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Some History of the Town of Russia, NY



On April 7, 1806, a new town called Union was formed from the Town of Norway. In April, 1808, it was renamed Russia, for reasons that are lost to history.

The Town of Russia is in the west central part of Herkimer County. Located 16 miles north of the county seat of Herkimer, the Town is about 14 miles long and about 8 miles wide. It is heavily wooded and its highest elevation is about 1,000 feet above sea level.

The principal topographic features are Hinckley Lake, a six by one-and-a-half mile reservoir formed by damming the West Canada and the so-called "creek" (actually a river) itself.

There were no white settlers before 1790 in the area that was to be Russia, but the Town had already earned its place in history. On October 30, 1781, the notorious Captain Walter Butler, who had been responsible for the death and mutilation of 47 men, women, and children in a British/Indian raid three years before at Cherry Valley, met his death by gunfire and an Indian's axe about two miles above the junction of the Black Creek and the West Canada. Butler and his band of 150 rangers and 130 Indians, were headed back to Canada, after raiding in the Mohawk Valley, when an American force under Colonel Marinus Willet caught them, killed Butler, and sent the others scattering through the forest.

Permanent settlement of Russia-to-be began after the end of the Revolutionary War. Early arrivals were attracted by the water power along the West Canada and Cold Brook stream. Among the earliest settlers were farmers from New England, many of whose families had been there for 100 to 200 years. They came for many reasons: lack of arable land available for a growing population, the fact that the land there was agriculturally marginal, or simply that they wished to begin a new life elsewhere. Settling here in 1795 the first farmers were John Millington, John Russell, Roscom Slocum, and Stoddard quire whose farms adjoined each other one or two miles east of Russia Corners. Most of them brought apple sees from their homes in New England to start orchards here. Descendants of many of the pioneer families still dwelt in the town in 2006.

The first doctor in town was Dr. William Frame, who practiced from 1804 until 1817, when he moved to the Town of Norway. He had studied medicine with Westal Willoughby, President of the Herkimer County Medical Society and a member of the medical faculty at nearby Fairfield Academy, before receiving his license from the Board of Censors of the Medical Society. He was born in Ulster County in 1777, married Clarrissa Joy in Russia in 1806 and died in Depeauville, NY, in 1847.

The 1806 survey of the State Road/Military Road, which opened in 1808, first mapped the locations of Russia, Cold Brook, and neighboring settlements.

The first homes were log cabins made from timber from the surrounding forests. as the pioneers established their homesteads they were able to replace the log cabins with two-story homes most often constructed in the Federal plank style, using lath and plaster walls. They were similar to houses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. By the 1830's the native limestone had been used to construct several homes in the Town.

By 1865 the Town's population was 2,030 scattered over 37,396 acres. Russia was the sixth largest town in Herkimer County. Russia celebrated its 100th anniversary on Saturday, April 6, 1906, at Russia Union Church, where a history of the Town, lost to posterity, was read by Bowen Boon. John Sweezy, Master of the Grange, called the meeting to order. Entertainment was provided by the Maple Valley Band of Poland and Cold Brook. The topic of guest speaker Assemblyman A.B. Steele of Herkimer, was "Home." He said that "the prosperity of the town is due to its true home and virtuous women."

Much later a famous inhabitant of Cold Brook was Grace Paull, noted autor/illustrator. Many local residents were featured in her children's books as she used her nieces, nephews, and neighbors' children as models. In 1949 she wrote A Horse to Ride about her horse, Turk, which she had purchased from the McVoys. Many houses in the town were displayed in Miss Paull's lithogrophs, watercolors, and sketches of local scenes, homes, and churches.

From: Town of Russia: Bicentennial History, 1806 to 2006 Compiled by Paula Johnson

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