When the town filed application to be set off from Willsborough in 1797, it was known as Mallory's Bush for one of its earliest permanent settlers, Nathaniel Mallory. Settlements grew quickly along the river and on the plateaus. Lumber was plentiful, iron was available in the ground, and the soil was "vigorous and fertile". The hamlet of Jay was the first to be settled. It is here that Mallory built his forge. By 1812, Jay had a school, its own doctors, and a man on horseback who brought in the daily paper. Early forges, gristmills and sawmills, were constructed.
The earliest successful business was lumbering. Huge spars were taken from the Jay forests and dragged by oxen or floated on the river to Lake Champlain and sold to the English market in Canada for the war of 1812. By 1820 the lumber in the Upper Jay market was exhausted by commercial harvesting and settlers clearing land.
As lumbering flourished in the forests, industrial development was growing in AuSable Forks. In 1825, an entire town began to develop in AuSable Forks around the lumber and forging business. The brothers Rogers acquired ownership in 1836, and in 1864, bought Purmont's forge in Jay, the original Mallory's forge.
Jay has broad fields, and open vistas. The pastoral landscape was first developed as an iron ore processing community. The ore came from the Arnold Bed and the Palmer Hill mines. When the mining industry closed, the J.& J. Rogers company converted its machinery to process wood and pulp. AuSable Forks, where the two branches of the river converge, was a large and thriving community, but a one industry town. Though not at levels of the past, Jay continues to house one of the largest private employers in the county in the Ward Lumber Company.
The first image of Jay is often a view of the river running through the landscape. Out of the High Peaks the AuSable River tumbles through Keene, and is joined by numerous streams and freshets as it spreads itself out over the Jay fields. Early annual log drives scoured its bottom and cleared its banks. Now the river becomes wider and shallower each year. The river empties into Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh. It was once the principle highway and power source for the communities along its banks. Changing times and needs, the continuing problems of transportation and the opening of mines in the west, have all affected AuSable Forks industry.
The tremendous floods that wiped out all of the bridges at one time or another, still occur. Ice jams form at bends in the river. The jams release like a breaking dam, causing the river to pour through houses, over roads, carrying huge chunks of ice with it. In 1999 an entire section of AuSable Forks known as The Grove, was bought out with money from the Federal Emergency Management Act, due to the extensive flood damage. The river, which has had its role in the successes and disasters that have struck the town, demolished Jay's most unusual attraction, The Land of Make Believe. The theme park with miniature houses that illustrated specific professions, was situated on a curve in the river in Upper Jay. Floods tore away at the park, three floods in its last year of operation. Opened in 1954, it gave up its fight against the river and closed in 1980. Buildings by Arto Monaco, its talented designer, remain at Storytown and Santa's Workshop.
Area: 67 square miles
High point: Jay Mountain 3,300 feet at the Lewis, Elizabethtown, Jay corner
Principle waterway: AuSable River
Settled: 1796, Mallory
Boundary changes: 1808, 1822
Town Hall: P.O. Box 730, AuSable Forks, NY 12912 (518)647-2204
Population: 1850: 2,688, 2000: 2,306
Major industry: lumber, iron processing and mining, quarries.
Named for: John Jay, then Governor, later Chief Justice of the United States