Irishtown 2003

New York
Irish History in Essex County
Town of Minerva, New York

Minerva Historical Society

Irishtown 2003


Historical  Articles

[From Historical Society Book]

Early Occupations in Town of Minerva

The Making of Potash:

There is little doubt that the first occupation which brought a monetary reward to the people of Minerva was the making of potash. Trees were cut down to clear the land for farming and these were then burned and the ashes leached to get out the lye. Since the watery mixture was then boiled down in large pots out of doors out of doors, the resulting product was called pot-ash.

Hundreds of years ago someone discovered that the proper mixture of lye and grease produced soap, and soap was essential in the finishing of good woolen cloth. England’s chief occupation in the late 18th century was the making of woolen cloth and since they needed potash, they encouraged the American colonies to produce this item and ship it to them in large quantities. After the Revolution, it was sent by way of Canada.

In his Agricultural Survey of Essex County, written in 1852, Winslow C. Watson stated:

“While the county was passing through its transition from the primitive state to cultivation, the forest yielded a highly lucrative and available resource in the manufacture of potash. Prohibited exportation by the non-intercourse policy of our own government, this traffic was illicit; but, stimulated by the exorbitant prices which the exigencies of the British affairs attached to the article in the Canadian market, an immense quantity found its way from northern New York to Montreal. In the year 1808, and about that period, potash commanded in Canada, $300, when the usual price had ranged from $100 to $120 per ton. This manufacture occupied nearly the whole population in its various connections, while the excitement lasted, which was alone terminated by the final declaration of war in 1812. The manufacture of potash existed to a considerable extent, within the last twenty-five years in some sections of Essex County, but as a distinct occupation is now abandoned.”

In her book Vermont Tradition, Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote that potash was so light that a man could carry in a saddlebag enough to bring $50 in cash at the time when prices were high. He could go by horseback forty or fifty miles to the nearest town where potash was being bought and exchange it for the things which were needed at home and probably return with money in his pocket.

Apparently some people in Minerva continued the making of potash even after the prices had dropped, for Stafford in his Gazetteer of 1824 stated that Minerva had four asheries. Before this time it had been discovered that potash or potassium could be mined in Europe, and England no longer needed our supply. However, Minerva housewives continued to make their own soap from lye and grease for many years, getting their lye from leached ashes.


Aerial View of
Aerial View of Irishtown.
Irishtown School, Church, Cemetery & Baseball Field.

Irishtown Loggers
L-R: (1)Man w/horse ? (2)John Ricketson w/axe
(3) ? (4)John Murphy (5)John Galusha
(6) ? (7) ? (8)Ed Murphy (9)Bill Murphy


Photo by EEHealy
Site of Alpine Tannery
Built 1848 - Burned 1868

Hudson River Log Jam
North Creek


See Articles Page 2
History of Minerva, NY

Recreation - Baseball

Baseball team about 1908
First Row: Clarence Lane, Walter Sullivan, Fr. John O'Rourke,
John Sullivan, Charlie Sullivan
Back Row: Dr. John Breen, Mort Sullivan, John Lindsay,
__?__ Fisher, Tim Harrington

In the summer months baseball has long been a favorite sport. Today the Little League now plays on the town baseball field in Irishtown, donated by Edward Brannon.


ORGANIZATIONS - The Forester's Lodge:

There was at one time a lodge in Minerva, the purpose of which was to provide insurance and social life for its members. In 1898 when David Jones bought the store belonging to Mrs. Monynehan, the Foresters were already meeting in the upstairs part of the building.

Before 1905 they had built what was called Foresters' Hall.  Their meetings were held upstairs and dances and parties took place downstairs  Before 1908 a Women's Auxiliary had been started.

The organizers of these groups were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Callahan, and after they left the town about 1910, the lodge and auxiliary were soon discontinued.

Members of Foresters Lodge
First Row L-R: Henry O'Donnell, Ira Hedding, Tom Donnelly,
John James, Dick Lynch, William Nyham
Second Row L-R: Orrin Kellogg, Henry Callahan, Dr. John Breen,
Tom Ratigan, Jim Kelso, Ed Lynch
Top Row L-R: John Johnston, Orson Kellogg, William Ratigan,
William Lorimer

Town Historian Notebook:

The Town of Minerva was first established by Act of the Legislature on March 17, 1817. Previously it has been part of the Town of Schroon, and prior to 1804, a part of the Town of Crown Point. Until 1800 the entire town was wilderness.

Minerva was first settled immediately after 1800. Many of the early settlers, such as the West, Jones and Morse families, came from Vermont, part of the general Western migration.

The population grew slowly -- to 276 by 1820, to 368 by 1830, and 455 by 1840. Settlers were now coming from cities. Some were new immigrants, from England and Ireland primarily.

From 1840 to 1860, the population grew rapidly, mostly because of the influx of the immigrants who came from Ireland, often by way of New York City and Boston. Many of the new settlers bought land which had been recently timbered by loggers, who moved on to the west. The Irish had large families, and by 1865 the population was about 1100 (1082), and majority of them Irish.

Irish were predominately Democrats, due mainly to their years in New York and Boston, Minerva politics was controlled by the Democrat party for well over 100 years. The vast majority of all Town Officers during the period from 1860 to 1970 were of Irish ancestry.

Because of the Irish background, Minerva's school colors were emerald green and white, and the school's teams are known as the "Fighting Irish".

Until 1900 most residents were self-sustaining farmers. The population remained stable until 1900, ranging between 900 and 1100. It then began to steadily decline, as the subsistence farms were abandoned, reach a low of 505 in 1940.

The influx of mining, during and after the Second World War, brought a spurt of growth, the population reaching nearly 700 by 1950.

The population has leveled off since 1950, and is now 758, a drop from 781 in 1980.

Minerva is primarily mountainous and almost entirely forested. The Hudson River form the southwesterly boundary of the Town, with 15 miles of its course being in Minerva or forming its boundary. About 15 miles of the Boreas River, the entire lower half, is within the town. These 30 miles of river are essentially wild and unsettled being surrounded by State Land, which makes up 64.5% of all the land in the town.

Almost all of the settled portion of the Town is in the southeasterly corner. This settled area is about 10% of the Town and was at one time entirely cleared. It has now mostly grown back to forest, including any old cellar holes and abandoned roads. The cleared portion was once about 10,000 acres. Less than 1000 acres are now occupied or cleared.

About 10% of the Town is timberland owned and managed by Finch & Pruyn Co. This land is almost all leased to private hunting clubs, to pay the taxes, but is still selectively logged. Hundreds of truckloads of logs pass through Minerva every day, including many from the Finch lands.

2004 Town if Minerva

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