Fenner was one of the first townships in Madison county believed to have felt the presence of the white man. Most county residents know that the French adventurer Samuel de Champlain is thought to have commanded his army and their Huron allies in a battle against the Oneidas at Nichols Pond in mid-October 1615. (fig. 6-19) Although most historians find no decisive evidence that would locate the Champlain battlefield at Nichols Pond, the eminent naval historian and Champlain geographer, Samuel Eliot Morison, favors this site based upon an aerial reconnaissance. However, he notes that "only archaeology can decide". Site excavation has since been undertaken.
After exhaustive and extensive archaeological study of the site over more than a 20 year span, the renowned archaeologist Peter P. Pratt wrote:
In our research at Nichols Pond, we looked for the following evidence that this might be the battle site:
A. Post mold remains of a stockade with 4 lines of posts. Large post holes were expected in order to conform to Chumplain's description. Also, in the stockade zone quantities of throwing stones should be located for many of these were reported used as missiles.
B. Evidences of a battle were expected in the form of bullets from the Frenchmen's arquebuses. Also, we hoped to as a cemetery in which skeletons accompanied by evidence of battle would be located.
C. Artifacts characteristic of the 1615 time period in Iroquois archaeology were, of course, anticipated. (88)
When Dr. Pratt could find no artifactual or archaeological evidence to support any of the popular history and legend surrounding Nichols Pond, he wrote, "It may safely be concluded that there was absolutely no evidence of battle at Nichols Pond that we could in any way prove."
It can safely be concluded though, that the French did see Fenner in the last decade of the seventeenth century when the Count de Frontenac, in another attempt to conquer the Iroquois in order to claim upstate New York for France, sent one de Vaudreuil, in command of 600 to 700 soldiers and Indian allies on an expedition. This maneuver took the soldiers from present day Onondaga county to Oneida Castle to fight the Oneidas. For nearly another hundred years, Fenner lay idle until the great post-Revolutionary migration brought settlers into central and western New York. As the town developed, it was quite clear that Fenner would never become an industrial mecca, although the gravelly loam (chiefly of limestone origin) would later account for quarrying endeavors. Agriculture was more important to the town's economy and the types of businesses that flourished were agriculturally related.
Approximately seven years after Alpheus Twist and James Munget, two Connecticut natives, took up permanent residence in the town (1793), Richard Card built the first gristmill in Fenner. At that time, too, William and Colonel Amold Ballou built the first sawmill. Coincidental with this achievement Colonel Ballou, a native of Smithfiell, Rhode Island, suggested the township's name, from his friend James Fenner (1771-1846), governor of Rhode Island (1808-1811; 1824-1831; 1843-1845).
Fenner would grow slowly in comparison to its neighboring townships. Hamilton Child cited the population of the town at the close of the Civil War as 1387. Perryville, one of the town's hamlets which is, in part, also located in Lincoln and Sullivan, had two churches, a flourishing mill, two sawmills, and about 200 residents at that time. Perryville was active early on in carding and cloth dressing. Alpheus Britt and his son Sargeant were engaged in that business and their mill was later used for cidermaking. The property passed on (1861) to E. S. Hamblin who converted it into a sawmill. Later still, Fred W. Hodge came into possession of the mill building and used it as part of his quarrying and stonecrushing business. In the remainder of the town at this time, there were three cheese factory operators; nine hop growers; one carding and woolen miller; two brickmakers; four carpenters; one gristmill operator; one oil manufacturer and dealer; one boot and shoemaker; one tailor; one harness maker, and one stonecutter according to the 1868 Gazetteer.
Although Fenner continued to derive most of its business from agriculture, unlike many Madison county townships, a great crop of hops was not produced here. Another crop, though, would bear the name of its town of Fenner originator, "Hess barley." David Hess is credited with developing this strain of barley, but it had only a shortlived acceptance.
Perhaps no industrial or agricultural endeavor has brought widespread attention to Fenner, but the 164 foot Chittenango Falls has brought many a traveler to Fenner to see its natural wonder.
Hon. D. Boardman of Troy owned the falls and much of the surrounding land in the late 1880s. When several Cazenovians banded together to inquire of Boardman the possibility of acquiring the falls and adjacent property for a park, his response was favorable. Although he had purchased the property for $5,000, he was willing to sell it for $2,000 and donate $500 for upkeep provided the site would be maintained as a park in memory of his father.
The Chittenango Falls Park Association was then formed for the purpose of insuring maintenance of and access sibility to the park. Today, the State operates Chittenango Falls Park and the falls remain a source of pride not only to Fenner residents but to all county residents as well.