The History of New York State
Book IX, Chapter XII

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER XII.

FULTON COUNTY. #1

In 1772 a county was set off from Albany and named after the Governor Tyron, Sir William Johnson was behind this move and personally erected the buildings for the county's business at his own expense at the town known by his name. When the victorious Americans in 1784 wanted the name of the county changed from the hated Tyron to Montgomery, there were no dissenting voices. There was some objection by Sir William to the retaining of the buildings for which he had paid by the new named county, but his hasty departure to Canada led tot confiscation of his estate, including the county buildings in question.

The years following the Revolution were followed by a great migration to the Mohawk Valley. Towns sprang up everywhere; those already found made great growth. Naturally the increase of population was along the valley of the river. Johnstown, the county seat, soon became too far off the main line of settlements to suit some, with the result that the seat of justice was removed from its original home and placed at Fonda in 1836. Objections came thick and fast from the northern Montgomery residents. The legislature was petitioned to set up a new county with the old county seat as its shiretown, which petition was granted and the county known as Fulton, named after the famous inventor, of the steamboat. The county, as erected April 18, 1838, contained nine towns; Bleecker, Broadalbin, Ephratah, Johnstown, Mayfield, Northampton, Oppenheim, Perth and Stratford. Caroga became the tenth when added April 11, 1842, being formed from parts of Stratford, Bleecker and Johnstown.

The new county, was of course, separated from the Mohawk river by the north line of Montgomery. The Adirondack county, Hamilton, forms its north boundary, with Herkimer to the west and Saratoga County on the east. As created, Fulton has an area of 540 square miles, or about 350,000 acres. The upper section of the county, the district lying north of Johnstown, is the more hilly, in some places approaching the mountainous, rather too rough and rocky to encourage cultivation. The more southerly towns are in the same fertile territory which is found along most of the Mohawk Valley. The main stream within the county is Sacandaga Creek, along which, near the mouth of Mayfield Creek is an extensive swamp. There are many small streams and lakes, many of the later being very charming. Farming has been the backbone of the county's prosperity. Because of the nature of the land, dairying has been the main interest agriculturally. But the growing of vegetables for canneries, and the creation of fruit orchards are the more modern developments. The accessibility to markets not only aided agriculture, but encouraged the multiplication of factories and the growth of manufacturing.

Detailed mention will be made of the various phases of these industries, but notice maybe taken here to the peculiar type of manufacture which came to be associated with Fulton County and its towns. It is none other than the making of leather gloves. Fulton is said to be the center of this industry in the United States. As early as 1809 buckskin gloves were favorably known over quite a district as a Fulton product. The old Indian formula for tanning was used, skins were brought in by trappers and farmers, and the makers who had learned their trade, many of them abroad, shaped the gloves. The primacy thus attained in this trade has always been kept; as improvement came out they were introduced into the country shops.

Although Fulton did not become a county until 1838, to get an idea of its growth one must take the census of the towns which formed it prior to its erection. AS nearly as may be worked out, there were 6,831 people in this district in 1800, indicating how rapidly has been the movement of settlers into the Mohawk Valley, once the danger of the Indians, with their white allies was abated. In 1850 the population had increased to 20,170m, by the end of the century, 42,842, and the 1920 census credits the county with 44,927.

The history, particularly the early events, can best be related in the stories of the individual towns or cities. One can get the picture of the "ancient days" better by a study of individual places than by an endeavor to grasp the whole.

TOWNS.

The town of Johnstown comprises one of the most interesting historic localities in the State. When erected March 12, 1793, it was taken from the old town of Caughnawaga, a division of Montgomery County. From it later was formed the towns Mohawk, 1837; Bleecker, 1831; Caroga, 1842; it now has an area of 42,000 acres. The northern part is rather ill fitted to agriculture, but the southern section is covered with well tilled farms. The village of Johnstown has been the scene of most of the activities of the area since the days of Sir William, its founder, who lived here during eleven of the fourteen years of his later life. In 1762 he built Johnstown Hall, now the only Baronial mansion in this country. On the farmlands which surrounded the hall were some hundred tenants. There was nothing that could be called a village until the erection of a courthouse by Sir William in 1772, although the "old stone church" of 1760 indicates that there was a tendency of settlers to cluster here.

The Hall was the center of information and industry for the region. Although of wood it was of unusual solidity, sixty by forty feet, two stories high, and protected by two forts on the westerly side. In 1763 a stockade was built around I for safety from Indian attacks by Pontiac, which were expected. The mansion was the meeting place for white and Indian and the influence which spread from Johnstown had much to do with shaping the policy and destinies of the colony of New York.

With the founding of Tyron County at the instigation of Sir William, it was natural that Johnstown was chosen the shiretown, and since there was little county money for the purpose, the Baron advanced or gave the most of the amount which went in the erection of a fine brick courthouse and jail (1772). These later became the county offices when Fulton was set up from Montgomery.

The village was incorporated as such in 1808 and as a city in 1895. A newspaper began publication in 1796, the manufacture of gloves was introduced in 1803, a bank incorporated in 1831, and a railroad penetrated the section in 1857. These are the more outstanding of the early dates.

The railroad was the most important factor in the growth of the village. The leather and glove industry had attained fair proportions before the means of cheap transportation had existed, but with the way opened for the quick acquirement of raw material, and the speed with which the finished product could be placed in the hand of consumers, a new era of prosperity and expansion was upon the town. lather is today king among the products of Johnstown. Seventy per cent of the hundred factories within the city limits are engaged either in making leather of manufacturing gloves of some sort.

Gloversville, the largest city in Johnstown and the county, is situated on the Cayadutta Creek. This stream supplies some water power, but neither this not any other natural resource made the city the important place it is. There is nothing about its location to fit it particularly for a manufacturing city; its strength lies rather in its people.

When William Johnson, not yet the honored victor of lake George or a baronet, purchased land in this section, the supposedly poorer section where Gloversville now is, was called Kingsborough. Arent Stevens, in 1752, purchased from the Indians a tract of 20,000 acres, the site on which Gloversville was built. There were few permanent settlers until after the Revolution, and then many were inclined to locate on the north branch of the Cayadutta. A school house, the fore-runner of a hamlet, was erected in 1800, but even as late of 1830 there were only fourteen dwellings in the area and only three were added in the next two years.

The village was incorporated 1851. Five years later the mercantile part consisted of fourteen stores, two lawyers, and three physicians' offices. There were a seminary, four churches, one bank, and the wonderful gas-lighted steam-heated hotel, the Mills House, had just been erected, but gloves has already become the main industry of its residents. Ezekiel Case ha brought from a trip in the west, the secret of tanning leather in the Indian mode (1803). At first the men dressed the leather and women cut the gloves. The invention of a die for this latter work in 1825 displaced the weaker sex from the monopoly of this art. But the introduction of the sewing machine in 1852 gave them back their supremacy. In 1848, the "Geographical History of New York" says: "Gloversville is celebrated for the manufacture of mittens, gloves and moccasins of buckskin." It seems likely that this description of the industries of Gloversville, cannot be bettered today, except that all limiting words would have to be omitted and leather added.

Northampton, in the extreme northwest part of the county, was taken from Broadalbin, in 1799. Its first settlement came from a desire of Sir William Johnson to have a fishing shack on the Sacandaga River in 1762. This was the start of the village known as Fish-House (Post office Northampton). Northville is the most important village in the township. It is the financial center for the lumber district. Lumber in various forms and gloves are the main products.

Broadalbin is one of the towns devoted somewhat to agricultural pursuits. In one section of it is the "Sacandaga Vlaie," a marshy bit of ground of about 12,00 acres, for which use has been sought but not successfully. A coarse hay is its only gift. Near the western end is a knoll on which Sir William Johnson had his summer house. The town was erected from Johnstown and Mayfield in 1793. The two villages of this township are Mayfield and Broadalbin, both of which have a number of factories making gloves.

Mayfield, one of the first towns created by the new county, 1793, was taken from Caughnawaga. It is a hilly region but agriculture has not reached any great height. Lime and lumber are the main exports. Mayfield village is the home of glove factories.

Ephratah, on the southern border of Fulton, was formed from Palatine in 1827. A local prophet is said to have given it this biblical name signifying 'abundance bearing fruit." He claimed to have seen in a vision a great city on the site of the present small village of Ephratah. This village is still waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecy, and meanwhile utilizes the power to drive its mill which the swift-flowing Caroga Creek supplies.

Oppenheim, a dairy section and the seat of lime quarries which supplied some of the stone used by the Erie Canal, was formed from the town of Palatine 1808. Two-thirds of the large area of the town is under farm fence. The village of Oppenheim is the dairy center for the surrounding farms and at one time had cheese factories.

Perth, in the southwestern corner of the county, was formed from Amsterdam in 1858. It is a grain, grazing and dairy district.

Stratford is the principal lumber town of Fulton county, at one time having sixteen sawmills and five tanneries. It was formed from Palatine in 1805.

Bleecker was taken from Johnstown in 1831, and derives its name from Barent Bleecker who purchased, with two others, a large tract of land here in 1793. The village of the same name has three factories and wood articles is the main output.

Caroga was formed from Johnstown, Stratford and Bleecker in 1842.

 

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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