History of Rossie, NY


Local Histories

THIS was the thirteenth town erected by an act of the Legislature passed on the 27th of January, 1813. This territory was formerly under the jurisdiction of the town of Russell, which that town released on a vote of the freeholders assembled for that purpose January 1, 1811, and was to be annexed to the town of Gouverneur, but resulted in the formation of a new town.

The first town meeting was directed to be held at the house of Reuben Streeter, but the day having passed the Legislature appointed another, and the first town election was held at the block house, then the residence of Mr. Streeter. The dates and the presiding officer's name were not preserved. As originally formed, this town embraced townships 1, 2 and 7, or Hammond, Somerville (or Kilkenny) of Tract Number 3. Fowler and Hammond have since been taken off, and the line between Rossie and Hammond was altered February 7, 1844.

The town lies on the western border of the county, south of Hammond, west of Macomb and Gouverneur, with Fowler to the southward and Jefferson county on the west. The surface is level or rolling in the eastern part, but in the western part is much broken by ledges of gneiss, limestone and sandstone. Numerous streams cross the town, and the Oswegatchie crosses it twice, forming the "Ox-Bow." Indian River and Grass Creek flow through the northern and western parts, while the central part is crossed by the Yellow Lake, which is connected with the Oswegatchie by a small stream.

Settlement began in what is now Rossie in 1807, when Joseph Teall, of Fairfield, and Reuben Streeter, of Salisbury, Herkimer county, who had contracted with Lewis R. Morris, nephew of Gouverneur Morris, for a tract of land between the Oswegatchie and the south line of Gouverneur, extending to the county line, came in to occupy their possession. On the 2d of December, 1808, David Parish purchased the town from Gouverneur Morris and J. D. Le Ray. Through Mr. Parish the town was given its name in honor of his sister Rossie, but she usually bore the name of Rosa. The castle in Scotland which was owned by her husband was also called Rossie. The land records show the following purchases under date of December 2, 1806, when the persons named came in and selected lands: Ambrose Simmons, Oliver Maiterner, Amos Keeney, jr., Samuel Bonfy, Silvius Waters, Joshua Stearns, Jerome Waldo, George W. Pike, Benjamin Pike, jr., Ebenezer Bemis and David Shepard; most of these were from Herkimer county and many of them settled in the southern part of the town. The first improvement was made by Reuben Streeter in 1807 on a farm about half a mile east of Wegatchie hamlet. In the next year he built a mill on the Oswegatchie.

Previous to the spring of 1811 the following families had moved in and were living on the tract purchased by Teall and Streeter, besides those already named; David Freeman, James Streeter, Joseph Teall, Diamond Wheeler, Eli Winchell, Simeon Stevens, John and Wheaton Wilcox, and Daniel Wilcox came soon after.

The first school was taught about a mile west of the site of Somerville by a Mr. Maynard.

Other names which appear upon an early assessment roll are as follows, but a part of these lived in what is now Fowler and Hammond: Lemuel Arnold, Jeduthan Baker, James Barnes, Horatio G. Berthrong (the first tavern keeper at Rossie), Samuel B. Brown, Truman Bristol, Joseph Desbrow, James Haile, Samuel Hendrix, Jedediah Kingsley, Alexander Osburne, Ebenezer Parker, Richard Townsend, Joseph Teall, jr., Elias Teall and Alvin Wright.

That part of this town lying between the Indian and the Oswegatchie Rivers has been termed "the Scotch settlement," from the large number of that race who settled there. The settlement was begun in 1818, when ten families came in, as follows: Robert Ormiston, James Dickson, William Fachney, James Fairbairn, Corlan McLaren, Donald McCarrie, Thomas Elliott, James Henderson, James Douglas and Andrew Dodds. These families emigrated from Scotland by way of Quebec and the St. Lawrence River. While going up that river in a Durham boat, and before their destination had been fully decided upon, they met the agent of Mr. Parish (Joseph Roselle), who induced them them to cross to Ogdensburg. Their families were there provided for, while the men went into Rossie to view the country, with the result as stated. Mr. Parish treated them with liberality, causing ten acres to be cleared for each family, built a log house for each, and supplied them with an ox team for each two families, and a cow, provisions, and seed wheat for each, also a fine young dog. It was then just after the historical cold season, and prices were very high, which made this action on Mr. Parish's part doubly generous and helpful to the immigrants. In the following year other families came in, among them the following: James Lockie, David Stone, William Laidlaw, Robert Clark, Andrew Culbcrtson, John Henderson, Andrew Fleming, John Dodds, James Hobkerk, John Wait and James Ormiston. In 1820 John McRobbie, Thomas Turnbull, and brothers Michael, Adam, Andrew and William came in. Elizabeth Fachney, daughter of William, born January 13, 1819, is believed to have been the first white child born in this part of the town.

Descendants of some of the Scotch settlers live in the town and near by, but they are not numerous. Among them are David Stone, who lives in Oswegatchie; A. A. Dickson, grandson of James, who lives on the old homestead; Alexander McLaren, son of the pioneer, living in the "Half-way House," formerly a public house, between Rossie and Ox-Bow.

The War of 1812 had its effects in this town as well as in others, and the law of self preservation prompted the inhabitants to build a block house on the road between Summerville and Wegatchie, and thither the people went to spend the nights in times of apprehension. The block house was 24 by 30 feet, built of hewn timber, bullet proof, and stood till about the year 1840. Rossie also during the war time became a very active place, as it was a great resort for both the timid and the brave. Several families from Ogdensburg and other exposed points went to Rossie to stop during the troubles, or after the siege of Ogdensburg, as they supposed that its retired position would make it compar atively safe from British raids. Here also was the headquarters of a gang of hard characters, who came from various places, even from Canada, who would go over the line into the Canadian settlements, steal horses and bring them back to Rossie, where they had several secret hiding places among the ledges, and on favorable opportunities sell them to the government agents. During their leisure time, or between raids, they loafed around the village, drinking and gambling. These repeated raids caused the Canadian authorities to make an effort to squelch them. Therefore Colonel Frazer, with a company of British soldiers, having a knowledge of their den, came over in the summer of 1813, surrounded the village and captured it without resistance. He placed sentinels at various points, then searched for horse thieves, but only found a few innocent old men, women and children. The next morning he formed his men into line on the street, and called the people together and said to them, that he came there to catch thieves, and he hoped that he had not brought any with him, but said that if any of the Rossie people had lost anything while he and his men were there, that they believed his men had taken, he wanted they should say so, and he would have every man searched before he left. No complaint being made, the squad returned to Kingston. A day or two later a Mrs. Stevens, missing a set of solid silver spoons, sent a man over to Kingston and informed the colonel of the fact, when he instituted a search and found them with a soldier and sent them back to the woman. Mr. Henry Plumb of Ogdensburg was an eye witness of the above incident and related the same and many other similar ones, to the writer. It was also reported that the colonel's horse, which he rode over, was left to graze on the commons, but in the niorning was not found, and had either strayed away or been stolen, and he had to go back on foot. Other incidents of plundering will be noticed in the history of Hammond.

During the summer of 1812, the mill built by Mr. Streeter was burned in the night by an incendiary, who laid it to the Indians. It was rebuilt by Mr. Parish, who owned and operated it until about 1817, when he sold it to James Howard. The grist mill is now carried on by James H, Bolton. W. B. Wheelock was superintendent of all of Mr. Parish's mills and mining operations for a number of years. It was Mr. Howard's wish to have the settlement about his mills called "Caledonia," and that name did to some extent attach to the place; but it was also called "Howard's Mills," "Church's Mills," and finally Wegatchie, which name was applied when the post-office was established in 1849.

A saw mill here is now operated by David Story. George D. Story and James Reed have stores, and the former is postmaster. The woolen mill is carried on by John Wright, succeeding Church & Wright. The hotel is conducted by John Brickley.

The first settlement at the Rossie Iron Works (now Rossie P. 0.) was made by men sent in by Mr. Parish, late in the summer of 1810, to build mills and open settlements. This was an important point, being at the head of navigation of twenty-seven miles towards Fort Stanwix (Rome), and the pioneers found evidences of French or English occupation there. A Durham boat was found sunk with stone in the river, and an excavation, perhaps for a cellar, was on the site of the stone store at Rossie. D. W. Church, who had superintended the building of a stone store at Ogdensburg, took seven men, and his wife to act as cook, and proceeded in a bateau with furniture and tools, to the head of navigation on the Indian River, and landed at sunset on an island near where the foundry was located. There they spent the night and the next day erected a hut near where the saw mill was built, and by winter had a saw mill in operation there. In December the party was broken up. During the winter parties were engaged in getting out timber, which was used in buildings in Ogdensburg and in the frame of the "Genesee packet," which was built soon afterward. In the following summer the lumber business was prosecuted with vigor, and in the succeeding winter the bridge at the foot of the hill was built. In the summer of 1813 a furnace was begun under direction of James Howard, and from that time onward the operations of the town were energetically advanced by Mr. Parish. A road through to Ox-Bow was cut out in 1810 and became a turnpike. The first male child born in the village was William Rossie Williams, born March 31, 1814.

The Rossie Furnace was the first blast furnace built in Northern New York, and was started up in the year 1815. At about the same time what was known as the Caledonia Iron Mine, about a mile and a half east of Somerville, was put in operation. A specimen of ore was sent to Albany, and expectations of a large mining interest to be developed in this town were confidentially entertained. The furnace consisted of two stacks about thirty-two feet square at the base and the same height; only one of them was ever operated. Mr. Parish engaged William Bembo, an Englishman experienced in iron manufacturing, but ignorant of this ore and the fuel to be used, the result was discouragement and failure. At this juncture Mr. Parish offered the eastern firm of Keith, Marvin & Sykes, the free use of his furnace and coal with the best ore on his premises, for three months, if they would give it a trial. The result was eminently satisfactory, good iron was produced, and a large profit realized. For the succeeding three years the furnace was operated by S. Fullers & Co., under a contract for five years; but George Parish, in order to lease for a longer term, bought the contract at the end of three years and leased to Robert R. Burr, of New Jersey. He carried on the business two or three years and left about 1827. The works were then idle for about ten years, when, in May, 1837, Mr. Parish again took up the business. A new and larger stack was built, which was replaced in 1844 by a still larger one, capable of making eleven tons per day. The last blast in this furnace ended October 14, 1867.

Meanwhile, iron mines situated a mile and a quarter east of Somerville were opened in the fall of 1812 and continued many years for the supply of the above described furnace. From one to three dollars per ton was paid for drawing the ore thirteen miles to the furnace, making a sourse of income from which many settlers paid for their farms. The work was mostly done in the winter. The Caledonia Mine, a part of the Parish estate, was estimated to have supplied one hundred thousand tons of ore down to 1852. In 1865 the mines were purchased by a New York company and placed under supervision of Charles R. Westbrook. Extensive improvement was made, improved machinery put in, buildings erected, and a track connencting the ore bed with the railroad was laid. The supply of iron ore was apparently inexhaustible and the quality of the product was good, but unforeseen causes too powerful to be overcome caused the final abandonment of the business about 1877. Chief among these causes was the enormous and cheap production of iron in other localities with the scarcity of fuel here.

Another mining interest, which at one period promised very important results, was the discovery and production of lead. It is a tradition brought down from the time of Indian occupation, that the red men knew of the existence of lead in this section and made use of it. It is said that Arthur Bacon was one of the very first to discover galena in the earth at the roots of an overturned tree in this town. What was called the Victoria vein was afterwards discovered by a daughter of Joseph Jepson. In December, 1835, Mr. Parish had become convinced that the industry might be made a profitable one, and he contracted with B. T. Nash to make a search for ore. Fifty cents a ton was to be paid the latter for iron ore and seventy-five cents for lead ore, should he discover any mines, all the lead ore to be worked in Rossie. The lease was to run ten years. Previous to this time a company, consisting of B. T. Nash, Joseph Barber, Zadoc Day, Joseph Disbrow, and another, for the purpose of mineral explorations, and the Indian traditions, led them to the Rossie district. Mr. Nash soon after sold the rights to J. C. Bush Two companies were incorporated May 12, 1837, after compromising with Nash's associates and others, for working the mines. The charters of the two companies were substantially alike as to their terms, and were to continue to January 1, 1847; capital of each, $24,000. The company holding the eastern division of the "coal hill" vein was styled the "Rossie Lead Mining Company," and David C. Judson, James Averill, Erastus Vilas, Peter C. Oakley, and Royal Vilas were its first directors. The western division of the same vein was held by the "Rossie Galena Company," of which John C. Bush, Bliss T. Nash, Elias J. Drake, Sylvester Gilbert, and David C. Judson were the first directors.

Work was begun on the western section in 1836, but systematic operations were not commenced until January 1, 1837, when the eastern company also began operations. A large number of laborers was employed, and the business seemed to prosper for a considerable time, notwithstanding the inexperience of those engaged and the great expenditure for smelting houses and machinery, which were later found to be insufficient. Large dividends were made by the companies and the stock commanded high prices. The ore was principally smelted by Moss & Knapp. at a furnace on Indian River, about a mile from the mines, at twenty-five dollars per ton, with a contract giving them all over sixty-eight per cent. A reverberatory furnace was built at the mines, but this was found wasteful. The Victoria and Union veins were worked a short time by Mr. Parish. A "working" was begun by him on the Robinson, or Indian River, vein, where ore was found upon the surface, and about 300 pounds of lead were taken out directly over a cavity in the granite which, upon blasting to the solid vein, proved to be fifteen feet in depth. A shaft was sunk to the depth of seventy-six feet, which yielded 1,100 pounds of lead; cost, $1,600. In the branch of the Union vein two shafts were sunk, the western fifty-five and the eastern fifty-three feet in depth.

The product of the mines was in all 3,250,690 pounds or 1,625 tons of metallic lead, the average yield of the ore being sixty. seven per cent. Both of the companies discontinued work about 1840, and many persons lost largely by deterioration of the stock. During the summer of 1852, these mines having reverted to Mr. Parish, a portion of the property was leased by R. P. Remington, for ten years, with the privilege of another ten years, with one-twelfth royalty, and a company styled "The Great Northern Lead Company" was incorporated September 8, 1852, with a capital of $500,000. The first directors were James C. Forsyth, Ernest Tielder, P. Strachan, John F. Sanford, S. T. Jones, Silas M. Stilwell, Charles G. Myers, R. P. Remington, and James G. Hopkins. A powerful engine was put in, a number cf practical miners from Cornwall, England, were imported, and work was quite extensively prosecuted for about three years. It was then discontinued, being unable to pay the royalty agreed to Mr. Parish. In 1854 the works were leased by J. B. Morgan and were again operated until 1868, since which time they have remained entirely idle.

The foregoing description of the extensive mining operations in the town comprise a large portion of its general history. Compared with the somewhat remarkable activity during the long period in which those industries were prosecuted, the affairs of the town since the War of the Reb~lhion (for particulars see Chapter XV.) have moved peacefully along. The agricultural interests have been more successfully and progressively pursued, the attention of the farmers now being largely devoted to dairying. Cheese is the principal product, which has an excellent reputation, and considerable butter of good quality is produced.

Many incidents occurred during the earlier working of the mines that well-nigh resulted in bloodshed,. which were peculiarly common in those days in such a mixed population of nationalities. Such as suspending by the neck an effigy in Irish costume before a boarding-house occupied by laborers on St. Patrick's day with insulting mottos attached to it. This was done by thoughtless chaps merely as a joke on a certain class. This, however, was not approved of by the better class of citizens.

Following is a list of the supervisors of the town from its formation to the present time with the years of their service.
1814, Reuben Streeter; 1815, Theodosius O. Fowler; 1816-1818, Reuben Streeter; 1822-24,Louis Franklin; 1825, Eljenezer Martin; 1826-1827, James Howard; 1828, William Brown ; 1820, Reuben Streeter; 1830-32, S. Pratt; 1833-34, William Skinner; 1835, S. Pratt; 1836-38, Robert Clark; 1839-40, Martin Thatcher; 1843-44, William B. Bostwick; 1845-46, S. Pratt; 1847-48, H. V. R. Wilmont; 1849, Zacheus Gates; 1850, Adam Turnbull; 1851-52, Zachens Gates; 1853-4, Solomon S. Pratt; 1855, R. R. Shorman; 1856-57, L. W. Baldwin , 1858, William B. Bostwick. 1859-63, James H. Church; 1864-66, Thomas A. Turnbull; 1867-69, David McFalls; 1870-74, Thomas A. Turnbull; 1875-77, A. E. Helmer; 1878, T. A. Turnbull; 1879-80, A. E. Helmer; 1881-83, George MeLear; 1884-1886, A. E. Helmer; 1887-88, John Barry; 1889, D. W. Church; 1890-1894, James W. Marshall.

Rossie Village.- This village is situated at the head of navigation on Indian River, where there is a good water power. The early settlements here have been fully described. Mr. Parish built the mills here at an early day, which were operated by him in connection with his other large industries. The grist mill is now operated by Robert Melrose, and the saw-mill by W. W. Leonard. Here also the Rossie Iron Company built a furnace and a machine shop and a foundry, none of which are now in operation. A freshet in April, 1892, carried away the dam, wheelhouse, etc., but a new one has been built, supplying power for the saw-mill and grist mill. Among the various persons who have done business at this point may be mentioned W. W. Leonard, W. W. Butterfield, George Backus, William A. Paul, Gates & Laidlaw, and Hiram Polley. At the present time W. W. Leonard and Alexander Brown sell dry goods and groceries; C. W. Ormiston and Miss Rose Gillen sell groceries, and the latter is postmistress. There are two hotels, the Rossie House, owned by George McLear and conducted by L. D. Ladd, and the Laidlaw House, by J. Laidlaw.

Somerville.- T his little village is situated in the southern part of the town, on the road between Antwerp and Gouverneur. It took its name from the township as given by Surveyor-General Dewitt long before its settlement. There has never been much business carried on here, there being no natural facilities for it. There has been a small mercantile business here for many years, in which have been engaged Solomon Pratt, Lucius Draper, M. G. Wait, C. D. Gilbert, Wallace Foster, and J. B. Johnson. At the present time John Rickley carries on a store and is postmaster. A hotel is kept by William Becker, and a cheese factory by J. W. Marshall Hiram Hall and Orin Freeman formerly rnanufactured furniture. P. M. Crowley made carriages and still does a small business in that line.

What was formerly called "Sprague's Corners," the post-office name now being Spragueville, is a small village situated in the extreme southern end of this town, near Keene's station on the R. W. & 0. Railroad. A part of the village, including the two churches (Methodist and Baptist), is within the bounds of Jefferson county. D. W. Sprague carries on a store here and is postmaster, and A. H. Johnson and Steele & Co. also have stores.


A Universalist church was organized at Somerville, August 20, 1842, with Lyman Merriman, Alva Weeks, and William Ayers, trustees. In 1846 they erected a house of worship at a cost of $1,500. The first pastor was Rev. C. C. Swan. For many years past there has been only occasional services.

The Methodist Episcopal church at Somerville was incorporated December 16, 1845, with Hiram Hall, Orin Freeman, John Johnson, Freedom Freeman, Augustus Preston, and A. C. Van Dyke, trustees. In 1846 they erected a house of worship costing $1,500, which is still in use. The present pastor is Rev. Mr. Warren.

St. Patrick's church (Catholic) was organized in 1852 at Rossie with about twenty-five families, and in the same year the society erected a building costing $2,000. The first rector was Father Michael Clark. A new church was erected about six years ago, and the membership is now about 150. Father Michael O'Neill is in charge of the soci e ty.

The first Presbyterian church of Rossie village was organized with eighteen members in October, 1855. In the next year the church was built at a cost of $1,600. It is still in use and the membership is seventy-five. Rev. W. A. Fisher is pastor.

The Methodist church at the village was organized in 1868 with seventeen members by Rev. Lemuel Clark. The first pastor was Rev. O. F. Nichols.

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