Another incredible piece of history surfaced in the E. L. Gray scrapbook archived in the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library: the history of the village of Bloomingdale wrapped around the obituary of Capt. James H. Pierce, as carried in the Enterprise on April 14, 1908.
He died at his home in Bloomingdale at age 82. The Enterprise story read: "Capt. Pierce had been in ill health for several weeks. On Monday afternoon he had an attack of heart disease, but he appeared to recover from this and was feeling much better. On Tuesday morning he arose as usual, but at 7 o'clock he was stricken suddenly and died. He was born in New Sweden, Clinton County on August 27, 1826."
Now just a little hint as to what this guy was like; he left home and went out on his own at age 16; he was the first president, or mayor, of Bloomingdale; he served as supervisor of the town of Franklin for five years and supervisor of the town of St. Armand for six years, and served in the New York State Assembly both from Franklin and Essex Counties and was a Civil War hero.
I want to use as much as possible from this 1908 story so this will be in two parts.
"He commenced his business life in Keeseville in William J. Whaling's general store at a salary of $50 per year, an illustration of what wages were paid in this section sixty years ago.
"In 1845 Mr. Whaling gave proof of the confidence he had learned to place in his young employee, [then age 19] by sending him to Fredericksburg, VA., to superintend his business interests there. The captain returned to Keeseville the next year and left for Milwaukee in 1847. In the latter place he was employed in a general store by N. S. Donaldson for eighteen months, at the end of which time he spent a few months in Neenah, in North Wisconsin. The death of a brother-in-law caused his return to his old home in New Sweden.
"In November, 1851, Captain Pierce went to Franklin Falls as bookkeeper for the Franklin Falls Lumber Company. He was there until after the great fire of 1852, which completely swept the little settlement at the falls from the face of the earth."
The founding of Bloomingale
"During his stay in Franklin Falls, the captain, in company with L. B. Dickenson, bought lot No. 101, on which Bloomingdale is now located, known then as Sumner Forge, as Uriah Sumner, about 1820, had built a forge, an English Gate mill and one small house there.
"Pierce removed to what is now Bloomingdale on May 2, 1852, riding horseback from Franklin Falls, and made plans for the building of a grist mill, a Yankee gang saw mill, a store where Mulligan's now stands, a new dam, a canal from dam to mills, a wheelwright, blacksmith shop and barns. This great undertaking, the real founding of Bloomingdale, was all completed before January, 1853. The lumber used had to be drawn from Keese's Mills, a distance of thirteen miles. The roads to the east were almost impassable.
"On one occasion Pierce was obliged to go on foot as far as 'Fletcher's' to meet his teams that were coming with provisions, but which had become stalled in the mud. When he reached them, after a terrible tramp, he opened a barrel of meat and carried enough of it back to camp on his shoulders to feed his men.
"The firm did an enormous mercantile and lumbering business from the start. In the spring of 1855, Pierce & Dickenson bought what was known as the Hazzard Forge property on the east branch of the AuSable river above Upper Jay, and built there a new forge, new dam, new coal houses and houses for laborers. They took some big coal contracts and commenced iron mining on a large scale, but the awful freshet [a sudden overflow of the streams, apparently just like Irene last year] of 1856 swept every vestige of property down the river.
"Mr. Dickenson then retired from the firm and Mr. Pierce formed a partnership with J. A. Titus, continuing the mercantile and lumber business. The new firm also built a starch mill near the site of the present saw mill. This was later burned down with the cellar full of potatoes, but the captain was never discouraged nor dismayed by misfortune.
(Continued next week - Captain Pierce goes to war)