With just a handful of full time residents, it's not hard to find peace and tranquility in this Lewis County town, but more than 100 years ago, Montague was a much busier place. In this week's segment of Your Hometown, our Katie Gibas tells us how the Town of Montague has come full circle, returning to its isolated and tranquil roots.
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MONTAGUE, N.Y. -- Welcome to Montague. Heart of the Tug Hill. Population just 60 people. It's the second smallest town in the state now. But in its prime, it was a bustling center of industry. Let's start back in the 1800s before Montague was even created.
Until 1844, there weren't even any roads running through the area that would later become known as Montague. The first settler moved to the area in 1846. That winter, his family was the only one living there.
"You had to make sure you had everything you needed. I think they were lucky to have survived through that winter," said David Andalora, Montague Town Historian.
In 1848, the first merchant opened up shop and the first saw mill was built. The beginning of the milling industry is what finally led to the creation of Montague in November 1850.
"They knew there was money because there was a lot of Montague that was just uncut virgin forest. And some people look at that and see an obstacle and some people look at it and see millions of dollars," said Andalora.
In its first 30 years, the town grew rapidly, mostly thanks to the milling industry and the railroads and canals that connected Tug Hill to the rest of the state, bringing more than 1,200 people to the town. By the turn of the century, there were several saw mills, cheese factories and more than 100 farms.
"With the loggers that came into the community and the farmers that came into the community, they had to have stores and post offices to support it, so how it evolved from the community of West Turin, it just became a community," said Jan Bogdanowicz, Montague Town Supervisor.
"The saw mills were outrageous. They were huge. There were three or four different ones and they made the town boom and were constantly moving logs," said Andalora.
There's no question that during its prime, Montague was a booming place with nine schools, six post offices, four hotels and two churches. But only the crumbling foundations of that former golden age exist now.
By 1900, Montague began a period of decline.
"Once the logging started becoming unprofitable, everything else started going downhill too. Farming didn't just slam shut. It sort of gradually dwindled away. The person's farm would burn. If something caught fire, it was going to burn to the ground. There was nothing you could do about it. And they would say, 'I'm moving to Lowville. Enough is enough,'" said Andalora.
"I think the decline for the final time was with the advent of World War II. I think the generation that went away to war came back and said, 'There's got to be a better way to make a living than working on a subsistence farm on Tug Hill,'" said Bogdanowicz.
But in the 1970s and 80s, things began to turn around for Montague. It was a rebirth of sorts with the discovery of the area as a paradise for outdoors lovers, including snowmobiling and cross country skiing in winter and fishing and kayaking in the summer.
"When the snowmobilers started coming in, folks began building camps to come up on weekends," said Bogdanowicz.
Many of those who live in Montague say it's the only place they'd want to live.
"One of the things I love the best is Sunday afternoon when I watch all the people who come up for the weekend. They all one by one go home and I just get to sit on my porch because I get to stay."
Now Montague has come full circle, returning to its modest beginnings with few remnants left of the prosperity it once knew, but its role in the future will certainly be important for renewable energy and tourism on the Tug Hill.
Many of the records from the town were lost in a fire in the 1960s, so the David Andalora, Montague Town Historian, is asking for anyone with any photos or records to contact him at (315) 376-2224.