ROCK CITY FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Saratoga County History Center hosted the launch of its new video series Tuesday night, titled “Forgotten Crossroads of Saratoga County.” The first video focused on Rock City Falls, which is a hamlet located in the Town of Milton.

The video was made in partnership with the Saratoga County History Roundtable and various town historians. All of this information can be found in the “Forgotten Crossroads: Rock City Falls” video.

The Beginning

The Mohawk Tribe of the Iroquois Nation set up seasonal hunting and fishing camps along the Kayaderosseras Creek throughout Saratoga County. In 1768, the leaders of the tribes seeded ownership of 406,000 acres to the descendants of the proprietors who were granted the land by Queen Anne 60 years before.

The land was then mapped out to include 17 lots in 25 allotments. The sixth lot in the 16th allotment was settled by pioneers which then became a community known as Rock City Falls, which was a testament to the bedrock that protruded to the surface in the area.

The Mills

The waterfall located next to Cottrell Paper Company on Rock City Road (credit: Sara Rizzo)

The first sawmills and fulling mills were built along the Kayaderosseras, which relied on the creek for their power. Brothers Daniel and Valentine Rathbun founded one of the first mills in the late 1700s, which later became the location of the Kilmer Stone Mill.

After the brothers died, the mill was sold. In 1835, Issac Rowland built a gristmill on the site and later partnered with Chauncey Kilmer to build a paper mill. Paper mills then became the main source of employment in Rock City Falls.

The old Empire Mill located on Route 29 (credit: Sara Rizzo)
The old Empire Mill located on Route 29 (credit: Sara Rizzo)

Rowland and Kilmer later built a rag paper mill upstream called the Empire Mill. The original mill burned in 1844. In 1862, George West bought the Empire Mill from Kilmer. Four years later, he built the adjacent Excelsior Mill. Both mills expanded in the years after the Civil War and attracted workers and their families to Rock City Falls. The Empire Mill was sold to Edward Brown in 1902 and it was renamed Brown’s Paper Mill.

In 1926, the Cottrell Paper Company was established. It is located at the site of the 1859 Kilmer Stone Mill, which had also been a paper bag mill. The Cottrell family renovated the mill to manufacture electrical insulating papers.

Today, Cottrell Paper Company is the only mill still operating in Rock City Falls. The Empire Mill still stands and it is used at a warehouse by the Cottrell Paper Company.

The Schools

Rock City Falls at one point had two schoolhouses. Schoolhouse District 12 served the north end of the hamlet and was established in 1837. It was located across from the Excelsior Mill.

Schoolhouse District 5 was established in 1845 and was located across from the Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1878, District 12 has 92 students and District 5 had 55 students.

The schools consolidated around 1920 due to families moving away and there being fewer children to teach. In 1921, a new school was built on Rock City Road near the Cottrell Paper Company. The school shut down in 1984 and the building was sold.

The Churches

The Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1811 at the intersection of Armer and Grenell Roads. In 1844, the church relocated to be near the mills. The new church was dedicated in 1845. In 1897, the name was changed to Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church, named after the Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson.

In 1920, the church caught fire and was destroyed. The church was rebuilt and dedicated in 1922. Today, the church remains at the relocated location on Rock City Road.

In 1872, a Catholic church was created due to the increase in Irish workers at the mills. This became Saint Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, which still stands today on Route 29.

The Mansion

The Mansion of Saratoga, located on Route 29 (credit: Sara Rizzo)

The Mansion of Saratoga was built in 1866 by George West as his summer home. Edward Brown moved into the mansion after West died. In 1964, the vacant building housed several antique dealers and was known as the Saratoga County Antique Center for 22 years.

In 2001, the building was bought and began operating as a Victorian-style bed and breakfast. It is currently being run as an event venue. In 2009, the Mansion became part of the National Register of Historic Places. It still stands today across from the old Empire Mill.

The Community

Hotel

In 1865, the Rock City Falls Hotel was run by Seymour C. Green from Wilton. He ran the hotel for 20 years. At one time, there was a barbershop in the hotel and a place for landowners to pay their taxes and to vote.

In 1884, the hotel caught fire. It was rebuilt later that year by Elijah Horton, who ran it for the next 30 years. In 1918, the hotel burned down and was never rebuilt.

The Ballston Terminal Railroad

The Ballston Terminal Railroad was an electric passenger and freight trolley line that ran from Ballston Spa to Middle Grove, with a stop in Rock City Falls. The trolley carried mail, newspapers, produce, milk from local farms, store supplies, and students to and from the high school in Ballston Spa. The trolley also helped the mills in transporting their goods.

The trolley ran until 1929 when it could no longer afford to make repairs. This caused the mills to close since they did not have a way to transport their goods and workers couldn’t get to work. The Town of Milton then has to build a road to Rock City Falls, which took more than 10 years to complete.

There was a trolley waiting station near the Empire Mill, which still stands today. The remnants of another waiting station and the last remaining trolley bridge can be seen on Heisler Road.

Stores

The Tenney Brothers’ store opened in Rock City Falls around 1898. It was a drop-off site for mail, supplies, produce, and fresh milk. A post office was located in the store. The store lasted 28 years and was located on Rock City Road.

Purvee’s Service Station was a general store and gas filling station on Route 29 from 1927 to 1963. The store was bought in 1963 and was open for 20 years before it was sold again in 1983. The building still stands today across from Saratoga Villas.

Tavern

The Big Falls Tavern was located across the street from the present-day Cottrell Paper Company at the corner of Rock City Road and Route 29. It was built around 1900 and also served as a hotel and hosted many social events. In 1927, a fire destroyed the building and it was never rebuilt.

Post Office

In 1849, the first post office was established in Rock City Falls. The post office was next to Kilmer’s Stone Mill. The Tenney Brothers’ store was later used as the post office after the first postmaster died. In 1926, the post office moved to its current location on Route 29. The site also served as a general store and gas station.

Fire department

In 1940, the fire department was created with 25 charter members. The department was built on the site of an old stone quarry next to the present-day Cottrell Paper Company. In 1984, the firehouse burned and was rebuilt.

Park

The Cottrell-Harrington Park opened in April 2005. The 3.5 acres of land was bought from the Cottrell Paper Company along the Kayaderosseras Creek on Route 29 by the old Empire Mill. The park has parking lots, fishing access, a gazebo, and a kiosk with Rock City Falls history.

The Saratoga County History Center plans to create more videos for this series but has not decided on what locations they will be focusing on next. The center also noted that the “Forgotten Crossroads: Rock City Falls” video took about a year and a half to complete.

Another screening of the video will be at the Rock City Falls Firehouse on May 13 at 7 p.m. No registration is required. The video is also available to watch on the Saratoga County History Center Youtube page.