HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF POMPEY

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. 407-415.

Pompey had its name from the great Roman general, but is not as great as it was, retaining but sixty-four of its one hundred military lots, thirty-six of these now being in Otisco and La Fayette.  In 1794 the civil town of Pompey included Pompey, Fabius, Tully, Preble and Scott, with parts of Spafford, Otisco, La Fayette, Onondaga, Truxton and Cuyler.  The topographical features have been described.  Carpenter's pond is the only natural body of water, and Pratt's Falls, one hundred and thirty-seven feet high, are well worth seeing.  The botanist Pursh has left an account of his visit in 1807.  He wondered where the falls could be in the level fields around, "but when I came to the mill I was very agreeably surprised, by seeing the water fall down a precipice nearly perpendiculare to the depth of above 300 feet in a deep gloomy hollow all at once; I was anxious of getting down to the bottom, which I with some difficult dit, and indeed a more romantick scene I never beheld."  He more than doubled the height.

From Pompey Hill one can look into seven counties, and sufferers from hay fever find relief there.  The town was the early home of the Onondagas, and their remains are abundant, as they lived here over a century.

Pompey has sent out many notable men and women, not exactly because it is a good place to go from, but from native ability, high culture, and early training.  It is said a Dutch blacksmith in Lysander got tired of hearing these emigrants tell of the superiority of Pompey work.  At last he broke forth:  "It's all Pompey!  Pompey!  I believe you folks dat come from Pompey, you tinks you go to Pompey ven you die!"  They would certainly go up higher.  When a Pompey man wanted Luther Marsh reappointed high sheriff, De Witt Clinton replied:  "Squire Birdseye, I wish you to understand that the good people on Pompey Hill cannot have ALL the offices in the state of New York."  So it has been said:  "For years this village was a power in the politics of the county and the state."

The first settlement in the present town was by Ebenezer Butler in 1788-9.  He bought Lot 65 in 1791, built a log house and brought his family there.  It is said he gave a soldier "a horse, saddle and bridle" for this lot.  His father, Ebenezer Butler, came at that time, and died in 1829.  Both served in the Revolution.  The son bought Lot 64, building the first frame house near there in 1797.  On that spot he kept tavern for some years, beginning in 1792, and removed to Manlius in 1802, and then to Ohio, where he died in 1829.  He was chosen supervisor in 1796.  His brother Jesse came the same year with Jacob Hoar.  Sally, daughter of Jacob Hoar was the first white child born in the town, and Orange, son of Jesse Butler, the first male child.  Sweet makes Amy Wilcox the first in 1791, but this was in the present town of La Fayette.  The Olcotts, Holbrooks, Hibbards, Hinsdales, Allens, Burrs, Messingers, Westerns and Cooks closely followed, so that there were several neighborhood settlements formed 1793-94.  Flour and other things at first were brought from Whitestown, and stump mortars were used for pounding corn.

Some early enactments were like those of other towns.  In 1795 it was voted that "hogs be free commoners," and that "five dollars be paid for the scalp of any full grown wolf."  The first lawyer was Samuel M. Hopkins, who soon went away.  Daniel Wood was a lawyer at Pompey Hill in 1800, and Victory Birdseye in 1807, Daniel Gott coming afterward.  Dr. Walter Colton was the first to permanently practice medicine in the village.  Dr. Samuel Beach was a physician in 1798, and Dr. Josiah Colton settled two miles east of Pompey Hill in 1801.  Clark says the first school teacher was Mr. J. Gould, but Lucy Jerome taught in Fabius before her marriage to James Geddes in 1799, and some have thought she did in Pompey.  Clark is probably right.  Onondaga's Centennial said:  "The first building erected for school purposes was a frame structure built in 1796 (1798) in the forks of the road on the village green; in its rear was the first primitive graveyard.  The school house was afterwards moved farther north, and school was continued in it until the erection of the academy building."

Clark adds that "The first person who taught any thing beyond the rudiments of an English education, was Mr. James Robinson, who taught the classics and higher English, at the hill, in 1805, 1806, 1807."  This prepared the way for the Pompey academy, some action on which was taken in 1800.  In a petition to the Regents of the University eighteen trustees were named for the proposed Franklin Academy.  The Board of Supervisors approved of this in October, 1800, and the Regents next year granted the charter, conditional on the erection of a suitable building.  A contract was made July 20, 1807, but work seems to have commenced in 1803, and the building was finished in 1810.  A full charter was obtained March 11, 1811, and Henry Seymour became first president.  The building was of wood, two stories high, and forty by fifty feet in extent.  A new building was finished and opened in 1835.  Many notable people were taught there.

The valley near Onativia was known as Sherman Hollow, from James Sherman, who came there in 1793.  Solomon Owen came the same year, and they built saw and grist mills between 1795 and 1798.  Reuben Bryan, Amasa Wright, Samuel Hyatt, James Pierce and Amaziah Branch came there in 1794.  The latter was the first teacher there and at La Fayette village.  In the north part of Sherman Hollow John Houghtaling, Comfort Rounds and William Haskins were living in 1792.

Samuel Sherwood seems the first settler near Delphi, locating on Lot 84 in 1795.  In 1800 Rufus Sheldon settled one and a half miles northwest of the village, and in 1798-99 Elijah Hill settled three miles north.  Ensign Hill, James McClure, Samuel Draper, Benjamin Coats, Elihu Barber and others followed.  The place had been called Pompey Four Corners, but when a name was to be chosen for a post office, the Pompey Re-union says some one "declared the valley and its surroundings were similar to one with which he was familiar in Italy, and suggested that the name of a village in that valley be given to the village in this.  The suggestion meeting the approval of the citizens, the Italian (?) name Delphi was given to the settlement."  The pretty falls, southeast of the village, are picturesque indeed, and some mills have been opened there.  Near the village Charles Merriman taught a log schoolhouse in 1793, and another of logs was afterward built in the village near the Baptist church site.  Some noted men have taught there.

Among early settlers of the village were the Savages, Hubbards, Sweets and Shanklands.  Dr. Ely kept a tavern there in 1804, and was succeeded by Daniel Hubbard, who was the first merchant.  Schuyler Van Rensselaer was the first lawyer, in 1805, and was also the first postmaster in 1809.

James Scoville, Joseph Bartholomew, Roswell and Asahel Barnes came to Oran before 1798, Mr. Bartholomew building the first log house, followed by the first frame house next year, in which he kept the first tavern there.  A school was soon established, and there is a union church whose ownership has caused some strife.  The cemetery is very neat and attractive.

Watervale was settled by Colonel James Carr in 1809, who built the first sawmill there.  Willoughby Milliard followed closely and built another.  The place was called for a time, Hemlock, Slab and Carr Hollow.  Ansel Judd, grandfather of Hon. A. J. Northrup of Syracuse, came in 1812, building the first wool-carding and cloth-dressing establishment in the town.  He became first postmaster in 1820, and thus announced the new name, entitled "Naming the Place:"

                     The old appellations attached to this place
                     Create inconvenience as well as disgrace.
                     By some 'tis called "Hemlock," by others "Slab Hollow,"
                     And names too approbrious and various to follow.
                     We boast not of wealth, but we justly do claim
                     From all our good neighbors a more decent name.
                     The hemlocks are gone, the slabs are made sale;
                     We therefore resolve it shall be Watervale.

This is more euphonious than part of it elsewhere quoted.  When he built his fulling mill his Pegasus took a new flight headed "Another new Establishment, August 30, 1819:"

                     Look near Milliard's saw mill, and there you will see
                     A new fulling mill, sir, as good as can be.
                     A workman, whom clothiers to us recommend
                     As one well accomplished, will superintend.
                     And we do engage, if your cloth comes this way,
                     It shall be dressed well, or the damage we'll pay.
                     To every direction we'll strictly adhere,
                     And work with dispatch and greatest of care.
                     You may pay us in grain, or in butter and cheese,
                     In tallow or cloth, or in cash if you please.

The Spragues, Sweets and Averys were near Watervale, and here a youngster of the latter family got off the hoax of the Pompey stone, which lasted seventy-four years.

Pompey Center is a hamlet of a dozen houses, inn, store and church.  Buellville, northwest of Oran, is much like this, lacking the church and inn, and there are other spots almost hamlets.  Log City was a mile northwesterly from the hill, and once rivaled it.

The first mills in town were at Pratt's Falls; the grist mill in 1798, and a sawmill a little earlier.  Henry Seymour's wind mill at Pompey Hill in 1810, was not a success, but a later one did better, and there have been several mills on Limestone creek.

Daniel Wood was the first postmaster, in 1811, at Pompey Hill, previously called Butler's Hill.  Conrad Bush lived on Lot 37, which he drew as a soldier, and came there in 1800.  Dr. Holbrook, at Pompey Center, 1793, was the first physician in the town.  The Pompey Re-union says that Mr. Dunham was the first transient lawyer, succeeded about 1800 by John Keedar, who remained for some time.

The "First Presbyterian society of the town of Pompey" was formed June 16, 1794, according to Clark, at Mr. Butler's inn.  It built a log church in 1798 at Pompey Hill, but this does not agree with Clark's farther words.  Rev. Mr. Robbins preached there in 1793, and effected this organization.  The first settled preacher was Rev. Hugh Wallace, a Congregationalist, who formed the "First Religious Congregational Society" of Pompey, April 8, 1800.  Clayton and the Pompey Re-union call the first "The First Congregational Church of Pompey," organized by Rev. Ammi R. Robbins, October 19,. 1796, probably correctly, and that a church was built in 1817-18, when school rooms were outgrown.  They do not speak of a second organization.  The society became Presbyterian in 1810, and the church was consecrated in January, 1818.  Clark also mentioned that "A Union Congregational Society was formed near Captain Moltrops, Pompey, May 18th, 1809;" and spoke of the organization of the "Central Congregational society, Green's Corners, 5th February, 1822."

A Baptist church was built soon after the Presbyterian at Pompey Hill.  In 1834 Rev. J. I. Lowell adopted Alexander Campbell's views, and most of his people followed him.  May 3, 1834, "The First Congregation of Disciples of Christ, of Pompey" was formed, and built a church in 1837, which they used till 1868, when the present one was erected.  The first Baptist society in Pompey was organized in 1803, at Delphi, by Rev. Mr. Baker, and their church was built in 1819.

The Methodists built a church at Delphi the same year, according to Clark, but he also said that "Zion Methodist society was organized at Delphi, January 22d, 1822."  The present Methodist church at Pompey Hill was built in 1839.  The earlier history is not very clear.  There is also a Methodist church near the Old Indian Fort, and a Union church building at Pompey Center.

Rev. Hugh Wallace formed the "Second Congregational church of the town of Pompey" at Oran, January 27, 1806.  It was reorganized later that year.  The church, built in 1807-8, was the first frame one in the town.  It is usually called a Union church, is termed the Pleasant Valley Free Church, and is mostly used by the Universalists.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Father Mahon, Pompey Hill, is a spacious edifice with a large congregation.  Father Mahon has annual historic celebrations for the public, which prove very profitable.

Christ Church (P.E.) was at Clapp's Corners, and was built in 1828-29, the parish having been organized in 1823.  The congregation moved away, and the church is now a barn, in good preservation too.

The Averys were a notable family near Oran, where Punderson Avery settled in 1796.  He had eleven children, one of whom, William Avery, was an inventor.  Six of the Bishop brothers settled in Pompey 1793-94.  Elizar Brace came in 1796, and was father of Rev. Samuel W. Brace.  Victory Birdseye, a prominent lawyer, came in 1807, marrying Electa, daughter of Captain James Beebe, who came in 1793.  His first name was hereditary.  At the baptism of one of his ancestors the minister was so elated over a victory over the French, that he named the child Victory by mistake, and Victory it remained.

Elihu Barber came in 1801 and became a leading farmer, so successful in dairying that he was known as "Butter Barber."  Samuel Clement came in 1794, and was a teacher 1794-5.  Seven Clarke brothers came at an early day, "Grace Greenwood" was of this family.  Paul Clapp came in 1798, and left three sons.  Hezekiah and Ezra Dodge came in 1795.  David F., son of the latter, was instrumental in establishing the Roman Catholic church at Pompey Hill.  The Fenners were an early family.  The Rice family sent prominent representatives to Syracuse.  The Haydens came in 1800, and were a large and prosperous family.  The Hinsdells came in 1795-96, and were also a large family, as the fashion was then.  The Hibbards, 1794, were also prominent, as were the Hills, Hinmans and Holbrooks.

Manoah Pratt came in 1796, and with Abraham Smith built mills at Pratt's Falls.  The Shattucks came before 1800.  Timothy Sweet came in 1794, and was a conspicuous man, with many noted descendants.  Elijah Wells, father of Deacon Asa H. Wells, came in 1799.  The Wheaton family came in 1810, and have been prominent.  William C. Fargo, father of the noted express man, came in 1817.  Governor Horatio Seymour was born here, and the list might be extended.

One little item of the history of Pompey may be mentioned.  William Avery, who lived near Oran, built a small steamboat in 1822, which was first tried on the mill pond at Buellville, then went to Cazenovia lake, and then to the Erie canal.  The Onondaga Gazette, of October 1, 1823, said:  "A steamboat built at Buellville, in Pompey, passed through this village last week."

The Pompey Re-Union of June 29, 1871, was an occasion of great interest, and was preceded by the following invitation.  No like gathering has ever taken place in Onondaga county, though there have been many recent "home weeks" elsewhere.  It was suggested in 1870, when preliminary steps were taken.  In May, 1871, over fifty Syracuse people, former residents of Pompey, held a co-operative meeting, and the invitation was soon issued.

RE-UNION AT HOME

     Pompey, Onondaga Co., N. Y., June 1, 1871.

You are most cordially invited to attend a Re-Union of the former residents of the old Town of Pompey--now Pompey and Lafayette--which will be held at Pompey Hill on Thursday, the 29th day of this month.

                                                                                                WELLS M. BUTLER,

RICH'D F. STEVENS,                                                            FRANK JEROME
Cor. Sec'y, Syracuse, N. Y.                                                     Rec. Sec'ys, Pompey, N.Y.

Addresses were from these former residents:  ex-governor Horatio Seymour of Utica, ex-United States Senator George H. Williams of Oregon, Judge Charles Mason of Washington, Major-General Henry Slocum and Judge Lucien Birdseye of Brooklyn, Hon. L. R. Marsh and Leonard W. Jerome of New York, Hon. Wm. G. Fargo of Buffalo, Hon. H. R. Duell of Cortland, Hon. D. G. Fort of Oswego, Judge Leroy Morgan and Hon. C. B. Sedgwick of Syracuse, with others, among them Grace Greenwood, or Mrs. Lippincott, was invited, but could not come.  Many notable people were there on the appointed day, and thousands were gathered.  Hon. D. P. Wood of Syracuse presided, and there were reminiscent speeches, mingling pathos and fun.  Out of this grew the valuable volume entitled "Re-union of the Sons and Daughters of the Old Town of Pompey."

Among local stories it is said that Ebenezer Butler bought Lot 65 of the soldier who drew it "for a horse, saddle and bridle."  When the Pratt & Smith mills were built at Pratt's Falls in 1798, everything came from Connecticut except the timbers.  Marketing was at first done at Whitestown, Utica or Herkimer.  Oxen were used for a long time, and sleds were useful on the hills.  The first grist mill on Limestone creek at Delphi had two run of French burr stone, drawn from Albany and costing one hundred dollars.  But how they lasted!

Among other places was the "Clapp Settlement," and 'Williams Corners," both in the northwest part of the town.

Most towns have early bear stories, and Pompey could not do without a big one, but has to concede that the big bear lived in Fabius.  He disregarded town lines, and carried off Pompey pork.  And no wonder.  As Pompey led in other things, were there ever such porkers as were raised there?  He came once too often, and his fresh tracks were seen in the new snow.  Guns, axes, pitchforks, men and dogs turned out.  All roads led to Pompey hill, as once they led to Rome, and Bruin knew the way.  Occasionally he had to fight for it, and somehow guns and axes failed to stop him.  A deputy sheriff tried his authority, and his legal papers saved him.  To be sure, he was floored, but the bear's teeth were fixed in the huge pocketbook and before he could free them a sharp axe settled the contest.  Law was victorious.

Of course, after this hogs increased and in 1808 a hog constable was appointed.  It was voted "that hogs to run at large in the town be yoked and ringed, except within half a mile of Colonel Hopkins", and there not allowed to run."

For a time, as in other towns, stump mortars were used in mealing corn, and one served for several families.  Clark said:  'The first settlers obtained flour from Whitestown, many of whom went there on horseback to mill, and some on foot.  True Worthy Cook took a bushel of wheat on his back to Herkimer, and brought back the flour, and Jacob Hoar brought his seed potatoes half a bushel, on his back from Whitestown to Pompey Hill."  Beside the distance, altitude must be considered in these burdensome trips, Pompey hill being reckoned four miles up and three miles down.

Clark relates the adventure of a young woman at Pratt's Falls.  She went berrying, and narrowly escaped a burying of another kind, for she fell from the edge of the rocks.  The falls are but one hundred and thirty-seven feet high, but the descent of the stream make the precipice higher below, and it is added:  "the whole distance from the place from which she fell, to the place at which she finally landed, was ascertained by actual measure, to be over one hundred and seventy feet."  Her dress may have formed a parachute.  Another young lady climbed into a perilous position, and had to be drawn up by a rope; all of which goes to show that there is a special providence for the fair women of Pompey.

About Delphi there was a plague of caterpillars in 1798, not only on trees, but on the smaller vegetables and grain.  This did not last long, and crops were good.  "These insects were so numerous that they congregated in heaps on the eaves and chimneys of the houses at evening, and when fires were kindled in the morning were very troublesome, often spinning down the low stick chimneys into the cookery, and when they day was over, in such quantities had they accumulated that the atmosphere was completely tainted with their decaying remains."

At "Indian Fort," Lot 23, was an earthwork.  Clark said:  "A part of this ground, when first occupied in these latter times, was called 'the prairie.' and is noted now among the old men as the place where the first battalion training was held in the county of Onondaga."

Slaves, of course, were held in Pompey, but the De Witt and De Puys families had so many that they raised tobacco, the first in the county.  Wagons did not appear before 1804, and horses were scarce.  It is related that Samuel Talbot, a noted chopper, not only chopped and corded over seven cords of maple in a day, but that he carried a large tool chest on his back from Syracuse to Pompey Hill.  Those were the days of big men--and big stories.

Pompey Hill is a favorite resort in the summer, from its cool breezes, fine drives and magnificent views.  Mr. Geddes's notes on its temperature, may well be quoted, promising only that three hundred to three hundred and fifty feet in altitude usually makes a difference of one degree in temperature, stated a little more exactly by Mr. Geddes.

"Pompey Hill is 1743 feet above tide, Onondaga Academy 400, the difference in elevation is 1343 feet.  The observed average temperature at Pompey Academy for 17 years is 42.84; of Onondaga for 16 years of 47.18; the difference 4.34, gives a degree of the thermometer for every 309 1-2 feet.  The influence of elevation on the temperature was illustrated on the 15th day of September, 1859.  The extreme cold killed everything growing on the hill part of the county.  Personal observations in the towns of Otisco, Tully, Fabius and Pompey, proved that the injury was frightful.  Descending the hills towards evening to the town of De Witt, it was found that the leaves of unharvested tobacco showed slight injury, which grew less and less as the elevation diminished.

"Below the Helderberg range the effect of the frost was trifling.  The outer ends of the corn leaves were touched as by a breath of fire, but the husks of the ears were safe, and the crop went on to maturity.  On the great level north of the Erie canal, except in a few localities, the crops were scarcely affected, and the ameliorating influence of Oneida lake, combined with diminished elevation, was a perfect protection to vegetation on its borders.  Every other large body of water did good service to the farmers that morning.  In the vicinity of Skaneateles lake, lima beans were the only vegetables touched.  A month elapsed before we had another such a frost.  Light colored and sandy soils, especially if they contain considerable vegetable matter, suffer more from late spring and early autumn frosts than darker ones.

"Returns from 58 different localities, scattered over this State, report as their mean temperature, 46.49.  The mean of Onondaga valley is 47.18, which is .069 above the average of the State.  Pompey has a mean of 42.84, being 3.65 less than the mean of the State.  The climate of Onondaga Academy may be safely taken as that of all the country north of the canal, while that of Pompey may, with some allowance, be taken for that lying in the southern part of the county, while the mean between may be assumed as the average of that belt that lies on the salt group, Helderberg range, and the Marcellus shales.  The range of temperature in Onondaga county from north to south is very great, the cold becoming more intense as we go south, owing to increased elevation.

Mr. Coffin says of Pompey, "It is the coldest place reported in the State; colder even than those in the extreme northern counties.  But it is rather remarkable that, while this is the fact, the thermometer does not sink so low there in the winter, nor do the autumnal frosts occur so early as in the State generally."  The escape from autumnal frosts is probably due to the fact that there is more wind blowing at Pompey Hill than in the valleys and lower grounds of the county.

"The annual average of water that falls in rain and snows at Pompey Academy is 29.46 inches; at Onondaga 31.40.  Pompey is on the summit of the highlands, and Onondaga Academy is at the base.  The distance between the two points of observation, in a direct line, is ten miles very nearly, and the different in elevation is 1,343 feet, equal to 134 feet to the mile.  Hills are condensers of the vapor in the air, but their own summits do not receive the benefit of the greatest fall of water.  Along the base of the range the showers are the most abundant, as is seen by Onondaga valley receiving two inches more than Pompey."

It may be added that the Syracuse weather station shows more cloudy weather here than in any part of the state.  Mr. Geddes adds:

'The average course of the winds in the county is south 67 deg. 8 min. west; while the average of the South is south 76 deg. 54 min. west; giving 9 deg. 46 min. more southing to our winds, and, of course, by so much greater warmth than the State generally."

The first marriage in the town was that of Zachariah Kinne and Diadama Barnes, and the first death that of Mrs. James Cravath.  Henry Seymour opened the first store.

In 1836 Pompey Hill had three churches, academy, two taverns, four stores kept by Beach Beard & Sons, Wm. J. Curtis, Horace Wheaton, and Samuel Baker; Joseph Beach and Merrit Butler were blacksmiths; Alfred Kingsbury, wagon maker; Charles and Wm. Webb, furniture dealers; Daniel Gott, Victory Birdseye and Daniel Wood, lawyers; Jehiel Stearns and Riall Wright, physicians; Timothy Butterfield, builder.  In 1886 it had four churches, academy, three general stores, three blacksmiths, carriage shop, physician and lawyer.

In Delphi in 1836 were Matthew B. Slocum and Herrick Allen, merchants; James Larrabee, wagon maker; Samuel Thomas, harness shop; Samuel S. Fisher, hatter; Charles Button, shoe shop; Caleb Perry, tanner; Homer Hayes and Sylvester Wires, coopers; Samuel and David Palmer, blacksmiths; Hiram K. Taylor, distiller; Crosby & Estes, and Theophilus Tracy, millers; Joshua Pete, wood corder; Samuel Foot, fuller; Alvin Fox, hotel; John Goodell, physician; Mr. Grodivent, cabinet shop; John Switzer, Baptist preacher; Elisha Littlefield, postmaster.  In 1886 the place had three churches, two general stores, one drug store, one hardware store, two cigar factories, two meat markets, two blacksmith shops, two grist mills, two sawmills, a physician, lawyer, cooper, carpenter, undertaker, wagon shop, shoe shop, harness shop and hotel.  There was but one minister.

Watervale had Sprague & Sweetland's grist mill in 1836; Ira Curtis, hotel; Wheaton & Keath, general store; Charles Carr & O. Abbott, sawmills; Marcellus and Marcus Barnum, wool cording and cloth dressing; Lucius Barnum, tanner and harness maker; Henry Hustiss, wagons shop; Samuel Woodworth, blacksmith; O. Abbott, maker of threshing machines; Adam Grove, tailor.  The mails were carried by W. G. Fargo & Sons, one of these being afterward Hon. W. G. Fargo of Buffalo.  In 1886 the village had a grist, saw and cider mill, blacksmith shop, wagon shop and a general store.

Pompey Center in 1836 had a general store and post office, a firm of tanners and shoemakers, shoe shop, tailor, two hotels and a physician, Dr. Briggs.  It still has a store and hotel.
 

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4 December 1998