Ballston Spa Life
History Lesson: Old Ballston Spa Building Served A Valuable Purpose
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — Some may wonder what the large buildings around town were built for, and how they were used. Angelica’s building on Bath Street used to be a tannery, while the complex on the corner of Milton Avenue and Prospect Street was once a paper mill and chocolate factory.
Another large building straddles Low and Bath streets near the intersection with Front Street. Today, part of the large, brick building is collapsing into ruin, but it once served two important industries.
The Ballston Refrigerating Company was established in 1894. In an era when home refrigeration was many years away, keeping food edible for more than a week was always a problem. Merchants, market-men, fruit producers, and farmers were all customers, and even a few of the wealthy utilized the business by storing their most valuable clothing during the summer to avoid moth damage.
The company used high quality timber, thick insulation, and air chambers to keep the cool air inside. The doors and windows were made of several panes of glass which swung on ball-bearing hinges. Rooms were cooled by fluids passing through a system of pipes on either side, with board curtains placed to maintain equal circulation. Some rooms, such as those used to store fruit, were kept at 32 degrees, while others used to store meat were kept at between 10 and 30 degrees below zero.
The company was highly successful for several decades, and continued to expand. In 1911, an addition was added to the original building with an entrance on Low Street. However, as refrigeration technology enabled more and more companies and individuals to obtain it themselves, the need for a dedicated business decreased accordingly.
Tufflite Plastics purchased part of the building in 1950, and then occupied the rest of the building as Ballston Refrigeration slowly reduced operations and shut down. Raymond and Evelyn Melander formed Tufflite to produce supplies for the floral industry, specifically plastic foam shapes such as crosses, wreathes, horseshoes, and balls, around which florists create their arrangements.
Ray Melander had obtained a license from Dow Chemical Company to purchase and resell the special white and green varieties of Styrofoam that were designed for the work he wanted to do at the factory. Only a dozen or so businesses manufactured these types of Styrofoam in the country. He also invented the green foam block that flowers are usually inserted into and where water is held to prolong the life of the flowers.
At the height of operations in the 1980s it had revenues of about $2.5 million per year and employed 50 people. However, a side business selling injection-molded mannequins declined, and so did sales, dropping to under $1 million in the late 1990s.
Melander’s son Raymond attempted to diversify into other product lines (such as the “Quicky Quilt”) but could not maintain enough customers to remain viable, and the company closed its doors in 1997, the last of Ballston Spa’s manufacturing industry.
Excerpts of this article were taken from the book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley.” Starr’s book “Lost Industries of Saratoga County” is scheduled to be released by The History Press in late October. For more information, see www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.