Tag Archives: Dolgeville NY

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

A Great Bend birthplace

Second in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

In 1992, I made a road with my dad, Norm Charboneau, to Oneida County, N.Y. mainly focused on our Charboneau ancestors.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. to see if we could find anything on our elusive ancestor Arthur Bull, who once lived with his family in nearby Lyonsdale.

An 1872 map showing Great Bend, Susquehanna County, Penna., the birthplace of Eva Bull. Digital image from Dave Rumsey Map Collection.
An 1872 map showing Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna.(upper right) — the birthplace of Arthur’s daughter, Eva Bull. Click on map to enlarge. Image: David Rumsey Map Collection.

Alas, we couldn’t even get in the door at the clerk’s office. It was swamped by locals seeking property maps related to New York State’s recently-passed Freshwater Wetlands Act.

Sigh. I tucked my copy of Arthur Bull’s 1880 U.S. Census entry back in my bag — a mystery to be solved another day.

Fast forward to 1993. Dad and I were on the road again, headed to Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., the adult hometown of my great grandmother Eva Bull — Arthur’s daughter — and her husband Will Charboneau.

This time there was no crowd at the clerk’s office, and we left with many valuable documents — including a verified transcript of Eva’s 1941 death certificate indicating she was born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna., and giving the maiden name of her mother, Mary Blakeslee.

We now had two new clues in the search for Arthur Bull! Next question: How to follow up?

After our trip, I found the Susquehanna County Historical Society and wrote to them requesting research help. (That’s right, snail mail. Remember, this was before the Internet.)

I included a copy of the 1880 U.S. Census entry for the Bull family and provided the new information from Eva’s death certificate — then I sat back and waited for a response.

Soon enough, the next clue arrived.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.