The Town of Franklin has had a long and interesting history, one woven together by several important themes. The vast woods of the area attracted some of the earliest settlers, who cut trees for timber and charcoal making and then erected forges and sawmills along the town's many streams and rivers. Some of the town's relatively flat and fertile land was also suitable for farming, dairying and potatoes, and produced exceptional wild blueberries. And, as early as the 1880's, the town's lovely lakes and mountains and healthful climate began to attract seasonal visitors and those coming to "take the cure." These economic forces shaped the town historically and much of it can still be seen today in its architecture.
I've always been fascinated by how people got around these parts and by how that changed over time. A major section of the Port Kent to Hopkington Turnpike, built between 1829 and 1832 and one of the earliest roads through the region, runs diagonally through the town. We now know this narrow road as NYS Route 99 but, with its twists and turns and ups and downs, one still has the sense that this was a very early road and, along it, one finds some of the earliest houses, like the former John Merrill Inn (1831) and Jerry Merrill Homestead in Merrillsville. Even though I know it was originally built as a camp, the Seven Gables (1930) Grocery/Gas Station in Onchiota, for me epitomizes the early automobile era of the 1920's and 30's. The region has lots of early 19th century Greek Revival houses, but how many Elizabethan Revival buildings are there? Not many. This is one of my all time favorites1
One of the things that made industry and settlement possible was the abundance of water power for saw mills, gristmills, forges and, later, making electricity. Every time I drive by the Franklin Falls dam and hydroelectric plant, I am reminded of the importance of water power here. This was originally completed in 1908 by Paul Smith as part of his Paul Smith Electric Company operations. Now it is operated by Niagara Mohawk. How often do you see an octagonal surge tank?
As settlements began to develop around farming and industry, many commercial, civic, religious and social institutions developed as well. A few of the many gems in town include the Vermontville Church of the Nazarene (1856), with its very fine stained glass, lancet-arched window and the Franklin Town Hall (1912), once one of the town's schoolhouses. Many interesting homes from this early period survive, too, including the William Otis Homestead on the Oregon Plains Road, a pre-1876 log cabin.
Some of the finest building to take place in the town occurred when people began to come here for recreation, pleasure and for their health. The lakes were a natural magnet and along Rainbow Lake, Lake Kushaqua, Loon Lake, Union Falls Pond and Franklin Falls Pond, many fine camps and hotels were built. Perhaps the greatest concentration of the seasonal homes and resort architecture is around Loon Lake, truly one of the great gems of the entire Adirondack region. Beginning in 1878, Ferd and Mary Chase developed their Loon Lake House into a first-class resort community. Although much of the main hotel complex no longer stands, Loon Lake is still a striking assemblage of turn-of-the-century buildings, in a very beautiful lakeside setting and with one of the earliest golf courses in the region. The buildings are well-designed and built and come in many styles, including Queen Anne, Stick Style, Eastlake, and Colonial Revival, and one can find oriental influences here and there. Although most of the buildings are now privately owned, many are visible and can be enjoyed from the public road. A few of these include the Loon Lake Caddy House, with its distinctive flared eaves; the Club House, once a general store; the Irish Cottage (c. 1905), once a Loon Lake House annex; the President's Cottage, where presidents Harrison, Cleveland and McKinley stayed; the Inn at Loon Lake (c.1885); and the log synagogue/Jewish Center. Around these are dozens of other fine, distinctive cottages. Loon Lake is one of the best preserved, most intact settlements of its kind anywhere in the region.
Many came to the area seeking a cure from tuberculosis. The Stony Wold Sanatorium was a huge institution on Lake Kushaqua, which treated thousands of patients and employed thousands of local people. When the state acquired the property in 1974, much of the complex was torn down, but the Potter Memorial or the White Fathers Chapel (1906) still remains. In Merrillsville, is another cure cottage Merrillsville Cure Cottage, now the Merrillsville Town Hall, which was built c. 1900. It is the only building in the Town of Franklin listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
And lastly, don't forget the fire observation tower on Loon Lake Mountain. This tower was one of more than fifty towers across the region that helped to protect our immense woodlands from the devastation of fire. Now less than half survive. In many areas of the Adirondacks, these towers have been restored and reopened to the public and are a great magnet for hikers and fire tower enthusiasts.
The town has a rich history and a rich architectural legacy. May we always be able to understand, appreciate and preserve the very best things from our past and to find a way to make them part of our future again.
Steven Engelhart, Executive Director - Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH)
AARCH is the non-profit, historic preservation organization for the Adirondack Park with a mission to promote better understanding, appreciation and stewardship of the region's built environment through education, technical assistance, advocacy and action.