History From America's Most Famous Valleys
This souvenir album is published as part of the
St. Johnsville Bicentennial Celebration
Published by St. Johnsville Village/Town Bicentennial Committee, Inc.
A Look Into The Past by Wayne Lenig
Continued from Part Two.
< This mill on New Street then became Palatine Dyeing Co., and is now the Fowler Finishing Co.
As one addition followed another, the settlement became more and more attractive to new settlers. The first impetus of settlement was undoubtedly the water power afforded by Zimmerman Creek, but after the mills, church, school, and store were established, neighboring farmers found themselves spending more and more time in the settlement. The increased number of people attracted to the area meant that more purchasing power was concentrated on the banks of Zimmerman Creek, and this in turn attracted more merchants and tradesmen. New merchants and tradesmen settling in the community needed more buildings for stores and homes, resulting in a increased population density. This increased population density meant more business for professional people such as dentists, doctors, and lawyers. By 1835 through this process of growth, the little settlement at "Timmerman's" had become a real village. According to a map that was drawn in that year the village was already known as "Saint Johnsville", although official incorporation as a municipality was over twenty years in the future.
A good deal of controversy surrounds the origin of the name of our village. Many writers have claimed that the village was named in honor of Alexander St. John, a surveyor who laid out the New Turnpike to Johnstown in 1800, but it seems more reasonable to assume that the village acquired its name from St. John's Reformed church, which was built there in 1804. This argument becomes especially persuasive when it is realized that St. John's was the only church in the village for forty years. In fact, until the major influx of Roman Catholic immigrants between 1880 and 1920, St. John's Reformed Church membership rolls accounted for almost 90% of the population of the village. This statement is not intended to belittle the importance that various other churches have had in the history of Saint Johnsville, but merely as a statement of fact which supports the theory that the village was named for its first church.
Photo on right was taken in early 1900's when the Mohawk River was dredged and deepened to form the Barge Canal.
The Railroad Brings Industrialization
< The Fireman's Fair has become a tradition in the village, having been held every summer for many years. This is the food tent before a permanent building was erected for the purpose.
In 1836, a new impetus for growth came to the village of Saint Johnsville. The Utica and Schenectady Railroad was completed in that year, and the owners chose Saint Johnsville as a site for a depot and watering station. A large hotel and refreshment saloon was erected on the site of the Fowler Finishing factory of today, and the village began to blossom. As a factor in the commercial growth of St. Johnsville the railroad cannot be over exaggerated. Until Saint Johnsville tipped the balance with a depot, Palatine Church and Upper Saint Johnsville were keeping pace as important north shore communities, but after 1836 Saints Johnsville overshadowed these settlements as a choice industrial location due to the immediate access to railroad transportation.
A village type business section appeared in the 1840's. It was located between Bridge Street and Kingsbury Avenue (then known as Railroad Street). Clothing stores, hardware stores, and groceries appeared. The St. Johnsville Woolen Mill was established in 1840 and Saltsman Brothers Carriage Manufactory opened its doors in 1848. Things were really booming until 1849,when a disastrous fire wiped out the entire business district.
But the village's natural advantages overshadowed the temporary setback. The Churchill Brick Manufactory (later Easterbrook's) began producing building materials from the clay of "High School Hill" in 1857, and from their kilns the village was rebuilt. The earliest section of the business district to be re-erected was the row of buildings known ever since as the Beekman Block. Also in 1857 the residents voted officially to incorporate the village of Saint Johnsville. At that time a census of the village was taken and it was discovered that 720 people lived within the incorporation.
Changing Patterns of Industrialization and New Immigration
In 1866 the Saint Johnsville Agricultural Works began producing mechanized threshers and other farming implements. This marks the beginning of heavy industry in our village. Schudder's Foundry (originally Conover and Knox) began producing heavy carriage and wagon parts about 1876 at their plant below Scudder's Falls. About the same time, crop farming was giving way to dairy farming in the Mohawk Valley, making the large number of grist mills in our community obsolete. Our forefathers grappled with this problem directly by establishing the Mohawk Condensed Milk Factory, at the present upper mill of Fowler Finishing Corporation.
From the 1880's through the 1920's two new industries vied for supremacy in our village. For a while it looked as though the town would be known forever as the "Player Piano Capital of the World." Englehard and Roth established the industry in 1889, and by 1907 they owned four factories, having just completed the large brick building on Hough Street now occupied by the Little Falls Footwear Corporation. But the market for player pianos rapidly diminished with the advent of the phonograph, and by the early 1920's all remnants of the piano industry disappeared from Saint Johnsville. In the final analysis, it was the competitor, textiles, that won the day. J. H. Reaney's Lion Mill, and later the Royal Gem, and Wesley Allter's Union Knitting Mills provided large numbers of semiskilled and unskilled jobs for a population which was growing rapidly. The ethnic populations of Saint Johnsville today--Italian, Polish, Ukrainian--are a heritage of that industry. The Failings, Timmermans, Klocks and Nellises had come to St. Johnsville in 1725 in search of the American dream. So now came the Battistis, the Mastraccos, LaCoppolas, Palombis, Sacketts, Tolfas, Franciscos, Terricolas, Corsos, Cochis, Matuszeskis, Bilobrowkas, Pachuts, Zyznars, Moskey, Yestremskis, Kardashes, Rapaczes, to name just a few, in search of that same American dream 200 years later.
Saint Johnsville became a miniature melting pot, the symbol of the heritage of Americans everywhere.
That is the heritage of Saint Johnsville.
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