The Town of Franklin, New York, is north of Saranac Lake and east of Gabriels, containing the following places:
- Alder Brook – A hamlet in the eastern part of the town, southeast of Sugarbush.
- Franklin Falls – A hamlet in the southeast corner of the town on County Road 48, previously known as "McLenathan Falls."
- Forestdale – A hamlet in the southeast corner of the town, east of Franklin Falls.
- Goldsmith – A hamlet in the eastern part of the town, located north of Sugarbush.
- Hunters' Home – A former location in the town in its northeast corner.
- Lake Kushaqua – A small lake near the state campground at Buck Pond.
- Loon Lake – A lake in the central, and a hamlet on the east side of the lake, located on County Road 26.
- Merrillsville – A hamlet near the town center, southeast of Loon Lake on County Road 26.
- Onchiota – A hamlet in the southwest part of the town on County Road 60.
- Rainbow Lake – A lake and hamlet partly in the west side of the town.
- Sugarbush – A hamlet on NY-3 near the east town line.
- Union Falls – A hamlet at the east town line, mostly in Clinton County.
- Union Falls Pond – A lake north of Franklin Falls in the southeast part of the town.
- Vermontville – A hamlet and seat of the town government. It is located near the south town line on NY-3. The name stems from many of the early settlers being from Vermont.
The town of Franklin was crossed by the Port Kent to Hopkinton Turnpike (later designated Franklin County Route 99, now designated 26).
History of Clinton and Franklin counties, New York, (1880) p. 398, gives the population of the Town of Franklin as follows:
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 14, 1990
Vermonters, Irish settle Town of Franklin
As noted earlier, many of our larger towns were subdivided to facilitate governmental problems which were mainly caused by communication and transportation difficulties. Just as Harrietstown was separated from Duane in 1841 and St Armand from Wilmington in 1844, so, too, was Franklin erected from Belmont to the north. Thus Franklin formed a southeast corner of Franklin County, with Clinton County on the east and Essex County on its southern boundary. To the west it bounds on the towns of Duane and Brighton. Franklin County had boon formed in 1808 upon being extracted from Clinton County and, at that early date, contained only three towns — Chateaugay, Constable, and Hanson (later Malone). The Town of Franklin, like its parent county, was named for the patriot hero, Benjamin Franklin.
In becoming a town on May 20, 1836, Franklin became the third largest in the county. The first town meeting was held in the home of Henry B. Hatch who became the first supervisor. Hatch Brook, which flows through the northwestern portion of the town, was named for him. In Dunne H. Hurd's History of Clinton and Essex Counties, he lists only three small hamlets — Franklin Falls, Merrillville, and Vermontville — present in 1880 with farms and smaller settlements scattered throughout the region. Franklin Falls became the first of these in 1827 but since that place was reported on in The Weekender of April 13, 1987, there is no need to repeat it here. Merrillville was named for the Merrill family which emigrated from Vermont to form a. small settlement three miles south of Loon Lake, where John R. Merrill ran an inn. It was here that Paul Smith first stayed after crossing over Lake Champlain from Milton. Other area innkeepers were Hatch, Lovering, Littlejohn and, after Paul Smith moved on to St. Regis in 1858, his brother, Lewis, and their parents ran Hunters Home on the North Branch.
Vermontville outgrew and outlasted both of her neighboring communities and, as the name implies, was also founded by hardy Vermonters. Lyon Brook, which parallels the settlement, furnished water power for a few early industries. Pierce & Shields ran a starch factory next to the Eight Square schoolhouse while B. F. Lamson had a sawmill and a foundry, and L. S. Bryant also had a sawmill at the crossroads. W. H. Melvin, next door to the church, ran a harness shop, and a cooper shop was run by Charles Park. The greatest number of individuals were, of course, farmers and Norman Ridge has been long known for its fine potatoes. J. P. Mulligan and J. J. Alexander ran stores, side by side, across from the church. Along the main road appeared homes featuring such familiar area names as Sweeney, Arnold, Lyon, Bryant, Shene, Hathaway, Chase, Hewitt, Page, and Lamson.
Another settlement between Franklin Falls and Union Falls flourished for many years but since has practically disappeared like so many other Adirondack hamlets of the 1800s. Alder Brook experienced an influx of Irish settlers during 1848 and 1849 that was due to the Great Potato Famine of 1845 in Ireland when, from 1842-1864, some 1,600,000 emigrated to the U.S.A. During that same period, the S. & S. Rogers Company needed workers to cut timber, burn charcoal and work the forges. Like most ethnic groups the Irish chose to congregate among themselves and the early settlers, at Alder Brook bore such names as Ryan, O'Neal, Gleason, Dillon, Collins, Quirk, Tourney, McKillip, Keese, Doyle and McNamara.
Being predominantly Catholic, the settlement required the services of a priest and, in, 1850, Father James Kaveny arrived to build a small church to honor St. Rose of Lima. The church was erected at the intersection of the road from Franklin Falls and the road from Sugarbush to Union Falls. For many years, this location was known as Catholic Corners. Sugarbush received its designation because, as the name implies, at one time the area produced substantial amounts of maple syrup and sugar.
Northwest of Merrillville lies Loon Lake, the largest body of water in the Town of Franklin and the center of the town's resort area. In 1870 Ferdinand Chase also made the prevalent move from Vermont to the Adirondacks and proceeded to build a log hotel on the lakes south shore. Chase had inn keeping experience, having operated a hotel in Essex Junction, Vt, prior to his coming to Loon Lake. As Paul Smith before him had found out, the area was abundantly blessed with fish and game which attracted a goodly number of sportsmen. Chase soon had to abandon the log cabin concept and build more substantial accommodations to adjust to the increase in patronage which he expected was forthcoming. His expectations were realized beyond his most ardent optimism as his hotel grew in both size and reputation to become one of the most popular resorts in the Adirondacks.
In 1892 the Loon Lake House received national attention. President Benjamin Harrison's wife was an invalid who wished to spend the summer at Loon Lake, a restorative measure suggested by her physician. William Seward Webb's Adirondack rail line had reached the area that same year but was about a mile distant from the hotel where the train passed Loon Lake. Webb had a special spur line constructed to carry the president and his wife directly to the Loon Lake House.
Ferd Chase, as he was best known, preferred to work with his crews on building projects, maintenance and ground cares, while leaving the administration of the hotel to his wife. This turned out to be a very fortuitous arrangement as Mrs. Chase had both a pleasant personality and a good business head. She mingled with the guests and saw to their every comfort. Like Paul Smith's wife, Mrs. Chase played a major role in the success of the hotel. She was noted for her generosity and financed many in college education for promising young men who worked summers at the resort as desk clerks, bell hops, etc.
Like so many of the old Adirondack hotels, the Loon Lake House suffered a disastrous fire and the remaining cottages were operated as individual guest houses for many years. The property was subdivided and finally auctioned off as private summer homes, many of which were purchased by Montreal residents who found the Loon Lake area to be within easy reach. The golf course continues to draw a considerable following today.
Goldsmith did not fare as well. Located on the North Branch of the Saranac River, a few miles below Hunters Home, it was the center of a large lumbering operation and sawmill. The place was named for Thomas Goldsmith who purchased some 14,000 acres from Gerrit Smith, John Brown's friend in the abolitionist cause, for slightly more than one dollar per acre. By 1856 the business and the lands were sold and operated, off and on, by various other owners until 1916. Today it is a ghost town.
A similar operation at Thatcherville, three miles above Hunters Home, was owned by Avery Thatcher who also ran a sawmill in 1840. It, too, changed hands many times until the mid 1080s when the mill and houses were wiped out by fire.
Moving three miles southwest from Loon Lake we find Lake Kushaqua, slightly smaller than its neighbor in both size and importance historically. The main development took place there in 1903 when Stony Wold Sanatorium opened its doors to victims of tuberculosis. Two years earlier a corporation was formed by a group of wealthy individuals, mostly from New York City, to fund an institution for the purpose of caring for working women and children who could not otherwise afford such treatment. The sanatorium would be nonsectarian and would accept about 90 adults and 20 children six years or older. If some could pay, well and good, but for those without financial means there would be no charge.
The Good Samaritan of Stony Wold was Mrs. James E. Newcomb who originated the idea and became the principal sponsor of the project. She was named president of the board of trustees and under her guidance some 1,200 acres were purchased along the shore of Lake Kushaqua where the complex was to take shape. The administration building alone cost $84,000 and the entire property reached a value of $300,000. In addition to the initial investment, a sizeable endowment fund was also raised to ensure operating costs for the years ahead. When completed the institution contained, in addition to the infirmary, a chapel, workshop, post office, school and a power house to generate electricity. A complete working form was established to supply milk, eggs, and fresh produce.
Stony Wold went to the White Fathers of Africa. In 1975 the state purchased the former Stony Wold property and all of the buildings, except the chapel and a few shore cottages which received extended privilege, were removed.
Just south of Lake Kushaqua the eastern tip of Rainbow Lake extends from Brighton into the Town of Franklin. Here is the hamlet of Onchiota, with Roakdale 2 1/2 miles to the east. Both of these areas also had sawmills, which have disappeared, but two of more recent vintage survive.
On Clear Pond, which lies adjacent to Rainbow Lake, an unusual enterprise known as the Adirondack-Florida School operated for many years. In 1903 Paul C. Ransom formed the two phase prep school with a summer session at Onchiota's Meenhaga Lodge and a winter term at Coconut Grove, Florida. Much later the property was acquired by Buster Crabbe who ran a boys' swim and scuba camp for a few seasons.
A rare feature existed in the Town of Franklin when two railroad systems existed side-by-side through a major portion of the town. The New York Central and the Delaware and Hudson lines came together at Onchiota and then split to opposite sides of Lake Kushaqua before joining once more at Loon Lake. At this point the two tracks ran closely parallel to the town's northern boundary where they parted company, with the D&H turning eastward to Plattsburgh, while the N.Y.C. headed north to Montreal. At Tekene Junction the Brooklyn Cooperage Co. had a spurline to Debar. Onchiota, Lake Kushaqua, and Loon Lake each enjoyed the luxury of railroad stations. One of the [p... (illegible)] at Loon Lake was named Inman.
How is it that at the turn of the century we could support two railroad systems while today we can't afford to operate the Adirondack Division? Such seems to be the price of progress!
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, January 17, 2009
The first Franklinites
By NATHAN BROWN
When Franklin County was founded, almost the entire population lived in the northern part of the county. Originally, almost all of what is now Franklin County was included in the then-Clinton County town of Chateaugay, according to Frederick J. Seaver, author of the 1918 book Historical sketches of Franklin County and its several towns.
Malone was founded in 1805, under the name Hanson, reducing Chateaugay to include two townships in Clinton County plus Burke, Bellmont, Franklin and St. Armand. Franklin County was created in 1808, St. Armand went to Essex County in 1822, and the town of Bellmont was split off in 1833, including the territory that is the town of Franklin now. The Town of Franklin was established in 1836. Henry B. Hatch was the town's first supervisor, according to town historian Teresa Eshelman; the first town board meeting was held at his home on July 1, 1836.
Fewer than 200 people lived in Franklin when the town was formed. The first permanent settlers were Isaac McLenathan and William Wells, who came from Jay in Essex County in 1827 and built a saw mill and iron forge at what is Franklin Falls today but was McLenathan Falls until 1851. The first child born in the town of Franklin, Sanford Hough, was born here in 1840. The settlement grew to include a large store, a school and a hotel. Seaver wrote that their businesses never did well, as all lumber and iron products had to be hauled 34 miles to Port Kent to be sold.
All 23 dwellings in McLenathan Falls and every other structure except a small shack was completely destroyed by a fire in 1852.
"So rapidly and fiercely did the flames spread that fowls, dogs and cattle perished in the streets, and the inhabitants themselves barely escaped with their lives," Seaver wrote. "Household goods, merchandise in the store, large quantities of lumber, and even the unsubmerged parts of wagons that had been hauled into the river were all destroyed."
Peter Comstock rebuilt the area somewhat and reopened the mills, and for 14 years a major lumbering operation under the direction of Christopher F. Norton of Plattsburgh was centered there, but they were closed again by the 20th century. There were other mills in Franklin, but never one as big. Only two were running by 1918. The hotel also reopened, changing hands a number of times, but it was never as big or bustling as it was before the fire.
Among the early settlers of Franklin were some African-Americans, former slaves brought to the Adirondacks by noted abolitionist, friend of John Brown and former gubernatorial candidate Gerrit Smith. Smith bought some land in North Elba and Franklin in the 1840s, and gave homesteads to the freed slaves and to some poor whites recruited from the cities also.
Merrillsville was settled in 1829 by Lamsons, Cates and Merrills. Settlement of Vermontville started in the early 1800s, with most of the pioneers coming from Vermont. Teresa R. Eshelman wrote in the local series "They Told Me So" that Irish and English emigrants hired in the 1840s to cut timber ended up clearing much of Vermontville and as far as Sugar Bush and Alder Brook. Settlers from Vermont, Clinton and Essex counties came, attracted by the cheap land. By 1918, Seaver wrote, Vermontville was the town's largest hamlet. It had no industries except farming; a foundry built in 1861 had apparently closed by then, as had a sawmill built in 1848.
The Delaware and Hudson and New York Central railroads came through the town in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Both lines had stops at Lake Kushaqua, Onchiota and Loon Lake; D&H stopped in Vermontville, too.
Onchiota was one of the later-settled parts of the town. A mill was built there after the railroads came through town, and most of the men and boys who settled around it worked there, wrote Hayden Tormey in the first volume of "They Told Me So." When the wood ran out, boarding houses sprang up, and wealthy city people came in to hunt and fish. Some stayed and built camps.
The only non-residential building in Onchiota in the early 20th century was the general store, which had the only telephone. You could catch a train out every half-hour, but a trip to Vermontville or Bloomingdale overland could take a half-day. Onchiota became a bit busier during Prohibition, as the rum-runners loved the back roads there and used to tear down them, shooting it out with pursuing federal agents.
Tormey wrote that Onchiota started to lose its remote character after World War II.
"Our general store changed, too; no people, no business," Tormey wrote "What to do, advertise? Yes; our slogan 'Off the beaten path.' Federal help programs came, then the Olympics of 1980. New paved roads replaced our once two-wheel rut roads. Progress..."
The Chateaugay branch of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, which ran through Franklin, discontinued stopping at its Onchiota and Vermontville stations in 1940, although it continued to stop at Loon Lake until 1946. New York Central ended its passenger service from Lake Clear to Malone in 1957, although some freight service continued into the 1960s. Attempts to bring the railroad back for the Olympics were unsuccessful.
The highway department
The town of Franklin had 1,197 inhabitants according to the 2000 census, making it the 13th-most populous out of the county's 19 towns. Its area, however, is 180 square miles, making it the third-largest in the county.
"The story is told that one of the early supervisors, journeying to Malone to attend his first session of the board, after having driven all day, arrived at a primitive hotel, inquired what town he was in, and was amazed to learn that he had not yet wholly traversed his own," Seaver wrote. "The anecdote is illuminative of Franklin's broad reaches, and not less of the horrible highways that used to characterize it."
The Port Kent-Hopkinton turnpike was built between 1829 and 1832. It was the town's main highway in the early days, and it was lined with rustic inns offering travelers meals and lodging for next to nothing. Today, it is county Route 26, and it isn't always plowed beyond Loon Lake in the winter.
Franklin has 70.3 miles of town roads today. Highway maintenance has always been one of the town's greatest expenses.
"As early as 1851, the Town was divided into districts under the supervision of a Commissioner of Highways, who was Thomas Goldsmith," Eshelman wrote. "Each district was headed by its own Overseer of Highways serving under the Commissioner." The highway districts assessed the inhabitants for the manpower to repair the roads.
The highway department's 2009-10 budget is for $1,024,994 - about 65 percent of the town's total spending. The highway superintendent is a much more important, and sometimes controversial, figure in Franklin than in other towns, and a large part of town board meetings is spent on the highway superintendent's report and on questions for him.
The earliest records of schooling available are from 1878, Fran Oliver wrote in "They Told Me So." In this year, the town had one school, in Vermontville across state Route 3 from where the town garage is today. Seventy-six out of the town's residents between the ages of five and 21 went to school that year; an average of 26 showed up any given day. Later, there would be at least 12 schools, although they weren't all operational at the same time.
These schools only taught through primary grades; parents who wanted a high school education for their children, in the early days, had to pay to send them elsewhere and pay their room and board as well, according to Raymond Tuthill in "They Told Me So."
Betty Goff Wilson wrote about her memories of attending primary school in a two-room schoolhouse in Vermontville in the 1950s that is the Franklin town hall today. Grades one through three were in one room, four through six in the other.
"Each day started with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer," Wilson wrote in They Told Me So. "On Monday mornings we each got a new drinking cup and had 'inspection,' which meant the teacher went up and down the aisles checking each student's fingernails, etc."
A cafeteria had recently been added to the school, and Wilson remembers helping the cook set the tables, dish up dessert and arrange condiments on the tables while in sixth grade.
The Sugarbush and Vermontville school districts voted to send their high schoolers to Saranac Lake High School by bus in 1934, and Merrillsville, Loon Lake, Onchiota and Franklin Falls later did the same. Private contractors brought the high school children to and from Saranac Lake until these little districts throughout the town became a part of the Saranac Lake Central School District in 1968. At the same time, the one-room schoolhouses closed and the younger children started to go to Saranac Lake as well. Some of these buildings were sold to private owners; others fell into disrepair or were destroyed by vandalism or fire.
One article can only scratch the surface of the rich history of the town of Franklin. Its inhabitants, many of whom are descendants of the town's first settlers, have recorded its history painstakingly. It is a town of many separate hamlets, each with its own story to tell.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, September 26, 1998
Town of Franklin News
Eighty years ago, in 1918, the town of Franklin was booming with a population greater than that of today (but remember this is the fastest growing town in the northern Adirondacks). During this time, Franklin had more settlements and post offices than any other town in the county in relation to its population. There were post-offices in Inman, Loon Lake, Goldsmith's, Forestdale, Alder Brook, Franklin Falls, Onchiota, Kushaqua, and Vermontville.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 23, 1955
This 'N' That
The poet has said, “In the Spring a young man's fancy, lightly turns to thoughts of love,” and it may be so. But other minds have to turn to other things besides “thoughts of love” — and one of those things that is necessary to think about in the Spring is the condition of the roads. Winter is hard on roads and just about every kind of roads needs some repair in the Spring.
Nowadays each town elects road superintendent who in turn hires as many men as he needs to do the necessary work, and the roads are repaired or new ones built. But it is rather interesting to note how they did it in the “good old days” when they had only dirt roads. Transportation so much slower that it wasn't possible to cover so much territory then as now and, of course, there was so much less transportation that the road problems were less proportionately.
At the first election, or “Town Meeting,” held July 1 after Franklin became a town in May, 1836, three “Commissioners of Highways” were elected. They were William McLenathan Jr., Josiah Smith and Washington Clark. At the second Town Meeting, held in March, 1837, Isaac Patterson, James McLoud and Ira D. Knowleg were elected to replace the first three. At that time it was also voted “that the Town raise Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars of road money in addition to what the statute provides.” (No mention made as to how much the statute provided). On March 20, those three commissioners met and divided the Town roads up into six road districts with specified boundaries for each. For instance, it was — “Resolved that Road District No. 1 shall begin on the Turnpike leading from Ft. Kent to Hopkinton at the west line of this town and running easterly on said Turnpike to a large rock on the south side of said road generally known as Halfway Rock between Hatches and Loverins.”
The next year the roads seemed to present more of a problem and a greater expense for in March, 1838, three new commissioners were elected to replace the second three and an “Overseer of Highways” was elected for each road district. Also, the $250 was again raised for “road support,” and an additional sum of $250 was raised—$200 of this to be used “on the road between John Littlejohns and John Forbes and $50 in opening a road between Isaac Patterson's and the Glass Factory.” It was also voted that a man could work on the road only in the district in which he lived.
In 1844 it was recorded—“Voted that the Commissioners shall receive one dollar per day and no more.” The sum of $250 for roads and bridges was still being raised.
In February, 1848, the road districts had increased to eleven and “Pathmaster” was elected for each. By this time they were only electing one commissioner each year and each man served a three-year term. New roads were constantly being laid out, hence there were 17 road districts by 1856. But they were still raising only $250 for their upkeep, with 5,the exception of 1841, when they raised $1,000, merely recording that they were raising it for the support of roads and bridges. 1867 seems to have been the last year in which the pathmasters were elected; after that they were appointed by the road commission- ers.
See also: Early History of Northern New York
- Town of Franklin History, They Told Me So