Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Northern Lumbering Venture

By Carol Payment Poole

Born and raised in the northern Adirondack Mountains, Carol Payment Poole has had an abiding interest in local history. When she retired from teaching, she began delving into genealogy and local history.  That study has produced numerous articles and two books, Place Names of Franklin County, New York in conjunction with Kelsey Harder and Rising from the Swamp, a history of Faust, NY.  Her three now adult children have been a strong support to her in her research and writing. She is presently working on the history of lumbering in the Adirondack region of Franklin County.
       Back in 1630, Eltweed Pomeroy boarded the ship John and Mary bound for the New England coast. He could never have imagined that two hundred years in the future four of his great, great, great, great grandsons would be credited with opening the dense woodlands of southern Franklin County, New York to its earliest lumbering operation. How that group of Pomeroys managed to accomplish that feat is the subject of this brief piece.

     In the early 1850s, the Northern Adirondack region was thought of only as a place to avoid - except by the hardiest sportsmen and the occasional hermit. Trackless forests filled with voracious black flies and mosquitoes in the summer and temperatures well below zero in the six month long winters were not appealing to most individuals. Even the primal forests, with their tall, graceful pines, failed to lure lumbermen into the forbidding wilderness. 

     Although miles and miles of virgin woodlands awaited the ring of axes, investors were not prepared to take on the challenge. Yet Potsdam, a village in adjoining St. Lawrence county, was beginning to grow, and business men were looking for a new source of logs to feed the sawmills. Since the Racket [sic] River flowed through the Adirondacks and passed by Potsdam on its way to the St. Lawrence River, it could be an ideal waterway to move logs harvested in the Adirondacks to the Potsdam mills.  One local entrepreneur, Dr. Henry Hewitt, decided to act.  He petitioned state lawmakers to support the region by making it easier to move logs to the village mills. The legislature responded by declaring the Racket River a public highway and granting $10,000 for its improvement as such.

     How Daniel, Ralph, Charles and Paris Pomeroy (Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, Ebenezer, Medad, Eltweed) found out about this legislative action is a mystery yet to be solved,  but in 1851 they made significant moves to take advantage of the new state of affairs on Northern New York waterways.  As they mulled over the situation, they recognized that the abundant raw materials taken from the forests could now be moved efficiently to any mill site on the shores of the Racket. In and around Potsdam, workers were available to man the mill operation, and the merchantable product (lumber and lumber products) could be moved to market via a recently established six mile railroad spur running from Potsdam to the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad depot in Norwood.[1] Because this new railroad crossed the Delaware and Hudson and offered through transportation to Albany, New York City and Boston, it could provide the route for moving Pomeroy product out of the North Country and into the major markets of the east.

     Nearly simultaneously, the Pomeroy men began two major efforts - obtaining forest land and erecting a saw mill.  In southern Franklin County, Daniel Pomeroy purchased more than 30,000 acres of woodland in the northern one-third of Township 25 and the southern section of Township 22. Both these tracts were drained by the Racket River. Two large bodies of water, two thirds of Tupper’s Lake and all of Simon Pond, were located in Township 25. Racket Pond and Big and Little Wolf Ponds were in the other parcel. A bit later, Charles also got into land buying purchasing a section of Daniel’s property and an additional section from Samuel Whiting.[2]

     While the two brothers were buying up all this timber land, Cyrus Pierson, who had lived in the same area of New Jersey as Ralph, invested in a mill site[3] in St. Lawrence County a few miles north of the center of Potsdam near the tiny settlement of Hewittville.[*]  Earlier, a mill had been operating at that site on the Racket River but a fire had closed it down and deterioration had set in. In less than a year, Ralph Pomeroy purchased the site from Pierson for $10,900.[] The new company cleared out the rubbish and  built a large sawmill.  With hopes for attracting dependable, long term workers, the Pomeroys also built twenty-five houses for their mill employees.[4]  On one of their Franklin County parcels at the outlet of Lake Kitteredge, []  later named Big Wolf Lake,[§] a small mill was also constructed. [5]  A large mill at that location similar to the one they built in Potsdam in southern Franklin County would have been a foolhardy investment. Rather than producing merchantable product at the Lake Kittredge site, the timber on their Franklin County holdings was soon being cut and transported via the Racket River to the Pomeroy’s Potsdam mill in thirty-five days.

     At some point during the establishment of the business, youngest brother Paris also became involved.  The book, The Genealogy of the Pomeroy Family credits him as a lumber merchant in New York and also a partner of Ralph, the proprietor of the Pomeroy mills in Potsdam, NY. [6]

     For about three years, the logging and milling operations were active and proved to be a money making enterprise for the Pomeroy men and members of their consortium. To maintain the strong family connection and to be certain that the logging was well supervised, two of the Pomeroys each sent a son to oversee their woodland efforts. By the time the 1860 census of the southern end of the Town of Dickinson, Township 25, was recorded, the Pomeroy cousins, Daniel’s eldest son Charles S., in his twenties, and Charles’s fourth son Daniel, about the same age as his cousin, were listed as living and working there. No doubt they had been in the area earlier, likely at the outset of the work. Although the census taker reported that the young men were farmers, it is more probable that the two Pomeroys had been overseeing the cutting being done in the forest and managing the river drives on the Racket. The Pomeroy cousins were not alone in that wilderness, five families were also enumerated in the same area: Clarks, Stetsons, Cole, McBrides and McLaughlins. They were to become the earliest residents in the Town of Altamont.

     Then in 1854/55 a serious business downturn hit the United States.  The highly leveraged Pomeroy venture went bankrupt and closed. Over the next few years, the brothers attempted to consolidate their properties and sell the forest tracts, but much of it was lost in tax sales. The three Pomeroy brothers, Charles, Daniel and Ralph, died in the mid 1860s. After the death of his first wife, Daniel married Elizabeth Tufts. Upon his death, she inherited the Franklin County land that he still owned. Ralph’s wife Esther and their son James Morgarum took over what was left of the Dickinson land that Ralph had purchased.[7] According to local history, James Morgarum Pomeroy was assigned to organize Company B of the Sixteenth N. Y. Volunteer Infantry at Potsdam, entering the Civil War as captain of the company.[8] During the ensuing years, James continued the family’s military tradition and became a successful military commander.

     Even during the time that the Pomeroys owned the logging and sawmill operations, they remained in Brooklyn. Except for the two sons, Charles S. and Daniel, there is no record extant of Ralph, Charles, Daniel or Paris establishing a home in northern New York. After the business failure, the families of the Pomeroy men were not interested in continuing the hard, risky life of a northern New York logger. They pulled out of the area leaving behind a cleared section in the woods beside Racket Pond and a deteriorating mill below Potsdam. The original three remained Brooklynites until their death.[**]

[*] The hamlet had been named for Dr. Hewlitt who had built the original sawmill in that location.
[] Ralph Pomeroy had lived in Essex County, New Jersey (his son James was born there) which likely indicates how he came to partner with Pierson, who was also a resident of the county.
[] William C. Kittredge, a politician from Brandon, VT, was involved in the Pomeroy business.
[§] The Pomeroys could not build a sawmill in southern Franklin County since, at that time, there was no rail transportation and no one living there. Only the men who came to do the logging with them were counted in the 1860 Census. No one appeared in the records in 1850.
[**] Some local historians have given Maine the credit for being the home base of the Pomeroy business, but the county deed records do not agree with that story. The Pomeroys lived and worked in Brooklyn during the time they were purchasing and working the Franklin County forest land.

[1] Kudish, Michael. Where Did the Tracks Go in the Western Adirondacks? Purple Mountain Press: Fleishchmanns, NY 2005, p. 107.
[2] Franklin County Clerk’s Office, Malone, NY: Liber 18, PP. 345, 347, 537, 554, 576.
[3] St. Lawrence County Clerk’s Office, Canton, NY: Liber 43B, p. 381.
[4] Potsdam Courier and Freeman, Potsdam, NY. 1 April 1880, p.3.
[5] Simmons, Louis. Mostly Spruce and Hemlock. Hungry Bear Publishing:  Saranac Lake, NY 2009, p. 36.
[6]https://books.google.com/books?id=RL4UAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA44&lpg=PA44&dq=Daniel+pomeroy+1771 source=bl&ots=41Y3HLSATP&sig=Zw5vugnCtw_SOyN282za5xAmw_c&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JIdTVbOv            OMSkNpfRgNgH&ved=0CEEQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=Daniel%20pomeroy%201771&f=false                                                                                                                                                
[7] Land deeds from Franklin County Clerk’s office.

[8] Curtis Gates, ed. Our County and Its People: A Memorial Record of St. Lawrence County New York. D. Mason & Co.: Syracuse, 1894.

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