A story in three generations
We last left Jonathan Stott operating a single hand-powered mill in Hudson, New York, and looking for a source of power nearby. He found it in Springville, three miles up the road, where Claverack Creek drops 58 feet and the Van Rensselaer family at one time owned all of the waterpower rights. In 1828 he bought the rights of a fulling mill and a small woolen factory there and built his first water-powered factory. It had two sets of 36 inch cards and a dozen looms and was dedicated to the production of flannel.
In 1846, Jonathan put up Mill 1, the first of four enormous, five-story brick structures the company would eventually build. Around this time he brought his older son, Charles Henry Stott, into partnership with him. (Francis Horatio Stott, the younger son known as Frank, had gone off to sea on the clipper ship Sea Witch, owned by family friends, the Aspinwalls, and was working his way up to first mate.) According to industry peers, Charles was “a born manufacturer and in the course of time his personality became the controlling one in the management.” Also around this time, the village came to be called Stottville.
The Stotts were energetic and committed to state-of-the-art technology. They added steam engines to run the machinery when drought or ice jams reduced the water flow. And Stottville was the site of the nation’s first hydroelectric power generator: a Morgan Smith turbine and waterwheel were installed in 1871.
At some point Frank was recalled from sea and the business was renamed J. Stott & Sons.
With the onset of the Civil War and demand for Union uniforms, the business exploded, and then it kept on growing. Mill 1, which burned down in 1861, was immediately rebuilt. Mill 2, which stood on the site of Jonathan Stott’s original mill, went up in 1865; Mill 3 in 1869, and Mill 4 in 1876.
Jonathan the founder, who had put the business on such a sound footing, died early in this growth phase, in 1863. Charles and his brother Frank reorganized the firm as C.H. & F.H. Stott Company, and were hugely successful. Money poured in. And the town grew to look like this:
By 1890, the firm was producing from 12,000 to 14,000 yards of woolen dress goods and flannels annually and employing 270 people.
But post-war economic depressions had taken a toll on the company, and there were succession issues to deal with. Charles was 67 and would be dead within a year; Frank was 58 and enjoying life. Between the two brothers, there were 14 children in the third generation who reached maturity, but not all were interested in the business, and not all were frugal. (There was a rumor in town that the company kept a barrel of cash in the office for family members to dip into at will, without accounting – a rumor one descendant says “may be partly true.”) Charles’s son William Henry Stott, who had been groomed to take over the business, died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1888. Day-to-day management of the company was turned over to John Magoun Pearson, who was married to Charles Henry’s daughter, Kate Stott.
Next came the Panic of 1893, which dealt a major economic blow to the company. Then Frank died in 1900, leaving personal debts of $80,000. Two of Charles’s sons, Francis Lathrop Stott and Charles Henry Stott, Jr., reorganized as the Stott Woolen Company and held things together until 1901, when the firm went bankrupt. Creditors received only 40 cents on the dollar. When the dust settled, the mills and worker housing had been acquired by Augustus Juilliard, the wealthy manufacturer who later endowed the Juilliard School of Music. Juilliard brought the mills through World War I, the Depression, and World War II, but went out of business in 1953, as northern factories closed in droves to pursue low-wage workers in the South.
For the next thirty years the four mills were mostly empty and falling into decay, despite a few efforts to revive them for other smaller-scale industries. In 1978 the county demolished Mills 1 and 2, and in 1994 Mill 3 was destroyed by fire. Mill 4 was gutted and dismantled beginning in 2002.
Pieces of Mill 3 still stand beside the falls at the end of Town Garage Road. All the rest of the mill sites are just scars on the landscape .
With the loss of the mills, the town changed character dramatically. Some of the big houses are still there, but the place has a sad and dreary air, and if I read the map correctly, the C.H. Stott house and grounds have been replaced with a trailer park. (That means Aunt Jane’s garden has, too.) I visited Stottville briefly this summer, before I had much of this information, and left depressed. Now I think it would be even more painful to see it. But it’s a quintessential American story: of immigration, of 19th century ingenuity, and risk-taking, and luck, and family dynamics, and misfortune.
And since writing this, I just came across a treasure trove of Stott and Bennet documents, so there will be more profiles to come.
- “Bulletin, Volume 21,” National Association of Wool Manufacturers, 1891.
- Cooney, Michael, “The Rise and Fall of the Factories at Stottville” and “Walking in the Ruins of the Industrial Age at Stottville,” Upstate Earth: An exploration of the past and present of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys, history website, February 2009.
- Miler, S.B., Columbia County at the End of the Century (Hudson Gazette, 1900).
- Philip, J. Van Ness, “The Stotts of Stottville,” Family papers, 1970.
- Rinaldi, Thomas & Yasinac, Robert, Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape (UPNE, 2006).
- Stottville Fire Company website.