The_Halfway_House.jpg

The Halfway House

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Date: 1807 [unknown]
Location: 4365 NY-68, Heuvelton, NY. 44.659684, -75.329732map
Surnames/tags: Stocking Foote
Profile manager: Robert Seale private message [send private message]
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Halfway House, ca. 1900-1920.

THE HISTORY OF HALFWAY HOUSE
by Jennifer Bixby, 1977

After months of research on the Halfway House, I am satisfied that local resources have been exhausted. Someday a concrete piece of evidence will undoubtedly surface by accident, much like the day of January 5, 1977, my birthday, when I determinedly set out for the attic to find the date on the purlin plate. Though I had searched unsuccessfully several times, I suddenly came to the realization on that day that the person who saw the date in 1915, Catherine Lukens, was only a child.

1807 date on the backside of a beam.
Reminding myself that a child would be able to go where an adult would not, it took less than five minutes to find the date, 1807, in faded, but still legible paint, on the back of the supporting beam. I know that someday evidence such as this will turn up and it will seem so obvious when it does. Until then, there are two main obstacles to the research. Halfway House was supposedly built by Stillman Foote of Canton, to facilitate delivery of the mail between Ogdensburg and Canton. Unfortunately, the Canton Post Office burned and so destroyed all records to the extent that history books differ by four years on the dates Stillman Foote was postmaster. The second obstacle is the absence of any detailed maps of St. Lawrence County dating before 1858. The earliest map [Jennifer Bixby] was able to find was located in the Rare Book Room of the St. Lawrence University Library. It was dated 1829, but only designated towns and rivers, not a single road.

The St. Regis Indians originally owned the property on which Halfway House stands. Subsequently, a treaty was made with the Native Americans, and the State of New York acquired the property. In 1792 the State of New York decided to sell its “wastelands”, and Alexander Macomb purchased most of Northern New York for $.08 an acre. However, within two years, Macomb was bankrupt, in debtor’s prison, and the land was listed for resale. William Lyttle then bought most of the Town of Lisbon, and on January 8, 1804, sold 3000 acres to Stephen Van Rensselaer of Albany NY.

Stephen Van Rensselaer was the son of Kilean Van Rensselaer, a pearl and diamond merchant of Amsterdam, Holland, who owned Albany County, most of Rensselaer County and part of Columbia County in New York State. Kilean never saw his land, but sent his son here to make his claim. To establish his claim, Stephen had to arrive with 50 persons, 15 years of age or older, together with food supplies, livestock, and farming implements sufficient to start and maintain a colony. On November 1, 1785, Stephen Van Rensselaer set sail for the United States and became Patroon of his father’s property in New York State. As Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer literally owned life, land, and limb of his tenants.

After a period of several years, a settler on Van Rensselaer’s land was given a paper beginning, but the leases were all perpetual. Terms were 22 1⁄2 bushels annually of wheat per 160 acres; 4 fat hens, and service of men with horse and wagon one day per year. The annual rent amounted to $29.16. “Sale” of these properties was an incomplete transfer which left certain claims in the hands of Stephen Van Rensselaer. The tenant got title only to rough land. If he created a farm for himself, and if he sold it, one third or one quarter of the sum received had to be turned over to Van Rensselaer. If the tenant defaulted in his rent, the landlord could sell the property. Van Rensselaer reserved all water and mineral rights. And these leases were to run forever! The Constitutional Convention of 1846 abolished feudal tenure, likewise perpetual leases, thereafter restricting agricultural leases to a duration of not over twelve years. Despite Stephen’s reputation as a man to be feared, he made many beneficial contributions to the State of New York. He was a native of New York City, and during his lifetime (1764-1839) he was a representative in Congress, Major General of volunteers of the War of 1812, president of the Erie Canal Commission, member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1821, a founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy NY, and a regent of the University of the State of New York. During his lifetime he gave more than $30,000 toward public education. And he was proprietor of most of the Town of Canton and the westerly half of St. Lawrence County. (A medical laboratory technology program pamphlet of the State University of New York Agricultural and Technical College at Canton NY quotes Stephen Van Rensselaer in 1824: “Vocational education is the diffusion of a very useful kind of knowledge with its application to the business of living.”) One tradition of Stephen Van Rensselaer was carried on by his son, Henry, and that was the keeping of mineral rights when property is otherwise transferred.

It was from Stephen Van Rensselaer that Billius Stocking of Sandisfield Massachusetts[1] bought 360 acres of land for $300.00; the deed was dated July 7, 1806. Billius Stocking (1779-1851) was the son of a Revolutionary War Veteran. We think Billius emigrated to the area as early as 1802. Lisbon Town Records show he first held a town office in 1805. He married Patience Gray (1776-1850), the daughter of Isaac Gray and Mary (McLain, Maklem, McKlem...), whose fathers were captains in the Revolutionary Army. Billius Stocking ran a saw mill on the road known as the Stocking Mill Road (now just Mill Road). In addition, Billius Stocking was a farmer and elder of the Presbyterian Church. To Billius and Patience were born ten children: Timothy, Isaac G, Mary, Billius, Jr, Daniel, Martha, Harriet, James T, Melissa, and Duncan. Several of the children lived all or most of their lives in Lisbon and are buried in Lisbon cemeteries.

Exactly who built this house will probably always be a mystery, but legend has it that Stillman Foote of Canton built it on Stocking’s land. Lisbon Town Records show that Stillman Foote held public offices in Lisbon (which then included Canton) in 1802 and 1803. There is also mention in the records of Stillman Foote’s yard being used as a pound. In D. W. Church’s diary, Church mentions Foote and his party traveling to Lisbon several times. Stillman Foote arrived in Canton in 1800 from Middlebury Vermont, which his father founded. He brought a party of twelve, many of whom did not survive the first winter, including Foote’s father. The 1800 census in Canton lists five families, and gives this information about Stillman Foote: Stillman and his wife are between the ages of 26-45 and have one daughter, aged 10-16. Ten others are included in the household, “all free persons, not subject to tax”.[2] George Foote, Stillman’s brother, and a former member of the Green Mountain Boys, is included in the same census. According to Lisbon Town Records, George Foote and a man named Stephen Marshall were appointed Pound Keepers in the Town of Lisbon in 1803.

Depicted on the mural in the present Canton Post Office are Daniel Harrington (the lone settler here when Foote arrived) and Stillman Foote bartering his horse, saddle and bridle for Harrington’s wheat crop. The two also arranged for the transfer of title from Harrington to Foote of one square mile of land (on present Fairlane Drive), where Foote and his party built a shanty. Daniel Harrington immediately left the area with his new horse, saddle, and bridle! In 1804 Foote built a tavern in Canton, and he and his family lived in that house. The building still stands on West Main Street, though greatly modified since it passed out of the Foote family a generation after Stillman died in 1835. In 1806 Foote was the first supervisor of Canton; in 1807 he was the first postmaster of Canton. In 1812 Foote built a bloom forge, in 1815 a distillery, and in 1827 a marble factory. He is also credited with having built a stone house in Canton, which still stands on Riverside Drive, dates unknown, and a mill, dates unknown.

Halfway House was probably built in 1807 (as the date in the attic indicates), when Foote obtained the franchise to carry mail between Canton and Ogdensburg, a distance of twenty miles. Where Foote obtained the franchise to carry mail is uncertain, but it may have been from Jonathon Thompson of Malone, who first carried the mail between Plattsburg and Ogdensburg on foot! The route took two weeks, one way. When Thompson sold his business in 1846, he owned one hundred horses along the way. By 1830 Craig’s Hotel in present-day Flackville was also the post office. But prior to 1830 Halfway House was the reputed mail stop.

In 1810 the population of Lisbon was 820; in 1820 the population was 930. In 1810 St. Lawrence County had five slaves out of a total 14,638 slaves in New York State. In 1810 St. Lawrence County had 247 looms making 19,047 yards of woolen, 36,000 yards of linen, and 1,926 yards of mixed cloth; 5 fulling mills, dressing 14,000 yards; 2 carding machines, using 10,500 pounds wool; 12 tanneries, using 1,767 hides; 2 distilleries, making 25,000 gallons of spirits, worth $.80 per gallon; and one trip hammer. According to the census of 1850, about 3,500 deer, worth $3.00 each, were killed a year in St. Lawrence County.

New York Folklore Sign.
Billius Stocking’s living descendant, Hobart Stocking of Stillwater Oklahoma, finds it hard to believe that Billius, a pillar of the church, would operate a tavern. However, the earliest tavern in Heuvelton, 1806, was run by Jairus Remington, a former minister. It is probable that Billius Stocking did not live at Halfway House and it is highly possible that the person named Legge (assumed from the alternate name of Halfway House, Foote-Legge-Stocking Tavern) was actually the proprietor. For one thing Billius Stocking had his own home and his family of twelve was too large to fit in the basement, where the innkeeper and family reportedly lived. The great fireplace in the basement was used for cooking; the bread pusher for the oven, with four-foot handle, is hanging in the kitchen. The wainscoting and old doors in the basement still have the original red paint on them. It is also interesting to note the pegging of the cellar and attic beams.

Upstairs in the main part of the tavern one enters the dining room with seven doors, original wide back door, fireplace, and wainscot of wide boards up to the chair rail. Chair rails are in all downstairs rooms. Another smaller fireplace with cupboards is in the adjoining small room, known as the library, where the proper ladies sat. From the front door, framed with narrow glass, one enters the hall, with wide open stairway. To the right of the hall is a wood-paneled room, known as the Welcome Room, because the bar was originally located in this room. This room has a large fireplace with cupboards above and at the side. To the left of the hall is the parlor, with 16" floor boards and mitred door and window casings. This room opened to the dining room and first-floor bedroom (now the present kitchen).

On the second floor was an “L”-shaped dance hall and one bedroom for the ladies. There is evidence of a fireplace in one part of the dance hall. The upstairs is now divided into three bedrooms, a laundry room and two full baths. The original wide pine boards make up the entire upstairs floor. The men supposedly slept over the coach house.

Cooking fireplace in the Halfway House.

Other taverns in this area at the time included the Stillman Foote Tavern in Canton, Northrup’s Tavern (Quarterway House, torn down, at Northrup’s Corners), Hopkins’ Tavern (Quarterway House at Woodbridge Corners, still standing), Halfway House on Potsdam-Canton Road (still standing), and another tavern on the Potsdam-Canton Road (now the home of Cecil and Gemma Moore). All were stage coach stops. The first tavern in Rensselaer Falls was kept by John Shull, Jr., an agent of Henry Van Rensselaer. Also operating at the time was the 1806 tavern of Jairus Remington in Heuvelton, and this tavern, known as Foote-LeggeStocking Tavern.

In 1813 the Parishville Turnpike Company, Inc., headed by David Parish, was empowered to build a road from Ogdensburg to Parishville with a capital of $50,000. In March 1827 this road was given up to the towns through which it passed, and in April 1831, the part between Ogdensburg and Canton was directed to be improved by a tax upon the three towns of Canton, Lisbon, and Ogdensburg of $500.00 for two years. Tolls were collected along the way for support of the road. In 1850 the road was planked, and a sum not exceeding $10,000 over six years was borrowed on the credit of the tolls.

The year 1816 was the coldest ever known in this country. It is remembered as the year without a summer. There were snow and ice every month, including a snow storm on June 17, and an ice storm on the Fourth of July. Scarcely anything grew and there was consequent suffering during the ensuing winter. Histories of St.Lawrence County record that most people were forced to live on little else but wild game and fish caught in local rivers. In the entire Northeast grain and fruit crops were total failures.

On May 5, 1819, Stephen Van Rensselaer sold more land to Billius Stocking. Billius Stocking sold the Halfway House to Henry Van Rensselaer of New York City, and his wife, Elizabeth, deed dated July 10, 1839. The sale included 100 acres; the purchase price was $161.52. It is doubtful that Henry and Elizabeth ever lived in Halfway House. At the time, they owned a mansion west of Ogdensburg, called Woodford, which was destroyed by fire while they owned it. Henry kept this property until 1858. It is my guess that he bought it as a tavern and someone else operated it for him. An 1858 map of St. Lawrence County designates this house as the Stocking-McFadden house. According to Stocking family genealogy, Harriet N. Stocking, daughter of Billius, married George McFadden. Martha Stocking, daughter of Billius, also married a McFadden, Henry, brother of George. Lisbon Town records list the children of Martha and Henry as nine in number; there is no listing of children for Harriet and George in the Stocking family genealogy or by Lisbon Town records. The 1850 census shows George and Henry McFadden and wives living on what today is McFadden Road in Lisbon. They are also depicted there on an 1858 map of Lisbon and again in the 1860 census, so where the designation Stocking-McFadden house came from is a very big mystery, yet to be resolved. There is also no record of a Legge ever having married a Stocking, as Catherine Lukens suggests. Henry Chambers, born 1845, told Catherine Lukens he remembered as a small child visiting the tavern here and seeing the Foote-Legge-Stocking Tavern sign located at the cellar door. Catherine also told me one of her mother’s sisters from Potsdam NY remembered coming to a dance here with a date, but I do not know which sister that was, the eldest of whom was born in 1850. (See letter dated April 14, 1978.)

If a Legge was ever associated with the tavern, there is no documentation as to who it might have been. Censuses taken in the years 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, and 1840 show no Legges in the towns of Canton, Oswegatchie, or Lisbon, except the following (all from Oswegatchie): John Legge, Sr., and his two sons, John, Jr., and Jeremiah. John Legge, Sr. had three sons. In his probate record the only son mentioned is David, who is also executor of the estate. I can find no census that records David Legge as a separate household until 1850, even though John Legge, Sr. states they are all living in the area. Could it have been David who was involved with the tavern here? (See additional Legge notes.)

Henry Van Rensselaer, who owned the house during the Stocking-McFadden occupancy, was the son of Stephen Van Rensselaer, who sold this property to Billius Stocking. Henry (1810-1864) was graduated from West Point in 1831, and commissioned Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Fifth Infantry Regiment on July 1 of that year. He resigned January 27, 1832, and engaged in agricultural pursuits near the old village of Ogdensburg. In 1834 Henry took charge of his father’s estates and lands in this county, becoming proprietor in 1836. He had just married a daughter of New York’s governor, John A. King. A Whig, Van Rensselaer was elected representative to the 27th Congress (1841-1843), one month during the brief presidency of William Henry Harrison and the remainder after the Vice-President John Tyler became President. Silas Wright, Jr., of Canton, was then a United States Senator. (He as later Governor of New York.) Henry Van Rensselaer re-entered military service during the Civil War. Rensselaeer Falls, originally called Tateville, then Canton Falls, was settled in 1839, the same date that Henry Van Rensselaer built a mill there. The village is now named after him. Unlike his father, Henry was liberal to the settlers on his lands. He had the reputation of being “the rich man’s companion and the poor man’s friend”.

Henry Van Rensselaer had many mining interests in the county, and when he sold Halfway House to Adam Cunningham, May 14, 1858, for $187.60, Henry kept the mineral rights. It must have been during the ownership of Adam Cunningham that Halfway House was part of the Underground Railroad. Legend has it that the lectern which was kept in the attic, and is still in the house, was used to hold services for slaves passing through to Canada. There are two other possibilities for the use of the lectern. One is that the house was used to hold church services in the Flackville vicinity before the present church buildings were erected. (One religious segment claims to have been holding services as early as 1805.) The other possibility is that services were actually held in the tavern following the law enacted in New England that the word of God was to be preached at least once a week in all taverns until the settlers had their established “meeting houses”, or churches. The top of the lectern is made from a sign that is barely legible, but says “Proceed At Your Own Peril”.

It seems appropriate to insert here that the Town of Lisbon paid a bounty for several years to men who would enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War. One year the bounty was as high as $500.00. As a consequence, Lisbon had the most enlisted men in the county, but also the most casualties.

I discovered a real curiosity while doing research in the County Court House. There are two deeds dated the same day and year, May 12, 1874. One pertains to the sale of Halfway House by Adam Cunningham to Anson Wallace; the other pertains to the sale of Halfway House by Anson Wallace to Adam Cunningham! What the deal was is pure conjecture. I do know that , according to a map dated 1864, Anson Wallace lived in this house. Regardless of what happened, Adam Cunningham had title in 1875, and on March 28, 1875, sold Halfway House to Margaret Hanna. When Margaret Hanna died, she bequeathed the property to James C. Hanna and Sarah, his wife. The Hannas sold Halfway House April 12, 1887, to Albert Carmichael. Albert Carmichael sold the property to Samuel Livingston, July 21, 1904.

Samuel Livingston had a reputation in Lisbon of being a man of questionable character. It is believed that during Livingston’s ownership the house was unoccupied (by people) some of the time, and used to store oats. This attracted rats, and cats were shut in the house to kill the rats. Catherine Lukens tells how she was entertained as a child by stains on the floors left by the cats, which suggested maps of Africa and South America in her imagination. I heard another story, which may or may not be true: the local legend is that when Livingston sold the farm he was to leave the corn field standing, which he did do, except he sent his children out the night before the transfer to strip the corn stalks off the cobs!

On March 1, 1912, Livingston sold Halfway House to Amos Lewis Lukens and his wife, Edith. The Lukens moved to this house from Virginia, with their children, Catherine, aged seven, and Laurence, aged twelve. The Lukens’ former home was next door to Woodlawn, the estate of Nellie Custis. (See Additional Historical Notes.) Amos and Edith Lukens brought with them the Mt. Vernon-Woodlawn influence evidenced in the railings and the large brass lock they added to the house. Catherine and Laurence Lukens inherited Halfway House from their father when he died, May 19, 1956. I know that by 1967 Catherine had moved to Liverpool NY, and Laurence was living here by himself. Laurence, too, had a strange reputation and it is said that many people were afraid of him.

The auction held here when Catherine Lukens sold Halfway House was a major event in recent local history. Years later people are still marveling at the antiques sold here. It was John and Carol Hameline who bought the house July 3, 1974, from Catherine and Laurence Lukens, for $30,000, a far cry from Macomb’s $.08 an acre! The Hamelines began the restoration of Halfway House. They were also the first owners of the house in its 170 years who were not farmers. (Both Hamelines were teachers.) Two years later the Hamelines sold Halfway House, and the sixteen acres it is now on, to Joel and Jennifer Bixby, October 18, 1976, for $37,500. The Bixby children, Abigail, aged seven, and Samantha, aged three, are the first children to live in the house in over sixty years. Joel Bixby is employed as a counselor by the State University of New York Agricultural and Technical College at Canton NY, thus making the Bixbys the second owner engaged in education.

A contemporary view of the home. For Google Street View: Halfway House Street View
2020 Billius Stocking Encore

While in the grip of the 2020 Covid 19 pandemic, and having time on our hands as everybody did, Bob Seale and I revisited some issues with my 1977 paper on The History of Halfway House, and another article on Billius Stocking in 1981. We found several discrepancies with his research and mine that didn’t hold up under closer scrutiny. This changes some of the details but not thebigger picture. This is intended to be a working document with amendments made as newdiscoveries come to light.

What we know as fact is that Halfway House was a tavern, and it was probably built in 1807 as the date on the purlin plate indicates, and as the Federalist style indicates. What we don’t know is exactly when Billius Stocking became involved with this tavern. It is unfortunate that most of what I wrote had no sources cited because at the time I only intended it for my private use (and nobody anticipated the internet!).

We also know that Billius was here as early as 1804 when he appears on a tax list in Lisbon NY, and that his second child was born here in 1804. In 1805 he held his first town office in Lisbon. In a 1971 article for the SLCHA magazine The Quarterly Catherine Lukens said Billius bought his first land here in 1806, 360 acres for $300, but on a recent trip to the court house there was no evidence of that deed. Bob Seale says the first deed for Billius was recorded January 2, 1808 when Billius bought land from Stephen Van Rensselaer, 95 8/10 acres for $300. I found this deed in Book 2, p. 68, and it is in Range 2, Lot 6 of Lisbon. The southern boundaries are on “widow Lytle’s farm”. Bob places the location of this property near 5 Mile Line Road and above the RR tracks, and I agree. At any rate the bigger question for me is WHERE DID BILLIUS LIVE BEFORE THAT?! 1808 is a full four years after he came to this inhospitable climate with his family. He could not have survived our harsh winters without a substantial structure.

The next bit of confusion appears with 2 transactions in 1819. On May 5, 1819 Billius SOLD BACK. to Stephen Van Rensselaer the 95 8/10 acres he bought in 1808 for $300 in Range 2, Lot 6. This deed is in Book #5, p. 415. Then on May 25, 1819 Stephen Van Rensselaer SOLD to Billius 100 acres for $300 in Range 7, Lot 8, which would make that location on both sides of this road and include the Halfway House and the site of his mill on Mill Road (formerly Stocking Mill Road), probably also his home there. This deed is in Book 5, p. 368. A “stake in Isaac Gray’s southerly line” was mentioned as a boundary. It is almost certain this tavern existed at that time and was a working tavern. One would have to deduce that STEPHEN VAN RENSSELAER WAS OPERATING THE TAVERN at that time (through his agents). When and why did the Halfway House become known as Foote-Legge-Stocking Tavern, as local legend has it, and as the Chambers brothers saw on the sign next to the cellar door? And further, why was it designated Stocking-McFadden house on an 1858 map?

A subsequent transaction occurred on July 10, 1839 when HENRY Van Rensselaer SOLD to Billius 20 acres for $161.52. This deed appears in Book #30, p. 431. The location of this property was the “SE corner of Billius’ 100-acre lot”. Bob Seale asked when Henry bought this property because there is no record of this transaction. Henry was the son of Stephen Van Rensselaer, who died January 26, 1839, so it is possible Henry was heir to the property or executor of the estate. In a 1971 article by Elizabeth Baxter in the SLCHA magazine The Quarterly Elizabeth says that Henry took charge of his father’s estates in 1834, again no source given. St. Lawrence County was not settled until 1800 so compared to other areas of the country this county was in its infancy. The County Clerk even admits the early records were sketchy, either because nobody cared or they didn’t have a repository in place. The few land records before 1807 are not even indexed to this day, but anybody is welcome to scroll through them, which we did. Without adequate records we are left with a lot of unsolved mysteries. Even with the luxury of the internet if I google Billius Stocking all that comes up is my work and Bob’s work. (as of 23 August 2020)

Sources

  1. Billius moved to Hebron, Washington county, New York and was married to Patience Gray before 1800
  2. Ancestry.com($), Federal Census, Year: 1800; Census Place: Canton, Oneida, New York. St Lawrence county was not created until 1802




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