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Town of Canton
From Child's Gazetteer of St. Lawrence County

Link to listing of Individuals in Canton Business Directory
Link to listing of Businesses in Canton Business Directory

CANTON was formed from Lisbon, March 28, 1805(1). It lies a little west of the center of the county, and contains 62,776 acres. The surface presents only slight deviation from a continuous plain. It is watered by Grass and Oswegatchie rivers and several smaller streams. Grass River flows North through the central part of the town, and the Oswegatchie flows a short distance in the west angle. These two rivers were connected by a natural canal, but the connection has been severed by stopping both ends and cutting a channel along the Oswegatchie to a point below Rensselaer Falls, to reclaim a fertile tract of 4,500 acres which it overflowed(2). The north and central parts of the town are underlaid by Potsdam sandstone, and the south by gneiss. Iron pyrites occur in abundance at the High Falls on Grass River, and copperas was made here several years since(3). The soil is a deep, fertile, gravelly loam, equal to any in the county.

The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg R. R. crosses the west angle of the town, and a branch of that road passes centrally through it.

The population of the town in 1870 was 6,014 of whom 4,871 were native, and 1,143 foreign; 6,011 white and 3 colored.

During the year ending Sept 30, 1872, the town contained 28 school districts and employed 36 teachers. The number of children of school age was 2,012; the number attending school, 1,669; the average attendance 903; the amount expended for school purposes, $11,157.13; and the value of the school houses and sites $22,200.

CANTON, (p.v.) the county seat, is pleasantly and eligibly situated on Grass River and the Potsdam branch of the R. W. & O. R. R., a little east of the center of the town. It is a thriving village of 1,681 inhabitants(4), and was incorporated May 13, 1845. It contains the county buildings, several churches, a Union Free School(5), various stores, a printing office, (the St. Lawrence Plaindealer), S. D. Hungerford and Co.'s bank and is the site of the St. Lawrence University(6). Its possesses a valuable water-power and its mechanical enterprise is chiefly directed to the manufacture of lumber, flour, leather, machinery, castings, etc(7). Its enterprise has been severely taxed by the occurrence of several destructive fires, but the buildings burned have mostly been replaced by more elegant and substantial ones(8). The Canton fire department was incorporated April 22, 1870.

St. Lawrence Lodge No. 111 F. & A. M. holds regular communications every Tuesday evening.

St. Lawrence Chapter No. 132 R. A. M. holds regular convocations the first and third Wednesdays of each month.

The St. Lawrence Commandery No. 28 has an organic existence, but we are not advised of the date of its organization, nor time of meeting.

Canton Lodge, No. 558, I. O. of G. T. was organized Mar 3, 1865, with about fifty members. It now has 150 members. Regular meetings are held every Monday, and degree meetings, the first Wednesday of each month.

MORLEY(9) (p.v.) is situated on Grass River in the north angle of the town, five miles north of Canton. It contains two churches (Methodist and Episcopal), the land office of the Harrison tract, two large saw mills, shingle mills, one grist mill, carding and cloth dressing works, several stores and mechanic shops, and a substantial stone school house. There is a small tannery here, owned by R. M. Witherbee, which gives employment to two persons and tans 700 hides and 7,000 skins per annum. Population in 1870, 400.

Morley Lodge, No. 641, I. O. of G. T. was organized June 19, 1868, and reorganized in 1871. It has 60 members. Meetings are held every Tuesday evening.

RENSSELAER FALLS(10) (p.v.) is situated on the Oswegatchie, and R. W. & O. R. R., in the angle of the town. It lies near the western terminus of the Natural Canal, and is twelve and one-fourth miles south-east of Ogdensburg by rail. It is a village of 395 inhabitants who evince thrift and business enterprise. The Oswegatchie has a fall of six feet at this place, which gives a good water power for the various mechanical enterprises carried on. It contains two churches, a hotel, six stores, a flouring mill, two saw mills, two shingle mills, three blacksmith shops, one cooper shop, two harness shops, two carriage shops and an ashery(11).

The Rensselaer Falls Lodge, No. 51, I. O. of G. T. was organized and its charter granted April 27, 1866. At the beginning of the last quarter of 1872 there were 77 members(12).

CRARYS MILLS (p.o.) is on the line of Potsdam, in the south angle of the town.

SOUTH CANTON is a hamlet in the east angle of the town. The cheese factory at this place was built in 1865, by O. A. Mead and O. Wallace, at a cost of $5,000. It gives employment to six persons, who are under the superintendence of Washington Spaulding. It is capable of using the milk of 1,000 cows and manufacturing 120 tons of cheese per year.

BUTTERFIELD MILLS is a hamlet in the south-east part.

While the survey of this town and Lisbon was being made parties of Canadians frequently crossed the St. Lawrence to examine the lands in these towns. The favorable reports made of their quality led to the organization of a company of thirty or forty Canadians, who sent one of their party to Albany to negotiate with the proprietors the purchase of a tract which they went to examine in person. While thus engaged many of the party, without the knowledge of their associates, resolved to locate upon a singularly inviting tract in the south-east part of the town, and, in accordance with the prevalent custom, commenced slight improvements which, it was supposed, conferred a pre-emption right to the soil. This action soon came to the knowledge of the company, which, owing to the jealousy and strife engendered by the conflicting claims, was broken up and the colonization project abandoned. Festus Tracy, from Vermont, was engaged in the survey, and he located in 1799 upon the farm now owned by his son Elisha. This, we are advised, was the first land taken up in the town. Mr. Tracy obtained his provisions from Canada. He died in 1857, at the age of 82 years. Daniel Harrington, a native of Connecticut, who afterwards became a resident of Vermont and Canada, is generally accredited with having taken up the first land in the town with a view to actual settlement(13). He located on the site of the present agricultural fair ground in Canton village in 1800, and the spot on which his cabin stood is marked by the flag staff in that enclosure. He made slight improvements, which he sold the same year for a horse, saddle, and bridle, to Stillman Foote, who is reputed to be the first permanent settler in the town. Mr. Foote purchased in the mile square on which the village of Canton now stands. He left his home in Vermont in March, 1801, with two teams laden with provisions and furniture, but the approach of warm weather obliged him to leave a portion of his load at Willisborough, on Lake Champlain, to be taken, together with the irons for a mill, by the more circuitous route of the lake and the St. Lawrence to Lisbon, and thence by land eighteen miles to its destination. He proceeded in company with several others in his employ by a very poor road to Chateaugay, where all trace of a road ended, and they were obliged to seek the St. Lawrence at St. Regis, where they crossed that river and proceeded along the Canada shore to a point opposite Lisbon, whence an obscure road led them to Canton. Daniel W. Church, a millwright, was entrusted with the conveyance of the mill irons and goods left at Willisborough, a task which he performed with much difficulty. He was accompanied by Libeus Johnson and sons; John Flannegan, a journeyman; Thomas Marvin, an apprentice; and one or two others. On his arrival at Canton he found Mr. Foote and his father, with twelve others, all of whom occupied the same shanty, "and without the first convenience, as every article not of prime necessity had been left at Cornwall until a road could so far be cleared as to allow the passage to teams." The work of the party was pursued under the most distressing and discouraging circumstances, for they had no sooner commenced the frame of a saw mill than they were visited with sickness, which resulted in the death of the elder Mr. Foote, from small pox. As soon as the nature of his disease was known those of the party who had not been inoculated -- six in number -- were subjected to that operation. Stillman Foote, who had broken one of his ribs by a fall, and Mr. Church, who was prostrated by an intermittent fever, were unable to render assistance. The remains of the deceased Mr. Foote were wrapped in the hammock in which he died and consigned to the earth by the only three of the party who were well. The body was laid upon hemlock boughs and covered with the bark of an elm tree. Such was the sepulture of him who is believed to be the first white person who died in the town. The sufferings of the party under such circumstances without adequate protection against the inclement weather of that season, and destitute of medicine and medical aid, which could not be obtained nearer than Johnstown, in Canada, which was then practically inaccessible in consequence of the streams being swelled by the heavy rains, can be better imagined than described. The party returned to Vermont to spend the winter, having only partly finished the mill. The following spring Mr. Foote returned with his family, consisting of wife, two sons and a daughter, and took up his abode in a corner of the mill. During the summer of 1802 a shingle run of rock stones driven by a tub-wheel, was got in operation in a part of the mill, and this was the first and only grist-mill int eh town until after the war of 1812. Settlements were made rapidly from 1802. Among those who came about this time were Peter R. Leonard, Moses Leonard, Thomas D. Olin, Chester Dewey, Lebeus Johnson and ___ Kingsbury, most of them with families, who came from Vermont. It should be stated that Daniel Church, the pioneer millwright, also returned, and his services in the erection of the mills in various parts of this and Franklin counties were of immense value to the early settlements. William Perry, who came from Rutland County, Vt., in 1805 commanded the first military company raised in the town. The settlement at South Canton was begun in 1806 by Benj. Rose, of Dorset, Vt., who was soon after joined by Dr. Abner Wells, from Vermont, Ward Squires and John Rose. John Church moved into the town from Vermont in 1808. The west side of the river at Canton Village, where Foote and his party located, was for a long time the business center of the village; but it is now represented by the east side. The first settlement upon the east side of the river is said to have been made by a Mr. Farwell. S. Foote commenced the settlement at Morley in the spring of 1810, by the erection of a saw mill there. A second saw mill was built there in 1811, and a grist mill in 1815, the latter by Christopher Wilson. In 1839 the settlement at Rensselaer Falls was commenced by the erection of a saw mill by Tate, Chaffee & Co. A saw mill was erected the same year by Mr. VanRensselaer, the proprietor, and a grist mill in 1846. Mr. C. Van Waters claims priority to any business man now living at Rensselaer Falls. He moved there in 1847 and purchased of John Shull, Jr., one of the first settlers, the property now owned by John Fosgate Jr., also the grist mill mow occupied by Mr. Rose, for which, and the house in which he now resides, he paid $13,000. Mr. Van Waters has held the office of justice of the peace for twenty years, and that of assessor, ten. He is a warm temperance advocate. Julius Wohlfarth, a native of Beckhofen, Bavaria, who emigrated to this country in 1858, and settled in Stockholm, where he remained one year, when he removed to Fowler and staid the same length of time, and came to this town in 1860, is a noted business man of Rensselaer Falls. He commenced as a peddler, being furnished with a stock of goods by M. D. Packard of Canton, and continued this vocation until 1870, making Rensselaer Falls his home soon after his settlement here. In 1870 he began operations in real estate, in which he has evinced tact and shrewdness and achieved success. Wm A. Eldridge came to this town from Addison County, Vt., in 1822. He has taught singing school thirty-two winters. He participated in the battle of Plattsburgh. He is an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Canton village and has witnessed the admission of all its members except one. His son, Charles A. Eldridge, who accompanied him here, was admitted to the bar in 1846, and in 1848 removed to Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, where, after filling various intermediate offices, he was sent to Congress. At an early period in its settlement, Canton was the home of that astute statesman and lawyer, Silas Wright, who continued to reside there till his death(14).

The first birth in teh town was that of a daughter of L. Johnson, in 1803; and the first male born in the town is said to have been a son of P. R. Leonard, the same year. The first school was taught in 1804, by Wm Barber. The first inn was opened by S. Foote soon after his settlement.

The First Presbyterian Church, at Canton, was organized with seven members(15), by Revs. Amos Pettengill, a missionary from New Hampshire, and Ebenezer Hibbard, of Vermont, in 1807, as a Congregational Church, and was changed to Presbyterian in 1821. It had no settled pastor until 1823, when Rev. Hiram S. Johnson was installed. The church edifice was erected in 1831. It will seat 450 persons. The present pastor is Rev. James Gardner, our informant. The number of members is 160. The Church property is valued at $10,000. The Church has had comparatively long pastorates, and furnished many energetic members to build up churches in the west.

The First Congregational Church at Rensselaer Falls, was organized with seventeen members, May 22, 1847. The church edifice, which will seat 200 persons, was erected the following year, at a cost of $1,000. Rev. Gorham Cross was the first pastor; Rev. G. A. Rockwood, our informant, is the present one. There are ninety-six members. The Church property is valued at $5,500.

The M. E. Church at Rensselaer Falls, was organized with 150 members in the fall of 1867. The first house of worship was erected in 1859; and the present one, which will seat 400 persons, in 1867, at a cost of $10,000, the present value of the Church property. It is a handsome brick structure. The first pastor was the Rev. G. P. Kinney; the present one is Rev. H. O. Tilden. The number of members is the same as at its organization(16).

Of the First Baptist Church of Canton, in the village of Canton, the First Universalist Church, in the same village, and the Trinity Chapel, at Morley, we have only been able to learn that the former has forty-five members; erected its house of worship, which will seat 300 persons, in 1871-2, at a cost of $4,000; has no pastor; and that its Church property is valued at $6,000; and that the last two have an existence, but no pastor, the former with an edifice, which will seat 300 persons and the latter, one which will seat 250.


(1) The first town meeting was held at the house of Stillman Foote, March 4, 1806, and the following named officers were elected: Stillman Foote, Supervisor; James Parker, Town Clerk; Wm Perry, Thos D. Olin and Geo. Foote, Assessors; Mason Foote, Constable and Collector; Daniel Walker and John Farwell, Overseers of the Poor; Medad Moody, Amos Smith, and Moses Leonard, Commissioners of Highways; Hubbard Clark, Walter Clark, Festus Tracy, Solomon Walker, James Parker, Uri Barber, John Hopkins, Zadock Clark, Titus Sykes and Geo. Foote, Overseers of Highways.

From the Town Records we learn that at the election for Governor held at Canton, April 30, 1807, 43 votes were cast for Morgan Lewis and 14 for Daniel D. Tompkins. An interest attaches to this record in that it gives an approximate idea of the number of inhabitants at that date.

(2) The channel of this canal was six miles long, varied in width from five to twenty-five rods, and had a descent of three feet towards the Oswegatchie. It was very straight and was navigable at high water for boats of ten tons. The flat through which it passed was covered with a forest of black ash and soft maple. -- Spaffords Gazetteer of New York and Hough's History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties

(3) In 1832 S. & H Foote commenced the manufacture of copperas and alum from these pyrites, leasing the premises for ten years. They were joined the following summer by G. W. Shepard and J. C. Bush of Ogdensburg. Suitable appliances were constructed the first summer, and during the summers of 1833, 4, 5, and part of 36, operations requiring the aid of from 60 to 80 hands were continued, and more than a thousand tons of copperas and one-third as much alum were made. The business proved unprofitable and was abandoned.

(4) Census of 1870

(5) Canton Union School was organized with primary, intermediate and academic departments in 1868, the Canton Academy, founded in 1831, having been merged into it. It was incorporated as the Canton Academy and Union School, by a special act of the Legislature, April 24, 1837, and rendered subject to the visitation of the regents, under that title, Jan 23, 1840. A teacher's department was instituted in the school Jan. 13, 1871, and $176.80 of the Literature fund was apportioned to it that year. The building will accommodate 400 students. Seven teachers are employed. Its library contains 6,000 volumes, valued at $5,000; and its philosophical and other apparatus are valued at $375. Non-residents are admitted to the academic department.

(6) The St. Lawrence University was incorporated by special act of the Legislature, April 3, 1856, and its Board of Trustees organized Nov. 13, 1856. It embraces classical, law and theological departments. The former was established in August, 1864; the law department, in 1869, in accordance with a special act of the Legislature passed April 22, 1869; and the latter, in 1858, by Rev. Ebenezer Fisher, D. D., under the auspices of the Universalists, by whom it is still sustained. The law school gave high promise of success, but was temporarily suspended in 1872, in consequence of an invidious law of the Legislature of 1870-71, which discriminates against all the law schools in the State, (except those at Albany and Columbia College, on which it was designedly rendered inoperative,) by declaring all those holding diplomas from these schools ineligible to practice in the courts. Law students were naturally diverted to the only two schools in the State whose diplomas confer this privilege. The number of students during the term of 1871-2, were, classical, 47; law, 11; and theological, 26; making a total of 84. The college building, constructed of brick, and library, of Potsdam sandstone, are elegant structures. The assets of the University are shown by the annexed tabular statement:

Bonds and Mortgages $ 74,002.66

Buildings and Grounds 60,000.00

Books in Libary 10,134.37

Philosophical Apparatus 950.00

Furniture 400.00

Subscriptions due and Cash on hand 1,917.34

Bequests liquidated, not yet paid in 57,000.00


Total assets, Dec 1, 1872 $204,404.37

Efforts are being made by non-resident interests to effect the removal of the University to another part of the State, - a movement which is strenuously opposed by its resident friends.

(7) Among the manufacturing establishments are "Jackson's Mill", in which 25 men are employed and 25,000 feet of lumber and 15,000 shingles out per day; J. Traver's Tannery, which gives employment to 12 men, and annually consumes 1,200 cords of bark and tans 35,000 skins and 3,000 hides; Eagle Mills, (custom and flouring), built in 1847, of stone, whose dimensions are 65 by 46 feet, and height, four stories, and which are owned by La Sell Bros. & Co., contain four runs of stones, give employment to five persons and grind 600 bushels of grain per day of 24 hours; the St. Lawrence Custom and Flouring Mill, built in 1860 and owned by H. D. Moody, which contains four runs of stones and gives employment to three persons; and the Canton Cheese Factory, built about 1862, by Wm Olin & Son, and owned by D. C. Johnson, which gives employment to four persons and consumes the milk of 1,000 cows in the manufacture of 100,000 pounds of cheese per annum.

(8) A serious fire occurred here Oct 4, 1843; another in April, 1869, burned from the corner of Main and Water streets to the postoffice, where Matthew's store now stands; and another in August, 1870, burned more than sixty stores and offices and rendered twenty-two families houseless.

(9) This village was formerly called Long Rapids. It received its present name in 1835, "from the family name of the Harrison relatives".

(10) Originally called Tateville, from Robert Tate, of the firm of Tate, Chafee & Co., who, in 1839, erected a forge here. It was more commonly known as Canton Falls until the establishment of a post-office.

(11) W. B. & I. H. Rose's flouring mill gives employment to three persons, and has facilities for grinding 30,000 bushels of grain per annum. It was built in 1842 by Henry Van Rensselaer, and has sufficient power for five runs of stones and seven wheels. The manufacturing establishment of John Fosgate, Jr., comprises a saw mill, with one circular saw, capable of cutting 6,000 feet of lumber per day; a shaft and felly factory connected with the saw mill, in which about 10,000 shafts and 8,000 sets of fellies are made per annum; and a cheese box factory, in which are made from 25,000 to 40,000 boxes per annum. When in full operation they give employment to fifteen persons. Solon F. Dexter's saw mill gives employment to two persons, and cuts, with a single circular saw, 4,000 feet of lumber per day. It is located on the west side of the Oswegatchie. The shingle mills of R. F. Payne and David Dickinson each turn out about 1,500,000 shingles per year.

(12) The charter members were Cornelius Van Waters, Lovina S. Murdock, Albert J. Murdock, Thomas Dickinson, H. J. Allen, C. Chandler, Sidney Child, Joseph Gilbert, Mrs. Dickinson, Ellen Cooper, Charles Clark and Joseph Lytle.

(13) Hough's History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties and French's Gazetteer of the State of New York.

(14) Silas Wright was born at Amherst, Mass., May 24, 1795. He removed in infancy, with his parents, to Weybridge, Vt., where he worked upon his father's farm during the summer, and attended school in the winter. After an academic course, he entered Middlebury College in 1811 and graduated in 1815. While a student he entered warmly into the political discussions of the day and espoused the Republican cause. He studied law with Henry C. Martindale, at Sandy Hill, N.Y., teaching school one or two winters to aid in defraying his expenses, and was admitted to practice in 1819, in which year he established himself in his profession at Canton. He soon won the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens and was honored with many minor offices, including those of surrogate, justice, commissioner of deeds, postmaster and several town offices, and rose through the several military grades from the Captaincy of a uniformed militia rifle company, which he raised at an early day, to that of a Brigadier General, receiving the latter commission in 1827. He was elected to the State Senate in November, 1823, and served until March, 1827, when he resigned to take a seat in Congress, to which he was elected in November, 1826. He took his seat in Congress in December, 1827, and was re-elected in 1828. He resigned his seat in Congress, before the expiration of his term, to accept the position of State Comptroller, to which he was chosen Jan. 27, 1829. While in Congress he served as a member of the Committee on Manufactures, and took an active part in the tariff investigations and discussions in 1828. He served as Comptroller from the time of his election till his election to the U. S. Senate in January, 1833. He was re-elected U. S. Senator in February, 1837, and again in February, 1843, and continued to serve as such until December, 1844, when he resigned, having been elected Governor of New York the previous November. The nominations of Governor in 1842 and Vice-President in 1844, were tendered him, but declined. He entered upon the duties of Governor, Jan 1, 1845. In 1847 he retired to private life, devoting himself to the cultivation of his farm and the society of his early friends. Aug 27, 1847, he was suddenly attacked at his residence by a severe illness, which caused his death in two hours.

While in the U.S. Senate he served most of the time on the Committee on Finance, and introduced the first Sub-Treasury bill, which became a law. A seat upon the bench of the Supreme Court was offered him by President Tyler, and cabinet positions and foreign missions were tendered him by other Presidents, but declined. Previous to his death he consented to deliver an address at the State Agricultural Fair at Saratoga Springs, in 1847, and the address which was prepared by him, was delivered a short time after that event by his friend, Gen. (now Gov.) Dix. He appeared twice in the Supreme Court of the United States to argue cases of high importance, and established in that tribunal a marked reputation as a lawyer.

His mercantile friends envinced their esteem by a testimonial consisting of 125 pieces of silver, each bearing an appropriate inscription, the whole valued at about $1,900, which was procured during his lifetime and presented to his widow after his death. His friends and neighbors testified their high appreciation of his character by the erection of a monument over his remains at Canton. With the avails of a subscription, each contribution to which was limited to $1, and its circulation to this county, was erected a simple shaft of pure white marble, from the Dorset quarry, Fifteen feet in height, resting on a base of Canton granite one and one-forth feet high, and inclosed by a neat iron paling. On one side of the shaft is inscribed his name and dates of birth and death, and another "Erected by the citizens of the county of St. Lawrence." The citizens of Weybridge, Vt., also erected a monument to his memory in that village, at a cost of $4,400. The main shaft is twenty-eight feet high, three feet square at the base, and seventeen inches at the top. It stands upon a mound, and is supported by three bases; the first eight, the second six and one-half, and the third five feet square, and a die four feet square, upon which it rests. A beautiful and accurate medallion bust, executed by E. D. palmer of Albany, is inserted in the monument, which is surrounded by a circular iron railing six rods in diameter. The only inscription it bears is "Silas Wright".

(15) These members were Geo. Foote, John Richardson, Weltha Foote, Betsy Donegly, M. Conkey, Jane Ross and P. Richardson.

(16) Information furnished by J. W. Brown