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Knapps's Dam

 

 

 

Knapps's Dam

THE MYSTERY OF KNAPP'S DAM IN SLOATSBURG
 

The Ramapo River provided waterpower to drive the mills and forges of early industry in Sloatsburg.  We can still see today Sloat's Pond Dam, Sluice Gate and Millrace just behind the O&R sub-station.  The remains of Dater's Dam can also be seen just North of Dater's Bridge.

When Sloatsburg's premier  historian, Clarence Conklin, told me that Hiram Knapp also had a dam to power his Shoddy Mill (shoddy is a cheap form of cotton used for packing) that was new news-- I had never seen reference to it before.  The old shoddy mill of the early 1800's was located on the site of what is now the Sterling Stone Company, just north of Seven Lakes Drive on Route 17.

I walked the river and the property trying to find some sign of an early dam or millrace.  I could find no signs whatsoever of any dam foundation along the sides of the Ramapo River.  There is a culvert on the grounds under the RR track, well below ground level and completely filled in.  Why was there only one culvert under the RR?  There should have been  two, one to conduct the water to the mill and a second to return the water to the river.  More importantly, the ground level immediately to the west, where the mill was located is significantly higher than the level of the river.  How could water flow uphill to power the mill?  Was even Clarence Conklin capable of being mistaken?  I had never known that to happen before.

Shortly thereafter, Craig Long, Ramapo Town Historian, let me copy a 1916 map of Sloatsburg in the possession of Suffern Museum.  Lo-and-behold, that map shows three dams within Sloatsburg, all unlabeled.  Clearly one is Sloat's Dam, another to the north is Dater's Dam and the third is in  the right location to be Knapp's Dam.

In the absence of Clarence who had returned to Ohio, I conferred with Fred Waldron.  Fred confirmed the existence of Knapp's Dam and explained the credibility problems I had observed,  i.e.:

The area west of the Ramapo River was originally at the same level as the river allowing a millrace to run from the river to the Knapp's mill.  When the Orange Turnpike was widened, dirt excavated for the project was used as fill to raise the area that had been the site of Knapp's Mill.

The stone foundation of Knapp's Dam has been completely eliminated by the wear of time and floods.  Fred Waldron remembers as a child seeing remains of both Dater's and Knapp's Dam in the form of large timbers piled up along the banks of the river.  The larger dams of Sloat and Pierson were originally built of stone and reinforced with concrete in the mid-1800's.  The smaller dams of Dater and Knapp were constructed of heavy timbers cut square and anchored to the stone foundations on the riverbanks.  Those timbers have long ago rotted and been swept away during flood periods.

The culvert still visible today, was the inlet for the millrace providing power to a paddle wheel at the damp located just south of the culvert.  The millrace continued to flow south to a collecting pond then back under the RR through a second culvert.  Today, the return culvert is completely covered over and it's exact location unknown.

Knapp's Shoddy Mill was a major employer of Sloatsburg residents during the 1800's.  A large bell at the mill sounded starting time and quitting time.  That bell can still be heard every Sunday morning.  It was a gift from the Knapp family to the Sloatsburg Methodist Church.