The Darwin Exception

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The History of Malone: Civil War and Another Railroad

Posted by thedarwinexception on March 19, 2007

No, I didn’t update all weekend. I have some sort of stupid eye infection, and it’s driving me insane. I can’t see, it hurts and my eye is all dry and scratchy. I think it’s from overuse – I’ve been sewing and knitting like a fool all week. I’m almost done the little fur lined PJ’s – Yeah!

Anyway, let’s get on with the history of Malone.

Malone can look with pride upon the part its people played in the Civil War. Immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, a “war meeting” was held at the Congregational Church to set up recruiting plans. On May 6, 1861, a company had been formed and left for service. It was the first of several recruited here.

Historians record that some 600 Malone area men fought on the side of the Union and, of course, all but about 10% were volunteers. A “Branch Military Depot” as set up at the fairgrounds, where barracks were constructed and the old Floral Hall was converted into officers quarters. It was known as “Camp Franklin” and was a basic training ground for recruits.

As in the great wars that were to come later, Malone responded also with patriotic efforts on the home front. Women made surgical dressings, food was collected and sent to the men at the front. In one instance, Malone sent 25 barrels of poultry and home cooking to its fighting men at Thanksgiving time in 1864.

The confederate raid on three St. Albans banks on October 19, 1864, in which the raiders swooped down from Canada and escaped with $100,000 caused apprehension in Malone and two Home Guard units, one of infantry and one of cavalry were organized and vigilance was maintained.

It is apparent that there were homes in Malone which served as “stations” on the Underground railroad, the system by which escaped slaves were routed through the North into Canada. Older residents have recalled, transcribed and passed down stories of wagons lumbering over highways at night, concealing the fleeing slaves hiding under cargoes of hay and straw. In Malone, on Ft. Covington Road, the home of Underground Railroad station conductor Major Dimick still stands. It’s believed that Dimick hid fugitive slaves in a stone structure in the home’s basement.

In an effort to preserve many of the historic sites, Gov. George Pataki created the Underground Railroad Heritage Trail, which currently consists of 24 public sites associated with the anti-slavery movement.

Clinton, Franklin, and Essex counties are home to four of the heritage trail sites. The Plattsburgh First Presbyterian Church was the site of anti-slavery meetings, as was the First Congregational Church in Malone, located at the corner of Clay and Main Streets in the center of Malone, which has long been held by its members and by the community to have been a part of the Underground Railroad.

The current imposing church building was built in 1883 of blue limestone in the Romanesque style, and towers over the village of Malone. This building is actually the third church building of the Malone Congregational Church. The first building was completed in 1827 and dedicated in 1828. In 1851, that building was torn down and a brick building erected in its place. The “Brick Church” as it is known, was in the Federal Style and featured a large raised portico entrance covered by an extended, prominent pediment with five ionic columns. The brick church was built the same year the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, and was demolished in 1883 to make way for the current building. The basement of the current church is largely remnant of the earlier church building, and includes tunnels and a formerly concealed room under the old portico, which argue strongly for the presence of Underground Railroad activities. The records of the church also indicate the involvement of its members in the anti-slavery movement. William A. Wheeler, Vice-President of the United States 1877-1881, was a member of the Congregational Church and had been a member of the anti-slavery movement. In 1860, Wheeler was the featured speaker at a huge “Wide Awake Club” rally in Brush’s Mills (now Brushton), NY, wherein he attacked slavery in Kansas.  The Wide Awakes were a radical wing of the Republican Party, with a very strong anti-slavery platform.

After the Civil war ended, the peaceful existence of the Villagers was again disrupted – this time not by war, but by those fighting for a different cause. The Fenians came to Malone, and with them Malone became a planned jumping off point for their own war.


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