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Time travel to 1936

August 15, 2011
By Floyd I. John

Do you believe in time travel such as depicted in "Back to the Future?" Certainly writers and readers of science fiction like the idea. Now, thanks to Sandy Oliver, Franklin town clerk, so do I.

At my request, Sandy retrieved a copy of the 1936 Franklin County Assessment Roll from the town archives in Merrillsville and loaned it to me. The ledger quickly transported me back to a time when the Adirondack North Country was both rural and developing.

The ledger is firmly bound and about 11 by 18 inches. It is a hand-written copy (no Xerox in those days) of the original ledger kept at the archives. Sixty-six two-page entries are recorded, one entry for every property in the town of Franklin. Each entry has up to 29 columns of property information and taxes paid.

The information includes the following:

-Name of owner

-Location of property

-Description (primarily showing abutting property)

-Quantity (amount of land or linear dimensions)


-Amount and purpose of general taxes

-Special taxes

-Particulars of payment (receipt and date).

There are six additional sections:

-Public service (miles of telephone lines, telegraph lines and railroad tracks)

-Special franchise (miles of telephone and telegraph lines)

-State lands

-Exempt (sanitorium, county, individuals, churches)



There are also five two-sided pages of "Collector's Return of Unpaid Taxes" with 175 lots on the list. Since the country was in a deep depression at that time, many lots that appear on these pages were either sold or the taxes were paid late. Approximately 50 percent of the taxes were eventually paid for this assessment. I did not make any attempt to see what happened to the remaining lots with unpaid taxes, but 10 had been sold in 1936.

Even though the country was in a depression, taxes on state lands were apparently paid on time. In 1936 the state paid more than $16,000 to the town.

If resources were available to enter the data in a computer database, it would be possible to obtain a fairly complete picture of the town of Franklin in 1936. By showing property owners, lots and abutting properties, the geographic picture would be excellent. When information about corporations, public utilities, and railroads is added, some of the key economic factors would be evident.

Here is an overview of the primary businesses in the assessment:

-Loon Lake Hotel

-Township Realty

-Chateaugay Ore and Iron Co.

-Northern Development Corp.

-International Paper Co.

-System Properties Inc.

-Adirondack Florida School

-Paul Smiths Electric Light Power and Railroad Co.

-New York Telephone Co.

-Western Union Telegraph Co.

-Postal Telegraph and Cable Co.

-D&H Railroad

-NYC & HR Railroad Co.

These businesses paid taxes on ALL ASSETS in the town of Franklin. I added the emphasis because the level of detail is almost astounding. Obviously they paid on the land acreage. In addition, utilities paid on miles of telephone and telegraph lines, transformers, bare copper and iron wire, insulated wire, bolts, pins, braces, poles and buildings. Railroads paid for miles of tracks, side tracks, buildings and depots, just to name the key items.

By looking at total miles of electric lines, telephone lines and telegraph lines we can gain an overview of several facets of life in the town. The mileage estimates given here are approximations for comparison purposes only.

There were about 100 miles of main electric lines (not including branch lines to businesses and private camps), 60 miles of telegraph lines and more than 170 miles of telephone lines. The telegraph lines can be considered the connection to the outside world, much as the Internet provides today.

The actual number of customers cannot be estimated from these data, but several inferences can be made: (1) Telephones were more widely available than electric power, and (2) long-distance communication was limited. As an example, on the northern part of Tyler Road in Vermontville, telephones were common in 1936, but electric power did not arrive until 1954 when Helen Tyler paid to have utility poles installed from the south end of the road, where it intersected with Swinyer Road. After she paid for around a mile of poles, neighbors to the north decided they would like to have electricity also, but they only paid from Helen's home to continue the line up the road. Electric lines spread in this daisy-chain fashion through the area. (Interestingly, in recent years the trend is to stay "off the grid" and use alternative forms of energy with self-generated power.)

One reason that I requested the 1936 assessment was to see what role the Church of the Nazarene played in the community when the church bought property just north of the current town hall in Vermontville. According to the booklet produced for the 50th anniversary of the church, there were 19 charter members, and according to the assessment, they owned nearly 500 acres in the town of Franklin. Additional information about the families shows that the remainder owned property in neighboring towns or lived with a relative who owned property in Franklin or nearby. Of course, in a rural community it was a common practice to own land, so it is not surprising that church members were property owners.

The small church building at that original site was sold in 1954, and the congregation bought the larger Methodist church in Vermontville. Under Pastor Blair McKim, a two-story wing was added to accommodate Sunday School rooms and offices for the growing congregation. During its 75 years, the church has had 23 pastors and hundreds of members. The Diamond Anniversary celebration will be held on Sunday, Aug. 21. Former pastors and many friends will join in the day-long program. The church will also be part of the town of Franklin Picnic Day on Saturday, Aug. 20. Pictures of congregations from several decades will be on display both Saturday and Sunday, and all are invited to come and identify relatives and friends.


Floyd I. John lives in Vermontville.



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