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Joanna Hickey House - Depot Street, Potsdam, NY

Depot Street, Potsdam, New York

By: Jan Wojcik

The 1865 map of Potsdam, New York, shows the property on which a single building stands, on Depot Street, the closest home to the Potsdam Rail Road Station as belonging to "Mrs. Hickey." This is a story about how her name got there.

Joanna Joy Hickey married Thomas Hickey in Potsdam in 1859, whom she had known since childhood. He worked as a machinist in a Black Smith Shop on River Street along the east side of the Raquette River where Ives Park is today. He was a catcher on the baseball team The Potsdam Grays. He was good at chess, and read Shakespeare for pleasure.

In 1862, inspired by a call for Irish American troops to serve in the Civil War, Hickey was instrumental in recruiting about a 100 local men with Irish ancestry in Northern New York. He was elected Captain of Company A which would serve during the War in what was called the Irish Brigade. Along with his soldiers, he marched past down Depot Street to take the train to training grounds near Washington, D.C. His unit served as part of the city guard for 2 years. In his diary he notes playing chess with the Colonel of his Regiment 40 times, and beating him 20. He also played baseball, and went hunting. During this time, his unit took part in only one battle: The Battle of Suffolk VA. in which he boasted in his diary "I got off two good shots."In the early Spring of 1864 his unit was assigned to U.S Grant's Army preparing for the Overland Campaign that would fight many terrible battles from the Spring of 1864 to the Spring of 1865 when Grant accepted the surrender from Robert E. Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Captain Hickey was given a furlough at the end of February 1864. He arrived on the 12:30 train at the Potsdam Train Station on 22 February and walked down Depot Street to come back home to the surprise and delight of his family and friends. During his three weeks home, he visited his friend William Wallace, an attorney, with whom he had discussed studying law after the war. Wallace did the legal work that allowed Hickey to purchase 13 Depot Street, which he rented out for family income for the duration of the War. Hickey had the photograph shown here taken in Potsdam. He and Johanna conceived their second daughter who would be born in November.

At the end of his furlough, he walked down Depot Street again to take the train back to his Unit in Virginia. Captain Hickey fought in two battles in the Overland Campaign. He wrote Joanna while under fire at the Battle of Spotsylvania in May 1864. He wrote to her on 2 June after his unit was given orders to attack Confederate lines at Cold Harbor. He told her he doubted he would survive the charge. He was severally wounded. He wrote to Joanna from a hospital bed in Washington D.C. telling her not to worry about him. She did not receive the letter, rather a telegraph telling her about her husband.

She went down Depot Street to take the train to Washington, where she arrived in time for her husband to die in her arms. She brought his body back to Potsdam where for the last time Captain Thomas Hickey passed down Depot Street. He is buried next to his wife and two daughters in the Catholic Cemetery in Potsdam. His wife inherited 13 Depot Street. Her name is given as Mrs. Hickey on the map; since the only women whose names are written on the map are the widows of the men who were the original property owners. Joanna would live into the 20th century. She was active in civil affairs. Her two daughters Anna Louise Hickey and Mary (Minnie) A. Hickey attended Potsdam Normal School and taught school in New York State. Neither daughter had children.

In 1908, Joanna and her two daughters lived at 93 Main Street, Potsdam, NY. The exact translated location from the 1865 map to Google Maps today is at this point unclear. Due to possible inaccuracies in directories in the 1800s we are unsure of what the exact street address would be today. In a directory in 1868, a Mrs. T. Hickey is recorded at 3 Depot street. 

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Sources

Deeds Office of Saint Lawrence County.
Historical Newspapers of Northern New York.
Diaries and letters of Thomas Hickey in the archives of the Potsdam Village Museum
1907-1908 Moore's Standard Directory Potsdam and Norwood, N.Y. Book pg 40
Potsdam Directory 1868 pg 49