In the mid-19th century, more than 3,000 women — almost half of Troy’s female industrial workers — were employed in the collar industry. (Hence the nickname "Collar City.”) One of them was a 23-year-old Irish immigrant: Kate Mullany.
Mullany thought herself lucky to be employed by one of the 14 commercial laundries in Troy. In February of 1864, she and a co-worker organized some 300 women into the Collar Laundry Union, the nation's first female union. She led them on a strike, ultimately winning a hike in wages from $8 to $14 a week. Paul Cole is Executive Director of the Mullany home. "With a 25 percent increase in pay and possibly some money from her dad when he died, she was able to buy this property and erect a three-story, six-apartment income-producing house, which was quite amazing for an Irish immigrant."
The house at 350 Eighth Street is being restored under a $179,790 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). It requires a match of $59,390 from the American Labor Studies Center.
"What we have not had here, in years and years, forever actually, is a property that helps us interpret and commemorate the lives of the workers who actually did the work that made Troy what it was, an an industrial giant in the mid-1800's," said Cole.
Renowned historic architect John Waite notes much of the original structure has been preserved. "Before the 1860s workers lived in their own individual very small houses. This house, from the beginning had three apartments and we think that's very early. It was considered pretty risque to have three families under a single roof."
The restoration process has been slow, historians taking great pains to ensure accuracy reflecting the furnishings and decorations of the working class circa 1860's. Cole has been working on the project for 25 years. He expects the final stages of work to run from late spring through early summer.
A woman-owned organization with Irish roots, Troy firm Duncan & Cahill, is handling construction. Tracy Lee is a union carpenter with Local 291. He says the work is challenging and tedious. "...a lot of it is just making up the door jambs. Everything has to be re-made. Like this window sill. It's goin' in that and we have to have the window sashes made. We have new doors comin', they all have to be hung and all the new hardware put on. That'll be time-consuming."
Mayor Patrick Madden: "This is a neighborhood I've worked in for 30 years, so it's important to see this transformation, it's important to preserve something with such great historical significance here. I think it'll be great for the public to come in and really look at how people lived of that time when these buildings were built and how differently we live today."
The Mullany House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998 and a National Historic Site in 2004 by an Act of Congress. When restoration is complete, it will be open to visitors year-round.