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1850s map of Clinton County, with Clintonville detail
1850s map of Clinton County, with Clintonville detail

Adirondack Attic: Clinton county's mining heritage

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We continue our series, the Adirondack Attic, with Andy Flynn. You may know Andy from his series of Adirondack Attic books on local history. He uses the objects people make, use and leave behind to tell stories about the life and times of the region. NCPR is collaborating with Andy and his sources at the Adirondack Museum and other historical associations and museums in the region to bring these stories to air.

Today, Andy takes a close look at a mid-1800's map of Clinton County, and some of the stories of the small towns that grew up around the iron mining industry.

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Reported by

Andy Flynn
Adirondack Correspondent

Andy Flynn joined Laura Rice, the chief curator at the Adirondack Museum, to examine a map of Clinton County from 1856. The map had two parts: north and south. Though originally the map would have been in one piece, it fell apart at some point and was mended with fabric stitched around the edges. Rice described the map as being “well –loved.”

“I love maps anyway, but this is a particular favorite,” said Rice. “What I really like about it is that it is that it has a lot to say about the development of the iron industry in the Adirondack region during the first part of the 19th century.”

The top half of the map included Champlain, Moors, Ellenburg and Chazy, as well as a variety of small towns such as Peru and Keeseville. The city of Plattsburgh and Dannemora State Prison were also featured on the map.

“In the northern part, we see these little places of the little street by street, building by building synopsis of these little hamlets in the city of Plattsburgh, so you can tell where the railroad system was, for instance,” said Flynn. Other landmarks included Trinity Church, mills and foundries.

The south part of the map showed Clintonville, which was once the site of the world’s largest bloomer forge owned by the Peru steel and iron company. Other towns such as Birmingham Falls and New Sweden also appeared on the map.

“You get, as I said, a real sense of industry because all of these little towns really grew up around iron mining. If it weren’t for iron mining, none of them would have been here,” said Rice. Many of these small towns sprung up along the Au Sable River, which runs across the bottom of the map, and the Saranac River, which is found in the northern part and is now Route 3.

“In some of these places, you can see who lived in certain spots,” said Flynn. “There’s certain names and certain buildings and spots throughout the county, but to have a whole county here at your fingertips from 1856 is a real snapshot of what life was like back then.”

The map also allows people to piece together the social relationships that existed when the map was made since family homes are marked on the map. “It’s really kind of a neat picture of the community at a particular point in time,” said Rice, who listed Clintonville as one of her favorite towns.

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