Town of Nelson History
The land that constitutes the present town of Nelson was acquired through
a patent from the state by Alexander Webster and was later purchased by
From Lincklaen, Joseph Yaw and Jedediah Jackson purchased a section of
the northern part of the township on behalf of a Vermont company of
speculators. Throughout the next two years (1794-95), 26 families,
primarily from the Pownal, Vermont, area, settled on the purchase. Jackson
opened Nelsons first tavern (on the site of the present day Nelson inn)
and served as the first justice of the peace.
The town was formed from Cazenovia, which borders Nelson on the west, on
13 March 1807 and was named in honor of the English naval hero, Admiral
Horatio Viscount Nelson (1758-1805).
As in other parts of the county, namely Georgetown, sheep raising was one
of the first agricultural "industries" in the township. Early in Nelson's
history, farmers had a difficult time keeping their flocks from being
ravaged by wolves. James H. Smith wrote that in 1809 the town levied a 75
cent tax on every man keeping a dog.
At the same time a bounty of twenty dollars in addition to the
state bounty [not specified by Smith] was voted for every wolf
killed in the town. Thus it wound seem that generous, if not
ample, provision was made for the propagation and protection of
the flocks of the early settlers. The tax on dogs was repealed
At one time the village of Nelson was called Nelson Flats. Still earlier,
Smith wrote, it was "designated by the expressive if not euphonious name
of Skunk Hollow from the fact that the first skunk in the [locality] was
caught here." Smith continues:
[As] it was long supposed that there was not a skunk west of
the Hudson River this [skunk] was regarded as a curiosity, was
boxed and sent to Cazenovia [then the county seat], no doubt to
the great delectation of the cultural inhabitants of that lovely
One can only wonder just how delectable the Cazenovian's cultured noses
found the skunk to be.
Erieville, situated in the south central part of the town, received its
name from Eri Richardson. John E. Smith described Richardson as "a
prominent citizen and long a prosperous merchant. He was a member of the
legislature in 1822 and was connected with the state military whence he
received his title ot major".
In the 1840s America experienced a surge of new immigrants coming from
Europe to escape religious and political persecution (and execution). As
with the 26 Vermont families before them, many Welsh immigrants likewise
settled in the town of Nelson. One of their lasting contributions to the
area was the Welsh Congregational Church. Built in the 1870s to replace
an earlier structure that outlived its usefulness, the church was the
focal point of community life, both secular and sacred. Here they
preserved old Welsh customs and, in their services, their language.
Like many other Madison county towns, Nelson was involved with dairy
farming. Two offshoots of dairying in Nelson were Moore's Empire Milk Pan
Company Ltd. and the Nelson Cheese Factory.
From 1876 on into at least the mid-1880s, Erieville was the home of the
Empire Milk Pan Company Ltd., which manufactured a milk pan and cooler
patented by Franklin W. Moore. The company was dissolved when Moore moved
Allison Gage built the Nelson Cheese Factory building in 1870 although he
operated a pattern works there himself. Patterns for manufacturing either
machinery parts or clothing were made there. By 1876 the building had been
converted to a cheese factory under the proprietorship of William Richards.
Richards sold the building to Edgar Beebe in 1890; Beebe resumed the
When Duane Histed bought the building he resumed cheesemaking. Thus it
continued through the twentieth century. An unidentified newspaper clipping
of 28 December 1950 tells us that soon after Charles Braverman of Utica
bought the factory
...it had its greatest [period of] activity. In the early 1940S
it was a thriving cheese manufacturing plant working twenty-four
hours a day seven days a week. Fifty men, including truck drivers,
carpenters, and repair men, were employed in the day and night
Eight to ten barge tankers carried 3200 cans of milk a day to
the plant to be made into American cheese. About 500 tO 600
cheeses, 40 pounds each were made at the plant every day, most of
it being shipped [to Britain through] Lend Lease. [The Nelson
Cheese Factory] had the greatest volume of any plant in the
country making that type of cheese.
By 1950, however, the factory, still under Braveman's ownership, was
operated part-time when, in December of that year, it burned.
Today, Nelson maintains strong ties to her agricultural past, yet in some
ways, she has lapsed into a quiet, rural repose. In fact, one town
settlement has completely disappeared. Yet like many other rural towns,
Nelson remains as a buffer to the hurlyburly of urban life.
Date: Sunday, January 03, 1999 09:24 PM
Song playing "Under the Double Eagle"