About Massena Center, New York

About Massena Center

Massena Center is a hamlet located in the Town of Massena, New York, located about five miles east of the Village of Massena on the northern banks of the Grasse River.  It is made up of about 150 homes and several businesses.  The hamlet of Massena Center is about 2 miles long and 1.25 miles wide with State Highway Route 131 as its western border, the Grasse River as its southern border, and the Wiley Dondero Canal as its northern border.  The eastern border meets at a point with the northern border at Snell Lock.

The Early Days

The area was first settled in the late 1790s and early 1800s thanks to the natural barrier that was Long Sault Rapids.  Before the construction of the Cornwall Canal in 1842 allowing boats and ships to by-pass the rapids, it was common for most crafts to at least land in Massena before attempting to traverse up the rapids.  During the era of the Sulfur Spas of Massena Springs, the area west of Cornwall Island known as Massena Point became one of several major landing stop for tourists and visitors.  Two of the first settlers to the area was George Barnhart and Daniel Robinson.  George leased an island from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in 1796, first on a ten year contract, and then finally for a long term contract of 999 years at $60 a year.  Daniel Robinson settled in a bay just downstream from the rapids and south of Barnhart’s Island, first building a log cabin before constructing a proper farm.  The area would be harvested of its timber and turned into rich farm land.

Massena Center was officially named in 1823 when the Town of Massena was reduced to its present size.  Before this the Towns of Brasher Falls and Lawrence were part of Massena.  The Center as nicknamed by locals became a general hub for the farms in this area due to the Grasse River.  The river was difficult to bridge due to ice flows and flooding in the spring.  One attempt was made in 1832 but the bridge was swept away in the Spring of 1833 thanks to this natural event.  So the town did not see it feasible to build a bridge in the area, leaving the Downtown Bridge five miles away as the only crossing.

At its pinnacle the hamlet located along the North Grasse River Road or modernly known as the Massena Center Road featured multiple shops, several general stores, two churches, several school houses, a Post Office, a community hall, a dairy creamery and even its own Town Hall.

Massena Center District, 1946

The decline of the Barnhart Island area started in the early 1900s when talks began about damming the Saint Lawrence River with the added difficulty of easy travel between the island and the mainland along the southern channel.  Shiek’s Island just north was Canadian soil.  The area west of the hamlet of Massena Center began its decline in the 1920 and 30s as the Aluminum Company of America begins buying the farmland.  Massena Point and the areas north of the hamlet vanished in the 1950s with the construction of the United States Saint Lawrence Seaway and the New York Power Authority’s St. Lawrence – FDR Power Project.  These lands were purchased and or taken by eminent domain for its construction.

Barnhart Island, Massena Point and the northern portions of Massena Center became the Robert Moses State Park, home of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Since then the area has slowly dwindled and transformed from farms and agricultural life to that of a sleepy and quiet residential neighborhood.  Soon after the Seaway the churches and shops relocated closer to the Village.  The creamery closed due to the lack of farms, and the general stores closed down due to the lack of traffic.  In modern times the area is predominantly residential with areas of new construction.  The few farms left after the Seaway mostly closed down by the early 1980s.  There is still some agricultural life, a few cows, and most of the fields are still hayed.

  • Attractions
    • Robert Moses State Park & Campground
    • Barnhart Beach & Marina
    • Eisenhower Lock & Visitor Center
    • Hawkins Point (New York Power Authority) Visitor Center
    • Nicandri Nature Center
    • Massena International Kampground
    • Seaway Valley Modelaires
    • Amvets River Post 4 & Campground (Members Only)
  • Shops & Businesses