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February 23, 2013

Firearms manufacturing created Ilion in the 19th century

One can only wonder what the late Eliphalet Remington and son might be thinking these days, about five states courting the Remington Arms Co. Inc. plant in Ilion to relocate to more “gun-friendly” states. 

The efforts have been under way since the passage of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement, or SAFE Act, in January. If Remington stays, it will mark its bicentennial in Ilion in 2016, having employed thousands from northern Otsego County and the Mohawk Valley throughout its history.

Remington and his wife, Elizabeth Kilbourne, were among the many people who headed west from New England after the Revolutionary War. The Remingtons left Connecticut in 1800, finding some acreage to their liking in the hills just south of Ilion. Eliphalet built a forge and blacksmith shop to help in making his own farm equipment.

Among the Remington family was Eliphalet Jr., who was age 23 in 1816. He wanted a rifle for hunting, but one was quite expensive. His father offered him the use of the forge to make one of his own. Young Eliphalet collected enough scrap metal until he could shape a thick, oblong sheet of metal around a rod. He then lap-welded the edges, removed the rod and had the first Remington barrel. With help from a Utica gunsmith, the firearm became ready for use.

Young Eliphalet obviously had some skill in forging, as neighboring farmers soon wanted similar rifles. The Remington’s forge in Ilion Gulph became a shop for making not only guns, but also a variety of farm tools. Orders for Remington’s guns were so good that once the Erie Canal was dug through the valley in 1821, they could be shipped and sold in remote areas.

Remington’s forge was a bit remote from the Erie Canal, a four-mile journey. By 1828, Eliphalet saw the need to be closer to sources of transportation. With financial assistance, Remington bought 100 acres south of the present East Main Street and east of Otsego Street, and built his first armory.

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