The History of New York State
Book IX, Chapter V

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




Situated in the heart of "Finger lake Country," about equidistant from Albany and Buffalo, Cayuga County is one of the longest and narrowest of the civil divisions of New York. It possesses, possibly, the widest variety of climate and the great variety of productions, both agricultural and manufactured, in the State. The north and south dimension is 55 miles; reaching down from Lake Ontario into the "Finger Lakes,"; its width only averages about 14 miles; the area being 760 square miles. The land has a general slope from south to north, making for good drainage and frost protections. The many large lakes, either located within its borders or on the boundaries, add to these advantages. The surface of the county is, as a rule, sufficiently level to permit of easy cultivation, and fertile enough to have attracted farmers since the very early days. The Seneca River is the principal stream, receiving, as it does, the waters that drain into the several lakes. With its tributaries, Owasco, Cold Spring, Cayuga, Crane and Bread creeks, it forms many water powers, many of which have been utilized. Geologically, there are few minerals of value, the only ones being mined, or quarried today are linestones and gypsum. Building stone and clays are the only other mineral products used to any extent. Agriculture is the main vocation of Cayuga, it still being what is called a rural county. But the increase in the number of factories, and the growing populations of the villages at the expense of the farms must not be overlooked.

Cayuga County was formed from Onondaga March 8, 1799. The first general division of the State into townships took place in 1789, and the towns of Aureliius and Milton were set up on January 27 of this year, being taken from Batavia. The title to the territory owned by the Holland Company in the present county was brought in February 25, 1789, and was being mapped or surveyed. When Cayuga was erected ten years later it contained of these surveyed townships, Aurelius, Victor, Milton, Scipio, and Sempronius; all names sprinkled out to the "Classical pepper pot" of Surveyor-General De Witt.

The first settlement in the present count was made in 1878 by Roswell Franklin at aurora, but the subsequent influx of emigrants was rapid and great, for in 1800 there were more than 15,000 people in the new county. New York had provided bounty lands for 88 battalions of its Colonial soldiery, but these tracts lay in a part of the State which did not appeal to the owners, so they were for the greater part sold, the soldiers in question moving to the lake country, of which the returning army of Sullivan gave such glowing reports. The Onondaga military tract was one of the later soldier provisions and included Cayuga. In the meantime, the lands lying to the west of the military tract had been sold to individuals, who offered inducements to prospective settlers. Only the difficulty of cutting the way through trackless forests stood in the way of the rapid colonization of the favored lakes distinct. But even this did not hold back the stream of pioneers which flowed into Cayuga.

The forming of the county in 1799 became necessary because the Cayuga section was outgrowing the mother county, or rather that pa of it in which the courts were held. The population of Onondaga after the division was less than the part separated. There was, of course, a great race by the villages for the honor of being the county seat. None had been named, and for several years the first settlement, Aurora, centrally located, held the courts. But in 1804 a law was passed reducing the count to nearly its present size, and with the law was a provision for the establishing of Sherwood's Corners as the shiretown. This latter provision met with great objection, since the hamlet was off the main liens of travel and too much to one side of the county Although seven hamlets strove for the prize which the next legislature awarded, it was Hardenburgh's Corners that came out in the lead, and which was made the county seat in June of 1805.

Auburn City--Hardenburgh's Corners was the name given to a little settlement which had grown up around the cabin of Captain John L. Hardenburgh, a soldier in Sullivan's army. He had been attracted by the valley in the township of Aurelius, which, in spite of its dense forest and dismal swamp, had in the outlet of Owasco lake the possibility of fine water power. Hardenburgh came into the section early in 1793, having traded his soldier grant for one covering the best part of this water power. He soon threw a log dam across the Owasco and used the impounded water to drive his grist mill, to which came the settlers from miles around with their grain. It proved also to be a profitable place for merchants to locate and sell their wares. In 1795 there was put up the first store, a log cabin. The next year the hamlet had a physician, Dr. Samuel Crosset; and during the same year was the first public house started by Samuel Bristol.

When the commissioners established this little place as the county seat in 1805, the necessity for a more dignified name was felt, and at the suggestion of Dr. Crosset, the present name was given the shiretown, Auburn, not, however, without opposition. Such were the beginnings of the thriving industrial city, with its manufacturing plants turning out a variety of articles probably not equalled by any other municipality of its size in the State, reckoning its population in 1925 as more then 40,000.

It gave signs of its future expansion when a census of 1810 showed it to have some seventeen manufacturing establishments, numerous stores, an incorporated library, three physicians, one clergyman (but no church) the county building being used for religious services. Along the outlet stream for a distance of fourteen miles were all manner of works, mills, and factories, all of the primitive sort and turning out the simple products required by the early settlers. A church was erected in 1881, and in January of the same year the "Auburn School Association" organized the Auburn Academy.

The village did not seem to suffer from the blight which affected many of the central New York towns in the years on either side of 1812. It not only progressed, but was under the necessity of incorporation that it might better handle the problems resulting from its rapid expansion, On April 18, 1815, it was incorporated, and included township No. 47 and a part of 46. A fire engine was one of the first purchases; and the streets, so deep in mud that the engine could be used only with difficulty, paved. The latter work being begun in 1816, and was built with planks and brick with a uniform width of eight feet.

For some years the proposition had been before the legislature of building a prison near one of the western villages. In 1816 the decision was reached to locate the projected goal at auburn on some site donated by the village. The places chosen was on the bank of the lake outlet, in order that the water power might be harnessed and used by the prisoners. On the 28th of June the corner-stone was laid for this now famous institution, and by 1817 the prison was, in part, ready for the reception of criminals. Twenty-thousand dollars was expended by the State the first year, and from time to time ever increasing sums. In 1823 the massive buildings with an enclosing wall twenty feet high, were completed at a cost of $400,000.

The expenditure of such sums had much to do with the growth of Auburn, and by 1835 the population had increased to 5,385, with all the stores, factories, churches, and public buildings which accompany such an expansion. In 1836 the new courthouse was erected. A great boom was on; lots sold at tremendous prices. The closing day of the year was celebrated by the lighting of the first oil lamps of the streets. Auburn was bursting its bounds and ready to break out as a city. A great fire destroyed many buildings in January of the next year. The general business and banking depression that swept the whole country, caught Auburn unprepared, and the village received the greatest set-back of its career before the year was over. The one redeeming feature of this time was the opening of its first railroad in 1838, followed in a few years by longer lines connecting it with more distant points. A new tariff in 1842 gave vigor to the growing and manufacturing of wool, leading to the formation of several large wool handling companies, and the increase on the part of the farmers, in the agricultural region surrounding the village in the size of their flocks.

In 1848 Auburn was charted as a city (March 21). The State in 1852 took measures to insure the impounding of sufficient water in Lake Owasco to feed the Erie Canal and at the same time supply water during the dry parts of the summer to the plants depending on it for power. The civil War slowed down, but did not entirely check the growth of the city, and the years which followed the cessation of the conflict were yeas of prosperity.

The Auburn of today is one of the most desirable residential and industrial cities in the State. It is the business center of hundred of thriving farms. A net work of railroads, both steam and electric, connect it with the towns of the county and the markets of the world. There are more than 200 manufacturing plants making a variety of products too numerous to mention. One of these is known over the world, the Osborne Works of the International Harvester Corporation, founded in 1858. The rope and twine industry is one of the most important, but the making of shoes and various articles of women's apparel is not far behind.

The Auburn Theological Seminary graduated its first class in 1824. In a magnificent set of buildings, largely endowed, it is one of the great Presbyterian school of theology in the States.


There are 23 civil division of Cayuga. A tabulation of these towns and their populations follows:





Auburn city




Aurelius town, including Cayuga village




Cato town, including Meridian village, and part of Cato village




Conquest town




Fleming town




Genoa town




Ira town, including part of Cato village




Ledyard town, including Aurora village




Locke town




Mentz town, including Port Byron village




Montezuma town




Moravia town, including Moravia village




Niles town




Owasco town




Scipio town




Sempronius town




Springport town, including Union Springs village




Sterling town, including Fairhaven village




Summerhill town




Throop town




Venice town




Victory town










Aurelia, near the center of the west border of Cayuga, was formed January 27, 1789, embracing most of the present county. There are a number of gypsum deposits in the town, and it is likely that the first land plaster used in this region came from one of these. It has been one of the best agricultural towns in the district since its beginning. The first settlers were squatters on the Indian Reservation, but its first permanent settler was John Harris of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who located here in 1789. He ran the first ferry on Cayuga Lake, later had a tavern, and was the interpreter when the treaty with the Cayugas was made in 1794. The principal village of this division is Cayuga, incorporated December 27, 1857, and again under the general law of 1874. It is advantageously located on an eminence on the lake of the same name, and is surrounded by farms of unusual fertility. Apples are largely produced and the evaporation of them requires several factories, which are located in the village. Fosterville and Aurelius are hamlets.

Brutus lies along the Seneca River, which forms its north boundary. It was organized march 30, 1802, from Aurelius, and has an ear of 12,477 acres, the most of which is arable and under farm fence. Aaron Frost was the pioneer of the town, coming in 1795. After 1800 the settlement of the district was relatively rapid. Weedsport, the mercantile and industrial village of this division, is on the railroad eight miles north of Auburn. It is named for Elihu and Edward Weed who settled on the site of the village and were very active merchants and developers of the place. In 1822 a post office was established, and on April 26, 1831, the hamlet was incorporated. There are twelve manufacturing plants in the village, the main products of which are waits, petticoats, and other articles of ladies' apparel. A wood working establishment utilizes such of the native woods as still remain.

Cato, on the east border north of the center, was erected from Aurelius March 30, 1802, and contains over 20,000 acres, most in farms. There is a good deal of low land, but this has been put under cultivation and is some of the most productive in the county. Samuel Lawrence was the first to make his home in the district (1800). Andrew Stockwell came later in the same year, but here were few residents until after the War of 1812. Meriden is one of the two main villages, located on the Central Railroad, incorporated October 17, 1854. It is a rural community started by George Loveless in 1804, joined later by numbers from the New England States. The village of Cato is only partly in the town, the most of it being in Ira. It is the shipping point of a large agricultural region, with two factories and a good store section.

Conquest, erected from Cato March 16, 1821, derives its name from the victory of those citizens of Cato who opposed the division of their town. there is considerable swamp land within its borders and some rather high and rocky, so that dairy farming has come to be the main industry of the town's people. It has an area of 22,369 acres, and was first settled by George Snyder, a bachelor ex-soldier, in 1880. The first frame house was not built until 1840. Conquest Center is what the name implies. It remains much the country village of years ago, with its few stores and churches and no factories. Spring lake is a post office hamlet, which formerly went under the name of Pineville because of its forest location.

Fleming was settled as early as 1790 by a group of people and erected March 28, 1823. It is located at the foot of Lake Owasco, has an area of 13,710 acres, which is adapted to the growing of grains and grazing. It is mainly a dairy district. The name is derived from General George Fleming who came here just after the close of the Revolutionary War. Fleming village was settled first by Josiah Chatfield, in 1798, It is off the railroad, and, although charming in many aspects, is too isolated and yet too near Auburn to make any great growth. Wycoff Station, or Owasco Post office, has become one of the lake resorts.

Genoa, organized as Milton January 27, 1789, changed its name to the present form in 1808. It lies along Cayuga Lake, has a great variety of surface, the cultivation of which is the main occupation of its residents. It has become one of the fruit districts, but dairy farming remains in the lead. One of the Indian cultivated fields, destroyed by General Sullivan in his punitive raid of the tribes, lay near the central part of the town. John Clark, of Washington County, was the first of the pioneers who located here (1791). Genoa village, on Salmon creek, which furnishes a water power; Northville (King's Ferry); Five Corners; and East Genoa are the most important of the hamlets of the district.

Ira, the northeast corner town of Cayuga, was formed from Cato March 16, 1821. In 1800 David and Eleazer Stockwell located on lot 58, and spent their lives on the farm what they carved from the wilderness. They were joined within two years by a number of families, so that the region was fairly well populated earlier then many of the other towns. Cato is the main village, comment on which has already been made. Ira Center, Ira Station and Bethel Corners are hamlets, the social and mail centers of the various sections.

Ledyard, formed from Scipio January 30, 1823, derived its name from an early settler. It is a most beautifully diversified region, and the agricultural products are as diversified as the landscape. Reference has been made to the fact that in this town were the first settlements made in 1789. Aurora, famed for its lovely location, and cultured residents, is the seat of Wells College for Woman, founded in 1868, one of the leading institutions of higher education in the States. Aurora was incorporated in 1837, and was, at the organization of the county, the half shiretown of Cayuga. Many men and women of note have been born here, or lived a part of their lives in this ideal village. Within the boundaries of Ledyard are the hamlets Levanna, Ledyard, and Black Rock.

Locke, formed from Milton, (Genoa) February 20, 1802, lies on both sides of the Owasco Inlet. It is but fairly well developed agriculturally, although its limestone lands are fertile, and the low lands easily worked. The first white men to locate within the present town liens were Ezra Cook and three companions who became the fist tavern and mill owners. Resting in the valley is the village of Milan, the rural center of the town.

Mentz is one of the heavily productive farm towns, in which fruit growing =, particularly of apples, has come to be the great specialty. The town covers an area of 10,000 acres, the most of which is cultivated. The main village, Port Byron, is one the line of the Erie Canal and the Central Railroad. It is a shipping point for the farm products of the region. it is also a manufacturing place, with ten factories, making, among other things, boats, mincemeat and evaporated fruits. Port Byron was incorporated March 3, 1837. The first settlement in the district was made in 1810, and the first dam built five years later, although the first individuals to come to the town did so in 1797. Brigham Young, the Mormon leader lived in this locality in 1832, working in one of the Port Byron stores.

Montezuma was once the great fishing town of Cayuga, and the marches along the Seneca river, along which the town is located, furnished the material for rush bottomed chairs, which were manufactured in quantities. At the present time it is more of a dairy section, and the same low lands are not pastures fro cattle. Salt springs were one of the early discoveries an it was thought that the section would prove to be a worthy competitor of Syracuse, but this never materialized because of the entry of too many places in the west and Canada in the salt business. Montezuma village, incorporated in 1866, was settled as early as 1798. It is the business center and has several companies engaged in the evaporation of the fruits which grow well in this district.

Moravia, set off from Sempronius march 20, 1833, lie at the lead of Lake Owasco. It is one of the leading farm towns, producing fruits and milk, as well as the usual crops. The Indians were the first to appreciate the agricultural possibilities of the flats along the many streams, but the whites began to displace the aborigines as early as 1789. The fall of the water in most of the creeks is unusually great, and has been used to drive the mills of several generations since the earliest permanent settler, John Stovall, built the first in 1799. Moravia is the evaporator village for the large quantities of fruit grown in the town. it was incorporated May 1, 1837. Montville, a small hamlet, once outshone Moravia in business but has remained a pleasant rural hamlet.

Niles, formed from Sempronius March 20, 1833, is one of the upland towns devoted to dairies. The first settlement was made by a family of VanGilders in 1792. The villages of this section are: Kelloggsville, new Hope, Niles, and West Niles.

Owasco, organized from Aurelius March 30, 1802, is on the northeast side of the lake from which its gets its name. Ten years prior to the formation of the town the pioneers of the district located here. One of them Cornelius Delamater, settled on the site of the present village of Owasco and started the first hotel. Being off the mainline of travel, both the village and the town have not developed as rapidly as some, but have eventually become leaders in the horticulture of Cayuga.

Scipio, one of the military townships, was formed March 5, 1799. Resting over the limestone, its soils have been productive and lasting. Originally a wheat country, it has turned to general farming practices, with increasing attention given to fruit growing. The pioneer of the district was Henry Watkins, who came in 1790 and built his home among the wild apple and plum trees he found in this region. Scipio Center, Scipioville, Scipio Summit and Elsenore are the names of some of the hamlets.

Sempronius, once one of the largest of the towns, has been greatly reduced in the formation of others. It was erected March 9, 1799, is a hilly district, with dairying as the main form of agriculture. In 1793, Ezekiel Sayles moved to the area and became prominent in the affairs of the settlement which followed. Dresserville and Sempronius are the rural hamlets.

Sennett, formed from Brutus, Ch 19, 1827, was named after a pioneer settler who came in 1795. There is much gypsum to be found, and it may have been the use of this which so quickly gave this area the advantage over some of the towns in agriculture. It has attained a standing in this line which is equaled by few of the other towns. The charming village of Sennett is the rural center of trade for the town.

Springport, separated from Scipio and Aurelius January 30, 1823, derives its name from the many springs and its Lake Cayuga ports. The limestone and gypsum found here has had much to do with its prosperity and growth particularly during the War of 1812, when Nova Scotia plaster was shut off from this country. Fruit culture has been given a great deal of attention with good results by the residents. Union Springs, the principal village, is a delightful place on Cayuga Lake, not only much appreciated by the year round residents, but equally so by the swarms of summer visitors.

Sterling, the northernmost town,. located on Lake Ontario, is one of the larger towns both in population and area (26,748 acres). Fair Haven, on Little Sodus Bay, is the largest village of the several in Sterling. The mercantile section is one of the best, quite a bit of industrial activity has developed, and more and more the shore lines have been used by the wealthy for summer homes. Sterling Center is surrounded by a fruit country, and is the shipping and evaporator point for the area. Pelham, Martville, and North Sterling are hamlets. The first settlement in the town was in 1805 by a Frenchman, Peter Dumas.

Summerhill, in the southeast corner if the county, was erected April 26, 1831. It is one of the highest town, and a good dairy section. One of the early settlers of this region was Nathaniel Fillmore, the father of President Millard Fillmore who was born here, January 7, 1800. The one village of size takes the name of the town.

Throop, organized April 8, 1859, was one of the favorite hunting grounds of the Indians. Settlement by the whites began in 1790 with the coming of Ezekiel Crane. The main village of Throopsville, surrounded by a fine dairy section.

Venice, formed from Scipio January 30, 1823, is one of the rolling interior towns of Cayuga, whose main interests are dairying and fruit culture. Its area is large, 24,996 acres, and productive. Venice Center is the principal village, and there are also the hamlets of Venice, Poplar Ridge and Cascade.

Victory, formed March 16, 1821, derives its name, like conquest, from the victory achieved in forcing a division of Cato. The village of the same name is a settlement which grew up around the first tavern in the area, 1806, seven years after the first family located in the district. Other hamlets are: Westbury, where two evaporator plants are doing business, and North Victory.


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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