First Wilderness Heritage Corridor

LOCAL HISTORY

Of The

TOWN AND VILLAGE OF CORINTH

Early History of Saratoga County

Before Henry Hudson sailed up the river or Champlain came down his lake in 1608, the first lords of the Adirondacks were the Algonquins. They were finally driven out by the Iroquois. This part of the state called Northern New York was, from its discovery by white men, disputed ground. The Algonquin races of the valley of the St. Lawrence, aided by their French allies and the fierce Iroquois nations of the Mohawk valley and central New York, kept up a continuous warfare for nearly two hundred years over the mastery of this territory. So the midnight war whoop, the scalping knife and burning homes were all too frequent occurrences until the surrender of Burgoyne on October 17, 1777, at Saratoga, ended the long wilderness fight.

The territory now comprising the county of Saratoga, was once the favorite hunting grounds of the Mohawk branch of the Iroquois or Five Nations of Central New York. The earliest date that the name appears in history is 1684, as the name of the old hunting ground located on both sides of the Hudson River. The Hudson, after it breaks through the mountain barrier above Glens Falls, for many miles runs through the wider valley until it reaches the first of its bordering hills at a point nearly opposite Saratoga Lake. It was called in Indian tounge "Se rach ta gue" or "hillside country." It was also said the name signifies "place of swift water," an allusion to the rapids and falls that break the stillness of the stream.

Here the soil was fertile and easily cultivated with their crude implements and fishing was excellent in Saratoga Lake and Fish Creek, herring running up the Hudson River into Fish Creek and Saratoga Lake in great numbers. Many arrow heads have been found in the sandy soil of this area.

After the corn was harvested, these Indians moved their wigwams and deerskins and camped for about two months on the rocky wooded hills east of Greenfield Center where hunting was good. Samp Rock is in this section where the squaws pounded the corn into meal or coarse samp wearing into the rock a heart-shaped hole about three feet deep and a foot and half wide. As winter approached, they returned to Fish Creek to celebrate their New York Feast.

The Mohawks called the Hudson River "Ska nek tade," meaning "river from the pines beyond." Early Dutch settlers called it Nassau, after the reigning family of Holland, but when the English took it from the Dutch in 1664, they named it "Hudson" in honor of its discoverer.

In 1684, this hillside country of the Hudson, the ancient "Se rach ta gue," was sold by chiefs of the Mohawks to Peter Philip Schuyler and six other eminent citizens of Albany, and the Indian grant confirmed by the English government. This old hunting ground became known in history as the Saraghtoga patent, and, on some of the old maps called Sa ros to gos land.

In this paradise of sportsmen, the Mohawks and their sister tribes, the Iroquios, the Oneidas, Onondagas, as well as the Cayugas and Senecas, built their hunting lodges every summer around its springs and on the banks of its lakes and rivers, staying into the early winter. The old Indian Trail ran through this valley to Lake Champlain. Over this trail they could travel in canoes with very little land carriage.

The early history of Corinth is closely linked to the name of Jessup. Near the close of the French and Indian War in 1759, the region around Lake George and Upper Hudson was considered safe again for settlers. A royal proclamation to that effect was issued. So the Jessups began operations in that section, acquiring extensive holdings in what is now Hamilton, Essex, and Warren counties. About 1770 they located on one of their grants on the Hudson River about ten miles above Glens Falls. They became the first lumbermen in this region, erecting saw mills. As the driving of single logs was yet unthought of, the logs were chained to rafts and floated down the Hudson, Schroon, and Sacandaga Rivers. At a point about where the Corinth Library now stands, the rafts were landed, and the logs hauled by teams to a point on the Hudson below the Great Falls. They also had a log house to receive provisions brought up in bateaux. Thus this area was called Jessup's Landing.

Ambrose Clothier came around 1775 and settled near Mt. McGregor, in the southwestern part of town. Today Corinth holds the largest concentration of Clothiers in the United States. Ambrose was one of the first settlers, and with him he brought music and dance from the sounds of the fiddle. It is said that when the old gent was over eighty years of age he heard, one evening, one of his sons playing a hornpipe. He crossed the road and with nimble steps and vigor, danced a hornpipe and ran back before the son got out of the house to see who was making the racket. In 1795 he built his cabin near Lake Bonita. Much of his original land is still owned and occupied by the Clothiers. He died in 1825 and was buried in the Brick Church Cemetery in Wilton, his grave and that of his wife being marked with field stones carved with their initials. He had three sons and three daughters. The father and all his sons were noted "fiddlers," and to this day the sounds of their music can still be heard as the many generations of Clothiers still play. In the early days of the township the first settlers made their way over the mountains and across the valleys by following the old Indian trails that ran along the banks of the larger streams of water and through the forests with marks blazed on the tree trunks by some pioneer with an axe.

The Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company began operations in 1869 at the Falls and was one of the first plants to use wood for pulp. The edge tool factory was converted into a paper mill with an 80 inch machine which produced paper from a mixture of rags and wood pulp. Soon after, the woolen factory became a part of the paper mill and a 68 and a 72 inch machine added.

Before the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company, the water power at Palmer Falls or Jessup's Falls as it was once called, was first utilized for a sawmill, built about 1804, and owned by Ira Haskins. In 1825 the mill was torn down and rebuilt by Thomas, Ebenezer and William Ide. In 1820, Thomas Harshe had built a grist mill and George and Matthew Harshe a woolen factory. These mills ran until 1828, when Beriah Palmer of New York purchased the power and property, which remained idle for thirty years.

The Adirondack branch of Delaware and Hudson Railroad had been built in 1863 to '65 from Saratoga Springs to North Creek. Now in 1888 a branch line was laid from Corinth station to the upper mill yard and two years later it was extended to the lower mill yard.

Palmer Avenue was called the road to the "Big Falls." When the merchants needed goods, they always said they were going below to get more. They ordered goods shipped to Saratoga and brought by wagon the rest of the way.

Corinth never developed much after 1869 when the water power was used for pulp mills. In 1878 it contained 65 houses, three churches, one schoolhouse, two hotels, a dozen stores and shops, a saw mill, a grist mill, and 500 inhabitants.

CorinthMainStreet1901.jpg, 12kB
Corinth Main Street 1901

Carpenters and Coopers

The several sawmills in town were necessary for a growing community. The ready supply of lumber was essential for the new frame houses being built to replace the log homes. Many of the men qualified as carpenters, being able to use the broadax, the adz and the hand planes. A boss carpenter and a half dozen carpenters could construct a large home in a summer.

Not only were there several carpenters in Corinth but also a few that worked as coopers. The coopers built the barrels, tubs, milk pails, buckets and churns, with a varying degree of skill, depending on whether they were constructing a flour barrel or a cider barrel, which had to be leak proof. In 1843 the Edwards store at South Corinth allowed credit on store accounts to Paul Morton for making 45 barrels, and credit to John Alsard for making lots of 141 barrels and 97 barrels, these men receiving from 20c to 30c each for the barrels. A common, low-priced product of the Cooper was the sap bucket for gathering maple sap, and the "old oaken bucket" which hung in the well that furnished the water for the family.

The Grist Mill

Corinth1820GristMill.jpg, 14kB

The grist mill was important to the farmers of early Corinth, and the first grist-mill at Jessup's Landing was built at Palmer Falls by Thomas Harshe in 1820. Before the grist-mill was available to the pioneers it was necessary to pound or grind the corn or wheat into a coarse meal by mortar and pestle. The better breadstuffs available by reason of finer ground meal and flour were welcome to early Corinthians. This grist-mill sold along with a woolen factory built by George and Matthew Harshe at Palmer Falls to Beriah Palmer and the mills were closed down. However, sometime before 1820 the Boardmans had built the grist-mill at the "Landing" at the end of Mill Street, with water supplied from what was later named Sturdevant Creek. This proved to be a thriving mill, and continued to take care of the farmers' needs for many years. In the old days there was very little cash around, and it was the common practice for the miller to do the farmers' grinding on shares, usually taking every tenth bushel of grain as payment for his services. All though the grinding wheels were idled and the water power shut down about 1940, the business continued under John Winslow as a feed and grain store until just a few months before the "old mill" was destroyed in October 1967 by an arsonist's torch.

The Tannery

The farmers did their butchering in the fall or early winter for the purposes of furnishing food for the family, as well as furnishing the hides for leather for the numerous uses of the family. Usually a heifer or cow, and a hog or two, were slaughtered and the meat preserved by either drying, smoking or corning. The hides together with any calf and sheep skins that may have accumulated were taken to the tanner for processing.

Tanning was done on a share basis with the farmer and tanner sharing the hides on a half and half basis. In as much as up to a year was required to produce finished leather, when the farmer brought his hides in the cowhides were split with the farmer's initials cared on his half providing the proof that the finished leather was his. Hemlock bark was the magic material that would react with the oils of the hide to accomplish the tanning process. The hair was first scraped off the hides with the exception of sheepskin when it was desired to leave the wool on for use in warm clothing. Then the hides were put in tanning vats, about six feet square and four feet deep, usually sunk down into the ground. The hemlock bark had to be ground and was mainly in the tanning of cow hides. Alternate layers of ground bark and hides were put into the vats until filled and then covered with water. The hides usually lay in these vats for about six months, and after the tanning process was completed the hides were washed and dried on drying racks. After this was completed the hides were treated and polished to a finished leather.

When Mr. Weston finished the process about a year after it was started the farmer received the finished materials which were to supply the family with shoes, boots, harnesses, saddle, a sheepskin jacket and sundry items to be made from leather.

Shoes

It is of record that in 1840 Oliver Weston was operating a shoe shop near his tannery. This is the first record of a shoe shop in Corinth, and before this time the family shoe needs were undoubtedly handled by the roving cobbler who traveled from farm to farm outfitting the whole family with shoes, handmade from the family's supply of leather.

The Sheep

Nearly all the farms had a flock of sheep, for the dual purpose of furnishing another variety of meat for the table, but more important for the yearly supply of wool and sheepskin for the home manufacture of clothing. The number of sheep in Corinth was high over the early years with the census of 1845 showing 1425 sheep from which were realized 743 fleeces with 2333 pounds of wool. From this the residents produced 137 yards of fulled cloth and 268 yards of flannel.

Flax and Linen

Practically every household had the wool spinning wheel on which the women manufactured their own wool, but records show a smaller number of families raising flax and spinning their own linen on the smaller "flax wheel". Although the number had probably declined considerably since 1818 there were forty families that planted and raised flax in 1845. Of this number twenty-three housesholds produced 306 yards of linen cloth on their flax spinning wheels and looms.

Sheep Marks

Another problem with nearly all farms owing sheep was to keep them separated and be able to determine who owned which ones when the sheep strayed into a neighbor's flock. This was solved in the pioneer days by each owner deciding on and recording a "sheep-mark" with the town clerk. The sheep mark was cut into the ear of each sheep of the farmer's flock.

The Ox Team

The early settlers of Corinth did most of their work by use of the oxen, including the clearing and plowing of the lands the gathering of logs for their first homes. The number and usefulness of the oxen was probably at its zenith around the time of the establishment of the Town of Corinth.

The training of the steer calves started early with the young boys taking part in the training with miniature yokes and the pulling of sleighs or carts, mostly for fun. It was about four years before the steers could be considered working oxen. The oxen were not only available and trainable, but they were also heavier and able to do more difficult tasks than horses. In early Corinth history they were used not only for farm work, but also for the extensive lumbering operations in the town.

Many of these future Corinth residents traveled by horseback, or horses and carriage or wagon, or in the winter by horse and sleigh, to Porter Corners to do their "trading" for store goods. The main items acquired at the general store include the following:

A large amount of brandy, tea, potatoes, molasses, maple sugar, vinegar, onionseed, pepper, cider, sugar, lard, sides of pork, corn, rye, a small amount of coffee, occasional chocolate and twist sticks, bees-wax, ginger, "punkins", spice; various utensils such as milkpans, glasses, tweeds steel, pudding pans, razors, knives and forks; also tools including axes, iron shovels, and files; materials for home-made clothing including cotton, muslin, velvet, silk, calico, cambrick, needles, hooks and eyes, buttons, thimbles, thread; also panes of glass shingles, soap by the gallon, handerchiefs, cotton balls, tobacco, snuff, flint, powder and shot, shoe binding, and brimstone. In the fall, almanacs were big sellers along with spelling books and geography books, and there were many other occasional items to serve specific needs of the pioneers.

There was a great deal of barter used in early transactions evidenced in the old journal. Entries indicated that Porter gave credit for labor at the rate of $1.25 per day. Credits were entered for bushels of ashes at 9c per bushel, quantities of corn, buckwheat, potatoes, cheese, fulled cloth and many other items.

The 1813 era was a conversion period in money exchange. Entries were made in pounds, shillings, and pence. Credits were often made in dollars. The conversion was one pound equaled $2.50, 1 shilling equaled 12 ½ cents and 6 pence about 1 cent.

Some sample prices show how prices, as well as value has changed in 150 years: gal. molasses $1.00, gal. vinegar 31cents, 1 pound coffee 31 cents, pound butter 14 cents, paper of tobacco 3 cents, stick twist 6 cents, ¼ pound tea 28 cents, quart brandy 75 cents, thimble 5 cents, large Bible $6.00, ½ pound chocolate 31 cents, bushel potatoes $1.00, pound maple sugar 27 cents, corn broom 50 cents, and chamber pot 22 cents.

Corinth men participated in the wars that plagued young America and at the unveiling of the marble representation of a Union soldier in 1908, James W. Houghton, Supreme Court Justice, said that during the momentous years of 1861-1865, "The Town was poor in everything but patriotism, having sent two out of every seven of its male population to the front."

Epidemics

Over the first hundred years of the Town of Corinth epidemics of one kind or another were a constant fear and indeed several epidemics came to pass before modern medicine and new discoveries finally began to bring many of the feared sicknesses under control. Although there are no written records of the early epidemics there are evidences of them in cemeteries. For example, one Comstock family lost five children within a month in the 1830's, indicating typhoid or diphtheria.

For a period of ten years starting about 1902 Corinth was plagued with intermittent break-outs of the dreaded typhoid and scarlet fever, which left ugly scars on many families.

The District records show a small epidemic of diphtheria in September 1915, where it was necessary to canvass the homes of all school children. At one point there were 21 known cases of the disease. The careful eyes of the board members were kept on all outbreaks of diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhoid, as well as whooping cough, measles, chicken pox and other communicable diseases. Fumigation of homes was often ordered after the occurrence of a killer disease.

From October 7 to 31, 362 cases of influenza in Corinth had been recorded. This epidemic of influenza claimed the lives of 17 Corinth residents either directly or as a contributory factor.

In 1924 there was an outbreak of scarlet fever, with 34 cases having been recorded.

Now, with the immunizations for most diseases taken for granted, we no longer have serious outbreaks of the once familiar diseases.

Early Transportation

The earliest settlers in town came by way of ox-wagon over trails through the wilderness, the first following the trail that the Jessups had blazed across the mountain from present day Wilton. Indian trails were also used for pioneers traveling by foot or horseback. The Hudson River provided a certain amount of transportation, primarily for the moving of logs down the river.

As the settlers arrived in the latter years of the 18th century they began to build their own roads from place to place, and as towns were established a major part of the business of the towns were the naming of the pathmasters who were responsible for the maintaining of the road on which they lived. Although these were only wagon roads they had to be kept clear and filled in after being washed out by rains or badly rutted by wheels.

There weren't many bridges in the early days, often for foot traffic only across the smaller streams, with the horse and buggy and other animal traffic crossing the shallow streams through the water. This also provided an opportunity for the horses to stop and drink.

The first bridge to span the Hudson River between Corinth and Luzerne was constructed at Clothier Hollow by the Corinth and Luzerne Bridge Company. This was a toll bridge and was operated as such for several years, but the bridge was finally demolished by flood waters several years after construction.

Plank Roads

The plank roads were made of heavy plank or hewed timbers laid close together. These timbers were readily available from nearby forests. The plank roads were the first widely used type of improved highways in the nineteenth century. With the plank roads came the four-horse stage coaches of the tally-ho type which carried passengers and freight between Hadley and Saratoga Springs.

The coming of the railroad in 1865 sounded the end of the plank road. Freight and passengers were transported swiftly and economically over the routes the plank road covered. With the loss of this essential revenue the toll houses were abolished and regular maintenance discontinued. The roads went back to the towns and were kept in some sort of repair by farmers working off their tax bill. Within a few years the road was again sandy and stony as before.

Railroad

The coming of the railroad to Corinth was one of the big events in the history of the town. With it came the telegraph, and Corinth was brought hours nearer to the big world centers. The road was called the Saratoga and Sackett's Harbor Railroad and was surveyed and started in 1864. In that year the first twenty-five miles of track were laid as far as Hadley, where it ended in an open field. By 1865 the train began operations from Saratoga to Hadley. Passengers were unloaded promiscuously wherever the the train happened to stop. Later the bridge over the Sacandaga River was completed and the railroad was pushed on to North Creek.

The "Handbook of the Adirondack Railway" gives that "The Adirondack Railway is intended to open up the great forest of Northern New York." Following the arrival of the railroad in Corinth, the stage coach fell into disrepute and finally passed away. One stagecoach, however, that stayed on was the one operated by Charles Cudney and his brother Albert. For many years it carried passengers to and from the Corinth Depot. When the conductor of the train called out "Kerinth" and "Palmer" Falls all those getting off at this point found Cudney's stagecoach in sight, waiting to transport them the extra mile to the village. The building of the railroad has to be one of the more important historical events in the development and progress of the Town of Corinth. The advent of the railroad and the paper mill signaled the growth and modest prosperity that has been enjoyed by Corinthians for the last hundred years.

The Coming of the Automobile

When 1900 rolled around so did the advent of the automobile.

With the coming of the automobile came the necessity of purchasing gasoline and oil. The earliest gasoline was sold in either a general store or blacksmith shop, and was kept inside the building in a 55 gallon drum with a hand pump, where gasoline containers were filled and thence emptied into the automobile gas tank.

Winter posed a problem to car owners, and since roads were not cleared sufficiently for cars to operate, with the coming of the snow the owners parked their cars in their barn and put them up on jacks for the winter, where they stayed until the spring break-up was completed, and the mud dried up, so that the adventurous souls could again "crank her up", and zip freely up and down the roads as fast as twenty miles per hour, scaring the wits out of horses, cattle, and pedestrians.

Busses played an important part in transportation in Corinth for several years, but due to the decline in business after practically every family owned a car, the last bus route discontinued operation in the 1950's. Charles E. Cudney and his brother Elbert also operated the Corinth Omnibus, sometime before 1895, meeting all trains at the station and delivering passengers to all hotels. In about 1910, Charles Cudney became the first operator of a motor bus, operating between the station and hotels. This was a 15 passenger vehicle. Benjamin Ogden established a passenger and freight auto bus by 1915, operating between Corinth, Luzerne, and Glens Falls.

Airplanes

An early flying enthusiast, Fred Clothier, built a landing strip on the Harrison Clothier farm on the Spier Falls Road (descendant of Ambrose Clothier.) The landing strip is still used today.

Pagenstecher Park

Pagenstecher Park, which has for nearly fifty years been a summer gathering place for family and group picnics, family reunions, and as a relaxation spot for Corinthians and visitors, was given to the village in 1919 by the heirs of Albrecht Pagenstecher, to honor the pioneer in wood pulp manufacture. Mr. Pagenstecher was the president of the Hudson River Mill during its early day.

This land was purchased by Mr. Pagenstecher from the Palmer Estate, which acquired it from Edward Jessup, who owned the Totten Patent of 41,000 acres. The King of England had granted Jessup permission for the purchase of this tract of land from the Indians.

The park overlooks the palisades and rapids, has picnic and fireplace facilities as well as recreation areas.


Sources:

The History Of The Town Of Corinth By Arthur Eggleston

'On The Occasion Of The 150th Anniversary Of The Formation Of The Town 1818-1968

Site Visit With Rachel Clothier (Assistant Historian of Corinth) at the Corinth Museum. (Museum is open Saturdays 1-3 year round)

The Early History Of Corinth 'Once Known as Jessup's Landing', The Journal Press,

Ballston Spa, By Mabel Pitkin Shorey, Corinth, New York 1959 First Edition

Websites:

Town of Corinth - www.townofcorinthny.com

Village of Corinth - www.villageofcorinthny.com

Town Councilman Charlie Brown - www.aboutcharliebrown.com

Online Exhibition of the paper making industry in Corinth - www.hudsonrivermillproject.org

Other Places of Interest Regarding the Heritage and Historical Background of the Town and Village of Corinth:

Corinth Museum
Palmer Avenue
Corinth, NY 12822

This project was developed in partnership with New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources.

Visit us on Facebook