History of Russell, NY


Local Histories

RUSSELL, the tenth town erected by an Act of the Legislature passed March 27, It comprised the whole of the great Tract No. 3, except so much of Township No. 3 as is now included in Pierrepont, formerly wider the jurisdiction of Hopkinton. On April 10, 1818, the townships of Edwards and Fitz William (now Hermon and Edwards) were taken from Russell and attached to Fowler. Rossie was taken off January 27, 1813 ; a portion of Fowler April 15, 1815; Pierrepont, April 15, 1818, and a part of Fine, March 27, 1849, thus reducing the territory of Russell to about 58,000 acres.

The town was originally heavily timbered, and the southern part is still largely forest-covered, hilly or mountainous and rugged. The soil where susceptible of cultivation is very fertile. Grass River flows diagonally across the town, and numerous other smaller streams give the town excellent drainage. By the terms of the act forming the town, the first meeting was held at the house of Reuben Ashman, when the following town officers were elected Russell Attwater, supervisor; Reuben Ashman, town clerk; Ezra Moore, Joseph Hutchison, Philip Viall, assessors; Calvin Hill, constable and collector; John Knox, Joseph Hutchinson, overseers of the poor; Samuel Eaton, John Watson, John Knox, commissioners of highways; John Watson, Thomas Gilimore, fence viewers; Azel Clark, Simeon Stiles, Elihu Morgan and Joel Clark, overseers of highways.

In 1798 Russell Attwater (from whom the town was named) purchased of McCormick a tract embracing 13,600 acres, all of which except the north half of No. 5 was subsequently reconveyed to McCormick, and later became the property of Joseph Pitcairn. Mr. Attwater made an exploring trip here in 1806, and in the following year came in with Timothy Blair (a surveyor who surveyed the town into farms), Nathan Knox, Heman Morgan, Elias Hayden, Loren Knox, Reuben Ashman, Jesse Bunnell, Elihu Morgan and David Knox. Nathaniel Higgins was the first to bring in his family, and in the fall of 1805 Joel Clark and his family located on Plum Creek. In April, 1806, Mr. Attwater returned, and in that and the succeding year the following settlers came in: Joseph Hutchinson, Michael Coffin, Philip and Sampson Viall, John Potter, John Cooper, Calvin Hill, Simeon Stiles, Elihu Phelps, Samuel Clark, John Watson, Horace Dickenson, Enos Bunnell, Luther and David Phelps, and Philetus Clark. The first white child born in town was a son of Reuben Ashman, in October i8o6; the second was a daughter in the family of Nathaniel Higgins, in May, 1807. Calvin Hill and Harriet Knox were the first persons married and the first death was a Mr. Curtis in 1807. Between 1810 and 1816 the town was very rapidly settled, and anticipations were indulged that it would soon become a populous and wealthy community. But these anticipations were clouded by a season of adversity. Mr. Attwater had in his business mortgaged his lands to the Mohawk Valley Bank, and being unable to meet his payments a foreclosure followed, which affected the titles of the settlers and caused the utmost disappointment. Many went away and only by the most urgent appeals were others prevailed upon to remain. The lands passed into the hands of Gerrit Smith, whose native benevolence led him to give all possible accommodation to those who needed it, and the settlements finally recovered and continued to advance.

This town attracted some attention in the War of 1812, on account of the location here of an arsenal an the opening of the roads toward Lake George and Albany, which, concentrating in town, were supposed to promise prospects of future greatness, together with the St. Lawrence turnpike, then in course of completion, and by its enormous business during the first few years, gave encouragement that this prosperity would last. On account of the blockade of Sackett's Harbor by the British, troops and munitions of war to a certain extent were sent from Plattsburg through the woods to the former place, who passed by the way of Russell and Edwards; but at the close of the war trade was diverted, and the roads soon fell into disuse, which greatly checked the growth of the place. Dr. Hough gives the following account of the arsenal:

An act was passed February 24, 1809, which directed the governor to cause to be deposited, if he should deem necessary, an amount not exceeding 500 stand of arms, in such place in St. Lawrence county as he should select, with such quantities of ammunition and military stores as in his opinion would be necessary in case of invasion. The village of Russell, from its being interior and on the St. Lawrence turnpike, was selected, and a building erected. It stands on a commanding elevation, a little north of the village, on a lot given to the State by Mr. Attwater for the purpose of an arsenal, and is a massive stone building, three stories high, 30 by 50 feet on the ground. and originally surrounded by a high stone wall, bristling with iron spikes. The lower story was designed for artillery, the second for small arms, and the third for ammunition. During the war a guard was posted around the premises for its protection, but since that period no further supcrvision has been maintained than the care of a keeper, who was a citizen residing in the vicinity. In the summer of 1850 the arsenal building was sold at auction, in pursuance of a general law, for the sum of $525. The arms, amounting to four hundred stand, and some twenty thousand cartridges were sold in small lots at the same time.

After the Russell arsenal was disposed of an appropriation was made by the State for a new one to be built at Ogdensburg, which was carried out within a few years after. It was built of blue limestone on the bank of the Oswegatchie River, a few rods above the east end of the dam. It was soon after abandoned, and the property, costing about $10,000 was sold to the city of Ogdensburg about 1875, for $1,000 which has since been used as a storehouse for the water works.

We learn from an old resident of the town the following: The walls of the building are thirty-five to forty feet high, thirty inches thick, and are still in a good state of preservation. The property was bid in by Benjamin Smith, of Russell, at the time and at the price before stated, who sold the same to the town about ten years later for school purposes, he having experimented in the mean time in establishing a high school, but without success. In addition to the stone wall surrounding the building, as mentioned. there was erected a guard house or a small barrack with the necessary conveniences to accommodate a company of soldiers. It was situated a short distance from the arsenal, and several booths were placed around the arsenal enclosure, with lights on either side, for the use of the guards while on duty. During the War of 1812 Corporal Horace Dickinson, with a small company of soldiers, was stationed there. At the close of the war the arsenal was placed in charge of a citizen of the place.

Notes.- The town records show that a bounty of five dollars was offered for each wolf destroyed, and one dollar for foxes. It seemed to be the custom to take a vote at their town meetings to raise one hundred dollars each year, from which sum bounties were paid. Should this bounty money accumulate beyond what was required for the space of a few years, then a certain portion of this money set apart to pay the bounties on wolves or other obnoxious animals was devoted to making roads or building bridges. A regulation was passed in 1810 that sleds should be four feet wide, and a fine of two dollars was the penalty for going on the public highway with a sled under that measure. A penalty of one dollar was voted for allowing Canada thistles to grow and go to seed.

The following names are given of persons who were active in building up the various interests of the town after the period of adversity before alluded to: Rollin Smith, Philip Viall, Ezra Moore, Stephen Kimball, James Williams, Timothy Kimball, Enos Wright, Consider Hall, Benj. Gibbons, James Mathews, John Boyd, Anthony C. Brown, Enos Green, David Loop, Wm. Danforth, Elanson Ray, Thomas Gibbs, Royal and Justus Stiles, Erastus Lloyd, H. Van Ornam, Charles and Benjamin Smith.

The town of Russell has prided itself upon the results of its efforts in aid of the government during the great war of 1861-65. She furnished 423 volunteers, among whom were thirty-one commissioned officers; raised $21,369 for the various war purposes, and seventy-one of her brave soldiers sleep in heroes' graves. The customary bounties were paid to volunteers, and so liberal were the contributions that nearly $1,000 remained on hand when the last of these obligations was paid.

Following are names of the supervisors of the town from its formation, with the years of their service:
1808-9, Russell Attwater; at a special meeting, March 27, 1809, Reuben Ashman; 1810-14, Reuben Ashman; 1815-17, Anthony C. Brown; 1818, Reuben Ashman; 1819-21, Phineas Attwater; 1822, Reuben Ashman; 1823-27, James Williams, 1828-33, Rollin Smith; 1834-38, Elihu Phelps; 1839-40, Holmes Nevin; 1841-42, Rollin Smith; 1843-46, Benjamin Smith; 1847, Rollin Smith; 1848, James Williams; 1849-50, Nelson Doolittle; 1851-54, Rollin C. Jackson; 1855, Nelson Doolittle; 1856, Wm. B. Rose; September 27, 1856, John Goodside was elected to fill vacancy; 1857-59, Joseph H. Gibbons; 1860-61, Charles Smith; 1862-66, Julius M. Palmer; 1867-68, Wm. E. Boyd; 1869-70, Benjamin Smith; 1871-76, Hiram Bartlett; 1877, Wm. H. Lewis, jr. ; 1878, Julius M. Palmer; 1879-80, Hiram Bartlett.; 1881-86, James R. Smith; 1887-8, H. Stanley Derby; 1889, Wm. Stephenson; 1890, H. Stanley Derby; 1891-4, Rollin G. Smith.

Russell village is situated near the center of the town on both sides of the Grass River. The place was settled in 1805, when Nathaniel Higgins located near the village site; Russell Attwater came the next year with Reuben Ashman, Nathan, David and Loren Knox, Jesse and and Moses A. Bunnell, and in 1807 the Phelps brothers, Horace Dickinson, John Watson, and Dr. Goddard came in. The manufacturing interests of the place began with the building of a saw mill by Mr. Attwater in 1807, and the site was occupied for the same purpose until recent years. A saw mill, however, was put in operation on Plum Creek, about half a mile from its mouth, near Russell, by Joel Clark, in the fall of 1805. Mr. Clark and Higgins, with their families, were the only ones settled in that neighborhood until 1807. In 1810 Mr. Attwater put up a small grist mill near the site of the present mill ; the latter was erected in 1863 by Hiram Bartlett, and is now operated by Charles Bartlett. Other manufactures that have been carried on here were a fanning mill factory, which subsequently became a furniture shop, run by Palmer & Boyd; a cloth dressing business carried on by George L. Hosford, M. Van Brocklin and others, now abandoned. A forge was built by Benjamin Smith at the village on Grass River in 1846. It had two fires capable of producing about 400 pounds of bar iron per day. It was worked with bog and magnetic ores and with scrap iron. The ores were obtained from beds about eleven miles from the forge in unlimited quantities. The business was abandoned a few years later. An axe factory was established in 1850 and discontinued a few years later. The present manufactures are a furniture shop by Daniel Colton, who also deals in furniture; Hepburn, Brown & Co. make butter tubs; and F. W. Blanchard is proprietor of a cheese factory; James Gore is a harness maker and deals in horse fittings.

The first school in Russell was taught in a log house in the Knox settlement by Phineas Attwater. In January, 1814, three school districts were formed, which have been subdivided until there are nineteen districts at the present time.

Russell is prominent as a dairy town, and considerable attention has been given to raising blooded stock. There are now eight cheese factories in operation, and the product enjoys a high reputation.

The village of North Russell is situated near the Canton line, and the immediate locality was settled by nine members of the Knox family, of whom John came in 1805 and with him his son Chester. Joseph Hutchinson, Samuel Clark and his six sons, Rollin Smith, Alvin White and others located in that section of the town, the latter on Rensselaer Creek. On that stream Jacob Hutchins built a log grist mill in 1806. The present mill succeeded the first one, and is operated by Almon Gilman. At a later day Dr. Alanson Ray built a saw mill here for Joseph Pitcairn, which was swept away; but a mill has always been maintained, and is now operated by Almon Gilman in connection with the grist mill farther up the stream. Other saw mills were built and are now operated, one by A. E. Burdick, known as the Robinson mill; and one by A. Gates at what is called "Palmerville;" and one by Chester Van Ornam at what is called "Silver Hill." The post-office was established in February, 1848, with Linus Clark, postmaster. The present official is Leland D. Clark. Clark Brothers carry on a mercantile business, and one of the cheese factories is established here.

The first store was opened by Anthony C. Brown, a lawyer, of Ogdensburg, about 1814 William Danforth and J. P. Moulton were also pioneer merchants, and later came John Goodrich, Hiry Derby and J. M. Palmer, Charles Smith, O. Baker and others. Present merchants are R. G. Smith, J. M. Palmer, O. M. Baker, George W. Burt and P. G. Cart.

The first tavern was built in 1812 by Moses A. Bunnell, and kept by him a number of years. The building, with many others, was burned in 1874, and another built on its site. It is now kept by 0. Richardson. The post-office was established in June, 1812, with Pliny Goddard postmaster. The present official in the office is J. M. Palmer.

In the summer of 1806 the missionary, Rev. Royal Phelps, visited the new neighborhood and held services at the house of Russell Attwater, where meetings were occasionally held until the erection of school houses. In the spring of 1817 Rev. James Johnson held meetings in the village in connection with the De Kalb Mission, when a congregational church was organized with ten members, and James Williams and Enos Wright were elected deacons. In 1840 the membership had increased to thirty, when they contemplated building a church, the Revs. Mr. Montague and Graves having officiated in connection with other charges up to this time. But the removal of several of the leading members prevented this purpose, and the services shortly after were discontinued.

The Zion Episcopal Church.- The first meetings of this denomination was held in the summer of 1807 by Bishop Hobart. A parish or church was formed on July 15, 1809, with fifteen members, Russell Attwater and Jesse Bunnell as wardens; Justus Ives, Levi Frost, John Boyd, Moses A. Bunnell, Reuben Ashman, Phineas Attwater, William Attwater and Nathan Knox, vestrymen. The church never had a regular rector, and after a few years the work was abandoned.

The Baptist Society.- Services of this denomination were held here as early as 1809 by Rev. Samuel Rowley, who was one of the advance missionaries sent out to look up this people. Meetings were held in the house of Philip Viall and in school-houses for a number of years, when a society was formed without a legal organization previous to 1845. At this time a small frame church was erected, being the first church edifice in town, which was dedicated October 15, 1845. The society in connection with this church was incorporated December 29, 1846, with H. Van Ornam, William G. Gibbons, and Gilbert Stewart, trustees.

In 1874 the old church was thoroughly reconstructed, a basement and tower added, and finished off in good style, valued now at $4,000, and rededicated in August of that year by Rev. A. W. Barnes, mostly through the efforts and means of J. M. Palmer.

A second Baptist church was organized at Monterey settlement in June, 1877, with twenty-five members, most of whom had withdrawn from the above named church for the purpose of forming this one. A. Colton and A. A. Baker were elected deacons. Services were held in school houses.

A Methodist Episcopal church of Russell was formed in 1847 with eight members. Services in this faith had been held here prior to that year at North Russell and at Elm Creek. In February, 1851, the society was incorporated with Hiry Derby, M. Van Brocklin and Charles Rundell, trustees. In 1857 a substantial frame church was erected costing, with a parsonage built in 1851, about $2,500. The present pastor is Rev. Linus Green. Preaching and other services under this charge are held at North Russell, Silver Hill, Belleville, South Russell and Monterery, with Sunday schools organized at most of these places. The Universalists and other denominations also hold services occasionally in some parts of the town.

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