Free Hollow to Forest Home
2. Industry and Commerce in Forest Home
During the middle of the nineteenth century Free Hollow was a thriving manufacturing community. Joseph Sydney had moved on to the shores of Cascadilla Creek at the turn of the century. Soon other settlers came and harnessed the waters of Fall Creek3 in the Hollow.
“… the mills and establishments which depended on water power literally sprang up along the source of so much unharnessed energy. It was natural then, that until the coming of steam machinery, our little place was far and away ahead of Ithaca in the number of industries.” (12, p. 4)
Maps made in 1829 and 1833 (44 and 43) show two mills in Free Hollow along Fall Creek. One was a flouring mill, one of six in the Town of Ithaca at that time, and the other a saw mill, one of three in the Town of Ithaca. The New Topographical Atlas of Tompkins County (46), published in 1866, shows thirteen mill buildings and lists six businesses.4 We know of other mills that were built in the intervening years. Some were abandoned, others destroyed by fire or flood. The early mills were simple wooden structures, often built precariously at the edge of the creek. The fortunes of the owners were often as insecure as the mill buildings.
Many of the early mills were on the Mill Lane, which ran parallel to the present Byway. In 1853 Arnold McIntyre began to manufacture telescope canes and telescopes in a little shop which stood on the plot behind Albert Force’s former home. Before Mr. McIntyre opened his shop, a blacksmith had worked in this location.
On the west side of the creek, on the ledge of the gorge, stood Arnold McIntyre’s powder mill. The powder mill was operated by a rope drive attached to the water wheel machinery of the turning shop, which was located across the creek next to the Red Mill. The workmen would prepare the powder mix for grinding and then cross the footbridge to the safer side of the creek to operate the machinery. (11) (27)
“The most startling and altogether exciting thing that ever happened in the Holler took place there one night in 1849 when everyone was sound asleep.” (12, p. 9)
The Ithaca Journal and Advertiser of Wednesday, September 26, 1849, reports:
EXPLOSION – The drying house attached to Mr. McIntyre’s Powder Mill, on Fall Creek, about two miles east of our village [Ithaca] was blown up on Thursday night last. About 300 lbs. of powder partly grained was in the cylinder at the time of the explosion. No person was injured, and the loss is about $300. Portions of the cylinder, hoops etc. were found half a mile from the location of the building. (25)
Then with J. E. Van Natta and William Baker, an inventor of guns, he [Arnold McIntyre] began the manufacture of firearms which finally became the present gun company. (12, p. 9)
The Ithaca Gun Company, which manufactures high quality guns known the world over, is the oldest factory in Ithaca.
“Going north along the creek past some hitching sheds, we come to the Red Mill, a very prosperous establishment, also built by Arnold McIntyre in 1855-1856. It changed hands many times and operated until nearly 1900, the last owner being Martin V. Campbell [who purchased the mill in 1893 with Ezra Cornell’s son, F. C. Cornell]. It was used by Cornell University for a storage shed until 1918 when it was torn down. The mill lane followed the gorge, and the marks of the old wagon scales can still be seen just outside my back hedgerow. Water power was drawn from the stream by an open flume held in place by immense iron bolts fastened into the rocks. The water entered the wheel pit which was cut into the shale bank and is still plainly visible. The old machinery which long ago had fallen to the bottom of the pit was salvaged during a scrap drive a few years ago. Just north of the Red Mill was Mr. Chamberlain’s Turning Shop, commonly called the ax-handle factory – a product much in demand in those days. Here were made not only handles for axes, scythes, hammers etc., but also simple furniture of which we have a bed and dresser made for my mother when she was a child. This building does not appear on the 1853 map, so it must have been built a little bit later. The foundation still stands and indicates that it was a small affair – probably a one-man business. In fact, it is likely that most of the mills were operated by only a few men, since the census of 1865 reported 70 men, women, and children in Free Hollow, 20 families and four vacant houses.” (12, pp. 9 and 10)
There is some evidence that this mill, or another one nearby, was at one time a plaster mill. There was also a foundry in this location, where plows were produced. (11 and 27)
The next mill building along the lane is still standing. It is the former wooden mill warehouse, which was owned by C. L. and W. G. Grant in 1841. The top floor of the building was used for storage and the first floor for office space. Until the building was remodeled into a residence early in the twentieth century, the basement doors were wide enough to let a team of horses bring a load into the building.
Mary Elizabeth McKinney wrote in December 1969, when she was over 80 years old:
“The woolen mill, which employed from 20 to 25 men, was located east of the forge several rods and opposite the cross road. It was a large three story building with a basement; beside the main building there was a long, narrow building under the bank, the roof of which was on the level with the top of the bank. It was great sport for us youngsters to run the length of that building and jump to the bank which was a short distance away. We would make it every time, girls, just as well as the boys, notwithstanding we had no athletic training in those days. The long narrow building was used for drying the products manufactured in the winter. … The factory manufactured cloth for men’s wear and flannel. They also prepared wool for spinning by hand, which was done by most of the farmer housewives. In those days women spun and wove their stocking yarn and also knit it into stockings, sometimes for ten or twelve members of a family.” (25; December, 1916)
About 1812 a small mill was built on this site by Mr. Phoenix. Some say this was a grist mill, others the original fulling mill. In any case, by 1819 Jacob G. Dykman (also spelled Dyckman) was operating a fulling mill on this site. The woven cloth was “fulled” or thickened by heating and dampening. The mill had many owners before it was purchased by Mr. David Edwards in 18705 from Mr. Orwin Cuffman. David Edwards left North Wales in 1846 and came to America in the steerage of a sailing ship. He was a pious and strict man, but a bad business man. He believed that children should go to work “as soon as they could stand alone” (11, p. 14) and this included his own. Only one son, Walter, attended college, but all members of the next generation were college gradulates and two became millionaires. (11) Mr. Edwards added a building to the mill and put in steam pipes. He used the steam to dry the wool.
“I have been told that the first use of steam in any local industry was employed in the drying room of the woolen mill. … Farmers brought their wool to the factory where it was carded, spun and woven, and dyed to their order. At the same time they would bring a load of grain to the [grist] mill and gather around the hitching shed which stood under the hill, and gossip while the grist was ground. (12, p. 6)
The mill was closed in 1893 and destroyed by a spring flood about thirty years later.
At present the only commercial building in Forest Home is the large gray stucco building on Forest Home Drive at the foot of Judd Falls Road. The building was constructed by William McElwee, Sr., shortly before World War I. At first it was used as a grocery store and an ice cream parlor. In 1915 Miss Flora Rose and Miss Martha Van Rensselaer of the College of Home Economics at Cornell University purchased the building and converted it into the Forest Home Inn, a tea room, where students from the college could receive training. Shortly afterwards Miss Mabel Ward took on the operation of the tea room and ran it successfully for 25 years. A beautiful rose garden adjoined the inn.
Then until 1953 Mr. and Mrs. William Muncey operated a furniture store in the building. The Munceys continued to keep up the rose garden, but when the building was converted to office use the garden was turned into a parking lot. The Town of Ithaca had its offices in the building from 1958 to 1963; also an engineering firm, which under the direction of Professor D. J. Belcher designed Brasilia, the capitol of Brazil. At present the downstairs office space is rented to an insurance agency, and upstairs are apartments and rooms, usually rented to students. (38X)
At the northwest corner of the first Forest Home bridge, often called the Judd Falls Road bridge, are the remains of the Empire Grist Mill, formerly the Big White Grist Mill, last owned by Richard Brown.
“A photograph shows it to be a well-built and very prosperous place. … It went up in a spectacular blaze some time in the 90’s in spite of bucket lines formed by every man, woman, and child from the creek and the pump. It was never replaced. Most of the sturdy wall and the flume by which water was drawn from the log dam still stands.” (12, p. 10)
A small, ugly gas company building now stands among the foundation stones. The original wooden dam and grist mill built by Joseph C. Sydney one hundred years earlier were probably either at this same location or across the road near the present dam site. The records at the Tompkins County Court House show that Joseph C. Sydney sold the land to Benjamin Cradit in 1812. In 1817, when Free Hollow was still in the Town of Ulysses in Seneca County, Benjamin Cradit deeded the land to J. Davenport:
“. . . all the rights to flowing the waters of Fall Creek back upon lot no. 93 … as far as said waters are now flowed by a dam built across said creek by said Benjamin Cradit near his saw mill lot.” (42, Book A, p. 69)
The dam height was given as eight and one half feet.
The 1866 map (46) shows two shops located on the southwest bank of the creek by the first bridge. To the south was Mortimer’s smithy, and at the road edge a turning shop. The turning shop or wood working factory was founded about 1830 by Isaac Cradit; here Mr. Cradit and his workmen produced fine furniture and woodwork. They also built many of the early Greek Revival style houses in the village. The first of the Cradit mills was washed away by a freshet, and with it one of the mill workers, Mr. Poppenwell. Later the shop was operated by Mr. Cradit’s sons, Alexander and Eck. The business was sold to Henry Bool in 1893. He renovated the mill and put in new machinery, including a steam boiler. The mill continued to use the water from the dam to run the machines and the steam to treat the lumber. The wooden dam was replaced by a concrete one after it was destroyed by a spring freshet in 1913. Herbert Bool and George Saunders purchased the mill in 1901. The firm produced high quality furniture mostly for institutions, such as the Baker Chemistry Laboratory on the Cornell University campus. At one time the company also produced the wooden cabinets for the Singer Sewing Machine Company for shipment all over the world. Mr. Saunders used smooth, clean little boards for making lists and sketches.6 The mill, the last one to operate in Forest Home, closed down after the owners retired. Cornell University purchased the property and tore down the mill.
A tannery and a leather finishing shop were located on the north side of the creek on what is now Pleasant Grove Road. The tannery was built by Mills McKinney, Albert Force’s great grandfather. Later William Slocum, Mr. Force’s grandfather, came to Forest Home and joined him in the business.
The tannery prospered as long as there was tanbark to be had7 . . . For a time McKinney and Slocum ran a retail store, advertised in the Ithaca Journal of 1865:
New Leather Store
McKinney and Slocum, manufacturers of Calf, Kip, and upper leqather, and also of Harness Leathers at Free Hollow, have opened a shop for the sale of the same, at whoesale and retail on the east side of Aurora St., Ithaca, at the shop lately occupied by W. J. Egbert, as a shoe store. They have been led to this course for the purpose of accommodating many of their customers who can more easily be supplied in Ithaca than at the tannery. The stock is so favorably regarded as to make it very generally sought after.
Hemlock bark, hides, and skins bought, and highest price paid in cash. Stock tanned on shares for those who desire it.
Store open on the 15th June, 1865
Alfred Hasbrouck was the proprietor of a leather finishing shop which stood on the middle curve of Kline Hill, now the Pleasant Grove Road. Here he tanned and finished fine calf and kid-skins for ladies’ shoes and book-bindings. Only one product of the old tannery remains – the song book which my grandfather bound with soft calf-skin, replacing the hard board voers so that he could roll it up and carry it in his pocket on horseback to singing school. The flume under the bridge abutment, and the general outline of the tannery, can still be seen.
Isaac Cradit’s furniture factory stood on the southwest side of the old wooden bridge and directly across the creek was Peter Manning’s saw mill and Brown’s cider mill. The latter was the objective of annual cider-raids by the students of the new university, many of whom had found rooms in Free Hollow. Their antics kept the village in an uproar in those days, I can tell you. Great gangs of them, having pre-arranged with the proprietor, would march on the mill of a crisp fall night firing shotguns and apples right and left – and consuming barrels of good cider. …
Children loved the precarious sport of riding the logs on the old saw mill as they moved toward the shining, whining saw. They no doubt ate the apples and sampled the new cider, played with wood curls from the cabinet shop and burrowed in the fragrant piles of clean saw dust. There was no allure, however, in the tannery. It stank of hides and tan-bark soaking in great vats.” (12, pp. 9, 10, 11)
Forest Home Drive between the two bridges was once the business section of the village.
Strange as it may seem, in a time when drinking was not considered one of the deep-dyed sins, and every deacon kept a hard-cider barrel in the cellar and plenty of whiskey where he could put his hand on it, there was never a tavern or bar in town. Neither was there a store until after the Civil War, or a church until 1915. The neighbors hitched up and drove to Sodum or the flats, as Ithaca was first called, to do their tradin’. Special luxuries came from the shops in Owego, but of these such as spices, teas, coffee etc., – there were scant supplies. Soon, however, pedlars with their alluring wares were making rounds regularly, bringing cloth and buttons, tin pans, patent medicines and toys for the young ones.” (12, p. 6)
Charles Cole was the first postmaster in the village. He purchased the house at 206 Forest Home Drive in 1874. The post office was in a small grocery shop in front of the house. Later, when illness forced him to give up the shop, Mr. Cole moved the post office into the house. When the Whetzel family purchased the house some of the wooden mail slots were still in the kitchen and dining room. According to Charlotte Edwards (10), Manning’s Meat Market was located across the road from Cole’s grocery store, apparently near the cider mill. The meat market was later operated by Jutt Hunt. This was a well run establishment with ice-storage facilities. The butchers obtained fresh meat from the slaughter house near the second bridge. The slaughter house was burned down by rival meat dealers thus forcing the Forest Home butchers to buy their meat wholesale in Ithaca. The butcher shop was later also destroyed by arson and the little Forest Home meat market no longer competed with the Ithaca meat shops. (11)
The other village store was next to the house at 220 Forest Home Drive near the Warren Road intersection. The store was built for Mr. Van Valkenburg after the Civil War. Ten years later the store was sold to Fred Northrup, who eventually passed the business on to his son Earl. Fred Northrup was not only the storekeeper but also the shoemaker and cobbler for the village. After Mr. Cole’s retirement, the post office was moved to this store. The store was a village institution, called “the Senate” by some.
The little store was typical. It had hoop skirt counters, those that dish back so that women could walk up in their hoop skirts to it. It had as long as it operated a rather primitive scale. … There was a real cracker barrel. Sugar was sold in five pound sacks; cheese cut out of a big wheel. .. We went for our mail and our postage .. our daily paper was delivered there. (13, p. 30-32)
The old store was the men’s hang-out, and of an evening the little place would be pretty well crowded with men and boys, perched in the old bar-room chairs or on the cracker barrels and counters. In winter oil lamps swung from the rafters and shed a pale light on the red tea and coffee bins, the glass jars of candy-sticks and on the shiny pails and bright blue work gloves hung on the walls among calendars and advertisements of horse remedies. The red-hot stove stood in the center, a spit box within easy range. Here, free from the women-folks, they could smoke and swap men’s gossip and tell a few earthy stories and settle the affairs of the world. The cobbler would pull his lamp down near his work and drive home the wooden pegs as he drove home a telling argument. Always there was much good talk, friendly ribbing and warm companionship. (12, p. 8)
And for the women’s point of view we look in the Sewing Circle minutes to find the following description of shopping in Forest Home around 1906:
“Most of our groceries we purchased at the Northrup store. Earl would stop in the morning and tke the order, that was to be delivered later in the day with his faithful horse. Milk was peddled through the town. It was carried in ten gallon cans. We took our pails out to the wagon and the milkman dipped out as much as we desired. Meat and fish were also peddled from house to house.” (17)
People grew and preserved their own fruits and vegetables, and most baked their own bread. The importance of the store began to decline when people began to go into Ithaca to shop, when mail and newspapers were delivered directoy to their homes, and when radios began to provide entertainment. For many years Atwaters, a grocery store located in Ithaca and later also at the Community Corners, delivered groceries, first with a horse and wagon and then with a panel truck.
The little house at 217 Forest Home Drive, facing Warren Road, was at one time Jack Smith’s Service Station and later an ice cream shop. In the 1920’s it was operated by the Mattingly family.
Another group of mills was located at the point where Forest Home Drive makes a sharp turn toward the second bridge. The large house at the north corner was built around 1825, probably as a simple mill building. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was used by the Hazen Knitting Company, which specialized in making fine hosiery products. Mr. Hazen set up machines for making mittens in the house across the street. The more skilled workers, usually women in the knitting mills, were employed in the hosiery mill, which, unlike the mitten mill, was a successful business venture.
The mitten mill occupied the building that was once the rag and sorting room for the Andrus and Gauntlett Paper Mill, behind the present Cotton and Miller houses. The paper mill and the adjoining sorting and rag building, one of the few mill buildings still standing in the village, were constructed about 1846. The mill had originally been located on Ithaca Falls. It was first owned by Otis Eddy and T. S. Mathewson, and later by E. Mack and W. Andrus. After the mill was destroyed by fire the business was moved to the Free Hollow location. A new mill was constructed at the Ithaca Falls site in 1851. The paper mill in Free Hollow was run by an over-shot water wheel. The water was carried to the wheel by a flume from a back up dam which was about 400 feet up-stream. The dam was destroyed by high water and the mill, after standing idle for several years, caved in from a heavy load of snow on its roof. (30 and 11)
“. . . the local girls worked at sorting over rags from which a good grade of book-paper was made. This firm, under various names, published a great many books and pamphlets, maps and tracts over a long period of time.” (12, p. 12)
The September 26, 1849 Ithaca Journal and Advertiser (25) shows an advertisement for the bookstore of the Andrus and Gauntlett Paper Company. It is an announcement of the arrival of “a choice selection of new music,” which included music by Mendelssohn and some little known American composers.
The mitten mill was also run by a water wheel. The belt holes can stil be seen in the sub-flooring of the present kitchen. When Glenn Palmer moved into the house he found many of the little crooked needles from the knitting machines stuck in the floor cracks.
Many years ago a road ran along the north edge of the creek east of the second bridge. The village slaughterhouse, as well as some other buildings, was located on this road.
“Beyond the second bridge in the little white house to the left, Mr. Criddle ran his necessary if lugubrious business. Mrs. Wilcox, a rare and lovable character who occuped the house some thirty years ago, treasured a hand-full of coffin nails and some trimmings she found in the attic.” (12, p. 12)
Mr. Criddle was an undertaker and made coffins, the old kind – wide at the shoulder line and narrow at the head-end and foot-end. He also produced furniture in his wood shop. Many years later Walter Stone suggested that Mr. Criddle’s sign should have read: “From the Criddle to the Grave.”
A number of business establishments have at one time or another been located on the property now owned by Carl Sundell on the far end of Forest Home Drive. At the back of the property are the remains of an old mill race and dam. There may have been a tannery at this site, or one of the grist or saw mills shown on the 1833 map (43). The two small buildings on the property have been used for various commercial purposes. In the late 1920’s there was a gas station in one of these buildings. It was first owned by Kenneth C. Daghita and then by W. T. Stevens. Later, Ernest Sundell, a former Bool’s Furniture Mill employee, purchased the property and opened the Blue Dolphin Antique Shop. His son, Carl Sundell, some years later operated a television repair shop in one of the buildings. Recently, until 1973, this building was used by the Ithaca House Gallery and Print Shop, operated by Baxter and Sherry Hathaway.
One of the last commercial establishments in Forest Home was Albert Force’s Antique Shop, in his home at the corner of The Byway and Forest Home Drive. It was appropriately situated along the old Mill Lane in one of the oldest houses in the village.
3 W. Glenn Norris wrote in 1965 (25: 5-22-1965): “In early times when Fall Creek was on the rampage travelers wishing to cross this stream were obliged to ascend East Hill to Forest Home where the creek began its swift descent…”
4 A business man or mill owner usually had to pay five dollars to get his name on a map. Therefore all existing business and mill names do not appear on the old maps.
5 There is considerable disagreement, even in Albert Force’s writings, as to the identity of the interim owners. Some of the men listed in Mr. Force’s writings and in Selkreg (37) may have operated but not owned the mill. The court house records show the following owners: 1821, Jacob Dykman; 1821-22, W. N. Dykman, James Seaman, and John Preswick; 1830-35, Samuel Seaman, Jacob Starbird, Isaac Smith. Albion Moore deeded the factory to Cuffman in 1866, then Cuffman to Mary and Nelly Rice in 1873, the Rice sisters to David Edwards in 1875, and Edwards purchased the rest of the property from John Barker in 1883. Selkreg states (37, p. 204-205): “Sale made in 1827 Phoenix Grist Mill, the fulling mill, dye house, new saw mill, also 4 dwellings, 2 barns, cooper shop, a school house and 250 acres.”
6 Glenn Palmer still has some of these.
7 In the oral history (13) Mr. Force explains that the business was not completely successful and that his grandfather was not a very good business man. After the tan-bark ran out the mill lay idle for a few years. Later Eugene Preswick purchased the property and used the lumber to build houses in Forest Home. (11)
The history of Free Hollow is continued in the next chapter. Much of the material is taken from The Story of Free Hollow and from the two transcribed tapes Albert Force made for the Cornell University Oral History Program. Additional information from numerous other sources has been added, and the history of Forest Home has been updated and expanded to include all of the village.
© 1974 Liese Price Bronfenbrenner, reprinted with permission