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The Rossie Hotel.

by Virgie B.Simons Town Historian

One of the most interesting old North Country inns of nearly a century & a half ago is situated in the village of Rossie, overlooking the Indian River in St. Lawrence County. In pioneer days the Parishes , President Monroe, the Bonapartes & other celebrities halted here for liquid refreshment.

According to avabilable information, the brick building was erected in 1811 by David Parish, early land owner of the towns of Rossie & Antwerp. The original building consisted of only the left half of the present structure.

During the war of 1812, when horse smuggling was prevalent in the area, the British came to Rossie looking for thieves. They surrounded & captured the village & used the hotel as their headquarters. Finding no trace of the culprits, the regiment, commanded by Colonel Forsythe, returned to canada the next day.

In 1841 George Parish sold out to Africa & Zacheus Gates. The hotel was then the scene of many gay parties, turkey shoots ,lotterys, masonic gatherings , court sittings & town meetings. It was the focal point of community life, the resort at once of judge & jury, of clergy & the laity, of the politcian & the merchant. Town officers came to discuss the affairs of the town over a foaming mug of ale.

Here the miners spent all of their weekly pay on saturday nights & practical jokes were perpetrated on unsuspecting victims. Distinguished strangers & the humblest wayfarer might jostle each ofter in the common taproom.

This "great room" as it was also called , was heated by a fireplace & had a bare sanded floor & ample seats. The heavy homemade armchairs were strong so that men could tilt back in them against the wall, as they talked. During long winter eveings, come lamplight, this was a place for merry patter & gossip, a bit too spicy for mixed company.

The fire on the hearth was depended upon to augment the few flickering candles. Room were darkened by somber walls & inadequate windows. Candles were a luxury, for tallow wasn't always plentiful & the process of dipping was tedious & slow. Rush lights & pine knots were utilized when necessity demanded, but the wonderful change from candles to sperm oil lamps was one of the great events of the time.

It was unthinkable for a woman to be allowed in the barroom. Since this was a better class of old time tavern, it had a "setting room" for the women. It was not as jovial as the barroom, but the glowing fire in the open fireplace gave to the scanty furishings that look of good cheer, warmth,& hospitality. The rocking chairs were imperfect but they were eagerly welcomed by the weary travelers.

The tavern afforded a retreat for overnight customers, who invariably brought news of other places. A century ago they could not telephone for reservations, so they trusted to luck on getting a room. Instead of a place to park the car, they asked for fodder & shelter for the horse.

There were bare stools & two or three uncomfortable beds in the unheated bedrooms. A tired guest slept in his clothes & often in his shoes,& he could not be sure that he would not awaken to find a bedmate beside him. Not more than five in a bed was the usual rule. A lighted lantern left on the bar at bedtime meant that there was a vacancy in one of the beds.

Drovers taking there cattle farm to market beween Ogdenburg & albany often rolled up in a blanket on the floor before the fire so that they might be on their way early the next morning.

In 1854 Africa & Zacheus Gates sold out to John Laidaw & his brother-in-law, Danel collins .They ran the place as partners untill Collins sold his share to Laidlaw in 1856.

"Jack" or "jock" Laidlaw was a man of remarkable personality & great popularity, whose reputation was far more than local. He took an active roll in town affairs & gave his guests his personal attention. During his ownership the hotel was known far & wide.

Mr Laidlaw started the famous Burns Festivals on January 25 1859, the 100th anniversary of the famous Scottish poet.

In stagecoach days, lodging for a man & his wife was 6 shillings; one dinner,nine sixpence; breakfast, 5 1/2 cents; supper, 6 cents; one pint of wine, nine cents; pot luck meal ,eight cents; a gallon of whiskey,25 cents.

The VanAmburgh & Company Mammoth Menagerie (circus) came to Rossie Sepember 27 1860. The great tents was put up back of the hotel. A gay parade, witch started from the flagpole on the green in front , included hores resplendent in their fancy trappings , blaring band music, elephants, & clowns. A contract beween the circus & the proprietor of the hotel, Jack Laidlaw, called for board & lodgeing for for 75 people sleeping two to a bed, 106 horses with 3 pecks of oats to each horse, 400 pounds of hay for the elephants, & a numerous ofter items.

For 75 years there was a barber shop in the building. Gentlemen who really matttered had their private shaving equipment displayed in a wall cabinet in the shop. By their mugs one knew them. A carpenter often had his mug decorated with a square & plane, a butcher with a cleaver & block, while an old solder was known by a bronze star & a flag of the G.A.R. Each pation had his own cut-throat type razor & bay rum. While waiting his turn he perused the Police Gazette with its pictures of the plump ladies in pink tights.

George McLear became the new owner in 1875. All sorts of traveling oddities were displayed there then itinerant practitioners of one art or an ofter.

The hotel under Mr McLear opened its doors to meeting of many descriptions surprise parties, debates, dancing schools, auctions, & whatever cultural life there was in the nature of lectures, musicals, & theatricals.

The Alpha Literary Society,organized in 1889, put on plays in the McLear hall. (Mrs Lillain Gibson & Mrs Stella Turnbull of Ogdensburg are two living charter members ). The Rossie churhes held strawberry festivals, oyster suppers, ice cream socials, & bazaars under the hotel's roof. The Rossie Dramatic Club entertained with vocal & instermental music, plays, charades, & tableaux. For many years Susan Laidlaw presented her famous concerts here with the members of her music classes taking part. There were political rallies at which General Newton Martin of Ogdenburg & Dr David McFalls, Rossie physician & others spoke on the important issues of the day. Crowds grathered at the hotel for the pole raising ceremonies of both Republicans & Democrats. In those days it meant something to belong to political party.

At the McLear House, new Year's celebrations were popular. Lights, laughter, & the gay strains of a stringed orchestra announced that a New Year's ball was in full swing.

Another gala event was horse racing on the ice followed by a big celebration in the eveing. Jack Laidlaw's was always entered in the race. Fishing time & the pike brought renewed crowds to the hotel, which from the early days was know as the "Fisherman's Paradise."

Mr McLear built a new dance hall on the second floor on the right side of the hotel in 1890, & it was clamed at that time to be the largest dance floor in St. Lawrence County. There were sheds for the horses & a barn. The barn has since been torn down & the sheds are now used for cars.

Others mamaged the hotel during McLear,s proprietorship. While Lyman Ladd ran the hotel, a Grand Columbian Ball was held on july 4 1893. Music was furnished by an Ogdenburg orchestra, Playing from three in the afternoon untill daylight of the fifth.

Since the early 1900's the hotel has had a number of owners & managers, & the interior has been remodeled several times. It is now a modern, up-to-date hotel, which is pointed out as one of St Lawrence County's histoic landmarks.

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