December 2012

Our Towns: Moriah

When early settlers gave this hillside above Lake Champlain its weighty name—Moriah was the mountain range where God ordered Abraham to kill his son—it turned out to be a prophetic choice. Starting in the early 19th century, investors caught on to the fortune waiting below the mineral-rich ground, and many families would go on to sacrifice sons in its mines.

But those dangerous caverns were clustered around the nearby communities of Mineville and Port Henry. There were no shafts in the tiny hamlet of Moriah, also known as “the Corners.” Folks there relied on the wealth aboveground, cashing in on potash, lumber and maple sugar. The place was also home to the town post office, bustling shops and the grand Hotel Sherman. In 1907 an heir to the Witherbee, Sherman mining company, George D. Sherman, took over the family hotel, modernizing it with steam heat, electric lights and telephones in every room. His improvements didn’t stop there—Sherman redid the hamlet to match the grandeur of his neighboring estate, Idylhurst, adding sidewalks, municipal water and electricity, a new town hall and an opera house.

At least one person was unimpressed. In 1908 a malcontent left dynamite at Sherman’s door, blowing apart Idylhurst’s veranda. A few weeks later Sherman began to liquidate his properties at the Corners; by 1910 he was gone for good. Now not even a ghost remains of the prosperity he brought to the place. The area’s mills and mines have been shuttered for decades, leaving a post office surrounded by mostly empty storefronts and quiet streets. It’s the children tumbling around town that lifetime resident Kay Baker misses most. “The young people moved away,” the 86-year-old says. “They had to, to get work.”

You can find Moriah on Route 42, in Essex County.

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