In 1811, after British General Arthur Wellington defeated the French leading to Napoleon’s demise and exile, Massena residents petitioned to have their town’s name changed to “Jefferson” in honor of popular U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. The request was rejected because another town in New York State already bore the name. Waves of patriotism inspired Massenans to pursue the names “Americus” and “Liberty,” but the efforts became mired in a long bureaucratic process and lost all momentum.
At one time, the early white settlers called Massena “the Orphan Town.” When formed in 1802, the town included a large block of unofficial survey towns from the St. Lawrence River to present-day Star Lake. Town residents felt Massena had been orphaned after six other towns had been removed from it. The nearby Mohawk Indians called the Massena settlement “Nikentsiake,“ which meant “where the fish live.”
A lightly-populated “Settlement in the Tall Pines” in the 1800's, Massena became known as St. Lawrence County’s industrial center in the 20th century. The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), Reynolds Metals and General Motors each established plants and thousands of jobs, while utilizing the available low-cost hydropower generated along the Raquette, Grasse and St. Lawrence Rivers. Rechanneling of the St. Lawrence River in the 1950's accommodated the construction of the giant St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Projects.
Among Massena’s most famous visitors have been several U.S. presidents.
Among them, Theodore Roosevelt soaked in the “medicinal healing power” of
Massena’s sulphur springs. In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was present for the
official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the shipping lock named to pay
tribute to his leadership in the project. Famous artist Norman Rockwell spent
several summers vacationing and painting in the Massena area.
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