Lewis County History


Early History of Lewis County, NY


from the
by J. H. French
Published by R. Pearsall Smith
Syracuse, N. Y.

Bracketed material in most cases represents that which appeared in the form of footnotes.

This county was formed from Oneida, March 28, 1805, and named in honor of Gov. Morgan Lewis. Slight changes were made in the boundary on the erection of Pinckney, in 1808, and of Wilna, in 1813. It lies mostly within the valley of Black River, N. of the center of the State. It is centrally distant 116 mi. from Albany, and contains 1,288 sq. mi. Its surface consists of the broad intervales which extend along the course of Black River, and uplands which rise upon the E. and W. The eastern half rises gradually to the E. border of the co., where it attains an elevation of about 1400 feet above tide. This part of the co. forms a portion of the great wilderness of Northern N. Y. The surface in many places is broken by low ridges or isolated masses of naked gneiss. The streams generally flow over rocky beds, and in places through wild ravines. The soil is a light, yellow, sandy loam and unprofitable for cultivation. In the eastern forests are great numbers of picturesque lakes, many of which are scarcely known except to hunters and fishermen. The streams flowing from the plateau are generally rapid, furnishing an abundance of water power. (The water of these streams is discolored by organic matter, manganese, and iron, and imparts to Black River the color which has given it its name.) Magnetic iron ore has been found interstratified with gneiss and red specular ore on the N. E. border of the co., and along the margins of the streams is an abundance of iron sand. At the junction of the gneiss and white limestone in Diana are a great number of interesting minerals. (Zircom, sphene, tabular spar, pyroxene, nuttallite, blue calcite, bright crystallized iron pyrities, Rensselaerite, and coccolite are found near Natural Bridge.)

The W. side rises from the valley of Black River by a series of terraces to near the center of the W. half of the co., whence it spreads out toward Lake Ontario. These terraces are occasionally broken by oblique valleys from the N. W. The summit is 1500 to 1700 feet above tide. The intervale along the river, and the banks which immediately border upon it, are underlaid by Black River limestone. Next above this, in an irregular terrace, rises the Trenton limestone, 300 feet thick in the N. part of the co. and gradually diminishing toward the S. This limestone is very compact and strongly resists the action of the elements. In many places it presents the face of steep declivities approaching the perpendicular, and the streams from the W. plateau generally flow over this formation in a single perpendicular fall. This rock underlies an extremely fertile and nearly level tract of 1 to 3 mi. wide. Above it, on the W., the strata of the Utica slate and Lorraine shales rise about 500 feet higher, and from the summit the surface spreads out into a nearly level region, with its waters flowing both toward the E. and W. (The highest part of the range is said to be on Lot 50, in High Market, and is 1700 feet above tide. On a clear day the hills of Madison co. can be seen from this place.) This range in Lewis co. is known as Tug Hill. The soil in the limestone region is sometimes thin, but is everywhere productive. Near the foot of Tug Hill is a strip of stiff clay a few rods wide, extending the whole length of the co., and marked by a line of springs and swamps. The soil upon the slate is deep and well adapted to grazing, but, from its great elevation, it is liable to late and early frosts. Upon the summit of the slate table lands are extensive swamps, which give rise to streams flowing into Black River, Lake Ontario, Oneida Lake, and the Mohawk. Drift deposits are scattered promiscuously, and sometimes lie at a great depth, more particularly upon the northerly sides of the oblique valleys before mentioned.

The streams which rise on the summit of Tug Hill in many places flow through ancient beaver meadows, and upon the brow of the hill they have invariably worn deep ravines into the slates, and shales, in some instances 3 or 4 mi. in length and 100 to 300 feet deep. Chimney Point and Whetstone Gulf, in Martinsburgh, are localities of this kind. There are but few ravines in the limestone terraces, though the Deer River Falls, near Copenhagen, are in a gorge worn in this rock. A think layer of Potsdam sandstone rests immediately upon the gneiss in Martinsburgh. Waterlime of excellent quality has been made from the lower strata of Black River limestone, and veins of lead ore have been worked in the upper part of the Trenton limestone in Martinsburgh and Lowville. (About the year 1828 a silver mine was announced as discovered near Lowville; and in 1837 a lead mine was somewhat extensively wrought 1 mi. N. W. of Martinsburgh Village, and several tons of lead were made at a great loss. More recently a company of speculators have bought the premises; but work has not been resumed, and probably will not be. Black oxyd of manganese has been found in swamps upon the summit of Tug Hill in the S. W. part of Martinsburgh.) The outline of the hills readily indicates the character of the underlying rocks. (In the primary region the upheavals retain their original forms without change; the limestone terraces rise by steep slopes to their level summit; and the slate and shale hills exhibit the yielding character of the rocks which compose them, by their rounded outline and the gorges which every spring torrent has worn upon their sides.)

The S. W. part of the co. is drained by Fish Creek and its branches, and the headwaters of the Mohawk. Salmon River rises upon the W. border, and the Oswegatchie and Indian (Called by the Indians O-je´quack, Nut River) Rivers take their rise in the N. E. The principal tributaries of Black River are Moose (Indian name Te-ka´hun-di-an´do, clearing and opening) and Beaver Rivers (Indian name Ne-ba-sa´ne, crossing on a stick of timber), Otter (Indian name Da-ween-net, the otter), Independence, and Fish Creeks, and Fall Brook, on the E.; and Sugar River, Mill, Houses, and Whetstone Creeks, Roaring Brook, Lowville Creek, and Deer River (Indian name Ga-ne´ga-to´do, corn pounder) upon the W. Several mineral springs are found within the co. (The largest of these arises from the limestone in Lowville, near the line of Harrisburgh. Others rise from the slate upon Tug Hill. All of them emit sulphuretted hydrogen gas, and some have been used for medicinal purposes.) Spring grains are readily cultivated; but this co. is particularly adapted to pasturage, dairying forming the principal pursuit of the people. Droughts seldom occur; but the uplands are noted for their deep snows. Within a few years, several extensive establishments have been erected upon Black, Moose, Beaver, and Deer Rivers, for the manufacture of leather, paper, lumber, and articles of wood. Two furnaces for the manufacture of iron from the ore are located near the N. border.

The county seat is located at Martinsburgh. A wooden courthouse and jail were built here in 1810-11, upon a site given by Gen. Martin. (The co. seat was located by the same commissioners that were appointed for Jefferson co. Benj. Van Vleeck, Daniel Kelly, and Jonathan Collins, by act of 1811, were appointed to superintend the completion of these buildings. The first co. officers were Daniel Kelly, First Judge; Jonathan Collins, Judah Barnes, and Solomon King, Judges; Lewis Graves and Asa Brayton, Asst. Justices; Asa Lord, Coroner; Chillus Doty, Sheriff; Richard Coxe, Clerk; and Isaac W. Bostwick, Surrogate.) The present clerk's office was erected by citizens of Martinsburgh in 1847. Active efforts were made at an early day, and renewed in 1852, to obtain the removal of the co. seat to Lowville, and a fine edifice was built at the place for the courts, in the hope of securing their removal. The co. poorhouse is located upon a farm of 59 acres 1 mi. W. of Lowville. The average number of inmates is about 90. The institution is well managed in regard to economy, neatness, and the health of the inmates. The only internal improvement in the co. is the Black River Canal, connecting Black River below Lyons Falls with the Erie Canal at Rome. (The Black River & Utica R. R., now finished to Boonville, will probably be extended through the Black River Valley.) From Lyons Falls the river is navigated to Carthage, a distance of 42-1/2 mi., by small steamers. Three newspapers are now published in the co.:

The Black River Gazette was established at Martinsburgh, March 10, 1807, by James B. Robbins, and was removed to Watertown the following year. This was the first paper published in the State N. of Utica.
The Lewis Co. Sentinel was started at Martinsburgh, Oct. 12, 1824, by Charles Nichols, and continued 1 year.
The Martinsburgh Sentinel was commenced in 1828 by ___Pearson, and continued until March, 1830.
The Lewis County Republican was established at Martinsburgh, in 1831 or ‘32, by James Wheeler, who sold it to Daniel S. Bailey, its present publisher, in 1837. It was removed to Lowville in 1844, but has since been returned to Martinsburgh.
The Lewis Co. Gazette was started at Lowville, in the spring of 1821, by Lewis G.
Hoffman, and continued 2 years. The Black River Gazette was issued at Lowville, Oct. 19, 1825, by Wm. L.
Easton. It was sold in 1830 to J. M. Farr, by whom it was continued a year or more.
The Lewis Democrat was started at Lowville, March 25, 1834, by Le Grand Byington, and continued 1 year.
The Northern Journal was commenced at Lowville, Feb. 14, 1838, by A. W. Clark. It has frequently changed owners, and is now published by Henry A. Phillips.
The Lewis County Banner was started at Lowville, Sept. 3, 1856, by N. B. Sylvester, and is now published by Henry Allgoever.
The Lewis Co. Democrat was commenced Sept. 23, 1856, at Turin, by H. R. Labe. It was removed to Martinsburgh in 1849 and discontinued a few weeks after.
The Dollar Weekly Northern Blade was started at Constableville in 1854. It was changed to
The News Register in April, 1857, by Merrill & Cook, its publishers, and was afterward removed to Carthage.

This co. is entirely within Macomb's Purchase, and includes a part of GreatTract No. IV 1, most of the Chassanis Purchase 2, Watson's West Tract 3, the Brantingham Tract 4, and a small part of John Brown's Tract 5, on the E. side of the river; and 4 of the "Eleven Towns, 6 5 of the Thirteen Towns of the Boylston Tract 7, Constable's Five Towns 8, and Inman's Triangle 9 on the W.

1 This tract was bought by the Antwerp Company, and embraced an area of 450,950 acres. (See Jeff. Co.)
2 This tract was purchased by Pierre Chassanis in 1792, and was supposed to contain 600,00 acres. Upon a survey being made, it was found that the tract fell far short of this; and a new agreement was made, April 2, 1793, for 210,00 acres. A narrow strip of this tract extended along the E. side of the river to High Falls. The settlers of this tract were principally refugees of the French Revolution. Many of them were wealthy, titled, and highly educated, and, in consequence, were poorly fitted for the hardships of pioneer life. Large sums of money were expended to render the settlement successful, but the settlers soon after returned to France and the enterprise was abandoned. Rudolph Tillier was the first agent; and in 1800 he was superseded by Gouverneur Morris, who appointed Richard Coxe his agent. The first buildings were erected near the present residence of Francis Seger.
3 James Watson purchased 61,433 acres, in 2 tracts, connected by a narrow isthmus. The eastern tract is mostly in Herkimer co.
4 So called from Thomas H. Brantingham, of the city of Philadelphia, who at one time held the title. It is mostly in Greig, and contains 74,400 acres.
5 This tract, which is popularly regarded as the whole northern wilderness of New York, included 210,000 acres sold by Constable to John Julius Augerstein, and afterward conveyed to John Brown, of Providence, R. I. It was divided into 8 townships, as follows:

1. Industry
2. Enterprise
3. Perseverance
4. Unanimity
5. Frugality
6. Sobriety
7. Economy
8. Regularity

It has been said that all of these social virtues are needed for the settlement of this region. The first 4 townships are partly in Lewis co.

Numbers 5, 9, 10 and 11, -- now Denmark, Pinckney, Harrisburgh, and Lowville.
7 Named from Thos. Boylston, of Boston, who held the title a few days. Nos. 3, 4, 8, 9 and 13, now Montague, Osceola, and parts of Martinsburgh and High Market, are in Lewis co. The whole tract included 817,155 acres.
8 These towns were Xenophon, Flora, Lucretia, Pomona, and Porcia, and now form parts of Lewis, High Market, and Martinsburgh and the whole of Turin and West Turin.
9 Leyden as it existed before Lewis was erected. It included 26,250 acres, forming a perfect triangle.

The first settlers came from New England and settled at Leyden in 1794. The fame of the "Black River country spread through Mass. and Conn., and within the next ten years the country between Tug Hill and the river rapidly filled up with a laborious, intelligent, and enterprising population. A romantic project of settlement formed by refugees of the French Revolution, in which Arcadian dreams of rural felicity were to be realized, was abandoned after a short experience of the real hardships of pioneer life. Except an expensive but ineffectual attempt by Brown to settle his tract, toward the close of the last century, little improvement was made E. of the river until about 1820; and this section has at present time less than one-fourth of the population, and a still less proportion of the wealth, of the co. A systematic effort at settlement of the extreme W. part was first made in 1840-46, under Seymour Green and Diodate Pease, agents of the Pierrepont estate. Much of this region is still a wilderness.


Historical Information Found On This Page Comes From
If You Don't Know About Rootsweb, SHAME ON YOU!