Columnist mixed up history
To the editor:
On Jan. 21, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise printed an essay by Don Williams about John Hurd, the man who brought a railroad to Franklin County. Among many errors in the piece, Williams has confused Samuel Hurd, a son-in-law of P.T. Barnum, with John Hurd, the builder of the Northern Adirondack Railroad. They were two entirely separate people.
The subject of Williams’ essay, John Hurd, was the son of Hiram and Jerusha Hurd. A grain dealer in Bridgeport, Conn., John Hurd made a great deal of money from that business and from a second one, the Housatonic Rolling Stock Company. At the same time as those enterprises were flourishing, Hurd went to Michigan to build ties with grain producers there. Somehow, he became acquainted with timber barons in Michigan, including Patrick Ducey and Peter McFarlane.
Although further research is needed to verify this conjecture, Hurd’s connection with Ducey and other Michigan lumbermen appears to have been the impetus which brought Hurd to the northern Adirondacks.
According to Franklin County property records, Patrick Ducey had purchased timberland in 1881 before Hurd bought his holdings. It was Patrick Ducey and his partner, John Backus, who built the Buck Mountain logging business, creating the lumbering village of Brandon. According to local lore, Ducey cautioned people who came to work for him not to purchase land because he, Ducey, would pull out once the timber was harvested, and his employees would be left with no way to make a living. Joseph LaMora, the “Black Joe” to whom the piece refers, was not connected with John Hurd’s enterprises but rather with Patrick Ducey’s.
In 1882-83, Hurd and his Michigan partners, Peter McFarlane and Charles B. Hotchkiss, invested in 60,000 acres of timberlands near St. Regis Falls with the intention of harvesting the trees and producing market-ready lumber. They bought a mill already operating in the Falls and constructed a railroad from Moira to the mill. Their intent was to transport the timber to the mill and the finished lumber to Moira, where the product could be transferred to the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railroad. From that limited beginning, Hurd went on to branch out on his own, enlarging his holdings of timber, constructing mills in unsettled locations and pushing his railroad through dense wilderness for nearly 60 miles.
P.T. Barnum’s son-in-law, Samuel Hurd, had nothing to do to with the railroad or the milling businesses that John Hurd created. Samuel, however, did marry a daughter of P.T. Barnum. The marriage was not a happy or enduring one.
On the other hand, John Hurd, who married Clarissa Trubee Terry, brought his wife with him to Santa Clara and named the village and business in her honor. She passed away from tuberculosis in that village and, for a time, was buried there.
In short, John Hurd was not associated with P.T. Barnum, nor was he involved in the Brandon enterprise. I do agree with Don Williams that John Hurd was “one of the most courageous and determined men who ever operated in the northern Adirondacks.”
Carol P. Poole
(Editor’s note: Ms. Poole is a local historian and the author of “Rising from the Swamp: The Founding Families of the Tupper Lake Junction.”)