Bainbridge was settled over 200 years ago by people who had the courage to settle in a new frontier area. The first Europeans in Bainbridge were displaced by settlers from Vermont, known as the Vermont Sufferers, who were given land in what is now Bainbridge and Afton. The town of Bainbridge was formed in 1791 as Jericho, which was part of Tioga County until 1798, and changed to Bainbridge in 1814. The village incorporated in 1829.
Why did the name change from Jericho to Bainbridge? The village residents became embarrassed about the first name. In 1789, residents began building a meetinghouse in what is now the Village Green, but the building was never completed. Still a shell in 1813, it was mysteriously destroyed by fire. News of the fire travelled fast, and Jericho’s reputation was tarnished as the wicked place where they burned the church. The name was changed the next year to commemorate Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the frigate Constitution during the War of 1812. He never stepped foot in the town that would bear his name.
Bainbridge’s most famous resident was Jedediah Strong Smith (1799-1831) who was born in the town and spent his first 10 years there. He became a fur trader and an early explorer of the west, achieving fame as the first American to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains from West to East and the first American to explore the California Coast from Southern California to the Columbia River. His maps and journals were a significant contribution to western exploration. A monument to his life is in Pathfinder Park on Route 7 and in the Village Green.
In the early days of the town, many streams supported mills for grinding corn, sawing lumber, or crushing flax seed to produce linseed oil. (Flax was grown to supply linen for clothing). Lewis Newell operated a blacksmith shop with five forges on North Main Street. Apple mills converted apple juice into cider, which was allowed to harden. One of these was on the Bainbridge- Guilford Road. Fairchild and Titus Bixby made early household furniture on North Main Street. Orrin Jacobs operated a tannery along Newton Creek. The leather was used locally for boots, shoes, and harness. Ezra Church had a mill on Bennettsville Creek where he processed wool and flax fabrics for clothing.
More significant manufacturing developed late in the 19th century: Gilbert Manufacturing Co. (1883-98) made children’s sleds, the Crump Firm (1891-94) canned condensed coconut milk, and cigars were manufactured (1882-1932). The American Separator Co. (1895-ca 1960) manufactured cream separators for farm use. Thomas Collins and Louis Hartman constructed a machine to separate the cream from whole milk, using centrifugal force, which was easily operated by the local farmers in 1894. With small beginnings located on Railroad Avenue, the industry grew to be a major industry in Bainbridge in the first half of the 20th Century. (There are several examples of American Separators at the Bainbridge Historical Society.)
The most significant Bainbridge manufacturing was a result of by-products from the dairy industry. The Bainbridge Creamery (1889), eventually the Dry Milk Company, produced dry milk at the former creamery on Walnut Street. By using intense heat to evaporate the water in the milk. This product is much lighter to transport than whole milk and has a much longer shelf life. Thousands of cans of KLIM were shipped to our troops during World War II. The Dry Milk plant closed in 1953.
The Casein Manufacturing Co. (1904) used casein, a milk by-product, for early plastics manufacture. By heating skim milk and allowing it to sour, either naturally or by the addition of acid, curds and whey are quickly formed. When the curds are broken into small particles and dried they can be used in a variety of ways. Early waterproof glue made in Bainbridge was sold as “Casco”. This was the forerunner of Elmer’s Glue-All.
Another industry that used the by-products of dairy is the The National Milk Sugar Co. The complicated process of extracting the sugar from milk was done with various treatments of heat, chemicals, and a vacuum process to remove the casein and lactalbumin (proteins), salt, and water, leaving crude lactose or milk sugar. Milk sugar is less soluble than cane sugar, therefore is much less sweet to the taste; it is not fermentable, however, which makes it valuable for making baby foods. Milk sugar is also used as a sweet and stable coating on pills and has a number of industrial uses. (The Milk Sugar Company closed in 1940)
The American Plastics Corporation was first called the Erinoid Company of America when it opened in 1925 but became American Plastics in 1939. The casein came to the plant in powdered form and was manufactured into discs for later molding into buttons or other shapes.
In 1929, the large Borden Company became interested in this area and bought the Casein Company, the Dry Milk Company, and the Milk Sugar Company. They also owned 1/3 of the American Plastics Corporation.
The Borden Company, as Elmer’s Products, became the town’s largest employer in the early 2000’s. The Borden plant is no longer operating in Bainbridge.
A significant employer in the second half of the 20th century, and still a large part of the landscape, is the Jenison power plant, built in 1945. It had four boilers and two turbine generators each producing 30 megawatts of electricity. For fuel it used coal, 5 million tires, creosote treated wood and sawdust and woodchips from the area. It supplied electricity for Bainbridge, Delhi, Sidney, Hancock, and Oakdale Mall. Jenison Plant ceased operation in 2000.
When I-88 was completed through Bainbridge in 1975, residents began traveling to Binghamton and Oneonta for work and shopping. The small, attractive town with historic houses and a legacy of manufacturing and innovation has become a desirable place to live and raise a family.