Former Tahawus resident Leonard Gereau shows Newcomb Supervisor George Canon a Post-Star article his son, John Gereau, wrote in 2001 about the 1963 Tahawus move to Newcomb. Leonard is writing on a book about life in the National Lead mining community of Tahawus in the 1940s and 1950s. John is now managing editor of Denton Publications.
Fifty years ago, the National Lead company moved its workforce from the mining village of Tahawus 10 miles away, to the village of Newcomb. There was a rich vein of titanium ore under those homes, and it was needed to keep the mine open.
Yet relocating dozens of buildings was the easy part; integrating a tight-knit community into another one was the real challenge.
Route 28N runs through the hamlet of Newcomb. From one end to the other — about 5 miles — this is known as the longest Main Street in the Adirondacks. It’s actually 3 miles from the Newcomb Town Hall, in what they called old Newcomb, to the corner of Adams Lane, in what became new Newcomb. This is the Winebrook Hills development, an 80-acre tract National Lead purchased to create a suburb of sorts. It’s where the mining company relocated the village of Tahawus, including 67 houses, five apartment buildings, two churches and a general store.
Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon has a unique perspective on the Tahawus move. He was working there 50 years ago.
“There’s a story almost in its own right about moving to Newcomb,” Canon said. “Certainly the company spent several hundred thousand dollars to put in the water and sewer, bought the land, did the roads. Obviously they had a self-protection interest in mind. It was in the mid ‘60s and the war was starting to pop good, and business was booming up there. They had to protect their workforce somehow, and that’s how they did it, rather than just saying ‘We’re out of business here in Tahawus. You’re out on your own.’ Now a lot of them didn’t come to Winebrook. Some went to Long Lake, some went to Schroon, some went to Minerva. They went all over the place, but they made it pretty easy to move over to here, too, to keep their workforce intact.”
National Lead also moved workers out of the Upper Works. That’s where Canon lived in 1963. Soon, he, too, was settling down in Winebrook Hills, alongside former Tahawus residents.
“I hated the thought of having to move out. For whatever reason, call it stubbornness or whatever, I didn’t go anywhere near much of the move. Obviously I’d see it as I went to work every day, but my place was at the Upper Works. I think I stayed at the Upper Works a year after the village was moved, until they finally forced me out and said you can’t stay here anymore, we’re closing the place up. And then I moved over to the apartments in Winebrook while they were finishing up my house down there on Marcy Lane.”
Seventy-eight-year-old Leonard Gereau was born just up the highway in 1935, on the Boreas Road. He and his parents moved into a small house in the village of Tahawus around 1942, when the mine officially opened. He left in 1955, and his childhood home was relocated to Winebrook Hills in 1963. It’s still there today on Marcy Lane. And his parents had strong feelings about moving to Newcomb.
“They didn’t like it,” Gereau said. “They enjoyed the Tahawus area, particularly fishing and the Sanford Lake Rod and Gun Club, and it was a total adjustment. My dad then ended up retiring in the ‘60s. It was kind of an overnight thing. One day they were living in Tahawus and the next day they’re living here in Newcomb. So it was an abrupt change in their lives and the social part of it as well because the homes here were not set up the same way they were in Tahawus. So their next door neighbor here in Winebrook Hills was different than next door neighbors in Tahawus.”
In Tahawus, people rented their homes for about $25 a month. In Winebrook Hills, National Lead sold the homes to their workers. For Gereau, his parents’ tiny home on Marcy Lane brought back a childhood memory from January 1953.
“My father’s sister in Glens Falls died at a very young age and left seven children,” Gereau said. “He took two of the boys, Dick Lashway and Jim Lashway, to help out his sister’s family. And there was my brother Ed and my brother Jim and myself, three boys already, and then two more boys. So five boys living in this house. And that was a period of history when polio existed ... And I recall my mom and dad keeping the five boys in this house for the month of January in 1953. And that was a very difficult time because we enjoyed fighting.”
Not all the homes were small, but residents who lived in the small ones made the best of it. Some, like the Gereaus, added bedrooms in the space allotted.
“Originally downstairs there were only two (bedrooms), and my dad put two in the attic area,” Gereau said. “So that’s where we were as boys; we slept upstairs in the attic.”
Life in Tahawus
At the Newcomb Historical Society Museum, two workers were watching a video of the 1963 move on a computer screen. It’s color film set to music on a DVD. Sally Rockwood and Jean Strothenke grew up down the street from each other in Tahawus. Rockwood lived in there until she was 13, and Strothenke until she was 15.
“Ooh, somebody had a garage,” Strothenke said, pointing to the computer screen. “We sure didn’t.”
“This is in Newcomb,” Rockwood said.
The garages were built after the move, as they didn’t have garages in Tahawus.
Asked if they had street names in Tahawus like they do in Winebrook Hills, Rockwood said yes. Both women lived down the street from each other on Lakeside Drive.
“Sanford Lake,” Strothenke said. “We were right on the lake ... right near the sewer plant. I can’t believe we played at that damn place. And it was great fishing right there, the sewer plant.”
“I wonder why,” Rockwood said.
The video showed an image of the YMCA, which opened in 1948. It wasn’t moved to Newcomb. Instead, it was re-purposed for other mining operations after the residents left.
“That was probably one of the biggest disappointments or disadvantages for the kids here that moved here,” Strothenke said.
“Not just the kids because the Y was the center of everything for adults and children,” Rockwood said. “There was always something going on, whether it was a mother-daughter banquet or a kids’ basketball game or movies for 10 cents.”
“We didn’t have a television, so if you wanted to watch TV, you went to the Y,” Strothenke said. “And we didn’t have a phone. We never had a phone. We had a phone when I was 16 when we moved to North Hudson.”
“You never had a phone in Tahawus?” Rockwood asked.
“No, never had a phone,” Strothenke said. “And if you wanted to see a movie, the Y was where you saw it. Friday nights, 10 cents a movie. And you grabbed your chair and set it up in the gym. It was wonderful.”
With the YMCA lost for good, former Tahawus residents were left with a void in their social activities at Winebrook Hills.
“There was kind of an empty hole there,” Rockwood said. “The school filled in quite a bit of it because we had quite a few good teams.”
Supervisor Canon remembered the YMCA as the center of the Tahawus community.
“I think the biggest thing about Tahawus was the camaraderie and the sense of almost isolation with the Y,” Canon said. “We had everything we wanted. We didn’t need to go outside. We had hunting and fishing, camping. You had basketball, you had baseball. The Y had everything in it. You had a television room. You had a library. You had a weight room. You had a gym. You had a pool. You had bowling.”
In Tahawus, the residents didn’t really have much to worry about, as far as keeping up their homes. After all, the company owned them.
“The town took awfully good care of us, though. The town did our garbage, the town stained our houses every five years,” Strothenke said.
Isolation was an issue for Tahawus families.
“One thing I remember my mother talking about was there was only one road in and out,” Rockwood said. “That was rather frightening sometimes. I can remember sitting on the porch watching a thunderstorm ... and mom kind of fretting about if you had to get out of here. And you never went out of town without contacting all your friends, all your neighbors or anybody else.”
Yet for kids, there was plenty to do.
“We always played ball before dinner in the middle of the road,” Strothenke said. “There would be 30 kids. She lived just down the street from us. We all got together in the evening and all day long.”
“Great hide and seeks,” Rockwood said.
“Hopscotch,” Strothenke said. “In the wintertime, we’d slide down the hill, up and down, up and down, up and down.”
The big move began in August 1963 and lasted about six months. Newcomb residents would line the highway, for hours, watching the buildings being towed to their new foundations in Winebrook Hills.
“The old wive’s tale is that — and I suspect it did happen — that everything was all ready to roll here in Newcomb, everything was ready to tie in,” Canon said. “And the guy got up in Tahawus, ate his breakfast, went into the mines. And they’d come in, picked up his (house), brought it over, set it on the foundation, tied in the utilities, and when the whistle blew at 4:30, he drove over here to Newcomb, sat in the same seat and ate his supper. Now I can’t say that happened a lot, but I do believe it did happen.”
When Tahawus moved, it essentially doubled the size of Newcomb’s population. And it took more than a decade for residents to adjust, on both sides of the Hudson River.
“And there was a tension between old Newcomb, and now you’ve got a hundred houses of families that didn’t pay any taxes, had very low living expenses, paid very little attention to the politics of life,” Canon said. “Now they come over here, these hundred houses, trying to integrate with the other hundred houses in what I always refer to as old Newcomb and there was some tension in the air.”
Tension stemmed from a number of factors. Education. There was a school at Tahawus for grades K through 3, so an addition had to be built for the new students. Plus, the Tahawus and Newcomb athletes vied for starting lineups. Health care. A proposal by National Lead to build a medical center split the community and was never constructed. Politics. Winebrook residents began replacing longtime politicians in old Newcomb. And Religion. The St. Therese Catholic Church was moved from Tahawus to Winebrook.
“That was another bone of contention, because when they moved the Catholic Church down here, they closed up the Catholic Church that had been in existence and use down across from the bar, down next to the Santanoni Road,” Canon said. “And that didn’t go over too big with some of your Catholics here in Newcomb that had been using that church forever. Another contentious issue.”
Soon after Winebrook Hills filled up, community leaders formed the Lions Club, mainly to bring old Newcomb and new Newcomb together. And, in many ways, it worked. They built a baseball diamond, a skating rink and a playground. Supervisor Canon is one of two founding members who are still around. And he’s still on Marcy Lane, living among the many houses that came to Newcomb 50 years ago from Tahawus.
Today, National Lead still owns the land where the community of Tahawus once stood. Much of the property is filled in with tailings and is unrecognizable when compared to 1963. The mine closed in the late 1980s, and the buildings that were left in 1963, like the YMCA, are long gone. Only memories remain.