Our Story

The village of Heuvelton straddles the Oswegatchie River in St. Lawrence County about 6 miles east of Odgensburg and the St. Lawrence River.  The village was founded early in the 19th century and today boasts a population of barely 730 people.

John Pickens came to the area in 1819 as an immigrant from Ireland and by 1858 had prospered sufficiently to be able to construct the Pickens Stone Block.  Commonly referred to as Pickens Hall the building contained the Pickens Mercantile Store and the third floor Opera House.  Built of stone and three stories tall, Pickens Hall was one of the most substantial structures around.

Upon John Pickens' death the building passed to his son John Pickens Jr. whose twin daughters, Bessie and Jessie, were accomplished opera singers who performed before royalty around the world.  However, as often happens with such large buildings in small communities, over the years Pickens Hall fell vacant and began to deteriorate rapidly.

Today, however, after a fifteen year restoration effort by a dedicated group of supporters, it's once again the heart of the community and a highly successful center for the arts of the entire region.

In 2001, with the building facing imminent demolition, a group of concerned citizens led by David Kingsley formed the Heuvelton Historical Association (HHA) for the sole purpose of acquiring and saving this local landmark.  Years of neglect had led to deteriorated structural framing and various other damage both seen and unseen.  Their first step was to secure the building against the elements and with an initial grant and their own labor they installed a new roof and made minor repairs.  It can be extremely difficult to raise large amounts of money for such efforts in small towns in rural counties and constant fundraising and sweat equity became hallmarks of the organization.

In 2002 the HHA secured a Technical Assistance grant from the NYS Council on the Arts to have Crawford & Stearns, Architects and Preservation Planners, prepare a Conditions Assessment Report for the building to help guide the initial rehabilitation efforts and assist with fund-raising.  In 2004 they also succeeded in having the building listed on the State and National Registers to confirm its well-known significance as well as to enhance funding applications.

Recognizing that not all of the necessary work could be done at once, a four-phase plan was developed: (1) Stabilization, (2) Rehabilitation of the 1st and 2nd Floors for viable use including opening Pickens General Store on the first floor, (3) Construction of a visually subordinate addition at the rear of the building to provide an elevator, accessible toilet facilities, and a second exit stair, and (4) Restoration of the Opera House and the third floor.

The organization and its consultants doggedly (and creatively) pursued a wide variety of funding sources, building one on the other as the overall project budget ultimately reached $2.7 million, not an insignificant amount for such a small community and fledgling organization.  

Significant project support has come from New York's Environmental Protection Fund, Empire State Development, the Sweetgrass Foundation, the North Country Community Foundation, the Oswegatchie Development Corporation, and NY Main Street among others.  David McCadam, a former Heuvelton resident from the once-local McCadam Cheese Company family, generously funded several challenge grants to encourage even more widespread giving.

Recognizing the opportunity and the importance of such a project to the region, State Senator Patty Ritchie (R), Assembly Member Addie Jenne (D), and Senator James Wright (R) provided substantial bi-partisan assistance at critical times.  And the community at large, from mayor Barbara Lashua to young school children, contributed as did the project architect and general contractor through significant amounts of donated services.
as proven to all that our history can be preserved effectively for generations to come."