Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

November 30, 2013

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Eighteen Mile Creek enabled industrial giants

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Throughout its history, Lockport has had many places that would be considered “industrial.” The area immediately around and just below the Flight of Five was a hub of activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Companies such as Holly and Richmond Manufacturing, Norman and Evans, Western Block, Lockport Paper, Thompson Flour Mill, Carlos Holly, United Box and Board, Oliver Brothers Bedstead and many others lined the banks of both sides of the canal.

Just slightly to the north of the canal is Eighteen Mile Creek. Before the locks and canal were even built, early entrepreneurs were using the water from the creek to power small shops and mills, hence the name Mill Street, which runs parallel to the waterway. 

With the building of the locks and canal, Eighteen Mile Creek was routed underground (and under the canal), dammed to create mill ponds, and became another center of commercial and industry. Here is a brief history of a number of these companies.

•••

The Cowles Chemical Company was founded in Lockport in 1886, by brothers Alfred and Eugene Cowles. They used a method developed by Charles Martin Hall of Ohio to extract pure aluminum from bauxite by using an internally heated electric furnace. 

The company was located in a stone building on Eighteen Mile Creek at 555 Jackson St., at the foot of Gooding Street. 

By 1890, the price of pure aluminum went from $15 per pound to 50 cents per pound. In 1903, Cowles was bought out by the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) but kept the name Cowles. The company produced aluminum until 1938. Harrison Radiator of Lockport was one of the major buyers of aluminum. 

From 1938 to 1960, the company produced laundry detergent, then went out of business.

•••

Norton Laboratories was started in 1915, to produce “metallic magnesium.” It had previously been imported from Germany but due to World War I the supply was cut off. Metallic magnesium is a strong but lightweight metal that was used in the manufacture of military aircraft as well as in photographic development. 

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