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Town of Clay

Submitted by Kathy Crowell

Source:  Onondaga; or Reminiscences of Earlier and Later Times by Joshua V. H. Clark.  Syracuse:  Stoddard and Babcock, 1849, Vol. II,  pp. 190-194.

This town was originally a part of the Military Township of Cicero, and was erected therefrom in 1827.  Much of its early history, therefore, is comprehended in the town of Cicero.  The town of Clay received its name in honor of the distinguished statesman, Henry Clay.  The name was at first objectionable to a portion of the inhabitants, who for several years after its organization, petitioned the Legislature to alter it, but without effect.  At the time the town was organized, it contained less than seven hundred inhabitants.  The first white settler in this town, then Lysander, was Patrick McGee, at Three-River-Point, in 1793, and in 1798, Adam Coon settled in the north east corner of the town, and Simeon Baker, on the Seneca River, in 1799.  In 1800, John Lyme settled near the centre of the town, and is now (1847) living, at the advanced age of ninety-seven years, since which, the town has settled somewhat rapidly.  Joshua Kinne and family, settled in this town in 1807, Elijah Pinckney and others, the same year, and soon after, Patrick McGee erected the first frame house in town, at Three-River Point, in1808 or '9.  When Mr. McGee first visited this place, which was in 1780, while a prisoner to the British, on his way to Fort Oswego and Canada, there was an extensive clearing at this point, handsomely laid in grass, without a shrub or tree for something like a mile or more along the banks of each river.  This spot was often appropriated to the holding of the great councils of the Iroquois confederacy.  Upon this spot, Dekanissora, Sadekanaghte and Garangula have addressed the braves of the Hurons and Adirondacks, and the Abenaquis.  And here too, have the French and the English met, in these distinguished chiefs, orators and diplomatists, equal to themselves, in all that pertains to sagacity and skill.

Japheth Kinne settled in Cicero about the year 1809.  The first settlers, previous to clearing their lands, procured their breadstuffs from Jackson's mills, near Jamesville.  And after they had been successful in raising grain of their own, went there to mill, till the mills were erected at what is now Syracuse.  It was customary for men to carry a grist of a bushel or a bushel and a half, on their backs, a distance of twelve or fourteen miles, to these mills through the woods, guided only by blazed trees, occupying two or three days in the performance of the journey.  After roads were cut through, a neighbor would take the grists of a whole neighborhood upon an ox sled or cart, and carry them to these mills.  By general arrangement and common consent, this service was performed by rotation, throughout the whole settlement, never taking less than two days to perform the journey.  Onondaga Hollow was then the only Post-Office at which letters were received and delivered, and persons visiting the Post-Office, brought the mail matter for the whole neighborhood in which he resided.

The first and most important article of trade was salt barrels, large quantities of which are manufactured and carried to the salt works, which bring a fair profit, and in many instances have proved a source of individual wealth.

The first Post-Office was established in the west part of the town, and called "West Cicero," about the year 1825, and Nathan Teall appointed Post Master.  Mr. Teall was succeeded by William Hale and James Little.  Since the town was organized it has been named "Clay."

A log school house, the first in this town, was erected at Clay Corners about ut 1808, and a teacher named Hall, taught the first school.  At Clay, near the river, a log school house was erected, in 1809, and a frame one in 1812--Moses Kinne, the teacher.  He previously kept a school in his own house.

The first Physician in town, was Dr. Olcott; the second, Dr. Church, and afterwards, Dr. Starling and Dr. Soule.

The first town meet for Clay, was held in April, 1827.  Andrew Johnson chosen the first Supervisor, and Jacob Terrel, Town Clerk.

Post-Office established at Euclid, in 1827--Andrew Thompson, first Post Master, to 1832, afterwards Nathan Soule.

Jefferson Freeman, the first merchant at Euclid, 1831.  Blossom & Dyckman, L. Soule, and Stone & Daniels, have been merchants here.

The bridge across the Seneca River, was first built by the Sodus Bay and Westmoreland Turnpike Company, erected in 1824, but not completed.  The turnpike was not made, and J. L. Voorhees, Esq., obtained a charter in his own name, finished the bridge, which was a toll bridge till 1843, when it was re-built as a free bridge.  The State Legislature appropriated eight hundred and fifty dollars towards defraying the expense, and the towns of Lysander and Clay, each one thousand dollars.  Whole cost, two thousand eight hundred and fifty dollars.

The village at this point, is called Belgium, and is situated on both sides of the Seneca River.  There were only four dwelling houses here in 1827.  There are now twenty-eight; and one hundred and sixty inhabitants, three dry good stores, four grocery and provision stores, two taverns, three blacksmiths, one tailor and one shoe shop, and the famous "Oriental Balm Pill" manufactory, which last employs a great part of the year from thirty to fifty persons.  James Little was the only family in 1828, on the Lysander side, but others settled there about that time, viz:  Henry V. S. McMechan, Oliver Bigsbee, Sylvenus Bigsbee, Garnett C. Sweet, who had charge of the Col. Newkirk property, Rev. William M. Willett, a son of Col. Marinus Willett, of Revolutionary renown, who occupied a lot drawn by his father, which was afterwards transferred to Mr. John Stevens and others.  Dr. Adams had a store here, in 1838, and Phillip Farrington, in 1831.  First frame building was the toll house, on the east side of the river, erected in 1825.  Japheth Kinne erected the first dwelling house, in 1825.  James Little, the second, in 1829.  First school kept here, was by Perry Eno, 1827.

First merchant, Martin Luther, in 1828, Sylvenus Bigsbee & Co., 1828.  Jonas C. Brewster, succeeded them in 1829.  James Little, 1830.

The Methodist Wesleyan society erected their house of worship here in 1832.

Physicians here, have been, first, Dr. A. P. Adams, second Dr. Hays McKinley, third, Dr. James V. Kendall, fourth, Botanic Dr. Daniel W. Bailey.  There has never a lawyer settled in this town.

At Oak Orchard Rift, near the bank of the river, are the evidences of an extensive burying ground.  This rift was a common fording place for the Indians, and formerly was much resorted to by them for fishing.

The first saw-mill was erected in the north east part of the town, by Abraham Young, on a small stream which affords water to drive the mill only in spring and fall.  There are no streams in this town of sufficient capacity to be used to advantage, for machinery of any kind.  The only streams of any magnitude, are the Oneida River, on the north, and Seneca River, on the west.

The first house of worship, was erected in the north east part of the town, in what is called the Dutch Settlement, by a society of Dutch Reformed.

The Baptists have a society--Elders Warner and Lamb, were the first clergymen who settled here.  Their house of worship was erected in 1838.  Obadiah Morrell was their minister for a time.

This, like the other towns in the northern section of the county, is fast improving, and bids fair to take rank among the first.

Statistics for the town of Clay, taken from the census of 1845:--Number of inhabitants, 2789.  267 subject to military duty, 619 voters, 29 aliens, 3 paupers, 531 children attending common schools, 12776 acres of improved land, 4 saw-mills, l Baptist church, 1 Dutch Reformed do., 18 common schools, 1 select do., 4 taverns, 3 stores, 5 groceries, 435 farmers, 3 merchants, 9 manufacturers, 55 mechanics, 5 clergymen, and 3 physicians.

Submitted 26 January 1999