Deerville, My Home Town

31 Mar

Isabella Alden called Gloversville, New York her home town. And Gloversville, in turn, proudly published Isabella’s accomplishments in the local newspaper and ensured her books were prominently displayed in the town library.

Gloversville Library 1908

The Gloversville Free Library, 1908

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Gloversville is a small community nestled in the foot of the Adirondack Mountains. It was settled soon after the American Revolution in 1783. Originally, it was called Stump City because the early settlers felled so many of the surrounding hickory trees, leaving just their stumps behind. In those days, Stump City had about 100 residents and only 14 houses.

An undated postcard of Gloversville

An undated postcard of Gloversville

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But in the early 1800s a change took place. An enterprising citizen began a leather tannery, which quickly expanded to add a leather mitten manufacturing business. By 1830 there were about 100 people living in Stump City, most of them involved in the leather business. Residents began calling the place Gloversville, as a tribute to the merchandise that was proving to be very profitable for them.

A 1922 magazine ad for buckskin gloves made in Gloversville.

A 1922 magazine ad for buckskin gloves made in Gloversville.

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By 1857 the village of Gloversville had over 3,000 residents and was the leading supplier of gloves in the country. The village mills were responsible for 80% of the leather gloves sold and worn in the U.S. The village’s prosperity attracted more residents and new businesses.

Glove Illustration

Isaac Macdonald, Isabella’s father, earned his living as a supplier to the leather mills. He owned a paper box factory that sold the containers used by leather mills to ship their finished goods to stores and wholesalers across the country.

Entry from an 1870 county directory listing Isaac Macdonald's business

Entry from an 1870 county directory listing Isaac Macdonald’s business

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In the mid-1880s residents cast their ballots on the question of whether the thriving village should incorporate as a city. At the same time, a few residents began a campaign to change the name from Gloversville to Kingsborough.

1903 photo of Gloversville Fire Station No. 3

1903 photo of Gloversville Fire Station No. 3

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Kingsborough is a name that runs consistently through the community. There’s a Kingsborough church and tree-shaded Kingsborough Avenue, a pretty thoroughfare that spans the length of Gloversville.

Kingsborough Avenue, about 1905

Kingsborough Avenue, about 1905

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And the Kingsborough Hotel was a grand building that any town would be proud of. In fact, many residents thought the name Kingsborough would fit the town like, well, a glove.

Kingsborough Hotel as it appeared in 1913

Kingsborough Hotel as it appeared in 1913

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Isabella Alden had her own opinion about the name the newly-chartered city should adopt. Here’s an article she wrote for an 1888 local magazine that explained her recommendation:

A City Founded by a Deer

Now, I am going to tell you how this deer, or one that looked like it, founded a city. Of course, you’ll believe what I tell you because I was there and saw it done, having been born there.

Rome, you know, was founded by Romulus; that is to say, he was the “chief spoke in the wheel” when it began to be. Maybe there would never have been built so much as a hut, but for the wide-awake Romulus.

Some years ago, and 150 miles north of New York and about 50 miles west of Albany, there lived a few families in a placed called “Stump City.” It was wild and cold in the winter, almost as Greenland. I have often seen the snow there six feet deep!

Oh, the long and dreary winter! Most of the land was as poor as the snow was deep.

Now this was the very spot where our city was “builded together.” And it was done by the deer, as was said. And it was on this wise: one of those neighbors came home with a deer skin and another neighbor happened in at the time and they said, “What’s the use of a deer skin unless it is tanned and dressed?” So they dressed it after a fashion.

The next thing was to make mittens out of it. And they did that after a fashion, too.

But no sooner were the mittens made than everyone in the neighborhood wanted a pair.

So other skins were bought and they were soon turned into mittens and gloves and moccasins, after a better fashion. And distant neighbors heard of the wonderful wares for the hands and feet in the winter and they came miles to get them.

Then poor cold “Stump City” with its three or four families began to look up. Every man, woman and child went into the business. Even then they could not supply the demand.

Distant towns sent word. “We want some.” Then peddlers started out with horse and sleigh in mid-winter, often with a great load of the precious wares tied with buckskin strings in dozens, and all packed nicely in a big box, so neither snow nor thieves could harm them. Away they would dash, east, west, north, south.

A real city now occupies the place of “Stump City” and its name is Gloversville. It is one of the finest towns in all the great State of New York.

Go through the streets and you’ll be surprised to see how busy every man, woman and child still is. It’s one of the last places to go if you want to . . . rust.

There are machines and machines—often many in the same house, and from early morn till long after sunset they hum and buzz till you’d think everybody and the very air would go crazy. No one goes crazy, however; the hum has become sweetest music to Gloversvillians. It annually makes money for them to the tune of millions, and I am glad to say they pour thousands of it into the Lord’s treasury.

So much for what the deer did. The place should be called Deerville. Go and see it.

As entertaining as it was, Isabella’s story didn’t convince voters to change the town’s name to Deerville . . . but the people who pushed for naming it Kingsborough were disappointed, as well. The citizens voted to keep the name of Gloversville and Isabella’s home town continues to thrive to this day.

A busy intersection: West Fulton Street and Main Street, about 1900

A busy Gloversville intersection: West Fulton Street and Main Street, about 1900

 

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