Ever wonder why there is a salmon on the Clinton County seal?

May 15, 2023

Ever wonder why there is a salmon on the Clinton County seal? Why was the Salmon River called the Salmon River? It turns out that in the very early days of French and English settlement of the North Country, you could take a cart, go to a stream, fill it with salmon and driveaway.

In the 1760s, the surveyors of the area noted that streams were well-stocked with salmon. In 1787, even though salmon were still abundant in Lake Champlain, Zephaniah Platt worried about whether salmon were getting around the dams on the rivers and how many were caught, an early concern for the future of the salmon in our rivers. Other historians wrote that early settlers of the Town of Champlain lived in rude huts and subsisted mainly on salmon caught from the river.

The reminiscences of Andrew Colvin recorded in Hurd’s, “History of Clinton and Franklin Counties” of 1880 state - "There were formerly numerous salmon in the Ausable. I have been down to the foot of the falls at the head of the chasm many times and speared them nights by the light of fat-pine fires. We used to fill an iron beetle-ring with fat-pine sticks and carry it lighted on the end a long pole, by means which we could seethe salmon, which looked like shadows as they lay at the bottom in about four feet of water. There was a cleft in the rocks, which was called the flume, that used to be full of them. We would wade in barefoot and drive the spear into them and hold them down to the rock until they were done struggling, and then bring them up, holding them carefully against the current. Sometimes they would struggle so as to almost take me off my feet. The largest I ever speared weighed 16pounds, and the smallest 3 pounds. . . They would commence to run up Lake Champlain about the 1st of May; about the 1st June they would appear in the Saranac, and the first of July in the Ausable. I have seen many of them speared off the bridge in Plattsburgh village. . . I never knew of their being caught with hooks. They are a very powerful fish and could run up any waterfall which did not break. . . About 1826, impure water caused by the saw-mills drove them away."

Since the early 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, universities, and other members of the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative have been working to restore land-locked Atlantic salmon in Lake Champlain. Anglers, educators, activists, and policy makers also have worked to bring this native species back to Lake Champlain.

2019 was the International Year of the Salmon and locally the Lake Champlain Basin Program and partners promoted the year, encouraging the awareness and revitalization of these fish in the lake.  A story of the year with videos can be found HERE.

In a quote from theLake Champlain Basin Program’s press release: “colonial-era reports share stories of horses refusing to crosssalmon-clogged streams and of soldiers harvesting the spawning fish withpitchforks,” and “by the mid-1800s, the fish were gone, victims ofdams that blocked access to spawning areas, habitat destruction, and otherhuman pressures.”

And one concluding factoid, according to ThreeCenturies in the Champlain Valley written by Jeanette Tuttle, the original nameof the Salmon River was the Cragen River, and the original name of the LittleAusable River was the Beaver River.  Whooriginally named these rivers remains another County history mystery?

Helen Allen Nerska

Helen Allen Nerska is Director of the Clinton County Historical Association and Museum and historian for the Town of Peru. She is the editor and author of the Clinton County Suffrage Story and speaks regularly on local history topics. She is also the editor of the Heritage Corner published monthly in the SUN Community News and co-President of the League of Women Voters of the North Country.

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