In Lewis County, the Black River flows in a northerly direction across the county's center. Dreams of wealth and power, in addition to tenacity, were the basis of many settlements in all parts of our country. Lewis County had an almost legendary character who fulfilled these qualities in William Constable.
He was two years old when he came to the New World from Ireland with his father, Dr. John Constable, in 1754. The Doctor settled first in Montreal and afterwards moved to Schenectady. The son was sent back to Dublin to be educated. William completed his education and returned to this country.
Before the Revolution was over, he served as an aide to General Lafayette. The Constables were a family of distinguished background, education, and social graces and possessed an acute awareness of the settlement possibilities of the Adirondack wilderness. In 1791, William Constable, Alexander Macomb, and Daniel McCormick purchased four million acres of land that became known as the "Macomb Purchase." This tract included some parts of Herkimer and Oswego Counties as well as all the lands that are now included in Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence; and Franklin Counties.
A rugged trip through the wilderness brought the first settler to this county from Connecticut in 1794. Settlers began to arrive with regularity thereafter, and William Constable devoted his life to the development and settlement of the land of the Macomb Purchase. The dream of a large settled area systematically developed as planned, and William Constable's son not only carried the development forward after his father's death, but he later chose that area to build the stately Constable Hall at Constableville.
Lewis County was formed from Oneida by an act signed by the Governor on March 28, 1805. It derives its name from Morgan Lewis, who was Governor at that time. The original five townships (Leyden, Turin, Martinsburg, Harrisburg, and Lowville) have since been subdivided into as many as 18.
Their names and dates of establishment are as follows: Leyden, March 10, 1797; Lowville, March 14, 1800; Denmark, April 3, 1807; Pinckney, February 12, 1808; Watson, March 30, 1821; Greig, April 5, 1828; West Turin, March 25, 1830; Diana, April 16, 1830; Croghan, April 5, 1841; Osceola, February 28, 1844; New Bremen, March 31, 1848; Montague, November 14, 1852; Highmarket, November 11, 1852; Lewis, November 11, 1852; and Lyonsdale, November 26, 1873.
The first settlement was made in the county by William Topping, who emigrated from Meriden, Connecticut, early in 1794 with an ox team and household consisting of his wife, a son aged seven years, and a girl aged five years. They settled on Lot 60 (near Talcottville) in the Town of Leyden. During the next two or three years, they were joined by other settlers, mostly from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The county seat is located at Lowville, having been removed from Martinsburg, the original seat, by an act passed March 10, 1864. The courthouse built in 1811 at Martinsburg is still in use as a Town Hall. Construction on the Lowville Courthouse was begun in 1852, when it was felt that the seat should be changed from Martinsburg to Lowville, the latter being more centrally located and more active industrially. It was completed in 1855 and used as a town hall until 1864, when county occupancy took place. It was built of brick with Ionic portifice. In 1902, a new County Clerk's office was erected on the north side of the courthouse. On November 30, 1947, these buildings were badly damaged by fire. They were rebuilt using the same outside walls and design and were opened to the public on November 3, 1949.
Located on the western slopes of the Adirondacks with the Black River flowing northerly across its center and forming the beautiful Black River Valley, Lewis County has everything that nature ordinarily bestows. Forests of fine timber are to be found on both the high mountains forming the eastern half of the county and the plateau in the western half. These forests have furnished many inhabitants with steady work and income from the early days of the nineteenth century to the present time. Having early learned and practiced the art of conservation, today many thousands of acres of fine softwoods are being harvested.
It was the Black River Canal, opened to traffic in 1855, followed by a branch of the New York Central Railroad in 1868, that opened the door of opportunity to this land of forests, lakes, streams, and fine soil for agriculture on her slopes and valley bottom. While forest products with their manufacturing mills and recreation and vacation resorts have both been major factors in the economic growth of this county, agriculture has been for a century or more the principle industry. Today, the county contains some of the finest milking herds to found anywhere. Milk is the principle dairy product in the county. Lewis County is also known for it fine cheese. At the present time, Lewis County produces more high grade maple syrup than any county in the state.
The Lewis County Fair has been held each year since 1821 and is organized by the Lewis County Agricultural Society. The beautiful lakes, rivers, and streams have attracted city dwellers to spend vacations here, and recreation has become a major industry that has continued to grow and expand. Snow Ridge, a ski resort, has the third largest capacity of any area in the Eastern United States and the largest in the State of New York.
After more than 150 years of continued activity in the interest of education, Lewis County can boast of having as fine a school system as can be found in Northern New York. There are five modern centralized schools within the county: Lowville Academy and Central School; Copenhagen Central School; Beaver River Central School; South Lewis Central School; Harrisville Central School, Harrisville; and also BOCES Vocational School, Glenfield.
The population of Lewis County in 1990 was 26,788. Lowville is the largest village within Lewis County with a population of 3,800.