On May 30, the Mohawk Valley Alpiners hiked to the Italian Community Bake Oven on State Rt. 167N just outside of Little Falls. Jill Blauvelt and Janet Morgan organized the hike. As Preserve Our Past Board member, Mena Cerone, gave the background of this unique historical structure.

The community bake oven was built circa 1890 out of cut limestone from a nearby quarry. It measures 6 ft high, 16 ft wide, and 20 ft deep.

The heat from the fire built to preheat the interior was absorbed by the bricks lining the dome and radiated during baking. The oven could accommodate up to 100 loaves of bread. The cooled ashes were stored in the ash pit below.

Local industrialist, German immigrant, and philanthropist Alfred Dolge was running 50 teams of horses and wagons to transport goods to and from Dolgeville. This was not very cost-effective. He decided to build a railroad spur between Little Falls and Dolgeville. To do this, he hired about 100 Italian immigrants. The “padrone” system was in place. The padrone spoke Italian and English and could translate for the workers. He also helped them manage their money, most of which went to their families in Italy. Of course, he took his cut for this service.

Preserve Our Past had difficulty piecing together an accurate account: much was anecdotal. POP appealed to the public, but no one came forth with personal memories, family stories, oral histories, and photographs.

One written account was found in a chronology of the Dolgeville/Little Falls Line by Lucinda Parker, which is in the Little Falls Public Library. It stated, “Much of the work was done by laborers of Italian extraction and was remembered by locals as trudging to their work carrying long loaves of bread.”

However, Ira Timmerman, growing up a few miles east toward Dolgeville, peddled milk to Little Falls and said that he and others brought dough and baked it in the community oven outside of town. Bread from this oven fed many other people as well.

After examining the 1895 Little Falls City Directory, it was evident that most workers listed as stonecutters and masons were Irish. No Italian names were listed. Newspapers from Little Falls and Dolgeville carried articles about groups of Italian men who arrived to work on the railroad spur, which cost $539,430. 56 and took two years to complete. It is approximately 11 miles long.

This very rare structure was placed on the NYS and National Historic Register, which provided protection and eligibility to apply for grants.

Besides POP’s extensive fundraising, the organization received:

  • a $1,200 grant from the NYS Council on the Arts for the technical survey
  • a $6,000 grant from Preserve New York
  • $1,000 from the City of Little Falls for in-kind services
  • a $15,000 grant from Senator Seward to stabilize the structure

However, it continues deteriorating due to vandalism and/or severe weather conditions. The metal oven door which once covered the opening is no longer there.

The site will remain primitive. Simply a view of what life was like for our early Italian immigrants. If you want to learn more or become a member, please visit PreserveOurPast.org.