Wilmington — a thriving hamlet

Linda Johnson owns and operates the A&W drive-in established in Wilmington in 1965. It was built by her father Sven Johnson, an architect. He wanted to own his own business. He and his buddies would come up to Whiteface and Vermont to ski when they were in college. Linda’s mother and father met and lived in New York City then moved to Albany where Linda was born. Her father researched A&W Root Beer, decided on this area and built the restaurant, which has been an anchor business in Wilmington for almost 55 years. (Photo courtesy of Linda Johnson)

This column about Wilmington was prompted by my coming across a great little book, “Echoes from Whiteface Mountain – A Brief History of Wilmington, New York” by Adeline F. Jacques … and also by observing how nice it is to visit — wonderful main drag with great places to stay and great places to eat. What else does any community need to attract the tourist trade?

I wonder how many places in the country have a mountain such as Whiteface, only 354 feet shorter than Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondacks … with attractions on both sides of the mountain.

That highway to the top, which originates in Wilmington, is an incredible place with views of the city of Montreal and Vermont. The best testimony I can give to how striking the views are: I did a wedding at the top when I was a town justice. The couple was from Fort Drum, and as I was starting the ceremony, all the tourists there gathered around (I think mostly to admire me in my black dress). But the groom was gazing off in the distance at the view, and his bride gave him a sharp elbow to the ribs to bring his attention back to taking the vows.

Then for the older population who don’t ski and for any other flatlanders, the Olympic ski facilities are on the other side, also originating in Wilmington. The gondola ride is spectacular.

The visitors we entertain in the summer always get to both places. I don’t like using the term “older population” because, as I turn 89 today, I don’t know many oldsters.

Now to the 1980 Jaques history

I can’t do justice to this well-researched book in this short space, but the following highlights will help:

“Sitting at my desk, with my fingers tapping the keys of my typewriter on the ninth day of March in 1980, at my home, Green Tara in Wilmington, New York, echoes of the past are blending with the vibrations of the present.

“Although July 4, 1776, was the birthdate of the United States of America, it was not until the Treaty of Paris signed in 1783, that many of the inhabitants along the coast of New England began to sense the full impact of being free men.

“In the beginning Wilmington was part of Jay which had been founded in 1796. Different groups of families started to agitate to separate from Jay, and to form a new town.

“The same pattern of reaching out for new horizons had happened before in their lives. When the new town of Danville, Vermont was founded in 1786, there were arguments made between grantees and settlers about the quality of the land. It is altogether a logical conclusion that this dissension might have led to the Malbones, Hills and Merrills, coming to jay early in the 19th Century. This group was the vanguard that banded together on a March day in 1821, to dissolve their allegiance to Jay and to establish the Town of Danville. This they did. The name was not acceptable to the Post Office Department.

“Not daunted by such a slight obstacle, another group, the Halls, Pierces and Nyes, who had come from Wilmington, Vermont, decided it was time for them to come forward. As a result of their influence by an Act of the Legislature, the founding of the Town of Wilmington came about on March 22, 1822. St. Armand was not set off from Wilmington until 1844.”

The first Wilmington officials

“The first officers for the Town of Danville in 1821 were: Thomas J. McLeod, Supervisor; Allen Peck, Town Clerk; John Finch, Collector.

“By October 1, 1822, the new name Wilmington was in the records of the Essex County Supervisors. The same officials elected in 1821 were chosen again. The time had also come for the establishment of law and order and three Justices of the Peace were chosen; Jared Pond, Thomas McLeod and Jonathan Foster.

“Although my father, Halsey Jaques, was not born until 1870, he related tales about the fights between the boys of Jay and Wilmington. The late Ralza Lawrence of Jay who lived almost a century told me how once my father went to jay. Someone dared him to ride horseback through the front door of a store and out the back door. He did it to the delight of the spectators.”

(Continued next week)