Cudmore: A turning point for Amsterdam

It was the best of times in 1954 but bad news was lurking around the corner in Amsterdam. 

Both major carpet mills in the city were operating, even if there were some cutbacks at Mohawk and Bigelow-Sanford.  And Amsterdamians were taking steps to attract new industry.  Industries for Amsterdam, headed by Buick car dealer Karl Kempf, was raising $300,000 for a new factory and industrial park on Edson Street Extension.

Amsterdam was now an exit on the New York State Thruway.  New elementary schools were planned.  Dial telephones were installed.

And in the summer of 1954 Amsterdam wildly celebrated its 150th anniversary, the sesquicentennial.  “It was a week of pageantry,” wrote the Recorder, “Preceded by weeks of preparation and reaching a climax in an hour and one-half parade.”

Rogers Producing Company staged a 700-person dramatic and historical spectacle called Horizons to tell the Amsterdam story.  Horizons ran for six nights at Mohawk Mills Park.

One of the most popular features of the 1954 celebration was creation of over 60 neighborhood chapters of the Brothers of the Brush, who did not shave, and Sisters of the Swish, who wore bustles or long dresses.

Amsterdam’s many taverns, fraternal groups and even the Civil Air Patrol sponsored clubs that attracted thousands of members.

The clubs held a kangaroo court.  Buckman’s Dairy donated a horse-drawn wagon that was outfitted with broom handles for bars.  Named the Marauder, the wagon toured the city looking for Brothers or Sisters who broke the rules such as a man shaving or a woman changing her costume.

History columnist Tony Pacelli wrote:  “I recall a friend of mine was to buy a keg of ale, another bought candy for the youngsters.”  Harriet DePaulo was chairwoman of the Sisters and chairman of the Brothers was Clement Ciulik.

Names of the chapters included Skiba’s Tavern Buffoons and Buffoonettes, City Hospital Mad Boys, Flora Dorettes of Florida and the Civil Air Patrol Bushwhackers.

Many of these groups marched in the 10 division sesquicentennial parade July 5.  Bigelow-Sanford sponsored a “flying carpet” float.  By the end of the year the “flying carpet” was about to become a reality.

In early December there were news reports out of Thompsonville, Conn., where Bigelow-Sanford also had a factory, that the company was looking at consolidation. 

On Dec. 10 company President James D. Wise confirmed the company was studying whether to consolidate its northern carpet making in either Thompsonville or Amsterdam.

The Recorder wrote, “In the eager outlook for new industry, many Amsterdamians had seemingly forgotten that continued economic health of the long-established local plants was equally important.”

Wise broke the bad news at noon on Saturday, Jan. 29, 1955 on Amsterdam’s WCSS radio.  Amsterdam native Dave Northrup recalled listening. “It cast a real pall over the city.”

Bigelow-Sanford was consolidating its northern factories in Thompsonville, eliminating 1,650 jobs in Amsterdam.  Most of the workers involved were producing Axminster, a patterned carpet with a cut pile.

Wise cited competition from new tufted carpet mills in the South, plus competition from woven carpet plants in America and overseas as reasons for consolidation.  Local lore has held that corporate control passed outside of Amsterdam when the local Sanford family merged their company with New England’s Bigelow-Hartford in 1929.

Kempf of Industries for Amsterdam, named man of the year by the Recorder in 1954, said the move to Connecticut was, “An injustice both to Amsterdam and to the company’s stockholders.”

Thompsonville merchant Frank Tokarczyk said he hoped Bigelow-Sanford would stay 125 years in Connecticut.  However, by 1971 the company had closed its Thompsonville mills and moved manufacturing to Southern states.

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