Owner has plans for former Waterbury Felt Mill in Oriskany

November 17, 2014

After 200 years of serving as the economic engine for the village and surrounding region, the abandoned Waterbury Felt Mill might see life once again.

The old River Street wool mill, which once employed more than 300 people in Oriskany, has been deteriorating since it abruptly closed about a year ago.

The property was purchased in a September tax auction by businessman and developer James Kernan, an Oriskany native who plans to refurbish the approximately 500,000-square-foot facility into a modern industrial complex that architecturally complements the community he’s dubbing “Waterbury Square.”

Kernan, who founded the state-sponsored OriskaJobs and Career Center, envisions using the mill as a training center for that apprenticeship program for highly skilled craftsmen, which presently operates in the Bronx through a partnership with SUNY Maritime College.

“It’s a perfect fit for what we are looking to do,” said Kernan, who added the facility also lends itself to being used as a computer server farm drawing cooling off of the Erie Canal. “We will retain the historic elements that make this a landmark property … and modernize the facility so it can house jobs for the 21st century. I want to once again make it the economic heartbeat of the community.”

Kernan said the roof needs to be replaced, and he hopes to begin that work before winter, but that nothing can be done until a legal issue with the previous owner can be resolved.

A court hearing was scheduled to take place last week in State Supreme Court in Rome but was postponed as the two sides continue to make arrangements for the removal of items such as paperwork, furniture and equipment.

Kernan said a sticking point in the negotiations has been possession of the bell that has graced the mill since 1819.