PARISHVILLE - An afternoon snow squall was just starting to blow in as Gary P. Snell stiffened his collar against the January wind, and walked over to the one-room log cabin taking form on his front lawn.
To the best of his knowledge, the 12 by 16 foot cabin is the same size and design as the one Parishville's first settler, Luke Brown, built on roughly the same spot 200 years ago.
"If you can believe it, he had five children in this building and then they moved into the stone house when it was finished and had two more," Mr. Snell said. "He lived here until the other house was done."
Mr. Snell's half-completed cabin is just a stone's throw from the much larger, two-story Federal-style house constructed of Potsdam sandstone that Mr. Brown and his family completed in 1823. The Luke Brown House, as it is known, is on the National Register of Historic Places and was built of stone quarried from the banks of the Raquette River in Hannawa Falls about six miles away.
Mr. Brown and his family endured crowded conditions in their one-room cabin for a dozen years, while he slowly built the bigger house that Mr. Snell now lives in. And while the stately sandstone structure he ended up crafting two centuries ago has stood the test of time well, the original cabin where Parishville's first settler put down stakes has been gone from the landscape for generations.
Mr. Snell said he is rebuilding Mr. Brown's cabin as way to restore a missing piece of history, and to show people how the actions of one person can sometimes help shape a region.
"He came here with his wife when he was only 24, and lived here another 50 years," Mr. Snell said.
Mr. Brown was first drawn to the region from Vermont after being hired by David Parish, a wealthy land agent who had purchased large tracts of property in what is now St. Lawrence County. He hired Mr. Brown to help blaze a trail between the St. Regis River in what is now the hamlet of Parishville and the settlement of Potsdam on the Raquette River.
Mr. Brown not only cut the trail for what is now state Route 72, but along the way fell in love with patch of fertile land where a large stand of sugar maples grew. Mr. Snell said historical documents show Mr. Brown paid Mr. Parish $4 an acre for about 400 acres of land in 1810.
He began building his cabin that fall, went back to Vermont during the winter and returned in the spring of 1811 with his wife to finish his tiny home, according to Mr. Snell.
"He came March 31st and shoveled out three feet of snow in the cabin, put down the hemlock boards which he had purchased in Potsdam, put the roof on and moved his wife in the next day and they set up housekeeping," Mr. Snell said, referring to historical accounts of the settlement. "It's tough to imagine."
Mr. Snell said he plans to wait until March of this year to put the roof on his "new Luke Brown cabin" to coincide with actual events on the site 200 years ago.
Parishville Historian Emma Remington said Mr. Snell's resurrection of a one-room cabin at the old Brown homestead will be a welcome addition to the community, which is slated to celebrate its official bicentennial in 2014. She said the township was officially incorporated four years after Mr. Brown began construction on his log home in a section of the town referred to today as Parishville Center.