Monday, July 17, 2023

Historical marker recognizes 19th-century Adirondack Black farm settlement in Loon Lake

blacksville sign

On Sunday, August 6, a new historical marker will be unveiled at Loon Lake, Franklin County, to honor the settlement of Blacksville and its founder, Virginia-born Brooklyn newsman and Black rights activist, Willis Hodges. The public is invited to attend.

Awarded by the Pomeroy Foundation at the request of educator Curt Stager, this marker honors a forgotten chapter of Adirondack history with ties to the Black suffrage movement and abolitionist John Brown.

In 1848, Hodges and other Brooklyn and Manhattan pioneers moved to remote Loon Lake in south Franklin County. Hodges and several in his party were among 3,000 poor Black New Yorkers who received forty-acre gift lots in Franklin and Essex Counties from the radical New York philanthropist, Gerrit Smith, in 1846 and ’47. Smith hoped to promote a Black migration out of cities, and to ease access to the ballot for voteless Black New Yorkers who could not meet a for-Blacks-only $250 property requirement. Most of Smith’s “grantees” would not migrate. Moving to the wilderness was impractical and unaffordable. But Willis Hodges and others in his party remained for several years in the vicinity of Loon Lake, where Hodges was said to have sheltered and guided self-freed enslaved people making for the north.

The abolitionist John Brown, a good friend of Hodges, sent barrels of pork and flour to Blacksville and another Black settlement, Timbuctoo, when provisions ran perilously short. But Hodges’ autobiographical essay reflected no discouragement. “We find ourselves,” he wrote of Blacksville, “through the mercy of God and the goodness of the honorable Garret Smith, today ‘under our own vine and fig trees,’ with none to molest us or make us afraid.”

When in the early 1850s Hodges returned to Brooklyn, he resumed his suffrage work again. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he may have scouted for the Union Army in Virginia. In 1867 and 1868, he would be the best-known of the 24 Black delegates at Virginia’s first integrated Constitutional Convention.

No lasting relic or structure speaks for Blacksville today. “That’s why this sign is so important,” says Adirondack scholar Amy Godine, “It is a tangible reminder of a moment in Adirondack history when this wilderness stood for suffrage justice, Black economic self-sufficiency, and the hope of peaceful integration.”  At the 2 pm unveiling, commemorative remarks will be offered by Godine, Stager, and others, and at 3 pm in the Loon Lake Jewish Community Center, Godine will talk more about Willis Hodges, Adirondack farmer, activist, friend to the slave, public servant, and ally to John Brown.

Directions to the historical marker site: heading north from Loon Lake settlement on Rte. 26 (Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike) with the lake on the left (west), look on the left at Hodges Bay for two large stone boulders (after Bass Lake Road enters on the right), and park.

From this site to the Loon Lake Community Center: Head south from Hodges Bay towards route 3. After the intersection with Garden Road (on right), park at Blue Spruce Drive (on right) in lot. Loon Lake Jewish Center is across the street and up the driveway.

For more information, call Amy Godine, 518 788 8854.


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