THE WATER POWER AT LITTLE FALLS, Pt. 2
AN ADDRESS BY JOHN B. KOETTERITZ OF LITTLE FALLS
Delivered Before the Herkimer County Historical Society February 13, 1904
The Suspension Bridge at Little Falls, N.Y.
POWERS ON THE NORTH SIDE
As stated before in about 1830, the title of the property on the north side was wholly in Sir Edward ELLICE, of Bath, England. He and his family before him were averse to giving title to the property and preferred to give, what they called, "durable leases," by which, for the payment of a stated small sum per year, people could occupy their land. Holding the water power as the most promising part of his property, he had made no sales up to 1831 of any power, but several parties occupied mill sites and used quantities of water of which there is no definite record preserved. The village of Little Falls was at that time in a very prosperous condition and bound to grow, but could not on account of the refusal of ELLICE to sell land or power. A bill was introduced through local influence in the legislature of 1831, which practically deprived Edward ELLICE as an alien landholder from holding and owning any lands in the State of New York; while the bill was of course aimed only at Little Falls, it would have affected all his lands in the State. His agents, the BLEEKERS of Albany and George H. FEETER of Little Falls brought about the following solution of the problem. In order to defeat the bill aimed at ELLICE, a certain ring of influential members of the legislature was persuaded to defeat the bill and ELLICE agreed to sell to this syndicate and some of their friends in the legislature, all his tights, title and interests at Little Falls for the sum of $50,000.
When the sale was completed, the bill was defeated. Little Falls rejoiced because the ban was lifted. The new proprietors immediately laid out the village on a larger scale but did not pay any attention to the water powers. It would be too long to follow the various changes from the original six proprietors to the sale by them to Richard Ray WARD of New York. Mr. WARD was a member of that family known in banking and financial circles of the Metropolis, a lawyer and banker. To the same family belongs Julia Ward HOWE, the authoress, and John WARD, Samuel and others connected with Little Falls titles were near relatives. Richard Ray WARD was bought from the different owners in 1831 and 32 all their interest. They had in the meantime sold many of the valuable village lots but had not interfered with the water powers. In newspapers of the period attention is called repeatedly to the fact that Mr. WARD did not fulfill his promise and develop the water power. As a matter of fact WARD employed two engineers, DOUGHTY and BRIDGES, of New York, to make a very careful survey of the village and of the water powers and he certainly planned a more extensive use of the water than ever has been carried out. Whether his engineers were not competent or whether he was somewhat of a rainbow chaser we cannot tell now. From the condemnation proceedings of the Utica and Schenectady railroad company against WARD and from numerous maps left by WARD, it appears that he was planning a most intricate scheme of inlets and outlets for the use of water ever planned by an engineer. It is said that the only thing that he actually did was the erection of a Wing Dam near the present GILBERT Mill and the building of the dam by the Gulf Bridge. It must be remembered that in the middle of the thirties the great financial depression occurred and that WARD became unable to meet his obligations, not to speak of the villages to improve his water power brought about a contract between him and Parley EATON and Moses DRAKE, who ran in the Mohawk Courier in the spring of 1834 the following advertisement:
"Water Power for sale at auction. On Wednesday the 25th of June next will be offered for sale at public auction part of the Water Power of the Upper Fall on the north side of the Mohawk River in said village recently purchased of R. R. WARD Esq., embracing not less than twenty convenient water lots, with each a quantity of water equal to propelling four run of stone or four thousand spindles, but shall be sold with such amount of water, however, as shall be desired by the purchaser. These lots extend from the center of the river north to the old canal, which is navigable with canal boats and is connected with the Erie Canal by means of the aqueduct across the river, so that they possess every facility for transportation desired for trade and manufactures. The dams necessary to afford an abundant supply of water are now complete and the water is conducted through each lot by a canal expense." They had a survey made of this property by Robert HIGHAM, the engineer who located the railroad through this village and the Eaton-Drake map is mentioned in records. On West Mill Street this allotment is made very similar to the later Powell map, but numbers the lots in opposite directions. We can trace to this Eaton-Drake division the description and quantity of three of the later mill lots. It seems that the promoters could not have been successful, because the same clamor for improvement of the water powers appears again. In the newspapers next year, Judge LOOMIS, who was then the main owner of the water on the south side, was finally induced by WARD, Dudley BURWELL, the ALEXANDERS and various others to take the matter in hand and the result was that on April 11th, 1836 Richard Ray WARD conveyed to LOOMIS all his water property except lot 13, lot 8, lot 7 (Drake & Eaton map) excepting also the running lease of the old red paper mill. Judge LOOMIS gave on that date a mortgage to WARD for the same property, which extended all the way from Lock Street to the East end of the mill lot occupied within a few years by Rugene WALRATH, and included nearly all the land south of the railroad and between the river, including Clinton Park, MAC KINNON Mills and ZOLLER Cold Storage. On the same date Mr. LOOMIS and Mr. WARD made an agreement which is really the essence of the two other transactions. The agreement states that the mortgage is payable in five years and that LOOMIS contemplates to improve, allot and sell at his discretion the whole of said premises in parcels and at such prices as he may see fit within the said five years and in so doing will necessarily incur expense and render service and whereas LOOMIS is now the owner of a large amount of real estate adjoining the said property and opposite thereto on the south side of the river with water power and appurtenances and in the sale of said property so mortgaged it may be in his judgement expedient to sell more water power to be used with land so mortgaged than properly belongs to it, by taking the same from the property now owned by said LOOMIS, etc. WARD agrees that in case the net proceeds of the sales shall at the end of five years fail to amount to 50,000 dollars and six percent interest and all expenses incurred by said LOOMIS in improving the same for sale together with 10,000 dollars in addition thereto, that the said WARD will make good such deficiency to said LOOMIS so as to yield LOOMIS 10,000 dollars over and above the purchase money and such deficiency, and also that the water of LOOMIS is to be accounted for in case of sale and settlement. This matter has often been misunderstood. Mr. LOOMIS was at that time among the first lawyers of this State, he had devoted his time to the study of hydraulics and he was in a position, if not interfered with, to dispose of that property to his and Mr. WARD'S and to the benefit of the village of Little Falls. It is certain that he carried out at his own expense a great many of the improvements, digging of the canal, building of bulk head and dams and employment of engineers and so on. Such services of Mr. LOOMIS were certainly worth the bonus agreed upon. It was tacitly understood between Mr. WARD and Mr. LOOMIS, and the records show it now (see judgement roll) that Mr. WARD agreed not to dispose of the mortgage. If he disposed of the mortgage, LOOMIS could not give titles, because WARD could not control the releasing for any sales. WARD, we must judge at this time, acted dishonestly and disposed in 1839 of that mortgage to the 17th Ward Fire Insurance Company, which Company was merged into the National Fire Insurance Company.
As soon as Mr. LOOMIS had acquired the property, he employed Archibald POWELL, a well known engineer of his day, to survey it, and all the later conveyances are based upon the "Powell Map" or upon the combination with a map of Jervis called the "Powell-Jervis Map." The property was also much advertised in newspapers and by distributing lithographic maps. The scheme of the utilization of the water according to the Powell map was to connect the east point of Lock Island with a point on the north shore on lot 56 (Powell Map) and take the water in a millrace to be utilized on the lots west Fifth Street; to erect a dam straight across the Mohawk River about 200 or 300 feet above the present dam and run the water in a mill race on the north side of Mill Street and across Bridge Street, where it now crosses and let out on lot 22. Another part of the scheme was to use the surplus water of the basin and feeder on some lands on which now the older MAC KINNON Mill stands.
The failure of WARD to keep his faith with LOOMIS resulted in the foreclosure above mentioned and I will abandon now the general chain of title and outline briefly the history of each mill site on all the ELLICE-LOOMIS-WARD lots on the north side of the river.
WATER LOTS ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE RIVER. UPPER DAM.
It seems that prior to 1830 a paper mill was erected which was at times owned by SPRAGUE & DANN and later by EATON & YOUNG. Lots 56 and 62 (Powell Map) were sold in one parcel with the right to use the water power of the fall from the State Dam to the main mill dam and years by a saw mill, while on the SHEPARD lots were a shop, a shoddy-mill and at various times other temporary industries. The property was afterwards purchased by BATLEY & MITCHELL and later by the Little Falls Knitting Co., which conducted a prosperous business for many years and was reorganized within a few years, when Mr. J. J. GILBERT bought the controlling interest of the BAILEYS, as the GILBERT Knitting Company. The large mill situated on this power uses now the water from the State Dam through the lock of this first canal and has seven feet fall, and a wheel producing 40 horse power. They manufacture knit goods and sweaters and over-shirts. Most of the power for this mill is obtained by steam.
POWERS ON THE NORTH SIDE DEPENDING ON THE MIDDLE DAM
The lots are numbered from west to east from 1 to 22. Of these lots the titles of lots 3, 8 and 15 derive from WARD. The title to 2, 13 and 14 starts from LOOMIS and of lot 9 starts from the Chancery sale in the foreclosure brought by Sir Edward ELLICE against Peter GANSEVOORT and others. The scheme of Mr. LOOMIS of dividing the rights and determining the privileges and charges was adopted by the Master in Chancery in the suit of the National Fire Insurance Company against Richard Ray WARD.
In about 1889 the then owner of the STEWART Mill property, Colonel Albert T. HILTON, refused to pay his proportionate share of the cost of repairs and maintenance and a suit was brought by Mr. Watts T. LOOMIS of this city for the purpose of determining the rights and privileges and obligations of the various owners of the powers. Charles RHODES of Oswego, N.Y., an attorney and hydraulic engineer was employed to investigate and determine in his report the different rights and also make suggestions for the improvement. This report goes very much into details and the attempts of Mr. RHODES to determine the quantities which were originally intended to be conveyed are quite ingenious. As to the titles and the rights of the parties, especially as to the proportional rights of the owners on the opposite sides, he is less clear and seems to avoid the question. The subject was later on more fully investigated by Senator A. M. MILLS and Civil Engineer Stephen E. BABCOCK and set out in the draft in the judgement in the action entitled "Watts T. LOOMIS against the CHENEY Hammer Company," and others. This judgement determined the different rights of the lots as follows:
First privileges, lot No. 3, 36 cubic feet per second, cannot be used for running a grist mill but may be used in a flouring mill for the exclusive purpose of flouring wheat or any other purpose except a grist mill. This lot is now owned by the CHENEY Hammer Company.
2nd privilege, lot No. 9, 32 cubic feet of water per second after 36 cubic feet of water per second have been supplied and allowed to lot No. 3. This lot is now leased by the Herkimer Light and Power Company.
3rd privilege, lot No. 8, 36 cubic feet of water per second after the rights of lots 3 and 9 have been supplied; this original third priority in the use of the water has been transferred to lots 13, 14 and 15. Lot 8 is owned by Jacob ZOLLER and James VAN ALLEN and the transferred priority is leased to the Herkimer Light and Power Company.
4th priority, lots 14 and 15, have 42 cubic feet of water per second after the rights of lots 3, 9 and 8 have been satisfied. This leaves 27 other lots, and they by the original deeds and by the judgement in the case of LOOMIS against the CHENEY Hammer Company, are each entitled to 1-17 of the water belonging to the north side of the river after satisfying the lots entitled to priority, The original conveyances (lot 2 conveyed by LOOMIS to SKINNER contains the same provisions) refer to the deed of the National Fire Insurance Company to John BROWER for lot No. one, which is the standard for the rest of the conveyances. This deed is recorded in book 50 of deeds on page 262. The judgement defines the rights of the "17th's" in brief language which I quote: "The defendants are the owners and entitled to the possession of the said water lot which is designated and shown upon the said Powell Map as lot No. ............. With the said lot.......... and appurtenant thereto, the said defendants ................................... by the same tenure and title by which the said lot is held, hold, and they, their heirs and assigns are entitled to the right and privilege and easement, which was originally granted with the said lot No..... to take, draw and use from the said pond, canal and hydraulic works 1-17 part of the water which properly pertains to the north side of the river at that point at the elevation of the said pond and main mill canal, after first deducting the said water and water power pertaining to lot No. 3, 36 cubic feet per second, to lot No. 9, 32 cubic feet per second, to lot No. 8, 36 cubic feet per second and to lots No. 14 and 15, 42 cubic feet per second, which are first to be supplied with water, being the water for the aforesaid prior rights, amounting to 146 cubic feet of water per second, which are first to be deducted and said lot No. ...... is entitled to an equal 1-17 part of the residue of the water, to be taken, drawn and used in equality of rights with each of the other 16 lots and no more." While the action of LOOMIS against the CHENEY Hammer Company was pending, a modern stone bulkhead was erected and after the decision, which was rendered in 1893, a stone dam across the river was built upon the associate power owners, A dispute arose later on as to what share the LOOMIS estate should pay of that dam, which resulted in the suit of Watts T. LOOMIS against Ignatz T. LOVENHEIM. This suit promises to be a lengthy one. It was tried at the Special Term of September 1902 before Justice WRIGHT and the briefs have not yet (February 1904) been submitted to the court. It will be remembered that in his transaction with R. R. WARD, A. LOOMIS alludes to the possible transferring of some of his water rights to the powers on the north side. The failure of the whole scheme as originally planned did away with this prospective concession and the Loomis heirs maintain that they are entitled to 1-2 of the water of that level, but they have never used an amount exceeding much the quantity of one share on the north side. The fact of the drawing water on the south side from the upper dam and discharging it below the discharge of what is taken from the middle dam, complicates matters on that side.
I will attempt to give a brief history of each of the 22 lots.
Lot No.1, sometimes called Mill Island, was originally sold to John BREWER and in 1846 this lot was sold by the National Fire Insurance Company to S. M. and A. RICHMOND who sold it in 1851 to John B. LAURENT, who established thereon an ax factory in which at first the RICHMONDS and later on Stephen FARNHAM became partners. After the death of Mr. LAURENT, Mr. FARNHAM became the sole owner and he sold in 1873 to Henry H. & Levi WALRATH. They conveyed in 1874 to Barney VAN VECHTEN and he in the same year to Henry CHENEY. After Mr. CHENEY'S death, James H. IVES purchased the property in 1881 and sold it to Ira F. TRASK and George W. TRASK. Later on James B. DORR acquired an interest. In 1892 Mr. Ira F. TRASK was the sole owner of the ax factory. Little Falls axes have always enjoyed a good reputation in the market and of late years had become a standard make. When the edge tool trust was formed Mr. TRASK was persuaded to sell out his prosperous business. The shop was closed, the machinery taken away and the promised salary was paid only for a short time. In 1896 DETTINGER and DRAPER bought the property and sold to Ignatz LOVENHEIM. A disastrous fire destroyed the shops on Mill Island a few years ago and Mr. LOVENHEIM rebuilt the same in brick. His factory building and power accommodates now the following concerns: The Consumers Electric Light and Power Company, the case shop of DETTINGER and the LUNSTROM Book Case Factory. The fall at this lot is 18 feet and the machinery is driven by a 48 inch Camden Wheel.
Lot No. 2 is a lot sold by A. LOOMIS before the Chancery Sale. The purchaser was William I. SKINNER who operated a saw mill on it from 1841 to 1866 when Daniel LA DUE purchased it. The property has remained in the hands of the LA DUES ever since and is now successfully managed by William LA DUE. He manufactures cheese boxes, lumber and in season presses cider. The head at this place is 18 feet and the power is furnished by a 48 inch Risdon Wheel.
Lots 3 and 4 are now owned by the CHENEY Hammer Company of which George D. WATERMAN is the active representative. This firm manufactures a high grade hammer which is mainly sold in foreign markets and Little Falls hammers are used in all quarters of the globe and orders are often received from out of the way places on the globe which the firm has to look up before they can make their shipping direction. Lot No. 3 is the lot which owns the first preferred right, 1-2 of which has been connected with the CHENEY Hammer Company for years. The original lot was sold to William INGHAM, the father of Schuyler R. INGHAM. One half of the lot was at one time separated and in different hands but was purchased recently by the company. The other lot, No. 4 was sold by the Master in Chancery to John BROWER and by him to the National Fire Insurance Company. James MONROE in the same year purchased the lot and sold it in 1847 to William INGHAM from whom it went into the hands of the CHENEY Hammer Company. The CHENEY Hammer Company intends to install as soon as the water permits. Two McCormicks Wheels developing 72 horse power. The head at that site is 17 1/2 feet.
The title to lot No. 5 is in the name of Little Falls Package Company, but is virtually the property of Mrs. E. R. GILBERT. On this lot is situated the mill built after the revolution and known as the Stone or Red Mill or Monroe Mill. James MONROE bought this lot of the Master in Chancery and sold it in 1852 to Acors and Solomon RATHBUN, the remaining owner, sold it in 1864 to George A. FEETER. After the disastrous failure of George A. FEETER it was sold by the sheriff to Charles FRANCHOT as trustee who sold it in 1881 to Bryon K. HOUGHTON, who conveyed it to the National Herkimer County Bank of which NEWELL & LITTLE purchase it in 1882. They sold it in 1883 to the Little Falls Package Company. To this mill site belongs also the water right (that is 1-34 of the unpreferred water) which goes with the west half of lot No. 6. The Little Falls Package Company has a 42 inch Risdon Wheel and 11 foot head.
Lot No. 6 is the Red Paper Mill lot, which PAGE and PRIEST owned under a lease extending to the year 1846. They sold this unexpired lease to Francis D. FISH and the Master in Chancery sold the lot with the appertaining water to John BROWER and he to the National Fire Insurance Company. MONROE purchased it and sold to A. G. HARRIS. HARRIS failed and the sheriff sold his rights to Thomas BURCH. The executors of Thomas BURCH conveyed to William B. HOUGHTON and the east half of that lot is now owned by the HOUGHTON family.
The west half of lot 7 with water appertaining was sold by the assignee of James MONROE to A. & S. RATHBUN and Benjamin and Acors RATHBUN sold the same in 1862 to William B. HOUGHTON. The HOUGHTON estate owns in all 1-17 of the unpreferred water.
Prior to the purchase of LOOMIS, Richard Ray WARD conveyed to Rodney DURKEE the preferred right and the lot No. 8 on which he built a mill which is still standing. This is the third preferred right. The right of this priority has been transferred and is owned by the Herkimer County Electric Light & Power Company. There was in early times much litigation about the title of that lot. In 1849 the property was sold by the sheriff to Martin W. PRIEST who conveyed it in 1851 to Solomon and Acors RATHBUN. Benjamin RATHBUN sold it in 1866 together with the east part of lot 7 to Henry and D. LANSING, who sold in the same year one quarter of the interest in the property to Charles B. FONDA, and towards the latter part of the seventies, after many transactions forth and back between the LANSINGS and other partners, it was owned wholly by Charles B. FONDA. After FONDA'S failure in 1881 the mill and privilege was sold under foreclosure and was owned by the National Herkimer County Bank. A few years ago it was purchased by James VAN ALLEN & Company and is now occupied as a custom and grist mill and the original stone building of DURKEE is leased to BECKER & Company of Amsterdam, N.Y., who manufacture shoddy. There are two wheels for the grist mill under 18 foot head, both are 24 inch Camden Wheels and develop about 30 horse power each. The wheel for the shoddy mill is a 38 inch Camden Wheel and developes 60 horse power.
Lots No. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 with the water appurtenant are owned by a syndicate composed of Mr. Watts T. LOOMIS, William F. LANSING, Elijah REED and Mrs. Louisa L. BURRELL. The lands coinciding nearly with lots 9, 10, 11 and 12, together with all the water powers of lots 9 to 15 are leased for a long term of years to the Herkimer County Light & Power Company. The land without water rights and coinciding with lots 13, 14 and 15 was sold by this syndicate to a committee of citizens and presented by this city as a bonus to Mr. Robert MAC KINNON. The latter has erected on it his large Knitting Mill No. 2 and adjuncts.
Lot No. 9 was the only lot which has no WARD title. It was sold under foreclosure of the ELLICE mortgage to Thomas BURCH and is the second preferred right. I have not been able to learn whether there was any manufacturing establishment on that lot until it was sold by A. LOOMIS in 1859 to John W. STITT.
The chain of title to lots 10, 11 and 12 is very similar. On these lots was located the building of the Ligneous Paper Company, the buildings of which were twice carried away by water. These lots enjoy also the distinction of having been occupied by the first mill in which pulp was successfully manufactured in America, by one George BEARDSLEY of Albany. The first pulp-paper manufactured here was made of bass wood. It is pretty well established that pulp was manufactured here in 1855 or 56. The English patent is dated 1853 and the United States patent 1854 but claim is made that pulp was manufactured prior to the Little Falls venture elsewhere. Little Falls was always a center of the paper industry and probably merits the distinction of being an early home of the pulp industry of the United States. In 1863 the lots 10, 11 and 12 became the property of John W. STITT, who sold the same in 1875 together with the other lots from 9 to 15 to Alexander T. STEWART.
Lot No. 13 was sold by the Master in Chancery and became in 1845 the property of the National Fire Insurance Company, which sold it in the same year to the Wool Growers Manufacturing Company, which failed in about the same year, and the property was sold to Martin W. PRIEST, who sold it again to the reorganized Wool Growers Manufacturing Company in 1851 together with the priority of lot No. 8.
Lot No. 14 and that part of lot No. 15 to which the water belongs were sold in 1838 by A. LOOMIS to the Little Falls Wool Manufacturing Company, and went by the same process of title into the hands of John W. STITT and finally into the hands of Alexander T. STEWART, so that in 1875 he owned all the seven lots. The two mills erected thereon were known as the Mohawk Mills and the Elboeuf Mills and under STITT and during STEWARTS short operation the finest kind of wool cloth was here manufactured. STEWART operated the mills only a short time and then the same were shut down and allowed to waste and decay until they became in about 1897 through purchase from Albert T. HILTON the property of Watts T. LOOMIS and were disposed of by him as stated above. The Herkimer County Light & Power Company uses on these premises all the water of the seven lots, including, when necessary, the priority of No. 8. The head is 19 feet and 9 inches and the wheel is a twin McCormick 36 inches, horizontal shaft. The very looks of the genial Superintendent, Mr. Henry P. COLLINS, don't fail to betray the prosperity which the company enjoys.
Lots 16 and 17, formerly the property of Victor ADAMS, were sold under the first foreclosure and were bought by Titus SHEARD in 1879 of the National Fire Insurance Company and sold by him a year or two afterwards to Mr. ADAMS who conducted thereon for many years a Box Factory and Knitting Mill, which is driven by a 33 inch Hercules wheel under 21 feet head.
It would lead us too far to go into all the vicissitudes of titles of lots 18, 19, 20, 21. It was owned by many companies and is known as the Saxony Mill property. It cannot be said that the operators of mills on this lot have been successful and a number of disastrous failures are recorded in the titles. This property owns now 3 of the seventeen and one thirty-fourth is owned under a disputed title. After the failure of Mr. KING, the property has been standing idle and is slowly going to ruins. The fall at the Saxony Mill as used is about 19 feet. One old 27 inch wheel and one somewhat newer 18 inch wheel were used in this mill.
The last lot No. 22 was bought by A. LOOMIS at the foreclosure and has been owned by him and by his estate ever since. The Knitting Mill has been operated thereon at various times and among others by ABBLETT & MAC KINNON and later on by Rugene WALRATH. The head is nearly 18 feet and the wheel is a 42 inch Risdon.
THE POWERS ON THE GILBERT-LOOMIS DAM
The building of the Erie Canal on the south side of the river wrought a considerable change in the alignment of the south shore and of the channels. Below the Ann Street Bridge about opposite the ZOLLER Packing House, the river split originally into two parts, one channel was the present channel of the river, the other went towards the hill on the south and joined the present river again at the bay known as the Drummond Hole. This channel was filled up and forms a part of the embankment of the canal. In 1832 and 33 Richard Ray WARD purchased of George H. FEETER and Abram ROSECRANTS two parcels of land which made him the owner of the riparian rights from the east line of lot 17 to about the lock now know as the Mile Lock. When Richard WARD was foreclosed, these lots were sold and acquired by different parties, among whom Aaron SEELEY purchased in 1841 the Island called SEELEY'S Island and thus obtained the control of the water power on that side. The power was used by two mills, one a paper mill operated by the PAIGE family and later on by one Dr. WOODBRIDGE, who did not make a great commercial success of his venture in papermaking. In 1876 this right and the mill became the property of J. J. GILBERT, who had in 1854 built on the adjoining site a starch factory and in 1864 a large elevator. The product of the Starch Factory became famous and brought a fortune to the family. After the death of J. J. GILBERT in 1881, the manufacturing of starch was gradually abandoned and in 1886 it was converted together with the Woodbridge Factory into a Knitting Mill, known as the Astorogan Mill Company. This mill manufactured successfully by the GILBERT Knitting Mill Company. This mill manufactures cotton underwear and cotton sweaters. The WOODBRIDGE Mill used originally five powerful wheels and the Starch Factory two iron wheels of 75 and 50 horsepower respectively. The power is used under 11-foot head and two Risdon Wheels of 50 and 80 horse power respectively are now in operation.
The water power on the other side is owned by the LOOMIS estate and the Little Falls Paper Company in equal shares. The LOOMIS power has never been occupied. Arphaxed LOOMIS and Thomas BURCH sold in 1854 to E. B. WAITE the land and 1/2 of the water and this paper mill erected by WAITE has been continually operated since that time. It is safe to say that there has been no location more successfully and uninterruptedly used for manufacturing purposes in this city. The property is now owned by the Little Falls Paper Company, which manufactures fine tissue and toilet paper at an average of 2 1/2 tons per day of finished products. They own also another mill at Newburgh, N.Y.. The channel of the river runs markedly on the north shore and has always been larger than on the SEELEY Island side. The head at this site is 14 feet and they use three Camden Wheels of 180, 85 and 80 horse power respectively and one REDDY wheel of 30 horse power. An agreement exists since 1853 between the owners of the opposing sides in regard to maintenance, repair and new erections and in pursuance of this in 1896 and 97 a new stone dam was erected from designs of S. E. BABCOCK.
If there ever was any actual power connected with the dam near the Gulf Bridge it was probably spoiled when the State built the Five Mile Dam.
VALUE OF WATER
It is to be regretted that accurate measurements of the stream at Little Falls exist only for a few years back and if the owners had preserved some earlier gauge readings, they might prove of great value. At present the U. S. Geological Survey maintains a station of daily readings at the GILBERT Dam. It is of course not necessary to dwell upon the fact that the volume of the stream has remarkably lessened since the establishment of the first mill, and in dry years the mills have to shut down or use steam for long periods. Some unscrupulous owners have also taken more than their share. One of the main troubles to the Little Falls Powers is the taking of nearly all the water by the State during extreme dry seasons. This leads us to a subject with which I will close my paper.
THE RELATION OF THE STATE TO THE WATER RIGHTS AT LITTLE FALLS
The Mohawk River as such became at the earliest day of the colony a highway or public thoroughfare from slack water of the Hudson or from the settlements of New England to the Great Interior Lakes. Where the river was navigable it became a "navigable stream." Where the heavy falls occurred, as at Little Falls and at Cohoes, the traveler had to resort to terra firma and carry his goods and boats to slack water again. There is no evidence that the Inland Lake and Navigation Company purchased any right of Alexander ELLICE, the owner of the land and the rights to the water. Tradition says that ELLICE, who was much interested in the forwarding trade and was the owner of boat lines, gave the company a license to cross his lands with that little toy canal of a few feet in width and carrying boats of three feet draft. Water was so abundant in the river then that that small quantity could not affect his mill sites; besides Mr. ELLICE could reason that such a canal would build up the lands he owned and this was proven by the subsequent growth of the village on that side. There is no evidence that the State at that time made any claim to the river. The Canal Company was simply a charter stock company, holding certain rights. When the first Erie Canal was planned on the south side and built accordingly as related above, the aqueduct and basin were constructed and part of the old canal was used as a feeder. The land was dedicated for that purpose by Mr. ELLICE. Before that the old canal had been sold by the company to the State assuming under the license of Alexander ELLICE to have the title to the land. We have in Germany a proverb which says: "If you give the devil your little finger he will soon have both your hands." This is the policy which the State has followed in regard to some of the water rights on the Mohawk River. In the first place the State sold these lands to intending settlers. ELLICE, BELLINGER and a few other owned the land on both sides of the river including the Islands. When the State wanted to enlarge the Erie Canal it found that it had not sufficient water to supply the levels below Little Falls and a large feeder was constructed and has been several times enlarged which feeds water below lock 39 and as far as Mindenville. The quantity taken is very large, probably at the present time over 500 cubic feet per second.
Some time after the construction of the feeder the owners of the water power brought suit and the final decision in that case deciding practically all the others is contained in the 33rd New York and entitled Arphaxed LOOMIS against the Canal Appraisers. In it the court says that the Mohawk River is a public highway, that all the water of it belongs by right of purchase and by right of former user to the State, that the rights of the State are based upon the rights of the Inland and Navigation Company, that the fact that mills depend upon this water is not a concern of the State but that they are welcome to all the surplus water. It was one of those decisions produced by the desire of Judges to shape their course to suit public policy. To me as a layman it has always appeared as if this decision was legalizing robbery by the State. The State steps in and takes from private owners, that which they and their grantors considered as their own and interferes with vested rights which ought to be just as sacred as any others affecting property. The decision to the layman reads belabored and instead of tackling the question, it seems to decide the case upon said issues. Records show that some of the historic facts alluded to by the Judges are wrong. The principal reference in the case is the so-called Tibbitts case in 17th Wendell, which furnishes the main prop of reasoning. It has been expected for years that this decision would meet sometime a reversal by another court, but as it happens it has not come up in proper form since that time.
The proposed construction of the Barge Canal and the probability that the canal will take all the water it can get makes it important for the Little Falls owners of water property to get together and defend their rights. There is no doubt that during certain seasons of all years, every drop of water from the West Canada Creek and the Mohawk River watersheds will have to be used to float the large Barges. For this reason it is very imperative for the owners of mills at Little Falls to form some association for their protection. Such association might also take under consideration whether the water powers at Little Falls might not be better formed into one or several companies and use the water only to produce electricity and then furnish the owners of each level or dam with his properly metered out quantity of power. It would save machinery, attendance, disputes and the surplus power could be sold. Whatever quantity of electricity should be lost in retransmission to the mills would certainly not equal the immense amount of waste which is now caused by leakage and carelessness. As I have stated several times in this paper the water power is one of the essential reasons for the existence of Little Falls. Take that element out of Little Falls and the town will receive its most serious blow.
When I undertook to write this paper, I did not imagine that the same would be so lengthy and so tedious. A great many facts had to be recited over again in order to describe fitly the peculiar situation, and I beg your pardon for detaining you so long. I thank you for your patience and attention during my reading of this dry paper upon a very wet subject.
Source: "Papers Read Before the Herkimer County Historical Society Covering the Period From September 1902 to May 1914, Volume 3"
For information about persons and businesses listed, and availability of maps and deeds, we refer you in advance to inquire about the wealth of early resources held by the Herkimer County Historical Society.
This excellent and lengthy article was prepared by volunteer Judy Anger.
The original was 22 pages long, small type, and Judy didn't miss a thing. In the article I see specific ancestors of several
regular site visitors. We hope it presents a case history of how early land holdings were split up, and the mechanics
of the rise of manufacturing in the Mohawk Valley.
Copyright © 2000 Judy Anger/Martha S. Magill
All Rights Reserved.