CHAPTER VII.

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FENNER.

Boundaries. --- Geography. --- Perryville Falls. --- Productions. --- Ancient Route of Armies. --- New Petersburgh Tract. --- Mile Strip. --- Early Settlement. --- Names of Settlers. --- Experience of Pioneers. --- Indians. --- First Improvements. --- Early Schools and Meetings. --- Incidents of First Town Meeting of Smithfield. --- Town Officers. --- Organization and Naming of Town of Fenner. --- Curious Names of Localities. --- Fenner Corner. --- Perryville, its Rise and Progress. --- Oren S. Avery. --- Chittenango Falls Village. --- Notices of Early Settlers. --- Influential Men. --- Prominent Families. --- Churches.

    Fenner is an interior town, lying northwest of the center of the county. It is bounded north by Sullivan and Lenox, east by Smithfield, south by Nelson, and west by Cazenovia. It was formed from Cazenovia and Smithfield April 22, 1823. It was given an area of forty square miles. As a town, no other in the county or counties adjoining, presents a greater elevation, or lies nearer the clear upper air than this. From one of the highest hills in the School District No. 15, extensive views may be had of the Assembly District in which it is situated, together with portions of Onondaga, Oswego and Oneida Counties. From the generous bosom of her soil gushes innumerable fountains, the sources of more and greater streams than any other equal amount of territory in the county. In southern Fenner, the main branch of the Chittenango, which waters so much of Nelson and Cazenovia, has its rise and takes its circuitous southward course; and down declivities, numerous brooks hurry to join the Chittenango on the west border of the town. Large branches of Oneida Creek reach through Smithfield up among the Fenner hills, and draw from their plenteous springs. The Cowasselon finds one of its sources in the north east corner of the town; and the Canaseraga, rising in the center, takes a northward course, passing from the town where Sullivan and Lenox corner, at Perryville. Some of the most romantic scenery of New York State is found on the line of the Cazenovia and Canastota railroad in this town. Perryville Falls, on the Canaseraga, are thus described in a sketch published after a visit there in 1871:

    No one with any love of nature can afford to stop here without visiting Perryville Falls, for nature is generous in her wild and grand gifts. She must have been in one of her sublimest moods when she rent asunder the rocks, scooped out the debris and shaped the gorge, let the Canaseraga drop over the rocks, and planted the luxuriant foliage. Our way to the falls was led by a courageous young friend, down the natural stone steps, out upon the platform, where the path is perhaps some eight feet wide; where the rocks tower in overhanging piles above, and where the abyss is fully 100 feet below. We were shown where once a man had slipped off and lodged in the tops of trees below, and thus escaped with his life; another had climbed a slim tree growing at the edge of the precipice, and registered his name high in the projecting rock above. We expected to find successive flights of stairs which would bring us somewhere near the base of the falls, when our fair guide paused, and passing a few feet beyond, we found ourselves at the extreme limits of the path, on an overhanging rock, more than one hundred feet above terra firma. From here the view of the falls is very beautiful. The water plashes over many jutting points, forming a series of cascades, 130 feet high. The wild abyss, with its walled sides, protects its treasures of wild sweetness, luxuriant trees and shrubbery of manifold varieties and species, and echoes back the music of the cataract, and far along catches up the murmur of Canaseraga, while it is borne as peacefully along its bed as if no wondrous feat had been performed in leaping from the hights. Couched upon the overhanging rock we viewed the scene with delight, wishing only that the Canaseraga were four times as large that its thunderings might shake the rocks; then peering over into the abyss, we took back the wish in very fear and awe; then crept to the walled side of the path, clinging close to the rocks, thinking the while of the feeling of safety they gave, typical of the marvelous confidence felt when trusting in the "Rock that is higher than I." As we climbed the last stair, the upper landscape was as quietly sleeping in the setting sun, as if there was no yawning abyss close at hand. Although we have our romantic hills and vales in southern Madison county, yet, we commend the north side of the ridge for wild scenery, and the well-appointed Cazenovia and Canastota Railroad, which has opened a way to these mountain fastnesses.

    Extensive marl beds are found in this town. On the banks of the Chittenango, calcarious tufa is quarried and burned into lime. Geologists have remarked that this regions of the country with its vast amount of excellent building stone, its inexhaustible beds of lime and water lime, does not appear to be fully appreciated. The soil is a gravelly and clayey loam, well adopted to the raising of grain. Wheat, barley and wool constituted the staple market productions for many years; no town in the county has exported so great an amount of barley, and nowhere has greater attention been paid to its cultivation. The "Hess barley" originated here.1

    Although one of the later organized towns, Fenner has a pioneer history coeval with several of those organized at an early day. More remote than its pioneer records, is an unwritten history of Indian hunters' encampments, and of scouting parties from the warring tribes in their strategetic detours to ascertain the strength and movements of the Oneidas. Here vast forests offered them secure retreats, and these elevated hights presented most favorable lookouts over the plains of the Oneida country, (now the towns of Lenox and Sullivan,) above the woodlands, across the marshy lowlands and incipient lakes, and beyond and over the beautiful expanse of Lake Oneida. The curling smoke of the wigwam ascending here and there above the trees of the low country forest, would indicate to the watchful eye of the enemy that the tribe was scattered about in the peaceful avocations of Indian life, hunting, fishing, basket making, or seeking the curiosities with which they manufactured their wampum belts, thus predicting to them a favorable opportunity to descend upon and destroy their villages. Failing to witness these signs, the wary adventurers would proceed with greater caution, treading the lonely Indian paths with stealthy feet, watchful, lest a well trained band of Oneidas should suddenly come upon them.

    If tradition informs us correctly, organized companies of white soldiery, have, in their marches, sometimes chosen the highland paths in this town, in preference to the marshy route of Sullivan. As long ago as 1696, when Count De Frontenac made the attempt to subjugate the Iroquois, from Onondaga he sent forward Mons. De Vaudreuil with six or seven hundred French and Indians on foot to the Oneida village to destroy it. Mons. Vaudreuil made a swift march of the "fourteen good leagues" which lay between the Onondaga and Oneida Castles, notwithstanding their route was "in the woods with continual mountains, and a multitude of rivers and large streams to be crossed." We infer that the route of "continual mountains" was made through Fenner, Smithfield and Stockbridge, a road traversed by soldiery three-quarters of a century later, traces of which, (so runs the tradition,) in places here and there from Stockbridge to Fenner, were not entirely obliterated at the closing of the last century.

    Passing out from the shadows over the history of those far distant days, we gladly enter upon an era where we can arrange our data, and make our statements with some degree of certainty.

    From a part of the New Petersburgh tract, and also the Mile Strip, the town of Fenner was formed. The former was leased of the Indians in 1794 and purchased in 1797; the latter (Mile Strip,) was granted by the Oneidas, from their reservation, to the State, and was called the "Cowasselon track;" it contained twenty-fix lots in two tiers, and lay between the Cowasselon and Chittenango Creeks. It was purchased of the State in 1797 by Dr. Enoch Leonard, and from the fact of its being a mile across it, was named Mile Strip, this title having passed into all legal documents pertaining thereto. Previous to these purchases, and in the year 1793, it is said the first settlement of this town was made in the western part of the town, in the vicinity and west of the Fenner meeting house. As many of the first settlers were transient inhabitants, soon gathering up their effects to pass on to regions nearer the great West, so their names are, in most instances, lost, and among those names may have been that of the first settler.

    It was not until Peter Smith had acquired possession of the New Petersburgh tract that permanent settlement begun, the acquisition of a title to their homes being an object of paramount importance to the pioneer. Among the earliest settlers were Alpheus Twist and James Munger, from Connecticut, who located about a mile south of the center, Jonathan Munger and Mr. Page in the north part, Elisha Freeman, Ithuriel Flower, Amos Webster and Amanda Munger in the south part. Phineas and Abel Town, John Needham, Thomas Cushing and J. D. Turner were also early settlers. Arnold Ballou came from Rhode Island about 1800. Joel Downer came in 1801 from Vermont. He located in school district No. 9. Silas Ballou (cousin to Arnold Ballou,) came from Providence, Rhode Island, about 1803 or '4, and located in the eastern part of Fenner. David Fay came from Brimfield, Mass., the winter of 1805 and located on lot No. 16, a farm which had been previously occupied, and a small clearing made by a Mr. Rhodes. Thomas Wilson took up and cleared a large farm. A Mr. Foster took up the farm south of Mr. Wilson's. He never enjoyed the benefits of the toil expended upon his farm, as he lost his life at an early day by the falling of a tree. Samuel and Zat Payne took up farms north of the Cazenovia and Oneida turnpike, in that part of the town bordering on Smithfield.

    A company of Scotch families from Scotland took up farms near the east Fenner line, between the turnpike and the Peterboro and Perryville road. Among these may be named Robert Stewart, James Cameron, Daniel Douglass, John Robinson and James Cole.

    During the incoming of emigration, Fenner received a generous share of population, equal to the adjoining towns. The salubrity of the air, its comparative freedom from the noxious miasmas of swamps, the adaptability of the soil to the culture of the more profitable cereals, were inducements which overcame other obstacles. The population increased more rapidly than some sections possessing better natural resources.

    Benjamin Woodworth, John Miles, Daniel Torrey, Jared Merrills, Joseph Maynard, David Foskett, Hiram Roberts, James Walker, Dan McKay, David Cook, Truman Beeman, Lot Pickens, Solomon Field, Hezekiah Hyatt, Daniel R. Baxter, Seth Smith, 2d, Oliver Brownson, Seba Ensign, Linus Ensign and Jonathan Bump, were early settlers; there should be added, also, the names of Barber, Cushing, Dana, Dickinson, Davis, Eddy, Faulkner, Gordon, Hess, Hill, Howard, Jacob Hungerford, Johnson, Jones, Keeler, Loundsbury, Laird, Stafford, Sayles, Stoddard and Wilbur.

    Samuel Nichols located on Mile Strip in 1802. He was from Cazenovia, where he settled, with a family, in 1793. He was originally from Albany County. The Nichols family purchased a mile of land on the Mile Strip road, which the father and sons cleared up into farms. But few of this large family remain in town, those survive being scattered over the States of the Union. Drake Selleck was an early settler. Russel Ransom came, in 1811, from Scoharie County, and located near Perryville, purchasing a large farm. Dr. Daniel Pratt, came from Massachusetts and settled near Perryville, in 1814; Lyman Blakeslee came about the same time, from Paris, Oneida County, and also located near Perryville, on the border of Sullivan. In a short time, four brothers and one sister of Mr. Blakeslee located in Fenner, near Perryville.

    In the west part of the town, near Chittenango Falls, two Merriam brothers took up large farms. Thomas Clay took up Lot No. 8, now the farm of Calvin Mead. He had the road laid out from the Falls over the hill, past his farm. At the Falls, Mr. Asaph Hummiston, who came from Litchfield, Conn., in the year 1818, took up 100 acres of Lot No. 7, and 100 acres of an adjoining lot in Cazenovia. His land embraced the site of the Falls village. Joseph Twogood took up and cleared a large farm on Mile Strip, bordering on the east of Chittenango. He laid out the old Falls road, which runs parallel with the creek on the east side.

    Peter Robbins, Ned Fosdick and a Mr. Perkins were early settlers in the west part of the town. John Chase took up and cleared a portion of the farm belonging to Atkinson's Mill, which lay in this town.

    Among the first experiences of the pioneer is the novelty of the situation - the dense wilderness, the route of marked trees, the log domicil, the odd manners and peculiarities of the Indians, the strange and sometimes fearful sounds of the brute dwellers of the woods. Travelers and settlers, when out at night in the wide stretches of forest, carried their burning pine knot to keep wild animals at a respectful distance. We are told, however, that Zat Payne, having forgotten his burning brand while on his way from his home to Silas Ballou's, one night, was attacked by, and had a fearful struggle with a bear, but managed to escape with his garments nearly all torn off. The hunters gathered in force next day, and scoured the forest till Bruin was found and killed. Deer so abounded that venison was a common article of consumption; small herds of these graceful, wild creatures came to the "deer lick," on Mr. Ballou's farm, when, after having satisfied their thirst for the mineral or "brackish" water, they would gallop off to some wheat field, scale the brush fence with perfect ease, and revel in luxury till discovered by the owner. The deer were considered troublesome neighbors, as no fence of that day restrained them, and herds of from seven to twelve made destructive work in the wheat fields.

    The Indians, in their journeys through Fenner, sometimes stopped among the settlers for a day or more. At a time when a company of them were emigrating to Green Bay, they stopped here to rest and wash up their clothing, although but a short day's journey on their way. They had gathered their household effects into budgets; baked up their corn and bean bread, had killed and cooked their hens to take along, but brought their cocks alive to kill when needed; and driving their cows along, also, they were equipped for the long journey, with all their possessions. During their stay here, they engaged in pastimes highly amusing to themselves. Cock fighting, in which the feathered combatants were armed with steel spurs, and fought fiercely, created real enthusiasm. The evenings were passed in gay sports. In one species of amusement, particularly, the hours passed right merrily: -- The tawney company is ranged in a circle, squatted upon the ground, around the bright fire; an Indian passes a pipe, from which each one draws as large a whiff of smoke as his or her mouth will hold, which is retained with closed lips. A sharp look out is kept by the leader of the game, as the judgment falls on the first one who laughs. Presently the smoke is seen to puff from the lips of a luckless fellow, who cannot control his mirth, and instantly, upon the signal, all are free to join in the uproarious glee, and in the bastinadoing which the poor victim must get, unless he can escape.2 Other games, of a kindred character are indulged in till a late hour, when they dispose themselves upon the ground about the fire, in blankets, to sleep, leaving one or two to guard the cows, and otherwise act the part of sentinels.

    For a season, between the first settlement and the erection of the first grist mill, there was often great privation on account of the scarcity of the material for bread. Meal and flour were obtained by the long journey to the New Hartford mill, but so tedious were these journeys, over the bad roads, and the resources of the pioneer were so limited that the supply fell short of the demand many times, and various means to meet the necessity were resorted to.

    The intercourse with their Indian neighbors was of a most friendly nature, and from them they borrowed many customs in their days of need. That most savory dish, called "succotash," was an institution borrowed from our swarthy friends, though improved upon by the culinary processes of civilization, and the pioneers of this section did not disdain to partake of a species of bread manufactured after the Indian fashion. The large Tuscarora bean was boiled tender and stirred into Indian meal cakes, and thus baked, making a loaf which is said to have been very good. The Indian custom of pounding corn was adopted by everybody; and a sort of hominy was produced by shaving corn off from the ear, which was very palatable when boiled tender.

    The grist mill built by Dr. Reuben Long, at Peterboro, and Powell's grist mill in Fenner, were the first mills in this region, and were both built previous to 1805.

    The first saw mill was built by William and Arnold Ballou.

    So soon as the farms had been sufficiently cleared for pasturage, flocks of sheep were brought in, upon which the people made great dependence for their winter clothing. The hand cards, spinning wheel and loom were busy in the manufacture of warmer winter garments. In time, a decided improvement over the hand card came in the carding machine. It is true some conservative ladies of that day declared that "the machines so chopped up the wool that the yarn was not near as good as that spun from hand-made rolls," yet the hand cards were quickly superseded by carding machines, as they have, with the spinning wheel and loom, in turn, been superseded by the woolen factory. The first carding machine in Fenner was owned by Ebenezer Wales, and was the only one in that section for many years.

    The first store was kept by Martin Gillett, and was located a little west of Fenner Corners. The first tavern was kept by David Cook, (afterwards Judge,) about one-fourth mile north of the Corners. Upon the main thoroughfares several taverns were afterwards built. The tide of travel made each one a scene of activity, and became a place where many congregated for amusement, and to learn the news of the outside world from the constantly arriving travelers. The practice of liquor drinking was too common to draw down upon the head of the liquor seller any legal judgment or punishment therefor. Consequently, as a matter of etiquette, every man should treat his friend; and yet among this people there were few habitual drunkards.

    The changes made in the traveling world, by canals and railroads, has closed the ever open doors of these numerous hotels; a neatly fenced dooryard is before the hospitable bar room, while the interior arrangements and appointments are now those of a well-regulated country farm house.

    The "Barrett House," so long an institution of Fenner Corners, was built about 1825, by a Mr. Roberts, and was sold by him to Mr. Anthony Barrett, who added to it.

    The first postmaster was Ebenezer Dunton, the office being at Fenner Corners. It is said that the contents of the mail bag were duly deposited in a sap bucket and regularly overhauled on the inquiry of each patron, "is there anything for me?" The post office at Fenner Corners is the only permanent one of the town, that at Perryville being sometimes in the town of Sullivan.

    The first birth in town was a child of Alpheus Twist; the first death the wife of Alpheus Twist.

    A large proportion of the pioneers were Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island people. They brought with them the staid habits, staunch integrity and religious principles of New England. They planted the customs of their ancestors in the soil of their adoption. Common schools and churches sprung up in their midst as a necessary part of their social, intellectual and moral life. The absence of school houses did not debar them from the benefit of schools. Any building, provided it shielded the pupils from the inclemency of the weather, served the purpose till more comfortable log school houses could be erected. Such was the spirit in school district No. 9, where the first school was held in an old potash, fitted up for the occasion.

    A description of one of the primitive school houses will give an idea of how our fathers persevered in the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties. Among the interior arrangements of the log structure, was a huge fireplace, which stood at the west end, capable of holding a half cord of wood at once; surrounding three sides of the room were the writing desks, adjusted to the rough wall, in front of which stood the uncouth slab seats, rough from the mill, with long legs and no backs to support the weary spines of pupils. It is true, they might lean against the writing desk, at times, which was a relief; they might, in case their feet could with difficulty touch the floor, cross them and indulge in letting them swing; perhaps their teacher would allow them to turn their faces toward the wall and lean upon the desk; in any case, change was a rest. Robust, muscular boys, restless in their confinement, surreptitiously tried their jack-knives, first upon the splinters of the slab seats, and after these were all smoothed off, used them in various artistic accomplishments - in engraving figures, or their names on the slabs; and finally these operations were transferred to the writing desk, which became a mass of hieroglyphics, -- horses, cattle and birds, and houses with windows and doors, and chimneys too, out of which great volumes of smoke were pouring, (this last done in ink,) and other such wonderful characters as none but the designers could decipher.

    Then there were the low seats down before the fire on which the little children sat, and which, when the great fire was raging hot, were so intolerably uncomfortable that a change of seats with the big scholars, who sat back in the frosty corners of the room, was frequently necessary. In this particular school house the large beam across the center, some eight feet from the floor, made a gymnasium for the large boys during the noon recess. A great variety of wonderful exercises and surprising feats were daily performed here.

    Amidst all the difficulties, the enjoyments were the greater, and the pupils loved the old school house, and their well-worn old-fashioned books. Dilworth's spelling book could be repeated from beginning to end by some of the scholars, and the clear heads of the lads fully comprehended the whole of Daboll's arithmetic, and were longing for more complicated problems to solve in the mathematical world as well as the great problems of life before them. The Columbian Orator, so often read and re-read, only initiated them into the mysteries of a power they endeavored to require in their declamations, and aspired some day to possess.

    And so from this school developed three physicians, one lawyer, one minister, a score of good business men, and numerous teachers. These physicians were Welcome Pray, Federal C. Gibbs and Andrew S. Douglass; the lawyer, Lewis Pray; the minister, Wm. B. Downer. Hon. Robert Stewart, president of the National Bank at Chittenango, and his brother, Daniel Stewart, president of the National Bank at Morrisville, were, when lads, pupils in this school. Joel G. Downer, for many years merchant and magistrate at Bridgeport, and late of California, was the first native of this district who engaged in teaching.

    The first church of this town, a Baptist, was organized August 23, 1801, with six members. Nathan Baker was the firs preacher and Truman Beeman the next. Meetings were generally held in the school house at the Corners; sometimes in the one north of there. The meeting house at the Corners was built by this society. In the cemetery belonging to this church repose the remains of very many of the pioneers of this section; it is a lovely spot, with its primroses, cedars, pines and hemlocks growing here and there among the old time tombstones, while a solitary majestic poplar stands near the entrance, a relic of the earlier generations over whose silent remains it seems to stand sentinel.

    That part of Smithfield, now Fenner, had the honor of holding the first town meeting for Smithfield; it was held at the school house, near David Cook's, near where the Fenner meeting house now stands.

    There was strong sectional feeling and a spirit of rivalry between the inhabitants of the eastern and western parts of Smithfield. Two tickets were nominated; the candidate of the east enders for supervisorship, was Peter Smith, that of the western men for the same office, was David Cook. The meeting was appointed April 7, 1807. During the few days previous had occurred the "great April snow storm" so well remembered by the oldest inhabitants --- a storm the like of which had never been known before. It ceased storming on Saturday, when the snow lay full four feet deep, and traveling was impossible. The western portion of the town feared an adjournment of the meeting to Peterboro, where Mr. Smith's influence would secure his election. Should this storm prevent the attendance of voters from the eastern part, David Cook would be elected. Stimulated by a desire to secure their ticket, the voters of East Smithfield, many of them living six and eight miles from the place of meeting, turned out almost to a man the next day, and by hard labor and perseverance made the roads passable, and manned such a force as secured the election of their own candidate --- Peter Smith being duly elected Supervisor and Daniel Petrie, Town Clerk. After this a compromise seems to have been made to hold town meetings alternately at Fenner Corners and Peterboro. The town officers seem also to have been pretty fairly divided between the two sections. Town officers were not then, as now, elected by ballot; the custom of voting was viva voce.

    Among the regulations adopted at this meeting were the following: "Voted that lawful fences shall be four and a half feet height." "That no cattle, horses, hogs or sheep, shall run at large during the winter months within half a mile of any store, tavern or mill. That if any cattle be so found the owner or owners shall pay damages with pound fees of impounders." Also "that any person belonging to this town, killing a wolf within this county, shall be entitled to a bounty of ten dollars from this town."

    In June of this year, Peter Smith was appointed first Judge of the County Court, and David Cook, of this town, the unsuccessful candidate for Supervisor, was, with Smalley, Green and Payne, appointed Associate Judges. There was life in the political men of the 3d Allotment, and the next year Asa Dana, of that portion of Smithfield, was elected Supervisor at the meeting held in the school house in Peterboro, March 1, 1808. At this meeting it was voted that "sheep be free commoners," also that "the log house on E. Munger's farm be occupied as a work house for the poor and indolent." Arnold Ballou and Asa Dana were part of the delegates from Smithfield appointed to meet with others on July the 13th, 1810, for the purpose of centering the county, or in other words, for selecting a more central point for the County Seat, the Court House then being in Cazenovia. These two men, with Nehemiah Huntington, were pledged to the policy of "not locating the County Seat at present."

    Not unworthy was the desire on the part of Smithfield to secure the County Seat in Peterboro, and this policy of delaying the decision of location may have reference of the hopes of eventually locating it there. In 1810, Asa Dana was again elected Supervisor, and John Dorrance, Clerk. In 1811, the town meeting was held at the school house near the Fenner meeting house, in which the officers of the town of Smithfield were many of them, men of the 3d Allotment, citizens of the future town of Fenner. Thus it will be seen that, though the citizens of the eastern and western parts of Smithfield did sometimes exhibit a spirit of rivalry, yet on the whole a good degree of cordiality existed, and the competition developed a wholesome strength. The project of dividing the town was long talked of by a few, and in 1814 a petition to that effect was rejected by the towns. However, it still continued a subject of agitation, and although at a town meeting in 1823, the vote against it was carried by a small majority, yet in consideration of the fast increasing population of this large territory, an act was passed in Legislature, April 22, 1823, organizing the town of Fenner. It was composed of the two western tiers of lots in the 2nd Allotment of New Petersburgh, the whole of the 3d Allotment, excepting three lots in Cazenovia, and a few lots from the 4th Allotment which border on the Chittenango; this stream being made the western boundary of the town in connection with that part of Mile Strip which lies at the north.

    The incident connected with the naming of the town may be correctly related as follows: Col. Arnold Ballou, a wealthy and prominent citizen of Fenner, was a devoted admirer of Gov. Fenner, of Rhode Island. He proposed to the people of the new town the name of Fenner and promised the gift of a set of town books for the name. Subsequently some ill-disposed person created the rumor that Mr. Ballou had taken this method to perpetuate the name of this son, whom he had likewise named Fenner, in honor of his esteemed friend. This evil reflection on the honesty of Mr. Ballou's intention so incensed him that he withdrew his proposition, and the town lost her books. Nevertheless the name was adopted in honor of Governor Fenner of Rhode Island. The first town meeting was held May 6th, 1823. First Supervisor, Daniel M. Gillett, Town Clerk, Sardis Dana. At this meeting the town voted $175 for the poor.

    Second town meeting March 2, 1824, Czar Dykeman was elected Supervisor, and Wm. Doolittle, Town Clerk. In this and in town meetings held thereafter, Fenner looked well to her public schools and town poor, voting a goodly sum for their maintenance. In one instance we find it recorded: "Voted $1.00 pr. Week to Job Perry, a county pauper, instead of the usual amount of provisions." It will be remembered that with wheat 50 cents per bushel, corn 25 do., potatoes one shilling, and butter eight and ten cents per pound, and eggs six cents per dozen, one dollar a week was equivalent to four times that amount now. At a meeting in 1827, where Nathaniel Hazelton was elected Supervisor, and Sardis Dana, Town Clerk, it was voted to "instruct the Supervisor to vote for the erection of a poor house in Madison County, and also to raise our proportion of the money for the erection of the same."

    Appellations, familiar to the past, if not to the rising generation, were given some localities; one of these, in District No. 15, bears the cognomen of "Mutton Hill." Hon. Gerrit Smith formerly owned farms in this district, where he kept large flocks of sheep. It was insinuated at the time, that some of his tenants, in their fondness for good mutton, poached (as had the illustrious Shakespeare before them,) upon their landlord's flocks; hence the name of Mutton Hill. The "Poor Lot," a tract of land on the hill in the same district, was given by Judge Peter Smith of the town of Smithfield, for the benefit of her poor. On the division of the town, the lot was sold, and the proceeds reserved for the benefit of schools.

    Up to 1830, the enterprise of the population was on the increase; also, the ranks of the people furnished many men of worth and talent, who have achieved success and won honors in public life. The changes which have subsequently transpired in contiguous parts of central New York, have, however, in a degree, affected enterprise here. The great thoroughfares have enticed the business men to the large towns, where the wealth of the country is concentrated. By the opening of the Erie Canal, the Chenango Canal and the New York Central Railroad, the bone and sinew of the country were drawn to other avenues of labor, the result of which became evident in the decrease of population, visible in every decade from those periods to the present time. In 1810, the population was undoubtedly greater than at the present day. In 1825, there were 1,933 inhabitants; in 1830, they had increased to 2,010; but the census of 1865 gives a population of only 1,387. The town of Fenner, we should remark, is not alone in presenting such a record, and it does not seem encouraging, as the machinery of society goes on less spirited. Yet all may be quite as harmonious, and the mass of the people equally as happy. The large farms are growing more handsome in their perfected cultivation, and labor-saving machinery uncomplainingly performs the work of many. We are prone to reflect, however, that inside of the snug farm cottages of modern days, we do not hear the merry music, nor see the cheery faces of large families, such as filled the patriarchal mansion of fifty years ago. We pause in contemplating this subject, since our business is to record and not to moralize, as we came very near doing just at this point.

    Fenner Corners. --- This point, near the center of the town, appears to have been at first designated as the location of the chief village; here the first enterprises of a centralizing point began, and would have continued, had there been any natural advantages; but central Fenner being thus unfortunate, and only adapted (but that pre-eminently) to farming, it gradually faded as a business center, when the manufacturing facilities at Perryville began to be developed, and to furnish the nucleus of a village. So Perryville came to be the village of the town. In the days of the Oneida and Cazenovia Turnpike, however, the products of Fenner, transported over that once busy thoroughfare, were chiefly gathered in from the various avenues to the "Corners," which made it, for a time, a lively little village. It had its two taverns, a store, a post-office, various mechanics and a church.

    Chittenango Falls is a hamlet situated on the line between this town and Cazenovia. It contains a post-office, store, hotel and church. It is not an early built place of business, the land where it stands having been formerly the farm of Mr. Asaph Hummiston.

PERRYVILLE

    Has derived its advantages from the water power of the Canaseraga. Although the stream here is not large, yet it has a fine fall, and affords several mill sites. As late as 1810, the site of the village was a hemlock wilderness. At about that date, a Mr. Card put up a small grist mill, with one run of stone; it was situated on nearly the same site now occupied by the mill of Edwin Crosby. Enoch Dykeman succeeded Card, and was for many years engaged in the business. About 1835, he built the present mill. In 1811, Abram Wendell built the saw mill now owned by Eli Ransom, situated a short distance above the falls. Tyre & Cole opened a store here about 1811; it was located near the bridge; it has been converted into a dwelling-house, owned by James Robie. Enoch Dykeman built the first tavern; the same building has since been re-constructed, and is now a pleasant dwelling-house, owned by Edwin Hamlin. The present tavern was built by Timothy Jenkins, from thirty-five to forty years ago. Alpheus Britt built up the clothing works; this was for many years one of the prosperous concerns of the village. A Mr. Glass built a small tannery quite early. In 1817, Oren S. Avery, from Morrisville, purchased this tannery of Glass. Mr. Avery was an active business man; everything in his hands flourished, and his prosperity increased. He built, in addition, a larger tannery and a boot and shoe shop, in both of which many workmen were employed. About 1830, Eli Blakeslee erected a large wagon shop, and afterwards added several other shops, which were demanded by his increased business in the manufacture of vehicles. The Episcopal Church, the main religious society of the place, built a neat and somewhat expensive house of worship. Thrift and enterprise were manifest on the farms about the village; in the school, the church, the workshop, progress was the rule. Thus, the generations rising to fill the place of their fathers, enjoyed fair facilities to fit them for their several spheres of usefulness. But, in 1836, there was a change; Oren S. Avery died, and the manufactories, with which he had been connected, were closed; Eli Blakeslee, the next heaviest dealer, failed the same year, and then the controlling enterprises of Perryville were prostrate; the place had received a blow from which it was slow in recovering; indeed, it has never regained its former business status.

    Perryville has, at the present day, two churches, a flouring mill, two saw mills, one tavern, two stores and a number of shops. The C. & C. Railroad has a depot here. One of the chief attractions of the vicinity is the falls, a description of which has already been given.

    The pleasant Perryville Cemetery is a place of solemn memories and tender interest, for here repose many representatives of Fenner's most prominent families of the days long past. It was laid out about 1818. Annis Blakeslee, wife of Asa Blakeslee, was the first one buried here; all about her tomb are sleeping many of the once numerous Blakeslee family. Here, too, are the graves of the Ehles, the Storms, the Lansings, the Ransoms, the Colgroves and the Hamlin families, some of whose marble head-stones tell us that the sleepers were of the generation that populated these hills and redeemed the broad farms from the wilderness, and who toiled hard and patiently that the succeeding generations might "come up higher." Here is the narrow home of Alpheus Britt and Nancy, his wife; there repose the remains of Othniel Brainard; yonder rests the dust of Leverett Baldwin, Jacob Gillett, Czar Dykeman and others, whose influence ceased not when their voices were stilled in death; and in a conspicuous place rises the noble monument, reared by the hands of affection to the memory of Oren S. Avery, who was born in 1794, and died August, 1836.

    The first burial ground in this part of the town is situated about a mile west of Perryville, on the road to Cazenovia; in this, many of the first settlers were interred, some of whose remains have been removed to the village Cemetery.

EARLY SETTLERS.

    Joel Downer came to New Petersburgh in 1801. He was a native of Pownell, Vermont, born in 1780. That he was of the old revolutionary stock, his geneological record proves, as we find that his father, John Downer, was one of the heroic command of Gen. Stark, who fought the battle of Bennington in 1777. He purchased his homestead in Fenner, at Mr. Smith's auction, in Utica, in 1802. It was located on Lot M, on the old Oneida Turnpike, about two miles west of Peterboro. Here he commenced his married life, for we find it recorded that he was married on the day of the great eclipse in 1806, to Miss Lovina Risley, daughter of Stephen Risley, one of the early settlers of Smithfield. Here, with industry, they prospered; the wilderness gradually disappeared and golden harvests waved in its stead; the cumbrous log barn of the first few years was superseded by a good frame one, and the log cabin by a frame house of some pretentions. Mr. Downer was notably ahead of his neighbors in the matter of building, and as his school district (No. 9,) was an enterprising neighborhood, this getting up in the world was somewhat envied. Mrs. Downer has often mentioned a circumstance illustrating the ideas of that day. Soon after their house was built, one of her pious sisters in the church visited her for the purpose of giving her caution against undue pride, on account of great worldly prosperity! Yet this house, so enviously regarded, is described as being very plain, boarded, clapboard fashion, with lumber a foot wide and an inch thick, doors and casings of the plainest style and manufacture, and at the time of this sisterly visit, was not even lathed and plastered! In time, however, it was well ceiled. The first children born in the school district No. 9, were twin children of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Downer; these were Mr. Wm. B. Downer and his sister Mrs. Mary E. Johnson. Joel Downer spent the rest of his life in Fenner, dying in 1864, at the ripe age of eighty-four years. His wife, Lovina, survived him about two years, passing away September 17, 1866, in the eighty-first year of her age. We subjoin the following obituary notice from the Oneida Dispatch:

    "DOWNER --- In Oroville, March 23, 1867, Joel G. Downer, a native of New York, aged 60 years.

    Mr. D. was a pioneer citizen of Oroville. He emigrated from the State of New York, and, during a long residence in Butte county, filled various positions of public trust. He was for a long time the leading spirit of the party, and by his energy and perseverance contributed largely to its success. --- Oroville (Cal.) Ex.

    The subject of the above notice was born at the residence of his father, the late Joel Downer, in Fenner, Feb. 8, 1807. Soon after attaining his majority he located at Bridgeport, in this county, and for many years engaged in legal and mercantile pursuits, besides filling various offices by the favor of his fellow citizens. Some twenty years since he emigrated to California where he has since resided. Trained in the school of Jeffersonian Democracy, Mr. D. believed in the equal rights of all men, "To life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and evinced his faith by his works. His second son, Hiram K. Downer, was one of the victims of the slaveholders' rebellion, dying while a prisoner to the rebels, of wounds received in the battle of the Wilderness. A younger son is now in the army, in Arizona Territory, ready to suffer, and if needs be, to die for his country. Mr. D. leaves a widow and five children to mourn his death."

    Robert Stewart, one of the Scotch settlers, was a deacon of the Presbyterian Church in Peterboro. He was firm in the faith, as set forth by John Knox, his illustrious countryman, in the days of "auld lang syne." He was a man respected by all who knew him. When nearly four score years of age, a melancholy accident terminated his earthly pilgrimage.

    Alexander F. Douglass, also a native of Scotland, came to this country with his parents at an early day. The family settled in Lenox where they cleared a farm. Mr. Douglass reared a large family in Lenox, and continued to reside there till all his children, but one, were married and settled in life, when he sold and purchased in Fenner. An obituary before us, but without date, states that he was born in Scotland, December 5, 1807; that he was an active and valued member of the M. E. Church, and a worthy citizen. He resided six years in Fenner and there died the death of a christian, aged sixty-three years.

    James Cameron, another of the company of emigrants in whose veins flowed the pure blood of Scotland, settled in Fenner, and died there at an advanced age. Scottish intellect, engrafted upon American soil, loses none of its vigor in the latest descendants of these and other early Scotch settlers of the town of Fenner.

    Eli Barber came to this town when it was included in the town of Cazenovia, in the year 1799, and located on Lot 23. He was born in Worcester County, Mass., in 1775.

    "When a lad of fifteen or sixteen, a family in his neighborhood were preparing to emigrate to this State, and he engaged to come on with them, working for his board by driving the oxen. He came to Oneida Co., and lived in Paris, Sangerfield and vicinity, till 1799, clearing some of the land where the village of Waterville now stands. He was married March 14, 1799, to Lovina Thompson, a native of his own native town, whose parents had emigrated to and settled in Madison. They immediately came on to their wilderness home in Fenner, he having previously bought 142 acres on Lot 23, of Peter Smith, made a clearing, and built a log house. Here he lived fifty-two years, in the meantime clearing up and improving his farm, erecting fine buildings, &c. He resided ten years also in Cazenovia village, but at last returned to the old familiar ground to die. He passed away Nov. 30, 1869, at the great age of 95 years, three years after the decease of his wife. His son, Darlin Barber, succeeds to the old homestead."3

    Mr. and Mrs. Eli Barber were converted in 1801, united with the Fenner Baptist Church, and lived the life of exemplary christians to the close of their sixty years of married life. They had a family of fourteen children, seven only of whom lived; Mr. Darlin Barber and Mrs. Amanda Hamlin, are the only two of those living in town. Rev. Eli Barber, present pastor of the Baptist Church in Fenner, is, however, a grandson. In the early days Mr. Barber erected one of the first potasheries of this section, which for many years proved a valuable institution to the settlers.

    David Cook came from Rhode Island and settled one fourth of a mile north of Fenner Corners; here he kept the first tavern opened in town. He was an energetic, public spirited and influential man; was a Justice of the Peace some years, and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1806, which office he also held for a number of years. His two sons, --- David jr. and Reuben Cook, --- were substantial farmers and respected citizens of Fenner, and were often honored with places of public trust; the former was for many years postmaster; the latter lived on the homestead many years, then removed to Nelson, where he died.

    Daniel M. Gillett, from Lime, Conn., was an early settler, locating a half mile east of the Corners. Although a farmer and prosperous as such, he built and operated a potashery and was for a time associated with his brother, Martin Gillett, in a store, in Dist. No. 5. He was noted for his activity, public spirit and business ability, and stood high in community for his integrity and strict moral character. He served as Justice of the Peace several years, was Supervisor repeatedly, and Member of Assembly two terms. His son, D. Miner Gillett, is a resident of this town. A daughter married Jarius Munger, Esq., a lawyer of Camden, Oneida County.

    From 1820 to 1840, inclusive, the town of Fenner included many men of superior mind and marked character; such were Dr. Sylvanus Guernsey, Oren S. Avery, Judge Czar Dykeman, Asa Dana, Esq., Judge Sardis Dana and Hon. Federal Dana.

    Dr. Guernsey was a leading physician, a true scholar and a christian gentleman. Several young men of the town contemplating a scholastic education, took their preparatory course with him; by his high standard of honor and morals were their plastic minds moulded. Dr. Guernsey's strict fidelity to moral and christian principles is illustrated by the fact that he would never perform any work pertaining to his profession on the Sabbath, except to respond to calls in critical cases, and then made no charge therefor.

    Oren S. Avery's name is intimately blended with the annals of those years, especially with the business interests and the general prosperity of Perryville; his public spirit was most exemplary. Every worthy man, in his hour of need, knew that Oren S. Avery was his friend; his noble heart and generous hand aided all worthy objects. In his death, Perryville sustained a great loss; and it is no marvel that his memory is honored and cherished to this day by the good people of that village.

    Judge Czar Dykeman was one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, which post he filled many years.

    Mr. Asa Dana was an early settler, and one of those talented and influential spirits who figured largely in all that pertained to the welfare of his section. His name appears often in the record of town officers. He was a man of high integrity, of clear judgment and practical wisdom. He purchased in the south part of Fenner (then Cazenovia,) in the year 1800. The hardships of a pioneer life had but the effect to call into activity the sterling virtues of patient endurance and persevering effort for success in pursuit of the right. He had been a soldier in the revolutionary war, and received a pension until his death, which occurred in 1845, at the ripe age of ninety-one year. He uniformly merited and enjoyed the fullest confidence of the community as an upright, worthy citizen and sincere christian. Rev. Asa Mahan, who was the first President of Oberlin College, Ohio and of late President of Adrian College, Mich., is a son of his oldest daughter. The sons of Mr. Dana were mostly farmers. The youngest, Lorenzo, was for many years a prominent and successful physician in Alleghany County, N. Y., and was two or three times elected to the Legislature, enjoying, from first to last, the confidence of his fellow citizens. He died in 1869, at the age of seventy-two, leaving Federal Dana as the sole survivor of the six sons and three daughters of Asa Dana, the pioneer.

    Federal Dana was born in the year of the first meeting of Congress, under the Federal Constitution, and was named in honor of that instrument. For many years he was a practical surveyor, having for his motto, "impartiality and accuracy." The most of the time during the last twenty years of his residence in Fenner, he was on of the Justices of the Peace, and, for two or three terms, a Justice of Sessions. As a Justice, he rarely had a case come to trial, almost always persuading the parties to make an amicable settlement between themselves. His public spirit and good abilities were marked aids to the general progress around him. We learn that Hon. Federal Dana is still (1871,) living, an honored and respected citizen of East Avon, Livingston County, N. Y. Sardis Dana, son of Asa Dana, was at one time one of the associated Judges of the County. He was a prominent business man, and always enjoyed the fullest confidence of his fellow citizens. During his life, nearly or quite all of the honors within the gift of his townsmen, were conferred upon him. He was also a member of the Legislature one term. For many years he was widely useful and popular as a surveyor. L. D. Dana, his son, is cashier of the National Bank at Morrisville.

    Charles S. Hyatt was a successful farmer of this town. He was frequently honored with town offices, although he did not aspire to position. His large family are all of them prosperous farmers, and settled near the center of the town. George W. Hyatt, his youngest brother, residing west of Fenner Corners, is the owner of one of the handsomest farms in Fenner. Francis A. Hyatt, of Nelson Flatts, is nephew of Charles S. Hyatt. David Hess was a prominent agriculturist, Supervisor of the town, and for several terms Justice of the Peace. Col. Needham we note as another prominent man of the early days, popular as Supervisor and as the incumbent of various other town offices. Lewis Keeler was another useful and influential citizen, possessing excellent capacity for business. He was School Commissioner, and held other offices. Nathaniel Hazleton was also a prominent citizen some forty years ago; was Supervisor and Justice of the Peace many years. D. Eralziman Haskell, now (1871,) a merchant of Cazenovia, also took an active part in town affairs for many years; he served the people as Justice of the Peace, and as town Superintendent of Common Schools, and was some years since Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. Enos Cushing settled in this town early and continued to be a resident about sixty years. For more than fifty years he was a surveyor. He was widely known and as widely respected. Chauncey Munger was one of the earliest settlers, and one of the prominent men of the days long gone by. He was living in Fenner in 1871, at an advanced age. Col. Stafford was another early settler of Fenner, who attained to prominence and usefulness. He still resides in town.

DR. DANIEL PRATT

Was born in Belchertown, Mass., December 26, 1779. At the age of twenty-one he came west to New York State and remained three years. During that time he attended Clinton Academy and studied medicine with Dr. Greenly, at Hamilton, and with his brother, Dr. James Pratt, at Log City. On his return to Belchertown at the expiration of the three years, he took a somewhat novel way of starting himself in the world: His father furnished him with a quantity of iron rods, and he set himself to work and made 1,400 wrought nails, with which he bought his first stock of medicines valued at $34. He then went to the State of Maine, in 1804, being then twenty-four years of age, where he commenced the practice of medicine and remained ten years. In 1808, he married Mrs. Dolly Moody, widow of Dr. Moody of Vasselboro. This lady had two children by her first marriage; Eliza, who married Aurelius Dykeman of Madison County, in 1817, and Mary Ann, who married in 1825, Col. Palmer Baldwin, an honored citizen of Nelson Flats. In the war of 1812, Dr. Pratt was appointed Surgeon in the U. S. army and served for a time. In 1814, he removed to Fenner and purchased the farm of Dr. Sherman, two miles southeast of Perryville, and cultivated it in connection with his extensive practice. He was an excellent physician. He took a prominent part in politics during the Anti-Masonic excitement, and wrote much against secret societies, holding that their influence politically was dangerous. He was familiar with statutory law, was for some years a Justice of the Peace, and School Commissioner a considerable time, always taking a lively interest in common school education. In 1831, he joined the Baptist Church in Fenner, being baptized by Elder S. Gilbert. As the infirmities of age advanced, preventing the active duties of his profession, he turned his attention more than formerly to farming. He died November 18, 1864, at the ripe age of eighty-four years, ten months and twenty-two days. The "Great Harvester" found him with every faculty fully matured and unimpaired. The many excellent qualities which distinguished him and his worthy companion, live in their children, reared on that thrifty Fenner farm. (Note k.)

CHURCHES.

    Fenner Baptist Church, was organized August 23, 1801, Elder Nathan Baker was first pastor. The first Deacons were Ephraim Munger and Roswell Glass. Meetings were held in school houses and dwellings in different parts of the town. In 1817, a revival occurred in which 101 persons were baptized. In 1820, the meeting house at Fenner Corners was built. At different periods this church has borne the name successively of, "Third Baptist Church of Cazenovia," and "Baptist Church of Smithfield."

    The Protestant Episcopal Church of Perryville was founded in 1816. It was then a branch of Paris Hill Church. Religious services were held from house to house at first. Lyman Blakeslee was licensed Lay Reader by Bishop Hobart, and in the absence of pastors conducted services. In 1832, while Rev. Solomon Northrup was pastor, the house of worship was built at a cost of $2,500.

    Methodist Episcopal Church of Perryville. The first Methodist Class was formed about 1818, first Class Leader, Charles Blakeslee. First Methodist Sabbath School was formed in 1819, which has continued up to the present time. The meeting house was built in 1839.

    The Methodist Episcopal Church of Chittenango Falls, was organized June 4, 1844. The first pastor was Rev. J. Watson. The house of worship was built in 1844.


1 - In 1844, three heads of barley were discovered by Mr. David Hess, of Fenner, apparently very different from the main crop which he sowed; these heads were noticed during the progress of the crop to maturity and carefully preserved at the season of harvest. The three heads grew from one root and produced a half pint of grain in 1845; this product was multiplied to 96 bushels in 1848. The barley of this region is now known as the "Hess barley," weighs about 50 lbs. to the bushel; quantity per acre from 35 to 40 bushels; greatest or premium crops, 54, 56, 66 and 67 bushels per acre. It is the two-rowed variety. It is estimated that ten thousand bushels of this variety were produced in 1851. --- From Trans. N. Y. S. Ag. Soc. 1851, page 716.

2 - This game was, no doubt, but an exercise to discipline the young Indian in the control of facial expression, and that wonderful power of concealing or subduing emotion, for which the race is noted.

3 - From his obituary.


Transcribed by John Rich
November, 2003
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