The History of New York State
Book IX, Chapter X

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER X.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY. #1

General Richard Montgomery, born in Ireland December 2, 1736, became a citizen of New York, and, although a trained officer of the English Army, threw in his influence, and service in the provincial affairs of America. On the opening of the Revolution he was made a general and ordered to march against Canada. He was successful at Chambly and Montreal, and insole command of the attacked against Quebec. But in his eagerness to be at the head of his men he was mortally wounded. Congress in 1776, erected a monument to his memory, but the greatest memorial honor is that seventeen States have perpetuated his name by attaching it to as many counties, and almost as many cities.

Three years before the breaking out of the Revolution a great section of Albany county was set aside and named after the English Governor of the province, William Tryon. With the victorious ending of the war Tryon's name was anathema to the lips of the patriots, and in 1784 honor was done to the dead hero of Quebec by changing the hated title to that of Montgomery.

Sit William Johnson had been the instigator of the movement to set up Tryon county. Sir William had settled in the region near what is now Johnston, built himself a baronial mansion, acquired great acreages of land, attained an influence with the Indians which was valuable in the affairs of the province, and was a benefactor of the tenants and their neighbors who gathered around him. He supplied the land and money that went into the erection of the county buildings at Johnstown, the county seat. After the Revolution the Mohawk section and others began to have an accession of settlers, and the desire arose fro smaller divisions of the State, and particularly Montgomery County. From 1789 to 1854 no fewer than thirty-five counties were carved from the original Montgomery, leaving it reduced, from being the larger part of New York State, to one of the smaller counties with an area of only 436 square miles.

Thirty-two pieces had been removed from Montgomery. The boundaries were getting narrowed and the county compact. But the growth of cities had been greater in those along the Mohawk than in the more pliant sections, and there were also more villages to the south. Complaint was made that it took too long and was too costly to make the long trip to Johnstown to attend to legal business. The result of this dissatisfaction was the removal of the county seat to Fonda. The residents of the north half of the county were incensed by this action and, in 1838, petitioned the Legislature to set their part off as a separate county, which was done under the title of Fulton. The departure of Fulton meant more than the loss of the other divisions, principally because with it went the last shreds of William Johnson's work in the founding of the original county.

The county as left by his final division is bounded on the north by Fulton; on the east by Schenectady and Saratoga; on the south by Schenectady, Schoharie and Otsego; on the west by Herkimer. It is on both sides of the Mohawk, distant from Albany about forty miles. The land away from the river is generally elevated with many tributaries of the Mohawk flowing through the vales between the hills, the range between the highest and lowest parts only amounting to some 440 feet. There are no usable minerals within the district, sandstone and lime rock being the only products quarried or mined. The effects of the glacial period are marked, resulting in a variety of soils. In general the county is well adapted to agriculture. The valleys are unusually rich, while the higher table land is freer from frost. Dairying is the main agricultural industry, as much because of the ready markets to be found in the multiplying cities as the special fitness of the land. Vegetables are grown in many parts for the canning factories which are scattered throughout the Mohawk Valley. Fruit growing has, in the more recent years, become a specialty. Apples have from early times done well here, but the newer movement is in the planting of the small fruits. Manufacturing occupies the attention of the majority. The urban population far outnumbers the country; some of the richest factory concerns are represented in the county, and the variety of products is yearly increasing.

The settlement of this section of the State was the result of two very different stream of immigration, When Arent Van Corlear first visited the valley in 1661 he was immediately smitten with its charms, and straightway bought from the Indians large tract of land. These purchases were confirmed by the English governor, Dongan, in 1684, the Dutch having been displaced from power in New York. There was, however, no effort made to settle these tracts until early in the next century.

In 1710, as a result of one of the religious wars of Europe, certain refugees from the Lower Palatinate of Germany fled to England, and from there were sent to the York colony. The first of these groups came in 1708, although the greater numbers arrived in 1710 (3,000), and were located on the Hudson. Dissatisfaction arose among them, and displeasure in the minds of those who felt they were their benefactors, with a result that the Palatines were sent off farther up the State by the English that they might be a barrier between the French and Indians and their precious selves. These Palatines did not prove much of a barrier in the war that soon followed, but they did scatter through much of the Montgomery region and exerted great influence in the development of that region. Wars, both the French and Indian, and the Revolution drove the most of these colonists away from their lands. But when peace had been declared many returned to the place from which they had been driven.

One of the first results of peace with the English was their making of a compact with the Indians, whereby they conveyed for what was thought a proper consideration, their lands. This was accomplished at Fort Stanwix in 1788. The next more was to distribute tracts to those who had fought in the army, which was carried though shortly after the agreement with the Indians. These things bought the second stream of immigration into Montgomery, that of the pioneers of lands farther east, particularly New England, although many of them came from the lower parts of New York.

To these two movements into the county is probably due most of its sturdy growth and solid type of development. The Germans were cattle and farm men; the Yankees were men of ingenuity and experienced in the art of pioneering. It needed both classes to make the valley counties of the Mohawk the admiration of a State. The histories of the towns, into which the county of Montgomery is divided, will show more fully the expansion of this region, and the manner in which varied settlers influence its growth.

TOWNS.

Amsterdam town, in the eastern section of Montgomery, is located on the fraudulent Indian grant, known as the Kayaderossaeras, given in 1708. It was one of the largest of the early areas of Tryon, and was the largest in Montgomery County when erected in 1793 until its separation into other towns. The earliest settler was a German, Philip Groat, who came in 1715. His sons built the first grist mill in 1730, which furnished flour to the later settlers for miles around. in 1742 William Johnson, not yet the baron, bought a piece land north of the river for its "water power." He built a sawmill, added one for grinding grist in 1744, and about the same period erected the stone mansion known as Mount Johnson and Fort Johnson. Not until 1763, now a man of wealth and position, did he leave his home to go to the more elaborate one, Johnson Hall. Just before the end of the century many with names of English origin came to Amsterdam, but the found of the city of that title was Albert Veeder, who came during the Revolutionary War and built a mill on the site of the future city, and so the settlement which grew up there came to known Veedersburg, which title was not changed to Amsterdam until 1804.

Amsterdam city was incorporated as a village in 1830, although the residents did not avail themselves of this privilege until the next year. by 1804 the hamlet had a population of about a hundred, half Dutch and half Yankee, which didn't make for agreement. In fact, on a split vote, the presiding officer was the one who decided that the town should have the name it now bears. The charter of 1854 gave the growing place wider powers and established boundaries of a mile square, divided into wards. In 1865 and in 1875 still larger powers were given by the Legislature. In 1885, April 16, the city of Amsterdam was created with four wards, the fifth being added when the village of Port Jackson was annexed.

The political history of the city throws no light on the industrial advance which made it a city of size. There is a wide difference between the mill of Veeder and the hundred factories and manufacturing plants which now surround Amsterdam. The Chuctenunda River had been utilized from the first, but was not large stream. With the destruction of the forests and the use of the upper waters by others, there were signs in 1840 that its power would fall. It was not until 1848 that a concerted effort was made leading to the construction of a dam impounding a surplus of water for future use. In 1855 it became necessary to increase the supply, which was done at Galway. In 1875 the sides of this reservoir were raised. the establishment of this great body of water attracted many manufacturers to the district, and from 1842 until the present day there had been a continuous increase in the number of factories in Amsterdam. Rug and carpet making is the principal interest among the factories, giving employment to more than any other industry. Amsterdam rugs are known all over the world. Brooms have been one of the typical articles made in the city from before it was a city. knit goods are probably the next in importance, with a number of minor productions following. The population of Amsterdam in 1920 was 33,524.

Canajoharie, on the south side of the Mohawk, was one of the five original districts set up with Tryon county in 1772, and on March 7, 1788, was transformed into a town. four towns have since been taken from it, reducing its acreage to less than 24,000. The name, from the Indian, is said to have meant "the pot that washes itself," derived, no doubt, from a bit of nature's handiwork in the bed of a creek where falling water and pebbles have worn a great pot hole twenty feet in diameter and possibly as much deep. Who first came of the whites to this section is not known, but names began to be associated with the region in 1775. There were evidently quite a few in the neighborhood by this time and mill had already been erected by the streams. The village Canajoharie is located on the site of one of these early mills. John Roof came sometime in 1778 and opened a tavern here at which stages stopped. General Sullivan's troops passed through the section in 1779, and General Clinton made the tavern his headquarters as did Washington on one of his many trips. The village was incorporated on April 30, 1829, and has since made a substantial but slow growth. Water was secured in 1852 by a gravity system and enlarged and improved several times since. Fire on three occasions, 1840, 1849 and 1877, have given the village severe setbacks. Today it is a residential town, the home of many retired business men and farmers. While not a manufacturing place there are ten factories, the principal one being that of a nationally known packing concern. Population, 1920, 3,784.

Charleston, the only town in the county that does not border on the Mohawk River, is very old, having been organized in 1793 from a part of Mohawk. It is in a part of the county where the land is ill suited to the plowed crops. And dairying forms the main industry. Of the more than 25,00 acres which make up its area, little more then half is under fence. The main villages are: Burtonville, situated on the Schoharie; Charleston Four Corners and Charleston village. Population, 785.

Florida created at the same time as Charleston, 1793, includes all the land south of the Mohawk and east of the Schoharie Creek, making it the largest town in the county, 28,364 acres. The section was settled by the Palatines, who had no legal right to the land, and William Johnson, as the agent of Sir peter Warren, had much to do the bringing in of new colonists and settled the land disputes of those already there. The villages are: Port Jackson, the largest and most important, one of the results of the Erie Canal, it being a receiving point and the other end of the ferry to the city of Amsterdam. The village was annexed by their latter city in 1888. Fort Hunter is the historic village taking its name from Queen Anne's Chapel, or rather the fort that as made of the chapel in the French and Indian War. Minaville is the centralmost hamlet and the shipping point for its dairy products. Scotch Bush has a medicinal spring much valued. Population, 1.651.

Glen, to the south of the Mohawk, contains some of the finest "flats" in the county, but is mostly made up of the upland heavy-soiled farms. The town was formed from Charleston in 1823 and named in honor of Jacob Glen, who had a grant on 10,000 acres here. Of the villages, Auriesville is an interesting place if for no other reason than that it has a shrine visited by many of the Catholic faith, marking a spot where a Jesuit is supposed to have been killed by the Indians in the seventeenth century. Glen village, Mill Point, and Fultonville are three of the other hamlets. Population, 1,782.

Minden, in the southwest corner of the county, was settled by the Germans. As a town it was organized in 1798. Much of the area is historic ground, fought over, early peopled and churched, a section where the visitor can be told many a tale of the pioneer days as lived here.

The village of Fort Plain is of interest to the antiquarian not only because it received its name from the fortification built here in 1776, but on account of the events occurring within the area. A stone house erected here for George Clark, the governor of New York in 1738, to which he wished to take his sons from the temptations of the great city of New York, was the first of its sort in this region and the place around which much of the colonial and Indian life revolved. The distinguished families of the day visited the mansion, the Indian came on peaceful or warlike mission, and it was the mainstay of the pioneer life. The family later seemed to long for the flesh pots of the city and abandoned the house in a few years. In 1807 the stone in the building was used to erect a tannery on the opposite side of the creek. Cornplanter came to the village in 1810 with several chiefs.

The village did not amount to much until after the completion of the Erie Canal. Stores, taverns, residences were not built in numbers. By 1860 the population had increased to nearly 1,600. Factories located here. In 1823 the village was incorporated; in 1885 a water works secured; churches were among the first of the public buildings to be erected, there are now five; a news sheet was started in 1827, and others took its place when it ceased publication. Twenty-five factories now furnish occupation to the town, among their products are: Knit good, (the largest), condensed milk, furniture, silk throwsters and several articles in small quantities. Population, 4,366.

Mohawk, formed from Johnstown on April 4, 1837, was the last civil division of the county, but was one of the parts of the district of Mohawk in the subdivision of that name in Tryon County. It is on the northern boundary of Montgomery on both river and canal, and is a typical valley town with fertile surrounding lowlands backed by glorious hills. The land grants covering this area date from the early eighteenth century, the "Stone-Arabia" being one. The lands here comprised one of the great Indian villages, their chief abiding place, for years. this village was called Caughnawaga, "Stone-in-the-Water," in allusion to the rapids in the Mohawk at this place. Jesuit priests on missions to the aborigines, were the first settlers in the locality, coming in 1645 or earlier. The first permanent pioneers were Dutch, one of the first being Douw Fonda. At the breaking our of the Revolution he was living on the "Flats" and, in may, 1780, he was killed in a raid which made the name of Sir John Johnson infamous. The sentiments of the people were divided in the Revolution which led to several serious clashes.

The village Fonda is the commercial center of the town and shiretown of the county. The principal part of the village was on the site of Caughnawaga until the change of the county seat to Fonda threw the county into a turmoil and led to the separation of Fulton from it in 1838. Land lad been purchased where the village now is by certain wealthy men, and when the new county building were erected the commercial and other interests followed. The two great peaks in the history of Fonda were the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the construction of the first railroad in 1835. This later was one of the causes of the moving of the county buildings. In 1850 the village was incorporated, and bit by bit since then has added the civic necessities. Manufacturing plants were brought in, only in a limited way, from the day of the water gristmill in 1811 to the broom factory of later years. (This latter industry still is represented). The population of the village was, 1920, 1,208, of the towns, 2,353.

Root is the central town on the southern side of the Mohawk Agriculture is the main interest, dairying being the specialty, with fruit growing having an important place., Building stone and slate are to be found in hills, and the water power o the two streams in the region, Yatesville and Flat Creek, has been utilized from the early days of the town. there are ac number of natural features in the hill country which repay the visitor's inspection, and the region is coming to be quite a summer resort.

The first white settler of record was Jacob Dievendorf, who located at the present site of Currytown prior to the Revolution. Among the villages of Root of Rural Grove, the largest, situated on the Yatesville Creek. It is the mercantile center of the region. Sprakers is a hamlet on the Mohawk. Currytown is the oldest village. Randall, Flat Creek and Brown Hollow, Bundy's and Lyker's Corners are other small places in Root. population, 1,198.

St. Johnsville, the most westerly of the towns of Montgomery, was organized from Oppenheim, April 18, 1838. In area it is the smallest town in the county, with only 9,818 acres, but ranking with the highest in population, which was 3,123 in 1920. The land is nearly all of the broken "flat" formation characteristic of this part of the Mohawk Valley, exceedingly well suited to cultivation in the more level sections. St. Johnsville was probably settled in 1725, supposedly by Germans. The village of the same name, located on the Mohawk, was laid out in 1775 by David and Conrad Zimmerman, or Timmerman as it was spelled then. For a long time it went by the name of the founders. When the Erie Canal made its way through the village a new life and a new name were give the place. The railroad of 1836 promoted an industrial phase of its existence which still persists. There were 15 factories in the village in 1913, whose products included piano-players and actions, knit underwear, and other knit articles, gas engines and condensed milk.

 

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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