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Welcome to the historic town of Jay

January 29, 2013
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

From where the East Branch of the Ausable River meets the West Branch to the towering mountain tops, the township of Jay includes some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Adirondack Mountains. Swimming holes, picnic spots, fishing, hiking, biking, wonderful bed and breakfast inns, motels and house rentals: there are numerous ways to enjoy yourself in our wonderful town.

The village of Au Sable Forks, where the rivers meet, with its concentration of stores and services, represents "downtown" Jay. The hamlet of Jay is known for its craft shops and cultural events. Upper Jay, once home to the magical Land of Makebelieve, now thrives again with small businesses.

Situated in the heart of the High Peaks region of New York state's vast Adirondack Park, Jay's quaint small-town charm and unspoiled scenic beauty make it an ideal destination stop on a day trip or an overnight stay.

Article Photos

(Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)

As Jay's 2,000-plus year-round residents and several hundred seasonal homeowners can attest, the town of Jay is a great place to live, work, raise a family, and retire.

Jay is in the midst of, or nearby, most of the major points of interest in the northeastern Adirondack Mountain region.

Jay is 8 miles from Whiteface Mountain, the only Olympic downhill ski center in the East and the highest point in New York state you can drive up (from around Memorial Day through Columbus Day). The mountain is the focal point of the Whiteface Mountain Region, which is comprised of the towns of Jay and neighboring Wilmington, home also to Santa's Workshop and High Falls Gorge. Jay is 17 miles from Lake Placid, world-renowned for its shops, restaurants, attractions and Olympic venues and is within a 20-minute drive from most hiking trails in the High Peaks and about that close to Lake Champlain, Ausable Chasm, and the warm-weather ferry to Burlington, Vt.

Within an hour or less of Saranac Lake, Plattsburgh, and Fort Ticonderoga, Jay is about two hours from the metropolitan centers of Montreal, Albany, and Burlington, and about five or six hours from New York City and Boston.

(Information provided by the town of Jay's Web site, www.jaynewyork.com)

Town of Jay history

When the town filed application to be set off from Willsborough in 1797, it was known as Mallory's Bush for one of its earliest permanent settlers, Nathaniel Mallory. Settlements grew quickly along the river and on the plateaus. Lumber was plentiful, iron was available in the ground, and the soil was "vigorous and fertile." The hamlet of Jay was the first to be settled. It is here that Mallory built his forge. By 1812, Jay had a school, its own doctors, and a man on horseback who brought in the daily paper. Early forges, gristmills and sawmills were constructed.

The earliest successful business was lumbering. Huge spars were taken from the Jay forests and dragged by oxen or floated on the river to Lake Champlain and sold to the English market in Canada for the war of 1812. By 1820, the lumber in the Upper Jay market was exhausted by commercial harvesting and settlers clearing land.

As lumbering flourished in the forests, industrial development was growing in Au Sable Forks. In 1825, an entire town began to develop in Au Sable Forks around the lumber and forging business. The Rogers brothers acquired ownership in 1836, and in 1864 bought Purmont's forge in Jay, the original Mallory's forge.

Jay has broad fields and open vistas. The pastoral landscape was first developed as an iron ore processing community. The ore came from the Arnold Bed and the Palmer Hill mines. When the mining industry closed, the J. & J. Rogers company converted its machinery to process wood and pulp. Au Sable Forks, where the two branches of the river converge, was a large and thriving community, but a one-industry town. Though not at levels of the past, Jay continues to house one of the largest private employers in the county in the Ward Lumber Company.

The first image of Jay is often a view of the river running through the landscape. Out of the High Peaks the Ausable River tumbles through Keene, and is joined by numerous streams and freshets as it spreads itself out over the Jay fields. Early annual log drives scoured its bottom and cleared its banks. Now the river becomes wider and shallower each year. The river empties into Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh. It was once the principle highway and power source for the communities along its banks. Changing times and needs, the continuing problems of transportation and the opening of mines in the west, have all affected Au Sable Forks industry.

The tremendous floods that wiped out all of the bridges at one time or another still occur. Ice jams form at bends in the river. The jams release like a breaking dam, causing the river to pour through houses, over roads, carrying huge chunks of ice with it. In 1999 an entire section of Au Sable Forks known as the Grove was bought out with money from the Federal Emergency Management Act due to the extensive flood damage. The river, which has had its role in the successes and disasters that have struck the town, demolished Jay's most unusual attraction, The Land of Makebelieve. The theme park with miniature houses that illustrated specific professions was situated on a curve in the river in Upper Jay. Floods tore away at the park, three floods in its last year of operation. Opened in 1954, it gave up its fight against the river and closed in 1980. Buildings by Arto Monaco, its talented designer, remain at Storytown and Santa's Workshop.

(Information courtesy of the Essex County Historical Society and Adirondack History Center Museum.)

 
 

 

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