Destination Essex

This past week I was intrigued as I heard news of local resident Lori Kelly Bailey and her script for the movie Mineville, so I decided to dive a little into the history of the Town of Moriah for myself. I had two great conversations, one with Town of Moriah/Village of Port Henry historian of 17 years, Joan Daby, and the other with Town of Moriah Supervisor, Thomas Scozzafava. The conversations each provided what I call a typically unique heritage for the area. Dabys family can be traced back to her Great-Grandfather, John Henry Williams, who came to the area from England in 1878 as a shoe-maker. One of his sons went on to become the town barber and the other worked in the blast furnace of Witherbee-Sherman. Working in the mines was a common occupation among Moriah residents. Ms. Dabys husband, Lester, worked the underground mines until 1948 and then for another 11 years on the surface. Scozzafava can trace his family back generations as well, his grandfather come to the area from Italy to settle in Moriah. Over the years, he helped many of the Italian immigrants find work in the mines. Growing up, his family spoke of the melting pot Moriah had become as immigrants settled in the area from the late 1700s through the 1800s. When the mills shut down for summer vacation in July of 1971, life as the Scozzafava family had known it was over. Scozzafava recalls the time former Senator Ron Stafford told him, the worst phone call I ever received in office was the day they called and told me the mines had closed down and 600 people were out of work. Unlike most communities, that would crumble under a hit like that, Moriah persevered and Scozzafava remembers, there wasnt a mass exudus like you would think. Families stayed and the 4th and 5th generations of immigrants from all over the world build homes here. Though the town lost its industry it didnt lose its families. Today in Moriah, most people work outside the community, but the history of the township and its people is not forgotten. Although you can find out a lot through a conversation with a long-time resident, more can be found through two organizations the community boasts: the Town of Moriah Historical Society or the Iron Center (The latter being where Ms Daby first met Lori Kelly Bailey a few years ago as she looked for photos while formulating her script idea). From the beginning of my research on this article, I have learned a great deal about the town of Moriah and its four hamlets, each having a unique history of their own. Long ago, many nationalities came from other countries to improve their way of life. Even though the work was hard and sometimes dangerous, they were able to find work to sustain their families in Moriah. As the years went by some stayed and some moved but still today descendants of this great region come back and embrace their roots. Former Senator Stafford once said something to the effect of, the roots of Moriah grow far and wide. Lets embrace that sentiment and take this opportunity to appreciate how far we have come. I applaud the tireless effort of community volunteers that had the foresight to maintain such vast historical content and wish the very best for Lori Kelly Bailey as she attempts to bring well deserved recognition and a sense of pride to the many families, both past and present that have made Moriah the place it is today. Chris Ward is the communications manager at the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau and can be reached at chris@lakeplacid.com.

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