Copyright
Crisfield. cn Johnson.

... History of Oswego County, New York online

. (page 79 of 120)
Online LibraryCrisfield. cn Johnson... History of Oswego County, New York → online text (page 79 of 120)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


into the untried country before them, following the bank of
the Salmon river as their only guide, heard afar up the
stream the thunder of falling water, and on progre.ssing
still farther, saw the river plunging over a precipice more
than a hundred feet high into a dark abyss below. The
cataract need not be more particularly described here, as we
shall have occasion to refer to it again, a few pages farther
on.

It is almost needless to say that these hills furnished
admirable covert for unnumbered deer, bears, wolves, and
panthers, and for multitudes of the smaller animals then so
common in the forests of New York. Salmon in immense
numbers came up the river — so properly named after them
— as far as the falls, and the early settlers could eke out
their scanty supplies by illimitable quantities of this savory
fish. In flict, it was so abundant as to lose its savor to the
palates of many of its too frequent partakers. As in the
case of the traditional hired man and the bean-porridge,
they liked it well enough for sixty or seventy meals, but
didn't want it for a steady diet.

The territory under consideration was then known as
survey-township No. 11 of the Boylston tract, and in ofiicial
documents wa.s sometimes denominated Longinus. Jlunici-
pally speaking, it was, at the time of its first settlement in
1806, a part of Williamstown, Oneida county, but in 1807
it was included in the new town of Ilichland.

Settlers came slowly in, for there was more level land a
little farther west, though perhaps it was not superior in
the quality of its soil. In 1810 or 1811 a man named
IMilian Aiken built the first saw-mill in town. It was
situated on Salmon river, above the falls, at the point now
occupied by the Cross mill. A little later one James
Hughes built a trip-hammer shop on the little creek which
runs through Pekin, and about eighty rods below that
point. Here scythes and axes were forged by the pioneer
Vulcan, rudely finished, it is true, but perhaps all the
better fitted for the rougli work of that primitive period.



HISTORY OF OSWEGO COUNTY, NEW YORK.



Among those who are known to liave settled in the town
before the war of 1812, besides those already named, were
Joshua Hollis, near the line of Sandy creek; Orrin Stowell,
near the present village; Ebenezer Robbins, on the hill east
of the village ; John Reynolds and Eli Strong, Jr., between
Orwell Corners and Pekin ; and Silas West, in the Bennett
neighborhood. There were doubtless some others, but
eitlier their names are unknown or the times of their
ariival uncertain. A Presbyterian church was organized
in 1809, but it was very feeble, and had no settled minister
for over thirty years.

During the war of 1812 the road from Rome through
Orwell and Sandy Creek was an important thoroughfare.
While the State road through Redfleld was the principal
one, a considerable part of the travel and transportation
from Rome to Sackett's Harbor took the more western route
through the localities just named. Large bodies of troops
occasionally followed the same track, startling the deer from
their lairs with the rumble of cannon-wheels, and bringing
to the doors of all the scattered cabins, in open-eyed wonder,
every man, woman, and child within them. The militia of
township No. 11 were then too few to form a separate com-
pany, and whatever deeds of glory they may have performed
in marching to Sackett's Harbor and back are lost in the
mists of time.

After the war, as was usual throughout the new settle-
ments, there was considerable increase in emigration. Sam-
uel Stowell, then a young man of twenty-five, made a visit to
his brother Orrin in 1816 (the celebrated "cold summer"),
and the next year became a permanent resident of the town.
His memory now, at the age of eighty-si.x, is something
remarkable, and he gave us, without hesitation, the name
and Jocation of nearly if not quite every resident of the
township at the time of his arrival, in 1816.

Beginning on the road to Sandy Creek, at the present
line of that town, the first man was Joshua Hollis ; the next
south was James Wood, and the next John B. Tully.
Next were Allen Gilbert and his two sons, — Edward and
Allen, — who lived about a mile from the village. In the
vicinity of the site of the village were Frederick Brooks,
Orrin Stowell, Timothy Balch, and his two sons Tim and
John. On the hill south of the village lived Ebenezer
Robbins, and farther on were John Reynolds and Eli
Strong, Jr. Asa Hewitt and Frederick Eastman lived near
the river. Up the river from Pekin were Millan Aiken,
two Lewis fiimilies, and Perley Wyman.

There were very few more in township No. 11, and not
more than half as many in township No. 6, now Boylston.
It was a small population to set up a town on, but the people
were enterprising, hopeful of new-comers, and probably
ambitious of local distinction, and were willing to endure
the extra burden. Accordingly, the town of Orwell was
formed by the legislature on the 28th day of February,
1817, embracing townships 11 and 6, of the Boylston tract,
now Orwell and Boylston.* - The first town-meeting was



* The name is derived from that of a town in Vermont, and is said to
have been given by Mr. John Reynolds. This is quite probable, as Mr.



Reynolds was unquestionably the big man of the tow
supervisor fourteen times in succession, with only (



held at the house of Timothy Balch the succeeding April,
and the following oflicers were elected :

Supervisor, John Reynolds ; Town Ckrk, Eli Strong, Jr. ;
Assessor.s, John Wart, Jr., Edward Gilbert, Asa Hewitt;
Commissioners of Highways, John F. Dean, Timothy Balch,
Nathaniel Bennett ; Overseers of the Poor, Michael H.
Sweetman, Timothy Balch ; Collector, Timothy Balch, Jr.;
School Commissioners, Thomas Dutcher, John Reynolds,
Eli Strong, Jr. ; Constables, Peter Wells, Jr., Timothy
Balch, Jr. ; Inspectors of Schools, John F. Dean, John
Wart, Jr., John B. Tully, Asa Hewitt; Fence-viewers,
Martin Lillie, John Reynolds, John B. Tully; Pound-
keepers, Martin Lillie, John B. Tully; Path-masters, John
Wart, Jr., Martin Lillie, Allen Gilbert, Eli Strong, Jr.,
Nathaniel Bennett, Perley Wyman.

At that first town-meeting, double the amount received
from the State was voted for the benefit of schools. Hogs
and sheep it was decided should not be free commoners.
Five dollars bounty was voted ibr the " pate" of each wolf
killed in town, and this sum, growing insufficient to check
the dreaded destroyers, was next year increased to ten dol-
lars. The latter year a town ordinance decreed that no wood
should be drawn in drafts, or " snaked" on the ground more
than three rods after the snow was twelve inches deep,
under penalty of fifty cents fine for each offense. This was
evidently to prevent the spoiling of the roads by tearing up
their deep beds of snow.

All the old settlers mention how deep and still the snow
lay through the winter. Said old Mr. John Balch: "You
might go into the woods with a sled in December, when the
snow was a foot deep, and you would probably see the same
tracks all winter." That is to say, the snow would keep
falling, and sometimes thawing, but lying still, and the de-
pression above the original sled tracks would still show in
March. Of course it was the existence of the great forests
which thus restrained the action of the wind, and as the woods
disappear the wind is gathering almost as much force as on
the prairies of the west.

In 1818 there were but two school districts in the pres-
ent town of Orwell, besides one up in the Boylston section.
That summer a school was taught by Lucy Gilbert, at the
house of James Wood, on the Sandy Creek road. The
same season a small frame school-house was built at Orwell
Corners. The funds were not sufficient to plaster it, but
v.ood was abundant, and huge fires kept the children warm
on alternate sides, while the snow came down in blankets
outside. In the winter of 1818-19, Samuel Stowell taught
the first school, in the house at the Corners, and a Mr.
Wheelock taught at Pekin.

This name was selected by young Elliott Eastman, though
not on account of any imagined resemblance to the celebrated
capital of China. The youth, having more of a chance or
more of a taste for reading than was common in the woods,
had learned of divers great capitals and historic characters,
and thought it would be a fine thing to apply those impor-
tant appellations to the localities and individuals within his
own stronghold.

So the cluster of two or three houses on the hill, where
John French kept tavern shortly afl;er the war, was called
Pekin, and the name has endured to the present day, in




MHiiiiiiiiiiii



Residence OF JOHN WASHBURN, omEu.osmoo co.,N.



HISTORY OF OSWEGO COUNTY, NEW YORK.



299



spite of the official appellation of Molino, afterwards given
to tlie post-office there. The settlement at Balch's tavern
young Eiustman called Jloseow, and the name was in u.«o
for many years, but finally gave w.iy to that of Orwell. Hi.s-
tiiry and mythology, too, as well iis geography, were drawn
on by the young name-giver. The settlement on the river
flats, below Pekin, he called " Syphax," because there was a
very dark-complexioned man lived there, and Syphax was
a celebrated African. But that didn't stick.

A one-eyed man, who lived up the river from Pekin, in a
solitary house in the woods, the fanciful youth named " Cy-
clops," and a circumstance of the early days confirmed the
resemblance to the fierce giants of old. A gentleman of
apparent wealth, richly dressed, and sparkling with jewels,
came out into the woods to examine lands. He boarded
with " Cyclops" while pursuing his investigations, as well
as hunting and fishing. Suddenly he disappeared, and was
heard of " nevermore." Wealthy relatives came from the
Ciist to seek for him, but the gorges of Salmon river told no
tale regarding the unfortunate stranger. His one-eyed host
soon left the country, followed by dark suspicions, but their
truth or falsehood was never made certain to mortal minds.

The spring and summer of 1817 were noted for the scar-
city of food, resulting from the meagreness of the crops
raised during the preceding " cold summer." As harvest-
time approached the old supplj' became almost completely
exhausted, and starvation looked in at the door of many a
log cabin, if it did not actually enter. Samuel Stowell re-
lates that his brother Orrin went to Adams, JeflFerson
county, with an ox-sled, and obtained grain enough to last
his family till harvest. In two or three days the fact was
known all over town. " Orrin Stowell has got some grain,"
" Orrin Stowell's folks have bread to eat," were statemeuts
which passed rapidly from lip to lip, awakening greater
interest in the half-famished people than would the return
of Bonaparte from St. Helena.

Even the possession of money would not always insure
that of food.

"I have known," says Mr. Stowell, ''of men going
all over Jefferson county with money in their pockets,
and then coming back without grain." Still, people with
full purses could generally get something somewhere. But
it was hard times indeed for those with neither money nor
food. Labor would bring absolutely nothing to eat.

" I know," says to us the same authority just quoted,
" of families going without bread that season for six weeks
on a stretch."

" But how did they live ?"

" They lived on fish, greens, and milk."

" Well, that is rather a light diet, but we suppose people
can exist on it for a while, but it was hard work to work on
it. The two Gilbert boys, Allen and Edward, after a break-
fast of milk and greens, went out in the woods and chopped
till noon ; they returned, declaring that they couldn't work
any longer without something in the shape of bread. Tiieir
mother hunted around and found some bran that had been
thrown aside ; this she sifted over, obtaining a little coarse
meal, out of which she made a cake. The young men ate
it and returned to their work, declaring they had never
tasted anything so good before in their lives."



After harvest, scores of ox-sleds were to be seen hurrying
(iis fast as oxen could well hurry) along the dry, hard road
to Puliiski, where the nearest grist-mill was .situated, each
bearing a bag of wheat, destined soon to make joyful the
hearts of some long-fami.shed family. Our friend Stowell
made the journey to mill with the usual conveyance. He
took the usual precautions, too, of guarding against acci-
dents by carrying an axe and auger with him. There were
but one or two houses between Orwell Corners and Pulaski.
On his return, late in the afternoon, his sled ran against a
stump, and both tongue and roller were broken. Cutting
a couple of saplings ("saddles" the old settlers called them)
he repaired his vehicle, but it was dark before he was ready
to proceed. It was soon " pitch dark," and the stumps
threatened more danger than ever. A lantern with a candle
in it was something altogether beyond the reach of most of
the pioneers, but one of the residents on the road furnished
the traveler with a "jack-light," — that is, a large piece of fat
pine, — and with its aid he made his way home; the pine
torch throwing a broad glare over man and beast, over nar-
row road and dangerous stump. The " light of other day.s"
usually streamed from a piece of fat pine, and that primitive
torch was in constant demand on both land and water, being
the chief means by which the unlucky salmon were be-
trayed to the spears of their foes.

In 1817 the first militia company Wiis organized in the
new town ; Supervisor John Reynolds being the first cap-
tain, Eli Strong, Jr., lieutenant, and Timothy Balch, ensign.
The two subordinates were afterwards successively promoted
to captain. When general training-time came, the Orwell
militia started for Mexico, where that important ceremony
w;is usually enacted. All weut on foot, for there were not
two horses in town. They started the day before the mus-
ter and returned the day after its close, making in all a
journey of no slight magnitude.

In 1818, Nathaniel Beadle, with his son John and five
others, came into town, and settled near " Moscow" or Or-
well Corners. Mr. John Beadle says that even then Balch's
was the only house immediately at the Corners. There were
only two corners there,^those made by the junction of the
Pulaski road with the main highway frouj Rome to Sack-
ett's Harbor. The road eastward had not been laid out.

About 1819 an incident occurred in town illustrative of
the danger which, in many varied forms, attended tlie steps
of the hardy pioneer. Perley Wyman, who lived on the
road to Redfield, being annoyed by a bear, set a spring-
gun to slay the intruder. Unfortunately, the young man
himself happened to interfere with the spring-gun before
the bear did, and received a bullet in his leg, which shat-
tered the bone and necessitated amputation. Yet, in .spite
of this drain on his vital force, Mr. Wyman survived the
hardships of pioneer life until 1876.

Near 1820, or a little later, a man named Jonas 'I'liomp-
son built a saw-mill at Pekin, with a run of stone attacliud,
which was the first thing in tlie shape of a gri.st-mill in
town.

By this time Orwell had got pretty well under >yay. Set-
tlers were coming in so rapidly as to make it put of the
question to record their separate names. The forest was
falliiiir, and cabins were risiu'^ in all directions. School-



HISTORY OP OSWEGO COUNTY, NEW YORK.



houses increased in number, and their rough walls not only
resounded on week-days with the clamorous " A B C's"
and " four times four's" of juvenile sovereigns, but on Sun-
days re-echoed to the earnest if not polished eloquence of
pioneer preachers. Calkins, Cole, Fairbanks, Finley, and
many others at various times delivered the gospel in these
primitive temples.

In 1827, Boylston was organized as a town, reducing
Orwell to its present limits. Mr. George W. Cogswell,
who came in that year, says there were then but two or
three houses at Orwell Corners. There was no store, but
there was a little grocery at Pekin. People had then
begun to have horses ; but such was the state of the roads
in spring and fall that a journey to the Pulaski mill, with
a horse-team, sometimes involved a two-days' journey.

The first store at the Corners was opened about 1 830 ;
but our authorities differ as to whether the earliest mer-
chant was Alvin Strong or the firm of Gilbert & Decker.
It was near this time, also, that the road was laid out from
the Corners east to Redfield. In 1834, when Mr. John
Parker settled in town, he states that the farthest house
east on that road was only about a quarter of a mile from
the village. But immigrants soon made their way in there,
and as that locality was the newest it was naturally the
roughest settlement in town.

Our friend Eastman, who retained his fondness for giv-
ing names, had heard of a place called " Shatagee" some-
where, and thought it would well express the primitive
character of the neighborhood in question. The name
" stuck," and has been retained to this day. " Shatagee,"
however, is merely a corruption of Chateaugay, the name
of a French town or estate, and this in turn is derived from
the two French words chateau and cfai, meaning gay man-
sion or festive castle. So the Chateaugaynians can boast of
as high-toned a name as could well be desired.

Afterwards another road was laid out to the northward,
which was called Voree, but we are unable to give the
derivation of that name.

About 1835, Reuben Salisbury built the first grist-mill
at Orwell Corners, and the first of any consequence in town.
Though the western part of Orwell was now pretty well
settled, yet the wolves and bears were still numerous,
especially the latter. Mr. Stowell recounts to us a great
slaughter of the ursines at this period, in which he took
part. Hearing his brother's bear-dog barking in the woods,
he slipped a rope over his own and started for the scene of
the fray. Orrin Stowell, however, and his sou, a boy of
twelve or fourteen, were there first with a rifle. They
found the bear at bay and the dog barking at it.

The old man gave the boy the first chance ; so the latter
marched hurriedly up within about twenty rods and fired ;
but the excitement was too much for his youthful nerves,
and the bullet weut wide of the mark. The father reloaded,
and the next time the youngster went up within twelve
rods and fired, with the same result. This wouldn't do ;
so the old gentleman again loaded the rifle, took deliberate
aim at the angry brute, fired and killed her. Then the dog
began barking at a tree, on which a cub was discovered, and
another shot from Orrin Stowell's rifle brought him lifeless
to the uround.



Then still another cub started up, and started to take
shelter in the underbrush. But in the mean time Samuel
Stowell had come up and let loose his dog. One dog seized
the poor cub by the ear and one by the haunch , but he
was quite a match for them both. As they rolled over
together, growling and fighting, the blows of Samuel
Stowell's club fell oftenest on the dogs, and they let go.
One of them, however, seized hold again, and then both
cub and dog fell into a deep hole in the creek, where they
continued the fight, sometimes one being under water and
sometimes the oth'er. The bear's nose was the vulnerable
point to be struck at. The boy got the fir.st chance at it,
and the animal fell .stunned by the side of the creek. The
cutting of his throat completed the combat. Similar scenes
frequently took place in various parts of the town, except
that the number of the victims was less.

About 1838 a small tannery was built at Orwell Corners,
and a new incentive was given to clear the ground of its
hemlocks. A stronger motive, however, was found in the
fact that when those rough hill-sides were once subdued,
and the too-plentiful stones placed in walls or piles, excel-
lent grazing-laud was found beneath that unpromising
exterior.

It was not until 1843 that a church edifice was built in
town, when a union house of worship was erected at the
Corners by the citizens, devoted to the use of all denomi-
nations. This was followed about 1850 by a Methodist
church at Pekin, which by that time some of the people
called Molino, a post-office of that uame having been estab-
lished there ten years or more before.

By this time Orwell Corners had become quite a flour-
ishing village, the Chateaugay road was thickly settled, and
the Voree region was reclaimed from the wilderness. In
1854 the tannery was rebuilt on a large scale by Weston
& Lewis, who had purchased it, and thenceforth it em-
ployed directly and indirectly a large number of men, and
brought very considerable sums of money into the town.

When the rebellion broke out the sons of Orwell re-
sponded generously to their country's call, as will be seen
by the long roll of those who crowded the ranks of the
Twenty-fourth, One Hundred and Tenth, and One Hun-
dred and Forty-seventh Infantry, the Twenty-fourth Cavalry,
and other corps.

In October, 1864, the town voted seven thousand eight
hundred dollars to pay bounties to the soldiers. All the
volunteers were, of course, discharged the next year, and
most of them returned to the labors of the farm and the
workshop. If their military experience had disposed them
to use the hunter's rifle, they needed not to look far for a
proper field. Not only were the forests of Lewis county
near at hand, but the bears still strayed occasionally among
the cultivated fields of Orwell.

" Pa," exclaimed the little daughter of Colonel G. F.
Woodbury, a well-known resident of the village of Orwell,
one summer Sunday of 1871, — "pa, there was a bear just
went through our garden !"

" Nonsense, child ; it was only a big black dog."

"No, it wasn't ; it was a bear. It didn't jump over the
fence like a dog ; it just scrambled right over."

The colouel stepped to the door, but saw nothing, and



HISTORY OF OSWEGO COUNTY, NEW YORK.



301



felt sure the child was mistaken. A short time afterwards
a hidy in the village siw a big black animal waddling along
back of her house, and hastily concluding that it was a bear
started out to inform a neighbor ; but before reaching his
house she began to think she might be mistaken, and, un-
willing to run the risk of ridicule, she returned home. But
the next day the unmistakable Bruin was seen by many
persons still stumbling around the purlieus of the village.
A few men hastily called out some shepherd dogs to attack
the intruder, but they could not be got anywhere near
within reach of those formidable paws. As soon as possible
men rallied with guns and hounds ; but by this time bruin
had taken the alarm and set off at his best speed for the
big woods. His pursuers followed for several miles, but
failed to get sight of him again.

But this wa.s an extraordinary occurrence, and not likely
to happen again at the village, though the quadrupeds in
question are still sometimes seen in the eastern part of the
town. Meanwhile it is plain that the cows are beating the
bears, — no less than five large cheese- factories attesting the
value of the stone-walled pastures of Orwell. One of these
is at Orwell village, owned by Albert Thompson, one at

Pekin, by Snell, one on the Chateaugay road, by Jas.

Hilton, one at Voree, by John Stowell, and one near the
Richland line, by Dwight McKinney. It is doubtful if
another town in the State, of no larger population, has as
many cheese-factories.

At Orwell village, or Orwell Corners, as it is more com-
monly called, a bright little place of some four hundred
inhabitants, the handsome white houses of which gleam out
on heavily-shaded streets, are to be found, besides the
cheese-factory just mentioned, the following manufacturing
and mercantile establishments and professional men :

The tannery of Lane, Pierce & Co., of Boston, which
is capable of turning out five hundred hides per week, or
twenty-five thousand per year. It employs about twenty-
five hands directly, besides the bark-men. This is the same
establishment, before mentioned, which was rebuilt by More-
ton & Lewis in 1854, it having bean sold by them to the
present proprietors in 1874. Planing-mill, etc., of Stowell
& Latimer ; saw-mill of W. Henderson ; dry-goods and
grocery store of G. F. Woodbury ; grist-mill of W. F.
King; feed-store of E. S. Beecher. George W. Nelson,
M.D., physician and surgeon ; D. A. Lawton, M.D., phy-
sician and surgeon.

Outside of the village there are, as an Irishman would



Online LibraryCrisfield. cn Johnson... History of Oswego County, New York → online text (page 79 of 120)