Making Potash in Reynoldston, NY

Among the very first industries in what was to become Reynoldston was the making ofpotash, a potassium-rich fertilizer made with wood ashes from which the fertilizing ingredients were leached. The process may have been similar to the domestic production of lye soap, which required leaching lye from wood ashes with water.

Making Potash

09/08/2011

Earliest Economic Activity

Among the very first industries in what was to become Reynoldston was the making ofpotash, a potassium-rich fertilizer made with wood ashes from which the fertilizing ingredients were leached. The process may have been similar to the domestic production of lye soap, which required leaching lye from wood ashes with water

Hiram Eddy Opens up Area with Road

Hiram Eddy, for whom the  Eddy Road running through Reynoldston is named, is known to have made potash there in the 1830s, shortly after the town of Brandon was separated from the town of Bangor.  As a fertilizer, potash had monetary value, and one of our informants claimed that it was hauled to Fort Covington, on the Canadian border, for cash sale.  (In the very early years, with forests everywhere, the wood by-product potash may well have had more monetary value than lumber itself.)  Production of potash in Reynoldston probably ended about 1890. 

Earliest SetTlers Made Potash 

In a number of the interviews that we conducted in 1969/70/71 we were told that many of the earliest settlers, burned the hardwood trees and especially the stumps that were hard to get rid of any other way, when they cleared from their land.  The ashed from these trees and stumps were collected to make potash.  The process is simple enough:  hot water is run through the ashes repeatedly until the water became lye, which could be reduced to a residue that was potash or “blacksalts”.  

The potash was a much needed source of cash for the settlers and helped them to build their homes and start their farms.  The making of potash as land was cleared was done by early settlers throughout the Northern New York State.  Reynoldston which had a rich abundance of hardwood forests was a prime place to make potash or “blacksalts”.  Even after the farms were established residents collected the ashes from their wood stoves and converted them into either lye for soap or to sell to potash dealers for small amounts of cash. The article that follows by Seaver in 1915 outlines in detail the trade in potash for the area.

 

The Making of Potash

From Seaver*

The story of potash, interesting in itself, will bear recital and amplification because the product meant so much to
this section in pioneer
days. Its manufacture was our first industry. The name is derived from ashes, from which alone it was formerly produced, and from pot, in which the lye was boiled to dryness. Black salts is a synonym. In earliest operations each settler was himself the manufacturer through all of the stages —felling the timber so that it would lie in heaps, burning it, gathering the ashes and leaching them, boiling down the rye, and hauling the product to market. The labor must have been prodigious, as thirty cords of wood are required for the making a ton of ashes, which yields only about a sixth of a ton of potash. Asheries sprang up later and came to handle the business generally, though individuals continued in many cases to do the primary work themselves usually leasing a pot from an asheri at the rental price of one dollar per month. The asheries received ashes through individual delivery at their doors, or gathered their supply with their own teams. Ashes produced in the home commanded a considerably better price (usually twelve cents per bushel) than the field product, with which a good deal of dirt was commonly mixed, and which sold at from five to eight cents per bushel. In not exceptional cases the asheries bought the potash from individual makers, and converted it into pearlash. An ashery which continued to operate long after the industry had ceased to be general, and which many of us readily remember, was that of the late B, F. Jewett, north of North Bangor village. It kept a number of teams scouring the county continuously for house ashes. Elm and ash give the largest yield of ashes, and an operator who cleared a heavily elm-timbered tract in Bangor used to say that he found a five dollar bill at the root of every tree, The business of producing vegetable potash as a commercial proposition has practically disappeared, owing to the facts that the labor cost would be prohibitive even if timber had not become too valuable to burn. and also to mineral potash having come into general use through the discovery in 1807 of a practicable process for separating it from salt deposits in Germany.

*”Historical Sketches of Franklin County And Its Several Towns” |Seaver,Frederick J |1918
|J.B Lyons Company |Albany, NY |pages 27-29

 Oral History Interview with Clifford Berry:

Clifford Berry: “Mr. Eddy selling his home in West Bangor, which was located on the Dyke residential land now.   On that high bank beside the river moved up around Reynoldston where he purchased and cleared a large tract of land.  At that time it was large and began the process of clearing the land, and making black salts or curl ash.  This process was carried on beside a little crick known as the Eddy Crick or Eddy Brook I guess they call it.  In Making the potash, he accidentally fell into the received severe burns, from which he later had to be taken down to the old original fish farm as no doctor would consent to come up in this are, the roads were so bad.  After laying at the fish farm during the entire summer, his back healed sufficiently and he sold the land and returned to Stowe Vermont where he had lived before coming to Bangor. It was Hiram Eddy. I will show you his picture.”

QUESTION:  Can you tell us how they made the black salts?

Clifford Berry:  “After you burned the hardwood, you had the ashes from the hardwood and you put it in a kettle and put water with it and boil it down.  It was like making soap today.  Years ago people used to make soft soap.   And they made that out of hardwood ashes, or ashes from your fireplace.  And they would make lye by running water from the eaves.  I was trying to think of the name.  They had a name for this out- fit.  You put a barrel with holes in the bottom and ashes and run water, a leach.””Well, that was black salts and that had to be drawn to Fort Covington and sold.  It was one way they could get a little money. Otherwise it was all barter.   You traded your oats for tea, but they did get the money through the sale of salts.   And for that they would use it to pay their taxes, because they had to have money for that.”

QUESTION: Who visited the Eddy’s?

Clifford Berry: My Aunt Hannah..   That was her name later.  Her name originally was Hannah Collins as a young girl told me she visited the Eddy’s when they were living in Reynoldston sometime after 1830.  She would have only been six or seven years old in 1830.   She visited them and at this time they were living on this tract at the Eddy lot.  And she said that the only room they had for here was a loft where poles went from one side of the log cabin to the other.  And up there, they placed some straw and she had to sleep on this.  And while sleeping there, she could here the wolves howling and it scared her so that she care not much at night.  She liked staying there with her people during the day time, but not at night.”

“Now Mr. Eddy, later was brought to the Fish farm and he never returned to his farm up there.  He sold out and to whom I don’t know.   You probably could find out at the court house.   You would find the transfer of property.  Or when I don’t know, but he went back to Stowe Vermont, where he is buried.”

Clifford Berry - Tape  1 – oral history interview -August 24, 1970

Thomas Campbell

The Eddy lot they used to call it…I own that now.   Well they used to make soap up there.  I here my mother tell about it that they used to make soap.  Big potash kettle you know and they used to make it just this side of Charlie Merricks…just this side of brook there on to mine ” 

Tom Campbell – Tape 4, page 3

{ 0 comments }