TOWN OF ORLEANS
Taken from Child’s Gazetteer of Jefferson County, N. Y., p. 581 - 589
Orleans was formed from Brownville, April 3, 1821, embracing Penet’s Square, and all north of this and west of a continuation of the line between lots No. 6 and 7, of Penet’s Square, to the St. Lawrence. Much difficulty and strife had existed for several years, with regard to the location of the town meetings in Brownville, which led to the erection of Orleans. The towns of Alexandria and Philadelphia were formed by the same act. April 1, 1829, a portion of this town was annexed to Pamelia, and in 1833 a part of its territory was taken to form the town of Clayton. By a act of February 6, 1840, all that part of Clayton north of Orleans and east of the north and south division line between Clayton and Orleans, extending from the northwest corner of Orleans to the St. Lawrence, was attached to the latter town, together with a part of Wells Island, and all the smaller islands which would be embraced by a line running from the termination of the aforesaid division line, between Clayton and Orleans; thence through Eel Bay, around the head of Wells Island, to the Canada line. All that part of Alexandria west of a line running N 42 degrees W. from the corner of Orleans was also annexed to the latter town. This last was restored to Alexandria, April 12, 1842.
The surface of the town is level, or slightly rolling; the soil is clay and loam. Outcroppings of stone are found in some parts of the town; in spots the barren rock is exposed to view, although in most places covered with soil, which is generally fertile and productive. The principal streams in the town are Perch River, Catfish Creek (or Chaumont River), and Mullet Creek. Perch Lake lies upon the southeastern boundary. The town has an area of 28,922-1/2 acres.
The first town meeting was directed to be held at the house of Harvey Boutwell. The early records of the town having been destroyed , we are unable to give the first town officers. Amos Reed was the first supervisor of the town, and held the office two years. Peter Rhines was the first town clerk. The present supervisor is Byron J. Strough.
Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1824, says of Orleans in 1820: --
“The population is unknown, as it was included in that of Brownville at the time of taking the last census. It is computed at 300. It being a new tract of country, with few inhabitants, there is nothing to demand detail.”
In 1880 Orleans had a population of 2,318. The town is located in the third school district of Jefferson County, and in 1888 had 18 school districts, in which 19 teachers were employed 28 weeks or more. There were 495 scholars attending school, and the aggregate days attendance during the year was 39,893. The total value of school buildings and sites was $10,750, while the assessed valuation of all the districts was $1,122,022. The whole amount raised for school purposes was $4,272.72, $2,151.08 of which was received by local tax. Charles E. Whitney was school commissioner.
LA FARGEVILLE (p. o.), named from John La Farge, the proprietor, was formerly known as “Log Mills.” It is situated near the central part of the town, on Chaumont River, 18 miles from Watertown, 197 from Albany, and 339 from New York. It is a station on the U. and B. R. division of the R., W. & O. Railroad, and has telegraph, telephone, and express offices, five churches (Methodist Protestant, Methodist Episcopal, Protestant Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Baptist, the last named not occupied), a fine graded school, three general stores, a drug and grocery store, one hardware store, two furniture stores, one flour and feed store, three physicians, three blacksmith shops, two meat markets, two custom boot and shoe shops, one harness shop, a photograph gallery, barber shop, art studio, carriage shop, grist-mill, a good hotel, livery stable, billiard and pool room, millinery store, several dressmakers, and a number of wholesale dealers in produce, thus affording a first-class market for the farmers in this locality.
STONE MILLS (p. o.) village is located in the southwestern corner of the county, 12 miles from Watertown, 194 from Albany, and 336 from New York. It has telegraph and telephone offices, two churches, two stores, a cheese factory, saw-mill, and a blacksmith shop.
OMAR (p. o.) village is located about two and a half miles south from Fisher’s Landing, on Mullet Creek, 23 miles from Watertown, 202 from Albany, and 344 from New York. It contains one church, one hotel, a cheese factory, two general stores, two blacksmith shops, one shoe shop, one harness shop, and about 100 inhabitants.
FISHER’S LANDING (p. o.) is situated on the south bank of St. Lawrence River, six miles below Clayton, and contains one hotel, one general store, a grocery, blacksmith shop, several boat builders, a few summer cottages, and about 150 inhabitants.
ORLEANS FOUR CORNERS is a small post village and station on the U. and B. R. division of the R., W. & O. Railroad, in the eastern part of the town, 16 miles from Watertown, 194 from Albany, and 336 from New York. It has telegraph, telephone, and express offices, one church, a grocery, cheese factory, and about 50 inhabitants.
THOUSAND ISLAND PARK (p. o.) is a summer resort on Wells Island, where is located a large hotel, store, meat market, boat livery, and four or five hundred cottages.
GRAND VIEW PARK, one of the newest of the Thousand Island summer resorts, is located in this town, on the northwestern point of Wells Island. A fuller description of these beautiful summer homes has been given in the County Chapter.
Dr Hough’s History of Jefferson County says that improvements commenced in this town in 1806, by persons who came on without acquiring title, and took up lands; there being no resident agent, and a partial and imperfect history of the title having gained currency, the belief became general that there was no legal owner of the tract, which for several years after the war had great numbers, chiefly of the poorer classes, to select land and make locations. In this they were governed by nothing but their own choice, selecting some spring or stream of water for the vicinity of their dwellings, and appropriating such lands to their own use as they might choose to claim. These squatters, who had adopted a kind of regulation among themselves in relation to lands, were accustomed to make “possession lines” by lopping down bushes, and bought and sold “claims,” giving quit-claim deeds for the same. Few permanent improvements were made, the settlers mostly living in huts, and engaged in getting out oak staves and square timber, making potash, or in cultivating the soil in a most slovenly and careless manner. As a natural consequence this unprincipled course invited thither crowds of adventurers from various quarters--many from Mohawk country; rough, hardy, and enterprising, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, accustomed to rough fare and rude accommodations, yet in many respects just the class to reduce a wilderness. Schools were established and religious societies organized a few years after settlement.
In 1807 John Wilkes, one of the proprietors, visited the tract, and is believed to have been the first of the owners who traversed it. Being unaccustomed to the fatigue of traveling in the forest he returned home disgusted with it, and for several years there was no legalized agent in the county. In 1817 (October 17) the following settlers took contracts on lots number 66, 75, 86, 87, and 95, near Stone Mills, in which vicinity A. M. Prevost held lands, and had appointed Elisha Camp, of Sackets Harbor, as his agent; Asa Hall, Richard Taylor, Frederick Avery, Benjamin and John Taylor, William Collins, Samuel Linnel, Solomon Stowell, Lester White, Roderick C. Frazier, William Collins, Jr., Leonard and Blake Baldwin, Isaac Mitchell, John B. Collins, John Smith, Ebenezer Eddy, Shepherd Lee, Thomas Lee, Thomas Lee, Jr., Ebenezer Scoville, William Guile, William Larrabe, Warren Hall, Henry Arnold, Ambrose Adams, and John Page. The contracts ran for seven years, and the lands were rated at $5 per acre.
In 1821 certain of the settlers, not being sure of the validity of Penet’s title, petitioned the legislature to authorize the attorney-general to examine the title. Following is the attorney-general’s report:
“The Attorney-General, to whom was referred the petition of a number of inhabitants of that part of the town of Brownville, in the County of Jefferson, called Penet’s Square, respectfully represents:
“That the petitioners state that the tract of land called Penet’s Square is situate in great lot No. IV, of Macomb’s Purchase, and contains 64,000 acres. That the title to these lands is ‘to the public generally, and to the petitioners in particular, altogether uncertain,’ and that there are on the said tract about 320 families, or those ‘who have been induced to take contracts of the pretended agents of pretended proprietors’; and that great improvements have been made on the same tract of land, and that the inhabitants of the same tract are very solicitous to ascertain the real title to the same. The petitioners therefore pray, first, that some resolution or law may be passed that shall force those who lay claim to said tract of land to put the evidence of their title on the records of the County of Jefferson, and second, that the Surveyor-General, or the Commissioners of the Land Office, may be directed to report ‘such information as they may posses, relative to the title of the said lands.’ As to the first request of the petitioners, it is presumed that it is not expected of the Attorney-General that he should give any opinion as to the propriety or expediency of granting it; but, as to the second, the Attorney-General has no means of ascertaining the true title of the lands in question, any further than what may be derived from an examination of all records in the office of the Secretary of State. The Attorney-General finds in such examination that the said tract, called Penet’s Square, is not, as the petitioners express, a part of Macomb’s Purchase, but a separate tract, the whole of said tract, except 21,000 acres, appears to have been conveyed by the said Penet to one John Duncan, formerly of Schenectady. How the title to the above lands have been subsequently conveyed, or whether the same remains with the said Duncan, or his heirs, the Attorney-General has no means of ascertaining.
“All of which is respectfully submitted.
THOMAS C. OAKLEY, Attorney-General.”
A considerable portion of Penet’s Square had become the property of John La Farge, who had been engaged in the firm of Russell & La Farge, as a merchant in Havre, and in the course of his business had purchased a portion of these lands. He subsequently resided several years in New Orleans, and about 1824 came on to assert his title to this tract, but the settlers had, from the previous confusion of claims, at first but little confidence in his title. In 1824 a meeting was held at Stone Mills, at which a committee was appointed to investigate the question, in order to decide what reliance might be placed in his claims, which resulted in little good. In 1826 two other persons claiming title under Hyppolite Penet, brother of Peter Penet, the original patentee, appeared at La Fargeville, called a meeting of the citizens, and stated their claims, but with no further effect than to impair the confidence of some in the pretensions of others. After considerable more litigation the lands again reverted to La Farge, who finally removed to New York, appointing Dr. John Binsse, of Watertown, his agent.
The first settler in the town of Orleans was Roderick C. Frazier, who came on in 1806 and built a log house, about two miles north of Stone Mills, in the garden of the farm now occupied by Roswell W. Gates. The second settler was Peter Pratt, who was born in Saybrook, Conn., in 1775. Mr. Pratt married Mary Scoville, of Hartford, Conn., at Perch River village in this county, in 1805, and in 1807 located a little south of Stone Mills. Soon after this several others came in, among whom were the Collins brothers, the Mitchells, and the Dorrs. North of Stone Mills, at Moulton’s Corners, the early settlers were Daniel Niles, Semon Shead, Shep. Lee, Oliver Wright, Peter Rhines, Coleman Dickinson, Charles McGiven, and Seth Warner. Later on came ‘Square McNitt, Daniel Gardner, Archibald Fisher, Robert Jerome, and Col. Martin. All these located in the vicinity of the Corners. The town business was transacted here from 1821 until the records were burned with Moulton’s store in 1828.
The first settlement of La Fargeville began in 1816, when Dr. Reuben Andrus, with Benjamin Page, came from Vermont and located here in that year. Dr. Andrus built a log house upon the site of the present Orleans House, and Mr. Page erected a like habitation where Wayland Ford now lives. In the fall of that year (1816) a log mill was built at the upper dam by Dr. Andrus. A few weeks later Moses Darby came on with his family, and built a log house near the site of Byron J. Strough’s residence on Clayton street. Eli Bergin, then a boy of 16 years, came with him. Mr. Darby was a mighty hunter, and often furnished the pioneers with venison, and not infrequently with bear’s meat. In 1817 Peter Cook came on with his family and built the first frame house in the village. He had four sons, Horace, Hiram, Hial, and Harvey. Major Earl, who acquired his title in the War of 1812, also settled here in 1817, and built a house near the Clayton line, on the Capt. Snell farm, now occupied by Seth Mathers. The Major had a son, Lyman, who came with him. Soon after Major Earl, the same year, Charles Cummins came in and built the Cushman House, which he opened as a hotel. Dr. Cushman also came in 1817, and was the first practicing physician in the village. The Doctor subsequently bought the hotel, which has since borne his name. It is now the property of Mr. Henry. In 1820 Fred Tyler, of Rutland, opened the first grocery store here. W. C. George, who was employed by Mr. Tyler in the capacity of clerk, subsequently succeeded him in business, and served the town as supervisor and justice of the peace.
As has been previously stated the early settlers had nothing but “brush titles” to the land. After the territory became the property of John La Farge, by purchase from the comptroller for taxes, about 1823, Mr. La Farge came on and compelled the settlers to pay for the improvements made on the lands which they supposed to be their own. This was a severe blow to the pioneers, and many of them, not being able to pay for their claims, left town. Mr. La Farge immediately commenced the erection of a land office, which building is now used as a hotel (the Getman House). He also built a schoolhouse, the La Farge mansion, the stone house opposite the mansion, and the Biddlecom residence at the village. Up to this time (1823) the village had retained the appellation of “Log Mills.” At a Fourth of July celebration held in the woods, where the school-house now stands, a vote was taken which resulted in adopting the present name.
On the night between May 29 and 30, 1838, the British steamship Sir Robert Peel was plundered and burned while taking on wood at Moore’s Landing, Wells Island, by a party of 22 self-styled “patriots,” led by one Bill Johnson. Large rewards were offered for the apprehension of any of those engaged in the nefarious undertaking, and although several were arrested none were convicted at the time. One man was subsequently executed in Kingston for incendiarism. The Rock Island light-house, which shines near the spot where the Peel was burned, was built in 1853, and Bill Johnson was appointed the first keeper.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, at La Fargeville, was organized in January, 1868, by Rev. H. R. Lockwood, although services had been held irregularly before that time. At its organization it consisted of 10 members, and Rev. H. R. Lockwood was the first rector. The society first worshiped (sic) in the building now held by the Protestant Methodist Society, of which they were then half owners. They subsequently erected their present frame building at a cost of $3,000. It will comfortably seat 200 persons, and is valued, including grounds and other property, at $3,500. The present membership is 35, and Rev. J. E. Walton, of Clayton, is the rector. The following interesting note is taken from the parish register: “The first Episcopal services known to have held in the Township of Orleans took place November 13, 1856, in the Lutheran Meeting-House at Orleans Corners, the Rev. Robert Harwood, a clergyman of the Church of England, officiating. At the visitation he administered the Holy Communion to Margaret P. Hines, and buried her at the above mentioned date.”
The Methodist Episcopal Church, located at the village of La Fargeville, was organized before 1832. The exact date of its organization cannot now be ascertained, as the records of the church previous to 1852 have been lost. The pastor of the church in 1852 was Rev. G. W. Elwood, and in that year the society rented the academy building, which it subsequently purchased, and still uses as a church and parsonage. The size of the min building is 50 by 70 feet, to which has been added a prayer-room 12 by 30 feet. The original cost of the structure was $3,500. It will comfortably seat 250 persons, and is now valued, including grounds, etc., at $5,000. There are at present 81 members, under the pastoral charge of Rev. Webster Ingersoll. The Sunday-school has a membership of 120.
The Methodist Protestant Church, located in La Fargeville, was organized in 1869, with 25 members, by Rev. Philip Swift, the first pastor. Their church building was erected as a union church in 1838, and was purchased by the society in 1872. It will comfortably seat 275 persons, cost originally $4,300, and is now valued, including grounds, etc., at $3,500. The church is out of debt and is in a generally flourishing condition. The present number of members is 40, and Rev. W. H. Bentley is the pastor. The Sunday-school has five teachers and 30 scholars.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at Orleans Four Corners, was organized May 25, 1840, by Rev. Henry L. Dox, the first pastor, and at its organization consisted of 12 members. The original cost of their house of worship, which will comfortably seat 250 persons, was about $1,250. It is now valued, including grounds, etc., at $3,000. The present membership of the church is 69, under the pastoral care of Rev. Eugene L. Wade. Joseph Rasbach is superintendent of the Sunday-school, which consists of five teachers and 60 scholars.
St. John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, located on lot No. 45 of Penet’s Square, was organized in 1841, by Henry Haas, V. Balltuff, and N. Lehr, with Rev. Mr. Schmidt as first pastor. Their house of worship, a wooden structure, was erected in 1841, at a cost of $1,500. It will seat 200 persons, and is valued at $1,600. The present membership is 46, under the pastoral charge of Rev. George F. Hartwig.
St. John’s Roman Catholic Church, at La Fargeville, is a pretty frame structure 30 by 40 feet, and will comfortably seat about 100 people. The church was recently dedicated, and is a credit to the Catholics of the town, who, though few in numbers, are devout and earnest in their worship.
Following this history is the Biographical Sketch of Mr. Biddlecom, which has been included in the Biographical Sketches for the Town of Orleans found on the internet in Nan Dixon's Jefferson County, N. Y. GenWeb site.