A paddle through time: Canton man crafted celebrated light-weight canoes

Mr. Rushton’s son, Henry, stands atop a canvas-covered Indian Girl model canoe outside the Canton shop. The Indian Girl was a mainstay of the shop after 1900. Courtesy St. Lawrence County Historical Association

Mr. Rushton’s son, Henry, stands atop a canvas-covered Indian Girl model canoe outside the Canton shop. The Indian Girl was a mainstay of the shop after 1900. Courtesy St. Lawrence County Historical Association

In the last few decades of the 19th Century, as reconstruction from the Civil War wound down, an interest in recreation sports like boating swept the nation. Among the many eager businesspeople to tap into the trend was J. Henry Rushton, who from 1873 until his death in 1906 made what would become renowned and coveted canoes in a Canton shop and inspired a prestigious annual canoe race that had its 52nd paddling in the town this spring.

In a 1968 Watertown Daily Times article about the book Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing by Atwood Manley, published by the Syracuse University Press, Mr. Rushton, who was born in Edwards, is described as a “tiny, frail man” with a cough. He allegedly built his first boat for the woods after reading Adirondack Murray’s “Adventures in the Wilderness.” His Canton friend Milt Packard purchased the boat, and another friend, Canton’s shoeman Joe Ellsworth, for whom Mr. Rushton first worked as a clerk upon moving to Canton in 1869, supposedly saw it and spoke the dictum that launched Mr. Rushton into business: “Build me a damned sight better one.”

He built his factory at the corner of State and Water streets (now Riverside Drive) in 1881 and his catalogs grew from eight pages to over 80 in the early 1900s. He also forged a relationship with the magazine Field & Stream, his primary national advertising medium, in 1876, which was the same year he sent two cedar canoes to the Philadelphia Centennial.

Though canoes were his “staple product,” Mr. Rushton also made rowboats and guideboats, and even steam and electric-powered craft in the later years of his career. [Read more…]

One-stop shopping: Empsall’s once reigned supreme in elegance, service

Empsall’s Department Store had 50 departments at its peak, but succumbed to a lack of financing and closed its doors for good in 1993. The Brighton Apartments make up floors two through eight today. Courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives.

Empsall’s Department Store had 50 departments at its peak, but succumbed to a lack of financing and closed its doors for good in 1993. The Brighton Apartments make up floors two through eight today. Courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives.

Empsall’s Department Store, a Watertown icon for 86 years, was like a cat with nine lives, enduring seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the opening of Salmon Run Mall built outside the city in 1986, the evolution of casual everyday style, the proliferation of catalog shopping, floods.

But the beloved and prestigious store, which had 50 departments at its peak and was the cornerstone of downtown Watertown commerce, succumbed to a lack of financing after the February 1993 collapse of Jefferson National Bank; the owners unsuccessfully sought alternate sources of financing and Empsall’s doors at 122 Court St. closed for good in 1993, the once vibrant hub taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The Santee and Roth building that became known as Empsall’s opened in 1904 and was a commanding eight-story structure made of 600 tons of steel and 6,000 bricks and described in newspaper articles at the time as “almost a village,” where one could sleep, eat and shop all in the same place. Indian limestone and white, glazed brick with terra cotta trimmings made up the outside, while large plate glass windows made up the first and second stories and red birch mahogany contributed to the inside’s regal atmosphere. A balcony with easy chairs and cradles for mothers with babies enabled leisurely shoppers to rest. [Read more…]

A pretzel dynasty: Mennonites continue to twist out winning pretzels

Martin’s Pretzels in the town of Theresa is staffed by Mennonites who often sing religious hymns to pass the time while hand-twisting the award-winning pretzels, which have garnered national acclaim, including an eight-minute segment on “Food Finds” that aired in 2003. Photo courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives.

Most people likely associate the pretzel industry with Philadelphia, Pa., not the rural north country town of the same name. But since 1991, the Martins, a Mennonite family from Lancaster County, Pa., has been hand-twisting its pretzels inside a small, yet nationally known factory on state Route 26 in the town of Philadelphia.

Lloyd B. Martin, owner of the pretzel bakery, originally a schoolteacher and carpenter, became a full-time pretzel maker in 1974 when his uncle decided to sell his Akron, Pa.-based pretzel business, which he had operated since the 1930s. Mr. Martin ran the business in Akron for 10 years, but a desire to strike out as a dairy farmer led him to move with his wife and 10 children to a farm on Elm Ridge Road in Philadelphia, selling the business to his brother Clarence. [Read more…]

The day the music died: No gambling at the Clayton Casino, just a place for good fun, dancing

The Clayton Casino, once a vibrant nightclub, was demolished in May 2008 to serve as a parking lot for the Hotel St. Laurents, which never came to fruition. Norm Johnston/ NNY Business

Touted as the “biggest nightclub between Montreal and Chicago,” by Clayton resident Marilyn Hutchinson in a 2008 Watertown Daily Times article, the Clayton Casino hosted numerous popular musicians, including Timmy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Paul Whiteman, in its heyday in the 1930s. It was “seven-days-a-week live entertainment,” Ms. Hutchinson said.

The popular nightclub, which was never a gambling sight, only enjoyed six to seven years of business before closing permanently in 1942 as traffic declined during World War II. The building, which was demolished in May 2008 with the idea that it would serve as a parking lot for a hotel that never came to fruition, originally housed Clayton Ship & Boat Building Corp., which manufactured 110-foot-long submarine chasers during World War I. It later became Frye and Denny Boatworks. In 1934, just after the 21st Amendment ended 13 years of Prohibition, Stewart and Mary Ormsby, of Belleville, and Westman LaLonde purchased the building and transformed it into the casino. [Read more…]

Morgia’s Restaurant: Where ‘everone went’ for food, conversation

The original Morgia’s Restaurant at 603 W. Prospect St., a popular local hangout known for its quality Italian food and vibrant conversations, burned down in 1956. It re-opened nine months later, but closed permanently in 1978. The family’s legacy lives on today through Morgia’s Pasta, a family-run business in Watertown. Photo courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives

“Relax and enjoy the finest Italian American foods—in Northern New York’s Most Modern Restaurant” read the headline of a full-page ad in the Watertown Daily Times heralding the re-opening of the famed Morgia’s Restaurant in Oct. 1956. Nine months prior, Morgia’s Restaurant, a popular spot for family dinners, wedding receptions, cocktails and dancing for 44 years, had burned to the ground on the bitterly cold night of Jan. 21, 1956. The restaurant’s founders, Cataldo Morgia, his wife, the former Ida Spaziani, and their granddaughter, nine-year-old Barbara J. Dupee, narrowly escaped the blaze that killed a family dog and demolished nearly all of the restaurant’s contents.

Mr. Morgia founded the original restaurant, at 603 W. Prospect St., in 1934, on the site of what was previously a grocery store and meat market operated by his family. Mr. Morgia and his wife, both born in Italy, previously owned and operated the Central House boarding establishment, a restaurant and grocery store at 956 W. Main St., which they discontinued in 1918. The decision to open a restaurant was allegedly the result of the stack of unpaid bills owed to the store owners during the Great Depression accumulating to the point that Mr. Morgia and his son gathered them up one day, burned them in the furnace and decided to get into a different business—sowing the seeds of what would become one of Watertown’s most well-known gathering places. [Read more…]

Glove maker was source of scandal: Ogdensburg company made big headlines

In the early 1900s, gloves were big business. Mittens, unlined gloves, fleece lined, rabbit fur, lambskin, gloves of all shapes and sizes were the hottest and most practical fashion accessory and there were dozens of options from which to choose.

The story of the Dinberg Glove and Mitten Co., which was located on the corner of State and Gilbert streets in Ogdensburg, is one that reads like a modern-day television procedural drama.
Alleged arson, murder and a court battle all pepper the history of the Dinberg Glove and Mitten Co., which was the former W.J. McIntosh Glove Co.

In late 1934, the Ogdensburg Advance News “unofficially but reliably reported” that Israel Dinberg and his brothers, Harry and Nathan, would be purchasing the McIntosh Glove Co. and all of its assets, machinery and inventory. The W.J. McIntosh Co. was one of Ogdensburg’s most thriving manufacturers and, at the time of the sale to the Dinberg brothers, had been in operation for more than 25 years.

[Read more…]

Building a north country brand

Born in an old bus, Jreck Subs a local favorite today

This 1986 concept drawing, from the Jreck Subs archives, depicts a store with a glass atrium. Jreck CEO Christopher Swartz said the concept never took off because of the extreme temperatures in the north country affected the clarity of the glass. Photo courtesy Jreck Subs.

The start of what is today an iconic brand that is synonymous with the north country had somewhat humble beginnings.

In the late 1950s, three friends, Ellis Martin, Keith Waltz and Jerry Haley, opened a sub shop outside of a Pennsylvania college. In an old Laundromat, looking to make a few extra dollars for school, the students opened a sandwich shop that operated from 4 to 11 p.m. [Read more…]

‘Mom-and-pop’ market memories

Gotham Street Market served families for decades

The Gotham Street Market, ca. 1970s, in a photo from the Watertown Daily Times archives.

Coins — mostly dimes, nickels and pennies — hundreds of them. There they were in the old ductwork of the Gotham Street Market, an exciting treasure find for any child. Many of them dated to the late 1800s. A good number were of Indian head vintage.

A new heating system was being installed in what was believed to be the oldest existing mom-and-pop grocery store in Watertown. As the work crew tore out the old ductwork in the basement in 1965, the stash was found. Change lined the pipes near the furnace. Why, the workers wondered, would change have collected here? [Read more…]

The store that ‘had everything’

Watertown’s Bee Hive a retail landmark

Watertown’s Bee Hive store in 1965 on Court Street. The store was known for its wide array of merchandise and being one of the longest operating family businesses in the area. Photo courtesy Watertown Daily Times archives.

Every so often when a longtime Watertown resident starts to reminisce, they go back to the times when Public Square was the retail hub of Jefferson County. Long before Salmon Run Mall was even a concept, and when Arsenal Street was nothing but farmland, downtown Watertown buzzed with retail activity.

It’s never long before that longtime resident mentions a few stores they vividly remember from their childhood. The store where they bought their first candy for a penny or rode on their first elevator. [Read more…]

Betting on butter

1850s railroad connected Ogdensburg and Boston

A clipping from a 1974 story in the Ogdensburg Journal that highlighted the eight-ton shipment of butter from Ogdensburg to Boston in the 1850s. At the time, shipping butter long distances and managing to keep it cold was nearly impossible. Photo courtesy of Johnson Newspaper Archives.

Long before there was air mail and the Model T, railroads were the champion of travel and commerce in the mid- and late-1800s. Connecting major metropolitan markets to tiny towns in St. Lawrence County, such as Winthrop and Stockholm, railroads were the method of choice for moving commodities, people and products.

The Rutland Railroad, formerly called the Northern, then called the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain, was St. Lawrence County’s link to the outside world in the mid-1800s. Hazel Chapman, historian for the town of Stockholm, wrote an article for the Quarterly, the official publication of the St. Lawrence County Historical Society, in 1965, which read: [Read more…]