Stony Creek: History

The town of Stony Creek had been part of the old town of Thurman and its successor, Athol, before the latter town was divided into the present towns of Thurman and Stony Creek on April 3, 1853. Some areas of the town had been settled before that, but it was sparsely populated in the early days of the nineteenth century. The land, a rugged and mountainous wilderness at that time, did not invite settlers in large numbers.

As in all Warren County towns, lumber was the first available natural resource. With the Hudson River flowing from north to south along the eastern border of the town and Stony Creek flowing into the Hudson, there was ample opportunity for floating logs down to the larger market at Glens Falls. With water power along its streams the town had sawmills enough for its own needs. The 1855 census gives Stony Creek a population of 913, but even then it was scattered. The village, which was at first called Creek Center and later Stony Creek, contained only a few scattered houses at that time. There were several saw mills, a grist mill and one store. Potash was also a product of considerable importance. Trees were abundant and their burning for potash was sometimes the best way of getting rid of them, clearing the land as well as making a useful by-product. Among the earliest of the many small factories was a broom factory which was operating as early as 1852.

Wild as the land was in 1853 when Stony Creek was incorporated, there were people here who were bringing the land into production, using its resources to good advantage and conducting the affairs of their town government in a manner which met the needs and approval of the times. Of the 48,731 acres listed in the town in 1858, only 3,618 acres were improved. It was still largely wilderness and big game abounded.

The second half of the last century was an era of small village industries based on wood as the raw material. Such things as broom handles, brush backs, wooden measuring boxes, barrel covers, coffins and excelsior were manufactured in small shops. Water pipes were made of logs for local use. Trees were cut in convenient lengths and sawed lengthwise on “up and down” saws. Then the centers were hacked out and the two halves of the log put together again. Many of these pipes served for years.

The most important industry, however, was that of tanning. From early days small tanneries had operated in the area. In 1852 John P. Bowman built a tannery at Stony Creek village, and industry which operated for several decades. At one time it was employing twenty-five men and was capable of turning out 40,000 sides of sole leather a year. The area was well suited for this business. Red hemlock bark was used in the process and there was an abundance of this. Hides were brought in on heavy brine vats from as far away as Albany area on teams. Later when the railroad reached Stony Creek, business came from a much wider area. Sheepskins were shipped from Australia to make fine leather for the binding of books.

When the tanning industry was at its height in the 1890’s the population of Stony Creek was three times what it is today. About this time the business was taken over by Garnar company, which also operated a tannery in Luzerne. As the country’s technology developed, chemicals were used in the business, making the use of bark obsolete. So Stony Creek’s location lost its original advantage. Bigger operations nearer to centers of population made the business in Stony Creek unprofitable and it was finally abandoned.

The lumber business also passed its peak. Forest fires took a toll, denuding mountains, deteriorating the soil and affecting the flow of water in the streams. One such fire in 1908 burned for three weeks before it was finally put out by rain, but not before it had covered thousand of acres. As the industries on which the town had depended declined, people moved away to jobs in other places. Homes burned were not rebuilt. The State of New York, in the process of acquiring land in the Adirondacks, has bought up about half of the area of the town.

In the Civil War between 70 and 80 men from Stony Creek served in the Union Forces. In World War II the number was 42.

Then there developed so-called “Dude Ranches,” resorts which offer guests pleasant vacation living with easy access to wild land and with recreation in a variety of summer activities, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, and other sports. This type of business now gives employment to many residents, is a source of business to many others, and can be considered the principal livelihood of the people of Stony Creek.

Thus does an energetic and resourceful people adapt itself to changed conditions. Stony Creek still has its mountains, streams and ponds, and more woodland than it had a century ago. People from the larger population centers find this to their liking, so Stony Creek now makes use of its natural resources in quite a different fashion.

On Aug 1, 1904 a very severe storm hit, Stony Creek getting the worst of the storm. One correspondent there describes it as the worst ever seen in that place. There was a rainfall of fourteen inches in four hours and the thunder and lightening were terrific. The storm broke about 4 o’clock, and a steady downpour of rain continued into the night, raising creeks and streams, many of which overflowed, the water rushing over lowlands and tumbling down mountainsides until meadows looked like lakes and trout streams like rivers. Two holes were washed out of the bank alongside the railroad tracks near Cameron’s boarding house, just south of Thurman, but the vigilance of section hands prevented serious trouble.

At Stony Creek a dam gave away, and the rushing waters of swollen streams picked up piles of timber located at Hall’s mill, just above the Collins house at Creek Centre, and carried heavy pieces down steam, knocking out the supports of the hotel and bumping into bridges along the way. The rear end of the hotel, being left without a foundation, turned turtle and slid into the creek, the front of the house being crushed like an eggshell. No lives were lost, but a guest at the hotel, Officer Quick, of the Sixty-seventh street station house in New York City, who, upon the advise of the police surgeon of his precinct, sought rest after a siege of pneumonia contracted during duty at the General Slocum disaster in East river, escaped from the hotel by jumping from the piazza at the second story. He made a hasty exit to the railroad station, remarking that he intended to get back to New York City, where the ground was still solid. Furniture, dishes, and hotel paraphernalia found their way into the rushing waters, and for miles along the shore Proprietor Collins’ hotel goods could be seen.

West Stony Creek, ten miles distant from the Centre, was cut off from communication, three bridges having been carried away. George Thomson’s barn was struck by lightning while he and four sons and a hired man were milking. There were nineteen cows in the barn. All of them were shocked and four were killed. One of the boys was caught under a cow as it fell and two of his ribs were broken. All the other men were shocked, one of them so badly that he was unconscious for some time. Luckily the barn was not set on fire.

A hotel collapsed with the lamps were still burning in the house, and the natives, who are experts with the gun, brought out their firearms and shot out the lights to prevent fire. The Stony Creek post office was also threatened with destruction, and Postmaster Smith took his stamps and money and moved across the street. The oldest resident of that section does not remember such an amount of water falling in such a short time. The railroad was kept open, passengers being transferred from one train to another on the first trip down Saturday morning.

In 1874 in Stony Creek the time table of the Adirondack railroad has again been changed. The express train, going north, now arrived at Stony Creek station at 10:46 am . . . , and going south at 3:46 pm. In 1891 a new railroad bridge was built by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad company near Stony Creek.

In 1930 the Stony Creek station of the Delaware and Hudson company was destroyed by fire shortly after 7:30, entailing a loss estimated at $3,000. With the exception of two crates of turkeys awaiting shipment, and a few other articles, all valuable contents of the building were saved. Station Agent John Aufiero and a crew of section employees were successful in taking the express from the building. The origin of the fire is unknown. Upon the flames being discovered a call was sent immediately for the Stony Creek and Luzerne fire department. It is said that the station will not be rebuilt.

The Adirondack division of the Delaware and Hudson railroad suffered great damage at several points along the line. In the Thurman area, a portion of the tracks were entirely washed away when the jam went out. On the flats near the Cameron boarding house the ice lifted the tracks into the air, broke the steel rails like matches and carried them and the ties downstream. Just how much of the railroad went out in this manner could not be determined. Repair crews of the Delaware and Hudson railroad succeeded in making repairs to the roadbed so that trains will be able to pass over the entire Adirondack line. Service was finally opened from Saratoga Springs to Stony Creek.

In 1894 there were eighteen bicycles in Stony Creek. By 1904 a new rubber tired buggy arrived driven by Allie Swears. A new telephone line was finished and in operation, connecting with the telegraph at the station, allowing a telegram to be sent from the office in Dunlap’s store to any part of the country at the regular rates. Messages to the grist mill or station inquiring about grain or freight or other local matters were sent for ten cents. By 1904 there was communication by telephone with Wevertown, North Creek, Indian Lake, and Mill Creek. Soon after there was a connection made with Warrensburg and local phones were put in along the line.

The centennial year of 1876 will be remembered by posterity as the year in which street lamps were first introduced into Stony Creek. They proved a great convenience on dark nights. By 1908 acetylene gas plants went up with fifty light machines. 1914 brought about Rumely Automatic Electric Lighting Plant that you can light your house and buildings with no more trouble than the city man has to light his. After turning on these lights the gas engine starts automatically. It runs until you turn them off again and then stops. At the time it was the best and least expensive lighting system and was absolutely no trouble. 1930 brought the New York Light and Power Corporation which sent a man to canvass the town for electric lights. It took fifty people to sign up for the lights until a line was put in. About seventy customers will receive electric service from this new eleven-mile line, including those at Stony Creek, Hadley hill and along the route of the line. More than 100 miles of rural lines have been built by New York Power and Stony Creek line. Most of the homes have already been wired for electric service, and in addition, a number of appliances, such as refrigerators, water pumps, electric ranges and radios are being installed to be ready as soon as the service is available.

In 1914 many industries were established, among them was a hardwood factory that employed fifteen men. Lebentaler Brothers, manufacturers of broom and tool handles, and other turned stock, moved their machinery from Lolets, Pa., to Stony Creek and established a factory there in the H. D. Stone saw mill, which they leased for a term of years. The building had for some time been undergoing repairs and improvements to fit it for the purpose. It furnished steady employment for about fifteen men and was a great benefit to Stony Creek, giving it a measure of prosperity it had not enjoyed since the closing of the Bowman tannery. Lee L. Hall’s excelsior mill kept a few men busy until it was destroyed by fire and soon after there had been scarcely any employment.

The new factory used large quantities of beech and maple timber, of which there is a large growth in Stony Creek and vicinity. H. D. Stone contracted to furnish the necessary supply for a long period. Farmers of the vicinity profited from the sale of their timber, for which good prices were paid.

The population count in Stony Creek as of 1880 was 1,253 people. In 1892 is was 1,268. The year 1905 showed 900 people, and in 1916 there were 719. There were 560 people in 1970, 504 in 1980 with 743 people in 2000.

On March 28, 1876 Stony Creek’s Board of Health put up notices forbidding all communication between this town and Thurman, as a precautionary measure against the small pox. There were no cases in town yet. By 1891 typhoid and malarial fevers had found there way to Stony Creek. and in 1896 so had whooping cough. In 1916 there was an influenza epidemic and by 1919 Stony Creek was anxious to find a competent medical man as they had been without a resident physician since the death of Dr. Charles J. Shaw in October of 1916. During the year of 1931 there were precautions against infantile paralysis.

Stony Creek has always been home to the trapper. Fur Trading drew people to Stony Creek, and the fringes of the Adirondacks back in the 1600’s. The Dutch controlled the fur trade until the French took over. Johnny Thorpe, a trapper and fur trader claims that it was the fur trading that settled Stony Creek. A fellow by the name of George Nolton ran traps all the way to North Creek from Stony Creek in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was an old timer operating off his lines until the late 30’s on foot with snowshoes. He would trade and barter and make a living from the fur trade. In “50 Years A Trapper *Treasure Hunter* by Johnny Thorpe the life of trapping takes on all the colors of the Adirondacks. Johnny explains, “The Adirondacks had more than its share of characters steeped in local color back in those days and it was my good fortune to have known some of them. Jack Baker had a fishing and hunting camp back in West Stony Creek at the edge of the big meadows at the Barber Place. He was a guide for fishermen in the summer and for deer and bear hunters in the fall. During the month of February he would truck in hounds and run wolf hunts.” Thorpe points out the work involved for the Adirondack Trapper, “That season I caught one hundred and two mink, nine hundred and ninety-three muskrats, one hundred and eighty red fox, fifty three coyote and brush wolf, eighty-four bobcats, seventy-three fisher, one hundred eighteen coon, forty-three otter, and eighty beaver and kept two men skinning full time! All that fur returned a little over twenty thousand dollars. Red fox were bringing ten dollars. Adirondack cats were two dollars and a quarter for the fur and twenty-five dollars for the bounty. The coyotes and brush wolf brought around eight dollars as I recall plus a twenty-five dollars for the females and ten dollars for the males.” When Thorpe wasn’t trapping, he was digging for treasure. He explains that, “within a short time I had recovered an eight foot bronze cannon (which I did not recover), a seven pound crucifix dated “1643,” a twenty-one piece setting of French goldware, as well as ox shoes, sword blades and trade axe heads with both French and English markings. After the first find I was really hooked on treasure hunting. Most of the major battles of both the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars were fought along Lake George and Lake Champlain – almost in my backyard.”

Stony Creek’s history stretches far and deep through the Adirondacks. It is but one stop along the First Wilderness Heritage Corridor that holds within it riches stories of treasures, trapping, old time days of lumbering, log drives, stage coaches, the railway, and much, much more.

Sources:

The History of Warren County New York – Published by the Board of Supervisors of Warren County
Printed by the Glens Falls Post Printing Department 1963

50 Years A Trapper *Treasure Hunter* by Johnny Thorpe

Stony Creek Then & Now – compiled by Janice M. Whipple –
printed by Finch & Pruyn, Glens Falls, NY

Other Places of Interest Regarding the Heritage and Historical Background of the Town of Stony Creek:

Stony Creek Historical Association
P.O. Box 45
Stony Creek, NY 12878
Phone: (518) 696-5211
Rhonda Allison


Stony Creek Town Historian
Cynthia Cameron
Stony Creek Town Hall
P.O. Box 96 Stony Creek, NY 12878
(518) 696-2838


Stony Creek Free Library
37 Harrisburg Road Stony Creek, NY 12878
Phone: (518) 696-5911


Stony Creek Historical Museum Lanfear Road Stony Creek, NY 12878
(518) 696-3762

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