Coffeen's cabin is marked no. "10". Click to enlarge.
Coffeen's cabin is marked no. “10”. Click to enlarge.

Henry Coffeen was a New England pioneer and the first person to settle in what became Watertown. He is considered one of the city's founding fathers.

Coffeen visited the area in 1799, and in March of 1800 moved with his family from Schuyler, NY to Watertown. Coffeen built Watertown's first settlement, a log cabin, near what is today the corner of Court Street and Public Square. He acquired a large tract of land from the northwest corner of Public Square, following what is today Coffeen and West Main streets along the Black River towards Brownville. The industry minded Coffeen almost immediately built dams and mills on the Black River near what is today upper Court Street. In 1803, Coffeen, along with Andrew Edmonds built the first bridge to cross the river. This wood covered structure would become known as the Court Street Bridge.

The Court Street Bridge
The Court Street Bridge

In 1805, Coffeen, along with others, donated their land in the center of the village to the public for the creation of a mall, later to be known as Public Square. The square immediately became the hub of Watertown's business and commerce. Also in 1805, Jefferson County was formed from Oneida County, and Coffeen was instrumental in Watertown being named the county seat. Coffeen started Jefferson County's first newspaper, The American Eagle, in 1809.

Modern location of Madison Square
Modern location of Madison Square

In 1815, Coffeen, seeing the success of Public Square, wanted to create another business district that would rival the square's success. He acquired land that today occupies upper Court, lower Coffeen, Arsenal and Massey Streets and formed what he called Madison Square, after then U.S. president James Madison. Coffeen even built a large wooden structure on the site to show the project's possibilities. The public did not respond to this opportunity, notably because of Madison Square's distance away from the village center, and the presence of county buildings at the end of the square on Court Street, notably the jail and court house.

Coffeen, discouraged at the failure of the Madison Square venture, left Watertown in 1819 and settled in Illinois, where he later died.

Notable Personalities Living and Dead
Jefferson County Pioneers

  • henry_coffeen.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/12/06 17:16
  • (external edit)