Early Industry in Chemung County
Chemung County NY

Stearns Silk Mill

Article: Early Industry in Chemung County
Chemung County
Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Debbie Hansen
Postcard of Stearns Silk Mill from Norma Jenkins
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Local history buffs have been heard to remark, "Why, you know Millport was once bigger than Elmira!"

This is hard to believe but in the very early days and until the end of the canal, things were booming in the valley. There were so called factories in Millport—a sash and blind factory, a bedstead factory, three flouring mills, a cabinet shop, several "mechanic shops," a hotel and a half dozen stores. The boat yards were building canal boats at a great rate and at some period along in the 1870’s iron bridges were built there. The population in 1870 was about 800. There was one remaining blacksmith shop and a grist mill operating after World War I.

Most of the small towns did have several industries. Sullivanville or Dean’s Corners had two wagon shops and a stave factory. Big Flats also had wagon shops, one hotel, a steam flouring mill and a grist mill to accommodate the neighboring farmer.

Southport, not yet a part of Elmira had several mills and manufacturing concerns. Breesport was mainly concerned with lumber and had several mills to process the virgin timber being cleared from the hills. There was also a tannery and at one time, a small brick yard along Newtown Creek. Wellsburg had its hotel and mechanic’s shops.

The city of Elmira soon boasted of extensive business concerns. The Clinton Woolen Mills were organized in 1868 and the car shops gave employment to several hundred men. The Rolling Mills, incorporated in 1860 hired 300 men.

Horseheads Village has seen many and varied businesses come and go. It was formed from Elmira in 1854 and already had the usual wagon shops, blacksmith shops and mills. The Horton Wagon works was in a two story building on the Ithaca Road and had various tenants before being torn down in the 30’s. The last blacksmith shop stood next door, connected to the livery stable and the space is now a used car lot. Two large flouring mills were listed in the 1869 directory. The "Horseheads Mills" and "Empire Mills." Each was capable of manufacturing 800 bushels daily.

The big stack used by the brick yard was removed five years ago and was the last remnant of the big manufacturing enterprise started by Benjamin Westlake. It began operations in 1840. They made several kinds of brick and the clay and shale was brought from some distance. A shale bank was used on the Watkins Road, just at the end of Wygant Road. The feeder canal, which was navigable, joined the main canal near the brick yard and offered a good means of transportation and the big trucks carrying racks of bricks were a familiar sight in later days.

One of the more unusual business enterprises in the early days was the elderberry winery run by "Uncle Dick" Hatfield on the present Lake Road. Part of his house was the second oldest house in the county, having been built in 1790. He cultivated his berries in the swamp back of the house and made a hundred barrels of wine a year. This sold for two dollars a gallon. Several hotels had maple sugar parties in the winter for the young people Hatfields did too. Theirs were said to be the best. The old "Elderberry House" was remodeled several times and used as "Hat’s Tavern" at one time. It was torn down in 1959 and Hill’s Plaza now occupies a part of the old elderberry farm.

The only business in Horseheads still remaining in the family of the original owner is the Hibbard Hardware store. Brown’s still retains the name that meant the most delicious ice cream anywhere to two generations of residents, but the marble counter and the tables and chairs have long been gone.

First Added to the Site 22 DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice

You are our welcome visitor since 22 DEC 2002