In the mid-1980’s we received a call from John D. Hamilton, president, of the Gebbie Foundation in Jamestown, New York. The foundation was preparing to mark its 25th anniversary and Mr. Hamilton was looking for background information on the Gebbie Family. Knowing that Frank Gebbie was once the owner of St. Johnsville’s Mohawk Condensed Milk Company, Mr. Hamilton called the library.
Following several weeks of extensive research on the part of Marta Zimmerman, assistant director, aided by Carolyn Eckler, we were able to provide a great deal of information. When all was said and done the Gebbie Foundation wished to express their appreciation to the library with a one-time gift. Their primary area of charitable giving was, and remains, in western New York.
At the time, VHS tapes were just starting to become popular in public libraries as materials to be loaned. Marta and I, in conjunction with the library board, put together a proposal that included the purchase of dozens of VHS tapes, a large screen TV, 2 VHS players and a video camera. In addition, as a nod to the historic connection of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company, we also proposed new furniture for the local history room.
Mr. Hamilton and the foundation were in support of the project and gifted us with $25,000 to underwrite the cost. Near the end of 1986, the Reaney Library was the first public library within the Mohawk Valley Library System to offer this service. MVLS serves all of the public libraries in Fulton, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie Counties. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with our patrons and we remain very proud that we paved the way for our colleagues.
The following is taken from the Gebbie Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Annual Report:
The Gebbie Foundation was established from the estate of two sisters, Marion Bertram Gebbie and Geraldine Gebbie Bellinger in memory of their parents, Frank and Harriet Gebbie.
Frank Gebbie was born in Alston, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1844; coming to America in 1851. At the age of 26 Frank married Harriet Hubbell, the daughter of the Honorable and Mrs. Gaylord B. Hubbell of Ossining, NY.
Mr. Hubbell had served in the State Assembly and was at one an time Agent and Warden at Sing Sing State Prison.
Frank and Harriet Gebbie set up their first home in Brewster, New York where Mr. Gebbie was working for Gail Borden, Jr.,and the Borden Company. Borden had pioneered the development of condensed milk patents.
Eventually the Gebbies spent time in Texas and Illinois before returning to New York State and settling in Lockport. In 1874 Gail Borden died which may have influenced Frank Gebbie’s decision to enter the food canning business.
In 1876, Gebbie’s company was listed in the Lockport City Directory as the Niagara Fruit and Canning Company. From 1882 to 1892, Frank Gebbie was listed as the proprietor.
This led to a new investment in St. Johnsville when Gebbie returned to the condensed milk business in partnership with Michael Doyle. Starting as manager, Frank Gebbie eventually bought Doyle out and expanded to other locations under the name Mohawk Condensed Milk Company. In its hay day, Gebbie established operations in five different states as far west as Colorado.
The growth of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company stimulated local dairy farming. Milk was brought to the cannery over long distances via horse drawn wagons. The dairy farms were said to have kept pace with the company’s demand for milk, with the result that the value of farmland increased.
Frank Gebbie was viewed as a man of integrity placing great importance on safely produced food. His business practices were judged to have benefitted not only himself, but everyone associated with him. January 2, 1902, the St. Johnsville Enterprise reported “about $600 was divided among the employees of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company on Christmas in proportion to the length of service and position filled by the various employees.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gebbie eventually retired to Rochester and Mohawk Condensed Milk Company was absorbed by Carnation Milk in 1921.
The site was eventually home to the Palatine Dye "Upper Mill"