The following history was written by Bethune Maher Grant, National Magazine, in 1907 and is part of the collection of the Johnstown Historical Society donated by archivist James F. Morrison:
Of all the cities and towns that dot the valleys and crown the hillsides of New York state, none is prettier or more delightful for situation than Johnstown, the shire seat of Fulton County, and few are more prosperous. Lying about four miles north of the historic Mohawk river, the fir-clad peaks of the Adirondacks rising in successive ranges to the northward, and the gentle river winding quietly through the fertile valley at the south, give it a situation both attractive and desirable.
Of easy access to the outer world by means of steam and electric railways, it is also closely connected with the many beautiful lakes hidden in the mountain system on one of whose foothills it sits, that business men and pleasure seekers alike find it a convenient place of residence. Famous for the learned and public men it has produced, celebrated for the excellence of its manufactured products, and remarkable for it’s healthfulness. It is widely known throughout the whole country.
“Few other parts of the country have played so important a role in its historical, industrial and commercial development from earliest times to present day as has this one. But future importance cannot rest on past achievement. In this fast moving atomic age, Johnstown must maintain a place comparable to that of its enviable past, so that the city’s next two hundred years will be just as eminent.” – DOROTHY MESERVE Librarian, Knox Junior High School, 1958
Johnstown was founded by Sir William Johnson, baronet, an Irishman, who, as the story goes, was jilted in his youth, and came to this country to let his heart heal. His uncle, who held large grants of land from the British crown, sent him into the Mohawk valley to look after his interests there. His bligated affections did not prevent him from exercising his business talents, and he soon became not only a landed proprietor in his own right, but one of the most powerful and influential men in the colony.
He lived for a few years at Fort Johnson on the banks of the Mohawk, but in 1763 built Johnson Hall and took up his residence here. At that time he owned 50,000 acres of land, and these holdings were later largely increased by royal allotments in recognition of his services as the superintendent of the Six Nations. He had already induced numbers of immigrants to settle on his property, so that when he removed to Johnson Hall the village, which before had been known by it’s Indian name, “Kolaneka”, or “the place where one stops to fill up his bowl with food and drink,” was re-christened Johnstown, after its knightly founder.
Among his Scottish immigrants were some who had belonged to the Glove Makers’ Guild of Perth, Scotland. They brought the few crude implements of their trade with them, and as soon as they had settled on their farms in the township which they names after their Highland home, began to make gloves from the native skins, selling them to the Johnstown merchants.
The latter took them in barter for their goods and in turn carried the gloves on horseback to Albany, where they sold them, being the first commercial travelers to offer the product of what is now a business in which millions of capital are invested and which practically supports 40,000 people. It was a very natural thing for it to gravitate to the principal village of the county, and about the year 1800, it had assumed proportions that established it as an industry.
Since that time it has steadily grown, until a large part of the gloves made in this country are produced in the Johnstown factories. Not only that, but the facilities for the business are so complete that practically all the skins used are dressed here, being received in the raw, and made into leather by the different processes in vogue in the various mills and tanneries.
But the manufacture of gloves and mittens is not the only use in which leather is put. There is a factory that produces sporting goods; choice pieces of skins that are too small to make into gloves are converted into all sorts of novelties, such as pocketbooks, tobacco punches, pocket-knife cases, etc., while the clippings and scraps are made into baseballs, a million and a half having been last year’s output; and even the refuse of the raw hides is utilized by a very large glue company.
“While the foregoing are the principal industries of Johnstown, its abundant resources could be profitably utilized by others. It has water power that far exceeds the demands now made upon it; an electric light and power plant of unlimited capacity, and mill and factory sites of inestimable value.”
Most of the inhabitants of Johnstown and the surrounding country are engaged in the various departments of the glove and leather factories, but there are also three large knitting mills that employ 275 men and women… and last year marketed 250,000 dozens of underwear; a skirt factory, and a large shoddy mill that will run night and day will soon be in operation. The city also contains the main office, packing department and shipping rooms of the largest gelatine plant in the world, while its financial interests are taken care of by two banks …
…While the foregoing are the principal industries of Johnstown, its abundant resources could be profitably utilized by others. It has water power that far exceeds the demands now made upon it; an electric light and power plant of unlimited capacity, and mill and factory sites of inestimable value. It is connected with New York Central at Fonda, only four miles away, by both steam and electric divisions of the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville railroad, while the limited cars of the interurban line of the same system take passengers to Amsterdam in thirty minutes, to Schenectady in an hour, and to Albany in two hours.
These transportation facilities put the city so closely in touch with the greater commercial centers that it would be hard to find a municipality that equaled it in such advantages, and realizing these things, there are at present two very large concerns that are contemplating the establishment of plants here. As a residence place Johnstown is ideal.
It would seem as if nature had been more than generous to this old town that is so rapidly becoming a thriving city. Its altitude is 800 feet above the sea level, enough to ensure sufficient moisture in the atmosphere, with but little humidity and scarcely any fog. Its location at the foot of the Adirondacks gives it the pure air for which that region is famed, while its water supply, which is absolutely untainted, comes from the first range of hills to the north in such unlimited quantities that even the most lengthy drought fails to affect it.
It is brought to the city by the gravity system, and its pressure, 130 pounds to the square inch, is sufficient to throw it over the highest building on the most elevated point within the corporate limits, so that in addition to its domestic uses it provides the most ample and inexpensive method of lighting fires, and in the connection it may also be said that the city is unusually free from destructive conflagrations.
Johnstown is essentially a city of homes. It is not the wealthiest class only who are taxpayers, but a large majority of the operatives in the factories and mills own their houses and consequently take a greater pride in the city’s appearance. The streets are shaded by rows of stately elms and thick-leaved maples the grass in the door yards is kept at lawn length, while flower beds add to their beauty. There are residence streets that contain palatial structures, and others that strangers are struck with the air of prosperity that characterizes the place. The streets are paved with brick, asphalt and macadam, and are kept scrupulously clean, and contracts have already been let for extensions of such work during the coming summer.No city can be counted a true home city unless its educational advantages are of the best, and in this Johnstown excels.
Sir William Johnson established here the first real free school in the United States and declared himself the patron of education, and since his day that spirit has continued to actuate the people. The old Johnstown academy was famous as an institution of learning, and many such men and women as Bishop Littlejohn of New York, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were enrolled among its students. At present there are four modern brick buildings, all except one erected within fifteen years. The total registry of scholars is 1,837, and they are under the care of forty-eight professors and teachers besides the superintendent. The High school is one of the best in the state, and its graduates are found in the leading colleges, both male and female, and technical schools. The only training class for teachers in this vicinity is maintained in connection with it, and it also has its own reference library.
As an auxiliary to its other educational facilities, the city maintains a very fine free public library, for which an annual appropriation of $2,500 is made in addition to its income from other sources. There are, beside, a large number of study clubs which serve to keep alive a keep interest in literature, history and the sciences, and a morning and an evening daily paper are published.
The city’s architecture delights both antiquarians and those who are more favorable to modern structures. Johnson Hall, the residence of the great baronet, is still standing, the only baronial mansion in the United States. It has never been allowed to deteriorate, and with its adjoining grounds was recently purchased by the state and the Johnstown Historical society will now be custodian. It will contain that body’s museum and archives, among which are many interesting relics of colonial days. The court house and jail, also built by Sir William Johnson, are still used for the purposes for which they were erected.
Such is Johnstown, past and present. Its future looks very bright. Its leading industry, the glove business, was never so crowded with orders, and as its interests are being looked after by a very capable and active Board Of Trade, the prospects are that it will continue to make rapid strides. It is always glad to welcome strangers and entertain them at its fine hotels, and the cordiality which it extends to all visitors is one of the chief characteristics of the progressive city whose birth antedates the Revolution.
“My favorite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”