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Glance At The Past


At one time, Ogdensburg had one of the most productive, modern and well-equipped silk mills in the country.

This feature shows the baseball team associated with the Manhattan Silk Co. circa 1916. The company, which was headquartered at 1857 Ford St., had its own baseball diamond and played teams from fellow industries including Newell Manufacturing, Standard Shade Roller and Northern New York Telephone Co. We unfortunately could not locate names for the players, but a note on the back of the photograph identifies the fourth player from right as James Sovie of Ogdensburg. The company also had an active bowling league.

The Manhattan Silk Co. got its start in 1902, incorporated as the Oswegatchie Manufacturing Co. Its original directors were A. Hobart Walton, John F. Jacobs, J.F. Holder, L.H. Lehman, and J.S. Menline. Its first factory was on Catherine Street before its production expanded and it moved to lower Ford Street.

Manhattan Silk Co. sold the interest to Onondaga Silk Co. in 1926, which expanded its operation by 100 looms in 1929 to meet an increase in demand for silk goods. Its weekly payroll was estimated at about $4,200, and it employed about 200 people.

At its height, the mill employed upwards of 300 people, many of them women. The company had factories in Ogdensburg and Syracuse, and the Ogdensburg plant circa 1930 had a reputation as one of the best silk mills in the country, the demand for its goods rising until about 1933.

In 1933, Onondaga Silk Co. consolidated its operations to Easton, Pa., although a worker strike there by about 700 members of the National Textile Union and United Textile Workers nearly derailed those plans. The company threatened the striking workers that they would shutter the Easton plant for good if they did not return to work, and delayed the move of its Ogdensburg operations until the unrest abated.

The Ogdensburg plant remained in operation while the strike was going on, but when the strike ended, the company closed the Ogdensburg plant in 1933, transferring many of its workers here and their families to Pennsylvania.

We are not sure whether the two circumstances are related, but that same year the Ogdensburg plant manager, Edward B. Knecht, was accused of violating state labor laws by forcing girls to work more hours than permitted by law. In those days, state labor law prohibited women from working before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

The plant remained vacant for three years, until a group of city businessmen joined forces to convince Stone Silk Co., Paterson, N.J., in partnership with Fulton Silk Co., to lease the building. A 1936 article in The Journal applauded the efforts of Julius Frank, Felix Hulser, Thomas B. Culhane, John L. O’Connor, John C. Tulloch, Arthur S. O’Neil, Albert P. Newell, J. Edward Burke, R.W. Dobisky and Mayor F.J. Elie for successfully negotiating with the company to set up in Ogdensburg. To aid with moving and building repair costs, the men convinced the Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce, of which Mr. Tulloch was president, to solicit investors to contribute $10,000.

The company set up shop with 156 looms and signed a five-year lease on the building.

Unfortunately, the company fell on hard times the following year and was forced to close, defaulting on its lease and closing the chapter on the silk industry’s presence in Ogdensburg.

The Ford Street mill was later occupied by Cleveland Container.

If you have a photo or feature for Glance At The Past, please contact Advance-News Editor Elizabeth Lyons at 393-1003, extension 102, or Photos and accompanying information will be published in the order in which they are received, and must be received by Monday to be considered for publication the following Sunday. Contributors may pick up their submissions at The Journal and Advance-News office, 230 Caroline St., Ogdensburg, after they are published.

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