History of Morristown, NY


Local Histories

THIS was the seventeenth town erected by an act of the Legislature passed March 27, 1821. It was No. 9 of the original township called “Hague,” and formerly under the jurisdiction of Oswegatchie. There are two versions as to the origin of the name of the town. One is that it was named after the Morris family, they being among the original proprietors or owners of a portion of the lands of the county. Another is, which seems to be the correct one, that the town was so named on the suggestion of David Ford. Morristown in New Jersey is a place where most of the Ford family of that day were born, hence the name.

At the first town meeting held in thatyear the following officers were chosen: Supervisor, David Ford ; clerk, David Hill; assessors, John Canfield, Paschal Miller, and Horace Aldrich; collector, Henry Hooker; overseers of the poor, John Hooker, Daniel W. Church, and John K. Thurber; commissioners of highways, William Swain, Alexander B. Miller, and William R. Ward; commissioners of’ schools, Powell Davis and James Buinham; inspectors of schools, Erastus Northam, John Grannis, and Alexander R. Miller.

The area of this town was reduced in 1827, by the erection of the town of Hammond; and again by the erection of Macomb in 1841. The town lies upon the St. Lawrence River, and between that river and Black Lake, and now contains 27,573 acres. The surface is rolling and rises almost abruptly from the waters mentioned, and on a gradually elevation towards the center. It is watered, apart from the river and lake, by Chippewa Creek, which flows through the central part from east to west (see page 112). The soil is sandy, loam overlying the Potsdam sandstone, which, in lighter color, crops out in many places. While grains and vegetables were grown to a considerable extent in former years, the larger portion of the farming community now devote their attention to dairying There is little manufacturing in the town, and the mercantile business is also limited in extent.

A survey of this town was made prior to its permanent settlement in 1799 by Jacob Brown, and a village plat was laid out called “Morrisvifle” on the site of Morristown village, and another called “Marysburgh” on the site of Edwardsville.

The territory embraced in this town was first settled through the agency of Col. David Ford, who in the summer of 1804 visited the locality for the purpose of exploration. He did not, however, make his permanent settlement until 1808. He was a native of New Jersey, a brother of Nathan Ford, the famous pioneer. Mr. Ford settled on the site of the present village of Morristown, and evinced his true apprecia tion of the natural surroundings by his selection of the rising hillside overlooking the river for the nucleus of the hamlet. He was the first supervisor of the town and a man of prominence. He built the first house here, which is still standing and owned by James Holliday.

Soon after the opening of Mr. Ford’s settlement Arnold Smith came in and opened the first public house. John Canfield, John Hooker and his son Henry settled near the village site. Mr. Canfield built the first store house here, and in 1817 erected the first wharf. He was one of the first Board of Assessors in the town, and lived on the site of the present Frontier House. John Hooker was one of the first overseers of the poor, and his son was the first collector.

The Black Lake region in the south part of the town was settled a little previous to 1810 by John K. Thurber, as mentioned in the Oswegatchie settlement; he was one of the first overseers of the poor. During the year 1810 Henry Ellenwood, Henry Harrison, Ephraim Story, Benjamin Tubbs, and Benjamin Goodwin settled in that section.

The central and eastern parts of the town were further settled in 1817—18, when a large number (for the time) of immigrants came in, giving the local appellation of the “English Settlement” to a certain section, which name still survives, as also do many descendants of those settlers. They were Robert Long, George Bell, James McDougal], Robert Johnson, Edward Lovett, William Arnold, William Holliday (an Irishman) Thomas Carter, William Wilson, George Couper, William Osburne, Thomas Baldwin, all of whom came in 1817, and John Pringle, Thomas Young. John Taylor, Joseph Taylor, John Wilson, Joseph Couper, and probably a few others who came in the following year. Other settlements are noted further on.

The few dwellers were considerably excited in July, 1812, when the Julia of the United States navy, and the British vessel, the Earl of Moira, met in conflict in the river opposite the settlement (see war of 1812, page 139.) It is said that Mr. Ford and his family secreted themselves in the cellar of the public house and remained there until the firing ceased.

After recovering from the effects of the cold seasons of 1816—17, which caused much destitution and suffering in most parts of the country, settlement in this town became active and was given something of an impetus by an offer to mechanics of a village lot and a park lot of five acres, on condition that recipients of the gift should carry on their trade five years in the town, and within a stated time should build on his lot a house of specified size. Quite a number accepted the proprosition and began towards its fulfillment, but only two or three persisted so as to secure their deeds. But aside from this effort the town rapidly filled up (luring the period from 1817 to 1820, when many located in the interior part. Among them were Henry Bogard us, Norman Tyler, Capt. William Lee, Dr. Powell, Willard Parker, Thomas Coats, and Abel Parker, all of whom located in the vicinity of the lake.

Sales of lands continued until 1820, when they were suspended during the settlement of the Gouverneur Morris estate. In 1823 the sales were again opened in the land office then established and continued to recent years. By a deed bearing date June 23, 1823, Moses Kent conveyed the township of Morristown (except a few lots) to Abram Cooper, and soon afterwards Cooper sold interests in his purchase to Samuel Stocking, of Utica ; James Averill, of Ogdensburg, and Augustus Chapman; the latter had become a resident of Morristown, and his enterprising influence, with that of later members of his family, became a powerful factor in the growth of the community. He was several times chosen supervisor, and was in all respects a leading citizen. The three men, Stocking, Averill and Chapman, finally purchased the whole of Mr. Cooper’s interest, and in 1845 Averill and Chapman purchased Stocking’s interest. Since that date the territory has been gradually subdivided into farms and all sold out to individuals.

An incident of 1819 was the drowning of Thomas Carter in the St. Lawrence. He and one of his neighbors started for Ogdensburg in a canoe, and when a short distance from the shore one of the rowlocks became detached and fell into the water. In a sudden effort to secure it Mr. Carter capsized the boat. Being unable to swim he was drowned and his body was not recovered. His companion reached the shore.

At the organization of the town and during the few following years the customary ordinances were adopted by vote of the freeholders. Among these may be noted that Canada thistles should be cut twice in each year, penalty five dollars; providing for the proper care of stock; protesting against setting off a part of the town to Hammond; regulating the ferry, etc.

The early settlement of this town was of course retarded by the lack of water power, although a saw, grist and carding mill was built and operated a few years during the wet portion of the year on Chippewa Creek, known as Church’s mills. In those days a rapid flowing stream was of much greater importance than in these later years of steam and electricity. Almost the first necessity of the pioneers, aside from roads, was a mill for sawing lumber and grinding grain, and prospective settlers in any locality always took into consideration the proximity of water power in selecting their homesteads. It was this lack of waterpower that prompted Hugh McConnell in 1825 to erect a windmill on the elevation above Morristown village. McConnell was one of the Scotch settlers and had been a miller in his own country, where windmills were numerous. The mill was finished and operated a short time, but was abandoned soon after the owner’s death in 1826; he was drowned in the summer of that year while crossing the river in a small boat The circular stone tower in which the mill was placed is still standing, a quaint and interesting landmark. It is the only mill of the kind ever built in this part of the county, though they have frequently been erected in Canada.

The first physician in the town was Dr. Joseph Boynton, who came in early from Massachusetts. He practiced to about 1834. Dr. Solomon Sherwood was also an early practitioner and continued to about 1850. Dr. J. P. Morgan came here in 1826 and practiced until his death, a period of more than fifty years. Dr. J. A. Phillips has practiced in the town the greater park of a long life.

A band of outlaws operated along the frontier during the War of 1812; some of the incidents possessed much fascination for the inhabitants of Rossie, this town, and Hammond. The more exciting part will be given in the history of Hammond, where the larger part of it transpired. The raiders only passed through Morristown to places more secure in secreting their plunder, as no such hiding places existed in Morristown. There were, however, horses and cattle stolen from some of the inhabitants of this town and taken to Jefferson and Herkimer counties. A Mr. Abner Swain, then keeping tavern where Brier Hill village now stands, had a fine mare, valued at the time at stolen, supposed to be by Jack Livingston, known to be one of the gang. Mr. Swain lost also during one season eleven head of fine cattle, supposed to be taken by the same gang.

In the War of the Rebellion Morristown acted a patriotic part in sending her sons to the front, and in the payment of bounties, upon the same generous plans adopted by other towns in the county. Succeeding that memorable struggle settlements on the farms and the consequent clearing of lands and advancement of agricultural interests progressed more rapidly than before, Moreover, in 1876, Morristown village and Brier Hill received railroad communication with Watertown on the west and Ogdensburg on the east, creating for a time the belief that an era of unwonted prosperity had set in. It is doubtful if these expectations have been realized; it is the rule that a new railroad kills off some of the smaller villages, while it builds up the larger ones, and while the road is a wonderful convenience for travel and shipping, it cannot be said to have greatly benefited this town in a material sense.

The dairying interest in the town has been greatly developed in recent years, the larger part of the product being cheese. There are now five cheese factories and one butter factory in the town.

Following is a list of the supervisors of the town from its formation to the present year, with dates of their service:
1821, David Ford; 1822, Timothy Pope; 1823-24, Augustus Chapman; 1825-26, Paschal Miller; 1827, Augustus Chapman; 1827-29, Jacob J. Ford; 1830-32, Richard W. Colfax; 1833-34, John Parker; 1835-37, Jacob J. Ford; 1838-39, Isaac Elwood; 1840-54, Moses Birdsall; 1855, George A. Chapman; 1856. Joseph Couper; 1857-59, Charles Richardson; 1860-66, Henry Hooker; 1867-72, Warren R. Fitch; 1873-80, Charles Richardson; 1881, George F. Rowland; 1882-94, Enoch Young.

Morristown Village is situated on the St. Lawrence River, nearly opposite the thriving village of Brockville, Canada, and near the northerly line of the town, Its site is picturesque and commands a beautiful view. A ferry plies between the two places and a custom house has existed here from an early day. It is now in charge of Arthur Gregory. Stephen Canfield built a steam grist mill here at an early day. This was changed to a saw mill, planing mill, stave mill, etc.,in recent years, and is now leased to Gillis Brothers, who are doing quite an extensive business. The property is owned by the Chapman estate. Chapman & Son built a large elevator a few years ago, but the leasing of the railroad to the New York Central Company rendered its use at a profit impossible. It is now used by the Brockville Wringer Works for a branch of their business which is carried on here. A large industry here is the manufacture of several proprietary remedies by W. H. Comstock of Brockville, which was begun in 1867. Robert Nicholson is superintendent of the business and has been in the establishment since 1868. The leading merchant is James V. Crawford. Others are Harry Hawkins, A. L. Palmer, Thomas Pierce and Albert Rowland. On the 2d of December, 1892, Allen C. Strough began the publication of the Weekly Gleaner, an eight page paper, independent in politics. There is now only one hotel, the Frontier House, which is kept by J. F. Culligan.

The first school in the town was taught by George Couper, one of the English settlers before mentioned. Until 1876 the common district schools were well supported in the town, but in that year the Morristown Union Free School was inaugurated, with three departments, and the following Board of Education: Harry Hooker, president; J. Garvin, M. D., clerk; C. F. Yennie, T. D. Losee, A. F. Carpenter, A. Proctor, Henry Russell, E. Kin gsland and Frank Chapman. The school building is commodious and pleasantly situated. The present Board of Education is as follows: A. F. Carpenter, A. L. Palmer, Dr. John Gar. yin, Henry Colton, Henry Russell, James V. Crawford, Thomas Pierce, Clinton Church and Dr. Whitford.

Edwardsvilie.— This is a hamlet situated on Black Lake, directly south of Morristown village. The names of the settlers in this locality have been given. The place is more generally known as “The Narrows,” and a ferry was early established at that point across the lake. In 1851 it was regularly licensed and the profits are divided between the schools of Morristown and Macomb. The post-office was estab. lisheg here in March, 1837, with Jonathan S. Edwards as postmaster, and from him the name "Edwardsville" is derived. Jessie Capron is the present official. A hotel and stores have been kept here for many years. There are at the present time two general stores kept by George A. Crawford and the Chambers Brothers. The Lake View House is kept by R. E. Capron, and the Black Lake House by H. J. Perry. A steam saw mill in that vicinity is operated by H. S. Austin. G. M. Chrysler has a steam saw mill and cheese factory a short distance down the lake, or near Galilee.

A number of wealthy men of New York, Washington and other cities have recently purchased Elizabeth Island in Black Lake (the island being a part of Morristown), and built thereon a fine club house, chiefly for their own benefit, at an expense of several thousand dollars. They receive mail at the post- office of “Black Lake" on the southern shore of the town of Macomb, where H. A. Morse is postmaster.

Another post-office called “Cedars” was established December 22, 1892, on the Black Lake road, four and a half miles from Morristown, where the Lutheran church is situated, with O. D. Moore as postmaster.

Brier Hill is a hamlet situated on an elevation in the central part of the town. This immediate locality was not settled so early as the northern part of the town, and the post-office was not established until 1853, the first postmaster being David Giffin. There has been no manufacturing of account here, but quite an active mercantile business has existed for many years, with the usual complement of small shops. There are now two stores, one conducted by George S Yerden, who is also postmaster, and the other by M. S. Stephenson. A hotel is kept by John McClear, and a second one by F. Taylor. One of the cheese factories is also located here.


The Presbyterian was the first religious organization formed in Morristown, which was formed by the assistance of Rev. Mr. Smart, of Brockville, in June, 1821, with eight members. Meetings were held in various places until 1837, when a frame church was built at a cost of $1,950. To this an addition and other improvements have recently been made, and the society is now prosperous. Rev. C. 0. Thatcher is the present pastor.

Congregational Society. — The Chippewa Street Congregational Church was organized in 1827, with nine members, assisted by Rev. Hiram Johnson, of Canton. The services were held in private houses and school houses until 1850, when $1,000 were expended in erecting a church. The first pastor was Rev. Samuel Young. The church property is now valued at $2,500. The present membership is about one hundred. Rev. C. F. Green is pastor.

A Baptist church was organized at “The Narrows” January 23, 1828, with ten members. As the number of Methodists increased in this neighborhood a union was effected and a church building was soon after erected. it is now and has been for many years the property of the M. F. Church of Edwardsville. It was repaired in 1880 at a cost of $1,000. The pulpit is now occupied by Rev. G. H. Williams, who also preaches in the Methodist church at Galilee.

Episcopal, Christ Church.— This society was formed at Morristown village about 1830, and was incorporated July 6, 1846, with George Couper and Cuthbert Ramsey, wardens; Augustus Chapman, Chilion Ford, Robert Ashton, Moses Birdsall, James W. Munsell, Thomas Boidrani, John Brewer and Henry Hooker, vestrymen. The church edifice was erected in 1833 at a cost of nearly $3,000. Rev. W. R. Woodbridge is pastor, and the membership is about forty.

A union church at Brier Hill was erected in 1859 by the Baptists, Lutherans, Wesleyan Methodists and Nonitarians. The three denominations named had each a one-fourth interest, and the residents outside who contributed, the other fourth. Nine trustees were chosen to manage its affairs. The building is wood, and cost about $1,500. Services are now held by C. E. Green, Congregationalist; O. F. Nichols, Methodist; and Rev. O. D. Moore, Lutheran, on successive Sundays.

The Evangelical Lutherans organized a church March 18, 1847, with Joseph Weaver, John Mitchell and John Dillenbeck, trustees. Services were held in the school house until 1853, when the present church was erected at a place now called “Cedars,” about three miles from Brier Hill on Black Lake. Its cost, with the parsonage, was about $2,500. There are now about fifty five members, and Rev. O. D. Moore is the pastor.

The Methodist Episcopal church was formed in Morristown village in 1843. About five years later the first church building was erected and dedicated February 20, 1849. The first trustees were Samuel Lewis, Percy W. Hindrnarsh, James Young, Rev. John Stoddard, Nelson Wright, Cornelius Walworth and Richard P. Waidron. The first church was burned November 18, 1850, and in the following year the present building was erected. It was refitted and furnished in 1874. The present pastor is Rev. O. F. Nichols.

The First Universalist church— This society was organized at Brier Hill in 1855, and reorganized in February, 1859, in which year their house of worship was erected at a cost of $1,250. Services were regularly held until 1890, the last pastor being Rev. Mr. Munson. The church is not now in use.

St. John's Catholic Church— organized July 15, 1873. The first trustees were Rt. Rev. Edgar P. Wadhams, James Garvin and Michael Rowland. The bishop administered baptism the first time in the town in July, 1874. The church was erected in 1878, and Rev. J. M. Varrily is at present in charge of the society.

St. Lawrence International Camp-ground Association.— This associ- ation was organized in June 1874, for the purpose of establishing an extensive camp meeting place. A beautiful tract of twenty-three acres was secured on the high bank overlooking the St. Lawrence one mile east of Morristown village, and fitted up with fine cottages, tents, water supply, etc. For a number of years the association prospered fairly, when the society erected a large hotel, which put them in debt and soon ruined the organization. It has recently passed into possession of a syndicate made up principally of Ogdensburg men. The fine hotel built, the name “Terrace Park “ given it, has become a popular summer resort.

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