The History of New York State
Book IV, Chapter II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




The Black River of Northern New York, with its extensive valley, is the seat of Lewis County. Some vast glacier of bygone ages, on its way from the Arctic, eroded this basin and, upon its return, left its debris, scattered in enormous piles or crowded together in long moraines. The river flows through this valley from south to north, broken by many rapids, until it reaches Lyon's Falls, where it plunges over a broken ledge to the still water. It then continues as a navigable channel to Carthage, more then thirty miles distant. Within the county are many little tributaries of the Black, some of which rise in swamps which are extensive in the towns of Lowville, Denmark, and Martinsburgh. Some come through the limestone ridges which make up the more elevated parts of Lewis. This rock is quarried to some extent, although there is not the demand for it in the buildings trade as held formerly.

Minerals have been found in the county, but aside from lime and magnetic iron ore, have never been utilized. Some of the back county is left in the unattractive state, which follows lumbering operations when carelessly done. Much of the land is under cultivation, grain, grass, and dairy farming taking the lead. Special crops, such as peppermint, and onions, are grown in the drained swamp area, some of which are very rich. Wood pulp is, however, the main product of the county, including the papers and paper articles.

Lewis County was formed from Oneida by an act of March 28, 1805. The thriving section of northern Oneida was having growing pains, and felt it must be set off as a separate county. Two counties were the result of the movement which south one; the single act established Jefferson and Lewis. The result of the struggle for the Lewis county seat found Martinsburgh in the lead. As early as 1803 Mr. Martin had begun grubbing stumps for a courthouse site. Lowville, expecting to be chosen, had erected a wooden building with the intention of offering it for the courthouse. Since they could not devote it to the purpose intended, it was changed into an academy.

Lowville did not give up the fight for the position as shiretown., but not until 1864 did she win. By an act of March 109 of that year, the county seat was removed to her borders. The town hall was deeded as a courthouse and the sum of $2,000 voted to purchase the site of a jail and erect a clerk's office. The deserted county buildings in Martinsburgh now took their turn as an academic center.

The settlement of the northern section of New York was greatly delayed by the ignorance concerning it. Old maps of the section named it Irocoicia. "The Land of the Iroquois," or Coughsagraga, "The Dismal Wilderness." Travelers who skirted the edges said it was a region of swamps and mountain barrens. Sauthier's map, published in England in 1777 and supposed to be the beat and latest in its information, mentions it as "This marshy tract is full of beavers and otters." There is no map earlier than 1795 that shows a trace of the Black River.

Soldiers, possibly those of Sullivan's expedition, knew something of the territory. But it is in no way surprising that when offers were made to the land commissioners of New York for these supposed waste barrens, that they should be accepted readily, and the land sold for mere pittances and on the easiest of terms. One of the many sales, and the, was that to Macomb.

On June 22, 1791, Alexander Macomb made an offer for certain lands, the payment to be one-sixth part of the purchase price yearly until the account was complete, no interest to be charged. The price offered was eight pence an acre. Macomb secured net 3,670,715 acres, divided into six great tracts. The one numbered four included the larger part of the counties of Jefferson and Lewis. Macomb conveyed this tract, with others, to William constable, and he in turn part to others sop that the deeds to Lewis County are traced back to nine great tracts known as: Black River, Inmans' Triangle, Constable's Four Towns, Brantingham, Brown's, Watson's, Castorland, and Great Tract Number Four.

Means of transportation had always been a source of difficulty since before the first public road from Little Falls on the Mohawk to High Falls on the Black River was urged in 1791, and concerning which nothing was done. The first road in the county is said to be one laid from Rome to High Falls. Being badly located it soon went out of existence. Most of the early roads were surveyed and cut by the large land owners and maintained by the settlers along the route. It was not until recent years that there have been any great number of first class highways in the county.

Railroads were planned as early as 1832. In 1853 the Black river and Utica Railroad Company was formed. And in the same year a rival road, The Ogdensburg, Clayton & Rome Railroad Company was projected. The first soon completed its road from Boonville to Utica. The rival road began building operation at various points but completed none. The proposition of two railroads in the same territory, seldom more than a mile part, was absurd, with a result that neither could be finished. The breaking out of the Civil War stopped all work, but the Black River and Utica was extended in 1867 to Lyons Falls and to Lowville the next year. Sine then several roads and their branches have taken care of the traffic of the county.

The building of the Black River Canal probably did more for the prosperity of Lewis then any other agency. Governor De Witt Clinton, in 1824, suggest a connection of the Black River with the Erie Canal. The building of such a canal was authorized in 1836. Completed a few years later, its very existence was threatened by 1874; but by an act of 1882 Black river Canal was named as one to be maintained by the State.

Lewis County is large, having an area of 1,270 square miles, but cannot be said to be crowded, since its population, in 1920, was but 23,704. Lowville is not only the county seat but the metropolis, having, according to the census of 1920, 3,127, or nearly a seventh of the people of the county. It is a thriving mercantile center, with a reasonable quota of manufacturing concerns. Among the things made in the town are; Machinery and foundry products, furniture, asbestos, caskets, cheese boxes, as well as a number of smaller articles. Its choice location on the Black river, the dignity and grace which seems to attach to shiretowns, has attracted many as a residential center.

Other important towns are Beaver Falls, a place of 840, main industry pulp and paper mills; Lyons Falls, almost as large and engaged in the same business; Port Leyden, 735, which has knit good as well as a paper mill. Lyonsdale, Castorland, Gouldtown, Harrisville and others are villages whose main industry is pulp or paper production. Glenfield, as well as some of those mentioned also makes furniture.


A list of the towns of Lewis county, with the date of their erection, origin, and 1920 population, follows:




Population (1920)



Watson & Diana
















Lowville, Champion & Mexico


High Market


West Turin




West Turin & Leyden




















West Turin


New Brennan






West Turin




Harrison & Harrisburgh










West Turin





The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie Axtman

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