Historian's Notebook

The Bag Mill

Commuters to and from Clifton Park and the northern sections of the city routinely pass “The Bag Mill” daily without so much as a blink. It's there, it's been there, and with the promise implied by the revitalization of the Harmony Mills, it will remain there.

This old familiar mill, when seen with fresh vision, is an awesome sight. Up the hill on North Mohawk Street, its six story Italianate tower stands as a guardian announcing to travelers heading north the imminent appearance of the Harmony Mills Historic District.

The building was constructed by Charles Van Benthuysen of Albany as a paper mill. Actually, it is the second Van Benthuysen paper mill on this site. His first one burned down right after it was opened; the present structure replaced it almost immediately.

Van Benthuysen was attracted to the site by the cheap water for power and manufacturing. But alas the water did them in.

The cheap waterpower ran the machinery like a dream, but the water became a nightmare when attempting to use it to produce white paper. Churned up and muddy, it just couldn’t do the job. Frustrated, the company decided to drill a well to obtain clear water. They drilled and drilled then drilled some more until they reached the ridiculous depth of 2,300 feet. They had drilled the second deepest well in the United States outside of St. Louis, but couldn’t find enough water for production purposes. So, on November 13, 1871 they sold the plant to the Harmony Mills Company and retreated back to Albany.

The former paper mill, at that point in the hands of cotton cloth manufacturers, was technically designated Harmony Mill #4. Soon it was dressed up with a Mansard roof and Second Empire details to complement the other structures in the Harmony Mill complex. Its new job was to make seamless cotton and burlap bags to wrap around the finished rolls of cotton cloth for protection during shipping. Thus the name: "The Bag Mill."

Walter Lipka

Spring 2004

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