Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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Sauquoit, Oriskany. Nine-Mile, and Lansing Kill Creeks,
drain the central and eastern portions of the county ; Black
River the extreme nortlieastern portion ; Wood Creek and
its branches, FLsh Creek, Mad River, and Little River, the
northwestern ; and Oneida Creek the southwestern por-
tions. In the western part of the county lie a portion
of Oneida Lake, the towns of Vienna and Yeroua, includ-

ing about 10,000 square acres of its area, whose total is
given in the Gazetteer of the State at 57,000 acres. In
the town of Forestport is a cluster of small lakelets, the
largest of which are Long and White Lakes, each contain-
ing perhaps a square mile of surface ; and there are natural
ponds in Ava, , Boonville, New Hartford, Sangerfield,
Vienna, and perhaps other towns. Three of the great
canals of the State are partly within the county, the Erie,
Black River, and Chenango, and the Black River feeder,
which runs from the State reservoir, in the town of Forest-
port, to tlie village of Boonville, a distance of 12 J miles.

Area. — The superficsal area of the county, according to
the State Gazetteer (a vary reliable authority), is 1215
square miles, equivalent to 777,600 square acres, being not
far from the area of the State of Rhode Island.*

Brjuiidaries. — Oneida County is bounded on the north
by Lewis and Oswego, on the South by Otsego and Madi-
son, on the east by Herkimer, and on the west by Madi-
son and Oswego Counties.

The latitude and longitude of the two principal towns,
Utica and Rome, are approximately as follows : Utica,
latitude 43° 06' north, longitude 1° 41' east from Wash-
ington. Rome, latitude 43° 15' north, longitude 1° 30'
east from Washington.

PcQuUaritics. — The beautiful valley of the Mohawk is
perhaps the most remarkable in the United States, and in
some respects in the world ; not on account of its extent or
productions, though these are by no means insignificant,
but from its peculiar geography and topography, its re-
markable geological structure and development, and its
wonderful history.

Generally speaking, the county of Oneida lies upon the
dividing ridge of highlands which runs through the State
in a northeast and southwest direction, and separates the
waters which flow into the St. Lawrence, the Missis.sippi,
the Susquehanna, the Delaware, and the Hudson Rivers.

In pre-historic times, and during its occupancy by the

* This estimate of course covers the waters of the county.




Iroquois Confoderacy, its eentral valley was a great high-
way. Upon its diverging waters the painted warriors of
the Ho-dt -no-san-nee launched their bark canoes and went
forth to conquer in all directions. It was a strategical
base of operations from whence military expeditions could
penetrate by natural channels a vast surrounding region,
and to this fact more perhaps than to any other the famous
Confederacy of Central New York owed their supremacy.

The great trail connecting the Hudson River and the
lakes passed along the Mohawk, and thence westwardly by
the most practicable route to Lake Erie ; and it is a singu-
lar fact, and vastly to the credit of the Indian "path-
finders," that in after-years the first turnpike-road of the
white man followed substantially the war-path of the
savage, as did " Braddock's road" and the great national
highway, the celebrated Indian path through Pennsylvania,
known as " NemacoUn's trail."

When the European appeared on the scene, the territory
now constituting Oneida County lost nothing of its impor-
tance as a great thoroughfare. It rather became still more
prominent, and its strategical importance, commanding as
it did the gateway between the East and the West, was
speedily recognized, and fortifications were erected at an
early day along the carrying-place between the Mohawk
River and Wood Creek. From 1727, the date of the
building of the first fortification at Oswego, or Chouagaen,
down to 178;?, it was alike the war-path of the savage and
the Gaul, the Briton and the American ; and even so late
as 1812-15 it was the great military highway for the
transportation of armies and munitions destined to operate
on the northern and western frontiers of the nation.

Upon the completion of the Erie Canal, in 1825, it
became the route of the greatest tide of emigration known
to modern times; and when the railway followed, the
amount of travel and trafiic passing through it became
simply enormous. This has continued to the present time,
and since 1840 the transportation of grain, provisions, and
merchandise has grown to such proportions that it is ex-
tremely doubtful if it is equaled in any part of the world.
The vast emigration from Europe, and the wonderful
movement of grain and provisions from the agricultural
regions of the West, nearly all take this route, and the
necessities of commerce have compelled the enlarging of
the Erie Canal, and the building of a railway with four
steel tracks ; and the end is not yet. Chicago is the
primary collecting-point whence is sent forth 100,000,000
bushels of grain annually, and thousands of tons of stock
and meats; and New York City is the great emporium
from whose docks depart the thousand " white-winged
ships," freighted with the necessaries of life to feed the
millions of laborers in European lands. The line of traffic
between these two great cities of the East and West is along
the Mohawk Valley, and generations yet to come shall still
behold the mighty tide roll on.

For civil and political purposes the county is divided
into twenty-six towns, two municipalities, having city or-
ganizations, and ten incorporated villages. These are again
subdivided into school and road districts, etc., for local
accommodation, educational purposes, and neighborhood


The distinguishing topographical features are a broad,
central valley, extending through the county from west-
northwest to east-southeast, and high table-lands rising
towards the north and south, cut by the valleys of numer-
ous streams. These table-lands rise in the northern portion
of the valley to elevations varying from 800 to 1300 feet
above the central valley, culminating in " Penn Mount," in
the town of Steuben, which reaches an altitude of about 1727
feet above the sea ; the height of the Mohawk above tide-
water at Albany being 427 feet.* Starr's Hill, in the same
neighborhood, is also very high. The highest point south
of the Mohawk, and also in the county, is called Tassel
Hill, from a Dutchman named Van Tassel, who formerly
lived near it. It is near the corners of the four towns
Marshall, SangerfiolJ, Bridgewater, and Paris, and is said
to be 1800 feet above the Mohawk at Rome, or over 2200
feet above the sea.

The height of the lowest pass between the Black and
Mohawk Rivers is 1120 feet above tide. The northeastern
part of the county reaches the wilderness region, which is
wholly underlaid by the primary, or Archaean formation.
The central valley, including large tracts in the vicinity of
Oneida Lake and the Mohawk Valley, is comparatively
level, while the remaining portions are more or less uneven
or hilly. The valleys of the streams are highly cultivated,
finely improved, and beautiful. The ranges of hills are
parallel with the streams, and are more abrupt in the
northern part of the county than in the southern, and con-
sequently better adapted to grazing than general cultiva-
tion. The central valley has a soil composed of sandy and
gravelly loam and alluvium. The southern portions have
a mixture of clay with sand and gravel.

Oneida is one of the best agricultural and dairy counties
in the State. A large share of its surface was originally
quite heavily timbered with a great variety of deciduous
trees, and there was also considerable pine, cedar, and hem-
lock. The great bulk of the timber has been cut away,
and the people depend largely upon the anthracite region
of Pennsylvania for fuel.

There is little doubt but at one period several quite ex-
tensive lakes occupied what are now some of the finest
agricultural sections of the county. Oneida Lake, at some
period, undoubtedly covered a very much larger territory
than at present, and the valley of the Mohawk above Little
Falls very possibly constituted a long, narrow lake, extend-
ing as far west as Rome ; and the two may have been
united in one body. Of course this .speculation refers to
a late period in the earth's history, when the whole region
of the State had been lifted above the shallow sea that
once overspread it.


The geological features of Oneida County and the imme-
diate resjion are araonj; the most remarkable in the world.
Within a distance of thirty miles, measured from northeast
to southwest, from the Black River valley, in the town of
Remsen, to the valley of Oiiskany Creek, in the southern

» This is claiuiod to be the lowest pass through the main Appala-
cliian system.



part of the county, there is an outcrop of nearly every for-
mation from the Archsoan, or primitive, to the Carboniferous.
To illustrate: commencing with the primary rooks of the
Adirondack region, mainly composed of gneiss, we find in
succession, as we go south, the great limestone system
known as the Trenton (including the Birdseye, the Black
River, and the Trenton proper) formations, with their
wonderful fossil remains ; the Utica slate ; the Lorraine
shales, or Hudson River group (known in the west as the
Cincinnati group) ; the Oneida conglomerate ; the Medina
sandstone ; the Clinton group ; the Niagara shale and lime-
stone ; the Onondaga salt group ; the Helderberg lime-
stone ; the Oriskany sandstone ; and the Hamilton and
Chemung shales and sandstones. It is very probable that
below the Trenton group, lying between that and the pri-
mary rocks, the Potsdam and Calciferous sandstone, and
the Chazy limestone, may all be found, as they outcrop in
various other directions, — north, east, and south from the
primary system.

Trap-dykes and veins do not occur in the county ; or if
found they are exceedingly diminutive, as may be seen in
the limestone at Trenton Falls, on West Canada Creek.
Of these various formations, the Trenton limestone, Utica
slate, Oneida conglomerate, the Clinton group, and the
Oriskany sandstone received their names from their fine
development in this county.

" Of useful minerals, the county has the lenticular clay
iron ore of the Clinton group ; bog ore, in the swamps near
Oneida Lake ; and pcssibly magnetic ore, in the northeast
part, where there is abundance of iron-sand. Marl and
peat have been found in some places, and water-lime and
gypsum quarries have been worked to some extent. Build-
ing-stone in great variety, and of superior quality, has been
extensively quarried. Mineral springs are found in several

The Arehjean, or primitive rocks, are supposed to have a
thickness of 50,000 feet, and are known to geologists as the
Laurentian system, from their grand development in the
St. Lawrence region. Another formation of the primitive,
known as the Huronian system, from its development in
the vicinity of Lake Huron, estimated at from 10,000 to
20,000 feet in thickness, is by many supposed to be of sub-
sequent formation to the Laurentian, but still belonging
to the primitive. The granular limestone and iron-bearing
region of St. Lawrence County is sometimes referred to the
Huronian. Professor Helmholtz, the eminent scientist,
has made an approximate calculation of the length of time
required to cool this granite mass into a solid, and estimates
the period at 350,000,000 years.

The Archaean region of Northern New York covers an area
of about 12,000 square miles, and is composed mostly of
granite, gneiss, hypersthene, etc., depending upon the pro-
portions of the ingredients which compose it, — quartz, feld-
spar, hornblende, and mica. This formation lifts its highest
points (Mount Marcy and others) more than 5000 feet
above the sea, while in Pennsylvania the same formation is
more than 7 miles below the surface, being overlaid by a
maximum thickness of sedimentary rocks to the depth of

* State Gazetteer.

42,000 feet. These sedimentary or secondary rocks are
entirely wanting in the Adirondack region of New York,
which proves conclusively that either the primary system
uprose before the secondary was begun, or, if since, that the
latter has been entirely worn away and carried to distant
regions. It is the general belief that the Adirondacks were
elevated before the formation of the sedimentary rocks be-
gan, and that they constitute a portion of the most ancient
uplift on the globe. The outcropping formations of the
State of New York represent the Arch^an, the Silurian,
the Devonian, and (partly) the Carbonifekous ages.
In the Archaean no animal life was known to exist, and there
is no positive evidence that vegetation had yet appeared.
In the Silurian the Invertebrates appeared, and plants of the
Algese. family; in the Devonian, various fishes were repre-
sented, and new forms of vegetation ; in the Carboniferous,
amphibious animals made their appearance, and among
plants Acrogens and Conifers, which contributed so largely to
the coal formations.

The thickness of the stratified or sedimentary rocks in
the State, above the Arohasan, is about 13,000 feet. In
Pennsylvania, as before stated, it reaches 42,000 feet, and
in Virginia a still greater thickness, while in the Western
States it does not, in some places, exceed 4000 feet. In
Europe it reaches 100,000 feet. These facts would evi-
dently show that the American continent was much older
in its uplift than the European. In America, also, east of
the Mississippi, there is very little rock formation left above
the Carboniferous, while in Europe the formation reaches a
thickness of 25,000 feet, showing that the later formations
in the United States have been disintegrated and worn away
through an immense lapse of time, while the European for-
mations of a similar character are comparatively fresh and

The various strata in New York lap over one another
like the leaves of an open book, and dip towards the south
or southwest, increasing in thickness through Pennsylvania
and Virginia.

It will be obvious to every one that if the Archaean system
has a uniform thickness over the globe, the thinnest crust
of the earth is found where the primary has never been
overlaid by the secondary formations ; hence earthquakes
would be more likely to afifect the surface in the Archaean
regions. Taking the maximum thickness of the primary
system at 50,000 feet, it will be seen that the Adirondack
region of New York is 40,000 feet thinner than the forma-
tion in Pennsylvania, or only a little more than one-half the
total thickness in the latter State.

The Potsdam sandstone, which lies directly upon the
primary formation, contains here and there a few forms of
animal life which existed in the seas during the period of
its formation ; and as we come up into the Calciferous and
Chazy formations, these increase both in species and indi-
viduals, and the Trenton group is almost wholly composed
of animal remains, especially its upper strata.

The magnificent gorge of the West Canada Creek, at the
celebrated Trenton Falls, is cut for three miles through the
Trenton limestone to a depth varying from 60 to 200 feet,
and here the seeker after nature's truths can study the
countless forms of animal life, from the minutest Brachio-



pods to the gigantic Ortliocerata family, some of whose
members attained a length of 15 feet. Here, also, are
magnificent, glossy specimens of the Trilohite species, nearly
a foot in length, which lived in the days when the primor-
dial rocks were being slowly deposited in the bottom of the
ancient sea.

Taking a section of rock at the lowest cutting of this
gorge, in the vicinity of the " High Fall," where it is about
200 feet in perpendicular height, and estimating the stream
to have worn away the limestone at the average rate of two
feet in a century, we have ten thovsand years consumed
in this excavation ; which, however amazing it may seem,
is as nothing compared to the time required in the deposi-
tion of the rock.

The immense accumulation of organic remains in the
Trenton and kindred formations has given rise to a theory
regarding the vast petroleum deposits of Pennsylvania,
which is certainly not obnoxious to sound reasoning. As
outlined and, possibly, originated by n prominent citizen of
Oneida County, it is this: This vast accumulation must
have produced prodigious quantities of oily matter, which
has in some way disappeared from the place of deposition.
The strata of the Silurian and Devonian formations are
known to dip at a certain angle towards the south and south-
west, in a direction nearly parallel to the trend of the Ap-
palachian Mountains. The oil as it became liberated from
the decomposing remains gradually found its way along the
sloping strata to the sand, or sand-rock formation of the
present oil regions, where it accumulated in such quantities
that the whole world can draw from it ad libit urn. In other
words, the oil deposits of Pennsylvania are the drainage of
the limestone and shale formations of the regions to the
north. The oil is invariably found in what is technically
known by the miners as " pebble rock," and the quality
varies from the fine lubricating or amber oil to the crude
petroleum, according to the fineness or coarseness of the
grain of the rock, which holds it as a sponge holds water.

Oil is still found in the limestone and shale formations
of the State, but not in large quantities. In the Trenton
formation it is occasionally found in pockets, and burns
readily. It is also found in the Niagara limestone, notably
in the vicinity of Chicago, Illinois, in the Utica slate and
shale, in the Genesee shale, and in the Corniferous limestone.
Since the discovery of oil in 1859, more than $400,000,000
have been paid for the production of Pennsylvania alone ;
and the whole vast deposit may have been drained from
the New York fonnations.

Black River, in the northeastern part of the county, runs
very nearly on the line dividing the primitive from the
secondary formations. On the east is granite,' or kindred
formations, and on the west the Trenton limestones ; and
this condition exists as far north as Carthage, in Jefferson
County, where the " long falls" of Black River break over
the ancient rocks. The Trenton rocks cover an area (oul/
crop) of 100 or 150 square miles in Oneida County.

Extensive quarries are worked at the gorge below the
village of Prospect, in Trenton. The new government
building in Utica is being constructed of this material.

The thickness of the Trenton limestone is, in Oneida
County, about 300 feet; along the Appalachian Mountains,

to the south, it reaches, according to Rogers, 2000 feet.
The Trenton period of geologists includes the Black
River and Trenton limestones, the Utica shales and slates,
and the Hudson River and Cincinnati groups of limestones
and shales.

Overlying the Black River and Trenton formations, next
in order, is the Utica shale, which extends in a narrow band
along the Mohawk Valley, and reaches a thickness of 15 to
35 feet at Glen's Falls, 250 feet in Montgomery County,
and, probably, 300 feet in Oneida County. This formation
abounds in combustible material, though it contains no coal.
The percentage of this material in the Mohawk Valley is
from 12 to 14 of the whole mass, according to Professor
Whitney. It outcrops in the towns of Boonville, Steuben,
Western, Floyd, Trenton, Rome, Marcy, and Deerfield. It
is of no value for building purposes, being thin and brittle.
Succeeding this is the Hudson River group of the Cin-
cinnati epoch ; variously known as Hudson River, Pulaski
and Lorraine shales, and reaching a thickness in Lewis
County of 300 feet. It is similar in its nature to the Utica
shale, and both abound in fossils. The formation occasion-
ally contains thin layers of limestone. It is found in the
towns of Boonville, Ava, Western, Lee, Annsville, Rome,
Whitestown, and Utica, and extends down the valley of the
Mohawk, on its southern side, to the valley of the Hudson.
It also covers a large area in the counties of Lewis, JeflFer-
son, and Oswego. Those formations close the Lower
Silurian Age. In speaking of this period, Dana, in his
" Manual of Geology," says, " The seas of the Trenton
period were densely populated with animal life. Many of
the beds are made of the shells, corals, and crinoids, packed
down in bulk ; and most of the less fossiliferous compact
kinds have probably the same origin, and diifer only in that
the shells and other relics were pulverized by the action of
the sea, and reduced to a calcareous sand or mud before

It is not necessary in this connection to enter into a
technical description of the various forms of life which
then existed. The curious will find them minutely de-
scribed in various geological works. It is sufficient to state
that animal remains constitute a large proportion of the
various limestone formations, amounting in the aggregate
to many thousand feet in thickness. The best locality for
the study of this subject is around Trenton Falls.

Upper Silurian Age. — At the close of the Lower Si-
lurian age there were great changes in the earth's crust, and
an immense destruction of animal life. The changes occurred
slowly through long periods, and in the beginning of the
Upper Silurian age many new forms of animal life appeared.
The Upper Silurian includes the Niagara, Salina, Lower
Helderberg, and Oriskany formations.

The Niagara group includes the Medina, Clinton, and
Niagara subdivisions, and the Medina includes the Oneida
Conglomerate and Medina Sandstone.

The lower member of the Medina epoch is a pebbly
sandstone or grit, and called the Oneida Conglomerate from
its development in Oneida County. It extends through the
towns of Florence, Camden, Annsville, and in a narrow
strip into Herkimer County, where it thins out and dis-
appears. It varies from 20 to 120 feet in thickness. This



formation is known under the name of Shawangnnk grit in
Ulster County, and the celebrated Esopus millstones are
manufactured from it. It is 500 feet thick in the Shawan-
gunk Mountains.

The upper formation of the Medina epoch is known as
the Medina Sandstone, which is a red or mottled argilla-
ceous sandstone. It is from 300 to 400 feet thick along
the Niagara River, and gradually becomes thinner as it ex-
tends east and disappears in the central portions of Oneida
County. It is found in Camden, Vienna, and Rome.

According to Dana, " where fullest developed in New
York the Medina group includes four divisions, as follows :
red marl or shale, and shaly sandstone, banded and spotted
with red and green ; flagstone, — a gray, laminated, quartzose
sandstone, called ' grayband' ; argillaceous sandstone and
shale, red, or mottled with red and gray ; argillaceous sand-
stone graduating below into the Oneida Conglomerate."
Above the Medina group appears the Clinton Sandstone,
which stretches from the neighborhood of Schoharie Creek,
in the county of the same name, westward through Herki-
mer and Oneida Counties, and on across the Niagara River
at Lewiston, through Canada and Michigan. Near Canajo-
harie its thickness is 50 feet. In the town of Stark,
Herkimer County, the rock contains a bed of gypsum. It
extends through Oneida County, with a width of from six
to ten miles. Oneida Lake lies wholly in this formation.
Its thickness in this county is from 100 to 200 feet. An
extensive quarry has been opened in this rock in the town
of Verona. It is spoken of by Hon. P. Jones, in " Annals
of Oneida County," as consisting of blue and yellowish
strata, mostly very hard, and breaking witli a uniform
cleavage, making it a superior stone for building purposes.*
Iron ore abounds in this formation. It is of the kind
known as lenticular or oiilitic.

The Niagara formation proper overlaps the Clinton, and
extends from Herkimer County through Oneida in a narrow
belt, outcropping in the towns of Paris, Kirkland, and Ver-
non.f It is very thin in this section, but at Niagara Falls,
which it forms, is about 80 feet in thickness. This rock
outcrops in Ohio, Canada, Michigan, Northeni Illinois, and
Iowa, and has a thickness in the West of about 100 feet.

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 2 of 192)