JEFFERSON COUNTY, NEW YORK

HISTORY of the TOWN of WILNA

Visited by S. W. Durant & H. B. Peirce, 1878


Wilna:

Wilna was created from LeRay and Leyden (Lewis County) on April 2, 1813, by an act which altered the line of the two counties and annexed a part of Lewis to Jefferson. The first town meeting was held at the house of Thomas Brayton, Jr. For years the town meetings were held at the "Checkered House", an inn, which was four miles from Carthage Village. The first town officers were: Thomas Brayton, supervisor; Elihu Stewart, clerk; John B. Bassout, Caleb Fulton and Enoch Griffin, assessors; Robert C. Hastings, collector; Henry Lewis and Alfred Freeman, overseers of the poor; Henry Lewis, Freedom Gates, and Thomas Brayton, commissioner of highways.

Successive supervisors were: Thomas Brayton 1814-15; Alfred Freeman, 1816; Francis Lloyd, 1817, but Brayton filled the vacancy; Nathan Brown, 1820; Eli West 1823-27; Thomas Baker, 1828-29; Eli West, 1830-32; Walter Nimocks, 1833; William Bones, 1834; Walter Nimocks, 1835-36; William Bones, 1837; Oliver Child, 1838; Walter Nimocks, 1839; Eli West, 1840-41; Jonathan Wood, 1842; Walter Nimocks, 1843; Milton H. Carter, 1844. Others who subsequently filled the position were: Charles Strong, Hiram McCollom, Simeon Fulton, William Christian, Horace Hooker, Samuel Keys, Nelson D. Furguson, William Chrishan, Patrick S. Stuart, Samuel Keys, Charles W. Smith, William Christian, James H. Morrow, William Christian, Henry W. Hammond, Foster Penniman and James Galvin.

In 1816, strong resolutions were passed in favor of the Black River Canal and the wolf bounty of $5 was in force in 1815, 16, 17, 19, 20 and 1823.

Settlement was begun in the fall of 1794 by agents of the Castorland Company. In 1798, Henry Boutin, who had purchased 1,000 acres of land from Rodolph Tillier, the agent of the French Company, made a considerably large clearing. French native, Jean Baptiste Bossout, came from the High Falls in that year and after the clearing was abandoned, he remained as the sole inhabitant for several years. He kept a ferry and an inn for travelers.

Washington Irving, the famous American writer, made a tour of Ogdensburgh via the Black River in 1803. In the fourth volume of his Life and Letters, he gave a full account of his journey. His description of Bassout's house, prompted the party to call it "The Temple of Dirt". A quote from him about the house:

"Friday the 13th - we prepared to leave the Temple of Dirt, and set out about sixty miles through the woods to Ogdensburgh. We ate an uncomfortable breakfast, for indeed it was impossible to relish anything in a house so completely filthy. The landlady herself was in perfect character with the house - a little squat Frenchwoman with a red face, a black wool hat stuck upon her head, her hair greasy and uncombed, hanging about her ears, and the rest of her dress and person in similar style. We were heartily glad to make our escape."

Irving was compelled to leave a pencil message over the fireplace:

"Here sovereign Dirt erects her sable throne, The house, the host, the hostess all her own."

Not to be outdone, Judge William Cooper, father of James Fennimore Cooper, passed by and stopped at the same house. The pencil lines left by Irving were still legible, so the judge, not over-nice about trifles, wrote an additional two lines:

"Learn hence, young man, and teach it to your sons, The wisest way's to take it as it comes."

The ferry which Bossout had established was kept until Ezra Church built a bridge in 1813.

The first birth in Wilna was that of George Bossout in April 1805. The second birth was that of Mr. John Hewit in September of 1805.

The first store was built by Mr. Quilliard in 1818-19 on the later site of the Utica and Black River Railroad Company.

Boutin was drowned below the village a few years after his first settlement and J. LeRay was appointed to administer the estate, which was sold at auction. The purchaser was Vincent LeRay.

Previously known as the Long Falls, a post office called Carthage was established. In 1806, David Coffeen built a grist mill on the west bank of the river. A forge was built in 1816 above the site of the furnace, which was burned in the same year. Soon after, James Barney, Francis Lloyd and Nathan Brown arrived from Fort Ann, Washington Co., NY. They procured a ten year lease on the water power, with privileges of ore, coal, etc. and erected a forge in the lower part of the village. It was successful and produced mill irons and anchors. Their business encouraged growth of Carthage, but when Barney died, the property reverted to LeRay.

In 1819 a blast furnace was built under the supervision of Claudius S. Quilliard. A refining forge with two additional fires was built in 1820 and in the fall of that year, the furnace went into operation. At first, bog ore from nearby areas was used but in 1838, specular ores from St. Lawrence County and Antwerp and Philadelphia were used in the blast. Dampness in the ores caused at least four blowouts and explosions. Alternate solutions were incorporated and the Carthage furnace produced between two and three tons of ore daily until 1846, when it was abandoned until 1863 when Cole and Allen purchased the property.

As mentioned, the bridge built by Ezra Church stood until 1829. The piers of the old bridge were bought by the towns of Champion and Wilna. In 1829, J. C. Budd built a series of bridges from island to island below the state dam. Flooding caused them to be useless and were abandoned. The upper bridge in 1829, through the influence of Dr. Eli West and others with a $1,600 contribution, was built and lasted for eleven years but replaced by a covered bridge on the same site in 1840.

A Carthagenian Library was formed on May 12, 1818. First trustees were: Sylvian Ballard, David Wright, Nathan Brown, L. Coffeen, Ebenezer Sabins, Seth Hooker, John Wait, Elijah Fulton, Walter Nimocks, S. E. Angelis, John Hodgins and John Belmot. The 500 volumes were sold at auction on June 14, 1845.

A nail works was established in 1828 and lasted for about ten years, the nails being made of bar iron. Hiram McCollom built an extensive nail factory and rolling mill in 1846. He also built an extensive cotton factory.

The State Road to Oswegatchie opened in 1802-06 and afforded the principal travel route to St. Lawrence County. When the St. Lawrence Turnpike was built in 1812-13, it made the building of a bridge necessary. So, on June 8, 1812 an act was passed that authorized Russell Atwater and his associates to build a toll bridge over the Black River where the State Road led to Oswegatchie. The principal in the enterprise was David Parish, an eminent financier of the time. The act had specified that the bridge had to be 16 feet wide, well built and completed before November 1813. The bridge architect was Ezra Church who maintained the bridge until 1829. In March of that year, the act was extended but by that time the bridge was so decayed that it had to be replaced. By 1829, there was a concerted effort to build a free bridge and the piers of the toll bridge were purchased for $500. In 1840 after a series of bridges had been destroyed by flooding and decay, the school funds of area towns contributed various sums and a covered bridge was built at a cost of $5,000. That bridge lasted until 1853 when it had to be rebuilt. It was in 1853 when the State built a substantial bridge.

The Checkered House mentioned earlier was an inn opened by Alfred Freeman. Henry Lewis opened an inn nine miles from the river. Very few farms existed before the War of 1812. It was the local industrial power or iron and foundries with related industries that fostered the growth of Carthage.

The first steamboat that plied the river was the "Cornelia", built at Carthage in 1832 by Paul Boynton for a stock company, whose members were the well known names of the area at the time. The boat cost $6,000 and was 90 feet long and 22 feet across. On the first trip on Sept. 22, 1832, to Lowville, it grounded and was difficult to get afloat. It had a history of being grounded often and it was decided it was too big for the river. Being docked at the wharf at Carthage much of the time, it became a target in the spring of 1835 during high water. Somehow it let loose from its moorings and was carried over the dam where it lodged in the rocks. The scrap machinery of the boat was sold and used in the iron mines of St. Lawrence County.

A distillery, the only one ever built within the town, was owned by John Bossout; the reason was that his distillery was built at an early day but used for a short time. LeRay's land titles had a clause in the conveyance that forbid the creation of the distilleries.

In 1834 an act was passed that authorized the survey of a canal from the High Falls to the Erie Canal. That news caused an influx of settlement, with the belief that Carthage was destined to become an important shipping point.

Nimocks and Peck built a large tannery in 1831, on an island below the dam. The use of the facility as a tannery continued for many years, enlarged by a subsequent owner, Mr. McCoy.

Natural Bridge on Indian River, was about nine miles from Carthage. A mile square reservation had been there and a village plat was surveyed by Edmund Tucker. Improvements begun in 1818 brought early settlers: Zebina Chafee, C. I. Becker, Arnold Burr, Abel Bingham, Teunis Allen, Stephen Nutting, Charles R. Knight and others. Mills were built in 1819 and 1820. Abel Bingham opened the first store in 1820 and C. R. Knight opened the first inn about 1821-22.

Another rather well known celebrity, Joseph Bonaparte, known as the Count de Survilliers, acquired title to a large tract of land in the area in 1828 and came to explore his purchase. He ordered a road to be cut and went by stagecoach from the old turnpike to the lake, which has been since known as Bonaparte Lake. His other directives were to have a boat taken through the woods and launched on the water; a log house to be built on an elevation that offered a view of the lake and the shores; and a large house to be built at Natural Bridge. His visits were four, and he always spent a few weeks on each occasion and always accompanied by a number of his "chosen" companions. It is said that he was the favorite brother of Napoleon. On one of his forays, a huge feast was set up between Natural Bridge and Evans' Mills. Served on golden dishes, with regal ceremonial pomp, every delicacy of the area was presented. His popularity with the locals was due in part to his lavish use of money and his general sociability.

The limestone composition of the area afforded numerous and extensive caves in the vicinity. Copper mining was undertaken in 1847 by a company from Boston, under the direction of a Mr. Bigelow, in the town of Wilna, about two miles from Natural Bridge.

In its time, Natural Bridge consisted of a hotel called the Central House with Erastus Penny as proprietor. Three stores were kept by Charles V. Starkey, Joel Hulbert and Dr. P. E. Johnston. It boasted a sash and blind factory, two wagon shops, two blacksmith shops, three sawmills, a grist mill and an extensive tannery that was owned by Thomas E. Proctor.

The first Catholic church in northern New York was built at Carthage in 1818 at a cost of $2,000, on a lot of three acres given to the society by LeRay, who also contributed heavily to its construction. It was the first church built in the village of Carthage and claimed to be the oldest in northern New York. A society was formed on July 20, 1821 comprised of: Claudius S. Quilliard, Edward Galvin, John Finley, James and Vincent LeRay, John Deley, and James Walsh, all of whom were the first trustees. The first priest was Father John Farnham.

The Methodist church had its locality and foundation in 1820. First members were: Jesse Penfield, Benjamin G. Paddock, Isaac Puffer, Elisha Wheeler and Nathaniel Salisbury. Carthage, Champion, Copenhagen, Pinckney, Tylervile and Denmarked formed one circuit that belonged to the Gouverneur District. The first church building was erected in 1840, with the corner stone placed on April 27. At the dedication on Nov. 12, 1840, Rev. Jesse T. Peck officiated.

On January 3, 1835, a group came together from East and West Carthage, twelve in number, to organize a church. Ministers were Rev. Nathaniel Dutton and Rev. James H. Monroe. Philo Weed was the deacon and Merritt Coughlan the clerk. They voted to call it The First Congregational Church of Carthage.

The Baptist Church was set apart from the Baptist church of Champion on Jan. 29, 1833. It was called The Baptist Church of Wilna. Moderator of the council which made the decision, was Rev. Sanders Little; A. P. Lewis was clerk and John Chase an elected clerk. The first deacon was Jeremiah Boynton.

The Methodist Church at Natural Bridge was built in 1839; pastors of Carthage and other neighboring churches served in that capacity.

In 1830 the Presbyterian Church at Natural Bridge was organized with the beginning of the building process; the building was not finished until 1838-40, with help from C. I. Becker who advanced the money. Its first pastor was Rev. James Rodgers, who remained for two years.

Not without a newspaper, The Carthagenian, a weekly Whig paper, was commenced on Dec. 19, 1839 by David Johnson. He was succeeded as editor by William H. Hough on June 18, 1840. The press was owned by Hiram McCollom. When Hough became editor, the name was changed to the Black River Times, in April of 1843.

Early doctors of Carthage were Dr. James T. Peden; Dr. N. D. Ferguson and Dr. J. H. Miller. Dr. G. N. Hubbard, Dr. J. W. Brown, Dr. E. A. Monroe (dentist), Dr. C. W. Bullard (dentist), Dr. P. E. Johnson, Dr. J. H. Copp, Dr. Benjamin S. Budd and Dr. H. S. Hendee were all practicing physicians in the Carthage-Natural Bridge area.

One of the leading citizens in the Carthage area was Samuel Branaugh. He was born in Belfast County, Antrim, Ireland on 11 September 1823 and came to the United States with his parents in 1830; they located in Greene County. Samuel was the second son in a family of seven children. When he was quite young, Samuel moved to Herkimer County and worked for John C. Pitt as foreman in his tannery at Salisbury Centre where he remained for five years. At the end of his five year commitment, he partnered with James White and they built a tannery which they operated for two years; Samuel sold his interest to White and re-entered the establishment of his old employer, Mr. Pitt, and remained as his foreman for 13 years. From there, he went to Bremen, Lewis Co., NY and partner with James H. Morrow, and David A. Stewart for five more years, under the name of S. Branaugh & Co., and for the five years following with Mr. Stewart under the name of Branaugh and Stewart. In April of 1869, Samuel moved to Binghamton, NY where he purchased a resident and the tanning business of Joseph B. Abbott & Son where he remained for a year.

It was in June, 1870 that he came to Carthage in Jefferson Co., and purchased a small tannery down river, about half a mile from the depot. He tore it down and built a large new one. Three years later, not content with a small scale business, he purchased a large sole leather tannery at Belfast in Lewis Co. The Carthage operation was superintended by his son-in-law, J. P. Corcoran.

Archibald Branaugh, father of Samuel, died in 1865. His mother, Jane Anderson died about 1870. Samuel said they were of Scotch descent and Presbyterian. Samuel Branaugh married Diana Belinger of Manheim, Herkimer Co., NY on 6 Sept. 1848. Their family included three sons and two daughters: Martha J. b. 11 June 1849; Celestia b 16 June 1852; Jesse J. b 10 Sept. 1858; William A. b 4 April 1869; Edmund W. b 12 March 1871.

This concludes the earliest history of Wilna.


Information transcribed and contributed by volunteer M. Sapienza. © 2015.



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