Rock City Falls

Rock City Falls

Cottrell-Harrington Park

There is this little parking area on Route 29 in Rock City Falls, NY. It is directly across from the old Empire Mill on the Kayaderosseras Creek (locally called the Kaydeross). A paved trail runs a short distance along the water with a couple of viewing platforms and a little gazebo. A little ways upstream, on the other side of the road is George West’s old summer home, The Mansion Inn. And if you go farther downstream, by the Cottrell Paper Mill you can see a lovely waterfall. To get a great view of the falls, you can park at the Milton Fire Station and walk to the center of the bridge on Rock City Road.

“Big Falls” on the Kayaderosseras Creek, behind Cottrell Paper Company – April 2017

Union Mill Complex (aka Bischoff’s Chocolate Factory)

I love a little history mixed in with my adventures and there is no lacking of history in Upstate New York. This particular story of mine began in August of 2016, when Nathan and I went for dinner at The Factory in Ballston Spa, NY. The restaurant is just one part of the repurposed Union Mill Complex. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, three brick buildings and the ruins of a dam make up this fascinating building complex.

Union Mill Complex on the Kaydeross – May 2017

I must admit it was the tall brick towers of the complex that drew me in and made me wonder about the building’s history. Two elegant towers, both different from each other, and the one I was looking up at on that warm summer evening had “Geo. West 1879” boldly displayed at the top.

Tower at the Union Mill Complex – August 2016

George West

I learned Geo. West was George West, “The Paper Bag King.” I found it pretty amazing that this man invented the flat-bottomed paper bag, and made his fortune by being the largest producer of the folded paper bag in the world.

As I learned more about George West, I needed to go find the Empire Mill and his summer home in Rock City Falls. The first time I visited Cottrell-Harrington Park it was a rainy day with the remains of winter all around. Gloomy and dismal, yet somehow comforting.

The second time I went walking around the park it snowed lightly, delightfully, making my exploration seem more dreamlike than real. Too cold, I took my photos to reference later and went on my way.

The Empire Mill

“The Bag Works” at Rock City Falls was purchased by George West in 1862. It was the first of many mills owned by West, who became the largest manufacturer of paper bags in the world and provided more work for the local people than Milton had ever known. It ceased operation after the electric trolley closed in 1930. Today the buildings are owned by Cottrells.”

The Mansion Inn

The mansion is a beautiful purple Italianate Victorian on Route 29 in Rock City Falls. It is currently a Bed & Breakfast and appears to be a favorite Saratoga Springs venue for weddings. Built in 1866 by George West, it too is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historic Mansion Inn

Cottrell Paper Company

“The Old Stone Mill that was owned by George West, was purchased by the Cottrell Family in 1926. It is the only mill along the Kayaderosseras that remains in operation. Currently, Cottrell Paper Company resides at the Old Stone Mill and is a worldwide distributor of electrical insulating paper.”

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Cottrell Paper uses scrap denim in its production of paper and is a green company.

The History of Rock City Falls

“There were saw and grist mills near the present paper-mill in the upper part of Rock City before 1800, usually known then as the Hatch Mills, though owned by Swan. This was the first use of the splendid water-power at that point. Not much later than that, however, another one was erected by Rathbone, the first settler at the village of Rock City. There were two brothers Rathbone, one the pioneer merchant and landlord, the other the mill owner. One of them afterwards removed to Greenfield.

The first settlers in the area were Aaron Van Ostrand, Alpheus Moore and his sons David and Moses, Mr. Millard, Joel Keeler, Nathan Frink, Mr. Taylor and his sons John and Joel Lee.
The first paper mill was built by Chauncey Kilmer in 1840 and later was known as the Empire Mill. Isaac Rowland Jr. built a grist mill in 1845. He sold it to Kilmer in 1852. After modifying the mill he went on to be the first to use straw to produce paper. In 1844 Hiram and Eliza Middlebrook sold land for the Schoolhouse District #12 and the first Methodist Episcopal Church was built. In 1849 the first post office was established. By the 1870s there was a store, a hotel, 3 mills, 2 schools, 2 churches, a blacksmith shop and a stone quarry. The early 1900s brought the Ballston Terminal RR through the hamlet to service the mills and provide transportation to and from Ballston Spa.”
By Nathaniel B. Sylvester

Rock City Falls Historical Marker

I visited Rock City Falls, NY April 6, 2017 & November 13, 2017
Ballston Spa & Hamlet of Rock City Falls in the Town of Milton, NY
All photos were taken by me, Alicen Hutcheson
Links are provided to share more information based on readers interest
Information shared was provided by the Town of Milton in collaboration with The Friends of the Kayaderosseras 2015 at the Cottrell-Harrington Park