Your Hometown: Gouverneur
If you drive north on Route 11 out of Watertown, you'll come to Gouverneur, where a massive roll of life savers greets you. For lovers of sweets, it's not a bad way to be welcomed into a community. In this edition of Your Hometown, our Barry Wygel brings you past the lifesavers and explores how a late 1800’s mining town transformed into the picture-perfect small town.
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GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. -- Gouverneur is a town much like any other. It was once a farming community and has since adapted to the modern times. People here remember their history.
"Gouverneur was settled in 1805. Seven families came from Warren County. Their names appear on the arch in the park,” said Joe Laurenza, Gouverneur Museum Curator.
And while the name Gouverneur may sound like an offshoot of the title of the state's chief executive, scholars of American Revolutionary will know it well.
"Gouverneur Morris was one of the founding fathers. He gave George Washington's eulogy. He and Washington were very close,” said Laurenza.
Morris was given the land that is now Gouverneur after the Revolutionary War. He asked that it be named after his mother, Sarah Gouverneur, while the nearby Morristown was named for him. He never actually lived in the town, but did visit it once or twice.
"We do have a record of one of his diaries from back then,” said Laurenza.
From its early days, Gouverneur became known as a mining town.
"This area is very rich in talc, zinc, and marble. The village of Gouverneur had nine of the marble quarries. There are Gouverneur marbles in buildings in Canada, St. Louis, Chicago, Ogdensburg, Watertown. It's all over the place,” said Laurenza.
The mines were an early source of employment for those people living in the town who weren't farmers. The mines each employed hundreds of people. But as the expense of operating the mines grew, the town began to adapt.
"Kinney's was started here in 1903 by Burt O. Kinney. All the corporate offices are still on Main Street over the original store,” said Laurenza.
But Kinney's is just one famous business that got its start in the town.
One of Gouverneur's most famous residents is E.J. Noble. While you may only recognize his name from the hospital or other buildings named for him, you've probably tried and enjoyed the product he created.
"EJ Noble really made lots of money with the lifesaver,” said Tent Trulock, St. Lawrence County Historical Association Executive Director.
Born in Gouverneur, Edward John Noble, seen here with his brother, grew up working on local farms, but he had a flair for business.
"It especially took off after they decided to repackage the lifesaver. Noble and Allen came up with the idea to use a tinfoil wrapper,” said Trulock.
Even though Noble's operations were based out of New York City, he never forgot his North Country roots.
"It was shortly after it was talked about in the community. That word came that EJ Noble, through the Noble Foundation, was very interested in giving a sizeable donation to the hospital,” said Trulock.
Noble's philanthropy propelled Gouverneur into the modern age.
"The biggest employers today are the hospital, the school system, and Kinney's,” said Laurenza.
And while Gouverneur acts as a crossroads of the North Country located equidistant between Watertown and Potsdam, the town keeps a character all its own.
"I came here in 1962 to teach business. Except for two years that I tried living back in Massachusetts, I've lived here my whole life,” said Laurenza.
The future of Gouverneur remains bright. The people here plan to stay a tight-knit community while being a crossroads of the North Country.