Lost Industries of Saratoga County
Excerpt From the
The presence of rare mineral springs in Saratoga and Ballston Spa drew the first permanent settlers in the late 1700s. A growing need to transport goods to New England and the western frontier prompted the state to build the Champlain and Erie Canals in the early 1800s, both of which bordered Saratoga County. The burgeoning tourism trade of Saratoga Springs later prompted investors to build two railroads through the county. The presence of these two transportation systems, abundant forests, and several powerful rivers led to the establishment of a variety of manufactories throughout the nineteenth century.
It is safe to say that without the Hudson, Sacandaga, and Kayaderosseras Rivers, very little industrial development would have occurred. All of the manufacturing centers were established on the banks of these waterways in order to take advantage of the horsepower that could be generated for machinery. Such communities as Corinth, Schuylerville, Mechanicville, Waterford, South Glens Falls, Ballston Spa, and Stillwater owe their very existence to their rivers. Towns that did not have significant rivers, such as Clifton Park, Charlton, Malta, and Galway, had very little industrial activity, and only experienced increases in population during the twentieth century, when automobile transportation became feasible.
Saratoga County industry could not compete with the foundries located near its southern borders, so other industries were developed that took advantage of local natural resources. The most successful of these were the paper mills. The presence of millions of acres of woodland close at hand provided nearly unlimited fuel supplies for early paper mills and other factories. When the wood pulp and sulphite processes were developed that allowed the mills to use wood for paper instead of cotton rags, the paper manufacturers expanded even further. Woodenware factories, planing mills, and tanneries also benefited directly from inexpensive timber that was hauled in from just a few miles away.
Although the manufacturing sector of Saratoga County never exceeded those of Albany and Rensselaer counties, it employed many thousands of people and circulated millions of dollars into local economies. Besides those that depended on a ready supply of timber, a wide variety of industries were established, including the manufacture of fire engines, clothing, glass, and medicines.
The sheer magnitude of the documented manufacturers makes it impossible to describe them all in any detail. There are also many dozens of manufacturing operations that were short-lived and never documented. Most of the early sawmills and grist mills were built by a farmer with a bit of extra cash, served a few local families, and then disappeared without a trace. Small tanneries were often set up in the woods and dismantled once the trees were gone. Many of the earliest mills in Halfmoon and Clifton Park, which were settled before the American Revolution, are only known through traditions and oral histories before being set down on paper much later.
Published histories of Saratoga County nearly always focus on the famous Revolutionary War battles, mineral springs, horse racing, and the gambling era. When authors write about industrial history in the Capital Region, the focus is on Troy and its iron and collar industries, and Schenectady, which hosted the American Locomotive Company and the headquarters of General Electric. The industries of Saratoga County seem to have been largely forgotten to the general public since the decline of manufacturing in the early 1900s. Only by studying records from dozens of libraries and town historian offices could its lost history be “rediscovered.” It is hoped that this compilation will help new generations of residents understand what life was like 150 years ago and the importance of Saratoga County to the rest of the nation during its industrial era.