The first settler in St. Armand was Charles S. Toof, who came to the area for the timber in 1842 and named the town for his home in Quebec. The Saranac River provided a way to get the lumber to market, as well as a source of power, and the industry thrived. When the timber ran out, the dairy business grew, although the town's possibilities for growth were limited by the surrounding state land. St. Armand was set off from Wilmington in 1844.
Bloomingdale's early success accidentally blocked one source of growth: in 1884, when Dr. Edward L. Trudeau was looking for a place to stay the winter while recovering from tuberculosis, he looked in Bloomingdale first, but found no house available and settled in Saranac Lake. Trudeau's reputation drew the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson to the village in the winter of 1887-1888 looking for a cure; Stevenson Cottage still attracts visitors to St. Armand. Trudeau's Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium was built in the St. Armand section of Saranac Lake.
In 1879, Camp Woodsmoke, one of the oldest and best known children's camps in Essex County, was built on the northwestern shore of Lake Placid where Echo Lodge once stood. In 1900, Daniel Seckington built one of the earliest golf courses in Essex County for his inn, the Waverly House.
The Pigeon Roost section of St. Armand, named for the Passenger Pigeons that roosted there in vast numbers during migration, was the scene of a major blowdown in 1950; the state subsequently allowed the blowdown to be harvested and sold from state lands despite the "Forever Wild" provision of the state constitution, though not without controversy. Some of the logs from the blowdown were used to build the Atmospheric Sciences Research Station on Whiteface Mountain.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 3, 1990
St. Armand: carved from the wilderness
The Town of St. Armand was formed April 23, 1844, when it was extracted from the neighboring, and overly large, Town of Wilmington to the east. The first settler, Elias Goodspeed, arrived in 1829, locating his farm in what would become the northeast sector of the town. In the survey establishing the new town's outline, an obvious jog in the north-south line shows a square cut-out whereby Whiteface Mountain is kept in the parent Town of Wilmington. The town fathers apparently had insisted upon keeping the handsome peak within their own geographical limits. Can't blame them for that!
Winslow Watson in his 1869 History of Essex County offers only a very scant mention of the Town of St. "Armands." As to its topographical aspects, he commends the area for its "long slopes gradually descending from the mountains to the valleys of the streams so as to present a highly picturesque and beautiful scenery." The highest mountain in St Armand is Moose Mt. which rises 3,699 feet. But just across the town line, in Wilmington, Whiteface Mt. dominates the view majestically at 4,872 feet.
The early industries in the town were perforce limited to lumbering and farming. C. F. Norton, O.A. Tefft and the Baker brothers ran logs in the Saranac River and at McLenathan Falls, in the nearby Town of Franklin. McLenathan and Wells ran a forge and a sawmill. An 1850 map indicates some scattered farms in the general region surrounding Goodspeed's, bearing such names as Hatton, Hewitt, Ling, Knapp, Campbell, Wilson, and Arnold but no central community took shape in this sector.
Of the unnamed streams alluded to by Watson, the Saranac River is the most prominent as it courses from the extreme southwest corner of the town in the village of Saranac Lake across a major portion of St. Armand to exit at the town's northern boundary near Franklin Falls. Draining from the huge amphitheater formed by the eastern mountains, Still, Lincoln, and French's brooks all flow into the Saranac River. Originally Moose Pond was the largest body of water in the town but when Paul Smith's dam created the Franklin Falls Flow, that reservoir claimed the honor for itself. In the southeast corner of the town, the northern extremity of Lake Placid reached into St. Armand with its Echo Bay.
In between such familiar landmarks, looking east from Rt. 3 between Saranac Lake and Bloomingdale, there exists an almost unbroken expanse of wilderness for roughly 49 square miles. Hemmed in on the south and east by a ring of hills and mountains starting with Baker Mountain in the southwest and extending to Knapp Hill in the northeast the region is mostly state-owned forever-wild territory. Between these two points are the mountains or foothills of McKenzie, Moose, Alton, Pigeon Roost, Owl's Head, Blue, and Shed, to complete the encirclement, with Whiteface rising in the background.
St. Armand was named by Charles S. Toof, who arrived in 1842 to settle in the area that was to become Bloomingdale. He christened the town to honor the memory of his former home in Canada, known by that same designation. Another early-comer was James H. Pierce who, together with James B. Dickinson, was responsible for the diverse business activities that would eventually make Bloomingdale the town seat. Pierce became an active leader in town affairs and was elected to serve as supervisor for a total of 17 years, straddling his career in the Union Army as Captain of Company, 11th Regiment, during the Civil War. In 1897, he was named to the State Assembly from Essex County and, during his first year in office, he was appointed chairman of the committee to investigate "which lands should be acquired within the Forest Preserve in order to protect the watersheds therein."
Capt. Pierce, together with eight other assemblymen, met at Saratoga on August 23, 1898 to begin their tour of inspection through forest and lake (and enjoy some hospitality along the way). In addition to stops at some of the well-known Adirondack resort hotels, they paid a visit to a former friend and politician, Levi P. Morton, who was in residence at his camp on Upper Saranac Lake. Morton had served as Vice-President in 1889 under President Benjamin Harrison and as Governor of New York State in 1895. Martin Van Buren Ives, the committee member from Potsdam, wrote a very interesting account of the trip which appeared in book form entitled Through the Adirondacks in 18 days. Published in 1899, it was good reading then and still is today.
Taking a tour of your own through a historical section of St. Armand, it would be advisable to start along the River Road from Bloomingdale and head for Whiteface Mt. The highway signs, in passing, might be slightly confusing to the nonnative since the route begins in St. Armand, crosses into the town of Franklin for about four miles, then re-enters St. Armand for two miles prior to reaching Wilmington and the back road to Whiteface. Not visible from the highway, but in the northeast corner of St. Armand, a junction forms the boundaries of four adjacent towns and three neighboring counties. By stepping around the corner stake one can walk through the towns of St. Armand, Wilmington, Black Brook and Franklin while also crossing through Essex, Clinton and Franklin Counties. Quite a giant step!
Returning to the tour, after passing the Franklin Falls hydro-electric generating plant and entering back into St. Armand, a short distance further will bring a traveler to a road branching off to the right which is a dead end. Take it anyway and a-half mile will bring you to a tiny cemetery containing the graves of St. Armand's first settlers. This is known as the Goodspeed Cemetery and the ancient stone slabs record the names and dates of several members of that family. One such marker reads "Nathaniel Goodspeed, Died Dec. 25, 1834, Veteran of the War of 1812, 85 yrs. old.
Elias Goodspeed became the first supervisor of the Town of St. Armand in 1844 and his house still stands, with renovations, of course, and is currently occupied by local veterinarian, Dr. Stevens. When the movie "Cold River" was filmed the interior of the house was used to depict scenes requiring a period atmosphere. Prior to contemporary times, the Goodspeed farm was purchased by Alfred W. Currier, who converted the fields to a plantation of white pines. With his passing, the properly was willed to Paul Smith's College with the proviso that the plantation would be maintained. In keeping with this stipulation, Fred Klein, in charge of the college lands, has nurtured the grove over the ensuing years to the present stand of stately pines named in honor of its donor.
If only Elias Goodspeed could witness some of the important events that would take place in his Town of St. Armand he would be truly amazed. In a remote southwest corner of the town, in 1884, a little known doctor (and a patient himself) had started construction of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium which was destined to later become a world-famous center for the cure of tuberculosis. A brief three years later fame once more touched the town when one of the world's most popular authors, Robert Louis Stevenson, came to spend the winter here, allowing "The Master of Ballantrae" and several other literary works to be born in Andy Baker's cottage.
On the opposite side of the ledger the town, like so many other Adirondack regions, suffered its share of calamities. Sumner Brook in Bloomingdale was known to occasionally overflow its banks and inundate sections of the village. In April of 1916 one such flood wiped out the Main St. bridge and cut the community in half. Although just outside the town limits, the disastrous fire which swept away the settlement at Franklin Falls in 1852 was close enough to reach into the lives of many St. Armand residents. Closer to the Goodspeed area, and to our own generation, was the "havoc wrought on the Pigeon Roost. As reported in an earlier article, this hill was named because it once served as a nesting site for fabulous flights of, the now extinct passenger pigeons. The birds roosted in such an incredible multitude that their weight alone broke down limbs and even some trees. However, the damage wrought by the birds early in the century could not compare with the devastation visited upon the Pigeon Roost during the Big Blowdown of 1950. Thousands of trees were felled like matchsticks before hurricane winds exceeding 109 miles per hour. Concerned that the tangle of downed trees created a serious fire threat, the Conservation Department appealed to the attorney general for permission to clean up the debris and final approval was granted by the legislature. Such a very unusual variance was necessary because Article VII, section 7 of the State Constitution clearly states that, "The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the Forest Preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed." In this particular situation the words "sold" and "removed" are most pertinent.
The process of sale and removal would be accomplished under a bidding system. The Ward Lumber Co. of Jay was awarded the contract for the Pigeon Roost project. The nearest possible approach to the Roost was from the aforementioned dead end road that passed by the Goodspeed Cemetery and the old homestead. Starting at the end of the existing road, Ward's crew had to build a bridge across Lincoln Brook and then hack out a lumber road more than 4 miles long, across forever wild land. In the April, 1953 issue of the "Northeast Logger" the following notice appeared on page 20: "Ward Lumber Co., Jay, N.Y. Blow down Salvage Project E-21: known as Pigeon Roost, is closed down due to heavy snows. Extensive operations are planned for this job, commencing this spring. Over 800,000 feet of timber were removed in the latter half of the year. An estimated two million feet remain to be salvaged." The contract work was later completed (without a single sighting of a passenger pigeon.)
As an interesting side note, the original ski lodge at Whiteface Mt (actually at Marble Mtn. prior to moving to its present site) burned down on May 6, 1951. The lodge was rebuilt that same year using huge spruce logs from the salvage operation in the Pigeon Roost. The building now serves as the weather station just off the Whiteface Mt. Memorial Highway.
- Robert S. Smith, 1878-79 and in 1883 (and perhaps the years in between)
- Thomas C. Norman, Jr., from ? to 1981
- Joyce Woodruff Morency, 1982-2012