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     A Brief History of Massena, New York

Situated along the St. Lawrence River and the border between the United States and Canada, Massena, New York is the gateway to "America’s Fourth
Coast." Eisenhower and Snell Locks in Massena, the only American-owned shipping locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway, were built in the late 1950's and are a vital link to the uppermost portion of the river and the five Great Lakes which create the "Fourth Coast." Each year, thousands of visitors climb to the observation deck at Eisenhower Lock to enjoy the view as ships pass by and to extend friendly greetings to crews from nations around the world.

Just a mile away, the incredible force of the St. Lawrence River spins the giant turbines that generate millions of kilowatts of cheap and clean hydroelectricity each year at the New York Power Authority’s St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. Built at the same time as the Seaway, the Power Authority facilities also house a large visitors center with displays on the history and development of region and the giant hydro facilities. Massena is also home to major manufacturing plants at Alcoa, Reynolds Metals and General Motors Power Train. Friendly and accommodating merchants offer a large variety of shopping opportunities at the St. Lawrence Centre Mall, an adjoining strip mall, Wal-Mart and BJ’s Wholesale Club, the nearby Harte-Haven shopping plaza and a host of specialty shops throughout Massena’s downtown business district.

History of Massena, NY

Massena, N.Y. was one of the first four towns created upon formation of St. Lawrence County in 1802.  The town was named for Marshal André Massena, a French military figure who was considered to be one of the greatest of all marshals under Napoleon Bonaparte.  He was born into a poor family in Nice, France in 1758 and rose through the ranks of the French military.  While he never set foot in the United States, his notoriety among Northern New Yorkers was at its height when the town was being formed.



"Historic Massena" Photo Collection 
Bicentennial photo project compiled by Massena High School students provides a broad look at Massena's 200-year history.  To see the collection, click here.

In 1811, after British General Arthur Wellington defeated the French leading to Napoleon’s demise and exile, Massena residents petitioned to have their town’s name changed to "Jefferson" in honor of popular U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.  The request was rejected because another town in New York State already bore the name.  Waves of patriotism inspired Massenans to pursue the names "Americus" and "Liberty," but the efforts became mired in a long bureaucratic process and lost all momentum.

At one time, the early white settlers called Massena "the Orphan Town."  When formed in 1802, the town included a large block of unofficial survey towns from the St. Lawrence River to present-day Star Lake.  Town residents felt Massena had been orphaned after six other towns had been removed from it.  The nearby Mohawk Indians called the Massena settlement "Nikentsiake," which meant "where the fish live."

Massena was a lightly-populated "Settlement in the Tall Pines" in the 1800's, but then became St. Lawrence Co.’s industrial center in the 20th century.  The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), Reynolds Metals and General Motors each established plants and thousands of jobs, while utilizing the available low-cost hydropower generated along the Raquette, Grasse and St. Lawrence Rivers.  The rechanneling of the St. Lawrence River in the 1950's accommodated the construction of the giant St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Projects.

Among Massena’s most famous visitors have been several U.S. presidents. Among them, Theodore Roosevelt soaked in the "medicinal healing power" of Massena’s sulphur springs. In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was present for the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the shipping lock named to pay tribute to his leadership in the project. Famous artist Norman Rockwell spent several summers vacationing and painting in the Massena area.

Two memorable events caused by the "forces of nature" include the sizeable earthquake that caused an estimated one million dollars in damage in the Massena area in September 1944, and the January 1998 ice storm that devastated all of northern New York and parts of southeastern Canada with freezing rain that lasted for several straight days.