Town Historical Notes

Why is Brighton called Brighton? When, in 1858, the town was formed, or ‘set off’ from the Town of Duane, it was given the name originally assigned to the southern part of Duane in 1792 by the surveyors of the Macomb purchase – that of a “town in England.” It has no more significance now than it did then. Who among us when asked where we live answers “Brighton?” The name we use in answer to that question is “Gabriels, McColloms, Paul Smiths or Rainbow Lake.” Our history is the history of those communities and the people who settled them and whose descendants are still here.

Paul Smith’s Hotel and boathouse.

Circa 1885. McColloms Hotel.

Although there are earlier dates of recorded activity in the communities of Brighton — the Rices in the McColloms area in 1819 and 1820, and Samuel Johnson (1815) and Moses Follensby (1823) in Paul Smiths – the lasting settlements seem to have begun about the time the Town was formed. Amiel McCollom settled and began to farm in 1849; Oliver Keese and Thomas Tomlinson had dammed the St. Regis and started a lumber business in 1851; James M. Wardner was farming in Rainbow Lake in 1854; newly married Paul and Lydia Martin Smith opened their first hotel in 1859, and the Hobarts were farming in Gabriels by 1860.

Garondah Cottage at Rainbow Lake in the early 1900s.

St. Margaret’s building at the Gabriels Sanatorium.

Only forty years later, at the turn of the century, Brighton was home to three summer resort hotels, in McColloms, Rainbow Lake and Paul Smiths, two churches and a chapel, two railroad stations, four post offices, three schools, three cemeteries, a ‘paved’ road and a new TB sanatorium, the “San” at Gabriels, built almost single-handedly by the determined and capable Sister Mary of Perpetual Help Kiernan of the Sisters of Mercy. There was a power plant on the St. Regis River, telegraph and telephone service were available and a number of camps had been built around the larger lakes within the town. The population was recorded at 500 in 1890. By 1915 there were 741 people in Brighton.

Much has changed since the beginning of the twentieth century. The hotels at Rainbow Lake and McColloms are gone. Paul Smith’s Hotel, in accordance with the will of Phelps Smith, was established as a college in 1946. The Gabriels San was a minimum security correctional facility also known as Camp Gabriels,  was closed in 2009 by the Department of Corrections. It has been unused and deteriorating since 2009. Brighton still has two churches and a chapel although they are not the same ones that were here in 1900. Both railroad stations and one post office have closed and as a result of centralization and there are no longer any schools in Brighton.

The entrepreneurial spirit which made Gabriels a bustling commercial hamlet during the years when the San was operating still thrives. Brighton has many small successful businesses (many of them home-based) which offer a variety of services including child care, gifts and crafts, cleaning services, publishing support, automotive service, tree care and removal, camp caretaking, ironwork, sugaring and more. Perhaps the least changed features of Brighton are the many ‘camps’ which line the shores of Rainbow and Osgood and the St. Regis Lakes. And, there are still dedicated people farming the fields in Gabriels.

The Town Historian is Elaine Sater. If you have any comments or further information regarding town history that you would like to share could you please call 518-327-3202.