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Leonard Gereau in front of his parents' former house--once in Tahawus, since 1963--in Newcomb.
Leonard Gereau in front of his parents' former house--once in Tahawus, since 1963--in Newcomb.

50 years ago: Moving the village of Tahawus

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The last couple of years there's been a lot of debate in the Adirondacks about what happens when communities struggle and shrink. There are already ghost towns across the North Country, once-thriving places that have dwindled away to nothing or been abandoned.

Fifty years ago, the National Lead company decided to move its workforce from the mining village of Tahawus, which sits at the edge of the High Peaks. An entire community vanished almost overnight.

Andy Flynn has been talking with people who remember the loss of their village a half-century ago and he has our story.

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Reported by

Andy Flynn
Adirondack Correspondent

This is Route 28N, about 3 miles from the Newcomb Town Hall. Half a century ago, this is where National Lead relocated the village of Tahawus, including 67 houses, a couple apartment buildings, two churches and a general store—they just picked it all up and moved it.

Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon worked at the mine when the move happened.

George Canon: It was in the mid ‘60s and the war was starting to pop good, and business was booming up there. They had to protect their workforce somehow, and that’s how they did it, rather than just saying "We’re out of business here in Tahawus. You’re out on your own."

Andy Flynn: The company wanted to move the town so they could get at valuable ore that was located under the homes. They also moved workers out of a neighborhood known as the Upper Works. That's where Canon lived in 1963.

GC: I hated the thought of having to move out. For whatever reason, call it stubbornness or whatever, I didn’t go anywhere near much of the move. Obviously I’d see it as I went to work every day, but my place was at the Upper Works. I think I stayed at the Upper Works a year after the village was moved, until they finally forced me out and said you can’t stay here anymore, we’re closing the place up.

AF: Seventy-eight-year-old Leonard Gereau was born just up the highway in 1935, on the Boreas Road. He and his parents moved into a small house in the village of Tahawus around 1942, when the mine opened. He said his parents didn’t want to move.

Leonard Gereau: They didn’t like it. They enjoyed the Tahawus area, particularly fishing and the Sanford Lake Rod and Gun Club, and it was a total adjustment. It was kind of an overnight thing. One day they were living in Tahawus and the next day they’re living here in Newcomb. So it was an abrupt change in their lives and the social part of it as well because the homes here were not set up the same way they were in Tahawus. So their next door neighbor here in Winebrook Hills was different than next door neighbors in Tahawus.

AF: The big move began in August of 1963 and lasted about six months. George Canon says Newcomb residents would line the highway, for hours, watching the buildings being towed to their new foundations in a neighborhood called Winebrook Hills. 

GC: “The old wive’s tale is that — and I suspect it did happen — that everything was all ready to roll here in Newcomb, everything was ready to tie in. And the guy got up in Tahawus, ate his breakfast, went into the mines. And they’d come in, picked up his (house), brought it over, set it on the foundation, tied in the utilities, and when the whistle blew at 4:30, he drove over here to Newcomb, sat in the same seat and ate his supper. Now I can’t say that happens a lot, but I do believe it did happen.”

AF: At the Newcomb Historical Society Museum, two volunteers watch a video of the big move on a computer screen. It's color film set to music on a DVD. Sally Rockwood and Jean Strothenke grew up down the street from each other in Tahawus.

Jean Strothenke: Ooh, somebody had a garage. We sure didn’t.

Sally Rockwood: This is in Newcomb.

AF: They probably built it after the move, right, Because you didn’t have garages in Tahawus?

JS: No.

SR: OK, there’s a picture of the apartment building when they were here.

AF: And those were all moved?

SR: They were.

AF: Those are huge.

AF: Not everything survived the transition. The local YMCA that was a popular community center wasn’t relocated.

SR: They just showed a picture of the Y (MCA). That, of course, did not come.

JS: That was probably one of the biggest disappointments ot disadvantages for the kids here that moved here.

SR: Not just the kids because the Y was the center of everything fo adults and children. There was always something going on, whether it was a mother-daughter banquet or a kids’ basketball game or movies for 10 cents.

JS: We didn’t have a television, so if you wanted to watch TV, you went to the Y. And we didn’t have a phone. We never had a phone. We had a phone when I was 16 when we moved to North Hudson.

AF: George Canon says for families and young people, Tahawus seemed like its own little world, a place apart.

GC: We had everything we wanted. We didn’t need to go outside. We had hunting and fishing, camping. You had basketball, you had baseball. The Y had everything in it. You had a television room. You had a library. You had a weight room. You had a gym. You had pool. You had bowling. You had ...

AF: When Tahawus moved, it essentially doubled the size of Newcomb's population. And it took more than a decade for everybody to learn to get along.

GC: And there was a tension between old Newcomb, and now you’ve got a hundred houses of families that didn't pay any taxes, had very low living expenses, paid very little attention to the politics of life. Now they come over here, these hundred houses, trying to integrate with the other hundred houses in what I always refer to as old Newcomb and there was some tension in the air.”

AF: That tension stemmed from a lot of small frictions, including the difficulty of merging two Catholic churches.

GC: That was another bone of contention, because when they moved the Catholic Church down here, they closed up the Catholic Church that had been in existence and use down across from the bar, down next to the Santanoni Road. And that didn’t go over too big with some of your Catholics here in Newcomb that had been using that church forever. Another contentious issue.

AF: Soon after the new Winebrook neighborhood filled up, community leaders formed the local Lions Club, mainly to bring old Newcomb and new Newcomb together.

And, in many ways, it worked. They built a baseball diamond, a skating rink and a playground. George Canon is one of two founding members who are still around. And he's still on Marcy Lane, living among the many houses that came to Newcomb 50 years ago from Tahawus.

Today, National Lead still owns the land up in the mountains. The mine itself closed in the late 1980s.

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