Tag Archives: Black River Canal

The Bulls and the Black River Canal

During the time that we researched the family history of our Bull ancestors together — focusing on the 1860s-1880s — my dad could never get over how mobile they were.

“You don’t think about people moving around so much back then,” Dad told me more than once. “But the Bulls moved all over the place.”

http://digitalcollections.archives.nysed.gov/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/1622
Black River Canal and Delta Dam (1916). General view from below of the Gate House, locks of relocated Black River Canal, a tow and a change bridge located four miles north of Rome. The completion of this canal led to the development of Moose River Settlement, to which  my Bull ancestors moved in 1875. Image: New York State Archives Digital Collections

True enough. Starting in New York’s Catskill Mountains in the 1840s, my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and his family of origin ended up in the Binghamton, N.Y., area by the time of the U.S. Civil War.

Ten years later — after briefly trying the Catskills one more time — Arthur, his wife Mary Elizabeth, their children and his parents pulled up stakes again, moving in 1875 to Moose River Settlement in the state’s Adirondack region.

I wondered: How was Moose River Settlement established? What was the community like? How was daily life for the Bull family while living there? And how did the once-vibrant settlement disappear?

My first answer came from the excellent book The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State (Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London: 2010) — in which author David Stradling describes how New York’s canal system contributed to the development Moose River Settlement:

The completion of the Black River Canal in 1855 allowed Lewis County to diversify its economy. Tanneries sprang up along the Beaver, Moose and Oswegatchie rivers, often taking advantage of water power to crush the hemlock bark harvested in the Adirondack foothills.

Today, what remains of New York State’s Erie Canal system and its feeders is mainly used for recreation. So it is easy to forget the pivotal role canals once played in the economic, social and political development of the state. Yet here in my own family history is an example of how these canals shaped lives. David Stradling explains:

The canals transformed the state’s economy by connecting markets and creating opportunities in new lands, including those along the “feeder canals.”

My ancestor Arthur Bull, a tanner by trade, appears to have relocated so many times because his job required abundant forests and water power for leather production, along with transportation to bring in hides and ship out finished leather.

As these resources were used up in one place, my great, great grandfather was forced to move with his family to the next. In 1875, the next place for the Bull family was Moose River Settlement — brought into being by the construction of the Black River Canal.

What more could I find out about Moose River Settlement and my ancestors’ time there?  Stay tuned as the search continues.

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