HISTORY OF KEENE, NY
FROM THE HISTORY OF ESSEX COUNTY
EDITED BY: H. P. SMITH
PUBLISHED BY D. MASON & CO. PUBLISHERS, SYRACUSE, NY 1885




PORTIONS of territory were taken from Elizabethtown and Jay, March 19th, 1808, and united into the original town of Keene. Until 1848 it embraced, in addition Vrits present dimensions, all the land now lying between the limits of North Elba. Keene is bounded on the north by Jay and Wilmington, on the east by Jay and Elizabethtown, on the south by North Hudson, and on the west by Newcomb and North Elba. The Adirondack mountains extend north.. east and southwest through the center of the town and occupy nearly the entire surface, leaving scarcely any arable land. Among the mountains of this range in this township are found the loftiest peaks in the State, and with one or two exceptions, the loftiest east of the Rocky mountains. Of these the highest, Mount Marcy, in the southwestern corner, attains an elevation of 5,470 feet above tide; Mount Colden, just west of Marcy, 4,753 feet; Gothic Mountain, several miles to the eastward, 4,745 feet; Haystack, further south, 4,890 feet; Skylight, 4,889, and Gray Mountain, 4,900. Sentinel Mountain lies next the northern border of the town, and a few miles south of it are Pitch-Off and Long Pond mountains. The Giant of the Valley in the southwestern part of the town towers at an elevation of 4,530 feet above tide; Dix’s Peak, in the extreme south, is 4,916 feet high. Other peaks of less magnitude but still grand and impressive are Sable Mountain, Nipple Top, Saddle Back and McComb mountains. A number of beautiful lakes, or ponds as they are somewhat prosaically termed, sleep at the feet of some of the mightiest of these mountains. Edmund’s Pond, lying between Mount Pitch Off and Long Pond Mountain, is rapidly becoming a famous resort for sportsmen, invalids and summer tourists. It extends northeast and southwest a distance of nearly two miles. From its shore on the north a beetling cliff of solid rock rises vertically a distance of from three to five hundred feet, and gives to the mountain which slopes immediately above it, its peculiar name. From the southern shore the rocky side of Long Pond Mountain rises with supreme majesty. In the spring, summer and early fall, torrents of water tumble in tumultuous and musical confusion down the sides of this grand old hill for hundreds ‘of feet. In the extreme southern part of the town are the Upper and Lower Ausable ponds, the former, indeed, being divided by the line between Keene and North Hudson. The ponds are the headwaters of the south branch of the Ausable river, which flows northerly through the center of the town and with its numerous small tributaries fbrms its principal drainage. The magnificent mountains and mighty valleys of Keene, and her picturesque streams and splendid lakes have been the theme of many an enthusiastic writer’s eulogy, and have ‘called into activity the eager aspirations of many an ardent landscape painter and poet.

Keene has three post-offices, Keene Center, toward the north, Keene Valley, toward the south, and Cascadeville on Edmond’s pond. The last named office is open only during the summer months. The town has never been thickly populated, owing to the sterility of the soil and the difficulty of transportation over the rocky and mountainous surface of the country. Pioneers penetrated its primitive forests and scaled the natural barriers formed by its precipices as early as 1797, and thus early a rude, almost impassable road had been extended to Keene Center through Lewis and Jay. The first child born in town was Betsey Payne. The first school was taught by Dr. Ellis in an old school house near the present site of Phineas Norton’s house at Keene Center. The first marriage was that of Thomas Dart and Cynthia Griswold, the first death that of Eli Bostwick. Benjamin Payne was the first man who came into the town to stay. He came by marked trees from Westport, and brought his goods in a “jumper,” or rude vehicle constructed of two long poles which served the purpose at once of thills, traces and wheels. He died before 1800. He was Phineas Norton’s father-in-law. Timothy and Nathaniel Pangburn, brothers, were the next arrivals. Tile former died before 1823, and the latter about 1830. Thaddeus Roberts and Robert Otis were other early settlers. Zadock Hurd kept the first inn, near the present residence of W. H. H. Hull, and remained a number of years. He died before 1823. Thomas Taylor and General Reynolds made their appearance in town when it was new. Eli Hull settled about two miles south from Keene Center in 1810, and erected the house now occupied by his son William H. H. HulL Eli Hull (with his three eldest sons) took part in the battle of Plattsburg, and formerly served seven years under General Washington. Roderick McKenzie lived at the head of the Keene valley on the Ausable and was a neighbor of Phineas Beede and James Holt. William H. H. Hull and Phineas Norton (the former was born here in 1813, and the latter came in 1823) are the best authorities now living of the condition of the town in early times. According to them the first store was built and furnished by William Wells, and afterwards kept by David Graves. Phineas Norton moved into his present house, about two miles east of Keene Center, which he built himself, in 1832. There was no church organization here until 1833, although numerous preachers, among them the zealous Cyrus Comstock, held services frequently in the house of Eli Hull. The principal business in these times was lumber and iron making. Not much lumber was shipped but considerable was sawn for home uses Sylvanus Wells, brother of William Wells, was the most largely interested in mills. In 1823 there was a saw-mill on John’s brook three miles above the Center. Eli Hull & Sons (Joseph and Allen Hull) had a forge on the river south of the Centre, Graves & Chase (David Graves and R. C. R. Chase) bad one in the village. Both forges were furnished with ore from the Arnold bed.

In 1823 also the forge built by David Graves was running in full force under the management of Benjamin Baxter and Adolphus Ruggles, who drew ore from the Arnold bed. Not long after this Lewis Merritt, Jacob and Nelson Kingsland, of Keeseville, built another forge between the village and the old saw-mill. It was carried away in the great freshet of 1856. In 1823 also a little grist-mill was run by Israel Kent. It stood about a mile above the village on the Ausable river. A few years later another one was built farther down stream by Nathaniel Sherburne.

About 1800 the valley began to present the appearance of a change from an unbroken wilderness to a land fit for human abode. James and Alva Holt lived there about 1800, and cultivated farms for many years. Some of their descendants are still living in the valley. In 1849—50 Harvey Holt built a forge in the valley. He labored under great disadvantages and suffered the calamity of losing it by a freshet before it was opened. Captain Snow, another old settler, died years ago in Beekmantown. Luke Jones;another, died about two years ago in Keene Center. Phineas Beede came from Vermont and took up a place in early days. His widow survives him and is a resident of the Valley now. Mr. Biddlecomb, an early settler, probably built the old Bruce house, which was torn down in 1882—83. Deacon Bruce, father of Chester Bruce, had this place in very early days.

Following is a list of the supervisors of this town from the year 1818 to the present time, with the years of their service: 1818, Eli Hull; 1819, Iddo Osgood; 1820, Eli Hull; 1821 to 1824 inclusive, Iddo Osgood; 1825 to 1827 inclusive, Alden Hull; 1828, Azael Ward; 1829-30, Joseph Hull; 1831 to 1833 inclusive, Artemas Fay; 1834, Richard R. C. R. Chase; 1835—36, Iddo Osgood; 1837—38, Chester Bruce; 1839, Iddo Osgood; 1840, Gardner Bruce; 184!, Charles Miller; 1842, Phineas Norton; 1843, Charles Miller; 1844, Thomas Brewster; 1845, Phineas Norton; 1846, Thomas Brewster; 1847, James S. Holt; 1848, Stephen Clifford; 1849, Chester Bruce; 1850—51, Uriah D. Mihills; 1852, Phineas Norton; 1853, Uriah D. Mihills; 1854—55, William H. H. Hull; 1856, James S. Holt; 1857—58, William H. H. Hull; 1859—60, Hills H. Sherburne; 1861 to 1864 inclusive, Willard Bell; 1865, David Hinds; 1866—67, Adam McKane; 1868—69, David Hinds, Jr.; 1870, William H. H. Hull; 1871—72, Charles N. Holt; 1873—74, E. M. Crawford; 1875—76, David Hinds, jr.; 1877—78, Norman M. Dibble; 1879—80, Frank H. Hull; 1881, David Hinds; 1882—83, John K. Dudley; 1884—85, Thurlow W. Bell.

The records of this town from its formation in 1808 to 1818 are destroyed or lost; we cannot therefore give the first officers; The present town officers are as follows: Supervisor, T. W. Bell; town clerk, Sanford P. McKenzie; commissioner of highways, R. G. S. Blinn; collector, Heman Nye; overseer of the poor, William Wilkins; justices of the peace, David Hinds, John K. Dudley, William H. H. Hull.

Population.—1810, 642; 1825, 707; 1830, 287; 1835, 700; 1840, 730; 1845, 809; 1850, 798; 1860, 734; 1865, 770; 1860, 720; 1875, 757; 1880, 910.

MUNICIPAL HISTORY.

Keene Center was probably quite a settlement before any other community had come into existence in the town. In this vicinity the pioneers of 1797 erected their log cabins, and felled the first trees. By the year 1823 a hotel had been built on the site of the present village of Keene Center, and was managed by David Graves. The building now stands on its original site across the street from the hotel of Weston & Otis, under the old elm. Before 1840 Ira Marks, of Elizabethtown, had control of the property. In 1844 Charles Miller kept it, the title still remained in Marks. In 1847 Willard Bell, Stephen Patridge and Uriah D. Mihills bought the premises of Marks. Not long after, however, Marks purchased them back from the three and sold them to Arville E. Blood. Meantime, since Bell & Company had purchased the hotel, Sidney Ford had been the manager. When Arville Blood secured it, she leased it to her brother, Royal Blood, a part of the time, and Joseph Downey kept it while Royal Blood was out. Willard Bell bought it of Arville E. Blood in i866. He at the same time purchased the land now forming the site of the Keene Center House of Weston & Otis, and built a new hotel thereon, the other one being discontinued. He moved into the new house in 1867. Mr. Bell kept this hotel until 1872. Nicanor Miller rented it of him from 1872 to 1877, then Horace Towsier kept it seven months. William Bell returned after Towsier’s time expired and managed the business until 1881. W. F. Weston then purchased the property of Bell, and he and his present partner, J. Henry Otis, who acquired an interest in the business in 1883, have been the proprie
tors down to the present time. The old building was destroyed by fire in 1883, and the present sightly and commodious structure erected in its place.

W. F. & S. H. Weston are proprietors of a forge in the south part of the village. They built it in 1879. Ore is obtained from the Keene ore bed about a mile west of the village. The ore is taken from this bed by means of the Wood Pit and Fifth Shaft. Before they built the forge the Westons ran the mines about five years. They have kept a general store in the village since they started the forge. They also own and run a forge and store and saw-mill at Wilmington. Besides the Keene bed there is in its immediate vicinity the Weston bed, and another bed or vein in front of the Cascade House at Edmond’s Pond called the Cascade ore bed. The other business establishments at Keene Center may be briefly summed up as follows: A general store kept by Warren Hale for a number of years; the store of W. F. & S. H. Weston, already mentioned; the store of J. W. Bell, opened in 1882, and the drug and Yankee notions store and jewelry establishment of Sanford P. McKenzie. Mr. McKenzie also keeps transient boarders and is an Adirondack guide of considerable experience. He keeps a large and select assortment of fishing tackle and sportsmen’s outfits. W. F. Weston and J. Henry Otis are also proprietors of a handsome summer hotel on the western end of Edmond’s pond (about six miles west of the Center), which will accommodate about fifty guests, with a dining-room large enough to accommodate ninety persons. Willard Bell owns a saw-mill about a mile and a half southwest of the Center, and E. M. Crawford owns one about five miles south thereof, in the “Flats.”

The district school at the Center is the only one there. It is taught at present (spring, 1885) by Miss Bridget Kelley.

Churches. — The Methodist Episcopal Church of Keene Center was incorporated in the fall of 1833. Phineas Norton, Nathaniel Sherburne and James 0. Patridge were the first trustees. The first meeting convened pursuant to a notice given by the Rev. James R. Goodrich, who was probably the first pastor. In May, 1836, the church purchased a tract of land of Nathaniel Sherburne and at once erected the edifice which still serves the original purposes of construction. The last few pastors were sent here in the following order: Rev. Harris (date unknown), John Hall, Fletcher Williams, L. A. Dibble, Horatio Graves, G. H. Van Duzen, C. A. Bradford, E. L. Ferris, and the present pastor, Rev. S. B. Gregg, who came here in the spring of 1884 The present officers of the church are: Stewards, Frederick Nye, E. S. Russell, J. K. Dudley, Franklin Hale; trustees, Frederick Nye, J. K. Dudley, Cyrus Sheldon; class leader, E. S. Russell. The Sunday-school superintendent is Frederick Nye, who has held that position during the past nine years, with the exception of several intermissions which aggregate about two years.

A new Catholic Church was erected in 1883, which, by virtue of its handsome design aftd arrangements does credit to the communicants of that faith in Keene Center. Bi-rnonthly services are held by Father Holihan, of Elizabethtown.

The first postmaster at Keene Center was probably William Wells. In 1823 David Graves officiated. This was before the establishment of the stage routes and the mails were carried from Westport to Abraham’s Plains (now North Elba) on horseback. The present postmaster, Willard Bell, received his appointment in June, 1861.

Keene Valley. — At present no industry can be said to prevail in the beautiful Keene Valley. It is a famous resort for summer visitors and more than thirty summer residences have been erected within a radius of six miles from the Keene Valley post-office. Among them are those of Dr. Norman Smith, of Hartford, Cona.; Dr. Charles Laight, of the New York Board of Health; Drs. Isaac and Felix Adler, and Dr. Sachs, their brother-in-law; Martin Babler, of New Jersey; Dr. William Pennington, Newark, N. J.; William H. Hodge, D. D., Philadelphia; Frederick H. Comstock, attorney of New York; Mrs. and the Misses Clark of Elizabeth, N. J.; Miss N. D. Ranney, Elizabeth, N. J.; Mrs. Anna Ranney, of the same place; A. H. Wyant, artist, New York; Charles Dudley Warner and R. N. Shurtliff, artist, New York; Mason Young has erected an elegant building ata cost of about $20,000. Dr. James Putnam and brother have purchased the old premises of Smith Beede and built a number of cottages wherein they receive guests, usually from Boston. On the old Walker lot of Smith Beede also cottages have been re.cently erected by William G. Neilson, Prof. Felix Adler, Almon Thomas, W. A. White, Kate Hillard and others. There has been a post-office at Keene Valley since 1865 when Orson Phelps carried mail for six months free, then the government took it. James S. Holt was the first postmaster. His successor was Norman Dibble. Byron Estes now officiates.

The “Valley” boasts three hotels, each one accommodating from eighty to one hundred guests. The hotel of S. & 0. Beede, which was built about 1875; the Tahawas House, George W. Egglefield, proprietor, who bought out Norman Dibble, and the hotel run by R. G. S. Blin since 1882.

E. M. Crawford owns and runs a steam saw-mill which was built about ten years ago. During the first seven years of its career it was propelled by water power. The lumber is cut mainly for building in the Valley.

At the Cascade House of Weston & Otis, before mentioned, a post-office has been established for the sole accommodation of summer tourists. It was first opened in the summer of 1880 by Nicholas Miller, and receives and distributes mail only between July first and November first of each year. The name of the office is Cascadeville, and it is the office for guests who abide at the Mountain View House in North Elba, kept by Moses Ames, the Adirondack Lodge kept by Henry Van Hoevenbergh, and Torrance’s Cottage, kept by Orin Torrance, in addition to those stopping at the Cascade House. The present postmaster, J. Henry Otis, received his appointment in the spring of 1883.

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