History: The original lead mill at Glenerie


The falls at Glenerie are familiar to drivers on route 9W — on the right heading south leaving Saugerties. What is little known is that the industrial ruins of early mills, gone for more than a century now, seen between the road and the falls there, are the site of Glenerie, not where the present road marker is a mile back toward Saugerties.

In 1836 a description of Glenerie was published by James Eights, a physician-turned-naturalist associated with the founders of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Eights describes a suspension bridge at Glenerie, one of only two in America at the time. An entry in a surveyor’s field book dated April 20, 1833 in the collection of Dan Lamb lays out a public road from the Glasco Turnpike’s bridge running along the west embankment of the Esopus, and uses landmarks of a mansion house and mill buildings at the falls.

Two years ago Audrey transcribed the file copies of letters kept in a record book of the business correspondence of the Great Falls Manufacturing Company. A sketched map included in one of these letters to Manhattan Life Insurance Company for the policy on an entire community and industrial complex at Glenerie sparked our discussions for a few months after that. They focused not just on who the writers were and what the Great Falls Manufacturing Company was, but also on why the events they brought to light were so utterly missing from the pages of our history.


The letters were penned between December of 1835 and March of 1840. Two of the signers, John Kiersted Jr. and Judson Calkin, were in the 1881 History of Ulster County; Kiersted with a full biography and Calkin as a postmaster of Malden. The main writer, though, is a person only briefly mentioned in our history, and so we dug deeper.

As it turns out this main writer, Col. Edward Clark, was the principal of this business. He followed Henry Barclay to Saugerties. Both Edward Clark and Henry Barclay were in their 50s at this time.

Barclay was the developer of a water power infrastructure and this attracted Clark, who wanted to build a manufacturing business. His product was oil paint. Clark’s innovation in business was the delivery of packaged paint with the pigment already ground into the oil; our paint in a can of today. Before Clark, white lead base and color tint powders were bought from a chemical supplier and the painter ground them together into oil fresh for each job.

Clark was born in Sturbridge, MA and spent his early career in Philadelphia. He was well recognized as an inventor, mainly for engineering unique dry dock installations for the government during the War of 1812. He is documented giving presentations on inland navigation and lock technologies before Congress in the 1820s. Clark first developed the process he patented for making the white lead of a quality needed for his paint at a converted whale oil processing mill that used the water power of Barclay’s dam. By 1832, though, he had left a relationship his young partner Charles Ripley made with John Jewett, a New York chemical products dealer, and had purchased all the land west of where West Bridge St. runs now, along with all the rights to flood the Esopus gorge (upstream of Henry Barclay’s pond) from the bend up to Glenerie. He intended to build a dam at the bend and his mill on this land, but the falls at Glenerie proved capable of supplying power without needing a dam. He had already built his mills and his mansion house there when the first entries in the letter book were written.

Col. Edward Clark’s Great Falls Manufacturing Company took on investors. Young John Kiersted Jr.’s position there represented his father’s investment and Judson Calkin, who was clerk for Asa Bigelow, likely represented his investment. Barclay’s was a family business so it appears many of the landed merchants, like Kiersted and Bigelow, found Clark agreeable to their profits being used in his company’s operations.

This is where the letters get quite instructive. Investment was a good opportunity to exchange credits and notes for shares that actually had a chance to increase in value during the volatile economic times. America experienced its first great depression from 1837 to 1841. As in the sub-prime bubble burst of 2008, The Bank of the United States was favoring land speculators. As a result, Andrew Jackson removed its control of the currency and put Washington’s deposits in regional banks. When these banks began overproducing their own currency, confidence in the economy was shaken. It was during these uncertain times when there was no set value for currency that Saugerties was industrializing.

The details of economic, transportation, communications and legal problems over the period of the entries in this book, up to March 1840, are a treasure of firsthand experience. From these letters we see he had problems with unscrupulous toll collectors at Henry Barclay’s bridge. When his lead shipment went to Barclay’s warehouse at the village docks, instead of to Glasco, the shipment was thrown overboard. His mail was wrongly delivered to the village and then postage is added to forward it to his actual address at Glasco. The vinegar that was promised never is delivered and his production of white lead has to be halted. Trips must be made to the patent office in Washington to keep Jewett from nullifying his patents. And nearly every week, a trip to the city was needed to sort out why shipments weren’t getting from the dock to the dealer.

The Great Falls Manufacturing Company of Glenerie in Saugerties with its pioneering product innovation and perseverance during the hardest of economic times had a brief life. Clark walked away, leaving everything to his company’s investors, who declared failure in 1841. He set up residence in his townhouse in Brooklyn and died on June 8, 1848.

But the manufacturing at Glenerie continued without missing a beat. Notices immediately were published in trade journals that the quality of the product was being maintained by the new proprietors, the chemical supplier Battelle and Renwick. White lead continued to be manufactured by them in Glenerie for the remainder of the 19th century under the Ulster White Lead Company, providing livelihoods for more than 100 families in a lively community that once thrived there.

Now there is nothing but the beauty of the Glenerie Falls. But when you pass this setting, you may want to ponder the innovation and perseverance that it also represents.