July 18 – Happy Birthday William Kimball Greene

GreeneMansion
The Greene Family Mansion, which still stands on Amsterdam’s Market Street.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was quite likely Amsterdam’s most significant industrial visionary. Born on July 18, 1816, Greene started his upstate New York manufacturing career in 1840 when he became partners in a Hagaman-based firm called Waite, Greene & Company, which manufactured satinet. Satinet is a finely woven fabric with a finish that resembles satin, but is made entirely with cotton or wool.

Two years later, Greene left that firm to create a new one a few miles south, in Amsterdam. What attracted Kimball to this area in the first place was water, specifically the 300 foot drop the Chuctanunda Creek makes beginning three miles north of the Mohawk River it empties into. Greene was one of the first to recognize that capturing the energy of that moving water could create enough power to propel huge industrial processes.

So in 1842, Greene built the very first carpet mill in Amsterdam and ran it alone for a few years before taking on a partner whose name was John Sanford. That mill was located at the foot of Market Hill on the land that today serves as the location for the Kirk Douglas Memorial Park. The business soon outgrew the site and moved to a new location and by 1853 Sanford’s son Stephen was effectively running the company and Greene decided to leave the firm and get back into knitting. He returned to the site at the foot of Market Hill and there in 1856, with a partner named John McDonnell established the Greene & McDonnell Knitting Co. Over the course of the next decade, fueled in large part by government orders during the Civil War, the company grew into one of the leading knitting firms in the country, operating two shifts, six days a week with 200 employees producing up to 300 dozen shirts and undergarments daily.

To accommodate that growth, Kimball expanded his factory northward with a series of four- and five-story red brick additions that would eventually end up extending the facility almost five hundred feet up the eastern side of Market Street, along the Chuctanunda Creek. The creek augmented by the 31-foot high “Greene Dam”, provided all the water-power necessary to drive the factory’s growing inventory of steam powered carding and spinning machines. McDonnell left the company in 1868 and Kimball brought his two young sons, Elijah P. and Henry E. into the business and renamed it the W.K. Greene & Son’s Knitting Company.

Like many of Amsterdam’s 19thcentury industrial barons, Greene chose to live close to the office. He built a handsome Italianate-styled brick mansion as his private residence on a plot located just above his mill on the east side of Market, where it use to intersect Shuler Street. By 1870, with the knitting plant operating at full throttle, Greene decided the time was right for a vacation and he and his wife sailed for Europe. He returned in a coffin, stricken by a fatal heart attack while in Rome, Italy.

His sons Elijah, who was just 25 years old at the time and Henry, who was just 21 took over control of the company upon his death. It was most likely their young ages that led to the decision to also make their Dad’s longtime bookkeeper, John Keys Warnick a partner in the business. Elijah Greene loved to travel, collect art and study nature. He had also married the daughter of Philo Remington, the founder of the central New York State companies that made Remington rifles and typewriters.

Since he was hardly ever in Amsterdam, Elijah’s death in 1876 had little impact on the knitting mill’s operation because it had been his younger brother Henry and Warnick who served as the hands-on managers of the business. During the decade following William Greene’s death, the duo had doubled both the production capacity and employment of the mill. Henry Greene also began the construction of a grand new personal residence for himself and his family, on a plot of land located directly across the street from the factory on the west side of Market Street

Henry never got the opportunity to live in his new mansion. He died just a few months before it was completed in 1881, at the very young age of 32. His passing left John Warnick in charge of the knitting company. A subsequent series of US economic recessions brought the business to its knees and it was shuttered in 1903. The Greene buildings received a reprieve two years later when they were purchased by John K. Stewart & Sons, who’s own knitting factories were located on the opposite side of the Chuctanunda, directly across from the Market Street mills. By the mid 1920s however, the enlarged concern had also gone out of business and the Greene mills were mostly abandoned with one notable exception. The original building at the foot of Market Hill became the first location of Amsterdam’s J.B. Auto Car Dealership. In 1941, WPA funding was secured to purchase the Greene properties from the estate, demolish them and build a municipal parking lot. At the same time, the Greene family donated the land on which the original Greene mansion stood to the city and it was turned into a small park. The arterial construction of the mid 1960s pretty much eradicated the east side of Market Street. The stylish red mansion at 92 Market Street Henry had built in 1881 still stands and now serves as a group residence for folks with special needs. Three side streets envelop the home. The names of those thoroughfares are William, Kimball and Greene Streets.

William Kimball Greene was not the only member of a prominent Amsterdam family involved in the knitting industry to be born on July 18th. There is this guy too.

 

2 thoughts on “July 18 – Happy Birthday William Kimball Greene

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