While the town was initially settled in 1792 by Amable Faucher on land he leased from the Mohawk tribe, when St. Lawrence County was formed in 1802, Massena was one of the first four official towns created. The Frenchman André Massena was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest marshals, and when the town was created the people of Northern New York chose the name in his honor. Later on, in 1811 after the fall of Napoleon, some residents petitioned to have the name changed to “Jefferson,” “Americus,” or “Liberty,” but these efforts lost momentum with time.
Massena became a prominent health retreat during the 19th century, as the sulphur springs along the Racquette River drew many visitors to this area, including U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The Native American people considered the waters to be curative long before, and called it Kanaswastakeras, or “the place where the mud smells bad.” This new trend provided an economic boom for Massena Springs, and continued as the primary community industry until the turn of the century, when Henry H. Warren built the first hydroelectric facility, connecting the Grasse River with the St. Lawrence by a power canal. Not long after, classic American painter Norman Rockwell would enjoy summers in Louisville, and maintain a studio in Massena as well.
Now, drawing inexpensive and reliable electric power from Massena’s greatest natural resource, the Pittsburgh Reduction Company opened it’s first industrial facility, drawing workers from all over. In the 1950’s, the New York Power Authority launched the Power Project, as well as the St. Lawrence Seaway Project. The vision for these projects fueled great accomplishments, and the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project became the first hydropower plant of the NYPA. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was also completed around the same time, through the leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes through a system of lakes, rivers, channels, locks, and canals. The Pittsburgh Reduction Company, now called Alcoa realized a major expansion, and is now recognized as the oldest continuously operating aluminum production and fabricating facility.
In the 1980’s, an influx of Canadian visitors inspired the creation of the St. Lawrence Center Mall and Ice Arena, as well as it’s strip mall complex. Development continued to create the joined retail districts Massena residents enjoy today.