WADDINGTON — Sweat equity, public spirit and material gains are creating a new sense of vision and direction for the community’s rich history.

That history includes links to the nation’s founding fathers, and to recently re-discovered treasures about Waddington’s story, such as when it was forever altered by the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“It’s a testament to the fact of what happens when people work together and decide to use their talents,” said Mayor Michael J. Zagrobelny. “There’s a renewed sense of cooperation between the town and village.”

The material gains — the donation of one of the state’s oldest churches to the village, and the village’s sale of a home that once housed a private museum containing items unseen for years — are also helping to fuel the renewed interest in history, with a goal of constructing a separate museum to house historic artifacts and materials.

Meanwhile, the Waddington Museum Board has a board of directors with members ranging in age from the mid-80s, Ruth S. Brady, to 16-year-old Molly Bogart, daughter of village residents Toby and Patty Bogart.

“I just love learning about history — global history and U.S.,” said Molly, a junior at Madrid-Waddington Central School. “I’d love to pursue a career as a museum curator and go to college for history.”

Since the middle of August, the Waddington Historical Association “has been able to organize, appoint a board and officers, create a logo, a mission and vision statement, start the application process to become a nonprofit, conduct three fundraisers, start a membership drive, investigate the oral history process, and help move the Moore House collection to the town hall,” association president Mary (Badlam) Hamilton said.

That, she said, “points to the enthusiasm of our members and the support of the community.”

Longtime village resident Russel B. Strait, who has had a deep interest in village and town history, is impressed by the latest, revitalized efforts.

Newly formed Historical Association generates enthusiasm

Above is a section of a diorama of the St. Lawrence Seaway project made by Madrid-Waddington Central high school students 32 years ago. It was recently rediscovered, and is on display at the Waddington Town Hall. Waddington Museum and Historical Association/Facebook

“The effort is phenomenal because they have the time and ability to research the information, which has been collected over the years and then use social media to disseminate that information, which is very interesting,” he said.

Mr. Strait recalled standing as a child along the shoreline as crews dug out the channel for the Seaway, and witnessing workers demolishing a beloved mansion on Ogden Island, directly across from the village. The mansion was built in 1804 by the Ogden family, village founders, who had ties to the nation’s founding fathers.

Newly formed Historical Association generates enthusiasm

This model of a room in the Island House on Ogden Island in Waddington as it appeared in the 1880s on display at the Waddington Town Hall was built by Larry Bergeron several years ago. Photo courtesy Mary Hamilton

The flooding of the Seaway also resulted in the need to move the Ogden cemetery on the island. Remains were placed in the Ogden vault in old Brookside Cemetery, but grave stones were placed beside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the village. The Ogdens were instrumental in bringing the church, built in 1818 and now the oldest church north of the Mohawk Valley, to the village.

The “island house” has been a subject of village lore for decades. Along the shoreline, across the parking lot from the intersection of St. Lawrence Avenue and Clinton Street, a historical marker reads: “Ogden Island Mansion stood directly opposite for 150 years. Removed 1957. Home of Ogdens who planned settlement of area before 1800.”

The house and 156 acres remained in the Ogden name until 1880. It was later purchased by Ebeneezer S. Crapser, with land becoming the Crapser island farm.

Access to the island before the Seaway was by a causeway, beginning at the end of Maple Street. The island wasn’t entirely submerged by the Seaway, but nearby islands were. The Seaway opened in the spring of 1959.

A few months ago, blueprints for the mansion were discovered at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association in boxes of materials collected by former Waddington Historian Ethel Olds and donated to the Waddington Historical Association after she died.

“That was like Christmas,” said Waddington Historian Katherine (Badlam) Putney, sister of the association president. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Mrs. Hamilton said that Seaway officials, before the mansion was taken down, had draftsmen draw up a blueprint of all five levels of the building.

Verbal recollections of the mansion are valuable, Mrs. Hamilton said, but to have something tangible is a special treasure.

“People can tell you a little bit about the rooms, but they really can’t tell you all about it,” she said. “Now we have a blueprint of what it looked like; rooms inside and all that.”

Church donated

Those blueprints may prove valuable for another project the village is eyeing. Earlier this year, the Episcopalian diocese overseeing historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Lincoln Avenue, donated the church and two buildings on the property to the village.

Newly formed Historical Association generates enthusiasm

Historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waddington has been donated to the village. / Watertown Daily Times

On Aug. 22, 1818, the Right Rev. John Henry Hobart, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, dedicated and consecrated St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with 500 people in attendance. It was founded from Trinity Wall Street Church in New York City, which had ties to the Ogdens.

According to Times files, as early as 1812, David A. Ogden, a onetime associate of Alexander Hamilton, made applications to the New York City Episcopal parish for establishing a church in the village, then known as Hamilton. But construction wasn’t started until 1816, likely due to interference from the War of 1812. The church was built with walls 3 feet thick.

“It’s a shame they lost their parish,” Mr. Zagrobelny said. “It’s very generous of the diocese to donate it to the village, but at the same time, it’s a great commitment by the village board and by the Historical Association to say, ‘This is a task, and we’ll be good stewards of the building.’”

The church property the village took ownership of consists of the church itself, an attached rectory and the “new rectory,” which is a house next door.

The old rectory attached to the church is in bad shape and will be torn down. The “new rectory” building will be sold by the village. Those funds could help to construct a museum, tentatively being eyed on the property of the church.

Historic artifacts and related displays are now in the basement of the town hall at the corner of Main Street, a historic stone building built by Isaac Johnson in 1884. Mr. Johnson was an escaped slave who fought in the Civil War.

“It’s been the goal of the village to find a more suitable museum site,” Mr. Zagrobelny said. “At this point, the tentative plans are to build a new structure on the St. Paul’s property, so that when we raze the old rectory, there’s room there to put in a new building, adjacent, not connected to the church.”

Mrs. Putney added: “The plan is to tear that down and build a new facility with some of the characteristics of the Ogden house, if possible, once we start working with an architect.”

Mr. Zagrobelny said the village is the recipient of a St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency grant.

“We’ll be able to utilize that for some of the building,” he said.

“The process of turning the church property over to the village has started but it’s not yet complete,” Mrs. Hamilton said. “Hopefully sometime in the next month or two.”

Newly formed Historical Association generates enthusiasm

The Waddington Museum has a tribute corner to Issac Johnson, master builder, Civil War veteran, author and Waddington resident from 1844-1905. He was responsible for building the Waddington Town Hall and the Chamberlain Corners bridge among other structures. Issac liked to whittle in his spare time and made this chair for the 5-year-old daughter of a tavern owner he knew while living and working across the river in Canada. Photo courtesy Mary Hamilton

Another possible funding source for a new museum was the sale of the Moore House, a private museum on Main Street that housed many rarely seen historic artifacts. Its owner died a few years ago and the museum dissolved.

“In the charter documents for the museum itself, it said upon dissolution of the Moore museum, all of their assets went to the village,” Mr. Zagrobelny said. “We have a pending sale. It’s with the attorneys now.”

The historical items in the house have been removed. Many of those items are now at the historic town hall for all to see.

“It bothered me over the years that the Moore museum was there but never open to the public,” said Mrs. Putney, who was hired as town and village historian at the beginning of this year.

One of those items rediscovered in the old museum is a diorama produced in 1989 as part of the 150th celebration of the incorporation of the village. It was created by the Madrid-Waddington advanced shop class under the leadership of Jeffrey Buckingham with support and encouragement of the Waddington Homecoming Committee. Its topic is the Seaway project.

“It hasn’t been seen in 15-16 years,” Mrs. Putney said. “The people who came to see it over the summer were astonished. They’d go, ‘High school kids made this?’”

Connection to founders

In addition to a variety of ages, the renewed interest in local history is also being fueled by transplants to the village.

In 2008, Barbara “Bobbie” Davis, a native of Long Island, and her husband, Harry, a native of New York City, stayed for the summer in the village after an acquaintance moved to Waddington and told them about the community. They were so smitten by Waddington that they purchased a historic home on St. Lawrence Avenue, where they reside in the warmer months.

“I became fascinated when I began researching the history of our house and found out that our property was originally owned by David Ogden,” she said. “My dad was an amateur historian. He taught me that the best way to find actual facts is in cemeteries. So I found all the original owners of our house and the founding fathers of Waddington in the cemetery.”

Mr. Ogden, a member of the 15th Congress from 1817 to 1819, was, with his two brothers, a developer of huge land tracts in Northern New York. He died in 1829 at the age of 59. His remains are at old Brookside.

In October, Mrs. Davis hosted a cemetery tour of old Brookside Cemetery that attracted several people.

“I knew that (David) Ogden had been at Alexander Hamilton’s death bed and had published several letters about that in the New York Post,” Mrs. Davis said.

Mrs. Davis also realized a local connection to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the first native-born American to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. She was also the founder of the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious society.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Davis presented a video she produced on the life of Saint Elizabeth at an association event. It can be found on the Waddington Museum and Historical Association Facebook page.

According to the Seton Shrine, Elizabeth A. Bayley married William M. Seton, a wealthy businessman with whom she had five children. They were active members of Trinity Church in New York City.

“When William Seton Sr. died in 1798, Elizabeth and Will took on the responsibility of raising Willi’s younger siblings,” Mrs. Davis explains in the video. “One of those was Charlotte Seton, who would eventually marry Gouverneur Ogden, David’s brother, in 1806.”

William Jr. died of tuberculosis in 1803. His wife later fell in love with Catholicism and converted.

Some of her Ogden relatives also converted, which angered other family members. Those relatives joined Elizabeth in Maryland, where she founded her charitable foundation. Charlotte and Gouverneur never forgave Elizabeth, Mrs. Davis said. At St. Paul’s Church in Waddington, there’s a stained glass window in memory of Charlotte and Gouverneur.

The church was built with second-floor side galleries that allowed as many as 400 people to occupy the building for a service. In 1880, the side galleries were removed, permitting the installation of the present glass windows. The original windows were plain glass and had a wooden support across the center where the side galleries crossed the windows.

Loyal to name

Waddington itself is named after a British Loyalist.

“Waddington was originally called Hamilton by the Ogden family when they founded the town,” Mrs. Davis said.

It was named after Joshua Waddington, a British-American who was one of the founders of the Bank of New York. He also married an Ogden. The village’s name was changed because there was already a Hamilton in New York, in Madison County.

“Joshua Waddington was a Loyalist and a Royalist,” Mrs. Davis said. “He stayed in New York City after the British ran the patriots out of the city and he took over properties and made money off those properties. One of those was a brewery. It has been owned by a patriot who was killed in the war. The widow came to try to sue him, but part of the agreement with the British was that we would not punish the Loyalists for any of the money they made in any cities they were forced to evacuate.”

In 1783, the New York Legislature enacted the Trespass Act, which stripped Loyalists of their property and privileges and gave patriots the legal right to sue those who profited from what was left behind British lines during the war.

The widow’s case was known as Rutgers v. Waddington. One of those who litigated for Mr. Waddington was Alexander Hamilton.

‘renewed interest’

The interest in local history, Mrs. Hamilton said, seems to go in increments.

“Thirty years ago, when we had the 150th anniversary, people were into history,” she said. “There’s a renewed interest with the new generation that’s come along.”

Mr. Zagrobelny believes part of the success of the latest effort is the Facebook page of the Waddington Museum and Historical Association. Much of the site reflects the research that Mrs. Hamilton shares. She often reprints newspaper articles about the village, with topics ranging from the opening of Riverlanes bowling alley in 1960, to the mid-19th century ferry service between Waddington and Morrisburg, Ontario.

Each of the posts create several responses.

“When we picture, ‘What does everybody want to get out of Facebook,’ where politics is taken out and community brought in, that’s what is happening. And it’s great to see folks from all over the country and parts of the world jumping on those posts to say, ‘I remember that’ or to add a little detail,” Mr. Zagrobelny said.

On Nov. 26, Eve Roda Vardanega posted on the site:

“Many years ago, my husband had his first trip with me to Waddington during Homecoming. While standing near the Town Hall and enjoying the pet show, he looked at me and said, ‘This is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.’”

It turns out, from a recent discovery, Norman Rockwell once visited Waddington. Last month, someone donated to the museum a poster depicting the Allison Island Club, located on an island off the village and on one of the many nearby islands taken by the Seaway. It had its heyday in the 1920s. Mrs. Hamilton found an article from the Ogdensburg Republican-Journal from July 3, 1925, that introduced the club. Part of the article reads:

“An enjoyable dinner dance was held at the Allison Island Club on Monday evening in honor of Norman Rockwell, a well-know artist of the Saturday Evening Post, who has been vacationing at the Club.”

Mr. Rockwell, who created hundreds of covers for the Saturday Evening Post, also had a summer home at Louisville Landing.

“The more information community residents have about their town’s history, the more they understand the importance of preserving that heritage,” Mrs. Hamilton said. “The Waddington Historical Association is there to support the Waddington historian and museum and help organize the historical collection so it is more readily available to the public.”

Mr. Zagrobelny believes that wherever that collection ends up, it will have community support to sustain it.

“Another thing that’s remarkable about Waddington is the people who come out to help and the in-kind donations that just happens because somebody has a particular skill or business and they say they want to help out,” he said. “I anticipate some of that will happen.”

Among goals of the Waddington Historical Association:

- Form a junior chapter of the association.

- Bring back the walking tour around the village.

- Look at expanding the historic district within the village.

- Fund restoration projects on the acquired St. Paul’s Church. The church building itself could host association events.

- Bring back the “Study Club” that was part of Waddington’s history from 1887 to 1979.

- Raise funds for a series of historic plaques to be placed along the waterfront path to tell the story in words and historic photographs of the early history of Waddington before the St. Lawrence Seaway project.

- Complete an oral history project that helps capture the stories of older community members and their earliest memories of growing up in Waddington.

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