1994 Town of Knox Comprehensive Plan: Early Industries

From Knox, NY - a Helderberg Hilltown
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Early Industries

Farming was the earliest industry in the Helderbergs. Prospective settlers were given glowing reports of rich soils and optimum growing conditions; however, they often found rocky land with thin topsoil and a short growing season. Nonetheless, many farms were successful. In 1820, Malachi Whipple's farm was cited as the model farm in Albany Count y.

The History of Albany County by Tenney and Howell cite that sawmills were in operation before 1825 at various points along the small streams. On the Bozenkill, the Duane sawmill is said to have been in operation since 1795. Part of the foundation is cl early visible today(10).

Amos Crary, Hiriam Gage, Egbert Schoonmaker and Nathanial Swan were listed as operating mills before 1825. Swart and Saddlemire, Frederick Bassler and Bemsley Williamson were operating sawmills in the 1880s. Bassler's sawmill was located on the present Hillendale farm and its foundation can still be seen(11). Earl Sturgess, former Knox town historian, affirms that a sawmill built by Swan and Sturgess in the 1830s at Sturgess' Hollow(12) sawed pine lumber night and day when the wa ter was high enough. Another sawmill, probably operated by Chesebro or Keenholts, sawed hardwood. Both of these foundations are still in evidence today.

According to Tenney and Howell, Alexander Crounse "erected a tannery on the main road through Knoxvill e(13) and for many years did a large business in the manufacture of harness and leather goods." Eugene G. A. Crounse, son of Alex Crounse, established improved machinery for the manufacture of horse feed and ran both the tannery and a grist mill. Emmett Willard, reminiscing in a letter to the editor in an 1898 issue of the Enterprise, states that "Alex Crounses' tannery located in the hollow brings both the smell of the tannery and all the wonders of the old mill." Tenney and Howell record that the chang es in the hide and leather trade made tanning a less profitable business; town historian Sturgess states that when Johnstown began the manufacture of leather, it could be done much more cheaply, and subsequently Knox's tanning operation dwindled. The old tannery evidently was then turned into a grist mill. It is reported that the grist mill burned down in 1896 and again Knox farmers had to take their hand - flailed grain to the surrounding towns.

Gideon Taber was another tanner and harness manufacturer who also made shoes. He went to Canada during the American Revolution because of his Quaker beliefs, and upon his return, became an itinerant shoemaker. He prospered so well that he established a small tannery to make leather and manufacture shoes, saddles, an d harnesses; he employed quite a number of men. This work was done on the Taber homestead(14).

The blacksmiths were located right in the Hamlet, one at the present site of the Stevens Gas Station(15), and the other next to the Knox Museum(16). Prentice Williams was a cabinet maker, and also did the undertaking business in the Hamlet of Knox in the early 1800's.

Knox had no waterpower of importance; consequently, agriculture was the biggest industry. One of the early products was hops. Earl Sturgess sta tes that in "back of Charles Beebe's place there was once the largest hop farm in Albany County"(17). Another was the "old Lendrum Place" in the Bozenkill Hollow, now the Altamont Rod and Gun Club(18). The 1866 Map 0f the Town 0f Knox shows a hop house nea r West Road(19).

Hop growing required planning and work. Hop yards were laid out seven feet apart each way and carefully cultivated with special plows, cultivators and harrows. Men grubbed the hops in spring and women tied them to poles early in the summe r. New plants were started from the runners of roots. The hop - picking day began at 7 a.m. and ended at dusk. Harvesting was begun in August and continued until the frost; only the flower was picked. Hop kilns, or hop houses, had steep roofs and a ventilato r which turned with the wind to keep the hops dry.

Hops were picked, dried and baled here and presumably brought by wagon loads to breweries in Albany. The Altamont Enterprise cites in 1887 that the major yards belonging to George and Joseph Haverly yield ed over 900 boxes of hops. Boxes were 3 feet by 9 feet and 24 inches deep and were partitioned to make four boxes. Pickers were given one of these large boxes, then filled the interior four, for which they were paid $.50 per box.

Hop picking bees are reca lled by many older Knox residents. The Enterprise published these new items from Knox, September 5, 1885: "We will undoubtedly be well represented at the social hop jigs as many of our citizens excel in tripping the light fantastic toe". In 1886: "Villager s who have been away hop picking are returning laden with shekels and a determination never to go hop picking again." The hop industry declined with the advent of prohibition and never recovered.

Another early industry was the manufacture of butter and c heese. Tenney and Howell state that a cheese factory was built about 1/4 mile from Berne in 1878; later, an 1886 issue of the Enterprise states that, "The Berne and Knox cheese factory have incorporated their organizations and are prepared to do business i n a legal manner. The building was said to be 72 by 26 feet and had two floors; the lower floor contained a five horsepower boiler that heated the milk vats. Four hundred and ninety - five pounds of cheese were made in a day." Nearly every homestead in the early 1800s made their own butter and cheese. Many times it was used to buy other staples at the stores.

The pioneers raised wool and flax for the spinning and weaving of cloth; they raised grain to make flour and meal, again using these products to buy o ther items.