The potential of the Seneca River attracted the early settlers to this area of the Finger Lakes in the 1790’s. Early in the 19th century men of vision in Seneca Falls built waterwheels which were turned by the river’s rapids. Damned and channeled in the next several decades, the river provided power for an ever-increasing number of mills and industries.

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal opened in 1817 (eight years before the Erie Canal was completed) and was joined to the Erie Canal in 1828. The network of New York canals made possible the economical transport of farm and factory products from this area to the East Coast and westward to the heartland of the mid-West. An era of prosperity began and New York became the Empire State .

The pump industry dominated in the 1840’s with factories and foundries along the Canal. Frequent foundry fires led to the invention of pumps on wheels, and Seneca Falls became the fire engine capital of the world. Greater prosperity meant industrial and cultural development. Improved communication led to the religious and reform movements centered in western New York , including the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848.

Waterways History

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Industrial History
Arnotte Mills

For over a century, starting in the 1840’s, the economy of Seneca Falls, New York depended primarily upon its foundry work. Beginning with the manufacturing of pumps, foundries grew in size and output as competing manufacturers tried to out-do one another. Three companies emerged as fierce competitors for the trade: Cowing & Company and Downs & Company (later called Goulds PumArnotte Millsps) both in 1840 and Rumsey & Company entering the picture in 1864. Pumps, steam fire engines, sadirons (we have an extraordinary number of these in our 19th Century kitchen display), coffee grinders, sausage stuffers, stoves, whirly gigs, corn shellers & huskers, boot jacks, bells, sinks, all made by iron, were spin-off products that made Seneca Falls a household name.

The Industries -

The Industries –

Cowing & Company: The father of the pump industry in Seneca Falls. John P. Cowing started as a salesman for the ...