NORTH ELBA was separated from Keene
on the 13th of December, 1849. It is situated on the western border of the
county, north of the center, and is bounded as follows: on the north by St. Armańd and a portion of Wilmington; on the east by Wilmington
and Keene; on the south by Keene and Newcomb, and on the west by a small portion
of Newcomb and by Franklin county.
The altitude of
the town is greater than any other cultivated lands in the State of New York.
Some of the waters of the Hudson, Raquette and Saranac rivers, and the west
branch of the Ausable and Chub rivers have their source in this town. The
Ausable and Chub rivers drain the eastern and central parts of the town; the
tributaries of the Saranac and Raquette rivers form the drainage of the western
part, and the southern part is drained principally by branches of the Hudson.
through the interior and west part of the town is moderately rolling, but in the
south, east and northeast the country assumes the elevated and broken altitude
of mountains. Bordering the rivers in many places may be found an alluvial
formation of rich black soil. Receding from the streams, varieties of soil are
discernible, in some parts a black loam, while in other portions of territory
(to the northwest) are large tracts of poor sandy soil from which the place
derived its euphonious name of the “Plains of Abraham,” or "Abraham's Plains.”
The timber varies with the diversity of the soil. On the plain prevails the
tamarac; on the river bottoms, elm, ash, maple, pine, spruce and fir, are most
abundant, and on the higher table-land are found the birch, beech, maple, iron
wood, spruce and fir. In some localities are considerable tracts of valuable
pine, while in others may be found large quantities of a superior quality of
spruce. Unlike the other towns of Essex County, North Elba’s future promises to
be greater than her past, by virtue of her almost inexhaustible resources in
The southern part of the town is occupied by a portion
of the Adirondack range. The noted Adirondack or Indian Pass, situated on the
boundary line between this town and Newcomb is a deep gorge between Mts.
McIntyre and Whitface; a portion of the latter forming the western border of the
pass, is a vertical precipice a mile in length and towering to an altitude of
800 to 1,200 feet from the base. The bottom of the gorge is 2,800 feet above
tide, and is strewn with gigantic fragments of rocks probably hurled from the
beetling heights above by some mighty convulsion of nature. Watson thus vividly
portrays this wonderful scene: “So exact and wonderful is the stupendous masonry
of this bulwark that it seems, could human nerve allow the effort, a stone
dropped from the summit, might reach the base without striking an impediment.
The pencil cannot portray, nor language describe, the full grandeur and
sublimity of this spectacle. The deep seclusion, the wild solitude of the place,
awe and impress. Many miles from human habitation, nature here reigns in her
primitive silence and repose. The eagles form their eyries amid these
inaccessible cliffs, and seem like some humble bird as they hover over the deep
Bennet’s, Conriery and
Round ponds are in the immediate vicinity of Lake Placid, in the north. This
beautiful sheet of water is one of the most important heads of the Ausable
river. It is one of the most beautiful spots in the Adirondacks, and is already
a favorite resort. Although distant but a little way from Mirror Lake, of almost
equal notoriety, it is effectually separated from the latter by a ridge of land
passing between the two.
Mr. S. R. Stoddard, in
his estimable little book entitled The Adirondacks Illustrated, gives the
following description of this lake: “Its admirers, and it has many, call it the
‘gem of the Adirondacks,’ and it possesses many features peculiar to itself that
may possibly entitle it to that distinction. It is in shape oblong, something
over four miles in length and about two broad, measuring through or between the
islands, of which there are three, called respectively Hawk, Moose and Buck.
Hawk Island is small. Moose and Buck are large, beautiful islands in a line from
the first toward the southwest, the three dividing the sheet into what are
locally known as the east and west lakes, making it resemble a large river
sweeping around them rather than a lake with islands.”
The fertile plains of North Elba are thus seen to be
rich in the variety and magnificence of their scenery and in their exhaustless
resources. They are encircled by a lofty “amphitheatre of mountains” which are
filled with ores and are mantled by woods of the heaviest and choicest timber.
Mr. Watson, (page 419, History of Essex County) refers to “a singular and
apparently well authenticated account of the accidental discovery of a vein of
silver ore among the Adirondacks and the loss of its trace,” pointed out to him
by an intelligent resident of North Elba. It was not worked, and has been lost,
but there is promise of great wealth to the man with genius and energy enough to
reduce the inaccessibility of the iron veins in the town, and to cleanse the ore
from its native impurities.
established on Chub River by Archibald McIntyre and Mr. Hudson, of Albany. They
consisted of a forge of four to six fires, designated the Elba Iron Works. At
first ores were taken from veins in the immediate vicinity, but afterwards from
Arnold bed in Clinton County. Notwithstanding the laborious and expensive
methods necessarily employed in running the forge, the business was for a number
of years eminently prosperous. But the works lacked the reserve power necessary
to the stability of enterprises of this nature, and in 1815 they were abandoned.
“A decayed dam and fragments of broken wheels and shafts, and similar vestiges,
are the only memorials of their former existence.”
The early history of the town has been so well and
completely written by Mr. T. S. Nash, a former resident thereof, in an article
published in one of the county papers, in August, 1881, that we cannot do better
than to take the liberty of transcribing the historical portion of the article
herein. Following is the transcript: —
The history of this town commenced in the early part of
this century. The Town of North Elba embraces the south part of township No. 11,
and all of township No. 12 of the old military tract. The town is fourteen miles
long north and south, and eleven miles east and west, and contains one hundred
and fifty-four square miles, or nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-six acres.
Township No. 11 and a strip three and one-half miles wide on the north side of
township No. 12, was surveyed by Stephen Thoon in 1806. The balance of township
No. 12 was surveyed by John Richards in 1813. The description of the lands in
those localities are still designated by the number and the names of the
surveyors of the different surveys.
The land was owned by the State of New York. The
settlement commenced soon after Thorn's survey by a few pioneer hunters. Soon
after the settlement iron ore was discovered, and it was thought of a sufficient
quantity to pay for working.
McIntyre, of Albany, investigated the matter, and in company with Mr. Hudson and
another partner, bought a water-power on Chub River, and put up a forge which
was known as the Elba Iron Works. When they commenced working the ore they found
it contained sulphur or carbon in quantities so large as to render it worthless.
The forge was run, however, and ore was drawn from other points for a time, but
it became a losing business, and the enterprise was abandoned. During the time
the forge was in operation considerable of a settlement was made, some settlers
buying their land, while many others simply went on the land, intending to buy
at their convenience. When the settlement seemed to be in a prosperous
condition, Peter Smith. (father of the late Gerrit Smith), of Peterboro, N.Y.,
heard of this tract of land, made an examination of it, and returned to Albany
and made a purchase of nearly the entire town not previously sold. The settlers
sought to purchase their homes, but Mr. Smith told them the time had not come to
sell this land, but he would not drive them from their homes, and when he was
ready to sell, would give them the first chance of buying. But the settlers were
unwilling to continue to improve their land, which might result in benefiting a
stranger. Most of the people, therefore, left, and but few remained there for
many years. During the dark days of their history schools were given up,
religious meetings abandoned, and some of the few were brought up in ignorance,
while others were sent abroad to school. At the death of Peter Smith the land
fell into the hands of Gerrit Smith, and in 1840 he offered it for sale.
This year, the second epoch of immigration began. At
the commencement of the year only six families were in what is now North Elba,
east of the settlement on the Saranac River. Those settlers were 0. J. Bartlett,
Alexas Tender, Iddo Osgood, R. Thompson, S. Avery, and Moses Sampson. In that
year Thomas Brewster, R. G. Scott, R. Nash, and Alonzo Washbond, and perhaps
some others were added to the sparsely settled territory.
The town continued to be settled as fast as could be
expected under all circumstances till 1845, when a new episode occurred in its
history. Gerrit Smith, who was the owner of nearly all the vacant land in town
(which he inherited from his father, Peter Smith) in one of his acts of
benevolence granted it to colored people in different parts of the country, in
tracts of forty acres each. This act, although in good faith by Mr. Smith, did
not prove to fill his expectations.
In 1849 John Brown (afterwards of the Ossawatamie and
Harper Ferry notoriety) came into town for the purpose of assisting the colored
immigrants, and forming a colony of that race. Several families moved into town,
some of which were assisted by Mr. Brown, but the climate and occupation of
farming were both new to them. This town then formed a part of Keene, but in
1849 the citizens petitioned the board of supervisors of Essex County to be set
off and have a town organization. The board of supervisors took the necessary
steps to accomplish the desired action, and on the first Tuesday in March, 1850.
The necessary officers were elected, and North Elba was a legally organized
town. John Thompson was the first supervisor.
Schools and Religious Meetings. — In 1849 a three
months school was taught, and schools were annually kept after this date. During
that same year a clergyman by the name of Clinton, and an older clergyman called
Father Comstock, from Lewis, went to the new settlement; held a series of
meetings and formed a Congregational Church. In 1847 a Methodist clergyman, by
the name of Bourbon, came from Keene to look after the lost sheep of his flock,
and a Methodist Society was formed. These societies continued to prosper and
harmony prevailed among them till 1859 when a new chapter was formed in the
religious services of the town. A clergyman by the name of Wardner, from
Wilmington, a Wesleyan Methodist and a very zealous worker for the colored man,
held a series of meetings, delivered lectures, etc., on the slavery question and
organized a church of that denomination taking members from both the other
churches which left all three societies weak. But religious meetings of some
denomination were always held there after 1840.
A few years ago a new enterprise was commenced in town.
The cool bracing air of summer, the lakes and mountains, the beauty of the
scenery, the speckled trout, and the nimble deer in this section, attracted the
attention of the tourist and sportsman, and several hotels have been built to
accommodate that class of customers in summer. These houses are well filled and
the business is annually increasing. There is perhaps no place in the whole
wilderness region of Northern New York so well adapted to please all classes of
customers as this town. The tourist, the sportsmen, the student, the geologist,
can all find ample food there for their mental as well as their physical
appetite. North Elba has a checkered history but what has been dark and gloomy
in the past is now growing bright and beautiful.
The purpose of this work requires some enlargement upon
some of the hints contained in the foregoing article. John Brown’s career is so
intimately connected with the town that it requires a brief notice. He was born
on the 9th day of May, 1800, at Torrington, Conn., and was a lineal descendant
from a pilgrim of the Mayflower. In his young manhood he engaged in a number of
enterprises without any considerable success, and often with disheartening
reverses. In 1848 he prosecuted a wool speculation in Europe, and met with
disastrous failure. During his visit to the Old World he indulged his native
liking for fine stock by inspecting the choice breeds of the countries he
visited, and gained a knowledge which subsequently rendered him a most
intelligent stock-raiser in Essex County. At an early period of his life he
became imbued with the most vehement and vigorous anti-slavery sentiments, which
increased in intensity as he advanced in years, and resulted finally in the
tragedy of Harper's Ferry.
In 1849 he
called upon Gerrit Smith, and proposed to take up a farm in North Elba, and by
affording the negro colonists instruction and employment, aid Smith in his
beneficent project. Smith accepted the proposal, and immediately conveyed a lot
to Brown, who in the same or the following year removed his family and flocks
and other worldly possessions from his former home in Massachusetts to the new
borne. In 1850 the report of the Essex County Agricultural Society refers to a
"number of very choice and beautiful Devons from the herds of Mr. John Brown,
residing in one of our most remote and secluded towns."
When difficulties arose in 1856, he hastened to join
his four sons already there in the participation of those stirring scenes. He
soon gained a decided ascendancy in the deliberations and acts of the Free State
party, and by his desperate resistance to an attack of the border ruffians at
Ossawattame, during which his son Frederick was killed, he gained the sobriquet
of "Ossawattatme Brown." He manifested remarkable skill as an organizer of
forces, and conducted the battles of the party with astonishing intrepidity.
During a partial subsidence of the agitation in Kansas, he and his sons visited
a number of the Northern and Eastern States with the real object of inciting the
zeal and co-operation of the inhabitants against the whole slavery system, but
with the apparent object of visiting their home in North Elba.
In the following
year he revisited Kansas and at once began the commission of a series of daring
and lawless acts which astonished the whole country. The governor of Missouri
offered a reward of three thousand dollars for his apprehension, and his
proclamation was supplemented by a similar publication by the president of the
United States offering a reward of two hundred and fifty dollars. By virtue of
the influence of his own name, he convoked an assembly of his sympathizers at
Chatham, Canada. Its president was a colored preacher, and the design of the
association then organized was the forcible liberation of all the slaves in the
country, and the establishment within the United States of a provisional
1859, he was engaged in the enlistment of associates in Essex county. Harper's
Ferry, being in easy communication with Canada and the entire North, was
selected as the starting point in the proposed invasion. Brown, under the
assumed name of Smith, hired a large unoccupied farm containing three
dwelling-houses, and situated near Harper's Ferry, and used it as a rendezvous
for the self-constituted emancipators. By the circulation of a report that the
visitors were about establishing a large wool growing business, and the presence
among them of several women, they eluded suspicion. The rest of the story, the
intended attack of the 24th of October, the singular anticipation of the attack
by a week, the indubitable design of Brown and his co-adjusters to seize the
arsenal at Harper's Ferry, capture a number of prominent citizens, to be held as
hostages and ransomed by a supply of provisions or the emancipation of slaves,
and escape to the mountain fastnesses where they could maintain themselves until
the arrival of their expected support from the North, and the universal
insurrection of the negroes, his overwhelming defeat by the federal marines and
the forces of militia of Maryland and Virginia after a most prolonged and
determined opposition, Brown's arrest and execution (December 3d, 1859) are all
matters of common information now.
Just before his departure for Harper's Ferry, John
Brown gave orders for the transportation to Westport from Massachusetts of a
stone which had stood, it is said, for more than seventy- five years at the
grave of his grandfather; and in the event of his death, directions were left to
have it erected at his home in North Elba, with the inscriptions hereinafter set
forth. The stone at this time bore this inscription: "In memory of Captain John
Brown, who died at New York, Sept. ye 3, 1776, in the 42 year of his age."
Brown's request was complied with, and the time-worn, weather-stained stone now
stands on the old homestead, in North Elba, under the shadow of a great rock,
and bearing beneath the foregoing inscription, the following : - "John Brown,
born May 9th, 1800, was executed at Charleston, Va., December 3d, 1859." "Oliver
Brown, born March 9th, 1839, was killed at Harper's Ferry, October 17th, 1859."
On the reverse side are the following:
"In memory of Frederick Brown, son of John Brown and
Dianth Brown, born December 21st, 1830, murdered at Ossawatame, Kansas, August
30th, 1856, for his adherence to the cause of freedom." "Watson Brown, born
October 7th, 1835, was wounded at Harper's Ferry and died October 19th, 1859."
The many visitors at the grave have mutilated the stone
by breaking off corners for relics, etc., until a few years ago, when it was
locked securely under a wooden case, and exhibited to strangers only on special
request. A few years ago the farm was advertised to be sold under a mortgage.
Miss Kate Field, so well known as a writer and lecturess, learning of the fate
which overhung the old homestead, hastened to Boston with her accustomed energy,
and began at once the solicitation of subscriptions to save the farm from the
oblivion which threatened it. Not meeting with the desired success there, she
went to New York, where she succeeded in forming a society, with Sinclair Soucey
as secretary and treasurer. The farm was purchased and Mr. Lawrence, of Jay,
engaged to manage it. Today the place is held sacred and visited annually by
hundreds of tourists. Kate Field is a native of St. Louis and was educated in
Europe and in the East.
Mrs. John Brown, one of her husband's most faithful and
zealous companions in his life work, was born in Whitehall, N. Y., April 15th,
1816. She first met Brown in North Elba, and became his wife in 1832. After
various removals following upon his death, she died in 1874, at the age of
Hotels. - One of the first, if not the first of hotel
proprietors in this town, was the late Joseph V. Nash. He was born September
7th, 1825, and in 1837 came to North Elba (then Keene). He worked for his father
until he was twenty years of age purchased of him the remainder of his minority,
and worked three years for his brother, Timothy Nash, at eleven dollars a month.
In October, 1851, he married Harriet C. Brewster, of North Elba, after having
purchased a tract of one hundred and sixty acres of land of Gerrit Smith. This
land is beautifully located on the shore of Mirror lake, about eighty rods from
Lake Placid. Immediately after his marriage he erected a hotel on this tract,
which was familiarly known as "Nash's" as long as. its proprietor lived. Mr.
Nash died May 20th, 1884, of heart disease, and was buried with Masonic honors.
The houses at present open for guests at and about Lake
Placid are the Allen House, Henry Allen, proprietor; Lake Placid House. built by
B. T. Brewster, now owned by Martin Brewster; Stevens House, built by Joseph V.
Nash in 1877, and afterwards sold to J. A. & G. A. Stevens, the present
proprietors; Grand View House, H. C. Lyon, proprietor; Mirror Lake House. A. J.
Daniels, proprietor; Castle Rustico, W. F. Leggett; West Side, Oliver Abel; and
Adirondack Lodge, Henry Van Hoevenberghs. In other parts of the town are the
Mountain View House, M. S. Ames, proprietor, situated about four miles southwest
from Edmond's pond; Ray .Brook House (on Ray brook), in the western part of the
town, Duncan Cameron, proprietor. Frank B. Stickney officiates as postmaster at
M. C. Lyon has kept a hotel on the stage route from
Westport to the Saranac, about two miles and a half south of Lake Placid, since
1847. He has occupied the present building since 1864, and has been postmaster
since 1866. His daughter, Mrs. Mary E. Lusk, conducts a store in the same
Milling, etc. - There is considerable lumbering done in
the town, many logs being shipped down the Saranac River to Plattsburg. Eugene
Thew runs a shingle mill on the site of the old Freedmen's Home which Gerrit
Smith attempted to found. Charles Taylor runs a saw-mill and grist-mill in the
east part of the town on the west branch of the Ausable river. G. T. Challis
owns and runs a saw-mill and clapboard and lath factory on Chub river. E. N.
Ames runs a saw-mill on Ray Brook in the western part of the town. He is a
brother of M. S. Ames before named.
In 1879 the Adirondack or North Elba Baptist Church was
organized and aided in the construction of the Union edifice on Abraham's Plain.
For fifteen years the Baptists had been the most numerous denomination in the
town. Encouraged by Revd. Levi Smith and W. C. McAllester, of West Plattsburg,
these early members determined to organize. Their original membership was
fourteen. The first deacons were Orrin Torrance and Reuben Lawrence, and the
first clerk, Clarence Lawrence. The present pastor is Rev. A. C. Lyon, and his
predecessor was Rev. D. B. Pope. Rev. Oscar Boutwell the Methodist pastor of
Saranac Lake preaches occasionally in the Union Church. With the aid of summer
guests the Baptists have erected a handsome chapel at Lake Placid.
Following is a list of the supervisors of this town
from its formation to the present time: John Thompson, 1850; Timothy Nash,
1851-52; Daniel Ames, 1853 to 1855 inclusive; Daniel Osgood, 1856; Milo Merrill,
1857; Daniel Ames, 1858-59; Milote Baker, 1860 to 1862 inclusive; Daniel Ames,
1863; T. S. Nash, 1864-65; Daniel Ames, 1866-67; Alexis Hinckley, 1868; Andrew
J. Baker, 1869-70; Joseph V. Nash, 1871-72; Moses S. Ames, 1873-74; Judson C.
Ware, 1875-76; Myron T. Brewster, 1877; M. S. Ames, 1878-79; Byron R. Brewster,
1880-81 ; Benjamin T. Brewster, 1882; Henry Allen, 1883- 84; George S. Stevens,
Referenced by: http:history.rays-place.com