Condition of the Community --- Abandonment of the Tioughnioga as a Freight Highway --- The Erie Canal Project and its Influence on the County --- The Constitutional Convention of 1821 and the Changes Wrought thereby in the County --- The First Railroad Charter --- Salina and Port Watson the Terminal Points --- More Turnpike Companies Incorporated --- The Canal Mania --- The Syracuse and Port Watson Canal Project --- Other Internal Improvements --- Statistics.

The opening of the third decade of the century found the inhabitants of the several small villages in Cortland county still striving under somewhat adverse circumstances and surroundings to supply the community at large with their household necessities and the few luxuries then in demand, at the same time gradually building up for themselves mercantile and manufacturing interests which they hoped would in future years remunerate them for their early labors. The farming communities were still engaged during liberal portions of each year in divesting their lands of the original forest and putting them under cultivation; for them it was still a period of severe toil and privation, with the satisfaction at the close of each year, if no ill fortune had overtaken them, that they were in no worse circumstances than they were at the beginning, while their farms were slowly but surely appreciating in value, productiveness and consequent revenue. Much of the land in the county, particularly in the outlying districts, was still either forest-covered or thickly studded with stumps of all sizes, while inhabitants were yet, to a large extent, dwelling in log houses. Markets for the limited surplus produce were distant and not easily accessible; the eight to ten days' journey to Chenango Forks; six to eight to Ludlowville or Manlius Square, of the earlier days, were things of the past, to be sure; but Homer and Cortland were still a long distance from some portions of the county, when the character of the roads was considered, and their markets were not very favorable to producers, chiefly on account of the long distances all household goods had to be hauled by team; and money, as used for a medium of exchange with the farming population, was very scarce.

    While the roads had been opened with distant populous places, most of them were still anything but well kept highways.Goods and farming implements came into the county chiefly from Albany, by way of Schenectady, thence through the canal to Little Falls, then through Wood's Creek, Oneida Lake, the Onondaga river (as it was called) and the Tioughnioga; or, by land from Albany and Utica direct; these were long and expensive routes, and necessarily caused high prices, which were onerous to the farmers and mechanics. The surplus produce, and the whisky, potash, pottery ware, maple sugar, etc., which were exported from the county, still found their way largely down the Tioughnioga and Susquehanna rivers in arks and scows, or were transported to distant markets with teams; but within a few years after the beginning of the decade, the waterways, as routes for the transportation of freight were abandoned, and the intermittent occupation of the old pilots and captains in the county, who plumed themselves considerably upon their reputations as successful navigators of the freshet tides of these capricious streams, was gone forever.

    It will be understood, therefore, that the inhabitants of Cortland county, from the highest to the lowest and from the remotest boundaries to the busiest centers, felt the deepest interest in the great project of a canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson river, which promised to bring ample and economical transportation facilities even so near as thirty-three miles from their doors.

    This was a period, also, of great political activity; the great struggle of 1816,1 which had placed DeWitt Clinton in the Governor's chair was still fresh in the public mind, and that statesman was preparing for his work in the interest of the canal enterprise. The period of political activity continued until 1820, which campaign was, perhaps, the most exciting since that of 1816. In those days the house of Moses Hopkins, in Cortland village, appears to have been a sort of political headquarters, where the prospects of prominent candidates were discussed, "slates" made (if such political accessories were then known), and the omnipresent cheap whisky of that period absorbed in unknown quantities.

    The Erie canal was completed and opened in 1825, which auspicious event was hailed with the utmost satisfaction in this county, as well as in all other parts of the State.2 The farmers realized that now they could find shipment, either by their own efforts or through the leading merchants of Cortland and Homer villages, for all of their surplus produce, as near as Syracuse of Manlius, while merchants and manufacturers accepted with pleasure the fact that transporting their wares into the county would be both greatly facilitated and reduced in cost.

    In the spring of 1817 Samuel Nelson became a resident of Cortland---a man who subsequently attained to the highest judicial honors in the gift of his country. He was a delegate from this county to the Constitutional Convention of 1821, and the youngest member of that body. Under the constitution passed by that convention, the judiciary of the State was reorganized. In the legislative session of 1823 the State was divided into eight circuits, corresponding with the eight Senatorial Districts, for which eight circuit judges were to be appointed by the governor and the Senate. Cortland county became part of the Sixth Circuit. James Clapp, of Oxford, David Woodcock, of Ithaca, and Samuel Nelson were Candidates for the appointment of judge in the Sixth Circuit. All of them were strongly supported, but nelson won the prize.

    Previous to the Constitutional convention alluded to, sheriffs and county clerks were appointed by a tribunal located in Albany, known as the "Council of Appointment." This tribunal was abolished by the convention, and those offices made elective by the people. In 1823 Samuel Hotchkiss, who had been deputy county clerk in this county since 1815, was elected clerk, and held the office for twelve successive years, being an efficient and popular officer. In the same year Moses Hopkins was elected sheriff.

    In the year 1829 the Salina and Port Watson Railroad Company was incorporated. Jedediah Barber and Andrew Dickson, of this county, were members of the original company. The road was to start at Salina, run through Syracuse and Onondaga Hollow to the "headwaters of the Tioughnioga; through Homer to Cortland, and thence to Port Watson." Cars on this road could be run, under the law, by either stream or animal power. The capital stock was fixed at $350,000, and seven years were allowed for the completion of the road; if not finished in that time the law became inoperative. This road never went any further, that we can learn, than the application to the Legislature.

    This movement indicates that there were prominent men in the county who still believed in the future importance of Port Watson; it was acceding considerable to project a railroad through the villages of Homer and Cortland, and make its proposed terminus at that point; and that was but fifty-five years ago.

    Up to this period of the country's history there had been three terms of court held; but the Board of Supervisors of 1824, with an eye economy, passed the following resolution:---

    "Resolved, That we petition to the next Legislature to abolish the September term and alter the May term from the second Tuesday to the last Tuesday."

    It may not, moreover, be uninteresting to know that the same Board passed the following prudential and humane measure:---

    "Resolved, That Jabez B. Phelps and Martin Keep be a committee to see to the prisoners' fare, and procure a lightning rod and one stove for the court-house."

    We find no record of any such change as that contemplated by the first of these two resolutions. Three years later, however, (in 1827) the time of holding the terms of courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace was changed to the third Tuesday in April, the second Tuesday in September, and the second Tuesday in December.

    The opening of roads, the improvement of those already open, and the organization of turnpike companies, continued to occupy the attention of the people during this decade. In 1824 the Onondaga and Cortland Turnpike Company was incorporated, with Barak Niles, John Miller, Elijah Miles and Joshua Forman as corporators. The act of incorporation provided that the company should make a good and sufficient turnpike road, to begin at Syracuse and running thence "until it intersects the Onondaga river, in the town of Truxton," and thence by the mast eligible route to the dwelling of John McWhorter, in Cincinnatus." There were 1,250 shares of stock at $20 per share, with the usual provision for toll-gates, tolls, etc.

    In the same year Beach Ufford, Jeremiah Whipple and Ichabod S. Spencer were appointed by the State as Commissioners to lay out a road from Canastota, by the most eligible route, to intersect the Geneganselet turnpike in the town of Cincinnatus.

    In 1825 Bildad Beach, Samuel Tyler and Barber Kinion were appointed Commissioners to lay out a road from the canal at Camillus, Onondaga county, by way of Marcellus and Otisco to Port Watson.

    By way of further internal improvements it was undoubtedly encouraging to the residents of the county in 1825, as it certainly is amusing to the present reader, to learn that it was seriously contemplated in that year to construct a canal from Syracuse to Port Watson, and that the Canal Commissioners were instructed to make the necessary examinations as to the feasibility of the project. Two years later (in 1827) we find the following on a kindred topic in the Cortland Journal:---

    "Upon the subject of the canal from Manlius to Chenango Point, little has been said. It is of so much importance to the commercial and agricultural interests of this section of the State, that we hope spirited efforts will be made to have all act passed in relation to it. More on this subject hereafter."

    But, contrary to the last editorial sentence, little or nothing was heard on the subject thereafter. About that period it was looked upon as a remarkably poor season for canals when two or three new ones were not projected and discussed.

    In April, 1826, an act of Legislature was passed making Cortland county a part of the Sixth Senatorial District, and giving it two Members of Assembly. John Lynde and Augustus A. Donnelly were elected to the Assembly in that year.

    Down to the year 1829, although the village of Cortland had become a thriving little place of several hundred inhabitants, and settlement in the vicinity had progressed considerably, these places were still a part of the town of Homer; but on the 11th of April, 1829, an act was passed by the Legislature dividing Homer in halves, and designating the southern half as the town of Cortlandville. The boundaries of this town were changed in 1845 by the addition of lot No. 10, and that part of lot 9 of the town of Virgil lying east of the Tioughnioga river, and the following year that portion of lot No. 8 lying east of the river in Virgil was also annexed.

    At the close of the third decade the population of the towns then in existence was as follows: Homer, 3,307; Solon, 2,033; Virgil, 3,912; Cincinnatus, 1,308; Preble, 1,435; Truxton, 3,885; Scott, 1,452; Freetown, 1,051; Marathon, 895; Willet, 804; Cortlandville, 3,673.

1 - "Here (in this county) the parties were arrayed under the respective banners of Republican and Federal. John Miller, of Truxton, was the Republican candidate for Member of Assembly. In the bitterness of the campaign Mead Merrill accused him of stealing meal from a building occupied by one Scott, a tenant of Miller's. Miller sued Merrill for slander and the defense interposed as a justification for the charge. The action was brought on for trial at the Cortland circuit. The public mind of the county was deeply agitated. Counsel of the highest standing in the State were retained. The celebrated and peerless Elisha Williams, of Hudson, and Thomas J. Oakley, of Poughkeepsie, conducted the case for the plaintiff; and John W. Hulbert, of Auburn, then the most eloquent advocate of Central New York, was the leading counsel for the defense. The court-room was filled to its utmost capacity during the several days of the trial. The severe and exciting cross-examination of John Scott by Williams is still remembered by those who heard it. The witness suffered himself to be over-whelmed in contradictions, became hopelessly confused and lost in his balance of mind. Notwithstanding, at the close of the evidence the defense claimed that the circumstances proved had established a justification of the charge, while the plaintiff claimed that the defense had failed. And then ensued a forensic display before the jury, not since surpassed, or perhaps equaled, in the courts of this country. The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff."---Hon. Horatio Ballard's Reminiscences.
2 - The enthusiastic editor of the Cortland Republican in commenting upon a report of the Canal Commissioners in 1818 (De Witt Clinton, S. Van Rensselaer and Myron Holley), said: "Remote as we are (it was thirty-three long miles from the canal) it is not probably we shall experience any immediate benefit from it." But along the line of the canal the editor foresaw great possibilities. "The yelling of savages and the howling of wolves," he predicted, "will be succeeded by the sounds of the axe-man's blows and the bleating of the flocks;" and

    " 'Where the hooting owl doth to the moon complain,' anthems will be chanted to the God of Nations in those churches which a pious and thankful people will consecrate to his service. Schools and academies will rise where now the savage huts, scattered promiscuously through the dreary wilderness, are the only human habitations."

Transcribed by Dot Sipe - March, 2005.

1885 History of Cortland County

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