Hides, Hemlocks and Adirondack History
Hides, Hemlocks and Adirondack History: How the Tanning Industry Influenced the Growth of This Region
By Barbara McMartin
This is the story of how the Adirondack forests lured capital investments from financial centers in Boston and New York; how roads were pushed deep into the forbidding wilderness; how huge tanneries were built in remote places and how whole towns sprang up around them; how how hides were shipped from ports in Central and South America to canal ports in Warrensburg or along the Erie Canal and how teamsters drove them great distances to reach the tanneries. It is the story of men who invested great sums of money in the wilds, only to find the profits they dreamed of were not there. Life in the wilds in the second half of the nineteenth century was difficult at best, fires plagued the tanneries, workers' wages were low, and the company store was the only source of amenities.
A few Adirondack residents joined the ranks of the entrepreneurs who brought the industry to the region, but they, as well as the leather brokers from New York and Boston, were at the mercy of an industry where profits were squeezed by the vagaries of the supplies of hides, wild swings in the price of leather, and interest on the huge sums required to build the tanneries and their support towns.
For years, hints of the existence of tanneries in remote places have only cloaked the industry further in mystery. Why did so many disappear so precipitously in the late 1880s and early 1890s? All the local histories report that the supply of bark was exhausted, that all the hemlocks had been cut. Barbara McMartin's careful research has dispelled that and other myths. She shows that much of the hemlock forests were left. She demonstrates that tanning was in many ways comparable to the fabled logging industry. By analyzing the economics of the industry, McMartin has ferreted out financial details of the tanners and shown how much the industry was affected by swings in the national economy and by improved transportation. With rich anecdotes from contemporary writings, she brings to life the lost history of the early days of the Adirondacks, infusing the ghostly ruins with a vivid story that dispells the mystery surrounding this all important era of Adirondack history.