Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Wandering old mill towns

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 19, 2008

Harmony Mills

There is something about mills, especially ones powered by water that make me slam the brakes and get out of the car for a closer look. In recent years I have developed an uncanny ability to scan the sides of fast flowing rivers and waterfalls for any signs of mill activity. Old sluices, bridge abutments and foundations near fast flowing water get me excited to say the least. I have been able to find a great many old mill sites and factories in my travels around Upstate NY mostly the Hudson Valley portion.

The Hudson valley was much more industrial then the rest of NY State because the valley created a watershed that collected all of the rivers flowing down from the Hudson Highlands, Catskills and Taconics. I find that all through the Hudson Valley there are loads of waterfalls with abandoned and restored mills. The towns of Catskill, Saugerties, Coeymans, Troy, and Cohoes are great reminders of what mill towns could become, with their old downtowns, grand stately mansions and of course large- usually abandoned or destroyed industrial areas.

Yesterday was 55 degrees and rain, so I decided against riding my bike and getting it all rusty and instead went to Cohoes to walk around. Cohoes is just north of Albany on the Mohawk River- otherwise known as part of the famous Erie Canal. The river drops 75 feet at Cohoes falls and they are 2000 feet across making them the second largest in the state. You can find higher in many places, but wider is unheard of.

Naturally it is the place of a large mill complex known as Harmony Mills. They were great textile mills in the 1870s, but of course with the invention of modern machines- like most great industrial enterprises they are not used. In fact they were recently bought by some Israeli real estate developers to make into lofts, and other uses, including self storage and offices.

The Harmony Mills complex is a breathtaking site. They are enormous and beautifully built. I am a huge fan of the brickwork on these buildings with classic red industrial brick and arched windows. The windows mostly appear to be original, I assume because it is a national historic site. There are many other buildings to compliment the mill site- which is at least 1/4 mile long. I had a field day imagining what it was like inside. 3100 people worked there and made Cohoes a company town. I especially like the fact there are sections remaining of the old diversion canal, which every mill must have to divert water away from the falls to power the mill wheels- or what we may call turbines.

I wandered around took tons of pictures and then walked around where the company housing used to be. The buildings are small and not fancy at all. The owner of the mills’ house is beautiful- but as far as I could tell privately owned. I walked around searching for an old shul- which I am sure existed at one time or another. I usually search for old shuls in forgotten towns, its one of my things.

I have some other recommendations if wandering around mill towns actually interests you. North Adams in Massachusetts is amazing and complete with at least 50 mills along the Hoosick River. Lowell also in MA was the site of the largest textile mills in the world at one point- I have never been- but plan to go one of these days. High Falls NY– right near Route 32 junction in Rosendale- is also a very cool town. There are the old aqueducts over the falls for a canal as well as a bunch of very old locks and such. Oh Amsterdam NY is one of my favorite towns and is located about 30 miles west of Albany.

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3 Responses to “Wandering old mill towns”

  1. s(b.) said

    you said sluices. heh heh
    you get my humor, even if you don’t think it’s funny, right?

  2. I am another one of those guys who likes to wander the streams and rivers of America, searching for old mills. Once I find one, I take pictures from every angle and put them into a file at home called “Putting all mill pictures together” Once I have accumulated enough data and pictures..and some funding from either individuals or my pocket, then I start drawing. Of course, most of my pictures end up in my website, but some go to those who comission them.
    Right now, I’m drawing 2 views of the famous Motor Mill in/near Elkader,Iowa. I really get enjoyment drawing or painting these old mills and the villages that grew up around them. And one thing I know, no one else that I know of is drawing the old mill villages, wherever they are, the way I do in birds-eye-views as “Living
    Scenes A Century or Two Ago,” complete with terrain features, roads,mills, homes, ect all accompanied by animals pulling wagons, people working and life as it once was in early America.

  3. Christel said

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the highest quality blogs on the internet.
    I’m going to recommend this blog!

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