A History of its Industries,
Railroads and Inventions
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"Invented in Ballston Spa"
The Milton Spotlight
Posted on: 05/21/08
Charles Wiff, Spotlight Staff
Local author Timothy Starr has
written two books detailing the
history of area inventions like Ebenezer Holmes’ refrigerated casket.
For longtime residents of Ballston Spa and
Saratoga County, the industrial history of the area might be a
familiar story. What came along with the paper mills and textile
factories of yesteryear, however, was a slew of innovations that run
the gamut from ingenious to unusual.
That’s what local author and history buff Timothy Starr has
discovered in doing research for his new book, “Invented in Saratoga
County,” slated for a July release. It’s a geographical step up from
his last title, “Invented in Ballston Spa,” which has been available
at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa since April. All four of his
books have been self-published.
Currently Chief Financial Officer at Peter Young Housing, Industries
& Treatment, Starr was raised in Hebron and made the Town of Milton
his home just 10 years ago. It was there he came across — quite
literally — his penchant for local history.
“A couple years ago I went out behind my house in the woods, just
going for a walk, and I stumbled across the remains of a trolley
railroad bed,” said Starr. “It turned out to be the trolley line
that went from Ballston Spa to Middle Grove. It was only a
10-mile-long trolley line and it serviced the paper mills along the
Kaydeross Creek. I’ve always been interested in railroads, so I
decided to do some research, and after about a year I had enough
material to write a book.”
That book was “Lost Railroads of the Kaydeross Valley.” These
railroads led Starr to more information on Ballston Spa’s industrial
era, culminating in his second book, “Lost Industries of the
And, as is often the case, with industry came innovation.
“As I was getting into researching the paper mills and things like
that, a lot of inventions were coming up,” said Starr. “The
population was only about two or three thousand people but there
were hundreds and hundreds of inventions.”
Among those Ballston Spa-borne inventions were well-known
developments like Samuel Day’s improvements on telegraph design or
George West’s square-bottomed paper bag. Starr’s research actually
discovered evidence that West was indeed the originator of the bag,
not his nephew James, whose name appears on the patent.
Even the more obscure designs Starr unearthed had a great impact,
Benjamin Barber developed a water wheel, patented in 1870, that was
hailed as a revolutionary design. The invention was created out of
need — Barber put his first wheel to work at his lumber yard before
exporting them across the country.
Then there are the inventions that Starr files under his
aptly-titled chapter “Consigned to History.” Ivy Howell patented a
bathroom sign designed to point the sexes in the proper direction.
Emory Tiffault invented a bottle cap remover, and the first
household clothes wringers were made by Benjamin Smith in West
Milton. In 1859, Theodore Lipshuts patented his device that randomly
discharged a firearm as a “Self-Acting Battery for Scaring Crows.”
Starr expanded his focus for his upcoming book to include all of
Saratoga County. It may be common knowledge that civil war hero
Ulysses Grant died on Mount McGregor, but a lesser known fact is
that Saratoga’s own Ebenezer Holmes hauled his patented refrigerated
casket up the mount to preserve Grant’s body. Holmes was assisted by
William Burke, founder of William J. Burke & Sons Funeral Home,
which still operates today.
Starr’s compilation of inventions is largely from the 19th century,
mostly because that’s when big business came to the
area. “Once you get past 1925 you’re looking at a lot of assigned
inventions that went to General Electric, or the atomic center or
the Kesselring naval center up in West Milton,” said Starr.
“Those are inventions that a lot of times were made by groups of
people. So it really didn’t benefit Saratoga County.”
Though Ballston Spa and Saratoga County have undergone significant
changes since this heyday of innovation, Starr’s work will help
ensure that era is not forgotten. “I feel he’s doing something
important,” said Ballston Spa Village Historian Chris Morley, who
helped Starr with much of his research. “Fifty years from now
somebody’s going to want the information he collected.”
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