The History of Fort Edward

In 1700, the area known today as Fort Edward was still wilderness. Prior to the construction of any forts, the area was known by the old Indian name Wahcoloosencoochaleva or the “Great Carrying Place.”

At this point on the Hudson River with rapids and falls, further travel by water to the north was not possible. The Native Americans would leave the Hudson at Bond Creek carrying their canoes overland to the headwaters of Lake Champlain.

War played an important part in the early development of this area. Sir Francis Nicholson was sent here during Queen Anne’s War to erect a stockade and build a road to Fort Ann in 1709. This fortification because known as Fort Nicholson only to be abandoned shortly thereafter.

In 1731, John Henry Lydius, a Dutchman from Albany, erected a fur trading post here known as Lydius House or Fort Lydius. This was Fort Edward’s first documented structure. A sketch of this house was included in a survey made by a Frenchman named Anger in 1732.

Again, war caused the construction of another fort under the direction of Phinehas Lyman during the French and Indian War. Sir William Johnson changed the name of the Fort from Fort Lyman to Fort Edward on September 21, 1755. It was named in honor of Edward, Duke of York and Albany, grandson of George II and brother of George III. At this time a large military hospital complex was constructed on the island, presently known as Rogers Island.

Shortly before the Revolutionary War, the fortifications were dismantled. Now the War of Independence put Fort Edward on the “Great War Path” once again. With the fortifications in ruins, Fort Edward was defenseless. Schuyler retreated to Saratoga and Fort Edward came under Burgoyne’s occupation. In 1777, an event took place here which has been said to have changed the course of the Revolution. With the tragic murder of Jane McCrea, many area settlers took up arms against the British and helped to cause Burgoyne’s defeat in Saratoga.

After the war little is known of Fort Edward’s early settlers. A post office was established in the village of Fort Edward in 1798 with Matthias Ogden acting as postmaster. The town of Fort Edward as it is known today was created by an act of the legislature passed on April 10, 1818. The first town meeting was held on May 22 of that year at the dwelling house of Solomon Emmons. Moses Cary was elected supervisor and Walter Rogers became the first town clerk.

The Emmons house was located in the small hamlet of Fort Edward center and for many years was known as the Black House. This hamlet, located south of the village of Fort Edward, contained a church, schoolhouse, and a post office. The post office was established in 1832 and was discontinued in 1859.

Durkeetown, located in the eastern section of Fort Edward was settled by Solomon Durkee, one of the first settlers. The Baptist Church which is still active there, was established in 1832. The old District #5 schoolhouse on the Durkeetown Road no longer stands.

The settlement of Moses Kill located on the Hudson River in the southern section of town takes its name from the stream which flows into the Hudson at this point.  A post office was established in 1872 and for a short time, the name of Mock was used for this hamlet. Susan B. Anthony taught school here in her early life.

The Village of Fort Edward is the most densely populated section of the Town of Fort Edward. In September of 1849, the Village was incorporated and at that time it contained one thousand acres. The first village meeting was held at the home of Gideon Carswell on Broadway, now known as the Charter House. Frederick D. Hodgeman was elected the first president of the village. The term president was used up until 1927 when the title was changed to mayor.

Fire protection was an early concern of the village. The old hand-engine “Relief” was purchased in the summer of 1857. An 1869 by-law was added to the village regulations “to compel every male resident of sixteen years and upwards attending any fire in the village to assist in extinguishing the same when required by any official.” Fire companies were later formed, and they included the John F. Harris Steamer Fire Company No. 1 in 1874, the George Satterlee Hose Company No. 2 in 1874, the John R. Durkee Hose Company No. 3 in 1877, and the Leonard Bibbey House Company No. 4 in 1899.

Industrial growth has been basically concentrated in the village of Fort Edward. Shortly after 1800, a clothing mill was erected by Timothy Eddy. Water power was provided by a stream which ran down the hill and across McCrea Street near the present house at 14 McCrea Street. Until recently, the ravine was visible from the street, but has been filled in, and a house has been placed on this site. After 1832, the Eddy Mill was purchased by Enos and Gardner Howland who manufactured coarse paper.    

Soon other industries were to locate in this area. Hodgeman and Palser opened a paper manufacturing plant in 1850. The Fort Edward Blast Furnace was erected and put into operation in 1854. Bessemer pig iron was produced with ores being obtained from Crown Point and Fort Ann.

Sawmills were also located in this area along the river near the dam. In 1846 the firms of Tefft & Russell and Bradley & Underwood established sawmills there. George Bradley of the latter firm was one of Fort Edward’s most successful businessmen. In 1870 he purchased the Opera House from Bob Allen. Operas, concerts, and road shows were held in the Bradley Opera House which boasted a seating capacity of one thousand people.

The manufacture of stoneware was a major industry in Fort Edward beginning in 1858. Otto Lewis was the first potter to locate here with many firms being formed soon after. George Satterlee opened the Fort Edward Pottery Co. in 1859. Michael Mory joined the firm in 1861 to form Satterlee & Mory. J. A. & C. W. Underwood ran a pottery firm which opened in 1865 and closed in 1867. Haxstun, Ottman & Co. ran from 1867 to 1872 on the site of the former Underwood Pottery. In 1872, Haxstun withdrew from Ottman and the firm became known as the Ottman Brothers.

In 1875, a pottery opened on the corner of Broadway and Argyle Street under the ownership of Haxstun and Company. Later it was purchased by the Tilford Brothers, who were succeeded by George S. Guy. The Fort Edward Stoneware Association was formed in February of 1883 by a group of pottery manufacturers. In 1892, the Hilfinger Brothers purchased the Guy Pottery which was to remain in operation until 1941. Unlike the former stoneware manufacturers, the Hilfinger produced earthenware pottery from native clay.

One of the most notable educational institutions of its time to locate here was the Fort Edward Collegiate Institute opening in 1854. This college preparatory school was under the direction of Joseph E. King until 1910 when the second structure was totally consumed by fire.

Many religious denominations have been active in the valley. The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1828. Construction of the original brick church began in 1829. This building served as a Union Church having been used by every religious denomination that every existed in the village. St. James Episcopal Church was founded in 1844 followed by the Village Baptist in 1848. The second major occupant to use the brick church was the Presbyterian Church which was established in 1854. In 1869, the old brick church became known as St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the last religious denomination to use the structure. The Baptist and Episcopal Churches used the brick church for a very short time before the construction of their present edifices.

Another important area of Fort Edward is the village of Fort Miller located in the southern end of town. Fort Miller was named for the defensive fortifications  on the west side of the Hudson River opposite the site of the village. It was built during the French and Indian War and was named in honor of the builder, a Colonel Miller who’s Christian name has not been preserved by historians.

Nathaniel Gage, arriving in 1762, was the pioneer settler. In 1766 Noah Payne, Levi Crocker and Timothy Buel came from Connecticut to build farms and comfortable homes on tracts of land granted them by England. Two years later, Judge William Due (born in England in 1747) purchased a tract of land including the river falls, and built a sawmill, a gristmill, and later erected a powder mill and snuff mill. He  became prominent and active in public affairs and held numerous public offices, of which the most important was assistant Secretary of U. S. Treasury under Alexander Hamilton. His home, a mansion of spacious dimensions and elegance, stood on a low hill east of the village. The homes of Noah and Daniel Payne, which are both located on the old River Road, are the only two who survive today.

The oldest place of worship is a meeting house built in 1816. It was used and supplied by ministers of various faiths until 1822 when it became a Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. A Baptist Church was for several years active in the village but, after years of neglect, was demolished in 1943. A Wesleyan Methodist Church located on Route 4 was organized in January 1945.

The pioneer stores were those of Jesse Patrick, Ashel Meacham and Thomas Carpenter. During the 1800’s there were a cobbler, millinery, tin and wagon shops, as well as two blacksmith shops. There have been numerous grocery stores in the village and along the canals.  The last grocery was owned and operated by Leslie Orr for 40 years and closed in 1962.

A post office was established in 1815 with Seneca Bragg as postmaster. It was discontinued in 1966 when Mrs. Gertrude Hitchcock retired from the position of postmistress.

The earliest canal was a by-pass around a the dam and rapids at the mill site. This was replaced by the Champlain Canal which was opened in 1823 and extended from Thompson to Lake Champlain. Construction of the present Barge Canal began in 1905 and was opened to traffic in 1913. The local section starts at Fort Miller Lock #6 and returns traffic to the river above Crocker’s Reefs. These canals were of great benefit to local residents, many of whom owned and operated canal boats or were employed in various jobs on the canal system. The canal was used extensively by the pulp and paper mills which replaced the earlier grist and other mills.  The first mill was operated by H. C. Craige and later owned and operated by John Wagman and John Thorpe. The last mill at this site was Cottrel Paper Company. The Fort Miller Company, which produces concrete products, is also located in the area.

The early taverns of the village were know as the McAdou Tavern and Kittle House, Later hotels were the Hudson River House, which burned in 1915 and was used at one time as an academy, and the Winsor House which also burned (1918).

This is just a brief overview of the Town of Fort Edward’s vast historic heritage. Reminders of our past can be found everywhere in the buildings which line our streets and dot our country roads. The Hudson River, the old and new canal, and the surrounding hills and streams have provided this area with a beautiful backdrop in which to exhibit our historic past. Let’s work to ensure that many of our historic sites can be preserved and passed on to future generations.

Paul McCarty
Fort Edward Historian