Over the years, up and down Skaneateles Creek, mills opened and closed, owners changed, business names changed, hamlet names changed. A single mill might have different names and be listed in different locations without actually moving. As an amateur historian, I have found this to be very inconsiderate.
Take the mills of Thomas Morton. A native of Darvel, Ayrshire, Scotland, Morton owned two mills: The Mottville Woolen Company, in Mottville, and the Marysville Woolen Company, in Marysville, which was later known as Skaneateles Falls. But the Marysville mill was also known as the Darvel Mills. And when Thomas Morton sold the Marysville mill to his son, Gavin Morton, the mill was known for a time as the Ayrshire Mills (which later became the Waterbury Felt Company). That’s a lot of wool to unravel.
(A note: In other histories, you may read that these mills made fine cashmere. They did not. They made cassimere, a woolen, twill-weave, worsted suiting fabric.)
And then there’s this postcard. I couldn’t understand how such a massive building could escape my notice. Was this building in Glenside, Marysville, or Skaneateles Falls? Well, yes. And it began life as an iron works.
Riding the boom that came with the end of the Civil War, the Skaneateles Iron Works Company was incorporated in 1866 with $50,000 in capital stock; the principals were Henry Vary, Eben Bean, George H. Earll and Edward B. Coe. In December of ‘66, the ground was leveled in preparation for the erection of the buildings in the spring of ‘67.
The edifice of blue and gray limestone, and its equipment, cost $108,000. The site hosted a rolling mill, a forging shop, a machine shop, a “commercial room” for packing and shipping, and an office. The main business was the conversion of scrap iron into bolts, nuts, washers, rivets and spikes. The works were placed between Skaneateles Creek, a.k.a. the Outlet, and the railroad. The fast-flowing creek provided water power and the railroad enabled delivery of scrap iron and coal “without cartage.”
A new furnace was in operation in April of 1868; a month later, the rolling department was up and running. However, in June of 1869, the principals felt the need to raise an additional $150,000 and offered bonds that found few takers. Of the principals, Henry Vary died in 1870, missing what was to come. In February of 1871, Edward B. Coe was arrested for forging the names of George H. Earll and Charles Pardee on $18,000 worth of “commercial paper.” He admitted his guilt but said he would set things right within a few days. He did not. In his History of Skaneateles, Edmund Leslie wrote of Coe, “In his business operations he became involved in insurmountable difficulties which caused him the loss of all his property.”
Living on borrowed time, the Skaneateles Iron Works declared bankruptcy in February of 1873. In the autumn of 1873, a series of U.S. banks and railroads failed, tumbling like dominoes, and triggered the nationwide Panic of 1873, making things immeasurably more difficult for business. In Skaneateles, the third principal, Eben Bean, declared bankruptcy and left town.
The last man standing, George H. Earll—a prosperous dairy farmer, hop grower, distiller and paper manufacturer—had a fortune to fall back on, but he died in October of 1873, one month after the Panic began.
(An investor, Charles Pardee, lost $30,000, one of the reasons he cut his throat with a straight razor in 1878. Bankrupt and disgraced, Edward B. Coe left town in 1882 and took his own life the next year, leaping from a steamship off the coast of Oregon.)
Devoid of leadership, the Skaneateles Iron Works was auctioned off for $29,500 in 1874. It limped along under new management for two years. In February of 1876, an auction sale of “moveable property” was held by the Onondaga Savings Bank. In 1878, the bank sold the works to Archibald C. Powell of Syracuse for $5,500. Powell was a trustee of the bank and the superintendent of the Syracuse Salt Works, and under a legal cloud of his own. He held the Skaneateles property just long enough to sell some machines and move a few others to one of his operations in Syracuse.
In 1879, the property was bought by Howard Delano, Ezekiel B. Hoyt and Russell B. Wheeler, who had other businesses along the Outlet, and tended to them.
In August of 1881, James McLaughlin Jr. purchased the idle property for $4,000, and converted it into a woolen mill operated as “McLaughlin Brothers,” with his brother, John McLaughlin, as partner. The McLaughlin brothers were teasel merchants, and hence knew something about textiles.
The mill first produced woolen fabric for ladies’ goods, but soon turned to making coffin cloth, a plain-weave wool fabric dyed black for use as a pall over a casket, or as a casket lining. (To reach the proper funereal shade of black, the fabric had to be dyed five times. The spent dye was dumped into the creek every two hours.)
In September of 1888, “financial difficulties arose”—the McLaughlin partners owed the First National Bank of Auburn $189,000. The company was reorganized under the name of the Glenside Woolen Mills, with Theodore Specht of the New York firm Arnstaedt & Co., becoming the principal, investing $150,000 and gaining a controlling interest.
Theodore Specht was an importer and distributor of specialty cloths from Germany, and a U.S. woolen mill was a logical acquisition. For the first several years of Arnstaedt’s ownership, Specht continued to live in New York City. The McLaughlins retained stock; John McLaughlin continued at the mill and served as a Director. The Glenside Woolen Mills had something close to a monopoly on the coffin cloth business, employed 300 people, and made money.
When in Skaneateles, Specht stayed at the Packwood House. On July 4th, 1893, he sprang for the fireworks in what is now Clift Park, and in 1895, he gave out handsome prizes at the company picnic, honoring winners of the blue rock shoot (a.k.a. clay pigeon or trap shooting), throwing the hammer, and the footrace, as well as fine prizes for the young ladies’ contests. In 1899, he bought a house on East Genesee Street in the village, and in 1901 he and his family moved to Skaneateles from New York City. The Specht house became known as Hazelhurst (today’s Athenaeum). Specht bought more land, and had 20 acres in all, with a boathouse, an outdoor bowling alley and his own golf course.
In 1909, a downstream paper mill sued the Glenside Woolen Mill for polluting the water it used to make paper. The oil and grease from the wool was fouling its paper making machinery creating holes in the paper produced. The dye bleached out of rags was making it impossible for the mill to make white paper. At the end of the day, Glenside had to pay the paper mill $1,500 in damages and cease polluting the Outlet.
Also in 1909, growing competition and a glut of coffin cloth decreased dividends and prompted a five-year snit between James McLaughlin Jr. and Theodore Specht, as well as his son and son-in-law. The suit alleged that the Spechts diverted the mill’s income to Arnstaedt & Co.; it occupied the courts and enriched lawyers through 1914. James McLaughlin died before it was settled, but his brother John saw it through.
The onset of World War I in Europe complicated matters, as the company’s aniline dyes were made in Germany and could no longer be imported; the mill had enough dye for just four months. At the same time, “war orders” for uniform cloth swelled the mill’s volume. In 1915, a fire at the mill destroyed a carding machine that had been made in England and threatened to idle 250 workers for four months. In November of 1916, Theodore Specht died, and ownership of the mill passed to his son, Harry Mortimer Specht. All in all, it was a bumpy ride.
Branching out in the 1920s, the mill began making automobile upholstery. From 1923, Glenside produced most of the cloth used by the Franklin Automobile Company of Syracuse, and supplied other automobile manufacturers as well. But the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression took their toll. The Franklin company went out of business in 1934 and in July of 1937, the Glenside Woolen Mills shut down while “reorganizing.”
In 1939, the mill attempted again to reorganize and start work, hoping to employ 75 workers. In 1940, with World War II on the horizon, orders for wool cloth to produce U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard uniforms kept the business afloat for a few more years.
In 1951, the idle Glenside Woolen Mill was purchased by Welch-Allyn, a manufacturer of diagnostic medical instruments, which moved its operation from Clark Street in Auburn to Skaneateles Falls. The company expanded and modified the building many times over the years. In the summer of 2014, Welch Allyn enlarged its Jordan Road facility, just north of the Village, and moved operations to the new space, emptying the former Glenside Woolen Mill building. Now known as Eco Park, the building is occupied by Kohilo Wind, a maker of vertical axis wind turbines, as well as Lilypad Cosmetics and Scratch Farmhouse Catering.
The west side of the original mill is almost entirely obscured by a forest that has grown up over the past 150 years, but one can still see the placement of the windows and doors of the original Glenside Woolen Mill in part of the present-day building facing east.