The city of Watertown, NY (pop. 26,705) is located in Northern New York State. Situated about 70 miles north of Syracuse and approximately 30 miles south of Canada, it’s the county seat and largest population area of Jefferson County (pop.111, 738). www.descol.hr
In 1800 the settling of Watertown began a 200-year tradition that continues to this day. Those who chose the area were New England pioneers who did so based on the knowledge of creating an industrial center, which would have its power drawn from the power of the Black River. These were men who have been described as being those of strong feeling, intense imagination and amazing courage. Along with their families, they faced numerous obstacles upon their arrival. They found rough terrain which was uncleared. The western end of what is presently Public Square was twelve to fifteen feet higher than the eastern side while the center of the square was a large depression which has been described as being big enough to place a skating rink. There was a stream of water found having its source near the south side of Clinton Street which ran across Stone Street in front of the Arcade. It crossed the western end of the Square on its way to Black River. Yet, even with this unsightly spot within a short amount of time evolved one of the most beautiful public downtown squares to be found in any city of the time.
When Watertown was named as the county seat in 1805, it led to a lot of progress for the hamlet. Benjamin Skinner, Amos Benedict, Samuel Whittlesey, Egbert TenEyck, and other lawyers set up there practices here. There were six hotels that were constructed. The Failing Hotel, originally called the Traveler’s House, was built in 1808 located on the corner of LeRay and Main Streets. It was used by soldiers as a barracks during the War of 1812. Court Street evolved into both a business and residential area. Small factories and mills began to appear stretching along Factory Street. New stores were launched by Otis & Duane, Tuttle & Sill, and John Safford. Other well known names like Paddock, Norris, Fairbanks, Woodruff, and Hungerford were also engaged in business.
Developing water power was the main force which started the wheels of progress for the community of Watertown. It became one of the United States’ principal paper manufacturing areas and still boasts the oldest continuously running paper mill – Knowlton’s Specialty Papers. Factory Square, which was originally called Factory City had its main beginning when the Black River Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company was built in 1813. These businesses and mills depended on the Black River for its main power source.
In 1816 Watertown became an incorporated village and would could to prosper. Industries, businesses, and the population doubled by 1824. The city’s continued in the decade between 1850 and 1860 having a large amount of building construction. This was due partly to much rebuilding after an enormous fire but also because of new building expansion.
Other businesses such as the Davis Sewing Machine Company employed around 200 people, and the Watertown Steam Engine Company boasted assets believed to be at $1,000,000. While the industry of paper making flourished, Watertown Spring Wagon Co. and H. Babcock’s carriage factory were two of the numerous businesses that helped Watertown to thrive economically. The railroad was also of tremendous importance to the local economy. People were intrigued by the electric light, the telephone, and also street name plates installed by the city.
The following 100 years includes the history of Watertown’s veterans who went to many wars and the citizens who assisted with the war effort from home. Watertown citizens took great pride in their community and at one time, Watertown was even named “The Ideal American City”. Through the years, the economy has affected industry and business. That being said, some of today’s businesses have their roots in the city’s early history. The city today is much different from the hamlet from 1800, but it can take pride in the rich heritage that was left for for future generations.