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Author Explores Inventions

"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 Kaydeross Valley.”

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, though.

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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