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Smalltown, NY is a small town in upstate New York State. It has a population of 15,000 and is best known as the home of SUNY Smalltown, a liberal arts college. It was formerly an important coal mining center, providing coal for steel mills in Ontario, but mining ceased in 1964.
Smalltown was founded by the Small family, who bought the 50 square mile area in 1792 from local tribes for $2 and five glass beads. The family prospered due to the plentiful coal deposits on the edge of the town. A church was built, then in 1822 a school, and in 1845 SUNY Smalltown was founded as the Smalltown Normal School. After a fire destroyed the wooden building in 1857, the school was rebuilt in brick. The downtown area was mainly constructed during the 1890s at a time when coal prices were high and the town was flourishing. In 1925, coal prices fell dramatically, and miners rioted in the town, leading to the National Guard being brought in. In 1964 the mines closed, but the college has expanded and is the main source of employment today.
In the 2000 census Smalltown had a population of 14,781, of which 12,322 were adults. Other statistics were as follows:
- 423 households were below the poverty line.
- 197 households worked full time in agriculture.
- Average household income was $24,403.
Smalltown lies in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains, with a mild summer but cold, dry winters. The Shaky River flows through the edge of the town, and nearby Shaky Lake is a popular place for boating and fishing. The coal deposits have largely been worked out, but copper deposits lie at the north end of the town and remain untapped. The area is prone to seismic tremors; in 1878 four houses were destroyed when an earthquake occurred north of the town.
Popular tourist attractions in Smalltown include the Smalltown Mining Museum (see below) and various attractions on Shaky lake. The town has a famous town-wide garage sale that attracts many visitors in the third week of July. The town also holds a summer festival in early August, usually featuring a range of popular music groups performing in Ramsbottom Park.
Smalltown Mining Museum
After the closing of the coal mines in 1964, the community chose to preserve some of their heritage in a museum that has become one of the principal attractions in northern New York. One of the old mine shafts was fully restored by 1976, and is now open to the public. Visitors can see what working conditions were like for miners in 1870 (albeit with modern safety equipment!), at a time when workers were paid only 3c/ton. The facilities also include a small rail yard with coal loading area, and a miner's shop.