History of Lewis, New York


THIS town was set off from Wilisborough, April 4th, 1805, and derived its name from Morgan Lewis, then governor of the State. In 1844. and 1854 its territory was diminished to increase the size of Elizabethtown. It lies south of Jay and Chesterfield, west of Wilisborough and Essex, north of Elizabethtown, and east of Elizabethtown and Jay. Its surface is rough and broken by precipitous hills and narrow valleys and less than one-half of the territory embraced within the limits of the town is susceptible of cultivation. The soil is composed largely of a sandy and gravelly loam. The northwestern part is distinguished by containing a portion of the Adirondack range of mountains, prominent among its peaks being the McDonough mountain, and the southeastern is distinguished in like manner by possessing several isolated peaks of the Boquet mountains. Mount Discovery in these mountains rises to an elevation of about two thousand feet. The Boquet river flows into the southern part of the town from Elizabethtown and after draining the southeastern portion of Lewis, leaves it in a southeasterly direction, runs through the southwestern corner of Essex into Westport, where it shortly turns northerly, flows again into Essex, and courses its way northerly and northeasterly into thelake in Willsborough. (See description in Willsborough chapter.) The town has not much of a history. Its most important industries, lumbering and iron manufacturing, have either died out or are waning and there is not much of incident in the career of its early settlers to interest the people of the present day. The only village in the town, Lewis, contains fewer than two hundred inhabitants. As before stated, the farming interest is not large, although small tracts of its territory are extremely fertile, and to-day the town has little to boast of except the genial disposition of its population, and the rugged beauty of its hills and naked ravines.

In common with other towns in the northern and eastern parts of the county it was settled before 1798. It is recorded that Thomas Hinckley, the earliest settler, came to Lewis and made the first purchase In 1796. He located north of the village and built a forge on the site of Stower's saw- mill. His sons are Squire, Horatio, Rodoiphus and Alexis.

Ishmael H. Holcomb located early about a mile west of the village. He became quite noted as a political speaker, being endowed with rare native eloquence. He was a Federalist, held several offices and was a local political leader. He was also prominent in the Presbyterian Church.

The first child born in the town was Oliver Holcomb. He lived his life and died there.

Deacon Asa Putnam was one of the early settlers, and afterward removed to Essex. His two sons were Harrison and Hiram Putnam. He has a grandson now living in Elizabethtown.

Charles, Samuel and Noah Lee came very early into the central part of the town, on what was known as "Lee Hill." Three others of the same family also settled in the town; their names are Seth, George and Timothy.

Appleton, Timothy and Hooker Woodruft settled early about two miles south of Lewis village on the Elizabethtown road. Appleton held the office of deputy sheriff. One of Hooker's daughters married Orlando Kellogg, of Elizabethtown, and another became the wife of James Livingston. Julius Woodruff, son of Hooker, married Wealthy Livingston, sister of R. W. Livingston, now of Elizabethtown.

Ziba Westcott and Ziba Flagg were early settlers and raised families in the town.

William Livingston came from Hebron, Washington county, in the fall of 1817 and located about one and a half mile southeast of the village. His wife was a daughter of Theophilus Tracy, of Granville, Washington county. In the fall of 1828 he removed to Chautauqua county and remained fourteen years, when he returned to Lewis and died there. His son John J. Livingston, lives near Philadelphia; James still lives in Lewis, and Robert W., for many years editor of the Elizabethtown paper, is still living in that village.

A family by the name of Abell came into the town early, settling in the north part. The sons were named Julius and Roswell.

Stephen Burpee was an early settler and left several sons who lived and died in the town. They lived on "Lee" or, as it was sometimes called, "Burpee" hill.

Samuel Bishop settled early half a mile southeast of the village and built a mill there. He had a large family and died there.

"Deacon" Brown was an early settler and commanded a Lewis company at the battle of Plattsburg. He located east of the village on the Boquet. Near him was Asa Farnsworth who had a forge and a saw-mill.

Joel French came into the east part of the town as early as about 1820. He was a respected farmer and left sons.

Levi Parsons taught the first school and subsequently went as a missionary to Palestine; this was before 1820. He was much respected and died in the East.

These constituted the majority of the early settlers in the town; many of whom migrated from Connecticut.

The first marriage in the town was that of Timothy Woodruff and Eunice Newell, and the first death of an adult that of Mrs. John Smith.

In 1804 a rudimentary nucleus of a Congregational Church was organized, and for a time the services of Rev. Mr. Burbank were secured. A Methodist society had been formed in 1808. No permanent organization of any kind, however, no business enterprise or financial investment which has been passed down to the present day was established earlier than the second decade in this century.

James G. Livingston, before mentioned and more familiarly known throughout Lewis as "Deacon" Livingston, came here in the fall of 1817 with his father, William Livingston, who erected a small house on the same tract of land that the "Deacon" now occupies, a little to the southwest of his present dwelling. In 1822 they built the house now inhabited by the Livingston family. Deacon Livingston has a distinct recollection of the state of business and society when he first made his bow here. The land was covered with a dense primeval forest, which had only begun to show signs of giving way before the sturdy blows of the woodman's axe. Here and there a small clearing let the sunlight through to the earth, and a log hut silently proclaimed the approach of civilization and the concomitant dissolution of the wild and sterile government of nature which had subsisted from the dim Laurentian period of the world's growth. The first industries, of course, were those first demanded by the necessities of the pioneers, and were gradually superseded by the more extensive establishments which everywhere testify to the indomitable discontent and sagacity of the human mind. In 1818 George Steele kept a store just across the street in an easterly direction from Mr. Wilson's tavern in the village of Lewis. David Sykes was innkeeper in the same building now used as a hotel in Lewis. Those two buildings and a dwelling house occupied by Reuben Armstrong, a clergyman, were the only buildings in what is now properly the village of Lewis. A school-house stood near the site of the cemetery, in which the Rev. Reuben Armstrong, though not a settled pastor, occasionally exhorted the impenitent to turn back from their unrighteousness. The Congregational Church was still existing. The school was then in a flourishing condition (like the pedagogue's sceptre) and pupils were in daily attendance from a distance of three miles. John J. Livingston, brother of James G. Livingston, taught there in the winter of 1818-19. David Sykes was postmaster and had been for a number of years, and continued in office for some time after that. Lumbering had begun to be quite a prominent business, the most extensive lumber merchant, probably, being Judge Charles Hatch, of Westport, who made large purchases of land in and about Lewis. The store and tavern mentioned' above were not the only signs of life in the community in that early day. Samuel Bishop owned a saw-mill and a grist-mill just east of the village, which did an active business until they were swept off in a freshet in 1830. There were two distilleries running in Lewis, one owned by Noah Lee near the present residence of Chauncey Lee, and the other owned by Noah Lee's brother, Timothy, on what was afterwards known as the "Gibbs place." There was no potash made here. The roads were in good condition and had been constructed nearly as they are to-day. By 1827 there had been something of a change here. John Du Chenois came here in that year, and he relates that there had then been erected a a number of saw-mills, of which Squire Hinckley owned three. The mills of Samuel Bishop were still running, the store and tavern still held out their seductive allurements, the distillers still distilled; one Williams had begun the manufacture of potash west of the village. The Congregational Church now standing was just in process of construction but was not fully completed before 1830. Rev. Cyrus Comstock, who had been a frequent and welcome visitor to the church ten years before, still made the sacred auditorium resound with his monitory and persuasive utterances. Much of the face of the country was still covered with magnificent pines, which were cut and taken to the mills operated east of the village by John Gould, there sawed into lumber and shipped to Troy and Albany. Squire Hinckley kept the post-office in 1827, at his house in the north part of the village. He kept a store in the same building. He was also, in company with his brother Ashael, proprietor of a hotel in the village, and ran a two-fired forge where W. H. Stower's saw-mill now stands. Squire Hinckley, it should be stated, was the owner and manager of this forge also in 1818: In 1830 he kept a store in the building now occupicd by Albert A. Boynton, and his faded sign is still faintly visible after weathering the sun and rain of more than fifty years.

James L. Burpee was born in the town of Lewis in 1833. At the time of his earliest recollection (1837-40) lumbering was still the chief of the industries. Elijah Sherman was postmaster in the village of Lewis; the school was much larger than it is now, numbering more than one hundred pupils. The first teacher Mr. Burpee remembers was a Mr. Morehouse. Rev. Orson P. Clinton had become the settled pastor of the Congregational Church, and remained here eight or ten years. Potash making and the necessity for distilleries were then things of the past. There were three or four saw-mills in operation. Elijah Sherman owned a large tannery and boot and shoe factory east of the village.

It was in these early years, from about 1820 to 1830, that Joseph Call, the Lewis giant, was in the zenith of his physical power. He was a mill-wright by trade, and did a good deal of lumbering here. It is related that he was double-jointed and had a double set of teeth. He was not more than six feet in height, but was thick-set. He was particularly noted as a wrestler, and was at different times engaged in matches in many parts of the world. The writer has seen a watch formerly worn by Judge Henry H. Ross, of Essex, which Call won in a wrestling match in Scotland nearly fifty years ago. The writer has also seen a stick of timber fifty feet long and ten inches square, now forming the plate of one of the stone stores in Essex, which it is said Call had dragged with one end on his shoulder a distance of twenty rods, then up an inclined staging to the tcp of the wall and laid thereon in its present position. He was once matched against a British grenadier in Plattsburg. The grenadier, finding himself unequally matched with so powerful a wrestler, endeavored to take Call's life, whereupon the giant actually crushed the Briton between his hands. Another anecdote related about Call is that a famous wrestler from England had crossed the sea to challenge him, and being directed to his farm found him at work plowing. He did not recognize his opponent in his homespun garments and inquired of him the way to Call's house. The plowman, divining the mission of his visitor, raised his plow in one hand and pointed with it to the house, a short distance away. Call never received his challenge.


Lewis, the only village in the town of that name, has been historically set forth in the early part of this chapter. It is situated about four miles and a half north of the village of Elizabethtown, a little southwest of the center of the town of Lewis. Its most important industry, and indeed the most important in the town, is the forge owned and operated by William H. Stower. The forge is really about three miles northeast of the village on a branch of the Boquet river. It is a four-fired, hot-blast forge, and uses ore chiefly from Moriah. It was erected not far from 1837 by Samuel Bishop, was owned and worked a number of years by General William E. Merriam, subsequently by his son, John L. Merriam, and still later by W. H. Roberts. Mr. Stower bought the property in 1864. Quite thorough explorations have been made at different periods and several veins of ore discovered, which have been opened to some extent, but there is little prospect of profitable mining within the town. Mr. Stower is also the proprietor of an extensive saw-mill and butter tub factory, which are operated together. The saw-mill was set in operation about eight years ago, and the butter tub factory started in the spring of 1884. Richard T. Esmond owns a grist-mill which he has just completed.

Mercantile. - M. N. Norton opened a store for the sale of general merchandise, in November, 1881. He Carries a stock of about $4,500 value. Albert A. Boynton started a general store here in September, 1884. He estimates the value of his stock on hand at about $2,500. W. Woodruff, dealer in wet groceries, began business in January, 1885.

Hotel. - The hotel now occupied by Joseph Wilson was one of the first buildings erected in the village of Lewis. It stood here some years before 1820. The earliest proprietor of whom we have any record is David Sykes, who kept the house in 1818. After numerous changes in proprietorship, and various vicissitudes incident to houses of this character, the business fell into the hands of the present proprietor, Joseph \Vilson, in the fall of 1884.

One of the first postmasters, if not the very first of the guild, was David Sykes, who officiated for years before and years after 1818. Squire Hinckley followed him, and remained in office a long time. Arthur Derby, the present postmaster, received his appointment in 1882.

Town Records.- The records of this town previous to about the year 1821 have been lost or destroyed, preventing our giving the first town officers and other matters of early history. We have, however, obtained a list of the supervisors from the year 1818 to the present time; they are as follows: 1818, Ishmael H. Holcomb; 1819-20, William Livingston; 1821, John Gibbs; 1822 to 1828 inclusive, Ishmael H. Holcomb; 1829-30, Selah Westcott; 1831 to 1833 inclusive, Ishmael H. Holcomb; 1834 to 1836 inclusive, Selah Westcott; 1837-38, Russell Gibbs; 1839, Selah Westcott; 1840-41, Russell Bailey; 1842 to 1844 inclusive, William S. Merriam; 1845-46, Alanson Wilder; 1847, Lewis Sherman; 1848 to 1850 inclusive, William S. Merriam; 1851, George Baker; 1852, William S. Merriam; 1845, Alanson Wilder; 1854-55, George W. Phelps; 1856, Cleander Marshall; 1857, John L. Merriam; 1858 to 1860 inclusive, Cleander Marshall; 1861, William E. Roberts; 1862, Cleander Marshall; 1863, W. H. Roberts; 1864, A. E. Kendall; 1865-66, William H. Stower; 1867 to 1870 inclusive, James L. Burpee; 1871 to 1875 inclusive, James W. Steele; 1876, James L. Burpee; 1877 to 1884 inclusive, James W Steele; 1885, Albert A. Boynton.

Population.- 1810, 537; 1825, 1,101; 1830, 1,305; 1840, 1,500; 1845, 1,681; 1850, 2,058; 1855, 1,803; 1860, 1,807; 1865, 1,774; 1870, 1,724; 1875, 1,740; 1880, 1,774.

Following is a list of the present officers of the town of Lewis, Essex county: -
Supervisor - Albert A. Boynton.
Town clerk - Arthur F. Derby.
Justices of the peace - Arthur F. Derby, John McGuire, Levi G. Jenkins, Aaron Gardner.
Assessors - Zachariah C. Beardsley, John F. Nichols, Orrin A. Smith.
Commissioner of highways - Richard Cross.
Collector - William H. Smith.
Overseer of the poor - Cyrus Severance.
Auditors - Lorenzo Burpee, George D. Cutting, William H. Marshall.
Inspectors of election - Alfred Keith, William Whipple, Alfred J. Sargent.
Constables- Edwin D. Denton, John W. Cutting, Morris E. Reynolds, Louis Ladue, John J. Cross.
Excise commissioners - James McCalvin, Wellington Hynes, Friend A. Cross.

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