History Mystery: Aug. 23, 2017
Question: Seventy-five travelers set sail from Baldwinsville on this brand-new steamboat in 1887. They were headed to a special soiree. Do you know what the boat was called and where it took its passengers?
Last week’s answer: The photo from last week showed the Penn Spring Works fire that took place in March of 1908. This firm was located on the island between the river and Lock Street. That island, better known as Fobes Island, was formed when the land became part of the Baldwin Canal.
Penn Spring Works was a significant business for three decades in the early part of the last century. This enterprise was originally located in Gananoque, Canada. High tariffs caused the owners to move it to Clayton, New York. Next, in 1878 the spring plant shifted to Watertown, where it was known as Penn and Lee, after the proprietors. In 1880, they moved to Syracuse on Townsend Street where it crossed the Erie Canal. As the business grew, they needed more room for expansion, and Baldwinsville’s waterpower drew them here.
In the early days, the Penn Works made leaf springs for carriages and wagons. When the automobile became popular they made springs for at least a dozen car manufacturers: Franklin, Maxell, Overland, Pullman and Stutz, Fords, Owen-Magnetic, Pierce-Arrow Sanford. Rolls-Royce even had a few orders. They even made springs for the Ward-LaFrance fire truck and massive railroad locomotives.
In March of 1908, a massive fire destroyed the first plant. It was quickly rebuilt, continuing with a great deal of success. About 200 men were employed, increasing to around 300 when two shifts became necessary.
High competition, high cost of shipping and the advent of the auto industry in Detroit brought about the end to the Baldwinsville spring makers. The plant was sold in 1931 to Detroit Steel Products Co. and three years later, the buildings burned down.
Contact Editor Sarah Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 434-8889 ext. 310 with your guess by 5 p.m. Friday (please leave the information in the message; we are not generally able to return calls regarding History Mystery responses). If you are the first person to correctly identify an element in the photo, your name and guess will appear in next week’s Messenger, along with another History Mystery feature. History Mystery is a joint project of the Museum at the Shacksboro Schoolhouse and the Baldwinsville Public Library.