History of the Town of Little Falls
From Nathaniel Benton's History of Herkimer County, 1856.

 

Contains all that part of the county set off from the towns of Herkimer, Fairfield and German Flats, comprehended within the following boundaries, viz: beginning on the middle or base line of Glen's purchase, at a point where the line between lots number five and six in said purchase unites with said base or middle line, and running thence south along said line to its southern termination; thence on the same course continued to the south bounds of the town of German Flats; thence along the south bounds of said town to the southeast corner thereof; and thence along the eastern bounds of the towns of German Flats and Herkimer, to the southeast corner of the town of Fairfield; and from thence by a straight line to the place of beginning.

The town covers parts of Glen's purchase, Staley's first tract, Guy Johnson's tract, Vaughn's and Fall hill patent, six lots in Burnetsfield, and small triangular pieces of L'Hommedieu's and Lindsey's patents.

I have in the general history of the county brought out some facts peculiarly applicable to this town, and the village which bears the same name, and I now refer to them in this connection. There were German inhabitants in nearly every direction around the present village before the revolution, but only one habitable dwelling and a gristmill within the present corporation limits. The present remarks should therefore be taken as a history of the village locality rather than that of the town. The gristmill destroyed during the revolution was located on the river near the bed of the old canal, and was fed by Furnace creek and the river. The dwelling house referred to was occupied by the miller and his assistants, and probably by persons employed at the carrying place. The road or path used for taking boats and their cargoes by the river falls, was located very nearly on the site of the old canal. The red gristmill, to supply the one destroyed, was erected in 1789, and the old yellow house west of Furnace creek, and near the north bank of the old canal, was built a short time before that period. Mr. John Porteous came to this place in 1790, and established himself in mercantile business. He occupied the yellow house, then the only dwelling within the present village limits. Its venerable walls are yet standing, the spared monuments of a destructive age. And the old Octagon, too, that so often attracted the admiring gaze of the traveler by stage, canal and rail road, was erected and enclosed about the year 1796, though not finished so as to be occupied at all seasons of the year as a house of religious worship, until nearly a quarter of a century afterwards, which is shown by the following memorial deposited in the ball of the steeple:

"This house was erected in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-six, under the direction ot John Porteous, Abraham Neely, Nicholas Thumb and Henry J. Klock, Esqrs., and completed in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, under the superintendence of


Doct. James Kennedy,
William Girvan and
John Dygert, Esqrs., Building Committee.

Joseph Dorr and
William Loveland, Master Builders.

Dan Dale,
James Dorr,
Benjamin Carr,
Sandford Pearce,
James Sanders,
Martin Easterbrooks, Workmen.

Robert Wharry,
William Hadcock, Apprentices.

The Revd. HEZEKIAH N. WOODRUFF,
Pastor of the Church and Congregation,

Little Falls, 23rd April 1818.
In hand writing of Josiah Parsons.

But where is that old pile of antique device and rustic architecture? Its lofty pulpit, its pews and singing gallery, where are they? Alas! alas! Gone, swept away by the hand of modern improvement. And the venerable Concord society, not always harmonious as its name imported, the trustees of which were seized of the temporalities for the term of their lives, one of which is not yet extinct, what has become of it? Dead by a nonuser of its corporate franchises,and no longer held in remembrance. I am strongly inclimed to perpetrate rhyme, or quote a couplet of poetry, but I repress the feeling. History is much too grave a subject to be mixed up with fabulous tales and poetic fictions.

And the long tin horn used by master Case, to summon the playful and unruly school children to their daily tasks; and on more grave occasions, when God's word was to be dispensed at the village school house, by some itinerant missionary of the cross, then were its notes heard through the confined valley, and echo after echo, in the still sabbath morning, notified the hour of meeting, on the day of rest, for prayer and praise: that, too, has been nearly forgotten, and few now remain to repeat from memory, the amusing story of the tin horn, which schoolmaster Case used to blow with great dexterity and varied note. This horn or trumpet was about four feet long, and there were but few who could blow it.

The old Octogon church was always regarded as one of the curiosities of the place, and was noticed by the Rev. John Taylor, when on a missionary tour through the Mohawk and Black river countries, in 1802. He made a rough sketch of it, which is preserved in the Documentary History of the state. He says, "this parish (Little Falls) contains six or seven hundred inhabitants," and "in this place may be found men of various religious sects. They have a new and beautiful meeting house, standing about forty rods back on the hill, built in the form of an octagon." His observations, however, convinced him it was not improved. But I will go back a few years. One of the two lots 12 and 13 Burnetsfield, embracing all the water power on the north side of the river, was owned, before the revolution, by one of the Petrie family, who erected the first grist mill on Furnace creek, and was engaged in the carrying business. The following are the names of some of the persons who settled at this place between 1790 and 1800, and who remained here permanently until death: John Porteous, William Alexander, Richard Philips, Thomas Smith, Joel Lankton, Richard Winsor, William Carr, William Moralee, Washington Britton, Alpheus Parkhurst, John Drummond, Eben Britton, Josiah Skinner.

The construction of the old canal and locks, by the Western inland lock navigation company, gave an impetus to the growth and prosperity of the place, which brought it into notice at an early period; but the paralyzing policy of the proprietor, who was an alien, in limiting his alienations to leases in fee rendering an annual rent, and refusing to make only a few grants of that description, to which he affixed the most stringent conditions and restrictions in the exercise of trade and the improvement of the water power, kept the place nearly stationary, until 1831, excepting that part of the present village on the south side of the river, not subject to the dead weight of nonalienation. Upon the opening of the Erie canal, in 1825, the only erections in that part of the village were a bridge and toll house, at the south end of the bridge; the Bellinger grist mill and a small dwelling, for the miller's residence, and the Vrooman house.

In 1816, there were only two streets, or thoroughfares, in the village. The turnpike, now known as Main street, and the Eastern and Western avenues, which then extended on the present line no farther than to cross Furnace creek, where it turned down east of the yellow house, thence over the old canal, and along between the old canal and river, to the head of the falls. The Western avenue was not then opened. The other road was what is now called German, Bridge, Ann and Church streets, crossing the river from the south, and leading to Eatonville and Top-notch. There were not over forty dwelling houses in the place at that time. Before Main street was extended west from Ann, the traveled road was down Ann street, across the old canal, and thence along Mill street. At this time, there was one church, the octagon, not finished, the stone school house, two taverns, two blacksmith shops, five or six stores and groceries, and one grist and one saw mill on the north side of the river. This was nearly the state of things until 1828, except the few erections and improvements that had been made on Main and Ann streets, and two or three dwelling houses on Garden street. Ann street, north of Garden, was a pasture. All that part of the village east of Second and south of the lots fronting on Main street, extending to the river, as well as that portion east of the old Salisbury road, was a drear wilderness, thickly covered with white cedar undergrowth.

The village charter, granted March 30th, 1811, was amended in 1827, and the corporation authorized to open streets, which had been dedicated to public use, as laid down on a map made by the proprietor, in 1811. The power given was exerted in the first instance, by opening Albany, Garden and Second streets, at the expense of the owners of the adjoining lots. This touched the proprietor's purse, and he consented to sell in fee the lots on those streets. This, however, did not reach the water power, which was not improved, neither would the proprietors on either side of the river consent to sell lots and water rights, but the alien owner adopted the plan of making short leases, by which he anticipated a rich harvest on the falling in of the revisions. The people of the village were not slow to perceive the fatal effects of this policy, and applied to the legislature for the passage of an act to prohibit the alien proprietor from making any grants or leases, except in fee. These were the conditions on which he was authorized to take, hold and convey lands in this state. The act passed the senate at the session of 1831, and was sent to the assembly for concurrence. The agents offered to sell the whole proprietary interest in the village for $50,000, and active negotiations were set on foot by several parties to make the purchase. The act made slow progress in the assembly. The leading citizens of the village were appealed to, and advised to form a company, and make the purchase. The bill was finally acted upon in the house, and rejected. Almost simultaneous with that rejection, the sale was effected to several members of that body and other parties, and the purchasers in a short time realized a net $50,000 on their purchase, or very nearly that sum. Whether there was any connection between the defeat of the bill, which I had some agency in carrying through the senate, and the sale, I never sought to know. The sale accomplished all that we of the village desired, because we believed the purchasers had bought with the intention of selling out, as fast as they could; but the proprietor, Mr. Ellice, had a large interest at stake; he was the owner of other considerable tracts of land, not only in this county, but in different parts of the state; it was important to him, therefore, to get rid of the restrictive provisions of the bill, in respect to his other lands. His agents in this country were well satisfied that the applicants for coercive but just measures would not rest quietly under one defeat, and that his interests would be damaged in proportion to the duration of the controversy.

The new proprietors made immediate arrangements to bring the property into market, and effected large sales by auction and private sale, in the year 1831, and in the course of a few years, what remained of the original purchase, with other lands of Mr. Ellice on the north side of the river, came into the hands of Richard R. Ward and James Munroe Esquires, of the city of New York, not however as joint owners. No sale of the water power, in separate lots or privileges, were made before Mr. Ward became the sole owner of all that portion of the original purchase from Mr. Ellice. When these were brought into market, Gen. Bellinger, the principal owner of the water power, on the south side of the river, supposing a prior appropriation might not tally with his private interests, also came into market, and mills, factories, foundries and other machinery, were soon in operation, giving life, vigor and animation, to this circumscribed spot.

After the opening of the canal in 1825, the little patch of habitable earth in its vicinity, was soon improved, and what had hitherto been a wild, broken cedar thicket, was converted into a habitable spot and active business place, by the art of man. In 1830, the whole population of the town was, 2,539, and about 1,700 of that number, were within the village limits.

It appears by the recent census that the population of the town on the 1st day of June, 1855, was 4,930, and that within the corporation limits, which embraces a small portion of Manheim, the whole population was, 3,972. The progress of the village in population and industrial pursuits has been slow, but quite as rapid as any of its sister villages in the valley between Utica and Schenectady. It now ranks the first in population and commercial and manufacturing importance.

This village contains two large and commodious brick schoolhouses, with a capacity of seating 600 pupils, which cost about $10,000; two stone, one brick, and two wood framed churches. These structures have all been erected within the last 25 years, and evince a commendable feeling of public spirit and liberality in the population of the village.

It is a singular, and perhaps a remarkable fact, that although the inhabitants of the village have increased 2272, in the last quarter of a century, there are not now over 300 residents, who were such in 1830; and not over 30 of the inhabitants who were here in 1815, can now be found within the corporation limits. This place, and the country around it, is as healthful, and the climate is as solubrious, as any in the state. It would now be difficult to visit any considerable town or place of business at the west, even in Missouri and Iowa, without meeting some one who had formerly lived at Little Falls.

The Presbyterian Church. This society had its ecclesiastical organization on the 29th of June, 1812. I think this society had not, for many years a statute or lay organization separate from the Concord society, and until the erection of the brick church at the junction of Ann and Albany streets, in 1831 or about that time.

"The First Presbyterian society of the village of Little Falls in the town of Little Falls in the county of Herkimer," was incorporated April 16, 1831, under the statute passed April 5, 1813, and Robert Stewart, David Petrie, Charles Smith, Daniel McIntosh, Hozea Hamilton, John Scullen and William Hammell were elected the first lay trustees, and at the first meeting of the trustees after their election, Elisha S. Capron was appointed clerk, William J. Pardee, treasurer, and John Dygert, collector.

This organization has been regularly continued to the present time, the church regularly supplied with a settled clergyman, and is and ever has been one of the most flourishing Protestant denominations in the town in respect to numbers, and the respectability and wealth of its members.

Mr. Danile Talcott, an aged member of this church, who died several years ago, made a pecuniary bequest by his will which enures to the benefit of this society.

This corporation own a handsome brick parsonage, situate on Ann street, purchased by the generous liberality of its members at the expense of about twenty-two hundred dollars.

The Episcopal Church. The vestry of Emmanuel church, at the village of Little Falls in the town of Herkimer, was duly incorporated February 22d, 1823.

Nathaniel S. Benton and George H. Feeter, church wardens; Oran G.Otis, Lester Green, Solomon Lockwood, Abner Graves, Andrew A. Bartow, William G. Borland, Thomas Gould and Daniel H. Eastman, vestrymen.

[note: Jane Dieffenbacher has corrected the original text which said Andrew A. Barton to Andrew A Bartow which she knows to be correct]

The Rev. Phineas L. Whipple of Trinity church, Fairfield, was on the third day of January, 1824, called to officiate as rector, according to the rites of the Protestant episcopal church in the United States, one-half the time for the period of one year, at a salary of two hundred dollars.

The present church was consecrated by Bishop Onderdonk in October, 1835. Trinity church, New York, made a liberal donation of $1500, to aid in building the church edifice.

This organization has been regularly continued to this time, and since 1835 rectors have been inducted and settled, and the services of the church administered with but short intermissions. The corporation own a convenient brick rectory, lately built by the corporation, situate at the corner of Albany and William streets, near the church edifice.

The Baptist Society, Little Falls. At a meeting of the persons usually attending worship with the Baptist church in the village of Little Falls, held pursuant to notice at the stone school house, the usual place of worship of said church, on the 21st day of December, 1830, for the purpose of organizing and forming an incorporated society within the provisions of the statute, Alanson Ingham and Calvin G. Carpenter were appointed to preside at the election of trustees.

After unanimously agreeing to organize a society to be known by the name and style of the Baptist society of Little Falls, a ballot was taken and Daniel Rogers, Alanson Ingham, Parley Eaton, Henry Haman and Stephen W. Brown were elected trustees.

It was thereupon resolved that the aforesaid trustees, and their successors in office, shall forever hereafter be called and known by the name and title of the Trustees of the baptist society of Little Falls.

To all which we, the returning officers do certify; in witness whereof we have set our hands and seals this 22d day of December, 1830.

Alanson Ingham,
Calvin G. Carpenter.
In presence of
Parley Eaton.
Recorded in the clerk's office, Herkimer county, December 22d, 1830.

In 1832 this society erected a handsome stone church on the south side of Albany street at the corner of Mary street, and have kept up their legal organization under the statue to the present time. Its standing, as a religious body, has always been respectable in numbers and the character of its members.

The Methodist Society. At a meeting of the male members of the Methodist episcopal society in the village of Little Falls, called according to law at the school house in said village on the 19th day of November, 1832, for the purpose of organizing a corporation under the statute, Henry Heath was chosen chairman and Ebenezer S. Edgerton appointed secretary.

Resolved, that this society be called The Methodist episcopal church of the village of Little Falls.

Resolved, That this meeting do elect five members of the society to serve as trustees of the corporation and take charge of the temporalities of the church.

The meeting then proceeded to the election of trustees, Henry Heath and E.S. Edgerton being chosen tellers of the poll, and on ballot the following persons were duly elected, viz:

First class, Edmond L. Shephard, Gilbert Robinson.
Second class, George Warcup, Ebenezer S. Edgerton.
Third class, Henry Heath.

Resolved, That the board of trustees be requested to procure a suitable site for building a church as soon as may be convenient.

At a subsequent meeting of the board of trustees, Henry Heath was chosen chairman of the board, and E.S. Edgerton secretary.

The society immediately set about raising the funds to purchase a lot and build a church. A subscription was opened in October, 1836, the last installment of which was payable in January, 1838. After encountering delays and embarrassments incident to a first effort and infant organization, the society completed the church in 1839, which was dedicated that year and opened for public worship.

The church edifice has since been enlarged and beautified to accommodate the wants and meet the tastes of an increasing congregation. This society is now in a flourishing condition and its members have set on foot a project of purchasing a parsonage house or glebe.

The Universalist Society. This society was incorporated on the 3d day of May, A.D. 1851, by the name of the First universalist society of Little Falls, Herkimer county, New York, by filing a certificate in the usual form under the statute, in the clerk's office of the county. The certificate was recorded on the sixth day of May, A.D., 1851.

The trustees elected by the male members of the congregation at this organization were Messrs. Wm. B. Houghton, M.M. Ransom, O. Benedict, A. Zoller, L.O. Gay, J.K. Chapman, L.W. Gray, A. Fuller and O. Angel.

This society has still a corporate existence and hold divine service according to the rites of the Universalist church at Temperance hall, in the village of Little Falls.

The society has now a settled minister whose ministrations are well and regularly attended by a respectable congregation. If I may speculate upon such a subject, it is not improbable the members of this congregation will before long erect a church for their accomnmodation.

The Roman Catholic. The state census returns show that the Roman catholics have a church and 600 members in this town. I am not aware that there is any lay organization attached to this church, or that the temporalties are held or supervised by any corporate body known to the laws of this state. The church or chapel on John street was erected in 1847, under the charge of the Rev. John McMinamia and enlarged I think in 1853. It is a wooden building. A very neat and apparently commodious brick house, adjoining this church, was built in 1854 and finished in 1855, for the use of the priest having charge of the church. There is also a school house attached to the church, built in 1852, in which a school has been kept a portion of the time since it was erected. I speak from personal recollection, I have no other means of information, when I state a Catholic priest has resided here continually more than ten years past in charge of this church. The census marshals must have made a mistake when they returned the whole number of aliens in the town at 623. There are more than 23 and even more than 100 Protestant aliens in the town, and there are not ten, if there is one, native in the town attached to the Roman Catholic church, or should be numbered as such.

The Protestant Methodists. A society attached to this denomination was organized in Pain's Hollow in this town in 1833, under the provisions of the statute relating to religious incorporations. In 1840, the society built a church, sufficiently capacious for the accommodation of the inhabitants of the vicinage, and have called and settled a pastor who administers the services of religion regularly every sabbath, according to the established rites of this church. A flourishing Sunday school has been organized and is kept up, and the society have a library of more than one hundred volumes.

William Alexander, was a native of the city of Schenectady, and came to the village with or soon after Mr. Porteus, with whom he was several years connected in business. He was an active, intelligent merchant, and exerted himself to promote the prosperity of the place. He died January 3d, 1813, aged 37 years, of an epidemic fever, which prevailed pretty extensively in the county, and carried off a great many of the adult inhabitants. His loss was long regretted by the people of the village, who survived him.

Eben and Washington Britton were brothers, and natives of Westmoreland, New Hampshire. Eben settled in the village in 1792, carried on the tanning business many years, and died August 28th, 1832, aged sixty years. He survived his brother more than twenty years.

While strolling through the cemetery, north of the village, taking notes from the memorials of the dead, my attention was arrested by a broad headstone of white marble, tall and erect, and I transcribed the affectionate testimonial of the wife, who had consigned to the grave the loved and cherished companion of her long and varied life. These are the words spoken by the widowed and stricken heart.

"Died, on the 29th of October, 1842, in the 83d year of his age,
EDWARD ARNOLD.
His widow erected this humble
stone, to commemorate his private worth,
but his nobler monuments are the battle
fields of the American revolution, in
letters of blood. These shall perpetuate his
public virtues when this tribute of a wife's
affection shall have crumbled into dust,
and no human hand can point out the
spot where the hero sleeps."

Yes, venerable and afflicted matron, I will aid thee to keep in remembrance the final resting palce of one who served his country with unyielding fidelity, and remarkable bravery, through the whole eventful struggle of the revolution. He entered the army when only seventeen years old, in one of the New England continental regiments of the line, after some desultory service in detached corps of militia, and remained till the close of the war. He was present when Washington assumed the command of the American forces, at Cambridge, and witnessed his departure from New York in December, 1783. He was in nearly all the battles on the seaboard, from Bunker's Hill to Yorktown. He was active when in the prime of life, and well formed. His constitution was vigorous, and until nearly the close of life, he enjoyed excellent health. Let me perform my promise. He was interred in one of the west tiers of burial lots, in the cemetery at the Little Falls - on ground consecrated by the valor of himself and his compeers to the repose of freemen.

William Feeter. - Col. Feeter was a native of the territory now embraced in Fulton county. His name, before it became Anglicized, was written Veeder or Vedder; and in 1786, when he was commissioned an ensign in the militia, it was written Father. In 1791, he was appointed a justice of the peace in this county, under the name of William Veeder. Although the name he bore at an early day indicated a low Dutch origin, this was not the fact. His father was a native of Wittenberg, Germany, and at the commencement of the revolution, the family was settled in the neighborhood of Johnstown, and was so much under the influence of the Johnsons, that all of them, except William, then quite a young man, followed the fortunes of Sir John, and went with him to Canada.

The colonel, in his youthful ardor, felt more inclined to give young America a trial, than to follow the cross of St. George into the wilds of Canada; and on all occasions when the invaders came into the Mohawk valley, for the purposes of plunder and slaughter, he was ever among the first and foremost to volunteer his services to drive them away. On one occasion, in 1781, when a party of Indians and tories made a descent upon a settlement in the Palatine district, for the purpose of plunder and murder, the subject of this notice took an active part in punishing the lawless intruders. It appeared that the object of the enemy was to plunder and murder a family related to one of the tory invaders, which was not quite agreeable to him; he therefore gave himself up, and disclosed the nefarious intentions of the enemy, who, finding themselves betrayed, made a rapid flight to the woods. Col.Willett did not feel disposed to let them off without a severe chastisement; he therefore ordered Lieutenant Sammons, with twenty-five volunteers, among whom was William Feeter, to go in pursuit, and they moved so rapidly, that they came upon the enemy's burning camp fires early the next morning. Feeter and six other men were directed to keep the trail, and after a rapid pursuit of two miles in the woods, a party of Indians was discovered lying flat on the ground. The latter, when they saw Feeter approach, instantly arose and fired; but one of the enemy being grievously wounded by the return fire of the Americans, the whole gang of Indians and tories fled precipitately, leaving their knapsacks, provisions and some of their arms. The result of this affair was, that three of the enemy were wounded in the running fight kept up by Feeter and his party, and died on their way to Canada; one surrendered himself a prisoner, and the wounded Indian was summarily dispatched by his former tory comrade who had joined in the pursuit.

Col. Feeter seated himself upon Glen's purchase, within the present limits of Little Falls, soon after the close of the revolution, and opened a large farm, which he cultivated with success more than fifty years. He raised a family of five sons and seven daughters, some of whom still survive, and others have gone with him to their final rest. All of his children, with two exceptions, I believe, settled in this county. Colonel Feeter adhered through life to doctrine and mode of worship of the German Lutheran church, which must lead one to believe he had been early and thoroughly educated in the tenets of the great reformer. He died at Little Falls, May 5, 1844, aged 88 years.

His father, Lucus Feeter, stood high in the confidence of Sir William Johnson and the whole family, and because his rebellious boy would not consent to abandon his native country and follow the fortunes of Sir John, he was driven from the paternal roof, and compelled to seek a shelter and a home where he could. The surrounding neighbors being mostly adherents of the Johnson family, and friendly to the royal cause, the task of finding a kind and sympathizing friend, and one who would advise and counsel him for the best, may have been a difficult matter for young Feeter to surmount. He succeeded, however, in securing a temporary home in the family of Mr. Yauney, a near neighbor of his father. At a proper time, Mr. Yauney presented a musket to his young protege, and told him he would have to rely upon that for defense and protection, until his country's freedom was acknowledged by the British king. The colonel used that musket through the whole war, and it is now preserved as an heir-loom in the family of his youngest son. Col. Feeter was born at Stone Arabia, Febraury 2d, 1756.

I now relate the following incident, which shows the cool courage and resolute determination of the man, or I should say, perhaps, of him and his companion. On one occasion, he and Mr. Gray, the father of the Hon. Charles Gray, of Herkimer, had, during the war, been on an expedition up the river, and were returning in a small canoe; when they reached the Little Falls, instead of taking their light craft over the carrying place, or sending it over the falls empty, they pushed into the stream, and safely navigated their frail vessel amid boiling, surging waters, over the rapids. He performed a like feat at another time during the war, when a comrade in another canoe was stranded on the rocks, and barely escaped drowning.

The reader, who knows the locality as it now appears, may think this rather an improbable story. The fact is not only well attested, but we must reflect, that the stream was not then hedged in and confined by dams, arches and artificial structures, and that the flow of water, at an ordinary flood, was much greater than it is at present.