Keene, New York was settled in the late 1700’s by Benjamin and Chloe Payne. They followed a crude road of marked trees from Westport, that would later stretch to Saranac Lake and become Old Military Road. The thin, rocky soil offered little to the first settlers of Keene, who nonetheless persevered. Many of these hearty first families are memorialized in scenic spots around town: Beede Hill, Dart Brook, Hulls Falls, Walton Brook.
One of the town’s most famous early settlers was Eli Hull, who before coming to Keene had served as General George Washington’s servant for years until he was old enough to join the Revolutionary War. The patriot, joined by his elder sons, also fought in the War of 1812 and the Battle of Plattsburgh. Eli hosted the town’s first church gatherings at his home well before the First Methodist Church was built in 1836, and served as town supervisor, a position that would be held by multiple generations of the Hull family.
The Town of Keene was formed March 19, 1808, on land from the surrounding towns of Elizabethtown and Jay and included the hamlets of Keene Center, Keene Flats, and Keene Heights, known by their current-day names of Keene, Keene Valley, and St. Huberts. The primary industries of the early 1800’s was iron and lumber and the new town boasted multiple mills and forges, distilleries and asheries. Their products built the town. The first school district in the Adirondacks was formed in 1813 in Keene, with its first school built in 1820, taught by Dr. Ellis. The town’s first postmaster, David Graves, built the town’s first hotel in 1823, the Graves Hotel. The hotel was rebuilt after a fire in 1883 and still stands today at the intersection of routes 73 and 9N, last known as Monty’s Elm Tree Inn. The latter name came from the historic elm tree which was planted in front of the new hotel by the postmaster’s daughter. It was one of the oldest elms known in the Adirondacks until it succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the 1970’s.
The Town of Keene is home to more than half of New York’s 4000’s-foot mountains, including the state’s highest peak, Mount Marcy (5,344 ft), and has a rich history of outdoor recreation. For two centuries, tourists have come to partake in the beauty of the area’s majestic peaks and peaceful valleys, giving rise to the noble Adirondack guiding profession. Over the years many local hotels had been built to cater to these recreationalists, two of the most notable being the Cascade House and the Beede Hotel, which would become the prestigious Ausable Club. Today as in years past, the Town of Keene and it’s beautiful mountains beckons to adventurers of all ages.
Visit My Adirondack Story, a project sponsored by the Keene Valley Library, for stories and other relevant information regarding the Town of Keene.