Historic Homes and Places in Little Falls, New York

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Historic Homes and Place in Little Falls: Introduction

The Little Falls Historical Society Museum would like to introduce you to our city, with a synopsis of the history of Little Falls.

The area was first settled in 1722, using the Burnetsfield Land Patent, with Johan Jost Petrie and Johan Jost Herkimer leading the way for the exiled Palatine German farmers.

This area was chosen because of the availability of fertile land for farming, the potential for waterpower generated by the Mohawk River, and to set a barrier between the Dutch and English settlers in Albany and the sometimes-hostile Iroquois Indians. The Palatines operated the portage at the “Little Carrying Place” on the Mohawk River, with the portage avoiding the 40 feet of cascading rapids that made water travel impossible. These rapids are known locally as The Magnificent Mile. The portage brought permanent settlers to the area and increased trade, travel and growth and the formation of a small community called Little Falls.

Mills soon appeared along the Mohawk River for processing grain and lumber, the first mill being built in 1725 by Johan Jost Petrie.

From 1775 through 1782, during the Revolutionary War, the area population was divided between those loyal to the Crown (Loyalists) and those wanting to form a new independent nation (Patriots.) The raiding Loyalists came down from Canada and ravaged the Mohawk Valley, accounting for many of the Burnetsfield land lots being abandoned by fleeing families. When the Revolutionary War ended, the Loyalists lost their land when the state enacted the Forfeiture Act of 1779. As a result, most of the land on the north side of the river at Little Falls became available for purchase. In 1790, a wealthy Scottish fur trader, Alexander Ellice, purchased 12,000 acres, most of this along the mile-long rapids, which gave him control over the land that was later to become Little Falls. Ellice would not sell any land but leased it to incoming settlers charging high rents for the use of the land and water rights.

As the needs for the villagers grew, so did the need for better water transportation around the rapids.

A mile-long five lock canal was built by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company (WILNC) north of the river in 1795. Following the same path as the portage, the WILNC replaced the carry at the Little Carrying Place. Little Falls was chartered as a village in 1811, when new homes began to appear, along with dry goods stores, merchandise shops, churches, and schools. The WILNC was too small for future needs, hence the much larger Erie Canal was built in 1825. It passed south of the river at Little Falls and continued across the state to Buffalo. It had bigger locks for much larger boats. The new canal increased trade, travel and migration within the State of New York and the nation. Hundreds of thousands of people passed through Little Falls on their way west.

The Ellice’s monopoly on their land holdings along the river was broken up in 1831, making land at Little Falls available for purchase.

New manufacturing and textile mills began to appear along the waterways at Little Falls, with the incoming wealthy industrialists and entrepreneurs building their family homes within the village center. Little Falls became chartered as a city in 1895. In 1916, Lock 17 was built with a single 40 ½ foot lift replacing the five-lock system of the Erie Canal.  Please come along and view the historic homes of some of the industrialists, merchants, bankers, and lawyers who were part of the growth that made Little Falls a true canal side city.

This is the first phase of a multi-year project with other tour routes in future years.

Many thanks to the following Little Falls Historical Society members for their contributions to this project:

Louis Baum – narrative consultant
Anita Dulak – committee member
Gail Potter – committee member
Ginny Rogers – layout and design
Missy Smith – committee chairperson
Elizabeth Spraker – photography and committee member
Pat Stock – committee member
Maryanne Terzi – committee member

Little Falls Historical Society Museum Exhibits