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

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

GOUVERNEUR(1) was formed from Oswegatchie April 5, 1810(2). A part of Macomb was taken off April 3, 1841. It is an interior town, lying in the south-west part of the county, and contains 41,342 acres. It is drained by the Oswegatchie River and Beaver Creek, which, with a slight exception, form the north boundary of the town. The Oswegatchie twice crosses the town. It enters it first about the center of the south-east border, and crossing the south-west corner, leaves the town to form the Ox Bow in Jefferson County, where it turns upon itself and again enters it on the line of Macomb, pursuing a north-east course to the north angle of the literature lot, where it turns, forming the little bow, and crosses the literature lot and the east angle of the school lot, when it again turns and flows in a north-east direction to the center of the north-east border, where it finally leaves the town. The surface is generally level, though somewhat broken in the north by low ridges of white limestone. The soil is very productive, being composed chiefly of clay and loam, mixed with sand in some places. The town furnishes an abundance of useful and interesting minerals. From the Kearney mine(3) in the south angle has been taken an immense quantity of iron ore. The recent discovery of a great variety of mines and quarries by D. Minthorn, late chemist and mineralogist of New York City, has given a new impetus to the mineral interests of the town. Most of them are near the village of Gouverneur, and all within the town. They consist of iron ore beds, which afford the bright specular, red oxide and spathic varieties, and the ochers; quarries of syenite equal, if not superior to any from the old world, including the varieties of granite and marble from the ordinary gray to the sacred oriental and classical Egyptian -- massive feldspar, either mottled with hornblende or specked with adularia, some with uniform jasper shade, and snow white, with green (porphyry) tint, also verde antique feldspar and white and verde antique marble; large deposits of potters' clay, clue clay and coarse sand, suitable for the manufacture of brick and tile; and large quantities of chalk, steatite, kaolin and feldspar for glazing. Mills have been erected for grinding the soft re for paint, and a pottery and kilns built for working the clays. Measures are being taken to enlist talent and enterprise to fully develop these discoveries and give them a commercial value(4).

The population of the town in 1870 was 3,539, of whom 2,834 were native, 705, foreign and all, except three, white.

During the year ending Sept. 30, 1872, the town contained 19 school districts and employed 23 teachers. The number of children of school age was 1,230; the number attending school, 932; the average attendance, 440; the amount expended for school purposes, $6,610.77; and the value of school houses and sites, $15,920.

The Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg R.R. enters the town in the south angle and extends through the south-east part.

Gouverneur (p.v.) is eligibly situated on the Oswegatchie and R. W. & O. R. R., in the south-east part. It was incorporated Dec. 7, 1847, and has a population of 1627(5). It is a thriving, healthy village, whose broad and well cared-for streets and comfortable residences give it a pleasing appearance. It is the seat of a prosperous seminary of learning(6) and contains a bank, two newspaper offices (the Gouverneur Times and The Rising Sun and the New York Recorder) and an excellent water privilege, which is the motor for the various establishments engaged in the manufacture of flour, leather, lumber, castings and various articles of wood, some on an extensive scale. Cheese is also an important article of manufacture(7). The village is supplied with water from the Oswegatchie for fire, domestic and mechanical purposes, by the Holly system of water works(8). It has a beautiful rural cemetery on the south bank of the river, opposite the village, and a fine fair ground.

Gouverneur Hose Company No. 1 was organized under an act of the Legislature passed April 29, 1868, and consists of thirty-five active members. It is equipped with hose carriage and hose and hooks and ladders for fire purposes. Water is supplied by the water works. A. Burt, Jr., is foreman.

Gouverneur Cornet Band was organized in 1866, and has ten members. H. C. Fosgate is leader.

The Y. M. C. Ass. Of Gouverneur was organized in February, 1871. The reading room is upon the third floor of Egert's Block and is free to all(9).

The Gouverneur Agricultural and Mechanical Society was formed and held its first annual fair in 1859. The receipts that year were $130 in excess of the expenditures, which were $470. It now owns twenty acres of land, worth $300 per acre. The buildings, cattle sheds and track are in good repair. The receipts for the past few years have been about $3,000 per year. There has been a great improvement in stock, farm and dairy products within its circle since its formation, much of which can be traced directly to its influence.

Natural Dam, one mile below Gouverneur, is the seat of an immense lumbering business. Its water-power is one of the best in the county. In 1867, Messrs. Weston, Dean & Aldrich commenced the erection of buildings for the transaction of an extensive lumber business. They have a saw mill, 65 by 115 feet, capable of sawing 12,000,000 feet of lumber in eight months, and 25,000 lath and pickets per day; a single mill, 30 by 45 feet, containing two machines, capable of cutting 22,000 shingles per day; and a planing mill 45 by 90 feet, containing two machines, and a clapboard saw and slitting saw. A tract of timber land containing 45,000 acres and owned by the company supplies these mills. An average of 100 persons are employed. There are some twenty houses and shanties in addition to the mills.

Little Bow Corners is a hamlet west of the center, about two miles north-west of Gouverneur, and contains a school house, cheese factory(10), ten dwellings and fifty inhabitants.

Old Mills (formerly known as Smith Mills) is a hamlet on the Oswegatchie in the north-west part, and contains a school house, saw mill, blacksmith shop, grocery, eight dwellings and about forty inhabitants.

A cheese factory, known as Cream of the Valley, situated six miles north of Gouverneur, and owned by E> Kelsey, receives the milk of 600 cows.

Settlement was commenced by Dr. Richard Townsend, agent of G. Morris. Dr. Townsend was a native of Hebron, N.Y., and although he studied medicine and was qualified to practice it he never did so, except in cases of emergency. In the summer of 1805, he, with several of his neighbors, viz: Isaac Austin, Willard Smith, Pardon Babcock, Ambi Higley, John Alden and Morris Mead, the latter a surveyor, visited the town to make arrangements for its settlement. They traversed the wilderness from the head of Lake George, with the aid of a map and compass, and as they started with only three days provisions, and the journey occupied seven days, they suffered somewhat from hunger before reaching their destination. They were much exposed to danger from wild beasts, and Dr. Hough relates an incident which occurred one night, while they slept within a circle of fires, as a protection from molestation by these animals. Before retiring they suspended from the branches of a tree, much elevated from the ground, some fish caught in the morning, which, when they awoke in the morning, were gone. Appearances indicated the presence of one or more large panthers. They were led by the sound of a bell attached to an ox to a clearing in the Smith settlement in DeKalb, where several men were chopping. One of the party amused himself by demanding compensation from the astonished choppers for pretended damage done by the latter's cattle in breaking into his cornfield. The party proceeded thence to Gouverneur, just below the present village, and after a short stay proceeded by way of the Black River country to their homes, having been absent about three weeks. Townsend, Austin, Smith and others again visited the town late in the fall. They came by way of the Black River country and reached their destination about the middle of October. Col. Edsall, of Waddington, was employed and surveyed several farms, upon which slight beginnings were made, when the party returned home by the route they came. The following February, Pardon Babcock, Willard Smith, Eleazer Nichols and Isaac Austin came with their families, which were left at Antwerp, while the men proceeded to erect a temporary shelter and provide accommodations in their new home. The wife of Austin was an invalid and was carried the entire journey in a cradle, to which she was confined with rheumatism and a spinal affection more than thirty years. At that time there was only one house at Antwerp, that of Jershom Matoon, which was used as an inn. "It was," says Dr. Hough, "a very humble log cabin, with but one room, which served every purpose of bar room, bed room, parlor, kitchen and dining room, was without a chimney, and destitute of every accommodation so called." Uninviting as was this rude habitation, the one to which they were welcomed on reaching their destination -- an open shed covered with boughs -- was less so. But these pioneers doubtless found in the change a welcome relief from the anxiety to which separation from those they loved rendered them a prey, for home hath charms to soothe the aching heart, and lull the fears which absence doth impart. "The next day," says Dr. Hough, "a flat roofed log shanty, open on one side and covered with wooden boughs, * * * was erected; and soon after another, facing the first, but with a space between a few feet, which served the purpose of a door, as well as chimney; and at each side a pile of logs was laid at night, and set on fire, for the triple purpose of light, warmth, and a defense against wild beasts. This cabin furnished a common shelter for several weeks, until the several families had provided for themselves separate huts." Isaac Morgan, from Orange Co., Vt., joined them the last of March, and during the summer Dr. Townsend employed John Simmons of Brownvville to survey into farms the lands around the village. The first birth, that of Allen Smith, in the family of Willard Smith, occurred May 8th of this year. Dr. John Spencer(11), who was the first practicing physician and for several years the only one within many miles, came from Windsor, Conn., in April, 1807, being preceded, in addition to the families before mentioned, by those of Dr. Townsend, Daniel Austin, Stephen Patterson, Benj. Smith, Israel Porter and Stephen Smith. Roads were opened to communicate with Richville, in DeKalb, and Antwerp, and in 1808 a bridge was built, the funds therefore ($500) being raised by private subscription, to which the Austins, Drs. Townsend and Spencer, Babcock, Porter and Morgan were the chief contributors. In August of this year occurred the first death, that of Emily Porter, a child two years old, in the family of Israel Porter. Mrs. Martin was the first adult who died in the town, and Stephen Patterson, who was crushed while stoning up a well, the first adult male. The first school was taught by Miss Elizabeth S. Sackett, (subsequently Mrs. John Parker of Fowler) in the fall of 1808, the shanty occupied by the workman on the bridge being the first school room. A school was subsequently kept in a shop built for mechanical purposes, and was taught by Sylvester McMasters, the first male teacher. This building was relinquished upon the erection of a log school house in 1811. In 1808 the first inn and store were opened, the former by Israel Porter, who exhibited much enterprise in public improvements, and the latter by John Brown. A clearing of eighty acres was made near Natural Dam, in 1809 by Joseph Bolton, for Mr. Morris, and a grist and saw mill were erected for him by Mr. Austin. In 1809 the following additional families were residing in the town, viz.: Wm. Cleghorn, Wm. And J. S. Colton, Henry Welch, Elkanah Partridge, James and Rockwell Barnes, Joseph Bolton, H. Smith, Caleb Drake, Benj. Clark, James Barnes, Calvin Bullock, Ephraim Gates, Timothy Sheldon, Colburn Barrell, Reuben Nobles, Ephraim Case, Richard Kemble, John Hoyt and Medad Cole. The following, mostly single men, were either living in the town at that time, or came in soon after, viz.: Wm Canning, Sela Coleman, Alfred Cole, Harvey Black, Charles McLane, James and John Parker and Josiah Waid. In 1812, the settlers, impelled by fear of hostile incursions by Canadians and Indians, commenced the erection of a block house, but is was never finished, and the timbers were used in the construction of a dam in the village, in 1814, and in buildings soon after erected. In common with the other towns, Gouverneur's growth was checked by the war, but this retardation was only temporary, for in 1816 the town had a population of one hundred and fifty families, and the village of two hundred persons. A little later -- 1816-18 -- several families from Johnstown, Fulton County, located on the road leading to the Little Bow, a circumstance which gave it the name of Johnstown Street. The first settler upon this road was Jeremiah Merithue, in 1810.

The first religious services were held at the house of Isaac Austin, in July 1806, by Elders Nichols and Pettingill, missionaries of the Baptist persuasion from Connecticut. Sunday services were occasionally held by Rev. Mr. Heath, a Methodist, living at Rich's settlement in DeKalb. The home of Austin appears to have been the pivot around which the religious sentiment of the community revolved, for there some form of divine worship was persevered in until the erection of a school house, when the meetings were held there. There all who felt the inspiration of religious emotions felt it a privilege to worship in true spirit, without questioning the convictions of his neighbor. The meetings of these devout worshipers were practically free from the harsh sectarian distinctions which now prevail to such a lamentable extent -- distinctions engendered by an irrepressible antagonism between those faculties which ally us to the brute creation and those which distinguish us from them, and which crystallize into sectional and selfish interests. In them it may be said divine recognition of human equality was more the result of necessity than choice, but charity impels us to believe otherwise. Be that as it may it teaches a lesson which the intervening years have not enabled us to learn and apply. We may well question when the force good men exert will be applied directly to the removal of evil, and the amelioration of man's condition, instead of being wasted, as now, in combating dogmas and forms to which an unwarranted significance is attached.

The First Baptist Church of Gouverneur was organized with eighteen members by Rev. A. Brown, and T. Atwood and E. Carrington, Feb 18, 1811. Their first house of worship was erected about 1820; the present one, which will seat 400 persons, in 1850, at a cost of $4,000. The first pastor was Rev. Jonathan Payne; the present one is Rev. J. W. Putnam. The present number of members is 209. The church property is valued at $1,500(?)(12).

The First Presbyterian Church of Gouverneur was organized with six members by Rev. Nathaniel Dutton, May 24, 1817. The first church edifice was erected in 1820; the present one, which will seat 612 persons, in 1843, at a cost of $6,500. It was enlarged and reconstructed in 1870. Rev. James Murdock was the first pastor; Rev. N. J. Conklin, our informant, is the present one. The Society numbers 230 members. The Church property is valued at $21,500.

The First M. E. Church , at Gouverneur, was organized with six or eight members, by Benj. Dighton, in 1822. The first church edifice was erected in 1864; the present one which will seat about 500 persons, in 1871, at a cost of $13,500. Rev. Lyndon King was the first pastor, Rev. John T. Hewitt, our informant, is the present one. There are 146 members. The Church property is valued at $15,500. There is a gradual increase in the congregation and a corresponding one in the membership, which indicates a prosperous future.

Trinity Church (Episcopal) at Gouverneur, was organized in April, 1866, by Rev. J. Winslow, the first rector, with one male and five female communicants. A house of worship was erected the same year. It cost $6,000, and will seat 250 persons. The Society numbers about seventy communicants, who are ministered to by Rev. Wm. M. Ogden. The Church property is valued at $7,500(13).


(1) The town originally embraced the township of Cambray, of the Ten Towns. It was named from Gouverneur Morris, an extensive land-holder in Northern New York, and an eminent American statesman and orator. Mr. Morris was born at Morrisania, Westchester county, Jan. 31, 1752, and graduated at King's College (now Columbia College) in 1768. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1771, and attained great celebrity in that profession. He became interested in politics at an early day. In 1775 he was a delegate to the Provincial Congress from this state, and signed the articles of Confederation. During the Revolution he was employed in the public service in various capacities, in all of which he displayed great zeal and ability. A few years after the war he was called to France on commercial business, and while there he received the appointment of United States Minister to France in 1792, which office he held until October, 1794. While in the country he witnessed the excesses of the French Revolution and incurred much personal danger in the discharge of his official duties. He returned to America in 1798, and his efficient services as minister to the French Court were acknowledged by his native State by his election to the United States Senate in 1800. After three years service in Congress he spent seven years in Philadelphia. He died Nov 6, 1816.

(2) The first town meeting was held at the house of John Spencer, and Richard Townsend was elected Supervisor; Amos Comly, Town Clerk; Rufus Washburn, Isaac Morgan and Pardon Babcock, Assessors; Amos Comly, Benj. Smith and Ephraim Case, Commissioners of Highways; Jonathan S. Colton and Israel Porter, Overseers of the Poor; Barnabus Wood, Constable and Collector; Jonathan S. Colton and Isaac Morgan, Fence Viewers; and Israel Porter, Pound Master.

(3) This mine is located on the boundary line of the towns of Rossie, Gouverneur and Fowler. The bed comprises 280 acres, and is owned by Wheelock & Pope and leased by Geo. F. Paddock & Co.

(4) A fuller description of the mineral productions of the town is given on page 65 (AMC NOTE: Not transcribed so far).

(5) Census of 1870. What its present population is we are not advised, though it is probably much in excess of that number, as it is growing rapidly.

(6) The Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary is the outgrowth of a long cherished and early desire among the residents of the town for an institution of learning which should fully meet the wants of the community; and the devotion to the educational and material interests of the town which rendered its establishment possible, has fostered and supported it through the many vicissitudes which have from time to time threatened its existence. On the 31st of March, 1826, a subscription was started for the purpose of raising funds to build a second story to the brick school house then in process of erection, for an academical department, which was to be under the control of the subscribers. Each subscriber was entitled to one vote for every $10 subscribed. Fifty-four shares were taken, amounting to $540, with which the plan was perfected, and in November the institution was styled the Gouverneur Union Academy. The building of the school house, according to the original plan, was contracted by Elwell E. Austin for $873. The building was completed in 1827, and a school opened by a Mr. Ruger, brother of Wm. Ruger, the author of Ruger's Arithmetic. This measure was not effected without encountering opposition from that too conservative element which is antagonistic to every innovation upon established customs. The academy was incorporated by the Legislature as the Gouverneur High School, April 25, 1828. Its government was entrusted to nine trustees, and John Spencer, Aaron Bowley, David Barrell, Harvey D. Smith, Josiah Waid, Alva Smith, Almond Z. Madison, Robert Conant and Joel Keyes, the corporators named in the act, were constituted such until others should be elected. Their appointment was continued by an election held the same month. Feb. 19, 1829, application was made for participation in the literature fund-- a privilege which was readily granted and has since been enjoyed. The prosperity of the school soon rendered its accommodations inadequate, and in 1830 measures were instituted to provide a building commensurate with its immediate and prospective requirements. By the 6th of Sept. of that year $2,755 was raised by subscriptions, and although that sum was barely sufficient to erect and inclose the walls of the projected building, the trustees, trusting in the sentiment of the motto of their seal, then recently adopted, that "brighter hours will come," resolved to commence work upon the building, relying upon the generosity of the community for means to complete it. In March, 1832, the trustees petitioned for $1000 of the literature fund, but without avail, and another appeal to the liberality of its friends became necessary. The previous subscriptions were increased, and in 1834 an elegant and substantial building was completed. March 29, 1837, an arrangement was entered into between the trustees and John Loveys, W. C. Mason, Jesse T. Peck, C. W. Leet and R. Reynolds, a committee appointed by a convention of ministers of the Potsdam District of the M. E. Church, by which the former agreed to transfer conditionally at least 100 shares of stock to persons authorized to receive it in trust for the Methodists, that the latter might subscribe to any amount within the limits of the charter ($20,000) and that the chapel might be used as a place of stated worship on the Sabbath and for quarterly meetings, when not interfering with the regular exercises of the school; and the latter, to pay off a mortgage then existing upon the property , to employ one or more agents to solicit donations for its better endowment, to engage as speedily as possible three competent teachers, to keep the school open to students of any and all religious tenets, without preferment, and that the school should remain strictly a literary institution. This compact was promptly ratified by the stockholders the same day. The Rev. Jesse T. Peck, (now Bishop Peck) was the first principal under the new regime, and under his efficient management the school continued to prosper until on the night of Jan 1, 1839, the building with the apparatus, a valuable cabinet and the bell were burned. The bell was the only one in town and was excepted in the conveyance of the school property to the Methodists. The institution was heavily in debt and the embarrassment resulting from the fire was augmented by the loss of an insurance of $1,800 in the Jefferson Co. Mutual Company, which was repudiated on some technical quibble. Their only immediate resource was $500 insurance in a New York Company. This was supplemented by subscriptions of $1000 due in 1838-39, $800 in 1840, and $800 in 1841. Their indebtedness was $4,000. But this calamity was not allowed to impede the progress of the school, which was removed to its old quarters in the brick school house, and soon resumed its usual quiet and regularity. At the next town meeting the trustees were instructed to petition the Legislature for a loan of $2,000, to be refunded by tax within four years, which was effected. An additional sum of $2,000 was raised by subscription, payable in two equal installments in the years 1840 and '41. The present building was completed in 1841, at a cost of $5,500, which exceeded the estimate by $1,500. The name of the institution was changed by the Legislature to that it now bears, April 25, 1840. In 1851, the State, by an appropriation of $2,000 removed an indebtedness which had long embarrassed its trustees and impaired its usefulness. This enabled them to purchase new instruments, enlarge its library and make needed repairs. For many years it was, with the exception of the Potsdam Academy, the leading and only academic institution in the county. It still retains its former reputation among the numerous competing institutions of more recent date. It contains a library, chemical and philosophical apparatus and a cabinet of minerals. Instruction is given in common and higher English, ancient and modern languages, higher mathematics, natural sciences, commercial transactions, telegraphy, vocal and instrumental music, drawing, and painting. It employs nine teachers, under the principalship of M. H. Fitts, and has an average number of 125 pupils.

(7)Prominent among its manufacturing establishments are those of S. B. Van Duzzee & Co., which gives employment to 25 persons in the manufacture of furniture; Litchfield & Corbin's foundry and machine shop, which employs about twenty persons in the manufacture of mill irons, stoves, plows, etc.; R. & J. Grinnell's sash and blind factory and planing mill, in which six to eight persons are employed; Graves & Eddy's flouring and custom mill, which contains four runs of stones, giving it a grinding capacity of 400 bushels of grain per day; John Fosgate's flouring mill, which contains five runs of stones, giving it a grinding capacity of 400 to 500 bushels per day; Starbuck, McCarthy & Co's saw mill and yard, which employ about twenty men; W. P. Herring & Co.'s tannery, which employs seven men and tans about 20,000 sides of upper leather annually; and A. G. Gillette's cheese factory, which was built in 1870, is in the shape of an L, 80 by 80 feet, and three stories high in the main part, has a wing 18 by 34 feet, and receives the milk of 1,500 cows.

(8) The Gouverneur Water Works Company was incorporated April 17, 1868, with a capital of $20,000, in shares of $100 each, with the privilege of increasing it to $30,000. The corporators and first directors were, Chas. Anthony, Augustus E. Norton, Edwin Dodge, Peter Van Buren, Stephen B. VanDuzee, Lyman Litchfield and Chas. E. Clark. The works were constructed in 1867, though but three-fourths of a mile of street mains are laid. Immediate extensions are anticipated. The officers are, Edwin Dodge, President; Chas. Anthony, Secretary and Treasure; and A. B. Cutting, Superintendent.

(9) Dr. S. L. Parmelee is President; Geo. S. Miller, Vice-President; Wm. Whitney, Recording Secretary; A. J. Holbrook, Corresponding Secretary; and J. H. Rutherford, Treasurer.

(10) This factory receives the milk of 500 cows.

(11) The following incident, which occurred in December, 1807, is related of Mr. Spencer in Hough's History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties; "Dr. Spencer had set out in the morning, on foot, to visit a patient beyond Antwerp, guided by a line of marked trees, and an obscure path through the woods, which extended but a part of the way. A light snow, followed by rain and frost, had fallen, which rendered the tread of man and animals audible to a great distance, and the air was chilly and uncomfortable. When he had proceeded about three miles, he was aroused by a rustling sound, and presently a deer pursued by a black wolf, [passed] swiftly by him. He dropped behind a log to see the chase, with interrupting it, when he heard a louder sound behind him, and on looking back saw eleven other wolves in a pack, which gaveu p the chase for the deer and stood gazing at the new game they had discovered. He jumped up, and with loud shouts and threatening gestures, endeavored to frighten them away, but without success, for they retreated buy a few paces and then turned to eye him narrowly. A short distance beyond, on the ground now covered by the house of M. G. Norton, stood the body of a log house and his first thought was to run for that, in hopes that he could defend himself at the door, but upon second thought it was evident that but little hope of escape could be expected in flight. He next thought of climbing a tree, but then the wolves might watch him till he was exhausted with cold. At last, finding that shouting and gestures were of no avail, he laid down his pill bags, overcoat and hat, and cutting a green beech stick, of sufficient size to be easily wielded, and of a weight that would give effect to a blow, he rushed at them swinging his weapon, and making all the uproar in his power, by beating the icy bushes until they were scattered, when losing that confidence which numbers had given then, they fled in different directions. His first thought was to return back, but dreading the jeers of his neighbors, who might say that he had been scared by a wolf, he kept on his course. Before out of hearing, he distinguished the cries of the pack, as they were mustering, but he saw no more of them.

(12) This is the value of the Church property as stated in data furnished by Deacon Thomas M. Thayer, but it is evidently a mistake and should more likely have been $15,000.

(13) Information furnished by A. B. Cutting