Canastota: Glassmaking on the Canal

The small village of Canastota saw its fortunes grow on the basis of the Erie Canal and of two special glass businesses. In 1817, at the start of construction, a wheat field and 4 houses were all that Canastota contained. The construction of the Canal through the area brought civilization, including municipal authority, churches, and schools. During this period, nationally known amateur Canal engineer Nathan Roberts came to Canastota. He was the assistant engineer on the Rome-Rochester stretch of the Canal and is also well known for designing and overseeing the construction of the Flight of Five locks at Lockport. Roberts built a home in Canastota between 1821 and 1825. As soon as the Canal section was opened, boat trade began immediately between Canastota and other villages.

In 1881, C. German of Cleveland NY traveled to Canastota to discuss locating his glassworks there. Glass making began in the village later that year. The company employed about 50 people, and made window glass. Plate glass windows are made by heating glass by furnace and flattening it with rollers, then grinding it down and polishing it. Canastota’s proximity to Oneida Lake was a key selling point, as sand from the lake was used as a raw material of the glass. Canastota also had a good labor force and a navigable waterway in the form of the Canal, and railways to bring supplies and provide a connection to a vast market. Boats were loaded with the glass, and it was peddled along the Canal, taking cash or produce in exchange for the product. The business became part of the United Glass Company and the factory was closed, with the building remaining idle until 1898, when it was organized into a cooperative company, which lasted until the early 20th century.


Window glass workers, Canastota 1888.


Canastota was also home to the Ideal Cut Glass Company, which did not make the glass on-site, but rather produced decorative glass pieces from glass blanks made elsewhere.

The Ideal Cut Glass Company was founded in 1903 in Corning. Charles E. Rose founded it after cutting glass in Corning for 17 years. He got some financiers and incorporated the Ideal Cut Glass Company. After a short period of time, the company grew very successful, but its small building location didn’t allow for expansion and the hire of more cutters.

William Hitchcock owned a wholesale jewelry company in Syracuse and managed retail jewelry stores in Canastota and Chittenango and was familiar with Ideal’s products, as he sold them in his shops. He was confident that the company could be even more successful if it was moved.

He looked into the prospect of moving the shop to Canastota and helped to arrange the deal. The Canastota Businessmen’s Association put together a fund raising committee to buy the Marvin Drill Company Building and the land it sat upon. Charles Rose had hoped to get the building for his company for free, but settled for a promise from the Association that ownership of the buildings and land would pass to Ideal if the company stayed in Canastota for 5 years.

William Hitchcock and friends from Syracuse ended up buying control of Ideal in 1907. Ideal continued to grow and there was a large market for their products, department and jewelry stores all over the country. Ideal created cut glass pieces in nearly 80 different patterns. Diamond Poinsettia was their most popular; it was patented in 1913 and was one of the most expensive patterns produced. They also had a pattern featuring the USS Constitution, which was patented in 1927; only 50 pieces with this pattern were produced. They were also known for creating patterns named after cities throughout the state, like Albany, Syracuse, and Utica. This made it easier for consumers to relate to the product.


Ideal Cut Glass workers


At the beginning there were only a few employees and as the business grew, more were hired to take the total up to over 100 employees. A small cutting shop in Chittenango was also operated by Ideal briefly beginning in 1910, known as the Chittenango Cut Glass Factory. It closed in 1912, due to the difficulty in finding and training skilled workers.


Chittenango Cut Glass Company


Ideal operated in Canastota from 1905 to 1933; it was one of many businesses killed by the Great Depression and economic changes. During these 28 years, Ideal had customers all over the world. On March 14, 1933, Ideal filed a petition of bankruptcy in Federal court. After the bankruptcy, the remains of the company were moved to the Watson Wagon Works building, so the remaining orders could be finished. The last remaining glass cutters employed by Ideal worked part time for 2 years on this. The Canastota buildings that had once housed Ideal burned down in 1936.