The locality under consideration was formerly the very heart of the Onondagas' country, which guarded the western entrance to the "long house" of the Iroquois, and which once included the site of their principal village. It abounds in historical lore--in stores of French invasion, of Jesuit missionary visitations, of the existence of forts, fortifications, and Indian orchards, of the discovery of ancient relics, tools, utensils, and implements or appurtenances of war, and of the remains of Indian burial grounds and human skeletons. But these are fully detailed in a previous chapter, more interesting than the space allotted to this article could embrace, and in the following pages account is taken only of those facts which pertain to the present civil town, and which depict its growth and development from the first white settlement to the present time.
In 1743 John Bartram, an Englishman, journeyed from Philadelphia to the Onondaga country on a mission to the Indians, and after staying at the council house two or three days passed on to Oswego. He returned by the same route, down the Susquehanna River, and left to posterity a glowing narrative of his travels, in which he speaks of Onondaga Creek as being "very full of trees fallen across, or drove in heaps by the torrents."
The town [he continues] in its present state, is about 2 or 3 miles long, yet the scattered cabins on both sides the water are not above 40 in number; many of them hold two families, but all stand single, and rarely above 4 or 5 near one another; so that the whole town is a strange mixture of cabins, interspersed with great patches of grass, bushes, and shrubs, some of pease, corn, and squashes, limestone bottom composed of fossils and sea shells.
Unlike most towns in the county, the town of Onondaga formed no part of the great Military Tract, but constituted the major portion of the original Onondaga Reservation. The treaty of July 28, 1795, gave the State exclusive control of the Salt Springs Reservation and also ceded much of the territory comprising this town. On March 9, 1798, the Legislature passed an act which reads, in part:
That from and after the first Monday in April next, all that part of the county of Onondaga as is contained within the limits and bounds of the two tracts of land known by the names of the late Onondaga and Salt Springs Reservations, be, and the same hereby is, erected into a separate town by the name of Onondaga, and the first town meeting shall be held at the dwelling house of Allen Beach in said town.
Besides nearly all of the present town this tract embraced the most of what is now the city of Syracuse, the south part of the town of Geddes, and the southeastern corner, on lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 48, 49, 50, 51, and 52, of Camillus--all forming a part of the Salt Springs Reservation, which contained about 100,000 acres. The portions now included in Geddes and the city were taken off March 27, 1809, to form a part of the town of Salina, while the above named lots were annexed to Camillus in 1834. On February 25, 1817, the State purchased from the Indians lots 1 to 12 inclusive, on the east side of the Onondaga Reservation, and annexed them to this town. These several changes reduced Onondaga to its present limits, or about 41,000 acres. Excepting the State's purchase of 1817, the town was subdivided by John Randel, jr., in 1821-24, into lots numbered from 66 to 221 inclusive. It is bounded on the north by Camillus, Geddes, and the city of Syracuse, on the east by Dewitt, La Fayette, the Onondaga Reservation, and Otisco, and on the west by Marcellus and Camillus.
After the close of the Revolutionary war the whites who visited the county of the Onondagas were of the class known as Indian traders, who came well supplied with trinkets, blankets, arms, and ammunition, together with the wholly indispensable cask of rum. The first trader among the Indians of this locality was Ephraim Webster, though to his honor be it said he was never charged with debauching the natives with liquor. He pitched his camp on the west bank of Onondaga Creek, near its mouth. Accompanying him was Benjamin Newkerk, who was his partner, but the latter died soon afterward and was buried near the trading post. Webster was a native of New Hampshire, and served three years in the army during the Revolution. After the war he became an Indian trader, and on account of his knowledge of the Indian language was frequently employed as interpreter. He came to the Onondaga county in 1786 and continued his traffic here several years. He married an Indian maiden and became so great a favorite with the tribe that he was presented with a mile square tract of land, and was also granted 300 acres in the northwest corner of the present reservation. His wife became addicted to drink, in consequence of which, with the approbation of the tribe, he divorced her. One of the children of this marriage was Harry Webster, known to the Indians as Ato-tar-hos, who became one of the chiefs of the tribe. After the death of his divorced wife Webster married a white woman named Danks, by whom he had several children, and to them his property descended. Mr. Webster was a brave man and fond of adventure. He found himself in several trying situations, but his great courage always stood him in good stead. On one occasion, having offended the Indians, he was condemned to death, and being already bound was asked if he had any request to make, upon which he called for a drink of water. That he might drink, one hand was released, with which, taking the cup, he drank to the health of the chiefs, warriors, and women of the Onondagas. This action proved his salvation and he was at once set free. Later Webster was employed by the government as a spy and interpreter during the Indian troubles that followed the Revolution; he was in active service in the last war with Great Britain and held a captain's commission in the State militia. For many years he was Indian agent and had greater influence with the Onondagas than any other white man. Mr. Webster was the first supervisor of this town, in 1798, and was justice of the peace in 1805. He died at Tuscarora in 1825 and was buried at Onondaga.
Soon after Webster two other traders came to the region, locating at Teuaheughwa, or, as afterwards called by the whites, Onondaga Hollow. The newcomers were Adam Campbell and Alexander Mabie, and as subsequent events proved, they were unwelcome visitors. They carried a good stock of goods for barter, but their chief article of trade was rum, dispensed with unstinted hand, and the cause of strifes, dissensions, and not infrequently murder among the men of the Onondagas. Never before in all their history had the hand of the Indian been raised against his own brother. While the chiefs and sober men of the tribe were much opposed to the residence of these traders they were powerless, for the adventurers had purchased the friendship of the warriors and liquor was the consideration. Their hold upon the Indians was so great that at their instigation the natives made several attempts upon the life of Captain Webster and that other worthy pioneer, Major Asa Danforth.
Major Asa Danforth was emphatically the pioneer of this town and the founder of Onondaga civilization. He was practically the second and most substantial white settler in the county, and to him is largely due the inception and development of those attributes of frontier life which form the beginnings of a prosperous community. He came here through the influence and representations of Ephraim Webster, who obtained from the Indians permission for him to settle in their territory. Early in May, 1788, Danforth left his former home in Mayfield, Montgomery county, and proceeded with his family and effects to the new country. Two flat bottomed boats were loaded and headed west up the Mohawk, through Oneida Lake and River, and thence through Onondaga Lake to the mouth of the creek, where he found the trading post of Captain Webster. Asa Danforth, jr., and Comfort Tyler, both of the Danforth household, had also come at the same time, though journeying overland and having in charge several head of cattle. On May 22 the entire party proceeded up Onondaga Creek and made a settlement south of the locality known as Onondaga Hollow, and here, through the kind offices of Webster, the family was welcome by chief Cawhicdota and the warriors and women of the tribe. Between the chief and Major Danforth there soon grew a firm friendship. Major Danforth was styled by the Indians, Hatecolhotwas ("he plows the ground"). He was an active, earnest man, and one whose influence was only for good; and during the many years of privation which followed the first settlement, his cabin was always open to the distressed settlers. With the Indian chief he endeavored to stop the rum-selling traders in their nefarious operations, and thus incurred the enmity of the latter as well as that of the natives under their control. They often conspired to murder him, but the friendship of Cawhicdota as frequently saved his life and also that of his family.
Before the close of the year Comfort Tyler and Asa Danforth, jr., returned east, married, and soon afterward brought their brides to this wild and almost unbroken region. On October 14, 1789, a daughter was born to the latter and named Amanda, being the first white birth in Onondaga county. She married Col. Elijah Phillips, the popular stage agent, became the mother of Mrs. Peter Outwater, of Syracuse, and died in 1826.
For several years after Major Danforth settled at Onondaga Hollow there were no mills of any kind nearer than Whitestown, and to supply the needs of himself and family he hollowed out the stump of a white oak tree, in which grain was placed and then pounded with a large wooden pestle attached to a long spring pole, working on much the same principle as the old well-sweep. While on a visit to Herkimer county he purchased a negro boy, to whom was assigned the duty of pounding grain with this novel contrivance, and "Jack" at his work gave rise to the oft-quoted expression, "niggering corn." In 1791 he became possessed of lot 81, in Manlius (now Dewitt), and there on Butternut Creek, about a mile north of Jamesville, where the Dunlop flour and plaster mills now stand, he built in 1792 a saw mill and in the next year a grist mill, the first in the county. At the mill raising, in accordance with custom, there were the usual festivities and the necessary jug of rum, but the drink provided by Major Danforth was the superior St. Croix article instead of the ordinary New England stock. Sweetening of any sort was not to be had, hence meal was used as a substitute. Sixty-four whites and Indians were at the raising. These mills afforded the earliest means of providing flour and lumber to the settlers for miles around.
In May, 1788, very soon after his arrival, Major Danforth obtained a pound of salt from the Indians, who offered to show him and Comfort Tyler the location of the salt springs. Shortly afterward Tyler, with an Indian guide, a fifteen-gallon kettle, and a canoe, visited the spot and made some "thirteen bushels of salt of inferior quality in about nine hours." In the same year Danforth also made his first salt, carrying a five-pail kettle on his head across the country for the purpose. These were the beginnings of the immense salt industry. In 1798 he became a member of the 'Federal Company" at "Salt Point," which engaged in the then stupendous enterprise of manufacturing.
Major Danforth was born in Worcester, Mass., July 6, 1746, and at the age of fourteen enrolled himself in the militia. At the beginning of the Revolutionary war he entered the service as captain of his company and participated in the battle of Lexington under Col. Danforth Keys. He was then the owner of extensive iron works, which he sold, taking his pay in Continental money, which so depreciated that he found himself destitute. He held a major's commission in the regular army during the war, and afterward removed to Mayfield, Montgomery county, whence he came here. He was a very prominent figure in the early history of Onondaga, a man whose influence permeated every enterprise and elevated the standards of morality, benevolence, and civilization. With true heroism he and his faithful wife endured all the sufferings and privations incident to pioneer life, even to annoyance by Indians. He was a justice of the peace from 1791 to 1799, member of assembly in 1800-02, State senator in 1803-06, and superintendent of the Onondaga salt springs in 1802-05. In State militia circles he ranked high and was advanced to the rank of major-general. He died at Onondaga Hollow on September 2, 1818.
Col. Comfort Tyler, the associate of Major Danforth, was born in Ashford, Conn., February 22, 1764, and entered the Revolutionary army at the age of fourteen. In 1783 he became a surveyor and school teacher at Caughnawaga on the Mohawk River, accompanied Gen. James Clinton while establishing the boundary line between New York and Pennsylvania, and later joined the famous "Lessee Company." In May, 1788, he came to the Onondaga country in company with Asa Danforth, jr., the two joining Major Danforth at Webster's trading post. Colonel Tyler felled the first tree in this section, assisted in manufacturing the first salt, and constructed the first piece of turnpike in the State west of Fort Stanwix (Rome). Being a favorite with the Indians they named him To-whau-ta-qua, meaning one capable of work and at the same time a gentleman. He assisted in surveying the Military Tract and surveyed the Cayuga Reservation, and bore a conspicuous part in all the early improvements of the county. He was active in opening roads, improving streams, and establishing schools and churches, and being a man of sterling worth was early selected for important offices of trust. In 1794 he was appointed a justice of the peace for Manlius and one of the coroners of the county, and in 1797 received the appointment of sheriff. From 1799 till 1802 he held the office of county clerk, and for two years prior to this served in the State Legislature. He was also the first supervisor of the town of Manlius. His connection with the so-called conspiracy of Aaron Burr not only impaired his private fortune, but forever destroyed his prospects as a public man. His great influence, however, made a lasting impression upon the early life of Onondaga and entitles him to a foremost place as a worthy, active, and enterprising pioneer. His brother Job came here at an early day and died March 10, 1836, aged sixty-nine, leaving two sons, Orin and Asher. In 1811 Colonel Tyler moved with his family to Montezuma, where he became deeply interested in the Cayuga Manufacturing Company, which had been organized for the purpose of making salt. He served as assistant commissary-general with the rank of colonel, during the war of 1812-15, and afterwards took a deep interest in promoting and constructing the Erie Canal. He died in Montezuma on August 5, 1827. His first wife was Deborah Wemple, half-sister of General Herkimer. She died soon after their marriage, leaving one daughter, Deborah, who became the wife of Cornelius Longstreet, and the mother of the late Cornelius Tyler Longstreet, of Syracuse. Colonel Tyler married, second, Betsey Brown.
Closely following the Danforths and Colonel Tyler came John Brown and his family, Abijah Earll, Levi Hiscock, and Roderick Adams, all as early as 1789. Among other very early settlers were Job Tyler, Nicholas Mickles, Peter Ten Broeck, Joseph Forman, John Adams, Peter Young, General Lewis, George Kibbe, William H. Sabine, Dr. William Needham, Dr. Gordon Needham, Aaron Bellows, Joseph Swan, and George Hall, all of whom located at the Hollow. Nicholas Mickles was a noteworthy character in the pioneer history of Onondaga, and was especially distinguished for his public spirit and benevolence. He established the famous Onondaga furnace, one of the earliest enterprises of the kind in this region; and conducted it until his death in August, 1827. It stood on land now embraced in Elmwood Park. During the war of 1812 Mickles was employed to cast shot and shell for the army and navy, and on one occasion an order from the Secretary of War demanded that a vessel be dispatched from Oswego to the furnace to carry away a large quantity of this necessary ammunition. The reader will readily see the laughable mistake the secretary committed.
Many of the settlers previously mentioned came into the town before the treaty of 1793 had transferred the land from Indian to State ownership. They held their improvements by sufferance of the Onondagas. In 1796 John Cantine, assisted by Gideon Seeley, surveyed the territory and thenceforward titles to the soil were obtained. In the fall of the same year Gideon Seeley and Comfort Tyler went to Albany and bid off at auction twenty-one lots of 250 acres each at $2 per acre. Seeley also opened a road to the south line of the town and built a bridge across the west branch of Onondaga Creek. On this stream Turner Fenner built the first saw mill in what is now Onondaga in 1793, and in the next year Major Danforth erected a saw and grist mill on the subsequent Kirk farm. Dr. William Needham settled at the Hollow in 1793, becoming one of the earliest physicians in the county; his brother, Dr. Gordon Needham, located there in 1795 and opened the first school in town in 1796. They constructed what is now the dyke and the creek, and Dr. William also kept a store where Leonard Church recently took up his residence. In 1794 the first post-office in the county was established at Onondaga Hollow with Comfort Tyler as postmaster, and so late as 1812 mail was distributed from there to residents of Pompey, Manlius, Lysander, Camillus, Marcellus, Spafford, and Otisco. Colonel Tyler was succeeded by George Kibbe in 1801, George Hall in 1802, and Jasper Hopper in 1803. Mr. Kibbe opened the first store here in 1800; it was just below the site of the old arsenal.
Originally settlers found their way into this town by means of the Onondaga Creek, or over the old Indian trails, which ran through the valley as well as east and west. The first roads were attempted as early as 1791, when the first General Wadsworth and a party of immigrants opened in a crude manner what became the old State Road. It ran through Manlius village, entered the Onondaga valley at Danforth's, and thence passed westward up the hill south of St. Agnes cemetery. In 1797 the State took the road from Fort Schuyler to Geneva under the patronage, and on September 30 of that year it was so far improved that a stage leaving Fort Schuyler arrived in Geneva on the afternoon of the third day with four passengers. Three lotteries were authorized to raise $45,000 for the improvement of this thoroughfare, of which $13,000 should be expended between the two points named. In various acts this is designated "the Great Genesee Road," and in 1800 the Seneca Road Company was chartered for the purpose of maintaining it. At this time Comfort Tyler kept the tavern at the Hollow; it stood on the site of the present hotel on the east side of the valley. The road was tolled for many years and in early days presented a scene of great activity. It was long the chief thoroughfare between Albany and Buffalo, and over it passed innumerable stages, teams, and passengers. Several teams would often congregate at the foot of Onondaga hill waiting for assistance up that incline by a team kept there for that purpose. The road imparted a powerful influence to the growth of this town and its settled communities, and in fact inaugurated and maintained that period of prosperity which promised such brilliant achievements. On May 19, 1798, James Geddes, Nehemiah Earll, and Elisha Alvord, as commissioners, began the survey of a road from the salt springs along the east bank of the creek to the reservation, following an Indian trail. Soon afterward the old "cinder road," conforming to what is now West Onondaga street and Onondaga avenue in Syracuse and running up the west side of the stream, was opened; this subsequently became a part of the Chenango and Salina Turnpike, which was incorporated in 1807.
On the organization of the county in March, 1794, the town of Onondaga, as defined by an act passed four years later, formed parts of the civil towns of Marcellus, Pompey and Manlius, as then constituted. The subsequent changes in its territorial construction have already been noticed. In that year Thaddeus M. Wood opened at the Hollow the first law office in Onondaga county. He arrived in time to become associated with Asa Danforth, Comfort Tyler, William Laird, Medad Curtis, Parley Howlett, Judge Stevens, John Ellis and others in selecting a suitable location for the county seat. The Hollow had already attained the respectable proportions of a thriving village, but it was avoided for this ambitious project on account of the supposed greater healthfulness of Onondaga Hill, which duly received the coveted prize. This company of men made purchases on the Hill and employed Judge James Geddes to lay out the proposed village into lots and streets, with a suitable site reserved for a court house and jail. As early as 1795 William Laird became the first settler there, on lot 114, and also kept a tavern in his log house. He committed suicide by hanging in October, 1802. Jabez Webb and Nehemiah Earll located on the Hill in 1796, and later Mr. Earll built the large dwelling subsequently occupied by William P. Walker, a lawyer, and more recently by Oscar Britton; he was the first purchaser of lot 118, and in 1800 became the first postmaster. His brother, Jones, was a merchant in the old stone store there, and served as county sheriff, canal commissioner and State senator. Both were very prominent in the early life of the town, and the family is also intimately identified with the history of Skaneateles. Jabez Webb was felled by a falling tree in 1806.
The act creating this town authorized the first town meeting to be held at the house of Dr. Allen Beach, but for some unaccountable reason it convened at the dwelling of Major Danforth, who presided, in April, 1798. The first officers elected were:
Ephraim Webster, supervisor; Jabez Webb, town clerk; Samuel Searing, Daniel Earll and Seir Curtis, assessors; Elisha Alvord, Nehemiah Earll and Elijah Lawrence, commissioners of roads; William Gilleheis and Phineas Tyler, overseers of the poor; Cornelius Schouten, collector; Abijah Earll and Cornelius Schouten, constables; William Tyler and Josiah Allen, fence viewers; Joseph Hard, poundmaster; James Geddes, Leonard Bacon and Seir Curtis, school committee (evidently meant to be commissioners of schools). At this meeting the territory of the town was divided into six road districts and overseers selected from each, viz.: First, William Gilleheis; second, Levi Hiscock; third, Allen Beach; fourth, Grove Church; fifth, Josiah Allen; sixth, Gideon Sellers.
The only public measure acted on at this time related to swine, and it was voted, "in open meeting," that all swine be sufficiently yoked and allowed to run on the common. As early as 1803 a bounty of $5, in addition to the county bounty, was offered for every wolf killed. In 1807 fifty cents was offered for each fox and $10 for every panther slain, while in 1809 dogs were taxed $1. On April 29 of the latter year a special town meeting voted that every owner of land "cut to the center of the road the weeds commonly called 'tory' under a penalty of $5." Venomous reptiles, especially rattlesnakes, were also a source of much annoyance.
The supervisors of Onondaga have been as follows:
Ephraim Webster, 1798; James Geddes, 1799; Seir Curtis,
1800-04; Reuben Humphrey, 1805; Jabez Webb, 1806; George W. Olmsted, 1807-09;
Reuben Humphrey, 1810; George Hall, 1811-12; James Webb, 1813-14; Medad
Curtis, 1815-16; George Hall, 1817-18; Hezekiah Strong, 1819-24; George
Hall, 1825; Hezekiah Strong, 1826-27; Samuel Forman, 1828; Orrin Hutchinson,
1829-30; Rufus Cossit, 1831; Timothy Baker, 1832-34; Hiram King, 1835;
Albion Jackson, 1836-37; Rufus Cossit, 1838-39; Abner Chapman, 1840; Benjamin
S. Avery, 1841; James Longstreet, 1842; Seth Hutchinson, 1843; Orrin Boggs,
1844; Rufus Cossit, 1845; James Longstreet, 1846; Ariel L. Taylor, 1847;
David Lyon, 1848; Rufus Cossit, 1849; James Betts, 1850; Cicero Baker,
1851; Seth Hutchinson, 1852-53; Anson W. Evans, 1854; Jesse Salmon, 1855;
Abner Chapman, 1856; John J. Hopper, 1857; Matthias Britton, 1858; Horace
Hitchins, 1859; Rufus Cossit, 1860; John J. Hopper, 1857; Matthias Britton,
1858; Horace Hitchins, 1859; Rufus Cossit, 1860; John J. Hopper, 1861;
Jared W. Parsons, 1862; John F. Clark, 1863; George Raynor, 1864-65; Erastus
B. Phillips, 1866; Jared W. Parsons, 1867; John M. Strong, 1868-69; Davis
Cossitt, 1870-72; Harvey P. Tolman, 1873; Matthias Britton, 1874; Pulaski
Fellows, 1875; George W. Spaulding, 1876; Joshua K. Comstock, 1877; James
C. Rann, 1878-80; Frank N. Dickinson, 1881-83; Jonathan Wyckoff, 1884-85;
James Hunter, 1886; John Q. Fellows, 1887-90; Elmer J. Clark, 1891-92;
William H. Turner, 1893-95.
The village of Onondaga Hollow seemed to lose very little if any of its thrift and prosperity. It continued for a time to increase in size, influence, and enterprise, and had the proud distinction of claiming many prominent citizens of the town and county as residents. Thaddeus M. Wood, the pioneer lawyer in all this region, located and opened an office there in 1794. He was born in Lenox, Mass., March 9, 1772, was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1790, became a lieutenant-colonel in 1809, and served with honor during the war of 1812. He was made brigadier-general in 1818 and a major-general in 1820, owned great tracts of land in the county, and died at the Hollow on January 10, 1836. He made the address of welcome to La Fayette at the Hill in June, 1825. General Wood, in 1800, married Patty Danforth, daughter of Major Danforth, and the first white child to settle in Onondaga county. She died in 1854, aged seventy-four years. They had four sons and four daughters, of whom Maria married Charles A. Baker, whose youngest child, Miss Cornelia A. Baker, resides in Syracuse.
Joshua Forman, the subsequent founder of the city of Syracuse, came to Onondaga Valley (as the Hollow as afterwards called) in the spring of 1800, and for twenty-five years was one of the foremost men in the locality. He was born in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., September 6, 1777, was educated at Union College, and having been admitted to the bar opened a law office here immediately after his arrival. In 1803 he induced his father, Joseph Forman, and wife, and their sons Samuel, John, Ward, and Owen, to come here and settle. Joseph Forman purchased 400 acres of land on the west side of the creek and south of Card's Hotel, where he built a mill that was burned in 1888, and where he died January 15, 1824, aged seventy-two. Joshua Forman located in what was then the larger settlement on the east side, and having seen his father settled proceeded to build up the intervening space. He erected a tavern and the later Searl house and also the dwelling afterward owned by his law partner, William H. Sabine, who came here about 1801. Judge Forman also owned a large tract of land between the valley and Salina. He was very active in the organization and support of churches and the academy, and influenced every important enterprise for miles around. In 1807 he leased from the surveyor-general a water privilege at Oswego Falls and built the first grist mill between Salina and Oswego. In 1808 he founded the plaster company which developed the plaster beds of Camillus. In 1813 he was made first judge of the Onondaga Common Pleas and filled that office for ten years. In the same year he constructed a dyke at the valley, excavated for the pond, and erected an excellent grist mill there. In 1819 Judge Forman removed to Syracuse and later to New Jersey, whence he went in 1829 to North Carolina, where he died August 4, 1848. His many other public acts and enterprises are noticed elsewhere in this work. Owen Forman became a surveyor and accompanied the judge to his Southern home. On the land which John Forman purchased, on the west bank of the creek, was a tannery that had been established by John Adams, a prominent figure in the early history of the Valley. Mr. Forman was a successful tanner and produced leather that gained a wide reputation. He long kept the tavern at the foot of the hill, which was presided over by his wife and four daughters, one of whom became the wife of Lyman C. Dorwin's father, who died July 17, 1825, aged sixty-nine, and whose son Richard died April 19, 1871, at the age of seventy-eight. John Forman died September 17, 1852, aged sixty-six. One of his daughters married William Forman, son of Samuel. Samuel Forman, a lawyer, built the brick house more recently owned by William Hamilton, and died September 7, 1852, aged sixty-four years. Ward Forman was also a lawyer and lived on the Marlette place, but finally moved to Seneca Falls and died there.
The designation of Onondaga as the shire town of the county brought
to the two villages a number of lawyers whose influence was felt throughout
the entire region. They were men of character and worth, of the strictest
integrity, and in the court house, the office, or the tavern, the lights
of the profession burned brightly. Among the other noteworthy practitioners
were George Hall, who settled at the Valley in1802 and for more than twenty
years was a partner of Thaddeus M. Wood; William H. Sabine, who died September
4, 1863, leaving three sons, Joseph, William, and Joshua R.; Medad Curtis,
who first located at the Valley, but moved to the Hill in 1803, became
surrogate in 1810, and held various town offices; Jasper Hopper, noticed
a little later on; Daniel Moseley, a student of Forman & Sabine, who
came to the Hill in 1818, lived where John Q. Fellows resides, became judge
of the Supreme Court, and died October 3, 1851, leaving sons Charles and
William T., the latter an early merchant there; B. Davis Noxon, who settled
at the Hill about 1812, moved with the county buildings to Syracuse in
1829, and died May 13, 1869, being the father of five sons, of whom James
was elevated to the Supreme Court bench; and Rufus Cossitt, who came to
the town in 1818 and soon located on the farm now occupied by Maj. Davis
Cossitt. Mr. Cossitt was a brother-in-law of B. Davis Noxon and died
at the Hill on August 27, 1878. Jasper Hopper of Holland Dutch descent,
was born in New York city on June 10, 1770, and served as deputy secretary
of state from 1791 to 1802, when he was appointed clerk of Onondaga county,
an office he filled, except one year, until 1818. He was military
storekeeper at the arsenal during and after the war of 1812, one of the
founders and an original and lifelong trustee of the old academy, and served
as postmaster at Onondaga Hollow for nineteen years, dying there June 30,
1848. He was a man of rare moral worth and ability and an influential
citizen in early Onondaga.
In 1802 Joseph Wadsworth bought about 200 acres of land between Onondaga Hill and the present poorhouse. His son Ambrose was a cooper, while Ambrose S., a son of the latter, became a carpenter and builder, and assisted in the erection of a large number of buildings in the village.
Oliver R. Strong came to the Hill in 1802, and in November of that year opened the first school in a log structure which stood near the old court house site. The school was continued there during three winter terms. He became county judge, deputy sheriff, etc., and died in Syracuse, October 3, 1873. He lived opposite the old hotel, recently burned, on the place latterly occupied by Charles Bryant. His brother, Hezekiah Strong, kept a store for several years in a building afterward used as a horse barn, directly opposite the tavern site. This store was afterward conducted by Charles Potter, and still later by Edward Strong, a son of Hezekiah. He was father of Col. John M. Strong, now living in Syracuse.
On November 26, 1803, St. John's church was organized at the Hill by Rev. Davenport, the pioneer missionary of Central and Western New York. It was the first Episcopal parish formed in the county. Services were continued until 1840, and it was here that Abram La Fort was married in 1828. On January 3, 1816, St. John's was succeeded by Zion's church. Several year ago the building was removed, the bell going to Syracuse and the organ to Christ church, Jordan. Rev. Mr. Geer, better known as Father Geer, was long a rector here, and often preached to the Indians.
The old hotel was built and kept for a time by Josiah Bronson, sr., father of Josiah, jr., and grandfather of Mrs. Dr. Tefft. Other landlords were a Mr. Ingalls, Mr. Giddings, Zebulon Rust, George Rust, Philo N. Rust (afterwards a noted landlord in Syracuse), Allen Taylor, Jonathan Stanley, jr., Augustus Norton, Charles Potter, Jonathan Langworthy and John W. Stackhouse. It was on the piazza of this well known hostelry that General La Fayette stood in June, 1825, to listen to the address of welcome from Thaddeus M. Wood, before going to the city to meet a similar welcome. The building was burned in 1884, under the ownership of Major Davis Cossitt.
Zebulon Rust was the first butcher in the village, and was the father of George, Philo N. and Charles, the latter being a cabinet maker, having his shop on the site of the George Curtis house, which he built.
Captain James Beebe, who was drowned September 12, 1812, aged sixty years, kept a tavern near the court house; subsequently Judge Jonathan Stanley and Major William A. Cook were its landlords, and more recently John Wright occupied it as a dwelling. Daniel Case had another hotel, and later had a wagon shop, and died October 20, 1840. Still another public house was kept by a Mr. Cheney, who was a hatter by trade.
The location of the court house at the Hill gave a great impetus to settlement and business operations. Lawyers, doctors, merchants and others came in rapidly, until, at one time, it is said, the place contained seven public houses, eight stores and numerous shops, etc. About 1810 the village consisted of about forty houses, stores and other buildings, while the Hollow comprised some sixty-five such structures, "an elegant meeting house," an "air furnace" and 350 inhabitants, principally mechanics. At this time the whole town contained 3, 745 population, including seventeen slaves and 201 electors.
Education and religion were two elements of civilization to which the early settlers of Onondaga gave practical and earnest attention. From documents it is learned that four societies were organized in the county and perhaps in this town during the first decade of this century, as follows: Onondaga Religious Society, April 19,1802; Onondaga Religious Society, June 4, 1804; Onondaga Religious Society, August 5, 1805, and Onondaga Hollow Religious Society, November 8, 1809. Of the first three little or nothing is known.
The First Presbyterian church was organized at the Hill prior to 1806 by Joshua Forman, Jasper Hopper, John Ellis, Jonas C. Baldwin, Oliver R. Strong, Jonah Ellis and John Adams, who met in the log tavern kept by Daniel Earll. Their first pastors were Revs. Higgins and Healy. Rev. Dirck C. Lansing was called and settled in 1806, and Rev. Jabez Chadwick in 1811. In 1819 an edifice was erected and is still standing. The inception of this church is believed to have been due to the missionary labors of Rev. Samuel Kirkland, who, it is also believed, was the first minister to preach the gospel in this county. The Onondaga Hollow Religious Society (Presbyterian) had for its first trustees John Adams, Aaron Bellows, Nicholas Mickles, Joshua Forman and Thaddeus M. Wood. At the organization George Hall and Joseph Swan presided; the latter was chosen secretary, and held that office until as late as 1850. Henry Bogardus and Mr. Bellows were the first deacons, and among other original members were Judson Webb, Charlotte Hopper, Sally Mickles, Hannah Danforth, Sally Sabine, Agnes Conklin, William C. Gasley, Joseph W. Brewster, Richard Lord, Deborah Longstreet, Sarah Leavenworth, Polly Raynor, Julia Pattison, John Ainsley and William H. Sabine. In February, 1810, Rev. Dirck C. Lansing was installed their first pastor, and remained in charge until May, 1814. Subsequent early pastors were Revs. Ebenezer J. Leavenworth, Samuel T. Mills, James H. Mills, Washington Thatcher, Elijah Buck, Moses Ingalls, Abel Cutler, Mr. Howell, George H. Hulin and William C. Collins. The church edifice was built in 1810, and has been in constant use ever since. The site was donated by William H. Sabine, as was also the academy lot in the rear.
In the preceding narrative mention is made of many early settlers to whose energy and perseverance the development of this region is largely due, but so far attention has been confined almost wholly to the village on the hill and that in the valley. While these centers of activity were coming into existence other portions of the town were filling up with an equally energetic class of citizens, many of whom or whose children became prominent in local and county affairs. The pioneers of Onondaga found themselves in a heavy and almost unbroken forest, consisting of maple, birch, beech, hemlock, pine, elm, oak, hickory, ash, etc. Here and there, notably on the Lewis and Young farms, they discovered Indian clearings, while on West Hill was an old orchard. These, together with the interesting historical associations, the discovery of evidences of former occupation, the rare picturesqueness of lofty hills and graceful valleys, and the fertile resources on every hand, made the locality particularly attractive. But the lowlands were first sought by incoming settlers, the higher elevations being left for later arrivals. The first few years were devoted to clearing off the timber, which was at first burned to ashes, from which potash or blacksalts was manufactured, and later into lumber, and as the forests receded agriculture gradually became the leading occupation of the people, the soil, a clayey, sandy, and gravelly loam, being peculiarly adapted to the purpose. At one time, however, in the early days of salt manufacture, coopering formed quite an important interest, and many of the earlier salt barrels were supplied from this vicinity. But the industries of the town, as will be seen by these pages, were for many years both varied and extensive.
Slavery, which at that time was common almost throughout the State, existed here until about 1830, though in only isolated instances. The negro Jack, brought in and owned by major Danforth, has been noticed. In 1810 there were seventeen slaves in the town. In 1815 John Ellis filed this declaration: "I am the owner of a negro boy named Peter Baker, the said boy being the son of Cries Baker (so called), a female slave also owned by me, of which I require registry to be made." On April 11, 1826, the overseers of the poor, Charles Barber and Israel Kenyon, certified that application had been duly made to them "for the purpose of manumitting a colored male slave named Thomas," formerly the property of Jasper Hopper. Again, on May 22 following emancipation was likewise granted to Anthony, man slave of William H. Sabine. As early as 1814 Judge Geddes declared on the public records that James De Groat and William Sisco, both colored, were to be regarded as free men. In 1816 Joshua Forman certified William Day to be a free man.
In the south part of the town settlement began before 1800, and there came such pioneers as Ebenezer Conklin, Phineas Sparks, Gideon Seeley, Gilbert Pinckney, Turner Fenner, and Amasa Chapman. Later settlers were John Clark, Obadiah Nichols, John Carpenter, Zebulon Rust, Henry Frost, Oliver Cummings, Joseph Warner, Isaac Parmater, and Daniel Chafee, all before 1805. In this locality occurred a grand wolf hunt and "round up" in 1807, when Zebulon Rust and Melancthon Danks, father-in-law of Ephraim Webster, led their respective parties. The entire mountain side off toward Navarino was scoured in the search for game, and although one full night and day were occupied by the hunters they captured just two half-starved wolves. After this the local authorities increased the bounty from $5 to $10, and one spectator, a lawyer, declared that if it took twenty-two sound and hearty men a night and a day to capture two wolves the resources of the town would not be seriously taxed.
In various parts of the town the following may be mentioned as noteworthy settlers:
In 1797, Moses Fowler, from Connecticut, who died in 1868. In 1800, John P. Robinson, died in 1870. In 1801, J. Hunt, from Connecticut; Levi Pitts, uncle to Levi, of Syracuse, died January 20, 1856, aged ninety-one. In 1802, John Henderson. In 1804, Chester Fellows, died in 1865; John F. Clark, from Massachusetts. In 1805, Lewis Amidon, died in 1876; William Metcalf Clarke, from Massachusetts; and David Chafee, George Hull, and Volney King. In 1806, Elisha D. Sabin, from Vermont; Samuel Kingsley, from Massachusetts; and Clark W. Kenyon. In 1807, David Hunt, died in 1874. In 1808, Nathan C. Eaton, Eli Anderson, Josiah T. Northway, and William Rose. In 1810, George B. Cornish, died 1867. In 1811, C. C. Conklin. In 1812, J. De Witt Rose, Augustus Reed (died in 1875). In 1813, William Raynor, Jonathan Kneeland, and Orrin Green. In 1814, George C. Hopper, Marcus G. Clark. Closely following these came Nathan Covell (died in 1876), Enoch Kenyon, Russell L. Kenyon (died in 1877), Reuben W. Lincoln (died in 1875), Augustus C. Kenyon, Joshua Chafee, George Anderson, Lemuel G. Clark (died in 1870), Cicero Baker (died in 1870), and Chauncey P. Cornish.
Among other pioneers and early settlers were Arthur Pattison, Samuel Tyler, Peter Young, Elijah Lawrence, Jabez Webb, Seir Curtis, William Gilleheis, Phineas Tyler, Cornelius Schouten, Allen Beach, Grove Church, Josiah Allen, Joseph Hard, Leonard Bacon; and Nathaniel Potter, who died July 12, 1869, father of Lyman; Bensley Mann, father of Enoch; Joseph and Ezra Bryant, two miles south of Onondaga Hill; Levi Huntington, father of Lewis, Andrew, and Jeremiah (father of Edward and Asa); Silas Carpenter, father of Charles Carpenter and Mrs. John Wright; Walker and Noah Knapp, son of Eben K.; William Partridge, on the De Witt Randall farm, father of Edwin, Bidwell, Theodore, and George B.; James Hutchinson, father of Orrin (father of Capt. Charles), James, and Seth, died March 24, 1826; Porter D. Lawrence, opposite Hutchinson; Ebenezer White, died April 10, 1839, father of Royal, who died May 10, 1871, both aged about seventy-four; John Morse who died in 1816; John Raynor, father of William, Jacob, and John; Giles Cornish, a justice of the peace and long a surveyor; and Parley Howlett, jr., father of Alfred A. Howlett, of Syracuse.
Parley Howlett, sr., came to Onondaga Hollow in 1797, but immediately settled in the northwest corner of the town on what has ever since been known as Howlett Hill. He died there six years later. Parley, jr., was born in Shaftsbury, Vt., June 1, 1784. At one time he owned 300 acres of land in this locality, his deed for a part of it being one of the first ever recorded in the county clerk's office. He engaged also in manufacturing salt at Geddes, having finally thirty-two kettle-blocks, and was the first to ship salt west, boating it down the rivers to Oswego, thence by the lake, and drawing it around Niagara Falls by teams. Exchanging his salt for horses and cattle he would kill the latter and pack the meat for eastern markets. He shipped the first beef and pork in barrels, by the Erie Canal, that was sent east from this county. He died May 18, 1861.
Cornelius Longstreet came from New Jersey to Onondaga Hill about 1802 and opened a general store. He died about 1814. In 1805 he married Deborah, daughter of Comfort Tyler, whose death occurred in 1826. His son, the late Cornelius T., was the youngest of their five children. Another son, James, who died May 22, 1873, had a plaster mill where the old Mickles furnace stood and was superintendent of the poor for many years. He was the father of Rev. Joseph B., Rev. Oliver, and Cornelius.
At least thirty-seven soldiers of the Revolutionary war were at different times residents of the town of Onondaga, among them being:
William Abbe, John Balch, Jesse Bannister, Richard Caton, Ebenezer Covil, Solomon Huntley, Ebenezer Moore, William McCraken, Ozias Northway (tavernkeeper), Gideon Pitts, Richard Reed, Benjamin Robinson, Simeon Smith, Samuel Stone, John Walter, Elisha Waters, Capt. James Beebe, Jonathan Belding, George Clarke, Jabez Cole, Jonathan Conkling, Major Asa Danforth, William Evans, John Ellis, Major-Gen. Ephraim Hall, Justus Johnson, David Lawrence, Caleb Potter, Simeon Phares, Daniel Peck, Benoni Reynolds, Jacob Sammons, Gideon Seeley, Comfort Tyler, Peter Ten Broeck, and Ephraim Webster.
Captain Beebe owned and kept a tavern near the court house, and in the war of 1812 kept the arsenal at the valley. While returning from a trip to Oswego he was drowned near Lysander. His children were Hepsibah, Lewis, Electa (wife of Victory Birdseye), Betsey, and another daughter. Benoni Reynolds died in his one hundredth year and was buried at South Onondaga, where Gideon Seeley and David Lawrence are also interred.
The war of 1812-15 created, perhaps, greater excitement and laid events for more local history in this town than in any other subdivision of Onondaga county. An act of 1808 authorized the governor of New York to deposit here five hundred stand of arms and such other military stores as would be necessary in case of an invasion. Four years passed, however, before a suitable place for storing such munitions was secured. In 1812 the old stone arsenal, the walls of which are now crumbling away, was erected on the hillside east of and overlooking the valley and village. During the war it served as a military storehouse, but soon afterward fell into disuse. It is one of the oldest and most interesting landmarks in Central New York, and recently some people historically inclined have seriously suggested that it be restored and preserved. Its presence here made this an important center while the struggle raged along the Canadian border; and at the same time it aroused great patriotism among the inhabitants of the region. General Wood mustered a command and went to Oswego; Major Moseley took his battalion to Sackett's Harbor; Captain Kellogg left with a company of rifles for Chippewa; and Capt. Ephraim Webster, with La Fort, the brave, and three hundred Onondagas, started for Niagara, where La Fort was mortally wounded. Immediately after the war came the famous 'cold season" of 1816, which caused no little suffering from a general scarcity of provisions. There was frost every month in the year and nearly every crop was ruined.
While these events transpired a project was consummated which had not only immediate influence upon the town, but which has ever since been a useful and noble factor in the moral and social life of the county. This was the Onondaga Academy--an institution that sent out from its now ancient walls a host of men and women into every field of activity, many of them to fill prominent stations in civil and public affairs. The academy had its inception at a meeting held in the Hollow (1) on August 15, 1812, when subscriptions to both a building and an endowment fund were started. Among the principal subscribers to these funds were Joshua Forman, John Adams, Thaddeus M. Wood, Nicholas Mickles, Joseph Forman, Rev. Dirck C. Lansing, William H. Sabine, Cornelius Longstreet, Jasper Hopper, Joseph Swan, Judson Webb, and George Hall. The institution was incorporated by the Regents on April 10, 1813, the first board of trustees being Rev. Caleb Alexander, president; Jasper Hopper, secretary; Joseph Forman, Rev. Dirck C. Lansing, William H. Sabine, Joseph Swan, Thaddeus M. Wood, Dr. Gordon Needham, Jacobus De Puy, Cornelius Longstreet, Judson Webb, George Hall, Dan Bradley, Oliver R. Strong, Nicholas Mickles, and John Adams. The building was erected in 1814 on land donated by William H. Sabine, and endowed by the State with literature lot No. 9, Lysander. Rev. Caleb Alexander, a man of extensive learning and varied acquirements, and the author of several educational works, etc., became the first principal, and died here in April, 1828, aged seventy-two years. He had been elected first president of Hamilton College, but declined the honor, and was largely instrumental in founding Fairfield Academy. It is to him that the inception and successful establishment of the old Onondaga institution is mainly due. He and Rev. Mr. Lansing cherished the hope of founding here a theological seminary and their views were shared in part by the other originators, but the plan failed to materialize and the continuance of the academy resulted. After the removal of the county seat to Syracuse and the existence of our present public school system its old-time prestige waned, and under an act passed April 28, 1866, a union free school was organized with George B. Clark, M. Roland Markham, James Longstreet, Ralph Chaffe, Thomas K. Clark, Richard R. Slocum, Cornell Crysler, Nathaniel Bostwick, and Truman K. Fuller as trustees. On May 15 of that year the prudential board transferred the entire control of the academy to the new board of education. The name Onondaga Academy is retained; the academic department has never lost its identity and is still under the direction of the Regents.
The first public school inspectors, elected in 1812, were Oliver R. Strong, Charles J. Merriman, Medad Curtis, Pulaski Wing, Reuben Humphrey, and Rev. Caleb Alexander. In 1813 the town comprised eighteen school districts, which in 1830 numbered thirty-four, in 1845 thirty-four, in 1860 twenty-eight, and at the present time twenty-seven.
The first two newspapers in the county were established in Manlius and third had its home at Onondaga Hollow. This was the Lynx, which was started in December, 1811, by Thomas Crittenden Fay, who took for his motto "Liberty and My Native Country," and closed his prospectus with the words: "I shall endeavor to promote the nation's interest with the industry of a Beaver, while I watch its interest with the eyes of a Lynx." In Fay's office Thurlow Weed gained his first knowledge of the printer's art, serving within the space of a year as devil, printer, journeyman, editor, and proprietor. On the 17th of September, 1814, by which time the Lynx had ceased publication, Lewis H. Redfield issued the first number of the Onondaga Register, a weekly of Federal proclivities, which he successfully continued at the Valley until May, 1829, when he moved it with his family to Syracuse. Mr. Redfield was a powerful political writer and commanded wide respect. He is regarded as the Nestor of Onondaga journalism. He built in 1812 the present M. E. parsonage for a family dwelling. The only other paper founded at the Valley was the Citizens' Press, which was started in 1832 by Russell Webb and James S. Castle, but which after about six months was discontinued.
In 1816 Evander Morse established the Onondaga Gazette at the Hill and intrusted its editorial charge to William Ray, who was also a poet. Cephas McConnell afterward became proprietor and in August, 1821, changed its name to the Onondaga Journal. In 1827 Vivus W. Smith, father of Hon. Carroll E. Smith, of Syracuse, took possession and two years later moved it with the county seat to the city.
In 1819, on May 4, the first agricultural society in the county was formed at the Hill with Dan Bradley, president; Squire Munro, Martin Cossitt and Augustus Wheaton, vice-presidents; Job Tyler, recording secretary; George Hall and E. Yelverton, corresponding secretaries; Leonard Bacon, treasurer. The first fair was held at the Hollow on November 2 of that year, when premiums amounting to over $200 were awarded.
The Hill village has had as merchants Reuben West, who came here with
Simeon West in 1805 and in 1826 built the stone store; James Mann, a partner
at one time of Joel Dickinson, they being burned out in October 1820, after
which Mr. Mann kept a tavern; John Meeker, who had several other stores
in the county; Mrs. William McLauren, whose husband died soon after their
arrival, but who completed the store and continued business some time;
Sylvester Munger, a jeweler; Maj. John Ellis, who built a carding mill
and saw mill on the brook; Charles and Harry Easton, whose store became
the dwelling of Andrew J. Betts; and William T. Moseley, John W. Stackhouse,
Hezekiah and Oliver Strong, Charles Potter, and Samuel Howe. Among
the physicians were Drs. Mann and Healey, partners; Drs. Salmon Thayer,
Stewart, Jared Parker, George Smith, John Miller, N. R. Tefft, and E. W.
Phillips. There were blacksmiths Augustus and Roger Billings;
wagonmakers, Roger Billings, and William P. Morse; harnessmakers, Silas
Ames and Franklin S. Hovey; shoemaker, a Mr. Rowland; tailors, C. A. H.
Wells, familiarly known as "Alphabet" Wells, and Harry Dodge, who became
famous in the Mississippi Valley and throughout the country as "Duplee"
Dodge, the gambler. Moses Johnson and Ebenezer Wilson early built
a wagon shop, carried on a store, and had a distillery. Moses was
the father of John Holland Johnson, who owned a large tract of land on
West Onondaga street and died in 1868. Recent merchants are Thomas
Mansfield and Charles N. Bryant, a grandson of Ezra Bryant. Simeon
West built the present hotel.
During the first quarter of this century the villages of Onondaga Hill and Hollow were thrifty and prosperous centers of activity. Each had its important interests, and while there existed a spirit of good natured rivalry between their inhabitants, there was never that feeling of bitterness, even before or during the location of the county seat, which has been ascribed by some writers. Many prominent citizens were financially as well as socially interested in the welfare of both places. When Judge Forman first became interested in the Erie Canal it is said that he endeavored to interest the people of the Valley with the view of turning the course of that ditch through their village, but, like the inhabitants of Salina, they met the scheme with ridicule, and forever lost the one grand opportunity of becoming a city. After the completion of the canal, and the incorporation of Syracuse village in 1825, the two villages waned, and thenceforward never regained their former prestige nor commercial importance. The removal of the county seat to Syracuse in 1829 blasted every ambition which the Hill may have entertained. Then followed a general exodus of professional and business men to the future city, leaving the original shire town of the county shorn of its prospects, of its once promising features, and of its proud distinction. The Hill suffered more from this event than its sister village in the valley, yet the latter soon experienced a gradual decline, although it had the academy to give it prominence. The canal had less influence upon the farming sections of this town than upon those of other towns in the county.
In 1835 the Hill contained two churches, the old court house and clerk's office, two taverns, four stores, and about forty-five dwellings, while the Hollow comprised two churches, a grist and saw mill, the academy, three taverns, one store and about sixty dwellings.
Attention is now directed to the south and west parts of Onondaga, which had become prosperous localities even before many of the preceding events took shape. In the vicinity of South Onondaga, known in early days as South Onondaga Hollow, were such pioneers as Gideon Seeley, Phineas Sparks, Ebenezer Conklin, Turner Fenner, Gilbert Pinckney, Amasa Chapman, Obadiah Nichols, John Clark, Henry Frost, John Carpenter, John F. Clark (member of assembly in 1851), Silas Field (father of Leonard P.), John Hitchings (father of Horace, who died in 1870), Thomas Fowler (father of Moses, a soldier of 1812, whose sons were Maxwell T., Gideon D. and Moses, jr.), Abner Chapman, Daniel Chafee, Joseph Warner, Oliver Cummings and Isaac Parmater. Abner Chapman was a captain in the State militia, nearly thirty years a justice of the peace, member of assembly in 1861, and died June 18, 1873, aged seventy-five. The settlement of these and others gave existence to the hamlet of South Onondaga, which in 1835 contained a Presbyterian church, about thirty-five dwellings and the following business interests: Oliver Jones, tavern; A. H. Bradley and Elijah Lawrence, merchants; Elijah Welch, miller; Orlando Fuller, cloth manufacturer; Stephen Betts, tanner; Amasa Chapman, sr., brick manufacturer; Allen Rice and Stephen Field, blacksmiths; Himas Wood, tailor; Dr. Samuel Kingsley, physician and postmaster; Olmsted Quick, shoemaker; Amasa Chapman, jr., mason; Ira Rue, wagonmaker; Leonard Hodgkins and Volney Ring, cabinet makers; Abner Chapman, justice and school teacher; Alanson West, constable, and E. L. North, M. E. preacher. In 1845 the place contained two meeting houses, two grist mills, two saw mills, clothing works, post-office, etc. The old Presbyterian church is now used as a public hall, and the grist mills are operated by Martin Mason and Adelbert Hulbert. Day Brothers and Lyman P. Judson are merchants. The M. E. church was organized about 1816, and among its early members were Wilson Newman, Volney and Salina King, Phebe Bradley, Joseph O. Seeley, Francis Hamilton, Roswell Kenyon and Sterling Cole. In 1827 an edifice was erected by the united efforts of citizens, and some ten years later the Methodists built a brick church of their own. A temperance society was organized here about 1836 and continued in existence for more than forty years, one of its leading members and long-time president being Abner Chapman. Daniel Pinckney, Indian agent, W. W. Newman, a prominent educator, and Dr. Jonathan Kneeland, almost the oldest physician in the county, are prominent among the citizenship of to-day.
In the southwest part of the town a little rural hamlet sprung up through the manufacture of grain cradles, which gave it the name of Cradleville. Here members of the Chafee family made that popular and useful implement for many years. This family has been numerous and prominent in Onondaga history. There were David, sr., David, jr., Ralph, Abner, Comfort T., Guy, George, William H., Joshua, another George, Byron R., another David, and Daniel, who settled on lot 199 in 1800. Cradleville was originally called East Navarino. The Onondaga Baptist church of this place was organized in the barn of Ephraim Hall, at Hall's Corners (Navarino), in June, 1812, with twenty-four members, Silas Church and Sylvester Olney being the first deacons. Among the early pastors were Elders Elkannah Comstock, Israel Hodge, Solomon Gardner, D. D. Chittenden, E. P. Dye and William Powers. An edifice was built in 1822-23 and is still in use, having been remodeled in 1871. The parsonage was erected in 1834.
The site of Navarino was settled in 1799 by Shubael and Sarah Hall, who built their log house about one-half mile south of the corners. They owned 250 acres of land, upon which their sons, Shubael, jr., and George, afterward lived. Here the old State road and the road from Marcellus to Amber intersected, and the cross-roads hamlet early took the name of Hall's Corners. In 1835 it contained these business enterprises: Freeman North, tavern; Andrew Cummings, merchant; Morris Wells, tailor; Jehiel Hall & Son, foundry; Clark Bentley, shoemaker; William Weed, gunsmith; George Andrews, blacksmith; George Enney, harnessmaker; Bradley Curtis, broom factory; Dr. A. B. Edwards, physician; Oren Hall, postmaster. William Briggs was long a prominent citizen here, and "Uncle" Joshua Chafee labored assiduously to secure a passable road over the "Hogback" hill, so earnestly in fact that it was popularly termed his "hobby." The broom factory has been operated many years, and more recently there were three or four shops, an M. E. church, a saw and cider mill and the stores of Mark H. Fellows and Martin L. Gardner. Lee A. Cummings succeeded Byron C. Grinnell as postmaster. Before these Theophilus Hall held the office.
The hamlet of Cedarvale is of later existence, its chief features being a large roller flour and feed mill owned by John Balcomb and the store of William Hull. The M. E. church here was organized and built about 1840. Among its early members were Ezra Lounsbury, Volney King, John Evans and wife, the Kenyon family, and Alexander Browning.
E. F. Lounsbury was appointed postmaster May 13, 1873; others are Willis G. Hull and Miss R. A. Lounsbury.
Howlett Hill became a post-office prior to 1835, in which year B. H. Case was postmaster. Here in January, 1804, was organized the first Baptist church in the town under the name of the First Baptist church of Onondaga. It commenced with six male and seven female members and Samuel Stone and Jacob Lawrence as deacons. Soon afterward Elder Ebenezer Harrington became the pastor. In 1814 Elder Joseph Moore was settled over the church and remained in charge for thirteen years at an annual salary of $100. In 1821 an edifice was built and dedicated, and about 1848 the society moved to Camillus village. In 1830 and again in 1833 members were dismissed to form Baptist churches at Belle Isle and Onondaga Hill respectively. The lot on which this church stood was deeded to the society by Leonard Caton upon the condition that it revert to him or his heirs when they abandoned it. After the removal he redeeded the property to the Universalists, who had formed an organization with John T. Robinson, president; Wheeler Truesdell, secretary; John and B. H. Case, J. Q. and David Robinson, Eliphas and Giles Case, Charles Land, Eusephus Lawrence, and others. Rev. Nelson Brown was the first pastor.
At a comparatively early day Eleazer Loomis settled upon and gave his name to Loomis hill, in the west part of the town, where about 1845 he built an M. E. church, on the spire of which was placed a life-sized figure of an angel, in brass. The whole was an enterprise of the founder. Meanwhile an M. E. society had been formed at Reservation hill as early as 1820 by Aaron Preston, a local preacher, among the first members being Aaron Cornell, Thorn Dubois, Benjamin Snow, Cornelius Miller, and John Woodward and their wives, and Mrs. Mary Barnum. In 1847 a meeting house was erected at a cost of about $1,600.
Among other residents of the town may be mentioned Cypean Hebard, who died September 28, 1863, aged seventy-eight; L. Wiard Marsh, son of Capt. Elisha Marsh, a captain in the war of 1812, and the father of Prof. Grove L. Marsh, of Syracuse; he was born at Onondaga Hill on May 4, 1821, and died November 6, 1895; Henry Card, postmaster at the Valley; Benjamin F. Churchill, a merchant there; John Q. Fellows, son of Chester, who was born on the Fellows homestead in 1841 and is both farmer and surveyor; Ezekiel Newman, father of William Wilson Newman, and for nearly forty years class-leader in the South Onondaga M. E. church; William Carpenter, father of Judge Charles; Dr. George T. Clark, son of Levi Clark and Martha, daughter of Capt. Turner Fenner, his wife; Elias B. Bradley, who died in 1858; Theophilus Hall, grandson of Azariah and son of Oren; Jeremiah Everringham, father of Mrs. Abner Chapman and five other children; Jared W. Parsons, son of Jared and Electa; A. G. Wyckoff, son of Jonathan, of Skaneateles; and Dea. Jerathmael Hunt, son of John. Levi Clark made the first "grapevine" cradle ever used, and for many years he and his sons manufactured this article of husbandry.
In 1845 the town contained 1,050 voters, 441 militia, 79 paupers (poorhouse included), 1,324 school children, 30,898 acres of improved land, five grist mills, eight saw mills, a fulling mill, one carding machine, a woolen factory, an iron foundry, two asheries, one tannery, ten churches, eight taverns, eight stores, two groceries, 609 farmers, 129 mechanics, seven physicians, and two attorneys. The county poor farm, located on lot 87, originally contained about 145 acres and was purchased of Josiah Bronson in 1826. The poor house was built in 1827, the main building erected in 1854, and a stone structure for the asylum put up in 1860 (replaced by another stone building in 1868). Extensive improvements were added in 1866, 1867, 1871, 1873, and since.
During the war of the Rebellion (1861-65) the town of Onondaga made a most brilliant record. A large number of her patriotic sons enlisted in the Union army and navy, and served with both honor and distinction. Many of them were killed in battle or died of disease, but to one and all is due that gratitude which characterizes true American liberty.
The remaining history of Onondaga is brief. On December 21, 1874, the village of Danforth, so named in honor of Asa Danforth, was incorporated with Edward Abeel, president; he was succeeded by Truman K. Fuller, and after five years the latter was followed by Edward P. Glass. The principal owners of this tract were Charles A. Baker, George Raynor, and Mrs. Robert Furman. In February, 1887, the village became a part of the city of Syracuse, as did also a portion of Oakwood Cemetery.
In 1872 Rev. Dr. O'Hara purchased about forty acres of land near Elmwood for burial purposes, and soon afterward St. Agnes Roman Catholic cemetery was incorporated with Robert McCarthy as president. In 1874 the First M. E. church and society of Onondaga Hill were organized and a church built the same year, while about this time St. Michael's Roman Catholic parish was instituted as an out mission from Marcellus; services are held in a building formerly occupied as a store.
The business of the Solvay Process Company led to the much more extensive development of the old Split Rock quarries in the north part of Onondaga. In June, 1888, the Split Rock Cable Road Company was organized for the purpose of constructing a cable line to convey stone from this point to the works, and since May, 1889, the line has been in operation. This enterprise gave existence to quite a hamlet, and in 1891 St. Peter's Roman Catholic parish, comprising about 500 communicants, was formed by Rev. William A. Ryan, of Camillus. Prior to this mass had been said in a frame chapel, the site for which was purchased as early as 1848. In May, 1892, the present church was completed at a cost of about $3,500.
The town of Onondaga has some of the finest quarries of blue and gray limestone in the world; and just across its southern border, on the Indian Reservation, is also an excellent quarry. All of the foundation stone for buildings in Syracuse and the cut stone for the Onondaga County Savings Bank building, the Government building, St. Paul's Cathedral, and several other fine buildings came from these quarries.
On the west bank of the creek, and immediately south of the road which crosses Onondaga Valley, the Syracuse Water Company, in 1888, made an interesting discovery. The company drove some thirty tubes six inches in diameter to varying depths of from thirty to forty feet, until they entered and passed through a stratum of gravel some ten feet in thickness. These wells were connected on the surface of the ground and with powerful pumping machinery it was demonstrated to the satisfaction of the company that there was a subterranean flow of water from the south toward the north through a strip of land twelve hundred feet wide at that point of twenty millions of gallons each twenty-four hours. It was estimated that several time this quantity flowed through the entire valley between the hills. The water stood at a uniform temperature of 48 degrees, and was of extreme purity, except that it was "hard." The investigation was made with the view to a water supply for the city, but the project came to naught because of the strong agitation in the city of the question of the municipal ownership of the water works, which, a little later, was accomplished.
The village of Elmwood, incorporated recently, has sprung into existence within the past five years, largely through the energy and enterprise of its president, Enoch M. Chafee, who owns a grist mill, cradle factory, and woodworking establishment. The postmaster is W. W. Norris; merchants, Norris Brothers, George Mannering and others; florist, Henry Morris. The park here has contributed materially to the growth of the place, which is somewhat of a resort for Syracusans, Hopper's Glen, in the valley, is also noted in this respect.
The centennial anniversary of the formation of Onondaga county and the 106th anniversary of the settlement of this town by Asa Danforth were fittingly celebrated in May, 1894, by an immense assemblage at the Valley. Descendants of pioneers, representative business and professional men, and prominent citizens from all over Central New York gathered to honor the occasion, and for one brief day the historic Hollow contained more inhabitants than the two villages combined ever boasted.
The population of the town has been as follows:
In 1810, 3,745; 1820, 5,502; 1830, 5,668; 1835, 4,789; 1840, 5,662; 1845, 5,145; 1850, 5,694; 1855, 5,400; 1860, 5,113; 1865, 5,312; 1870, 5,530; 1875, 6,193; 1880, 6,358; 1890, 5,135; 1892, 5,011.
1. The terms "Hollow" and "Valley" are synonymous.
In early days the locality was invariably called Onondaga Hollow in contra-distinction
to Onondaga Hill, but in more recent years it has been known as Onondaga
Valley. The Hollow was called by the Indians Teuaheughwa, "where
the path crosses the road."
Submitted 13 August 1998
Updated 15 August 1998