Chateaugay's Two Railroad Tunnels

July 16, 2023 | Mick Jarvis

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The recent discussion on Facebook about the local railroad tunnels brought many comments and questions. Thanks to all for the participation! To put a bow on this topic and to wind both it and the weekend up, below is a side-by-side comparison of the two Chateaugay tunnels. I scanned this completed graphic with a high dpi, so when it is opened as a photo, it can be enlarged to see the details and shouldn't pixelate and fall apart...

Locations of Prominent Features in 1915

July 13, 2023 | Mick Jarvis

To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

I am a great proponent of maps and timelines. I believe they are so very valuable in helping to locate places and/or events in both in terms of their geography and within certain timeframes. To know when something happened in relation to other events, and to know where something was situated relative to other near-by locations, both combine to provide context for local history.

That said, recent posts and discussion threads here on Facebook have centered on topics like; the covered bridge that once spanned the Chateaugay River, just west of the village, and the two railroad tunnels that were built in 1849-1850 to carry what was first known as the Northern Railroad (and later as the Rutland Railroad) across the Chateaugay River and the Boardman Brook.

Some asked exactly where these were located.

So, I decided to travel back to 1915 and locate ten of Chateaugay’s prominent features and commercial locations on a topographic map from that year.

The first featured image is a map with those ten well-known locations back then. The photos that follow the map are in the order they are listed in the map caption. There are two views of number 1 (the RR tunnel over the Chateaugay River). All of the other numbers 2-10 have one image each, all in the order they are on the map.

For further context, here are dates for each of the ten features labelled on the map:

The railroad was completed in 1850. The tunnel over the Chateaugay River was the last part of the rail line’s construction to be finished and the entire thru route from Rutland, VT through to Ogdensburg was not opened until the tunnel was complete and the rails laid over the newly filled gorge.

The Chateaugay Agricultural Society’s fairgrounds held annual fairs from 1908-1911, before going bankrupt.

The wooden covered bridge was built in 1843. It was replaced with an iron structure in 1901 and was eventually demolished in 1940.

The first Douglass Hollow bridge, down at river level, was built sometime around 1815.

High Falls Pulp Company mill was built in the early 1890s. It operated until 1930.

Chateaugay Pulp Company was constructed in 1893. It closed in the early 1930s.

The local railroad, officially known as the “Ogdensburg Division of the Rutland Railroad” began operation in 1850 and had both passenger and freight trains in service. The last passenger train stopped in Chateaugay on June 26, 1953. The final freight train rumbled through town on September 25, 1961 and took Chateaugay’s final freight shipment.

A dedicated rail spur from the railyard in town to High Falls Pulp and Paper Company was built around 1902. The rails were removed in 1935.

The Chateaugay Chasm operated as a well-known tourist attraction from 1882 until early in 1903, when the Chasm House hotel was closed and tourist access to the chasm was ended. The property had been purchased by the Chasm Power Company which had built a dam and powerhouse. Chasm Power began producing electrical power in 1903.

The Red Bridge

May 13, 2023 | Mick Jarvis

To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

People often ask me what I like best about Chateaugay and area history. My usual answer is: "all of it." This little town keeps revealing interesting and engaging stories that just seem to captivate so many people.

After giving it some thought, I think I'm particularly drawn to Chateaugay's earliest years, the Fairgrounds at the end of Collins Street, the Chasm, town team baseball, the railroad, and Douglas Hollow. There are many others, but these are particularly enjoyable to research.

However, there is one particular thing in the Douglas Hollow area that I really gravitate towards...the Red Bridge.

Most don't know that Chateaugay had a covered bridge that was painted barn red when it was built in 1843. It became a symbol of the community of Chateaugay for many years.

The wooden covered bridge was demolished in 1901 and replaced with an arched metal structure that was removed in 1940.

Where was it? Well, if you were to look south from the present-day bridge that brings Route 11 over the Chateaugay River, the Red Bridge crossed the water about half way to the old railroad tunnel and tracks.

So, for 97 years, a bridge with very humble beginnings, spanned the river closer to the tracks.

The colorized photo (an excellent recoloring by Scott Durant of Malone, by the way) above shows the Red Bridge and the Globe Grist Mill looking north towards where the present bridge is.

The second photo shows the view under the bridge, again looking north, and the grist mill in Douglass Hollow comes into view.

The third photo is a Google Earth view showing the location of our covered bridge in relation to the present-day bridge and the railroad.

I was going to write a longer blog post here about the Red Bridge, but after looking over my research, I believe I have enough material for a full-length article in an upcoming newsletter, so this can serve as an intro to a much longer article.

At any rate, here are a few views of Chateaugay's wooden covered bridge which spanned the river for 58 years.

Population Changes in Chateaugay

April 24, 2022 | Mick Jarvis

To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

Just looking through the 2020 US Census data for Chateaugay…

Village population was recorded as 735. That is down from 833 in 2010 (a 12.4% decrease). The entire Town's population was recorded as 1,743. That is down from 2,155 in 2010 (a 19% drop).

A Few Notes:

The population decreases since 2010 are not particularly surprising in light of lower resident numbers throughout the entire North Country.

735 residents represents the Village's lowest number of residents since 1880. The village was incorporated in 1868 with an estimated population of 1100. It was at its largest in 1920, when 1291 people lived inside the Village limits.

The 19% drop in the Town's population is deceptive. For the 2010 count, the Correctional Facility in Chateaugay was operating with approximately 250 inmates counted in the 2010 total. The facility, which was opened in 1990 as a drug treatment facility, was closed on July 24, 2014. Therefore, the 2020 count shows the loss of the inmate numbers (which inflates the percentage of the decrease) but also represents an additional, approximate population drop of 160 local residents.

The Town's largest population ever, was in 1850 when 3,728 residents were counted in the Census. That coincided with the opening of the Northern Railroad (later known as the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain RR, and later, as the Rutland RR). The 30 years following the opening of the train route represented Chateaugay's heyday as the economic fallout from the railroad led to a time of increased business activity and rising employment opportunities. At one time, the Chateaugay freight depot was the busiest on the entire line which stretched from Ogdensburg to Rouses Point.

Above are images of the village and surrounding area. The first is from an 1876 map. The second is from Google Earth in 2022.

"Linen" Postcards

October 17, 2021 | Mick Jarvis

To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

Have you ever seen postcards labelled “Greetings From Chateaugay, New York” that don’t really represent a local scene, like the ones shown here? If you have, then you were most likely looking at what is known as a “Linen” postcard.

A German immigrant named Curt Teich (pronounced “tike”) developed a new type of postcard in the early 1930s. It had a very high cotton content which resulted in the linen-like look to the postcard paper. In addition, Teich invented a new coloring technique which allowed for vibrant tones and hues which made the cards particularly eye catching, like mini color paintings.

These cards were produced from the 1930s into the 1950s. They typically had a tagline on the border that read “Greetings From Chateaugay” (or any other specific location). Because automobile use and the idea of travelling for vacations were both growing rapidly, most of the scenes were landscapes, of a sort, shown in vivid colors and portraying sweeping, scenic vistas.

The majority of the scenes were actually made by combining specific features from several original images. In effect, they were collages of roadways, mountains, water, trees and plants that made up a scene that did not (nor was it intended to) represent the specific place mentioned in the tagline.

The main appeal of the linen postcards was the vibrant, and often surreal, palette of colors. This was a great contrast to the Depression era postcards of black and white images.

Linen postcards began to be replaced with actual photographs in the 1950s. This coincided with the growth of the Kodak company. In fact, the earliest true photo postcards are sometimes referred to as “Kodachrome” postcards.

Five of the views shown here are linen postcards. The sixth is image is of an early photographic postcard which contained a tagline like its linen predecessors had displayed. Incidentally, this photo postcard is also a collage-type image and the photos used are not specific to the community named in the tagline.

So, if you run across any postcards like these, you are looking at a vivid, stylized scene that only shares the name in the tagline with our hometown. The scene depicted (whether real or constructed of several unrelated parts) is not to be found anywhere in what we know as Chateaugay.

Carrying the Mail in the Olden Days

August 15, 2021 | Mick Jarvis

To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

I have been researching the Hoit/McCoy home that sat on West Main Street. It was built in by Jonathan Hoit in the 1830s. Before beginning research on the house itself and its actual construction, etc., I began by looking at what life was like back then in our hometown.

I am looking into how the community looked back then and what businesses had been established, etc. I have also spent time looking for information about the mail at that time: when was it delivered, how was it delivered and what the entire process was like. Here is part of the story of the US Mail in Chateaugay and the North Country almost a two hundred years ago.

For example, the mail was carried between communities by the stage coaches that plied the dirt roads that wound across northern New York. The mail arrived at the Chateaugay Post Office at the four corners six times a week. It arrived from the west at five pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and from points east at noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. (Eventually the mail would be carried by the railroad beginning shortly after it opened in 1850.)

Mail delivery was one of the main ways the community kept abreast of the national and world news as newspapers were often part of the mail bag contents. Some local citizens subscribed to newspapers from Albany, New York City or other large cities like Chicago and Washington, DC.

The roads that the stages travelled were all unpaved and very rough. They could be muddy or dry and dusty depending on the weather and the seasons. Paved roads would only begin to appear in the US in the late 1800s, and even then, they appeared in the larger cities first. By 1904, only about one sixth of rural roads were paved and that total was only up to about one half of rural roads by 1935 or so.

So, the stage drivers/mail carriers had to contend with terrible road conditions in the 1830s and 40s. This was one of the reasons for so many taverns and inns along the main roads. Horses tired quickly in such demanding road conditions, and the stops allowed for a change of teams and a chance for the stage driver and any passengers to get out and try to shake off some of the discomfort and monotony of the ride and get something to eat.

Chateaugay had its own legendary stage driver. Josiah “Bone” Selleck drove routes in the North Country for many, many years. His home was on the main road, a few miles east of the four corners. He died in 1891 at the age of 82 and is buried in Smith Cemetery, just east of the village.

The first photo here is of his headstone in Smith Cemetery. (Another long-time stage driver, who came along later than Bone Selleck and spanned the turn of the last century, was Pratt Hill. The photo included here shows Hill on his Tally-Ho coach. The stages of the 1830s and 40s would have looked much like the coach driven by Hill but this later version had much better suspension which made for a somewhat “smoother” ride than the earlier versions.)

But, back to the early 1800s. Chateaugay and northern New York were not immune to another danger associated with the stagecoach mail carriers; robbers, highwaymen, hold-up men—were among the terms used to describe them. They were looking for anything valuable that might be carried by the passengers, but the mail also represented a potential source of booty.

The following story of a mail carrier in the “Chateaugay Woods” took place in the 1830s. This printing came from the February 17, 1867 edition of the Daily Alta California, a San Francisco paper. This same account also appeared in many local and area papers, as well as others throughout the US over the years. I used this particular version as this scan was the clearest and the easiest to transcribe.

It is true? Who knows? It could be gospel. We will never know. All I can attest to is that it appeared in scores of newspapers in the 1800s. Even the US Mail produced interesting stories 150 years ago!

Here’s the story of mail delivery and a wheat bran holdup in the Chateaugay Woods:

In the early annals of our country, many instances of mail robbery are found, some of which occasioned the display of great intrepidity and daring, as the perusal of the following pages will show.

While the country was yet thinly settled, and the mails were transported on horseback, or in different kinds of vehicles, from the gig to the stage-coach, often through extensive forests, which afforded every facility for robbery, the office of stage-driver or mail carrier was no sinecure (easy job). Resolute men were required for the service, who could handle a pistol as well as a whip.

Some thirty or forty years ago [in the 1830s], a mail coach ran in the northern part of the State of New York, through the famous “Chateaugay Woods.” The forest was many miles in extent, and common fame and many legends gave it the reputation of a noted place for freebooters and highwaymen.

One morning the stage driver on this route had occasion to examine his pistols, and found, instead of the usual charge, that they were loaded with wheat bran! A daring villain had, through an accomplice, disarmed the driver preparatory to waylaying him. He drew the charges, cleaned the weapons, and carefully loaded them with powder and ball.

That afternoon he mounted his stage for his drive through the Chateaugay Woods. Whistling as he went, he “cracked up” his leaders and drove into the forest. Just about at the center of the woods, a man sprang out from behind a tree and took the lead horse by the bit.

“I say, driver,” said the footpad [a robber who had no horse], with consummate coolness, “I want to take a look at that mail.”

“Yes, you do, no doubt, want to overhaul my mails,” replies the driver; “but I can’t be so free, unless you show me your commission. I’m the driver here, and I never give up my mails except to one regularly authorized.”

“Oh, you don’t, eh? Well, here’s my authority,” showing the butt of a large pistol partly concealed in his bosom. “Now, dismount and bear a hand, my fine fellow, for you see I’ve got some documents about me.”

“Yes, and so’ve I,” says the driver, instantly leveling his own trusty weapon at the highwaymen.

“Oh, you won’t hurt nobody, I guess: I’ve seen boys playing soger [soldier] before now.”

“Just drop those reins,” says the keeper of Uncle Sam’s mail bags, “or I take the consequences.”

Oh, now you’re joking, my fine lad! But come, look alive, for I’m in a hurry, it’s nearly night.

A sharp report echoed through the forests and the disciple of Dick Turpin [a famous English highwayman of the mid 1700s] was stretched upon the ground. One groan and all was over. The ball had entered his temple.

The driver lifted the body into the coach, drove to the next stopping place, related the circumstances, and gave himself up. A brief examination before a magistrate resulted in his acquittal, and the highwaymen about the Chateaugay Woods learned that pistols can be dangerous weapons, even if they were loaded with wheat bran, provided they were in the hands of one who knew how to use them.

Railroad: Freight Operation

May 28, 2021 | Mick Jarvis

To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

A few weekends ago, I posted information and images of the local Railroad operation. Since then, I have been doing more research into the local RR operation. Below is a summary of the freight operation that happened at the local depot. Also shown here are four views of the railyard. The first is from a map of the village in 1876. The next three are crops from various Sanborn Insurance Co. maps from 1899, 1905 and 1912 respectively. None of the images show the sidings at the Milk Plant nor the siding that went south to High Falls Pulp and Paper Co. Needless to say, the railyard was a very busy place.

Freight Shipments at the Height of the Chateaugay RR Station’s Influence:

During the 1880s and 1890s, the Chateaugay station was considered to be the “greatest freight shipping station in Northern New York”. It was stated that “there is more freight sent from this station than from any other three stations on the O. & L.C. railroad and more than from any one station north of Albany.”

Some Examples:

1881 – A butter and egg train left this station carrying 780 tubs of butter each weighing 52.5 lbs. and 42 cases of eggs weighing a total of 5350 lbs. The cargo on this train was valued at over $100,000 [equal to about $4.4M in 2019!].

1896 – During the last week of September, the following products were shipped from the Chateaugay station:

49 carloads of potatoes

494 box cars of livestock

4914 carloads of pulp

1897 – The sheer volume of freight originating from the Chateaugay railyard prompted the company to build two new turnout tracks (sidings) to accommodate the traffic. They were placed at the west end of the railyard.

During the week ending Wednesday, September 29, the following shipments were recorded:

13 cars of potatoes

3 cars of calves

2 cars of sheep

1 car of bulls

1 car of hogs

21 cars of pulp

5 cars of starch

1 car of horses

1 car of butter

Between September 24 and October 15, 39 carloads of potatoes (about 30,000 bushels) were shipped. Estimated value was $10,000 which would equal just over $300,000 in 2019.

1898 – During the first week of potato shipping, 259 boxcars were loaded and sent. There were 50 bushels in each car making the total 29,800 bushels shipped. Total value: $8700 (equivalent to about $270,000 today).

With numbers like those above, it is not hard to imagine the level of activity at the railyard during these years. The wagon loads of goods being delivered to the freight yard for shipment, the men unloading the wagons and then loading the waiting boxcars, the trains coming in to deliver empty cars to be laden and the new trains being coupled and prepared for departure, all combined to produce a bustling scene which captured the prosperity the railroad brought to our little town.

The railroad provided Chateaugay’s industrial and agricultural producers access to distant markets. The town thrived during the RR years. By 1890, the use of refrigerated cars revolutionized agricultural shipping from the Chateaugay station as it allowed the shipment of liquid milk and other perishable products. Among the most frequently shipped freight:

  • LIVESTOCK – Sheep, cattle, hogs and calves were the most common shipments.
  • EGGS – As noted previously, large quantities of eggs were shipped regularly.
  • BUTTER – There were several butter factories in town during the RR years.
  • POTATOES – Chateaugay produced more potatoes than any other town on the entire Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad.
  • STARCH – A byproduct of the huge potato crops, starch was produced by several local, starch factories and shipped in barrels.
  • PULP – Thanks to our two large, local pulp operations, carload after carload of paper pulp was shipped from the Chateaugay station. Chateaugay Pulp Company and High Falls Pulp Company, both located on the Chateaugay River, took advantage of the dense woodlands that surrounded the area to produce untold tons of pulp. High Falls had built a rail spur from the railyard to their operation to make shipment easier. Chateaugay Pulp had discussed extension of the spur to their operation, a mile away but that never came to pass. Their product was either taken to the High Falls loading facility or brought directly to the railyard by horse and wagon teams. Chateaugay Pulp Company was wholly owned by the Johnston family. High Falls was formed and owned by various local investors.
  • HORSES – Chateaugay always had a love affair with horses, both work or draft horses and fine thoroughbreds. Horse racing was a constant in town. On many occasions, traffic would be stopped on Main Street as a race would be set up to prove bragging rights and to settle arguments among horse owners as to whose horse was fastest. There was also Silver’s Driving Park on the Chasm Road and, later, the half mile track at the Chateaugay Agricultural Society fairgrounds at the end of Collins Street. In fact, at the fairgrounds, horse barns far outnumbered the cattle and other livestock sheds. There was also winter racing with horses racing with cleated horseshoes on ice surfaces. The racetrack at the fairgrounds was regularly iced over during the cold winters. Races were also held on Chateaugay Lake. There were also a few successful draft horse operations that regularly shipped their stock.
  • EXCELSIOR – There were three excelsior companies (Chateaugay Excelsior, Star Excelsior, and Globe Excelsior) that shipped bales of their product. Excelsior was used as packing for fragile items and as stuffing for furniture and children’s toys. This product was also a byproduct of the extensive area forests.
  • LUMBER – The numerous local sawmills produced more lumber than was needed locally. Carloads of the excess lumber were frequently leaving the Chateaugay freight yard, bound for distant markets. A large planning mill was even built in the railyard by George T. Hall to allow finished lumber to compliment the rough lumber shipments.
  • MILK – As noted above, with the advent of refrigeration, tanks of liquid milk, and later condensed milk, could be shipped to destinations far from Chateaugay.
  • IRON ORE – In the earliest years of the mining operation in Lyon Mountain, wagon loads of smelted iron “pigs” were drawn to the Chateaugay RR station for shipment along a plank road that stretched from the local depot to the Forge at the outlet of Chateaugay Lake. This was a large money-maker for the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad. Unfortunately for the local rail line, the Chateaugay Railroad would eventually be built from Plattsburgh to Dannemora to Lyon Mountain. This meant that iron ore could be shipped more easily and cheaper on the new Chateaugay Railroad than drawing it to the local station and that revenue stream dried up.

  • Of course, many other products were shipped from the Chateaugay freight depot as well. The listing above just summarizes some of the products shipped in extreme quantities.

    The railyard was constantly growing. Additional sidings were being built regularly to allow for the loading and unloading of various freight shipments. The RR grounds were easily the busiest place in the village with activity taking place almost twenty-four hours a day.

    The Railroad in Chateaugay

    April 30, 2021 | Mick Jarvis

    To view full size images and read captions, click on an image.

    The railroad marked the beginning of a period of growth and prosperity for our hometown. The arrival of the railroad saw the population of Chateaugay at its largest. The US Census in 1850 counted 3,721 people living here, the most ever.

    Chateaugay’s farmers took advantage of the newly available markets and increased their livestock and crop production, eventually shipping hundreds of cars of cattle, horses, potatoes, etc. from the local depot. Local manufacturers also benefitted as the tonnage of excelsior, wood pulp, lumber, starch and many other locally produced goods grew to unimagined volume. In the late 1800s, Chateaugay was the busiest shipping station on the entire rail line.

    Passenger service was another major benefit of the train’s establishment. The newspapers were filled with mentions of people using the train to travel in the area as well as to begin longer journeys. For example, many from Chateaugay went to Leadville, Colorado during the silver boom and others chose to move into the upper Midwest, particularly Michigan, to become involved in the rapidly growing lumber businesses there. All of these Chateaugay citizens on their way west, began their trip at the local passenger depot.

    The original Northern Railroad underwent many reorganizations, sales and resales between 1850 and its demise. Names were changes and ownership changed but most are familiar with its longest used name; the Rutland Railroad.

    Eventually, competition from new and faster methods of shipping goods led to the railroad’s inability to maintain a profit with the northern New York line. On June 5, 1965 the last train rolled through Chateaugay and the railroad era came to a local end.

    Chateaugay Record - June 9, 1967

    The following column appeared in the Chateaugay Record on June 9, 1967. It captures what the railroad meant to Chateaugay and the change about to happen with its closure.

    Last Train Passes Through

    One hundred and fifteen [seventeen] years of railroading in Chateaugay, almost to the day, took place last Friday as the last locomotive to pass through town neared the crossing on Depot St. Only a few people were present to watch the last train pull thought at about midday to pass into history and to end an era of railroading in this section of Northern New York.

    The quiet exit of the last train was a far cry from that eventful day, June 1, 1850, when nearly every person in town was present to hail the arrival of the first passenger train into Chateaugay.

    Hundreds of enthusiastic citizens lined the tracks to welcome the train pulled by a steam locomotive bearing the Town’s name. Remembering that the event was the culmination of twenty years of striving, anxiety and sacrifice, the townspeople looked forward to the prosperity and growth that the new railroad would bring. Indeed, their vision was not far wrong. By the late 1800s the town was booming, with local factories and farmers alike reaping the benefit of the newly opened markets on the east coast.

    Eventually competition in the form of better highways, mass produced autos and trucks, made itself felt and business and profits of the Rutland Railroad steadily declined.

    Although efforts were made in the post-World War II days to recapture some of the freight business, the railroad eventually realized it was a losing battle and with the event of a strike by employees a few years ago, ceased operations completely.

    Now the trains and indeed even the rails are gone and soon all traces of railroading will be erased from the local scene – with only the memory of the mournful train whistle sounding in the early morning hours remaining of what was once the pride and joy of the North Country.

    The timeline below sets the details and dates of Chateaugay’s railroad experience. The included images are of the trains and the depot from across the years.

    Timeline of the Railroad in Chateaugay

  • 1850 – The first train passes through Chateaugay on June 4.
  • 1850 – On September 20, the Northern Railroad of New York is fully opened for traffic as construction along the entire length of the line is complete.
  • 1851 – First refrigerator car in the U. S. is placed in operation on the Northern RR
  • 1864 – On June 18, the incorporation of Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad Company is completed.
  • 1870 – On March 1, the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain leased to Vermont Central R. R.
  • 1890 – Beginning on December 31, the Rutland Railroad Company is leased to the Central Vermont Railway Company for 99 years from January 1, 1891.
  • 1904-05 – Controlling interest in the Rutland obtained by NY Central & Hudson River R.R.
  • 1938 – On May 5, the Rutland Railroad enters bankruptcy receivership.
  • 1950 – On November 1, Rutland Railroad is reorganized into the Rutland Railway
  • 1953 – June 26 sees the Rutland hit by three-week strike. This is the first strike in Rutland History. The last passenger train passes through Chateaugay on that day, as all passenger service on the line is ended.
  • 1954 – Express freight shipments are ended as only regular freight is moved on the line.
  • 1961 – The last freight train rolls through town on September 25, the day RR workers begin yet another strike.
  • 1962 – The ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) is asked for permission to permanently end Rutland RR service in northern New York. Permission to do so is granted in September
  • 1964 – There is talk of the Rutland line being reactivated by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority. Plan fails.
  • 1964 – Chateaugay lowers the tax assessment on the rail line property
  • 1965 – On June 4, one last train comes through town as the operational shutdown is completed.
  • 1967 – All of the Rutland Railroad rights-of-way are put up for sale
  • 1968 – By the end of this year, all of the former Rutland Railroad properties in Chateaugay are in private hands.