The Glass Factories of Cleveland and Bernhards Bay, New York

Webmaster’s Note: 

The following essay was written by Andrew Henry on May 5th, 1978.  The original document found in the CHS archives did not include the citations page that originally accompanied Andrew’s paper.  However, I have kept his original citations within the text for reference. 

The original document included several hand-penciled corrections.  If these corrections were that of the author or another individual are unknown, but they have been applied to this version.  A few of the larger paragraphs have also been split to better accommodate blog formatting.  Otherwise, the text itself remains unaltered from the original.  

— gmsc

The three glass factories in the pre-Civil war era were quite an achievement for the small township on Oneida Lake.  It should be safe to say that no other conglomerate of small villages totaling under 2,000 inhabitants at this time had three such competing industries in the state or possibly even in the country.  Most other town would not have been fortunate enough to have the natural resources that the town of Constantia had.  Those that did would not necessarily be able to support three factories, let alone two or even one, if the consideration of size is taken into account.  The people who ran the factories must be given much of the credit.  If not for their ingenuity and persistence, the factories would not have continued for as long as they did.  Their managements changed hands many times, but it was their founders who headed them in a direction of true success.  That is why, for instance, the Landgraff factory lasted the longest; because of Landgraff himself and also the keen business mind of Crawford Getman.  The ways in which all of the glassworks were managed may not have been unique or fantastic, but they survived the hardships and enjoyed the rewards of the industry.  They may not have been one step above or one step below, but they were able to weather their profession more than satisfactorily.

The glass industries have survived antiquity, and in the little village of Cleveland, New York, this conclusion was proven true.  Started in 1841 by a German named Anthony Landgraff, the glass factories in Cleveland outlasted many another industry that also started in that same antebellum period.  The original factory of Landgraff’s was the start of a thriving industry that lasted until the early twentieth century.  It supported the community and the community supported it.  Glass manufacture and glass blowing came close to, if they were not, an art.  Each rural factory such as Cleveland left its mark in the area and in a sense was unique for the individual style that was special to its area.

The glass industry of Cleveland was ideal because of its natural sand deposits, its forests, and its location on Oneida Lake; those allowed high quality production at low costs of manufacture and transportation.  The era in which Cleveland’s glass industry began was one of expanding industrialization, which allowed small villages to grow and proliferate (although many villages eventually succumbed to the larger cities).  Waterways were natural in upstate New York; it teamed with lakes, rivers and streams.  This allowed small rural villages like Cleveland to grow in the early part of the century.  Before the canals and railroads, the natural waterways were the only type of economical bulk transportation.  When the canals and railroads came through, they only bolstered the industries more.

As well as being gifted with the natural resources, Cleveland also benefited from the caliber of businessmen that were attracted to the area.  Anthony Landgraff, himself a pioneer of sorts, began the glass industry and left his own personal mark of quality with his factory.  The excellent quality of sand and the abundance of hemlock wood for fuel allowed him to continue a thriving business, better than that which he left at Vernon, southeast of the lake.  His knowledge and innovative thinking allowed others to continue long after he retired.  If not for his far-thinking ingenuity, the factories might not have lasted as long as they did.  Landgraff would not receive his notoriety until sometime later.  The others who followed his deserve some credit, such as Crawford Getman, a businessman who at one point ran his own factory and the Union factory at the same time.1 He and the men who ran the Union factory and the Empire factory in Bernhards Bay left a process of that period of history that will never be seen again.  The glass industry was still personal then, with blowers doing much work that they would not have to do in a modern factory: such as carrying and pouring glass, and it cutting it themselves.  This age is forever gone, but not forgotten.  It is our intention to once again look back to see if some that era can be recaptured in this much later, ultra-modern, industrialized age.

In the late 1830’s, the era’s transportation boom had not peaked.  The Erie Canal was the best means of transporting freight and the railroads would eventually surpass the canals.  The transportation revolution that the country was undergoing helped greatly the industrial revolution, and vice versa.  Because of the railroads and canals, small towns were able to be very industrious and maintain a high production rate that would have been impossible thirty years earlier.  The town of Constantia was fortunate to be located on Oneida Lake and to be close to both the Erie and Oswego Canals (and near rails which were soon to be laid).

Because of the factors, Cleveland became the most industrious village in the town of Constantia.  With the ideal location on the lake, timber, good soil and distance from Oswego.  This drew the attention of many people; some came as workers and some as industrialists.  One of these early industrialists was German-born Anthony Landgraff.  He came to America in 1812, probably to seek new fame and fortune that was unavailable in Germany.  His trade was glass manufacture, and he began to manufacture glass in the town of Vernon in Oneida County in 1814.  Wood became scarce there, a necessity as fuel, and he was forced to start anew.2 He moved to Cleveland and started the glass industry in the village.  By virtue of its position on Oneida Lake, the great quantities of water, sand and hemlock, wood which was excellent high-heat fuel, Cleveland was natural for glass manufacture.  Unbeknownst to Landgraff, his sources of sand were not depleted in Vernon, as he had previously thought.3 He did not find out until after he had moved his factory to Cleveland.  He at first boated his sand from Verona.  Landgraff must have discovered deposits there and assumed because of the relatively short distance from Verona to Cleveland that it would be simpler just to transport his sand instead of going through the time-consuming process looking for sand in the immediate area.  However he did discover a better quality sand, exactly where his factory was in 1841.

It was, in fact, far better sand than he would find elsewhere.4 It led to the finding of other sandbeds in different parts of the town and would lead to an industry that would last for over fifty years.  Even the sand itself, being of such good quality, was shipped to other parts of the country including Canada.  The quality of sand was so good and well known, it was used in the making of the huge 200 inch reflector lens for the Mt. Palomar Observatory in California.  The Corning Glass Works at Corning, New York was responsible for this awesome accomplishment of technology.5 It is awesome when views the first lens that became flawed in the cooling process and is now on display in the Corning Museum.

Much of New York State land was owned by wealthy land speculators.  These land barons used the lands basically in either of two ways.  One way was to sell their lands in huge tracts to make a quick profit and sometimes exploit it quickly also.  Another way was to use the land in a more constructive process:  opening it up to settlers and frontiersmen, thus exploiting it in a more beneficial way while still making a profit.  Many of the huge land owners were well-to-do Dutch businessmen.  One of these owners was George Scriba.6 He has been mistaken for a Dutchman, but in reality Germany was his native area; his name is Dutch sounding and his land was amongst those tracts which were owned by Dutchmen, hence the mistake.  In fact, he did purchase the land from two Dutchmen, John and Nicholas Roosevelt.  The Roosevelt’s had a contract with the Land Commission of New York State for a tract of land in Oswego and Oneida Counties.  When they failed in the contract to fulfill its obligations, Scriba purchased the land.  “The Roosevelt Purchase,” as it was known, contained approximately 540,000 acres of land.  It should be said that he got the land very cheaply by today’s standards.  One of the conditions of the contract Scriba had to fulfill was to have on family settle on every 640 acres within seven years of the purchase, or the agreement would be declared void.  He was able to fulfill the stipulation, and ever since the land has been known as Scriba’s Patent.  This was all confirmed on December 12, 1798.7 Thus a new territory was opened up for settlers, a vast new wilderness open to constructive exploitation.

At first Oswego County was under one large township.  It was known as Mexico and was eventually broken down into smaller townships.  On April 8, 1808, the town of Constantia (formerly Rotterdam) along with Hastings and West Monroe, was set off from Mexico.8 Constantia is the town which was to become very industrious in the early and middle nineteenth century.  It is situated on Oneida Lake, and it too was to be broken into three villages.  The first is Constantia itself; progressing east approximately three miles in Bernhards Bay; and going another three miles in the village of Cleveland, situated on and partially reaching into Oneida County.  All of the villages are located on the lake shore, to take advantage of commerce and trade.  The village that became the most important in the township for many years was Cleveland.  It eventually became the biggest of the three villages in population and industry.

The first settler within the village limits was Christopher Martin, who settled in February of 1821.  Cleveland slowly grew.  In 1826 James Cleveland arrived, who was later honored when the town was named for him, along with Peter Smith from Peterboro, Connecticut.9 That same year Cleveland and Samuel H. Stevens built the first hotel and opened the first store.  When in 1827, a post office was put into operation, Mr. Stevens wanted it named Stevensville.  A comprise was made and through popular vote, the post office was designated Cleveland.  Thus both the post office and town received their names which they carry to this day.

By the time of the Civil War, there were three glass factories in Cleveland.  The first was Anthony Landgraff’s factory.  The second and third factories were organized approximately in the year 1851-1852.  Cleveland’s second factory was the Union Glass Company.  It was located on the corner of Katherine and North streets and was initially organized in the winter of 1851.  The third factory, not in Cleveland, was located in Bernhards Bay, three miles to the west on the shore of Oneida Lake.  There was actually a fourth plant built after the Civil War in Cleveland by Crawford Getman after he had taken over the Landgraff factory.  The old Cleveland Glass Works most likely was obsolete and he built a much larger and more modern plant on Sand Street, a short distance to the west.  All of these factories will be written of in more detail later.  By this time “there were 34 sawmills, 2 flour mills, 3 glass factories, 2 tanneries, an iron foundry, and other establishments in town.”10 of the whole town of Constantia, most of the industry was in Cleveland.

Almost from the beginning, America had a glass factory.  In 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia a glass factory of sorts was begun.  It apparently was not successful for in 1608 its parent London company sent a second group of glass makers and blowers.  The details on how long it lasted are sketchy and uncertain.  The factory was set up because England needed a glass industry, not because America did.  The workers setup a primitive furnace about a mile from the settlement.”11

The first glass factory in New York State after the revolution organized in Sandlake, approximately eight miles from Albany, 1786 or 1787.12 By a strange quirk of fate, a man who was a friend of George Scriba became a friend of the founders and eventually became a stockholder in the company.  The man was Elkanah Watson and his name was to appear many times in the Scriba records.  The son of Watson wrote of his father when he first visited the factory in 1788.  The founder was John de Neufrille, a Dutch patriot who gave much of his money to the American cause during the revolution.  Funds that were left from his estate went into the construction of the glass factory.  Because of his lack of money, the life of the factory had its ups and downs.  Eventually the factory incorporated, by act of the Legislature in 1806.  It became known as Rensselaer Glass Factory.  It is interesting to note that since glass blowers were scarce in the early days of the United States, they had to come from someplace else.  The stockholders, presumably, thought of a scheme to procure glassblowers that they needed by sending their Scotch superintendent over to Scotland.  He wandered around a prominent glass-making district, playing bagpipes, wearing a patch over his eye, disguised to entice the men to come to America to the Van Rennselaer factory.  It must have been a large risk, for it was a major offense for glass blowers to leave Scotland.13 Thus, a good portion of the blowers were Scotch but there were also many German blowers too.

This same company built a factory in Durhamville in Oneida County in 1845.  It was still producing in 1878 under different ownership.  Four miles to the south another factory had earlier been established in 1802 at a town named Dunbarton.  It remained until 1890.  Oneida County is where Anthony Landgraff originally started in 1812.  In 1878 the Dunbarton plant was in the co-ownership of George Cowarden, the son-in-law of Anthony Landgraff.14

Glass making is an ancient process that dates back perhaps 4,000 years and probably more.  The actual making of glass itself is “The transmutation by fire, of solid opaque granules of sand and alkali into a liquid state and back again into a brittle transparent sold (glass beads made about 2,000 B.C. were found at Thebes and Egyptian glass may have antedated that).”15

By the second and third centuries household goods were becoming commonly used and houses were also using glass panes in their windows.  Glass has many properties, so many that the ancients only discovered a few.  They were mainly concerned with ornamentation and perhaps more practical applications that only royalty could have afforded.  By the nineteenth century, almost everyone in America had an application of glass in some fashion, from simple window panes to expensive crystal chandeliers.

When the blowpipe was invented and finally capitalized (in approximately the first century B.C.), the properties of glass, in particular its elasticity, were then fully realized; this allowed for the greatest particle and artistic applications of use.  Because of the blowpipe, each period of time and each location had its own unique methods of production, as well as individuals themselves.

Much differentiation in style came as a result of the fall of the Roman Empire.  In some areas this led to a virtual monopoly of glassblowers, each hording their own techniques of blowing and manufacturing processes.  However, eventually some countries were able to gain the use of glassblowers of other countries.  One of two styles that became prevalent in America was German.  This was due, no doubt, to a large influx of German immigrants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Anthony Landgraff was one of these immigrants in 1812.

Landgraff was the pioneer of the industry in the area, and in order to be successful, he had to make his own materials and innovations.  He even went so far as to make his own pots and furnaces.  His innovations sometimes were too advanced for the mode of thinking in those times and he was sometimes scoffed at, but as time went on his ideas gained gradual acceptance.  He apparently was an enterprising man, not just in his own business, but in other fields as well.  Landgraff’s bold ideas and advanced improvements may have been out of the scope of some people’s thoughts, but his work bears him out as a pronounced thinker after all.  He continued to operate the factory with his four sons, Francis, Harmon, Gustavus and Charles, and also his son-in-law George Cowarden, until 1861.16 Then it passed into the ownership of William Sanders and in 1863 to J. Caswell and Crawford Getman.

Because Anthony Landgraff was the pioneer glass maker in the area, he and his family probably had to endure more than the usual hardships, as well as enjoy the rewards, of their work.  The glass factory was built in the woods, almost completely enclosed by trees.  The fuel for the most part was hemlock wood used melting and flattening the glass; it was “cut fine, about three feet in length and dried in brick ovens, and the first wood cut for this purpose was piled against the drying house by the choppers, so nearby was the forest.”17 Hemlock is known to give off high heat and at the time of Landgraff it is safe to say that it grew in great abundance, evident in the fact that the choppers were able to pile it against a drying house that was “so nearby the forest.”  The buildings were apparently large enough, perhaps oversized is the way in which they are described; it may be due to the size of the furnace, which was only 6’x8’ on the inside.  The melting pots were also small.  A single “blower” carried and placed them in a tempering oven before the main furnace.  The melting pot’s capacity was around 300 feet of glass, but because of their age and other factors, the pots actually held only 150 feet of glass.  The cylinders of glass that were flattened out for window glass or other uses were also small, from 12’x18’ to 22’x28’.18 These were to be greatly dwarfed in the years to come.  Many of the processes in the early factory were done by the blower himself; he would have to gather, blow, flatten, and sometimes cut his own glass.  This put in a long day for the glassworker.  It must surely have been hot and tiring, putting great fatigue on a person working near such high heat of hours on end.  The pay of a blower, in spite of the type of labor he did, was considered to be good, averaging more “than a dollar a box.”19 The factory probably had considerably less employees in the early days.  It grew to a much more industrialized business when J. Caswell and Crawford Getman assumed the management of the plant in 1863.

Today, only Robert Landgraff, the last of the Landgraffs, survives.  He lives in a house on Clay Street not too far from where his great-great grandfather’s factory was located.  His father worked in the factory and Mr. Landgraff reminisces: “He wore his teeth into a circle from hanging on the wooden bit of the iron blowing rod.”  It certainly mush have been excruciatingly fatiguing work, blowing glass in such a manner.  Mr. Landgraff relates that glass making was not a summer job because of the high heat, so it was done between September and May.  He tells the finished sheet was shipped out on the canals from the “Landgraff dock behind the restaurant on Lake Street (now Route 49) and then through the canal to Sylvan Beach.”  Mr. Landgraff remembers when “There were seven saloons, a candle factory, a thermometer factory; they used to make coal over there the Catholic Church is now.”  There is very little to remind people of old manufacturing days now.  Only left over chucks of slag glass and a few bottles buried here there.  “That stuff had no market value at the time, but they (antique glass collectors) will give anything for them now,” Mr. Landgraff said.  He finished by saying glass making “is a little bit of a lost art” and complementing the village by saying; “it’s a good old town.  I’ve lived here for years and I’ll die it.”20

One of Anthony Landgraff’s sons, Harmon, has been mentioned as a skillful blower and is given credit for a number of “offhand” pieces which are granted a good deal of importance.  Found in houses in the Cleveland area, these pieces are thought to be authentic products from the Landgraff factory.  The authenticated pieces include,, “wash-bowls and pitchers, smaller bowls and pitchers, milk pans, bottles, rolling pins, bats, witch balls and so on.”  They were seen as “blown from light green or aquamarine window glass and the bowls and pitchers of all sizes are characterized by the sturdiness of form and breadth of body and neck.  The only decorative technique we have encountered is the threading of the necks of pitchers.”21

This dissertation and other passages seem to show a poor or simple technique of dish making.  The author uses the word “crude” a great deal, perhaps he means only style and not function without really trying to downgrade the Landgraff’s work.  We should emphasize also that the primary function of Landgraff’s factory was making window glass, and not making highly ornate decorative glassware.  If a bowl or glass was “crude” looking, it was because it served a very practical purpose for the most part.  When Anthony Landgraff first began his glassworks, his local customers were more than likely of an intermediate or low income which did not allow them to purchase elaborate pieces of glass.  And since Landgraff was serving a practical purpose it was not necessary to be an elaborate artist.  In that industry in that particular era, one did not think of the artistic function of one’s work.  It certainly would have been an asset to have a skill beyond the average glassblower and naturally would give one notoriety, but Landgraff, his sons and his workers did not possess great artistic skills.  They probably offered no regrets.

Because of the natural sand deposits, other people besides Anthony Landgraff took interest in Cleveland for glass manufacture.  A factory was established about a mile and a half from the already-established Landgraff plant on the corner of North and Kathern streets to the northeast.  The Union Glass Company was organized in the spring of 1851 and began manufacturing glass in the spring of 1852.22 The first supervisor was Charles Hoyt, an agent of the company.  It was built not far from a stream and close to a sand bed, although it later flooded a section of land nearby to meet its water needs.  The union plant also made window glass, that seeming to be the best market and more than likely being the easiest to produce.

In 1853, Charles Kathern, who was one of the early residents which the street was named after, assumed management.  Kathern, with William H. Foster and Forris Farmer, also ran a store at this time.  The factory operated under their ownership for twenty years.  The factory lay dormant for several years and after a number of changes, then it too was sold to Crawford Getman and he successfully operated them both until 1899, when he sold the two plants to the United Glass Company.

The third glass factory in the town of Constantia was erected in Bernhards Bay, about three miles from the Landgraff factory.  It was begun in 1851 along with a store.  The factory also commenced operations in 1852 with “an outfit of eight pots.”  The factory was started by Israel J. Titus, Dennis and Henry Winn and others in a joint stock operation.23 They were able to take advantage, as the others did, of the fine quality sand around the lake area.  Bernhards Bay was the smallest village of the town and like the other two main villages, is located on the lake.  The Bay factory unlike the other factories was located on the shore of the lake and used its water directly from it.  Since being on the lakeshore, in later years, it would not be very far from the railroad, making for great convenience in getting the glass to market.

When the Getman factory closed, it ended an era, an era that had long since ended for other industries.  Because of the foresight of its founder and the insight of its predecessors, the Getman factory in particular outlasted its companion industries by some years.  If not for the competitive innovations of Anthony Landgraff and the business zeal of J. Caswell, Crawford Getman and James Gallagher, the glass industry would not have gone as far as it did.  If we have to single out one man though, he could only naturally be Anthony Landgraff.  He was the founder, the pioneer and innovator.  It was his planning and a stroke of good luck that pointed him to Cleveland.  He was lucky, because he understood the amount of sand and wood that he had at Verona, and then had the fortune of finding wood and sand in better abundance and quality in Cleveland.  If Landgraff was to continue to keep importing his sand from Verona in the fashion he started out with in the first year of manufacture, then there might have been a possibility that his industry would not have continued as far as it did.  Expenses might have risen with the cost of sand transportation along with various other costs.  Plus the fact that the quality of sand was not as good as that of Oneida Lake.  He was virtually blessed by accidently building his factory on sand beds as fine as they were.  If the factory had been able to convert to natural gas by the turn of the century, it could have continued but it could or would not.  The glassmaking era of several thousand years came to an end in Cleveland, New York.  The small fledgling factory days of Anthony Landgraff were gone.  The pre-Civil War and early industrial years were the start of a new era.  New processes and larger factories were on their way.  Perhaps Landgraff came too late with a too advanced mind that did not encompass enough even in his advancement.  But it is a tribute to a person that such and industry lasted so long.  Most factories did not last as long as the Getman plant, in spite of new advancements in technology.  Many delays came about, resulting in halts of production, either in the factory itself, supplies or payroll.  The Getman factory was able to endure; it was fortunate, more than likely, because the Landgraff factory endured.

One should not believe that the small village of Cleveland was the only village of its size that had a reputation for industry in this area or time period.  The whole of Oswego County was very industry-oriented because it’s enormous natural resources, as well as other surrounding counties.  But still, for its size and its industry, the whole town of Constantia was kind of unique.  Undoubtedly many small town and villages because of their locations and resources could have become what Cleveland was, but for one reason or another did not.  Even for what fame it may have received for its glass industry, its sand, the wood, the lake and the town never did live up to what George Scriba expected it to be.  Scriba wanted a town such as Rome or Utica, located to the east of Cleveland; it was to be in his day a bustling city, a lake port where goods and people could stop on their way to the western frontiers.  The town did not live up to his large dream, but perhaps it would satisfy him to know that his town in the wilderness would leave its own place in history, small as it may have been.  The villages truly began to develop in the antebellum period after Scriba’s day in which he could not fore see their development.  He may have been proud nevertheless.  And so a chapter is closed in history as soon as the last factory closed for the last time, never to return.

— eof —

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