Backtracking The Early Years or In Our Times:

Mark SimonsonShown in 2013, the stone facade building was the new plant for Graham Laboratories in Hobart, which opened in late 1978 after a fire on the grounds in 1974 destroyed an older structure. The larger buildings were added in more recent years through Graham and Mallinckrodt Inc.

To think it all started in a chicken house in Hobart.

Although we know it today as Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Dean Graham and a convincing banker in the village brought an industrial side to a traditionally agricultural community with a business that grew and employed many for nearly 50 years, starting as Graham Laboratories.

Dean M. Graham wasn’t from this area, being a California native, and he didn’t start his career in the medical field. He was trained in nuclear physics and was a lieutenant commander with the Navy, doing secret government research in the post-World War II era.

“But what I wanted to do was research in humans, not monitor cyclotrons at 3 in the morning,” Graham told The Daily Star in December 1996. “I wanted something more humanistic.”

Graham went on to get a degree in medical physics at the University of California/Berkeley San Francisco Medical School and soon directed research organizations at a number of pharmaceutical firms and research institutes.

Graham’s first wife’s family, the Vradenburghs had a 300-acre farm in Blenheim, and he apparently liked the area enough to move here around 1960. It was in Blenheim where he set up a research lab and consulting business, gradually expanding with the encouragement and financial backing of local bankers.

One of them was Allan Knox of the Hobart National Bank, who convinced Graham to come to Hobart in 1966.

Knox recalled in 1996, “We realized farming was going out and to build and sustain our little village, we had to develop whatever resources we had to keep young people here.” Knox said Graham had an impressive background in his industry, so his bank got the financing to get Graham started.

The first site was far from palatial, being the remnants of a huge poultry barn. Walls were resurfaced, insulation and wiring were added, as well as cleaning up the former Rich poultry farm in the village. Graham did much of the renovation work himself, using his trade skills as a former journeyman carpenter and electrician.

Graham Laboratories operated with 35 employees in the early years. Fire swept through the building on Oct. 10, 1974, causing an estimated $1 million in damage. The labs relocated for a few years to a refurbished creamery building in Andes while the Hobart site was cleared and a new building constructed, which opened in the latter months of 1978.

Buildings were soon added, one to house a packaging operation. The company became a comprehensive, self-contained pharmaceutical business with its own machine shop and training center to teach employees how to operate, maintain and modify sophisticated equipment and analytical instruments, according to Daily Star news clippings.

The company almost pulled up stakes to New Jersey in the late 1980s when it looked to expand, but initially was told it couldn’t. The Star of Sept. 4, 1990, told how in 1988 Hobart had the room for the expansion, but its outdated sewage treatment system would not have been able to handle the load of another plant. In 1990, the village received a grant and low-interest loan from the Farmers’ Home Administration to help finance sewage treatment upgrades. Graham had an affiliate in the pharmaceutical business at this time, Pharm Tech, and another plant expansion on the grounds followed, allowing the new company to operate with Graham in Hobart.

Major news came with the announcement on Nov. 21, 1996, that a St. Louis-based health care and chemical company acquired Graham Laboratories, with plans to expand the plant where 190 people were employed.

“Graham President Daniel Casey said Mallinckrodt Hobart, as the local facility will be called, will likely increase employment by 30 to 40 percent over the next three to five years,” The Star reported the next day. Casey continued as general manager and Graham employees continued with Mallinckrodt.

“Dr. Dean Graham, who launched the local company … will reportedly start a new enterprise in the area with his son, Barry Graham,” The Star added.

The father-son team began Graham Development Inc. in 1997, opening a laboratory building at 179-183 River St. in Oneonta. Operations were short lived. Dean Graham passed away in July 2003. Barry D. Graham founded Blenheim Pharmacal in 2004 with his son Keith. Barry Graham, 60, passed away in July 2008.

This weekend: A new and improved way to travel between Oneonta and Meridale.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, P.O. Box 205, Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com

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