Chapter 3: The Clarksons Settle in Potsdam

John Clarkson also had a role in bringing Clarksons to settle in the town. The extended Clarkson family was living in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. John himself had come from Manhattan. Most probably, his young family did not move to Potsdam initially, but the 1820 census shows that he had been joined by his wife Louisa and daughters Lorsa (b. 1813) and Catharine (b. 1819). Two daughters were born later: Caroline (b. 1821) and Mary (b. 1823). The children attended the St. Lawrence Academy (Chapman, 28). The census also noted that a Thomas Clarkson was in town. It is not clear which Thomas this might be. There is, however, evidence that T.S. Clarkson was running the Clarkson quarry by 1835 and that the quarry had been established sometime in the 1820s (Carl, “Sandstone” 9). Around 1827, they were joined by John’s second cousins, Augustus L. and David L. Clarkson (A. Clarkson, 14).

For a brief time, heirs of each of the three main proprietors were living in Potsdam. John represented Gerrit Van Horne; Augustus and David were sons of Levinus Clarkson and T.S. Clarkson was son of Thomas Streatfeild Clarkson. In 1835 or 1836, John and his family left Potsdam, leaving The Mansion empty. They were likely returning to Manhattan.

The Levinus Clarkson Family

Once John left, the Levinus Clarkson family became the cornerstone of Potsdam. Levinus Clarkson (1765-1845) was one of the original proprietors of the Potsdam town purchase. He had worked in Manhattan, partnering with his brothers in the mercantile house Freeman, Streatfeild and Levinus Clarkson, (later, S. and L. Clarkson Co.) until about 1816 (Anon., “Vol. 2,” 168). In the 1830s, he was the director of Globe Insurance on Wall Street. He and his wife, Ann Mary Van Horne (1778-1856) had five living children: Lavinia, Augustus L., David L, Elizabeth and Levinus (Chapman, 15).

Augustus L. Clarkson (1802-55) had moved to Potsdam in 1927. The plat map shows holdings on the southern end of the hill estate where he built Woodstock Lodge, which is still used by Clarkson University. Augustus married his cousin Frances Selina Clarkson in 1827. They had two children, but both children and their mother had died by 1829. Despite that inauspicious beginning, Augustus is believed to have made his home at Woodstock (Broughton, 189). There is little record of his activities. 

Augustus’ brother, David L. Clarkson (nd-1887) had come with him to Potsdam in 1827, but did not settle permanently until 1834. That year, he purchased the entire Raymond farm from the LeRoys. The farm stretched from Market Street to Elm Street and north to the village border. Unfortunately, the house burned sometime in 1835 or 1836. David L. rebuilt in a sandstone slab-and-binder Greek-Revival style. The house still stands today at 30 Leroy Street (Chapman, 6).

In 1830, their sister Elizabeth Clarkson (1818-83) married her cousin T.S. Clarkson (1799-1873), a year after his own sister Frances Selina’s death. Elizabeth and T.S. did not move to Potsdam permanently until 1840; perhaps T.S. worked in Potsdam part of each year. The Clarkson quarries had a yard and office in Manhattan. The Potsdam Clarksons returned frequently to New York City, often spending winters there (letter in Museum).

In 1840, T.S. built the Homestead (Chapman, 13) approximately where the Moore House residence hall is now. Elizabeth and T.S. moved into the Homestead with their children: Ann Mary (b.1831), Elizabeth (b.1833), Levinus (b.1835) and Thomas (b.1837).

Clarkson Estate Map

Augustus, David and Elizabeth encouraged their parents, Levinus Clarkson and Ann Mary Van Horne, to retire to Potsdam. “Retiring to the country” was a trend among some wealthy Manhattanites (Goodfriend, 173). Levinus and Ann Mary arranged to buy The Mansion from John. They moved to Potsdam in 1840, bringing their other two children with them: Lavinia, aged 42, and Levinus, in his 20s. It may have been then, or later that the family changed the name from The Mansion to Holcroft House after a royal progenitor. Holcroft House was so charming and comfortable that when Levinus the younger left home to settle in the Hudson Valley, he built a replica, naming it Southwood (Chapman, 16).

For the rest of their lives, the Clarksons were concerned with developing their estate and the Potsdam community. They were particularly devoted to the development of Trinity Church and other Episcopal churches in the area. In this way, they were much like their first ancestor in England.