The History of New York State
Book X, Chapter IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




A warlike clan of Indians once had fortified towns along the Susquehanna River, of which the principal one was called Onnon-tioga, signifying :the village on a hill between the rivers." The intervale below this, where Athens is now situated was simply known as Tioga, or between the rivers. According to Champlain these villages lay among other against which the clan waged wars, and some of the towns belonged, no doubt to the Iroquois. They also joined forces with Champlain in 1615 in his march against the Onondaga, and upon the return of the band a visit was made to the land of this clan. The French interpreter army spent the winter with his allies, and later described the castle at Onnon-tioga as "situated in a beautiful country, in a commanding position, well fortified with earth works and palisades, and containing 800 warriors."

For their attempt to aid Champlain and the Adirondack Indians, the Iroquois determined to attack the castle, but were repulsed. But with them were three Dutchmen who were taken prisoner by the Onnon-tiogas, who, thinking them French spared their lives and turned them over to their compatriots. The Iroquois, however, secured the deadly gun of the whites, and when they made their next attack, the Onnon-tiogas were either destroyed, or merged into some of the tribes of the Six nations, and the Delawares assigned the region. but the remains of the castle and earth-works were to be seen for many years after the whites has taken possession of the land.

The coming of the white man precipitated another contest. This as to whether the State of Pennsylvania or New York should control the Susquehanna region; whether the valuable furs of the region should go to Albany or Philadelphia. New York won in this bloodless battle when the Indians conveyed, in 1683, the lands along the river as far down as Washita, or the falls, which included the territory of Tioga County. The effect of this was to exclude white settlement from the region for another century. The only known Indian town in the county during this period was at Owego, although beside the river ran one of the main trails and Tioga Point was one of the favorite stopping places. Of the Indian warfare in the Revolution which took place in or passed through the county, accounts ware given in the general historical section of this work. With the close of that war, came the end not only of Indian atrocities, but of their dominion over this fair land.

Massachusetts now took a hand in the affairs of the country, claiming that,, under her original charter, she controlled a large body of New York land. in the adjustment of the difficulty which arose over this contention that State was allowed the preemption rights for a great section of the west section of the State and 230,400 acres known as the "Boston Purchase,' covering the western half of Broome and the eastern half of Tioga County.

The first permanent settlement is supposed to date from 1785, but from accounts given in journals of Sullivan's lieutenants it would appear that they "camped by the river seventeen miles from Owego opposite the farm" of some un-named. Of those who came to the area and remained, Amos Draper has the honor of being first, and to the old Indian town of Owego, priority in establishment. Subsequent settlement were made in the towns of Tioga as follows: Tioga and Nichols, 1787; Barton, Berkshire and Newark Valley, 1791; Candor, 1793; Spencer, 1794; and Richford, 1809.

The causes leading to this early settlement of the district were varied. The tales of Sullivan's men who passed through the area in the summer of 1779, told of the wonderful farm lands of the Indians. And as the army was made up of troops from five States, the stories received wide circulation. Corn was described as having ears twenty-two inches in length. The broad valleys of the rivers with their fields of corn and thrifty apple orchards must have made a great impression on the men who had eked out a living on the sandy lands of the east, or in the hills of New England. Again, the land in the Wyoming Valley were held under a doubtful tenure, and many of the settlers of that region moved into this new territory where a deed meant ownership without dispute. The granting of lands to the soldiery of New York after the Revolution for services in that war put a large number of men in the possession of tracts. But many of these were located too far in the northern wilderness and quite a number disposed of their bounty lands and , with the proceeds, bought sections in the "Boston Purchase."

Whatever the causes that brought so many to the Tioga Section immediately after the war, the result was to quickly populate the territory with a wide variety of types and races. Men and women, many of them of the cultured classes, the most of them families who came to settle, not to prospect, moved in. Scantily supplied with the necessities of life, there was a spirit of helpfulness, of cooperation that quickly built up this new country. In 1800 the county has nearly 7,000 residents, and twenty years later more than double this.

The first farm in Tioga, if we except the one mentioned by the observer in Sullivan's army, was started in 1785 by James McMasters, who had tenor fifteen acres of corn that year which he shared with the Indians who had helped in the care of the crop. The Pipe and Owego creeks were early utilized by the pioneers to grind their corn a to manufacture the lumber needed for their houses. Major William Ransom and Colonel Pixley built the first sawmill on Pipe Creek, 1792, and a gristmill on the Owego the next year. A tannery was started by a Mr. Brown in 1795 and a distillery was opened by Colonel Pixley in 1798. From this time on, the streams were seats of many scattered mill, and varied industries were turning out their products such as woolen yearn and goods, in addition to those mentioned. In 1810 the census gave these facts concerning the industrial situation in the county: Looms, 289; woolen cloth made, 24,737 yards; linens, 67,340 yards; mixed cotton cloth, 7,988 yards; wool carded, 16,910 pounds; yards of cloth fulled and dressed, 15,716; tanneries 7; distilleries, 29; making 17,540 gallons, selling for 80 cents a gallon. This was no small business to have been created in a wilderness country in so few years.

Meanwhile the county had been organized, February 16, 1791, taken from part of Montgomery. At the date of its erection it contained Chemung, Broome, and Chenango counties in addition to the territory which now comprises Tioga. But in 1798 began the pruning which reduced the county to its present limits, for an area was taken to form Chenango. In 1806 another great piece was taken to make Broome. And in 1822 the territory now included in the towns of Owego, Newark, Berkshire, and Richford were taken from Broome, and the towns of Caroline, Danby and Newfield were taken Tioga and added to Tompkins. In this same year Owego and Elmira were made half shiretowns. The last f the carving was in 1836, when Elmira and Chemung separated from Tioga. As now left, the county has an area of 542 square miles, and is bounded on the north by Tompkins and Cortland counties; on the east by Broome; on the south by Pennsylvania and west by Chemung.

The surface of Tioga is wonderfully varied for it lies among the prolongation of the ridges of the Alleghenies, which are here broken diagonally by the Susquehanna River. the glacial and other drift materials cover much of the hills and fill the bottom lands, giving on the average a good loamy soil varied in fertility according to the proportions of sand or clay. The lighter uplands are mostly in hay or dairy crops, with numerous orchards; the valleys grow the general and heavier crops, potatoes and vegetables being specialties. Grain growing was the pioneer's crop, and until transportation was established over the state, paid well. but the cow has succeeded wheat, the orchards have replaced the virgin forest and vegetables are often found where the Indian had his corn fields. The Tioga Agricultural Society, formed in 1819, has been one of the potent factors in Tioga's development. With occasional lapses, it has remained in existence for more than a century, and the county fair had its beginnings in 1841.

Before entering upon the history of the towns, mention should be made of the floating character, or wandering habits of the county seat, for it had made its appearance in many places before it took up what seems to be its permanent abiding place in Owego. When the county was erected the house of George Hornwell in the town of Chemung was named as the place where the court must be held. This house was on the present site of Elmira. Later in the same year a site for the location of the court house and jail was chosen along the east shore of Nanticoke creek in the town of Union, and the courts were ordered held in 1792 at the house of Nehemiah Spalding near Nanticoke. In 1793 half shiretowns were appointed, Newton (Elmira) and Chenango. But two years later the sheriff was directed to figure his mileage from Nanticoke and "no where else." Owego came in the fray when, in 1801, the board of supervisors were required to meet there. Meanwhile the village of Chenango had removed to Chenango Point (Binghamton). Fortunately, Broome county was set up in 1806, which eliminated one shiretown, but this improved matters little because Newton in Tioga county was named as the place in which her courts should be held. In 1810 Spencer was named as one of the shiretown, the other being Elmira. In 1822 the Legislature again took a hand in affairs and this time Elmira and Owego were named as the half shiretowns. When Chemung County was erected in 1836, it left Owego as the only county seat within the boundaries of Tioga, and as such it has remained to this day.

One of the first acts of the county after its erection was to lay plans for the improvement of its roads to "Kaatskill Landing" and later a turnpike was built on this line. As early as 1816, Tioga seems to have had connecting roads to all of the main thoroughfares of that day. The opening of the Erie Canal hurt rather than helped the county, and efforts were made to use the Susquehanna as a waterway with steam vessels. This led, however, to failure and serious disaster when the boiler of the first steamboat exploded. The river did a big freight business with its "Durham" boats. It was not until the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad opened to Ithaca in 1832 that the county had easy access to markets, but this road was only about 29 miles long. The Erie reached here in 1849 and other lines came in after years.


Barton, in the southwestern corner of the county, has an area of 32,686 acres. It was taken from Tioga and established March 23, 1824. The surface is hilly, some of the soil rich; dairying is the main industry. The first to settle in the district were Ebenezer, Ellis and Stephen Mills who located in 1791 near the mouth of Ellis Creek, having come from the Wyoming Valley by way of the Susquehanna River. The principal and business center of Barton is Waverly. It had it inception early but only with the completion of the Erie railroad in 1849 did it expand and become important. It now vies with Owego in size of its mercantile section and the number of tits industries. The number of the factories are about equal but of different character. Among the products in Waverly are: Leather gloves, furniture, silks, stove piping and grist mill products. Its location on the east bank of the Chemung River among the hills, has given it a fame for beauty. Hamlets within the borders of the town are Baton, Reniff, Lockwood, North Barton and Halsey Valley.

Berkshire, in the northeastern part of Tioga has an ear of 17,433 acres, the most of which are highlands, the mean elevation of the town being between 1,200 and 1,400 feet. Its heavy clay soil is difficult to work and mostly used in the production of hay crops and grazing. There are a number of good orchards in the section and certain vegetable crops are grown with profit. New Englanders were the first settlers, including Isaac and Abraham Brown who founded what was known for many years as Brown's settlement. Out of this crude beginning has grown the lovely village of Berkshire, the rural center of the town. It, in the early days, had some prominence a an industrial hamlet, manufacturing wagons, furniture and leather, but is now mostly a residential village, where wealthy farmers have made their homes.

Candor, the largest town in the county and in the central part, was settled in 1793 by Joel Smith and Isaac Judd of Farmington, Connecticut. They found it a ridge county covered with massive pines, of which there is now only an occasional remaining tree. The surface was broken by many small streams which were put to work sawing the pines and grinding grain, there being several mills before the opening of the new century. The wooden hills have been made into hay farms, and the mills in the valley are slowly disappearing as there is little grain grown in the district which is ground. The principal villages of this section are Candor, the industrial center, Wilseyville, Weltonville, Catatonk.

Newark Valley, in the eastern part of the county, has gone under a variety of names, being given the present title in 1862. As Brown's Settlement it started on its way in 1791 when Isaac Brown and others located in this region. the valley of East Owego Creek, along which it lies, is one of charm, and the people who settled and have since lived there made of it a quiet farming community. The main business and social center is the village of the same name, with churches, mercantile section and a few industries, the most of the latter being those which cater to the farmer. Other hamlets are Ketchumville, Jenksville, West Newark, and New Connecticut.

Nichols lies in the angle formed by the Susquehanna River which also is the north and west boundary, Owego and the Pennsylvania line. It was formerly a part of Owego from which it separated in 1813, when it was added to Tioga, from which it was in turn taken in 1824. The area of its land is 19,850, the most of which is under farm fence. There are few finer agricultural towns along the Susquehanna Valley. The pioneer of this section was probably Emanuel Coryell, the agent of Colonel Hooper, the owner of a large grant. He came in 1791, induced others to follow his lead, and did much to bring about an early settlement of the area. The business center of Nichols is the village of the same title near which the first of the mills were built. Surrounded by a dairy region, it has bottling work for milk. A furniture factory is another of the industries.

Owego, the shiretown of the county, is in the southeast corner and comprises a district of fertile lands which were once the garden spots of the aborigines. Owego was known to the Indians as Ah-Wah-Gah, which means either "swift river" or "where the river widens," the latter being the more probably. Concerning the first settlers of the town, something has already been told. The village of Owego, situated at the confluence of the Susquehanna river and Owego Creek, had been the leading place in the county, even before it was made the sole county seat. In 1791 there were but six families on the site of the village, and but nineteen seven years later. But it was the earliest settlement in this part of the State, and held a place of great importance as the natural head of the shipping on the river. The road built to Ithaca in 1808 added to its growth and standing. The traffic on this was so great in a few years that it was not uncommon for five to eight hundred loaded wagons to come and go in the hamlet in a single day. Steamboats were also built here, but met with failure. Not until the Erie Railroad was run through Owego did its importance as a business center wane. In its later years Owego has taken upon itself the dignity and grace of a shiretown. The mercantile district of the city is larger than is usual in a place of its size. Manufacturing is carried on, but not in an obtrusive way. There are, perhaps, thirty factories producing many sorts of articles, but they are well outside the town limits, and do not mar the beauty of the residential portion. Many who have prospered in the cultivation of the lands of the county have made this the home in which to spend their sunset years. John D. Rockefeller lived, as a boy, not far from the village, and Thomas C. Platt, the famous statesman, was a native of Owego.

Among the hamlets of Owego mention should be made of Flemingville, one of the earliest to be settled; Apalachin, a rural place of later growth; Campville, which was a rival for the honor of the first place in the county; and Hiawatha, a pleasant summer resort further up the river from the village of Owego.

Richford, the northernmost of the towns of the county, is also the highest, the summits of the hills reaching an altitude of 2,000 feet. it is in fact, on the ridge dividing the waters of this part of the State, some flowing to the St. Lawrence, others entering the Susquehanna and by way of this river to the lower Atlantic. Because of its high and isolated location, it was an almost unbroken wilderness, inhabited by the hunting parties of Indians, as late as 1812. When and by whom, the first settlement was made, is unknown. The name given the town in 1821 was after that of one of its pioneers who, with Stephen Wells, gave a public square in that year, Ezekiel Rich. The region is a dairy section, and the bottling of milk is an important industry. The business centers are Richford and East and West Richfords.

Spencer, in the extreme northwestern part of the county, was originally of great extent, and has been the "mother of towns." No fewer than five have been separated from her, and the land area left is now 29,136 acres. Practically all the land has at some time been cultivated, although there are large parts which are now in grass or coming up in second growth timber. Benjamin Drake and Joseph Barker were the first settlers of Spencer, locating on the site of Spencer village. This last mentioned place is the mercantile and social center of the town. Spencer Springs, North Spencer, and Cowells are three of the hamlets.

Tioga was organized in 1788 as the so-called "Old Town of Chemung" and included what is now the town of Owego, created in 1791. Both towns originally embraced much other territory than is now to be found within their borders. In 1813 it was found advisable to exchange names, whereby the district to the west became Tioga. As Chemung, the region had its first settlers in 1785 in the persons of Samuel and William Ransom and Prince and Andre Alden from the Wyoming Valley. Major William set out the first apple trees, and established the first nursery, the beginning of the present vital industry of this section. Tioga Center, the main village of Tioga, was, in the early days, a great sawmill town, but lost its prominence in this with the depletion of the forests.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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