The earliest history of Westport relates to Essex County's early settler William Gilliland, as two of his patents were located in Westport. He christened the area Bessboro, in honor of his wife, Elizabeth. It is believed that an early settlement, developed by his brother-in-law existed there, but all signs of it were obliterated by the Revolution.
The town was not settled again until 1804 when Charles Hatch made his way to North West Bay from Elizabethtown. It took four men two days to hack their way through the eight miles of forest between Elizabethtown and the bay.
It was known as Westport in 1815 when the town separated from Elizabethtown. The early character of the town is evidenced by a vote at the first town meeting "to raise double the sum allowed by the State for the support of common schools" and "to raise twenty dollars for the support of the poor". By then, there existed a considerable settlement, with grist, saw and pulp mills, as well as stores, taverns, a tannery and a cloth factory.
The Westport Pulp Mill Company operated as a saw mill, lathe mill, spool factory, shingle, and grist mill in the last quarter of the 19th century. At that time Westport village had numerous general merchandise stores, hardware stores, tailors, shoe and drug stores.
The iron industry in Westport was based on three beds of ore, the Campbell bed, which became the Norway bed, the Merriam bed and the Jackson bed. Jackson built the Sisco furnace, at a cost of $100,000, which in 1840 was by far the most expensive and technologically advanced furnace of its day. None of these operations were particularly profitable or lasted very long.
Westport's medicinal springs, located a half mile west of the lake, were celebrated during the mid 19th century for their miraculous power in healing disease. Today, they lie abandoned.
Westport remains the location for the Essex County Fair. The early fairs alternated between Elizabethtown and Westport, but soon settled in Westport. The fairgrounds, the exhibition buildings and the trotting track are still in use today. They can be seen most clearly from the railroad station which is home to the Depot Theatre and the Amtrak station. The Westport Hotel is just below the tracks as is the Champlain Valley Milling Co. The centralized school is just down the road from the fairgrounds. These enterprises form a nucleus on the outskirts of the village.
Camp Dudley traces its roots to 1885 when Sumner F. Dudley established a camp on Orange Lake. For the next five summers, Dudley took his campers to Wawayanda Lake near Warwick. In 1891, the camp moved to its present Westport location on Lake Champlain. Dudley is the oldest, continuously run YMCA camp and is as vigorous as ever going into the 21st century.
Wadhams Mills takes its name from the Wadhams family who, as early as 1825, began constructing mills at this location. "The Falls" as they continue to be known, supplied the water power that was the incentive for the settlement. The water power continues to be utilized today, producing electricity sold to power companies. Just below the falls is an area known locally as the "Old Indian Burying Ground" for the number of arrowheads found there. Long before the settlers' rafts, ferries, canal boats and steamships travelled the lake and streams, the Native Americans used the waterways as a thoroughfare.
Split Rock Mountain on Lake Champlain, one of the most striking physical features on the Lake, is shared by Westport and Essex. Its rattlesnakes are as well known as its topography, as the snakes are reported nowhere else in the county.
Area: 68 square miles
High point: Moore Mountain 1,841 feet
Principle waterways: Black River, Boquet River
Settled: 1804, Charles Hatch
Town Hall: 22 Champlain St., Westport, NY 12993 (518)962-4419
Population: 1850: 2,352, 2000: 1,362
Major industry: shipping, lumber, iron ore, medicinal springs, tourism