Rewind: August 15, 2021 –
“Horses, Water Power, and Philanthropy”
Above is an architect’s depiction of what the once empty field at the corner of Bay Road and Blind Rock Road will look like in the not too distant future. The plan now includes 142 apartments and commercial space that are part of what is being developed, and the project is called Fowler Square.
This area on Bay Road has been devoted to farming since the formation of the Town of Queensbury in 1761. The property was lot 33 on the original map of the township which was laid out by Abraham Wing who brought a group of Quakers to Queensbury from Dutchess County. For many years the Haviland family farmed the property. It was sold to the Potters, another Quaker family, and then William Spier acquired it in 1890, and built a horse breeding farm.
In 1864, Mr. Spier was somewhat of an orphan at 16 when he came to Glens Falls from Northville. A wealthy businessman, Mr. William McEchron, a friend of William’s father, took the boy into his home, and guided him into adulthood. This was most fortuitous for William as Mr. McEchron mentored his young friend from rags to riches.
William entered the firm of Morgan, Adsit & Co., lumber merchants, in 1873. After joining the Morgan company, he courted and married Ida Morgan, the boss’ daughter. Ida was William’s confidant and this is evident with some of his business affairs and hobbies, especially his trotting horses.
He became interested in the paper industry and joined the Glens Falls Paper Company in 1882. Obviously, he was good at accounting and acquired the skills of developing business relationships. By 1885 he was made president of this company. The Glens Falls Paper Company became part of International Paper.
For the next 25 years, William was known as what we call today, a “venture capital partner.” He would invest in and then bow out of a business as it became profitable. One such venture was the Glens Falls Collar Company, which eventually employed over 200 people. Mr. Spier also started other shirt factories in the area, which gave work to women outside their homes. The rise of employment created a big change in business and peoples’ lives. More and more homes were built in Glens Falls with the growth of shirt, lace and collar industries.
Spier joined with other businessmen to donate needed funds to complete the building of the Ordway building on Glen Street (now Spot Coffee), which became the location for the area’s first YMCA.
William and Ida built a beautiful home on the corner of Glen and Washington Streets. Ultimately the house was razed to build the Traveler’s Insurance tower. He gave land to the Church of the Messiah with a perpetual $5,000 mortgage, and the church was built next door to the Spier’s house. Remains of their home site can still be seen in the fence and stone posts outlining part of the area next to the church.
By 1885, Glens Falls became one of the leading harness racing centers in the United States. With all his involvements with his job and business ventures, William Spier became a “big wheel” with the breeding and racing of horses. He bought the farmland on Bay Road in 1890 and it became the Suburban Horse Farm. The stock from this establishment had a reputation which was not excelled by any other farm in the country. The farm provided several stables and paddocks and an abundance of grass and water. Three great (horse) speedsters were Robert McGregor, Autograph and Major Del Mar.
At this time, the mile track was built at the west end of Lincoln Avenue in Glens Falls, and the horse trotting races were included in the Grand Circuit. These races attracted the top horses and top horsemen in the United States.
By the late 1890’s, Mr. Spire was weaning himself away from the farm because he had moved to New York City. He was largely instrumental for merging 17 small paper mills into the International Paper Company, and he became its first Treasurer.
William had many warm friends in Glens Falls, in the horse racing world, and on Wall Street, who admired him for his unpretentious but effective business achievements. Over the years he became a significant philanthropist in the area. Before his death, he provided the badly needed capital to finish the construction of the electricity-generating plant on the Hudson River.
In 1900, construction of an electricity-generating plant was begun on the Hudson River, near the town of Corinth. As the work progressed, a vast depression was discovered in front of the dam, requiring considerable additional work and unforeseen expense. Eugene Ashley, one of the developers of this project, reached out to his friend, entrepreneur William Spire, for much needed capital, which he received. In recognition of this bailout, the dam bears his name.
In 1901, William retired from International Paper and was making plans to move back to Glens Falls when he passed away at his residence in Manhattan.
The horse farm on Bay Road was sold in 1905, back to the Potter family. It was just as well. Most likely, William would have returned to Glens Falls and invested in parking garages, not for horses, but for automobiles.
Glens Falls Newspapers Archives
New York Times
New York State Historical Association
BACKWARD GLANCES, by Howard Mason
LISTENING IN, MEMORIES OF GLENS FALLS 1755-1931, the Writings of Dennis F. O’Connell
History of Queensbury Residents, compiled by Joan Aldous, Queensbury Historian
American Country Houses of the Gilded Age, by Arnold Lewis (1962)
Photo of Mr. Spire from Heritage Hall plaque at the Charles R. Wood Theater