To learn all about the history of Essex County, New York, one only needs to stop at the Adirondack History Center Museum in the community of Elizabethtown. Operated by the Essex County Historical Society, it is home to seasonal and permanent exhibits, special events, a research library and a Colonial Garden.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from May 29 to Oct. 11. The Brewster Library is open all year by appointment only. The Adirondack History Center Museum is located on the corner of Route 9N and Hand Avenue. For more information, call (518) 873-6466 or visit www.adkhistorycenter.org.
The Adirondack History Center Museum displays artifacts from over two centuries of life in Essex County and the central Adirondacks. The diverse collection includes:
Artifacts from 18th century forts at Crown Point
Elizabethtown and Lewis town histories
(Information courtesy of the Essex County Historical Society and Adirondack History Center Museum.)
Town of Elizabethtown
According to H.P. Smith's History of Essex County, written in 1885, Elizabethtown was created by the Clinton County Government on the 12th day of February 1798. Before that date it was a part of Crown Point. The Town's boundaries were changed in 1808 when Moriah and Keene were created, and again in 1815 when Westport came into being.
The town, which received its nickname "Pleasant Valley" from earlier travelers from Panton, Vermont, lies slightly northeast of the center of the county. The Boquet River flows northeasterly across the center of the town and the Black River forms a part of its boundary with Westport. Extensive deposits of iron ore existed in the town.
The Kelloggs were among the first settlers of the town and their descendants were prominent in town and state government until the 1900s. Early settlement began near what is now New Russia and then moved closer to the current center of town. There was a gristmill and farms.
David Brainard built a forge on Black Creek in 1817; Joshua Daniels built a second one the same year. Iron ore mining provided occupations for the first half of the 19th century but had largely petered out by 1885.
Elizabethtown was named the County Seat in 1807 and remains so to this date. The first two wooden county buildings burned. For the third construction, the complex was built in brick. The village was incorporated in 1876, in part, to make it more difficult to move the county seat.
For many of the early years, cutting and marketing lumber was the chief industry of the inhabitants, even exceeding agriculture in employment. Maple sugar was an important early industry. When poplar trees replaced the first growth, as many as 20,000 cords of poplar were shipped in one year to paper mills from Elizabethtown.
In 1885, the Town was famous for its lawyers. Augustus C. Hand, Robert S. Hale and Orlando Kellogg, all were eminent. The Hand House on River Street stands as a monument to the stature of the lawyers who made their way to the county seat. Although doctors were present as early as 1808, the medical profession never attained the prominence of the legal profession in Elizabethtown.
In the 19th century, Elizabethtown became a resort community. Large hotels graced the center of town where tourists would stay for the summer.
Today, county government and its services provide most of the economy of Elizabethtown. The large hotels are gone, but smaller hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts have taken their place. The school system and churches established in the earliest days continue to thrive. The first county newspaper was published in Elizabethtown, and the community still supports a newspaper. People from around the country come to the Adirondack History Center Museum and the county clerk's office to do genealogical research. The museum has exhibits on the county's history and industry and an exquisite colonial garden. Light industry and lumbering are still present in the town.
Town of Lewis
Some time prior to 1798, Thomas Hinckley settled in what would become Lewis, establishing a forge in Stowersville and setting the pattern for development in this community. Other settlers trickled in from New England, primarily from Connecticut. In 1805, the growing community was separated from Willsborough and named Lewis, in honor of then governor of New York, Morgan Lewis, a soldier, jurist, and a politician.
By the mid 19th century, 35 percent of the value of all manufactured goods in Lewis came from the iron industry. Evergreens were cut to fuel the forges that processed iron ore from Moriah. In time, the cleared land became subsistence farms, often with adjoining businesses such as blacksmithing or furniture making. Communities developed along the Platt Rogers road to Plattsburgh where waterways fueled the mills and forges.
Stowersville was the only community before 1845 whose growth was attributed primarily to the iron industry, but a settlement also developed at Deerhead where a rich vein was found, enough to fuel an iron ore separator. By 1860 the value of manufactured iron products reached $125,000 in Lewis, or 100 percent of the value of the town's manufactured goods.
The early signs of an established community, such as schools and churches, appeared in Lewis by the first half of the 19th century. Cyrus Comstock, "The Father of Churches in Essex County," settled here in 1819 and built the first Congregational Church. At the same time, the strongest of the pioneers, Joe Call, the Lewis Giant, moved here from Keeseville. He made his living as a lumberman, justice of the peace, and store owner.
By the end of the 19th century, lumber was being processed into butter tubs and the Essex County Cheese and Butter Society was formed. The old industries: tanneries, mills, distilleries, and forges continued, and were joined by hotels and stores.
The 20th century saw the beginning of a loss in small enterprises as the small iron works disappeared. By the 1930s, electric power was available, water was piped to homes, and schools were consolidating, but the number of family farms became fewer.
Although the population was booming in 1850 compared to present day, the settlements still exist along the roads in Lewis. Cornwright Lumber continues to supply lumber, minerals in the form of wollastonite still come from the earth and much that is the community remains.
An 1850s Washington printing press
An 1887 Concord stagecoach
An extensive collection of antique dolls
An iron bobsled from the 1930s
An Adirondack lean-to
A 58 foot fire observation tower to climb
The Colonial Garden
Created in 1956 and adjacent to the museum, the Colonial Garden features many varieties of flowers, native plants, trees and shrubs in a formal setting patterned after the gardens of Hampton Court, England and Colonial Williamsburg.