The Town

Massena is a working-class town settled by European immigrants at the turn of the last century, drawn to this remote area in the northern New York wilderness by the power of the St. Lawrence River which was harnessed by industrialists to produce cheap electricity for the energy intensive process of smelting aluminum. The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) planted itself there in 1903 and became the economic driving force of the town’s expansion.  Alcoa not only provided jobs, it built homes for the newly arrived immigrants and had a major role in defining the culture of Massena. The construction in Massena of the Robert Moses Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River in 1958  increased supply of cheap electricity made possible by the Power Dam provided the incentive for General Motors and Reynolds Metal to build factories in Massena, initiating Massena’s second wave of economic and industrial expansion. These three major companies of Massena: Alcoa, General Motors, and Reynolds Metal, indiscriminately released toxic contaminants into the environment from 1958 – 1984.