GILLINDER GLASS FACTORY
Text & Photographs | Lahary Pittman
When we think about places to go and things to do, we sometimes find ourselves considering a trip outside the Upper Delaware River Valley despite its awesome natural beauty and expansive vistas that we love so much. However, there is a spot you may not have explored that is sure to please everyone in the family as well as artists, collectors and history buffs.
The Gillinder Glass Factory in Port Jervis, NY conducts guided glass making and glass blowing tours that include molten glass being handled and transformed by skilled craftsmen at large furnaces into beautiful, functional and decorative glass objects. You’ll be surprised to discover that, in addition to the decorative glass produced, Gillinder Glass is responsible for a staggering amount of the glass used in the airline industry. In fact, half of all airport lights in the United States (including anti-collision light lenses) come from Gillinder Glass.
This year, Gillinder Glass is celebrating its 150th year of operations. The factory celebrates a sixth-generation family tradition that was brought by the Gillinder family here from England. The family business has two sides: one, the industrial business they conduct, and the other, the highly attractive art glass produced at the factory and sold from their store.
Art glass sprang from a revolution in glassmaking in the mid 1800s, when glass blowers began experimenting with different colors, patterns and textures. The subsequent melding of artistry and technique resulted in a wide variety of beautiful handmade objects such as vases, lampshades, bowls, paperweights and figurines—much like the world’s impresarios of art glass such as Tiffany and Lalique.
Sue Gillinder, treasurer of Gillinder Glass, said of the factory, “We consider ourselves industrial and commercial glass manufacturers. Some of our major lines include airport taxi and runway lights, and landscape lighting. We hand press our glass. The glass is gathered out of the furnace by a skilled glass worker who uses a metal rod with a clay head. The glass is then dripped into a mold where the presser hand presses the glass. Visitors can watch this process of turning fluid hot glass at 2200 degrees into highly functional glass products used around the world.”
The Gillinders originally went into business in Philadelphia and later relocated to Port Jervis. “William Gillinder and his two brothers, Edwin Bennett and James (the grandsons of founder William T.), moved to Port Jervis and purchased the Orange County Flint Glass Works,” said Gillinder. “On Labor Day in 1919, the glass factory burned down. Fortunately the moulds, being iron, were salvaged. While the factory was being rebuilt, Gillinder Brothers, Inc. used the idle Dorflinger Glass Works plant located in White Mills, PA. Rebuilding the factory in Port Jervis was started at once and the plant was ready to operate in 1921 – 1922.”
2011 is also the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. This anniversary and that of Gillinder Glass coincide in an interesting way. In 1876, Americans created The Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia to celebrate 100 years of freedom and to showcase the recovery from the devastating Civil War. Gillinder Glass, then called Gillinder & Sons, built an exhibition glass factory at the Centennial and gave demonstrations of glass blowing and offering souvenirs for purchase, including the popular Cinderella Slipper. The fair represented a “turning point” for the factory’s success. Gillinder said, “I am not really sure how the Cinderella Slipper was first conceived. We think its popularity was most likely due to its simple beauty and the fact that it could be personalized with a name of a loved one, a new baby and such. The Cinderella Slipper is one of only a few items we have reproduced. We felt it was a classic and very much associated with Gillinder.”
Gillinder encourages visitors to come and tour the historic building and watch the factory workers and glass blowers at work. She said, “Our tours for both our weekday operations—glass pressing—and special events—glass blowing—are primarily focused on the ‘hot end’ of the glass factory. For most items, vistors see the glass being made from start to finish. What makes it unique and special is that this is an actual working factory, no staging here. In the summer it’s hot and in the winter it’s cold, but that’s part of the adventure.
“Over the years we have welcomed home schoolers, scout troops, public school groups, the Red Hat ladies, various car clubs, birthday parties, 4H groups, the Daughters of the American Revolution, antique study groups, local art classes, senior groups, garden clubs, camps, you name it.”
For groups, advance registration and a small fee are required. Children’s groups must have proper supervision for safety purposes. For event dates and schedules, and to schedule a tour, check the website.