HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF WILLETT
The town of Willet lies in the southeast corner of the county and contains 1,583,919acres with an assessed valuation of $15.01 per acer with an aggregate valuation of $248,135. The town is bounded on the north by Cincinnatus, on the east by Chenango county, on the south by Broome county, and on the west by Marathon.
The surface of the town consists mainly of the narrow valley of the Otselic river and the ridges which rise to a considerable height on either side. The uplands are broken by numerous narrow ravines through which flow small streams. A considerable portion of the town is still unsettled, and some of it is too rough and inaccessible for profitable cultivation. Bloody Pond is a small sheet of water in the northwest part of the town. The soil consists of gravelly loam and shale.
Willet hamlet is situated a little north of the center of the town and consists of two churches, four stores, a hotel, two mills, several shops and about twenty dwellings.
Burlingame Mills, formerly a place of some note, now comprises a grist mill and a carpenterís shop only. A store was formerly located here.
This town was formed from the southeastern corner of the old township of Cincinnatus and was named in honor of Col. Marinus Willet, who acquired an honorable fame while second in command at Fort Stanwix in 1777 and who made a gallant sally upon the forces of Sir John Johnston, capturing their stores and baggage. Col. Willet drew lot No. 88 of the old town of Cincinnatus; it was situated in the southeast quarter of the township and when the division was made, the military hero was honored with the application of his name to this new town, wherein he found the tract of land which was awarded him for his patriotic services.
Ebenezer Crittenden was one of the earliest settlers in the town of Willet, coming in the year 1797. He had married at Binghamton and as is indicative of the determined character of the pioneers of the county, he took his wife and one child, embarked with their little all in a frail boat or canoe and with the aid of oars and setting pole, finally reached their destination in safety, with no other shelter than the blue dome of heaven and exposed to whatever elements were destined to overtake them.
Arrived at his land, Mr. Crittenden cut some crotched sticks, set them upright, and with the further aid of some poles and their bed clothing, made a tent in which they lived until he could complete a sort of log house. This was constructed in the following manner: he cut sufficient logs for the sides and gable ends of the cabin, getting them small enough to enable him to handle them single-handed. These he laid up in the usual manner, and then set up two pairs of rafters, one at each end of the cabin. Reaching from one to the other of these were placed a few poles, upon which he laid the rough shingles that he was able to split out with his axe, fastening them in their places with wooden pegs. In the absence of a grist mill, he hollowed out the top of a stump, rigged up a spring pole, and thus made the family corn meal. His gun furnished the necessary meat and the Otselic his drink. So life was begun by the pioneers of Willet.
While this mode of living must be looked back upon from the present time as scarcely civilized, yet the families who thus began the work of subduing the wilderness undoubtedly found much to encourage and comfort them in their rude homes. There is almost nothing to record in the towns of Cortland county of deeds of blood by savages; the wild animals were such as brave men never feared to encounter, while peace and contentment, with the physical health that always attends such a life, all tended to render the life of the pioneer of this region one that was not all unblest.
The next settlements that we find to record in this town were made in the years 1806 and 1807, when Benjamin Wilson came in from Oxford, having originally migrated from Westchester county; John Fisher came from England; Jonathan Gazlay from Duchess county, and Thomas Leach from Madison county.
Benjamin Wilson became one of the most prominent citizens of the town; the same may be said of several of his descendants who now reside in Willet. He was born on December 21st, 1764 and died August 20th, 1839. His wife was Phoebe Merritt. One of his daughters was Hetty Wilson who was the mother of Wilson and Burrill Greene, who are now among the most prosperous farmers in the town. Hetty Wilson was born January 21st, 1786 and married Benjamin T. Greene on the 17th of October, 1817. He was a native of Rhode Island and resided in this town from the date of his marriage until September 15th, 1853 when he died at the age of seventy-one years. The children were Harriet, Burrill, Giles and Wilson. The former is the wife of Peter Eaton of Willet. Giles Greene is a well-to-do farmer in Illinois.
Jabez Johnson came from Vermont in the year 1807, and Phineas Sargent, whose native place is unknown, also came the same year. Ebenezer Andrews came in and located in 1808. He was from Massachusetts.
In the year 1809 Joseph Merritt from Westchester, NY, Solomon Smith, Daniel Roberts from Madison county, John Covert from Windham, Greene county, NY, A. Burlingame from Kent county, RI, and Edward Nickerson from Cape Cod all came into the town and settled in various locations.
Arnold Thomas from North Kingston, Washington county, RI came to the town in 1810. Solomon Dodge from Vermont came to Oxford in 1811 where he remained a short time and then came to this town.
In the year 1816 Samuel Dyer from North Kingston, RI, with John and Perry Eaton from Cherry Valley, Samuel and Abraham Canfield from Orange county entered and located as pioneers.
In the year 1812 the first death in the town occurred, it being the wife of Solomon Smith, whose settlement we have chronicled. The first birth in the town was a child to Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer Crittenden. The first marriage was that of Solomon Smith which occurred in 1813.
The names given above embrace most or all of those who made the beginnings of the civilization in this town and laid the foundations of its present advancement. Although the town is rugged and hilly, there are many productive and valuable farms in it, among which may be mentioned those of Wilson Greene, Andrew Babcock, Burrill Greene, G.M. Landers, Peter Eaton, Frederick and Austin Mooney, Morris Delavan, Charles and Ogden Burlingame, Luman B. Morey, L.D. Meacham, and doubtless others.
No establishment is more needed by the pioneers of a wilderness than a grist mill and it is one of the first manufacturing enterprises started in such regions. It was only about ten years after Ebenezer Crittenden first pitched his improvised tent in Willet when a grist mill was build by Benjamin Wilson. It was finished in 1807 or 1808. He also erected a sawmill, a carding works and a distillery. The grist mill and sawmill stood on opposite side of the creek on lot 57 and were continued in operation for fifteen or twenty years. Mr. Wilson also established an ashery in the same locality. Goodwin say, "Wilson built his mills on the waters of the Otselic, in the north part of the town, as may well be proved by most of the learned judges, lawyers and wearied juried of the county; and of such importance had the building of those mills become in the legal movement of the human mind, that could they all be written down as were the acts of the apostles, they might well be called the "books of uncertainty." Wilsonís mill was the mill of the town during the first half of the century. His carding machine was operated until 1844 or 1845.
Mr. Wilson also erected a blacksmith shop as early as 1810 or 1811 and in 1808 he kept a public house. It will be correctly inferred that he was a very active and useful citizen and he was rapidly building up a village, having also started a small store. But his property finally passed into the hands of a Mr. Adams who seems not to have cared particularly about making a business center at this point and allowed the budding industries to decline. He continue the distillery for a time, but it is said that his whisky was not sufficient in purity to give it a selling reputation and that industry also languished.
John Fisher built a sawmill on the Otselic in the southwestern part of the town and about the same time Jabez Johnson built another on the outlet of Bloody Pond, in the northwestern part of the town. Johnson also had a cloth-dressing establishment and a grist mill which is known as the Burlingame mill and is owned by Wescott Burlingame. It is now the only grist mil in the town.
Wilson Greene built a sawmill in 1861 on the outlet of Blood Pond which was operated until 1878 when it was abandoned. Daniel Edwards now owns one on the same stream, a little farther up.
This town, like many others in the county, is particularly well adapted to grazing but it was not until 1882 that Julius Crittenden erected a cheese factory which is now operated by his son Frank. He is also proprietor of a cheese factory in the town of Cincinnatus.
Thus the town grew and prospered, the forests were gradually cleared away and the lands brought under a state of cultivation until the year 1818, when the town was set off from Cincinnatus, as before stated. The first town meeting was held at the house of Benjamin Wilson in 1819. Altitius Burlingame officiated as moderator and William Throop as justice of the peace. The following officers were elected for the term of one year:
Supervisor - William Throop.
Town clerk - Samuel Dyer.
Assessors - William Throop, John Eaton, Benjamin Greene.
Collector - Joseph Nickerson.
Overseers of the poor - Altitius Burligame, Henry Sawdy.
Commissioners of highways - Benjamin T. Greene, John Briggs and John Eaton.
Commissioners of schools - John Briggs, Benjamin T. Greene, Abner Wilbur.
Constables - Joseph Nickerson, John Campbell.
Commissioners of lands - Benjamin T. Greene, Altitius Burlingame, Peter Eaton.
Inspectors of common schools - W. Throop, Orlando Salisbury, John Corbett, Anson T. Burt, Bickness Freeman, Samuel Dyer
Sealer of weights and measures - Altitius Burlingame.
An incident occurred in the town about this time which cast a gloom over the community. It is thus described by Goodwin:
"Arnold Thomas and his much esteemed wife were drowned in the Otselic river at or near the termination of the ox-bow. Mrs. Thomas was a sister of Altitius Burlingame. They were endeavoring to cross the river on an illy constructed raft with a design to attend a prayer meeting. Miss Hannah Corpse, Nelly Miller and Mr. Burlingame were in company with the unfortunate couple. Mr. Burlingame, being an excellent swimmer, succeeded in saving himself and the two young ladies. The bodies of Mr. Thomas and his wife were recovered from the watery element and now repose in one grave, sacred to their memory, in Burlingameís orchard."
The first school house was erected in the town in 1814 but it is not known who was the first teacher. The business center, as before intimated, was on lot 58, where it has continued to be until the enterprising John S. Dyer came to the front and established a store where the village of Willet is now located. This was in the year 1834. In 1837 he started another store and a third one in 1848. He also erected a tavern, which has since ben considerably enlarged. Mr. Dyer afterward formed a partnership with Chauncey Bean under the firm name of Dyer, Bean and Co.
Samuel Dyer, father of John S., was the first postmaster in Willet in 1823.
The first store established by John S. Dyer is now conducted by C.P. McVean.
Samuel Dyer, successor to Elbert J. Dyer, is also a merchant in the village. The others now trading there are David A. Wiles, who carries on a general store, and Walter Forshee, who has a hardware establishment.
Henry Wiles, a native of Otsego county, born January 3d., 1805, first migrated to Cincinnatus with his father, Adam. In 1852 he removed from Willet where he was in mercantile trade until his death in 1871. His sonís store is now on the site of the former one which was burned in 1864. Rhoda M. Wiles, daughter of Henry, is the wife of Wilson Greene.
William Dellow came to Willet in 1857, bought a vacant lot and erected a shop in which he carried on the manufacture of furniture for sixteen years. At the same time Mr. Dellow began business, John S. Dyer, Geo. B. Morgan and Henry Wiles were the merchants in the place. Adam Seaber succeeded Morgan; then the firm was Seaber and Weld, the E.J. Dyer, and the store is now conducted by A. Dyer.
The first hotel in the town was kept by Benjamin Wilson. The first in the village was kept by John S. Dyer who continued in the business from 1832 to 1842. The property was then rented for a period of about twenty years, during which there were numerous changes, which need not be followed. In 1853 it was sold to Asa Canfield who remained for a time as did also William Canfield. The hotel is now conducted by Frank Smith, who makes it a popular place.
There are in the village a reasonable number of skillful mechanics. George Moses was probably the first blacksmith in the village. J. McMinn and Silas Leroy now engage in this business. Walter Forshee has a tin shop. William Gardner is the harness maker, and Joseph L. Hawley a shoemaker. Chas. Genson and Chas. Finn are the wagon-makers.
Churches - The Methodists have been earnestly engaged in religious work in this town since as early as 1815 or 1816. Their number has, however, always been small.
The Baptist Church was organized in 1821 and the Congregationalist in 1852. The latter had but a few members and has been abandoned for some time. The Baptist Society continues but with a limited membership.
Willet was not behind her sister towns in offering men and means to aid the government in putting down the Souther Rebellion. The quotas were filed under the different calls as shown by the following list:
Call of October 17th, 1863. Bounty $300. Total $3,900 - Freeman T. Willard, Silas Adams, Valentine Babcock, Oscar Seymour, John Potter, John E. Vosburgh, Frank Minter, Joseph Quck, Daniel Farmane, Charles L. Tarbox, Lyman Joyner, Patrick Condon, Edward Condon.
Call of July 18th, 1864. Bounty $1000. Total $22,000. Brokerage %550 - Robert Wilson, Charles R. Brown, Theodore H. Fitch, William B.R. Gritman, Abram S. Holland, William H. Jones, Everett S. Johnson, George M. Kinney, Uriah Loomis, George Loomis, Ephraim Loomis, Charles W. Robinson, George H. Slack, William A. Smith, Frederick A. Skillman, William Taylor, Myron Wooster, John A Winchel, Roderick Wilber, Thomas Torry, James W. Ostrander. O.F. Pickney.
Call of December 19th, 1864. Bounty $600. Brokerage $15. S. Wetmore, William J. Hedge, William Martin.
Recapitulation - Paid for filling quota, calls October 17th, 1863. February and March, 1864, $3,900. Grand total $28, 265.
We give below a list of the supervisors of Willet from the year 1834 to the present time:
John S. Dyer, 1834 to 1839, inclusive; Geo.Isaacs, 1840; W.A. Coe, 1841-42; Benjamin Green, 1843; Joseph P. West, 1844-46; Stephen Adams, 1847; Silas Courtney, 1848; Lewis Mooney, 1849, Silas Courtney, 1850-51; John S. Dyer, 1852-53; Burrill Greene, 1854; John S. Dyer, 1855; John Miller, 1856; John S. Dyer, 1857-58, Wm. R. Coles, 1859, John D. Greene 1860, Benjamin S. Coe, 1861-62; John S. Dyer, 1863; Benjamin S. Coe, 1864-65; O.C. Hall, 1866-67; E.F. Nichols, 1868 to 1870; Chas. D. Bowen, 1873, S.C. Dyer, 1874-75; O. Burlingame, 1876; W. Greene 1877 to 1884, inclusive.
Following are the present officers of the town of Willet (1884):
Supervisor - Wilson Greene
Town Clerk - Joseph L. Hawley
Justices - Jefferson Green, John D. Coe, Wm. E. Bailey, Geo. B. Landers
Commissioner of highways - Geo. Talbot
Assessors - Samuel C. Dyer, Almon Talbot, Wilber J. Delavan
Overseer of the poor - Elijah Tennant
Excise commissioners - Calvin Bliss, Milton Glovers, Marcellus Landers
Game constable - Dayton Conrad
Collector - Coriell Eaton
Inspectors of election - Horace Tiffany, Addison Whitmore, Adelbert Babcock
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