History of Brandon, New York


Brandon was set off from Bangor January 28, 1828, and then included seven townships, one and a half of which, after a long and hard contest, were detached from it and added to Harrietstown in 1883, and afterward four and a half others were set off to make Santa Clara. The original settlers were mostly from Vermont, and the town was named by them from Brandon in that Stake. It has never had importance industrially, commercially or agriculturally, and until within a few years it never had a single inhabitant whose financial rating exceeded more than about twenty thousand dollars, and only one whose estate reached that figure, which sum he accumulated simply by spending practically nothing and saving everything. He lived to be about ninety years of age, and his earnings were never large. Living alone, and having neither wife nor child, and being very abstemious, it is doubtful if, except when he was in Malone, serving the town as supervisor, his expenditures for sustenance amounted to half a dollar per week, and clothes and other items cost correspondingly.

Brandon's people were industrious, frugal and generally shrewd and hard-headed. An illustration is found in the fact that when the distinction between county and town poor was abolished, eighty odd years ago. and the statute permitted each town to make disposition as it might choose of any surplus in its poor fund, Brandon voted to apply such surplus to the payment of the taxes of residents, notwithstanding it must have been the fact that substantially all of the amount had been contributed by non-resident taxpayers. -

The character of the locality is such that opportunity for moneymaking in a large way has never been present, except perhaps through extensive lumbering operations, which required larger capital than any early resident possessed. Almost the only arable land within the present limits of the town, except a few river bottoms, lies along the northern Lorder, comprising a strip of from a mile to a mile and a half in width. Within this belt are a few fairly good farms, though most are of .light soil and not very productive. South of this helt is only a wilderness, abounding in rock and sand, and utterly worthless save for the timber on it. The river bottoms referred to are adapted only to the raising of hay and oats, frosts precluding cultivation of corn and other crops. Fortunately the ownershop of Brandon's timber lands has been so divided that no one large concern, anxious for a quick clean-up, has had control, so that the town's natural resources have been conserved, and, as operations are now conducted, the timber may be made to last for moderate cutting for a generation yet. Had it been otherwise, the larger part of the town's area would be to-day a denuded waste.

The nearest approach to a village or hamlet in Brandon is Reynoldston, in the western part, where within a mile or such a matter there are a sawmill, planing mill, blacksmith shop, one small store and possibly thirty or forty dwelling houses. Half or more of these houses and the store, mills and shop are owned by Reynolds Brothers, viz., Herbert H., Berton L. and Newton, who have about ten thousand acres of timber lands, stretching across the southern end of the town. The father of these brothers, Orson L. Reynolds, moved to Brandon from Bangor in 1870, buying a water power and a small tract of land, to which he added other parc.els as he had opportunity and could find the means; and the like policy has been followed by the Sons since his death. Prior to the time of Mr. Reynolds's original purchase his father-in-law had been offered practically all of the township at the price of a shilling an acre, whereas adjacent tracts no better timbered and no more accessible have sold during the past few years as high as ten dollars per acre.

For a number of years past Reynolds Brothers have had a contract for the delivery annually of from three to five million feet of logs from the southern half of their holdings to the Brooklyn Cooperage Corn.pany which has a private railroad running from its mill in St. Regis Falls across Waverly and through the Reynolds lands in Brandon, a distance of about fourteen miles, and delivery of logs to it was made at any convenient point along the railroad line. The contract expires in 1918, and now Reynolds Brothers plan to confine their activities to lumbering the soft timber on the south half of their tract and both the hard and soft on the north half exclusively for their own mill at Reynoldston. During the life of the contract with the Brooklyn Cooperage Company they employed as many as a hundred men in the winter season, but with the completion of their contract the number will doubtless be smaller.

The number of sawmills that at various times Brandon has had has been large, but all of them except the Reynolds proposition and one other have had only a small product. The second exception was that of Hon. Joseph B. Flanders, of Malone, which was disastrous. Having acquired a large tract by contract in 1866, Mr. Flanders proceeded to build a road in the winter across very difficult country south from Skerry, and also to build a dam and mill in the same season at a point on Deer river where he proposed to operate. The cost was heavy, and the burden of this initial expense, together with the long haul that had to be made to the railroad, compelled abandonment of the enterprise in 1873. Pretty much everything in and about the mill was stolen or left to rust and decay, and the property was never operated afterward. Webster Brothers subsequently obtained control of the lands, and cut large quantities of bark there for their tannery in Malone. Reynolds Brothers now own the tract.

Other mills have been Ira Ewings's, the first built in the town, and owned later by Lyman Weeks; James Skerry's, later owned by Warren Aldrich, and now by L. C. Bowen; one built by Charles J. Adams of Bangor, three miles south of Skerry, and sold to D. Adolphas Dunn, on whose hands it was twice burned during the year 1885, and after which it was owned by Michael Donahue, and again burned and the site abandoned; one built by Warren Aldrich three miles south of the Adams mill (sold to George Walker, and now torn down); one in the western part of the town, built and operated by William C. Betterly; and the "priest" mill, built by H. Y. Tarbell, and afterward owned by Father Francis of Malone, James Dwyer, David McGivney, McGivney & G. C. Stevens, and finally by McGivney again, during which ]atter ownership it burned, and was not rebuilt. There may also have been earlier mills, but none of them large.

Brandon formerly had two starch factories - one north of the Center, built by J. V. B. Bowles and Jonathan Farr, who sold to Benjamin and Stoughton Lawrence and they to Hannibal Wilcox; and the other built by Lyman Weeks. Both went. up in flames.

It has also had at least two creameries, one of which is at Skerry, and still running. It was built by Gaius A. Lane about 1880, and sold to Fred Lawrence. It was next sold to Norman Wilson, who now owns it. The other was built by George Taylor. in the western part of the town, near the Bangor line. It was burned.

The population of Brandon fifty-eight years ago was eight hundred, and the gain since then has been less than one hundred, though this does not take into consideration the loss by the setting off to other towns of the southern townships. There is no ground for reasonable hope that the number may ever increase, because, as has been seen, there are no lands that may be converted into farms, nor waters on whose shores a summer hotel business might be developed. Therefore, the outlook would seem to be for a decrease in the number of inhabitants as lumbering operations fall off. The only settlement. other than Reynoldston which has even a resemblance to a hamlet is Skerry, at which there are a store, a blacksmith shop and a scattering of houses.

Before Brandon lost its southern townships to Harrietstown and Santa Clara it had a few settlers around the head of Upper Saranac Lake, forty-odd miles as the crow flies, and perhaps seventy miles by highway, from the center of town government. There were not enough of them to justify the creation of an election district in their section, and it speaks well for the quality of their citizenship that at least a part of them could be persuaded in years of intense political interest or excitement to make the long and arduous journey from their homes in order to cast their votes. The memory of such a public service ought to shame the men of to-day who shirk the duty of registering and voting even in cases where they need take hardly more than a step from their residences or places of business in order to exercise the privilege of the electoral franchise.

The dismemberment of Brandon alluded to was fought strenuously by its supervisors for several years because the lands set off to be added to Harrietstown and to create Santa Clara, amounting to almost a quarter of a million acres, owned by nonresidents, paid something like two-thirds of the town's entire tax levy. Since the dismemberment the remaining nonresident lands have borne only about one-fifth of the tax. Thus the two partitions added heavily to the tax burdens of the residents - requiring them following the first partition to contribute a half instead of merely a third of the town's expenses, and after the second nearly four-fifths instead, of the original third part.

An almost forgotten murder occurred in Brandon in 1862. Peter Mulholland, a dissipated and violent character. was visited on the day of the crime by an associate of like habits, who brought liquor writh him. Mulholland proceeded to get drunk almost to the degree of unconsciousness, hut vet was able to see, or fancied that he saw, improper conduct between his guest and his wife. Crawling along the floor, Mulholland lunged with a knife at his visitor, as is believed, hut struck his wife instead, the knife penetrating her abdomen. The woman lived until the next day, but utterly refused to make any statement to Coroner Lyndon K. Hutchins in explanation of her condition, or to inculpate anybody. Mulholland was arrested and indicted. While awaiting trial he made a confession to the district attorney, and upon. arraignment pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to imprisonment at Dannemora for ten years.

If Brandon had any church history of date earlier than 1848 I have been unable to ascertain it. In that year it had a Baptist organization, which numbered fifty-two members, and at about that time was served by Elder Thayer of Burke as pastor, or at least as preacher. L. C. Herrick was pastor also in 1848, and John C. Smith in 1853 and 1854 serving at Burke also. The society was manifestly poor, as it reported to the St. Lawrence Baptist Association in 1848 that it could not afford to maintain a pastor, but could raise fifty dollars a year for "support of preaching." In 1855 it reported that some who had been regarded as pillars in the church had left them, and in 1856 that the church was feeble. In 1857 it reported forty-three members, and after that date no mention of the Brandon society appears in the association's proceedings.

There seems to have been no regular church organization in the town after the collapse of the Baptist society until 1891, when the First Congregational Society of Brandon was incorporated, and a church edifice erected the same year at Skerry. While the Baptist organization was in existence, and from that time continuously down to 1891, religious services were held, though usually with considerable irregularity, in school houses in one or another part of the town sometimes by a clergyman of one denomination, and then by another, from Bangor. Rev. Alonzo Wells preached there for a time. Since 1891 the church has had a pastor regularly for most of the time, but not exclusively its own - the Congregational minister at Bangor so serving usually. In 1916 and 1917 before entering the army as a chaplain Rev. J. B. Webster, of the Malone Baptist church, officiated there Sunday afternoons.

A Holiness church was built near Skerry in 1905. It has a pastor, and enjoys services regularly.

Rev. Father Lauzon of North Bangor officiates at intervals at Reynoldston.

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