Ballston Spa Life
Milton Center once had a large tannery
Ballston Spa Life
Today the crossing of Middle Line Road and Geyser Road contains a few houses and a small parking lot to access the Kayaderosseras Creek. But in the mid-1800s, it was the site of a thriving hamlet of several hundred inhabitants called Milton Center.
Famous Revolutionary War General James Gordon became an early entrepreneur after the war. He built one of Milton’s earliest gristmills on the creek by 1800 as well as other small mills to the north in the Town of Ballston.
Attracted by the water privileges of the Kayaderosseras at that point, Milton Center grew to a sizeable settlement. Within a few decades it even had its own post office, sawmill, stores, a hotel, and a Mission Chapel of Christ Church.
Seth Rugg established the Rugg Spinning Wheel Factory around 1830. It reportedly supplied all of the spinning wheels for the northeastern part of the country. Rugg’s nephew David Stenner established a small tannery nearby.
Samuel Haight later purchased the tannery and greatly expanded its capacity. The main building was five hundred feet long and one hundred feet wide, consisting of a multitude of subsections and additions. The bark mill, boilers, engine, etc. were in the center, the tannery vats were to the west, the currying shops were in the rear, and the finishing department was in the east end and on the second floor.
Haight used nothing but hemlock bark, forgoing the chemicals that other tanneries used to speed up the process. He also didn’t lay down the hides flat in the vats, but suspended them so the liquor could penetrate both sides equally. The tannery used about two thousand cords of hemlock per year and finished eight hundred sides of leather per week.
The well-kept property was described in the local press as containing large buildings “two stories in height with basement, and are in good repair throughout, their exterior neatly painted, thereby giving the appearance of a first-class situation, as indeed it is. It is the largest manufactory of the kind in the country.”
At its peak, the factory employed 150 men.
Tragedy struck in December 1881 when the tannery was destroyed by fire. Rather than trying to rebuild in what was considered to be an isolated hamlet, Haight decided to move his business to Bath Street in Ballston Spa. Most of his workers moved with him.
Other fires would burn down the hotel and several more houses. The grist mill and sawmill of David Lewis, located near the ruins of the tannery, was the only business left between Craneville and West Milton. When a fire broke out in 1905 killing local resident Mary Burns, the Ballston Journal referred to Milton Center as the “deserted village.” By that time the chapel and a few houses were all that remained.
Excerpts from this article were taken from Starr’s book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley,” available at the Brookside Museum. His newest book, “Great Inventors of New York’s Capital District,” published by The History Press, will be released in July. For more information, go to www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.