Robare’s Store

Robare's Store, Brainardsville, 1960

First Passengers on Steamboat "Maggie"

Frank Percy

M. J. Reynolds
Lewis Percy

These are photos of Lewis Percy listed as the engineer of the first run steamboat “Maggie” and the two passengers, Frank Percy and M. J. Reynolds. Reynolds was a son of the “Chateaugay Infant” and rebuilt and operated the corner store in Brainardsville during his lifetime. Percy was the father of Abner and Charles who operated a store at the Forge in its heyday and Lewis Percy was a nephew of Frank and contributed land for a church society in the North Burke area.

Beautiful Downtown Brainardsville

This is where the expression “Beautiful Downtown Brainardsville” originated.

Hoy Mills, Brainardsville, 1930

1930–Hoy Mills in Brainardsville when operating at full peak. Snow melting on the bank and logs floating near the bridge was the annual spring scene at this one-time busy log-processing plant. The older residents can recall many incidents that occurred during the era. The young people can only imagine.

The Origin of Crompville

“In 1850 an ashery was built by Alonson [sic] Roberts of Chateaugay, who hired a man by the name of Cromp to operate it; because of this the settlement was known for five years as Crompsville.” -James Dowd, Franklin Historical Review #5

People’s Cash Store, Brainardsville

Brainardsville Booze Bust, 1929

1929. The big bootlegging time, like all wrong doings it must come to an end. The end of the line for this one came at Brainardsville when the car overturned, spilling all its contents over the highway. Maybe some of the crowd will be recognized. This car was driven by Jim Shea of Malone. This is north of the four corners in Brainardsville.

Chateaugay Record

Early Brainardsville History, by Oscar F. Chase

A story of the early settlement of that portion of the town of Bellmont now known as Brainardsville, was written by the late Oscar F. Chase and printed in the Chateaugay Record in March of 1903. It contains so much of real interest even at this time the article is worthy of reproduction and we are pleased to accord the space as follows:

My grandfather and grandmother were natives of New Hampshire, but as the general migration was westward, they settled in Vermont and lived there several years. My father married in that state. In the year 1830 they all came to New York and settled in Bangor where they lived several years. The writer was born where Bangor village now stands in 1837. About the year 1843, when I was six years old my parents moved to East Bellmont. We stopped at my sisters, who lived east of what is now Brainardsville on the farm now owned and occupied by James Wright. My sister lived in a log house near the home where Wright now lives. We remained there a few days and then moved north across the town in Chateaugay. Of course it was all woods then, no roads were laid, but lines and lots were designated by some ”ear marks” whereby each man knew where his land was located. I remember it was a most dismal and lonesome place to me, the dense woods seemed huge and mysterious and our neighbors were few and far between. Each one had only a small clearing around his house and all buildings were made of logs. Roads were just paths through the woods, made on the driest ground of course. But all was soon bright and happy as could be. Every body had a hand in the building of a new house in those wild woods, and as I look back now I must say the days I spent there were as happy as any in my memory.

Horses and Buggy Gassing up at Brainardsville Gas Station

-Beverly Titus

We soon had roads laid out, and through the experience of my father and others a school district was formed, composed of the first tier of farms adjoining in Chateaugay and the west part of Ellenburg, these adjoining Bellmont on the north west corner of the town. The first school house was built on the farm then owned and occupied by Jacob Kennison and son, Abram, about one-half mile west of the county line in Bellmont on the road leading from Bellmont to Ellenburg Corners. Robert L. Arnold now owns the farm. The writer went to the first school taught there, the teacher being Miss Eliza Merrill, daughter of Paul Merrill of Bellmont. The second was Miss Olive Miles, daughter of John D. Miles, who later married Hon. W. P. Cantwell, and another was Miss Lestina Merrill, daughter of Enoch Merrill. Later S. F. Storrs taught there. When the sawmill was built on Chateaugay River the people drifted toward the mill and the joint school district was discontinued. A new school house was built at Brainardsville in 1854. It was a good frame building and very convenient, being used for all church purposes and public meetings.

Fred Hoy’s General Store, Brainardsville

The first teacher was Calvin Pike; later S. F. Storrs was engaged. A good many outsiders came to this school because of his great fame as a teacher. He is said to have taught over sixty terms.

The early settlers here were a sturdy and strong lot of pioneers from all parts of the country. Among them were the Lamsons, who were a great family of choppers. The Kennisons, too, were at home in the woods and also great choppers. They cleared a good many farms here, but were nomadic and were soon gone. The most of our settlers were of this class and they moved west, but not all, and those who stayed have been prosperous generally and their descendants are among the best citizens of our place today.

When we first came here it was the home of many wild beasts. ‘Twas quite a common thing to see bear and the sharp eyed lynx lurking among the small clearings. Deer were plentiful and the howl of the wolf and scream of the panther were often heard. But the axe of the woodsmen soon made it uncomfortable for them and as the woods disappeared so did the big game. Thomas Harran, who came from Stanstead, Que., and settled where Eugene Miller now lives, was a great trapper and caught a good many bear. His son, George, built a sawmill in the last of the forties on the brook where our cemetery now stands. One of the first known built here was by Ira Emerson, a son-in-law of Harran. It was a large block house intended for a country tavern, but was used mostly for a dwelling house.

Proscenium Curtain at Brainardsville Hall

The first sawmill built on the river that I remember was operated by a man named Chamberlain. Meigs & Weed built the dam, which must have been put in around 1850. A few years later A. H. Miller, of Malone, purchased the mill and operated it for a few years, doing quite a business, but subsequently sold it to Fish & Van Allen of Albany, in 1854. They remodeled the mill, and put in the first “Yankee gong” we ever saw. James Coates ran the mill for them. They did quite a large business, but soon sold out to Lawrence Brainard, of St. Albans, in 1856, and he did a large business in lumbering, clearing of land, building houses, and making general improvements, which were durable and lasting. His name will be strongly connected with this place. He built a neat little grist mill on the west side of the river and [was] a great convenience to the people. When he owned these mills G. L. Havens was his local agent here. About 1861 Havens bought the property and for ten or twelve years was a very stirring and influential citizen, doing a large mercantile business, besides farming and lumbering. In fact there were no enterprises here in which he was not interested, but like all others he had his day. His business was closed down and sold to different parties. About 1877 the mill became the property of a new firm who located a mile above on the river at a place called Popeville, or Iron Works.

The Iron Company sold the east half of the Havens property to John Hoy (the Havens mill had been destroyed). He built a gristmill on the side where the old saw mill formerly stood. This was about 1882. Later Hoy put on an addition for a sawmill. Five years later John Hoy was accidentally killed in a mill. Since then the Hoy family have operated the mills. Fred Hoy, now owns them and is doing a good business. Havens, by the way, moved to Colorado about 1878.

The first post office established about 1855, was known as Chateaugay Lake, Smith Payne being the postmaster. The office was located in a log house near the corner, but was later kept in the store of L. Brainard, and still later in the Havens store. While the town south of us established a post office they took the name of Chateaugay Lake and was changed to Brainardsville in favor of the man who had done so much for the place. This was in the last of the fifties but I cannot recall the exact year.

Among the permanent settlers the name of Cyrus Merrill, a son of Paul Merrill, deserves notice. He purchased a large tract of hardwood land and made maple sugar, becoming one of the chief sugar makers of the county tapping from 1,500 to 2,000 trees. He farmed it, teaching school winters for many years, about forty terms in all.

Benjamin Pratt was an early settler. He had a son, Harvey Pratt, who was quite a stirring fellow. He bought a large tract of land, including that on which his father lived, and built some of the first durable frame buildings in the place. His father and mother both died here and he followed later. The land was then sold off in four separate farms, the larger and home farm now being occupied by Thomas Baker.

Benniah Huntey came here quite early in our history and bought a farm adjoining the Pratt homestead. He too, was an industrious citizen. His wife died in the sixties and he afterwards sold his farm to V. S. Huntey and moved to Beekmantown.

Very early in our history, Alonson Roberts of Chateaugay, owned real estate here and built an ashery about 1850 on the brook, sending Antoine Cromp to operate it. Cromp was a Canadian and had made salt for Roberts in Chateaugay. He lived in a log house on the corner near the ashery on what is known as the church corner. After the ashery was discontinued Cromp stayed here becom ing quite a horse trader. In this way he became quite well known and outsiders began to call the place Crompville. That is the way the name originated, but as the post office is known as Brainardsville, the other is seldom referred to. About the only way of getting a living in those days was by burning timber into ashes, which was made into salt and sold at French Mills (Fort Covington).

M. J. Reynolds Store, Brainardsville

The block house spoken of was remodeled into a store and occupied by M. J. Reynolds in the sixties. The building burned and Mr. Reynolds built a new store.

People’s Cash Store, (English), Brainardsville

If I have written anything worthy of a place in the history of the county I shall feel amply repaid for the trouble.

Oscar F. Chase

The 3 Forge Dams, by Ralph Hoy

My recollections of The Forge Dams…There were Three.

As a youngster I used to visit my grandfather Gaines at the time when he ran the Company Store at ‘the Forge’, formerly known as Popeville, later as The Forge and now sometimes referred to as Chateaugay Lake. The Gaines family lived in the Co. hotel up the hill from the river at the corner where you turn left to the road leading to the West Side of Chateaugay Lake. I spent many happy hours fishing with Fred Gaines from his one-lunge boat, “The Sputterbudget”. As we traveled up river he would tell me the history of the Forge, the old dam upriver from where the “Maggie” and later the “Emma” were docked. The Maggie was still on the East bank and the Emma tied at a dock near the bridge. When the water was low one could see the outline of an underwater dam about 200 yards upriver from the bridge. The old wooden dam which held back the river and lake can now be seen in the recent picture published by The Chateaugay Record. It was also the site of the Chateaugay Ore and Iron Co. sawmill, which cut the planks for the plank road, leading to Chateaugay. The sawmill was later operated by the Murphy Family, who were good friends of my father who operated the Hoy mill a mile further down stream. Thus my memory goes back a good 70 years to when the Forge had street names and also house numbers where 800 people had formerly lived. About 1912 a Mr. Trudell also operated a steam sawmill near where the Emma used to tie up. He came from Owls Head. When he closed down, his sawyer, Arthur King then came to work for us for many years. In these days of fuel shortage it is interesting to note that the steam mill was run on sawdust from the large circular saw. Arthur was one of the fastest sawyers to have worked in those parts and a good head of steam provided the speed.

The Forge Dam was designed and built by The Cummings Construction Company of Ware, Mass. The construction engineer was Ed. Harrigan of Plattsburgh and Albany and his time keeper and accountant was a young Mr. Bundy, later a banker in Plattsburgh. Now here is where my close contact with the project came in. It all hinged on a large lumber truck my father had purchased through Eldridge and Mason of Malone, a Stewart heavy duty truck with solid tires, and the largest in the North Country at that time. As my father wished to help me earn my own money to attend Univ. of Michigan that fall he offered me the freight if I would go to Buffalo to drive it home. I took $150 amount of the freight, as the truck had a governor on it, which held the speed to 12 miles per hour. We were three and one half days getting home, the steering so stiff that it took two of us to go around a corner, and I had to crank it by standing on the crank, jumping hard, and the fourth half turn it would start, mileage at 6 per gallon. We no sooner got home than Mr. Harrigan came to see us about moving his equipment from the Rutland freight yards at Chateaugay, the first load being a 6 ton donkey engine, run by steam’ to handle the huge wooden derrick and boom with which to take out the old wood dam and excavate for the new one. Johnnie Shay went with me to help get it loaded off a flat car and onto the truck. He also rode on top of the boiler with a long pole in his hands to raise the wires on Lake Street so we’d get by without being electrocuted. Anyhow we made it on the old county road.

If you will visit the dam site today you will see a large mound of old timber, rock and debris just back of the west portion of the dam. Everything was removed but the remains of the old dam parts, which were used as a coffer dam to hold back or to direct the flow while the new dam was being constructed. I can recall the type of construction, involving a huge, thick mat or deck on which the upper concrete was erected. I, for one, believe that it will be there for another 58 years for I know what went into its construction. Once I had safely delivered the donkey engine, derrick and a supply of coal to run it Ed. Harrigan gave me a verbal contract to haul all the cement, reinforcing steel and gravel to build the dam. It was a six-mile plus haul from the freight yard in Chateaugay to The Forge. I was to get $2.25 per ton for hauling the cement in cotton bags weighing about 100 lbs. each. I would also get the same price per ton for hauling the 1-inch by 38 foot steel rods, using a lumber wagon tied behind the trucks 13 platform to hold up the rest. My father agreed to let me have the truck if I would drive it, load the cement, buy the gas and keep the profit. My helper was Roy Johnston of the Salvation Army. who came home with me each summer from school in Potsdam. Soon we were starting out at 6:30 each morning for Chateaugay, loading and unloading 3 tons of cement each trip, making six trips a day and getting through about 6:30 each night. In this manner we could haul 21 tons each day, six days a week. When two of us picked up a rod of steel at each end the rod would sag to the ground in the middle. If we picked up the middle the ends would touch the ground. Anyhow we hauled until Sept. 20th when I left for Michigan and Rev. Bennie Grant offered to take over the driving for me to finish the contract. A minister in those days could stand a little extra salary, especially in Brainardsville. Anyhow he stuck with the job until it was completed, including hauling the gravel from Jay Thurber’s pit on the Miller Road. Both Roy Johnston and I played for some dances after hours, as he was a top trumpet player. The week after he left he was picked up by Bob Crosby’s Orchestra at $200 per week, much better than the $2 per day and board he got working with me. Hauling cement was a backbreaking job, and worse when they ran out of cement bags and had to take the cement in powder lost in closed freight cars. We sometimes made up time by coasting from the top of Person’s Hill on the old county road. One hitchhiker who was riding on the back of the truck bounded up and down like a Billy Goat.

Many lumber jacks and river men worked on the actual building of the dam as well as some of the Kirby boys in Brainardsville, some of the Blows, Gardners, Knights, Bracys and others who lived in the area. I do not recall that anyone was injured during the construction, and Ed. Harrigans hopes of having it done by Christmas was realized. I came home for Christmas vacation and wanted to see Ed. again. I came from the R.R. by sleigh on a dark night and passed Harrigan‘s sleigh at the Persons woods, stopping just long enough to say hello as he was on his way to the night train.

In 1929 during my own contracting days I built a small dam of the same design for the City of Herkimer Water Works, located at Gravesville. Therefore I knew the type of construction which went into it. Around 1928 a small leak developed in a wing wall at the west end of the dam, which one of my crews repaired with a small truckload of crushed stone and sand from Lyon Mt., a small portable mixer and a local crew. It was a two or three-day job and the last I knew it still held. The West Gate was seldom opened during high water, most of the flow going through the East Gate. As I have fished there in recent years I have notice some scaling of the cement but the wing walls have held and the mat am the base seemed as solid as ever. As I own the next dam, one mile downstream, I am as interested as anyone else, as my dam is anchored to 18 X 18 sixty foot hemlock hewed timbers in the bottom of the pond which have been there for well over 125 years and are as solid and sound as ever.

Much credit for there being a Forge Dam goes to the memory of Ed. Wright, who had the interest of the Lake and The River at heart. He was the one who got it built. I also knew the engineers of the Cummings Construction Co. of Ware. Mass., as I worked with them on the estimates for construction of The Wead Library in Malone, which was built of Crippen Stone during the depression days at a price around $40,000. One could hardly build a good-sized hen coop for that today. Cummings was a reputable firm and the Forge Dam, which has stood the test of 1920 to 1978, is proof that they did a good job.

As a sidelight to the above story one late afternoon as we were heading back to Chateaugay for another load of cement I called out to a native who lived near the company store that his house was on fire and he better hurry home. His answer to me was “I ain’t going to hurry just for that, someone will put it out before I get there” Next trip I noticed he was right.

I am anxious to have an opinion from my son when he visits the Forge over Thanksgiving. He is with the Pittsburgh office of the Army Corps of Engineers, whose territory takes in the dams and locks of the three rivers, Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say.

Submitted for what it is worth by Ralph Hoy.