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1890~ A Start Worth Having

The original article was collected from the Cattaraugus Republican Newspaper (Date unknown. The photos were not part of the original article).

The Cattaraugus Cutlery Company’s annual stockholders meeting was held on Jan 6 with J.B.F. Champlin, President and Tint Champlin, Treasurer. A.T. Fancher resigned his position as Trustee and Will Sprague was elected in his place. George W. Korn, Buyer for the company, agreed to purchase Fancher’s stock. Since Korn had been spending 6 months each year in Germany purchasing all the imported goods for the company, this was viewed favorably. A review of the financial records indicated that the company was in a “prosperous condition” and would have 10 traveling salesman this year.


Opera House Photo courtesy Kevin Reiman

Champlin Opera House circa 1891 


Two of these salesmen, E.E. Kelley and Emory Shannon returned to the road to sell cutlery on January 12th having spent a month at home for the Holidays. Tint Champlin set out with a “set of grips” for Buffalo a week later to sell to a gentleman setting up a hardware store. Cutlery salesmen were often called “Knights of the grips” because of the large and very heavy rolls of knives that were carried by a sturdy handle.

Other salesmen included: Bert Kelley, W.F. Bushnell, and James Barnard. A few weeks later, Tint purchased a mahogany No. 9 Bradbury piano for his wife. He said that Mrs. Benjamin Harrison (The First Lady) has one like this and if it was good enough for her then it was good enough for him. Tint made a trip to New York City in March and returned with a water-powered motor to be installed in the Opera House to finish razors and begin manufacturing butcher knives. In June, the business continued to be successful and most of the officers took some time off. J.B.F and Tint installed fountains in their lawns and added much to the already pleasant grounds. JBF and his wife then spent some time at their cottage on Cassadaga Lake.

On July 15, JBF Champlin returned from Beaver Falls, PA where a week earlier he had purchased the Beaver Falls cutlery factory (equipment) and would ship it to Little Valley. The matter of planning a reliable system of water power became an immediate topic – with proposals to add new springs and enlarge the existing reservoir.

JBF held a meeting in the Opera House on then evening of July 23 and gave a complete summary of what he had bought and the detailed plans for the factory. Since the results of the initial tests of the existing water works were not good, the plan was modified to construct a large reservoir 235 feet above Main St on the property owned by G. L. Mosher. The reservoir was to be twenty rods long, 24 feet wide and 12 feet deep. JBF explained that a factory would be built on Mill Street that would be 30 X 80 feet, 15 feet between joints, and made of wood and iron. A blacksmith shop would also be built nearby. JBF committed to having the new construction completed and operational by April 15, 1891 with at least thirty employees. The people of Little Valley pledged their support with subscriptions to the cutlery company totaling over $3000. With this assurance, a dispatch was sent to Salamanca ordering the first 3 rail cars full of machinery which were unloaded the next week.

There appears to be little doubt that the Cattaraugus Cutlery factory would be located in Little Valley, however several nearby towns expressed interest in the endeavor – including proposals by East Randolph and Cattaraugus. The town of Cattaraugus (which already had an axe factory) became more aggressive in trying to convince JBF to locate the factory in that town. This had the effect of sparking a number a small feuds and even included threats of violence between the jack-knife carrying Little Valleyians against the axe-wielding Cattaraugusians.

The next day, July 24th, the cutlery company purchased the lot just above the Little Valley Creek on Mill Street (the right hand side going up the hill) from Mary Mack for $400. Work on the reservoir immediately commenced with the survey completed by C.G. Locke. Del Darrow broke the first ground for the construction of the factory. A week later their were trenches for the foundation, the grading was complete, and a new street, (Champlin Avenue) was being laid through the property. Charles Ansell Jr. Was contracted to be the head carpenter in building the factory. Work on the reservoir was steadily underway under the supervision of E.P. Watkins. Hercules blasting powder was used once in the morning, once at noon, and once at night when the crew was not working. Just after noon on one day in mid-August, Bert Mackey was enjoying his lunch when a Hercules blast was set off. A rock hit and went through the lunch pail that was being held between his legs. He called that a pretty close call.

Photo courtesy Cattaraugus County Museum

Mill Street Factory, Photo courtesy Cattaraugus County Museum

85 windows with 2000 panes of glass were ordered for the factory. By Sept 12, the framing for the factory was completed and it took the next two days to raise it under the direction of O.H. Smith and 8-9 men. Meanwhile, the water mains were laid out for the reservoir. The design was to have 12” pipes from the reservoir reduced to 6’ pipes entering the factory. Further reductions would then be used to fit the motors. By the end of September, salesman E.L. Shannon returned home from travels throughout Ohio and Indiana and the reservoir was nearly completed and many were growing eager to see it filled.

The factory was nearly enclosed and it was expected that it would be making knives by November. With this in mind, Mrs. Alice Crockett, departed from Little Valley for a two week trip to Beaver Falls where she would learn how to etch razors and knife blades. By mid-Oct, Fred Hollingworth of New Brighton, PA was hired to be the first Superintendent. By late October, the floor of the second floor was layed using 11,000 feet of 2X4s and were secured with over 1100 pounds of nails.

On October 23 it was announced the reservoir was completed and at 4:35pm it was put to the test. All those who had worked so hard gathered on the bank and gave 3 cheers while swinging their hats. The next day, a few leaks were found and quickly repaired. Two days later another leak was found in the pipe leading into the factory caused by a break in a 8” to 6” reducer.

Cattaraugus resevoir photo courtesy  Kevin Reiman

Cattaraugus factory reservoir 

During the first few weeks of November, the reservoir was plagued by leakage to such an extent that it couldn‘t hold water. G.B. Renn of Mt. Carmel, Pa was hired to re-construct the reservoir. He began by cementing over the bottom and then setting a layer of clay. Work continued on the reservoir through November and December and its completion always seemed just a day away. In December, Phillip Erath of Beaver Falls took charge of the trip hammers in factory and began making the dies for new knives. Bart Heath was hired as the night watchman for the factory from 6pm to 6am and John Palts, former employee of the Erie RR, was hired to be the day watchman. Just before Christmas a carpentry shop was being built where display cases would be made; George Korn and wife are back from Germany (staying with J.B.F Champlin) and have been purchasing some residential lots in Little Valley as investment properties; and B.F. Hollingworth made a trip to Beaver Falls to hire cutlers. The number of workers is 40. Hollingsworth ‘s family (wife and two sons) have arrived in Little Valley and will be living in W.R. Cases’ house on Fair Oak Street (as he is out west).

In January of 1891, the stockholders meeting was held. Financial records indicate that the labor costs for the construction of the factory and reservoir were $8000, as of Jan. 1. John Griffith started recently as a salesman. In mid January, Will Copeland had the misfortune to cut two fingers and thumb on his right hand while cutting out handles using a small circular saw. He came to work the next day. This appears to have prompted a discussion about the safety of the workers. About a week later, it was decided to test a fire alarm in the form of a steam whistle. The primary reason given was concern about the safety of the watchman that worked around the clock and often alone.

Bart Heath, the night watchman, took a little time off to visit a fellow Civil War Veteran in Tiona, PA who helped carry him off the battlefieled when he was injured. There are many new faces in town, most are here either hired by, or looking for work at the cutlery factory. Most of them are from the east and include cutlers, forgers, and grinders. March finds some of the local merchants selling cigarettes to boys who seem to enjoy smoking on the streets and blowing smoke at passersby. Some of the citizens are outraged by this and the merchants are reminded that selling cigarettes to boys is against the law. George Hilsle offered one solution by holding a Hammer and Needle party – which was a contest between young men and ladies. The ladies would hammer as many nails in a board as they could in 5 minutes, and then the young men would sew as many buttons as they could in 10 minutes.

In April, night watchman Bart Heath was closing windows in the factory when he slipped and fell on some of the machinery and broke a rib. Unfortunatley injuries in the Cattaraugus factory, or any other cutlery, were fairly common due to the nature of the work involved. G.L. Whipple was working at the drop hammers and badly jammed his index and middle fingers on his right hand so badly that Dr. Bedient had to amputate the damaged parts. Several meetings were held and by September the Cutler’s Beneficiary Association was formed with the following officers: Superintendent B.F. Hollingworth, President; F.A Ansell, Secretary; Debbie Case, Treasurer; and Harvey Platts, George Betts, and G.L. Whipple as Trustees. Anyone was welcome to join by paying $1.25 initially and then 25 cents a week thereafter. If a worker was either sick or injured $5 per week was paid. Fred Stoll was one of the first employees to use this form of insurance. In early December he dropped a knife blade onto a rotating wheel and the blade flung into the back of his hand very deeply. Dr. Bedient took care of it and Fred took some paid time off from the Association. Paid time off, even for an injury at work was a rare event in the 1890s.

During the summer of 1891, G.B. Renn returned to repair the leaking reservoir. The cutlery also paid for a new reservoir that was constructed on the side hill for fire protection for the village. This new reservoir was completed in July and testing with 4 fire hoses at the same time and it proved to be very effective. A year after the purchase of the Beaver Falls factory, the Cattaraugus factory received electric lighting for running operations at night, they installed a steam heating system to replace the large stoves used over the previous winter.

The factory even had a baseball team, the Little Valley Cutlers – beating Ellicottville 15 to 9. In August repairs were being made to the M.E. Church including a new roof, furnace, carpeting, and wall paper. JBF Champlin generously donated the use of the Opera House for services Sunday morning, evening, and the other usual hours. The cutlery factory also required maintenance and received a fresh coat of paint in October.

As 1891 came to a close, the factory employed 83 men and was turning out as fine of cutlery as could be found anywhere. In late 1891, the McKinley Bill took effect which placed a very heavy tariff (73-116%) on imported cutlery items – since it was felt that the country was flooded with cheap foreign items. This greatly benefited American manufacturers. One might wonder if this timing was coincidental or if JBF foresaw this change in policy and positioned Cattaraugus accordingly. Prior to the building of the factory JBF had been a very heavy importer of cutlery items.

In December. George Korn was back in town again from Soligen, Germany, and staying with JBF Champlin. Will Case is also in town from Spring Green, Nebraska accompanied by his son J. Russell. Mrs. Case arrived earlier in the fall.

With the factory still in its infancy and growing rapidly, imports from Germany dropped almost completely off. George Korn spent more time in the United States mostly between Little Valley and Chicago. Korn sent a letter in April, 1900 from Germany where he had been looking for machinery to build his own razor manufacturing factory. He indicated that he had found what he needed and made the purchase. Plans for building were being pushed even while he was still in Germany. In August, the George W. Korn Razor Factory was being built and going up very quickly. In late March, 1900, the Case Brothers factory was under construction and machinery was being delivered on a daily basis. The Case Brothers Cutlery Company was incorporated in Little Valley in April, 1900 with Jean Case as President and John Case as Treasurer.

The previous year, 1899, found Hugh Champlin (nephew of JBF) digging the foundation for a butcher knife factory on Fourth Street (for) W.W. Wilson. The 1900 census of Little Valley includes 145 engaged in the cutlery industry, 32 of which were immigrants.