PAUL SMITHS - Despite its relatively small population, the North Country town of Brighton has a rich and storied past due to an interesting array of settlers who ranged from the mysterious Moses Follensby to the reputable Apollos Smith.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Brighton was formed in 1858 when it broke away from the town of Duane, currently its neighbor to the north. Today, the rectangularly shaped town is sandwiched between the towns of Santa Clara and Franklin, which are located to the west and east, and Harrietstown and Duane, which are situated to the south and north.
Named after a town in England, Brighton was and still is broken into separate communities - Gabriels, Rainbow Lake, Otisville, Keese Mills, McColloms and Paul Smiths - that are reflections of its early settlers.
This historic photo of St. John’s in the Wilderness Church of Paul Smiths in the 19th Century, along with the other historic photos pictured, will be on display during Brighton History Days next weekend.
One of the most interesting of the early residents was Follensby, whose life and death is a mystery. There are also tales about his buried or missing treasures, about which there is little known information.
Follensby didn't settle in Brighton for long. Apparently, he travelled around the region hunting, trapping and fishing in the 1820s when there were few other people around. Today, his name remains on three area ponds: Follensby Clear Pond near Upper Saranac Lake, Follensby Jr, located to the north of Paul Smiths, and Follensby Pond, southeast of Tupper Lake near the Raquette River. Lower St. Regis was also originally named for him, but the name changed over time.
Brighton History Days
Brighton History Days will have more significance than usual this year. That's because the town will be celebrating its 150th birthday.
An annual event for 15 years, Brighton History Days is a free two-day event the weekend of July 19 and 20 that will feature exhibits, antiques, animals and a barbeque at Moody's Tree Farm on state Route 86 in Gabriels.
For more information, call 327-3433 or 327-3509.
Follensby's origins vary from storyteller to storyteller. Some say he was a French officer "who fled into the wilderness after the fall of Napoleon." In other stories, he was a British soldier.
One of the more detailed accounts about Follensby is by former New York state librarian Alfred B. Street, who visited the Follensby Pond near Tupper Lake in 1856 with guides Martin and Harvey Moody, according to a 1965 article in the Tupper Lake Free Press and Herald.
Follensby was a refined former British soldier who spent much of his time hunting and fishing, Street said.
The librarian also talked about how a Native American hunting beaver in the St. Regis Ponds saw Follensby "bearing his bark canoe over some carry, or skimming some water."
"The Indian trapper caught ... glimpses of him, rifle in hand, stalking through the surrounding forests," Street recalled. "Thus he bestowed his name on other sheets of water besides this pond - Follensby Clear Pond, near the head of the lake, and Follensby Pond in the St. Regis Woods."
Two sportsmen witnessed Follensby's death occurring in the trapper's log cabin on Follensby Pond outside Tupper Lake, Street said. They saw him die in a feverish state, during which he pretended to wave a sword in the midst of bloody battle and rant about a woman named Georgiana.
"All through the day and night he raved, and at dawn he died, the name of Georgiana upon his lips" recalled Street in the Free Press.
He apparently was then put in his grave.
"The two wrapped him in his bear-skins and buried him ... planting a pair of rude stones at his grave."
In other accounts, Follensby's fate is not so clear. In Geraldine Collins's book "The Brighton Story," she writes that he was a trapper who set up camp on Church Pond, Lower St. Regis Lake and later Follensby Jr. Pond before his disappearance in 1823.
In her account, Follensby apparently had gone trapping, but hadn't taken his gun or dog with him. He had also left food for himself and another on a table at his home before leaving.
"For years there was great speculation and many rumors about what became of him," Collins wrote. "Many believed that he was the victim of foul play and (a) friend was suspected, as he had the gun. Not much investigation was made however, and the friend was let go. It remains one of the unsolved mysteries."
Today, Brighton historian Mary Ellen Salls said she often receives phone calls from people who have heard stories of Follensby's buried treasure. But Salls has no strong leads for them to follow. For to her, like many others, Follensby is a mystery.
"He disappeared," Salls said. "Some called him a hermit, but he just disappeared."
McColloms and Smith
In 1858, Brighton became the home of a man whose influences in the region are still being felt. Smith moved to Lower St. Regis Lake from Loon Lake to start what would become the Paul Smith's Hotel and later Paul Smith's College.
Smith eventually acquired land around Lower St. Regis Lake, which he sold to his wealthy hotel clients who constructed Great Camps on its waterfront. He also started a power company, an electric railroad that ran from his hotel to Lake Clear, and established the first post office.
But by no means was Smith the first hotelier in the region. In 1849, Amiel McCollom moved to an isolated and "fire ravaged" area seven miles north of Paul Smiths to start an Adirondack inn.
Despite his tough-to-reach location, he soon garnered a strong reputation among sportsmen, many of whom came for the fantastic trout fishing.
"By farming, hunting, trapping and guiding his growing number of guests, he soon made McCollom's a place well worth the bone-jarring journey to reach it," wrote Maitland C. Desormo in "The Heydays of the Adirondacks."
Not only did McCollom develop a successful business, he became a rival to Smith, who arrived about a decade after him.
"Separated by a short seven miles and often taking parties to the same lakes, they saw more of each other than either would have preferred," Desormo wrote.
This rivalry between McCollom and Smith is exemplified in a dispute on a wagon road running between the two hotels.
McCollom was apparently riding with his wife in a buckboard drawn by a single horse when he encountered Smith coming down the road with a six-horse stage coach carrying President Grover Cleveland.
Because Smith was in the larger vehicle, he was entitled to the road, but Mac was stubborn and wouldn't let him have it. After a shouting match, Mac held his ground and forced Smith to ride into a ditch as the two passed, even after Smith declared he had the president of the United States with him.
But before the two passed, Mac clearly stated his intention not to give up the road for Smith.
"His next retort was heartfelt and typical," Desormo wrote. "'I don't give a damn if you've got the King of England with you. You pull out!'"
"Paul, being in a hurry and knowing that he had been outshouted and outdone (which was very seldom) ordered his driver to take to the ditch in order to get by . . ."
Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 28 or firstname.lastname@example.org.