PORTIONS of territory were taken from Elizabethtown and Jay, March
19th, 1808, and united into the original town of Keene. Until 1848
it embraced, in addition Vrits present dimensions, all the land now
lying between the limits of North Elba. Keene is bounded on the
north by Jay and Wilmington, on the east by Jay and Elizabethtown,
on the south by North Hudson, and on the west by Newcomb and North
Among the mountains of this range in this
township are found the loftiest peaks in the State, and with one or
two exceptions, the loftiest east of the Rocky mountains. Of these
the highest, Mount Marcy, in the southwestern corner, attains an
elevation of 5,470 feet above tide; Mount Colden, just west of
Marcy, 4,753 feet; Gothic Mountain, several miles to the eastward,
4,745 feet; Haystack, further south, 4,890 feet; Skylight, 4,889,
and Gray Mountain, 4,900. Sentinel Mountain lies next the northern
border of the town, and a few miles south of it are Pitch-Off and
Long Pond mountains. The Giant of the Valley in the southwestern
part of the town towers at an elevation of 4,530 feet above tide;
Dix’s Peak, in the extreme south, is 4,916 feet high. Other peaks of
less magnitude but still grand and impressive are Sable Mountain,
Nipple Top, Saddle Back and McComb mountains.
A number of beautiful lakes, or ponds as
they are somewhat prosaically termed, sleep at the feet of some of
the mightiest of these mountains. Edmund’s Pond, lying between Mount
Pitch Off and Long Pond Mountain, is rapidly becoming a famous
resort for sportsmen, invalids and summer tourists. It extends
northeast and southwest a distance of nearly two miles.
From its shore on the north a beetling
cliff of solid rock rises vertically a distance of from three to
five hundred feet, and gives to the mountain which slopes
immediately above it, its peculiar name. From the southern shore the
rocky side of Long Pond Mountain rises with supreme majesty. In the
spring, summer and early fall, torrents of water tumble in
tumultuous and musical confusion down the sides of this grand old
hill for hundreds ‘of feet. In the extreme southern part of the town
are the Upper and Lower Ausable ponds, the former, indeed, being
divided by the line between Keene and North Hudson. The ponds are
the headwaters of the south branch of the Ausable river, which flows
northerly through the center of the town and with its numerous small
tributaries forms its principal drainage. The magnificent mountains
and mighty valleys of Keene, and her picturesque streams and
splendid lakes have been the theme of many an enthusiastic writer’s
eulogy, and have ‘called into activity the eager aspirations of many
an ardent landscape painter and poet.
Keene had three post-offices, Keene Center, toward the north, Keene
Valley, toward the south, and Cascadeville on Edmond’s pond. The
last named office is open only during the summer months. The town
has never been thickly populated, owing to the sterility of the soil
and the difficulty of transportation over the rocky and mountainous
surface of the country.
Pioneers penetrated its primitive forests
and scaled the natural barriers formed by its precipices as early as
1797, and thus early a rude, almost impassable road had been
extended to Keene Center through Lewis and Jay. The first child born
in town was Betsey Payne. The first school was taught by Dr. Ellis
in an old school house near the present site of Phineas Norton’s
house at Keene Center.
The first marriage was that of Thomas Dart
and Cynthia Griswold, the first death that of Eli Bostwick. Benjamin
Payne was the first man who came into the town to stay. He came by
marked trees from Westport, and brought his goods in a “jumper,” or
rude vehicle constructed of two long poles which served the purpose
at once of thills, traces and wheels. He died before 1800. He was
Phineas Norton’s father-in-law. Timothy and Nathaniel Pangburn,
brothers, were the next arrivals. Tile former died before 1823, and
the latter about 1830. Thaddeus Roberts and Robert Otis were other
early settlers. Zadock Hurd kept the first inn, near the present
residence of W. H. H. Hull, and remained a number of years. He died
before 1823. Thomas Taylor and General Reynolds made their
appearance in town when it was new. Eli Hull settled about two miles
south from Keene Center in 1810, and erected the house now occupied
by his son William H. H. HulL Eli Hull (with his three eldest sons)
took part in the battle of Plattsburgh, and formerly served seven
years under General Washington. Roderick McKenzie lived at the head
of the Keene valley on the Ausable and was a neighbor of Phineas
Beede and James Holt. William H. H. Hull and Phineas Norton (the
former was born here in 1813, and the latter came in 1823) are the
best authorities now living of the condition of the town in early
times. According to them the first store was built and furnished by
William Wells, and afterwards kept by David Graves. Phineas Norton
moved into his present house, about two miles east of Keene Center,
which he built himself, in 1832. There was no church organization
here until 1833, although numerous preachers, among them the zealous
Cyrus Comstock, held services frequently in the house of Eli Hull.
The principal business in these times was lumber and iron making.
Not much lumber was shipped but considerable was sawn for home uses
Sylvanus Wells, brother of William Wells, was the most largely
interested in mills. In 1823 there was a saw-mill on John’s brook
three miles above the Center. Eli Hull & Sons (Joseph and Allen
Hull) had a forge on the river south of the Centre, Graves & Chase
(David Graves and R. C. R. Chase) bad one in the village. Both
forges were furnished with ore from the Arnold bed.
In 1823 also the forge built by David Graves was running in full
force under the management of Benjamin Baxter and Adolphus Ruggles,
who drew ore from the Arnold bed. Not long after this Lewis Merritt,
Jacob and Nelson Kingsland, of Keeseville, built another forge
between the village and the old saw-mill. It was carried away in the
great freshet of 1856. In 1823 also a little grist-mill was run by
Israel Kent. It stood about a mile above the village on the Ausable
river. A few years later another one was built farther down stream
by Nathaniel Sherburne.
About 1800 the valley began to present the appearance of a change
from an unbroken wilderness to a land fit for human abode. James and
Alva Holt lived there about 1800, and cultivated farms for many
years. Some of their descendants are still living in the valley. In
1849—50 Harvey Holt built a forge in the valley. He labored under
great disadvantages and suffered the calamity of losing it by a
freshet before it was opened. Captain Snow, another old settler,
died years ago in Beekmantown. Luke Jones; another, died about two
years ago in Keene Center. Phineas Beede came from Vermont and took
up a place in early days. His widow survives him and is a resident
of the Valley now. Mr. Biddlecomb, an early settler, probably built
the old Bruce house, which was torn down in 1882—83. Deacon Bruce,
father of Chester Bruce, had this place in very early days.
Following is a list of the supervisors of this town from the year
1818 to the present time, with the years of their service: 1818, Eli
Hull; 1819, Iddo Osgood; 1820, Eli Hull; 1821 to 1824 inclusive,
Iddo Osgood; 1825 to 1827 inclusive, Alden Hull; 1828, Azael Ward;
1829-30, Joseph Hull; 1831 to 1833 inclusive, Artemas Fay; 1834,
Richard R. C. R. Chase; 1835—36, Iddo Osgood; 1837—38, Chester
Bruce; 1839, Iddo Osgood; 1840, Gardner Bruce; 184!, Charles Miller;
1842, Phineas Norton; 1843, Charles Miller; 1844, Thomas Brewster;
1845, Phineas Norton; 1846, Thomas Brewster; 1847, James S. Holt;
1848, Stephen Clifford; 1849, Chester Bruce; 1850—51, Uriah D.
Mihills; 1852, Phineas Norton; 1853, Uriah D. Mihills; 1854—55,
William H. H. Hull; 1856, James S. Holt; 1857—58, William H. H.
Hull; 1859—60, Hills H. Sherburne; 1861 to 1864 inclusive, Willard
Bell; 1865, David Hinds; 1866—67, Adam McKane; 1868—69, David Hinds,
Jr.; 1870, William H. H. Hull; 1871—72, Charles N. Holt; 1873—74, E.
M. Crawford; 1875—76, David Hinds, jr.; 1877—78, Norman M. Dibble;
1879—80, Frank H. Hull; 1881, David Hinds; 1882—83, John K. Dudley;
1884—85, Thurlow W. Bell.
The records of this town from its formation in 1808 to 1818 are
destroyed or lost; we cannot therefore give the first officers; The
present town officers are as follows: Supervisor, T. W. Bell; town
clerk, Sanford P. McKenzie; commissioner of highways, R. G. S. Blinn;
collector, Heman Nye; overseer of the poor, William Wilkins;
justices of the peace, David Hinds, John K. Dudley, William H. H.
Population.—1810, 642; 1825, 707; 1830, 287; 1835, 700; 1840, 730;
1845, 809; 1850, 798; 1860, 734; 1865, 770; 1860, 720; 1875, 757;
Keene Center was probably quite a
settlement before any other community had come into existence in the
town. In this vicinity the pioneers of 1797 erected their log
cabins, and felled the first trees. By the year 1823 a hotel had
been built on the site of the present village of Keene Center, and
was managed by David Graves. The building now stands on its original
site across the street from the hotel of Weston & Otis, under the
old elm. Before 1840 Ira Marks, of Elizabethtown, had control of the
property. In 1844 Charles Miller kept it, the title still remained
in Marks. In 1847 Willard Bell, Stephen Patridge and Uriah D.
Mihills bought the premises of Marks. Not long after, however, Marks
purchased them back from the three and sold them to Arville E.
Blood. Meantime, since Bell & Company had purchased the hotel,
Sidney Ford had been the manager. When Arville Blood secured it, she
leased it to her brother, Royal Blood, a part of the time, and
Joseph Downey kept it while Royal Blood was out. Willard Bell bought
it of Arville E. Blood in i866. He at the same time purchased the
land now forming the site of the Keene Center House of Weston &
Otis, and built a new hotel thereon, the other one being
discontinued. He moved into the new house in 1867. Mr. Bell kept
this hotel until 1872. Nicanor Miller rented it of him from 1872 to
1877, then Horace Towsier kept it seven months. William Bell
returned after Towsier’s time expired and managed the business until
1881. W. F. Weston then purchased the property of Bell, and he and
his present partner, J. Henry Otis, who acquired an interest in the
business in 1883, have been the proprietors down to the present
time. The old building was destroyed by fire in 1883, and the
present slightly and commodious structure erected in its place.
W. F. & S. H. Weston are proprietors of a forge in the south part of
the village. They built it in 1879. Ore is obtained from the Keene
ore bed about a mile west of the village. The ore is taken from this
bed by means of the Wood Pit and Fifth Shaft. Before they built the
forge the Westons ran the mines about five years. They have kept a
general store in the village since they started the forge. They also
own and run a forge and store and saw-mill at Wilmington. Besides
the Keene bed there is in its immediate vicinity the Weston bed, and
another bed or vein in front of the Cascade House at Edmond’s Pond
called the Cascade ore bed. The other business establishments at
Keene Center may be briefly summed up as follows: A general store
kept by Warren Hale for a number of years; the store of W. F. & S.
H. Weston, already mentioned; the store of J. W. Bell, opened in
1882, and the drug and Yankee notions store and jewelry
establishment of Sanford P. McKenzie. Mr. McKenzie also keeps
transient boarders and is an Adirondack guide of considerable
experience. He keeps a large and select assortment of fishing tackle
and sportsmen’s outfits. W. F. Weston and J. Henry Otis are also
proprietors of a handsome summer hotel on the western end of
Edmond’s pond (about six miles west of the Center), which will
accommodate about fifty guests, with a dining-room large enough to
accommodate ninety persons. Willard Bell owns a saw-mill about a
mile and a half southwest of the Center, and E. M. Crawford owns one
about five miles south thereof, in the “Flats.”
The district school at the Center is the only one there. It is
taught at present (spring, 1885) by Miss Bridget Kelley.
Churches. — The Methodist Episcopal Church of Keene Center
was incorporated in the fall of 1833. Phineas Norton, Nathaniel
Sherburne and James 0. Patridge were the first trustees. The first
meeting convened pursuant to a notice given by the Rev. James R.
Goodrich, who was probably the first pastor. In May, 1836, the
church purchased a tract of land of Nathaniel Sherburne and at once
erected the edifice which still serves the original purposes of
construction. The last few pastors were sent here in the following
order: Rev. Harris (date unknown), John Hall, Fletcher Williams, L.
A. Dibble, Horatio Graves, G. H. Van Duzen, C. A. Bradford, E. L.
Ferris, and the present pastor, Rev. S. B. Gregg, who came here in
the spring of 1884 The present officers of the church are: Stewards,
Frederick Nye, E. S. Russell, J. K. Dudley, Franklin Hale; trustees,
Frederick Nye, J. K. Dudley, Cyrus Sheldon; class leader, E. S.
Russell. The Sunday-school superintendent is Frederick Nye, who has
held that position during the past nine years, with the exception of
several intermissions which aggregate about two years.
A new Catholic Church was erected in 1883, which, by virtue of its
handsome design after arrangements does credit to the communicants
of that faith in Keene Center. Bi-monthly services are held by
Father Holihan, of Elizabethtown.
The first postmaster at Keene Center was probably William Wells. In
1823 David Graves officiated. This was before the establishment of
the stage routes and the mails were carried from Westport to
Abraham’s Plains (now North Elba) on horseback. The present
postmaster, Willard Bell, received his appointment in June, 1861.
Keene Valley. — At present no industry can be said to prevail
in the beautiful Keene Valley. It is a famous resort for summer
visitors and more than thirty summer residences have been erected
within a radius of six miles from the Keene Valley post-office.
Among them are those of Dr. Norman Smith, of Hartford, Cona.; Dr.
Charles Laight, of the New York Board of Health; Drs. Isaac and
Felix Adler, and Dr. Sachs, their brother-in-law; Martin Babler, of
New Jersey; Dr. William Pennington, Newark, N. J.; William H. Hodge,
D. D., Philadelphia; Frederick H. Comstock, attorney of New York;
Mrs. and the Misses Clark of Elizabeth, N. J.; Miss N. D. Ranney,
Elizabeth, N. J.; Mrs. Anna Ranney, of the same place; A. H. Wyant,
artist, New York; Charles Dudley Warner and R. N. Shurtliff, artist,
New York; Mason Young has erected an elegant building ata cost of
about $20,000. Dr. James Putnam and brother have purchased the old
premises of Smith Beede and built a number of cottages wherein they
receive guests, usually from Boston. On the old Walker lot of Smith
Beede also cottages have been re.cently erected by William G.
Neilson, Prof. Felix Adler, Almon Thomas, W. A. White, Kate Hillard
and others. There has been a post-office at Keene Valley since 1865
when Orson Phelps carried mail for six months free, then the
government took it. James S. Holt was the first postmaster. His
successor was Norman Dibble. Byron Estes now officiates.
The “Valley” boasts three hotels, each one accommodating from eighty
to one hundred guests. The hotel of S. & 0. Beede, which was built
about 1875; the Tahawas House, George W. Egglefield, proprietor, who
bought out Norman Dibble, and the hotel run by R. G. S. Blin since
E. M. Crawford owns and runs a steam saw-mill which was built about
ten years ago. During the first seven years of its career it was
propelled by water power. The lumber is cut mainly for building in
At the Cascade House of Weston & Otis, before mentioned, a
post-office has been established for the sole accommodation of
summer tourists. It was first opened in the summer of 1880 by
Nicholas Miller, and receives and distributes mail only between July
first and November first of each year. The name of the office is
Cascadeville, and it is the office for guests who abide at the
Mountain View House in North Elba, kept by Moses Ames, the
Adirondack Lodge kept by Henry Van Hoevenbergh, and Torrance’s
Cottage, kept by Orin Torrance, in addition to those stopping at the
Cascade House. The present postmaster, J. Henry Otis, received his
appointment in the spring of 1883.