This is the story of how a tavern became a library. . . . The scene of the transformation lies just outside Watertown, and before gasoline was placed on the ration list, Watertown autoists were familiar with the staid old Half Way House, now the East Hounsfield Community Library, which stands at the former Blanchard Four Corners. April 28 was the 121st anniversary of the first chapter in this strange story.
On April 28, 1823, according to an old deed in the county clerk's office, Col. Elisha Camp and his wife, Sophia, of Sackets Harbor, representing the original Hounsfield and Sackets landholders, transferred to Stephen Blanchard for $200 four acres of land at the point where the Old Rome state Road intersects the Watertown-Sackets Harbor highway. On this site this shrewd Vermont Yankee built the Blanchard Stand, a rural tavern that became the most widely known hostelry of the great North Country. This was in the period of plank roads and stage coach days and Blanchard's tavern was at the center of this transportation system of pioneer days.
The Half Way House closed its career as a tavern after 90 years service, when three natives of East Hounsfield purchased the property and presented the community with the building for use as a free library. These benefactors were Merritt A., Milo L., and Stephen R. Cleveland, sons of a pioneer family who had been among the early settlers of the town. Later they became distinguished as the builders of the Canadian St. Lawrence canal system. To Miss Flora Cleveland is due this benefaction, whose appeal to her brothers brought about this transformation.
And when the East Hounsfield Free library was opened to the public in 1913, Miss Katie H. Warren, born 1862 in the Half Way House during the landlordship of her father, William Warren, became the first librarian, serving for nearly 30 years.
Landlord Warren closed his career as innkeeper about 1890, and between that time and its change to a library, several landlords operated the hotel, among them Silas J. Snell of this city and Herbert Galloway of Sackets Harbor.
The building of the tavern of "Steve" Blanchard in 1823 came at the beginning of an important period in the early hostory of Northern New York. Sackets Harbor was at that time the commercial center of this section. Here were brought from other lake ports the merchandise needed by rapidly increasing groups of settlers. Later as these settlers became more numerous the port became the shipping point for the men who had formed homes in the wilderness and the village dockes were loaded seven months in the year with their pearl ashes, cheese, butter, lumber, etc., shipped to other lake ports.
In one year, 1846, the combined exports and imports at Sackets Harbor reached in value the huge sum of $2,733,091. Hundreds of loaded wagons were daily transporting merchandise and produce to and from the Sackets port, and the village became the metropolis of northern New York. This large volume of traffic brought the need of better highways and more places for the needs of those who used the many satge lines of those primitive days.
Taverns sprang up at highway intersections and in 1848 came the first plank road, built from Watertown to Sackets Harbor, with other such lines being constructed throughout northern New York, about 200 miles in all. These roads were made of four-inch hemlock plank, resting on plank stringers. The coming of the railroad in to Jefferson County from Rome in 1851 gradually improved transportation problems and after a period the plank roads disappeared. The plank road were maintained by toll stations erected on all the plank highways to obtain necessary revenue.
On July 20, 1849, the career of Stephen Blanchard came to an end at the age of 76. The old Arsenal Street burying ground became the resting place of this veteran landlord, who life had formed so dramatic a place in local history.
Following the death of Stephen Blanchard his widow carried on the tavern for a few years, but found the task no easy one. During the period of the landlordship of the Blanchards, having no children of their own, they had taken into the family Miss Susan Lawrence, a niece of Mrs. Blanchard. In 1855, Miss Lawrence became the wife of William Warren, whose ancestors had come to East Hounsfield from New Brunswick. Mrs. Blanchard appealed to Mr. and Mrs. Warren to assit her in maintaining the tavern and about 1860 Mr. Warren purchased the property.
In 1867 Landlord Warren rebuilt and enlarged the hotel, from that time known as the Half Way House. The work of rebuilding was in charge of David Shaw of Three Mile Bay, a well known building contractor in those days.
During the Blanchard administration there occurred a tragic event, that nearly caused the death of one of the lads of the neighborhood. In those days one of the community sports was the annual turkey shoot at Thanksgiving time. On this occasion the turkey contest was held in a large field on the Hezekiah Field farm, near the hotel. In charge of the turkey target was Martin Farrell, a 14-year old boy whose father, Michael Farrell, resided nearby. One of the marksmen mistaking the lad's head for the turkey, sent a bullet crashing through his head, blinding him for the rest of his life. Tradition has it that the marksman's error of sight was due to the fact that he had imbibed too generously. The large indemnity the courts imposed on this careless marksman could not restore the unfortunate boy's eyesight.
During the administration of William Warren the famous tavern underwent a radical change. High standards of management were maintained. The new landlord and his wife soon built up a reputation for the excellence of their menus and the graciousness of their hospitality. No more public dances were held. Private parties were substituted. Watertown's prominent families such as the Flowers, the Babcocks, the Uphams, the Hungerfords, the Shermans, the Starbucks and others found the Half Way House a delightful spot to spend an evening, with the accompanying suppers as one of the chief pleasures.
During the Civil War period there was no railroads from Sackets Harbor to Watertown. Accordingly as the half dozen regiments were recruited at Madison Barracks the men were compelled to march over Sackets Harbor highway to Watertown Junction to entrain for the southern front, passing by the Half Way House. Here patriotic men of the neighborhood had erected a 100-foot flagstaff soon after the attack on Fort Sumter, from which flew a twelve by eighteen flag, made by the wives of the men who had erected the flagstaff.
The marching men, as they came to the historic inn, invariably stopped to fill their canteen's at the inn's famous well with its ice-cold water, known far and wide.
Here is the list of the disciples of Betty Ross whose hands fashioned the Half Way House flag: Mrs. Harriet Smiley, Mrs. Safford E. Field, Mrs. Philander B. Cleveland, Mrs. William Warren, Mrs. Austin Everett, Mrs. Jerome Ives, Mrs. John Palmer, Mrs. Lucy Field, Mrs. Lucy Allen Ostrander, Mrs. Miles Barrows, Mrs. Ira Ostrander, Mrs. Nelson Jones, Mrs. Hosea Hayes, Mrs. Marvin Scovil, Mrs. Sylvester Benjamin, Mrs. Lebbeus Field Allen, Mrs. Sarah Matteson, Mrs. Francis Smiley and Mrs. Leander W. Norton. The old flag is still one of the library's choice relics and carefully cared for.
A few rods west of the library stands the East Hounsfield Church. As the most of the hamlet's first settlers came fro New England, it is not strange that one of the settlers' first thoughts was to form a church and erect a schoolhouse. In 1817 the church society was formed and later the present church was erected. One of the early residing pastors was Rev. B. S. Fanton. This pastor was the founder of the East Hounsfield Religious and Literary Society, now the custodian of the Community library which in its early days held its meetings at the Half Way House. Miss Katie Warren, daughter of the landlord, becoming the first librarian of the present library. To Miss Warren and to the late Miss Flora Cleveland, who was primarily responsible for the purchase of the hotel and its transfer as a library, the community has always felt a deep sense of gratitude. Both these loyal women devoted a large part of their lives to the good of the community. Miss Warren resides with her cousin, Misses May D. and Stella M. Lewis, in this city.
Among the communtiy groups that use the library are the Home Bureau and the Ladies' Aid of the East Hounsfield Christian church.
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