HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF CLAY

Submitted by Sue Goodfellow

Source:  Past and Present of Syracuse and Onondaga County, by The Rev. William M. Beauchamp.  NY: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1908, pp. 353-356.


The town of Clay, called after the American statesman, was taken from Cicero in April, 1827, and included fifty lots of the military tract.  It is a common error to make Patrick McGee the first settler at Three River point in 1793.  Two or three white families were near there in 1791; Barker alone occupied the point in 1792, and Vanderkemp, on his return from Oswego said:  "We arrived at three river point about seven, discharged Mr. Barker, and pitched our tent in the vicinity of his house, crowded with travellers from several bateaux and canoes, which tarried there since yesterday."  Jeremiah Gould (1847) said when they passed Three Rivers, 1790, Simeon Barker was there.  In 1795 Ryal Bingham kept tavern there, and the land about it belonged to him.  McGee may have come there in 1793, but his was not the first house in the town.  He is said to have lived and died there, and to have built the first frame house in Clay about 1808.  As far as early records go Barker was the first and Bingham the second settler in Clay.  It is not easy to place McGee between them.

No other settlers are known before 1798.  In  hat year Adam Coon came to the northeast corner of Clay, and the next year Simeon Baker settled in Seneca river.  In 1807 Joshua Kinne and Elijah Pinckney came, and John Lynn located in 1808 or earlier at the Lynn settlement.  The Young, Dutcher and other families soon joined him.  A log schoolhouse was built in 1808, the first in town, at Clay Corners, now Euclid.  The first teacher was Mr. Hall.  Another was built the next year at Belgium.  Moses Kinne had taught in his own house, and now became teacher in this.  A frame building took its place in 1812, and a larger one later.

After 1810 population increased.  Flour was brought from Jackson's mill near Jamesville, for a time, and often on the back all the way.  Then in rotation one man took the neighborhood supply by ox sled or cart.  The demand for salt barrels in Syracuse soon furnished profitable employment, and fuel could be taken most of the way by water.  The lack of water power was felt.

The Sodus Bay & Westmoreland Turnpike Company began building a bridge across Seneca river at Belgium in 1824.  This was completed by Col. J. L. Voorhees, who got a charter and collected tolls till 1843.  It was then rebuilt as a free bridge, and became locally known as New Bridge, a title it still retains.  There were but four dwelling houses there in 1827, but later it was a busy place.  It had a post office called West Cicero in 1825, which was changed to Clay in 1827.  Nathan Teall was the first postmaster.

At the first town meeting Andrew Johnson was elected supervisor and Jacob Terrill town clerk.  A post office was established at Euclid, and Johnson was supervisor, postmaster, grocer and tavern keeper.  The Erie and Oswego canals were opened in 1825 and 1828, and at once affected the town, and Belgium began to grow.  The improvement of Oneida river had its effect.  Belgium grew rapidly on both sides of the river and reputable families settled there.  Judge James Little was one of these, and the Rev. William M. Willett, son of Colonel Marinus Willett, had a fine residence quite near.  Martin Luther opened the first store in 1828.  Sylvanus Bigsbee had another very soon.  Jonas C. Brewster opened one in 1829, and James Little another in 1830.  Others soon followed.  The first frame house here was the toll house east of the river.

In 1832 the Wesleyan Methodists built a church on the west side of the river, now used as the Methodist Episcopal chapel.  About 1826 an English Evangelical Lutheran church was formed near Clay station, and a building was erected and dedicated in 1834.  It is strictly a rural church.  Clark called it Dutch Reformed, being in a Dutch settlement.  It was reorganized in 1832 by Rev. William Ottman, the first pastor.  The Disciples built a church in England in 1837, which was used by others, eventually bought by the Methodists, and then made a warehouse and town hall.  A new church was built in 1886.  In 1835 an Methodist Episcopal society was formed at the Morgan settlement between Euclid and Liverpool.  It built a neat church generally called the Morgan meeting house.  The Rev. Abram Morgan was a principal founder.

In 1847 Rev. William H. Delano formed the Plank Road Baptist church, and became its first pastor.  This is at Centerville, where a church was erected.  At Euclid a Baptist church was formed in 1845 by Rev. Horatio Warner.  A church was built in 1868.  At Centerville the Methodists built a church in 1854 just west of the town line.  In 1892 it was moved east of the line and rebuilt.

Centerville Lodge, No. 648, F. A. M., was chartered in July, 1867.  The opening of the plank road in 1846 gave existence to this place, often called North Syracuse, and formerly Podunk.  It is in both Clay and Cicero.  The old red tavern there was built at an early day, and Peter Weaver, its builder, gave the ground for the cemetery.  About 1850 Centerville began to assume business airs, with stores, inns, a union schoolhouse, physicians, etc.

Euclid continued to prosper, and quite a settlement grew up at Oak Orchard or Schroeppel's Bridge, an attractive spot.  Belgium or Clay had also a period of prosperity, its business at one time exceeding that of Baldwinsville.  In 1848 it had one hundred and sixty inhabitants, three dry goods stores, four groceries, two inns, three blacksmith shops, and the "Oriental Balm Pill" manufactory, doing a large business and employing from thirty to fifty people.  At a later day it was quite a place for boat building.

Before 1820 Three Rivers had been visited by more distinguished persons than any one place in the county.  It had not been a place for councils, and some have thought.  Not one is recorded there, but noted men had often come to the meeting of the waters.  A railroad in 1871 opened a new route to it.  Leaving Woodard the Syracuse Northern road led to Oswego, eventually becoming part of a great system.  This increased trade in Syracuse, but also added another to its summer resorts.

An incident which Clark places in Cicero really belongs in this town, but quite close to its eastern line.  As told it closely resembles one store of the Turtle tree, but the locality is certainly on Lot 91, Clay, in the southwest corner, and used to be called "the jumps."  Mr. Clark's story differs very little from the local version, and follows:

"One poor fellow bound hand and foot, was compelled to run the gauntlet, with the promise, if successful, of being restored to liberty.  Two parallel lines were arranged, and the prisoner started to run, as best he could, between them. He made several surprising leaps, bound as he was; and finally succeeded in passing amid sundry blows, beyond the lines, to the goal of promised safety.  At this moment a young warrior drew up his rifle and shot him dead; who, for his treachery, was instantly pierced by more than twenty balls from the rifles of his companions.  For several years the Indians returned to this spot, renewed the tracks made in the sand by the murdered prisoner, held a war dance, and returned to their homes.  This practice was continued long after the white people settled in the neighborhood.  The last time they visited the spot, they got into a quarrel among themselves, and it is said, two of the party were killed and several badly wounded."

The local report omits this tragic ending, but says they were so disorderly that the people ordered them to come no more.  The writer had seen silver ornaments from the spot, lost by the Indians.

Though there is much low land in this town several large streams give good drainage but no power.  The soil is generally good.  Below Belgium are beds of very fine clay, used for brick and containing some remarkable concretions.  The town has four highway river bridges.

Cigarville or Clay station had the first name from cigar factories, and is a hamlet originated by these and the railroad.  Three Rivers is also a favorite resort for picnic and fishing.

In 1836 Euclid had a post office, William Coon's tavern, Jefferson Freeman's store, N. Bunzey's wagon shop, George Thayer's blacksmith shop, Henry Schroeppel's steam saw mill.  Dr. Church was then the local physician, and a Mr. Blossom had kept the first store in the place.  In 1886 it had two saw mills, two blacksmith shops, wagon shop, cheese factory, two general stores, hotel, grist mill, and a physician.  There seems always to have been a resident doctor.  There were also two churches.

In 1836 Belgium had a post office, which at first was kept by Nathan Teall at Teall's Corners, nearly a mile east of the river.  John Colburn carried the mail once a week from Vernon, Oneida county, to Cato, Cayuga county.  John Wieting kept the toll gate and a harness shop.  Rome Van Wagner had a boat yard; James Lee a grocery and hotel; two general stores were kept by Enos & Little and Lounsberry & Hale; Peter Miller had a blacksmith shop; William Bruce a wagon shop.  A. P. Adams was the physician, and E. B. Dykeman justice of the peace.  In 1886 it had two saloons, general store, hotel, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, carpenter shop, general store, grocery, and about one hundred and sixty inhabitants.

Centerville (Plank Road post office) had two general stores in 1886, a grocery and feed store, shoe shop , blacksmith shop, carriage furnishing shop, drug store, three cigar factories, a butcher and a physician, between whom a choice might be made in payment, according to the old saying.  In Clay and Cicero hay is an important crop.


Submitted 13 November 1998