Afton, (p. v.) situated upon the Susquehanna River, near the center of the town, is a station on the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, and is distant from Albany 114 miles and from Binghamton 28. It contains four churches, viz., Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and Universalist; two district schools, three hotels, half a dozen stores, two furniture and cabinet shops, a tub factory, a spoke factory, a sash and blind factory, two wagon shops, several other mechanic shops of various kinds, and about 400 inhabitants.
Bettsburg, situated in the south part of the town, contains a store, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a wagon shop, a gristmill and about a dozen dwellings.
Elnathan Bush and his family commenced a settlement on the Susquehanna River, below the village of Afton, in 1786; here he remained until 1790, when he removed to Bainbridge, where he died. This was probably the first settlement within the present limits of Afton. They were originally from Connecticut, but had previously located in Otsego County. They removed from Cooperstown down the river in canoes. Among the other early settlers were Seth Stone, Nathaniel Benton, Isaac Miner, Hezekiah Stowell and sons, Orlando Bridgman and sons, and Ebenezer Church and sons, from Vermont. The last three families were "Vermont Sufferers", or persons who had purchased land in Vermont under Titles from New York, which were subsequently declared invalid. This land was appropriated to them instead of that from which they had been driven.
The first child born was William Bush, in 1786, and the first death that of --- Polly. Nathaniel Church taught the first school in 1790, and Asa Stowell kept the first inn, in 1788. The first store was kept by Peter Betts in 1805, and the first saw mill was built on Kelsey's Brook by David Cooper and Isaac Miner. The first church was organized in 1802, by Rev. Daniel Buck.
Joe Smith, the founder of Mormonism, operated quite extensively in this town and vicinity during the early years of his career as a prophet. Smith was born in Sharon, Windsor Co., Vermont, December 23d, 1805. When about ten years of age, he removed with his parents to Palmyra, Wayne County, N. Y. The reputation of the family was very bad and Joe was considered the worst of the whole. Somewhere about 1828 or 1829, Smith made his appearance in Afton and attended school in District No. 9. Here his supernatural powers manifested themselves by telling fortunes or "foretelling futurity." This was done by placing a stone in his hat and then looking into it drawn over his face so as to exclude the light. He first organized a society at the house of Joe Knight, on the south side of the river, near the Lobdell House, in Broome County. Excavations were made in various places for treasures, and rocks containing iron pyrites were drilled for gold. Previous to digging in any place a sheep was killed and the blood sprinkled upon the spot. Lot 62 was the seat of one of these mining operations. To convince the unbelievers that he did possess supernatural powers he announced that he would walk upon the water. The performance was to take place in the evening, and to the astonishment of unbelievers, he did walk upon the water where it was known to be several feet deep, only sinking a few inches below the surface. This proving a success, a second trial was announced which bid fair to be as successful as the first, but when he had proceeded some distance into the river he suddenly went down, greatly to the disgust of himself and proselytes, but to the great amusement of the unbelievers. It appeared on examination that plank were laid in the river a few inches below the surface, and some wicked boys had removed a plank which caused the prophet to go down like any other mortal. After pretending to heal the sick, cast out devils, &c., he gained quite a number of followers, but at length came to grief by being prosecuted as an impostor. He was tried before Joseph P. Chamberlain, a Justice of the Peace. Two pettifoggers by the name of John S. Reed and James Davison volunteered to defend him. Three witnesses were examined on the occasion, all of whom testified that they had seen him cast out devils. They saw "a devil as large as a woodchuck leave the man and run across the floor." One of them saw a devil leave the man and "run off like a yellow dog." These witnesses were Mr. Knight and son, and Mr. Stowell, all of whom subsequently went west with Smith. Preston T. Wilkins, of Ashtabula County, Ohio, lived in Broome County, near the line of Afton, at the time of the Mormon excitement, and while on a visit to a Mormon family learned that there was a chest of Mormon Bibles in the barn, that it was guarded by an angel, and that it would be utterly impossible for any one to steal one of them. Mr. W. prepared a key that would unlock the chest, and taking one of their Bibles carried it home in the evening and placed it over the front door, so that it would fall into the house on opening the door. The result was what he anticipated and the Mormons declared that an angel had brought the book and of course Mr. W. and his wife would become converts at once. The Mormons had been laboring for some time to convert Mrs. W. and had caused her much anxiety and her husband considerable trouble, which he wished to end. They would never acknowledge that one of their books was missing. Some time afterwards Mr. W. explained the miracle of the Bible and informed the Mormons that they must keep away from his house as he would no longer listen to their impositions. About 1831 most of them went west where the saints had been commanded to assemble.
The Suspension Bridge across the Susquehanna River at the village of Afton is one of the finest structures in the State. The length of the span is 362 feet and it is supported by six cables, 558 feet in length, each composed of 132 wires. The hight (sic) of the towers is 36 feet and the arch of the bridge four feet. On the east side is an approach bridge 70 feet in length. The suspending rods are five-eighths of an inch in diameter, attached to needle beams four feet a part. The weight of the bridge is 100 tons; the carrying weight is 240 tons. The roadway is sixteen feet wide, and a railing four and a half feet high extends the whole length. The cables were manufactured at Trenton, N. J. The contractors of the bridge were G. W. & J. V. V. Fishler, of Wellsburgh, Chemung County, N. Y.; James Crowell, master builder. It is double anchored and an ornament to the place as well as a credit to the enterprise of the people of the town. Its entire cost was about $15,000. The first meeting of the citizens called for the purpose of securing the construction of a Free Suspension Bridge across the river was held in the village of Afton on the evening of April 1st, 1868, at which a Bill was authorized to be drawn for a charter to build the Bridge, and A. C. Hyde, Thomas Landers and H. R. Caswell were nominated as Commissioners to see the work constructed. The Bill was introduced into the Senate, April 3d, Commissioner Landers going to Albany for the purpose. Considerable opposition was met with from men who were interested in the toll bridges above and below the proposed site of the Suspension Bridge. The Bill passed the Senate April 20th, and the Assembly the 27th of the same month. The contract for the construction of the Bridge was awarded to Fishler Brothers on the 29th of July and the work commenced August 1st. To pay for the Bridge the town has issued its bonds to the amount of $12,000, $2,000 of which was to be paid in February, 1869, and the remainder in annual installments of $2,000 until paid. The town is also bonded to the amount of $30,000 for the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad.
The late William H. Bissell, Governor of Illinois, was for several years a resident of Afton. Like many of our distinguished men he was self-educated, attending school in the summer and teaching in the winter. He studied medicine and graduated at the Philadelphia Medical College in 1834, after which he removed to Illinois. He served with distinction during the Mexican War, was a member of Congress from 1849 to 1855, and in 1856 was elected Governor of the State for four years. He died at Springfield, Illinois, March 18, 1860.
The population of Afton in 1865 was 1,827, and its area 28,468 acres.
There are thirteen school districts in the town; the whole number of the school population is 618; the number attending school, 482; average attendance, 200; and the amount expended for school purposes during the last year, $2,832.34.