Contractors who were digging a foundation for a new bait and tackle store at Hosmer’s Marina discovered a more than 200-year-old millstone left behind from the regions first gristmill.
“A large millstone was unearthed by backhoe operator Dave Bishop and we knew immediately he had found something unusual,” marina owner William Hosmer said. “As we scraped the dirt off it, we realized it was a large millstone. I knew this stretch of the Oswegatchie shoreline was home to a lot of early industries. So when we found the millstone, I knew we had found a piece of Ogdensburg’s history.”
Hosmer said he and others began tracing the history of the millstone and discovered it could be over 200 years old.
“After reviewing a 1912 map of Ogdensburg’s turn of the century canal system, we realized that the Maple City Milling Company once sat on the same site as his current restaurant,” he said.
According to Hosmer, “Ogdensburg Historian David E. Martin, author of “Images of Ogdensburg” reported in his 2003 book that the city’s founder, Nathan Ford, built Northern New York’s first gristmill at that location in 1797.
According to Martin’s research, a 32-year-old Ford had arrived at what is now known as Ogdensburg on Aug. 11, 1796 with four other men, two women and seven children. They were the first American settlers to arrive in Northern New York.
About 50 British soldiers had evacuated Fort Oswegatchie just two months before on June 6, 1796, turning it over to the United States under the provisions of the Jay Treaty. New Jersey Col. Samuel Ogden had purchased the township of Oswegatchie, including what’s now Ogdensburg, in 1792 as part of New York State’s sale of disputed upstate lands after the Revolutionary War.
The British, the Iroquois Confederacy and the Oswegatchie Indians, part of the Seven Nations of Canada, had claimed ownership of the land, but New York State sold it to land speculators like Ogden.
Ogden sent Ford to the North Country to look after his interests. When Ford, his slave, Dick, and their companions arrived, they found a sawmill operating on the Oswegatchie River, built by former British Captain Verne Francis Lorimier.
Ford opened a store with trade goods he brought with him. Shortly after they arrived, he hired workmen to help build a gristmill to grind grain for families on both sides of the St. Lawrence River. It was the only grist mill was more than 50 miles away in Canada, according to former Ogdensburg historian Elizabeth Baxter in her book, The Lily, The Lion and The Eagle, a history of Ogdensburg. Gristmills were used to grind wheat and corn into flour, which allowed the pioneer families to begin baking bread.
Ford contacted Ogden’s brother in Montreal to have millstones shipped to his settlement. The heavy stones had to travel upstream 120 miles, through the treacherous rapids that stretched from Lisbon to Massena.
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“When I read the article that reported that the mill was still using the original millstone in 1924, the year before the fire destroyed the mill, I knew that this was the same millstone,” Hosmer said. “After the big fire that destroyed the business, they must have just buried it on site because it was too heavy to take anywhere.”
“I never understood how the canal system worked until I saw how Ogdensburg’s early businessmen had harnessed the Oswegatchie Dam with more than eight different canals through the Marina District that powered over 15 industries.”
Hosmer said he would like to see the millstone on display.
“I think we may use it to help people understand how the canal system powered all these early companies that stretched across the bottom of the Second Ward.”
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