History of the Town from Child’s Gazetteer of Jefferson County, N. Y.

pp. 688-696

THERESA was formed from Alexandria by an act of April 15, 1841, and was named in honor of the daughter of James Le Ray de Chaumont, who married the Marquis de Gouvello, of France. It is nearly in the form of a parallelogram, with its longer lines stretching northeast and southwest. St. Lawrence County is its northeastern boundary, Le Ray township its southwestern, Orleans joins it on the west, Alexandria on the northwest, and Antwerp and Philadelphia on the southeast. Indian River traverses the entire length of the town, entering at its southern corner and leaving it in the extreme northeast, whence it passes into St. Lawrence County. The town contains a number of beautiful lakes,* lying principally in the northern part. Of these Butterfield and Mud lakes lie on the Alexandria line, and partly in that town, Grass Lake is partly in St. Lawrence County, Moon extends into Antwerp, while Hyde, Crystal, Sixbury, Millsite, Red, and Muskallonge lakes, and the Lake of the Woods, lie wholly in Theresa. The margins of these lakes are nearly everywhere bound in by high, rocky shores. The surface along Indian River is broken and traversed by ridges of gneiss rock, with fertile intervals. The ledge known as Bluff Rock, four miles below Theresa village, on the river, is from 130 to 150 feet in height, and nearly a half mile in length; in a great part of this distance descending sheer from the summit to the water’s edge. Just below Theresa village, deeply indented and shut in by the hills, is a place on the river known as the “Indian landing,” because the red men paddled their canoes up to this spot, at the very foot of the falls, disembarked, and carrying them over the rugged portage, placed them again in the still waters above the rapids, to continue their journey towards the southeast. This was their great waterway and trail. From the falls to the St. Lawrence County line the surface of the country along the river is level. It is also comparatively free from inequalities in the south and southwest portions. In other parts, particularly in the lake section, it is broken by abrupt hills and ribbed by barren and forbidding ledges. Nearly all the township was comprised in the 220,000-acre purchase of Le Ray from the Antwerp Company, January 4, 1800. It has an area of 25,604 acres.

The first town meeting was held at the public house of Marcius B. Ashley, in Theresa village, April 11, 1841, and resulted in the election of the following officers, viz.: Percival D. Bullard, town clerk; Abraham Morrow, Michael Servis, and Osmyn Caswell, justices of the peace; Richard Hoover, assessor; Barney N. Hanson and Jonathan Hakes, commissioners of highways; Stephen Scott, commissioner of common schools; Samuel W. Strough and Ichabod Cronkite, inspectors of common schools; Samuel T. Brooks, overseer of the poor; Isaac L. Huntington, Jeremiah R. Hungerford, and Albert W. Covenhoven, constables. Alexander Salisbury, elected supervisor of Alexandria for that year prior to the partition, held over as supervisor of the new town, under a clause of the act of erection, which provided that all persons elected to town offices in Alexandria at the last previous annual meeting should continue to hold those offices, until the expiration of their term, in the towns in which their residence fell. Some other officers than the supervisor also held over in Theresa under that provision.


*It is said that some of these lakes do not now bear their original appellations, Butterfield being once known as Grand Lake; Mud as Edmond’s Lake; Crystal as Lake Madam de Ferriet; and Millsite as Pleasant Lake.



Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1824 says of Theresa in 1821: ---

“Theresa, a small village recently founded at the falls on Indian River, has a grist-mill, saw-mill, ashery, a store, and a tavern.”

In 1880 Theresa had a population of 2,389. The town is situated in the third school district of Jefferson County, and in 1888 had 15 school districts, one of which was joint, in which 18 teachers were employed 28 weeks or more. There were 672 scholars attending school, and the aggregate days attendance during the year was 53,700. The total value of school buildings and sites was $9,150, while the assessed valuation of all the districts was $996,570. The whole amount raised for school purposes was $4,281.03, $2,046.67 of which was received by local tax. Charles E. Whitney was school commissioner.

THERESA (p. o.) village was incorporated June 29, 1871, under the general act of April 20, 1870, for incorporation of villages. The first election, held July 29, resulted in the choice of George E. Yost, president; John Parker, Ambrose Walradt, and Gideon Snell, Sr., trustees; Hiram P. Salisbury, treasurer; Charles Fairbanks, collector. The trustees appointed Melvin E. Cornwell, clerk. George Rockwell made a survey and map of the corporation, which embraces about 1,200 acres. The village is a station on the U. & B. R. division of the R., W. & O. Railroad, 17 miles from Watertown, 190 from Albany, and 332 from New York. It has telegraph, telephone, and express offices, and a population of about 1,100. The principal manufacturing establishments of the village are Pool & Cheeseman’s grist and saw-mill, C. Wakefield & Son’s iron foundry, Reamer, Pool & House’s planing-mill, Snell & Makepeace’s flouring and feed-mill, E. D. Sheley & Son’s Lumbermill and sash and blind factory, A. N. Brittan & Son Manufacturing Company (chairs), and William D. Chapman, Son & Co., manufacturers of fishing tackle. The village also contains two hotels, a weekly newspaper, a banking house, three churches (Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Methodist Episcopal), four general stores, several groceries, hardware stores, jewelry store, two drug stores, show stores, several clothiers and merchant tailors, millinery and dress-making establishments, blacksmith shops, wagon shops, harness shops, shoe shops, meat markets, photograph gallery, a furniture dealer and undertake, a marble shop, and a number of professional men. It is one of the principal villages of the county, and is pleasantly situated at the High Falls on Indian River, which furnishes an excellent water-power. May 12, 1859, the village was visited by a most disastrous fire, which spread devastation on both sides of the river, distroying (sic) one barn and two dwellings,* two or three saw-mills, a woodworking shop, machine shop, a foundry, grist-mill, and a cloth factory. The bridge was also totally destroyed. In 1863 a flood did great damage here, carrying away the upper dam, the covered bridge, and other property.

Soon after midnight, on the morning of April 5, 1890, a most disastrous fire visited the village of Theresa, destroying more than $100,000 worth of the American Hotel and one saloon. Forty-two buildings were burned, and 17 families were made homeless. The following list of losses, taken from the press reports, is as authentic as can be procured at this time, and is believed to be nearly correct: Getman Brothers, block and store, $8,000; J. C. Bidleman, building, $2,500; A. F. Richardson, postoffice building, and J. Kissel, store, $2,500; George Lehr & Son, building, $2,000; F. M. Peck, building, $3,500, merchandise, $9,000, house, $2,500; W. L. Roth, building, $2,500; stock, $3,000; Caroline Dresser, block, $3,000; E. S. Stockwell, building, $1,500; Mrs. L. Hannahs, block, $3,5000; R. Rodenhurst, brick block, $4,000, stock hardware, $8,500; W. M. Lambie, block, $3,500, stock, $9,000; F. L. Santway, block, $3,000; Masonic hall, $3,000, jewels and records saved; G. W. Henry, building, $2,000; George E. Yost, building, $2,500; Mrs. William Peck, block, $2,500; J. Courts, building, $2,500; M. L. Statter, block, $3,000, carriagemaking machinery, $1,500; M. L. Cook, building, $300; Chapman & Son, block, $3,000; Frank Parker, residence, $2,500; W. C. Porter, residence, $2,500; L. W. Tyler, tenement, $3,000; Victor Cooper, residence, $2,500; J. C. Morrow, residence, $2,000; Mrs. E. Parkhurst, residence, $1,500, millinery stock, $1,000; Mrs. H. A. Coe, residence, $2,500. Other losses not separately estimated will make a total of something considerably over $100,000. The fire originated in the store of F. M. Peck, which was closed by the sheriff the previous evening. There was no furnace in the building, and it is understood that there had been no fire in the stove for some time. There are many who believe the beginning of the fire to be the work of an incendiary. The insurance on the property destroyed was about $50,000.

WEST THERESA is a small hamlet in the western part of the town. It was once considered of enough importance to have a postoffice, which was established in 1848, but has long since been discontinued. Warren Parrish was the first postmaster. A postoffice, known as Military Road, was established in the southeastern part of the town, near the line of Le Ray, about 1840. It was in existence but a few years.

E. D. Sheley’s sash, door, and blind factory, located in the village of Theresa, was established in 1866. The factory is equipped with improved machinery, run by water-power, and furnishes employment to from 30 to 35 hands. Mr. Sheley is also an architect, contractor, and builder, and dealer in lumber and hardware.

Stockwell & Parker employ about 20 men in the manufacture of lumber, shingles, Yankee cheese-boxes and Limburg boxes, clothes bars, snow shovels, and barley forks. They manufacture about 40,000 Yankee cheese-boxes annually.

A. N. Brittan & Son Manufacturing Co. (Limited), established in 1843, incorporated in 1888, were extensively engaged in the manufacture of chairs until June, 1889, when their factory was destroyed by fire. They have not rebuilt it, and are closing out their business.

Mr. Le Ray early recognized the natural advantages at the High Falls of Indian River (as the locality, now Theresa village, was then designated), and in 1810-11 erected a saw-mill here and produced large quantities of lumber, which, in the absence of home demand, was rafted down the river to market at Rossie or Ogdensburg. This traffic was interrupted by the War of 1812, and a great deal of lumber was left to decay at the mill yard.

It was the purpose of Mr. Le Ray to sell and settle his lands as rapidly as possible, and by clearing and sowing grain he would be able to furnish the means of subsistence to pioneers until they could produce for themselves. Accordingly he caused several clearings to be made in the town, one of 100 acres about a mile above the falls, on the left bank of the river, and another of 40 acres a short distance below the first. Upon this last named clearing the land office was afterwards established, where a stone house was built by Rottiers, the proprietor’s agent. In 1813 these clearings, having previously been seeded to grass, were occupied by about 500 sheep, 60 horned cattle, and 20 horses, the property of Mr. Le Ray, who had employed Capt. John Hoover, afterwards a tavern-keeper at Evans Mills, to guard them. Capt. Hoover’s only companions were his wife and John A. Evans; but it is said he had ammunition and firearms enough to supply a company of militia. He succeeded at one time in capturing, single handed, two of a party of five of the enemy, who came to reconnoiter his position. These he took as prisoners of war to the camp at Sackets Harbor.

In 1817 the sale of lands was commenced in Theresa by Mr. Le Ray, the usual terms being three dollars per acre, and seven years’ time given for payment. The contracts required the purchaser to build upon the premises, within one year, a house 18 feet square or larger, and to clear, within the same time, four acres of every 100 purchased, the work to be performed in a thorough and proper manner. At first no mineral rights were reserved to the proprietor, but after a few years these were required to be made. In 1818 the proprietor, with a view to the building of a village at the falls, caused to be surveyed by Mr. Evans a reservation containing 1,000 acres, lying south and west of the river. This locality was first known as High Falls, but was subsequently named Theresa, by Mr. Le Ray, in honor of his daughter.

Colonel Sinesa Ball and James Shurtleff, both of whom came in 1817, were the first settlers in Theresa, but it is not known which arrived earliest in the year. Mr. Shurtleff settled where Le Ray’s larger clearing had been made, and there opened his house as an inn, the first in the town. Col. Ball settled on the Military road, two miles west of the falls. He had served as an officer at Sackets Harbor in the War of 1812, and became colonel of militia. He died near Hyde Lake, in this town, July 1, 1877, aged 86 years.

In 1819 at the beginning of the year, there were, within the present limits of the town, in addition to the two already named, the following settlers: Anson Cheeseman, at that time a sawyer in Le Ray’s mill at the falls, afterwards located on a farm between the falls and the Military road; Jeremiah Cheeseman, brother of Anson, who occupied a farm on the south side of the Alexandria road; a Mr. Moyer, who settled near Shurtleff’s; Joseph Miller, on the west side of the Alexandria road; James Lake, on the east side of Hyde Lake; Eliphalet Emery, adjoining Mr. Lake; and Zalmon Pool, Jr., who had purchased in the fall of 1817, and moved here with his family in March, 1818, settling on the Antwerp town line, on lot No. 138, on the southerly side of Moon Lake. These were the only inhabitants, excepting perhaps a few persons in the employ of Le Ray, who were in no sense settlers.

In 1819 came Jesse Doolittle from Watertown (where he had located as a blacksmith in 1806). He settled on the east side of the river, at the village, on lot 134, and was the first blacksmith in Theresa, the second being Carley Smith, who came from New Hampshire. Mr. Doolittle took up a farm, which he occupied until his death in 1836. The second blacksmith at the falls was Col. Artemas Baker, who came in 1820, and in 1821 borrowed the tools of Jesse Doolittle and opened a shop where Bullard’s store afterwards stood. During the year 1819 Nathaniel Parker, Ebenezer Lull, Mrs. Keller (a widow), Allen Cole, Henry R. Morey, Austin Bates, Augustus Soper, Michael V. D. Cook, Benjamin Allen, Daniel Allen, and others located in the town. Henry Morey was the first carpenter and joiner, and built the earliest houses at the falls. He subsequently removed to Evans Mills and died there. About 1820 Lodowick Salisbury located on the Military road, on lot 97, where he built a log house and opened it as a place of public entertainment, the first of the several inns which sprung up on that road in the town of Theresa. Sylvester Bodman, Nathaniel W. Lull, and Dudley Chapman also settled in the town in 1820. The first shoemaker in Theresa was Seymour Murray, who came from Lowville in 1821. Samuel Hall, also a shoemaker, came about 1822. The first tailor, Deacon Abraham Morrow, located about 1821. Archibald Fisher came from New Hampshire about 1820, and purchased lands near the Orleans line. He afterwards removed to the village, became a general of militia, and a prominent citizen. In 1822 or ‘23 Azariah Walton located at the falls. He afterwards removed to Alexandria, and was for more than 18 years deputy collector at the Bay.

The first white child born within the present limits of Theresa was Ursula, daughter of Allen Cole, born May 26, 1819. The next birth, which occurred at nearly the same time, was a daughter of Anson Cheeseman. The first marriage was that of Erastus Clark to Kate Underwood, in 1820. Andrew Stone and Hannah, daughter of James Shurtleff, was the next couple married, the ceremony being performed by the father of the bride. The first death was that of Thompson Doolittle, son of Jesse, November 18, 1820. The first physician was Dr. James Brooks, who came in 1822, and died here in 1823. His successor was Dr. Samuel J. Gains, who in turn was succeeded by Dr. John P. Davison, who came from Pamelia to the falls in 1824. The latter died here September 22, 1865, aged 72 years. His two sons, James and Nathan M., also practiced here.

The first grist-mill at the falls was built by Samuel Case, for Le Ray, and completed in 1821. Its site was about the same as that of the present grist-mill at the lower dam. Noah Ashley was the first miller employed. In 1823 it became the property of Percival Bullard, and in 1830 passed to the ownership of Marcius B. and Stephen Asley. In 1852, while the property of George Wilson, it was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, and again burned in 1859.

In 1819 the first public house at the falls was built, on the site now occupied by the Getman House. It was owned by Le Ray and kept by a Mr. Stephenson. In 1821 it was destroyed by fire, through the carelessness of a colored girl who lost her life in the flames. A new public house, being the main part of the present Getman House, was built on the same spot, in 1824, by Gen. Archibald Fisher. It was known as the “brick tavern,” and was the first building of that material erected in Theresa. Benjamin Barnes both manufactured and laid the bricks. In the early days the Military road was a great route of travel, and several taverns were opened upon it within the limits of Theresa.

Jonathan Thompson started the first tannery in the town, on Barnes Creek, northeast of the falls settlement, in 1822. Nathaniel W. Lull also started one the same year, near the present railway station. Thompson afterwards removed his vats, etc., to a building at the south end of the lower bridge, where he also had a shop for the finishing of his leather. A third tannery was erected by Almond Thwing, in the ravine in the rear of the present American Hotel, and in 1860 another was built on the river above the falls and below Seeber’s saw-mill. A fulling-mill and clothiery works were put in operation in 1822 by Nathan M. Flower.

The first merchant in Theresa was Ebenezer Lull, who opened a small store at the falls in 1820. He employed Alexander Salisbury as clerk. Soon afterwards Lull, in partnership with Azariah Walton, entered quite extensively into the lumber trade, shipping staves and square timer to Montreal by the St. Lawrence River. Their point of shipment was Alexandria Bay, and they also opened another store at Plessis. In 1825 Mr. Lull sold the store to Olney Pierce, of Watertown, for Anson Ranney. Mr. Ranney, about 1832, built the stone store at the southeast corner of Main and Commercial streets, where he continued business many years, having partners at different times. John J. Gilbert opened the second store in town, about 1830, in a brick building which he erected near the south end of the lower bridge. The building was occupied by several different ones, and finally changed to a dwelling and currier shop. The store on the southwest corner of Main and Commercial streets was built in 1837, by A. Salisbury and Ichabod Thompson.

Along the margin of Indian River, below Theresa Falls, are bottom lands, aggregating more than 3,300 acres, which, when the white man first saw them, were covered with soft maple and elm, and at times of high water were submerged. The additional flowage, caused by the erection of the dam of the old Rossie smelting works, partially submerged these lands and converted them into soft morasses, covered with coarse grass and button-bushes, and caused them to be generally known as “the drowned lands.” The project of draining this tract was agitated, and in 1850, and again in 1865, acts were passed by the legislature conferring the desired power upon commissioners appointed, the expense of the work and damages resulting to be assessed on the lands drained. The commissioners appointed under the act of 1865 performed some work, but the desired effect was not produced, although the river was lowered to some extent. Soon afterwards the legislature granted a state appropriation of $10,000, “for the improvement of the navigation of Indian River” at his point, to be expended by Jason C. Morrow, Wilbur F. Porter, of Watertown, and Rodney I. Simonds, of Theresa. At the expiration of the term for which these gentlemen were chosen they had expended only a portion of the funds, and the balance remaining in their hands was deposited with the state treasurer. This balance could not be redrawn by new commissioners except under authority of further legislation. Accordingly a new act was procured, investing George E. Yost, L. W. Tyler, and R. I. Simonds with authority, as commissioners, to draw the balance and complete the work, which they did in a manner and with a result satisfactory to the projectors.

The first steam navigation on Indian River in the town of Theresa was by the Indian Chief, a side-wheel steamer 70 feet in length and 11 feet beam. The hull was launched at Indian landing, below the mills at Theresa, and she received her machinery and commenced running in May following. She was run for about five years, and finally ended her career on the St. Lawrence River, as a ferry boat between Morristown and Brockville. The second steamer on Indian River was a small side-wheeler purchased by W. D. Chapman, upon the Erie Canal, about 1860. It was brought by land transportation to Theresa, was run her for a short time, and finally sold and taken to Alexandria Bay. After this came the Lady of the Lake and Sir John Keach, both built by Mr. Chapman, and the Eldorado, built by David Bearup, Esq. The latter was the largest of the five boats named.

The first school in Theresa (then a part of Le Ray) was taught by a Mrs. Castleman, in the summer of 1820, in a log house on the westerly corner of the 40-acre clearing which Capt. John Hoover had garrisoned as a cattle-guard seven years before. She taught only the children of two or three neighboring settlers, and it was not, of course, a public school. The next school was taught by Miss Almira Barnes, at the house of Mrs. Keeler, at the falls settlement. Miss Abigail Salisbury (afterwards Mrs. Percival Bullard), opened a school at about the same time at the house of Carley Smith, on the north side of the river, at the falls. The first building erected expressly for school purposes (probably in 1821) was a frame structure, located in the present village of Theresa.



The First Presbyterian Church of Theresa, located at Theresa village, was organized May 8, 1825, by the Presbytery of Watertown, William B. Stowe acting as moderator. Eleven persons were present, but only nine were enrolled as members---four males and five females. William B. Stowe was the first pastor. Abraham Morrow and Sylvester Bodman were chosen elders and deacons. Their first house of worship, a wooden structure, was erected in 1838. The present building, a brick structure, was erected in 1879, at a cost of $16,000. It will comfortably seat 250 persons, and is valued, including grounds, etc., at $18,000. The present membership is 94, under the pastoral charge of Rev. George W. S. Wenrick. The Sunday-school has 121 members.

The First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Theresa was organized in March, 1836, by Rev. Squire Chase, the first pastor, and at its organization consisted of about 15 or 20 members. In 1836 the Presbyterians and Methodists built a union church, of wood. In 1850 the Methodists built a church which was burned in 1860, and in 1862 the present wooden structure was dedicated. It will comfortably seat 450 persons, cost $7,000, and is now valued, including grounds and other church property, at $10,000. The present membership is about 150, under the pastoral charge of Rev. Edward S. Cheeseman. The Sunday-school has a membership of 200.

St. James Church (Episcopal), located on Commercial street, in Theresa village, was organized in 1848, by Rev. Mr. Hills, with four members, Rev. W. Allen Fiske being the first rector. Their house of worship, the present structure, was built in 1851. It will comfortably seat 250 persons, and is valued, including grounds and other church property, at $6,000. The present membership of the church is 100, of whom 38 are communicants; Rev. George Gustavus Perrine is the present rector. The Sunday-school has six teachers and 40 scholars.

Note: The family sketches followed. Those are presented on Nan Dixon's NYGenWeb site for Jefferson County, N. Y.

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