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Jack Heichel

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Essex Community Heritage Organization – ECHO

Formed in December 1969, the Essex Community Heritage Organization has worked for twenty-nine years to preserve a village which is one of the finest and most intact collections of Federal and Greek Revival architecture in rural New York State. Through education, advocacy, rehabilitation and economic revitalization initiatives, ECHO and its over three hundred members have strived to develop programs which simultaneously preserve the architectural and environmental qualities of the community and create new economic and housing opportunities for residents.

Call or write for membership information. Membership benefits include receiving the ECHO Diary, a quarterly publication, an invitation to ECHO’s annual meeting and the satisfaction of knowing you’re a part of efforts to preserve and revitalize this remarkable community.

Available from ECHO, at its offices in Essex hamlet or by mail, or at the bookshop at the Essex Inn: ESSEX, an Architectural Guide, a fifty page walking and driving tour of Essex and its historic and architectural resources. ECHO also has information on hiking, biking and other activities in the Champlain Valley


The Early History of the Boquet River

One of the most controversial aspects surrounding the Boquet River is the origin and spelling of its name. This ongoing dialogue has become a part of the river’s history and can, even today, evoke strong emotions among local historians. Although it appears conclusive that the river’s name can be traced to the early French explorers, there has been little agreement as to either its meaning or spelling. However, all of the preferred derivations of the name seem to have some arguable basis. Since this controversy reveals much about the river’s early history, a brief overview of the various theories are presented in subsequent paragraphs.

H.P. Smith states in his History of Essex County that the Boquet River was named by William Gilliland for the “flowers upon its banks. Others say the name came from bosquet, a thicket.”

One of our most respected local historians, Caroline Royce wrote in Bessboro:

“The Boquet River was named by the French before 1731, as is conclusively shown by maps of that date. This point has been thoroughly investigated by’ Mr. Henry Harmon Noble, who has had every opportunity’ to examine documents bearing upon the subject in the State Historian ‘5 office. In a letter written to the author, he say’s: “I find in New York Colonial MSS., Volume XC Vill,… a map dated 1732. On this map the river is put down as ‘R. Boquette, ‘showing that it was called by that name as early as 1732.”

This conclusively established the French origin of the name. Caroline Royce went on to explore whether the river was named for the shape of its banks.

As for the meaning of the name, it seems probable that it was derived from the word “boquet, “that is, a trough” from the formation of the river banks near its mouth. their [the early French explorers] eyes were quick to notice it was flowing deep and full into the lake through steep banks. There was no obstruction to the entrance of boats of large size, and their passage was clear almost to the foot of the falls. So, the French voyagers described it as the “river which is like a trough at its mouth, — Boquet, or Bauquette, afterwards written Boquette or Boquet.”

(A December 27,1900, newspaper article titled “More as to origin of name Boquet,” did not agree with this idea. The newspaper author wrote,

…true history is obscured, and irresponsible tradition takes its place the beautiful Boquet the river of flowers is transformed by a meaningless and inappropriate word into a shallow tub…. No one believes even for a moment that the poetic and chivalrous Frenchmen would consent to the slaughter of so euphonious a word as Bouquet for Boquet, no never!)

Caroline Royce also disclaimed any relationship between the river’s name and the British Colonel, Henry Bouquet. She properly noted Colonel Bouquet did not appear in America until 1756, at least 25 years after the name had appeared on French maps. It would seem any name attributed to the Colonel was because of extensive literature generated to record General Burgoyne’s selection of the rivers mouth as an assembly point for his 1777 invasion. Many of Burgoyne’s officers personally knew Colonel Bouquet, and several of them believed the river was named for this fellow Army officer. Both Royce and Henry Harmon Noble looked through Bouquet’s extant correspondence and papers and found no evidence Henry Bouquet was ever on Lake Champlain. But, the damage to historic accuracy was done. The name “Bouquet” persists today in many sources including maps and road signs.

No one fought harder to remedy the naming mistake than Koert Burnham. Koert lived his entire life in the area and his expertise on this aspect of local history was well known. He wrote a book on the French presence in the area, as well as numerous local newspapers articles concerning the misappellation of the name “Bouquet” to a river he believed to be named for another man–Charles Boquet. In a Letter to the Editor in the December 28, 1952 Valley News, Koert attributed the spelling confusion to two men bearing a similar surname. Koert traced the history of the Boquet River to the earlier presence of Charles Boquet in the middle 1600’s. Charles Boquet, was a brave man who guided missionaries to their posts and was a friend of the American Indians. Conversely, the other man, Henry Bouquet, was a Swiss mercenary, who fought the American Indians with all too much success. As examples of Henry’s character, Koert noted that the Colonel ordered 100 blood hounds from England to track down the illusive Indians, and later, carried out one of the earliest known uses of germ warfare against the tribes. Bouquet had blankets infected with smallpox, delivered to Mingoel, Delaware, and Showanoe tribes, causing many men, women, and children to die under horrible circumstances. With such tactics, Bouquet was very successful and became a household name in both the colonies and England. Thus, his reputation was well known to Burgoyne’s officers in 1777, and Koert wrote: “No wonder many of them thought the river was named after him.”

Koert penned an article dated June 24, 1983. He wrote,

Charles Boquet left a cache of food at the mouth of the river in 1666. As a result (of its subsequent loss), 60 men on this expedition starved to death during a French expedition against the Mohawks.

Boquet was guiding the French forces under Governor Remy de Courcelles. They were returning from a daring February expedition near Schenectady and depended upon the supplies left by Boquet. Advance scouts separated from the main army at Chimney Point, Vermont, and went to open their hidden cache. They found the vital supplies gone. In addition, Benjamin Sutter wrote that lay brothers Father Pierre Raffeix and Charles Boquet also lost a number of valuable personal effects along with the cache. Sixty of the soldiers, as Koert mentioned, died of hunger due to that unforeseen calamity. The final march from Chimney Point to Fort Saint Louis de Chambly was undertaken with extreme hardship. The Algonquins in the party provided just enough wild game to sustain the stronger soldiers. Their arrival at Chambly was called “lamentable disorganization” by the French.

Charles Boquet and Father Charles Albanel returned via Lake Champlain with another force, under Prouville de Tracy, that October. The Mohawks fled rather than face the French Army. Although there was no battle, a 20 year period of peace followed the incursion.

During July of the following year, Boquet and Father Thierry Beschefer led an “embassy” to Fort Orange (Albany). After the defeat in 1667 of the Mohawks, he aided Fathers Jacques Fremin and Jean Pierron in reopening the Iroquois Mission. Between 1658 and 1666, his chief employment seems to have been supervising the transportation of supplies between Jesuit residences at Quebec and Trois Rivers.

Charles Boquet is listed in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography as a “donne” of the Society of Jesus, born c. 1630 and deceased some time after 1681. The editors noted little knowledge of Charles Boquet until 1857, when he began to be mentioned in Journals des Jesuites and Relations. He was “one of the best guides and interpreters on the expeditions of the Jesuits to the Iroquois country, and he was with all the major expeditions that went there.” He was described as a “courier” and “he is known by all the Indians, who esteem and fear him.” The 1681 census found him residing attlie Jesuit College in Quebec, “about 51 years old as one of the donnes.” Although history does not give us much upon which to base his biography, Boquet figured in some of the more dramatic folklore surrounding the Black Robes and their Indian converts.

One such conversion, Kateri Tekakwitha, a worldwide symbol of faith, came under the influence of Charles Boquet and several other Jesuits. After the defeat of the Mohawks, Fathers Jacques Fremin, Jacques Bruyas, Jean Pierron, and the donnes Charles Boquet and Francois Poisson came to minister to Kateri’s tribe in September 1667. Few churchmen had been to her village. Mohawk country was the least desirable and most dangerous area for the “Black Robes” because of the nearby influence of the inhabitants of Albany. Boquet and his group were so pious and impressed Kateri so much, she decided to enter the religious life herself.

Charles Boquet had the honor to play a very small part in the founding of the mission of Saint Francois Xavier. Father Pierre Raffeis invited the powerful Chief Huron (Pierre) Ton sahoten to Caughnawagahere, with Boquet as a guide. The founding of the mission at Caughnawagahere was said to spring from the Chiefs powerful faith. Following the Chief’s death in 1688, he was called “the Father of the Believers” due to his role in establishing the mission. In essence, Charles Boquet was a very admirable man and naming a river after him seems a fit monument to his lifetime of good works.


Housing and Community Revitalization Services and Resources

The Essex Community Heritage Organization offers a range of housing and community revitalization programs and services including:

Affordable Housing: Essex County Homebuyer Assistance Program.

Homeownership not only benefits the individual household. It also benefits the community when a renter becomes a tax paying, stake-holding property owner with a long-term commitment to the community. Increasing homeownership makes for more stable communities. Homeowners have a stake in and long-term relationship to their community that renters may not. This can lead to greater citizen involvement in further community revitalization efforts.

A main barrier to homeownership is the difficulty of lower income households saving enough for down payment and closing costs. Our program provides assistance to allow lower income households to succeed at homeownership. Often this means they are able to leave substandard rental properties and start building equity in their own homes. The program provides financial, credit and homeownership counseling, both before and after the closing, to ensure that families will succeed. With the help of private donations and funds from ECHO, we also have an emergency fund to help homeowners who run into problems.

So far, with additional follow-on awards in 1998, 2000 and 2002, we have helped 108 Essex County households to own their own homes, providing a total of $1,402,864 in down payment and closing cost assistance. Before the end of the year we expect that number to rise to 123 families helped. Since its inception, the program has leveraged $4,662,284 in mortgage funds from financial institutions. Not only has this helped new homeowners, but has also been a boost to participating financial institutions and local real estate agencies. Employers support the program because it helps their employees to become homeowners, hence stabilizing workforces and communities.

Debra O’Neil, is now working as HOME Program Director, and is busy administering ECHO’s fourth grant, awarded by the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation in 2002, in the amount of $500,000. Previous grants awarded in 1996, 1998, and 2000 have been fully expended. Through those grants, $1,175,000 has been administered to eligible first time home buyers to assist them with the purchase of an affordable home in Essex County.

To date, over 100 households have received financial assistance through the HOME Program, allowing them to build equity for themselves as home owners.

Typical ECHO Home grants during recent 1996-2000 grant periods were less than $14,000 per household, and could be expended from the HOME Program Fund itself. However, now it is becoming necessary to provide more grant monies per household, and to work in conjunction with other State and Federal programs, such as USDA or the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County, in order to be able to provide enough funds to meet the increasing housing costs.

Technical Assistance.

ECHO has been providing advice and assistance to owners of historic buildings since the early 1970s. In addition, advice and assistance is available to lower income residents of Essex and Willsboro for any housing problem. Contact the ECHO office at 518-963-7088 or e-mail ECHO at [email protected]

Tenant Housing Assistance

ECHO has purchased and rehabilitated several historic homes as affordable housing. ECHO continues to seek additional opportunities to acquire and rehabilitate residential properties as affordable rental housing. ECHO has purchased the historic Barton House in Willsboro. Using a Adirondack North Country Community Improvement (ANCCEP) grant, the exterior of this main street landmark has been restored. ECHO is seeking funding to complete the rehabilitation of the Barton House as four units of affordable rental housing.

Arts in Education.

ECHO’s architectural education program, North Country Heritage (NCHAEP), has been offered in area schools since 1987. The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and participating schools fund the program, which teaches children about basic architectural concepts and their local architectural heritage. Over the years we have conducted residencies in three school districts: Moriah, Westport and Willsboro. The annual residencies, conducted for fourth grade classes, run daily for two to four weeks. The purpose of the program is to encourage children to become aware of the built environment; to appreciate their architectural heritage; and to establish a connection to the community in which they live. Activities include research, drawing, model making, photography, writing and oral presentations. In Moriah and Westport the residencies culminate with an architectural/local history tour of the community. In Willsboro, students have studied the architecture and cultures of New York City.

This year ECHO conducted residencies in Moriah and Westport Central Schools. As a result of faculty and school administration changes, the program was not requested in Willsboro. In addition to these residencies we are putting the finishing touches on the Adirondack Architecture Curriculum, preparing it for peer review in the fall. The Adirondack Museum has agreed to provide us with imagery for the publication and a companion Compact Disc of images that will accompany the curriculum packet at a nominal fee. The project has been funded by NYSCA, the American Institute of Architects, and International Paper Company. The curriculum includes background information, lesson plans, learning activities, imagery and a resource listing for teachers.

As of this writing the future of ECHO’s architectural education program is uncertain. In order to apply for funds from NYSCA we must have committed ¬≥educational partners (i.e. school districts). Due to cutbacks in State educational funding, local schools have slashed all but the most essential programs. In Moriah, an exemplary arts-in-education program, twenty years in the making, was eliminated by the school board this Spring. The loss of Moriah as an educational partner was not anticipated and the demise of their arts programming is indicative of the funding challenges ECHO faces in continuing the North Country Heritage Program in these small rural communities.

We are investigating other avenues of funding our educational services. In January we collaborated on a grant application with the Essex CountyHistorical Society for funding to conduct a joint project in area schools. The project would be funded at $3,000 per year for a two-year period and would give us the opportunity to continue our fourth grade program and refine the Adirondack Architecture component. The application was made to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, based in Washington, D.C. Decisions on grant applications will be forthcoming in October.

This is a challenging period. Our hope is that we will find new funding opportunities that will allow us to fulfill the educational component of our mission. Members who have are interested in assisting in this effort should contact Bonnie MacLeod through the ECHO office.


ECHO continues to hold and administer 21 architectural and conservation easements which protect buildings and properties in Essex and Willsboro.