A special thanks to Karen Simmons (Fowler town historian) and the
Sullivan family Of Gouverneur, for all the help they provided with
piecing this all together.
Dodgeville is a place that many have never heard of. It never gained the status of places like Lampson Falls, Wanakena or Twin Falls, but its history is still an important piece of the areas past. It’s a mining town that’s been gone for many years. At one time, it was a vibrant mining community, with a post office and a train station. I first learned of it in the 1980’s on a canoe trip from Edwards NY to Emeryville NY. The stone dam was the first clue that something had been constructed here some time ago. My search for information on Dodgeville was the start of this website in fact. I had often wondered about the details of the area, and so the digging for facts began. As I started researching the subject, I quickly found that there was very little information readily available.
Dodgeville is (or was) located on the main branch of the Oswegatchie river, between Talcville and Emeryville. The only public access is on the river by canoe or kayak. The land itself is privately owned, and posted. I was luckily able to procure a guided hike with the landowners. It is a great river for a paddle, so that is your only option to see the area. As always, please respect private property.
Talc is something that’s in many thing we use daily. Paint, paper, crayons and cosmetics all contain talc. Talc is the softest mineral known. Talc played a major part in the area’s history. Freemansburgh was renamed Talcville after Col. Henry Palmer discovered the mineral, and opened a mine in 1878. Several other mines opened in the area, including the #2 1/2 mine- at the time the world’s largest talc mine. An entire community sprouted from this talc boom.
The earliest records that I was able to find (the 1865 Beers atlas) show a J.E. Holcomb with a sawmill at the location that was to become Dodgeville. Looking at the site, I have little doubt the southern channel of the river was created by blasting the rocks. This was a common practice of the day to create the mill-race (or raceway) that fed the water powered operations. This channel is approximately 500 yards long. Looking at it today, leaves me in awe at the amount of labor that this would have required – especially considering what little equipment would have been available at that time. The banks of the river on the Dodgeville side proper are all lined with a stone wall. The foundations of the mill and accompanying building were also of the same “shot rock”. The North (or main) channel of the river of the river also had a dam to divert the flow of water to the southern channel in low water times, and also to help control the flow in high water or flood stage conditions.
In April of 1891, the United States Talc Company (USTC) was created and the 75 acre Holcomb sawmill sight was purchased, with property on both sides of the river. The company was formed with investors, F.W. Emery of Boston, W.R. Candler of Detroit, Earl Bancroft of Edwards, and Newton W. Aldrich, W.R. Dodge, F.M. Burdick, C.H. Anthony, all of Gouverneur. F. W. Emery was to act as the president of the company, and a W. R. Jones was chosen as the mill superintendent. Jones formerly operated the tannery at Fine NY. The undertaking of the mill construction at this site was in speculation that the Gouverneur & Oswegatchie Railroad would be extending the rail lines to Talcville and Edwards. This gamble was soon to pay off. The Mill construction was started in the fall of 1891, and within about a year – the railroad ran directly adjacent to the mill.
The mill was constructed in a manner to fully utilize the railroad. Nine building were constructed to house some of the workforce, which ultimately consisted of 55 workers. The current landowners told me that a hotel also was located here. Today all that is left is the stone foundations. The spring hole that provided the residents with fresh, clean water is still running. One stone wall from the mill is at least 150 feet long, and still in amazing condition. The hamlet was named “Dodgeville” was in honor of judge Edwin Dodge, the father of investor W.R. Dodge, of Gouverneur.
The talc to be processed here would come from Talcville’s Freeman, Anthony and Wintergreen mines. The talc ore has previously hauled by team (horses) to Hailesboro. By 1894 the mill and railroad where both in full swing. Raw ore was bought from Talcville by rail, and the finished product also left by rail. The mill’s water power, with a head of 26.5 feet, featured a 16-cylinder mill and had a 60 -65 daily ton capacity. The talc ore was processed by gravity feed, with the finished product exiting at the bottom of the mill.
In 1905, the company’s stock was purchased by the International Pulp Company (which would become International Talc Co. In later years). Talc was a by then a major industry in the area, and Talcville (Formerly Freemansburgh) was a leading producer. Talcville also had a train station, stores, hotels and a school. Later zinc would also become an important mineral to the area’s economy. The name Dodgeville was later changed to Hyatt at the request of the U. S. Postal service. Apparently, it was causing confusion with another rail station- Dolgeville, near Herkimer NY. The name originated from Walter M. Hyatt, an employee of the rail station.
Unfortunately, on November 2nd, 1910, the mill caught fire and burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt. The fire started around 1:30 in the gears of the machinery. The mill was well equipped with fire extinguishers (a rarity in those days), but the efforts were not enough to save the plant. The mill had been running two shifts and was loaded with orders. The losses were estimated to be over $100,000 dollars, but the mill was only insured for $78,000. The homes were either moved, or disassembled for use in Talcville & surrounding areas in the following years. The railroad station closed and ultimately the entire spur of the G&O from Gouverneur to Edwards ended service in the late 1970’s. The Dodgeville property was purchased by its current owners in in 1968. Today the stone walls exist, and there is a small privately owned summer camp on the river. Very little evidence is left to attest to the hamlet’s former status.
On the trail
We had a short walk in on an old woods road, off of a town road that was in much better condition. We could hear the river as soon as we left the cars. Within a few minutes, we came to the first of several stone foundations, that would have been the homes of the workers. There were seven in total that we located, although records state that there were originally nine. Past these we came to the old G&O railroad bed, which runs parallel to the river. The railroad bed is still easily seen, and the occasional rail tie and plates are scattered about. Even a bit of an old mile marker post still stands. The terrain drops of steeply towards the river past the rails, and this is apparently where the mill stood. The stone walls are plainly visible, and still amazing well preserved. I found several bolts anchored in stone, some random marble cubes, and even a drain pipe that was still draining water. Under the leaves, and around uprooted tree stumps, talc dust was still easily found. The stone walls on the river bank were also in great shape. The dam itself was not visible, due to the extreme spring runoff. Following the south channel downstream to the point where in rejoined the main channel, the dam/falls could be seen.
Today, a scene of beautiful wilderness is all around, yet a little more than a century ago, this was the site of a bustling mill, rail station and people’s homes. Though this isn’t as well-known as many of the areas that I have written about, this is still worth remembering. This was one of the most personally satisfying projects I have undertaken since creating this site. I suppose this is one I can scratch off my bucket list. If you feel like a great paddle, the trip from Edwards to Emeryville will take you past this and many other places of yesterday. I hope you enjoyed this, and if you did – please share it with a friend, so they can as well.
Credits and Bibliography
Town of Fowler Historian
Gouverneur Museum – http://www.gouverneurmuseum.org/
Rays place – http://history.rays-place.com/ny/gouverneur1-ny.htm
New York State Historic newspapers – http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/
About the Author
I am a life-long resident of the north country, calling Edwards my home.I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and for local history. I recently started this site to share places that have been part of our local history and heritage. I hope you get a chance to hike some of these trails for yourself, and reflect on the rich history of those that walked here before you. And if not, sit back and experience these from where ever you are right now. Either way, enjoy!