Ballston Spa Life
Clothing mill was one of village's top employers
Ballston Spa Life
Floyd Shutts of Amsterdam had a wholesale business called the F. J. Shutts Company, dealing in hosiery, underwear, and sweaters. One day he placed a large order for work socks, but the manufacturer did not have the capacity to meet his deadline. This event convinced Shutts that there was an opportunity for a clothing manufacturer in this type of market. Therefore, he established a small knitting company in 1918 to produce knitted wool work socks.
The original building was on the site of the old Artesian Lithia Spring on Saratoga Avenue. In 1920 a wing fronting on Ralph Street was added to accommodate the growing business, and three years later the mill occupied an entire block and contained 122,000 square feet of floor space. The first products were woolen mixed “half hose,” with almost 1.2 million shipped per year. Two years later production reached 18 million pairs annually using modern machinery.
The plant had its own siding off the Delaware & Hudson Railroad to receive raw materials and ship finished goods around the country. It was one of the largest employers at the time, keeping 500 people at work. The New York firm of Clift & Goodrich was the exclusive selling agent for the domestic and foreign markets until 1926, when Shutts formed his own sales organization.
Ballston Knitting merged with the Stillwater Knitting Company in 1929 to reduce costs and overhead. The assets of the Stillwater Knitting Company were sold at auction in order to raise funds for the preservation of the Ballston plant, which at the time was having some financial difficulties. Although there was some doubt as to whether the company would survive, the crisis was short and the merger turned out to be successful.
World War II interrupted the flow of raw materials for many industries around the country. In 1941 the manufacture of sweaters was discontinued at both the Ballston and Stillwater facilities as the nation concentrated on a wartime production. Thereafter, the knit company focused on work and athletic socks. By the end of the war, the Ballston-Stillwater Knitting Company was the largest producer of heavy-duty men’s socks in the world.
The company had some of its greatest success in the 1950s, before overseas competition had become a factor. There were a total of four main production buildings and eight warehouses. The company ran its own spinning plant (the Ballston Spa Spinning Company) that produced yarn of all types from approximately three million pounds of wool, cotton, and mixed fiber products per year. The Ballston plant at that time employed 360 workers and shipped more than 15 million socks.
The company held out for another decade but was forced to follow the lead of other textile companies and move production south. The mill in Ballston Spa continued to operate in support of the business until 1994, having such customers as Kinney Shoes and K-Mart. However, even more intense competition from Asia caused the company to sell its property to Brown Wooten Mills, Inc.
Less than a year later, Brown filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but then reorganized under the direction of James Mooney, who formed Saratoga Woolen Mills, Inc. In 1995 the new company had sales of $1 million, and the following year managed to increase sales to $1.5 million.
Ironically, one of Mooney’s biggest problems was finding enough workers to meet the demand for his woolen socks. Wages were in the $7 to $8 an hour range, and the mill’s factory environment was said to be loud, dirty, and hot. Some applicants asked if they could be laid off in the spring so they could take higher-paying jobs in the construction and landscaping business. Production was therefore limited to what could be made from 14 of the factory’s 20 spinning frames. A combination of razor-thin profit margins, foreign competition, and local labor shortages forced Mooney to close after only a few years of operation, and the decades-old textile industry in Ballston Spa came to an end.
Excerpts from this article were taken from Starr’s book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley.” His seven other local history books are available at the Brookside Museum. For more information, visit www.ballstonhistory.com. Starr is also the Treasurer of the Board of Trustees at Brookside.