THE TOWN OF EDWARDS—ORGANIZED IN 1827.
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This was the twenty-second town erected by an act of the Legislature passed April 27, 1827. It was formerly
under the jurisdiction of Fowler, and at first comprised townships No. 8 and 4, or Edwards and Fitz Williams, now
Hermon. The first town meeting was held at the house of William Martis. in the spring of 1827, and the following
officers were elected: Orra Shead, supervisor; John C. Hale, clerk; J. C. Hale, Asa Brayton, jr., William Teall,
assessors; Roswell Lillie, Araba Collisier, Peleg Haile, commissioners of highways; J. C. Haile, Asa Phelps, Wilkes
Richardson, commissioners of schools; Warren Streeter, Guy Earl, overseers of poor; J. C. Haile, George Allen,
William Teal!, inspectors of schools.
The township of fitz Williams was taken off in erecting Depeau (now Hermon), and by an act of the board of supervisors,
passed November 17, 1852, all that part of the town of Hermon situated at the northeast corner, known as the end
of the east third of township 4, of great tract No. 3 of Macomb’s purchase, being subdivision lots No. 32 to 37,
according to Ashman’s old survey, was annexed to the town of Edwards; the board of supervisors now having the right
(since 1849) to set off or change the town boundaries.
The main branch of the Oswegatchie flows in a general northwest direction across the town and through the villages
of South Edwards and Edwards. In the southern part are Bonner, Beaver, Mud and Clear Lakes, whose waters flow into
the Oswegatchie, and Cedar Lake which extends across the line into Hermon. Along the river and the branches of
Elm Creek the surface is rolling or hilly, but elsewhere it is rugged and broken, especially in the northwestern
part. The .township was patented to McCormick in March, 1795, and surveyed by Reuben Ashman of Russsll. McCormick
transferred it to Joseph Pitcairn about 1816, and he upon his death, about 1844, bequeathed his interest to Alexander
Brodie. The town received its name froni Edward McCormick, a brother of Daniel McCormick, the proprietor to whom
the original township was assigned in the division.
Before the settlement of this town the turnpike from Russell had been laid out through it, a fact which hastened
settlement. The original course of the turnpike was across the west branch of the Oswegatchie about three-fourths
of a mile below the site of Fullerville, thence taking a northeasterly course, across the island and the two channels
of the river at the site of Edwards village.
The section of the road in Edwards was built by Enos Chapman, who begun it in 1810 and finished it in 1812. In
January of the last named year Asa Brayton brought his family into the town and made the first settlement on the
south side of the turnpike near where it crosses the creek, about midway between the branches of the Oswegatchie.
During that season Guy Earl, Samuel Jones, John Britton, Joseph M. Bonner, Elijah Jones, three men named Johnson
and probably a few others came into the town and built log houses. One of them was a Mr. Partridge, who was killed
in 1813 by a falling timber, causing the first death in the town among the settlers. The first birth was that of
John B. Brayton, son of Asa Brayton ; John B. lived in the town many years. In 1813 Ora Shead came in from Russell
and in that and the next year completed the first grist mill ; it stood on the east bank of the river where the
turnpike crossed. Five years later he built a saw mill just below on the site of the Rushton mills.
About 1816 Phineas Attwater became Mr. Pitcairn’s agent for the sale of lands in this section, and was succeeded
in 1819 by George Allen, who came in at that time and located at Shead’s mills. In 1818 and 1819 the town received
as settlers a number of Scotch immigrants, who located chiefly in the northern and northeastern parts. Among them
were James Grieve, Robert Watson, John Whitehead, Alexander Noble, William Andrew, Alexander Kerr, James Wilson,
Alexander Laidlaw, William Cleland and Robert Brown. Several of these and their descendants were long residents
of the town.
Aside from those above noted, the settlements for several years were made mostly along the river and the line
of the turnpike.
The mill building on the east side of the river that was operated at one period as a planing mill, sash and door
factory, was built for a grist mill by Mr. Rushton, but was superseded by the present one of greater capacity.
A tannery was formerly carried on by Gilbert & Co. on the west side of the river opposite the island, but it
is now out of use. It was built in 1864 by Gilbert & Cart; was operated by them until 1871, when Rice &
Emery of Boston leased it and carried on the business until 1874, since which date it has been closed.
Succeeding the merchants mentioned are the following who have stores of various kinds in the village : S. B. Raymond,
W. Grant & Son, Charles Davis, Charles Brown, James D. Tait, W. N. J. Stevens, Eugene Cook, C. B. Watson, Charles
Stevenson, Henry Webb, George Pagett and Mrs. William J. McFarren. Cyrus Watson is postmaster.
South Edwards.— This is a small village near the southeastern corner of the town, upon the Oswegatchie River.
The first settler at this point was Job Winslow, who explored the locality in 1823, and settled there in 1824.
He was impressed with the value of the immense water power, and soon after bringing in his family, he built a saw
mill, and in the following year a grist mill, thus creating the nucleus of a village. These mills were afterwards
owned by several persons, among them being John Austin, Pasco Whitford, a Mr. Woodbury, Almeron Thomas, and Spaulding
& Pratt, and were burned about 1850. The mill was rebuilt in a better manner by Chester Van Ornum, and again
burned about 1875. A new grist mill was subsequently built and carried on by G. & E. Lumley and others, and
a saw mill, which was run by Jonathan Hendricks ; but both have been closed for some years, and there is now no
mill at the place.
The first merchant at South Edwards was Elijah Shaw, who settled there in 1825 with his brother Noah. The former
becaine one of the most prominent citizens, and the hamlet was locally known for years as "Shawville."
Mr. Shaw engaged with a Mr. Sears in the manufacture of potash and had other various interests. Mr. Sears purchased
his partner’s interest in the potash business, and Mr. Shaw retired to a farm north of the village. Sears afterwards
removed to Canton. The merchants of the place now are Ira Hammond and John Lumlev, and the latter is postmaster,
the office having been established in September, 1828, with James C. Haile as postmaster.
A carding mill was built here in early years by Ingraham Winslow; but the business ultimately died out and the
building burned after the machinery had been removed. A hotel was built by Mr. Woodbury and continued some years;
at the present time there is no public house in the place.
In 1871 Dickinson & Lawrence, from Franklin county, built and began operating a starch factory, using potatoes.
The business was continued about ten years.
Besides these villages there are several hamlets or settlements that have had distinctive names and small business
“Freemansburg,” on the main river four miles below Edwards, received its name from Capt. Alfred Freeman, who built
a furnace there in 1830. Ore was brought to it from the Little York bed, and bog ores from this town. In 1843 a
forge was added to the plant; but the business was continued only a few years, when it went the way of all the
iron industries of the county. Mr. Freeman also kept a store there. The furnace was burned in 1847.
The so-called “Scotch Settlement,” or “Scotland,” has already been mentioned, and was the scene of a thrifty people’s
labors. Many descendants of the hardy Scotch settlers still live in the town and vicinity.
There have been also the “Creek Settlement,” about two and a half miles southeast of Edwards village, and the “Pond
Settlement” in the southeast part of the town; but they are only farming neighborhoods at the present time.
Following is a list of the supervisors of the town to the present time:
1827—28, 1830, ‘31. ‘32, ‘33, Orra Shead; 1829 Wm. Teall; 1834-35, Hubbard Goodrich; 1836 to 1840, inclusive, John
C. Haile; 1841—42 and 1850, J. B. Pickit; 1843, ‘44, ‘45, and 1848, Ingraham Winslow; 1846—47, James Noble; 1849
and 1851, Elijah Shaw; 1852, Horace Barnes; 1853—54, Mark W. Spaulding; 1855, ‘56, ‘57, ‘60 and ‘68, Joseph Brodie;
1858—50, 1860, and 1870, George Smith; 1861—62, Thomas Todd; 1863, ‘64, ‘65, Henry Rushton; 1866—67, L. M. Gariner;
1871 to 1880, inclusive, Cornelius Carter; 1881—84, Henry Webb; 1885—87, William Grant; 1887—94, Ira C. Miles.
The town of Edwards was not even inhabited by a single settler at the commencement of the War of 1812, Yet it has
a landmark that started in that period (an evergreen grove), which is now highly prized by the descendants of the
pioneers. During that war the frontier along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario was blockaded by the British.
Therefore munitions of war were sent overland by the way of Plattsburg and the old route of Oswego River to Ogdensburg
and Sackett’s Harbor.
The writer’s father, who related many incidents of the war, was a soldier at the time, stationed near Plattsburg,
where he became familiar with what transpired on these routes. The route passed through the town of Edwards, thence
by way of Carthage on to the harbor. Each soldier, apart from his accoutrements, had a certain weight to carry,
and when heavy articles were to he hauled or carried, a squad of soldiers were assigned to the duty. Their march
was slow, yet resting places and camps were located at short intervals. This route was so frequently used that
roads were cut through the woods by the soldiers before the close of the war.
It has been said that ropes or cables designed for the war vessel Superior, then in process of building at the
harbor, were carried overland by the soldiers from Plattsburg. While this may be true to a certain extent, the
big cable, measuring twenty—two inches in circumference, weighing 9,600 pounds, was carried from Oswego River sixteen
miles overland to the harbor on the shoulders of about 200 soldiers, arriving on the ioth of June, 1814.
These camping places, especially the one in Edwards, which is three and a half miles southwest from the village,
on the farm now owned by Freeman Sprague, was located in a belt of hard wood growth, and no evergreen growing in
that vicinity. During the camping period from one to two acres had been cut and most of the timber burned. This
place being unmolested, grew up with pine brushes, and became the thick grove alluded to. The man that cleared
this farm, finding such a beautiful grove of pine standing in the midst of hard wood, cleared away the timber on
the outside and left them growing. The plot contains about one and a half acres, and the pine trees are straight
and stand so close together that it is with difficulty a person can pass between them. Many of them are from twelve
to eighteen inches in diameter and from fifty to seventy-five feet high. There can be no doubt as to this grove
standing on the camping ground of the soldiers of the War of 1812. Mr. Asa Brayton, the first one who came there
in January of 1812, settled near this place. Mr. Edgar Brayton, a grandson of Asa, now living in Edwards, relates
the following which was obtained from his grandfather. Said, that this was where the soldiers camped in passing
back and forth. Also, when they were returning to Plattsburg after completing the road stopped here, The officers,
however, were entertained by him, and that his grandmother baked bread all that night for the soldiers. Their horses
during the night eat up a stack of wheat, for which he got pay. He also related the following story. Mr. Brayton
had a boy working for him some fourteen years old, who stole a belt, sword and pistol which an officer had hung
on a peg before retiring, and hid them in a hollow stump. In the morning the whole posse turned out and had a long
search before finding them. This grove will become more and more valuable as time passes, especially to every patriot
who gazes on this historic spot.
The War of the Rebellion, the reader is referred to Chapter XV.
Edwards Village.— The building of Shead’s grist mill in 1814 determined the location of a village in this
town; and tne site was a promising one, both on account of the turnpike and the excellent water power at that point.
As usual in such cases, a store soon followed the erection of the mill, and a little later the building of the
saw mill and the establishment of Allen’s land office there hastened the little settlement. The first store was
kept by Mr. Shead, who was also the first postmaster, the office being established January 4, 1828.
William Martin, an enterprising pioneer, opened the second store, the first hotel, and built a distillery. J. B.
Pickit was the next merchant, and the second public house was opened and kept in an excellent manner by Nathan
Hunt on the island. The house was afterward kept by J. B. Pickit, Horace Barnes, W. A. Livingston, S. M. Farmer,
Earl & Allen and others, but was finally closed. The island was the scene of much of the business of the place
for many years, but the space was too limited, and the industries gradually removed to the mainland,
The present grist mill on the island is operated by Butler & Miles. The hotel, built about twenty years ago,
is the Rushton House, and is kept by David Noble. The entire mill property on the old site, including the grist
mill, saw mill, shingle mill, etc., was built by Henry Rushton, and is now a part of his estate. The Woodcock Brothers
carry on a steam grist and saw mill.
Within a few recent years the talc industry in St. Lawrence county has become a very important factor in its production
of wealth. The development of this industry has had its principal headquarters at Governeur and is quite extensively
described in the preceding history of that town; but the territory whence the crude product is derived is of considerable
extent and reaches into the town of Edwards and vicinity. The settlement which has been mentioned as “Freemansburg”
is now called Talcville, and in that vicinity the wonderful product is found in large quantities. The Freeman Brothers
have carried on a mercantile business here. In 1893 a railroad was opened from Gouverneur to Edwards, its chief
object being the transportation of the talc to the line of the main road. For further details of this great industry
the reader is referred to the Gouverneur and Fowler histories herein.
The Methodists were perhaps the first to hold services in this town, which were by Rev. Elijah Morgan in 1819.
Their first class, consistting of five persons, was formed by Rev. Ezra Healey of the “Creek Settlement” in 1823.
Their first preacher was Rev. E. Morgan, who was succeeded by Rev. Hiram May in 1825. Their early meetings were
held in school-houses, barns and dwellings. The records of the church were destroyed by the burning of the parsonage
in 1852. Since the erection of a union church in 1850, the services have been held there, until about 1880, when
the society built a small church, which at the present time is occupied by Rev. Mr. Burns. Meetings were held occasionally
in South Edwards in No. 4 school-house.
The Baptist society organized a church in 1822 by the assistance of Elder Stephens. Among the members were Aaron,
Silas and William Pratt and their wives. Their services at first were held in school-houses and dwellings until
the erection of the union house in 1850, when they occupied the house their allotted time, every fourth Sabbath,
Services were also held at South Edwards.
A union church was built in Edwards village by the Baptists and Congregationalists, and the building was erected
in 1850. Other denominations contributed to it to some extent, and it was open to all denominations. The church
is now used wholly by the Baptists. Their present pastor is Rev. Mark Styan.
The many Scotch settlers in the town brought with them a strong Presbyterian element, and a society was organized
called “The First Congregational Church and Society in Edwards,” composed of Presbyterians and Congregationalists.
From 1830 to 1837 the society was prosperous, but in the course of the next twenty years the organization disappeared.
A Universalist society was kept up for a number of years and its members aided largely in building the union church,
and Rev. G. Swan, G. S. Abbott, J. T. Goodrich, Rev. Prof. J. S. Lee, D.D., supplied the pulpit for many years.
The society is now out of existence.