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Mill town

Amsterdam got its start from the Chuctanunda

April 26, 2009
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

AMSTERDAM -Many of those living in the city along the Mohawk River, once the carpet capital, may not know it was once called Veddersburg, nor that it may not have been founded except for the swift-flowing Chuctanunda Creek.

During the Revolutionary War Aaron Vedder settled at the mouth of the creek and built a saw mill and grist mill according to Nelson Greene's "History of the Mohawk Valley." The hamlet that grew up around him was at first named Veddersburg. The stream that gave birth to industry along its banks has been variously interpreted as meaning "twin sisters" because of the north and south tributaries to the Mohawk or "stone shelter" because of the rocky nature of the quickly descending banks.

John Naple is a retired earth science teacher and a member of the Montgomery County Water Quality Committee. Having grown up in Amsterdam he has seen the gradual demise of industry along the creek and written a booklet "Touring the North Chuctanunda Creek." He said the incline of the creek through Amsterdam is unique in the tributaries to the Mohawk.

Article Photos

Local historian and retired earth science teacher John Naple stands on a bridge across the
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Chuctanunda Creek off Lyon Street in Amsterdam near where the former Mohawk Mills, later Mohasco, stood.

"Most tributaries to the Mohawk don't have such a steep gradient," he said Thursday. "Many mills used the power generated by the water."

Naple said the advent of diesel- and gas- powered factories meant factories could move away from the streams and many did. But at first the water could be used as power to run the mills, cooling of machinery and even a means to carry away effluent before the concerns of environmental pollution arose.

Naple leads walking tours of the four-mile walkway along the creek through Amsterdam that include 20 bridges and 11 waterfalls or dams. The walk starts at the Mohawk and goes to Shuttleworth Park.

"If the creek could talk," Naple writes in the booklet, "it would chronicle the history of Native Americans, European settlers and the Industrial Revolution."

Montgomery County History and Archives director Kelly Farquhar said the plain fact is that without the Chuctanunda, Amsterdam wouldn't exist.

"Early businesses started because of the water power," she said Thursday. "They started on the upper end towards Hagaman with people like Vedder and his grist mill around the 1790s."

She said early Amsterdam downtown buildings were built over the creek, which runs under Main Street and some of the buildings yet today.

In "A Pictorial Review of Amsterdam" published by The Noteworthy Company on its 25th anniversary in 1979, the 48-page booklet begins with "The Historic Chuctanunda."

"Today, it is a little-noticed, apparently unimportant creek," the book states, "flowing from Lake Galway through the villages of West Galway and Hagaman and emptying into the Mohawk River at Amsterdam."

The book outlines the important contribution the creek lent to the growth of the city.

"Waterwheels turned stones for the milling of grain and ultimately even powered looms," the booklet continues. "From the linseed oil and saw mills and tannery belonging to Supplina Kellogg and George Dunning, two early settlers of West Galway, to the huge former carpet mills that dominate the city's skyline, the Chuctanunda has played a major role."

Naple said Noteworthy still occupies some of the buildings along the creek.

The Noteworthy book states that about 1855, John Sanford, father of carpet king Stephen Sanford, became concerned that the clearing of northern forests depleted the steady flow of water in the creek for power. Along with John Harvey and John Clark, Sanford bought 450 acres of land, later enlarged to 1,000 acres and constructed Galway Reservoir with a dam raised in 1875, "a measure that ensured an ample supply."

Naple's water quality committee has done walk through trash and debris clearing of the creek as well as other waterways in the area.

He said it is important for youth to understand and respect waterways and the environment. His booklet and the walking tours he leads are part of that effort.

"We've had cleanups and collected tires and bicycles that had been thrown in the creek as part of the project,' he said. "The Chuctanunda is underused and undervalued compared to its historic importance. It's close by and easy to get to."

Naple said the walkway is part of an eventual "green way park" which is part of the city's master plan.

Naple said he didn't know of any efforts to utilize the North Chuctanunda as an electric generating power source, but that the sister South Chuctanunda Creek across the river had been used to generate power in the past.

According to the Greene history, important commercial and manufacturing dates for the city include 1840 when carpet manufacturing began in Hagaman, 1842, when William K. Greene started a carpet factory in Amsterdam, 1848 when manufacture of linseed oil began in the city, 1857 when knit goods manufacture began, 1860 when the Chuctanunda water power reservoir was constructed, 1868 when the first broom factory began, 1876 the second Chuctanunda water power reservoir was built and 1885 when Amsterdam was chartered as a city.

Naple's booklet is about the creek that helped form the city.

"The creek is why waterwheels turned, factory whistles blew, and Amsterdam became a mill town," Naple wrote. "In 1903, Harvey Chalmers and his son, Arthur, purchased [an] abandoned textile mill [built over the creek]. The Chalmers' Hampshire Pearl Button Company grew and employment peaked at 1,000. Amsterdam has many examples of entrepreneurial successes replacing failed businesses."

Naple said Amsterdam had the highest number of millionaires per capita in the country at the beginning of the 20th century where many came to work.

In 1920, John K. Stewart and Sons textile mills employed 1,000 workers.

"In 1929, Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company formed from the merger of S. Sanford and Sons and Bigelow-Hartford Company of Thompsonville, Conn," Naple wrote. The peak number of employees was 3,000 during the First World War years (1916-18)

In 1955 Sanford Mills ended carpet production."

Naples noted his family connection to the industry.

"My father lost his job as a weaver [when Sanford Mills closed]" he said. "As did many others."

Naple quotes Herb Shuttleworth, former Chief Executive Officer of Mohawk Carpet Mills mills along the creek as employing 5,500 at its height in the late 1930s.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at ga@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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