The Cost of Doing Business in early Plattsburgh

In the Town’s earliest days 1784-1799, American currency had not yet been fully established. The First Bank of the United States was not chartered until 1791, and the Coinage Act in 1792, and the era of a national American currency took a number of years to take hold. Many transactions during this period still relied on English pounds, shillings and pence, though Spanish Silver Dollars were also still in common use.

King Henry II had established the English monetary system which remained in use until 1971. The British pound (in sterling silver coin) was equal to twenty shillings. There were twelve pennies to a shilling. To put that in better perspective, according to one economist, the 1800 British Pound Sterling was equal to $4.44. U.S.

Consider then, the costs experienced in our Town in its earliest days shortly after the American Revolution at the close of the 18th century. The Town recorded the earliest problem it had to deal with, other than general governance and roads, was livestock loose and roaming the Town roads. In 1788, Freeholders and inhabitants voted “That any person within this District shall at Liberty to cast and cut any seed horse or Stallion that may be found running at large after the first day of May nex a provided such horse shall die in consequence of being cut the owner shall bear the loss.” The next year, five pounds were approved to build an animal pound. Not long after, voted April 1793, “That Eight Pounds currency be raised for building a [animal] Pound to be set near the Court House.” Perhaps they needed more space, or the previous Pound was inadequate.

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 The building of a pound apparently didn’t solve the problem because it was voted in 1792 to define a “lawful” fence for livestock owners and establish fines on the owner of forty shillings for each animal running at large, Proceeds of the fine were to be split, “One half for the use of the Town and the other half for Complainer.”

Then, in June 1795, “Voted by the unanimous consent of the People that the sum of Twenty six pounds be raised from the Estates of the Freeholders and Inhabitants of this town, the present year for the benefit of schools.”

I’ll do the math. Twenty six pounds x $4.44 = $115.44. One has to wonder what the residents might expect from such an investment in their school.

That same meeting approved Three Pounds, Ten Shillings be raised to “finishing & completing the Pound:  to get lock & key to the workman who builds said Pound”.

In April, 1796, it was voted to raise Twenty five pounds by tax to finish the Court House. It is unfortunate for us that the record does not specify what finishing the court house entailed. In that same session, “the town receive four dollars for purpose of procuring a blank book to keep the Records of the Town in…”

Judging from the comparison, it would appear that a paper record book was quite expensive at the time.

 

 

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BATTLE OF PLATTSBURGH CONFERENCE

We welcome municipal historians, authors, museum reps, and other interested parties attending a Battle of Plattsburgh conference at the Holiday Inn in Plattsburgh June 5-6.

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Hopefully, those from distant points will recognize the opportunity to enjoy an extended weekend in Plattsburgh including an exploration of up to some twenty area museums during the free Museum Days weekend. Our area recreational, wine trail and shopping attractions should be a further inducement to stay awhile.

I hasten to add that the general public is invited to the main conference program on Friday. More on that later.

The conference is conducted by the Association of Public Historians of NYS and the Region 6 chapter representing Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and St. Lawrence Counties.

Participants have the opportunity to feel the weight of the heavy wool uniforms worn by the American Infantry soldiers defending Plattsburgh during the summer of 1812 and then imagine them at Fort Brown, crossing the Saranac River at night to assault and destroy a British gun battery.

Attendees will learn of heroic persons often left out of popular retellings of the battle story: women camp followers who engaged in the Battle as combatants, nurses, cooks, and seamstresses; of blacks who served valiantly as soldiers, sailors, while others, relegated often by prejudice, to labor crews erecting fortifications or, unwanted, sent westward to defend Sackets’s Harbor in time of our greatest need at Plattsburgh, and of Native Americans who gathered critical intelligence on British forces.

As a conference aimed at municipal historians, Chazy’s Bob Cheeseman, Beekmantown’s Gary Van Cour and I will outline how local historians can help develop historical awareness for local residents and tourism for their communities.

Kit Booth and Gary Van Cour, co-chairs of the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemorative Committee, will provide a preview of the (August 30 – September 14) biggest commemoration program ever in the North Country, and, I think quite possibly in NYS. Commemorative museum exhibits may be an exception.The program schedule runs longer than the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid or the NYS Fair. Reenactments follow the British Invasion dates beginning August 30 and culminate with the decisive battle September 14. That allows for a lot of programs, fireworks and concerts.

As promised earlier, the public is warmly invited to join us for the June 6th conference by registration at the Holiday Inn on Friday June 6, 8:30 – 9:30AM. Exhibits are open Noon-1:30.

 

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Town Records Illustrate an Interesting Past

Jerry Bates

Early Town meeting records (1787-1799) reveal a forgotten, but interesting slice of our past.

Though earliest Town offices had some familiar titles, i.e. Supervisor, Assessors, Town Clerk, Collector (presumably of the Tax variety), others are more intriguing. Take the titles of:

  • Pathmaster,
  • Fence Viewers,
  •  Constables of Northern District,
  • Overseers of the Poor.
  • Commissioner of Roads in the Northern District,
  •  By 1788, we had “Commissioners of laying out Highways”,
  • “Commissioners for Keeping in Repair the Highways”,
  • Pound Master;
  • In 1789 -Trustees of the Public Lots was added.

In those early years, Town meetings were held just once each year on the first Tuesday in April except on rare occasions or when an emergency arose. The titles are generally self explanatory and help illustrate the development of the community over time.

Fence Viewers may be somewhat a mystery, but legislation approved at the 1792 meeting sheds some light on this:

“Voted that all fence well (sic) erected of good Rails four and a half feet shall be lawful fence and all fence made of  Logs, Potts Stones Boards or Brush equal impassible with the first described fence to be deemed lawful.

Voted All and every Seed horse or Stallions running at large shall pay and forfeit for every offence forty shillings, one half for the use of the Town and the other half for Complainer, to take effect from the first day of May next.

Voted  All rams running at large after the first day September next until 15 November following shall be forfeited one half to the Complainer and the other half to the Town. Any ram or rams found running at large in said time to be taken to the Pound and at sold at Vendue within 48 hours by the Pound Keeper and other half paid to the Town Treasurer for use of the town.

Voted  That if any hogs or sheep be found in any inclosure may be pounded and the owner or owners place be liable to pay all damages.

Voted  That no man shall catch any Salmon after the 15th October, no Gil nets be set accross the river Saranac under the penalty of twenty shillings for each and every offence to be applied as above

Voted That fence Viewers shall have 4/. pr day when on duty

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Records were hand written with quill pens, often in haste so that letters were left off and words were often misspelled because few people had a formal education. Clerks might write as words sounded. As a result, there were often variations in spelling of the same person’s name from year to year.

Path Masters were evidently responsible for monitoring sections of roadways in their neighborhood. Many were needed to cover the roads of the Town at a time when the horse was the most efficient means to cover any distance. Thus, in 1793, the Town record lists Wm Coe as responsible for the “South side of Cumberland Head”, “Abraham Travis for the North side”, “Binjm Graves from Dead Creek to Mills”, “Chas. Durham from Sailley South side Town”; “Chas. Platt from Hill bidlow to Lake”; and several others covered other areas.

That same year, they voted “that eight pounds currency be raised for building a Pound to be set near the Court House. Judge Platt as Treasurer to receive the money and to have the direction of building the Pound.”

We’ll take another look at other slices of early Plattsburgh life in later editions.

 

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Three Centuries in the Champlain Valley

There are many resources to which historians and genealogists can turn for rewarding glimpses of the past.  One uniquely useful, though often neglected, resource for those who research the Champlain Valley, is Three Centuries in Champlain Valley by Mrs. George Fuller Tuttle (M. Jeannette Brookings 1864-1938).

It is filled with nuggets of information, interspersed among what some might consider ordinary tid-bits of recorded life and memories. References are since the time that European’s found this verdant valley.  The author sought to assemble seemingly scattered and often hard to access sources of information into one volume that might otherwise be lost. Example: “June 28, 1896 -The first car of the Plattsburgh trolley system passed over the line to Bluff Point.” The randomness of such information and varied subjects provoke the issue of how to present it.

The book, let us call it “TC” for short, is laid out much as a diary: that is beginning January 1 and ending December 31. However, the January 1 entry, for example, records the first day of the year 1766, 1767, 1801, 1806, 1809, and six other years through 1894. (TC was published in 1909 by the Saranac Chapter, D.A.R, Plattsburgh, NY.)

This makes chronological reading of a particular subject awkward, but is mitigated in part by two helpful indexes: Persons and Organizations, and one of Places and Events to help find a trail of information on one subject over the years.

For example, if genealogists wanted information on early West Plattsburgh residents, the index would guide them to such dates, among others, as –

May 23, 1775   where you would find that Ann Whitman, born at Hartford, Conn., daughter of John and Ann (Skinner) Whitman, became the wife of Timothy Balch of the same place, who about 1802 settled in West Plattsburgh. Both were members of the First Presbyterian church.

September 7, 1784     Ida Ostrander was the first child born in the new settlement of West Plattsburgh.

December 11, 1909    Ruth Newcomb passed away in West Plattsburgh, where her ancestors, Samuel and Angeline L (Newcomb) settled in West Plattsburgh. Miss Newcomb’s maternal grandfather was the Hon. Platt Newcomb and her paternal grandfather was Dr. Samuel Newcomb, a celebrated physician and surgeon and director of the medical college in Montreal. Samuel was exiled from Canada in 1839 for active participation in the Canadian rebellion, pardoned after nine years and returned to Plattsburgh, but his last days were spent in Montreal. She was remembered for, not her ancestry, but because of her own lovely character and personality by hundreds of grateful pupils where she had been principal of the Elizabeth street school for thirty-five years.

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 Baker Burial Ground, W. Plattsburgh

 Other history buffs may find thirty-five pieces mentioning early Cumberland Head, as well as pieces touching Cadyville, Cliff Haven, Morrisonville, South Plattsburgh, historic sites, homesteads, blockhouses, forts, hotels, industries and many other subjects and persons populating our town. Among them:

March 3, 1789 The inhabitants of Clinton County decide to build a block-house at Plattsburgh to be used as a jail. This block-house on the lake shore was afterwards enlarged and used as a court house, school house and place of worship.

TC can be found at the Plattsburgh Public Library or the Town Historian’s office by appointment M-F mornings.

 

 

 

Cliff Haven

By John McGaulley

My family was privileged to find a home at Cliff  Haven at the time we did.

During the 1960’s to the 80’s, Cliff Haven – the lake, beach, Woodcliff, skating on the lake, the Cliff Haven Park was a child’s paradise. We could roam all over Woodcliff and across Rt. 9 behind the stone school house where there is a beautiful walk along huge rock formations. Now all of these lands are privately owned.

We had a 12’ row boat named “Sherby”. The color was psychedelic. It made the graffiti on the NYC subways look like a Picasso. The kids rowed, pushed, jumped in and out from the pier to the beach. Recently my oldest daughter said, “Dad, do you  remember when you told us not to take the Sherby to Crab Island? We never did. But you never said we couldn’t go to Valcour!!”  Can anyone with children who knows the lake imagine five young kids rowing a 12’ boat from Cliff Haven to Valcour?

The 4th of July parade, led by a South Plattsburgh Fire Department truck around Cliff Haven brought out all the kids (and adults) dressed up in their patriotic clothes, and their bicycles!! We always ended up at the beach for a few refreshments.

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A summer program of swimming at the beach offered by the Cliff Haven Homeowners Association (CHHA) was probably the activity most enjoyed by the kids. That’s where many kids learned to swim! The highlight of the beach season -and the end – was a nearly two mile swim to Crab Island for those who chose (even some adults joined in). Neighbors with boats followed the line of swimmers all the way. All had a good time and we didn’t lose anyone! In addition to swimming there were arts & crafts and whatever games the Okids and councilors could dream up. With the end of town funding, the beach program withered away.

My wife, Nancy, equipped our six year old daughter in 1969 with everything she needed for a day at the beach, including lunch. Nancy sent her on her way by herself walking about 6/10 mile to the beach and home. Many other kids did the same. Such was Cliff Haven in those days.

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 The Jennings brothers: Tom (pictured), Mike and Howard Jr. were constantly on the ice.

Hockey was a big item in the 60’s — 80’s. The boys would scrape out a rink on the lake and all would join in a game. They also used the basketball courts in Cliff Haven park. These kids graduated to high school – St. John’s and Peru – and formed the nucleus of St. John’s hockey team, an early powerhouse. From there they went to PSC and were the genesis of their successful hockey program. The community also was well represented in little league baseball and softball.

I bought a pool table from a pool hall in Quebec one year. When the boys got wind of it, I thought that they came around here to visit my daughters — it became the center of activity. Our cellar was open. All they had to do was knock on the door and enter the hatchway — a lot of them we didn’t even know! The only restrictions were no drinking, no fights, no smoking, and don’t puncture the ceiling with the cue sticks!! It was all good fun and memories were made. After we got rid of the pool table, the room looked good until we checked the ceiling.

How did we come to this happy home? After living on Long Island for a number of years, Nancy and I had decided that we wanted a less congested and safer place to bring up our four daughters. We moved back to Plattsburgh on Leonard Avenue in 1957, but missed living on the water as Nancy had on Long Island. We wanted a home on the Lake. Our timing was right.

Just a few years earlier in 1955, the construction of the new Plattsburgh Air Force Base and the activation of the 380th Bombardment Wing was big news. A developer responded to the need for housing by the airmen and their families. He arranged financing to take control of the former Catholic Summer School of America properties that sprawled over the land known as Cliff Haven.

By 1960, most of the land south of Plattsburgh Avenue was vacant except for some the old paved streets left by the Catholic Summer School. A few houses the developer built stood south of Valcour Avenue. More buildings were being framed up on Valcour in 1962, but the developer had financial difficulties and pulled out. That left Albany State Bank to finish those homes. We were the first family to build our own home there and moved in at that time.

The small community was made up of Air Force families, retired military, educators from Peru and Plattsburgh State as well as local people. My memory tells me that everyone seemed to get along.

To my knowledge, there never was a fence between the five houses along the lakefront properties on Lakeside Court. When the kids were young, neighbors crossed freely from one house to the other respecting any activity in a neighbor’s yard.

Early families formed the Cliff Haven Homeowners Association (CHHA) and tried to acquire two beach lots from Harry Alpert. We sought to include a provision in the deed that a family had to be a member of the Association in order to use the beach. Mr. Alpert turned us down as he was looking for a tax deduction, and a “dues” clause would prevent a deduction.

Mr. Alpert bought the remaining undeveloped land and completed the infrastructure. He bought and sold lots, and maybe built houses, I don’t remember.  With that activity, Cliff Haven became what you see today.

The Board of Directors of CHHA is very active and, I believe, does a great job in keeping Cliff Haven  a great place to live. They provide many outings a year for both the kids and adults. Any family can reserve the beach for an outing. Some of our residents choose not to become dues paying members of CHHA, thus limiting support for activities that benefit all residents.

 

Coming: Commemoration of the Battle of Plattsburgh

By Jerry Bates

This is the BIG ONE!

There is good reason for a big bash to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh. The outcome of that battle had enormous consequences for our nation and the circumstance of current residents being American rather than Canadian.

The War of 1812 had been going badly for the Americans. American invasions into Canada had disastrous endings. To make matters worse, Britain had just sent 16,000 tough battle hardened troops from their successful Napoleonic War in Europe to Canada. It was expected that this force could bring about America’s defeat.

Two-hundred years ago come August 31st; the largest army to ever invade American soil crossed our NY border. Their mission was to destroy the seat of American power on the Northern frontier and control Lake Champlain. If successful, they hoped to take a big swath of land including the Town of Plattsburgh and Northern New York across to Maine as part of Canada. It would be a buffer against further U.S. invasions…just part of the booty of war won by the victorious British Army.

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But it didn’t turn out that way as many readers know.

At first, the 11,000 British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars crossing the border seemed to assure the conquest of Plattsburgh. A large naval fleet was being assembled to support the invasion. General Izzard, commander at Plattsburgh, had just marched 4,500 men out of Plattsburgh to defend Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario as ordered by the war department. That left just 1,900 effective regulars commanded by General Thomas Macomb to defend Plattsburgh.

British General Prevost took several days to set up base camps as far south as Chazy while moving in troops and supplies, rounding up local horses and wagons. He also wanted assurance that construction of the largest warship to sail on Lake Champlain would be completed in time to support his invasion force. Finally marching out for Plattsburgh in two columns on September 6th, they overwhelmed small American forces sent out to delay them in Beekmantown and at the two entrances to Plattsburgh: one at the north end of Beekman Street (Halsey’s Corners) and the other at Dead Creek on the Lake Shore Road.

Prevost and his generals decided, for lack of intelligence of the Plattsburgh defense and geography, to delay an outright attack on Plattsburgh fortifications until naval forces arrived. They laid siege to American fortifications across the Saranac for the next five days.

Meanwhile, General Macomb called for militia reinforcements and strengthened fortifications. He paraded his troops in and out of the woods from several directions under the light of huge bonfires to confound the British into thinking there were large numbers of American troops in camp. Concerned that the British would likely try to launch an attack to his rear, Macomb ordered existing roads leading to the forts be masked or covered up. New roads were created with dead ends or that led further south toward Salmon River and South Plattsburgh away from the forts.

The British fleet finally sailed into Cumberland Bay on September 11th. Lt. Thomas Macdonough’s fleet was waiting. The British fleet, led by the powerful 37 gun Confiance, was defeated in a most bloody battle. Redcoats crossed the Saranac River (just west of where Plattsburgh International Airport is today) trying to reach Macomb’s fortifications from the rear. They had found the going difficult. They were confused by roads that led nowhere and harassed by more than a thousand militiamen. Without naval support from the Lake, Prevost decided that potential losses to his army while storming the fortifications were too great to continue. He ordered a ceasefire at 3:00 P.M. and the British Army to withdraw.

The news from Plattsburgh crushed British hopes for large concessions of American Territory. British and American negotiators meeting in Ghent, Belgium reflected on the futility of further war, costly to both sides. Both gave up territory won during the war. Borders were restored as before the war. A new, now peaceful, relationship had been won.

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Signing of the Treaty of Ghent – John Quincy Adams, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, is depicted shaking hands with the British Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier.   So that is cause for remembering that historic struggle for control of the Town of Plattsburgh and the Lake.

This year’s commemoration of the Battle of Plattsburgh will be the biggest and most comprehensive ever put together – sixteen days of events recalling the British invasion that threatened the Champlain Valley in 1814. Musical concerts will be featured each day. Land and Lake battle re-enactments, encampments, a Children’s Old Time Village Fair, historical tours, lectures and storytelling, an original musical play, dinners, balls, fireworks, and of course a parade with more marching bands will add to our commemoration.

Make your plans to be a part of this year’s commemoration. The next big one is likely to be 100 years later!

We Missed the Cadyville Train

By Joe Provost

Old Timers still remember when you could hop a train at Cadyville and Morrisonville to shop in Plattsburgh, visit family, or go to work in Dannemora.  The Cadyville station was located at, and remains today, as part of the present day Wood Grain Unfinished Furniture store on Route 3 west of the Rte. 374 highway junction.

The D&H Depot Cadyville, NY

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Rail service west of Plattsburgh was not possible until the Delaware and Hudson RR erected service between Port Henry and Plattsburgh.  That link allowed trains to run between Albany and Montreal for the first time. Three years later, the Plattsburgh and Dannemora Railroad was organized by New York State to connect the State Prison at Dannemora with the mainline at Plattsburgh for the transfer of prisoners.  The train also made it easier for local people to travel.  It also helped local farmers, charcoal makers, and lumber mills to transport their goods.

Here I have a copy of the earliest RR schedule I could find:

1879 Railroad Schedule

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The Railroad through Cadyville helped business and local men prosper for many years.  When I was converting the old Civic Center (also known as the Bingo Hall, Rustic Casino and more) into apartments, there was an old timer on his porch across the street.  The first time I met him, he tapped his cane on the porch to get my attention and waved me over.  From that day on I sat and talked with Arthur Chubs Favaro many times.  He was willing to share with me the times he knew of Cadyville.

Here is a picture of Chubs in a group photo at the Cadyville RR Depot.

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There are few remnants of the Railroad left.  The track was torn up in the mid to late 1970’s.  Many buildings and coal bins have deteriorated and have been torn down.

Few of those who rode that line for a good part of their lives would believe that a century later almost all signs of Plattsburgh and Dannemora Railroad through Cadyville would be gone.

The base of the old water tower in Cadyville.

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Today, at least one structure still remains prominently visible.  The base of the old water tower at the Cadyville station stands adjacent to the Wood Grain Unfinished Furniture store.  Visit the store to get a glimpse of the original old depot.

To the Reader:  If you would like to add to this story, send comments to: historian @townof plattsburgh.org