The beginning of the development of the Chateaugay Ore and Iron
Company is closely connected with the early iron industry, which was of con-
siderable importance to northern New York during most of the Nineteenth
Century, and especially to Clinton and Essex counties which, 54 years ago,
produced 23 per cent of the total iron ore output of the United States.
From 1798, when Platt erected the first forge on the Saranac River at
Plattsburg, N. Y., the iron business took on impetus. Year after year new ore
deposits were discovered and ironworks started. The Saranac River, due to
its many rapids and falls, lent itself very profitably as a source of power in
many places. Its proximity to abundance of charcoaling timber and to numer-
ous ore beds made it ideal for ironworks locations, of which several operated
successfully for many years. Thus, this section of northern New York was
destined to become a large and important part of the American Bloomery.
Closely associated with this industry were two men, Andrew Williams
and Smith M. Weed, the founders of the Chateaugay Ore and Iron Company,
and this narrative would not be complete without making brief mention of some
of the activities of these two gentlemen.
Andrew Williams, when a young man, began work at one of the
Catalan forges on the Saranac River. Having a good common school education
to begin with, he applied himself diligently year after year until he became one
of the best informed and most able men in the industry, always endeavoring to
improve the quality of his iron, continually prospecting and seeking purer and
better ore deposits.
Several years before the opening of the Chateaugay Ore Beds, it is said
that Mr. Williams had secured samples of this ore, packed it many miles through
the forests to his forge on the Saranac River, and made up special samples of
iron from it, which were properly ear-marked as they went to the trade, the
customer being requested to report back as to the quality. The splendid reports
received from various customers in the trade on the samples of iron made from the
Chateaugay ore and the many requests for more of it, caused Mr. Williams to
become very much interested in the opening and development of the Chateaugay
Ore Bed, despite its inaccessibility. It may be that he thought along the lines
of Emerson's Mousetrap Story.* * * In any event, he associated himself with
Smith M. Weed and, despite the many natural obstacles, undertook to open up
this ore and make a better iron, and did so.
Smith M. Weed graduated from the Law School at Harvard
in 1857, and in 1859 he married Carrie L. Standish, a daughter of Colonel
Matthew M. Standish, a lineal descendant of Colonel Miles Standish, of Ply-
mouth. Standish, N. Y., where the Company's blast furnace is located, was
named for Mrs. Weed's family.
Mr. Weed, in addition to being an able lawyer, was a statesman of first
rank. He was elected and re-elected many times to the State Assembly, and
made and retained the friendship and confidence of Governors and Presidents.
Mr. Weed, more than any other one man, was responsible for interesting
the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company's officers in the building of a railroad
between Whitehall and Plattsburg. The history of The Delaware and Hudson
Company, "A Century of Progress," says of Mr. Weed:
Early in 1872 he journeyed to New York in the effort to interest the
Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. At a meeting with some of its officers
and Managers, at which I. V. Baker who shared his aspirations was present,
Mr. Weed readily convinced George Talbot Olyphant, acting as president in the
absence of Mr. Dickson, LeGrand B. Cannon and others that such a line would
be of great advantage to the company. Thereupon Mr. Weed drew from his
pocket articles of association of The New York & Canada Railroad Company,
already signed by several residents of Plattsburg and Clinton County. The
remaining signatures necessary to effect its incorporation were quickly supplied."
In later years, the two gentlemen who successfully founded and com-
mercially developed the Chateaugay Ore and Iron Company were known as
Honorable Andrew Williams and Honorable Smith M. Weed, both having won
distinction in State activities, as well as in the industrial enterprise in which they
were interested; one a master of the industrial arts, and the other a master in the
art of statesmanship; both of noble character.
pit1878.jpg = fullsize
In 1781, the Legislature of New York set apart, in the north central
part of the state, a tract of land containing about 665,000 acres, lying in Clin-
ton, Franklin and Essex counties, to satisfy the claims of two regiments of
soldiers which the State of New York had found it necessary to raise to protect
its frontier settlements from frequent pillage by the Indians and other enemies.
Congress was too poor to furnish troops for their protection, and so the State
sought to raise them and pay for their services in the manner above mentioned.
This land is the so-called Old Military Tract.
* * * Many are inclined to credit Elbert Hubbard with the Mousetrap Story. Sarah Yule, in a
book called 'Borrowings," printed many years before the Roycrofters, credits Emerson as being
the author of the quotation.
Due to failure of the act to express clearly its meaning, and because
vagueness, another act was passed in 1786, defining the area to be surveyed, and
allowing the speedy sale of these and other unappropriated lands within the
state. However, no part of the Old Military Tract was ever awarded on
bounty claims. It was ultimately all sold by the State as "wild lands." The
Town of Dannemora, in which the Chateaugay Ore Bed is located, lies in
Township No.5 of this Old Military Tract.
In September, 1794, Township No.5 became the property of William
Henderson, merchant, of New York City, who sold it in January, 1795, to
Jacob Mark. In February of the same year, Mark mortgaged it to Jacob and
Robert Leroy, and from that time on, for about a quarter of a century, it being
considered of little value, the property changed hands a number of times.
In 1822, it was owned by John L. Norton and Hannah Murray, who divided
it up into 300 lots which lay in what was afterwards incorporated into the
towns of Ellenburg and Dannemora. In the apportionment of the 300 lots
between the owners, the part which lay in Dannemora fell to Hannah Murray,
who in turn conveyed it, on November 22, 1822, to Lloyd N. Rogers.
There is good reason for believing that the discovery of iron ore in the
north central portion of this tract was made many years before. Several miles
westward of the Chateaugay Mine, and on the same strike as the Chateaugay
Ore Bed, is an old opening (81 mine), which had evidently been worked to a
considerable extent at some remote period, a shaft having been sunk, from which
quantities of waste which present day manufacturers would call good ore had
been thrown out and left. Trees of considerable size had grown over some of
this waste pile. It is reasonable to suppose that this is the so-called Prall vein,
from which William Bailey, who erected a forge on the Chateaugay River
about five miles below the outlet of Chateaugay Lake, in 1803, obtained his ore,
shipping it on rafts or boats through the Upper and Lower Chateaugay lakes
to his forge.
However, there does not seem to be any record of the actual discovery
of the Chateaugay Ore Bed up to the time of Mr. Rogers' purchase. In the year
1823 the bed of ore, practically phosphorus free, now known as "Chateaugay,"
and which has been proven to be the best in the world, was supposed to have
been discovered by an old trapper named Collins.
But the Ore Bed lay in the depths of what was then considered an almost
impenetrable wilderness, and it was many years before any attempt was made
to work it. Even after it was known, it excited little interest among capitalists,
for the reason that it was so far from lines of transportation, and lying in a
region which abounded in natural obstacles, held to be practically insurmount-
able against the building of roads of any kind.
It was not until about 1868 that the first steps were taken toward
utilizing this treasure, when Messrs. Foote, Weed, Meade and Waldo made a
contract with Edmund Law Rogers, of Baltimore, son of Lloyd N. Rogers, and
soon after obtained possession of the property.
However, for a period of about five years there was very little done in
the way of development of this ore body. Small groups of men were engaged
during the summer months in digging the ore, piling it on the surface to be
loaded during the winter months and hauled by horse-drawn sleighs on the
snow through the dense wilderness to the Catalan forges on the Saranac River.
The interest of the above named group was soon transferred to the
Chateaugay Iron Company, organized by Smith M. Weed and Andrew
Williams, and in the fall of 1873, the work of developing the property began in
earnest. A plank road was built from the Saranac River Plank Road, branch-
ing from that road at Saranac Hollow, and running 13 miles through the
mountains to the Ore Bed.
The jigging baskets consisted of a screen in the shape of a cylinder
at the top, with a bail to which was attached a piece of wooden timber acting
as a fulcrum or lever. The ore was shoveled into the basket, which was then
lowered into a tank of water and "jigged" up and down. The ore, being
heavier, sank to the bottom of the basket, while the rock impurities formed a
layer on the top, which was scraped off and sent to the waste pile.
The operation was continuous 24 hours daily, except Sunday, producing
approximately ten gross tons of concentrated iron ore, containing about 55 per
cent iron. The loss of iron in the tailings, however, was enormous. The
concentrated ore was then loaded into wagons, which held approximately two
tons, and transported over the plank road to Russia, N. Y., where it was made
into blooms in the six-fire forge owned by Andrew Williams and C. F. Norton.
In the subsequent years, the property was opened up considerably. The
mines were sunk deeper, necessitating larger hoisting equipment and also the
introduction of pumping machinery to take care of water drainage. Up until
this time, all of the drilling was done by hand, using jumpers and hammers,
two men drilling on the average twelve lineal feet per shift. With the in-
troduction of compressed air driven drilling machines, the drilling and the
tonnage per man per day was substantially increased. A steam sawmill was
built and kept in constant operation, turning out lumber for new buildings,
plank roads, etc. An addition was made to the separator to take care of the
increased output of the mines. Additional miners and mill hands were brought
in, until the total number of employed reached about 150. This, of course,
meant that new houses had to be built, and at this time we find about 40 houses,
a school house and church composing the village of Lyon Mountain.
A small dam on Separator Brook, which comes brawling down from
Mount Lyon, secured a head of 48 feet, which was suflicient to run the separator
a good portion of the year, and a 30 horse power steam engine supplied whatever
force was lacking for either the separator or sawmill. The Chateaugay Ore and
Iron Company now owned over 35,000 acres of land in this immediate region,
a great portion of which was covered with heavy timber, well adapted to lum-
bering and charcoaling purposes. They also had a 40-year lease on 4,000
-additional acres on which the Ore Bed was located, and with the privilege of
cutting every tree which grew upon it. Thus, it will be seen that they had
control of nearly 40,000 acres of land, with a large supply of iron ore under it
and plenty of charcoaling timber on its surface.
With the increasing of men and machinery the output of concentrated
ore reached approximately 50 gross tons per day, containing about 55 per cent
iron. This was loaded into wagons and hauled over a splendid plank road to
the dock on Upper Chateaugay Lake. Here it was transferred into barges,
which were towed to the Company's forge fires at Belmont, at the outlet of
Lower Chateaugay Lake, by the Company's steamer, "Maggie," named after
Miss Maggie Weed (daughter of Hon. Smith M. Weed).
The "Maggie" was 28 1/2 feet long over all, with an 11 foot beam,
drawing four feet of water. It was driven at the rate of ten miles per hour, by
a 25 horse power steam engine. The barge, the "Iron Age," was 80 feet long
and 17 feet wide, and carried approximately 150 tons of ore. After the ore
was transported to its destination, it was transferred by hand to a small car
which was drawn by a cable to the stock piles at the forges.
At the outlet of Chateaugay Lake, at Belmont, ground was broken for
the erection of a dam and ironworks, in the year 1874, and operations began
in January of the following year. The entire operations were driven by
water power under a head of 18 feet. The "mill pond" was 12 miles long,
both Upper and Lower Chateaugay Lakes having been raised by the dam about
4 1/2 feet. All the wood, coal and ore were moved on the Lake in barges and
rafts by the "Maggie." Each Fall before the close of navigation, enough ore was
stored at Belmont to run the forges through the Winter. There were ten first-
class fires, which were increased in later years to 20, the largest Catalan forge in
operation in the country, if not in the world, at that time.
Go to Mine History Page 2 ........