It's the largest town in the largest county in New York State. But the ratio of land to people might be even bigger. Colton and its 250 plus square miles in Saint Lawrence County has only 1,400 residents. But as our Brian Dwyer and photojournalist RD White tell us in this edition of Your Hometown, the town has more than its fair share of things to boast about.
COLTON, N.Y. -- Welcome to Colton. The heart of Southern St. Lawrence County. It's the home of this 11-ton boulder behind me. It's known as Sunday Rock. Early Indian settlers used it as a navigation guide post. Just last year it was placed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Now, we’ll get back to this rock in just a little bit because to understand it and the Town of Colton, you need to start from the beginning.
"One time it was known as Matildaville. There was actually a post office called Matildaville here. It also went by Springfield for a short time. Then it became Colton after Jesse Colton Higley,” said Dennis Eickhoff, Town of Colton historian.
Eickhoff said, “There's always been a story that there was a contest that he would supply fireworks for some celebration here way back if they would use Colton for the Town name."
As Colton was trying to establish a true identity, one industry was making a name for itself.
"Lumbering was a big thing and actually flourished up until the early 1900's. Our logging was pretty much from Jamestown Falls up near Sevey's Corners right through downtown Potsdam,” said Eickhoff.
In the swing of the good times, a Colton family welcomed a new baby. A child who'd become a major financial player nationwide, never forgetting where he came from.
"A. Barton Hepburn, or Alonso Barton Hepburn was actually born here in Colton in 1846. His early life he started out as a school teacher, but that wasn't what he wanted to do. He got himself involved in the banking business and actually when he was killed in New York City by a street car, he was president of Chase Manhattan Bank. During his time, he was involved in a lot of philanthropy with the starting of the libraries. He built seven Hepburn libraries. The Colton library was the first one. He also had some influence with the Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg,” said Eickhoff.
And now back to the Sunday Rock which actually gets its name from its location. It sits on the border between the businesses and homes of busy Colton and the quiet and peacefulness of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Sally Thomas, Colton resident said, “In the early days of the early settlers in this area Sunday Rock, as far back as the Indians as a matter of fact, Sunday Rock because of its size and shape, it became like a guide rock. Legends I guess, are built a little bit at a time, but it got to be a wonderful legend, the story of Sunday Rock.
As Colton grew, the legend grew. Even reaching folk's at Ripley's Believe it or Not!.
Once you passed Sunday rock, into the Adirondacks, they'd say there was no law. There were no Sundays.
"I think people just like that Idea. It's sort of like we're on vacation. Now that we're beyond the rock, we can do what we want,” said Thomas.
And thanks to Sally Thomas, the legend will never be forgotten. Last year, the Sunday Rock was named to the National and State's Register of Historic Places.
"When I first called the historical association, they said, 'We don't do rocks.' But now they do. I looked up the word. It could be called a monument. Anything that marks the location of anything can be called a monument. It took about three years of work to do that. You had to have it pass through a lot of committees,” said Thomas.
Thomas said the day she got the phone call, was one of the proudest days of her life.
"She called about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. It was sort of funny. She said, 'Sally, I have to tell you they didn't like it.' Pause. 'I've got to tell you they loved it."
"We were just screaming, both screaming. It was good news,” said Thomas.
Now another of Colton's natural beauties is the Raquette River. But last year it got ugly with a lot of flooding problems. In fact, some say it was the worst this place has ever seen. It prompted visits from both FEMA and Congressman Bill Owens.
A tragedy that brought Colton together.
"People came together with sandbags. Kids from school came down and helped fill out sandbags and things like that. Usually when there's a problem or whatever, the community comes together and helps solve it,” said Eickhoff.
Teamwork that is helping this community get back on track.
Just last week, Sally Thomas, the woman who pushed for Sunday Rock to be added to the National and State Registers, was named Colton's citizen of the year.