Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Reminiscences of the Burg
Ogdensburg Journal (Ogdensburg, NY), 30 Jan 1871
Full Text
Reminiscences of the Burg

In the preceding efforts to tell some disjointed things connected with our recollections of Ogdensburg, in past years, we have attempted to give the young and comparatively newcomers some idea of the appearance of "the city," when we first knew it, but cannot help floating off upon incidents with rise unbidden to our memory.

At the early date in which our reminiscences began, the whole of Ogdensburg was in the present First Ward. The suburbs lay between Jersey Avenue and Montgomery street and on the tier of blocks bounded east by Franklin street. There was hardly a village block that did not have an unfenced corner, over which those who believed in economy in steps "cut cross lots." The cow path led from the National Hotel diagonally across to Callaghan's carriage shop. Where Gibbs' residence now stands was a vacant corner, s too at Erastus Villas', C.G. Myers', J.H. Morgan's, C.A. Davies', E.N. Merriam's and Chas. Shepard's.

Th first fair of the old St. Lawrence County Agricultural Society, we ever attended, was on the grounds now occupied by Stewart's livery stable. Another time it was held on the block bounded by Franklin, Green, Morris and Knox streets. "Going to the Fair" was not as popular at that early day or there were not so many people to go, so the Society went "where the woodbine twineth," and was not revived for nearly twenty years. Our modern Fairs are a tolerable good substitute for the old "Musters" or "General Trainings," where people, - ladies and gentlemen alike go to see sights and "get squeezed."

Water street, from the bridge to the ferry dock, was the business center. The avenue for merchandise from St. Lawrence County to New York and vice versa was through the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to Oswego, through the Oswego and Erie Canals to Albany, and thence down the Hudson to New York. Every town and village in the county did its trading through Ogdensburg, by teams. The long processions of teams which came in hourly in the busy seasons would astonish the modern Burgers. The steamers which ran here, literally "coined" money for their owners.

Our principal hotels were the Haskin House, which occupied the corner of Ford and Isabella streets, now the site of the Eagle Block, the Washington Hotel, corner of Catherine and Washington streets, and the old Eagle Tavern, (the present Baldwin House). When "Marble Row," the wonder of its day, and extending from Catharine to Division street on Water street was erected, the Exchange Hotel graced the lower end. In its palmy days it was honored by the presence of Martin Van Buren. This visit occurred in1837 or thereabouts. He came through from Canton in the stage or some private carriage.

The Ogdensburg delegation met him near the Arnold road, on the turnpike, with a beautiful horse, for his Excellency to ride into town upon. We were just around ten years of age and felt that Ogdensburg expected "every man to do his duty," and consequently honored the occasion with our own dignified and important presence. After Mr. Van Buren had been duly received, escorted and "spoke his piece," we felt so elated that we smoked our first - and last - cigar. The cigars were furnished by "the committee." The one we selected was evidently intended for a mature individual or else there was some mistake in smoking it. It produced the greatest tempest among our internal arrangements imaginable and left us in the same frame of mind of the man who ate the crow. From that day to this we have not "hankered" after tobacco.

The Haskins House was the scene of two tragedies. A man named Bowers cut his throat at the dinner table, with the carving knife, just as the boarders had seated themselves, and one of the servant girls fell into the fire and was urned to death while under the influence of some powerful drug of medicine. The Haskin hotel disappeared in the great fire in 1839; the Washington Hotel was afterward re-christened St. Lawrence Exchange, and passed way several years ago by fire. The Exchange became the Tremont, then the Morton House and also succumbed to fire about six years ago. The old Eagle Tavern still stands and is known as the present Baldwin House.

The veteran building of the Burg, is the old "Grist Mill" of Lyon & Phillips. It was put up by Nathan Ford in 1797-98 and performed its first grinding on the first of December of the latter year, and is consequently in its 73d year. It looks as though it was good for a century. In 1857, on warm summer's day, when the sun was shining brightly and the sky was clear except for a dark bank in the Northeast, there was a single vivid flash of lightning and a terrible peal of thunder. Five minutes later a cry of fire came from the old mill. It had been struck by lightning. The fire was put out as all supposed, but it kindled up in the night again and burned part of the roof off. It has always enjoyed the exclusive privilege of grinding grist by water power, and has from the first day till the present been productive property.

Among the memorable water crafts which have, from time to time flourished here, we will mention a few which struck us as peculiar. The old United Kingdom, a high pressure steamer. Her voice preceded her appearance down the river, from two to three hours, and lingered around about as long after she had disappeared on her upward bound trip. For a good "square puffer," she never had a rival. The Iroquois was the first steamer which passed below Ogdensburg. She had a single paddle wheel at her stern. The genius who invented the contrivance, believed it wold better enable her to ascend the rapids.

The stupendous monument of folly was the Rapid built at Prescott. This was a sort of Siamese twin arrangement of two canoe like, barreled shaped boats, nearly 200 feet in length. She had one wheel, in the middle, and a powerful nine. Her projectors never doubted her ability to stem the current and ascend the rapids. On her first trip down, she straddled an island and stuck all summer. She never made but one round trip and then made her final and "everlasting lay up."

Paul Boynton improved upon this model with his steamer Henry Burden, which ran on the ferry for two or three years, and then departed for the Niagara river. The Paul Pry also had a history. Built at Heuvelton, in 1830, after running four years on Black Lake, she made the descent of the Oswegatchie. She arrived above the dam in 1834, cut across lots below the bridge and went into the water again, at the spot now occupied by Rodee's flour mill. The party who had charge of the job undertook to have a launch. By the aid of a Spanish windlass a heavy rain storm, the feat was accomplished about eight o'clock, one Saturday night.

The Paul Pry puffed through four years on the ferry, bursting her boiler once or twice, and killing one man. Her future prospects were blasted by pulling the schooner Charlotte off the bar during the Patriot war in November, 1838. She departed hence to Sacket's Harbor. Her place was supplied by the Black Hawk, afterward rebuilt at the foot of State street, and named the Dolphin.

The Pup was the predecessor of the Paul Pry on the ferry. She was the especial pet of Eri Lusher, her owner, who was also proprietor of the Eagle Tavern. In his steamboat mania he was full of expedients, but never succeeded in making the Pup all that his "fancy painted her," and she went into and out of the water so many times that the people began to think she was "amphibious."

The various experiments showed, first that she was too short in the bow, next too short in the stern, and third that she was too short in the middle. Having been the third time lengthened she started off on her trial trip under command of Captain A.W. Woolley. On her way back from Brockville, the Captain discovered the aforementioned Rapid down the river, and determined to have a race. He instructed his engineer to give her steam.

A half hour he consulted his "spy glass, and found he was gaining. In hilarity of spirits he exclaimed, "Give her more steam! We're gaining! Tell me the Pup can't run!" An hour and a half later he passed the Rapid, broke down, and anchored near Maitland. The Pup made the trip to Brockville and back inside of twelve hours. Our recollection of her final end is that she blew away one stormy night.

The British steamer Sir Robert Peel made her appearance about 1836. She was burned by Bill Johnston's men at Wells' Island, opposite Alexandria Bay, during the Patriot war. Others may be spoken of hereafter.

Among the characters of the Burg at that early time were Bill McDougall, Black Ben, Ed. Sharp, Jim Nash and others, whose names we do not now readily recall. They filled the niche now occupied byDick Kane, Peter Kirk, and "Henry the Dutchman," and were just as essential to the welfare of the place as the latter named are now. We believe that most of the former served in Capt. A. W. Wooley's company of rangers, which participated in the wonderful "Hickory Island expedition" of 1837 or '38. Bill McDougall kept the constables in business, and Black Ben was the standing entertainment of the boys.

Ed Sharp afterward had a saw log rolled over him, and went through the world with a "hip-te-dooden" to his gait. Jim Nash died about fifteen years ago. The whole of this notable quartette have shuffled off this mortal coil. Nash's father as the village crier and rung out the "venue" notices in magnificent style. The boys would leg it from corner to corner to hear him recite the wonderful things which would be offered at the coming sale. He was a mulatto, who originated at the time slavery was a lawful institution in the State of New York.

He flourished before the town clock was invented, and used to ring the Presbyterian church bell at noon and nine o'clock at night, for the accommodation of families who were unable to invest a quarter of a hundred dollars in a wooden clock. He departed this life nearly forty years ago.

Item Type
Date of Publication
30 Jan 1871
Personal Name(s)
Lusher, Eri ; Van Buren, Martin ; Woolley, A. W.
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 44.69423 Longitude: -75.48634
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Reminiscences of the Burg