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Newcomers Guide: History
History History History History

The tri-county area of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties, known as "the north country," has an area of 5,968 square miles, and a population of 250,613 residents, according to the 2000 census.

All three counties were included in Macombís Purchase in 1791 ñ at eights cents an acre ñ which expanded the state to include much of northern New York, the Thousand Islands region, eastern Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River.

  Jefferson Lewis St. Lawrence Total
Area (SQ MI) 1,857 1,290 2,821 5,968
Population 111,738 26,944 111,931 250,613
Seat Watertown Lowville Canton -
Founded 1805 1805 1802 -
Source: 2000 U.S. Census Report


Founded in 1805, Jefferson County is home to Watertown, the largest city in New York north of Syracuse. It borders Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River where the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority manages border crossings in this area, with customs points at Wellesley Island in the U.S., and Hill Island in Canada.

Travelers between the spring and fall may also take a ferry out of Cape Vincent to Wolf Island, from which another ferry sails to Kingston, Ont.

Jefferson County is also the home of Car-Freshners Corp., safety pins, and the U.S. Armyís 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, the most deployed division in the Army.

"The mission of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) is to be manned and trained to deploy rapidly by air, sea, and land anywhere in the world, prepared to fight upon arrival and win," the divisionís mission statement says.

The division achieved legendary status in Italy during World War II beginning with its assault on Riva Ridge when division soldiers scaled a 1500-foot cliff during the night of Feb. 18, 1945 and took the Germans by surprise. The next day the division attacked neighboring Mount Belvedere with a bayonet assault that again took the Germans by surprise. This put them in a position to breach the enemyís Apennine Mountain line, take Highway 65 and open the way to the Po Valley.

Fort Drum encompasses 107,265 acres, and its mission includes planning and support for the mobilization and training of almost 80,000 active duty and reserve troops annually. For more, you may visit our Fort Drum Homecoming slide show, or visit our Fort Drum Page.


Lewis County was named for former Gov. Morgan Lewis, who served in that office from 1804 to 1807. On March 28, 1805, Gov. Lewis signed a bill creating Jefferson and Lewis Counties from land that had been part of Oneida County. Morgan Lewis was the son of Francis Lewis, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. After graduating from Princeton University in 1773, he entered the law practice of John Jay, a prominent lawyer and statesman. He then served in the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War, advancing to the rank of colonel, and later escorted George Washington at the nation's first presidential inauguration in April 1791.

Lewis County is halfway between the St. Lawrence River and the New York State Thruway, and is surrounded by the Tug Hill Plateau and the Adirondack Mountains. Its many dairy farms serve as a primary source of revenue.

"PLANS ROLL ALONG FOR LEWIS' 200TH BIRTHDAY" August 6, 2004, Steve Virkler - Times Staff Writer
St. Law

Founded in 1802 and the oldest of the three, St. Lawrence County is the largest county in New York, and the fifth largest east of the Mississippi River. Ogdensburg was the original county seat, but its location along the St. Lawrence River proved difficult for weary travelers in winter, many of whom feared British attacks because of its closeness to Canada. The county government thus moved to the more centralized village of Canton in 1828 where it remains today.

Canton and neighboring Potsdam host thriving academic and cultural communities as the home to SUNY Potsdam and its Crane School of Music, Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, and SUNY Canton Technical College.

Students in Wanakena may attend the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry's Ranger School. Ranger graduates are especially useful in the southeastern third of the county, an area covering 953 square miles within the Adirondack region. It is among the nationís most unique wild areas with seemingly boundless forests, mountains, wildlife and outdoor recreation areas.

Those looking to enter the clergy, meanwhile, may study in Ogdensburg at Wadhams Hall and Seminary.

Northbound visitors on Route 11 to the village of Gouverneur encounter a giant lifelike sculpture of a roll of Life Savers thanks to Edward Noble. The village native bought the formula for the enduring candy in 1913 for $2,900 from Ohio candy maker Clarence Arthur Crane. Noble called his new company Pep-O-Mint Life Savers. Stories vary on how the hole in the middle came about. One says that Noble put the hole in to prevent a child from choking on the candy should one get lodged in his throat. Another version says Crane already had the hole in because of a design flaw in the manufacturerís machinery that stamped them out.

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