Common People Who are Anything but Common

May 15, 2023

It would be exceedingly easy to spout off random facts about the Town of Clinton (Churubusco), one of many small, rural towns in upstate New York, which happened to be at the highest point in the Rutland Railroad in its heyday. And which also happens to be the northernmost town in Clinton County. These, however, are just ordinary facts about an extraordinary town. As the proud historian of Churubusco and a lifelong citizen, I argue that what really makes the Town of Clinton so special is the resilience and work ethic of its citizens. Throughout its history, the Town of Clinton was formed on the backs of mainly French Canadian and Irish immigrants. For most of its existence it has been a primarily agrarian and laborer society. A place of common people who were anything but common in their accomplishments.

One great example of the town’s uniqueness is the Immaculate Heart of Mary church, formerly St. Philomena & St. Bridget’s Church. The 1888building of the church was an example of community effort at its finest. Local laborers mined native stone from the Campbell Road and farmers donated maple and cherry wood from their property for the interior of the church. Stained glass windows and trees for the front yard were also donated by local parishioners. The church was based on the architecture of churches in Ireland, and it was to stand out when compared to the places of worship in nearby towns. The design was a brainchild of Father Jeremiah Patrick Murphy, the area’s priest from 1880 to 1925 and a beloved member of the community. The population of the town was growing with the addition of the railroad in the late 19th century, and Father Murphy felt the community needed an official place of worship. His feelings were reciprocated in a town wide effort to construct the church. The church still stands today at the intersection of Clinton Mills and State Route189, reminding all of the strength of our community.

Another astonishing feat of this little town, about a century after the building of the church, was the renovation and repurposing of the Churubusco Union Free schoolhouse into senior housing. The project started in the 1980s with the death of a prominent and respected citizen, former Town Supervisor Hugh Cavanaugh. He was elderly and died alone in his home with little care. The event shocked the citizens of Churubusco and kicked off a community effort to take better care of the town's elderly population. The repurposing of the schoolhouse got off the ground in 1987 when federal grants were received, and bids were taken from members of the community to restore the large and at the time vacant building. Some key community members in the effort to create affordable housing for the town’s elderly were Churubusco Senior Citizens Corporation Chair Donna Premo, the Citizen’s Corporation Secretary and Town Historian Evelyn Watson, and Diane Lagree, an employee of JCEO Community Outreach. All three of these influential and determined women rallied the community around safe and affordable housing for the aging in Churubusco. In1988, they accepted the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award for their work with the Clinton County Senior Citizens Council. The Town of Clinton was the first rural town in New York State to undertake such an effort and because of this we made national headlines. The Schoolhouse apartments are located on State Route 189, right before the church on the opposite side of the road, and still provide low-cost community housing.

The Town of Clinton’s church and community housing are just two examples of what our small town has accomplished. Ours is a history of team work and problem solving. This is but a small piece of an extensive rural American story. 

Rebecca L. LeClair

Rebecca L. LeClair was born on December 6, 1993 to Churubusco natives Julie Parent LeClair and Patrick LeClair. She grew up in Churubusco and graduated from Northern Adirondack Central School in June of 2012. She studied history and museum studies at SUNY Plattsburgh and graduated with a Bachelor’s of the Arts in December of 2016. She is currently the Historian of the Town of Clinton and works full time in the guidance office at Northern Adirondack Central School.

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