Tag Archives: Albert Barney Charboneau

1874-1910: The sparkling lure of Dolgeville, N.Y.

Sepia Saturday 527. Fifth in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

By the time my dad’s Uncle Albert settled in Dolgeville, N.Y. in 1908, German immigrant Alfred Dolge — the piano and felt maker for whom the town was renamed — had been ganged up on by his fellow capitalists and driven out of New York State.

Why? Because although Dolge, like them, amassed his profit from workers’ labor, he also partially embraced the socialist ideology that was gaining ground in his native Saxony — and he instituted a number of worker benefit programs that the more ruthless Mohawk Valley capitalists could not abide.

Chapters in the Life of Alfred Dolge.(2015). Local actors depict scenes from the life of Alfred Dolge (at right) during the 2015 Dolgeville, N.Y., Violet Festival. This roving scene portrays Dolge’s 1874 arrival in Brockett’s Bridge — the town of 300 that would later bear his name. At rear is the Dolge Factory Complex he established, which drew more than 2,000 workers from Germany, upstate New York and elsewhere — including my paternal Charboneau ancestors. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Dolge inspires U.S. Social Security system

These are ably summed up in a 1975 article by Marion C. Mang, written when she was the Oppenheim, N.Y., town historian.

Inspired by his early readings of Liebnecht, Marx, Mill and Adam Smith, Dolge Instituted at Dolgeville a form of what we now call social security in his attempt to create an idealistic socialistic utopia.

About 1876 when the factory was first well established, Dolge began to set up his Pension Plan which remained almost exactly the same throughout his tenure. It was extremely generous, ranging from 50 percent of wages for disability after 10 years service up to 100 percent after 25 years.

Later he added a system of life insurance paid for by the firm and finally by an intricate system of bookkeeping, a program of Earning-Sharing whereby, an employee received a portion of the earnings according to his contribution in brains or the value of his work. This was not to be turned over until retirement, but was to be reinvested.

Dolge’s pension scheme served as a model for the U.S. Social Security system that retirees benefit from today — and his gain-sharing and life insurance plans were also groundbreaking.

Dolgeville’s population explosion

So it’s no wonder that workers from Germany — as well those from upstate New York and elsewhere — made a beeline to Dolgeville and ballooned its population from 300 to more than 2,000 in the late 1800s.

Office entrance of the Dolge Factory Complex (2015). My sister Amy and I traveled to Dolgeville, N.Y., in 2015 for their annual Violet Festival. This photo of me in the factory doorway reprises an earlier picture I took of my dad and his sister-in-law Aunt Gig on my first trip to this remarkable upstate town where my paternal Charboneau ancestors lived. Photo: Amy L. Williamson

According to Mang, the Dolge factory complex, established to produce felt for the piano industry, expanded to make felt shoes, autoharps, piano cases and sounding boards, piano hammers — and even operate a lumber yard. And Dolge’s social innovations did not stop at the factory gate, either.

He paid workers to build railroads, lay out the town, install a municipal electric system (the first in an upstate New York town), construct a water and sewer system and built two schools (which launched the state’s first kindergarten). Dolge also established a fire department, a free library, a concert hall, a gymnasium, public parks and a newspaper.

Dolge departs, but his legacy remains

Despite his many innovations, Dolge was forced to depart on 1 May 1899 after a coterie of capitalists and bankers called in his loans — alarmed, no doubt, by what the workers in their own enterprises might demand if word got out.

The author with the bust of Alfred Dolge (2015). Such was Dolge’s impact that in 1948, nearly 50 years after his departure, he was still remembered in his namesake town with the placement of this pedestal and bust outside the Dolgeville, N.Y., Town Hall. Photo: Amy L. Williamson

Yet his legacy lives on. A bust of Dolge, erected in 1948, graces the walkway in front of  the Dolgeville Town Hall. The Dolge Factory Complex is on the National Register of Historic Places.

And episodes of his life have been dramatized during Dolgeville’s annual Violet Festival by appreciative townspeople who have not forgotten the man whose enterprises channeled the energy and labor of their forbears to put Dolgeville on the map.

And with that, we will return next week to the story of my paternal grandfather’s brother — Albert Barney Charboneau — who continued his lumber career upon arrival in Dolgeville, N.Y., a decade after Dolge’s departure.

Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1908: Albert Charboneau moves to Dolgeville, N.Y.

Sepia Saturday 526. Fourth in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

My dad’s Uncle Albert — who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic — moved to Dolgeville in New York’s Mohawk Valley in 1908 as a young adult, along with his parents and three brothers.

Compared to their Adirondack hometown of Hawkinsville, N.Y. , the family must have felt like they had arrived in the big city.

Such was the level of industry in Dolgeville that by the time of the 1910 federal census, Albert and his brothers were all gainfully employed — and would soon set up households of their own.

So it’s worth pausing the family story to examine how the once-rural town they now called home came to be bustling with enterprise — as ably described by Eleanor Franz in her book Dolge 1and summarized in brief below.

https://www.loc.gov/item/75694816/
1890: A bird’s-eye-view of Dolgeville, N.Y., and the East Canada Creek. Compared to their Adirondack hometown of Hawkinsville, Dolgeville must have seemed like the big city to my dad’s Uncle Albert, his parents and younger  brothers. By 1910, Albert and his brothers were all gainfully employed in Dolgeville and would soon set up households of their own. Image: Library of Congress

Early history of Brockett’s Bridge

When Alfred Dolge arrived in 1874, the town that would later bear his name was a small rural hamlet called Brockett’s Bridge.2 However, the town with its landmark covered bridge, which appears right on the map above, was already steeped in history.

To indigenous inhabitants, the waterway that ran through the village was known as the Tegahuhharoughwe or Auskarada — the stream of many fishes.3 Alas, by the late 1700s the Native guardians of the land were displaced by settlers moving west from New England, who mainly took up farming.

Underground Railroad mural in the Dolgeville, N.Y., post office (2015). Painted by Works Progress Administration artists in the 1930s, this stunning mural is a tribute to abolitionism in Brockett’s Bridge (later Dolgeville), which was a stop on the Underground Railroad in the years before the U.S. Civil War. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Later, in the period leading up to the U.S. Civil War, a free church in Brockett’s Bridge became a stop on the Underground Railroad 4— as depicted in the mural above — offering refuge to African-Americans who had liberated themselves from slavery and were making their way to freedom.

Enter piano maker Alfred Dolge

A tannery had also once hummed away in Brockett’s Bridge, but closed in 1871. 5After that, the small village of about 300 might have declined but for the April 1874 arrival of Alfred Dolge — an immigrant from Germany’s Saxony region — who was looking for a place to manufacture felt for use in piano making.6

http://mshepherdpiano.com/antique-piano-tools/a-dolge/
Portrait of Alfred Dolge. Source: Martin Shepherd Piano Service

On a fateful return trip to his New York City office from the Adirondacks — where he had traveled to buy wood for piano sounding boards — Dolge stopped off in Brockett’s Bridge and was immediately taken with its manufacturing potential.7

With plentiful water to provide power, nearby forests to supply wood and a vacant tannery ready for occupancy — not to mention the area’s striking resemblance to his native Saxony — Brockett’s Bridge appeared to be the ideal location for the enterprise Dolge had in mind.8

Ten days later he bought the old tannery building — a move that changed the life of his family and my own.9

More on this in the next post. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1908: Albert Charboneau leaves Hawkinsville, N.Y.

Sepia Saturday 525. Third in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Available documentation indicates that my dad’s Uncle Albert — who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic — spent his childhood and early teen years in Hawkinsville, Oneida Co., N.Y.

He was born there in 1885 and enumerated there in the 1900 U.S. census at age 15, as described in the last post.

Yet Albert’s adult years were spent in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., where he moved circa 1908 with his parents and three brothers — among them my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau — in the search of a better life.


A Black River Canal boom town

In the mid 1800s, Hawkinsville (shown below) was a small boom town located on the Black River Canal, which ferried Adirondack lumber, wood products and other goods to the Erie Canal and thence to markets throughout New York State and beyond.

My paternal French-Canadian great-great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau moved there in the 1850s, working first in the lumber industry and later as a farmer. His German-Swiss wife Ursula Zinsk, her parents and brothers also immigrated to the area, where the nearby mountains probably reminded them of home.

A thriving Hawkinsville, N.Y., in 1855 from the Rome Daily Sentinel. Click to enlarge. Source: Old Fulton Post Cards

Hawkinsville’s sad decline

But by 1900 when their eldest grandson Albert appeared in his first census at age 15, Hawkinsville has fallen on hard times. An 11 Oct. 1939 article in the Rome, N.Y. Daily Sentinel titled “Bustling Village Fades To Hamlet With One Mill” summarizes the town’s decline.

A busy, thriving, industrial town, with prospects for a bright future was Hawkinsville, shown in the picture taken above about 1855, but the course of the Black River Railroad completely changed the picture.

Hawkinsville in the early days was larger than Boonville and had every prospect of growing steadily, until the railroad was built through Boonville, leaving Hawkinsville entirely off its course. Gradually the mills closed until the hamlet can now boast of but one mill.

The Dolgeville decision

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/39231713/lawrence-charbonneau
Lawrence (Laurent) Charbonneau’s  stone, Beechwood Cemetery, Forestport, Oneida County,  N.Y. Source: Find a Grave

Such an unfortunate demise for a village that once boasted three churches, two hotels, two saloons, a carpenter shop, four blacksmith shops, a wagon-shop, a cheese factory, a tannery, a millinery store — and so many mills that it was originally called Slab City for the slab wood turned out there, according to the same article.

Nevertheless, it may have been a sad family event that ultimately sealed the Charboneau family’s decision to leave Hawkinsville for good — the 1902 death of my great-great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

While Laurent was living, his home, land and farm may have anchored the family. But once the Charboneau family patriarch was gone, why not strike out for new opportunities? And those opportunities beckoned from the expanding Mohawk Valley town of Dolgeville in nearby Herkimer Co., N.Y.

There, German immigrant Alfred Dolge had set up a unique factory complex that drew thousands of workers from the U.S. and abroad — among them Uncle Albert, his parents and three brothers — and turned the sleepy town of Brockett’s Bridge into a bustling manufacturing center that was renamed Dolgeville in his honor.

More on this in the next post. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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