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Artifact Spotlight – Union Works Loom

October 26, 2023

The Black River Canal brought prosperity to Northern New York by providing the movement of goods throughout the state. Many canal towns developed along the canal and new businesses emerged.  

Boonville New York was vital to the success of the canal as it was here that the canal received the water redirected from the Black River from Forestport. One could say that Boonville was the center of the Black River Canal System because of the location and elevation of the land. Because Boonville has the highest elevation within the path of the canal, water flowed freely both north to Carthage and South to Rome to meet the Erie Canal. And so, Boonville became a booming town complete with businesses of all types including merchants, hotels, and manufacturers. One business located in Boonville was The Union Loom Company.

On display at the Black River Canal Museum sits a loom that was produced by the Union Loom Company.  The loom is located in the Mercantile Building and proudly shows a bit of woven cloth still on the warp.

The Union Loom Company was established by John Elsaser in 1918 who was taught to weave and build looms by his grandfather. His grandfather had begun building looms in 1880. In 1921 John’s three sons joined the company and changed the organization to that of a corporation.

The Union Loom Company employed 160 workers and also manufactured small furniture pieces. In 1931, the Union Loom Company was purchased by the Oriental Rug Company from Lima, Ohio. Loom production continued until Oriental closed in the 1950’s.

During a recent visit to Dutchess County Fair Grounds in Rhinebeck New York, I was able to visit the Museum Exhibits Building that is sponsored by the Dutchess County Agricultural Society. It was exciting to see a collection of Union Looms also on display there, complete with a period operator! This volunteer of the Century Museum Village and Collectors Association graciously let me take her photo while she worked on her weaving.

I find it comforting to see bits and pieces of our town of Boonville New York scattered across the miles so far from home. It is also interesting to be able to view artifacts from years gone by and imagine a totally different life style of the day. The technology of the period was so much different than ours today.  And yet, it is evident that the items manufactured a hundred years ago were certainly built to last and remain functional to this day.