A storied operation

Redwood glass blowing business changed hands throughout 1800s

Redwood Glass Works workers in an 1880 company photo.

By Lenka Walldroff
Jefferson County Historical Society

The history of Redwood glass actually began more than 190 years ago in Redford, a small village on the west bank of the Saranac River in Clinton County. In October 1831, a factory operating under the trade name of Redford Glass Company was manufacturing high quality window glass. John S. Foster a native of Vermont, the superintendent of the Redford Glass Company, was a glass making genius, but he had rather expensive ideas for his time, and his employers at the glass company discharged him.

Mr. Foster moved to Jefferson County, bringing the secret formula with him, and he soon established a glass factory at Jamesville.

Benjamin Cory, editor and publisher of the Watertown Register, in 1933, disclosed to his readers the formula for making Redwood glass as being: “120 parts of sand, 40 parts of purified pearl ash, 35 parts of lead monoxide and 13 parts nitre or potassium or sodium nitrate.”

A flask made by Redwood Glass Works.

At that time Jamesville was a community of a few log cabins and sawmill constructed on the small stream connecting Mud and Butterfield Lakes. The muddy road that James D. LeRay’s men had cut through the forest between Theresa and Alexandria Bay was Jamesville’s only connection with the outside world. The population at this time was less than 100.

Mr. Foster boarded for a brief time in Theresa, where he learned that Jamesville, a small settlement about seven miles distant, had just what he was seeking ? Potsdam sandstone of the best quality for making glass, a bed of limestone within two miles, water power for running machinery and plenty of wood. He immediately contracted with Francis Depau, a local land agent for whom Depauville is named, for about 10,000 acres of land. He promptly changed the name from Jamesville to Redwood in hopes that its similarity to the name Redford would enable him to cut into the glass trade of his former employers who he felt had treated him unfairly.

Foster soon built log cabins and general store on what was known as French Hill to accommodate the many French Canadians whom he coerced to come over as woodchoppers. The first glass was made on Sept. 30, 1833.

Unfortunately, production did not continue for long. Mr. Foster died on Jan. 2, 1834, while on a business trip to Watertown. Today, no trace of Mr. Foster can be found in Redwood.

The future of his glass factory had seemed assured, but Mr. Foster’s premature death had dealt a hard blow to the newly formed community of Redwood. As a result of his death, the glassworks reverted to Mr. Depau, and operations ceased for a time as Mr. Depau, by then an old man with no interest in operating a glass factory, had returned to Paris.

Anxious to protect his investment, Mr. Depau began a search among the best glassmakers in the country to find one who would be willing to come and operate the plant in Redwood. He finally decided upon John C. Schmauss, a New Jersey glassblower, who traveled up to Redwood bringing 19 glassworkers with him. He also brought his wife and family, as well as one of the finest pianos to arrive in the north country.

Mr. Schmauss found the natural resources of the new plant all he could ask for. He took charge at once and the company turned out glass, which was regarded as unusually fine.

Mr. Schmauss ran the glassworks for the rest of his life and was succeeded by his son, John F. Schmauss, for a number of years. His ability did much to carry the company into an era of prosperity.

The Schmauss era at the Redwood Glass Works ended in 1844 and the factory went through a series of owners until 1859 when William W. Butterfield assumed control of the entire operation.

The factory, as originally built by Mr. Foster in 1833, extended about 100 feet along the main street and about 75 feet back. The blast furnace was about 9 feet by 16 feet and held eight huge clay pots for melting the glass. The wood used for fuel was in abundance as the land cleared for farming. The farmers furnished the wood in three and a half foot lengths. The farmers received 75 cents per cord, not in cash, but in trade at the company store.

When the glass factory was in full operation, they had eight blowers, eight stokers, a foreman or master shearer as he was called, two flatteners, two helpers, four cutters, two packers, two dryers, a wood hauler, two pot makers, a mixer, a pounder, a box maker, besides quarrymen, woodchoppers and teamsters on hand. The pots in which the glass melted were made right at the factory of German clay, which was shipped here in bricks in the bowless of a ship. The pots were large enough to hold about 40 gallons.

By 1922, very few of those who had worked at the Redwood glass factory were still living. Robert Hoffman, who had worked as a glass blower from 1864 to 1868 was still around and he spoke reminiscently of his experiences. “My father was one of the stockholders in the Redwood Glass Manufacturing Co. that ran the plant from 1853 on,” he once said. Mr. Hoffman delighted his family and friends with items made from end of day glass. He was known for his Jacob’s Ladder tree ornament. The Jefferson County Historical Society has one of these on exhibit in the Jefferson County Room.

A glass cup made by Redwood Glass Works.

A list of Redwood glass blowers from 1865 to 1870 can be found at the Jefferson County Historical Society. They are Charles LaDue, Julius Young Jr. and Sr., Robert Hoffman, Joseph Senecal, William Donovan, George Donovan, George Pierce and Geo Frederick. William Spies was one of the last mixers in the factory before the factory was abandoned in 1881.

The building that Butterfield and Baldwin erected in 1880 to take the place of the one that burned in 1868 was about 100 feet by 50 feet. Besides the blast furnace, it contained the flattening room, the cutting room, packing room, drying room, pot making room and several store rooms.

The blast furnace was nearest the road and consisted of an archway about 10 feet long, eight feet wide and eight feet high. The grates for the coal were placed and into this archway the ashes from the fire were dropped and were carted away and dumped into the road.

Above the arch was a double firebox with four clay pots of about 40 gallons each on either side. These pots were entirely covered with curved covers except for a round opening about 10 inches in diameter over each pot. Into this opening, the blower stuck his pipe and drew forth a ball of molten mass to be blown into glass.