The Chalmers building
By: Bob Cudmore
The Chalmers building on Amsterdam’s South Side
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 02-17-18
David W. Chalmers and his partners were the last industrialists to start a major knitting mill in Amsterdam. Chalmers. John Blood, John Barnes and Howard Hanson created Chalmers Knitting Company in 1901 in a factory building on Washington Street north of the Mohawk River.
Long underwear was a staple in those days. An Amsterdam knitting expert named Martin J, Shaughnessey had discovered a way to knit fabric and leave tiny holes to allow air to reach the body of the wearer. Shaughnessy went to work for Chalmers and they called the breathable fabric Porosknit.
Chalmers advertised in a spectacular way for a decade with a large lighted sign above New York’s Times Square, touting the superiority of Porosknit and its other products.
In 1912 Chalmers and his partners moved their knitting operations to a four story brick factory building they constructed on the shore of the south side of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam.
Turner Construction of Amsterdam built a seven-story concrete addition to the Chalmers factory in 1916. Turner also built a mansion on Guy Park Avenue for David Chalmers and his wife Emsie. A friend of Thomas Edison, Chalmers had electric lamps at his home and a third floor ballroom.
Many of the knitting mill’s employees were Italian-Americans who walked to work from their South Side homes.
“How many times we used to come home from work (in the Depression) and cry because it was a bad day,” said Elizabeth Sardonia in an interview with Gazette reporter Ed Munger. “But you went to work the next day just the same, and punched that clock.”
Chalmers sold the knitting mill in 1945 to Lester Martin of New York City who continued to manufacture underwear under the Chalmers name. In 1946, Martin company controller Joel Kaplan began making trips to Amsterdam from his native New York City to inventory the Chalmers operation.
David Chalmers died in 1950 at his Guy Park Avenue home. In 1955, Kaplan moved to Amsterdam to oversee the Chalmers plant, which at one time during Martin’s ownership employed 650 people. Martin died in 1959 and the Chalmers knitting company closed that year.
Textile operations continued at the former Chalmers building, purchased by Edward Stern in 1962. Stern had a knitting operation on the fourth floor.
Kaplan headed a new company named Montco that occupied the third floor, manufacturing women’s sportswear. Montco had four factory outlets in the region and a second factory in Johnstown.
Stern closed his Amsterdam operation in 1978 and Montco closed in 1980 as textile manufacturing moved overseas.
Kaplan told the Gazette that Montco production supervisor Beatrice Fredericks and 30 other women started their own company in the Chalmers building in 1980. They produced clothing there until about 1985.
Kaplan continued living in Amsterdam where he was active in numerous charities. He died in 2015.
In the early years of the new century, Long Island developer Uri Kaufman proposed creation of a luxury apartment complex using the Chalmers building. Kaufman has created apartment complexes from former mill buildings in Cohoes.
The Chalmers building was placed on the National Historic Register in 2010. But there was considerable opposition to Kaufman’s plan on the city’s Common Council.
The Gazette reported, “That plan fell apart amid the housing market collapse, trouble with the title to the property and a general desire by many to have the eyesore gone and the site available for redevelopment.”
The Chalmers building was torn down over several months, starting in 2011 and finishing in 2012. The site is adjacent to the entrance to Amsterdam’s pedestrian bridge, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.