Arthur H. (Arthur Haynesworth) Masten.

The history of Cohoes, New York [electronic resource] from its earliest settlement to the present time online

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" The detention of boats in passing the numerous locks
near here will help the proprietors towards making this a
place of business, particularly if they connect it with mill

works and factories, as they may well do I have

perhaps rather whimsically named the new town which the
proprietors mean to have at the place where the Erie Canal
receives the Champlain Canal, Juncta, but if they make a
town or village there, I may at least make a name for it until
they give it one. It is a pretty spot, and if they give it
water power and hydraulic works, there will soon collect
about it people enough to make a handsome little village."

The cotton factory of the Cohoes Manufacturing Company,

of which Sayres was at the time agent, was spoken of

as Prescotfs factory, " a stone building, near the Cahoos
bridge and the ruins of the screw factory mentioned in the
first edition of this work. It is owned principally in Lan-

It was at the time the only cotton factory in the county.
The design of the company to establish here a manufactur
ing village, referred to in the above extract, is described at
greater length in a memorial drawn up for presentation to
the canal commissioners by the trustees, soon after the
opening of the canal. In this it was stated that they
had purchased lands and water privileges from Stephen

Van Rensselaer and Jacobus Van Schoonhoven " for which
lands and water privileges there has been paid by the trust
ees of the Cohoes Manufacturing Company to the aforesaid
persons the sum of four thousand six hundred and seventy-
one dollars. Your memorialists further represent that
at the time of making the above purchases they had ascer
tained that the lands so purchased, together with the water
privileges, would furnish sites and power for twenty-two
manufacturing establishments ; that the ultimate value of
so many sites for hydraulic machinery your memorialists
calculated would indemnify them for the extraordinary
price paid for the aforesaid premises, and the expenses
which they might incur in commencing operations which
were yet new in this country ; that with the view of dis
posing of sites to purchasers, they have had their land sur
veyed and laid out into proper lots, and have excavated a


canal nearly through their land, forty feet wide, at an ex
pense of three thousand four hundred and sixty dollars ;
that after practicing every economy, which the nature of
their business would admit, they have expended on the pre
mises the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars, for which
or for the interest that has accrued thereon, they have as
yet received no return. Your memorialists beg leave further
to suggest that they conceive they had acquired a perfect
title to all the above mentioned premises ; that they are
entitled to an adequate compensation for the damages they
sustain by the loss of land and improvements by means of
the canal operation, and by loss of privileges occasioned by
the use and diversion of the waters of the Mohawk, and
your memorialists beg leave further to suggest the propriety
of their claim to the waters of the Mohawk, beyond what
is necessary for supplying the northern and western locks
and canals ; and your memorialists respectfully solicit your
honorable body to fix upon certain regulations under which
your memorialists may have leave to take and use such of
the waters of the Mohawk as shall not be wanted for canal

From various reasons, chiefly lack of capital, the plans of
this company never approached completion. The opening
of the canal had, however, drawn the attention of other par
ties to the feasibility of a similar enterprise, and in 1826,
with the incorporation of the Co hoes Company, the first
steps were taken towards the development, on a large scale,
of the wonderful natural resources of the place, and the
foundation was laid for the establishment of a thriving town.

The honor of originating the first design for the complete
and systematic utilization of the water power belongs to
Canvass White, of whom an extended notice is given else
where. He first became interested in the project while en
gaged as engineer in the construction of the Erie Canal, and
being convinced of its importance, devoted himself earnestly
to obtaining means for its execution. Not being a man of
large property himself, he sought the cooperation of a num
ber of capitalists with whom he had acquaintance promi
nent among them being Stephen Van Rensselaer of Albany,


and the members of the firm of Peter Remsen & Co. of
New York, and without difficulty gained their aid in the
enterprise. A company was formed, which was incorporated
March 28th, the directors named in the charter being as
follows: Peter Remsen, Chas. E. Dudley, Stephen Van-
Rensselaer Jr., Francis Olmstead, Canvass White, Henry
J. Wyckoff and David Wilkinson. Their election held in
that year resulted in the choice of Mr. White as president,
and Mr. Van Rensselaer as vice president. The first sec
retary, Mr. Wyckoff, was not elected until the following
year. The powers of the company in regard to improve
ments were thus stated in the charter:

" It shall and may be lawful for the said corporation to
erect and maintain a dam across the Mohawk River, opposite
the lands belonging to said corporation above the great
Cohoes Falls for supplying water for the purpose of said
corporation. . . . The said corporation shall have full
right, power and authority to cut, construct and make a
canal or canals from said liver upon the lands of said cor
poration, to supply water for all the purposes of said cor
poration ; and to cut, construct and make upon the lands of
said corporation as many lateral canals connected therewith
as may be necessary to supply water for the manufacturing
establishments which may be erected, and also to afford
such water communication with the Erie and Champlain
Canals as shall be approved by the canal commissioners or
such other person or persons as may hereafter be appointed
by the legislature, having the superintendence and manage
ment of said canals ; and may also at any time hereafter
purchase, build, or hire for the use and in the name of the
said corporation, houses, factories, warehouses, wharves and
other necessary buildings and to sell or lease any part or
the whole of the above mentioned property, and also any
surplus water of their canals, in such manner as they may
think most conducive to the interest of said corporation."

The capital of the company was $250,000.

1 Increased in 1835, to $500,000 with the proviso that none of the additional capital
should be employed in manufacturing operations.

1825. HISTORY or COHOES. 49

The incorporation of this company, the most important
event thus far in the history of Cohoes, had no immediate
effect upon the place. Time was required for the perfection
of plans and the completion of necessary arrangements, so
no active operations were at once commenced, and for the
next few years but little is to be recorded concerning the
history of the village.

During the winter of 1825-26, the locks at the junction,
which had proved insufficient to accommodate the rapidly
increasing number of boats, were doubled. A new bridge
(on the site of the present one) across the Mohawk above the
dam was constructed by the Cohoes Bridge Company, which
was authorized to contract with the canal commissioners for
building and sustaining a tow path bridge for the benefit
of the Champlain Canal, and was empowered to change the
location of the old structure, and take such lands of the
adjoining shores as might be necessary. The new bridge,

built by Hay ward, was of wood, and had latticed

sides, being one of the first so constructed in the neighbor
hood. 1 The toll collector was Jacob Van Der Werken,
who had been the last collector at the upper bridge.

After the completion of this bridge, efforts were made
for the establishment of a suitable approach to it, and a
survey of the road from the junction north was made by
Wm. Roberts Jr., March 22, 1828, as follows :

" The road is laid out four rods wide in all places, measured
at right angles with the course thereof. Beginning at a point
in the centre of the road bearing north seventy-five degrees
and fifty minutes west thirty-nine links from the southwest
corner of the tavern house owned by A. G. Lansing, and
now occupied by Henry En Earl and running thence upon
the centre of the road north fourteen degrees and ten
minutes east to the centre of the new Cohoes bridge at the
south end thereof."

For some reason this survey was never recorded, and in

1 It was partially destroyed by ice, in 1832, but remained in use until March, 1853
when it was burned. The last toll collector wai John G. Bonce,



later years various parties have been able to encroach upon
the street with impunity. When the state buildings were
erected, about eight years later, the fence projected some
distance into the street. Remonstrance was made by Hugh
White, then president of the Cohoes Bridge Company, and he
was assured by Clark Sumner, canal superintendent, that the
land should be restored any time it was needed for public
purposes. This, however, has never been done.

In 1828, a new school district was formed, all this neigh
borhood having been previously included in one district,
having for its only accommodation the Red School House.
The new school was located in a building which had been
used as a boarding house during the construction of the
bridge, and stood near the site of the old freight house of the
Rensselaer and Saratoga Rail Road Company, on Oneida

In 1829, the cotton factory burned, and the Cohoes
Manufacturing Company was broken up. The last agent
of the company was Otis Sprague, and its trustees at the
time of its dissolution were : B. De Milt, Edward Taylor,
John Sayre, Calvin Barker, Joseph Curtis, Wm. M. Morrell
and Samuel De Milt. The enterprise had not been particu
larly successful, financially, and the proprietors made no
effort to rebuild and continue business, probably seeing
that their concern would be completely overshadowed in
the progress of the operations then about to be commenced
by the Cohoes Company.



1831 TO 1836.

W ITH the completion, in 1831, of the first actual im
provements of the Cohoes Company, commenced a new era
in the history of Cohoes.

Though this neighborhood had been settled at an early
day, and had been increased in population and activity by
the establishment of the factory of 1811, and the opening
of the canals, there had never been any movement toward
a regular development of the place. The early inhabitants,
occupied only with their farms or their traffic with passing
boatmen, had no local interests in common which would
stimulate them to an effort for the establishment of a village,
and previous to this time, the place, hardly entitled to be
even called a hamlet, had consisted (aside from the factory)
of the half dozen farm houses at intervals along the banks
of the river, and a few scattered canal groceries. The ad
vent of new inhabitants, however, all engaged directly or
indirectly in putting to practical use the natural advantages
of the place, and having a common interest in its growth
and improvement, infused a new life into Cohoes, and its
active career was then entered upon.

Early in the season a wooden dam was constructed above
the Falls, not far from the location of the present one. At
the same time the company purchased from I. D. F. Lan
sing a large tract of land in that vicinity, together with a
portion of the mill privilege which had been the property
of his family since their first settlement in the neighborhood.
Mr. Lansing reserved the right of using enough water for
four run of stone, and transferred to the company the re
mainder of the water power, together with the privilege of
constructing the dam and the necessary canals, for the sum


of $12,495. Further accessions had been made by the pur
chase of lands on the opposite or Waterford side of the
river. A strip one rod in width, extending from the Falls
to the dam, was purchased from Garret Van Schoonhoven
in 1826, for $5,000, thus enabling the company to control
the entire power of the river except that reserved by Mr.
Lansing. Other tracts, embracing a large part of what is
now known as Nortliside and extending beyond the Shate-
muck Mill property on the Champlain Canal, were purchased
from Joshua Blower at different times from 1826 to 1838. [
The officers of the company made an arrangement by
which they were permitted to use the Erie Canal for the
purpose of supplying water to factories until the company
could complete a canal of its own. The water from above
the dam was conveyed into the Erie Canal just below the
Four Locks, by means of a wooden trunk which passed
under the highway near I. D. F. Lansing s grist mill.

Having thus prepared for the utilization of its facilities
the company began to invite the attention of capitalists to
the locality, and take measures for the establishment of a
village. These efforts, though not resulting as favorably
as had been hoped, still had the effect of bringing a number
of new inhabitants.

One of the first settlers led here in consequence of the
organization of the Cohoes Company, was Hugh White,
who had arrived with his family in April, 1830. He had
made previous arrangements for settling here, and his house
on the Waterford road (the lumber for which had been
prepared in Chittenango, N. Y., and was shipped on the
canal ready to be put up), was nearly completed on his
arrival. Mr. White took the place of his brother Canvass,
who was often away attending to other business, in super
intending the early improvements of the company. Early
in the year David Wilkinson, of Pawtucket, R. L, one of

1 This land was originally in the old Van Schaick Patent.


the Cohoes Company, after urgent solicitation and liberal
offers on the part of his fellow members, decided to take
up his residence here, and arrived in April, being followed
the next month by his brother-in-law, Hezekiah Howe.
These gentlemen, together with the friends who accom
panied them, had a most important part in shaping the
history of the town. Mr. Wilkinson was one of the fore
most mechanics and inventors in the country, and was
widely known to manufacturers and capitalists. Having
suffered heavily in the business depression of 1829, he, with
his partner Mr. Howe, determined to avail himself of
the opportunity offered for trying his fortunes in a new
locality. The result proved how well grounded were the
expectations of the company in regard to the effect of his
ability and enterprise on the growth of Cohoes.

Among the friends of Messrs. Wilkinson and Howe, who
arrived here about the same time, were Joshua R. Clarke,
John Baker, Nathaniel Wheeler, Samuel Baldwin, Pardon
Whitman, Robert Leckie, Geo. H. Kimball, and John

The prospects for the new comers were not particularly
encouraging. The best accommodations to be had were
afforded by Mr. Faulkner, who then kept the Richard Heam-
street tavern, and they were of the most limited description.
Mr. Howe and his family, after boarding for some little
time at this place, took up their residence in the house on
the southwest corner of Oneida and Saratoga streets, which
had previously been occupied by employes of the Cohoes
Manufacturing Company ; Mr. Wilkinson took possession
of the Whiting house, near the river ; Mr. Clarke occupied
half of another of the factory houses, below Saratoga street
near Ontario, and the other families found accommodations,
for the most part temporary, in different localities in the
neighborhood. At this time there were not over twenty or
twenty-five buildings standing on the ground which is now


the most thickly settled portion of the city, and mention
has already been made of the greater part of them. Among
the most important were the old farm houses on the Lansing
and Heamstreet properties, the dwellings of Crowner,
Waterman, Phelps, and En Earl at the junction, and the
factory tenements near the state dam. On the west side of
Mohawk street, near its junction with Oneida, was quite a
settlement, the principal house being that of Jacob Van
Der Werken ; opposite to this, and nearly on the site of the
present residence of Geo. Lawrence, lived a man named
Rice. Next door to Van Der Werken s was the dwelling of
Washington Cavan, which now forms part of the offices of
P. D. Niver, and Justice Redmond. South of this was
the dwelling of Wm. Link, which has been before referred
to as occupied by Israel Anthony. On Mohawk street,
opposite the present City Hotel (the site of which was then
occupied by a large Dutch bam belonging to the Richard
Heamstreet farm), was a small cottage occupied by Mr.
Robinson ; on the bank of the river the gate house of the
old bridge was still standing, and was occupied by Capt.
Andrews. On the hill, besides the Lansing farm houses
and the Van Der Mark tavern or Cohoes House, there was
nothing except the canal groceries of Hubbard and Revels.
The first house south of Link s was that of Isaac Fletcher,
on the southeast corner of Mohawk and Pine ; adjoining
this were two or three small buildings, one of which was
occupied by a man named Crabbe. The Methodist church,
on the opposite side of the street, was then unoccupied ;
Dr. Tracy, the first physician, it is said, who settled in
Cohoes, had a house on the north side of Columbia street,
between Main and Remsen streets, and near the junction of
Mohawk and Saratoga (on the site of the residence of
Malachi Weidman), stood a small dwelling occupied by

1 In speaking of these localities, I am compelled to use the names of our present
streets, though of course they were not in existence at that time.


Isaac Van Der Werken. Along the canal may have been
a few small groceries, and here and there an occasional
shanty, but so far as I have been able to ascertain, there
were no buildings of importance then standing in the main
part of the village besides those already mentioned. All the
land west of the Erie Canal was yet uncleared ; on the east
a great part of it was unfit for farming purposes and had
been neglected. Between the canal and Remsen street was
a swamp which, for a number of years, was put to no use
except as a cow pasture. The character of the land, marshy
and full of quicksands, proved a serious obstacle in later
years to many who were building in that locality. Between
Remsen and Mohawk streets the soil was better adapted
for cultivation, and on part of it a crop of corn had been
raised in the previous year. The block between Factory
and Oneida streets was occupied by an orchard belonging
to the Richard Heamstreet farm. A deep ravine, through
which had once flowed a brook of considerable size, passed
from the canal down Ontario street across Remsen, and
then in a northeast direction to Mohawk street.

At this time, and for a number of years later, there was
a beautiful pine grove on the land through which the
Rensselaer and Saratoga Rail Road now passes, extending
from the bridge nearly to Howard street, and smaller groves
were scattered at intervals between the Falls and the junction.

For the accommodation of the people at the factory, a
narrow road (now Oneida street) had been cut through
from the state dam to the main road, with which it con
nected near Jacob Van Der Werken s house. Besides this
and the main highway there were no other public roads,
except the one which is now Columbia street. This had
been in use from a very early day. The farmers from the
Boght, instead of turning into the main road near the Falls,
often chose the lower road in preference, and came down
that way when they drove to Troy and Albany with their
produce, or went to Heamstreet s mill.


Such was Cohoes in 1831. A description of life in the
place during that year, from some of those who were pioneers
in its settlement and improvement, gives one a striking
sense of the inconveniences and annoyances they must have
suffered. Until they could become settled in business, and
make arrangements for building or hiring suitable houses,
their accommodations were restricted ; there were no facili
ties of any account for communication with the outside
world, the only public conveyance to neighboring towns
being the canal boats, which often consumed two hours in
making the trip from here to Troy, though the people were
in the habit of saving time by walking to the junction and
taking the boat at that point, thus avoiding the delay of
the locks ; it was almost impossible to obtain the common
est necessities of life ; groceries, and those of an inferior de
scription, could only be procured at the canal stores, at
either extremity of the village, and fresh meat was a luxury
only to be found occasionally at the junction ; the nearest
post office was at Waterford.

When, in addition to these discomforts, the fact is taken
into account that the business prospects of the inhabitants
were by no means bright, that the influx of capitalists and
new population which had been expected was slow in coming,
and the golden dreams which had been cherished in regard to
the growth of the place were realized in but a slight degree,
we can understand how much credit is due to the energy
and perseverance of these early settlers and those who
followed them within the next decade. Notwithstanding
the obstacles in their way, the new-comers commenced at
once their efforts for the improvement of the place. Messrs.
Wilkinson and Howe were both active churchmen, and their
first step was to procure accommodations for holding public
worship. On May 2d, the day after Mr. Howe s arrival,
St. John s Episcopal church was organized, and having
secured the assistance of Rev. Orange Clark of Waterford,


services were held the next Sunday in the school house of
District No. 5, on Oneida street.

A Sunday school was at the same time organized under
direction of Miss Wilkinson and Miss Maria Howe. The
church services, which were held in the afternoon, were well
attended and continued regularly during the year.

The first church officers were as follows : Wardens :
David Wilkinson, Hugh White. Vestrymen : Hezekiah
Howe, Otis Sprague, Albert S. Wilkinson, John Van Der
Werken, Matthias Williams, Samuel H. Baldwin, Luther
M. Tracy.

Mr. Wilkinson commenced business operations at once,
and his machine shop, located on Mohawk street on the site
of the present Empire Mill, was erected and in full opera
tion within a few months after his arrival. The power was
obtained from the Erie Canal by means of a waste gate,
located near the north end of the present Harmony Mills
carpenter shop, from which the water was conveyed to the
machine shop by a small ditch. During the year Mr.
Wilkinson was occupied chiefly in constructing machinery
for cotton manufacture, some of which was shipped to
Seneca Falls. Another establishment, which was com
pleted in the fall, was a saw mill belonging to Hugh White,
which stood at the Two Locks where is now the picker room
of No. 1 mill. It was built by Sylvester Van Der Mark,
who had in his employ, as an apprentice, Dennis Flannigan.
Mr. Van Der Mark and Joshua R. Clarke were the principal
carpenters here, and most of the buildings erected for a
number of years following were under the supervision of
one or the other.

About the same time Mr. Howe established the first store
of any importance in the place. It was located in a build-

1 This mill was run by Mr. White alone for a few years, and afterwards with J.
R. Clarke as a partner. In August, 1836, it was sold to the Harmony Manufacturing
Company, which was then being organized.



ing erected for the purpose at the middle one of the Three
Locks, near the present Jute mill, at the place where Mr.
Howe landed from the canal boat which brought him to
Cohoes. The business, which was that of a general country
store, was conducted by his son.

On the 23d of February 1832, the first postmaster,
Frederick Y. Waterman, was appointed. The office was
located at the junction, and as it was not much more con
venient of access than the one at Waterford, many people
continued to have their mail sent to the latter place until

Online LibraryArthur H. (Arthur Haynesworth) MastenThe history of Cohoes, New York [electronic resource] from its earliest settlement to the present time → online text (page 5 of 30)