Little Falls has its own Flatiron building

“The new plant for the S. F. Jones Coal Company between West John Street and the railroad tracks was built in the unique shape of a flat iron so as to use every square inch of available land.”

February 8, 1908, Cooney Archives

S.F. Coal & Trucking Company | 81 West John Street


S. F. Jones was born on 2nd of November 1874, to Erastus Jones and Mary Ann Zoller Jones Fisher. Sheldon was a cousin to Jacob Zoller of Zoller’s Mansion at Little Falls, both being descendants of the Swiss nationals that helped found the nearby village of Minden, the Zollinger brothers.

Sheldon married Eunice Marie Cheney on 22nd of February 1869, settling at 11 Furnace Street. Eunice was the daughter of Henry and Lucretia Cheney, born on the Higby Farm in Fly Creek on the 24th of December 1849.


In 1828, Henry Cheney began manufacturing hammers in the Fly Creek Foundry of Orestes Badger. By 1836, he was manufacturing hammers under the Cheney name.

In the spring of 1854, Henry purchased the old mill of William Ingham and moved his hammer manufacturing business to Little Falls. The Ellice estate only allowed the Ingham Mill to be built in 1820, on the condition that it was to be operated as a fulling and carding mill, as not to compete with the enterprises of the Ellice estate. The mill was located at 73 West Mill Street, on one of the most historic lots of the city. John Jost Petrie had built a grist mill in 1725, on the western edge of this city lot, which was burned during the American Revolution in 1882, being the Petrie Grist Mill Massacre.


In the fall of 1872, Sheldon F. Jones went to work for his brother-in-law, Jacob Moll, as a furniture salesman, with the Moll Furniture Company. The company was located on the north east corner of Main and Furnace Street. On January of 1878, Sheldon moved his wife and four-year-old son, Henry Cheney, to New York City to manage a sales office for the family furniture store. The Jones’s returned to Little Falls in April, after the death of Henry Cheney, for Sheldon to manage the finances for the Cheney estate.


Sheldon parted with the Henry Cheney Company in 1883, starting a trucking business in Little Falls, with the Federal Census having him listed as a cartman. Sheldon’s trucking business was very successful and by 1897, Sheldon had organized the S.F. Coal Company. On the 10th of December 1900, he purchased village lot # 33, being 81 West John Street, from the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company for $1,500. The present-day location of 81 west John Street, would have been located on the north side of the train tracks behind the business of Kress’s Physical Therapy on State Route 5. In 1905, he purchased the first heavy-duty truck in the area, the locomobile.


Sheldon spent a year planning and designing the flatiron shaped building, using his knowledge of coal handling to execute the best way of transporting the coal, from the coal train into delivery wagons and out to be delivered to his customers. He chose city lot # 33 with the ability of having a short branch railroad line installed, so that the coal trains could bring the coal hoppers over a trestle that had an opening in the train track, which was located over the top of a ground storage coal bin. Once the coal hopper was in place, the coal hopper’s bottom opened dispelling the coal into the ground storage pit, below the branch line track.

From the ground storage pit located under the trestle, the coal traveled through a chute into an electric bucket that held one ton of coal. Once the bucket was filled, it automatically lifted vertically eighty-five feet to the top floor of the coal plant. When the bucket reached the top floor, the bucket automatically dumped the coal into a waiting coal car.

The coal car, which was operated by balance weights, then would travel at an incline on an open track over a large storage bin, which was located below. The large bin was divided into slots, with each slot holding a different type of coal. Once the coal car reached the desired slot of the storage bin for the type of coal that it was carrying, a floor switch was triggered, which in turn released the sides of the coal car. With sides of the coal car open, the coal was dropped into the chosen slot within the storage bin below, releasing a ton of coal. The coal car would automatically return to the top floor to be filled again, repeating the cycle. The coal crew could unload forty-eight tons of coal per hour.

A connecting chute was located under each separate slot of the storage bin. When a coal order came in, a delivery wagon was driven under the chosen chute. The chute was then opened manually by a lever and with the help of gravity, in less than a minute the delivery wagon was filled with the required amount of coal. If the work had to have been done manually, it would have taken the work of three men with shovels, a half hour to complete the task. The only shoveling was done, was when the delivery wagon reached the customer and the coal had to be delivered into the house or place of business.


Coal is mined mainly in five states, being Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Montana. Jones sold two types of coal, anthracite and bituminous coals, which were transported to Little Falls by train. The train cars holding the coal were know as tender cars, hopper cars or hopper wagons. The anthracite coal was a harder coal and burned cleaner but was more costly than the softer bituminous coal.
The mined coal is typically separated by size, with the different sizes being used for different applications. Household coal was labeled as: stove coal, which was the size of a baseball; chestnut coal was the size of a golf ball; and pea coal was the size of a quarter, which were all used in coal burning cast iron stoves of the early 1800s. The coal burning cast iron stoves replaced the 1740s wood burning stove made popular by Benjamin Franklin, for the heating of rooms and cooking.

In 1838, the Petrie brother’s, Joram and Col. David Petrie, purchased the iron foundry of Sam Smith, which was located at the north east corner of Main and Furnace Street, being the present- day site of Sam’s Deli at 15 Furnace St. The Petrie brothers manufactured cast iron coal stoves, which were pot belly type stoves for heating and kitchen stoves for cooking. Furnace Street was given its name because of the furnace foundry. This same lot was used for Jacob Moll’s furniture factory in the 1870s, with Moll being Jones’s brother-in-law.

When the Industrial revolution hit Little Falls, the factory machines became larger, stronger, and faster, requiring coal to fuel them. This in turn, caused air pollution within the city, mainly from the use of bituminous coal.

The basement coal furnace came about in 1885, with cast iron radiators being used to heat homes, which was the beginning of central heating. The coal furnace used different sizes of coal, being: buckwheat coal, that was the size of a dime; rice coal, that was the size of a pencil eraser; and barley coal, that was the size of coarse sand.

In 1917, between the Great War and extremely cold weather, there was a shortage of coal. By 1920, the use of coal for households had peaked, with cook stoves then being fueled by gas or electricity. Also, coal furnaces had a new design of an automatic hopper, which fed the furnace with coal automatically.

Oil burning furnaces took hold in the 1930s, with the oil burning unit being adapted from David Hamlin Burrell’s invention of 1885. Today, coal is mainly used as fuel to generate electric power.


On the 25th of June 1924, the Jones family purchased a home at 71 North Ann Street, being the former home of Honorable James Feeter. Sheldon Frederick Jones lost his wife Eunice in 1929. His death was on the 3rd of August 1932. Their burials took place at the Church Street Cemetery.


In the late 1960s, the City of Little Falls decided they needed a New York State Thruway Interchange that would connect Little Falls to the 1954 thruway, with hopes of boosting city revenues by attracting passing motorists to stop at Little Falls. To gain this, the city had to make an agreement with the state, which was for state to install State Route 5 through the city. Urban Renewal removed many residential housing units and industrial buildings on the south side of the city to accommodate this new route. The flatiron building of the S.F. Jones Company was removed during this project, along with the south side of Main Street. The Urban Renewal project displaced many people and businesses, with having no plan put in place for the relocation of either. The population of 1960 was estimated to be about 8,935 and by the time this project was completed, the estimated population had dropped to 6,156. Roughly 2,800 people had left Little Falls during this period, with the city only having an estimated population of 4,605 as of 2020.

*From The Cooney Archive’s: This Day In History by Louis Baum, Jr. Digitizing of historical photos by Gail & Mike Potter. Article written by Darlene Smith.

1912 · ‎Coal trade // Coal and Coal Trade Journal
Historical News Papers
History of Herkimer County, New York by F.W. Beers | PG 268

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