The History of New York State
Book X, Chapter VI

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER VI.

CHENANGO COUNTY. #1

At the treaty of Fort Stanwix, November 5, 1768, a boundary was marked as the east side of the Indians lands which became known as the "Line of Property." This extended from a point on Woods Creek to the head waters of Unadilla Creek, down this stream to the Pennsylvania line, and was the starting point for the lines of many of the land grants dating after the ending of the Revolutionary War. In 1784 the Iroquois ceded to New York much of the territory west of this line. Chenango was apart of this 1784 domain, but was more definitely owned by the whites after the treaty by governor Clinton with the Tuscaroras on June 28, 1785, whereby for a consideration of $1,100, the tribe sold to the State a large strip of land including all the eastern part of Chenango County south of Norwich. This property was soon bought up by private individuals. In 1788 additional land was ceded by the tribes to the north and west. The western section of the county was included in the Military Tract secured by the State for distribution among the soldiery. Between the two was a strip of land known as the "Gore" which, owing to mistakes in surveying, was not included in the other two large sections. These three first legal divisions comprise the greater portion of the present county. The first purchase was surveyed as townships and was known as the Chenango Twenty townships purchase. The Gore included the present towns of German, Pitcher, Lincklean, deRuyter, and a part of Cazenovia. The dates of the first settlements in these section will be given in the accounts of the various towns.

The first civil division of the States established twelve counties, of which Albany was one, 1683; Herkimer and Tioga counties were set up from Montgomery in 1791; from these two Chenango was taken March 15, 1798. The name given the new county was taken from the river that flows through it. Chenango is about 95 miles from Albany, has an area of 894 square miles, and is one of the rolling agricultural district of central New York. Madison was separated from it on March 21, 1806. Originally the county was divided in the eight towns of Jericho (Bainbridge), Norwich, Oxford, Brookfield, Cazenovia, Hamilton, Sangerfield and Shelburne. Sangerfield was transferred to Oneida County in 1804.

The surface of the county is hilly, the hills lying in parallel ridges running north and south, with the ravines of the streams forming valleys, many of which are too steep to be cultivated. The summits of the hills are usually board and oaf a nearly uniform height, making them ideal for fruit growing, grazing and staple farming. Of streams there are many. The broad valley of the Unadilla forms the eastern boundary; separated from it by a ridge is the Chenango, the most important of the county streams; and the Susquehanna's upper waters pass through the towns of Afton and Bainbridge. Many lakes and clear water ponds are to be found in almost all of the towns, with numerous tributaries of the larger streams flowing from them.

The soil is usually disintegrated rock lying near its source, there being but little of the glacial drift. The higher lands are of heavier shale varieties with the usual fertile intervales. The altitude and ample rainfall makes of this region a natural dairy section, in which industry Chenango takes high rank. At one time it was the banner butter county in the State. Cheese was made in large quantities, but the increasing cots of making of these products, together with the rise of manufacturing cities and cheap transportation have made the selling of raw milk more profitable. Horticulture, while practiced in a small way from the pioneer days, only reached importance in the last fifty years. apples, with improved methods, have taken first place among the fruits, but the small fruits and some of the berries are heavily planted. Unlike many of the counties, agriculture has increased its hold as the first of the industries of Chenango Of useful minerals the county is lacking, sandstones and slate being the only rock ever quarried.

As we have seen, the region west of the east line of Chenango was Indian territory until after the Revolution. With peace and the determination of its own destiny in its hands, the Union was eager to make a new start. Soldiers were scattering everywhere, and it is fair to suppose that those who were in Sullivan's army of 1779 had noted this section and came to locate in it when war was no more. Treaties with the Indians had opened the region, either by military grants to the individual soldier or by purchase of large tracts by speculators. Chenango had been open to settlement before the more north regions; even before the extinction of the Indian titles, there had been squatters in part of the future county. The first permanent settlement in Chenango was in 1784 in the towns of Afton and Bainbridge. Once the movement into this area was started, the number of pioneers increased rapidly, and two years after the organization of the county there were (1800) more than 16,000 people within its borders. This number included Madison, but ten years later there were 21,704 residents of the reduced Chenango, and 25,144 in the separated Madison County.

These early settlers did not have the open prairie of the west ready for their plow. Here was a county of great trees, which, while they supplied the material for a dwelling, had to be destroyed before there was any place in which to grow food. A natural result of this difficulty was the using of it to promote new industries so that the ashes of the forest were the first money crops of the district; lye and soap being one of the first manufactures of Chenango, nor were these soon abandoned. A great ice freshet in 1788 that destroyed many of the improvements made along the streams, and the barrenness of the next years seriously retarded settlement.

The absence of roads was the most serious drawback to development, even Indian trails were few and many of the pioneers made their way through the unbroken forests. The first settlers in the southern part of the county found a road, supposed to have been made by a detachment of sultan's army, and on this they located, and many connecting roads were added to this by 1800. By 1809 the new State road had been completed from Albany to buffalo, which crossed the northern part of the county (the Madison section). The rivers and lakes had before this been utilized as highways, canals projected, and some smaller ones built. But not until October, 1836, was Chenango connected to a water way. In that year the Binghamton and Utica Canal was completed with a length of 97 miles, the Chenango river being the main feeder. While of great value during the period when there was no railroads, it failed top pay and was abandoned forty years after its opening.

Railroads did not touch Chenango until after the Civil War; the first from the north, the New York and Oswego was built in 1869-70. The Albany and Susquehanna reached the southern part of the county in 1867; others came into use shortly after this time. Transportation was not an unmixed blessing, for the canal and the railroads led the adventurous to seek the prairie lands of the west that these lines opened up, and it was years before the swing of the movement lost its momentum. Chenango reached the peak in population in1860, although it has never retrogressed in numbers more than a few thousand at any time since, the census of 1920 giving it a population of 37,778.

With the erection of Chenango County, two villages were chosen as half county seats, this being a not unusual form of compromise. Hamilton and Oxford were the localities named, which continued as half shiretowns until the separation of Madison in 1806, taking Hamilton. North Norwich was selected to take its place, and in 1809 Norwich became the county seat. A great rivalry existed between Oxford to the south, and Norwich in the north, for county honors which came to a head when it became necessary to replace the courthouse some years later. It was settled by the Legislature in the favor of Norwich in 1837.

TOWNS.

Afton, in the southeast corner of the county, was formed from Bainbridge, November 18, 1858, getting its name from a small stream in England immortalized by Robert Burns. It is one of the higher section with the wide valley of the Susquehanna crossing it. Nearly the whole surface is under fence and arable. Dairy farming is the main occupation, although this is usually carried on in connection with some other style of farming or fruit growing. A railroad runs through the valley, giving it accessibility to markets. The population in 1920 was 1,840.

This is one of the early settled division of Chenango, Elnathan Bush coming here in July, 1786; others soon followed. Afton village, a place of about 800, is the mercantile center of the region. Located in the valley of the Susquehanna, on the railroad, it has always been an important shipping point for the surrounding farms. The river is bridged, a main highway passes through it, and there are several factories. Bottled milk is the main export. Bettsburgh had the first post office in the town and was once a place of great promise. It is now one of the fine rural hamlets of which there are a number in the county. North Afton is the third village in this district. It is worthy of mention that Joseph Smith, one of the founders of Mormonism, spend a part of his life in Afton, where he practiced some of the magical divination with which he won a following later.

Bainbridge was organized as a town with the name Jericho February 16, 1791, when it was a part of Tioga County. This was changed in 1814 in honor of Commodore Bainbridge of the American Navy. It is on the eastern border of the county, located in a hill area watered and drained by the Susquehanna and its tributary creeks, the principal one of which is the Unadilla. At one time the quarrying of building stone was a valued business, but dwindled as it became more expensive to uncover the deeper lying rock. It is, probably for its size, the heaviest shipping milk town of the Chenango group. Not only is this product sent to city markets, but is manufactured into various compounds by concerns which have built their factories here. Its population in 1920 was 2,.009.

An interesting feature of the settlement of the town is the fact that it was set off by the State for the "Vermont Sufferers." These were folk who, because of their standing with the State of New York in a controversy over lands claimed by both, but in the end ceded to Vermont, were dispossessed of their property in the Green Mountain State. To make good in a measure their losses, New York set off the greater part of Afton and Bainbridge to these "sufferers." The first known of these Vermonters to settle on their lands was Elnathan Bush in 1784.

Bainbridge village is located on the west bank of the Susquehanna, and is a station on the railroad 35 miles from Binghamton. Surrounded by a rich agricultural region all of which cows are kept, it has become the manufacturing seat of milk products including casein, milk sugar. Milk separators are also made here. The village was incorporated on April 21, 1829. Bennettsville and West Bainbridge are two hamlets within the town.

Columbus, erected from Brookfield, February 11, 1805, was one of the original townships. It is on the high ridge between the Chenango and Unadilla rivers, on lands which are used principally for grazing and the growing of stock. Its position, off the railroad, has in a measure kept it from securing a large population, which was, in 1920, 683. It is supposed to have had its first settlers in 1781, when colonel Converse came and in, 1793, opened a tavern to care for the increasing numbers who were coming into the region. the village Columbus is the center of the town, geographically as well as ina a mercantile sense. It has churches of three denominations, stores and the shops which cater to the farmer.

Coventry, taken from Green February 6, 1806, was named after the Connecticut town from whence came its first settlers in 1785. In this year, Simon Jones located on the old Chenango road near the center of the present town, soon to be joined by William Goodell and Andrew Clark. There was little permanent settlement until a cousin of Jones, opened an inn, served as land agent, and eventually became the first member of the Legislature from the town.

Coventry is in a hill region where arable heights are interspersed with pasture and meadow lands, making it a choice dairy country. For a time it had five butter and cheese factories. The villages of the area are: Coventry, where most of the churches have taken up their homes, and Coventryville, a mile and a half distant from the former place.

German, organized from De Ruyter, March 21, 1806, derived its name from Obadiah German, sometimes credited with being the original owner and pioneer of the township. As far as the records hose, the township was patented to John Watkins in 1793. It is located in the well watered rolling west border of the county, but has never been largely populated, the residents numbering, in 1920, 365. The principal village gave it title from the town.

Greene, occupying the southwest corner of the county, was erected march 15, 1798, from Broome County, receiving its name from Nathaniel Greene, noted General of the Revolution. There are many fine valleys within its borders which have been brought to a splendid state of cultivation. Quarries were opened from which flagging and building stone were taken, some of which was used in making culverts of the Chenango Canal. The main products of the rural region is milk, the town's location on the railroad facilitating the shipment of this to market. The population in 1920 was 2,917.

This was a favorite spot of the Indians who lived on very friendly terms with the incoming whites. There are mounds in this same area which are the remains of a civilization antedating that of the Indian. The settlement of the town began in 1792, on the site of the present village, by Stephen Ketchum from Saratoga County. In the fall of the same year a party of French refugees arrived at Greene and made it their home. They were not fitted to survive the rigors of a wild country and, in 1796, boated down the Susquehanna and settled in Bradford county, Pennsylvania. Greene village has a beautiful situation in the valley of the Chenango that has attracted to it many visitors and permanent presidents. It was laid out in 1806 under the direction of Elisha Smith, an agent for the owners, the Hornby Estate. Incorporated in April 12, 1842, it now has a population of 1,300. There are nine factories in the borough, making among other things iron castings, furniture and one firm is engaged in packing seeds. Other villages are: Chenango forks, in the narrow valley of the Chenango, and Tioughnioga streams, on the railroad 15 miles from Binghamton; Brisben, named after a former director of the Delaware and Lackawanna road; and Genegantslet on the creek of the same name, which has here a fall of seven feet.

Guilford, taken from Oxford, was set up as a town April 3, 1813, with the name Eastern. This was changed to the present title four years later. It is in a good dairy section but horticulture is practiced to some extent. Sometime between the years 2790 and 1792 several families arrived in this section and made it their home. Mills were built on the creeks and the region became comparatively well settled at an a early date. it now has a population of 1,816. Guilford village is the important hamlet of this area and was first known as Fayette, but changed when a post office was established. Guilford Creek has here a fall of 140 feet, fed in part by a pond of the same name. The first industries were naturally mills, but the falls have a greater present value from a scenic point of view. The other villages are: Rockdale, East Guilford, Rockwell's mills, Yaleville and Van Buren's Corners.

Lincklaen, taken from German and set up as a town on April 12, 1823, received its name from an agent of the Holland Land company, and the founder of Cazenovia, Colonel John Lincklaen. The only families locating in the district previous to 1800 were those of Elisha and Jesse Catlin and Abel Fairchild and two others. The town lies in the northwest corner of the county; is high and under laid with rock which has been quarried. Dairy farms are to be found over most of the territory, but the shipment of milk has fallen off in more recent years. The population of the town was, in 1920, 532. The principal hamlets are Catlin and Burdick.

McDonough, the thirteenth of the original twenty townships, formed from Preston, on April 17, 1816, was named for Commodore McDonough of the navy. It is near the center of the county; is a well drained farm section; has Lake Genegantslet as the source of water powers used from early days. The quarries have been abandoned as the use of other material has come in vogue, and the rather heavy soil is adapted almost solely to dairy farming and horticulture. The population in 1920 was 765. Sylvanus Moore came to the section in 1795, contracted for a hundred cares, to which he added another hundred shortly after, and created the farm which was for more than a century in the hands of some of his descendants. This was only one of his investments in McDonough, for he became one of the large landowners and prominent officials of the section before his death. The villages of this division are: McDonough, the largest, and East McDonough.

New Berlin, taken from Norwich April 3, 1807, lies along the Unadilla River and is one of the leading agricultural communities of Chenango. The population in 1920 was 2,104. The township was purchased by John Taylor of Albany fro several partners, but there was no settlement of it until 1790 by Daniel Scribner of Saratoga County. It was found that fruits did well and there have always been plantings of these, particularly apples. The village of New Berlin is one of the larger boroughs of the county, having a population of 1,070 in 1920. It was incorporated April 17, 1816, and became the mercantile and industrial center of that part of the Chenango. Four churches, two school and a bank care for its needs, and twelve factories of various sizes furnish occupation. Among the products of the village are dress silks, lumber, and condensed milk. South Berlin is the mail point and has two small manufacturing concerns. Holmesville and new Berlin Center are two other hamlets. Population of the town, 1920, 2,104.

Norwich, formed from Bainbridge and Union, both now in Tioga County, in January 19, 1793, embraced many of the present towns of the county, but has been so reduced in the making of these and of the shire village that in 1920 it had a population of only 1,053. It is the central town of the eastern border on two high ridges separated by the valley of the Chenango. The rich valley lands have been cropped with profit for a century, and the hills support many dairy farms. Two railroads cross the town. the first settlement was made in 1788 by Avery potter. Norwich village, the county seat and metropolis of Chenango, is delightfully located on the west bank of the Chenango River. Care was taken in the early days to lay it out in broad straight streets, and the recurring years have added the equipment of the modern small city. It was incorporated April 17, 1816; on October 11, 1877, it was divided into four wards. The population in 1920 is given as 8,268. The development of the city has been that of a rural place and a shiretown, dependent on the surrounding farming district, and having the dignity that comes with the gathering together at the county seat of the educated and prosperous. But it did not confine itself to these things. Manufacturers were induced to consider its advantages, not the least of which was its strategic location of two railroads, with the result that it has become quite a factory town. there are more than forty concerns engaged in the making of different articles. Knit goods take the lead as far as the number employed; pharmaceuticals rank high while there are foundries; hammer and saw making shops, and wire basket factories add their products. The Ontario and Western road have repair shops, which employ many.

North Norwich, formed from Norwich April 7, 1849, is of the same agricultural type as the town from which it was separated. It was settled in 1794 by a group of nine. The present population is 619. The main village is North Norwich, a railroad station and shipping point for the milk which is the principal export of the town. Other settlements are; King's, Plasterville, Sherburne, and Four Corners, which is well named since it is situated at the joining place of four towns.

Otselic, formed from German March 28, 1817, is on the north border of the count in one of the ruggedest part of Chenango. At one time it has the largest creamery in the State, but most of the milk, which is its main product, is now shipped to the large cities. The settlement of this region was late. In 1824 when most of the towns had attained their full growth, Otselic had only half of its present population of 1,000. The hamlets are: South, Center, and Otselic, Beaver Meadow, and Upper Beaver Meadow.

Oxford, originally embracing the town of Guilford and a part of Coventry, was erected January 19, 1793. It lies in one of the beautiful valleys of the interior, with the abandoned Chenango Canal running through. Two railroads cross the town, giving outlet for its milk and manufactured products. The ruins of an ancient fort of unknown age is one of the interesting relics of the town. Elijah Blackman came in 1790, the first white pioneer of the region. Oxford village, incorporated April 6, 1808, is the business and social center of the section, having a population of more then 1,600. It has a small manufacturing district with ten factories making baskets, dress skirts, knit goods and several milk bottling plants. The character of the village has drawn to it many retired farmers, and each summer finds it visited by people of the cities seeking peace and health. One of the first academies established in this part of the State was the Oxford Institute, founded in 1791, and chartered January 27, 1794. South Oxford, and Cheshireville are small hamlets.

Pharsalia, formed from Norwich as Stonington April 7, 1806, derived its original name from the locality from which its first settler came, John Randall, who arrived in 1797. In 1808 the name was changed to the present form. The population in 1920 was 553. The secluded hilly region has retarded the growth of the town. The principal villages are: North and East Pharsalia, Pharsalia.

Pitcher, named for the Lieutenant-Governor of the State at the time of its erection, February 134, 1827, rests on two of the ridges in the west part of the county. There had been a steady decline in its population from 1870, now numbering 609. Hamlets: Pitcher, north Pitcher, and Pitcher Springs.

Plymouth, set up from Norwich April 7, 1806, was settled in 1794 by certain French families. It is an interior town and has lost some of its prominence since hop growing ceased to be profitable. The population in 1920 was 885. Villages, Plymouth, Frinkville.

Preston, formed from Norwich April 12, 1816, is the central most town of the county. The hills supply building stone, and the soil is used principally for hay and grazing purposes. Population, 1920, 618. John glover came from Norwich, Connecticut, and located here in 1787. Preston village is the rural center with three churches, hotel, school and store.

Sherburne was made up from parts of Paris, Oneida County, March 5, 1795. It is on the Chenango River, on the north border of the county. A railroad joins it with the cities o to which it ships its main products, milk and fruit. The population in 1920 was 2,820, including the village of the same name. It was evidently a favorite planting ground of the Indians for fields had been planted years before it was settled in 1791. Sherburne village, incorporated April 16, 1830, is the mercantile and industrial borough of the section, it having gibe factories producing cotton yarn and knit goods. The stores are well stocked and the hotel well occupied by summer visitors. The population, more than 1,000.

Smithville, formed from Greene April 1, 1808, is one of the western dairy towns. Flag stone quarries once supplied valuable building material, and there is still some available timber. The first white man to locate here came in 1797, but there was no real settlement until several years later. The villages are: Smithville Flats and East Smithville. Population, 1920, 843.

Smyrna, taken from Sherburne and erected as Stafford April 6, 1808, is on the north border line. The hills are given over to grazing and grain farming; the fertile valley grows most of the staple crops. Manufacturing is carried on in a small way in the village of Smyrna, incorporated April 20, 1829. The population of the town, 1920, was 1,058.

 

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

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