Fall 1998

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The Mills at Cold Spring


Joseph E. Paddock

Today, when one drives down the short, narrow Cold Spring(s) Road which in years gone by was called the Soft Water Creek Road, running between the Mitchellsville and Fish Hatchery roads, it is difficult to believe that where it terminates there was an important commercial area in the early days of the settlement of central Steuben County. A readily available source of water power as a result of the rapid drop in Softwater Creek from its origin to the west, and having a dependable flow of water made this site a favorable one for the location of mills. The junction with Cold Brook, which also had a steady flow of water, made this area outstanding for manufacturing when water was the principal source of power. In the early eighteen hundreds there was a number of holding ponds or mill ponds constructed along Cold Brook and later along the Bath & Hammondsport Railroad tracks downstream from the Brundage Cross Road to where the early mills had been built.

The first mill along these streams was begun by John Shethar who, in 1796, purchased land from the Pulteney Land Office and Charles Williamson. These properties included the present day location of the Village of Hammondsport as well as acreage in Pleasant Valley and Cold Spring where one of his two mills was begun. He abandoned the mill several years later after he failed to prosper. All of his Cold Spring and Hammondsport lands were sold at sheriff sale, and he left the area.

A mill was begun on Cold Brook shortly after Shethar's by a Quaker named Skinner. In 1801, George McClure, who had come to Bath as an early employee of Charles Williamson seven years before, purchased that mill along with 200 acres of surrounding land. At this time he also acquired 800 acres in the valley from the Pulteney Land Office to insure sufficient water rights. McClure rapidly expanded the business to include a flouring mill, a saw-mill, a fulling mill and a wool-carding machine.

The flouring mill with a course to two mill stones was completed in 3 months after McClure's take over and was capable of producing a large quantity of flour. McClure purchased wheat from all over Steuben and surrounding counties, receiving over 20,000 bushels in the first season and turning two-thirds of that amount into flour. Much of this he packed into barrels, and in the spring of 1802, floated it to Baltimore in the eight arks he had built on the Conhocton River at Bath.

George McClure's profit from this venture was used to make improvements at the Cold Spring property. He built and operated a paper mill as well as making additions to the existing mills. As a result of the success of his wheat and flour business, he built a schooner for use on Keuka Lake which could carry thirty tons. He used the vessel to transport wheat from Penn Yan, where he had established a grain warehouse, to the head of the lake and thence to the Cold Spring Mills.

In the spring of 1803, McClure again ran a series of arks down river to Baltimore. This trip did not prove as successful as the one the previous year because the price of wheat and flour was very low. The sudden decrease in prices came about because the federal government had enacted an embargo. The loss he sustained was great, so when he returned to Steuben County, he started a large distillery at Cold Spring. This provided a market for farmers to sell not only their wheat but also rye and corn. McClure converted these grains into the liquid commodity that could find a closer market and be assured of a more certain profit. The mills and distillery continued in operation for another decade. During this time he built a large home on a rise just northwest of the junction of the two creeks, and numerous barns and outbuildings were added to the property. The house and some of the buildings still exist and are owned by George and Marjorie Walike.

In 1814, General McClure, having acquired that rank as result of his participation in the militia on the Niagara Frontier during the War of 1812, traded the Cold Spring mill and his other properties at Cold Spring to Henry A. Townsend of Bath for Townsend's Bath properties including the mills along the Conhocton which were known as the Belfast Mills.

After taking over the property, Mr. Townsend built a grist-mill, a paper-mill and a woolen factory at the Cold Spring location and continued to live and do business there at the Cold Spring House and Mills until his death in October, 1838.

Another Cold Spring developer arrived in 1802, when Major Asa Gaylord came to Bath and purchased some land at Cold Spring toward Pleasant Valley where he built a carding and cloth dressing mill. He maintained the business in the log building he had built until 1811, when it was destoyed by fire. The local citizenry, having need for the services it provided, helped to rebuild the mill. At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Major Gaylord took command of the first group of soldiers to leave Steuben and Allegany Counties for service against the British in the Niagara Frontier. Some months later he died at Fort Schlosser which was a quartermaster's depot between Buffalo and Fort Niagara. Joseph Chamberlain of Kennedyville (Kanona) had been running the mills in the major's absence and continued its operation for the Widow Gaylord for some years. James Brundage, who married Mrs. Gaylord in 1817, took over the management of the mills along Cold Spring Creek at that time.

THE FARMER'S ADVOCATE published on February 20, 1831, carried an ad of Erastus A. Nixon for the sale of 100 tons of plaster at the Cold Spring Mills. Mr. Nixon, who apparently had taken over some of Mr. Townsend's property, stated that he would take produce in payment.

The May 27th, 1846, edition of THE COURIER carried the following business notice:

Urbana Woolen Factory

The proprietors of the Factory have added an entire set of New Machinery to what they had already in operation. They have also leased to a term of years, the Wool Carding and Cloth Dressing Establishment formerly occupied by Dantz and Alderman, a few rods above the Factory, on Cold Spring Creek. By this arrangment, they are prepared to accommodate all who may want Wool Carding, Cloth Dressing, wool Manufactured upon shares or by the yard, at the lowest rates. They also have on hand a good assortment of first rate CLOTHS, such as Broad, Cashmere, Fancy, Tweed, Press Flannel and Blanket and yarn to exchange for WOOL. And having in their employ a number of hands, they will take all kinds of Produce at market price, in exchange for any of the above services.

Joseph Carter

agent for the company

Urbana, May 26, 1846

This property, the Urbana Woolen Factory, as well as the McClure-Townsend house and land was purchased in 1855 by John W. Taggart. The factory was converted into a sawmill which did custom sawing for local farmers and builders during the next half century. About this time vineyards were beginning to develop above the shores of Lake Keuka, so grape trays were manufactured here until 1921 when the mill was dismantled.

In the August 26, 1870, edition of the Steuben Farmer's Advocate the following ad appeared:

"R. B. Craig and Sons
Proprietors of the new
Cold Spring Mills!
Wool received to make into
plain and twilled cloths, flannel, sheeting
or skirting or blankets.
Stocking yarn machine, Just Added
also a
New carding machine
Ready-made cloth on Hand to exchange for wool. "

The Cold Spring Woolen Mills, which was water powered as most of the earlier mills had been, was constructed by Robert Craig in the spring of 1869. It was located near where one of McClure's early fulling mills had been. This mill was closed in 1890 and sold to Alonzo Aldrich in 1896.

When Millard F. Roberts compiled the Historical Gazeteer of Steuben County, New York in 1891, he mentioned that the Cold Spring Woolen Mill that had been built in 1869 by Robert B. Craig was then owned and operated by F. O. Craig.

Probably this was Robert Craig's son. The mill was run by water power and was referred to as a "one set" mill with three looms and was capable of finishing and dressing woolen cloth. Roberts states "the carding, spinning, weaving and cloth dressing at this mill is equal to that done in the larger mills of New England; and the plain and fancy all-wool cashmeres produced here are inferior to none in quality and durability"

The Brundage Saw-mill and Grape Box Factory, according to the Roberts' book was located at the site of the saw-mill built by J. W. Taggart about 1855. This was at or near the location of the original McClure mill of 1801. Brundage had begun the manufacture of grape boxes in 1885, producing six to twelve thousand boxes annually.

The Taggart family owned the land in this area for several generations until well into the 1950s, and this location at the junction of the two streams was referred to as Taggarts. On the maps of 1998, this location is labeled as Hermitage.

In the Beers Atlas of Steuben County published in 1873, a number of businesses at Cold Spring were listed. R. Aldrich operated a turning mill along Cold Brook at the current location of the Fish Hatchery on the property that was purchased by New York State around 1900 and used first as a pheasant raising farm before being converted into the hatchery. Located just up the stream to the west on Soft Water Creek toward the Mitchellsville Road was the woolen factory of R. B. Craig and Son. Along the road to Pleasant Valley was the steam mill of J. W. Taggart as well as the tannery of McFie and Son. Residents in the Cold Spring area at that time were John Brundage, A. S. Brundage, L. H. Smith, D. S. Longwell, H. Brundage, R. Aldrich, J. W. Taggart, M. Gilbert, W. Rogers, S. Stratton, John Longwell, A. McFie, Mrs. F. Brewer, G. Bonsor, J. W. Brundage, and A. Booth.

It seems that the years just after the Civil War were a boom time for the Cold Spring area. According to Roberts in the Gazeteer a water-powered saw mill and factory were built there in 1868 by Rudolphus Aldrich, and for several years bedsteads were manufactured. Prior to the publication of the Robert's book in 1891, Alonzo Aldrich had become proprietor and began the manufacture of wooden champagne cases along with sawing, planing, wood turning, and preparing lumber for building purposes, and making architectural trim. Previous to 1868, Mr. Aldrich had operated a similar mill just above what is now the home of Joe and Roxanne Baran.

As the twentieth century began, a young man from Hammondsport began to motorize the bicycles he had been making and racing. As C. R. Rosenberry relates in his 1972 book, Glenn Curtiss-Pioneer of Flight, the Cold Spring area was to play an early part in the manufacture to these motors. After experimenting with several commercial motor kits he had purchased, as well as having the Thomas Motor Car Company of Buffalo make several motors for him,

Curtiss decided that he could make a better engine himself. The nearest machine shop was one run by John Kirkham who rather recently had purchased a woodworking and planing mill at the site of the McFie and Son tannery and had added a machine shop and foundry. The Thomas McFie business had been located along the east bank of Cold Brook in the mid-eighteen hundreds. McFie and his son moved the business to East William Street in Bath behind the Hardenbrook foundry where Jones Lumber Company and now the Bath Fire Department were to be located. In 1884, after McFie's death, John Ross purchased the tannery property at Cold Spring and on that site built a water-powered saw-mill, later adding a feed mill and machine shop. In 1887, the mill was partially destroyed by fire, was rebuilt and continued in operation by Ross until his death in 1897. At that time the property was sold to John Kirkham and B. F. Platt. Kirkham acquired sole ownership some two years later.

Curtiss went to Mr. Kirkham and arranged to have him cast parts for engines according to Glenn's design. In late 1902, Curtiss became determined to have a more powerful engine, one with two cylinders and at least 5 horsepower. Until this time all motors used in motorcycles had only one cylinder. With the new, more powerful motor in his Hercules Motor Cycle, Curtiss won the Gold Medal at the Memorial Day races at Riverside Park in New York City. This encouraged him to become more involved with motorcycle racing and opened up a growing market for his machines and the engines. For three years the little Kirkham shop, which by that time included John's sons, Charles, Clarence and Percy, supplied numerous revised models of the motors. Charles was persuaded by his father to enroll in a correspondence-school course in mechanical engineering. After completing the course, Charles took charge of the shop, and his two younger brothers worked under his tutelage.

After the incorporation of the G. H. Curtiss Manufacturing Company in October of 1905, the new factory in Hammondsport began manufacture of its motors. Until that time the Kirkhams had been the exclusive supplier of motors for Curtiss. At this time the brothers moved the shop to Bath and began making motors for automobiles. For over a decade they supplied motors for a number of early auto manufacturers. After the Kirkhams moved their manufacturing plant from Cold Spring, Marcus Barrett ran a saw-mill and box factory on the site. The mill and factory burned in 1922 and was not rebuilt.

Soon after Curtiss began the factory in Hammondsport, Charles Kirkham went to work for him there as an engineer. When Glenn Curtiss set up his Curtiss Engineering Corporation on Long Island after the end of World War I, he took some handpicked people from this area to staff his research venture. Among these was Charles Kirkham, who went on to perfect a 400 horse-power engine, the K-12. This motor was used in the Wasp, which in 1919, set the record for high altitude flight at 34,610 feet.

When steam power and later electric power became available, water power was to become obsolete. It was no longer necessary for mills and factories to be located along streams and rivers and these businesses along Cold Brook and Soft Water Creek gradually closed. Some of the mills were converted to other uses; David Longwell built the house where Joe and Roxanne Baran live on the foundation of an old mill. The home where Dr. Robert Heise lives was at one time the Hermitage Station of the Bath & Hammondsport Railroad as well as a grape packing warehouse. The large woolen mill behind what is now the home of Charles Northrop was torn down in 1936, and the material from it was moved to Hammondsport to construct the engine house for the B & H. Louis Edsall, who lived on the A. S. Brundage farm, demolished the mill at Taggart's and moved much of the materials to his farm to build barns. Now, except for a few short sections of mill raceways and stone foundations, there is little visible evidence that they ever existed.

1998, Joseph E. Paddock
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