Chenango Valley Mills, Part II
The history of Chenango Valley Mills is continued with a reminiscence of Roger Allen, who with his brother, Ralph, were the last owners of the mill before it was sold to Briggs Lumber Co.
“I have a lot of fond memories of the old mill as a young boy growing up in the 40s and 50s. I will try to just stick to the "Old Mill" as I can remember it when it was a feed mill. My grandfather, Charles C. Allen, bought the business back in 1901. He was born in Georgetown NY in 1887. He taught school in Chenango and Madison Counties from 1895 to 1898, worked for his cousin managing a book store in Troy, NY 1898 thru 1899, was a farmer for a while 1899 to 1901, owned and operated the mill in 1901 and was a Rural Mail Carrier here in Greene from 1924 until his retirement in June 1942.
As a school boy, I remember playing in the old mill among the the huge piles of feed bags. They were stacked up everywhere. There was always a lot of activity in the mill. It prepared and sold all kinds of livestock feed. Business was brisk and there were customers in and out of the place. The office part was the little building attached on the left side or the north end of the main building. Seems like there were always trucks coming and going. Feed was purchased by the mill by the boxcar load, at times at least one per week, maybe more, and kept on the railroad siding near the old freight office until it could be unloaded. Seems like my brother Ralph and I were always helping my Dad unload these cars on weekends. The tons of feed were trucked back to the mill and dumped into a hopper where it was lifted by conveyer buckets to the top of the mill and stored in huge bins until needed for mixing and bagging. The inside of the mill was filled with all these big motors, running mixers, batchers and elevators. There were corn grinders, blenders and electric sewing machines which were suspended from the ceiling. I can remember two of our employees, Roger Ives from Harpursville and Earl Howell from the Coventry area, operating these machines. They were also skilled at doing up a bag with just one bag string. There were floor scales to weigh the bags to make sure you had exactly 100 Ibs. in each bag.
The mill was a noisy place. There were all kinds of drive wheels, belts and flywheels driving the machines. There were two sets of grain/feed elevators which carried the feed up to the distribution point where it was sent into the storage bins on the second and third floors of the building. I remember my Dad operated a special blender which mixed molasses with feed. Molasses would be brought onto the mill floor in these huge oak barrels. With the bungs removed, the molasses would slowly drain out through a hole in the floor into a storage tank under the floor and then pumped into a feed blender. The cows loved this mixture called "gluten". The mixture would come out a chute into a burlap bag, which would be weighed, tagged and sewn up. It was all very labor intensive, everything handled by hand and stacked.
The floors were made of maple and other local hardwoods. My father always said you could fill the mill with concrete it was so well made. After all, we know it went through floods and even though it was about 170 years old, it never fell into the river. I remember the floors were polished from the constant dragging of feed bags and the ever sweeping up. No pallets or lift trucks in those days. Gosh, what a place. The work was hard and dirty. The dust was so thick in the air that it was like white smoke. It’s a wonder the place never exploded from this. I remember the help had to use an electric blower to blow the dust from their clothes at the end of their work shift.
The mill had its own trademark brand name of feeds. I remember CVM Brand and Bull Brand. Some of the feed bags were made of cotton with a flowery design instead of the brown burlap bags. The farmers’ wives would wash these, cut them up and make small things like pillow cases and aprons. Some were also used to make quilts.
We believe there were perhaps 4 water wheels under the mill which through vertical drive shafts powered 5 sets of stone grinding wheels. These old "workings" had long since disappeared by the time I was around. I don't know what ever happened to the old stone wheels, but for some reason I have always believed they were buried near the south end of the building. Unfortunately, all this information has been lost when my father, Arthur Ralph Allen, died suddenly in 1961. I have provided some pictures of the old dam being built in the 20s. I believe my father took these pictures. The pilings are being driven in by a steam pile driver. To this day you can still see some of the piling remains when the river is very low.
The feed business was stopped around 1954. Farms were disappearing at a fast rate. There was no incentive to be a farmer since the price of milk was less than $10.00 a hundred weight, no vacations, no pensions or health plans. A man's sons didn't stay on the farm to keep it going.
The Chenango Valley Mills changed, too. Farm machinery and building supplies were marketed. Eventually the farm machinery business was dropped around 1956 and just building supplies of all kinds were sold. The mill was sold to the Briggs Lumber Co. in 1963.”
The original mill building and its 1870’s addition was in a very poor state when the 2006 June flood hit. Kevin Hanrahan, the present owner of the property, contacted several companies to dismantle the mill. It was a dangerous proposition as the underpinnings were rotted. Heritage Restorations, based near Waco, Texas, agreed to disassemble it. Troy Dumont, the manager of the project, assured me that “it will surely be fully restored and reerected in its original form, not just cut up into boards as many companies do.” Look at their interesting web site, www.heritagebarns.com, then look at their inventory and you’ll see a photo of the mill.
Another interesting part of the mill is the dam and its effects on the river. Art Allen has a copy of a petition that was sent to the Village of Greene probably after the 1935 Flood, signed by over 100 village residents. Because the dam was no longer being maintained by CVM, they wanted the Village to buy it for $8000. Without the damming of the river, the sewage pipes were above the water line and created a very unpleasant situation. Without damming, the health authorities said that the river should not be used for sewage disposal.
I checked with the Village Clerk and she could find no mention of this petition in the past minutes so I’m certain that it was not acted on and the sewage continued to go into the river until the new sewer system was installed in 1970.
The dam, with its current, was involved in forming the infamous ice circle that occurred below it. I’m including a photo of the circle that was mentioned in a Ripley’s Believe it or Not article in 1942. It was a perfect circle of ice 140 feet in diameter that slowly revolved 24 hours a day for 10 weeks. And believe it or not, the Chenango river was mentioned in another Ripley’s article of 1971, when basketball-sized snowballs filled part of the river in front of the mill.
The old mill is gone and the mill business disappeared years ago. Yet it lives on in the name of Mill Street, the mill house, account books and wonderful photos. A chance remark of Roger’s seems to sum up the entrepreneurial spirit of the Allens who were the driving force of this business. While touring through the remaining outbuildings recently, he found a sign still on the wall, made by his brother, Ralph, when he was a boy and enamored with model airplanes. It reads “Planes made while you wait.” There is a commercial and romantic spirit still there ‘down by the old millstream’.