Focus on History: The story of Amsterdam’s Bijou Rug and Carpet

Mohawk Carpet Mills and Bigelow-Sanford made Amsterdam’s reputation as “the Carpet City.” There were

Mohawk Carpet Mills and Bigelow-Sanford made Amsterdam’s reputation as “the Carpet City.” There were other carpet mills. One factory that had a brief existence was Bijou Rug and Carpet. The word “bijou” is of French origin and means an intricately wrought trinket.

An Oct. 5, 1886, headline from the Amsterdam Daily Democrat was printed in a recent column. On that date the Bijou factory was destroyed by fire.

Jerry Snyder, co-author with Robert von Hasseln of the picture history book “Amsterdam,” did some digging and found that Bijou Rug had begun operations only six months before the fire.

Bijou was located on the south side of East Main at Leffert Street in the East End.

It occupied a former stable where the Little Giant Sleigh factory started manufacturing sleighs in 1884.

The Oct. 29, 1884, Daily Democrat reported that John Russell of Little Giant had disposed of his interest in the sleigh company to carpet maker Herbert L. Shuttleworth.

Snyder wrote, “The sleigh company was still in business on Oct. 5, 1885, when their ‘commercial traveler’ (salesman) set out on his first trip, heading for Pittsfield and Boston. I guess his trip wasn’t a huge success as on Feb. 3, 1886, the Democrat reported that the entire on-hand stock of the company [1,800 sleighs] was sold to Henry L. Smith of Albany, who had previously purchased 1,500 sleighs from them.”

On April 29, 1886 the Democrat wrote that the Amsterdam Rug company had filed a copartnership with the city clerk.

Members were Dr. E. T. Rulison, John W. Hill, Luther Ensign and F. S. Gardinier.

The Democrat account continued, “Smyrna rugs similar to those turned out by Howgate, McCleary & Company [another local rug maker] will be manufactured. The company will occupy the Little Giant sleigh factory. Dr. Rulison will be the financial man of the concern, while the others will have charge of the work in the factory.”

Bijou Rug suspended operations little more than two weeks later on May 15, 1886.

The Democrat reported that the company had bought machinery from the Sanford carpet mill and an engine and boiler from Little Giant

. Then Gardinier withdrew from the enterprise and went into the grocery business, taking over the former Miller & McConnell store on Grand Street.

The Democrat wrote, “A gentleman, who for a while thought seriously of taking his place, after looking the matter over, decided not to do so. Dr. Rulison found that too much responsibility was being thrown upon his hands and that the enterprise would require more of his time than he expected and more than he could spare from his professional duties.

“The yarn, etc. which had been purchased was shipped back to those from whom it was bought and the machinery, engine and boiler are offered for sale. An excellent opportunity is offered for men with a small amount of capital to engage in business that could hardly fail to prove remunerative.”

Five months later the Bijou factory was destroyed by a fire that may have been set. There was $800 insurance on the building (owned by a man from Illinois) and $3,000 on its contents. The alarm was sounded from the bell of the First Baptist Church but three fire companies arrived too late to save the structure. Two horses were badly scorched. In 1893 a Methodist Church was built on the site. That building is now used by St. Mary’s Hospital.

“Our Town Amsterdam,” a documentary created by community volunteers, will be screened Monday at 7 p.m. for a local audience at Amsterdam High School. WMHT-TV will broadcast the program Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Categories: Schenectady County

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