The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
“Thomas Weatherby and Milley Adams, our grandparents, both of Bridport, Vermont, were married in 1819, he being twenty-two years of age and she twenty. Shortly after their marriage, they went across Lake Champlain to Crown Point, New York, where Grandfather operated a tannery which his father had purchased for him, but, as this did not work out very well, they subsequently purchased a farm which I think must have been at or near Crown Point Center, a few miles west of the village of Crown Point. Here they lived for many years and here and at the Village while he was running the tannery their nine children were born and their fourth child, Henrietta Susan died at the age of ten months. Some years later, they moved to Port Henry, New York, the next village north, to which I believe their oldest child, Jonathan had preceded them. He had left home at the age of seventeen (1838) to seek his fortune.
I do not know where they lived when first they reached Port Henry but at the time of Grandfather’s death in 1850 they were living in the old Dalliba House, built by Major James Dalliba in 1824 and afterwards acquired and occupied by the Wallace T. Foote, Sr. family for many years. Major Dalliba built the first furnace in Port Henry, then called “Lewis Mills”. His family followed him but, there being no suitable accommodations for them, they lived in the Asabel Barnes house on Chimney Point, Vermont, while their house was being constructed. Major Dalliba went back and forth across the lake by canoe - it must have been a rough passage at times because old Lake Champlain can kick up quite a sea. Sometime afterwards, our mother’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Burr Pease, occupied the Barnes house and there our mother was born. They moved to Port Henry when she was three months old - in 1846.
At the time of Grandfather Weatherby’s death, his daughter Jane and I think his son John, with their families, were living with them. Jane had married William Treadway and John to Charlotte Spencer. Grandfather died on August 10, 1850, and a few hours later his daughter Mary Relief had passed away. Within a few days thereafter, John’s little daughter Jennie and Jane’s little son Albert had also passed away. Besides John and Jane, who were married, this left grandmother with five children: Marietta Susan, 21; Ellen Delilah, 19; Betsy Ann Adelaide, 14; Emily Francis Ann, 12, and Thomas Francis, not quite 7.
Jonathan Gilman had come to Port Henry with no means, about 1845, but, after engaging in various inferior occupations, he finally found himself in sight of the fortune to seek which he had left home at an early age. With him uncle, Silas Hemingway Witherbee and George Riley Sherman, he formed the company of Witherbee, Sherman & Company, which developed some of the iron mines in Mineville and was also engaged in many other enterprises which brought them great wealth. He was very active in the civic affairs of the village and was the first President of the Village corporation; he was President of the First National Bank of Port Henry; he installed the first water system and gave the land for and laid out the Moriah Union Cemetery.
He was very public-spirited and did a great deal for the village and his fellow-townsmen. He was considered the best business-man in Northern New York.
In 1847, he had married Charlotte Spencer. He built a house for himself near the foot of North Main Street, afterward called the old Dr. Warner house, subsequently acquired and occupied by the Butterfield family. It still stands but obscured from view by several houses built on what had been the front lawn. It was quite a pretentious house for these days, having its own water-supply from a reservoir built into the hill behind it. And, wonder of wonders, it had a bathroom, which to say the least, was most unusual in those days and in that part of the country.”
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.