On July 4, 1876, John D. Barrow delivered an address in Skaneateles, a history of the village up to that time. In 1891, he had it printed in Syracuse as a 20-page book. It has not, however, been available on the Web, so I have transcribed and posted it here. Because some of the references from 1876 are not so familiar today, I annotated the text, adding material either in brackets or as indented notes.
Barrow, of course, was the artist who gave us the Barrow Gallery; he was a man of oils as well as letters.
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Centennial Address by John D. Barrow
An Address Delivered in Skaneateles, July 4th, 1876
More than fourteen years have passed since this address was given on the centennial of our nation’s birth, and knowing how scanty and meagre it was, I have always hoped I could enlarge and complete it. But hurrying time and many engagements have prevented this so far, and it is now unlikely that I can ever do more upon it. When prepared there were men living who had seen all the history of our town and village, and had taken their share in it. These men have now all passed away, and there are none left to whom I can go for information of the early days.
Owing to the conscientious labor bestowed upon the work, its facts, dates, etc., of which it may be the only record, I desire to put it in a more permanent form, hoping that it may be the starting point of some future historian who will have more leisure and diligence than I had.
John D. Barrow
Syracuse, N.Y., Masters & Stone, Printers, 1891
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In accordance with the recommendation of the Congress and President of the United States, it was resolved by the people of Skaneateles duly assembled, that some citizen should prepare and deliver at this Centennial celebration as full and complete a sketch of the early history of our town as the time and other necessary limits would admit, and thereby I was clothed with a little brief authority for the purpose and occasion.
One hundred years ago to-day, when the heroic men in Philadelphia were signing their immortal Declaration and pledging to its support their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, Skaneateles lay, as it now lies, beneath the glory of its June sun, and in the full splendor of its summer green. The same blue sky bent over its flashing lake, and perhaps the same great white clouds went in majestic procession over its silent hills. All the aspects of nature may have been the same as they are to-day; but in other ways how wide the difference. Where now are fertile fields and peaceful homes, and many a fair and hospitable mansion, there was then one but one unbroken forest, without sign of human habitation or the sound of a human footstep. The wild, pathless and unbroken woods stretched on every hand to untrodden shores, bending over them their deep and tranquil shadows.
Such woods the world had rarely known; so stately in growth, so rich and full in foliage, so healthful and pleasant in their shade. They were named after the noble beeches and maples, the prevailing trees, though there were many other equally fair and stalwart. Especially the elms, hemlocks and basswoods grew to a majestic size – and before we go further let us stop and try to imagine the view that then was here; the shore on either side, far as the eye can reach, the beach in front of where we now stand, and our whole land covered with that lordly growth. And as the scene was on that day, so had it been for countless years, without change or disturbance save by the winds of heaven and the progress of the seasons.
And out of all those countless years comes no word or scrap of history until very near the times remembered by living men. One hundred years ago to day there were stirring times in Tryon county, in whose limits Skaneateles lay. Sir John Johnson [1741-1830] was mustering his Tory militia and [Chief Joseph] Brant [1742-1807] was calling and inciting his Mohawk warriors to the defence of British rule.* Around the council fire of Onondaga had been discussed the policy and the details of the war. Already coming bloody events were casting their shadows before them, and the tragedies of Wyoming** and Cherry Valley*** were in the forecast in the coming year. But from out [of] those dark and bloody times comes no word from Skaneateles, and we will dream that its shores were as peaceful, if not as noisy, as they are to-day.
* Many of the native Americans felt that if the rebelling colonists were victorious, native Americans would lose all their land. Thus they sided with the British and the American colonists who remained loyal to the British.
** The Battle of Wyoming pitted frontier settlers supporting the American revolutionaries against Americans loyal to the Crown and their Seneca allies in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania on July 3, 1778. More than 300 armed settlers were killed during and after the battle.
*** The Cherry Valley Massacre was an attack by British and Seneca forces on a fort at the village of Cherry Valley on November 11, 1778. Despite the efforts of Capt. Butler, the British leader, and Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader of the native Americans, Seneca warriors killed and scalped 32 unarmed villagers, mostly women and children.
Very little can your historian learn of the aboriginal inhabitants of our region. As far as he can read they have no real history. What has been recorded from their own lips, are either the wildest myths, or the most perplexing and incredible tales. The song of Hiawatha* seems as capable of belief as most stories I have seen of their origin or early existence.
* “The Song of Hiawatha” is an 1855 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, based on legends of Native American peoples but very much a work of American romantic literature.
What Indians inhabited our town or roamed within its borders were undoubtedly of the Onondaga Nation, and its first reliable history begins when the French explorer Champlain came as a volunteer with a war party of Hurons to the Onondaga Lake, and was there wounded and repulsed in 1615. It would be interesting to dwell here on the subsequent history of the Onondagas, and their part in the great confederacy of the Six Nations; but we have not now the time, and it has all been faithfully recorded elsewhere. Of that great confederacy, it was always said that the Mohawks were the bravest and most famous warriors, the Cayugas and Senecas most advanced in civilized arts, but that the Onondagas were the sagest and most eloquent in counsel and the most skillful in the conduct of affairs. To them had been entrusted the custody and preservation of the sacred council fire of the confederacy, whose annual councils had been held from time immemorial at Onondaga Castle.
The Onondagas, too, had taken the most active and prominent part in all business with the earliest European visitors, whether missionaries, soldiers or traders. French Jesuit missionaries visited and reared among them the standard of the Cross more than two hundred years ago. The French also established forts and villages in many parts of our county, which they were eventually unable to maintain. Nearly half a century after came Charlevoix,* another French Jesuit missionary, who in the course of his relation [i.e., the stories he related] gives us a map of the region, on which he places our lake very correctly, spelling it ‘Scaneateres.’ Here my information ends for the present, but I have no doubt that he saw our lake and located it on his map from his own knowledge, and it is more than probable that here he raised the great Christian symbol, and that the first European voice heard on our shores had for its burden the message of good will to men, and the tidings of the gospel.
* Father Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix (1682-1761) was an explorer and historian who, between 1720 and 1722 traveled from Canada down the St. Lawrence, through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi and into the Caribbean before returning to France.
When the white men first began to settle here, the Indians were in a condition very unfavorable to a fair judgment of them. They had long been looked upon as savage and dangerous enemies. Then there were a beaten and impoverished race. Fearfully had they learned what woe to the conquered means. They were no longer the successful warriors, whose arms had spread from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, and from Canada to the Carolinas, who had exacted fealty and tribute from all nations and tribes within their reach. They had made a choice in the war of the Revolution that had proved disastrous to them. They had struck hard, cruel and effective blows for the side they had taken, and now had fallen upon them a remorseless retribution.
General [John] Sullivan had gone through their country in 1779, leaving behind him a swath of blood and ashes. Col. [Goose] Van Schaick had by a forced march from Fort Schuyler penetrated every dwelling, cornfield and orchard in his path.* It is difficult to believe the accounts General Sullivan gives of the civilization of the Indians and the effectual end he made of it. Among the Cayugas and Senecas he found apple orchards of fifteen hundred trees, besides those of pears and peaches, and thriving and well-stocked gardens. In some of their towns he found several hundred houses, many of which were framed and even painted. But none of these were spared. Wherever our army arrived there broke out the work of destruction, and everything that could be destroyed was wiped out of existence.** Their bravest warriors were slain, their women and children fugitives and hiders in the woods, and so our settlers found them broken in spirit and hopeless of the future, with bowed and sullen heads in the land that had been theirs.
* In April of 1779, Van Schaick led 550 men through the Onondaga territories; he took 37 prisoners and 100 muskets, hindering the Onondaga’s ability to wage war.
** Beginning in May of 1779, the Sullivan Expedition destroyed at least 40 Iroquois villages in the Finger Lakes region, under direct orders from George Washington, who wrote:
“The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more… parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.
“But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.”
There is no record of any of their towns or villages having existed within our town, all stories of such having been traced to mere temporary encampments. It has been said that the main trail between the eastern and western nations ran through this town, crossing the outlet where our bridge now is. This region seems to have been an unbroken wild, lying between the countries of the Onondagas and Cayugas, and known only to the hunter and the warrior, of whose pathway and occupation there is plenty of evidence in the many arrow and spear heads that have been turned up with the soil.
We come now to more reliable data for the historian. In the year 1781, and during the war, it was thought necessary to call out more regiments for the better protection of the western frontier. The necessary men came forward, and they were to be paid in lands, as the only bounty the State could then offer.
For this purpose a tract now comprising the counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Cortland, and parts of Tompkins, Wayne and Oswego was appropriated. But it was not until 1784 that there was any action taken to settle claims and awards, by the appointment of commissioners for the purpose. In 1786 Simeon DeWitt, Surveyor-General of the State, was authorized and directed to survey the several townships and lots of the military tract. He proceeded at once to the duty, and he and his associates visited and survey every part of this region, reaching many a place where white men had never before trod.
This county was then known as the county of Montgomery, and we begin to find the opening of roads through it authorized by the Legislature, making a way for settlement and civilization. Simeon DeWitt and his surveyors were probably the pioneers in this work prior to 1790. In 1790 and ’91 Gen. [William] Wadsworth opened a practicable road for a party of emigrants to his western possessions. In 1794 the Legislature passed an act providing for the construction of a road from Fort Schuyler [near present-day Utica] to the Cayuga [Lake] ferry, and since that time it has been known as the great Genesee Road [today’s Route 5 and our Genesee Street]. It was by this road that a pathway was first opened to our town, and by it the earlier settlers came. The first lots taken up were generally along its line, the settlers looking with suspicion on the bright waters of our lake, fearing that fever and other pestilence might be lurking unseen within them.
It is now very difficult to get the names of the first settlers and the order of their arrival. Many have left no record, and the records of all are too scanty. The patents to the soldiers who drew the lots were issued in 1790, and among them is one to John Simmonds, the soldier to whom lot No. 36 of the town of Marcellus fell, and on which our village now mainly stands. Our history records nothing further of him except that he sold his lot to Platt Carll in 1784, who sold it to Judge [Jedediah] Sanger in 1796. The Judge proceeded immediately to lay out the beginning of the village, and by 1797 had his mill-dam and grist mill built. It seems that at that time Lovel Gibbs, Warren Hecox, Moses Loss, Jona.[Jonathan] Hall and Dr. Munger were here, and two or three others. From this time on we can date the founding of our town, and we must look upon Judge Sanger as our Theseus [mythical founder of Athens] or Romulus [mythical founder of Rome]. But there were others in the neighborhood before him.
The first man who settled within the borders of our town was John Thompson [see note below], a Scotchman, who received his lot in part pay for his services as chain carrier under Simeon DeWitt. Of him we ought to be able to know something more, but so far I have not been able to learn his after history. There is an account of a Mr. Robinson, who came and settled near the lake in ’94, but I can find no further trace of him. In the year 1794 Major and Elijah Bowen settled in the eastern part of the town, on lot 39, on the farm now owned by Mr. Wyckoff, and the farm beyond it. In the winter of 1794-5 Gen. Robert Earll and his brother Abijah came and settled on lot 27. They did a good deal at a very early day for the opening of this region. The General probably had a school opened before any in the village. He built at first a log house, but afterward, though still at a very early day, the landmark long known as the old red house [today on the southwest corner of the intersection of Jordan Road and the Old Seneca Turnpike].
In probably the same winter came Abraham A. Cuddeback and his brother-in-law, James Ennis, settling on lot 37, where Mr. Lapham’s, Robbin’s and Hunsiker’s houses now stand. Abraham Cuddeback was unable to rear his log hut for some reason and his family lived all winter in a camp made principally of the ox sled. His cattle subsisted and throve until Spring on the buds and branches of basswood trees, which were felled for the purpose.
Note: It is now accepted that Abraham Cuddeback – with his wife and children, 3 yoke of oxen, a colt and 12 cows – came to Skaneateles Lake on June 14, 1794, and was our first settler.
In the autumn of ’96 came Alanson and Thaddeus Edwards, to see the country and the lots they afterwards bought., and as they came to our beach they met two young men gazing on the scene and noting the prospect of its advantages or promise of a living. These young men were Warren Hecox and Moses Loss, who lived to a good old age and are well-remembered by many of us. What changes these men saw here after that October afternoon, when the still unbroken woods were bright in their autumn colors, and wrapt in the haze of Indian summer!
But a few years wrought a mighty change before them. Men came here to earn a living for themselves and their families, and the destruction of these magnificent woods seemed to be a necessity. Havoc was the rule among them. They fell on every side, many trees tumbling into the lake, whose fair waters they defiled for many a year with black and bristling snags. The lake would dispose of the trees out of the pathway of men, and it was a common practice to fell every one that would go there, into it. And so in a few years instead of a grand old forest, and the clear and spotless lake, were fields full of decaying stumps, and shores choked with bleached and abundant driftwood. The outlet was so choked with driftwood as scarcely to need a bridge.
Then, too, Judge Sanger, by building his dam [in 1797] had raised the level of the lake nearly four feet, causing still more injury to the shores. On parts still uncleared, great encroachments were made by the waves, and the banks fell in to a large extent, and tracts were overflowed at one mile point and at the head of the lake, and the fine timber on them killed. Unsightly stumps bear evidence of this to this day. The present level of the lake was not established until some years later by Mr. Thomas Gibbs, who rebuilt the mill after a fire, and in consideration of this, obtained the right of improving his water power. But the time for these unsightly things has passed away, and the beauty of the view before us is increasing every year.
In the year 1796, came Stephen Benson, to examine his lot, No. 84, the south-west corner lot of the town and county, and in the first of the next year brought his family. He came from near Utica, and entered our town by the Genesee and General Earll’s road.
He had been some days on the way and had lodged one night at a tavern at Oneida, kept by an Indian chief. The ox team went through the creek, and the family crossed it on the driftwood. There was on the other side the semblance of a road as far as where the Octagon school house now stands, and near that was a newly erected log house. From that point the only road was by trees that Mr. Benson had marked the year before. He found the beginning of a log house near where Holcomb Peck now lives. The year before, Mr. Benson had raised a cabin, and it was waiting for his occupation. It was of logs, of course, with roof mainly of bark, and with split basswood logs, the flat side up, for its floor. This was the early style of Skaneateles architecture.
There are two passengers by that ox sled still living, Mr. Alanson Benson and the mother of Mr. Sidney Smith. Mr. Benson remembers well many incidents of the journey, and the appearance of the village in 1797. There were two or three long huts, and the frame of one house uncovered. Across the outlet he remembers no house except the one at the Octagon,* probably erected by Daniel Cook, the first settler there.
* The former Octagon School House is on the southwest corner of the intersection of NY Route 41A and Benson Road, about 1.5 miles south of the village.
About this time Judge Sanger laid out village lots on the north side of his street, and sold them at $8 apiece. [The original lots were 100 feet across, 330 feet deep, about 1 acre in size.] These were laid out as far east as Dr. Bartlett’s, or perhaps Mr. Haydock’s. The first lot, whereupon the Lake House stood, was purchased by Winston Day, who erected thereon the first store in Skaneateles. [This would today be at the northwest corner of Jordan and Genesee.] The next was bought by James Porter, not the brother of Dr. Samuel Porter, who built thereon the first hotel and the first frame building in our town. The third lot was bought by Winston Day, who built a small house, afterward occupied by Jonathan Booth. The fourth lot was purchased by Seth McKay, who built thereon a small hat shop. He did not retain it long but sold it to Norman Leonard. The fifth lot was bought by Norman Leonard, who built on it a house afterwards owned by John Legg, now greatly enlarged and improved, and known to us as Mr. Thayer’s [today the Thayer House condominiums at 77 E. Genesee Street].
On the sixth lot, the original settler was Jonathan Hall, grandfather to Nathan K. Hall, President [Millard] Fillmore’s Postmaster General [from 1850 to 1852]. He did not remain long , selling out to Perley Putnam, and moving west. On lot No. 7, Benjamin Nye was the first settler, and built a log house a little to the rear of where John Kellogg’s house now is. On lot 8th, Mr. Avery’s and Dr. Bartlett’s, the first house was built by Mr. Pierce, which was occupied by John Legg, until he purchased of Norman Leonard.
The house known as the Burnett residence, was built by a Mr. Fay, and was purchased unfinished by Mr. [William J.] Vredenburgh in 1803. It is the first house built here that remains as it originally was, and on the same site on which it was built. [The Burnett house was purchased in 1901 by Charles Weeks, torn down and replaced by a new house in 1902, which is today 89 W. Genesee Street.]
Then came a lot, I believe, owned by Sylvester Roberts. On the opposite side of the road was Jonathan Weston, who built a log house where Mr. [Charles Henry] Poor’s residence now is [“Willowbank” at 104 E. Genesee Street].
Here ends Judge Sanger’s proprietorship of our village; he selling out all that he had remaining to Mr. Vredenburgh in 1802 or 1803. Before we part with Judge Sanger, I must mention his ride on horseback around our lake on the beach. A memorable event to us. It was said to have taken place in ’98.
As we cross the outlet the first settler was Warren Hecox, who very early built a tannery there. He first put up a log house, but afterwards built the one he occupied until his death, now occupied by Col. Wheadon. On the site of the Packwood House [today’s Sherwood Inn], there was originally a very dense and tangled hemlock swamp, those trees having a very heavy growth. This continued for some distance down the creek, and as far west as Wills Clift’s.
David Seymour was the original proprietor and settler on West Lake street. Then came Mr. Ennis and the brothers Cuddeback. Then Barnabas Hall and his son-in-law, Ira Barber, on the Dowling farm. Hall owned one mile point [the site today of the Skaneateles Country Club]; that in the early day was called Barney’s point in his honor. Very early there was a small house on the point, occupied by a man named Beebe, and its foundations can still be seen, though nearly obliterated by the encroaching waves.
Beyond Barnabas Hall’s came the farm and clearing of Daniel Cook, already mentioned. Then the original settler was Ansel Cook, who sold to Liva Peck. Then came the farm of Mr. Bentley; and the next settler if I have learned correctly was John Stoner, on the Russell Frost farm. Then came Ezra or Edward Barber, who settled on the lot he had drawn as a soldier. This farm he divided among his sons, and it is now known as the Lawton and Calvin Brown farms. Then came the log house and clearing of Henry Cuykendall, and then the farm owned by Jacob Van Etten, who bought of the original settler, whose name I have been unable to learn. Then Daniel Gardner had a small clearing where the school house stands. Then Thomas and Andrew Reed had a large tract which extended to the lake. Then came the farm originally owned and cleared by Amos Jones. Then came the land of Samuel Welch, who owned as far as Mandana. All these new men came soon after 1798, but there is now great difficulty in getting the exact date of their arrival. About the same time came the Moffits, the Van Houtons, Greenmans, Footes, Parsons and others.
We must now follow the path of settlement on the eastern side of the village. Thomas Greaves settled on the first lot east of Kellogg’s corner. Jonathan Eels bought and settled the part where Mr. Pardee’s residence now stands, and some distance to the eastward. Near him Moses Loss built the house that we knew so long in his name.*
* The Pardee house is on the south corner of East and Onondaga Streets; the Moses Loss house would have been diagonally across Onondaga street on the west corner of East Lake and Onondaga. A historic marker directly across the street marks the site of the school house mentioned here.
Along the lake road on lot No. 38 settled Alanson and Thaddeus Edwards, then Jno. Lee, Ebenezer Pardee and his brother-in-law, Asa Minor. The latter it would be well to notice here as the introducer of many valuable industries. He invented a great improvement in spinning wheels, and built manufactories for them, first on the brook that ran through his farm near where Geo. H. Clark now lives, afterwards at the five mile point, and then at Mottville. He was the inventor of many kinds of machinery which are still in use.*
* Patented in 1803 by Amos Miner a.k.a. Minor (1776-1842), the “Miner’s Head” was an accelerating wheel that dramatically sped up the process of spinning yarn, enabling one person to spin up to 4,000 yards a day of coarse yarn. The device was made separately from the wheel itself; by 1810, Miner had 20 workers making between 6,000 and 9,000 Miner’s Heads a year.
Then comes the clearing and settlement of Mr. Seeley and Seba Brainard, and then that of Solomon Edwards, where his descendant still lives. Next came a lot whose title was long in dispute, so that it was known as the “public lot.” On it first settled Benjamin Bates, two brothers named Barnes and Aaron Pardee, but at last Col. Bellamy secured a title and took possession, selling afterwards to Capt. Benjamin Lee. The settler on the next lot was Elijah Seymour, and next to him came a Mr. Cortright, who did not stay long, selling to Ebenezer Sessions. The purchasers of the next farm were Seth McKay and James Porter, whom we have seen as proprietors in the village. On the next lot the settler was Benjamin Nye, whom also we have heard of in the village.
Among the original settlers in the south-east part of town were Manley, Mason, Briggs, Skeels and Chandler. On the line of the Hamilton turnpike were Wm. Dascomb, then Alfred Wilkinson, then Saul Foster, then the Bowens. On the line of the Seneca turnpike were Dr. Benedict, Asa Chappel, Jehiel Rust, Jeduthan Newton, Charles Pardee, Mr. Whiteman and his sons, and Luther Lawrence. On the road leading north from Jesse Simmon’s corner were Seba Brainard, Ebenezer and Aaron Pardee.
On the road west of the village, on the farm of James Root, the first settler was Aaron Taylor. Then came Isaac A. Selover, who set out the poplar trees, a noted landmark in Skaneateles. Then came Squire Patchen and Peter Secoy and Eli Clark. Then the farms of Clift and Hatch. Beyond them were the Leonard and Root families. Along the Genesee road were Watson Earll and Daniel Watson. I know my list of the first settlers is still incomplete, but for the present it must end here.
It would be interesting perhaps to notice here the first members of and workers in the different crafts and professions in our town. It is rather difficult to settle the claims of the first farmer – that lies between the Bowens, Earlls and Cuddebacks, but I hope to clear that question yet.
You have all heard and read it on his tombstone that Winston Day was the first merchant. He was also our first distiller, employing Jeduthan Newton, and has the honor of having introduced the manufacture of whiskey here. It was very fiery stuff, it was said; but from local patriotism and pride some of the townsmen, it is also said, confessed that they felt it their duty to learn to love it.
Jonathan Hall was the first physician, though Dr. Munger was here about as early, and Dr. Samuel Porter scarcely behind them. Daniel Kellogg was the first lawyer, Warren Hecox the first tanner and shoemaker, Sylvester Roberts the first blacksmith, Moses Loss the first carpenter, Seth McKay the first hatter, Lovell Gibbs the first cabinet maker, Benjamin Nye the first brick maker, and Thomas Greaves the first tailor.
James Kellogg, who came in 1799, built the first saw mill, and here I wish to notice one act of his. Around his home, where one of my brothers now lives, he spared some of the old forest trees, and one of the noblest elms ever seen now speaks to our town in remembrance of him.
Aaron Austin built the first fulling mill on the side of our mill-pond, and John Legg had a blacksmith shop beside it at a very early date. Squire John Briggs, who built very early the Dickerson House, cleared and fitted a ten acre lot for training and parade ground. At a very early day, 1805 or 6, Jonathan Booth introduced the first carding machine, then a wonderful invention, obtaining power at the grist mill at Willow Glen.
The first school teacher was Nicholas Otis, and he taught in a small house on the site of Mr. Roosevelt’s barn, on what was the turn of the Hamilton turnpike which was afterwards changed to the present one. The first singing master was Deacon Ebenezer Castle.
We will here trace the earlier roads. Judge Sanger’s was continued eastward as far as the Bowen’s places, and called the Bowen road, which afterwards took the name of the Hamilton turnpike. In the year ’97 the Legislature passed an act for the construction of this road from Cherry Valley to the outlet of Skaneateles Lake. The expense of it was partially met by the proceeds of a lottery, authorized at the same time. Cross roads were now opened in all directions, and in 1800 the charter of the Seneca turnpike was granted. That road was not laid through this place until 1804. The first bridge was built in 1800.
Very full and early provision was made for the refreshment of man and beast, in the many taverns that were soon in operation. As was said before, James Porter built the first; and it is also said of him and his wife that they were among the earliest promoters of the Presbyterian organization of the town, and made up the greater part of the first choir in Skaneateles. Presbyterian meetings were often held in their house before the building of the first church. Porter’s tavern was afterwards kept by Nathan Barnes, Elnathan Andrews and others, and stood at the west corner of Main [Genesee] and State street until 1837 [now the site of the red brick bank].
In 1803 a Mr. Wickes built a house west of the bridge, in which Winston Day and Isaac Sherwood soon after opened a tavern [in 1807]. This was afterwards the famous stage house of Sherwood, and a noted landmark for the region. Other taverns were opened by John Briggs, Noble Coe and others, but the full list might not be acceptable to the temperance feeling of the present day.
It is now very difficult to get the dates of the earliest birth in town. I have not had time to search as fully here as I would wish, but the first authentic date there is, is that of the birth of Mr. Chas. Pardee in 1798. This would give him the honor of being the first born of the town. There were children born to Abraham A. Cuddeback at a very early time, but the dates are not yet obtainable, and some of these children may dispute Mr. Pardee’s title. Dr. Evelyn Porter was born in 1801, and Thomas Hecox and Columbus Weston about the same time.
It has also been impossible to get a list of the earliest deaths. Probably the first interments were made in a small cemetery long since disused, about a mile north of the village, and which was known as the Brigg’s sand bank; but the first in the limits of the village was on the spot where we are now standing. [This would put the site of Barrow’s speech on the hillside at the west corner of Onondaga and Genesee Streets.] But when Mr. Vredenburgh chose it for the site of his house, the bodies were all removed to the Presbyterian cemetery. That ground had been deeded for the purpose by John Briggs and David Seymour, and the first interment there was that of the wife of Mr. Briggs in 1802.
Among the early settlers the religious sentiments were strongly marked, and the need of organizations and places of worship early felt, and action was taken in the matter. The first meetings would be held in barns, taverns and rooms of dwellings by different denominations, until the Skaneateles Religious Society was formed with the avowed purpose amongst others, of building a house of worship. This society was not of one denomination, but of all that existed here at the time, joining together for a common benefit. The large church which stood east of the school house number 11, was commenced in 1806, but was not dedicated until March, 1809, when W. Higgins of Auburn, preached the dedication sermon. In the town at first the Presbyterians, or their near brethren, the Congregationalists, were the most numerous, but in the village the Episcopalians. It is said that Episcopalian services were not unfrequently held in that old church. Rev. Ansel Bascom, a Congregational Missionary, organized the Skaneateles Religious Society. He was not, however, the first missionary here, Robbins, Williston and Bushnell, having preceded him. The first settled minister of the place, Rev. Nathaniel Swift, did not come until 1811.
Many remember the old edifice in its waning days, and know what disposition was made of it. Its building was a great task, and the labor and sacrifices it cost, are among the many marvels of our early history. The founding of the other religious societies, the building of their churches, are events of times later than those that interest us to-day.
A glimpse of early courts, and their character, would not be untimely here. Provision was early made for them in the military tract, and they were at first held alternately in Scipio and Manlius. Strange stories are told of their primitive proceedings. The first court for Montgomery county, was held in our Judge Sanger’s barn in New Hartford, and presided over by Judge Henrich Staring,* who could neither read nor write, yet left a high name for ability and honor. The only case before him at that court was for assault and battery.
* Heinrich Staring was appointed as the first Judge of the Court of Common Pleas by New York Governor George Clinton. He was not a lawyer, but was said to have been gifted with a large measure of common sense. The laws he enforced would seem odd to us today; he once arrested and fined a man six shillings for traveling on horseback on a Sunday.
The first Judge of Onondaga County, in 1794, was Seth Phelps, of Scipio, that town being within this county until 1799. In those early courts some of our townsmen began careers that led to eminence and wealth – Kellogg, Jewett and others. Among the other judges from our town in early times were Wm. J. Vredenburgh and John Ten Eyck. Robert Earll was Sheriff in 1809. Our first district representative in Congress was Uri Tracy, of Chenango, and our town presented him with an early successor in James Porter.
Here I wish to make one more allusion to Judge Sanger. It seems to me that there was scarcely an office of profit or honor below the highest that he did not hold at one time or another.
In the year 1796 the supervisors of the county gave the valuation of the town of Marcellus as £ 1303 4s., and its proportion of tax as £ 16 10s. 1d. In the year 1797, when the decimal currency was in use, its valuation was given at $10,607.50, and its total population at 133 souls. In the year 1798 the population was given as 159, and in 1799 as 152, a decrease of seven in a year. The first supervisor of the town of Marcellus was Wm. Stevens.*
* William Stevens was supervisor of Marcellus in 1794, ‘95, and ‘96, Samuel Tyler in ‘97, and Winston Day in ‘98.
Skaneateles had no post office until 1804, when one was secured to it by the influence of Mr. Vredenburgh, who was the first postmaster. He was succeeded by John Ten Eyck, a druggist, justice of the peace, and afterward associate judge of the county. Marcellus village had for a little time been the nearest post office, and before that perhaps Utica. But Sherwood’s stages soon put us in communication with the rest of the world, and it was not long before a daily line was running through the village, and going east or west made the great event of the day. The first post office was held in a building on the site of the [St. James’] Episcopal church, but the coaches went by, not deigning to stop, and the mails had to be re-carried from Sherwood’s tavern.
How strange the life of that day would seem to us could we be carried back to it, and what privations we would find there; but perhaps our settlers did not feel them, and were as happy and contented, or more so, than we are to-day. They seem to have found time and opportunity for fun and enjoyment, if we can judge by the many tales that have descended to us. Their toils were heavy, and they had many ways and industries now unknown to us. The hum of the spinning wheel came from every dwelling, and constant labor everywhere seemed to be the rule.
In the very early day, by death or other causes, the settlers were often put in straits and dangers. At times the necessaries of life were scarcely obtainable.
We hear of a man going all the way from Owasco to the Cayuga reservation by the Cayuga Lake for a bushel of wheat, and then going to Utica to have it ground, and even then he felt more lucky than his neighbors, having horses to take him.
We hear of Stephen Benson sending his son to Homer with an ox team to get some wheat ground, most of the way through the woods without other roads than marked trees, taking him nearly a week, while his family were living at home on potatoes.
We hear of Warren Hecox in 1799 hiring a man and horse to go to Scipio for a bushel of wheat and then sending it to Montville in Sempronius to be ground, the latter caused no doubt by low water here.
But when the time came for crops, and good ones were raised, there was no market for them nearer than Utica, or may be Albany, when a bushel of wheat would only bring a yard of the commonest calico, and sometimes would not buy a pound of chewing tobacco.
There comes a story from the southeast part of town, illustrating the early life here. How Mr. Palmer, when his boy’s leg had been broken by a falling tree, started on foot for Dr. White, near Utica, the nearest physician that he knew of. On the way he sent back his neighbors to his son’s assistance, but they lost their way, and the boy lay all night in his agony with his broken limb. But Dr. White was found, and both returned by a shorter road through the woods, guided by an Indian, who brought them, by paths unseen by the white man, straight to a log across the outlet of Otisco Lake. The boy recovered, but with the loss of his leg, and is remembered as an old man by many of our citizens.
In those times our woods were very full of game, deer being especially plenty. It was no uncommon occurrence to see droves of ten or a dozen. They would often swim across the lake, and if seen on their way, were very likely to fall prey to parties who took after them in row boats or canoes. One morning Alanson Edwards saw seven on the way up from the lake dripping wet from having just swum through it.
Of bears, there are plentiful stories, and among them is one in which Gen. Earll bore part. Early one morning, as he and his son Nehemiah were setting up bar-posts in front of his log house, they heard a noise behind them and turning around suddenly saw a great bear coming towards them at full gallop. They parted just in time for his bearship to go between them, and then disappear in the woods.
Another tale is told of a Mr. Davis, who had bought out Mr. Weston, now Mr. Poor’s place, how one Sunday morning, neglectful of the day, he had taken his gun up the east side of the lake and came across a bear and her two cubs, and tracked them as far as Mr. Pardee’s orchard. Here he got a shot at the bear which brought her down, and she was soon dispatched with an ax. But now came a tug of war, to secure the young ones alive, a very severe task from their amazing strength and dexterity, as well as fierceness. But meeting that morning had been held in the school house and it was not out, and hither came the released worshippers, men, women and children. The meeting men joined in the work, and by the aid of poles, ropes of elm bark and a great deal of patience and science, the young fellows were bound captive and carried off. How the afternoon sermon agreed with the exciting scene, and what calming effect it had on the hearers has not come down to us.
Those early settlers were the framers and beginners of wonderful events. They were faithful and constant, and saw wonders arise before them, the result of their labor and foresight. But they went through great toils and suffered many ills. With all the woes and sorrows of life, they had a hard struggle with nature in its summer heats and winter frosts, and in the stubborn soil and forests they subdued. Many reaped no earthly benefit. They saw the country around them grow to wealth and luxury, and all the appliances of ease and culture around them on every side, but in which they had no share, dying in the midst of their labors, with their harvests left to strangers.
But others had happier lots, and gained and held in their own hand every good this world can give. These were unequal rewards, but such has ever been and perhaps will ever be the rule of the world. There are many things that should be told of these men, mere details of their lives and labors, and a great many things that will some time make up a worthier history of our town. But I have said enough at present, and must not further try your patience.
When I look around and see the changes that have occurred throughout our land within the memory of men still living, it all seems too strange even for a dream. The wildest fancy would not have hazarded its prophesy a hundred years ago, and no man would now believe it, were not the demonstration here. We sometimes try to look into the future, and ask, “Can the mighty work still go on smoothly and unchecked?”
What events are coming from the vast material progress of the 19th century, its conquests of nature, its increase of knowledge, its good and its evil, it is vain for the human mind to ask. But there can be no doubt that, as that progress and condition are something the world has never before seen, so will their results be equally, something unseen and as yet undreamed of. The human eye can no more trace that the human will can turn the course of destiny, but it is in His hand who in His wisdom will shape and direct it all.
It is not ours to begin but the hard task to carry on faithfully what they began, and while we to-day pledge ourselves anew that the great work shall still go on, that no measures of our fathers’ work or hope shall fail. Let us not forget our local trusts and duties. Let it not be said of us that we let the shadow of time go backward, or that we were even willing to leave our heritage as we found it, unmarked by our labors and our triumphs.
Let us especially remember the beauty of our lake and its shores, and resolve, that henceforth that present beauty, and in some measure at least, the restoration of the old shall ever be in our thoughts and among the constant and zealous efforts of our lives. May we all do something to this end, so that after another hundred years, our successors shall meet together and rejoice, and thank us for what we may have done for the pleasure and honest pride of their lives; when Skaneateles Lake shall be, as nature intended it, the loveliest and the most alluring of all our inland waters.
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