Some time prior to 1798, Thomas Hinckley settled in what would become Lewis, establishing a forge in Stowersville and setting the pattern for development in this community. Other settlers trickled in from New England, primarily from Connecticut. In 1805, the growing community was separated from Willsborough and named Lewis, in honor of then Governor of New York, Morgan Lewis, a soldier, jurist, and a politician.
By the mid 19th century, 35 percent of the value of all manufactured goods in Lewis came from the iron industry. Evergreens were cut to fuel the forges that processed iron ore from Moriah. In time, the cleared land became subsistence farms, often with adjoining businesses such as blacksmithing or furniture making. Communities developed along the Platt Rogers road to Plattsburgh where waterways fueled the mills and forges.
Stowersville was the only community before 1845 whose growth was attributed primarily to the iron industry, but a settlement also developed at Deerhead where a rich vein was found, enough to fuel an iron ore separator. By 1860 the value of manufactured iron products reached $125,000 in Lewis, or 100% of the value of the town's manufactured goods.
The early signs of an established community, such as schools and churches, appeared in Lewis by the first half of the 19th century. Cyrus Comstock, "The Father of Churches in Essex County", settled here in 1819 and built the first Congregational Church. At the same time, the strongest of the pioneers, Joe Call, the Lewis Giant, moved here from Keeseville. Known as "The Paul Bunyan of the East" he made his living as a lumberman, justice of the peace, and store owner. Others made money by placing wagers on his wrestling matches and legendary feats of strength.
By the end of the 19th century, lumber was being processed into butter tubs and the Essex County Cheese and Butter Society was formed. The old industries: tanneries, mills, distilleries, and forges continued, and were joined by hotels and general stores. A library was started in the Congregational Church.
The 20th century saw the beginning of a loss in small enterprises as the small iron works disappeared. By the 1930's, electric power was available, water was piped to homes, and schools were consolidating, but the number of family farms became fewer.
Lewis received national attention through the suffragette activities of Inez Milholland of Meadowmount. Inez was one of the first women lawyers in New York State. She was active in the labor movement as well as the voting rights movement. She died in 1916 at the age of 30, never to see the passage of the 20th amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote. In 1924, a pageant in her honor "Forward into the Light" drew thousands to Meadowmount where she is buried. Thousands now are drawn to Meadowmount every summer for concerts by students from the world renown music school founded by Ivan Galamian.
Although the population was booming in 1850 compared to present day, the settlements still exist along the roads in Lewis. Cornwright Lumber continues to supply lumber, minerals in the form of wollastonite still come from the earth and much that is the community remains.
Area: 84 square miles
High point: Jay Mountain 3,600 feet
Principle waterway: North Branch of the Boquet River
Boundary changes: 1844, 1854
Town Hall: P.O. Box 59, Lewis, NY 12950, (518)873-6777
Population: 1850: 2,058, 2000: 1,200
Major industry: mining, lumber
Named for: Morgan Lewis, then NYS Governor