When was the town settled and how old is it?
The township of Massena was officially created by Legislature on March 3, 1802. However, its first settlement is dated back in 1792 when Frenchmen came up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal in search of lumber for shipbuilding. This sawmill was erected in 1792, and the site is now occupied by a stone house built by Captain Haskell in 1825. However, Massena did not have its official name until that day in 1802, despite the traffic that ran through it for the lumber. Prior to the town name of Massena, Mohawk Indians called the Massena settlement Nikentsiake, which with its meaning of “where the fish live”, lead many to assume that the once barren grounds of Massena were great for fishing along the St. Lawrence River. This official Legislature date means Massena is estimated to be about 215 years old now in 2017. Massena is named after André Masséna, a military commander under Napoleon Bonaparte and hero of the Battle of Rivoli (a key victory for the French against Austria), who was never actually directly involved with the United States. In fact, he probably had no idea the town was even honored in his name.
Why was the town settled? Was the town founded because of industry? Which ones?
The town’s first settlements were due to a sawmill that was constructed in the town that made it accessible by the St. Lawrence River for people from both Canada and the United States to use. However, the sawmill itself was on the banks of the Grasse River, still known in Massena today as just that. Franklin Hough’s book, A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, mentions that the first settlers and families began arriving in 1802. Familial names included Victory, Plumley, Bailey, Robinson, among many others. What’s fascinating is that many of these families that Hough lists still exist in Massena today.
What was there before the town? Who was given credit for settling the town?
Undesignated land, like many expansive areas of territory at the time, was what existed before Massena. This land stretched from the St. Lawrence River to the north and among the Grasse and Racquette Rivers that flow through the now existing town. Cattle owners in the surrounding areas used the land for grazing areas for their cattle and Mohawk Indians used a great portion of the land for hunting. In June of 1800, these cattle owners sent a petition to John Jay, the Governor, to halt the Indians from killing their animals that strayed onto Indian territory. Before that date in 1800, Massena was just referred to as “…the mile square seven miles from the mouth of the Grasse River…”. No specific credit is given to who settled the town, but rather I think it was these very cattle owners that wished to see defined lines of where their animals could go and where the Indians would hunt them down. At one point, Massena was almost renamed to Jefferson, Liberty, or Americus because Andre Massena began to lose very key battles, but there was already a place named Jefferson down state and these movements to change the name lost momentum over time.
The town of Massena is located in St. Lawrence County, New York. Conveniently located on the edge of the St. Lawrence River, Massena also borders Canada at the uppermost part of New York State.
How is the town governed?
Massena currently has a Mayor that works alongside the Town Clerk and the Police Chief. There is also a village board that holds weekly meetings to discuss matters of the town. These positions are elected by the residents of the town in yearly elections.
What kind of jobs are available?
During this time when the first settlers were making their way into town at the beginning of the 19th century, jobs available were surveyors for the land, construction jobs for roadways and buildings, sawmill positions, and logging jobs as well. Each job played an integral role in the establishment of Massena. There was also a blacksmith shop, copper shop, carriage shop, and wool mills and these jobs were predominantly run by men. Eventually butter-making became a chief source of income in Massena as farmers yielded the hay from the expansive fertile fields and bulked up on their sources of cattle and women would aid in the process.
Today, with my own knowledge of Massena as my hometown, its largest employer is the Alcoa Aluminum Plant, which is the oldest continuously operating aluminum production and fabricating facility in the western hemisphere. However, because of recession and other economic downturns, Alcoa’s size has been substantially depleted, but it still employs a wealth of people in the area.
What is the current population and how has it changed over time?
Nearly 16,000 people live in Massena today. Over course, over time this number has risen and fallen many times. With what began as very few people looking for a place to settle, grew through various projects that Massena is most well-known for, which are explained later. Booming businesses like General Motors and Alcoa and government projects, such as the St. Lawrence Seaway project, brought hefty populations to the towns, but most people have left since GM has left Massena, the Seaway Project was completed, and Alcoa is losing many of its positions. In the 1950s and 60s, Massena boasted a population of nearly 18,000 residents, during the time of the Seaway Project and other booming businesses of that era.
What are the annual events that take place, if any?
Massena does not have any common annual events that take place except for smaller festivals that are seasonal, but do not always operate every year due to weather restrictions. Some of these festivals include the Harvest Festival in October and the Winter Carnival in mid-winter around late January or February. The Harvest Festival highlights the beautiful fall foliage in the North Country and vendors line Main Street in Massena to sell handmade and homemade items to fellow residents. Kids are dancing and playing games along the street and the true beauty of a small-town event is evident. The Winter Carnival involves hockey tournaments and snowman building, among many other events, which are true North Country entities in the winter months.
What are the largest employers?
The largest employers are Alcoa and the New York Power Authority. Both businesses employ not only Massena residents, but also residents from the neighboring towns. These large corporations are explained later in this report.
In what way has the demographic of the village changed from its founding to now?
Massena was established as a very heavily male dominated society, but not boasts a relatively 50/50 ratio between men and women. There around 8,000 men and 9,000 women with a median age of around 40 years old. Due to the industrial revolution and the expansion of Massena through various well known construction projects, Massena’s male population was very high at one time, but has since evened out with the ability of women to do just as much as men in the workforce in the modern day which includes positions as ministers in churches, teachers in the local school districts, and hundreds of other jobs that are important to the community.
Massena is a predominantly white town with 94% of residents being white, 2.5% are Asian and the other 3.5% are from other races including African American, African Caribbean descent, and East Indian. Ancestral connections within Massena include French, Irish, American, Italian, French Canadian, and English.
What is the median income of its residents?
The median income in Massena is around $29,000 per household, while a family income is typically around $33,000. Males have a median income of $39,000 and females only have a median income of $15,000. 19% of the Massena population is below the poverty line, which is an unfortunate circumstance considering the hub of activity that Massena used to be.
What is the town’s claim to fame in terms of the history of work? What is the town’s claim to fame in general?
Massena’s most definite claim to fame was and still is the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway. It drew both inexpensive and reliable electric power out of the St. Lawrence River. The river is Massena’s greatest natural resource. The Pittsburgh Reduction Company drew workers from all over into Massena with the opening of its first industrial facility that would feed into the St. Lawrence Seaway project. The St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project, and what is now known as the Eisenhower locks for the shipping season, would be the first hydropower plant of the New York Power Authority. Overall, this is the town’s biggest claim to fame as the Seaway Project connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes through a system of lakes, rivers, channels, lock, and canals. These were constructed at the hands of workers that took years to complete. The St. Lawrence Seaway used to be farmland at one time, but was flooded to create the use of this shipping channel. The foundations of homes and roads can still be seen when flying above the St. Lawrence River, precious memories of the past. The location of the St. Lawrence River in comparison to Massena can be seen in the previous map above.
Suggested Readings and Websites
North Country Now Website - http://northcountrynow.com
North Country Now is a vital resource for news about what goes on in the North Country, both past and present. What I love about this website is that anyone can access the archives as well to research any history dating back to the beginnings of this website. I suggest this resource because North Country Now encompasses all the news in the North Country and gives a unique look into everything that we value as residents of the region.
Massena History Website - http://massena.us/173/History
This takes anyone right to the source of Massena town history and holds several links to connect with other resources. It highlights a great portion of what Massena should be proud of despite its downfalls. So many websites exist that exaggerate or don’t tell the whole truth, but this one is well maintained and sheds light on why anyone who’s from Massena should be proud to say that they are.
The Story of Massena written by Leonard H. Prince
This is a fantastic book and resource that sheds light directly on the history of Massena and how it came to be. I used this book to learn much more about my hometown than I ever thought possible and read from cover to cover to uncover some secrets about my town that I never knew existed. This book would be suggested for anyone that’s interested in the deeper history of Massena, New York. It highlights many of the features that made this town come about, some that still stand today.
A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York written by Franklin Hough
For the broader St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, this is an excellent history book that encompasses a great portion of the North Country. Some people forget how much of the Upper New York State region is the North Country and these two counties make up a great deal of the area. Hough’s lengthy research and details are the main reason why I suggest this resource to use, both as leisure reading and for research projects.
My name is Emily Hurlbut and I’m a native of Massena, New York. I grew up as lover of the outdoors where people could frequently find me trying to catch a frog in the nearest puddle or in my yard chasing my dog, Tucker, who is pictured in the above photo. I decided to remain close to home during my college years at St. Lawrence University, which is just a short 30-minute drive from the top of my driveway to the entrance of 23 Romoda Drive. As a member of the Class of 2019, I’m a History and Psychology double major using my liberal arts education to pursue other varying interests during my education. On campus, I’m a justice on the Student Judiciary Board, a member of my Class Council, and a member of the St. Lawrence University Career Services Student Advisory Board. I also work as a Fitness Center Attendant and usher at Men’s Hockey Games. If I’m not in class you can find me enjoying the outdoors on campus or at a St. Lawrence associated event; it’s very rare for me to sit still for any long period of time.
 “History of Massena, New York.” Accessed January 25, 2017.
 Leonard Prince, The Story of Massena, 1802-1952. (New York: Chamber of Commerce, 1952).
 Prince. The Story of Massena.
 Prince. The Story of Massena.
 Hough, Franklin B. “A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York” (Albany: Little & Co, 1853).
 Prince. The Story of Massena.
 Prince. The Story of Massena.
 “My Massena”. Accessed April 20, 2017.
 “My Massena.”
 “Massena, NY (13662) Profile.” Accessed April 20, 2017.
 Massena, NY (13662) Profile.
 Massena, NY (13662) Profile.
 “History of Massena, New York.”
City Data. “Massena, NY (13662) Profile”. Accessed April 20, 2017. http://www.city-data.com/city/Massena-New-York.html
Chamber of Commerce. “My Massena”. Accessed April 20, 2017. http://www.mymassena.com.
Hough, Franklin B. “A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York” Albany: Little & Co, 1853. Google Books Archive.
North Country Now. “Archives.” Accessed April 20, 2017. http://northcountrynow.com/news.
Prince, Leonard. The Story of Massena, 1802-1952. New York: Chamber of Commerce, 1952.
Singer, Natalia Rachel and Burdick, Neal, editors. Living North Country, Essays on Life and Landscapes in Northern New York. Utica: North Country Books, Inc., 2001.
Town of Massena. “History of Massena, New York.” Accessed January 25, 2017. http://massena.us/173/History.