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Cudmore: Power from the Schoharie aided Amsterdam

Cudmore: Power from the Schoharie aided Amsterdam

Focus on History

Electric power was generated for Amsterdam a century ago at a hydroelectric plant in Wellsville, a hamlet on the town of Florida side of the Schoharie Creek.

The facility apparently was part of a series of Schoharie Creek and Hudson River generating stations that were built in the 1890s and early 1900s for Empire State Power Company.

In 1905 an advertisement in the Recorder promoted that the company was canvassing Amsterdam residents to find out who wanted a dependable source of electricity for light, heat and motors. The firm’s local office was headed by an 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, a Wellsville resident who died in 2012, took me on a tour of the power plant site in 2008. Mars showed me remnants of culverts and a canal that diverted water from a dam on the Schoharie to the plant.

The generating station was operated, Mars said, by Ted and Ray Swart. The gears were made of wood.

Wellsville once had two gristmills and a general store. There was a kiln where bricks were made to build a farmhouse, still standing off Route 161. A broom factory took advantage of broomcorn that was grown there.

We drove by the site of an old bridge in Wellsville, dismantled for scrap metal in World War II.

The Schoharie can be dangerous. 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 washed away, a week after the collapse of the Thruway Bridge three miles downstream that claimed 10 lives.

The Route 161 bridge, which connects Wellsville in the town of Florida to Mill Point in the town of Glen, was closed in 2011 during flooding from tropical storms Irene and Lee.

Mill Point was settled in the 1700s. Abram Rulifson built a gristmill there and Mill Point also had a sawmill and woolen factory.

Mill Point eventually had three gristmills, two general stores and a post office. The hamlet had canals to divert 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.

Water from a source above the old cemetery flowed down through a pipe to the hamlet. The water collected in a cistern and people brought buckets and took water home.

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 Mohawks.

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 and higher up, near where Colonial settlers named Van Horne had built a substantial residence. A sulfur spring there, Mars said, provides water as strong as any in Saratoga Springs.

Mars worked many years for the Niagara Mohawk gas division in Amsterdam, retiring in 1986. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, gardening, coaching Little League, his flowers and his cats.

Collecting arrowheads and other objects was an avocation for Mars. He once found a 1789 Continental Congress half cent.

Mars married Ruth Starke, whose family lived on Route 161 in Wellsville. His wife died in 2004. Henry and Ruth made their home on Youngs Corners Road in Wellsville, where he was living when he died. He left a son and daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

 

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