by Rachel Hunter
Fine History Day on Saturday, August 19 drew many local residents who enjoyed learning and recalling the history of the Village and Town of Fine, NY and especially to explore the history of the Fine Town Hall – a large, two story, late Victorian style building that is located along New York State Route 58 in the Hamlet of Fine.
The Gouverneur Tribune Press extends its gratitude to former and current Fine Historians who have recorded the following history to be remembered and retold for generations to come.
The first settlement was begun by Elias Teall, who made a contract on October 24, 1823, with the proprietors of the east half of Scriba, and undertook to secure settlers on the tract. He built a mill on the east branch of the Oswegatchie and made some small improvements; but his undertaking failed. September 6, 1828,
James C. Haile made a contract with the proprietors, and built a sawmill and a small grist mill on the Oswegatchie; he induced other settlers to come. In May 1833, he also left the town, his settlers having abandoned him.
In February 1834, Amasa Brown contracted with the owners for the Haile improvements and an additional tract of land, and in March of that year moved his family in; his nearest neighbors were ten miles away. A few others joined him, and by 1843 there were 43 or 44 voters.
Among those who lived in the town in 1858, chiefly along the Oswegatchie River, were the following: S. Maitby, M. Rose, A. Guiles, R. Finley, E. Guiles, N. H. Jones, W. E. and E. Jones. Farther eastward were: G. Titus, W. P. Smith, M. 0. Carr, A. Hazieton, W. F. Haskell, B. Marble, 0. Hutchins, F. Austin, R. Scott, C. Scott, W. Cochrane, H. B. Fairman, J. Fairman, W. Kerr, A. H. Knapp, N. I. Morse, S. Stowell, E. C. Hill, J. and C. Marsh, A. Cleveland, C. A. Scott, J. I. Lansing, R. Durham, E. Churchman. Farther south were: B. Brown, W. Miller, G. W. Evans, D, Briggs, E. Vilas, D. Kilburn, B. Bebee. Others have come in later.
The little village of Fine is on the Oswegatchie River about five miles southeasterly from South Edwards. It has been locally known as "Smithville" from William P. Smith, who was an early resident there.
The first improvement here was the building of a saw mill by William Horsford. In 1853 it was purchased by William P. Smith, who also opened a store, and here the post-office was established in 1853, with Mr. Smith as postmaster.
Marcus Carr built the first dwelling in the village in 1855, who came from Russell as agent for Spalding & Butterfield, proprietors of a large tract of land in the town.
A saw mill and oar factory was started in 1858 by Spencer, Anderson & Co., who built four dwellings in connection. A grist mill was built about 1858 by Henry Rushton, which was afterwards sold to Zacheus Ladd, and burned in 1875. In 1871 Rice, Emery & Co., of Boston, purchased from Joseph Anderson twenty-six acres of land in the eastern part of the village tract, with a saw mill, butter tub and last factory.
In 1872 they demolished all but the saw mill and built an extensive tannery, where 50,000 sides of sole leather were turned out annually. A public house was opened and kept by Charles Scott, and after him by various others. George Hatch is the present landlord. A shingle mill is operated by Joseph Anderson, and a saw and feed mill by George Cardiff & Son. Dowling Brothers, Charles Ayres, T. F. Conboy, J. N. McLeod, are merchants in Fine; and Thomas Miller deals in furniture.
The Town of Fine constructed the town hall in 1884 as a place to conduct public meetings, municipal business, and as a venue for public entertainment. Over the years the use for the building included a polling place, a post office, a jail (the cells are still located in the basement), a restaurant, a barber shop, and a concert hall.
The building served as a lookout post for the New York State Air Control Network in the 1950s as well as a location for meetings of the Fine Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary prior to the construction of a new fire hall. Since its formation in 1956 the Fine Chapter of the New York State Federation of Home Bureau’s Inc. has also called this building home for meetings and many community events. The building has also served the community for countless weddings, receptions, baby and bridal showers, and birthday and remembrance celebrations.
It may be difficult to capture exactly what the Fine Town Hall means to individuals, but with such a robust history in the development of the Fine community, it is easy to see the importance of preserving it for future generations.
The Fine Town Hall is listed on both the New York State and Federal Registers for Historic Places.
The Fine History Day is held once every decade. Attendees were greeted with old-time Appalachian and French-Canadian music on the hammered dulcimer by Adirondack Musician Sue (Grimm) Hanley. They were then ushered into the town hall. On the main floor was Phyllis Denesha of Harrisville who asked everyone to sign the guestbook, and also was available in case they wanted to purchase a model of the Fine Town Hall.
Fine Historians Shirley Meek of Oswegatchie and Kathryn Peabody of Star Lake was present with a vast historic display, and to answer questions of all those in attendance.
Tour guides were available for trips to the jail cells in the basement and to the second story. Many were thrilled to visit and get their pictures taken in the old jail, and to see all of the historic documents and artifacts on display. There also was live music, bake sale, raffles, vendors (including the St. Lawrence County Maple Producers Association) and much more. Many also partook of the chicken barbecue that was prepared at the Fine Fire Department, located across from the Fine Town Hall.
Organizers said they hope to raise enough funds to be able to replace the old fire escape so that more than 50 people can be in the Fine Town Hall at a given time, and so that they could develop a museum in the second story of the building. Keep an eye out for fundraisers to be announced in the future.
The 2017 Fine History Days assuredly helped to raise awareness of the current condition of the Fine Town Hall and its historical significance to the community. Gratitude is to be extended to the Fine Town Hall Committee for organizing this spectacular event.
by Rachel Hunter