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The Town of Fairfield, NY: From Wheat to Wind



The Town of Fairfield is composed of parts of Sir William Johnson's Royal Grant and Glen's Purchase. A few families settled before the Revolution, but the land was quickly settled by New Englanders beginning in 1785.

In 1796, the Town of Fairfield was incorporated, with the major commercial center located in the hamlet of Fairfield. This center was on the crossroads of the major east-west road (Rt. 29), and the north-south road of Hardscrabble. Most settlers came from the Mohawk River by way of Little Falls. A lawyer was available in the hamlet to settle land claims. An early store, a post office, and the Fairfield Academy (1803) soon followed.

Most of the settlers were farmers. Trees were cut and burned and many mortgages were paid off with proceeds from the sale of potash. Wheat was the first cash crop, shipped via the Mohawk River and later, by the Erie Canal. But the canal also opened up agricultural markets and the land further to the west was better suited for growing wheat. Dairying was found to be ideal for Fairfield and neighboring towns. A cheese industry developed in Herkimer County with cheese factories situated throughout the township. Fairfield's cheese was sold at the Little Falls cheese market and was soon on demand.

Meanwhile, the campus of the Academy became home to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York, the first medical school west of the Hudson River (1812-1840). Many famous professors taught in Fairfield and many students later achieved national fame in various fields. Asa Gray and Marcus Whitman were educated in Fairfield, as well as doctors who achieved high honors in their profession.

As roads improved along the West Canada Creek, people bean to settle near the abundant water power. A bridge was built at Middleville in 1810 and industry developed rapidly. By 1814, a tannery and the Herkimer Manufacturing Company employed many people. Wool, cotton, and flax were processed in the Herkimer Manufacturing company as well as iron products. This company was on the Newport side of the creek as the village was divided between Fairfild and Newport. By 1881, the Herkimer, Newport, and Poland Narrow Gauge Railroad reached Middleville. The village was incorporated in 1890.

Settlers established churches in Fairfield and Middleville beginning with Trinity Episcopal Church in 1807. Around 1825, Middleville residents formed the Union Religious Society and decided to build a United Church to be shared by Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Universalists. Other denominations followed, building churches in Fairfield and Middleville.

At times there were 13 one-room schools in the town. Gradually these were consolidated and finally, in 1938, the West Canada Valley Central School was born, blending the schools of Fairfield, Newport, and Norway. In 2011, all of Fairfield's students are educated at the West Canada Valley complex located in Newport.

Amish families began moving into the area around 1979, acquiring farmland and bringing their agricultural skills. The large industries of Middleville are no longer operating. Family farms have been decreasing in number and many people have found employment in the Mohawk Valley towns. Beut the scenic beauty of the hills and West Canada valley remain, a great asset in today's world of urban decay and expensive suburbs.

The newest industry is The Hardscrabble Wind Farm. During 2010, thirty-seven wind turbines were constructed in Fairfield and Norway. The towns, county, and school district will profit from this enterprise. Landowners will profit by leasing their land for the turbines. Visitors to Fairfield have increased due to the novelty of the wind farm.

As Fairfield enters the 21st century, it can be proud of its history of the last 200 years, its beautiful location, and the promise of future development.

By: Jane Dieffenbacher -- Town of Fairfield Historian
Copyright ©March 2011


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