Ballston Spa Life
Man Once Owned Nearly Every Mill in Ballston Spa
Ballston Spa Life
Jonas Hovey had only about a decade to make his mark as a manufacturing powerhouse in Ballston Spa before he died, but he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Paper Bag King, George West.
Hovey was born September 16, 1809 in Sutton, Massachusetts. Early in life he became one of the wealthiest cotton manufacturers in the city. Seeking an area for greater expansion possibilities, he relocated to Ballston Spa with his wife in 1858.
For several years, Hovey expended great energies in acquiring property around the Blue Mill Dam that once existed across the Kayaderosseras Creek. In 1861 he purchased all of the mill properties on the northeast side of town between Milton Avenue and Mechanic Street, which included three cotton mills.
He also purchased land from an investment group headed by Jonathan Beach and Harvey Chapman, which included the future Bag Factory and the Union Mill buildings. This purchase included land and water power west of Milton Avenue, north of Gordon Creek, and west of the Kayaderosseras.
By 1864 Hovey’s enterprises were in full swing. He was erecting a new tower on one of the cotton mills which would contain a clock and bell, and the factory was being enlarged with the addition of another story.
He was also in the process of building his 6,500 square foot mansion on the corner of Milton Avenue and Prospect Streets at a reported cost of $70,000 (about $875,000 in today’s money). This stately residence would later be used by George West and Frederick Bischoff. The Troy Times wrote in 1865 that the new residence “is nearing completion, and will be unsurpassed by any similar structure in the county of Saratoga. It will be a model of architectural taste and elegance.”
In 1868 the newly-formed J. A. Hovey Hook and Ladder No. 1 fire department on Bath Street was named after him. Years later the name was changed to the Matt Lee Hook & Ladder, which still serves Ballston Spa today. Hovey erected some 40 tenement houses for his workers to live in at reduced rates from those they were paying at the local hotels and boarding houses.
By the time he completed his expansion, Hovey owned three cotton factories, two woolen factories, the tenement houses, the mansion, and one of the largest tracts of land in Ballston. In fact, he owned every factory in the village with the exception of the oil-cloth factory on Bath Street. Because cotton factories were labor-intensive, Hovey employed more people than any other business owner in Ballston’s history until the Haight tannery and George West surpassed his count in the late 1880s.
His business affairs forced him to travel a great deal, especially to New York City. His health began to suffer as the stress from traveling and mounting legal troubles took their toll. He entered an infirmary and died there in 1873. Although Hovey does not receive as much credit as other businessmen in Ballston’s history, he left his mark by gathering a substantial number of mills under his ownership, paving the way for George West to purchase the entire property and expand into the largest industry in Saratoga County.
Excerpts from this article were taken from Tim Starr’s book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley,” which is available at the Brookside Museum. For more information, please visit www.ballstonhistory.com.