Burke / Malone during the Little House years
Towns in Franklin County, New York, which figure prominently in the second Little House book, Farmer Boy.
Malone village, the county seat of Franklin County, is situated upon both sides of the Salmon river, and was organized in 1805. It is 212 miles from Albany. – 1842 Historical Collections of the State of New York.
The area of New York comprising Franklin County had no major routes traversed by the area Indians, although they set up a colony under Jesuit missionaries in 1760. The area was sparcely settled at the time of the Revolutionary War, and many northern New York settlers either went to Canada or south to fight.
Alexander Macomb, an adventurous land speculator and fur dealer originally from Albany, had first visited what was called “waste lands” in northern New York while traveling through them to and from Canada. In the late 1700s, Macomb purchased a tract of land containing 821,819 acres in what became Franklin County (as part of a parcel containing over one million acres), for a mere eight cents per acre. Most of the purchase was laid out in townships of about 32,000 acres, and although Macomb immediately began selling parcels, he reserved a six-mile square tract of land at the junction of the St. Lawrence and St. Regis Rivers for use by the Indians; this was known as the St. Regis Reservation.
Adjoining Macomb’s tract to the east were Military Tract lands, 665,000 acres lying in what became parts of Clinton, Franklin, and Essex Counties, designated as in the Laws of 1781 as lands to be awarded as bounty to Revolutionary War soldiers or those soldiers who protected the north from Indian raids. These lands were eventually sold by New York State as wild lands because they were believed to be practically uninhabitable due to the harsh, cold climate. This land was surveyed into townships of one hundred square miles which were divided into lots of varying size and shape. Some townships weren’t divided into lots at all.
The first permanent white settlement in the area was made in Chateaugay in 1796. In the early 19th century, pioneer settlers began arriving from Vermont and Canada, with Burke being one of the earliest towns established. Originally part of Clinton County, Franklin County was set off and designated on March 11, 1808, being named for Benjamin Franklin. Originally there were only three civil subdivisions: Chateaugay, Constable, and Harrison, which contained Malone. As the population increased, other divisions were made, including Malone Township (1803) and Burke Township (1833).
It has been said that unlike a homesteader later filing on a claim in the west and taking his parcel of land – warts and all – based on the coordinates of the claim, buyers in the metes and bounds lands of Franklin County got to chose the parcel of land they wanted, then it was platted accordingly. All deeds in Franklin County still reference the Old Military Tract or Macomb’s Purchase.
Burke Township. Although “town” to the James Wilder family in Farmer Boy meant Malone, the family farm was located in Burke Township, south of the village of Burke, and it was in and around the Wilder farm that most of Farmer Boy takes place. Burke Township was set off from Chateaugay in 1844, and named for Edmund Burke, British statesman. It lies in northern Franklin County, east of Malone. It is bordered by Quebec, Canada, and the townships of Malone, Constable, Chateaugay, and Belmont in Franklin County. At the time the Wilders left New York in the mid-1870s, there were approximately two thousand people living in Burke Township.
The soil in Burke Township was sand, clay, and loam, and it was only considered fair as far as agricultural pursuits were concerned. Swampy to the north, the township boasted several important waterways, including Trout River, Little Trout River, and Chateaugay River.
One of the earliest settlers was Israel Thayer, whose grandson, Thomas, married Eliza Jane Wilder in 1893. Another early settler was Justin Day, grandfather of Angeline Wilder and great-grandfather of Almanzo.
Burke Depot was the principal village, located on the Little Trout River. It sprang up after the railroad was put through and a depot located (south of Main Street on Depot Street in the map at right), and residents voted to raise $500 for the building of a town meeting-house. When the Wilders lived in Burke Township, the village of Burke had a post office, Methodist Church, several stores, a number of residences, and several mills, including the starch factory owned by Almanzo’s uncle, Andrew Day, who once served as postmaster. The village had a graded school early on, and in 1866, more than five hundred children attended classes at the various district schools.
Malone. Malone Township was formed from Chateaugay in 1805, and originally named Harrisonville. In 1808, it became Ezraville, then Malone Township in 1812. It contains all of Lots 6 and 9 in Great Tract No. One of Macomb’s Purchase; the Salmon River flows northwesterly through Malone. To the north, the township was hilly, with fertile loamy soil, but the south part was sandy and less productive. A red pigment called “Duane Paint” was manufactured from iron ore found in southern Malone Township, and was much employed for the exterior painting of buildings. The Wilder Farm was originally painted with this pigment. South of the village was a sandstone quarry, and many of the buildings in Malone were constructed from this sandstone. Malone has always been the County Seat, situated on the Salmon River in Township No. 6. Franklin Academy is here, occupying an entire block.
The Bank of Malone was the main banking industry, incorporated in 1851. The National Bank of Malone, its successor, was organized in 1865. The township contained a Water Works Company which supplied piped water to local homes and businesses at the time of Farmer Boy. Mills and factories lined the Salmon River south of town, with large home overlooking the River on neighboring streets. Stores and offices lined Main Street. It was here that the Wilders walked and shopped. One of many churches in Malone, the Methodist Episcopal Church – where the Wilders attended services – stood on the corner of the block west of the Courthouse and Jail.
The Fair Grounds were located in a valley east of the village of Malone. With its large grandstand to the north of the oval track, it was an impressive sight. The 98th Regiment of the New York State Volunteers were stationed at the Fair Grounds from 1861-1862; while they were there, the grounds were called Camp Franklin.
The Ogdensburgh Railroad through Franklin County was completed around 1850. It supplied a ready market for all surplus farm products, doubled the value of nearby lands, and aided greatly in the comfort of travel in the area. The Depot occupied a center spot, across from the fountain in the three-cornered City Park, with the railroad tracks running through its middle. Once the railroad tracks were laid, most of the park was divided for business lots; only a large strip to the east was retained as a park, and the fountain as a focal point and smaller gathering space. A large engine shop was northwest of the Depot, and all the engines used on the Ogdensburgh line were built in Malone.
Early photographs of Malone, New York, are shown below, and include (L-R) the depot, city park with fountain, street scene, and Franklin Academy.
For more information.
“Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura.” From Legacy Documentaries with executive producer, Dean Butler.
Anderson, William. The Story of the Wilders. Davison, Michigan: Anderson Publications, 1973.
Donaldson, Alfred L. A History of the Adirondacks. New York: The Century Company, 1921.
Dumont, Diane Selkirk. Reflections: A Brief History of Burke from 1797-1976. Burke, New York, 1976.
Farmer Boy News, a newsletter published by the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association, P.O. Box 283, Malone, New York 12953.
Hough, Franklin B. A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York. Albany: Little & Co., 1853.
Smith, Dorothy. The Wilder Family Story. Malone: The Industrial Press, 1972. Distributed by the Laura and Almanzo Wilder Association, Malone, New York.
Malone, New York (FB 2, 5, 8, 10, 12-13, 15-16, 21, 23; LTP 23)
hotel (FB 13)
Malone Academy (FB 5, 23)