On an October day in 1765 William Gilliland, late of County Armagh, Ireland, took a jaunt from his settlement on the Boquet River, exploring northward along the west shore of Lake Champlain.
His bateau nosed its way up the sandy, twisting mouth of a river to still water below some rapids, from which they could see the lower end of a narrow gorge.
His journal reads: “It is a most admirable sight, appearing on each side like a regular built wall, somewhat ruinated, and one would think that this prodigious clift was occasioned by an earthquake, their height on each side is from 40 to 100 feet in the different places; we saw about a half a mile of it, and by its appearance where we stopped it may continue very many miles further.”
Gilliland is perhaps the first European to discover the great Ausable Chasm, where Atlantic salmon spawned in great numbers to the delight of settlers. Saw mills, grist mills, paper mills, and wheelright shops soon sprung up, powered by the Ausable River’s strong currents. Thaddeus Mason made the mistake of building his saw mill below the falls, where the spring floods sent it tumbling toward Lake Champlain.
By the early 1800’s, a lucrative logging industry, fueled by the abundant pine forests of the region, saw the basin at the Chasm used as a dunking spot for logs. The giant logs, 80 feet in length, were piled at “rolling banks” along the river during the winter and rolled into the water at flood levels each spring by means of a log slide. Plunging dramatically into the waters, they floated downstream toward Lake Champlain for shipping.
In the 1820’s iron ore deposits were found in the Adirondacks. Blacksmiths hammered away at hinges, latches, trammels, pot hooks, trivets, and tongs. Richardson – 1875.
The first of many bridges to span Ausable Chasm, along the old Post Road, was called High Bridge. Immense Norway Pines were laid from bank to bank across the divide. Six stringers, each about 20 inches wide, supported a roadway 12 feet across of heavy cross planks sawed at a nearby mill.
The High Bridge was used until about 1810 when it was replaced by one of sawed lumber between the two falls above the chasm, Rainbow and Alice Falls. Perhaps the last person to use High Bridge was the legendary Max Morgan.
Despite the War of 1812, floods on the Saranac and Ausable rivers, a cholera epidemic in 1832, and the Papineau War in 1838, settlement continued in the hamlet so blessed with natural resources and an abundant power source. When the place became known in 1876 as Ausable Chasm, Joshua Appleyard served as the first postmaster at his store.
In 1876 the AuSable Chasm Horsenail Works began producing two tons of iron nails each day. Water was flumed from the head of the falls to an upright tube four feet in diameter and 53 feet high. As the water fell through the tube, it powered a 20 inch water wheel to produce 100 horsepower.
The nail works closed in the 1890’s and Ausable Chasm’s industrial days came to an end, but the Chasm’s heyday was yet to come.