Commerce in Jefferson County, New York
From: Jefferson County Centenial 1905
Compiled by Jere Coughlin, Secretary
Hungerford-Halbrook Co, Watertown, N. Y.


Commerce depends upon transportation. It is to convey, to transfer. It may take place between neighbors, hut in its principal significance it includes the world. Highways of commerce must first be established before trade can be developed. From the days of Abraham and Isaac to after the days when this county was first settled there had been no improvement in the rapidity of commercial intercourse. The children of Israel on their camels, the Egyptians with their caravans, reached the limit of speed until mankind found the wheels would go more easily ona track. Stephenson commenced his doubtful experience in 1814 and perfected his locomotive, "The Rocket," in 1829, making the marvelous and dangerous speed of 25 miles an hour. 25 years after Jefferson county had been set off from Oneida. It was not until 1769, not many years before the first settler hewed his way into the territory of this county that Watt perfected his first steam engine. It was not until 1807, two years after this county had been erected, that Robert Fulton made the first successful and practical steam navigation against the current of the Hudson with the Clermont. Jefferson county was old in 1830 when the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was first built. There are 200,000 miles of railroad in the United States to-day. The privilege was bought of Robert Fulton's heirs for the navigation of the lakes by steamboat, and the Ontario Steamboat company was formed and completed the "Ontario" at Sackets Harbor, the first steamboat to navigate the Jake in 1817. It ran until 1832 and was the forerunner of the modern trust. The U. S. supreme court, however, squelched this trust of the early days, deciding that it was repugnant to the constitution for a state to give a monopoly of steam navigation, for that document authorizes congress alone to regulate navigation. The first steamboat appeared in Lake Erie in 1818. The Ontario was followed by the Martha Ogden, built at Sackets Harbor in 1819 and lost in a storm in 1832. In the meantime large numbers of steamers had been built and Sackets Harbor was a lively steamboat port.

The Indian trail was the first highway into our northern wilderness, and over it the sturdy settler with his axe blazed a way to a new home. The next year he came with his wagon and his on team, bringing his family, and through the woods and over the morasses toiled toward the clearing where his log cabin awaited them. As the wilderness became dotted with clearings and settlements grew the trails became roads, winding between stumps and over the swamps by the corduroy. The necessities of commerce grew. Roads multiplied through public spirit.

As early as 1791 Arthur Noble and Baron Steuben petitioned for a road from Little Falls on the Mohawk to High Falls, or what we know as Lyons Falls, on the Black river. The object was to open up trade with Cataraqui, or Kingston. Nothing was done. The French road from High Falls to French Creek or Clayton was abandoned. The Oswegatchie, put through by the enterprise of Judge Nathan Ford of Ogdensburg, was the first traveled road north of Black river in 1804.

By an act of March 26, 1803, there was a project for opening and improving certain great roads in the state by means of a lottery. One was projected from Salina or as we know it Syracuse, through Redfield to Champion and on through St. Lawrence county to Ogdensburg. In 1808 a state road from Brownville to Rome, in 1813 from Sackets Harbor to Rome, in 1814 from Salina or Syracuse to Smith Mills or Adams to intersect with the state road from Rome, in 1816 from Lowville to Henderson Harbor, which was not completed, in 1824 from Clayton to Watertown. In 1817 a military road between the barracks at Sackets Harbor and the barracks at Plattsburg was completed part way on both ends but never connected. Over the old state road to Rome and on to Albany passed the earliest commerce of the county. Albany was the great market. for wheat, lumber and beef. The road was lined every mile with a tavern, and as the weary teamster trudging beside his wagon came to noon or nightfall he could stop for refreshments. Most often he carried the grain for his horses and his own provisions, but a threepenny piece for a glass of ale gave him a small table in the tap room where he fed himself, or at a compensation which now appears ridiculous in these days of high prices, he had bed and board.

The era of turnpikes came between 1808 and 1816. These advanced to plank roads and afterwards returned to turnpikes. The first plank road was from Sackets Harbor to Watertown in 1848. There was another from Lowville to Carthage, built in 1849, and from Carthage to Antwerp in the same year, from Sterlingville to North Wilra in 1853, Gouverneur to Antwerp in 1849, which were connected with continuous plank roads to Ogdensburg. Pamelia and Evans Mills road connected it with Watertown. The year 1850 marks the end of the plank road and they became tunrpikes again. Then toll roads and toll gates were gradually abolished. Now and then in making a cutting through a highway the old plank road appears again, and if you go deeper perhaps you find the corduray and then the virgin soil, a stratified relic of the progress of civilization up to the maeadam which modern enterprise is building, returning to the good roads of early days. This was the romantic period of the history of the commerce of the county. The big wagons carried the corrmerre of all the farms from town to town and on to Albany or later to Utica when the Erie canal was opened in 1825. This also brought the port of Sackets Harbor into great importance as nearly all the commerce now turned toward that port by water to Oswego and to the Erie canal, and it was the most importart village in the county in those days which spoke of Watertown as a little village just back of Sackets Harbor. The first telegraph line came through in 1850, speedily followed by the railroad, opened from Rome to Watertown in 1851, in 1852 to Cape Vincent, in 1854 to Potsdam. Next in the way of railroads came the Utica and Black River to Carthage in 1872 and extended to Watertown the same year and the next year to Sackets Harbor.

The railroads did away with the old stage coach lines and soon the Butterfield coaches that ran over the State road from Fort Stanwix or Rome, to Sackets Harbor, the road built as the result of the necessities of the war of 1812, were all abandoned. This is a chapter of commerce that the old settler always delights to dwell upon. People became well acquainted in a night and day ride from Utica to Watertown, knee to knee, elbow to elbow, or as the coach lurched people into each other's sides. They became familiar as they jolted and rattled together over the weary miles. The old stage coach swung on leather braces, the boot behind piled high with trunks, the driver up in front with favored passengers on deck, four spanking horses that were never allowed to walk, rolled through the country and kept the time for the people who lived by the highway. They may not have had a clock, hut they knew what time the stage passed and ran to the fence to see it go by. It brought a thrill of the outer life along the road of the pioneers. It spoke of other places and the lives of other peoples just as the railroad train, whizzing through the land, does to-day. Every small boy was ambitious to be a stage driver, and no wonder when he heard the crack of the whip above the four-in-hand, the stage horn from the top of the hill as it rushed down through the village street and drew up with a flourish before the tavern door, he thought that the highest honor that a man might reach. The age worships speed. There was more sociability in the stage coach than in the modern parlor car. People were not much afraid of each other then and it did no good if they were. Henry Lyman, formerly of Lorraine, in his delight: ful recollections, says that one of his first excursions from home to see the world was when he went from the Fox Gulf to the state road near Lem Hart's tavern to see the stage go by. There were two regular stages a day with extras when required. Relays of horses were furnished at least every ten miles and good time was made. There was a tavern every two or three miles and they became famous according to their merits as stopping places. Whether the stage stopped or not was regulated by the thirst of the passengers, and sometimes there was a load that made every station and took on a cargo everytime. As the travel increased many people opened their homes for the accomodation of travellers and teamsters and the traveF by private conveyance by far exceeded that by stage coach, and this old state road was a busy thoroughfare from 1813 to 1850. Besides the stage passengers and general passengers there was a stream of teamsters hauling goods both ways as the freight to and from Watertown, Rome, Utica, Albany and New York was taken over this road. Finally in 1851, the Rome and Watertown road was opened and the old stage line was forever gone. The long chain of taverns were turned into private homes and the romance of travel was over. Every town, as the track was completed to it, celebrated the advent of the railroad with its tremendous speed of 25 miles an hour.

The commerce of the early day was carried on by barter and trade. There was little currency. What one made he traded with his neighbor for what he wanted of his manufacture. The general store was the great clearing house of the community and the due bills of its proprietor were the currency. Pot and pearl ashes made in clearing the soil brought cash when shipped to the east, and cotton doth took cash to buy it when one was rich enough to make the purchase. But there was independence. Each village was sufficient to itself. From the raw material which the country afforded it produced every necessity and many luxuries of life. From the farm came the cattle and the sheep and the lumber that supplied the tannery, the harness maker and the shoe maker, the carpenter, the cabinet maker and all else. More than all it furnished the distilleries, which rose on every four corners furnishing the cheapest and easiest way to get wheat and corn to market. But this little pioneer community was entirely independent. It might have a wall put around it, given a few miles of territory, and there was nothing wanted that it could not satisfy. It had no use for abroad, and it produced a community of artisans. who for skill in handicraft workmanship have never been equalled since. The railroads centralized all manufacture. The village shoe shop disappeared before the great factories of the east. The wagon shops could not survive the competition of great factories. Harness, furniture, all else that the village produced was made abroad. Then began in some measure the growth of classes as defined by wealth. The shoe maker, blacksmith, the harness maker, the skilled wagon maker, and wheel wright became the cogs in one great machine of some many windowed factory, where before they had been chief men of the village, wise in counsel, progressive and upbuilding. Their trades were gone and in their places came the machine wherein one man had put his thought and thereby displaced the necessity of thinking in the many. Whether this is better or not is a subject for eternal argument. All we know is that it has been an unyielding evorution and we have the results in a war between organized employer and organized employee.

In those days the merchant made one trip a year to New York, or some times, perhaps, made two in fall and spring, and whatever he bought the people must take, and if anything was exhausted they must wait until he went and came again. The merchant sold everything and took everything in trade, and kept long book accounts and settled once a year and most times took his customer's note. They grew rich, those old time merchants, and did not work half as hard as in these strenuous modern days. True the shutters came down at sunrise and were not put up again until 10 o'clock at night, but there were good breathing spells between and the village store, the center of gossip, of politics, of public movements, was the Chamber of Commerce, literary society, theological siminary social center of all the territory around about.

In 1800 the population of the county was 262, and in ten years it had grown to 15,140. It had reached 65,362 in 1875. The population was 76,748 by the census of 1900. In 1810, 1,392 yards of cotton goods were made in homes, 106,623 yards of flax goods, 1,475 yards of blended cloths, 51,013 yards of woolen goods. All this was domestic manufacture in the homes of the people. There were 660 looms, 5 carding-machines, 8 fulling mills, two hatteries, two furnaces, 16 tanneries, 3 oil mills, 16 distilleries, 2 breweries and one paper mill, which made 900 reams of paper as the product of a year. We have not so many distilleries as they had in 1810, but we have more paper mills, and perhaps that illustrates not only growth in intelligence but a growth in sobriety, although it is constantly asserted that the old time whiskey was pure and harmless. To-day in this county there are 6,500 farms, covering 745,000 acres with annual products aggregating about $6,000,000. The dairy industry, one of the largest, is represented by about 80,000 cows, producing an income of about $2,000,000. There are 911 manufacturing and merchantile industries, capitalized at over $13,000,000, employing 5,500 wage earners with an annual pay roll of about $2,500,000. in this city of Watertown are nearly 300 of these establishments with a capitalof over $8,300,000. Instead of one paper mill in the county with 900 reams a year, the product is 600 tons a day, a capital of $10,500,000.00 an annual product of about $8,000,000 and paying nearly $2,000,000 wages. In the city 15,000 carriages are put out each year and over 100,000 barrels of flour. Between $6,000,000 and $7,000,000 are continually on deposit in our National banks and about $9,000,000 in savings banks. In the course of a year it is estimated that the deposits in local banks amount to between $75,000,000 and $100,000,000. Watertown's postal receipts last year amounted to $67,000 against $40,000 five years ago.

Such is the growth of our county in commerce up to this time and it is only just beginning to be developed. The Black river, the life artery of all this growth and prosperity, furnishes a water power which has not yet begun to be utilized as it can be, in furnishing a power for innumerable industrial enterprises. One reservoir on the Beaver river, the partial use of another on the Fulton chain of lakes, has shown what can be done toward conserving this mighty power and make it do a hundredfold more work. Each spring flood shows a waste of power that would turn thousands of wheels continuously the year around. To conserve this power by more reservoirs and gain its service in increasing industries and comm&ce must be the main object of the people of to-day. The future has the possibilities of a greater growth than the last hundred years has witnessed. The adaptability of electricity for power has made water powers invaluable and in time every successful industry must move either to the water power or to the neighborhood where it can be transmitted by electric power, in order to survive the competition of business. This county has a natural advantage here, which will, of course, be improved, and another centennial will see a development of which the last century is only a feeble beginning, making one of the richest, most pros1erous, and most progressive counties in that day as it already is in this day.

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