Artifact Corner: Saw Mill Lithograph

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a lithograph from 1869. This is a portrait of the R.W. Adams Steam Saw Mill, in Clinton County, NY. This picture would have been published as part of a set of lithographs from all around Clinton County. We are not sure why they separated and saved this particular image, but the timber industry in the North Country was booming in the mid to late Victorian period. Let’s take a look at the history of the timber industry in New York, and and learn a bit more about the R.W. Adams Steam and Saw Mill.

As Europeans began to settle in New York, they need raw materials, and the most pressing need was for lumber. Cutting down tress by hand, and then sawing them into useable parts was incredibly laborious and time consuming. So, any place that had a source of running water, which could be converted to power a mill, quickly became a hub for industrial activity. Saw mills began to spring up all around New York City, and throughout the Hudson River Valley. Any excess timber that was not being used or sold here would be shipped to England and Ireland for sale. The first documented sawmill in the Adirondack region was at Queensbury in Warren County, just south of Lake George. The mill was built in 1764 by Moses Clement. Another sawmill was constructed in 1767 at Willsboro in Essex County, located on the shore of Lake Champlain, by William Gilliland, and a third was erected in 1772 in Ticonderoga, Essex County. The primary species of tree harvest in New York was the white pine, but spruce and white cedar were also sought after. Small scale lumbering began as early as 1803 in the Adirondacks, but by the 1820’s, the timber industry had exploded. By the 1830’s the large old growth pines had almost all been harvested. Pine trees grow incredibly straight and tall, and are therefore perfect for ships masts, which were in high demand still in the early 1800’s.

Early saw mills were relatively simple structures. They were mostly an exposed upright saw powered by a water wheel. Eventually, mills operated two saws working simultaneously, which were referred to as a gang mill. Early sawmills were constructed next to rivers or other bodies of flowing water, which provided power for saws as well as an easy route for shipping trees to the mills. Once the lumber was harvested the easiest way to transport it was by floating it on a body of water, rather than trying to drag it through the mountains. The R.W. Adams and Company Saw Mill began work in 1865. They owned six square miles of land from which they harvest their timber. Operations at the mill lasted until a fire swept through the mill in May of 1877. The entire production was destroyed. The mill was rebuilt, but never operated under the same name. The peak of the logging and timber industry in the Adirondacks was during the 1860’s and 1870’s, the same time the Adams mill was in operation. Logging still continues in the North Country today, but not nearly to the same scale that it once did.

Our picture is in good condition, with some minor staining. The lines are still sharp and clear on the piece, likely because it has been stored away from light, and in acid free paper. It gives us a glimpse into the industrial past of Clinton County, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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