History of the town of Franklin

Maybe some of us overlook the importance of the town of Franklin, which is a partner of the Town of Harrietstown forming our Franklin County Legislative District. [It was important to my family when we lived on Norman Ridge in the 1930’s and in the winter even those big Walter plow trucks couldn’t keep the roads open.]

Franklin is actually five years older than Harrietstown as it was “formed from Bellmont on May 20, 1836, and made to embrace about half of township number 9, and the whole of township number 10, of the Old Military Tract.”

This history is from an treasure given to me by Mary M. Summers who operated an antique business on Merrillsville Road, Route 99 [near Loon Lake]. That treasure is illustrated in today’s column, a history book that is 165 years old. I may have touched on this topic previously but here are more details.

It must have taken Dr. Hough a very long time for him to write the 719 pages in the book. The print is small and fine, the detail beyond belief — for example, just Chapter I covered — Traces of Ancient Occupancy, Early Discoveries, Journals of Voyages, Memoir of Picquet and Accounts of the Oswegatchie Tribe, among other pieces.

Now maybe the present Supervisor of the town of Franklin, Arthur P. Williams, Jr., would be interested to find out the name of the first supervisor — Harry B. Hatch — 1836-38. Now it could be only a coincidence that the first town meeting was held — you guessed it — “at the house of Henry B. Hatch.”

Other supervisors — 1839-40, Norman Stickney; 1841, William Knowles; 1842, John R. Merrill; 1843-44, Harry B. Hatch; 1845, John R. Merrill; 1846, Norman Stickney; 1847-50, John R. Merrill; 1851, High Martin; 1852, James B. Dickinson. [Now we know way that hamlet was named ‘Merrillsville’.]

Excerpts from that history: “The earliest settlement within the limits of the town of Franklin, was begun by the erection of a forge and saw mill by McLenathan and Wells, from Jay, Essex County, about the year 1827, at the settlement now known as Franklin Falls, but which then bore the name, McLenathan Falls.

[The history then relates that the place “had mostly gone down, work was suspended and in 1846 FitzGerald and Mclean from the Town of AuSable erected a mill for extensive lumbering purposes. ]

“At about the time of the first settlement, a forge was erected by Uriah Sumner [Sumner Brook?] on township number 9 of the old military tract. This enterprise was also abandoned. These two forges were supplied by magnetic ore found in the town which was said to be abundant. This town adjoins an extensive and valuable iron region in Essex County.

“The settled parts of Franklin are mostly along the Port Kent and Hopkinton road, and in the southern part of township number ten. The town is less broken than the country to the east and north, and will doubtless hereafter be found a good growing district. The lumbering interest of the town give a market for domestic products but the natural outlet of the country to markets is down the valleys of the Saranac and Ausable rivers to Lake Champlain. A plank road with but four miles of interruption, connects Keeseville and Franklin Falls.”

The big fire at Franklin Falls

It is almost like ‘breaking news’ to read a first-hand report of a fire written in 1853, which occurred in 1852.

“A most destructive conflagration occurred at the lumbering village of Franklin Falls, on the Saranac, on the 20th of May, 1852. For several days previous, a fire had been running in the neighboring woods, and on the day of the catastrophe, the wind was blowing almost a hurricane, and scattering the fire in every direction, so that all attempts to control it became unavailing. On approaching the village which was situated in a ravine, it burst from the woods upon the settlement with such force that every building in the place except two small ones was consumed. These were an extensive lumbering mill, together with twenty-three dwelling houses, a large store, a tavern, much lumber and valuable property, belonging to owners of the mill. Nearly all the furniture in the houses was consumed, and some of the inhabitants escaped with their lives only with difficulty. The principal financial sufferers were P. Comstock, J. B. Dickinson and Keese & Tomlinson, who were owners of the property destroyed.

“The extent and severity of this conflagration has never been equaled in our counties before but it has not served to arrest, although it may have checked the enterprise of the spirited proprietors. A gang mill with a yankee* was commenced soon after, on a larger scale than before, and the village, phoenix-like, is rising from the ashes.”

“*This term is applied to a number of saws placed in the same frame with a gang of saws, so that they will cut a log to the proper width while the gang of saws is making another into boards of marketable thickness. The two logs are placed side by side on the same carriage. The name of Franklin Falls was given to the village and settlement on the establishment of a post office, on the site the 21st of January, 1851.”