Chesterfield was formed in 1802 by partition from Willsborough. Lake Champlain forms its easternmost boundary, while the AuSable River marks the north western edge of the town. The town was well situated geographically to be a major transportation center during the counties first century.
According to the centennial address of N.C. Boynton, Algonquin Indians had an established village at Alice Falls, above the chasm on the AuSable River, and on Auger Lake. From these base camps, the Algonquins hunted throughout the Adirondacks. Their presence, said Boynton, slowed settlement to the area. It is believed that Chesterfield was named by early settlers in honor of their former New England homes, as the bulk of early Essex County settlers came from New England.
The AuSable River drops precipitously through its final stretch in Chesterfield creating locations for power dams at Anderson Falls in Keeseville, just above the AuSable Chasm. Manufacturing began in 1808 with a carding and fulling plant taking advantage of the first dam on the river. By 1816, the manufacture of nails, soon to be Keeseville's principal industry, had begun. It was here that the first machine in the United States for making cut nails with heads on them was developed and patented. Despite setbacks of periodic floods and fires, production of secondary products of the iron ore industry grew in 1800's Keeseville. It's historic district contains many of the buildings that were built during the town's early industrial heyday.
The AuSable Chasm was bridged in 1793 as a part of the government's construction of the Great Northern Turnpike, giving Chesterfield an early transportation advantage. Three ports developed along the lake, Port Kent, Port Kendall and Port Douglas. Access to the lake meant Chesterfield was a stop on the busy waterway linking Canada with Albany. Roads were built linking the three lake ports and farms developed along those roads. Elkanah Watson, an early Port Kent settler believed the town would become the principle city on Lake Champlain. But as rail transport gradually replaced water travel, the importance of the lake towns faded to the point where Port Kendall is no longer shown on the map.
Chesterfield lacks the abundant farming lands of other Essex County lake towns, but is rich in bogs and marshes which provide valuable habitat for rabbit, pheasant, and song birds. In the 1990's, moose were sometimes spotted in the town. The watery areas also shelter a number of rare and endangered plant species.
The old state road passed centrally through Chesterfield and settlements sprang up along the route at Augur Lake and Butternut Pond. Bosworth's Tavern, built around 1800, was one of the first hostelries to serve the growing traffic on this highway.
In 1998, the town was seriously damaged by the great January ice storm. Areas damaged at the Chasm were quickly restored and continue to draw people to the town, as do the campgrounds, the fishing and the historic district in Keeseville. The ferry from Port Kent to Burlington is a busy tourist throughway from late spring to early fall. The AuSable River is famous for the many unique and historic bridges which span its waters from Keene Valley through Keeseville to Plattsburgh and on to the lake. The floods and ice jams of the AuSable River plague today's inhabitants as they did their ancestors. The recently organized AuSable River Association is working on erosion and ice jam control as well as fish habitat issues affecting the river.
Area: 105 square miles
High point: Bitch Mountain 2,500 feet
Principle waterway: AuSable River
Town Hall: P.O. Box 456, Keeseville, NY 12944 (518)834-9042
Population: 1850: 4,171, 2000: 2,409
Major industry: Shipping, Manufacturing, Tourism
Named for: Since many of the town's early settlers were from New England, the town name may reflect other towns in New England. There is a Chester and a Chesterfield in Massachusetts.