Cudmore: Solar projects proposed near site of water power years ago



In a recent Sunday Gazette story, reporter Adam Shinder wrote, “Sunshine is on the path to becoming big business in the Mohawk Valley.”

Large solar arrays are in various stages of development, supported by land owners who would lease their property for the projects and some environmentalists. Opponents include residents and others who find the large solar arrays a blight on the landscape.

One of today’s planned Montgomery County solar projects in the early phases of development is called Mill Point. There is a hamlet in the town of Glen called Mill Point settled in the 1700s.

Abram Rulifson built a gristmill there. The settlement had a sawmill and woolen factory.

Mill Point eventually had three gristmills, two general stores and a post office. Canals diverted the Schoharie to the gristmills and a broom factory.

The canals and mills are gone. One Mill Point house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over a century ago the rushing water of the Schoharie Creek was harnessed to generate electricity at a hydroelectric plant in Wellsville, a hamlet on the Florida side of the Schoharie Creek near Mill Point on the opposite side of the waterway.

The Wellsville hydroelectric facility was one of a series of Schoharie Creek and Hudson River generating stations built in the 1890s and early 1900s for Empire State Power Company.

A 1905 advertisement in the Recorder said the company was canvassing Amsterdam residents to find out who wanted a dependable source of electricity for light, heat and motors.

The local office was headed by electrical engineer, Clarence Wilson.

However, news clippings from 1911 reported that some of Empire State Power’s local properties were being foreclosed on. Henry G. Mars of Wellsville, who died eight years ago, took me on a tour of the Wellsville hydro power plant site in 2008.

Mars pointed out remnants of culverts and a canal that diverted water from a dam on the Schoharie Creek to the hydroelectric plant. The generating station was operated by Ted and Ray Swart.

Its gears were made of wood. The Schoharie Creek probably posed problems for the power plant during dry spells and in winter’s frigid weather.

The creek also can be dangerous during heavy rains and floods. Mars pointed out where water reached the windows of homes along the creek.

He recollected several floods—1937, 1955 and 1987 when the Route 161 Bridge over the Schoharie, which connects Wellsville to Mill Point, washed away a week after the Thruway Bridge collapsed three miles downstream. The Thruway Bridge disaster claimed ten lives.

The Route 161 Bridge also was closed in 2011 during flooding from tropical storms Irene and Lee.

Mars was a young child when his family moved to Mill Point in 1933.

His father was from Holland, Mars said, and his mother was descended from the Mohawk Nation.

Even though electricity had been generated nearby, Mill Point itself was not electrified until 1937.

The Mars family left Mill Point for Hagaman for a few years but moved back.

This time they lived farther south, near where Colonial settlers named Van Horne had built a substantial residence.

Mars married Ruth Starke whose family lived on Route 161 in Wellsville. He worked for Niagara Mohawk’s gas division in Amsterdam.

His hobby was collecting arrowheads and other old objects. He once found a 1789 Continental Congress half cent.

Henry and Ruth made their home on Youngs Corners Road in Wellsville. Ruth died in 2004.

Henry was still living on Youngs Corners Road in Wellsville when he died in 2012.

He left a son, daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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