Tannery Falls on “the Island”- Edwards

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A special thanks to the Edwards History & Genealogy center for their generous use of historic photos and a wealth of knowledge of the town of Edwards. The center is located at  222 Main Street Edwards.



Pictures and captions courtesy of the Edwards History & Genealogy Center .

gristmill-watermarked-pizap-com14863035500241— This is the part of town referred to as the “island” in Edwards. It was the first part to be settled around 1812, and was on the Russell turnpike .The Russell turnpike was built for use by the military to move troops and supplies between Sackets Harbor and Plattsburgh. The Oswegatchie river splits and makes the small island, with a gristmill on the side branch, and a sawmill on the main flow, both powered by water. A man by the name of Orra Shead built the gristmill and was completed in 1814. The mill changed hands several times throughout the years. In the early 1900’s, the present owner at that time, Urban Webb, installed a generator in an addition to the side of the mill. This became Edwards Electric Light and Power Company, and provided the first electricity to the town of Edwards.

A postcard picturing Tannery Falls

The gristmill was last used as a private residence, by Robert Weidner

The stone wall still stands straight.

until sometime in the early 80’s, when it burned. Weidner ran the Agway feed store across the river, on the “Brooklyn” side of town, until that burned as well.  There is still many pieces of the mills iron gears and such visible today, along with a massive stone wall. Below the back wall of the gristmill, are several gears & shafts that transferred the water power to the mill’s machinery. Of particular interest is the main gear has wooden teeth (they appear to be of hard maple) set in an iron hub.These are still visible, even after sitting on the bank of the river exposed to the elements since the 1980’s, when the building burned. These would be easily replaced without disassembling the unit. Also a blacksmith would not be needed to rebuild it.

Note the wooden teeth or cogs in the gear.
Mill pond full of logs.

The pond below the mill, was used as a mill pond, holding logs that were transported by floating them down the river. They would also be kept from drying out until they were ready to be sawed at the sawmill this way. The name “Tannery falls”, came from the leather tannery a short distance from the gristmill. This was built in 1864 by a company by the name of Gilbert & Carr. They ran the tannery for a few years, and then rented it to the Rice & Emory from Boston. By 1874 the tannery was closed for good. They also bought raw hides and furs from the local hunters and trappers .Tanning hides was an essential industry for a community in those days, with leather being used in many applications, such as harnesses for horses & wagons, shoes, clothing and belting to run machinery. Hemlock bark was used extensively for this, because of it’s high tannin content. Logging hemlock for it’s bark was an important industry to the area, and was instrumental in the settling of many communities.  .Also on the upstream side of the island, was an ice-house ran by Newt McCollum. Ice was cut from the river in winter in the waters above the dam. It was then stored inside the ice-house by covering the ice with sawdust from the local sawmill. Not much was wasted in those days.Beside ice being used in the home’s iceboxes, it was crucial for the farmers to keep milk cold. Much of the local milk went to the local cheese factories of the time. There were many other businesses and mills nearby, but today I’m focusing on the Island.

The Andrew Negus sawmill on the island. It was later ran by Edsun Maybee. Photo courtesy of Edwards History and Genealogy center.

The Island was connected to the mainland by bridges.  The wooden  one from the village side was replaced with an iron bridge (with wooden decking) in 1914. In 1997 the bridge was removed, now only a footbridge remains.


The bridge from the Brooklyn side was also a wooden decked affair.This lasted until 1963, when a dump truck driver followed some wrong directions and collapsed the bridge.It was replaced by a pair of pipes that are still in use today.

Photo courtesy of the Edwards History & Genealogy Center
Bridge to the Island from the Brooklyn side.

The pond has always been a favorite fishing spot, even in the winter. I hiked to the site in winter, walking on the ice, and there were several holes bored out for ice fishing. There are only few buildings, and two homes left on the island today. Not much to see anymore, but these few artifacts still stand as a reminder of days past.


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. For more information on the area, see the link below


About the Author

  I  am a life-long resident of the north country, calling Edwards my home.I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and for local history.  I recently started this site to share places that have been  part of  our local history and heritage. I hope you get a chance to hike some of these trails for yourself, and reflect on the rich history of those that walked here before you. And if not, sit back and experience  these from where ever you are right now.  Either way, enjoy!
The author William Hill



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