The Lockport Felt Mill
Niagara County was, for many years, the scene of one the most successful “felt mills” in the country. Founded in 1891, the Lockport Felt Company produced a felt product that was absolutely essential to the paper industry.
Starting in a small frame building on Eighteen Mile Creek, the company grew and expanded into several plants across the nation and Canada. The history of the business is perhaps best told through the remembrances of one of their “charter” employees, Art Schoelles. He began to work in the old mill in Newfane in 1903. He later confessed that he fibbed about his age and told business owner, Mr. William Lee, that he had attained the mature age of fourteen, when in fact he was still a wet-behind-the-ears lad of thirteen. He worked for a weekly salary of $2.75 and his parents allowed him to keep only five cents as “spending money.” With that magnificent sum in hand, Art remembered going to the store and purchasing a large bag of roasted peanuts and then eating them unassisted. Art’s brothers also worked at the mill and they walked over three miles to and from work each day. Art worked 60 hours per week, so his wage rate amounted to four cents per hour.
Art also remembered when the mill switched from water to steam power and when the plant transitioned to oil lamps for illumination. The plant had water wheels and a mill raceway that provided power to a central shaft and numerous rope drive belts for the machinery. In the early days, there was a blacksmith shop in the yard and a long line of none-to-modern outdoor privies to take care of necessities.
After decades of service, Art Schoelles joined a list of thousands of faithful Lockport Felt Mill workers who gave their best effort to the company. Like many other businesses, changes in manufacturing and the economy forced the local plants to close at the end of the 20th century.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094