Sunday, January 24, 2021

Where is the north country?

I was thinking it might be fun to try a new discussion thread each week. To get the ball rolling I was digging through the Almanack archive and came across this post from 2013 titled “Where Exactly is the North Country?”, written by Herb Hallas.

In his essay, Hallas traces the origin of the term North Country back to “the author, Irving Bacheller, when his novel, Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country, became a literary sensation in 1900. Bacheller was born in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, NY in 1859 and graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1882. Two years later, he founded the first U.S. newspaper syndicate and introduced the writing of Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad to American readers. Bacheller retired from newspaper work in 1900 to concentrate on writing novels. Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country was his fourth novel and it became a runaway best seller.”

While Bacheller’s “North Country” referred to St. Lawrence County, Hallas cites five varying versions of what counties and places make up the North Country.

What are your thoughts? What comes to mind for you when hearing “North Country”? Does the North Country have a distinct identity apart from the Adirondacks or are the two forever linked together?

Image from NYS Empire State Development

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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and is currently digital editor for Adirondack Explorer, overseeing both the Explorer's website and its community forum the Adirondack Almanack. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and two cats.

56 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Melissa, my family started in Plattsburgh about 1860. As a child in the 1950’s I often heard my relatives speak of living in the North Country. They definitely included Clinton County.

  2. Bob Meyer says:

    I think commonly anything north of the Mohawk R an the Capital/ tri-cities is the North Country.
    Within that area the core areas of the Adirondacks and the Tug Hill plateau stand as the crown jewels of the Great North Woods.

    • Brian says:

      Sorry Bob. If you are from the North Country, those places are referred to as the South Woods!!! I think that time and mobility has changed the boundaries and moved them southward.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        The Great South Woods Is what Canadians call the Adirondacks. Historically the Northwoods refers to the northern lobe of New York State north of the Mohawk River. Mostly, this whole discussion is silly especially when you have some people saying that only the north slope of the Adirondacks towards the Saint Lawrence is the north country and other references from personal location.

        • Brian says:

          Sorry Bob. Local citizens, not Canadians.

          Welcome to Sunday Rock

          An Adirondack Landmark and Legend

          This glacial boulder, twice preserved by local citizens, marks the gateway to the “Great South Woods.” In the frontier days it was said there was no law or no Sunday beyond this point. May all who pass this way continue to enjoy the beauty of the mountains.

          Placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places – 2010

          • Bob Meyer says:

            Don’t be sorry. I have been to Sunday rock more than once and I am very familiar with it and it’s history. It actually proves my point that the great Southwoods was referenced by people who lived north of the Adirondacks. Just as the great Northwoods was and is referenced by people who live south of the Adirondacks so, essentially, that is north of the Mohawk River Valley. One can wrap it northwest around the Tug Hill plateau and northeast at the base of the Palmerston range in back of Saratoga and up to the south end of Lake George and Lake Champlain. That is what most people consider the North country and since it is not a legal boundary, it really boils down to general consensus. Either way, I love our camp in the Adirondacks and it’s definitely north country!

  3. Gary LEE says:

    Why are the northern parts of Herkimer and Warren Counties left out in the North Country map as they are as much a part of the North Country, more so than the area up along the St. Lawrence River Valley.

    • Bill Ott says:

      Gary, I agree 100%. Just bring up the Stillwater Inn webcam and tell me that is not North Country. I think Ms. Harts ball should roll along Rt 28 to include the towns of Old Forge and Eagle Bay. I do not live in the Adks, but they do live in me. Wikipedia’s North Country map seems to match the one above, the only exception being the capitalization of NC.

    • Holly Beaudry says:

      I don not agree with you about the thousand Island on the St. Lawrence River I live in Clayton NY in the North Country in the Thousands Island on the ST, Lawrence River. North of Clayton Is Canada ! .

  4. Craig says:

    I would say from where the Salmon River enters Lake Ontario across to Glens Falls.

  5. James Bullard says:

    When figuring out where the North Country is you need to ignore county lines. I’d say the line is from roughly where you have it over to Glens Falls with a bit of a sag in the middle.

  6. Brian Stewart says:

    Upstate is anything that isn’t downstate. From Chateaugay it all looks like downstate. Herb, who used to live here, would probably agree.

    • MPerry says:

      Upstate and North Country don’t mean the same thing

    • Steve B. says:

      It’s interesting that to a lot of downstaters, upstate is obvious, north of The Bronx. Many however who live north of the Bronx take issues with being considered as living “upstate”. Certainly folks living west of the imaginary line drawn between Binghamton and Syracuse do not consider themselves as “upstate’ers”, being instead “Western NY’ers”.

      As a downstater, I have no issue considering the North Country as north of a line from Oneida Lake to Saratoga Springs. The Adirondacks for all practical purposes, though the Adirondacks are only part of the North Country region, which to me, extends west to the St. Lawrence River and north to the Canadian Border, so partly out of the Adirondacks,

  7. Michael R Kennedy says:

    Mainly it’s the Adirondacks and it’s environs stretching from Lk. Champlain west to almost Lake Ontario and north to the Canadian border. The southern border is less defined. I would say northern Herkimer county fits into the north country.

  8. Zephyr says:

    For people living in New York City “North Country” is anything north of the Cuomo bridge! Frankly, I never really think of the term much, but instead think about the Adirondacks meaning anything inside the Blue Line. When I see those signs on the Northway I feel like I’m entering the north country.

    • Jeep says:

      Call it wherever you see fit, as us locals like to say, “come up, spend your money, then go home!”

    • Robert says:

      Anything North of NYC should be call the Country Side until you hit a city. Once you passed Albany (Central NY), you can now call it the North Country. 🙂

      • Steve B. says:

        There’s an official highway sign on the Major Deegan Expressway, also know as Interstate 87, somewhere near the NYC/Westchester border that states “Upstate”.

  9. MuttCat says:

    The map shown is sure looks like something created by the state promoters of tourism doesn’t it? Funny straight lines.

    Might be allied with the notion that there’s a Coumo bridge? I know of a Tappen Zee bridge….

  10. Balian the Cat says:

    I am not sure that I have a meaningful opinion on this and I assume most states/regions have some euphemistic area known as North Country – but the map is silly. Just visually, the finger of land that juts upwards – looks like Herkimer County? – makes no sense. How can there be “north country” that lies south of an area not considered as such?

  11. John Mizzoni says:

    Straight line from Saratoga to Syracuse, anything north of that you’re in the north country to me.

  12. Ken G says:

    I don’t think a “line” can be truly used to denote the region. Rather, I have always considered the North Country to be the general region of New York State North of and excluding Syracuse-Utica-Albany. With regards to the comments on Upstate/Downstate, i believe those terms only imply direction relative to where one happens to be sitting. Massena is Upstate of Potsdam, Newcomb is Downstate from Saranac Lake.

  13. Jonathan Knauth says:

    I’ll play. To me the North Country is distinct from the Adirondacks. It is more cultural than geographical, with the influence of Canada being the primary differentiator. I would include the original St. Lawrence County, add Lewis, Jefferson, Franklin, Clinton and Essex. If you hear a Canadian influence in the language of the locals, you are in the North Country. If you don’t, you are not. For this reason, I would exclude Herkimer and Hamilton counties. I live in Herkimer County, worked in Oneida, Lewis and Herkimer Counties, was educated in St. Lawrence County and enjoy recreation in the rest of the region. I don’t get to the Lake Champlain area very frequently, so if I missed some of it in my definition, you will know why. We get telemarketers calling trying to identify with us by saying something like “how are things in the North Country”? In Herkimer County, we just shake our heads hearing such things and promptly hang up.

  14. John Ryan says:

    Anything north of Lake George, Utica and the Adams area.

  15. Clay says:

    Having lived in the “North Country”, many southern NY residents do not know where that is. I would always say its just north of Syracuse. Oh you mean “Upstate”? No, north of Upstate, the North Country. If I said the 1000 Islands region they kind of got it. But Upstate to anyone living in the North Country is generally south of Syracuse like Albany.

  16. When I hear North Country I immediately think of my brother-in-law Brett Lawrence 4th generation guide from Keene Valley! One of a kind! Brilliant mind always ready to help his neighbors, loved the outdoors, his family esp his “Bride” Mary. Made me appreciate the North Country and taught me so much re the wildlife, respect for them and care of the environment RIP Brett

  17. Vanessa says:

    Well from when I was in college – northway exits past Glens Falls. When you started seeing signs for
    Lake George you were in the country, hence the North Country.

    I think the East-West demarcation is a lot less clear. I’ve found that it’s a reliable sign of whether you’re a part or full timer. Full time folks draw the line waaaay further west than summer vacationers. Again though, just anecdotal observation.

  18. Reuben Smith says:

    Most of these comments broadly include an area which I would call Northern New York, which of contains the North Country and the Adirondacks. The North Country is very roughly between the River–and the Border–and the Blue Line, but it has indistinct edges. It is flat and windswept and colder than a you know what in Winter. It is a lot of farmland, and a lot of that is going fallow. Not classically Adirondack, at all. If you have not done it, take a ride one day up to Fort Covington, or Nicholville (where I lived as a kid), or North Lawrence (where my mom grew up), or Rossi, and you will see this is an area with a different history, economy, and different prospects than other parts of Northern New York. I think it gets its own name. North Country.

    • Wayne Miller says:

      I agree with you and Brian Stewart…and Herb Hallas, may he rest in peace: there are the Adirondacks and there is the North Country. There is even an NGO that makes that distinction. ANCA ( A more encompassing term that befits the broader area that many are describing might be the oft used Northern New York. While this all may be just splitting hairs, it also points out that everything is relative and your view depends upon where you’re standing. For me, that’s looking at a horizon that includes the St. Lawrence River and the lights of Montreal and Ottawa.

  19. Barbara Scotto says:

    Wherever Bob Dylan says it is.

  20. Lsovie says:

    If your from the north country you know that everything above the blue line is true north country

  21. Technically the North Country is defined by 7 counties, Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence (source: Empire State Development Co), but in the end its going to depend on who you talk to and where they are from. I consider the North Country anything north of the Capital Region and Upstate (Syracuse) Region and that it is defined by the culture, as there are stark differences between those from the Capital Region and those elsewhere. I would probably go to the extreme of removing Watertown & Plattsburg from the area as they are connected to Mainstream Civilization via Interstate. You travel east from Watertown you enter a realm of vast nothingness, then you get near St. Lawrence where you have multiple small towns spread apart by roughly 30 miles, and once you get past Malone you again enter vast nothingness until Plattsburg. So I guess I’d call it the bottom of the St. Lawrence Valley, as the Adirondack Park is a totally different ballgame too.

  22. Lsovie says:

    North of state route 3

  23. Mark says:

    Where the girls are beautiful, the men are rugged, the landscape is a four season wonderland. Apples are plentiful, maple syrup runs as steady as the Saranac and on any given day you might see more wild turkeys than people. Alternating winter woodstove aromas and summer manure spreading are both signs of the labors of a hardy local. Wherever this is it sure beats the alterntives.

  24. Sue Kelly says:

    The Adirondacks are most assuredly a part of The North Country. To me, the southern boundary would be created by a line starting at Oswego, going east to end at Glens Falls. All parts of New York State above this line would encompass The North Country. Thank you for the article. (FYI – I was born and raised in St. Lawrence County).

  25. Todd Eastman says:

    Let the blackflies decide! ?

  26. Robert LeBlanc says:

    Hi Melissa,

    I agree with Mr. Holden, the North Country should be North. (Not central NY!)
    Too often I see Albany and Rochester listed but they should not. We live in the North and they are too South of us to be part of the “North Country” 😉

  27. Susan Mattison says:

    The Adirondacks are wonderful, but to me The North Country is north of the Adirondack Park. I would say north of Watertown, east to North of Plattsburg, north of the Blue Line, would be considered North Country.

  28. Lsovie says:

    Living on the Saint Lawrence river I would say wherever our high school buses would take us would take us to compete for high school sports would-be the North country

  29. Lsovie says:

    Section 10 Northern Athletic Conference

  30. DON LAFAVE says:


  31. Thomas Keating says:

    As a student at St. Lawrence University I had a poster on my wall – “New York City will not amount to much it is too far from the North Country.” There was a map with a star on The North Country. I think the poster was produced by The North Country Radio station? I would welcome that poster now!

  32. Thomas Hunt Williams says:

    By including Jefferson County on your map, you’ve also correctly included the major metropolises of Dingman’s Point and Schermerhorn’s Landing, just northeast of the megacity of Alexandria Bay.

  33. Michael Vaughan says:

    Recently, I heard a comment on North Country Public Radio, referring to the 10 Northern counties of NY. It also seems to coincide with the 21st district, at least after the 2010 redistricting.

  34. Bob Meyer says:

    Good sense of humor.

  35. Jim Fox says:

    Unfortunately county lines, the Adirondack Park boundary, zip codes, telephone area codes and exchanges, economic development and tourism regions, tv weather reports, election districts, and school districts do not coincide. Stillwater, in northern Herkimer Cnty is North Country, even though Empire State Development and I Love New York says we’re part of the Mohawk Valley, formerly Leatherstocking Country.

  36. Thomas Keating says:

    “The Adirondacks”, “The North Country” and “The St. Lawrence Valley” are physically unique areas that should be conserved. Upon leaving the Adirondacks I would always marvel at the beauty of the area around Canton, New York. In my time there (40 years ago) the area was full of rivers and the open fields. I hope future generations are able to enjoy these areas – regardless of their label.

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