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Herkimer County: A Brief History

 

Herkimer County, composed of nineteen towns, extends from the Adirondacks to the Mohawk Valley. The vast forests to the north provide wood products and the recreational opportunities of the Adirondack Park while the southern valleys are favorable for agriculture and dairying. Various products are manufactured in factories along the Mohawk River and its larger tributaries. Tourism increases yearly due to the Erie Canal, New York State Thruway, and the Adirondacks.

The Mohawks, members of the Iroquois Confederacy, inhabited the area that was to become Herkimer County prior to 1720. The Palatines settled on the Burnettsfield Patent granted by Governor William Burnett in 1723. While thriving on the fertile valley soil and utilizing the available waterpower for mills, the Palatines fought to protect their homes during the French and Indian War and the Revolution.

General Nicholas Herkimer's force of 800 Palatines succeeded in holding off an attack of British and Indians at Fort Stanwix in 1777, thereby protecting the Mohawk Valley. Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton provided protection for the settlers who were able to maintain their prosperous farms at the end of the hostilities.

The selling by the state of Sir William Johnson's large Royal Grant brought flocks of New Englanders who settled north of the Mohawk. They rapidly cut down the virgin forest, burned the wood creating a potash industry, and began to grow wheat. Communities developed near sources of waterpower and soon the hill country was home to many small villages.

When westward expansion provided access to land more suitable for growing wheat, Herkimer County farmers realized that dairying would be a more profitable use of their land. The lack of a mass market for milk led to the production of cheese. By the 1850s Little Falls was the location of a world famous cheese market. Later the railroads gave access to the downstate market for milk and the cheese industry began to decline.

The Erie Canal caused the development of large valley villages and provided a means to transport goods east and west. The oldest Herkimer County industry, Remington Arms, still plays a major role in the county's economy. During the last 200 years, many products were produced in Herkimer County including rifles, typewriters, farm equipment, furniture, textiles, shoes, data recorders, bicycles, nutcrackers, paper, and dairying equipment. Immigrants from Ireland and later from eastern and southern Europe arrived to work in local industries and agriculture, providing a diversity of culture.

First a part of Albany County, this area was set off as Tryon County in 1772. Later changed to Montgomery County, it was still too large and Herkimer County was cut off and established in 1791. Later additions and subtractions were made until 1817 when Herkimer County assumed its present form.

Herkimer County is a treasure trove of history and scenic beauty, a great place to visit and a wonderful place to live.