The Redford Glass Company

From "The Saranac Valley" Volume One "The Pioneers" by Sarah Baker
Donated to Dannemora Free Library by Eleanor Mayette in memory of daughter Sarah Tripp
Page 1

Blue Gray Line

     An old Indian ford across the Saranac, formed of red stones, was destined to become a name known throughout the United States. The crossing became known as, "The Red Ford," and finally, Redford.

     The history begins with the Crown Glass Works that located here. Gershom Cook and Charles Corning of Troy, New York, were prospecting for a spot in the northern wilderness for the manufacture of crown glass. In the fall of 1830, a group of men under their direction explored the territory around Bloomingdale for a favorable site, however, because of the great distance from a market, and the poor qualiity of sandstone found in that area, it was decided to look elsewhere and the site of Redford was chosen.

     This area was found desirable for two reasons: first, the improved road of 1829 provided easy access to the lake for shipment of the finished product, and second, the sandstone found in the surrounding area was of an unusually desirable quality, particularly the deposits of Kents Falls, Ausable Chasm and the Mud Pond in the northwest corner of Black Brook; all of which were of white flint.

     Messrs. Cook and Corning were apparently backed by the Champlain Glass Co. of Vermont. The first transfer of this land in Redford, as recorded in Book of Deeds, Vol. T, p. 80 reads: "From Philip Kearney to the Champlain Glass Co. of Vermont, for $1294, two certain square mile lots, #33 and #34 in Township #4, of the Old Military Tract as surveyed by Alonson B. Vaughn, and found to contain 1294 acres of land. Title to the land and factory was later transferred to Messrs. Cook and Corning on July 27, 1832, for $1594, along with lots #47 and #49. The company was first incorporated under the names of Gordon Corning, Gershom Cook, John S. Foster and Charles Corning. All leases, contracts or deeds of tenements on the company land contained a clause forbidding the sale of "ardent spirits," on the premises, however, ale and beer were permitted.

     In March, 1831, Messrs. Cook and Corning arrived at Redford along with the man who was to be superintendent, Mr. John S. Foster, who was a well experienced chemist from the Champlain Glass Works in Burlington. Through the spring and summer hundreds of laborers and a multitude of oxen teams were at work constructing the factory town. A sawmill was first built, then a grist mill, and as work on the factory itself progressed, barns, shops, a store and boarding house also came into being. The glass factory works were completed in the fall of 1831, after seven months labor at a cost of $50,000, and the first batch of glass was turned out.


     The factory itself was 12 ft. high, 80 ft. wide and 150 ft. long and contained two furnaces, so if one failed; work could proceed in the second. It has been described as follows: The kiln (melting furnace) was 15' square, constructed of stone and brick, and had a chimney in the center. This was the backbone of the glass works, for in here the rough ingredients were converted by intense heat into molten glass or metal ready for the workmen to shape. John Hooey was the metal-mixer. This square furnace had a door at each end. Inside were arches closed by fire brick and clay, concealing all but the openings of the crucibles. The open pots were put in through the doors and their contents withdrawn through openings in two rows at the sides. A well under the furnace received any molton glass that might escape from a broken pot.

     Each of the two furnaces had six melting pots made of Stoarbridge Clay and imported from England. The pots were called "Monkey Pots" and were oval cylinders with a rounded covering that opened on the top of one side. Their manufacture demanded the most tedious and exacting work of the entire industry, as the slightest flaw in structure or material was sufficient to waste the contents. Each pot cost from $40 to $100, required fastidious handling, and lasted only about seven weeks. The most hardy "monkey" seldom survived three months.

     Heat for the melting furnace and working furnace (small blast furnace) of which there were several to each melting furnace, was supplied by burning wood cut fine in "splints." The working furnace provided a number of openings into the flame, known as the "glory holes." In these the workmen resoftened the glass as they completed various small objects, such as bowls, cocked hats, balls, canes, lamps, etc. The annealing oven was a long low rectangular chamber through which the finished products passed in shallow trays from an intense heat to ordinary temperature.


     The formula was a closely guarded secret brought here by John S. Foster who was considered a genius chemist in the glassmaking field. The known raw materials in a "batch" contained 30-36% of sulphate soda, l 1/2  to 2 1/2 % pulverized charcoal to each l00 parts of sand; however, Mr. Foster's specific formula was considered to be the source of the remarkable color that denotes true Redford Glass.

     This closely guarded secret was safeguarded in a second floor room of the company house (Trombley house.) Mr. Foster had vowed that he would never disclose this formula to a white man, but he did tell a negro, Martin Tankard, who was melt-master for the entire time the plant operated.

     Mr. Foster was discharged from the Redford operation in 1833 following a dispute over wages. He went to Alexandria, in Jefferson Co., where he opened another plant using the same successful formula and calling the product "Redwood Glass." If he meant to confuse the products of the two factories, he was successful since even a connoisseur in glass cannot separate the two unless they have an authenticated history.

     At this time it was a fortunate situation that Martin Tankard had the precious formula for mixing the "batch." An incident is said to have occurred that indicated the degree the plant depended on this man. A "No Smoking" regulation was enforced and rather than obey it Mr. Tankard quit his job; however, after several batches of glass were ruined, he was reinstated on his own terms.


      There were two melts of glass each week. When the melt was ready for blowing, a "call boy" would hasten to the homes of the company's approximate 20 glass blowers and summon them to come and start blowing. These men were strong and muscular, and labored in the great heat with little clothing, each one being trained to one small part of the operation.

     The gatherer put a wooden plug between his teeth by which he held in position a rough mask to screen his face from the furnace. Then he seized the blow pipe and started the "journey" as the working of glass was called. This pipe was a simple wrought iron tube flared on one end and was made by Christian Myers, the blacksmith pipe maker of the Redford works. The blower dipped the end of the pipe into a pot of what appeared to be liquid fire, removed it for cooling, then redipped it until a large mass adhered to the end of the rod. This he took to a marble table, called a "marver" where he rolled it until smooth and coneshaped. The extremity, called the "bullion point," became the decorative "bulls-eye." He rested the rod near the farther end of this table, bringing the red hot roll close to the open fire, and started blowing through the tube. As he continued to blow and rotate, the mass before the fire became a rough pear shape, and as it finally became unmanageable, he rested the pipe on two horizontal supports while another workman came to his assistance.

     This assistant attached a warm cup of glass carried on his iron rod, known as a pontee or punty, to the bullion point, and as it adherred, the glass globe was held fast by two rods, the blow pipe and the punty. Finally, the blower touched the glass next to his pipe with a cold iron and a quick blow severed his pipe from the bubble and gave the glass over to the punty. The round opening or "nose" as it was called, left by the blow pipe was now inserted in the furnace and revolved rapidly, and as the speed increased, the opening grew larger and larger until the bulb lost its shape entirely and finally with a small explosion, the glass flashed out in the shape of a perfect disc some four or five feet in diameter. This was still whirled rapidly with the heat shut off, until it cooled, so it would retain its shape. It was then carried off to the annealing ovens where shears were used to detach the punty from the bulls-eye, and it was piled up with similar discs which workmen brought from other quarters.

     After annealing for two days, the disc was cut by a diamond into square panels; however, the bulls-eye in the center confined the size of the pieces and was considered a great disadvantage. It was used for windows where not much light was required, such as fan lights surrounding doorways or in barns and chicken coops. Not so, however, today. This piece that the glass cutter rejected has become the one most sought after by the collectors.

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Rod Bigelow (Roger Jon12 BIGELOW)

P.O. Box 13    Chazy Lake
Dannemora, N.Y. 12929
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