HUDSON FALLS — Roger Springer stood inside the dirty, sepia-colored 160-year-old foundry where he worked for 42 years.
“It’s just sad,” said Springer, still wearing his blue work shirt with his name on one shoulder and “Valmet” on the other.
Springer, a maintenance manager, was one of 40 workers laid off when Valmet closed its Hudson Falls plant in December 2019. The closure marked the end of more than 160 years of industry at the property, which sits on 30 acres, tucked away on Allen Street, bordering the Hudson River.
When he worked there, Springer used to have to wear earplugs to mute the deafening sounds.
The cavernous foundry, which used to be teeming with men making dryers and other machinery for the paper industry, is now eerily quiet.
The insides look like an old Hollywood set, just waiting for a spotlight and a performance.
“I think at one time we had around 350 people,” Springer said. “Three shifts, seven days a week. Very busy.”
These days, Springer is the only one on site. He now works for Jerry Nudi, a developer, who recently purchased the property for $777,500 and plans to lease the buildings to other manufacturers.
Nudi previously owned Warren Electric Supply and has purchased a lot of industrial real estate in the region. He is also the developer behind the Holiday Inn Express & Suites at Northway Exit 18 in Queensbury.
Nudi plans to put new tenants into the buildings on the property. He wants to repurpose them, not tear them down, said real estate agent Tyler Culberson.
One of the enormous structures is at least 45 feet tall and a little more than 300 feet long.
“We had other people from outside the region look at it,” Culberson said. “The fact that Jerry was born and raised close to the community, and had Warren Electric here, I think is great for the local economy and a sign of reinvestment.”
Nudi said he does not yet have anyone to lease the buildings.
“It’d be nice to see something happen again,” Springer said, “so we can at least get some jobs and keep it going.”
But the property will never be what it was in its heyday, when it was the Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works, run by J. Walter Juckett, its longtime president.
The Jucketts come to town
Although Juckett did work at Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works for 45 years, he did not start the company, contrary to popular belief.
In fact, the oldest section of the building is the foundry, which dates back to 1858, when the company was known as Baker’s Falls Iron Machine Works.
Juckett wasn’t born until May 26, 1908.
Baker’s Falls Iron Machine Works was started by Philip Wait, who had designed a unique turbine waterwheel in a period when water turbines were replacing the inefficient bucket-type wheels, according to information provided by the Washington County Historical Society.
He chose the site of Baker’s Falls on the Hudson River, which had an 82-foot drop, a half-mile below the village center of Sandy Hill, which became known as Hudson Falls in 1910.
In 1866, Francis M. Van Wormer apprenticed at Wait’s shop and bought the firm and ran it until 1882, when it was sold to Otis A. Tefft and N.E. Packer, according to the historical society.
In the 1870s, the name was changed to Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works.
By 1897, the company, run by Richard Tefft Sr. and Frank Van Wormer, was rapidly expanding. Many of the buildings that still stand on the property today were added in 1900.
World War I was a robust time of business for Sandy Hill, and the company prospered through the 1920s, but suffered a period of hard times during the Great Depression in 1929.
In 1936, Sandy Hill’s president, Archie Kennedy, died, and the company was looking for someone to take his place.
J. Walter Juckett’s father, Frank Juckett, who was working at the Hurlbut Paper Co. in Massachusetts at the time, received a call from Dr. Richard Tefft Jr., a Boston pediatrician, asking Juckett to visit the plant in Hudson Falls.
J. Walter Juckett wrote in his autobiography, “In Retrospect,” published in 1982: “The Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works had a top reputation as a paper machine builder in the board paper and tissue paper fields, as well as in the pulp industry.”
The Jucketts were already familiar with the area. Frank Juckett grew up on an Adirondack farm in the hamlet of Clemons in the town of Dresden, in the area called the Narrows on upper Lake Champlain, according to Juckett’s autobiography.
After a visit to Hudson Falls and much deliberation, Frank Juckett took the job at Sandy Hill and brought aboard his son, J. Walter, to work as the office manager on May 1, 1936.
“In spite of Sandy Hill’s difficult position, my father felt the company could be brought back profitably once again,” J. Walter Juckett wrote.
As office manager, J. Walter Juckett’s responsibilities included managing the office, internal sales correspondence on quotations of paper and pulp machine components, advertising inventory control, and cost control.
Business started to pick up, Juckett wrote, and 1939 proved to be a “break-even” year for the business. World War II was a boon for the company, earning Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works the “Navy E.” The award was presented to companies whose production facilities achieved “Excellence in Production” of war equipment.
Sandy Hill employees were presented with the award on May 8, 1942.
Frank Juckett ran the prosperous company for 21 years until his death in 1957.
By 1963, the scope of the operations at Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works had outgrown its name, which was subsequently changed to Sandy Hill Corp.
J. Walter Juckett then took over as president of the company until May 1979, when Floyd Rourke was named president and J. Walter Juckett became chairman of the board, a position he held until his unexpected death on April 29, 1988.
“Little did I dream in 1936, I would be staying for 45 years and would become chairman of the board,” Juckett wrote in his book. “In that time, the sales had increased from $95,000 to over $25 million, the number of Sandy Hillers had increased over tenfold, the company had risen from an impaired capital structure to a net worth of $8,593,583 and 15 additional buildings or major additions to existing buildings has been constructed, 12 since Dad’s passing.”
After J. Walter Juckett’s death, the business traded hands and names several times.
Sandy Hill was purchased in May of 1990 by Ahlstrom Corp., according to a history of the company written by Bernita Burke.
Then in February 1991, Tamella Papertech Inc. of Finland acquired all the assets of Sandy Hill Corp. and continued to manufacture Sandy Hill products.
In 1997, GL&V took over the site and positioned the plant to be the product center for the Sandy Hill and Black-Clawson Kennedy brands.
Valmet bought GL&V in February 2019 and closed the doors in December of that year. The property was placed on the market in the spring of 2020 and purchased by Nudi in February of this year.
Spirit of community
Fort Edward Historian R. Paul McCarty said he would love to see industry once again filling the buildings on Allen Street, which he remembers as a busy, bustling area when he was a kid.
“I would just hope that it could be used for whatever purposes that it could be used for to help the tax base in Hudson Falls,” McCarty said. “When you consider all the buildings that have been torn down, that really leaves the community wanting.”
McCarty once toured the Sandy Hill Iron & Brass Works.
J. Walter Juckett was his tour guide.
McCarty said Juckett was “larger than life” and a “character.”
“Always would give you the time of day, very pleasant, much like his father,” McCarty said. “His father basically would help anybody he could, even if it was a youngster out of college, let’s say, who didn’t know what they were going to do with their life, he’d give them a job. He’d find something for them to do.”
The Jucketts, who lived in Hudson Falls, were dedicated to their community. J. Walter supported many community projects. His daughter still runs the Sandy Hill Foundation.
He fostered a spirit of community at the company, McCarty said.
“People could work there and have a nice family life,” he said, “and yes, mom could stay at home and raise the family, and they had a living wage.”
Employees often stayed at Sandy Hill for 30 to 40 years.
“Whether it was a secretarial role, whether it was an engineer or a foundry worker, they all really did enjoy their work there,” said McCarty, who runs the Old Fort House Museum in Fort Edward, which houses the Sandy Hill Heritage Association’s collection.
Nudi said he didn’t know J. Walter Juckett, but he is friends with some of the J. Walter Juckett Community Service Award winners.
“His name lives on through these prominent leaders that have been honored by their fellow Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce members and the community,” Nudi said.
The prestigious award recognizes and honors someone who has selflessly gone above and beyond by contributing time and energy to help others.
Back inside the foundry, Springer remembered J. Walter Juckett with admiration.
“Everything was family,” Springer said. “He’d come down and talk to you. He knew your wife, he knew your parents, he knew your kids’ names. If you needed something, he was there for you.”
Springer started working at Sandy Hill during the summer of 1976 and was hired full time in 1979.
“Everybody knew everybody. It was just ... ,” Springer paused. “You don’t see that much anymore.”
In J. Walter Juckett’s book, he quoted his father, Frank, who once told him, “A corporation, Juck, is just a matter of the kind of men who keep it going.”