The Township of Lenox encompasses some thirty five square miles. Two major villages Canastota and Wampsville, account for most of the population. Wampsville has the distinction of being the county seat. The town came about as a result of the Erie Canal; thus water wars and wages provide most of its history. The formation growth and future are closely associated with the geography, politics and economy of New York state and the country in general.
The early settlers followed the valley of the Mohawk and the Seneca Turnpike across the state to where others had settled near the thundering waterfalls of Chittenango and established a settlement. Stagecoach and wagon tracks going west became common around the time of the war for independence. A few people stopped at a spot along the trail, cleared land, built cabins, farmed, and raised families, Joseph Bruce being one of these pioneers. He built three houses around 1800. One of these homes, a Greek Revival farmhouse, still stands. It is located at Quality Hill, the earliest settlement in the town of Lenox. Legend has it that Quality Hill derives its name from the artillerymen who camped on the village green (still surviving) and the historical marker says that these soldiers did drill there. It seems that some had strayed from camp one day and walked up to visit certain young ladies, to no avail. They left muttering to themselves that "They must be quality folks, for they don't want anything to do with US Soldiers." The name has stuck to the area to this day.
The disquiet of a New England town, Litchfield, Connecticut, also spurred other white settlers to venture to Lenox. Some of the veterans of Washington's army from Litchfield got together and made their way west in search of more quiet real estate. Former captain Reuben Perkins found Quality Hill to his liking and built a cabin where the Kelsey farm now stands. In 1810 he purchased 329 acres from the Oneidas and built a new cabin at what is now the corner of James and South Main Streets (which stood till 1930) in the village of Canastota. Perkins is considered the founder of the village, yet no street, park, school or marker bears his name.
It was not long before the rattle of musketry was in the wind again with the British, only this time on the seas. Lieutenant Joseph Bruce took command of the local militia (their captain being ill at the time) and marched off to fight at Sackett's Harbor. He did well, for he was made a Brevet Major, a title he bore the rest of his life. The seas, lakes, and rivers were made safe for the new country and the militia returned to Lenox to resume their civilian lives .
Canals had been used for centuries as a means of moving goods and people. New York Governor Dewitt Clinton spearheaded a group that wished to "dig a ditch" from Albany to the Great Lakes. The decision to build a canal would have a profound effect on the town of Lenox. The canal would be built in sections, one to begin in Albany and one in Rome. First came the engineers and surveyors and by 1819 construction had begun. For the next decade there was plenty of work and wages to be earned. Business sprouted blacksmith shops, taverns, and lord knows what else and the town of Lenox grew to maturity. In 1821, Nathan Roberts, a well known canal builder, became assistant engineer on the Rome to Rochester Branch. Roberts purchased a farm in Lenox and brought his bride to live in the home he had built. He lived until 1852 in this classically-inspired estate.
Walter D. Edmonds, the great American author of historical novels, immortalized the town of Lenox during the heyday of the canal in Chad Hanna (1940), Rome Haul (1929) and Erie Water (1933). To capture the flavor of life in the area at that time one only has to read these carefully researched tales.
The Lenox boys would then march off to fight the Civil War and would return to a thriving town. By the late 1870s the canal had reached its peak and agricultural industry was born in the mucklands. Onion plants set out in the muck created a cash crop that still flourishes. Canastota onions are still shipped across the nation and Canastota was at one time referred to as the "Onion Capital of the United States." Italian immigrants flocked to Lenox beginning about 1900 and contributed greatly to this productivity.
Bugles blared out the call to the colors in 1917 and again town of Lenox boys left to fight in the first of the world wars. Charles Miller was to die along the bank of the river Marne where his 38th Infantry would block the road to Paris. History has renamed their regiment "The rock of the Marne." The Canastota American Legion named their post in his memory.
After that war, Lenox enjoyed the prosperity of the '20s and suffered the hardships of the great depression of the 1930s. The canal which had flowed through Lenox for nearly a century now lay dormant. The railroad, instrumental in the canal's demise, was itself becoming an anachronism. The affordability of the automobile and the concrete ribbons of highways would see to that. In Lenox, some new industries like Diemolding came into existence. Many old ones such as Farr Brothers Hardware could look back on 100 years of doing business.
World War II brought prosperity to the area, but at the cost of human suffering. Town of Lenox boys fought over the seas, under and above them in every Corner of the world. Then, before the New York State Thruway was completed, the boys would sail again, this time to Korea and a decade later to Vietnam.
Lenox is fortunate in having the interchange off the Thruway, which has brought travelers to the area. New restaurants and service stations opened and travel to distant places of employment was made easier. More people moved out of the cities and bought homes in Lenox to enjoy the quiet of the rural countryside, just as did Reuben Perkins, nearly two centuries earlier.