Shawn Duffy, an Amsterdam native who died last year at age 69, sometimes reminisced about the work he did for Edy Brush Company, a New York City-based firm that made paint brushes in a former broom factory on Brookside Avenue in Amsterdam in the 1960s.
Duffy’s job was to dye hog bristles imported from Poland that arrived in large crates. The bristles were dyed black in a large vat of boiling dye.
Duffy also cut long tubes of synthetic bristles with a hand chopper. He sometimes thought his arm was going to fall off.
“I broke the elevator by loading boxes of bristles almost up to the limit of the elevator,” Duffy wrote. “A co-worker and I were also told to stack boxes of bristle in a large storage room as high as we could.
“The ceiling was probably 30 to 40 feet. We made stairs out of the boxes as we stacked and therefore got right up to the ceiling. I don't think the foreman really expected this and we were in trouble again for doing what we were asked.”
Duffy served in the U.S. Navy and then worked for General Electric in the turbine generator business. At the time of his death he was part owner of Turbine Generator Technical Services in Lake St. Louis, Missouri.
Edy Brush closed its Brookside Avenue plant in Amsterdam in the 1980s. Eventually, the property was purchased by Thomas Eliopoulos, a book dealer from northern New Jersey. The building was renamed X-S Books Inc. and T.E. Enterprises.
The city foreclosed on the property, which had gone into disrepair, and was trying to get the owner to remove the books. The sprinkler system was not functioning when a massive blaze broke out in July 2010.
Two juveniles were accused of starting the fire that was fueled by thousands of books stored in the building and a ruptured natural gas line.
Pages from the books were picked up by the wind and drifted down in various parts of the city.
The fire destroyed the factory building and a vacant home next door. The house across the street was left uninhabitable. Five other homes suffered damage.
The building that burned in 2010 was built in 1907 to replace the original broom factory that was destroyed by a fire earlier that same year.
The broom industry took hold in Amsterdam initially because of the plentiful supply of broom corn growing along the Mohawk River. Broom-making became such a significant part of the city that the official seal of Amsterdam once featured a carpet, a spool of thread, and a couple of brooms.
Julius Wasserman located his Amsterdam Broom Company in a three-story building on the Brookside Avenue site in 1884. Wasserman’s son David joined the business in 1889.
The firm employed 169 men in 1907 when fire broke out on April 9. The blaze was of unknown origin.
William Sullivan, an Eighth Ward Fire Company firefighter, died in the 1907 fire when he was buried under a collapsing wall in the broom mill.
The Wassermans decided to rebuild, despite an estimated $100,000 loss, temporarily making brooms in a former mill on Chuctanunda Hill until a new structure was built on Brookside Avenue.
Julius Wasserman died in 1916. During his lifetime he also served as Amsterdam postmaster.
Wasserman’s business produced a number of highly regarded products, including “Gold Bond” and “Brookside” brooms.
But during the 1930s, the rising popularity of vacuum cleaners diminished the broom industry. When David Wasserman died in 1957, the factory building was put up for sale and purchased by Edy Brush.