Born: July 23, 1821
Died: 1880 or 1890 (See two articles below for conflicting years.)
Children: six children
Christopher F. Norton, a prominent resident of Plattsburgh, was elected as a New York State Senator in 1869; he was known as "the lumber baron of the Saranacs".
He carried out major lumbering operations along the Saranac River basing his operations at a mill he acquired in Franklin Falls in 1864. For fourteen years it was the headquarters for his extensive lumbering operations on both the north and south branches of the Saranac, covering almost all of Franklin and Brighton and the north part of Harrietstown.
He is listed in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, living in Plattsburgh: Christopher F. Norton, age 39, lumberman, owning real estate valued at $45,000 and having a personal estate valued at $30,000. Living with him were his wife, Sarah, six children from ages 2 to 15, and three other household members.
Life Sketches Executive Officers, Members of The Legislature State of New York. Vol. III. By H. H. Boone, A. M., and Theodore P.C Cook. Albany: Weed, Parsons And Company, Printers, 1870.
CHRISTOPHER F. NORTON.
In 1869, at the November election, the voters of the Sixteenth Senatorial District chose, as their representative in the State Senate, a man who never before had held a political office, and who belonged to a party which, in the counties composing the district, had constituted for years a seemingly hopeless minority.
In 1867 the Republicans had elected their Senator by a majority of 1,496, and yet, in 1869, CHRISTOPHER F. NORTON was chosen, as a Democrat, by a majority exceeding 2,000. A political revolution so complete must be ascribed, in great part, to the strong personal popularity of the candidate, rather than to a permanent change in the principles of the people. And no more apt illustration of the power of personal strength in politics could well be shown than that drawn from Senator NORTON'S candidacy and election.
CHRISTOPHER F. NORTON was born in Fredonia, Chautauqua county, July 23,1821. His father, JAMES NORTON, belonged to a Connecticut family, which had early emigrated to Oneida county in this State, and had removed from there to Chautauqua county, where they were among the pioneer settlers of Fredonia. The elder Mr. NORTON was a woolen manufacturer, who commenced life poor, but who, by industry and business tact, acquired a competency before his death. CHRISTOPHER received his early education at the district school of his native town, and subsequently at the academy there.
Leaving school, he entered a store as a clerk, where he remained several years. In 1843 he was married to Miss SARAH CHASE, of Claremont, New Hampshire.
In 1845, at the age of twenty-four, Mr. NORTON left his native town and moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he entered upon the manufacture of lumber, on the Erie Extension Canal, which runs from Erie to the Ohio river.
His business prospered, and in the course of ten years he had amassed a moderate fortune.
In 1856 he sold out his establishment and removed to Plattsburgh, New York. Before that time, several attempts to obtain lumber from the Saranac lakes, and float it down the Saranac river to Plattsburgh, had proved, financially, unsuccessful. When Mr. NORTON renewed this attempt, many of his neighbors considered his scheme visionary, and sought to dissuade him from investing his capital in what seemed so perilous an undertaking. But he had satisfied himself that the business was practicable, and he threw all his energy as well as all his money into the work. The result demonstrated his wisdom. He commenced by making five millions of feet of lumber in a year, and his business has grown so steadily and profitably, that he is now enabled to manufacture between twentyfive and thirty millions of feet per annum. His establishment is the largest of the kind (with perhaps a single exception) in the State of New York.
In politics Mr. NORTON was orignally a HENRY CLAY Whig. On the disruption of the Whig party he became a Democrat. As has already been stated, he never held a political office, of any kind, until he was elected to the Senate, but he has always taken a deep interest in public affairs and possesses a comprehensive knowledge of public questions.
During our late civil conflict, Mr. NORTON was classed with the War Democrats. He contributed very liberally to the support of families of volunteers, and was energetic in his efforts to raise troops. His charity was unostentatious and his work effective. His popularity in his district is no doubt in part attibutable to the services he rendered to the Union cause during those dark days of our country's history.
Mr. NORTON is one of the finest looking men in the Senate. He is tall, erect and well proportioned. His complexion is remarkably clear, his eyes are blue, his nose is shapely and his mouth handsome and benignant in expression.
Senator NORTON is not a ready debater, but he states his views concisely and pointedly.
He is an indefatigable worker and gives his whole time conscientiously to the duties of his position. He is Chairman of the committees on Militia and on Erection and Division of Towns and Counties, and is a member of the committees on Canals, on State Prisons and on Grievances.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, September 3, 1869
THE ACCOMMODATIONS AT THE LAKES. — As the press all over, the country is making a great "blow" about the want of hotel accommodations at the lakes, it may relieve them to know that measures are being taken to remove this objection which they have urged so strongly against parties visiting that locality. Hon. Smith M. Weed and Col. C. F. Norton, are about to erect a large hotel, capable of accommodating 600 guests, at Mecham's Point, at the upper end of the Upper Saranac Lake. We hear of other parties who contemplate building. Whether they mean business, or not, we do not know; but as regards Messrs. Weed and Norton, there is no uncertainty. They now have a small sawmill in that vicinity running exclusively on lumber for that purpose.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, April 7, 1871
UPPER SARANAC— April 4, 1871— Seeing a notice in one of your recent issues of the Sentinel of what the enterprising firm of Messrs. Morrison & Berkley had accomplished during the past winter, I thought it might interest some of your readers to know what some others on the Saranac River had been doing during the season just closed. With one of the shortest winters, least snow and earliest spring that the "oldest inhabitant" has known for several years, the Mill and Forge owners have not been idle, and under the circumstances, have succeeded in getting fair supplies for the coming years' business. When there has been sleighing they have been driving things as hard as they could, and when there came a thaw they went to work immediately "snowing the roads," so that they have succeeded as well as could be expected. There was not a day of good sleighing in nor out of the woods after the first of March, the consequence was that there was, scarcely a wood or lumber job but that had a large quantity of wood and logs left back that they did not get in.
I will endeavor to give you some items of what some of the principal firms have been doing:
Messrs. Norton & Co. did not go any further up than the Lower Saranac Lake for logs, but have been actively at work on both branches of the Saranac and its tributaries, and with what logs they were under the necessity of leaving back last year for the want of water to drive them, have nearly a full stock for all of their mills.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, July 11, 1873
—The Montreal Telegraph Company have just extended their lines from Paul Smith's to Cox & Lewis' Hotel, owned by C. F. Norton, at the head of the Upper Saranac Lake, a distance of seventeen miles, completing a telegraph circuit to all the principal hotels in the Adirondack region.
Plattsburgh Daily Press, March 22, 1937
[...] Norton reigned over the area for the 20 year period from 1860 to 1880 and at one time controlled practically every mill along the river. He is still recalled by old time residents of the village as a man of great vigor and energy. He died, broke, in 1890. [...] Full text here.
Malone Farmer, May 16, 1900
LAW SUITS GALORE
A week or two ago we noted the fact that the widow of the late Christopher F. Norton had returned from Florida and was looking up her dower rights in thousands of acres of valuable land in Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties. Since then a large number of suits to determine her rights have been instituted and Sheriff Douglass alone, of this county, has served ten or twelve complaints upon the present owners and holders of valuable tracts and properties in Franklin county. Numerous actions have also been started in Clinton.
The late Christopher F. Norton owned at one time over 100,000 acres of Adirondack land. Much of it was then still unimproved and of nominal value. He was engaged in the lumber and iron business in the Saranac valley, and becoming badly involved, lost his extensive holdings of land by sheriff sales and mortgage foreclosures in the '70s. Norton died in 1880, and his widow, who in most of the cases did not sign the mortgages and performed no act to convey away her dower interests, now comes forward to have those interests determined and for an accounting of the rents and profits which have accumulated on the several properties. The suits number sixty or seventy in all, the lands having passed from hand to hand, and the most extensive litigation ever known in this section seems likely to result therefrom. Foster, Kelly & Isenberg, of Troy, N. Y., are Mrs. Norton's attorneys and great haste was made to secure service of the papers starting the several proceedings before the expiration of 20 years from the death of Mr. Norton, which occurred May 6th, 1880. The lands have since been wonderfully improved, some of our county's finest summer resorts having sprung up upon them. Immense sums have been expended in hotels and manufactories which now utilize the water privileges once owned by Norton. A few days more would have barred Mrs. Norton from making her claim on account of the statute of limitations. The beautiful Loon Lake, Ampersand, Algonquin and Paul Smith properties are on lands once held by Norton, and the Clinton County Farmer well says that "these actions constitute an almost endless chain of litigation which no ordinary life-time will see finished." "Aside from the vast monetary interests at stake, reaching into the millions," says that paper, "the litigation promises some rather startling developments."
Mrs. Norton alleges in her complaint in most cases substantially that she has not in any way released her dower right since the death of her husband, that her dower has not heretofore been apportioned or set off to her. She demands that this be done and that one-third of all the rents and profits of the property since Mr. Norton's death be accounted for and paid to her.
The development of the country where the lands are situated has been remarkable in the last 20 years. Railroads have been built into the Adirondacks and well located lands have increased many times in value. Mr. Norton was one of the most active and enterprising business men of his day and served at least a term in the State senate. Many are living who still remember him and the circumstances of his business misfortunes.