GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (WTEN) – Take a walk along the bridge connecting Glens Falls and South Glens Falls, and you may notice some things have changed on the Hudson River running beneath the Route 9 passage. For one thing, a lack of water. For another, some remnants of the past.
A section of the Hudson River has had its flow lowered by dams this summer, in order to facilitate some bridge work expected to finish by the time the seasons change. The 8-foot lowering has exposed large amounts of sheer stone – and a remnant of the river’s history.
Poking out of the water west of the bridge, remnants can be seen of a series of piers that date back to the 1800s. Each pier is made of wood, rock and steel posts. Into the 1950s, they served a vital purpose to the early days of one of the Glens Falls area’s main industries – with a legacy still running today at Finch Paper Mill.
Dick Nason, a now-retired former chief forestry officer from Finch Paper, estimates that the piers were most likely constructed in the 1830s or 1840s. They were unmanned, instead used as a way to control the flow of “boom logs,” lines of logs chained together for their trip down the river. Back in the day, Finch wasn’t the only game in town – and the number of mills required some help.
“What really made Glens Falls what it was was the Feeder Canal,” said Nason, who worked at Finch from 1964 to his retirement in 1999. “There was no other way to get the lumber down to Albany. In 1854, Glens Falls was the logging center of the United States.”
The Feeder Canal was built to accentuate what was already happening on the river. A manmade passage, the canal runs from Queensbury and Glens Falls east to Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, adding to what was possible when using moving water to transport logs. The seven-mile canal took eight years to build, according to information from a 2019 Warren County Historical Society exhibit. The canal was completed in 1830.
When the canal was built, Glens Falls’ logging industry effectively received a lane upgrade. Logs would flow down the Hudson from sites in the Adirondacks, as far north as Calamity Brook, north of Long Lake and west of Elizabethtown in the High Peaks Wilderness. When they got to Glens Falls, some logs would continue their way south, to Albany or even down to New York City. Others would be extracted and placed in the Feeder Canal, and sent to Finch or one of Glens Falls’ other mills, for one of any number of destinies.
“What’s interesting is we paid the wages to get the wood cut, which would come in around $280,000,” Nason said, recalling history from the 1940s. “At the mill, you would get a process that costs $400,000. To get the wood to the mill at all was a large part of the final product.”
The flow of the industry
The use of the Hudson River to begin with came down to necessity. In the 1800s, there was no other feasible way to send millions of logs south every year. Glens Falls saw 216 million logs come through in the industry’s peak year, 1872. For short distances, wood could be carried by horses or oxen, but the limits of those methods came quick.
Although one of many, Finch Paper was one of the greatest titans of logging in Glens Falls as the industry boomed. By the end of the 19th century, the company owned 100,000 acres of forest in the Adirondack Park. In 1905, paper from Finch would be used as newsprint for the “New York American” newspaper.
Another major mill remains across the bridge, on the South Glens Falls side of the river. What is now known as a branch of international paper company SCA Tissue was once the Glens Falls Paper Company, incorporated in 1864 with a small mill. It became the Glens Falls Paper Mill in 1882, and would be purchased by International Paper, followed by Encore, which was then bought by SCA.
No matter what mill your employer, life as a logger was seasonal. Logs couldn’t be moved while the river was frozen for the winter. Mills would operate from April until November or December, often running 24 hours a day to make up for the closed months to come. When those months come, many workers in the mills would travel north to the lumber camps, and spend their winters downing the trees they might then see along the river the following spring.
“The biggest point is the volume of logs,” said Nason. “It created a tremendous avenue for jobs. In 1940, we had over 500 men in the wood forests.”
The last log drive in Glens Falls took place in 1956, by which point automobiles had picked up traction as a new way to transport lumber. When the call went out, more men came to the river than was needed. Compared with the area’s 216-million-log peak, around 8 million logs came through in 1958 – two years after local efforts were put into moving them along.
The structures poking out of the river will likely be gone after this month, once the water rises. They’ll still be there, though, whether the water is eight feet lower or higher. The piers are just another reminder of the history that’s made Glens Falls the place it is today.