History of Duane, New York
Town of Duane, New York
Duane was formed from Malone January 24, 1828, the first settlement in the town having been made about 1824 by men employed by James Duane, from whom the town takes its name. It then included Brighton and three townships of Harrietstown.
Mr. Duane was of distinguished ancestry, his grandfather having been the first mayor of the city of New York, a State Senator, member of the Council of Appointment, and for several years a judge of the United States court. He was the founder of Duanesburgh, Schenectady county. Our Mr. Duane married Harriet, daughter of William Constable of New York, who was one of the large land owners in Franklin county in the apportionment of the Macomb purchase, and also a ship owner and importing therchant. For his day he possessed great wealth. His ships sailed to all parts of the world, and when he or members of his family desired to voyage to Europe he was accustomed to fit up one of his own vessels, and employ it much as the modern millionaire uses his yacht. Mr. Constable came to this country from London, England, where he had a fine establishment in the aristocratic residential district. It is told of him that upon the occasion of a visit to that city, after he had become a resident of New York, he was met in the street by Benedict Arnold, who greeted him with extended hand. Mr. Constable refused to see the hand or in any way to respond to the salutation. Notwithstanding the immense land holdings of Mr. Constable here, he never visited the county. After his death, however, a brother journeyed twice through our northern towns, inspecting the Constable properties, examining into the methods employed by the local agents, and in some cases dealing directly with those who held lands under contract.
A part of Mr. Constable’s holdings, amounting to 34,589 acres in township No. 12, and to 10,000 acres in No. 9, had become the property of Mrs. Duane by inheritance, and at about the time that the wolfbounty frauds were rife, burdening non-resident land owners so sorely, Mr. Duane came to this county to make it his home. His motive, in large part, was to do what he could to stamp out the business. “Judges, church members, respectable neighbors, all were in it, and winked at enormous sums being spent, which all came out of the non-resident taxpayers.” Mr. Duane arrived in Malone with his family in 1824, and located in that village until he could make a road thence to his own lands and build there. His operations were on a tremendous scale for that day, and, with the exception of a single instance, never since has Duane enjoyed an equal activity and prosperity. Possessed of means of his own, and backed by the wealth of his father, he undertook a development which involved the employment of considerable help, the establishment of several industries, and a heavy expenditure. A part of his help he brought with him fiom Schenectady county, and others were attracted from other points in this locality by the opportunity to obtain employment and to purchase lands at low prices, with the privilege of paying for them in labor. A brick kiln was built just north of the foot of Studley Hill, and operated by a Mr. Studley (from whom the hill takes its name), a saw mill was constructed on the Duane stream for getting out the lumber needed in building, a farm of three hundred acres was cleared and brought into the highest state of cultivation, engineers were employed for three years to locate deposits of iron, a forge was erected on the Duane stream just below where it is crossed by the Hopkinton and Port Kent turnpike, and later, after Mr. Duane had been joined by his brothers, Robert and Mumford, a furnace was established on Deer river, and operated for six or seven years. Its product averaged about one hundred tons a year of the very finest quality of iron. But the expense of marketing the output was so great that operations were prosecuted at a loss. The Duane residence, since burned, was one of the best for its time in the county, and there were two fine gardens of two acres each, which are now all grown up to weeds and briars. The farm, too, is neglected and apparently abandoned, no member of the family remains in the town, and only traces of the Duane works are to be seen.
In another chapter Mrs. Lowell, a daughter of Mr. Duane, who died at Schenectady in 1890, is quoted at considerable length, and additional extracts from her charming pamphlet, “Recollections of an Old-Fashioned Lady,” are here given: “A good many families, some from the neighborhood and some that father had brought with him from Duanesburgh, had moved in, made little clearings, and built log houses while he was getting ready to build. They must have lived chiefly on the wages he paid them, or the money advanced, until they began to raise crops, for only people who are not very well off settle on new land. There were so many families that, although most of them were young people and their children yet babies, by the time that mother got there (1827) she had forty children in her Sunday school. [The population of Duane in 1830 was 247 and in 1840 it was 324, or more than it has ever been since except in two decades, one of which was during the Schroeder activity.] * * * As the country opened, and the roads improved, to her great delight, mother often had her house filled with company. She proved the truth of the old adage, ‘Where there is heart-room there is house-room,’ by poking us into crannies, and perhaps accommodate a party of six or eight who might unexpectedly arrive after ten o’clock at night. * * * Such quantities of food had to be cooked for the men! Beside seven or eight who were clearing the farm, a squad were working in an ore-bed and living in a shanty. Their bread had to be baked in the house, they doing the rest of the cooking themselves; upsetting all the economy of the kitchen utensils by their demands. One time our women not only baked for our large household, but for a gang of men at the forge and for another who were cutting down trees where Uncles Robert and Mumford were about to build the furnace. Our great brick oven, which would hold fifteen large loaves, was heated every day but Sunday, and twice on Saturday. * * * The land unfortunately abounded in iron ore. Ore-bed after ore-bed was discovered, worked, and given up. * * * A great deal was spent to make the mineral wealth productive. At last (in 1828) they did get fine beds opened. Father built a forge, made bar iron which sold excellently at the Clinton rolling mills; the good time looked to be coming. Just then came the freshet which destroyed so many lives and so much property in Vermont and Northern New York, and carried off the forge. The little stream which one could step over on stones, except where it was dammed, was so swollen that the whole ravine it ran through was filled like a deep river. * * * He built another forge; it was burned; another; it was carried off by another freshet. * * * Uncle Robert, with Uncle Mumford, put up a large blast furnace at Deer river, about five miles from our house; their works looked like a village. The great furnace, the stone bellows-house, the blacksmith shop, the three coal houses filled with charcoal burnt in the neighborhood, their own house and two barns, a frame tavern which they built and rented to a man who could board some of the people they employed who would not mess with the men. It was a wonderful treat to go over and see the casting at the furnace; men carrying great round ladles, redhot, filled with melted iron, to pour into the molds. In the long run neither they nor poor father made by their manufactories. But they spent more of dear grandpa’s money than the lands had ever been valued at upon it. * * *
“Father and iiiother were practically parson and doctor to the settlement. Each had a medicine chest, stocked, and they also had two doctor-books — ‘ Thompson’s Domestic Medicine’ and ‘The Family Physician.’ When the people were sick they used to consult father and mother, who would look out the case in the book, and weigh out what they supposed to be the right medicine. They always furnished every comfort in. their power, so that it was looked upon as a right for any to send for medicine, tea, white bread and currant jelly, or for father to come and bleed them. * * *
“The way father came to build the pretty little school house, looking so much like a church (which you remember, but which is gone now) was this: The people had to hold their first town meeting in a log school house; he saw that it was lowering to their self respect as a community, and himself put up a neat frame building which could be used as a school house, town house and church. Most of the elder heads of families were members of the Congregational Church. On Sundays they used to hold their meetings in the morning in this way: One brother made a prayer; then Deacon Esterhrooks gave out one of Watts’s hymns. * * * They had another hymn; another prayer; no Bible, but a sermon read. After this service came intermission. The women sat eating their lunch on the benches by the wall. Mother had her forty Sunday scholars on planks rested on benches, so as to form a triangle ‘round her chair. Soon, the men, who had adjourned to the fields if it were pleasant, or the shed if it stormed, began to come in and listen too. Sunday school and recess over, father read the Church service, the people all responding, and liking it very much. These were the first [Episcopal] church services held in any of our northern counties. Miss Harison well said when St. Mark’s, Malone, was hung in black at his death, ‘It was just. for he introduced the church into the county.’”
Mr. and Mrs. Duane were devoted members of the Episcopal Church. Mrs. Lowell says: “About three years after we moved up to Duane a church was organized in Plattsburgh; a young deacon, Rev. Anson B. Hard, put in charge. He came out to Malone and held, in the court house, the first [Episcopal] church service, except the lay readings, ever held in Franklin count.. The roads were still very rough; there had been heavy rains; the children all had the whooping cough; nothing stood in the way. Father took us all — mother, the nurse and four children — in a lumber wagon to the village. The water in holes in the road was so deep that several times it went over the sides of the wagon. We were five hours going fourteen miles. * * * A few church people had moved into Malone; a few were attracted by the services; and before long there were occasional visits from missionaries, when we always went down— sometimes getting up before light to be intime. * * *
“It might seem strange, when. the household was conducted on so large and munificent a scale,, there should have been such a lack of money. The master and mistress allowed themselves few personal indulgences, and found it difficult to scrape enough together to send a boy to school. It was that everything was raised on the farm except a supply of groceries and dry goods from the stores in Malone, in a manner I shall describe by-and-by. The farm was three hundred acres in the highest state of cultivation. It is understood by persons settling townships of wild land that farms half paid for, with the remainder under contract (that is, mortgaged to the seller, with interest to be paid) are worth more than those not sold at all. This great farm was worked by laborers paying for the first half of their farms in Number Nine by work. There was so little money going in that part of the country in those days that ‘store pay’ was the regular remuneration; cash, the exception. Farmers who owed interest on their land, or who wanted to make a payment on the second half, never brought money. They ‘turned in’ cattle, butter, grain, or whatever they had, to the country merchants, and gave due bills. The merchants took the cattle to Shoreham, the butter to St. Albans, and so got the money to pay the city dealers who supplied them. Goods were bought on six months’ credit, and had to be turned two or three times before money could be got for them. So that this large farm, where everything was brought to perfection and carried on on so large a scale, was managed without our seeing any money. We always had from four to five men in the winter, and from six to twelve in the summer; in haying I have counted seventeen. We killed our own beeves and mutton, cured our own pork; father saw to the hams himself, and we had everything of the very best. * * * There was no market for anything. They did not know how to sell if there had been. Consequently we had a supply, as free as water, of things that are stinted by money-value elsewhere. Of cauliflowers, asparagus, sweet corn and the like there were more than could be eaten in parlor and kitchen.”
Besides the Duane activities already noted, the town had at one time a grist mill on the Duane stream, and John Smith operated a “leather factory” in 1834. Among other hides and peltries, catamount skins were tanned, there. The bark mill used by Mr. Smith was afterward brought to Malone, and became a part of the Lincoln tannery. Near this point, too, as well as at the furnace, Major Duane erected a boarding house for the employees in the mine and at the forge, which was run also as a hotel eighty years or more ago.
Mr. Duane served his town for many years as supervisor, and became an officer in the militia, ranking as major. He died in 1859.
The eldest son of Major Duane (James Chatham) was a West Point graduate, and during the war of the rebellion served with distinction as an engineer in the army of the Potomac. He built the pontoon bridge for General McClellan across the Chickahominy, which was the longest bridge of that kind ever constructed up to that time, and was in charge of many other military engineering works. He rose to the rank of brigadier-general. After the close of the war he was for a number of years the head of the United States lighthouse board, and then became a member of New York city’s aqueduct commission which planned the system of works for supplying the metropolis with water from the Catskills.
Stephen Kempton operated a saw mill on the Duane stream in later years, which Isaac Chesley afterward owned and worked, and still later a Mr. Walker ran a steam mill near the same point for a year or two. Oren Grimes (who had been manager for the lumbering interests at St. Regis Falls) and his son-in-law, Fred O’Neil (afterward county treasurer for six years, and then postmaster at Malone for seventeen years) began lumbering in 1875 on Deer river, near where the Duane furnace had been, and continued in the business for about twelve years, when they sold to Ladd & Smallman of Malone, who sold to Nelson Trushaw and Peter King. The latter were burned out in 1892. George McNeil had preceded Grimes & O’Neil in lumbering here, and had an English gate mill and tub factory. Francis Skiff was there even before McNeil. Grimes & O’Neil rebuilt the mill, and apparently the frame tavern which Mrs. Lowell refers to as having been rented to a man who was to board such of the furnace operatives as would not mess with the common hands was run as a public house also; for there was then a good deal of travel past the place on the Hopkinton and Port Kent turnpike. I am told that when the house was closed in the Duane period the key was simply turned in the door, and furniture, bedding and clothing left in it to mould and decay. The tavern became the Grimes homestead. It was bought years later by E. P. Perkins, who tore it down, and now even the spot where it stood can hardly be located. Still another mill was built near the headwaters of Deer river by Fenderson & Ford in 1891 and another in 1905 by Conger Bros. of Brushton at Lake Duane. The latter burned in 1907 with a loss of $7,500.
During the time that Grimes & O'Neil lumbered here John Duane, a son of the major, tore down the old furnace building in order to get the iron in it to sell. The structure- was of stone, as high as an ordinary three-story building, and the walls were reinforced by great bars of iron two or three inches wide and thirty to forty feet long. Of course the building served no purpose standing idle, and yet it seems too bad that it should have been dismantled and destroyed. The foundation walls of some parts of the works are still visible.
Apart from the Duane enterprises, the town had no industrial history of moment until about 1883, when Robert Schroeder of New York, who bought hops in Franklin county for a number of years, determined to become a grower himself on an extensive scale, and purchased more than two thousand one hundred acres of farm and forest lands on the plateau which comprises substantially all of the arable land in the town, paying fancy prices for most of it as measured by the valuations which had theretofore been prevalent, or by those which now obtain. He erected large and expensive hop houses; set out several hundred acres to hops; bought barn fertilizer in New York city, freighted it to Malone, and then hauled it fifteen to eighteen miles by team to the yards. Everything was done with a lavish disregard for expense, and there were no profits. The yield per acre was light, the price of hops fell to a point below the cost even of economical production, and after a time yard after yard was abandoned until none remained in cultivation. Of his forest land Mr. Schroeder made a private park, and built a fine cottage on the shore of a handsome sheet of water known as Debar pond. He was then a bachelor, and with a gentleman employee and friend as companion spent a good deal of his time in the summer months at this point. Male guests from New York city were present frequently, and upon such occasions the fun was reported to have been fast and “loud.” These affairs were expensive, too, for items of wine and broken china, and the upkeep of the cottage could hardly have been less than that of the farms. The cottage was once burned, but was rebuilt even finer than before. Mr. Schroeder at length failed, and the entire property was sold at a great shrinkage in price as compared with cost. Mr. Schroeder returned to New York city to reside, and committed suicide there a few years ago.
In the old days Duane had two hotels besides the Duane establishments for the accommodation of stage travelers and the few sportsmen who sought the locality for hunting and fishing. One was kept by Hiram Ayers, and the other by Ezekiel Ladd, who built it in 1839, ‘and who was succeeded by Jabez Hazen, Henry Woodford, James Bean and Robert Ladd. The building was burned in 1890 and rebuilt by Robert Ladd. This latter hotel is now the town house. Later William J. Ayers had a summer hotel that was famous for the excellence of its table, and which, until it was burned, enjoyed a considerable patronage, and George Selkirk now conducts a modest establishment for summer boarders and sportsmen in the western part of the town. Lake Meacham was long one of the best trout waters and deer hunting localities in the Adirondacks, and still gives good sport in these regards. Before the civil war “Aunt. Mary” Wine lived there in a cabin, and cared for chance visitors in a crude but hospitable way. Then a little better house, kept by John Titus for several years, and afterward by Henry Woodford, began to attract custom, and in 1872 was purchased by Isaac Chesley and Alonzo R. Fuller, by whom it was enlarged and improved. Mr. Chesley retired from the partnership after a year or two, after which Mr. Fuller conducted the hotel alone for perhaps twenty years. Something like eighteen years ago the house burned, and was wholly rebuilt on modern lines. Shortly afterward the place changed hands, and is at present managed by A. H. Mould for the owners. Mr. Fuller was a gentleman of exceptional intelligence, with the tastes of the naturalist abundantly developed. He was one of the first men in the country to demonstrate the practicability of artificial propagation of fish, and was an authority on everything pertaining to the forests. His ability and attainments were recognized by the most eminent scientists, and for years he was in correspondence with Agassiz and other men of like standing, who sought his views and statement of his experiments and knowledge. Mr. Fuller’s influence in the community was a force for good in every respect, and through his teachings and agency in various forms, and also through association with his guests, the people of the town gained remarkably in material welfare, general appearance, intelligence and morality. Mr. Fuller removed to Malone, where he conducted a jewelry store and “clock hospital” until his death in 1912.
Though until a recent period without a house built expressly for purposes of worship, Duane had religious services from earliest, times. It has already been seen how these were arranged and conducted under the distinctively Duane influence, with occasional visitations by Episcopalian deacons or clergy, with regular lay readings by Major Duane himself, and with Congregational worship under home leadership. Only a few years later the indefatigable Methodist Episcopal circuit riders, or pastors from adjacent towns, carried their ministrations here, even if somewhat irregularly, and, with a persistence not manifested by any other denomination, held to the field until it became their own exclusively. Duane was between two Methodist charges or stations. Saranac mission in the Troy conference, and Malone in the Black river (now Northern New York) conference; and it was visited sometimes by the preacher of one and sometimes by that of the other, besides being served from time to time by local preachers residing within its own territory. Such services were held generally in the “pretty little school house looking so much like a church” that was built by Major Duane. In 1836 Rev. Jehiel Austin, appointed to Saranac mission, and who made Merrillsville his home, extended his work to Duane, and formed a class there. Several families united with the Methodist Episcopal Church at about this time, and the work prospered for about two years, when business disturbances and reverses occasioned a number of removals from the town, and the work languished. But John Adams, a local preacher or exhorter, who lived on the place afterward owned by William Steenberge, officiated at services from time to time between 1839 and 1844, and in the latter year a Mr. Parish, then stationed at Merrillsville, preached in Duane also. It was in 1849 that Methodism was permanently organized in Duane, Rev. Ebenezer Arnold, stationed at Malone, forming a class there, and having a regular week-day appointment in the town, the meetings being held at the residence of Hiram Ayers, who was the class leader. The other members were Mrs. Bigelow Ayers, Thurza Ayers, Joseph Sheffield, Sr., and wife, William Esterbrooks and a Mr. Bobbins. A Sunday school also was formed during the period with Thurza Ayers as superintendent. In the same year Rev. Alonzo Wells, then of Bangor, supplied the appointments both at Duane and Chasm Falls, the work at these points having been linked together almost from earliest times. In 1850, through the efforts of Rev. Mr. Arnold and Presiding Elder Isaac L. Hunt, South Malone and Duane were set apart from the Malone circuit, attached to the Chateaugay circuit, and called the Duane mission. Rev. B. F. Brown became pastor and Rev. Mr. Wells junior pastor — this arrangement continuing until 1852, except that Rev. William ‘Chase succeeded Mr. Wells. In 1852 the connection between these missions and Chateaugay was severed, and they were united with Dickinson, under the ministration of Rev. Alleh Miller. In 1854 Rev. Chas. M. Bowen became pastor, and in 1853—9 the charge was supplied by Rev. Mr. Bowen, Rev. Mr. Northrup, Rev. Samuel ‘Salisbury, and Rev. Mr. Castle. The list of succeeding pastors appears in the appendix. The church edifice was erected in 1884 during the pastorate of Rev. J. R. Kay, and in this same period the name of the charge was changed to Chasm Falls. Within the past few years a marked revival of interest and increase in membership have been witnessed.
Duane is as distinctively a rural town as can be found in the State. It has no manufactories, no railway, and practically no business aside from that of its summer hotels and one or two saw mills. It has one post-office, one telephone and one telegraph office. In 1847 and again in 1858 it sought to have the south half of township Number Nine taken from Malone and joined to itself, but failed.
Though he was not a resident of the town, Thomas Meacham hunted and fished there so much that he deserves mention here. Meacham Lake was named by him, and his obituary stated that during his life he had killed 77 panther, 214 wolves, 210 bears and 2,550 deer. He died at Hopkinton in May, 1849.