A story of a village begins after the Revolutionary War, sometime around the time when Congress passed the Embargo Act of l807. Thomas Jefferson was president. The merchant ships were forbidden to carry goods to England. This decision was passed to try to protect American ships from Great Britain and to force concessions by depriving England of American goods. Fabrics, laces and all textiles were imported from England. The taxes levied on imports resulted in War of l812. To many Americans it was an unjustified war. It was more an attempt to gratify England’s expansionist ambitions. People had hostile feelings toward England.
Our story begins with Dr. Seth Capron, a Scottish young man who came to this area from Rhode Island in l806. He began a cottage industry of weaving in the already existing gristmill, where farmers had flour milled. The gristmill was powered by water taken from the Sauquoit creek. The family members wove the cloth by hand. This operation lasted about six years.
The industry of textiles got its impetus and power on the arrival of Benjamin Walcott, a Scottish man from Cumberland, Rhode Island. Walcott was a man of outstanding ability with a reputation for inventive genius. He was a practical manufacturer who had learned the textile business at the Cumberland textile mill in Rhode Island. With the assistance of his son, Benjamin Stuart Walcott, the Walcotts began the business at the northern end of town. Land and water rights were purchased from Amos Wetmore. This operation began long before the introduction of the power loom. The Walcotts looked at the powerful Sauquoit Creek and realized its great potential. This was before the surrounding forests were denuded. The currents of Sauquoit Creek ran strong for more than l7 miles before emptying into the Mohawk River, and had a fall of one thousand and fourteen feet. The creek was a gushing, meandering stream of great possibilities and wonderful visions. The operation was spread out in a manner to take full advantage of the natural fall of the stream. The community built around three groups of buildings, each one mile apart. The original gristmill and a new building burned down and were replaced in l828. The first mills were small operations, which adopted the Rhode Island system of employing the entire family, including the children. The company houses were built as this same time to house the employees. The Sauquoit Creek was a tremendous source of waterpower. Canals called dikes and dams were built and the creek was harnessed. A textile industry had its birth. The Walcotts employed about eighty people.
Benjamin J. Walcott’s fortitude came with the faith of his ancestors. He believed in hard work, justice and the Protestant work ethic. He required his employees to give an oath in which they renounced alcoholic beverages. The Walcott Mills were among the earliest in New York State to provide a working medical program. They built houses; mostly two family dwellings called flats, which they rented to the employees for less than $20 a year. They built schools for the children and generously contributed and endowed money to the churches. There was an ardent spirit of free enterprise and enthusiasm. Although this textile operation was small, there was need for improvement. The weaving was not stable or even in quality. The process of weaving was not reliable.
The Erie canal was built in l825. Before this welcome blessing, there was no means of transporting the goods. The Walcott Mills had to travel to Albany by horse team, which took long periods of time and great perseverance. The roads were bad and usually muddy or dusty. The Erie Canal was located where the Oriskany Boulevard is now. The mills began to barge their heavy products. New York Mills had its roots in the textile age from l840 to l865.
In l847, Samuel Campbell, at age 22, was brought in to the firm. He was an immigrant, born in Scotland and was an expert in spinning. There was a persistent rumor that persisted and endured for more than a hundred years as to Samuel Campbell’s background. Mostly because he advanced so rapidly from mule spinner to general manager. Samuel Campbell was rumored to be an illegitimate son of a Scotch nobleman who had no legitimate children of his own. In l847, the nobleman died, leaving his entire fortune to Samuel Campbell, who promptly bought a half interest in the new textile industry. The stock of this new company was valued at one million dollars, owned half-and-half by the Walcotts and Campbell.
The Walcotts and Campbell were solid individuals who contributed greatly to the community. They became leaders in the textile industry development. They constructed three groups of mills and a bleachery. They contributed to the general welfare of the community. They built and donated schools in each of the three divisions. They were instrumental in building the beautiful Walcott Memorial Church in l881. The Company was also the first to introduce the new power looms in New York State. The quality of goods was excellent and it surpassed any produced in this country. Most importantly, they sold their beautiful fabric under an American label, a fete not accomplished in the United States before. Surely, the Company was a success story and a tribute to the free enterprise system.
Benjamin Walcott and Samuel Campbell were very successful in their endeavors and both accumulated substantial fortunes. which are now the village’s legacy. Both built gorgeous brick, identical mansions overlooking the mills. The original Walcott home was set back on the hillside overlooking the middle mill, where today are recently built homes between Wadas Drive and Pleasant street. Identical to this home was one built for Samuel Campbell. The Campbell home was also built on a hill set way back, about an eighth of a mile from the main road. In front of this home were two ponds built as reservoirs to provide an endless supply of fresh water for the mills and the surrounding company houses. The Campbell acreage stretched for miles because Samuel Campbell devoted his spare time to breeding prized sheep and Durnham cattle, which he imported from England. Part of the Campbell lands became the present beautiful Twin Ponds golf course. On Main Street, where Cedar Ridge multiple apartments are now, was the home of Benjamin Stuart Walcott. It was built in the Greek revival style of a Southern mansion. The Walcott families also had horses and cattle and large barns to house them.
Around l878, many immigrants from Poland began to arrive to seek employment in the mills. The portals of the Statue of Liberty were opened and many immigrants came. Never in the history of immigration had such an influx of immigration repeated itself. At the turn of the century is when most of the Polish ancestors arrived. Ellis Island has a fabulous museum that is replete with photographs and memorabilia of those brave, stalwart pioneers who struggled to get to this land of opportunity. Immigrants constituted a high percentage of the U.S, population during this period, more than at any time before or since. The heads of most households had birthplaces in foreign lands.
By l900, the elder family heads of Walcott and Campbell families had passed away leaving behind their sons and heirs to run their textile enterprise. The heirs had little knowledge and less interest in manufacturing of textiles. The Company lost its competitive position in selling their goods and marketing was lacking. There was a technology shift for which they failed to prepare. After the zenith in l865, the trend in manufacturing began to turn downward. Working conditions were deteriorating. The wages were low and working hours were long. Working policies were increasingly unreasonable and enforcement was strict. The Sauquoit Creek, which was so instrumental in the development and success of the company, was now causing its demise. The company suffered great stress because the owners were taking the profits out, but did not put money back to change with modern technology. If it wasn’t for the self-sacrifice, hard work and dedication of the new immigrants, who were arriving at that time, there was no way that, the factories could have stayed open to operate under those deplorable working conditions. Walcott and Campbell Company’s troubles came to a head in l909. The owners turned to A.D. Juilliard, a New York City commission house, who were their selling agents, for a loan of one million dollars to meet their debts and accumulated obligations. The loan was granted for a period of one year. At the expiration of the year, the Walcott and Campbell Company could not repay the loan but needed and additional million dollars for operating expenses. Juilliard stepped in and took over the mills. Walcott and Campbell sold their common stock to A.D. Juilliard and Co. in l909. The two great families of Walcott and Campbell, which for a century had been in constant and full control ceased to be considered a force.
In 1910, the A.D. Juilliard & Co. sent a delegation to England to study the British methods of corduroy and velveteen manufacture. The delegation brought back some new machines, which they reproduced, in the local machine shops, using the British machines as patterns. Juilliard was in the pile fabric business exclusively. The Company enjoyed its greatest success for the next decade. The general manager, the three superintendents, the bosses and second hands kept things moving, to keep business running as usual. But soon, the same working problems erupted and continued to deteriorate. The ubiquitous microscopic dust was everywhere. The antiquated looms were deafening and you could feel the vibrations throughout the mill. Tuberculosis was prevalent. There was no major investment in upgrading its technology. The wages were low and hours long. The overworked employees formed a workers’ union in l911. The committees met at the Grove later called the National Park. In l913, the employees built a permanent Union Hall. The Company agreed to correct some working conditions. They installed steam pipes in their attempt to settle and clean the dusty air. After l930, no further investment to update the mills was made. The mills were obsolete. The lack of wise management was reflected throughout the entire enterprise. The owners were amassing huge fortunes but reinvesting very little in the newer technologies. During World War II, the A.D. Juilliard & Co. received a U.S. government order. The mills were running to their full capacity, employing everyone who sought a job. At this time the Company employed 2,000 workers. The war rejuvenated the textile business with an explosion of an artificial success. After the war, the boom ended with a slow fizzle. Modernization plans were laid out in l950, but they failed to materialize. A.D. Juilliard & Co. was faced with two options, making a major investment in upgrading its antiquated technology or move south, where the cost of energy was cheaper and the wages were less. The Company opted to go cheaper with non-unionized labor and cheap energy. In l952, the lower and middle mills and the surrounding real estate were sold to Roger Pratt, a Utica attorney. The remaining upper mill, which was the finishing plant, was sold in October of l953 and purchased by United M & M. In l95l, the A.D. Juilliard & Co. permanently closed its doors and left the village of New York Mills, N.Y.
The fledgling village of New York Mills and the Juilliard Company were closely intertwined. The village had its inception in the company and existed because of the company. Sometimes the residents could not recognize the separation. The love for the company was addictive like affection for a paternal entity. The new village had a near death experience. The aftershock was awesome. For a while a shroud covered the usual hope and optimism. The village prayed that the company, like an old cat, would find its way back home. No one understood words such as downsizing or bottom like, or that the company’s loyalty is only to its stockholders. The village, like a green little apple had its fall but it did not smash and self-destruct. The village went into a reconstructive stage. The village was green, still unripe and inexperienced, so it just rolled and rolled. The people planted, cleaned, refurbished, painted, and added new sun porches and decks, sent their kids to college, became entrepreneurs, found new jobs and continued as usual. Self-reliability is their ingrained birthright. Mobility with automobiles and availability of higher education expanded the ability and motivation to move and leave this village for better jobs and more money. But no breakdown occurred. The village board still meets monthly in the village hall, like in the old days. The village has built up; the village board got more police protection, better code enforcement and more beautification and landscaping. The pride in ownership is constant and unchangeable. On their busy way, the residents gaze sadly at the deserted factory skeleton looming over the village. The relic casts shadows where sunlight should be, but everyone is grateful that the old Company was here because it provided motivation for our ancestors to come to this country, this village, and these mills.
New York Mills is a unique village. Its inception was because of the Company. The village was forming gradually and carefully like a green little apple in the center of New York State, before the state thruway and the Erie Canal came to be. The neighboring villages incorporated earlier. Whitesboro incorporated in l813 and Yorkville in l902. After much deliberation, New York Mills, decided to incorporate as a village on April 4, l922. Dr. Dean Harrison was elected first mayor; Robert N. Healey and W.S.H. Baker were trustees. W.S. Thomas was first village clerk and Charles Wayerink was the first Police officer. The village is located in the very heart of the N.Y. State in close proximity to the Mohawk River, many lakes and the spectacular Adirondack Mountains where residents can be dazzled by the fresh water lakes, valleys or mountains within a short time. The visionary village fathers wisely preserved all the natural beauty that the residents so proudly share. On every street there are spacious green lawns and gardens to be seen, fun to be had, and places to sit for a while. The parks are plentiful and exciting attractions to all the residents. The little ballpark field was enlarged by a wise village purchase of the adjacent land to accommodate the growing needs. It is located on Henderson Street and called the John Pietryka Park. In the very center of the village, there are two adjacent, extensive parks, something for everyone in this charming village. There is a colorful and delightful park playground, which is well supervised by the village. It lies between Walcott and White streets on Main Street. The other park is dedicated to the village veterans and is proudly called the Pulaski Park after the Revolutionary War hero General Casimer Pulaski. This park has a covered pavilion where many summer festivities are held and weekly band concerts are heard. This park also has a very beautiful gazebo that crowns the rolling greens facing Main Street, between White and Floyd streets. This diadem blooms with cascading flowers throughout the growing season and the fluttering American flags remind everyone of the price paid for freedom.
Over the 75 years, many improvements have been made. The streets were widened and paved, and new streets were added curbs installed and sidewalks put in. New York Mills’ residents love to stroll, run and visit. There is a special comfort in feeling safe in a village where the streets are named after familiar people and landmarks. The neighborhood watch had its origins in this village. The village maintains almost 12 miles of streets and roads.
The original one room library of l930 was replaced with a beautiful stone building in l973. The library houses over 24,000 books, audiotapes and videotapes. The library is located on the corner of Maple and Main streets. The post office located in the 300 block was moved to a new building on the corner of Church and Main streets in l960. The village has built a beautiful new public Junior and Senior High School located on Marauder Blvd., off Burrstone Road in l958. The continuous expanse of grassy land makes this an appropriate setting for the beautiful school, which was enlarged to also accommodate children from kindergarten to 6th grades.
The village is extremely proud of the dedicated volunteer fire department. The firemen are very well trained, proficient and well equipped to handle all emergencies. The municipal building on Main Street, in the center of the village houses the fire department’s equipment and emergency apparatus and the is location of the village board room, the court house and the police department.
The village wisely acquired the First Methodist Episcopal Church across from the library and transformed it into an active community and arts center. The senior citizens, many clubs and organizations delight in congregating for civic and recreational reasons.
The village of New York Mills has always been optimistic and vibrant with hope and excitement. It is a village where people enjoy and want to live. Residents love the landscaping and beautification efforts. They enjoy getting involved with the village government. They create organizations where they can voice their opinions and show they care. For the past 75 years, the village board has worked side by side with its residents. The board members are residents who share the same dreams and aspirations of making this village a better place in which to live. From its meager beginnings, the residents watched and helped the village grow in stature and structure throughout all its growing pains. There were frustrations sometimes that needed to be endured and many challenges and responsibilities to be met. The management of a village is a huge responsibility. The village cherishes its people because its stored wealth lies in its people. The people are the village. The bells still toll in the distance and the people give many thanks for the village and they are proud of its busy community center, its well stocked library, great schools, independent fire department, beautiful Twin Ponds golf course, great restaurants, crowded churches, small and large businesses, balanced budgets and even the parks and sidewalks for baby carriages and joggers. New York Mills is truly a village the neighbors built and are proud of.
A story of a village is true. Some editorial license has been taken. The story begins in the middle and has no ending because it keeps developing, to be continued. The legacy lives on.
Written by Wanda Misiaszek B.Finkle
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of New York Mills as a village April l997. New York Mills Center for the Arts
The History of Oneida County, New York Mills, Adeline Kielbasa Chaplo
Commemorating the bicentennial of our national independence
The Upper Mohawk Country by David Ellis
Whitesboro, NY celebrates America Bicentenial
New York Mills by Louis Kallas l976
Whitestown Settlement Days
New York Mills History – papers from files of late Robert Willard, Professor emeritus,
General Education of Utica College
A Story of a Village is based on fact. The sequence of events at every stage is rich in history. It evolves like a kaleidoscope of events. Each piece contributing greatly story. A story of a village could become an inspiration for a hundred more stories or even novels. Each one could be developed and finely-tuned from a different perspective. More than two centuries and the lives of thousands of people cannot be condensed into a few pages of a story. This story is always subject to revision and correction as unraveling and uncovering of more facts permits. If you know a story about the village of New York Mills and would like to share it, please submit it to the new York Mills Community and Arts Center.