History of Newcomb, New York
HISTORY OF ESSEX COUNTY
EDITED BY: H. P. SMITH
PUBLISHED BY D. MASON & CO. PUBLISHERS, SYRACUSE, NY 1885



HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF NEWCOMB.

THE town of Newcomb was not formed until March 15th 1828, at which date it was taken from Minerva and Moriah. It lies near the center of the western border of the county and is bounded north by Franklin county and the town of North Elba; east by Keene and North Hudson; south by Minerva and North Hudson, and west by Hamilton county. The surface of the town is elevated, apart from the great altitude of the mountains, ranging from one thousand five hundred to one thousand eight hundred feet, and presents a broken, rugged and forbidding aspect; but its slopes and elevated valleys comprise small tracts of good soil and capable of very successful cultivation. The Adirondack range of mountains extends through the center of the town and occupies at least one-half of its surface. The principal peaks are Mounts Goodwin, Moore, Santanoni and Henderson; other lesser peaks bearing distinctive names are Mounts Catlin, Moose, Baldwin, Goodenow, Panther and others. Wailface, McIntyre and Marcy, the stateliest peaks in the Adirondacks, are near the northeastern part of the town. Like all this region the town is studded with beautiful lakes and ponds, and many small streams of clear spring water course among the mountains. Lake Sanford is the largest body of water and lies near the center; it is about four miles long. A little farther north is Lake Henderson, which is somewhat smaller. Through these lakes pass the waters of the upper Hudson. Other bodies of water are the Preston ponds, Newcomb or Delia lake, Rich lake, Perch, Trout, Otter, Latham and other small ponds, Lake Harris, Lake Colden, and Catlin lake and Chain lakes which extend across the west line from Hamilton county. The principal stream is the North or Hudson river, which rises in the town of North Elba, enters this town in the northeast part, flows southward through Lakes Henderson and Sanford, receives the waters of the Opalescent a little south of the last-named lake, and continues in a general southwestern course, leaving the town near the southwest corner.

The surface of this town was originally covered with a heavy forest, some of which still remains, and the principal occupation of the inhabitants for many years has been the cutting of this timber and running the logs down the streams or sawing them into lumber. There are immense deposits of iron ore in the town, of excellent quality, the efforts to work which we shall describe.

The extremely mountainous character of the town and its remoteness from traveled routes operated to delay permanent settlement until a comparatively recent date, though isolated farms were taken up as early as 1816. In that year Joseph Chandler came in and was followed two years later by James Chandler, Collins Hewitt, and William Butler. The first settlements were made on or near the shores of Newcomb lake and Lake Harris, along the old road from Warren county to Long lake. Joseph Chandler had several sons and James was his brother; the sons were named Alonzo, Daniel, John and James. They cleared up a tract and engaged in farming in the locality occupied in recent years by the Chase family. Collins Hewitt acted as land agent for some time and subsequently removed to Olmsteadville. William Butler settled at the foot of the lake. Aunt Polly Bissell, as she. is familiarly called, who still resides there, is a daughter of Mr. Butler.

Abner Belden was another early settler in the town and came in not long after those mentioned, locating in the western part of the town. His widow still lives there and they had sons, Abner and Kimball, who now live in town. David Pierce settled in that vicinity, but removed from the town long ago. Elisha Bissell was one of the early settlers on Rich lake and was the husband of Aunt Polly Bissell. He came from Vermont about i 824. Their sons were named Daniel, Warren, Charles and Erastus. The family located near the head of the lake and a number of their descendants are now living in the town and are prominent citizens. Daniel the eldest of the sons, married Polly Butler, who has since become widely known as "Aunt Polly” and for many years successfully kept the hotel known as “Aunt Polly’s Inn.” The result of their union was three sons and one daughter, all of whom are dead. Daniel Bissell was the first collector and constable of the town and later held several town offices, among them that of supervisor for many years. His widow still survives. Warren, the second son of Elisha Bissell, was a resident of the town during the larger portion of his life, having formerly come to this place from Vermont. He reared a large family of children and died in the year 1883, when eighty-one years old. He was by profession a shoemaker and in politics was a Republican. Charles, the fourth son, still resides near Lake Harris, on a farm where he has been pleasantly located for many years. Has a family of seven children, five Sons and two daughters—all living save one son. Is also a Republican. George M. Bissell, son of Warren Bissell, has been a long resident of the town. Has a family of four sons and three daughters. Is quite extensively known as a lumberman. Is a Republican. Charles A. Bissell, son of Charles Bissell, was also a resident here, and for several years was supervisor of the town.

A prominent resident of the town has kindly supplied us with the following additional details of the settlers and their descendants:

Daniel C. Chase has been a prominent resident of the town for about fifty years. Was born in New Hampshire in 1816. He located on a farm purchased of James Chandler near the head of Rich lake, where he has ever since lived and reared a family of seven sons and one daughter; only four of the children are now living. He was inspector of common schools in 1839 and 1843, and ajustice of the peace nearly all the time since 1843. Was collector and town clerk and also supervisor in the years 1845, 1846, 1847, 1848, 1852, 1856, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1867, 1868 and 1872, and has been a justice of sessions of the county. Was always a Republican and a trusty adviser. Washington Chase, son of Daniel C. Chase, was born in Newcomb in 1845, and has no doubt been one of the most enterprising citizens of the place. He now resides near the central part of the town. Has held office since he was twenty-one years of age—that of supervisor in the years 1869, 1880 and 1881, and is the present incumbent. Has been postmaster for over eight years, and was formerly postmaster at Tahawus, in this town. He has held the office of justice of the peace since 1869, and has been several times elected town clerk, assessor, etc., and also justice of the sessions for four terms, and coroner of the county. During the past nine years has been connected with the mercantile and printing business, and was always a Republican. Jefferson Chase is the fourth son of Daniel C. Chase; was born in this town; has been prominently known as civil engineer and surveyor. He has always been a resident of this town. During the year 1882 he erected a circular saw-mill at the outlet of Rich lake; was formerly a school teacher and is a Republican in politics. Caleb J. Chase, a brother of Daniel C. Chase, resides near the east end of Rich lake, and is widely known as a first-class boat builder. He has lived here about thirty years. His family consists of four sons and three daughters, all of whom are residents of the town. Samuel T. Catlin has been a resident of the town for about thirty years; was born in this county. He has always been a farmer and resides near the west end of Rich lake. Was supervisor of the town two years. Benjamin Sibley, formerly of Warren county, who has resided here about fifteen years, has had a large family of children. Has been justice of the peace for the past ten years and has also held other town offices. James O. and Daniel H. Braley, old residents of the town, were formerly from Warren county and were both soldiers in the last war; are both farmers and live near the central part of the town. Harrison and Warren Williams are also old residents of the town and both soldiers in the Rebellion; were formerly Vermonters. The former is proprietor of the “Newcomb House.” Zenas Parker is an old Vermonter, and is now the oldest man in the town. He has been a resident here about forty years and reared a large family of children who are all residents of the town; is a Democrat in politics and the present town clerk.

So slow was settlement made in Newcomb that as late as the year 1830 there were only eight families permanently located there. John Dornburgh came into the town in 1838 and located at the hamlet of Newcomb; eight years later he moved to Long lake. Henry Dornburgh’ located here in 1844.

Settlement has since progressed slowly, there being less than three hundred population according to the census of 1880; but in many respects the town has materially advanced in late years. The small farming community is more prosperous; a better class of buildings have been erected, and with the pursuit of the lumber business and the benefits following the advent every summer to the magnificent sporting grounds and the sublime scenery of this region, the inhabitants are enjoying a good degree of prosperity.

The most important feature of the history of this town is that relating to the operations of the Adirondack Iron Company. There are several versions of the incident leading to the organization of this company and some discrepancy in the date. Mr. Dornburgh, who has published the pamphlet alluded to, states that the remarkable deposit of ore was discovered by the Indians in 1822; but it may have been known to them earlier. Intelligence of the existence of the vein was conveyed to Archibald McIntyre, probably 111 1825 or 1826; this gentleman was then running a forge in the town of Keene, where the ore was not of the best quality.2 According to Mr. Dnrnburgh, Mr. McIntyre was induced to accompany the Indian discoverer to the site of the ore vein. He found the deposit fully as valuable as it had been represented and steps were taken by him which resulted in the purchase of two townships, 46 and 47, of the Totten and Crossfield purchase. Mr. Watson gives David Henderson and Mr. McMartin the credit of making this purchase. Mr. Dornburgh continues:

“The ore at Keene not being valuable, Mr. McIntyre abandoned that enterprise and associating with him Judge McMartin, of Broadalbin, commenced operations in 1826 at this new field by erecting a forge and building suitable for separating ore, and also erected a log building to accommodate their men. This ore was worked for several years when Judge McMartin died, and after that a new firm was organized, Mr. McIntyre associating with him David Henderson, of Jersey City, and Archibald Robinson, of Philadelphia.’ The new firm went to work with great zeal, built fires and hammers, and made iron after the primative method, using a forge and charcoal for smelting the ore. They labored with the forge a few years and finding the ore very good and their forge too slow a process, they concluded to build a furnace. David Henderson being appointed principal manager of the firm in 1838, they built a quarter furnace. In digging for the foundation they came to a rich ore bed and the old ruins are yet standing upon the ore bed. This furnace proved a success. Previous to this, however, in 1837, they built a puddling furnace and did a large amount of labor in all needful branches for making bar iron. At and a little before this time they made roads to Schroon river by way of the branch, their iron being hauled thirty-six to forty miles to Lake Champlain. Mr. Henderson made large experiments wi.th the iron to convert it into steel, his experiments proving so successful that they concluded to make preparations for the manufacture of steel. Mr. Henderson then made a trip to England expressly for the purpose of consulting and making arrangements with some person who understood steel making, and going direct to the great Sheffield Steel and Cutlery works made his wants known to one of the principal foremen of the Sheffield company, named Pixley. Mr. Henderson informed him that he desired to manufacture steel in America, having a good iron for the purpose located in a dense wilderness and surrounded with an abundance of wood, and that his company wanted to establish a steel and cutlery works for the manufacture of large and small articles. He also stated to Mr. Pixlev that they wanted to make steel with charcoal, but this being a new theory to Mr. Pixley he replied that it would be new to him, but he would make experiments and report to him. Mr. Henderson left Sheffield, feeling much elated over his success in enlisting Mr. Pixley in the scheme, and immediately returned to America to await the result of Mr. Pixley’s experiments. After several months had expired Mr. Pixley wrote to Mr. Henderson that he had made the experiments with charcoal and found them successful. After this favorable report the Adirondack company concluded to make all the needed arrangements for establishing an extensive cutlery works in the Adirondacks. They built a costly dam across the Hudson river, ten miles below their iron works, which they named Tahawus, after one of the great mountains. This was to be called Tahawus Steel and Cutlery works. In the mean time they built a large boarding-house while working upon the dam. They built a saw-mill and dock for landing their iron from the upper works. The dam raised the water in Lake Sandford four feet, covering a level tract of land for a space of five miles before reaching the lake. By this dam the company were enabled to use boats. They built boats, floated iron to their lower dock from the upper dock and wood and coal from the lower dock, to be used in their blast and puddling furnaces. Mr. Pixley came to America, and he and Mr. Henderson made a trip to the Adirondack iron works. Mr. Pixley gave plans for all necessary buildings to carry on the operations successfully, and after the accomplishment of this much of the work returned to England and three or four months later he wrote to Mr. Henderson saying that he had devoted his time to making further experiments with charcoal, and had arrived at the conclusion that he could not make steele with charcoal, and therefore abandoned the project. This caused a stoppage of further operations at Tahawus and notwithstanding a dam, boarding-house, dock and large store house were built or in process of construction, the whole steel project came to a termination. The Adirondack Iron Company, however, still continued building and enlarging their old works and erected various buildings until they had a small village, which is now known as the ' Deserted Village.’ In the year 1843 they required more water in dry weather to propel their machinery, and as there were two branches of the Hudson the company determined to build a dam and divert the east branch into the west branch. They continued, however, with a short supply of water until September, 1845, when their engineer, Daniel Taylor, with whom they had discussed the practicability of the idea, advised them to put the scheme into execution. A party was therefore formed consisting of Messrs. Henderson and Taylor, Anthony Snyder, John Cheney and aten-year-old son of Mr. Henderson, to search for a course to lead the water to their works, and as they expected to camp out over night they carried knapsacks. The distance between the two streams upon their route was six miles, and about half way of this distance there was a small pond called the duck hole. When the little party came in full view of it they discovered a number of ducks in it, whereupon Mr. Henderson remarked to John Cheney: ‘You take my pistol and kill some of those ducks,’ and he handed his pistol to Cheney. The balance of the party had gone to the head of the pond to start a fire preparatory for dinner. John Cheney had advanced but a few yards upon the ducks when they discovered his approach and flew out of range, and he then stepped up to Mr. Henderson and returned the pistol which Mr. Henderson replaced in its sheath. Mr. Cheney knowing there was an abundance of trout in fhe pond, concluded not to follow up the ducks but catch some of the gamey fish. He had just dropped the hook in the water when he heard the report of a pistol, and looking in that direction he saw the party had arrived at the head of the pond and that Mr. Henderson was in a stooping posture and Messrs. Taylor and Snyder, who had been in the vicinity gathering wood for the dinner fire, at his side. He knew Mr. Henderson was shot by the movement he made, and ran to him as fast as possible. Upon arriving at Mr. Henderson’s side the fallen man turned his eyes• to him and said: ‘John, you must have left the pistol cocked.’ Mr. Cheney could make no reply, not knowing but that might have been the case. Mr. Henderson looked around and said: This is a horrible place for a man to die,’ and then calling his son to him he gently said, ‘Archie, be a good boy and give my love to your mother.’ This was all he said, although his lips kept moving for a few minutes as if in prayer, and at the end of fifteen minutes from the time of being shot he expired. The theory of the cause of the accident is a follows: Mr. Henderson, it is supposed, took off his knapsack and laid it on a rock and then unbuckled his belt at the same time taking hold of the muzzle of the pistol, and in laying it down on the rock he must have struck the rock with the hammer which caused the discharge of the weapon, and as the muzzle was pointing towards him the ball entered his abdomen just below the navel, causing the fatal wound. The party set to work to make a couch for the body, breaking balsam boughs and laying them in a pile, and on this bed the lifeless remains were placed. This done, Mr. Snyder returned to the village for help and lights, knowing by the time he returned it would be dark. Upon his arrival in the village Mr. Snyder was very cautious in stating his errand, and picked his men judiciously, ordering them to prepare themselves with lanterns, axes and tools to construct a bier to carry the remains to the village. He also set men to work cutting out trees and bushes to make a way for the corpse to be conveyed to the village, there being but a narrow trail then, and the trail made by Mr. Snyder is now used by tourists on their way to Mt. Marcy. The news of the accident soon spread, and it was soon known by the company’s principal manager, Mr. Andrew Porteous, now of Luzerne, Warren county, N. V. Mrs. Henderson, Maggie, little Archie and a nephew named David Henderson, were in the village at the time, and Mrs. Henderson, accompanied by her daughter Maggie and Mrs. Porteous, made her way into the street to ascertain the cause of the commotion. Seeing Michael Laverty, the woman caught hold of him and insisted upon his telling them the cause of the unusual proceeding, but the man evaded a direct answer, whereupon they lay hands upon him and told him they would not let him go until he told them. He then admitted that one of the men was hurt in the woods, at which Maggie burst into tears, and exclaimed, ‘Pa is shot, pa is shot.’ Early on the following morning the remains arrived at the village and men were detailed to construct a rude coffin; these men were Spencer Edgerton, of Moriah, and the writer, A dispatch was sent to Russell Root, at Schroon river, requesting him to meet the party with Mr. Henderson’s remains at Wise’s shanty on the cartage road, which was then in the course of construction. The remains were taken to Tahawus and thence were carried on men’s shoulders to the road, occupying the entire day. At the shanty Mr. Root was found awaiting their arrival and conducted the party to Lake Champlain. Mr. Henderson’s death occurred on the 3d of September, 1845, and a monument marks the scene of the tragic incident which is inscribed as follows: ‘Erected by filial affection to the memory of our dear father, David Henderson, who accidentally lost his life on this spot, by the premature discharge of a pistol, 3d September, 1845.’

Previous to Mr. Henderson’s death and after the failure on the part of Mr. Pixley to come back from England, Mr. Henderson, according to the statement of Mr. Dornburgh, met Joseph Dixon, who has become widely known through his extensive operations in working graphite, and informed him of the disappointment arising from Mr. Pixley’s failure to return. Mr. Dixon told Mr. Henderson that he could make steel, if he had the means. He was told that he could have all the money, all the men and all necessary materials for the work. “Mr. Dixon resolved to accept the offer. He commenced in the outskirts of Jersey City and built a rude cementing furnace and this, being an experiment, was upon a small scale. He put his iron bars in the furnace leaving a place to extract a bar as the steel process progressed. This was done by building the furnace as high as the length of the bars required and within the furnace was a compartment so constructed as to allow the heat to surround it. This compartment was filled with charcoal and good common-bar iron and below was a fire whose intense heat ignited the charcoal which burned in a perpendicular trunk with ore. This converted the bar into blister steel, the charcoal carbonizing the iron. As this was successful the next step further was to build a melting furnace for the steel, but Mr. Dixon was somewhat puzzled to devise the correct plan, but finally he arranged it and commenced to build. He built his fire pit, got the blast already, broke up the blister-steel and put it into the crucibles, kindled his fires, melted the steel, made his moulds and poured in the metal, all of which was successful, except pouring the steel in flat moulds, for when he put the iron under the hammer he found flaws and long seams in his cast steel: This he thought he could obviate by pouring the steel in the moulds endwise which would cause the air to ascend in the moulds as fast as they filled. The process was a revelation to the American people. Mr. Dixon having succeeded in casting steel into coarse bars set about erecting suitable hammers for working the steel into small bars. Mr. Henderson about the time went to England and proceeding to Sheffield, he procured a tilter. How he ever induced him to come to America Mr. Henderson never told, but it was probably the large some of money given the man that had the effect. With this Englishman’s advice they were able to build a tilting hammer and other necessary apparatus and the steel manufactured with their improvements was of a good quality. This was the first cast steel plant in America. After the Sheffield man was introduced in America it was an easy matter to get more experienced men and the works were extensively enlarged.”

The death of Mr. Henderson began the downfall of the operations of the Adirondack Iron Company. He was a man of much ability and his loss could not weilbe supplied. After Mr. Porteous ceased as manager, he was succeeded by Alexander Ralph. A few years before the works were abandoned the property of the company was assigned to a new organization; but they failed to meet their obligations and the old company again assumed control, but only to abandon the entire enterprise a few years later. For a score of years the “Deserted Village” as it is termed, has given forth no evidence of traffic or manufacture and scarcely a sign of occupation.’

The first post-office established in the town was located near the North river bridge, about the year 1867, and William E. Thayer was appointed postmaster, who held the office up to the time of his death, about one year later. The office was subsequently held by Daniel H. Bissell, Rufus Lincoln, James 0. Braley, Phebe A. Tan nahill, Washington Chase. At the time of the appointment of Rufus Lincoln as postmaster, the office was removed to near its present location, and is now kept in a dry goods and grocery store, owned by Washington Chase, near the center of the town.

There are two post-offices in Newcomb at the present time, the one bearing the name of the town, and just described, and Tahawus, at the site of the “Lower Works.” At Tahawus David C. Hunter is postmaster. Four good schools are supported, and there is a Methodist Church organization which was formed in 1843. Meetings were held, generally once in two weeks, in the school-house at Newcomb, until a few years ago, when a neat church was erected near the school-house, at a cost of about $3,500. This church is the farthest one inland from Lake Champlain, except the one at Long Lake, Hamilton county. The chief business now carried on is lumbering. This has been quite extensive for over twenty-five years. Thousands of logs are cut and run down the Hudson river to market every season. There are at present two circular saw-mills, one church, four schools, two dry goods and grocery stores, two post-offices, one printing office, two hotels and several good boarding houses, with good roads and numerous fine lakes, ponds, and rivers. In all it is now a delightful resort where many people from the cities usually sojourn for a while during the heated season.

Following are the first officers of the town of Newcomb : — Daniel T. Newcomb, supervisor; Joseph Chandler, jr., town clerk; William Butler, Elisha Bissell, Cromwell Catlin, assessors; Daniel Bissell, collector; Elisha Bissell, Cromwell Catlin, overseers of the poor; William Butler, Cromwell Catlin, Abner Beldin, commissioners of highways; James Chandler, Cromwell Catlin, Benjamin Ackerman, commissioners of common schools; William Butler, jr., Abner Beldin, Joseph Chandler, inspectors of common schools; Daniel Bissell, constable; William Butler, pound-keeper; Elisha Bissell, Abner Beldin, Joseph Chandler, fence viewers.

Following is a list of supervisors of Newcomb from its formation to the present time with the years of their service: 1828, Daniel T. Newcomb; 1829—30, Joseph Chandler; 1831, Daniel Bissell; 1832, Joseph Chandler; 1833 to 1844 inclusive, Daniel Bissell; 1845 to 1848 inclusive, Daniel C. Chase; 1849, Daniel Bissell; 1850—51, John Wright; 1852, Daniel C. Chase; 1853, Thomas G. Shaw; 1854, William Helms; 1855, H. N. F-iaskall; 1856, Daniel C. Chase; 1857, H. N. Haskall; 1858 to i86o inclusive, Daniel C. Chase; 1861—62, Abel Gates; 1863—64, Charles B. Lincoln; 1865—66, Samuel T. Catlin; 1867—68, Daniel C. Chase; 1869,— ; 1870—71, Daniel H. Bissell; 1872, Daniel C. Chase; 1873 to 1879 inclusive, Charles A. Bissell; 1880 to 1882 inclusive, Washington Chase; 1883—84, William M. Alden; 1885, Washington Chase.

The present town officers are: Washington Chase, supervisor; Zenas Parker, town clerk; Kimball Beldin, overseer of the poor;. Edison J. Dimick, collector: S. T. Catlin, Benjamin Sibley, C. E. Farr, assessors: James A. Hall, commissioner of highways; Benjamin Sibley, C. A. Bissell, Washington Chase, justices of the peace; Almond O. Farr, game constable; Frank W. Pervier, Daniel H. Braley, town auditors; Franklin Chase, Josiah Houghton, inspectors of election; Edison J. Dimick, C. E. Farr, F. W. Pervier, constables; Kimball Beldin, Elbert Parker, S. T. Catlin, commissioners of excise.

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