“We were all astonished at the splendor of Glen’s Falls. The full, though narrow Hudson, rushes along amidst enormous masses of rock, and leaps sixty feet down the chasms and precipices that occur in the passage…. The noise is so tremendous, that I cannot conceive how people can fix their dwellings in the immediate neighborhood. There is a long bridge over the roaring floods, which vibrates incessantly; and clusters of saw-mills deform the scene. There is stone-cutting as well as planking done at these mills… It was the busiest scene that I saw near any waterpower in America.” Harriet Martineau, 1836 an English traveler
Settlers used the Hudson River and its tributaries to power mills that sawed lumber and ground grain. Later, industrialists dammed the river to ensure a steady water supply – without the dams there were dry periods and flooding periods. Flood destroying Glens Falls Bridge
Troy Iron & Nail The mills on the Hudson and its tributaries played a big role in the industrial revolution of the 19 th century. They produced lumber, paper, grain, knitted goods and linens, nails, horseshoes, and railroad spikes which were shipped through the United States.
Jointa Lime Company, Glens Falls This new cost effective method of creating electricity helped the area’s economy.
By 1880 there were technologies to convert mechanical power into electricity and the motors and lighting devices that could use it. Over the next decade, people adapted waterwheels and steam engines to produce electricity for local street lamps, storefronts and home lighting.
In 1886 electric street cars were introduced, creating need for more electricity. The problem was that the direct current used at that time did not transmit over any great distance.
ALTERNATING current, using generators and transformers, was demonstrated by Westinghouse at the 1893 Chicago Exposition. The GE Plant in Schenectady began to build electric turbines to generate electricity and electric motors to power factories, locomotives and other large machines.
Glens Falls attorney Eugene Ashley proposed a new hydro- electric dam that would harness the energy of the Hudson River and produce enough electricity to light cities from Glens Falls to Albany, and power the region’s electric railway lines and factories, including the huge General Electric plant in Schenectady.
In 1899, the New York State legislature gave his company, The Hudson River Water Power Company, the right to erect the dam and to flood the valley behind it. It took two years of negotiation and court action to gain title to all the lands needed for the project.
It took three years to construct the dam. They had to build coffer dams to keep water out of the construction site and re-route the river. Spring flooding often destroyed some of the coffer dams which had to be rebuilt.
To perform the manual labor of cutting a 7 foot trench in the bedrock, the company hired as many as 1700 men, mostly 1 st or 2 nd generation Italian immigrants.
In 1901 they encountered a football-field sized depression extending below the riverbed which added considerable time and money to the project.
On August 20, 1903 the openings in the dam were closed, and the pond behind the dam began to fill. Company executives and their families came to watch, workers stopped what they were doing, and there were steam whistles to celebrate the occasion.
Twenty hours later water began to flow over the dam, and on September 8, Spier Falls began to produce electricity. Work on the dam was not totally completed, however until 1906.
At the time Spier Falls started producing electricity, the Company had established a network of generators, powerlines and substations, and were also planning to build new hydro electric dams.
By 1907, Ashley had borrowed and spent $11 million and had stock outstanding of $16 million. The banker’s panic of 1908 interrupted his plans. Mr. Ashley had too large a mortgage and creditors refused his refinancing proposal, so he was forced out. After moving south to work on other power plants, he rebuilt his fortune and returned to Glens Falls. He invested in the Adirondack Farms for Blooded Horses in Glens Falls. Horses from this farm raced on the famous Oval Track located in the present day section of Broadacres. Mr. Ashley died in February 1917 at the age of 54.
Other power companies did build dams and created a network that became the Adirondack Power & Light Corporation in 1920 and the Niagara Hudson Power Corporation in 1929. Adirondack Power & Light Steam Plant, Amsterdam
The building of the Conklingville Dam on the Sacandaga River (near Hadley, New York) in 1930 completed the taming of the river. It collects the spring melt of a large portion of the Adirondacks, prevents flooding downriver and provides a steady supply of water to power plants and other industries.
The hydropower plant at Conklingville is now run by Erie Boulevard Hydropower, L.P. and the Spier Falls Dam is owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners, L.P. Over the years, technological advances have made it necessary to modify the dams and power plants. Also, today’s hydroelectric power companies have environmental management systems in place to lower the environmental impact of their operations.
In addition to generating electricity and regulating the waterflow, the reservoirs at Conklingville and Spier Falls are used for boating and other water activities; it is important that everyone understand and follow the posted safety regulations.
The need for an efficient way to produce electricity PLUS Abundant natural resources PLUS One man’s vision and the financial and legislative backing he received PLUS The work of hundreds of laborers EQUALS A good energy foundation for our area’s homes and businesses that has served us for over 100 years.