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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 120: The City of Gloversville.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1656-1670 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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"Uncle Sam's glove factory, the gateway city of the Adirondacks" — A study of the city's glove industry which makes eighty per cent. of America's gloves — "Gloversville gloves America" — Gloversville historical and general notes by the editor — The city's Adirondack neighborhood — Garoga and Canada Lakes — The Sacandaga Trail — The Sacandaga River, Sacandaga Vly, and Sacandaga Lake, the most southerly and accessible large Adirondack Lake — Gloversville the metropolis of the central southern Adirondack region.

By Fred B. Carl

The following chapter, descriptive of the city of Gloversville, is by Mr. Fred B. Carl of the Leader-Republican, Gloversville, with addenda by the editor:

Unique to a major degree is the history of Gloversville, today one of the most thriving of the industrial cities of Northeastern New York. Just why the earliest pioneers of this section should have chosen this location for their settlement is somewhat problematical, as it is situated some eight or nine miles north of the main arteries of transportation — the New York Central Railroad, the Mohawk Turnpike, the Mohawk River and its Barge Canal — it has few natural physical advantages for an industrial center, no river or stream of any size to provide power for its mills and factories, no fertile fields to yield provender for its people, no sources to supply its industry with raw material.

Yet it is out of conditions such as these that the hardy pioneers and the succeeding generations have wrought a miracle of transformation. Nestling here in the foothills of the Adirondacks and forming the gateway to the vast Northern country, is a city modern in every essential, made up of vast interests, particularly as related to the glove and leather industries — a city of cheerful homes and a happy and contented people. From those pioneer days of about 1754, when a few followers of Sir William Johnson made the first clearings and built rude homes in that section of a royal grant which they named Kingsborough — now Gloversville — the thus formed hamlet grew until in 1848 there were two adjoining hamlets, Kingsboro (the final "ugh" being dropped) and Gloversville, each with a population of about 400 souls. In later years the two were combined, first in 1852 into an incorporated village, which in 1890 became the city of Gloversville. At that time the population had passed the 15,000 mark.

[Photo: Main Street, Gloversville]

With the beginning of 1925, Gloversville had a population exceeding 25,000, and its industries, which for more than one hundred years had been confined to the tanning of leather and the manufacture of gloves and mittens, had expanded to include the manufacture of silk, hosiery, slippers, sporting goods, automobile tops, storage batteries, fire escapes, sewing machines, moving picture films, pocketbooks, toys, machinery, tools, dies, leather novelties, concrete blocks, knit goods, mattresses, brooms, and many other articles of general use, making a total of 196 manufacturing industries within its boundaries.

It would therefore appear that it was foreordained, when the hardy New Englanders first settled here, that Gloversville was to be industrial, and it has never faltered for a moment on its trend towards the great manufacturing center that it is today. And the end is not yet, for Gloversville has building room of ideal topography and proportions. It has no ravines to bridge or hills to dig away, or climb, in order to get from one section of the city to another. It knows nothing about the drawbacks of insufficient building room or hard topographical conditions. It is healthful above the average city, with its proximity to the great outdoor country of the Adirondack mountains and lakes just north of the town. The urge to be out and doing, in the sports that go with such an environment, is great and naturally prevails. Nature has endowed this whole region very richly.

As its name implies, of all its varied industries of today the manufacture of gloves and leather form its principal industry. Here are more than 125 separate glove factories, five shoe leather tanneries and eighteen glove leather tanneries. As an industrial center, these are augmented by twelve silk mills, three paper box factories, three woodworking and five leather novelty factories, two knitting plants, a hosiery factory, three slipper factories, five sporting goods and leather novelty factories, two millwork plants and lumber yards (taking both hard and soft wood from the nearby forests), three machine shops, a sewing machine factory and a foundry. Sweatshops and fire traps are unknown. More gloves and finer gloves are turned out each year than in all the other cities of the United States combined, making it justly entitled to its slogan, which is emblazoned along the railroad lines and highways throughout the country — "Gloversville Gloves America."

Since the days when the manufacturing of gloves was developed to a nation-selling scale, the growth of the city has been steady until today it has an assessed valuation of more than $22,000,000. It has thirty acres of parks and playgrounds; seven mountain reservoirs, with a capacity of 380,000,000 gallons of spring water, making an unusually pure water supply; it has an excellent educational system, including a $500,000 high school, a $350,000 grammar school, eleven grade schools, two parochial schools, and a public library with a circulation of about 10,000 volumes a month; it has nineteen churches, two chapels and a full quota of religious societies; thirty-one fraternal societies are represented here; the general social facilities are ample and include several fine club houses. The city is beautifully laid out with hundreds of miles of streets, a majority of them well paved and amply lighted, the post light system being employed in the business section, where the streets are free of wires of any kind. The manufacturing plants are scattered over a wide area, making it impossible to cramp the business section, thus tending to keep a monopoly of central real estate out of Gloversville. The city's health conditions could hardly be improved upon, having a clear, dry atmosphere, 812 feet above sea level; the birth rate is 19.21 per thousand, and the death rate 13.01 per thousand. Labor conditions which are exceptionally good here prevail. There have been but few strikes in the city's history and the relations between employers and employes are unusually satisfactory.

The assets of the city include a thoroughly modernized motor fire department, a Y. M. C. A., a Y. W. C. A., and a Jewish Community Center, each with a handsome and commodious building of its own; three theatres; a Home for Aged Women; and the Nathan Littauer Hospital, one of the finest equipped institutions of its kind in the state, together with the Harriet Littauer Home for Nurses, both erected and partially maintained by Hon. Lucius N. Littauer as memorials to his father and mother, who were among the early residents of the village. Up to the present, Mr. Littauer, who is the head of one of the largest glove manufacturing companies in the city, has contributed more than one million dollars for the construction and upkeep of these institutions. One of the most influential civic organizations is the Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau, which has done much in advancement of business and industrial interests during recent years. Gloversville takes barticular pride in its Home Fund, it having been the pioneer city in the country in establishing, in 1918, the community chest method of caring for its charities — a method which has proved so successful that it is now employed in about 250 cities throughout the country.

[Photo: Business Center, Gloversville]

The general prosperity of Gloversville is reflected through the reports of its three banking institutions, each of which is housed in a handsome building of its own of modern construction. Their reports, in 1924, showed a combined capitalization of $1,250,000; deposits of more than $12,000,000; and surplus and undivided profits of $1,500,000.

Having reviewed the Gloversville of today, it is now well to hark back to the beginning in order that the reader may appreciate the miracle of transformation since the time when this section was a virgin forest roamed only by the redman, and explaining why this became the seat of the glove industry in America; an industry which in volume amounts to many millions of dollars a year, and produces approximately 75 per cent. of the gloves and mittens manufactured in this country.

Some time in 1738 William Johnson, being disappointed in love, determined to forget his sorrows by coming to America to manage the estate of his uncle, Peter Warren. It took Johnson no long time to see the possibilities of the region. He adapted himself easily to the frontier life and soon became a landowner on his own account. His British nature longed for great estates and feudal mansions. In 1752, Arent Stevens and nine others purchased the 20,000-acre Kingsborough tract, for which they paid "three pieces of Showde, six pieces of gailing linnen, three barrels of beer, six gallons of rum, and a fatt Beast." This sale was confirmed by the government the next year. The land was immediately made over to Johnson, who has been suspected, reasonably, no doubt, of having had a hand in the deal from the first. To make his project a success, it was necessary to have settlers on this land, so Johnson brought to it a number of Highlanders who had been exiled from Scotland after the defeat of the Pretender. This scheme was eminently successful and for the next few years Johnson gave his attention to fighting the French. Arent Stevens was an Indian interpreter and general factotum employed by Johnson in his dealings with the Indians.

It was as a reward for his services in the French-Indian war that George III, in 1760, granted him the title of the 100,000-acre Kingsland grant. From then until his death, in 1774, Johnson devoted his entire time to his estate, it becoming more successful each year. Sir William's son, John, and his sons-in-law, Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus, were by no means his equal; and so, after Sir William's death, the affairs of the estate became entangled through poor management. At the outbreak of the Revolution it was abandoned, and Sir John, a Tory, fled to Canada, followed by the greater part of his tenants. His lands and property were confiscated by the new government and for a time lay vacant. But the land was not forgotten. Colonial soldiers had carried home tales concerning it. Before long the people of New England, becoming dissatisfied with their poor farms, decided to move West — and where more naturally than to Kingsborough? Broadalbin and Mayfield, however, were resettled a little before Kingsborough. The newcomers, upon taking up the partly cleared farms left by Sir John Johnson's people under the last Southern spur of the Adirondacks, found that, in the heavily timbered slopes reaching far back into the big woods, deer, moose, and other fur-bearing animals were plentiful. Here New England pioneers made their homes; here they found a climate of long winters and deep snows which generated energy — and these transplanted Yankees knew how to harness that. Their fathers had been taught in a crude way how to tan deer skins, by the Indians of Plymouth, and necessity urged them to utilize that knowledge, for they must have covering for hand and foot. The boys could shoot the deer; the family needed the meat; the father could tan the skins and make patterns of thin basswood boards, which mother could place upon outstretched skins and with a lead pencil trace the outline of glove, mitten or moccasin; then with heavy sheep shears cut them out and sew them with three-edged needles, using homespun hempen thread. This sewing was done by the mother and the girls, one glove or mitten being sat upon while the other was being sewed. This corresponded to the present system of "laying-off", or steaming and pressing the product. At that time Connecticut was especially well represented in the community and a number of these Connecticut people were tinsmiths by trade. They bartered tinware with the Indians for skins, thus collecting, for the first time in quantity, the raw material for the leather which really started the great glove industry of the present day.

This was the simple beginning of an industry in which every member of the family could help, and the surplus, after supplying the family needs, could be bartered for other necessities. Thus the product of the forest, the farm and the tinsmith became the circulation medium. Money was a novelty, but the lack of it increased the thrift and resourcefulness of the settlers, making them alert to every opportunity.

The pioneer probably thought only of his own success, but he was building better than he knew; his efforts were contagious and soon every house in the community was a glove factory and every family master of its own fate. After the surplus grew to greater proportions than the tin peddler could handle, the buckskin peddler was born, who carried his wares in wagons and sleighs to distant distributing points, for there was always a demand for hand protectors.

This spreading of the market developed new processes of dressing leather, newer patterns, better shapings, better sewing, which would bring a blush to the tinman's cheek who had extolled the first product. Now the industry had passed the tinman and was keeping abreast of the demand. All of this happened before the screech of the steamboat whistle had echoed from old Storm King on the Hudson; before the Erie Canal stretched its serpentine trail from Troy to Buffalo; before the snort of a locomotive had punctured the Indian stillness of the Mohawk Valley.

Each year brought greater knowledge of the treatment of leather; each year brought better and more economic skill in form and quality of gloves. The wooden patterns have been replaced by accurate steel dies; the sewing machine has given eternal rest to the housewives' fingers and her three-sided needle; now the whole world is asked to contribute skins to satisfy the gloveman's greed; now the whole world is his market.

Originally all of the gloves made here were of buckskin, but as the demand for the manufactured product became greater and at the same time the deer became scarcer in the Adirondacks and in all other parts of the country which eventually were called upon to supply the raw material, other lines of suitable leather were developed until today nearly every country on the globe, particularly those of Asia, Africa, Australia and South America, send enormous quantities of skins in the raw which are tanned here and later transformed into gloves of every style and quality. The various leathers now used include cape, suede, chamois, rabbit, doeskin, lightweight buckskin, horse hide, cattle hides, pigskin and sheep.

The pioneer glovemakers settled here because they just happened to, and they had the pluck never to regret it. They had to pay millions of dollars more for transportation than if they had been on a trunk line. They surmounted all sorts of obstacles and they came up smiling; they made a name and fame. Today the glove business here is feeding fifty thousand people, who live in greater contentment and,who are surrounded by more comforts than those engaged in any industry of like proportions on the map. The glove-making pioneers were the forefathers of the generations which have built the Gloversville of the present, which never fails to call forth its tribute of praise from the traveler. Hundreds have come and gone who have not been unmindful of its beauty and thrift, and who have never tired of writing and speaking of its attractions, the intelligent and prosperous appearance of its people and other proofs of an active and contented populace. It is to the energetic and bustling business man of present day ideals and progressive instincts that this city especially appeals. Here industry never lags and its citizens are always at work, advancing its supremacy in every way possible and making it justly entitled to be known as "Uncle Sam's Glove Factory; the Gateway City to the Adirondacks".

* * * * *

The following added Gloversville historical and general matter is furnished by the editor of this work. It covers certain Gloversville features other than those described in Mr. Carl's interesting contribution.

While the majority of the early settlers of Gloversville were New Englanders, or Yankees, a great proportion of them were of "Mohawk Dutch" stock — that is, of Holland Dutch or Palatine ancestry. This is shown by the number of "Vans" in the Gloversville and Johnstown phone books. The Vans number 111 in the two cities, which is significant considering the fact that this Holland Dutch prefix has been dropped from many names which originally bore it. Johnstown and Gloversville have a population which is largely American in contrast to other cities of similar size. The two Fulton County cities have a combined population about equal to that of Amsterdam, which, however, has a much smaller proportion of Mohawk Dutch in its ancestral antecedents.

Gloversville's retail trade draws patronage from the middle Mohawk Valley as well as from Fulton and Hamilton County. The junction of Fulton and Main streets is indeed "the busy corner", as it is aptly termed locally.

[Photo: The Eccentric Club, Gloversville]

[Photo: "Lest We Forget" [World War Monument]]

Gloversville has handsome Eccentric Club and Elks Club houses, a very fine Masonic Temple, a large and architecturally imposing high school, an interesting statue group monument to Civil War veterans, and a (1924) statue of a World War buddy, erected by the Gloversville post of the American Legion, as well as many other architectural and civic features of interest.

Company H, One Hundred and Fifth Infantry, N. G. S. N. Y., has its armory at 87 Washington Street. Its history and distinguished World War record are given in a separate chapter devoted to this noted local military organization, now a part of the United States regular army.

Gloversville has a most interesting history. Its site has virtually been cleared in the Adirondack wilderness, the forests of which look down on the city from the northern summits. In 1786 nothing but the Sacandaga trail connected the present cities of Johnstown and Gloversville. Blazed, or axe-scarred trees showed the way to the New England settlers who came up the Mohawk and through Johnstown to settle in this section, then known as Kingsborough, by which name the northern Gloversville neighborhood is still known. The first Yankee settlers came here soon after the close of the Revolution in 1783.

Families by the name of Burr, Ward, Giles, Mills, Throop, Mann, Bedford, Jones, Lord, Heacock, Griswold, Wilson, Crossett, Greig and Lindley were among the first settlers.

The first church (Methodist Episcopal) was built in the Kingsborough section in 1790, and the first school, in the city limits, was opened in 1800. A mill and tavern also were built about 1800. Leather manufacture and leather mitten manufacture developed about 1806-1809. In 1816 the place was called "Stump City", with reference to the clearings in the forest which then covered most of the present city. The first store was opened in 1828. Gloversville had fourteen houses and about 100 population in 1830, after which date it grew rapidly. In 1851 it was incorporated as a village, then having about 350 houses and a modern steam-heated, gas-lighted hotel was built. In 1857 it had 500 houses and nearly 3,000 population. In 1854 Union Seminary was built, which was incorporated as a building of the public school system in 1868. The Civil War boomed glove manufacture.

Prior to the Civil War, manufactured leather gloves or mittens were legal tender in Gloversville. Nearly all trade was by barter and settlement was made by merchants, manufacturers and artisans on January first.

In 1870 the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad was constructed, and in 1875 this road was extended to Northville. In 1890 Gloversville became a city.

In 1919 Gloversville had 206 factories, with 6,331 primary horsepower and capital of $27,616,000, 6,704 workers receiving $7,559,000 annually, and a yearly manufactured production of $38,913,000. (1920 U. S. Census report.)

The Fulton-Hamilton Counties Fair is annually held at Gloversville.

All pioneers learned the art of tanning deer skins from the Indians, using the deer's brains or hog's brains in the process instead of the soda ash "fat liquor" later in use. Deer skins were then used for all kinds of clothing, moccasins and mittens, and were especially prized for breeches on account of wearing qualities. These skins were plentiful, cheap and often a drug on the market.

Ezekiel Case settled in Kingsboro in 1806 and tanned leather and made leather mittens. In 1807 Tallmadge Edwards, an English leather dresser, settled in Johnstown. James Burr of Gloversville brought Edwards to this place and the manufacture of leather and leather mittens was here begun in 1809. In 1810 Burr sold leather mittens by the dozen lots. James Burr seems to have been the leading figure in early glove industry, as he created many improvements in the manufacture of leather. Gloves were only occasionally made of the finer and softer parts of the leather. In 1825 Elisha Judson took a load of gloves to Boston for sale. In 1859 the first glove and mitten cutting machines were made at Gloversville. Since that time improvements in machinery and leather have been constant and glove manufacturing has become one of America's leading industries, with Gloversville as its center. Silk and woolen glove manufacture are becoming also important industries of Gloversville, as well as of other Mohawk Valley towns.

The highest point in Gloversville is a hill on its western edge rising 160 feet above the Cayadutta, or 940 feet above the sea.

The city of Gloversville lies on the divide (780 feet sea elevation) between the Sacandaga and the Mohawk watersheds. The waters of the Cayadutta (running into the Mohawk at Fonda) drain the greater part of the city, but the northeastern limits lie on the divide between Cayadutta Creek and Mayfield Creek, which empties into the Sacandaga at Northampton, where Sir William Johnson, in 1760, built Fish House in the shadow of Bald Mountain there rising 1,000 feet above the river.

Before the glacial period the Sacandaga flowed south into the Mohawk. Glacial drift deposits choked its channel at Northampton, forcing it to seek a northern channel to the Hudson.

Although Gloversville's southern limits lie less than five miles, in an air line, from the Mohawk River, its northern section is close to the Adirondacks, some of whose southern summits rise from the city. A wonderful picturesque region of forest, lake and mountain lies immediately north of Gloversville. Mountain Lake (three miles northeast, at a sea level altitude of 1,577 feet) is the nearest Adirondack Lake. The road makes a steep rise of 800 feet to the summit on which it lies. Peaks near Woodworth Lake (four miles northeast) rise to heights of 1,960 and 2,000 feet, or over 1,200 feet above Mayfield Creek. Westward, the highest summit is Klip Hill, 1,600 feet above the sea, a northward continuation of Nose Hill Ridge or Mayfield Mountain.

The old Canadian trail north to Lake Champlain is now followed by the Sacandaga trail to Northville, which reaches Northville 17 m., Speculator 42 m., and thence to Piseco Lake. From Northville it runs to Lake George, 53 m. northeast of Gloversville.

The Sacandaga Trail is Gloversville's more important highway feature, forming Main Street, the city's main thoroughfare. Over this highway and city street passes a great tide of summer and autumn travel to and from the central southern Adirondacks.

Six miles northeast of Gloversville, over the Sacandaga Trail, in the Sacandaga Vly (Vly or Vlaie is Dutch for swamp, swampy stream and sometimes for natural meadow). This is one of the largest Adirondack marshes. The road to Northville runs along its western edge. The Vly will soon be covered by the Sacandaga Lake or storage reservoir, which will form an artificial lake thirty-five miles long, from Northville to Conklingville.

Sacandaga Lake will form the most southerly large lake in the Adirondacks. Besides being a water storage reservoir, of great economic value, it is bound to become an important southern summer resort region. The Sacandaga River now lies but eleven miles (airline distance) from the northeastern limits of Gloversville, as well as to the Fulton County village of Northville, located on its upper shores. Although this new body of water is not in the Mohawk Valley, a considerable part lies in Fulton, one of our six Mohawk Valley counties.

The Auskerada Trail runs northwest from Gloversville, eleven miles, to the Canada (also called Auskerada) Lake region, where the Adirondack peaks separating the Mohawk and Sacandaga watersheds rise to summits of 2,200 feet and over. Pigeon Mountain, with a sea elevation of 2,780 feet, is the highest peak (eleven miles northwest of Gloversville) on this Mohawk-Sacandaga divide.

[Photo: On the Beach at Garoga Lake]

The Canada and Garoga Lake region is the most southerly of the Adirondack mountain lake districts. It is the nearest to and the most accessible from the Old Mohawk Turnpike and is therefore increasing in popularity and population as a summer resort.

[Photo: Flag Day at Gloversville High School]

Gloversville is indeed a gateway of the Adirondacks. The vast northern wilderness begins immediately north of the city limits, and the town is truly the metropolis of the great southern central Adirondack region.

Dr. William J. Miller, the eminent geologist, is the author of the "Geological History of New York State" and "The Adirondack Mountains". Professor Miller was formerly professor of geology at Hamilton College, and now (1924) holds a similar position in Smith College. He is a generally recognized authority on matters pertaining to the geology of the state of New York and the Adirondack region. Dr. Miller says that the wildest region of the Adirondacks is that lying immediately north of Gloversville, embraced within the trails which run northward (the Sacandaga Trail) from Gloversville to Lake Pleasant, and from there "around the horn" (as this trip is called in the Mohawk Valley) — from Lake Pleasant to Lake Piseco, and thence down the Piseco Trail through Arietta, and back to Gloversville or over the Garoga Trail south to Fort Plain and Canajoharie.

From the foregoing it can be readily seen that the life of present day Gloversville is interesting and that its civic and industrial features are fraught with a still greater promise of things to come.

[Photo: Elizabeth Cady Stanton]

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