The History of New York State
Book IV, Chapter III

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




The largest of New York counties, St. Lawrence, located in the extreme north, has also the longest frontage on the St. Lawrence River. Because this stream was the scene of the first French explorations,, the county has a history dating back to a time as early as any other part of the State. The Lachine Rapids stopped the larger vessels of the first explores, but there is little doubt that they set foot on what is now country territory Champlain, in his rovings, probably visited the region, but there is no doubt that Father Lallemant landed at what is now Ogdensburg in the spring of 1626, and gave the name of La Gallette to the place. Settlements were made her and elsewhere in the region, forts were erected, and the Jesuits attempted to win the hearts of the Indians.

The interest of the English was aroused by the French progress, and was one of the causes of the French and Indian War. The engagement of Isle Royal, ending with the surrender of the French, ended the reign of France in New York, 1763. The English promptly improved La Gallette, put a garrison there and changed the name to Oswegatchie, the name of the river tributary of the St. Lawrence. The new settlers began timber cutting and denuded great areas of land.

The Revolution in turn dethroned the English, and under American control colonization began in earnest. The same difficulties arose in regard to land title that did so much to retard the development of the north country. The Indians had rights; both French and English has given grants and leases; and now the State of New York began to sell great tracts. Ten townships of 64m000 acres were laid out on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and every inducement made to encourage their settlement. To clear title, the State took the stand that the Indians had the prior ownership, and since they had conveyed that to the State, any means necessary could be used to oust any not having a bill of sale from New York.

The growing settlements found it a great hardship to have to go long distances to transact legal affairs, so in March, 1801, a petition was sent to the Assembly asking that the ten townships might be made one town, with the name Lisbon, and annexed to Clinton County. This was granted, but now they had to go to Plattsburgh to attend court, so in the fall they petitioned for erection as a separate county, which was again granted, and St. Lawrence was form March 3, 1802. The county now embraces an area of 1,701 square miles. Oswegatchie (Ogdensburgh) was named the shiretown; an old barracks being the first county courthouse and jail.

St. Lawrence County covers so great a territory that it has an infinite variety of surface ranging from the fertile bottom lands of the river to the timbered slopes of the Adirondacks. Lakes are numerous; Black Lake, one of the most picturesque, is some twenty miles lone; Cranberry Lake, raised fifteen feet by a dam, furnished important water power. In a survey made in 1892, there are forty-seven suitable place for the erection of dams in the county, ranging from six to 164 feet in height, with an average of eighteen feet. the principal rivers which drain the country are: The Oswegatchie, Indian, Grass, Raquette, and St. Regis.

Fifty-six minerals are found in this hilly region, but of these only a few are of commercial value, such as lime, marble, talc, some of the lead combinations (Galena) and iron, the latter being of the bog varieties and not now utilized as it was in the early days. The water powers have encouraged manufacturing, although this has never been done on a large scale. The soil, with its special adaptation to grains, grazing and fruits, and the vast forests, has been the main source of the prosperity of the county. Its location on the St. Lawrence River, together with its many natural beauties, attracts large numbers of summer visitors.

The Rivers, for two centuries, were the only means of transportation. Many impractical schemes were tried to clear navigation, or to canalize the streams, but these only led to failure. In the end it was the Canadian government which made up-stream passage of the great river possible. Steamboat navigation began with the building of the "Ontario," in 1816. Her speed seldom attained five miles and it took her ten days to make the trip from Ogdensburgh to Lewiston, but she was received with great eclat and continued in service until 1832.

The opening of s State road, from the river to Albany, begun in 1808, with the establishment of a stage coach route from Canton to Plattsburg about the same time, gave some intercommunication, but it was not until railroads were built that this section of the State was connected with the rest of it and the other States. The first road was the "Northern," from Ogdensburg to Rouse's Point, on Lake Champlain, begun in 1848, and completed in two years. A north and south line was projected in 1852 from the New York Central, at Rome, to Cape Vincent on the St. Lawrence, to which a branch to Ogdensburg was built in 1862. These, with other branches, became a part of the New York Central in 1891.

St. Lawrence County is divided into thirty-two towns and has a total population of 88,121 (census of 1920). All population figures that follow are according to this census.

The first town organized was Lisbon, set up in 1801, with a present population of 2,673. AS previously stated, it originally contained all the 'ten townships of the first survey. It lies on the St. Lawrence; is fairly level farming and fruit land. Lisbon Center is its main town.

Oswegatchie, one of the three towns incorporated with the county, March, 1802, has a frontage of ten miles on the river. Much of its history has already been given. Ogdensburg is the metropolis of the county, having 14,609 residents, (the population of the town being 2,156). From the time that Father Piquet established a saw and grist mill, in 1751, the water powers have been used to the advantage of the present prosperous modern city. Most of the mercantile and manufacturing businesses are located here, together with the many of the paper, banks and high schools.

Madrid, erected 1802, is one of the agricultural centers with a rich soil, and much good timber still remaining. Bog iron was once a valued mineral. Population, 1,390.

Messena, organized 1802, was one of the great lumber sections. The villages have the same name as the town, with North, South and East preferred. Population, 8.974.

Hopkinton, erected 1805, has much of the its area in almost its primeval state. The village of the same name has several mills and is the mercantile center. Population, 1,244.

Canton, organized 1805, is about ten miles square, and one of Macomb's purchases. The village Canton, incorporated 1845, present population, 2,631, is the important center of manufactures and the county seat. In 1831 steps were taken to establish an academy, which so prospered, that in 1865 it was charted as St. Lawrence University. It is the leading seat of higher education in northern New York. Population of the town, 6, 497.

Potsdam, erected 1806, formerly a part of Madrid, was settled in 1803. Potsdam village, with a population of 4,039, was incorporated 1831. The fine red sandstone, from which it derives its man, has been one of the principal sources of its wealth. Lumber is one of the main exports, with paper, milk products and minor manufactures playing an important part. The State Norman School at this places was founded 1866. Population, 8,794

De Kalb, organized 1806, is a well cultivated farm district giving special attention to dairying. Lime, barytes and galena are mined. De Kalb, Cooper's Falls and Richville are three of the villages. Population, 2, 419.

Stockholm, erected in 1806, is one of the best agricultural towns in the county, Villages: Winthrop, Southville, Skinnerville, Stockholm, Buckton and Brookdale. Population, 2,417.

Russell, formed 1807, the last of the original ten towns, is hilly, with plenty of standing timber, but with many fertile acres. An arsenal was located here in the War of 1812. Its main village, Russell, is a noted dairy center, having a number of cheese factories. Population, 1,757.

Louisville, erected 1810, borders on the St. Lawrence and was taken from Massena. Farming has always been the chief occupation. Population, 1,364.

Gouverneur, organized 1810, has a population of 5,762, the greater part of which (4,143), reside in the village of the same name. The village, incorporated 1850, and again in 1868, is situated on both sides of the Oswegatchie river, from which it derives much water power. The center of a dairy section, much of the manufacturing is connected with this industry. An unusually beautiful marble is quarried here, and several pulp mills and talc factories add to the industries of the town.

Rossie, erected 1813, population 866; Parishville, formed 1814, population 1, 543; and Fowler, organized 1815, population 1,316, are all prosperous dairy sections.

Pierrepont, erected 1818, taken from Russell and Potsdam, population 1,425, and Morristown, organized 1821, population 1,719, are both hilly but fertile section. Morristown village, of about 500, lying opposite Brockville, Canada, is the mercantile center.

Norfolk, erected 8123, from Louisville, has the ample water powers of the Raquette River to drive the various mills, which give occupation to many of the residents. The village of the same name was formerly an iron town. Raymondsville and Yaleville are also within Norfolk's borders. Population, 3.066.

Brasher, formerly under the jurisdiction of Massena, organized as a town, 1825, was once the seat of active ironworks. Helena is the principal village. Population (town), 1,922.

De Peyster, erected 1825, population 806,m is somewhat swampy, but the draining of some of this section has given many fertile farms.

Hamburg, organized 1827, population 1,507, is a good grain and grazing section.

Edwards, erected 1827, has a population of 1,4,97/. It lies in the same section as the Gouverneur talc quarries.

Lawrence, organized 1828, population, 1,588; village, Nicholsville.

Hermon, erected 1830, from DeKalb and Edwards. Villages: Hermon, population 1,505; Pitcairn, formed from Fowler and Edwards, in 1836, population 646; and Macomb, set up 1841, from Gouverneur and Morristown, population 1,055; all are hilly grazing districts, where farming and dairying are the main industries.

The later formed towns are: Colton, erected 1843, population 11,297; fine, 1849, from Russell and Pierrepont, population 1, 549; Waddington, organized 1859, from Madrid, population 1,742; Clifton, erected from Pierrepont, in 1868, population 1,573; and Clare, the thirty-first town, erected 1880, with a present population of 152.


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

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