One of the last remaining buildings of Cazenovia's lengthy and interesting industrial past, the old Crawford Mower Works, is threatened by one of the biggest problems concerning our older structures - disuse. This site, on Route 13 in the north part of the village, not unlike any of the other mill sites along Chittenango Creek, has had its good times and its bad times. What makes this site special is the fact that the mill structure still exists. Here I hope to tell the story, not just of the industry itself, but of the great variety of people that worked to make Cazenovia what it is today.
This site was chosen by Zadock
Sweetland for a paper mill that was constructed in 1810. The valley
here, although seemingly quite flat, afforded a fall of water of about
16 feet. This site was also chosen because the manufacture of paper
requires large quantities of water, and with no more than two or three
mills from this point to the top of the Chittenango Falls in 1810, as much
water as needed could be used.
In the mill the linen rags used in the making of paper were washed, shredded, boiled in lye, and then pulverized into a pulp that resembled pancake batter. This pulp was then put into a heated vat into which a sieve of closely spaced wires was dipped. The thin layer of pulp collected on the sieve was then transferred onto a felt pad. Several dozen of these pads were stacked and the excess water was pressed out.
After this it was again lightly pressed without the felts, and then hung on horizontal poles to air dry. When dry, the paper was dipped in to a gelatin to size it, and again hung to dry. After sizing, the paper was run through wooden rollers to give it, in the final process, a surface glaze. In later years the paper would have been made by machine, using more or less the same process, but turning out a continuous sheet that could be rolled.
For many years the mill produced rag paper, as it wasn't until after the mill ceased that the process for making paper out of wood was perfected. Paper produced with linen is quite different from that made with wood as is today. Rag paper is also tougher. An excellent example of rag paper in use today is our paper currency, which is printed on rag paper so that it will last for many years.
The paper mill was owned almost continually by the Sweetland family. Begun by Zadock, it was at some unknown time passed to his sons Samuel and William. Although Samuel died in 1824, the mill continue as Sweetland Brothers for many years.
Othniel Clark, for whom Clark Street is named, was associated with the mill in the early days. He also operated for a time the saw mill and turning shop that was built by Zadock Sweetland and located across the creek from the paper mill. This industry began about the same time as the paper mill and lasted until the 1860s.
The paper mill filled local needs for many years and prospered, later selling their product across central New York. In 1853 $5,000.00 was expended to improve the building and machinery, and by the late 1850s nearly a ton of paper was manufactured a day.
At what was perhaps the height of productivity for the paper mill, disaster struck. On Monday morning August 15, 1859 fire was discovered near the rag cutter. Friction from the machinery was said to have started the fire, and with a large inventory of rags and wrapping paper nearby, the fire rapidly consumed the building.
The fire was said to have been a public calamity, as one of Madison County's most successful manufactories was destroyed.
During the conflagration William Sweetland, the mill owner, saw one of his Sunday School students. He went over to the boy and reminded him that he had been absent from that weeks class, and told him to be sure to attend next week. He talked to the boy "as quietly and deliberately as though he were instructing his class, instead of watching his hard earned dollars melt away by the thousands."
The mill was rebuilt within a few months, but never prospered again. In 1865 the dam was washed away by the great spring flood, and the mill was sold to Henry Monroe of Skaneateles. Monroe rebuilt the dam, this being the stone dam that is still partially standing, and continued with the paper manufactory for a time.
The mill was partially destroyed by fire, rebuilt and then wholly destroyed about 1870, thus ending the manufacture of paper at this site.
For several years after the
final destruction of the paper mill about 1870, the site was vacant.
In preparation for this chapter in the history of manufacturing at this
location, we must step back a few years.
Joseph F. Crawford, born in Canada in 1831, graduated from the Cazenovia Seminary in 1856. During the 1860s he served as pastor of a Methodist Church in Saquoit, and later in New York Mills, Oneida County.
By 1870 he had become associated with the Remington Machine Works in Illion. It was in that year that Crawford invented the first reversible mower for harvesting crops. This mower was unusual in that the blade could be used on either side of the mower. In 1871 Crawford improved his mower and received a patent for it. A year later, in 1872, he bought out his "Crawford's Improved Mower" and soon returned to Cazenovia, continuing his mower manufactory in Illion.
In 1873 he represented Madison County in the State Assembly and in 1874 he joined as a partner in C.B. Miller's furniture and undertaking business in the village of Cazenovia, in which he continued about a year.
The Reverend Crawford also owned one of the several steam boats on Cazenovia Lake. The tug "J.F. Crawford" was constructed in 1874 and was large enough to carry "small parties." The tug towed a barge, also called the "J.F. Crawford" which held over 200 people - not very safely I'm sure. Both the tug and barge plowed the lake for three or for years, taking campers to the Lakeview Camp Meeting Grounds which were opened by the Methodist Church at the head of the lake.
In the mean time his mower works, with reapers also being made, prospered. In 1874 1,000 machines were produced, which were sold in twelve states across the country. Nearly 100 of these machines were sold overseas in Germany.
Business was so good that Crawford pledged $100,000.00 and offered a large parcel of land in Syracuse for the newly founded Syracuse University.
The Crawford Improved Mower worked much the way a sidebar cutter of today does. It could be lifted to pass over any obstruction, and could be raised or tilted for use on rough or uneven ground. The driver could fold the bar, regulate the height of the cut, shift the gearing, and oil all parts of the machine without getting out of the seat. The mower was also almost evenly balanced, which made it much easier for the horse to pull, and, as already mentioned, the blade was "reversible" and could be used on either side of the mower.
Popularity for these revolutionary new machines grew, and in the first three months of 1875 over $96,000.00 worth of machinery was sold. During these three months Germans ordered over 300 mowers and 400 of Crawford's reapers. To ease the want of his machines and other agricultural equipment produced by his shop, a stock company was formed around this time in Geneva, Wisconsin for manufacture and sale in that state, and sale in Iowa and Minnesota. Such was the demand that in April 1875 Mr. Crawford was obliged to tell his agents to stop selling until production could catch up to the back log of orders.
It was at this time that Crawford engaged well known Syracuse architect Archimedes Russell to design a building calculated to be large enough so they would be able to complete one machine every twenty minutes, and employ 200 men.
The site chosen was that which was formerly occupied by the paper mill. Soon construction of the present three story stone building was under way. (Crawford built only the stone part of the present structure, the brick and wood being added later). During construction of the new building the reaping machines were made in Manlius, and the mowers were said to have been produce in one of the machine shops in the village.
When the new building was completed in mid 1876, both works were moved into the spacious structure, and between forty and fifty hands were put to work night and day producing machines.
Unfortunately the firm was over expanded, and continued to prosper for but a few short years, slowly dwindling from 75 or 100 men to about ten. The business hung on for several more years and finally closed about 1890.
After closing, the building and property were acquired by Cazenovia banker Lewison Fairchild, and the building stood empty for a number of years.
During the declining years
of industrial Cazenovia, with many manufactories already a part of the
past, any chance for revitalization was greatly welcome.
When Eben Bently, Fred H. Benedict and Eugene Weiskotten* came to Cazenovia, as representatives of the Bently Shoe Company of Syracuse, to announce their intentions of moving their business to Cazenovia in May of 1895, several of Cazenovia's business men got together and chose to look into the proposition.
It was decided that the business, started in Syracuse several months earlier by 24 year old Cazenovian Eben Bently, would be a "desirable acquisition to the industries of the village". It had a large payroll, with more orders on hand than could be filled, and all indications were favorable for a rapid increase in the number of employees and success in business
The Bently Shoe Co. was capitalized at $50,000.00 - $30,000.00 of which was already paid in, leaving some $20,000.00 left to subscribe. The company said that if about $10,000.00 could be immediately pledged, the firm could commence operations in Cazenovia soon.
In the report given by the Cazenovians, Bently's Syracuse plant was found to be very complete, and turning out work of the highest quality. Even with the favorable report no subscriptions were taken. A committee was then appointed to solicit subscriptions, and soon a large amount was collected.
By the end of May 1895 the Bently Shoe Company began its move to Cazenovia. The firm leased of Lewison Fairchild the old mower building with an interest towards purchase.
A great deal of work was done to the interior in preparation for the new machinery, and the dam and turbines were repaired. By June 1895 the building had been fitted with a fire sprinkler system and electric lights, and the machinery was on its way. On June 11 they began the manufacture of shoes. Most of the fifty or so persons employed were brought from the old shop in Syracuse. The building was also equipped with a small dynamo, and in October an electric light line was run from the shop to the Baptist Church in the village. If this line only served the church, I don't know.
As with the previous industries on the site, the future looked promising, but because of Bently himself, his company was doomed for failure. In the Cazenovia Republican of November 14, 1895 is the following headline......
A week earlier it was told
that the Bently Shoe Company was in financial straights, and that the factory
had been seized by he Sheriff. For 24 year old Bently, it was the
end, and the paper went on to say that "the most damaging proofs have been
piled up against Bently, until today he is known as one of the heaviest
forgers known in New York State criminal History".
By the end of that week Bently was still at large "with several thousand dollars of his ill gotten money, undoubtedly making for some foreign country". The newspapers estimated that he had $10-15,000.00 in his pocket "when he shook the dust of Cazenovia from his shoes".
Previous to being found out, he gave about thirty of his workers two weeks pay. Many of these checks turned out to be worthless, and these men were soon left without a job, and "for two days after the crash came the town was full of stranded cobblers waiting for money to get away".
It was estimated that Bently's total liabilities were in the neighborhood of $125,000.00, having swindled Syracusans, Cazenovians, associates, and even his family.
Bently was believed to have fled to Cuba, but a quick search of the newspapers after this date gave no clues as to the rest of the story**.
After the fall of Bently,
the building was again unused, finally being sold by the Sheriff to Clara
Fairchild in 1899. For a few years the building housed the Union
Electric Company, which was run by Thomas O'Connell. The company
probably evolved from the dynamo put in by Bently in 1895. It supplied
electricity to a small number of houses and businesses in the village.
In 1902 Union Electric was bought by Henry Burden, and he immediately enlarged the capacity, installing a turbine of 90 horsepower, a boiler, and two steam engines in case of low creek water.
In 1905 Burden sold the Union Electric to the Cazenovia Electric Co., which he was the President of. As the Cazenovia Electric Co., it rapidly grew, expanding to all parts of the village and town. Burden, a native of Troy, NY, who first came to Cazenovia in 1889, is responsible for the placement of all the electrical wires in the village underground. He was also one of those that built the Opera House in 1897, and he also purchased and refurbished the Lincklaen House in 1916.
In 1904 Burden began in the upper floors of the building the Canning Factory. It provided a market for locally grown vegetables, and employed up to 125 persons in season.
With the introduction of refrigerated rail road cars that could safely and cheaply bring fruits and vegetables from distant states, the canning business slowly declined, and the factory ceased operation in 1928.
The Diepress Company, which printed an assortment of small items, namely tea bag tags, milk bottle caps, and the like, was begun by J.A. Loyster on Mill Street in the village in 1905. After Loyster's death in 1931 the Diepress Co., of which Henry Burden was a major stockholder, bought out a Brewster, NY company and had its equipment moved to Cazenovia.
As the old Mill Street site was no longer large enough, the equipment was installed in Burden's building. Here it remained until Burden's death in 1937. At this time it was sold to the Smith-Lee Co. of Oneida.
In the early 1920s Burden purchased and tore down what remained of the old Ferndell Sash Factory about 1/2 mile down stream. There he rebuilt the dam and flume, and built the a cement block building for use as a power house. This was operated automatically, furnishing power to the electric company station in the old Crawford building.
Although the building was sold in 1942, the electric company continued on the property, occupying one of the old silos from the cannery that were located across Clark Street. The Cazenovia Electric Co. was finally merged with Niagara Mohawk in 1958.
In 1942 the building was bought by Stanley Bittner of Chittenango. Bittner had operated the Grange League Federation, better known as the G.L.F., in one of the former Diepress buildings on the creek below Mill Street, and later in the Atwell Mill on Albany Street. The G.L.F. operated in the old Crawford building from 1942 until 1960 when Bittner sold it to Ed Waterbury and Burton Coe. Waterbury & Coe were dealers for Agway, selling feed, agricultural supplies, and grinding and mixing feed, until Agway liquidated their business in 1980.
A few years later Waterbury & Coe were able to sell the building to someone who had the noble idea to adapt the giant structure into apartments or offices. This project failed and the building still stands empty, except for some storage and a small engine repair and lawn equipment dealer run by Rich Coe.
Could this beautiful building, designed by Syracuse architect Archimedes Russell, completed in 1876, and enlarged in later years, be another historic building lost to us through neglect, I hope not.