When is a town not a town?

Jefferson County contains one city and twenty two towns. For those not acquainted with New York State's quirks and habits, town means township. Therefore, when you look for Sackets Harbor or Carthage among the towns listed for Jefferson County, you look in vain. Both Sackets Harbor and Carthage are villages, incorporated within their townships of Hounsfield and Wilna. In common with other villages of New York State, they have elected mayors, clerks, and boards of trustees. Even smaller than villages are hamlets, which carry on their affairs without mayors or trustees. Villages are subsidiary to the towns. Hamlets have no political structure, and are now only postoffices, or when they have no postoffices, merely neighborhoods. Depauville, Redwood, and Belleville are examples of hamlets with postoffices. Stone Mills and Browns Corners are merely locations.

This becomes an acute problem for people looking for something in the Town of Clayton which is really located in the Village of Clayton, or vice versa. The town has a town clerk, in charge of vital records in that town, among her other duties. The village also has a clerk, and the village clerk may also have information for the seeker of family history. There are both town historians, and village historians, sometimes in the same person. Not all villages have historians, but all towns in New York State are obliged to have one.

A person born in the Town of Alexandria was probably not born in Alexandria Bay. If she had been born in Alexandria Bay, the records would have so stated. Cape Vincent, Adams, Brownville, Theresa, Antwerp and Philadelphia, to name a few, can be either village, hamlet or township. Locally, when speaking of the township, we go to the awkward extent of saying "Town of Orleans", "Town of Rutland," "Town of Wilna".

I live in the Town of Clayton, not the village. I can say that I live near Clayton Center, which is now only a neighborhood, and not even a hamlet, to give you a better idea of my location, but I never say that I live in Clayton, which would indicate the village. Although I graduated from Alexandria Bay High School, I lived and attended elemetary school in the Town of Alexandria. More precisely, I lived near Dingman Point, and attended Swan Hollow School. This antiquated system has obtained in Jefferson County for at least a hundred and fifty years, and was more important in the early days, when villages and hamlets were more nearly of the same size. In a largely farming community, neighborhoods like Dingman Point and Elm Flats were known far beyond their imaginary boundaries. Below is a list of townships. Watertown is our only city. Cities in New York State (except for New York City, which governs five counties) are subsidiary to the county they are in, but are independent of any township. A list of villages, hamlets and locations follows the township names. Those locations designated "P.O." refer to places which once had a post office, now long since discontinued. Refer to the list of "Forgotten" or "Discontinued Post Offices" (CLICK HERE) for more details. You are invited to send in information on any other named locations in Jefferson County which you think might be added.



ANTWERP.............LE RAY...................THERESA


CAPE VINCENT.....LYME.....................WILNA


CLAYTON...............PAMELIA................CITY OF WATERTOWN


Credit for the idea of a chronological table of the dates of the formation of the townships of Jefferson County is given to Christopher Lyttle. His time line was the basis for this table.

Towns of Jefferson County

Date of Formation Name of Town Entity From Which Formed
14 Mar 1800 Champion Mexico
14 Mar 1800 Watertown Mexico
01 Apr 1802 Adams Mexico
01 Apr 1802 Brownville Leyden
01 Apr 1802 Rutland Watertown
22 Feb 1803 Ellisburg Mexico
24 Mar 1804 Lorraine Mexico
24 Mar 1804 Rodman Adams
17 Feb 1806 Henderson Ellisburg
17 Feb 1806 Hounsfield Watertown
17 Feb 1806 Le Ray Brownville
05 Apr 1810 Antwerp Le Ray
02 Apr 1813 Wilna Leyden & Le Ray
06 Mar 1818 Lyme Brownville
12 Apr 1819 Pamelia Brownville
03 Apr 1821 Alexandria Brownville & Le Ray
03 Apr 1821 Orleans Brownville
03 Apr 1821 Philadelphia Le Ray
27 Apr 1833 Clayton Orleans & Lyme
15 Apr 1841 Theresa Alexandria
12 Apr 1848 Worth Lorraine
10 Apr 1849 Cape Vincent Lyme

For place listing and what it is(was) click here.

Changes in the names of localities.

Those marked with "F" are found in French's Gazetteer. Shantyville was found in an old obituary, probably in the Watertown Daily Times.

Name Changed to Township
Bockhill Rural Hill Ellisburgh
Collins Mills F Stone Mills Orleans
Cornelia F Clayton Clayton
DeLauney's Mills Stamingville  
Fish Island F Dexter Brownville
Flat Rock F Plessis Alexandria
French Creek Clayton Clayton
Gravelly Point Cape Vincent Cape Vincent
Harrison F Rodman Rodman
Leander F Pamelia Pamelia
Lockport Black River Le Ray
Log Mills LaFargeville Orleans
Long Falls F Carthage Wilna
Malta Lorraine Lorraine
Minos Ellisburgh Ellisburg
Mudge's Mills F Omar Orleans
New Port Hounsfield Hounsfield
Salisbury Mills F Henderson Henderson
Shantyville (Shantzeville) Orleans Four Corners Orleans
Smiths Mills F Appling 

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