WADDINGTON, N.Y. — The Village of Waddington, N.Y., lists its permanent resident population at 972. This week that number could swell to an astounding 34,972.
Bass fishing is the likely reason why. Specifically, the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence presented by Go RVing.
That nearly unfathomable figure isn't the result of a chamber of commerce adding a well-meant multiplier to attract visitors. The numbers are real.
The northern New York's village officials can take the credit. Together with the backing of local businesses, they gambled on a long shot to bring an Elite Series event to the North Country.
Resistance to the idea came early on. Skeptics refused to believe a southern sport like bass fishing could draw attention to a small town located on the Canadian border, far from any major population areas.
Why would anyone want to drive hours from home to see a bass tournament?
The skeptics got their answer in August 2013.
Waddington landed its first Elite Series event that summer. Months earlier, the tournament committee visited Orange, Texas, site of an Elite Series event on the Sabine River. They wanted to see how local organizers worked to make the event a success. They watched as the all-time Elite Series attendance record after four days was shattered with 33,650 people.
Five months later the true test came. Waddington was more than ready. The record was broken again, this time with 34,100 attendees over four days. Waddington brought it on again in 2015. And here they come again, this week during the third trip to the village.
"They had a festival, something else to provide people with things to do before the weigh-in," said Janet Otto-Cassada, mayor of Waddington, who was on the trip to Texas. "We knew that festivals attract people and we set that idea in motion."
"What also struck us was how fans reacted to the anglers when they pulled bass from the livewells," added Deanna Shampine, the first event coordinator. "We realized that bass fishing truly was a spectator sport we could bring to the North Country."
HAVE WATER, WILL TRAVEL
What brought the Elite Series to Waddington is the St. Lawrence River. Coincidentally, the river also attracted the first settlers.
Back in the 1500s, explorers sailed up the river from Lake Ontario to find a new world. Back then, a stretch of whitewater made navigation difficult. The dead end for sailing ships was here.
Rough, rocky rapids forced the explorers to drag their boats ashore in what is now Waddington. The St. Lawrence Seaway eventually smoothed that out but some current remained.
That current is why smallmouth are so prolific here and the fishing is so good. Just yesterday the Elites proved it with 20 anglers bringing in limits weighing 20 pounds or more.
A wealthy family with an eye for financial opportunity and land development purchased what bears their name in Ogden Island, located across a side channel of the river. The Ogden family built a mansion and farmed on the island. A causeway was built between the island and the settlement to stimulate development.
Grist and sawmills thrived and the North Country's first power dam was built on the river. The swift water was the reason. Water powered industry and more people came.
"An industrial empire was created by the Ogden's and that was what helped developed Waddington," said Mark Scott, former village supervisor and now owner of Artworks Creperie. "You might say water, and the river, powered the economy."
Waddington was among the first communities in the area to have electricity, which at the time sparked growth during the Industrial Revolution.
In the early 1800s more wealthy people came and among them were Joshua Waddington. He bought large tracts of land and made the first major improvements since early settlement. The village was incorporated in 1818 and named after him.
Take a stroll down Main Street and see history alive. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, founded in 1818, is the oldest church building in upstate New York. You can still go inside the Town Hall, built in 1884, and the public library, dedicated in 1919.
The St. Lawrence River is also the gateway to the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean. To stimulate commercial shipping and improve navigation the St. Lawrence Seaway was built in the 1950s. That was bad news for Waddington. European freighters sailed by. The mills were dismantled and the town declined.