, and the Spargo Wire Company. The fact that five of the New York Central's great through trains pass Rome between dusk and bedtime gives these signs a great advertising value and justifies their maintenance.

Other towns along the Mohawk would do well to follow Rome's example and let the traveler know what interesting manufactures are produced in factories along railroad and turnpike.

[Photo: Statue of General Peter Gansevoort]

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