Irishtown 2003

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

Minerva Historical Society

Irishtown 2003


Town of Minerva
including Hamlets of
Irishtown, Leonardsville, Minerva, Olmstedville

March 17, 1817
St. Patrick's Day

On the map, the township of Minerva is covered with numerous small lakes, ponds and streams. The Hudson enters the township at the western corner where it is joined by the Indian River to form its southern border. Together they flow southeasterly until joined by the Boreas and then south to the sea.

Aerial View of Irishtown NY
Aerial View of Irishtown.
Minerva Lake at left on the map.

Irishtown Lumbering was the principal early industry in the town. In 1805, William Hill, for a bonus of 200 acres, built saw and grist mills on Minerva Creek to serve the lumber industry. Irishtown Lumbering was primarily for the building of homes and for clearing land, until 1840, when the first log drives began sending the logs to other markets.

Rainy Day on Minerva Lake

For the Minerva and Irishtown area in 1885, the historian H.P. Smith realized that lumbering was not sustainable and wrote, "The consequence has been the decay of mills and so rapid a consumption of timber that the lumber interest in all its branches is fast declining and must soon give way entirely to agriculture and other occupations". Between 1838 and 1875, the number of cultivated acres grew quickly. Grains, potatoes and corn were grown, along with subsistence vegetables and flax for clothing. Apples, cider, maple sugar and honey were among the crops in 1875. From the 1875 census we learn that there were 200 horses, 58 working oxen, dairy herds, hogs for slaughter and over 700 sheep. Little of this industry remains today.

Mountain view 
    in Minerva area
    Photo by Patrick Kneip
Mountain view in the Minerva and Irishtown area.
The Sleeping Giant

Log Cabin 1962
     Photo by EEHealy
View of typical log cabin in the Minerva Lake,
Irishtown area 1962.

Pond - Photo by EEHealy
Pond - Spring 2004



Winslow Homer's Minerva
by Peter G. Mc Shane

Frederick Thomas Loveland

Morning on Minerva Lake
Morning on Minerva Lake near Irishtown

The Minerva and Irishtown area Potash was a lucrative by-product of land clearing. Potash was used as an ingredient in soap and was used in England in the making of wool. The American Revolution destroyed the direct trade with England, but in Northern New York, potash was illegally shipped to Canada for transport to England. The market dried up altogether at the time of the War of 1812. Because much of the forest was hemlock, the town supported a large tannery from 1840 until 1867 when the tannery burned. In 1865, the population of Minerva reached its peak with the tannery running at full throttle and the lumber industry still strong. By the close of the century the population had dropped below 600 and would not climb again until the Tahawus mines reopened in 1941.

Minerva Lake 2003
      Photo by EEHealy
Minerva Lake near Irishtown 2003

The Minerva and Irishtown area benefited from two main roads in its early settlement, the Canton road and the Carthage road. The streams and rivers that aided in sending logs to market, tended to separate settlers from one another. At the first official town meeting in 1817, the prime need for money was for bridges. Roads were characterized in the 1800's as "impassable in winter, impossible in summer". Roads gradually became the principle mode of transportation. The famous Roosevelt Marcy Memorial Highway, (Rt. 28N), is the main road in Minerva.

Minerva Lake 2003
      Photo by EEHealy
Donnelly Beach at Minerva Lake
near Irishtown 2003

The Minerva and Irishtown area for a brief period at the end of the 19th century, the Minerva Iron Company ran a first class forge with eight fires, near Irishtown and Olmstedville, but a drop in iron prices and the lack of a railroad station soon destroyed the company. A garnet mine, now located in Indian Lake due to later boundary changes, operated in Minerva for many years near the turn of the 20th century.

In the Minerva and Irishtown area the last river drive was in 1950. Hardwoods had replaced soft in lumbering. For a time, hardwoods were harvested and made into rollers for mangles or heated rollers for ironing, and bowling pins. Both industries were short lived. In 1957, Finch, Pruyn and Co. began making fine paper from hardwood. Today a number of local businesses still do contract lumbering for Finch, Pruyn.

Minerva Beach 1962
      Photo by EEHealy
Minerva Lake  near Irishtown 1962

The Minerva and Irishtown area is home to a number of children's summer camps, as well as sportsmen's' clubs. In 1931 and 1932, the town built a dam across Jones Brook creating an artificial lake, a beach and a playground. The beach is named for Francis Donnelly who first became Town Supervisor in 1934. He was part of a large Irish clan arriving in the Irishtown, Minerva area in the mid-19th century. Donnelly served as Supervisor until his death in 1980, a total of 46 years.

Source: Adirondack History Center Museum


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