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Reminiscences of Clintonville, New York

Authored by L. Grant Palmer in 1921

 

As I wandered slowly through the streets of the village of Clintonville, in the year 1921, thinking of the past, there was brought to my mine one of the pieces in one of the old reading books that we used to read in the Old Brick School-house on the hill. The piece in the reading book was about a boy's dream of Empire and how he would go away when he grew up and the fortune he would make and then he would come back to his native town and the good things that he would do for the village and the benefits that he would do for the people, but when in after years he came back to his native village - alas - he was content to wander through its streets and drop a silent tear in memory of the brown eyed girl who used to sing in the church choir, and whom the boy vowed he would marry, and for other departed ones. The lines of the old song "Ben Bolt" came to my mind, and as I thought of the departed glories of this picturesque old village and of the people who had gone, my heart was filled with sadness, and the old saying that the saddest works of tongue or pen were these "it might have been" came to my mind as the most appropriate to express my thoughts, and involuntarily I found myself whistling the tune of that old song so dear to the heart of everyone "Home Sweet Home".

Clintonville was one of the earliest settlements on the Ausable River, and received its greatest benefit as a village from its water power, which was considered as among the best on the river, consisted of the power at the upper dam, where was located the upper forge, sawmill, grist-mill, nail works, and rolling mill; the lower dam fed a canal which was about one half mile long, at the lower end of which was located the long forge which was the largest "Catalin" forge in the world.

The Peru Steel Iron Co. manufactured iron here for a great many years and as the village grew other industries started up until the village was considered the metropolis of northern New York and was the first village on the river that was incorporated.

Old residents used to tell of how the people came from Plattsburgh and the surrounding country to trade and market their produce.

It has been stated on good authority that the best rolling mill north of Troy was located here, but the great freshet of 1856 destroyed it and did incalculable damage to the village in wiping out different industries. As all of the iron industries were run by the Peru Steel Iron Co. They did not rebuild the rolling mill or the nail factory, but the iron industry flourished for a great many years after that, principally making iron billets which were shipped away, and it has been stated on good authority that a large part of the iron that went into the building of the first ironclad ships that this country had came from here - there is no doubt but that other iron forges that were located in different towns in this part of the country contributed their share.

This narrative would not be complete without mention of the village of New Sweden, which was located about two miles west of Clintonville on the road to Ausable Forks. The village of New Sweden was a thriving little village up to the time of its being destroyed by the freshet in 1866. There used to be an iron forge and other industries located there, but only the stone abutments of the bridge which used to cross the river and some old logs to show where the dam used to be, and the old cemetery on the hill near the old Ausable Station (now Rogers Station) are practically the only landmarks of what was once a thriving village. The dam at New Sweden used to back water above the point of rocks, or about one half mile. My mother, Jane McClurkin, daughter of Hugh McClurkin, who lived two miles from New Sweden, attended school there, and I have heard her tell that the river would be so full of logs for the saw mills there that is was possible to walk on the logs from the dam to the point of rocks without danger of getting ones feet wet. When I was a small boy I remember seeing Hiram Beardsley tear down the old store and take the timbers away.

At that time our family was living on what was known as the McLean farm and one of our neighbors Mr. David Bean used to furnish feed and lodging for several of the Tallyho stages that plied between Ausable Station and the Summer resorts in the mountains and it need to fill my boyish heart with the delight to see the old tally-ho coaches drawn by four or six horses swing along the old plank road with the city tourists crowded on top of the coaches. He could hear the rattle and roar of those cumbersome vehicles a long distance. The most of the coaches used to have some long horns or bugles which a favored passenger sitting beside the driver would occasionally blow, awaking the echoes which would roll from hill to hill, making a scene long to be remembered.

I must relate on circumstance that made a lasting impression on my mind while we were living in New Sweden, and the river in one of its mad moments was the indirect cause.

Mr. Albert Bullard, a basket maker by trade was living there with his family which consisted of a boy named Charles and two girls, Florence and Maude - Charles and one of the girls, I do not remember which one, being little tots, evidently went to the spring which was a short distance from their house down the river bank, for some water, while they were there they got to playing about some row boats that were kept there and while playing in one of the boats it became loosened from its moorings and started down the river with the children in it. The water in the river being very high the boat with the children was being rapidly swept down the stream when some of the neighbors saw them and raised the alarm. My father William Palmer and my half-brother Daniel Palmer were hammersmen and worked in the long forge at Clintonville, the y used to work from twelve o'clock noon until twelve at night, driving to and from their work. They were at home asleep when some of the neighbors discovering the children in the boat came and wakened them. Father and Dan immediately ran to the spring where there was another boat and started in pursuit of the runaway boat. Father and Dan were strong, fearless men but they realized that they had a hard job on their hands to overtake the drifting children before they were swept over the upper dam at Clintonville. News of the race for life had preceded them and the riverbank at Clintonville was thronged with an eager, watchful mass of people anxiously awaiting the outcome. They caught up with runaways just before they reached the dam and it was an exciting moment as they caught up with the other boat and snatched the children from their boat to their own almost at the brink of the dam and it was an anxious moment as they fought their way inch by inch against the current of the river as they gradually grew nearer and nearer to the shore which they eventually reached exhausted. The writer being a small boy at the time accompanied the distracted parents of the children as they walked and ran down the highway, they had gotten near the Tindale farm when they were met by the people bringing the rescued children home.

The Saltmarshes, Ring's, Havens, Baldwins, Bean's, Burke's, Tindale's have all gone from this vicinity, my uncle Daniel McClurkin, now in his 85th year, is the only resident living in that vicinity. Richard Burke, or "Dick Burke" as he was commonly known was probably the oldest man in the valley at his death; he was about 115 years old when he died.

When I was about eight years of age we moved to Clintonville. Occupying the large house near the long forge for five or six years.

The long forge was a stone structure 200 feet long and 75 feet wide; it had 16 fires or furnaces and four hammers. There was a bellows house at each end of the forge where the air that fed the fires was compressed. This compressed air was forced through an iron pipe about one foot in diameter, the connection at each fire was through iron radiators about four inches in diameter, thee radiators being inside of the furnace, the air was heated before it eventually reached the fire itself through the tuyeres. There was an ore bin near the center of the forge and one at the east end. This ore had to be wheeled to the fire in cars especially made for the purpose.

This iron ore was mined at Palmer Hill. This iron mine was discovered by Zephaniah Palmer, who was a Surveyor or Civil Engineer who used to live near the mouth of the Ausable River, his people owning the property where Grant Carpenter lives, they also owned some property near Walter Gidding's. The house used to stand on the west side of the highway near Gidding's. His people at one time owned all of the delta at the mouth of the river and for years it was known as the Palmer Marsh. He was a brother of Lydia Palmer who married John Dekalb of Jay, New York, this John Dekalb was a grandson of Baron Dekalb for whom Lafayette laid the corner stone of his monument at Camden, S.C., during his last visit to America.

Mr. Palmer came from one of the oldest families in America and they were quite prominent in the affairs of northern New York. Zephaniah was like most of the Palmer's he having the wanderlust in him to a large extent and it was while wandering around on one of this travels that he discovered the iron mine on the hill that bears his name. Mr. Palmer did not realize any material benefit from his discovery financially and the property eventually passed into the possession of the Rogers Company at Ausable Forks and the Peru Steel Iron Co. of Clintonville. The ore for Clintonville was drawn from Palmer Hill in wagons. The Company maintaining a plank road from the Hill to the Point-of-Rocks where it joined the plank road on the main highway along the river. There was at times quite a strife between the drivers of the ore wagons as to which could draw the larger load from the mines to the Separator which was located near the long forge at Clintonville, a distance of five or six miles. It has been conceded that Richard Johnson, or Dicky Johnson as he was commonly known, drew the heaviest load, he having drawn something over six tons of iron ore in one load from the Hill to the Separator with one team of horses. The ore when drawn to the Separator was put into great pits, into which were first piled great piles of wood, this wood was mostly second growth hardwood, cut pole length, and the ore was piled on the wood to be burned slowly. This burning disintegrated the iron from the refuse stone but not enough for commercial use, after the ore had been burned it was drawn into the Separator where it was into the stampers which crushed it into fine ore. There was a stream of water constantly passing through the stampers while they were in operation; this stream of water carried away the refuse matter. The fine ore when crushed was elevated by buckets on a belt into bins from which they drew it in dump carts or wagons to the forge.

There was a bank or pile of charcoal at the west end of the forge, this charcoal bank was the largest pile of charcoal that I ever expect to see, as there was frequently several million bushels piled up there. This charcoal was made from the timber cut on the surrounding mountains. There were coal kilns at Poke-O-Moon-shine, others at Auger Lake, and some near the forge at Clintonville besides those at Black Mountain which were called the South Kilns. I suppose they were called the South Kilns to distinguish them from the West Kilns and Middle Kilns which were located West of Black Brook. The most of the charcoal from the Middle and West Kilns went to supply the forges at Black Brook, Ausable Forks and Jay. The South Kilns were the most extensive of these owned by the Peru Steel Iron Co., as they owned quite an extensive tract of timberland in the vicinity of Black Mountain. There were other kilns or pits around the country at that time. This charcoal had to be wheeled into the forge, being first put into oblong baskets holding about two bushels each.

The process of making iron in those old Catalin forges was certain interesting and it was a bad thing for northern New York when they went out of business.

The fires or furnaces were made of brick and were approximately three feet by five feet inside, the bottom or base of the furnaces where the loop of molten iron was formed being about three feet square, the furnaces had an iron shelf or threshold about a foot from the bottom or base of the furnace and it was beneath this shelf or threshold that the slag or molten cinder refuse matter was drawn off through vents in the furnace itself. At one side of the furnaces there was a wooden box or trough about one foot wide and about one foot deep by about four feet long which was kept filled with water. There was also a space between the fires for their coal and ore, also for the tools which they had to use. After the fire was started in the furnace they would then sprinkle fine ore on the fire which being of charcoal gave an intense heat and burned away without leaving any ashes to amount to anything. As fast as the ore would melt they would sprinkle more ore on the fire, adding fuel when necessary. Occasionally the fire would get too hot and be in danger of burning the iron when they would dash a firkin of water on it which would immediately quench it sufficient for their needs. There did not appear to be any set rule to go by as to how often they would have to sprinkle the fine ore on the fire or as to the heat of the fire, these were matters for the bloomers to learn for themselves and it was this ability to tell when matters were just right their degree of expertness was shown. The above process was carried out for three hours when they used to dig up, which means that they considered that they made of loop of iron in that time which they then had to remove from the furnace. In digging up they used long iron or steel bars which were called "Ringers". The loops of white hot metal were saucer shaped and weighed approximately 300 pounds. In digging up one man would gradually raise one side of the loop and three or four would then get hold of it with long steel hooks and drag it over the shelf in the front of the furnace and on to a small two wheel truck with an iron platform on it, in fact all of the truck was of iron, they would then draw it to the hammer where the hammersman would take hold of it with his "Grampuses" and with the assistance of the others roll it up, on to the hammer block where it was hammered down till the hammersman could get the bloom tongs in it. It was then hammered down into a bloom of about eight inches in diameter and about two feet long, one of it being hammered down to a finished billet twelve or fifteen inches long by four inches square, the bloom was then reversed and put back into the fire to be reheated, in the meantime while the first bloom was being reheated they would dig up another fire and go through the same process with that one that they did with the previous one, this procedure was carried out until the four fires had been dug up. When the bloom had been reheated it was hammered down to a finished product which was called billets. These billets were about four inches square and about two feet long. They were beveled on each four corners and weighed about 100 pounds each.

When it is taken into consideration that this hammering was done under a five ton hammer run by water power and that the men doing the hammering were sitting on tongs about six feet away from the metal it is remarkable, as they had to go wholly by the eye as to measurements and cutting off the billets as well as beveling of the billets, it needed men of exceptional mechanical ability and trueness of the eye. A good Hammersman, or one who took pride in doing good work would turn the billets out within a sixteenth of an inch of the measurement require, and as smooth as a piece of iron could be that was merely hammered. In fact I have heard people ask how they planed them so smooth. In doing the hammering they used what was called a turnbat to turn the tongs holding the metal. The hammersmen all wore leather patches on the seat of their pants, as they would wear holes in a new pair of pants in a day or two without them. They also used leather aprons which they tied to their waist, to ward off the sparks that flew from the iron. They all wore woolen shirts and these shirts would have the front of them burned full of small holes about the size of birdshot where the sparks would strike them. It was extremely hot laborious work hammering iron. I have seen the men get off the tongs after hammering a loop and pull their shirt up out of their pants and wring the sweat out of it.

The hammers used in this forge weighed about five tons each and were operated by waterpower. The water wheels used for operating the hammers were large undershot wooden wheels which were hung on a shaft about eight or ten inches in diameter. This shaft extended through the wheel to the hammer, on the hammer end of this shaft there was a square iron casting two or three feet square with a cam like lift or projection on each corner and when the wheel was going this cam would strike the hammer brays, which were wooden blocks inserted in the hammer, and raise the hammer, as the cam raised the hammer to its full extent it would drop and the next cam would raise it, and of course this process was kept up until the gate was closed.

The hammering of iron was mighty hard laborious job and only men of the strongest muscles and physiques stayed in the business very long. In fact, all of the bloomers were strong rugged men who worked hard and when they played they played hard, and despite their hard work there were a lot of them that were always playing jokes on each other. It was a luckless person who went around the forge and put on airs or who tried to patronize the men for they were sure to be the butt of some joke before they got away. I remember that people on their way from the cities to the summer resorts would occasionally stop off there and come to see them make iron. If they were quiet and behaved themselves everything would invariably be all right but if some tactless person began any antics, lo, the men would make magic, and it would all be done in such an innocent manner that it was next to impossible to locate the culprit, and the party would by lucky to get away with nothing worse than a blackened face or hands. But for all the time it has been proverbial for some city people to poke fun at some countryman that they think they can have some fun with, and when some of that class of people would be in the party the whole party would generally be due for a hazing, but the hazing would be directed against the party who was looking for it. One of the tricks that they used to spring on them was to take some hot cinders or iron and get on the windward side of them and then put something on the cinders or iron that would make an offensive odor, of course when this was played there was usually some horse play connected with it, which being among the workmen was wholly in fun, but if it was directed against some stranger there generally was a lot of pushing and jostling about to find out what it was with the natural result that the person on whom the joke was played was lucky if he got nothing worse than a blackened face and blackened hands besides the odor. One of the tricks that was usually played on strangers who were looking for fun when there were ladies in the party was to line them up at a safe distance from the hammer when they were digging up, because of the shower of sparks that always flew from the loop when they first began hammering and if any of the sparks hit them it meant burning holes in their clothing, but the fun for the men was to see the women grab their skirts and skeedaddle when then hammer began its operations, the racket it made and the shower of sparks sent out together with the yelling of the workmen was enough to frighten any person uninitiated. The forge being dark except for the light from the fires made the shadows seem darker than usual, especially after the illumination made by the shower of sparks, and the floor being uneven it was not to be wondered at that some of the ladies would trip or stumble or that a pair of brawny arms would appear out of the darkness and catch them to prevent their falling, but I have always wondered if it was not done on purpose to make a chance for the lucky man to hug them up a bit, and I have no doubt but that they improved their opportunity.

There used to be a large tree near the river bank near the east end of the forge and the men at one time built a platform beneath the tree where they would hold forth on an afternoon and have sports of different kinds. I remember that at one time they had what they called a minstrel troupe and the songs that they sang and the jokes that they cracked on each other were surely amusing. They had a wash tub for a drum, some clappers or bones that were held between the fingers, some harmonicas, Jews harps, tambourines and a motley assortment of other things that they used to make a noise with, occasionally someone would go for his horn and would find it filled with black oil or something of that sort. Pat O'Neil who used to play the drum would find it smeared with something, and of course it being wholly in fun there would be more or less horse play whenever these tricks would be found out. They would have games of pitching horseshoes, some hand ball practice, feats of strength, etc. Among the feats of strengths Dan would generally take the lead and as a general thing he was the center of any jollity that was going on. I remember that one occasion they bloomers piled about 3000 pounds of iron on a wheelbarrow that they used for wheeling ore in and wagered that there was not a man in the forge that could wheel it, but Dan promptly walked up to it and picked it up and wheeled it a few feet. He was a man of about six feet tall, weighing about 230 without any fat on him and the feats of strength that he would engage in were certainly astonishing. He was as good natured as he was large and was a man that was liked by everyone who knew him.

The forge shut down for all time about 36 years ago, possibly 38 years. I give below as near as I remember a list of the men who worked there during the last years of the forge operations.

The hammersmen were William Palmer, Hugh Lawrence, Marsh Bresette, Sr., Daniel Palmer, Wallace Elliott, Marsh Bresette, Jr., Leonidas Williams (called Onnie Williams), and there was one other but memory fails to bring his name to mind. These hammersmen all had helpers but I do not recall who they were except Earl Palmer and Charles Elliott.

There was Henry Morgan, Hugh Daugherty, Hiram Beardsley, Robert Chatterton, John Hanmer, Tom Nailor, Henry Spinks, Samuel Gaskill, Pat O'Neil, James O'Neil, Louis Carrow (?), Joe Nailor, John Burnham, James Lenaghan, William Lenaghan, Tom Chard, William Cadigan, Jack Cadigan, Prescott Lawrence, Pat Daly, Ransom Bowen. There were others but I do not recall their names. There were other men who worked around the forge but I am just not sure as to what their duties were. I think that Jimmie Carow was a bloomer and made iron there. Mr. James Cochran was in charge of the coal bank and if memory serves me right he also had charge of gauging the iron billets. Mike Rafter, Sr., and his son James Rafter worked under him, and I think that Martin Rafter worked there also. George Kirby, Tom Rafter, Mart Williams, the McCale boys, some men by the name of Reed and several others whose names I do not recall at this time worked around the forge, but I do not recall just what they did. William Morgan had charge of the Separator, and had several men under him.

James Bigwood, Ben Elliott, Sam Casey, the Lehan boys, and some others were blacksmiths and worked in the shop at the forge and at the long stone shop near the upper dam. This shop was a machine shop and had some blacksmith fires in it also.

Mr. Aubin, Legrand Wolfe, James Lawliss, I. Richard, and some others worked in the sawmill and carpenter shop. I do not recall the name of the man in charge of the grist mill.

As I remember the men who worked in the Company's office and store, there were Mose Furgeson, Charley Furgeson, Mr. Kavanaugh, Mr. Coty, Samuel Thomas, Washington Richardson, and later there were Myron Buck, Victor K. Moore, Arch, Lacey, Frank McCormack, and I presume there were others.

Dick Johnson, William Johnson, the Daltons, Ike Smith, and a small army of others drive teams hauling iron ore from the mines, drawing coal from the kilns and drawing the finished iron to the Railroad Station at the point of rocks three miles west of Clintonville, called at that time Ausable Station.

Mr. F.J. Dominick was the receiver for the company at the time when we were boys around the old town. Elisha Stanton was Superintendent of the timberlands with a general supervision of all of the outside operations. Horatio Thomas was in charge of the inside operations with a general supervision of the different operations of the company; I think it was while looking after some timber job that he was taken sick, which culminated in his death. I think that it was after Mr. Stanton's death.

I am informed that for a great many years previous to the building of the Ausable branch of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad from Plattsburg to Ausable Station that the Peru Steel Iron Co. had a dock at Port Douglas on Lake Champlain and that they made that point their shipping point. I am not sure as to whether thy maintained a plank road to Port Douglas or not, but rather think that they did as there was a plank road to Port Kent where the Rogers Company used to ship their product. This old plank road was called the Port Kent and Hopkinton Turnpike. It extended up the Ausable Valley to Ausable Forks, thence to Hopkinton by the way of Black Brook and Bloomingdale, in all about 100 miles. This old plank road, or turnpike as they called it, was one of the most important roads through this part of the country and traveled entirely through the Adirondack mountain range. Old residents used to tell of the travel on this road, they said that it was not unusual to see a string of teams nearly a mile long taking their produce to and from the markets along the river and shipping at the Lake ports. This plank road was made of planks about eight feet long and three inches thick. The land on each side of this old turnpike was taxed on each side for a width of three miles. There were tollgates at intervals along this road, and I presume that the income from those sources was quite large. After the railroad was built to the point of rocks, the Rogers Co. and the Peru Steel Iron Co. made that their shipping point and the plank road from Clintonville to Keeseville was abandoned. A person riding along our fine highways now in their expensive automobiles cannot have any idea of the business activities that were so extensive along the valley years ago, or of the benefit to the teaming operations, that the old plank road was to the early settlers and the early business activities. When my mother's father settled on the farm two miles this side of Ausable Forks, there was no highway along the river between Ausable Forks and Clintonville, the road at that time went over the plains and for years while the tollgates between Ausable Forks and Clintonville were kept open people traveled the road over the plains to avoid paying the toll.

There was a man named Place that worked for E. Feltt when Mr. Feltt kept a store at Clintonville. He was a very old man at the time and it certainly was a treat to hear him tell of the teaming activities up and down the river in the early days. He hold among other tales of the teaming that was done between Port Kent and Burlington in the winter. He told about their maintaining a half way house on Lake Champlain at that time where people could stop and get warm, besides getting refreshments.

I will touch lightly upon the past activities, or those that occurred previous to the time when I was a boy and went to school in Clintonville, as they were before my recollections and are more or less a matter of history.

John and Jehiel Beardsley came to the Ausable Valley in the year 1794 when the valley was an impenetrable wilderness and settled near Clintonville on what is now known as the Keith farm. There is a small cemetery there and it is probably the oldest cemetery in the valley. It is now overgrown with bushes and if a person did not know it was there they would pass by without realizing what it was, or think it a mass of stone or some defect in the land that had been fenced in. Other settlers followed them and in 1810 the first dam was built at Clintonville by George Griswold who built a forge and two fires or furnaces and a gristmill. These passed into the hands of the Peru Iron Steel Co. who began operations in about 1811 or 1812. I do not know where they got the iron ore for this forge but it is presumed that it came from what was known as the Winter Iron Ore Mine north of Clintonville about one mile. This ore bed is said to be one of the oldest in this north country. It has been worked quite extensively, but it has been said that it did not make as good iron as the ore from Arnold Hill or Palmer Hill. The ore at Palmer Hill is said to be the only ore known in which are united the qualities of the magnetic and specular ores. As Mrs. Palmer, daughter Dorothy, granddaughter Marjorie Galston and myself wandered over this hill past where the O'Neill's lived, thence up by the ore bed to Lily Pond where we ate our lunch and gathered arbutus and then back to the brow of the hill where being weary I sat down to rest myself and enjoy the view that can be had from this hill as it is one of the most extensive that can be had from any point in the valley, and it is so accessible that it is a wonder that more people do not go there and enjoy it. This hill is only about 500 feet above the floor of the valley and from its sides or top can be seen old Whiteface Mountain standing like a sentinel in the west, with Esther Mountain, Marble Mountain and the Wilmington range on the north of it. In the near distance in the Southwest can be seen Ragged Mountain, Haystack, Clarks, Hamlin, and Jay mountains while in the far Southwest can be seen Sentinel Peak, Pitchoff and Cascade mountains, and Boreas range. In the south through the Trout Pond pass can be seen Ellis Mountain, Bald Mountain, and Black Mountain, while in the nearer distance can be seen Poke-O-Moonshine, Baldface, and Hogback Hill and Fordway mountains besides Keetans Mountain which is just across the river from the old forge, and the Ausable can be seen for miles winding its way down the valley to Lake Champlain.

As we came down the hill back of the School House and Catholic Church, the passing of time with its evolutions became forcibly to mind. Part of the school house was boarded up and had the appearance of not having been used for a long time. The Catholic Church which stands near the school was one of the first houses of worship that were erected in the valley. It was formerly a Presbyterian Church and was erected in 1828. It is said that the Peru Steel Iron Co. donated $100.00 per annum to the church. Among the many changes that have been wrought by the ruthless hand of time there is one that deserves mention, and consideration by the thoughtful. The Presbyterian or Congregational was formerly one of the most influential religious societies in the valley, but at the present time there is not a church of those denominations that has a resident pastor in the Ausable Valley.

As we gazed about the old town our eyes rested on the large barn that stands on the north side of the highway at the foot of the hill where the old schoolhouse stands. This barn was known to us boys as the Mule Barn. It is about 60 feet by 120 feet and is one of the largest, if not the largest, barn in this part of the country. It used to be filled with horses and mules owned y the company. It gives but a small idea of the extent of the teaming operations of the company, and besides the company's teams there were a great persons thus engaged who owned their own teams. My grandfather Hugh McClurkin kept three or four teams drawing from Ausable Forks to Port Kent, and it was while driving team for him that the late Captain Thomas Arbuckle became acquainted with the Transportation Company operating on Lake Champlain and secured a position with them, eventually being made Captain of one of their vessels, and for a great many years he was Captain of the Steamer Vermont.

There were a great many towns around Clinton, Franklin, and Essex counties in the early days of the iron industry and an idea of the extent of the business can be had from the fact that in 1877 the forges in Clinton and Franklin counties produced 24,000 tons while the forges in the rest of the country produced but 4,000 or 5,000 tons. Clintonville appears to have been the center or rather the greatest producer of all of them, and besides the forge iron that they produced, they made a lot of cut nails and bar iron in the rolling mill.

When our thoughts returned to the school and its surroundings and associations, of the teachers and scholars who formerly attended there it would be almost impossible to describe my feelings as memory rapidly reviewed past events with their sorrows and joys. The arguments and scraps that we boys used to have and the making up afterwards, all of which I realize now was life on a small scale. As some of the girls were want to say - it is lots of fun to have scraps for the fun of making up afterwards - but we boys used to say that it was bad for the eyes. We used to play ball back of the schoolhouse during the noon hour and at recesses, some of us younger boys playing "one old cat" while the larger boys played what they called "bases". The yelling that was done at our play was something to live in memory for all time.

At the time of which I write there were about one hundred scholars in all going to school there. I will give a list of them as I remember at this time.

William Stanton, now in Saranac Lake, NY;Lucien Wolfe; William Misner; James Misner went to Northampton, Mass.; Harry Morgan went to Lowell, Mass.; John and George Burnham, I think went to Maine; Bert Gaskill went to Nashua, N.H.; Victor Moore, now at Ausable Forks, N.Y.; Frank McCormack in Spokane, Wash.; Myers White, went to California; Erwin and Richard (Dick) Lawliss went to Barre, Vt; Earl Keith in Upper Jay, N.Y.; my brother Walter Palmer and William Palmer and myself went to Keeseville, N.Y.; Wilfred Pine and Orville Pine went to Montpelier, Vt.; Henry Pine, now in Keeseville; Whitney Stranahan, went to Connecticut; Charley Lenaghan went to Connecticut; William Thwaits, John Thwaits, Mitch Bigwood, William Newell, Eddie Beardsley are in Clintonville, N.Y. I think the two Aubin boys went to Ausable Forks, and that Benny Elliott is now in Wilmington, N.Y., Robert (Bob) Chatterton and Emerson Chatterton lived in Clintonville for a long while but I do not know where they are now. Thomas and Frank Rafter went to Burlington, Vt. I do not recall where Byron Carrow, the two Spinks boys, the Bresette boys, the Boprey boys, John O'Neil, Arch, Ned, William and James Lacey, Anthony McCale and George Beardsley are located. Besides the above named boys there were the two Ashe boys and their sister from Green Street, Allie Richardson and George Kerr from the Trout Pond District.

The girls names as I recall them now were Essa Moore; Fannie, Alice and Lizzie Morgan; Florence, Fannie, May and Nellie Sweeney; Mamie Nailor; Theresa Andrews; Kate Rafter; the Shaughnessy girls; Kittie, Effie and Alma Wolfe; Nellie Stanton; Annabelle and Bertha McCormack; Bertha Chatterton; Rebecca Daugherty; Anna and Ella Burnham; Anna Palmer; Lottie Burtt; Bina and Myrtie Burtt; Libbie White; Ella Moore; Carrie and Ada Sanders; Alta Feltt; Kittie Keese; Nellie Smith; Ella Gaskill; Mina and Addie Pine; Annie and Lizzie Daugherty; Anna Thwaits; Maude Cobb and her sister; the two Tefft girls; a DeMar girl; the two Currier girls and others whose names I do not recall at this time.

In the winter it was sliding downhill, skating and snowballing. The snowballing generally occurred at school during the noon hour and at recesses. There were 15 or 20 minutes during recess during the forenoon and for a like time in the afternoon. There was woe in the school whenever a scholar did some prank in school that the teacher thought was serious enough to discipline the scholar by keeping them after school at night or kept them in at recess. Of course there were days in the winter when it was unpleasant playing out of doors and at such times the pranks that were played in the schoolhouse were something to dream about. All of the pranks were not played at noon or at recess. When a boy would set down on a bent pin placed in his seat, there would be a howl and of course more or less tittering, or perhaps a spit ball, or a bean from a pea shooter would hit a person by the side of the head, there would invariably be more to it. Sometimes the teacher would be called to the door for a minute, when bedlam would be let loose. Sometimes three or four would all want to get a drink at the same time and at such times unless the teacher was on the watch for some deviltry someone was sure to get a mouthful of water or tip the water bucket over. This was usually done just after recess or just after the bell rang for school at one o'clock and of course as it was an accident, two boys would be sent after more water. I recall one instance that came near being a riot - some scholar did something that called for more serious punishment than staying after school and the teacher started in to give them a whipping with a long switch that they had for the purpose, it being a lady teacher, and the boy not liking the idea of taking the licking, or had gotten what he thought was enough, anyway he started on a run around the room with the teacher after him and of course the excitement was quickly communicated to the rest of us and we all were on our feet urging one and then the other to greater effort. It finally culminated in their getting near the stove and as they rushed around the stove the boy caught hold of the stove pipe and down it came, scattering soot and ashes over the room. In the meantime, or rather during the excitement of the stove pipe coming down, the culprit dashed out of doors and was not seen at school for several days. It took some time to put the stove pipe back in place and clean up the room. I have always thought that the lad's father must have finished the disciplining of the boy as the teacher did not try to punish him when he returned to school. One of the hardest punishments that we had to endure for breaking the discipline of the school was to hold a knot in the floor down, and, of course, the sarcasm that the teacher would usually give with the punishment itself. We early learned not to peach on each other but if the party that was punished could not take the joke on himself and enjoy the jibes that were always indulged in after school, there would be a scrap with the consequent making up after he had got over being sore. The teachers were in the main kind-hearted and true, but I remember one man teacher that we had that got the ill will of most of his pupils and what they did not do to bother him was surely a corker. I don't think that anything was done to destroy any property or even mar it, but he acted as his own janitor during the winter. He would very frequently find the keyholes in the doors plugged, especially the outside door. Sometimes it would merely be water that had been poured into the keyhole some cold night and allowed to freeze. It would take him a long time to get the ice removed from the keyhole enough for the key to work and open the door, but sometimes he would find sand or shingle nails frozen in the ice and whenever that happened there would usually be several scholars that had arrived a little early and they would stand around and shiver and offer suggestions. When he had gotten the obstructions removed it would be rather late and the rooms would not be heated sufficiently and then there would be grumbling and growling. He always blamed the filling of the keyholes and such tricks on the boys who brought their dinners to school, but I daresay no scholar that took their dinner to school was ever guilty of any of these tricks. He seldom, if ever, tried to punish any of the larger boys and never any of the girls. The punishment finally ceased when he called one of the smaller boys up for punishment, when the boy's big sister got and called him down and told him then and there that none of the scholars that brought their dinners were guilty of the offense. She was a loyal buddy - she would not even tell who brought their dinners and we all took our cue from her and none of us knew anything. I guess he finally found out all about it because did not teach the last day of school and I have no doubt but that he heard something about what the large boys planned to do.

We used to slide down the hill on the hill near Sweeney's farm, and on what was called French Hill, which is at the head of the street that turns between the Company's office and store, and in fact on any hill that made good sliding. I remember one instance that happened to my brother Walter when we were sliding down the hill back of the Catholic church. There is a sharp corner where that street joins the main street and he had gotten to the corner of the street when he saw a team almost across the street ahead of him which made it impossible to make the turn and go down by Feltt's store and he headed for the horses themselves intending to shoot through but he could not do it and he grasped the pole as he went under the team. The driver stopped the team as quickly as possible, expecting that he had run over the boy but Walter climbed up on the pole between the horses without even a scratch. Some of us boys made some skippers on which we would slide down the steeper hills - gee, but how we would go. One winter we made some wooden jumpers about four feet long by two feet wide and about a foot high. They were made out of green hardhack peeled . We would go over on Keetan's mountain and slide down the mountain where there was an old wood road. This old road was very steep in places and we would go like jehu, sometimes we would jump out of the road and go crashing through the bushes that lined the road on each side. Of course we would occasionally break a jumper but as there were lots of other small hardhacks growing on the mountain we would make another and go to it harder than ever. It certainly was a wonder that we never suffered any broken bones or other serious injury. I have thought since those days that if our boys did as we boys did would we worry. Our mother used to worry quite a bit and appeared to be thankful when we were all around the fireside where she could watch over us. The fathers of the boys around the village did not appear very much concerned over the boys if we all kept from doing any damage to property or other malicious mischief. Whenever there had been a hard wind in the winter there were several places that great drifts would form and we boys thought it great fun to jump into them from some ledge or rocks or burrow into them and make snow houses. It was while one of these expeditions that George Beardsley got stuck in a deep drift. The snow was rather soft and George made a rather high jump and went in above his waist and could not get out. We did not have anything to dig with except some branches that we broke off some trees and our hands, but how we did dig. George was rather badly chilled when we got him out as the snow being soft was almost like ice when it was packed. George was rather an unlucky lad at times. He at one time skated into the open water where some men were cutting ice and if the men had not been there and working on the downstream side of the opening he would have been swept under the ice and drowned as the water was quite swift at that point, but they held out their pike poles and as he grasped the pole they drew him to one side and some others pulled him out. There were more places around Clintonville where good skating could be had than any place that I ever knew of. There were the sloughs back of Robert Chatterton's and down on Sweeney's farm which would freeze over as soon as the cold weather set in, then the river between the two dams would freeze next and as the water was usually still they would be as smooth as could be. After those places froze over, the river would freeze above the upper dam and below the lower dam The canal was nearly always good skating because of the lowering and raising of the ice as they raised and lowered the gates at the forge, and if at any time there did not happen to be any smooth ice, they would allow the water to overflow the ice in the canal by closing the head gates and as the ice lowered they would open them when the water would flow over the ice and make it as good as ever. Then there was Lily Pond which is on top of Winter Hill back of the village. This pond would usually be good skating during the latter part of the winter when the snow had begun to settle as the water in the marshes surrounding the pond being frozen would flow out onto the pond. On Saturdays and at night and after school hours, some of the places would be crowded with skaters - the men from the offices and stores, the big boys and the little boys, the frown women and young girls vying with each other in having a good time.

Nearly every winter the ice in the river would break up and if the thaw was of long enough duration to clear the whole river, the ice would generally pile up in all manner of ways near the old forge and on the island just above it so that between the lower dam and the lower forge the ice would be piled up in all conceivable shapes, and then the water would freeze again and what times we boys would have making roads through and between and the ice cakes. Some of the ice cakes would be piled in such a manner as to form quite large rooms or caverns beneath them, and it was great sport playing at different games among the ice cakes which we called icebergs. There was a small swamp back of where George Kirby lived at the foot of Keetan's mountain where we would go sometimes when we were tired of sliding downhill, the cedars being very thick we would tie the top of several of them together and by trimming off the branches on the inside of the place enclosed and piling the branches on the outside, or cutting some others to pile on the outside and using the branches that we cut off the inside to put on the ground we had quite a comfortable little camp, especially when we made a fire. There we would sit on our sleds and tell stories. Occasionally we would go to Tom Perkett's shanty near the coal kilns that were below the forge, and the stories that were told at such times were sure corkers.

In the spring, after marbles had been played and fought over, would come other sports and berrying time when we would go over on to the surrounding hills and mountains gathering berries. There used to be great quantities of red raspberries on Keetans Mountain and during the season there was hardly a fair day that there were not several of the boys and girls there, and when we had gotten our pails filled, we boys would go and roll rocks down the mountain just to hear the noise. During the season for blueberries, we would go up on to Winter hill and on the hills back of Lily Pond, or over on to old Hogback, Pigback, and even over on Baldface which is near Poke-O-Moonshine. When school was out in the spring or early summer, Father would tell us to get our old duds on and have a good time, but to be careful and not commit any malicious mischief like destroying of property or causing anyone annoyance, and after one lapse from the path outlined for us we were careful not to try another. The time that I speak of was when we were over on Keetan's mountain playing, climbing ledges and rolling rocks down the side of the mountain. We conceived the idea of setting fire to some pine stumps which burned in fine shape and we had a lot of fun watching them burn, and they were still burning when we went home, but we did not reach home for the reason that our fathers met us at the river crossing and made us go back and put the fires all out which took us till late in the evening, and when it is understood that we worked like Trojans for several hours without any supper it is small wonder that we were completely cured of the idea of having any fun in that manner. When I was about ten or twelve years of age, we used to have some slings with which we used to throw stones. I remember that I had two, on with short strings to throw in the air and one with longer strings for throwing a long distance. We became very proficient in throwing with those slings, frequently killing blackbirds which used to bother the corn in the gardens, and at one time when one of the neighbors cow broke into the garden about ten rods from the house, I put a stone in the sling and hollered at the cow thinking that if she got out without driving I would let her go at that, but she merely raised her head and looked at me and began feeding again. I called to her again and when she looked up the second time, threw the stone which struck her in the forehead and dropped her to her knees. I was certainly scared at that, but she got right up again, shook her head, and got out of the garden as quickly as she could. It certainly was fortunate that I did not throw the stone very swift as it would have killed her on the spot, but she was never known to break into our garden again. We were in the habit of carrying the slings with us wherever we went and one day while at school one of the larger boys borrowed one of our slings and standing in the highway near the mule barn which stands at the base of the hill where the schoolhouse stands, threw a stone across the river to the top of the hill where the old powder house still stands.

The above was kindly contributed by Robin A Coon

 

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