Amsterdam: The Rug City

by Jerry Snyder

In the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, Amsterdam New York was a prosperous community and major industrial center. Located about 33 miles west of Albany in the Mohawk Valley, the "Rug City" was second in the United States only to Philadelphia in the production of carpet.

Besides three massive carpet mill complexes, Amsterdam boasted the largest pearl button manufacturing plant and broom industries in the world, the largest steel spring factory in the country, more than three dozen knitting, textile, and silk mills, a large mill complex for the production of linseed oil, foundries, paper and planing mills, machine shops, and numerous smaller supporting industries and businesses.

This concentration of industry can be traced in large part to the presence of the Chuctanunda Creek, which courses through the city from the hills in the north to the Mohawk River. With its high flow rate and large vertical drop, the Chuctanunda provided an ideal source of water power for the early mills, and later an abundant water supply for the processing of raw materials for textiles. Numerous dams, many of which remain or whose traces can be found today, provide testament to the importance of the creek in the industrial development of the city.

Unfortunately, as with a number of old industrial cities in the Northeast, Amsterdam did not fair well during the second half of the last century, as one industry after another closed down or moved South or offshore, leaving the city with an aging population, a shrinking tax base, and a large number of empty and decaying mills and warehouses. Many of these, along with the entire retail district of the city, were destroyed during the misguided "urban renewal" programs of the 1960's and 1970's. Efforts to attract new industry to the area have been largely unsuccessful, and Amsterdam now finds itself at best a bedroom community for Albany and the Capital District area.

Scattered through the city, however, are rhe remnants of its industrial past which have, so far, escaped the ravages of progress, if not the ravages of time, modern ruins and ghosts from the past that provide a link to the history of the area that deserve at least a passing nod of remembrance before they disappear forever.

Kelloggs & Miller Linseed Oil Mills

by Jerry Snyder

Just above the former Bigelow Sanford carpet mill complex between Church Street (NYS Rt. 67) and the Chuctanunda Creek, behind the auto parts store and donut shop, the reminents of the Kelloggs and Miller Linseed Oil Company, the oldest company of its kind in the United States, stand as a mute reminder of a time when this plant was one of the the world's largest producers of linseed oil.

Once a major ingredient of oil based paints as well as varnish, linoleum, and other products, linseed oil is extracted from the small black seeds of the flax (linseed) plant. The oil extraction was a multi-step process which required that the seeds be cleaned, crushed, heated, and pressed. The oil was then aged prior to shipment.

The Kelloggs & Miller Company originated as a small oil mill established by Supplina Kellogg on the Chuctanunda Creek in West Galway, north of Amsterdam, in 1824. This mill had a single set of grinding stones and a hand operated press which initially provided one to two barrels of oil a day. Production eventually reached six barrels a day. Upon the death of their father in 1848, Supplina's sons, Lauren and John, took over the business.

Kelloggs & Miller in 1906

The Kelloggs soon recognized the need to expand to a larger and less rural location. Accordingly, in 1850, the oil mill relocated downstream to Amsterdam, occupying an old distillery building purchased from the estate of Benedict Arnold (an Amsterdam politician and merchant, not the other one!). At the new location the mill secured the ample water power of Chuctanunda Creek, a ready supply of labor from the growing town, and access to both the railroad and the Erie Canal. The success of the relocation was evidenced by the need to undertake renovations and expansions shortly thereafter, with repairs to the old mill dam and the addition of two stories to the old distillery, eventually known as Building #1.

In 1853, the company became Kellogg & Miller when James Miller became a partner after his brother-in-law Lauren Kellogg's death. Kellogg and Miller continued to expand the capacity and production of the mill, increasing operations to include four sets of grinding stones and soon exceeding the ability of local farmers to provide sufficient flaxseed to meet demand. This shortfall was remedied by purchasing additional seed from Boston, which at the time was the entry point for flaxseed from India and the Near East.

The mill continued to prosper during the Civil War years. Incoming seed was cleaned, outgoing seedcake packaged, and barrels filled with oil in Building #1 (shown at the center of the 1906 view above). Additional buildings were constructed to store incoming material and age the oil, water power was increased by a factor of four with the enlargement of the mill dam, hand operated oil presses replaced, and new production methods and techniques were incorporated as the business continued to expand.

In 1874 a new administration building (at the right in the 1906 view) was erected at a cost of $10,000, then a significant sum. This building stands today, buried within the complex of later additions and expansions.

In 1877, John Kellogg's son, George, and Lauren Kellogg's son, Spencer, joined the company which then changed its name to Kelloggs & Miller.

By 1879, the volume of incoming raw material and outgoing oil and seedcake was overtaxing the local transportation system. The solution was construction of the Amsterdam, Chuctanunda, and Northern Railroad, a two mile branch line from the New York Central main line along the Mohawk River to the Kelloggs & Miller plant high in the Amsterdam hills. The AC&N allowed Kelloggs & Miller to bring carloads of seed directly into the mill complex, and to ship oil in their own tank cars directly to large customers.

Building #1 in 2003

The old distillery is viewed from the opposite side than in the 1906 view. The large building on the right is the former "Press House', which contained 24 2-story tall hydraulic presses.

Business continued to grow and in 1887, Kelloggs & Miller employed approximately 500 people in its Amsterdam plant. At its peak, the company also had facilities in Pennsylvania and Illinois. In 1901, flaxseed consumption at the Amsterdam mill was about 750,000 bushels with an output of 1.7 million gallons of oil, and 15,000 tons of seed cake for animal feed.

The company continued in business through the early part of the century and was sold to the Bisby Linseed Oil Company in the 1930's. The Amsterdam mill closed in 1948. In 1952, the complex was acquired by a local fuel oil company which used it for warehouse space and fuel oil storage until the early 1970's. Various small companies have occupied portions of it over the years on a rental basis.

The AC&N had Kellogg family members on board of directors for many years after the line expanded to serve other area industries and the oil mill had closed. The AC&N is still operational, with severely reduced trackage and only one shipper, but that's another story.

Today the most obvious and visible sections of the complex are the locally cut limestone block end walls of the seed storage house along Church Street. The long wall of the seed house, which paralleled the street, was unfortunately demolished a few years ago. The original six iron-lined brick oil tanks at the northern end of the complex slowly fought a losing the battle with time. In the fall of 2003, the remains of the 5 smaller tanks were razed, leaving the largest tank as sole survivor.

Click here to return to Lost Landmarks

Click here to visit the Kellogg Family plot at Green Hill Cemetary in Amsterdam.