Saturday, March 31, 2018

Firearm Factory of the Month: James Reid & My Friend

James Reid was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1827 and trained in gunsmithing in Glasgow Scotland before emigrating to the United States in 1857 at the age of 30. 
He came to New York to work for W.W. Marston and W. Irving Company. Sometime during the Civil War he set up his own shop in New York City, but he longed for the country (some say it was for health reasons) and in 1865 moved his operation to Catskill, NY. He purchased an old water powered grist mill and built a gun factory next to it.  Across the river he built a home for his family.
On December 26, 1865 Reid was awarded a patent for one of his gun designs. It was a small revolver that doubled as a knuckle duster. He called it "My Friend". 
In the picture below you can see the model name and patent date on the top strap. The guns were hand engraved by James Reid Jr.

The guns had no barrel, no trigger guard and had few moving parts. They came in three calibers: .22 Rimfire, .32 Rimfire and .41 Rimfire. 
The .22 models (Model No.1) were more popular than the .32 & .41 (Model No. 2).
The cylinder was nickel plated steel and held 7 rounds for the No.1 and 5 rounds for the No.2 models. The frame was made of brass and used a flat main spring and a spur trigger. A side plate on the left side of the gun provided access.

Production began in 1868 and ran for 14 years with approximately 10,000 units made.
They were packaged with 100 rounds of ammunition and sold for $10 (the equivalent of about $205 today).

There were other models of revolvers made by Reid, but none as popular as the "My Friend"

A couple of successive depressions attributed to the failure of his business and he ended production in 1882/1883. Reid sold the Mill, factory and his home and moved north to the town of Troy, NY and went to work in the Watervliet Arsenal. James Reid died in 1898 at the age of 71.

Now we know about the man and his guns, what about his factory? I started with just a name and a town: James Reid, Catskill, NY.
Finding the location of where buildings once stood is not always easy, especially ones that are this old.

Google searching has become a science these days and skillful users can find almost anything.

Using my "Google-Fu" I came up with an article from the Greene County Historical Society entitled "Resnick's Buckwheat Mill" by Jim Hubbard (the article has since been pulled from their website).

Reid's mill was purchased by Mr. Jack Resnick, who went into the business of roasting and milling buckwheat sometime before WWII. Jim Hubbard went to work for Resnick and his article about that time gave us the missing info we needed.

Photo of the 3 story grist mill on left and 2 story brick gun factory on right, taken by Charles T Reid (son or grandson of James Reid?) in 1920, photo courtesy of the Vedder Research Library, Greene County Historical Society

The article gave several clues as to the location of the factory: "as Cauterskill Road topped the hill", "on old Cauterskill road", "an old natural dam blocking the creek" and "just before the turnoff to Leeds", also "Rushmore's dam was formed by a ridge of natural limestone", "Tucked into the bank on one end of the dam was an old weathered building of brick and stone that rose two stories from massive stone foundations".

The photos below were taken in 1974, the mill and factory now in ruins.
photos courtesy of the Vedder Research Library, Greene County Historical Society

I believe the Google street view photo below is near the location from which the picture above was taken, trees have replaced the land once occupied by the mill and factory. You can see the street sign warning of the merging of another road and the telephone pole and wires. In the distance beyond  the trees on the right you can see the old Reid homestead.

Here is where the natural stone dam meets the side of the bank, you can see a concrete encasement, probably where the water wheel sat that ran the mill and factory. The gun factory sat atop this encasement.

I believe this house, opposite the river is the same as the one in the photo above, the Reid homestead

Which means the old grist mill and firearms factory would be about where the arrow is pointing in the picture below (click on the picture for a larger version). 

The old Reid home still stands, but he gun factory and grist mill were torn down sometime in the 1970's or '80's.

Greene County Historical Journal
Vedder Research Library
Ancestry Guns
Daily Freeman

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