Old Donaghue Road, Massena Center

The Old Donaghue Road of Massena Center.  Before the construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Power Project in the 1950s, this road was heavily traveled by folks moving between the East Massena areas of Barnhart Island, Robinson Bay and Massena Point.  Now part of the Seaway and Robert Moses State Park, the life of the road was quietly extinguished with the flood waters of the Wiley Dondero Canal and swollen Robinson Creek.

Massena Center, 1946

The road was 1.1 miles long and ran from the Massena Center Road north over a small hill and down to a T intersection with what was known as the Middle Road along Robinson Creek.  A turn right would bring you by the Daniel Robinson homestead, one of the very first settlers of the area to Robinson Bay and Hawkins Point, before ending at Massena Point.  The old Middle Road still exists north of the Canal running from Robinson Bay Road to the Hawkins Point Visitor Center, but much like Donaghue, its wrestling with Mother Nature to exist (but not as badly last I checked as Donaghue).

While a major crossing point for travel in the area, the road was home to only two farms on the western side.  The eastern side of the road was farmland that belong to farms on the Middle and Massena Center Roads.  These farms stood on a small hill.  The southern farm was owned by A. F. Donaghue for whom the road is named after.  Mr. Donaghue like many others had relocated from Vermont after purchasing the southern farm from its previous owners.  The northern farm was owned by a L. Sneycol in 1865.

1865 Beers Atlas Map showing the three crossroads of Massena Center, Horton, Donaghue, and Kinnie. At this time there was only the two farms on the hill.

The road’s purpose ended with the construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.  With the lands around the Middle Road and points north being purchased and taken by the US Government for its construction, Donaghue Road became a dead end road.  The Donaghue Farm disappeared with the construction of the high voltage power lines feeding off the St. Lawrence FDR Power Project, and the northern farm was technically abandoned due to a large portion of it being taken by the Seaway.

In modern times the southern 2000 feet of the road are maintained for the 6 newer residential homes lining both sides of it.  The road comes to a ‘dead end’ at the high voltage power lines, though the path to old Donaghue Road is somewhat maintained for vehicular access to the power lines.  Beyond it the road turns to nature, which is still struggling to swallow up what remains of the county road.

Recently I took a walk down the old road, riding in on a motorcycle and stopping at the last power line.  I’ve walked the old road before many many years ago, so I had become curious to how it was fairing against mother nature.  The battle rages but old Mother Nature is struggling to swallow up what remains of the road.  Beyond that it was generally a beautiful walk on a glorious North Country summer evening.  Either side of the road is now lined with ‘new age’ growth, but there are these much older trees which randomly appear along side of the road, trees you know once overlooked the farmer fields of the area.

While it was a beautiful walk, it was also somewhat creepy in my book.  I think knowing that the road used to go somewhere but no longer does, that sense of abandonment, or the fact the woods around it were almost dead quiet outside of some birds chirping in the far off distance.  Also the fact that I recognized fresh vehicle tracks in the mud and was waiting for someone to jump out and yell “What are you doing here?!” with a possible shotgun.  Thankfully though the road is technically county property and most of the property surrounding it belongs to either Alcoa, the New York Power Authority, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.  There are two exceptions towards the end.  The site of the northern farm.

This parcel is broken into two sections, a 1.5 acre lot that used to contain the farmhouse, and a 45 acre lot that was the farmland.  The larger lot was sold to the Seaway Corporation in the 1950s and remained under their control until the recent renegotiated power contract with the NYPA that returned several parcels back to the Town of Massena.  It is now privately owned by a gentlemen from Hogansburg, NY by the name of William Estano.  The smaller lot has remained under the ownership of its last owners descendants, (my great Aunt & Uncle) James and Lillian Kellison’s son Raymond Kellison (died 2015), who ended up establishing his life in Arlington, Texas many years ago.  The farmhouse was demolished sometime in the 1970s.

I ended my walk close to a barrier gate put up by the Seaway towards the end of the old road.  I had stumbled upon a tree with a POSTED sign on it, and a freshly cut tree laying on the side of the road.  The posted sign did not contain a name, but was also covering an old No Trespassing sign.  I did not want to disturb the area, which I am assuming was Mr. Estano’s land.  So I turned around and walked back.

As an idealist who is trying to focus that energy on the community of Massena Center, I think with some time much like the Robinson Bridge, we could put this old road to good use as a recreational walking trail, but I’ll talk more about that another time.

DWK

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