HISTORY

of

CORTLAND    COUNTY.

----------------------------

CHAPTER I.

NATURAL CHARACTERISTICS.

Boundaries and Topography now Embraced in Cortland County --- Its Rivers, Creeks and Lakes --- Geologic Formations --- Climatic Features --- General Character of the Soil --- Timber.

The county of which this work gives a history lies nearly in the center of the State of New York, from east to west, and but a little south of the center, from north to south. It is about twenty-six miles in extent from north to south, and about twenty miles from east to west, containing four hundred and eighty-five square miles. Its eastern and western boundaries are parallel with each other, and its northern and southern boundaries nearly so; the towns of Truxton and Cuyler, in the northeast corner of the county, extend a fraction of a mile farther north than the other two towns in the northern part of the county, and the same is true of Willet and a portion of Marathon, in the southeastern corner of the county. Cortland county is bounded on the north by Onandaga county, on the east by Chenango and Madison counties, on the south by Broome and Tioga counties, and on the west by Tompkins and Cayuga counties.

    The territory now embraced within the limits of Cortland county formerly comprised four whole and two half townships in the southeastern corner of what was known as the "Military Tract" (which will be described a little farther on). The county was named in honor of Pierre Van Cortlandt, the first Lieutenant-Governor of the State of New York, and an extensive owner of and dealer in lands in the Military Tract. It lies upon the northern spurs of the Alleghany mountains, and embraces several of the more elevated points in the central portion of the State. The dividing ridge, or "water shed" from which flow southward the clear waters of the Tioughnioga and its tributaries to unite with the Susquehanna fiver, and northward the streams that help to swell the tide of Lake Ontario, lies in the northern portion of the county; streams flowing eastward to the Tioughnioga, and others flowing westward to Cayuga lake, are also divided at a point near Virgil village. The surface of the county is made up of hilly ranges, which are separated by valleys narrowed down at some points to mere ravines, and at others widening out into broad, level and productive plains. The highlands are divided into three general ridges, which extend across the county in a northerly and southerly direction. The first of these occupies the extreme eastern border of the county, and is drained upon its western slopes by the Otselic river; the second ridge lies between the Otselic and the Tioughnioga rivers, being drained by both; and the third comprises the highlands to the westward of the Tioughnioga. The southern portion of the county is made up of a succession of high hills, the most extensive of which are the Owego hills, running in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction across the towns of Virgil and Harford, and near the foot of which is the water-shed above mentioned; they are divided generally by narrow valleys, and are, in common with the three ranges before alluded to, cut through by the ravines and valleys of the small tributaries of the Otselic and Tioughnioga, running lateral to the three principal ranges of hills.

    The northern portion of the county spreads out into a high plateau, somewhat broken by hills. This plateau has an average elevation of about 1,200 feet above tide-water, while the ridges are from two hundred to five hundred feet higher. A broad plain occupies the center of the western portion of the county, into which most of the valleys of the tributaries of the Tioughnioga open.

    The northern portion of the county spreads out into a high plateau, somewhat broken by hills. This plateau has an average elevation of about 1,200 feet above tide-water, while the ridges are from two hundred to five hundred feet higher. A broad plain occupies the center of the western portion of the county, into which most of the valleys of the tributaries of the Tioughnioga open.

    The highest points in the county are Mount Topping in Preble, the Truxton hills in the northeastern portion, and the Owego hills in Virgil and Harford. These attain an elevation of from 1,600 to 2,000 feet. The configuration of the surface of the county thus described gives it a varied and, in many localities, a picturesque aspect.

    The Tioughnioga river constitutes the principal drainage of the county, flowing southward nearly through its center. It enters the county in two branches, the eastern branch flowing from Madison county into the town of Cuyler, near the northeastern corner of the county, and continuing southwesterly through the towns of Cuyler, Truxton and Homer. The western branch has its source in a number of small lakes in the northern part of the town of Preble. This branch flows southward through the towns of Preble, Homer, and a portion of Cortland, when it bends to the eastward, uniting with the east branch near the boundaries of Cortland village, and thence flows in a southwesterly direction through Cortlandville, the eastern portion of Virgil, the northeastern corner of Lapeer, and Marathon, uniting with the Chenango river at Chenango Forks, in Broome county. The principal tributaries are the Otselic river, which enters this county from Chenango county, flowing through a deep valley in the town of Cincinnatus and continuing in a southwesterly direction, uniting with the Tioughnioga in the northern part of Broome county, after flowing through the central portion of the town of Willet. Trout brook rises in the eastern part of Solon, and flows nearly west through that town and Cortlandville, until it unites with the Tioughnioga about a mile southeast of Cortland village. Chenango creek rises in the town of Taylor and flows northwestward through a portion of Truxton, in the southwestern corner of which it unites with the Tioughnioga. Labrador creek has its source in the Labrador lake, a small body of water in the extreme northern part of the town of Truxton, flows nearly south, and unites with the river in about the center of the town. Cold brook rises in the eastern part of the town of Scott, flows southeasterly and empties into the west branch of the Tioughnioga in the northern part of Homer. Factory brook rises in the western part of Scott, flows southeasterly, and unites with the Tioughnioga in Homer village. Otter creek has its rise in the extreme western part of the county, flows easterly and empties into the Tioughnioga near Cortland village. The town of Virgil is drained by Virgil creek, which flows westwardly, and Cunningham (or Gridley) creek, flowing eastward to the Tioughnioga. Harford is drained by the Owego creek, and Marathon by Merrill's creek, which empties into the Otselic river in Broome county.

    Besides all these streams, there are numerous others of lesser importance, which are not known by distinctive names; the greater part of the county is well watered by numerous springs of excellent water. Skaneateles lake borders the extreme northwestern corner of the county (town of Scott), the inlet to which drains that portion of the county.

    The largest bodies of water in the county are a series of small lakes in the northern part of the town of Homer and extending into Preble, and two lakes in the northern part of the latter named town. In the southwestern portion of the town of Cortlandville, about three miles from Cortland village, are three small ponds, fed by springs, and furnishing at their bottoms an almost inexhaustible supply of marl of an excellent quality. These deposits have been worked and a vast amount of superior quick-lime manufactured, since the locality was first settled. Marl is also found in smaller quantities and of an inferior quality in the town of Preble and the northern part of Homer.

    Cortland county is in the third geological district of the State, the remainder of the district being composed of the counties of Montgomery, Fulton, Otsego, Herkimer, Oneida, Lewis, Oswego, Madison, Onondaga, Cayuga, Chenango, Broome, Tioga and the eastern half of Tompkins. Slate is the basis rock of this county. The Hamilton group, extending from Onondaga county, enters the northern part of the town of Truxton. In Preble, Truxton and portions of Homer are found quantities of the Genesee slate. It usually projects from the hills which bound the valleys in those localities. The Portage and Ithaca groups extend over the towns of Cortlandville and Solon, the larger portion of Homer and Scott, and the "terrace" between Truxton and Solon. They are found on either side of the Tioughnioga, but become narrower as they increase in thickness going southward. Specimens are also found along the borders of the Otselic river in Willet and Cincinnatus. These groups form a number of important quarries, which have been of great value to the county at large. The more prominent of these are located a short distance above Port Watson; a second one is about a mile below Port Watson, and a third between Homer and Cortland. These quarries have supplied a large portion of the flat building stone used in the two villages of Homer and Cortland, and most of the flag-stones for walks, etc. Above the layers of stone in these quarries there is a line of concretion, with shale, of a foot or more in thickness. Above this are layers of slaty, broken and decomposed shale and sandstone, forming the refuse of the quarry. Some of the lower layers of sandstone contain vegetable impressions and, owing to the alterations which the material of the plants has undergone, show small accumulations of coal. The lower parts of these quarries consist of large flag-stones, the surface of which is often waved, as the sandy bottom of a stream is sometimes impressed by gently flowing waters. These ripple marks carry the imagination back to the remote period when these same rocks formed the soft floors of shallow silurian seas.

    The Chemung group extends over the southwestern part of the town of Virgil, and is the highest elevation in the county. The same group is discernible near the boundary lines of the towns of Freetown, Cincinnatus, Willet and marathon.

    Bog ore has been found in small specimens in some of the swamps of the county, but is not believed to exist to any great extent. Albite, or white feldspar, is found in small quantities in Scott, Truxton, and Solon. Specimens of basaltic hornblende have been found in the northern part of the county. Calcareous tufa is common in some of the eastern portions of the county.

    On the west branch of the Otselic river is a calcareo-sulphurous spring, the water of which is quite strongly impregnated with the mixed ingredients of sulphur and lime. There are several other sulphurous springs in the county, and the Little York lakes, a few miles north of Homer, are slightly impregnated with sulphur.

    The climate of Cortland county is characterized, in common with that of southern central New York, by great variability. The region south and southwest of the Mohawk river valley exhibits a lower temperature, by from four to eleven degrees, than the average of the State, and autumnal frosts occur from one to two weeks earlier. The physical features of the county would indicate a climate somewhat colder than that of the western portion of the State in the same latitude, chiefly on account of its greater average elevation. The valley in which is located the village of Homer is 1,096 feet above tide-water; this against 417 feet for the valley in which is built the village of Ithaca. The mean temperature of Homer is forty-four degrees and seventeen hundredths, while that of Ithaca (with a difference in latitude of only eleven minutes) is forty-seven degrees and eighty-eight hundredths, showing a difference in mean temperature of three degrees and seventy-eight hundredths. The daily range of temperature is a marked feature of the climate of the county, especially as experienced in the late summer and early autumnal months, when the mercury often shows a rapid depression towards nightfall; this, with wide range of temperature and the sudden changes during the different seasons, exerts a strong influence upon the health of residents.

    The soil of the county may be generally characterized as chiefly a sandy or gravelly loam on the hilly portions, while in the valleys it is of a similar character, with a large admixture of disintegrated shale, slate and limestone. It is generally better adapted to grazing than to the raising of grains, though many portions are very productive in this respect. Agriculture and dairying form the chief occupations of the inhabitants, outside of the villages. The cultivation of fruits has been carried on to a considerable extent, but the cold winters and early frosts render it impractical to successfully grow any but the hardy kinds.

    The county was originally heavily timbered, chiefly with maple, beech, elm, basswood, pine, hemlock and cherry. On some of the higher hills is considerable chestnut and oak, and interspersed throughout the whole is some white ash and birch. Less than a century ago the hills and valleys of the county were covered with a grand old forest of these various kinds of trees, beneath whose silent shade, as far as we may know, only the copper-hued hunter and warrior had followed his narrow trail, and through which flowed the beautiful river with its romantic Indian name; a stream gradually but surely diminishing under the influence created by the advance of civilization. Here in the forest depths then roamed the timid deer, the stolid black bear, and among the thick branches hid the stealthy wild-cat and panther. The gray wolf in vast numbers made the night air echo with his discordant howl, and smaller animals, the raccoon, the hedgehog, and squirrels without number, peopled the wilderness. The wild turkey and partridge often furnished food for the red hunter and his family; Pigeons, innumerable as the leaves, made their summer homes in the forest branches, while the majestic eagle often took his lofty flight above the tallest monarchs of the wood.


1885 History of Cortland County

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