The Tug Hill region is east of Lake Ontario, north of Oneida Lake, and west of the Adirondack Mountains, from which it is separated by the Black River Valley. It encompasses parts of Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, and Oswego Counties.
Although it has traditionally been known as the Tug Hill Plateau because its top is flat, it is actually a cuesta composed of sedimentary rocks that rising from about 350 feet on the west to over 2,000 feet on the east side.
Prior to European colonization, what was to become known as the Tug Hill region was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), especially the Onondaga and Oneida. These and other lands were seized from the Iroquois following the American Revolution.
The plateau’s highlands were used by the Haudenosaunee as seasonal hunting and fishing grounds; permanent settlements were located near surrounding wetlands, lakes, and rivers.
About four million acres in and around Tug Hill region were initially purchased by colonial land speculator William Constable in the 1700s, which in turn subdivided the land to sell to New Englanders and newly arrived European immigrants, mainly Irish.
Constable also set aside 10,500 acres for regional improvements, such as roads and canals, which spurred the development of much of Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and parts of Oswego, Herkimer and Franklin counties.
The nearby village, first settled in 1796 and originally known as Shalersville, eventually took on the name of Constableville. (Several generations of the Constable family lived at the Hall in ca. 1949 it was restored as a house museum.)
Inexpensive land, abundant timber resources and available farmland drove increased settlement in the region from 1820-1880. Expanding railroads and the completion of the Black River Canal in 1851 allowed for increased exports of food and timber products out of the region.
Dairy farming and timber-based industries flourished in the region throughout the late 1800s and around 1870, the region’s population peaked at 80,000.
The region’s rugged terrain, poor soils, and difficult winters eventually caused many inhabitants to abandon their farms and settlements by 1930.
The NYS Tug Hill Commission is a small, non-regulatory state agency charged with “helping local governments and citizens shape the future of the Tug Hill region.” The Tug Hill region includes 41 towns and 18 villages in portions of Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Oswego counties.
Illustrations, from above: Salmon River Falls at Tug Hill (photo courtesy Jen Harvill); and Constable Hall.