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Steam Boats On Black Lake.

by Harold A Storie.


Only older residents of Southern St Lawrence County can recall the era of steamboats on Black Lake. Most residents of the area are little aware of the fact that this body of water was once a part of a highway of commerce - that steamboats once travled the Indian River, Black Lake, & the Oswegatchie River, carring freight & passingers between Rossie & Heuveton.

Before the advent of good roads & the automobile, streams & lakes were the easiest routes of transportation. Even the establishment of rail roads did not immediately cause the disuse of water routes. The Indians early appreciated the ease of water routes , for in their bark canoes & dugouts they are known to have used this waterway. As late as the 1870s several Indian families would of the St Regis Indians would come to Black Lake in the fall, navigating the Racquette, Grasse, & Oswegatchie rivers & carrying across at the nearest points. They would set up their camps in Black Swamp & stay all winter to trap & cut & prepare ashwood for making baskets. The Indian name for Black Lake, incidentally, was O-tsi-kwa-ke, meaning "where the ash tree grows with large knobs for making clubs."

In the early 1800's there was a rush of settlers into southern St. Lawrence County, induced by the landowners Alexander Macomb Gouverneur Morris, David Parish, & their agents. Settlers were probably influenced by the abundance of water power in this area. The roads were mere Indian trails widened out for teams & wagons. They were long & treacherous & at times impassable. It was only natural for these settlers to take to the rivers & lakes for transportation.

In 1831 transportation was so sorely needed that the Oswegatie Navigation Company was formed for the purpose of creating a water route by means of canals, locks & dams through Black Lake, up the Oswegatie to the town of Gouverneur & up the Grass River to the town of Canton. Later, it was planned to bring the Black River & the Black River Canal into the system. For some reason, possibly for lack of funds or leadership, this plan was never completed although a lock was built at Heuvelton.

The first steamboat to appear in Northern New York was on the waters of Lake Ontario & the St Lawrence River. This was the Ontario, built by Charles Smyth & associates. It made the first trip in ten days in 1817. It was interresting to note that this date was only 10 years after Robert Fulton's successful trip with Clermont up the Hudson from New York to Albany. Thirteen years later, in 1830, the first appeared on Black Lake.

This boat was the Paul Pry, built in Heuvelton by Paul Boynton to run on Black Lake to Rossie. About 1834 she was taken into the St Lawrence at great expense & used as a ferry to Prescott. She was connected with the Battle of the Windmill in 1838. Because the boat thus became obnoxious to the canadians, it was taken to Black River Bay.

About 1812 iron was discovered in Rossie, & in 1815 a blast furnace was built by David Parish, Owner of most of the land in that section. After several years of experimentation, this furnace finally got under production in 1837. The iron ore was taken from the Caledonia , Sterling, & other mines beween Somerville & Spragueville & was drawn by teams thireen miles to the smelter at Rossie. At about the same time lead was discovered near Rossie village & a mine was opened . Rossie became a busy place, having a blast furnace, lead mine, saw mill, hotel & several stores. Some kind of transportation was needed to carry the pig iron & lead out & merchandice & necessities in . This no doubt, influenced the building of the next boat.

The Rossie was built at Pope Mills in 1837 by Henry Hooker & Erastus White, two Morristown men. She carried lead & pig iron from Rossie to Edwardsville, where it was taken overland to Morristown to be shipped by water to the Oswego Iron Works. There has been evidence found indicating that some went to Ogdenburg by way Of Heuveton. she proved to be to small a boat to profitable, & after two to three years was abandoned. There seems to be no record of what became of this boat. One story is that while being loaded with iron, she rolled over & sank. Another is that she was reconditioned & renamed the Evening Star. Another Evening Star appeared later & was possibly named after this one.

In 1858 the Indian Chief was built in Theresa & launched April 24 at Indian Landing. It was capained by C. F.Ryder & made runs from Red Lake down the Indian River to the rapids near Rossie. She was bought by two men, Warren & Gray, in 1863 & taken around the falls at Rossie To carry passingers & freigt beween that point & Heuvelton. Later she was taken to Morristown & licensed in the Customs at Odgensburg as a ferry to Brockville in 1865 & was worn out in that serice.

In 1865 A Captain Jillson was operating a boat, making regular trips from Heuvelton to Rossie. She was called the Morning Star. No Iformation has been found regarding the lenght of time this boat operated or of what became of her.

The next boat was the James S Bean, brought to Heuvelton in 1876 by some Ogdersburg men. She didn't have a very long career, having burned in December of that year at Wardwell's Bay, about halfway beween Heuvelton & The Lake. In 1888 Fred Coats & Theodore Storie, an uncle of mine, assisted by by my father, Arthur Storie, Built A boat at Lee Bridge near Pope mills. This boat was called the Eveing Star & was launched in the spring of 1889. They operated it one or two years & then sold it to a man named Prouse. He didn't have much success & abandoned her in Fish Creek after removering her engine.

About the same time a boat called the Luck was operating out of Heuvelton by Fred Lanning. This has been confused with the Evening Star, but records show that the Luck was a smaller boat & that they were both operating at the same time. It is possable that Mr Lanning came in to possession of the Evening Star later. I have a picture of this boat taken at Edwardville & tied to near her is the steam launch Afton, owned by Bud Perry, A resident of Pope Mill & later prorietor of the Rossie.

The Last steamer to operate on the lake & the one that I am most familar with was the Oswegatie. She was built by my father in 1905 near Rossie. She was 60 foot long with a 12 foot beam, built with a flat bottom & a Mississippi wheel. This enabled her to navigate the shallow waters of the lake & rivers. It was told that someone asked my father if this boat would navigate safely the shallow waters of the river, he said,"Yes sir she will navigate on a heavy dew." This type of boat proved to be the most successful boat of all to operate on these waters. All previous had been sidewheelers which made it difficult to land in shallow water. At first he used two gasoline motors, one mounted on each side to drive the stern wheel, but they didn't prove satisfactory or reliable. Later a steam engine & a boiler replaced the gasoline power & provided steady & sure service.

We ran from Rossie to Heuvelton with freight & passingers, mixing in picnic parties & excursions. Monday was cheese day. Stops were made at all the factories down the lake. Loading points were Rossie , Huttons Landing for the Brasie Corners' Factory, Rollway Bay for the Ruby factory & Pope MIlls. From there we went across the lake to Morse's & Edwardville. The cheese was taken into Heuvelton to be shipped by rail to its destination. Feed & freight of all kinds was taken back.

One day a week was excursion day. Starting from Heuvelton in the morning, we arrived in at Rossie at noon in time for dinner at the hotel, & returned in the afternoon. This was about a 60 mile trip.

The end came to the Oswegatchie on August 13,1908. The only ones on board at the time were my mother & father, Bismarck Turner, who was the engineer, & I. We had a heavy load of coal & feed going to Pope Mills. While running around Bigge Island in a heavy sea, she shipped enought water to become unmanageable. It rolled over & sank. Dr Glen Coe, Watertown,who was fishing near Woods Island, took us off & landed us on the shore near Lower Deep Bay, & we walked through the woods to Pope Mills. The boat was later raised & taken to Marsh's Bay, Now Seakers, where she eventually went to pieces. The boiler was removed & used to heat Storie Brothers' store in Gouvernur.

No Other steamboat ever operated on Black Lake after this date. This was the end of an era. Today many motorboats & outboards ply the waters of Black Lake but the day of the steamboat is gone........

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