There is still time to enjoy the Year of the Glove in Fulton County.
According to Samantha Hall-Saladino, county historian and executive director of the Fulton County Historical Society, the inspiration for a year devoted to the local glove industry came from an art teacher in Scotland.
Alison Ferguson’s students at Perth Academy in Scotland were doing art work based on glove-making in their community and had heard of a connection with Fulton County, New York, where colonial leader Sir William Johnson had settled people from Scotland.
Ferguson had heard that Johnson’s Scottish settlers brought glove-making skills with them to America. But Hall-Saladino said no reference to that idea can be found in Johnson’s extensive writings.
However, the glove and leather industry locally did begin and became the engine that drove population growth in the 1800s.
Hall-Saladino said a man named Thomas Edwards had learned the art of leather dressing in Britain. Edwards was hired by tinsmiths in Kingsboro (now a section of Gloversville) to teach them how to prepare leather for making gloves. Tinsmiths were getting deerskins in trade for their products and wanted to know what to do with the deerskins.
Many Jewish immigrants settled in Gloversville to work in the glove industry, including Samuel Goldwyn, who went on to be a major figure in movie productions in the U.S.
The first event of the Year of the Glove was to mount an exhibit of the Perth Scotland student artwork at the Fulton County Museum, located in a former school building on Kingsboro Avenue in Gloversville. The exhibit still can be seen at the museum, open Saturdays and Sundays through Columbus Day.
The historical society had its own local student glove art competition earlier this year.
Speakers at Year of the Glove events have included state archivist Thomas Ruller, a Gloversville native who formerly was deputy historian in that city, and Adirondack author Don Williams, who told how his family in the Northville area was involved in the glove industry.
STILL TO COME
On Sunday, Sept. 22, there will be an historical trolley bus tour focusing on glove industry sites, organized by the Fulton County Historical Society in partnership with Johnstown Historical Society.
One of the stops will be Townsend Leather in Johnstown, observing its 50th anniversary. Townsend’s leather products are used in airplanes and furniture.
State University at Albany professor Gerald Zahavi will speak about radical union activism in the tanneries and glove mills. Zahavi interviewed mill owners and glove makers in the 1990s. His talk will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, at Fulton Montgomery Community College.
Hall-Saladino is a native of Gloversville and credits her father, Jim Hall, with helping to develop her interest in local history. She said hers is the first generation of her family not involved in glove-making.
Hall-Saladino said that as generations get farther away from the days when glove-making dominated Fulton County “that history is in danger of becoming forgotten or we’re missing out on the opportunity to speak with the people involved in the glove and leather industry.”
Glovers were independent people, according to the late historian Barbara McMartin.
In a book on the topic written with Alec Reid, she recorded the existence of an astounding 1,900 glove shops in the Johnstown and Gloversville area over the 19th and 20th centuries. Some shops employed 500 workers, others were mom-and-pop operations, with mom sewing gloves and pop cutting them.
McMartin wrote, “A man who was working as a glove cutter who got angry with his boss could start a glove shop with a pair of scissors and a needle.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 518-346-6657 or [email protected].