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The Moriah Plank Road

Roads in early America were very poor, and here in the Adirondacks almost non-existing.  Of those that were many had their beginnings from the military roads built during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.   Later as the early settlers that began homesteading near these military sites, or along the connecting roads built to service these fortifications,  were fortunate in that they did not have to hew roads from the primitive forests.  As the settlements grew and economic activity increased, especially with the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823,  there was a need to improve these early rough cut-outs routes, and to build new ones, to accommodate the transportation of the abundant timber, ores from the Adirondack  mines and agricultural produce from the hinterlands to the shores of Lake Champlain for water borne transportation to new markets outside the region.

plank - military rd hm cp to ti

Early in the 1800s turnpikes and plank roads were two of the road designs to accommodate the growing interest to speed up the access into the Adirondacks.  Growth brought the need for regulation and by the late 1840s New York State enacted laws related to their construction and regulation.

plank hg burleigh

Henry G. Burleigh


In 1930, a book was discovered by men cleaning out an old paint mill on the west shore of Lake Champlain at Whitehall, NY.  This book was manufactured by “Hart and Jones” of Troy, NY.  It was 20 x 14 inches with covers made of heavy pressed cardboard.  The 889 pages, some unused, were made of rags and were snowy white in appearance.  On these pages were recorded in ink, the minutes and operations of the Moriah Plank Road Company.  The writing although in several different hands, was clear and legible, but of a somewhat old style.  It is supposed that this book found its way to the mill from the old office of Henry G. Burleigh, industrialist of Whitehall who had a connection to the Moriah Plank Road Company.

From this old ledger we would like to share some of its contents that we feel will have many points of interest to our readers.

“We, the undersigned severally subscribe the several sums set opposite our respective names toward the stock for the construction of a plank road from the vicinity of the ore beds in the Town of Moriah to a point near the shore of Lake Champlain:  George Sherman, $1,000; A.J. Rosseau, per J.B. Sherman, agent, $1,000.;  John A. Lee, $1,000.; N.S. Storrs, $250.; S.M. and J.G. Witherbee, $100.; J.B. Spencer, $100.; Cyrenus Reed, $50.; D.E. Sanford,  $50.; Willis E. Foster, $50.;  Reuben Whallon, $100.; A.B. Waldo, and L.P. Cheney, $50. — Dated August 30, 1850.”

The first public notice toward the formation of the company was published September 5, and read:  ” Plank Road Notice”.  Books for the subscription to the capital stock of a Plank Road company to construct a plank road in the Town of Moriah, Essex County, extending from the Ore Beds (‘the ore bed” former name of Mineville) in said Town to some point at or near Lake Champlain in the vicinity of Port Henry, are now opened at the store of S.M. and J. G. Witherbee in Port Henry, and will continue open until the 24th day of September instant on which day, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, there will be a meeting of subscribers to choose directors for said company at the store of S.M. and J.G. Witherbee. — Signed: J.B. Spencer, committee.

On September 24, as advertised, the subscribers met and their first official act was to name Reuben Whallon, chairman and Silas W. Witherbee , secretary.  A.B. Waldo suggested and later made a motion that the company be called the Moriah Plank Road Company.  S.M. Witherbee moved that the company extend for 30 years from September 24, 1850.  The motion was made by J.B. Spencer, that the capital stock of the company be $10,000., and that the company shall consist of 200 shares at $50, peer share.  John A. Lee moved that there be five directors and the first directors elected were: Reuben Whallon, Nathaniel S. Storrs, George Sherman, Silas M. Witherbee and John A. Lee.

At this same meeting, it was voted that the road commence in the vicinity of the New Bed, so called, situated in the Town of Moriah and terminate at or near the Pine Tree in the highway near the residence of James Donohue in Port Henry.  After this decision had been made, the next move was that the notice of application to the board of supervisors in Essex County for authority to lay out and construct this plank road and to take the real estate necessary for such purpose be published in the Westport Courier,