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NOTE: Annie Weaver
Town of Lake Pleasant Historian
(a town in Hamilton County) took issue with this history excerpted
Edited by Dr James Sullivan c1927 and sent me a better Hamilton County history below this one.
Early Hamilton County History
- When New York State established a great reservation larger than Connecticut, known as Adirondack Park, Hamilton became the center and only county wholly enclosed by its boundaries. The purchase by the State of land within the county did not encourage any increase in the permanent population, for with more than half owned by New York, and eighty per cent of the remaining territory in private parks or controlled by lumber companies there was but a small fraction left open to private ownership. Hamilton, with an area of 1,700 square miles, had only a population of 3,970 in 1920; this, however, is greatly added to by the thousands who summer in this wonder camp ground of a nation.
Hamilton seems always to have been, until recent years, a terra incognita, a place where few ever had lived. Even the Indians, the "famed Iroquois," had no permanent settlements here. As late as 1771 a map of Governor Tryon shows the region as belonging to the Mohawks, but so little had it been explored, not one lake showed in this territory so filled with them. It then was a part of Albany County. But the next year saw the division of a part of this great area into Charlotte and Tryon counties. After the Revolution, the name Tryon was so hated that in 1784 this section was called Montgomery in honor of the hero who died before the walls of Quebec. From this county, Hamilton was set off provisionally, April I2, 1816, and given a permanent organization in 1836
The most important historical incident of the colonial period was the "Totten and Crossfield Purchase" since this covered the greater part of the county. This was really the Jessup purchase, as the two whose names are connected with it, and are placed on most of the deeds since issued, were dummies for Edward and Ebenezer Jessup. Before the ending of the Revolution came an interest in the "unknown north." The Jessup brothers had great influence with Sir William Johnson, Governor Dunmore and General Tryon. They wanted to buy all the land they could get above Albany. Having already made application for 40,000 acres, it was thought best to buy indirectly in the matter of purchasing some 1,150,000 more acres of the mountain section.
On June 7, 1771, to their agents, Tolton and Crossfield, was sold this great tract, and in the next year the Indians met in solemn conclave and also conveyed the land. For this the tribes received about three pence an acre, or a total of I,I35. Theoretically, the land was sold, but before being sealed and the bargain concluded, some $40,000 had to be turned over to King George III. Most of the modern conveyances of land are traced back to this original grant.
After two hundred years of surmise Hamilton began to be known and appreciated. Possibly Champlain passed through this section in 1615, shortly after Hudson anchored the "Half Moon" in the river that bears his name, and before there was a colony at Plymouth Rock. But it was not, however, until after the Civil War that any large number came to settle in this land of mountains and lakes. Timber was cut and the famed Raquette River, the second longest in the State, used to convey it to market. Great areas of land sold for small sums. Dr. Brandreth, whose English pill made him a fortune, bought 26,ooo acres for $3,000, the timber from which, in 1900, was doing its best to make another fortune for his son, Dr. William Brandreth. The Whitney Preserve is of even vastly greater acreage.
It is as a summer resort and camping ground that Hamilton is now known best. Its mountains are not of the highest of the Adirondack peaks, but its lakes are not surpassed. In 1899 the first railroad was run through the extreme northwest corner of the county, and there is a branch of this same system reaching to Raquette Lake. Since 1900 good highways have been built to the more popular places. But it is the seclusion of most of the region which adds to its attractiveness. It is still "The Woods"; it remains "The Wilderness" of the early days.
- Read more about it! . . .
Located in the mid-Adirondacks, Hamilton County offers its myriad forested mountains, seventy-seven major lakes, and countless plunging streams, with only the beauties that Nature can provide. Farming was a major occupation of its earliest settlers, who came to the county’s southern section just prior to 1800. But the rocky soil and short growing seasons in its elevated lands proved discouraging. Today only a few small farms remain in this, the third largest and least populated county in New York State.
For about 100 years until around 1912, lumbering proved a principal industry. The tanning of leather was a subsidiary undertaking due to the prevalence of hemlock bark. Around 1890 the use of chemical near the point of sale of its products caused the tanneries to falter. Today, with it ample accommodations, including 14 public campsites, tourism and recreation form the county’s economic base.
The beginning of government first came on April 1, 1805, a group of settlers gathered at the house of Moses Craig to form the Town of Wells in the County of Montgomery. The house still stands. As population grew, other towns were formed from Wells such as Lake Pleasant in 1812 and the Town of Hope in 1818.
New York State created a provisional county, named after Alexander Hamilton, in this vast semi-wilderness in 1816. Meantime, in the southwestern part, Andrew K. Morehouse, intent on inducing colonization, was instrumental in having the Town of Morehouse established on April 13, 1835, followed by the formation of the Town of Arietta in 1836.
On April 22, 1837, the State Legislature determined that Hamilton County should be granted full statue. In 1839, the county buildings were begun on a picturesque promontory 1,760 feet above sea level in the Hamlet of Lake Pleasant.
Meantime, settlement began in the northernmost region of the 1,745 square miles of mountainous land. In 1833, Joel Plumley and his son, John, from Vermont, became Long Lake’s first settlers. A family of Abenaki Indians, headed by “Captain” Peter Sabattis and his son, Mitchell, were also early pioneers of Long Lake.
Lumbermen were at work in the county’s mid-section in the 1850’s. At Indian Lake, Abenaki Indian, Sabael Benedict, had settled with his family about 1762. Today, a post office bears his name, and a stream on whose banks his wife was buried is named Squaw Brook. Neighboring Snowy Mountain, highest in the county, was previously called “Squaw Bonnet.” Reuben Rist and his family from Vermont were the first white settlers, near Indian River. On February 1, 1859, the residents met at the home of Gideon Porter to found the Town of Indian Lake. It was to become the most populated of Hamilton County’s nine towns.
The Town of Benson on the west side of the Sacandaga River was taken from Hope and formed the southern part of the county in May 1860 at the house of Apollas Hunter. Not until January 1902 was the Town of Inlet taken from the northern part of the Town of Morehouse on the mid-western side of the county. Many people had settled in the area, building sizable hotels to accommodate the burgeoning summer trade.
The county buildings had become inadequate by 1928. In the following year, a new courthouse and clerk’s office were built and the enlarged Hamilton County jail was opened August 1, 1940.
Poor roads in this sparsely populated region proved a detriment throughout the county’s earliest years. Not until 1955 was the paved road built between Indian Lake and Speculator, knitting the county together. Previously legislators from the northern section had to detour 150 miles one way to reach the county seat.
Such semi-isolation brought a culture of its own to Hamilton County residents. They were essentially a brave hardy people living on reduced income, working in such dangerous occupations as lumbering, riverdriving, waging an annual fight with the elements, and encountering predatory animals.
Early on, sportsmen found their way to the Adirondacks region, returning with ample stores of fish and game. In 1869, William Murray published his “Adventures in the Wilderness,” causing a new influx.
The building of the Adirondack Railroad from Saratoga to North Creek in 1871 by Dr. Thomas Durant opened the central part of the county to travel. His son, William West Durant developed Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes by constructing larger summer homes, now known as “great camps”. The name of Collis P. Huntington, William C. Whitney, J. Pierpont Morgan, Lt. Gov. Timothy Woodruff, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, the Carnegies and others became prominent in the Raquette Lake area. In 1880, Frederick Durant built the Prospect House at Blue Mountain Lake. This structure was completed with electric lights, telegraph, and with a capacity for 500 guests. A railroad was then built from Dr. Seward Webb’s Mohawk and Malone Railroad, on the west side of the Adirondacks, to Raquette Lake. Most wealthy families owned their own private railroad cars. Meanwhile, Long Lake began to draw its own set of distinguished visitors. Lake Pleasant became a fashionable resort area with the Hamilton Inn at its center. Headed by the world heavyweight-boxing champion Gene Tunney, Speculator became the center for the training of prizefighters in the mid-1920’s. This drew hordes of enthusiasts.
Tourism had taken over. With modern roads and rapid travel many of the larger hotels began to disappear. People now built their own summer homes, flocked to the local inns, or made use of the State’s many campsites. Summer vacationists, fall sportsmen, and winter sports enthusiasts swell Hamilton County’s population of less than 5,000, without cities and with Speculator as its only incorporated village.
The world-famous Adirondack museum, opened in 1955 at Blue Mountain Lake is a “must” for those seeking insight into the area’s history. Other cultural and entertainment opportunities, such as those sponsored by the Adirondack Center of the Arts at Blue Mountain Lake, are available in the hamlets from time to time.
Again and again, Hamilton County is the very center of the Adirondack State Park, is hailed as “God’s Country,” truly a place of singular beauty and a Mecca for vacationists throughout the Northeast.
(Taken from a piece by Ted Aber, past Hamilton County Historian)
Each of these sections has different books on the same region:
- Town & County
- Native American
For ordering information, or to email your comments. . .
Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.