(from Child's Gazetteer, pub. 1890, pp. 246-251)

ALEXANDRIA occupies the northern extremity of Jefferson County opposite the Thousand Islands, of which a number are included within the limits of the town, the principal one being a portion of Wells Island. This town is bounded on the northwest by the St. Lawrence River, on the northeast by St. Lawrence County, on the southeast by Theresa, and on the south and west by Orleans. The surface of the town is generally rough and rocky, but that portion underlaid by sandstone is level, with a thin clayey and sandy soil. It may be pertinent here to add that the Potsdam sandstone substratum generally prevents a level surface, but more liable to upheavals, and is covered with soil entirely brought from other formations, and various in quality with the sources from which it has been derived. Where not covered with drift, as occurs near Plessis, it is a barren rock, which, although exposed from time immemorial to the action of elements, still preserves the traces of deluvial abrasion. This rock never presents a fertile slope into the valley, but is bordered with abrupt precipices, at the foot of which oftentimes are piled huge masses that have tumbled from the face of the ledge.

Besides the grand St. Lawrence River, which forms its northwestern boundary, this town is watered by numerous small streams, which have their source in the southern part of the town. Butterfield Lake, Mud Lake, and Clear Lake are in the southeastern part, and the first two mentioned lie partly in the town of Theresa. It is claimed time has changed the appellation of these lakes. That now known as Butterfield Lake was once Grand Lake; Clear Lake was Crown’s Lake; and Mud Lake was Edmond’s Lake.

This town was erected from Brownville and Le Ray, April 3, 1821, by the same act that formed Philadelphia and Orleans, the first town meeting being held at the house of William Merrill. By the first act its limits included Theresa. An act of February 6, 1840, restored to the town of Orleans a small part that had been annexed to the latter. The town derives its name from Alexander, son of J. D. Le Ray, who obtained a colonel’s commission in the Texan revolution, and was killed in a duel in 1836. The early records of the town are lost, and hence it is impossible to give a full account of the early organization. James Shurtleff was the first supervisor; Nathaniel Goodell the first clerk; Ashley Tanner, assessor; and Allen Cole and Joel Porter, inspectors of election.

In 1880 Alexandria had a population of 3,135. The town is located in the third school district of Jefferson County, and in 1888 had 22 school districts, one of which was joint, in which 28 teachers were employed the same number of weeks or more. The whole number of scholars attending school was 931, while the aggregate days attendance during the year was 78,606. The total value of school buildings and sites was $17,400 and the assessed valuation of all the districts was $1,275,061. The whole amount raised during the year for school purposes was $8,602.05, $5,299.11 of which was received by local tax. Charles E. Whitney was school commissioner.

ALEXANDRIA BAY, the most populous and most important village in the town, was selected by Calwallader Child, in 1804, while surveying a road (the Alexandria road) from the Friends’ settlement to the St. Lawrence, as an eligible place for a port, and accordingly a reservation of a mile square was made by Mr. Le Ray for a village, which was surveyed out for that purpose by Edmund Tucker about 1818. Mr. Le Ray erected a tavern and warehouse, and for many years a thriving lumber trade was carried on, which continued as long as the supply lasted. The port has always been a leading place for the American and more recently for the Canadian steamers. A custom house was established here in 1828, subordinate to the Cape Vincent district. The first log house was erected by John W. Fuller, in 1818, and the first frame house by Dr. Jerre Carrier, in 1820. The latter occupied the present site of the St. Lawrence Hotel, of which, in fact, it forms a part. The first store was erected by Messr. Jerre Carrier and John W. Fuller, Andrew Cornwall, and his sons, Humphrey Sisson, and O. G. Staples. The business men of the present time are represented in the directory of the town. The first school-house was a primitive log structure, erected in 1821. It stood on the lot now occupied by the Reformed Church. The first church was that of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. The first church was that of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church Society, erected in 1848, and opened for public religious worship in 1851.

A fine graded school building was erected in 1884, and in 1885 it was first opened for classes. It has five departments under the instruction of competent teachers, and John O’Leary is the principal.

For more than a quarter of a century Alexandria Bay has been visited as a summer resort. Its location in the immediate vicinity of the most numerous cluster of the Thousand Islands, and its beautiful situation on the St. Lawrence, constitute the salient characteristics of its popularity. In 1848 Mr. C. Crossmon began keeping hotel at the Bay, but it was not until 1872 that the rush commenced, although a few persons, some of them men of note, had made it their summer vacation place for years. Among these early visitors were Governor Seward, Martin and John Van Buren, Silas Wright, Frank Blair, Preston King, General Dick Taylor, and Rev. George Bethune. In 1872 President Grant and family and a party of their friends accepted an invitation from George W. Pullman, of palace-car notoriety, to visit his island cottage. In 1872-73 the present magnificent “Thousand Island House” and the equally fine “Crossmon House” were erected and thrown open to the public, since which time no watering place has received a better or more elegant patronage.

Alexandria Bay has never been noted for its manufactories, except perhaps for the superior class of small skiffs and stream yachts built here. It contains two mechanic shops, including the machine shop of Louis Tassey, where the repairing of marine machinery is made a specialty. A. C. McIntyre’s photographic studio supplies a great number of Thousand Island views, and the variety is constantly increasing. Indian baskets, bead work, and other curios here find a ready market during the summer season. The village is provided with a steam fire engine and other adequate fire apparatus.

The Alexandria Bay Steamboat Co., organized in 1887, built the steamer New Island Wanderer, which took the place of the Island Wanderer, and has for two years made the famous route inaugurated by Capt. E. W. Visger, under whose management the new boat has been run. A. C. Cornwall, of Alexandria Bay, is treasurer of the company. The boat is one of the fastest on the river and is very popular with summer visitors.

REDWOOD (p.o.), a thriving village near the line of Theresa, owes its origin to a glass factory established by John S. Foster, who for several years had been engaged in this business, as agent, in various localities. In April, 1833, he visited this county, examined several localities, and finally selected this, which is on the stream connecting mud and Butterfield lakes, the former of which is about 94 feet above the latter, affording a limited water-power, that had several years previous been improved by the erection of a saw and grist-mill by David Smith, of Adams. Foster contracted with Francis Depau for a tract of 10,000 acres, as agent, borrowed several thousand dollars of Depau, and the same summer erected a glass factory, and on September 30, 1833, the first glass was made. The village was surveyed by Thomas Clark, and named Jamesville, but Mr. Foster gave the place the present name, from its similarity to “Redford,” his late resident, in hopes of thus being able to compete in the sale of glass with an establishment from which he claimed to have been unjustly discharge. The glass factory has at times been conducted by the following: Schmauss & Co., Gerlach & Son, Ingleson, Forbes & Co., and H. S. White, and from 1844 by Dezeng & Co. from the Clyde glass factory. In 1853 a joint stock company, with a capital of $12,000 was formed, entitled the “Redwood Glass Manufacturing Company.” In 1859 W. W. Butterfield became connected with the concern as its president, and subsequently purchased all the stock. The works are not now in operation. A wool-carding and cloth-dressing factory was built here in 1846, by William Page. Cook & Smith manufacture sash, doors, blinds, and moldings, and Daniel Springer has a steam saw-mill at Redwood.

PLESSIS (p. o.) is situated midway on the old Alexandria and Theresa plank-road, three miles from Redwood. It derived its name from a place in France. It is familiarly known as “Flat Rock,” from the prevalence of the Potsdam sandstone formation in the vicinity, which presents a considerable portion of naked rock. In 1817 Mr. Le Ray erected a grist-mill here on Plessis Creek, which was purchased by Jason Clark and William Shurtleff and rebuilt in 1830. The first store was opened by Lull & Walton, in 1820. The first log house was erected by William Merrill in 1818, and was afterwards by him converted into an inn. Here, in 1826, he was murdered by one John Powell, who was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the crime. The first frame house was erected by William Tanner, and was used by him as a dwelling and a store. The first church edifice was the Union building erected in 1833. A tannery was erected near the village on Plessis Creek in 1821, by James Carter. A school-house was built in 1826, after the formation of the districts. The chief manufactories in the vicinity of Plessis are the grist, saw, and shingle-mills of John H. Cline, and the saw-mill of Horace P. Hoyt.

Spafford wrote in 1823 of Alexandria in 1821, when it was erected as a township: Alexandria Bay had several houses, a tavern, store, and forwarding house. On Mullet Creek there was a saw-mill, and on Plessis Creek, a saw-mill and a grist-mill. The population was estimated at 150 families, the census being included in that of Le Ray and Brownville.

The first improvement in this town was made about 1811, by Mr. Le Ray, who caused a clearing to be made at Alexandria Center, to afford facilities to first settlers by supplying them with grain until it could be raised by themselves. He paid $12 per acre with the ashes, and half the first crop, for these jobs, and built a log barn. In 1811 the proprietors made the Morris and Hammond road, extending from Hammond village to the Red Tavern, near Theresa, where it intersected another road, from the river to Philadelphia. The former was cleared four rods wide, bridged and seeded with grass, but had become nearly closed up when it was opened as part of the Military road, in 1820-23.

Cranberry Creek, about three miles from its mouth, was, during the War of 1812, the scene of an engagement that is detailed in the County Chapter (perhaps this will one day appear on the Internet) under the heading of “War of 1812.” Sales of land commenced int his town in 1816. The first contracts were made payable in seven years, and required the settlers, within one year, to build a house, equal to a log house 18 feet square, and to clear one twenty-fifth part of the land contracted in a farmer-like manner. Prices began at $3 per acre, and after 1820 mineral reservations were inserted in contracts and deeds. James Carnagie, Samuel Youngs, William Martin, Moses George, Leicester Hoadley, ______Root, John W. Fuller, Jerre Carrier were early settlers. The town continued to increase in population rapidly until 1828, when a sickly season checked its growth, and gave it a reputation for unhealthfulness from which it was slow in recovering.



The Reformed Church of the Thousand Isles, located at Alexandria Bay, was organized August 1, 1851, with five male and eight female members. Rev. Anson Dubois was the first pastor. The church building, a stone structure, 35 by 55 feet, was begun in 1848, and was opened for worship, May 25, 1851. It has a seating capacity for 300 persons, cost $2,822, and is now valued, including grounds and other church property, at $10,000. The present membership is 110, under the pastoral charge of Rev. C. Parks Evans. The Sunday-school has 150 scholars and 10 teachers.

The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Alexandria Bay had, for its first pastor, Rev. William M. Holbrook. The church building, a wooden structure, cost $6,5000, and is now valued, including grounds and other church property, at $10,000. It has a seating capacity for 280 persons. The present membership is 134, and Rev. Earl H. Kenyon is pastor. It supports a Sunday-school of 14 officers and teachers, and 95 scholars.

The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Redwood was organized July 8, 1889, by Rev. C. Phelps, the first pastor, who continues in that capacity, and at its organization consisted of 10 members. Their house of worship, in course of construction, will, when finished, seat about 300 persons. The present membership is 20.

St. Peter’s Church (Protestant Episcopal), of Redwood, was organized August 12, 1850, and the house of worship was erected in 1851. It will comfortably seat 175 persons, and is valued, including grounds and other property, at $2,200. The present membership is 75, of whom 25 are communicants. Rev. George G. Perrine, of Theresa, is rector. The Sunday-school has a membership of 35 scholars and six teachers.

The Church of St. Lawrence (Protestant Episcopal), at Alexandria Bay, was begun as a mission in 1880, with Rev. F. B.A. Lewis, M.D., as rector, and has not yet been organized as a separate parish church. Their house of worship, now in process of erection, of Laurentian stone, will comfortably seat 250 persons, and already cost $1,800. The present rector is Rev. G. G. Perrine, of St. James’s Church, Theresa.


Andrew Cornwall, the ancestor of Andrew Cornwall, of Alexandria Bay, emigrated to this country from England, with his family, some where about 1710, and settled in Old Chatham, Conn. (now Portland), where three generations of the same name lived and died. The third Andrew Cornwall, grandfather of our subject, was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and died after the close of that war from a wound received in the battle of Bennington.

Andrew Cornwall, 4th, father of our subject, with two brothers, William and Ancil, left Connecticut about 1800, and came to what was at that time called the far West, or Genesee country. Their first stop was at waht is now the city of Rochester, then a wilderness, where there was a small settlement; but thinking it was a swamp country, and not a good place to locate, they went to what is now Pultneyville, Wayne County, N. Y., where there was another small settlement with a saw-mill and grist-mill. Here they located and married, and here our subject was born March 25, 1814. After attending the district school winters, and working on the farm summers, until 13 years old, he entered the country store of John Reynolds, and continued in his employ for 13 years as clerk and book keeper. His health failing him, from close application to business, he purchased a small vessel and went on the lakes as a sailor. After three years of this business, his health being fully restored, he sold his vessel and left the water. In January, 1843, he was married to Mary C. Cathoun (sic), who is still living. In July, 1844, he moved to Redwood, Jefferson County, N. Y., and entered the employ of De Zang & Burlingame, manufacturers of glass. He was in charge of their store for two and a half years. In November, 1846, at the solicitation of Azariah Walton, he moved to Alexandria Bay, and took an interest in the firm of L. A. Walton & Co., then organized, which continued until 1853, when L. A. Walton died. A new firm was then organized, under the name of Cornwall & Walton. John F. Walton being the junior partner, which partnership continued until April 1, 1877, when Cornwall and Walton both retired from business, and the firm of Cornwall Brothers was formed, consisting of the four sons of Andrew Cornwall, viz.: Andrew C., Charles W., John I., and Harvey A. This firm is still in business.

Andrew Cornwall was supervisor of his town from 1852 to 1856, and again from 1861 to 1865. Being what was then called a war Democrat he was made a member of the war committee of the county, though the board of supervisors was largely Republican. He served the committee faithfully in recruiting and filling the quotas of his own town and the county, often to the serious detriment of his own private business. In 1867 he was nominated by his party for member of Assembly, and, although his competitor was elected the year previous by a large majority, Mr. Cornwall was successful. While in the Legislature of 1868 he was a member of the Committee of Ways and Means, of the manufacture of salt, and of the sub-committee of the whole. He was, in the fall of 1868, candidate for Congress against Hon. A. H. Laflin, and as his party was largely in the minority he was defeated by very small majority.

In 1845 Azariah Walton bought of Henry Yates the north half of Wells Island, and all the small islands in the River St. Lawrence, in American waters, from Round Island, in Clayton, to the village of Morristown, St. Lawrence County. At his death the firm of Cornwall & Walton bought them from his estate, for the timber, and for many years they cut steamboat wood from them, some years getting as high as 12,000 cords. After the wood was mostly cut off the larger ones were sold for farms. About 1860 wood began to give way to coal, and they determined to sell them at a nominal price to induce people to build on them summer homes, thereby making the St. Lawrence River a famous watering-place, of which there can be no doubt they have succeeded.

Mr. Cornwall commenced his business career with very limited means, but with a determination to succeed. With close attention to every detail, and a constant care that no debt should be made that could not be met when due, and no unnecessary expense incurred, he has succeeded in his determination to attain to a reasonable competency.

Mr. Cornwall has never been an ostentatious man, though in business matters he has always been energetic and prompt, exacting from others only what he would himself do if in their places. The example of such a life as Mr. Cornwall’s is a benefit in any community. Any young man, if he pursue a persistent course towards a desirable and honorable end, may succeed, if he will, in this favored land of ours.

A personal sketch of a former supervisor of Town of Alexandria was found in the Appendix of this volume:

William M. Thomson, of Scotch parentage, was born in Canada, July 24, 1834. His father, being a rebel, emigrated to the United States and settled in Alexandria Bay immediately after the Battle of the Windmill in 1838, which resulted so disastrously to the Patriots. Receiving a district school education Mr. Thomson, at the age of 15 years, entered the store of John W. Fuller, as clerk, with whom he remained six years. He married Mr. Fuller’s daughter in January, 1861, and has always resided in Alexandria Bay. He has been twice elected to the office of town clerk, has served three years as supervisor, 12 years as justice of the peace, and was elected a member of Assembly in 1877 and in 1882, having been defeated for that office in 1878 and again in 1883. He has been deputy collector of customs of the port of Alexandria Bay for the past four years, and is now engaged in mercantile business. Mr. Thomson has two sons, both of whom are graduates of Cornell University. In 1856 he was made a Master Mason; in 1864 he became a member of Theresa Royal Arch Chapter; and in 1866 he was made a Knight Templar. He is a member of the Jeffersonian Club; a political organization of Watertown, and a trustee of the Alexandria Bay Young Men’s Library Association.


For the Family Sketches which succeeded this history, go to Nan Dixon's Jefferson County, NYGenWeb site

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