he history of the Cortland Wagon Company, which in a few years has transformed a quiet, sleepy village into a busy, bustling manufacturing place; whose products have made it known throughout all the length and the breadth of this great land; whose wonderful success has been the means of starting other industries, which give promise of a like brilliant career, and must attract still other industries and still further enhance its reputation and advance its growth, is a doubly interesting one---interesting to the disinterested reader as an illustration of what may be accomplished in a few years by a combination of capital, of ability, of enterprise, and interesting to the inhabitants of the place it has made, the value of whose property it has so largely increased, and who feel a justifiable pride in its success, as well as to the thousands upon thousands of people throughout the country, who are to-day benefitting by the products of the establishment, and have a curiosity to know something about it.
The career of this company has been one of the most wonderfully successful ones known, they having in ten years accomplished that which has but seldom been accomplished in forty or fifty years. And this, too, during a period of national depression when even the oldest and largest manufacturing concerns in the country were satisfied to tide over the difficulties of those trying times, without retrogression, and gave but little heed to thoughts of progression. But still more wonderful does the success they have attained appear, when it is considered that the same degree of success was only attained by the prominent manufacturing enterprises of the day after forty or fifty years' struggle, even with all the advantages derived from the inflated times and advanced prices incident to and following the war of the rebellion. Although the business from which it has grown was established in 1869, the history of the Cortland Wagon Company really dates only from 1872, when the first move was made towards building wagons for the general market. And from a production of 500 wagons in 1872, the business has steadily grown, doubling itself year after year, until 12,000 wagons are now made and sold per aunum!
In the small two story frame building now occupied by the Cortland County Democrat, the wagon making business of which the great Cortland Wagon Company of to-day is the outgrowth, was established in 1869 by Messrs. Fitzgerald & Gee. It was a business such as is usually found in small villages, and had an annual output of about 150 wagons. And as such it continued until 1872, when Mr. Gee's interest was purchased by Mr. C. W. Kinne. Then a new life was infused into the business: then it was that the idea of building platform spring wagons for the general market was first put into execution. New and larger buildings adapted for the purpose were erected on Railroad street, and the first year of the partnership of the new firm of Fitzgerald & Kinne was marked by the manufacture and sale of 500 of these wagons.
The plan adopted was to build a wagon first-class in every particular, and by building them in large quantities be enabled to sell them at a much lower price than could wagon makers who build but a few each year, and still make a reasonable profit. And the wisdom of the plan was immediately demonstrated, 700 wagons being produced and sold in 1873, the second year; and in the third year the business doubled itself, the output in 1874 being 1,000 wagons. The year 1875, the fourth year, was marked by a production of 1,500 wagons, and the firm then assumed the title of the Cortland Wagon Manufacturing Company, and the business having out-grown the dimensions of their works on Railroad street, they erected the wood-working shop, (the north building) on the present site of their immense establishment.
The reputation they had acquired by this time created a still more largely increased demand for their products to supply, which in 1876 required the building of 2,200 wagons. And upon the death of Mr. Kinne in May, 1877, the entire management of this extensive business devolved upon Mr. Fitzgerald. But he was fully equal to the task and produced that year 3,200 wagons, and erected in the fall of 1877 the large south building of the new works. The production in 1878 was the same as that in 1877, and in the latter part of the year a stock company---the present Cortland Wagon Company---was formed, with a capital of $100,000, the directors being Messrs. L. J. Fitzgerald, W. J. Tisdale, Hugh Duffey and N. D. Welch.
The new company took possession of the works on the first of January, 1879, and produced during their first year between 5,000 and 6,000 vehicles, which was increased in 1880 to 8,000, the same number being manufactured and sold in 1881. In the fall of 1880 the middle building and the east building, which connects the north and south buildings, were erected, and on the first day of April, 1881, the old works on Railroad street were abandoned and the whole business centered at this point, between the S. B. & N. Y., and U. L. & E. Railroads, with special tracks from both roads running into the works. Here the facilities were still more largely increased, until they are now manufacturing and selling 12,000 platform spring wagons, buggies and phaetons per year, thirty railway cars of an extra large size being owned by the company and employed in the transportation of their products to all parts of the United States!
With the exception of Mr. Welch, who withdrew, the directors are the same as when the Company was organized, Mr. L. J. Fitzgerald, the founder of the establishment, being President; Mr. Hugh Duffey, Vice-President and General Superintendent; Mr. W. D. Tisdale, Treasurer, and Mr. Frank Place, Secretary; and the Cortland Wagon Company has become probably the largest manufacturers of "spring work" in the world, employing from 380 to 425 men, and paying out $18,000 monthly in wages, their works, valued at $500,000, covering nine acres of ground, and having a capacity for producing 18,000 vehicles per annum, or one every ten minutes!
Such an unqualified success could not be obtained without merit of a high order, however, and although the growth of the industry has been very rapid, it is clearly shown to have been steady, natural and healthful, due altogether to the quality and price of its products and the enterprise and ability of its conductors. From building platform spring wagons exclusively, the business was extended to buggies and phaetons, until now there are more than thirty-two different styles of platform spring wagons, buggies and phaetons manufactured, which are warranted and sold at prices ranging from $50 to $350 each. These vehicles being shipped to every part of this country, and many exported to other countries, have made for this company and for the village of Cortland a reputation that is proving mutually beneficial.
Dividing the honors with the Cortland Wagon Company, to the Wickwire Brothers an equal meed of praise is due for the transformation wrought in Cortland during the past ten years. Commencing in 1874, when the village contained only about 3,000 inhabitants, to manufacture wire cloth on a very small scale, the Wickwire Brothers steadily advanced until they occupy the position of the second largest manufacturers of this class of goods in the United States, giving employment to nearly two hundred people and paying out thousands of dollars in wages every month. And had it not been for the establishment of these two industries, which awoke the latent energies of its people, stimulated their enterprise and attracted to it other enterprising men, in all probability Cortland would have remained the same small village it was ten years ago.
Engaged in the retail hardware trade in the village when they conceived the idea of establishing a woven wire factory, in 1874, C. F. and T. H. Wickwire "put in operation a small factory with one hand-loom, producing about one hundred and fifty square feet of wire cloth a day. There was then but little demand for these goods, but they placed the product of their loom upon the market, and it met with such a ready sale that more looms were added, and in the second year they decided to abandon the hardware trade and devote their sole attention to this business. A demand was soon created for their wire cloth, which increased so steadily that enlargements of the factory were continually necessary and being made. The hand-looms were too slow, and the elder brother, possessing considerable mechanical ingenuity, devoted his attention to the perfection of a power loom, which he successfully accomplished and put in operation on the first of January, 1877. Then the factory was overhauled, power looms being substituted for the hand looms, and the facilities increased gradually. But with increased facilities came an increased demand for their products; again and again it became necessary to build additions to their factory, and success was attained beyond even their most sanguine expectations. Being dependent upon wire mills in other parts of the country for the drawn wire used by them, they determined to erect a mill and draw the wire themselves, and accordingly the large wire mil on South Main street, near the U., L. & E. Railroad depot, was built in 1880 and put in operation, they being the first and only manufacturers of woven wire in this country to draw their own wire. And their whole history is but a repetition of this same story of a constantly increasing demand for their products and increase of productive capacity every year to meet it. Seven million square feet alone of the wire cloth, for which they found but a limited demand when they commenced manufacturing, are now annually required to supply their trade, and the business which amounted to but $10,000 in 1874 had grown to $200,000 a year in 1882!
The Wickwire Bros. now manufacture 30,000 square feet of fine wire cloth per day, or 10,000,000 square feet per year, besides an immense quantity of dish covers, corn poppers, coal sieves, flour sieves, etc., and the equipment of their works---the machinery of which was designed and constructed by themselves---is not surpassed by any establishment in this country. The wire mills occupy a large four-story brick structure, 40 feet in width and 165 in length, with a wing 40x75 feet in dimensions, and an engine house 40x34 feet. Here the wire is "drawn" from one-forth of an inch in diameter down to the thickness of a hair, and the wire which was worth four cents a pound when it came from Sweden is worth twenty-five cents a pound when it is finished and woven into wire cloth. Three floors of this building are occupied for drawing wire, and one floor for weaving, thirty-five looms being in operation. Two engines of 150-horse power are required to drive the machinery here, and seventy-five people are given employment. The three frame buildings in the rear of No. 31 Main street, comprising the main factory, are occupied by the weaving, wood working, painting and shipping department and the office. These buildings are three stories in height, and form an H. The north building is 115 feet in length and 50 feet wide, with a painting tower seven stories high on the northeast corner. The south building is 110 feet long and 30 feet wide, and the building connecting these two in the middle is 25x50 feet in dimensions, alongside of which is the engine and boiler house. A force of 100 people are employed here and 45 looms operated, an engine of 40-horse power driving the machinery in the various departments, much of which is very ingenious. By reducing the cost of production they have reduced the price of fine wire cloth, which sold at five cents a square foot, when they began manufacturing it, to two and one-quarter cents a square foot, and are the largest makers of flour sieves in the trade, producing more than any other five manufacturers. Owning a half interest in a sawmill, where all lumber is prepared for them, drawing their own wire, and their factories being equipped with the most perfect power looms and other machinery, there is not a concern in the country possessing equal facilities for this work.
In less than ten years the Wickwire Brothers have made a name in the manufacturing world that reflects the highest credit upon themselves and this, their native place, conferring such substantial benefits upon Cortland as will ever cause them to be remembered with pride by its citizens.
Uniform and, it might be said, phenomenal success has characterized the establishment of every manufacturing enterprise in the village since 1872, a good illustration of which is furnished by the Excelsior Top Company, manufacturers of tops, dashes and trimmings for the carriage trade. In March of 1881, L. K. Tenney rented a portion of the old Gee shop, on Port Watson street, and began manufacturing carriage tops under this title, having but one man in his employ. Mr. Tenney was a practical carriage trimmer, who had been making carriage tops by contract in the wagon works here, when he determined to enter the business on his own account, and, to use his own expression, "either make or break." He laid out all his capital, which was not large, in stock, and then went out "on the road" to get orders. His indomitable pluck overcame all obstacles, and from the very start won for him success. In two months it was necessary to secure more work-room, the shop was removed to large rooms near Benton's planing mill, and at the end of the year his books showed that a business of $40,000 had been transacted during the ten months in which he had been engaged in the trade. On the first of January 1882, the shop was removed to still larger quarters in the Cortland Machine Company's buildings, the working force was steadily increased, and the close of the second year disclosed the fact that the business of 1882 was more than double that of 1881, amounting in round numbers to $90,000. Land was then purchased a Nos. 143, 145 and 147 Elm street, and ground broken for a large factory. Mr. W. H. Newton was admitted to a partnership on the first of January, 1883, and on the 10th of that month they removed into the new building, where about sixty-five male and female operatives are employed, and one hundred carriage tops, one hundred dashes, forty cushions and forty backs are turned out every day. And the young man who went into the business a couple of years since, willing to work hard to build up a business of $10,000 or $20,000 a year, will this year have the satisfaction of transacting a business amounting to fully $200,000! A just reward for his hard work, his pluck and his enterprise. The factory, which is 96x40 feet in dimensions, three stories, with a building 30x60 feet adjoining, has been well equipped with everything that will save labor, a twenty-horse power engine driving the machinery, and already produces more carriage tops than any other concern in the country. A trade has been secured which extends from Maine to California and the demand for the Excelsior Top Company's work is steadily increasing. Both Mr. Tenney and Mr. Newton are practical men, capable of doing every part of the work themselves, and this fact doubtless has much to do with the success they are meeting. The factory is under the superintendence of Mr. Newton, while Mr. Tenney represents the interests of the firm abroad, constantly making new friends and customers; and that their success will not only continue, but be still more marked with each recurring year, there is not the least doubt, and for it they have the good wishes of all interested in the welfare of Cortland.
The building up of a business from $4,000 a year to $500,000 a year in six years, is but seldom accomplished by one man, especially in the interior cities and towns of the East, and a brief biographical sketch of the gentleman here in Cortland who has accomplished it, will not, therefore, be inappropriate. C. B. Hitchcock was born in the village of Dryden, in Tompkins county, in 1840. When two years old his parents removed to Homer, and soon after he lost his father by death. He attended school in the village until he was thirteen years of age, when he went to Venice, Cayuga county, and worked on the farm of Mrs. Jesse Tillott for two years and a half. Returning to Homer he attended school a year, and then decided to learn the painting trade. After working two years at house painting, he advanced to carriage painting, and for two or three years painted carriages for S. W. Cately, after which he went to Cincinnatus, where he had secured a situation as a painter. He was then twenty-one years old, and having been frugal and industrious, with the savings from his earnings, soon purchased an interest in the carriage shop of Larrabee & Gee, a year later becoming sole proprietor. He only conducted this business one year, however, when he rented his shop and entered into the furniture and undertaking business, in which he continued until 1877, at one time being engaged in the painting and finishing of sleighs, undertaking, the furniture trade, and conducting a livery.
Naturally ambitious, he was not content with a small business; Cortland was then beginning to feel the effects of the industries which had been established several years previously and he disposed of his business in Cincinnatus and removed to this village, with the intention of engaging in the buggy and cutter trade. In the spring of 1877 he began building cutters in the old Gee property on Port Watson street, and manufactured and sold that year 100 cutters. He then purchased the old church property at the corner of Elm street and the S., B. & N. Y. Railroad, and turning the church into a factory produced, in 1878, 250 cutters and 100 buggies. Additions were built to the factory in 1879 and 550 cutters and 200 buggies produced, and with each succeeding year new buildings have been erected and the capacity and production doubled until the old church property, to which three other building lots have been added, is covered with great buildings from two to five stories in height, in which from 150 to 200 men are employed, and from which 10,000 cutters and 2,000 wagons will be turned out this year!
The works now comprise a wood working shop and engine house, 60x100 feet in dimensions; blacksmith shop, 30x120 feet; painting and stock building, 100x120 feet; a five story building, 40x330 feet, occupied by the repository, trimming and shipping departments (from the doors of which cars are loaded with stock) and several smaller buildings, all of which are arranged with the idea of facilitating the production of cutters and wagons, being fully equipped with the latest improvements in labor saving machinery, with a large engine furnishing the motive power.
C. B. Hitchcock has become the largest manufacturer of cutters in the world, and the business which in 1877 amounted to only $4,000, will for the 1883, amount to $500,000. And the fact that he has accomplished this is in itself the best commentary upon Cortland's latter growth and prosperity. He is a typical self made man, his great success being due solely to his ability, push and enterprise, and does honor to the place he has adopted as his home.
Still another instance of the almost phenomenal success which has attended the establishment of industrial enterprises in Cortland within the last few years, is found in these carriage and cutter works. In the latter part of 1881 a copartnership was formed between R. C. Tillinghast and F. A. Warner for the manufacture of carriages and cutters under the name of R. C. Tillinghast. Ground was broken for the main building on the first day of January, 1882, and the work of erecting the building proceeded with as rapidly as possible. In the meantime, a blacksmith shop was built, and Mr. Warner, who is a practical carriage maker, and knew that many wagons were built which, when put together, would not work satisfactorily, began experimenting on a carriage which he could rely upon. Having obtained one to suit him, manufacturing was commenced and their carriages soon appeared upon the market. In two or three months more room was required and an addition built to the works, and before the end of the year this was repeated several times. Their first years' business resulted in the manufacture and sale of between 300 and 400 carriages, and 1,000 cutters, and their second year opened up most auspiciously. They are now manufacturing about twenty-five wagons a week, and will produce this year between 600 and 700 carriages, and about 1,200 cutters. The business which in 1882 amounted to about $50,000; will in all probability be not less than $80,000 at the close of 1883, and their future business career is certainly filled with as bright promises. Their works are most favorably located on Owego street alongside of the U. I & E. Railroad, just west of the depot, and comprise the main building, 40x80 feet in dimensions, three stories; blacksmith shop, 20x60 feet; a building 20x200 feet in dimensions for storage purposes, and another, 20x60 feet, for setting up work. Two more frame buildings, each two stories in height, and twenty feet wide and fifty feet in length, will have been erected and a siding from the U. I. & E. Railroad, (enabling them to shop from their doors) constructed before these pages have gone to press. A reputation is being acquired for the good quality as well as the cheapness of the carriages and cutters manufactured, and will the prestige they have already gained and the work they are producing they will undoubtedly move to the front in this industry. Mr. Tillinghast ably represents the factory "on the road," and is making for it many friends and customers. Mr. Warner is not only a practical carriage maker, but a gentleman possessing business ability of a high order, which has been demonstrated by the successful manner in which he has conducted this enterprise from it inception. He was formerly superintendent of C. B. Hitchcock's buggy and cutter factory, and later assistant superintendent of the Cortland Wagon Company's extensive works, and possesses a thorough knowledge of wagon and cutter building. And having decided that quality as well as quantity shall mark the factory in which he is interested, the prediction is ventured that but few years will have passed before it ranks with the largest of Cortland's celebrated factories.
The building of omnibuses is one of the newer industries in Cortland, but like the others it is making itself at home, and brings considerable money into the village. The Cortland Omnibus Company are the successors of W. T. Smith & Co., of Homer, and began operations in the buildings formerly occupied by the Cortland Horse Nail Co., in December 1881. The business has been very prosperous and is steadily increasing. Between seventy-five and one hundred omnibuses, ranging in price from $300 to $500 each, will be produced this year. These works, situated along side the U. I. & E. Railroad, a few steps west of the depot, consist of two large buildings forming a --|. The main building being one hundred feet long and fifty feet wide, and the west building, forty by ninety-four feet in dimensions, with a large engine and boiler house and a dry house adjoining. Sixteen of the most skillful mechanics to be obtained are employed here, under the superintendence of Mr. W. T. Smith. Six different styles of omnibuses are made which is claimed to be more than any other establishment in the United States produces, as they are also claimed to be the lightest and strongest. As an omnibus manufacturer, Mr. W. T. Smith, the superintendent of these works, has made a reputation which extends far and wide. He began business as a carriage building in Homer with his father in 1850, and in 1867 went into business there himself, eight years ago building his first omnibus for the Dexter House in Cortland. It brought him in several orders, which in turn brought in others, and he was soon compelled to abandon carriage building and devote his sole attention to the manufacture of omnibuses. He built the first light omnibus ever made in this country, and lightness with strength, are the characteristics of the vehicles produced by him, and that have given them their popularity. Inducements being offered him to come to Cortland, he rented his Homer establishment, and in December, 1881, formed a co-partnership with the Cortland Wagon Company, under the title of the Cortland Omnibus Company. In March, 1882, a stock company was formed, which took control of the works, with Mr. Smith as superintendent, and now conducts the business. Under the management of Mr. Smith the Cortland Omnibus Company will undoubtedly continue to prosper and add largely to the industrial reputation of the village.
One of the oldest industrial establishments in the village, the works of the Cortland Machine Company are known to nearly every resident of Cortland county, and although its growth has been rather slow, as compared with those of more recent origin, it has been steady and sure, and now gives promise of being more rapid and keeping pace with the advancement making by the town. The works were established in 1832, by Daniel Larned, and were conducted by Anthony and S. D. Freer, from 1837 until 1860, (then changing hands several times before coming into the possession of the present proprietors in 1875), and for years were devoted to manufacturing and repairing agricultural implements. About nine years ago the Victor Mowing Machine, was first produced at these works, and gave to them quite an extensive reputation. In 1875 a stock company was formed and incorporated as the Cortland Machine Company. Under their control the works were enlarged, and began what is proving a successful career. Two years ago they commenced manufacturing a line of wood-working machinery, which proved a decidedly profitable venture, as they found a demand for all the machines they could produce, and have since been running steadily on orders. These machines include Royce's improved automatic hollow chisel mortice machine (the only machine made having the automatic feed attachment, which is under complete control of the operator), and other special tools and machines for wagon and cutter makers. Wagon factories in Cortland, Syracuse, Watertown and Homer, in this State; the Columbus Buggy Company, Columbus, Ohio; the Racine Wagon Company, Racine, Wisconsin; and others have been supplied with machinery, which gives the most universal satisfaction. While devoting considerable attention to this line of machinery, the Victor Mowing Machines and other agricultural implements have not been neglected. Last year a car-load of the Victors was made up and sent to California, where they met with such favor that a company was immediately formed at Oakland to build them. The works of the Judson Manufacturing Company, of Oakland, California (the general manager of which owns a large interest in the Cortland Machine Company), now cover several acres of ground, and in less than a year have produced more than one thousand Victor Mowing Machines. And not to be outdone, there are good prospects of the Cortland Machine Company increasing their working force, and also producing one thousand Victors for next year's trade. Their works are well equipped, and there is no good reason why their business should not double itself with each succeeding year. The main building, at Nos. 14, 16 and 18 Port Watson street, is a three story brick structure, 110x57 feed in dimensions, occupied by the storage and salesrooms and the office. In the rear are the foundry, machine shop and the wood-working shops, all well equipped with tools and conveniently arranged, with a sixty-horse power Buckeye engine for driving the machinery. The working force at present consists of thirty men, nearly all skilled mechanics. The officers of the Cortland Machine Company are C. S. Chamberlain, President; A. T. Dickinson, Vice President; S. B. Elwell, Secretary and Treasurer, and J. C. Yager, General Manager. These gentlemen are among the most enterprising citizens of Cortland, and as they are not content with standing still, there is every reason to believe their works will be again enlarged and the working force and capacity increased within a year.
This company, which was started a little more than a year ago, are manufacturing a pressed leather loop used on harnesses and carriages. It is an enterprise requiring a great amount of time to fully develop, but it is progressing in the most prosperous manner. They are at present making a specialty of a carriage loop with patent metallic fastener of their own invention, which they are furnishing to the largest manufacturers of fine carriages in the United States. The Cortland buckle loop, although a new article, is widely and favorably known in the carriage trade as easy and quick to adjust, giving a very neat finish to the carriage top. This company is the only concern which manufacturers a leather carriage loop, buckles and attachments complete. Of their harness loops it can be said that they are acknowledged to be perfect in every particular, and with such work as they are turning out, they must very soon be the leaders in their line of industry. Manufacturers would accordingly find it greatly to their advantage to correspond with them before buying. The gentlemen composing the company, Messrs. E. H. Brewer and C. W. Stoker, are both young, enterprising and possessed of the ability and capital to push the enterprise to the farthest limits of success. Mr. Brewer is known as the largest harness manufacturer in this section of the country, and Mr. Stoker as one of the most successful young tradesmen ever engaged in business in Cortland, and the future of the industry is therefore very promising.
Among the manufactories which have been put in operation in the southern part of the village within the past few years, is the patent folding chair factory of Mr. Lewis S. Hayes, near the corner of South Main street and South avenue. He erected a building here in July, 1879, and began manufacturing folding chairs by steam power---and this was the origin of the cheap folding chairs which have become so popular with dealers. In three years his business has increased eight-fold, and to-day he probably produces more folding chairs than any other three concerns in the world. Three large and well arranged buildings are now occupied, railroad tracks running right to his doors and enabling him to unload or load cars without extra handling, and car load lots of chairs are shipped to all parts of the United States, four or five cars being loaded for California when the works were visited recently by the writer. The idea of manufacturing folding chairs as a specialty having been conceived by Mr. Hayes, he immediately put it into execution in a systematic manner, utilizing special machinery to its utmost limits, and the result has been one of those phenomenally successful business careers that causes the visitor to Cortland so much surprise.
As a manufacturer of doors, sash, blinds, etc., and dealer in lumber, Henry F. Benton is well known throughout this and surrounding counties. He established his business at the corner of Railroad street and the S., B. & N. Y. Railroad, in1866, dealing in lumber, and in the Fall of 1877 put in operation a small planing mill. Unbroken success attended him until 1878, when his planing mill was destroyed by fire. Undaunted by this disaster, work was immediately commenced on a new and larger building, and in thirty-five days from the date of the fire steam was gotten up and the machinery of the new mill running. This energy seems to have characterized his whole business career, and the result is seen in the large business of which he is to-day the possessor, it having almost quadrupled since it was established in 1866. Three acres of ground lying alongside the railroad, and extending from Railroad street to Port Watson street, are occupied, and about an acre of this land is under cover. He handles from three and a half to four million feet of lumber and a couple of million shingles a year, besides manufacturing large quantities of doors, sash, blinds, etc. Exceptionally fine facilities are possessed by him for conducting this business, a side track capable of receiving twelve cars extending into his yards, over which the cars of the S., B. & N. Y. and U., I. & E. Railroads are run. The office fronts on Railroad street, and storage buildings extend thence clear back to East Court street. Just opposite, and fronting on East Court street, is the planing mill, a two-story building, 36x110 feet in dimensions, to which another building, 26x40 feet, has recently been added. Thirty workmen are employed in the planing mill, which is thoroughly equipped with all the labor-saving machinery, driven by a sixty-horse power engine. The balance of the lot on which the planing mill stands, extending back to Port Watson street, is devoted to the storage of lumber. The trade is principally local, and has been confined to a circuit of about twenty miles, but is extending farther and farther every year. Last year's business showed an increase of fifty per cent, over that of the preceding year, and the first six months of 1883 has been still greater, with the probabilities of amounting for the year to $100,000. This is probably due to the great increase of building in the village the past couple of years. Mr. Benton is a good representative of the class of live enterprising business men who will sustain Cortland in the rapid progress it is making.
One of the old land-marks, the Cortland Mills for eighty years has withstood the test of time, and ground its share of "grists" for the farmers of the vicinity. But what changes it has witnessed in these eighty years! When the mill was built, in 1802-3, by Jonathan Hubbard (whose son, Jonathan, now an old gentleman, resides on Tompkins street), all the land in the neighborhood was nothing but a wilderness. Under the terms of the contract by which he secured the land he was required to erect a dwelling upon it within two years. Trees were cut down and a space cleared for the foundation. A mill was built, and to a room partitioned off from one corner on the second floor he brought his young wife to dwell, and thus complied with the stipulations in the contract. And here they began housekeeping and grinding the "grists" the farmers brought from long distances, and here in this room their first child, a daughter, was born to them. It was the second mill built in the county, and was painted red, then and for many years being known as Hubbard's red mill, or the "old red mill." Jonathan Hubbard died in December, 1814, and the mill was kept in the estate until the two children attained their majority, when by the division it fell to the daughter, who was born in the mill. About 1824 it was sold to Horace White, and has since passed through many hands. For a time it was occupied and run by Asa White, his father. It was then sold to the firm of Bennett & Gillett, who were succeeded by Gillett & Gillett. Abram Mudge run it a number of years and sold it to his son, Ebenezer Mudge, who sold it to Carr & Moses. Daniel Rose was the next purchaser, the mill coming into the possession of the present proprietor, Thomas F. Brayton, in 1873. The old red mill, which stood all along in the wilderness, now stands near the foot of a fine street lined with neat dwellings, with the him of the machinery of a busy factory employing a score of workmen to keep the whir-r of its own wheels company, while the shriek of the locomotive and the rumbling of heavily laden trains of cars drawn over steel tracks but a short distance both east and west of it is heard at frequent intervals. And the old mill itself, with such additions and improvements as to have been almost entirely rebuilt---rechristened and repainted---has undergone such changes as to be almost unrecognizable. Mr. Brayton has lately added the machinery for making the Hungarian roller process flour, and has turned it into a first-class flouring mill. The building is now a two-story frame structure, 54x30x25x28 feet in dimensions, with one run of stone for custom work, doing seventy-five bushels of wheat and two hundred bushels of feed per day, and the Hungarian roller mills having a capacity for producing seventy-five barrels of a superior flour each day. A fine water power is supplied by the Tioughnioga river. The new process has proved a decided success, and Mr. Brayton is securing a large business, that is still increasing very rapidly.
In 1829, when Cortland contained only about 400 inhabitants, a small building was erected near Otter creek (then a quarter of mile out of the village) by Sylvester Blair, for a pottery. Clay was brought from Amboy, N. J., to Syracuse by boats, drawn on wagons to this village, made into pots and shipped in arks down the Tioughnioga River or peddled throughout the county. It was the only pottery in this section of the country, and Blair employed but two workmen and done a business amounting to about $10,000 a year---then no inconsiderable sum of money. He continued in the business until 1835, when he sold to Mason & Russell, by whom it was conducted on about the same scale for a few years. Chollar & Darby purchased the business in 1839, and during the next ten years increased it about one-fourth, or to $12,000 a year. In 1849 they sold to Madison Woodruff, who for eighteen years had worked as a journeyman in the pottery, and under his management the business increased until it amount to $15,000 a year. He built new and larger pottery buildings, (now numbered 95 Groton avenue) in 1858, and for six or eight years done a good business, but did not attempt to increase it any more. Of late years he has not felt inclined to give the business much attention and it has consequently diminished to a comparatively small proportion of the sum it amounted to in 1858, but in the hands of a couple enterprising young men could be made a large and profitable business. Mr. Woodruff is now an old gentleman nearly seventy-five years of age, and not desiring to be troubled with the cares of business, would sell the pottery at much less than its value. The main building is a two story brick structure, 30x60 feet in dimensions, the kiln has a capacity for burning about $300 worth or ware, and there is a two story frame storage building, 32x42 feet in dimensions, with about an acre and a half of ground on which are also two good wood sheds. The facilities for manufacturing ware are very good, and with the superior shipping facilities and other advantages now offered by Cortland affords a splendid opportunity for one or more young potters, or business men with little capital, but sufficient enterprise to look abroad for trade, to do a business of $25,000 or $50,000 a year. For fifty years has Mr. Woodruff lived in Cortland and watched its growth from a village of 400 to 500 inhabitants to a thriving, prosperous, manufacturing town with a population over 6,000! He now lives comfortably on a little farm near the pottery, passing away the time during the summer overseeing the tilling of his twenty-five acres of land; during the winter turning the wheel, and with skillful hand forming pot after pot in his pottery, probably thinking of the time when he turned this wheel as a journeyman for his daily bread instead of amusement, as now, and thus enjoy the easy, peaceful, and contented life he has earned, and to which he is so fully entitled.
That "a prophet (or manufacturer) is without honor in his own country" cannot be applied to Cortland. An illustration of this is furnished by the business of I. H. Holcomb, the cigar manufacturer, whose product is entirely consumed in this village. Mr. Holcomb began manufacturing cigars on Cortland street, in 1873, with but one man in his employ. In a year his business had increased to such an extent that he was compelled to secure larger quarters, and removed to No. 5 Mill street. Here he now employs five good workmen, and manufactured and sold last year 200,000 cigars. This year his business will amount to fully $10,000, and he has erected a new and larger factory at No. 53 Groton avenue, into which he will move before the close of the year. In this new factory he will have room for twenty workmen, and there does not appear to be any doubt but that the demand for his goods will call for this large increase in his working force. He manufactures seed and Havana cigars, and as previously stated his entire product is consumed in Cortland. He makes a specialty of manufacturing private brands for dealers, and is now making thirty-nine different brands for dealers here. The "I. H. H.," a ten-cent cigar, is one of the most popular sold, but all his goods give the most complete satisfaction, and probably his best recommendation is the fact that he is not compelled to go away from home for patrons. In his ten years' residence here Mr. Holcomb has proven an enterprising and desirable citizen, and one for whom all would wish continued prosperity.
The buildings now occupied by the Cooper Bros.' foundry and machine shops have not a little interest attached to them, both by reason of their age and the vicisitudes of their occupants. These buildings, on the west bank of the Tioughnioga, just a short distance below the confluence of the east and west branches of this river, were erected about 1823 by Nelson Spencer of a paper mill. The water privilege was (and still is) an excellent one, and the pure, clear water will adapted for the manufacture of paper. Spencer erected large buildings with the purpose of engaging extensively in the business, but although the production would now be considered small---"the machinery being of the most primitive kind, and the paper being largely made by hand, the pulp dipped from a vat in a sieve-like frame, forming the sheet by gently shaking"---the demand at that time was not equal to the production, and after a few years suspended operations. One informant states that only coarse paper was manufactured, while another says he produced very fine paper, and also conducted the largest bindery then in the interior of New York. However that may be, Spencer failed to make a success, and the mill lay idle several years. In 1832 or 1833, Speed & Sinclair took possession of the mill, refitting it throughout and putting in considerable machinery. "They made fine paper a specialty, and their goods stood foremost in the market," but upon the death of Mr. Sinclair, in 1841, it appears that the business passed into other hands, being conducted for some time by the firm of Smith & Duff, and later by Asa Wilcox. About 1847 Daniel Bradford became its proprietor and continued the business until 1864, or thereabouts, when the buildings were purchased by the firm of Sears, Freer & Cottrell (Francis Sears, S. D. Freer, John B. Cottrell), and converted into an oil mill, flax-seed oil being manufactured. This partnership was dissolved in 1866 and the business conducted by Freer along until 1871, when he also gave it up, and for some time again the mill lay idle. John B. Cottrell then occupied buildings for a brief period, and in July of 1881 sold the property to the Cooper Brothers, the present proprietors. Some fatality seems to have hung about these buildings, for none of the people through whose hands they have passed ever made a success there, and a few ruined both their health and their fortunes in the attempt. But this fatality (if it did exist) must have been removed, for the Cooper Brothers, who converted the building into a foundry and machine shop, are certainly meeting with success. Soon after purchasing the property they placed in the building a few tools and began work themselves, doing repairing and job work. Gradually increasing their stock of tools and extending the scope of their business as was demanded, they were last year warranted in building a new foundry, with a capacity for melting and casting two tons of iron per day, and following out this polity of progression they to-day possess an excellent equipment of tools for manufacturing machinery of various kinds and doing all special work in their line, and give employment to a number of workmen. The main building is 40x80 feet in dimensions and the foundry 36x60 feet, and they have a cheap and adequate (even for a much larger establishment) motive power in the Tioughnioga river. Lately they have been producing considerable machinery for roller mills, tread powers and shafting, wheels, pulleys etc., and the prospects are decidedly favorable both for a larger increase in orders and the erection and equipment of a new machine shop, when the old building will be used for storage purposes. The Cooper Brothers are imbued with a spirit of enterprise that, combined with their sound financial standing, must and will undoubtedly win for them a successful career in this field, and it is confidently predicted that they will yet carve out for themselves a name as being the foremost among Cortland's prosperous manufacturers.
Just around the bend of North Main street, and across Otter creek, a little old wooden building, half covered with ivy and with moss-grown roof, attracts the attention of every passer-by. A sign over the door reads:
A young wool carder and cloth dresser in search of work, Horace Dibble came through Cortland in 1821 on foot. He passed the night at David Merrick's hotel, then standing on the site of the Barber block, (and which still stands there, although the old building has been built around, about and overhead it is no longer discernible), and in the morning started out on his walk through Homes and on until he should find employment. Passing by this building he was impressed with its desirable location, and vowed that did he ever possess sufficient money he would become the possessor of the spot. Upon making inquiries he learned that the building, in the rear of which stood a saw mill, had been erected by a man named McClure five or six years previously. It was occupied as a nail factory by William Sherman, who had invented a machine into which the iron was fed and nails were automatically cut, headed and stamped with the letters W and S. A portion of the water of Otter creek was diverted from its course and forced to turn the wheel driving the saw and the nail machine before again mingling with the waters that had passed. The young wool carder walked on, thinking of the time when he hoped to own this, the most desirable location for his business he had ever seen, and card wool for himself----no longer doing so in the employ of others.
To-day a silver-haired old gentleman sits in this old building, rising every few minutes to place an armful of wool in an old carding machine---a picture of contentment, of one who has apparently solved the problem of life and finds life worth the living. Horace Dibble's young hopes and wishes have been fulfilled, and he owns the place for which he longed so many years ago.
The nail machine was removed about 1824, and Martin Merrick placed a carding machine in the building and carried on the business of wool carding and cloth dressing for a number of years. Off in another county Horace Dibble was carding wool, and learning that Merrick was offering the mill for sale, in 1833 came here and purchased it. And here he has remained for fifty years, carding wool on the same machine, which is thought to have been built in Little York years before it came into Martin Merrick's possession, and has consequently served in the business nearly as many years as its possessor, but is still just as strong and just as serviceable as the hale and hearty old gentleman, despite his years, who feeds into it the wool it prepares.
With the exception of the saw mill, which has disappeared, and the sign over the door, the building is the same as it was fifty years ago, but the small willow sprouts that Mr. Dibble planted, between the years 1847 and 1852, along the road on both sides the pretty little brook, have grown into the fourteen great willow trees of immense girth, which now cast such a grateful shade over this portion of a popular drive. And although the progress characterizing the village has not here been shown, the "old wool carding mill" is one of the landmarks that would sorely be missed, as would also the pleasant and smiling countenance of the proprietor, and it is therefore, probably better as it is.
The latest enterprise, and one giving promise of the same brilliant success that has marked those already noted, is the overall manufactory of Orr & Crosleys, on the Homer road. It was started about the middle of April, in a small building only large enough for the operation of ten sewing machines. This was a temporary arrangement, however, and was abandoned upon the completion of their large new two story factory in May, in which fifty machines are now running. Orr & Crosleys pantaloon overalls, sack coats, engineers jackets, flannel suits and shirts are manufactured, and although establish but a few months, large orders have already been received for them from New York Philadelphia, Rochester, Syracuse and other places, while the samples are meeting with decided favor throughout the East and the South. They start under the most auspicious circumstances; their factory has been built with an idea to the comfort of their work people, with very high ceilings and an unusual number of windows, insuring an abundance of light and pure, fresh air, and consequently good work by good operators; the factory is equipped with the new Singer (oscillatory shuttle) sewing machines, driven by a steam engine of adequate power; they have an abundance of capital and buy stock in large quantities for cash, and finally, the head of the firm has had a lifetime's experience in the business, and was for many years the general superintendent of the old established and well known overall factories of Sweet, Orr & Co., at Wappingers Falls and Newburgh, N. Y., his father being a member of that firm. Orr & Crosleys will make a reputation for the quality and workmanship of their goods, warranting all work not to rip, and have adopted a plan which must result in success, all work being manufactured under the personal supervision of Mr. Orr, and thoroughly inspected three times before being permitted to leave the factory. The members of the firm are Charles H. Orr, E. D. Crosley, M. H. Crosley, and F. A. Crosley. Of Mr. Orr it is said that he ranks as one of the best cutters and draughtsmen engaged in this business, a statement warranted by is previous connection with Sweet, Orr & Co.'s factories; the Messrs. Crosleys, father and sons, are known as large and influential farmers from Scott, in the northern part of this county, Mr. E. D. Crosley also having been (and still is) a practicing lawyer for many years in the Federal and State Courts, and possessing a wide reputation for his ability; and combining their capital with Mr. Orr's experience, and all devoting their sole attention to the business, there can be no doubt of their success or the benefit that Cortland will derive from an industry that will give employment to a large number of people and add largely to its wealth and industrial reputation.
Situated at the corner of Mill and East River streets, the Cortland Machine Cooperage is probably seen by but few of Cortland's visitors, and there are doubtless many of its citizens even who are unaware of the extent of this business, which adds not a little to the prosperity of the village. The barrels, firkins, tubs, pails, etc., manufactured here are in demand throughout a large area of territory, extending as far West as Iowa. From fifteen to twenty men are given steady employment, and the value of the industry to the village is considerable. The works were built about twelve years ago by Charles W. Kinne, who with L. J. Fitzgerald afterwards started the Cortland Wagon Company on the road to prosperity. Mr. Kinne was succeeded Todd & Wallace, and they by Todd & Dolphin. The latter firm dissolved partnership and John G. Dolphin then continued the business for some three or four years himself. On the fist of January, 1880, the establishment was purchased by Thomas F. Brayton and has since been continued by Robert Nixon, the present proprietor, who has probably made the greatest success of it, and has secured a prosperous business. A three story and basement frame building, 30x60 feet in dimensions, is occupied by the manufacturing departments, and another building 15x30 feet for storage purposes. The main building contains a very full and complete equipment of cooperage machinery, the motive power being supplied by the waters of the Tioughnioga river, and a thirty horse power stationary engine. The works have capacity for producing from 60 to 100 barrels, or 100 to 150 firkins per day, and a large number of tubs, pails, etc. Under Mr. Nixon's management the business is steadily increasing, and to such an extent that more room for manufacturing purposes is necessary if it is desired to accept all orders that are being received. Mr. Nixon is a Scotchman by birth, and came from Glasgow, Scotland, at the solicitation of friends here, to engage in this business, and his success is therefore peculiarly gratifying.
The chair manufactory of the Bangs Brothers, on Oak street, near the R. M. Tillinghast carriage works, is running steadily on a fine class of novelty chairs, stands, paper holders, etc., and giving employment to from ten to twenty men. The business was established in 1877, when it was conducted by the Cortland Furniture Manufacturing Company. Mr. A. H. Day succeeded this company, in 1879, and carried it on alone until 1881, when he formed a co-partnership with Elmer Rangs. The buildings now occupied by the present proprietors were erected by the firm of Day & Bangs, in 1881, and they conducted the business until July, 1882, when Mr. Day's interest was purchased by Mr. F. E. Bangs, and under the title of Bangs Brothers it has since been continued with considerable success. The Bang Brothers manufacture two hundred of the cheaper grade folding chairs or one hundred fine chairs per day, and have a good demand for their goods. Two buildings, each 30x60 feet in dimensions and two stories high, are occupied for manufacturing and storage purposes, and are well equipped with machinery, a twenty-horse power engine furnishing the motive power. Last year's business was exceptionally large, and the prospects of a steady business are reported as being very favorable.
While the foregoing sketches will give an idea of the extent and diversity of the manufacturing interests of the village, they by no means comprise the entire list, which it is impossible to review within the limits of this work. Among the more prominent establishments not noted however, are the O'Neill Wagon Works, Day & Atwood's Shirt Manufactory, the Cortland Steam Mills, John Ireland's Planing Mills, and Tisdale's Flouring Mills, besides many other lesser industries, which swell the aggregate number of employees and the amount of wages paid monthly to large proportions. Work is also progressing rapidly on the buildings for a new industry with title of Sanford Fork and Tool Manufacturing Company, of which Mr. Robert Nixon, who has so successfully conducted the Cortland machine Cooperage, is President; Mr. E. O. Richard (for five years one of the most valued employes of the National Bank of Cortland), Secretary and Treasurer, and Mr. DeForest Sanford (son of the originator of the celebrated Sanford pitch fork, which will be the specialty), Superintendent. The works of the company on Elm street, east of the U., I. & E. Railroad, will comprise a main building, three stories, 50x32 feet in dimensions, and a building adjoining for manufacturing purposes, 40x100 feet, with complete equipment of machinery, driven by a sixty horse power engine. It is understood that about 100 workmen will be given employment, and that the company will produce about 10,000 dozen forks during their first year. Besides the regular Sanford fork, which was originated forty years ago by Mr. B. Sanford, father of the Superintendent, and is know to all dealers in farm tools as the best hand fork in the market, they will also manufacture all kinds of tined steel tools. The company starts under the most favorable auspices and will undoubtedly meet with the flattering success that characterizes Cortland's industries in general. Other manufacturing establishment are in prospective, with every indication of soon assuming full shape, and the outlook is more than promising for the village becoming a city, as well as a manufacturing centre of great importance.
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