1908: Albert Charboneau leaves Hawkinsville, N.Y.

Sepia Saturday 525. Third in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Available documentation indicates that my dad’s Uncle Albert — who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic — spent his childhood and early teen years in Hawkinsville, Oneida Co., N.Y.

He was born there in 1885 and enumerated there in the 1900 U.S. census at age 15, as described in the last post.

Yet Albert’s adult years were spent in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., where he moved circa 1908 with his parents and three brothers — among them my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau — in the search of a better life.

A Black River Canal boom town

In the mid 1800s, Hawkinsville (shown below) was a small boom town located on the Black River Canal, which ferried Adirondack lumber, wood products and other goods to the Erie Canal and thence to markets throughout New York State and beyond.

My paternal French-Canadian great-great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau moved there in the 1850s, working first in the lumber industry and later as a farmer. His German-Swiss wife Ursula Zinsk, her parents and brothers also immigrated to the area, where the nearby mountains probably reminded them of home.

A thriving Hawkinsville, N.Y., in 1855 from the Rome Daily Sentinel. Click to enlarge. Source: Old Fulton Post Cards

Hawkinsville’s sad decline

But by 1900 when their eldest grandson Albert appeared in his first census at age 15, Hawkinsville has fallen on hard times. An 11 Oct. 1939 article in the Rome, N.Y. Daily Sentinel titled “Bustling Village Fades To Hamlet With One Mill” summarizes the town’s decline.

A busy, thriving, industrial town, with prospects for a bright future was Hawkinsville, shown in the picture taken above about 1855, but the course of the Black River Railroad completely changed the picture.

Hawkinsville in the early days was larger than Boonville and had every prospect of growing steadily, until the railroad was built through Boonville, leaving Hawkinsville entirely off its course. Gradually the mills closed until the hamlet can now boast of but one mill.

The Dolgeville decision

Lawrence (Laurent) Charbonneau’s  stone, Beechwood Cemetery, Forestport, Oneida County,  N.Y. Source: Find a Grave

Such an unfortunate demise for a village that once boasted three churches, two hotels, two saloons, a carpenter shop, four blacksmith shops, a wagon-shop, a cheese factory, a tannery, a millinery store — and so many mills that it was originally called Slab City for the slab wood turned out there, according to the same article.

Nevertheless, it may have been a sad family event that ultimately sealed the Charboneau family’s decision to leave Hawkinsville for good — the 1902 death of my great-great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

While Laurent was living, his home, land and farm may have anchored the family. But once the Charboneau family patriarch was gone, why not strike out for new opportunities? And those opportunities beckoned from the expanding Mohawk Valley town of Dolgeville in nearby Herkimer Co., N.Y.

There, German immigrant Alfred Dolge had set up a unique factory complex that drew thousands of workers from the U.S. and abroad — among them Uncle Albert, his parents and three brothers — and turned the sleepy town of Brockett’s Bridge into a bustling manufacturing center that was renamed Dolgeville in his honor.

More on this in the next post. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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14 thoughts on “1908: Albert Charboneau leaves Hawkinsville, N.Y.”

  1. Another great post in the series Molly. Reading about the personal experiences of the 1918 pandemic at this time makes it all the more poignant #geneabloggers

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. It’s taking me a while to get to the pandemic, but since Albert’s life was cut short I want to do his story justice.

  2. Another interesting series, Molly. I like how you bring out the details of the economic life of small towns and how it affected family decisions. It’s always that way with immigrants, the conditions of the old world and the promise of new world, compelling people to seek a better place.

    Albert’s tragic death from the 1918 influenza pandemic makes your story all the more poignant for our time. I wrote a similar story 8 years ago about a photo of a little girl with a violin. The cabinet card included her name and a date which opened up all the archives. It was one of my first big stories, and I was excited to map out the girl’s full life story. But like Albert, she also died from influenza in January 1919 at age 31. You can read it here: https://temposenzatempo.blogspot.com/2012/01/child-violinist-from-raleigh.html

    Within two days after I published it, the grandson of the girl in my photo left a wonderful comment and later contacted me. It seems the photo was the only picture of his grandmother as a child, so I sent it to him as a gift. Over the years I’ve had contact from several other descendants of subjects in my photo blog, and its been the best reward for all my research and genealogy when I can introduce someone to a distant ancestor.

    Thank you for your kind words on my post this weekend. It took some time to figure out what I wanted, or really needed, to write about my mom. She was always wonderfully creative and full of family stories about rural farms and small town life. She would have enjoyed blogs like yours.

    1. Thanks so much, Mike, for your visit and comments. What a wonderful story about how your blog helped connect a grandson with his grandmother’s childhood photos. I have had similar experiences where cousins and others get in touch to exchange stories, documents and photos. And once again, sincere condolences on your mom’s passing.

    1. So true. A railroad line or highway could make or break a town — or divide a city by separating neighborhoods, as happened with my Welsh-Irish ancestors in Baltimore, Maryland.

  3. My grandparents and greats lived in a boom town when it was booming thanks to the railroad. But when railroads consolidated and routes changed, the boom was over. They made out well though because World War II came along and many moved to Norfolk and Baltimore.

    1. Yes, the loss of industry and transportation definitely causes a diaspora. My maternal grandparents and my folks all ended up leaving their upstate, New York hometowns for jobs in the state’s larger cities — and I did the same, ending up in New York City.

    1. Some end up being bedroom communities of a larger, nearby town — in this case Boonville, which ended up with the railroad connection that bypassed Hawkinsville.

  4. It’s always sad when a promising bustling town fades by the wayside due to one thing or another – in the case of Hawkinsville, the railroad’s course. In the case of Northern Calif., it was the gold rush causing instant towns to spring up, and the end of the gold rush to leave some of them merely ghost towns. Some of them, however, have been revived as state parks to keep the ‘old days’ alive.

    1. So true. There are many former manufacturing towns all over upstate New York that never recovered when their industries declined, though some — like your gold rush examples — have recast themselves and soldiered on.

  5. Really interesting installment. I can’t imagine what Alfred thought when the town was renamed in his honor.

    1. Thanks, Jeannine. The townspeople actually circulated a petition that resulted in the town’s renaming, based on the economic boon sparked by Dolge’s innovations.

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