Samuel W Durant.

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

. (page 48 of 192)
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 48 of 192)
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— Telegraph Lines — Express Companies.

, The earliest means of communication , in the region. of
Central, New Y'ork werp the trails of the savages and the
streams and lakes, whose arrangement and iiiter-coniiection
is so remarkable. : There is not,' as in Mexico and Central
and^ South Aiuerica, any evideace that a pre-historic race
ever cou-structed great turnpike-roads like the Appiaa Wfxy
.of.,the Roman Empire and the wonderful highway? of th6
Incus of Peru ; but it is at least probable that iit lieu of
these means of cgmmtinication thpy made use of the won-
derful system of rivers and lakes which form so remarkable
a feature of the great region lying between the Atlantic
Ocean and the Rooky Mountain.?.

Nowhere else in the world is there such an interlocking
of head-waters, and at the same time a country so elevated
and so perfectly adapted to the wants of the human family.

From the centre of the Iroquois Confederacy the savage
could launch his bark canoe, and traverse the entire water
system of the St. Lawrence and the great lakes, and by
means of short 'portages could pass to the head-streams of
the Mississippi, the Red River of the north, and thence to
the Rooky Mountains and Hudson's Bay. He could de-
scend the Black River, the Mohawk, and Hudson, the
Delaware, the Susquehanna, and the Ohio ; and these far-
reaohing water lines were the basis of the unparalleled
Indian empire, whose council-fires were on the hills and in
the valleys of Central New York. This geographical pecu-
liarity was one principal cause of the .superiority of the
Iroquois over all the surrounding nations ; they held the
vantage ground, the strategic position, from whence they
could diverge in all directions against their enemies, and
into which they could fall back and concentrate, as in an
impregnable " quadrilateral,"- when misfortune: overtook
them in the fields.

Their principal trails were along the main water-courses,
and so accurately- did they understand the geography and
topography of the country, and so judiciously choose their
routes, that the first turnpikes of the white race were laid
substantially over the same ground from Albany to Bufialo.

Water lines were the first means used in penetrating the
country, with the.single exception of Champlain's expedition
in 1615, which, after descending the river Trent, in Canada,
and crossing Lake Ontario in its numerous canoes, secreted
them on the eastern side of the lake, and made, the rest of
the journey by land. But the expeditions of Denonville
in 1687, and Frontenae in 1696, entered the country by
way of Irondequoit Bay and the Oswego River. The
earliest movements of the English colonists and troops in
the direction of the lakes were by way of the Mohawk
River, Wood Creek, Oneida Lake, and the Oswego River
about 1726, when a trading station was established at a
point west of the mouth of the latter stream.


The earliest notice taken of highways in the Colonial
Legislature was in 1691, when the General Assembly
directed surveyors to be appointed. It is probable, how-
ever, that anterior to that time legislative provision had
been made on the subject. Previous to 1683, highways
had been discussed before' the Governor and Council, and
the system of laws known as the "Duke's Laws" has
reference to these modes of communication. No subject
on the statute book prior to 1813 had claimed a greater
proportion of legislation than, the manner of ruakingand
repairing roads; . Sinice 1799 turnpikes have participated
in its beneficial efi'ects, and received^ the fostering care of
the Legislature.: In 1721 road commissiofaers were ap-
pointed for this western p'artof Albany County^ " from the
bounds (if the village of . Schenectady to the.Moquus
country,.on both sides of the river, and as far as Christians
are settled or hereafter may be settled." These commis;
sioners were Hendrick Haiise, ^arl Hansenj and Captain
Harman Van Slyk.. In 1702, the first year of Queen
Anne's reign; Colonel Killian Van Rensselaer, Major Der-
rick Wessells, Johii. Brunk, and' Evart Bancker were
appointed commissioners for Albany County. On the 6th



of February, 1773, highway coramissionera were appointed
for Tryon County ; and those Jn the German Flats district,
which then included all of the State lying north and west,
were Marcus Petrie, Nicholas Weaver, and John Canning-
ham. On the same day the money to arise from the excise
tax in Tryon County was appropriated for highway im-
provements. On the 6th of April, 1784, the election of
highway commissioners was provided for in Montgomery
County, from three to five being authorized, " and as inany
overseers as were needed."

The following petition was presented to the Legislature
in 1791, at which time Baron Steuben was a resident of
Herkimer County, in that portion subsequently included
in Oneida County. The contemplated road no doubt was
to pass through the eastern portion of Oneida, and probably
near to Steuben's tract.

"To THE Honorable THE Legislature of the State of New York :
" The petition of the subscribers humbly sheweth, That a line of
road from Little Ealls on the Mohawk River to the falls on the Blnck
River, which runs into Lake Ontario, would be attended with infi-
nite advantage to this State, not only by opening a trade with the
flourishing settlement of Cadaroque,* and that part of Canada, by
which all goods and merchandise could be transported from New
York for half the expense that they are by the present route by the
River St. Lawrence, but that it would, likewise, very much enhance
the value of a large tract of laud that this State has to dispose of,
on and near the said river, and very much facilitate the settlement of
that country. That it is humbly submitted to the Legislature to
a]>point commissioners to explore, Lay out, and have said road made,
and to appropriate a sum of money or lands for that purpose, the
distance being between fifty and sixty miles; and your petitioners,
as in duty bound, will pray.

(Signed) " Arthur Noble,

" Steubi:n."

The committee to whom it was referred reported that in
their opinion the prayer of the petitioners ought to be
granted, and a bill prepared, authorizing the commissioners
of the land ofiBce to set apart a tract of land for the purpose
of defraying the expense of exploring, laying out, and
opening the proposed road. Whether their recommenda-
tion was carried out we have not been able to ascertain.

No doubt the earliest route traveled by bodies of white
men was the military road which followed the valley of the
Mohawk, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the
other, and quite probably in places on both sides. It ap-
proached Utica from the east on the north side, and crossed
the river about opposite the foot of the present Genesee
Street. From thence it passed through Whitesboro' and
along the foot of the hills to Rome, and across the portage
to Wood Creek. Temporary roads may also have been cut
through the forest to the north of Oneida Lake. Probably
the earliest military road was opened about the time of the
erection of Forts Bull and Williams, which may have
been in the spring of 1756, or possibly much earlier.

General John Stanwix probably used portions of this
road in the spring of 1758, when he was sent with a de-
tachment to rebuild the fort destroyed by Colonel Webb
upon the advance of Montcalm in August, 1756. The
great army of General Amherst also approached Canada by
this route in 1759. In 1775 Colonel Guy Johnson, who
had succeeded his father-in-law. Sir William Johnson, as

* Now Kingston.

superintendent of Indian affairs, pursued the same route
when with his family and retinue he fled up the valley on
his way to Canada. In 1776, Colonel Dayton, at the head
of the Tryon County militia, marched over this route on
his way to take possession of Fort Stanwix, and the ex-
peditions of Herkimer and Arnold went over the same
ground in the following year.


According to Dr. Bagg's " Pioneers of Utica," « road
following substantially the course of the great Indian trail
from the Hudson to Lake Erie had been opened by Wil-
liam and James Wadsworth, who had planted a colony in
the " Genesee Country," at what is now Geneseo, the county-
seat of Livingston County, in June, 1790. In 1794 legis-
lative action was taken, and three commissioners were
appointed to lay out a road from Utica via Cayuga ferry
and Canandaigua to the Genesee River at Avon, and in
that and the following year made appropriations- to aid in
its construction. The road from Albany to Utica was prob-
ably constructed before the portion west of Utica, and was
known as the " State Road." That portion lying between
Utica and the Genesee River was called the " Genesee
Road." It would appear that the road was not immediately
constructed, for in June, 1797, Colonel Williamson, of
Ontario, represented it as little better than an Indian trail.
According to the " Documentary History," the Legislature,
early in 1797, passed an act relating to this road, and
authorized the raising of 845,000 by a lottery scheme for
the benefit of various roads in the State, S 13,900 of which
sum was to be appropriated for the use of the Genesee road.
The road was then put in rapid course of construction, and
was so far advanced that on the 30th day of September,
1797, a coach with four passengers left old Fort Schuyler
(Utica), and arrived at Geneva, Ontario County, a distance
of one hundred miles, on the second day of October. This
section was the first opened west of Utica ;. the inhabitants
along the line subscribing four tlwusand days work to aid
in its construction. This road was sixty-four feet in width,
and built of earth and gravel, with numerous " corduroys"
over the swampy places and ravines. Its bridges over the
numerous streams, small and great, were probably of ordi-
nary trestle-work in the form of " bents," and very likely
floored with saplings or " puncheons." But it was a won-
derful improvement over the narrow trail and bridle-path,
and the inhabitants of the then far west — the Genesee
Valley — rejoiced greatly over its inauguration.

But in a short time it was seen that a more perfect high-
way than this was needed, and in 1 800 the Seneca Turn-
pike Company, with a capital of $110,000, was chartered
by the Legislature. The shares were $50 each. The com-
missioners were Jedediah Sanger, of New Hartford, and
Benjamin Walker, of Utica, for Oneida County, and Chas.
Williamson and Israel Chapin, of Ontario County. Ac-
cording to the journal pf John Maude, an English traveler,
who passed through Utica on his way to Niagara Falls, one
mile of it only was completed in July, 1800. This road
passed through the villages of New Hartford, Kirkland,
Lairdsville, Vernon, and Oneida Castle. The road leading
into Utica from the east seems to have been still unfinished



at this time, as would appear from an advertisement of the
Mohawk Turnpike and Bridge Company, published in the
village paper, under date of Oct. 21, 1800, in which the
said company solicited proposals for a bridge over the Mo-
hawk, at Schenectady, for completing the ten miles of the
road lying immediately east of Utica, and for finishing
other portions farther east.

Up to the date of the organization of the Seneca Turn-
pike Company, the road leading across the Mohawk bottom,
between Utica and Deerfield, had been very tortuous, and
at times nearly impassable. About this time it was straight-
ened across this intervale., and otherwise improved, but it was
several years before it became a tolerable road.

The building of this then great thoroughfare was the
first important factor in the growth and importance of
Utica, for it virtually made it the head of navigation and
the principal landing-place on the Mohawk River for the
emigration then just beginning to seek the fertile regions
in Western New York, and the embryo commerce destined
to expand in the swift-coming years to fabulous propor-
tions. The opening of this road ten miles to the south
forced Rome to take the second place in the county in com-
mercial importance, and gave Utica the preponderance
which she still retains.

The following is a partial list of -turnpike- and plank-
roads which have been authorized by legislation in Oneida
County, taken from the records in the county clerk's office
in Utica: Chenango Turnpike, laid out in 1804, through
the towns of Wliitestown (then including Utica) and Paris.*
Rome Turnpike Company, chartered in 1820. On the 7th
of May, 1847, the Legislature passed " An act to provide
for the incorporation of companies to construct Plank-roads,
and of companies to construct Turnpike-roads." These,
and especially the latter, previous to the general construc-
tion of railways, served a, very important purpose in open-
ing new thoroughfares, which, without legislation, could not
have been established. Most of the turnpike-roads have
been authorized by special acts, and after serving their orig-
inal purposes passed into the keeping of the various towns
through which they were located before the date of the
above act. Plank-roads began to be constructed about
1846, and for about ten to fifteen years were considered
valuable improvements over the turnpike ; but experience
soon proved they were costly and ephemeral, and they lost
favor and disappeared as rapidly as they sprang into ex-
istence, until, at the present time (1878), there are only a
few miles remaining in Oneida County. The following list
embraces a large proportion of those which have existed
in the county :

Rome and Utica Plank-Road Compani/. — Authorized
Nov. 18, 1847. Located in June, 1848. Partly sur-
rendered in 1856. Since abandoned.

* A mail-route from Eoine, via Rcdfield a.nd Adams, to Suket's
Harbor, was established by Act of Congress^ April 21, 1806. Another
route fi-otu Utioa, vi<t Wliitestown, Rome, arid Saoket's Harbor, to
Brownville, Jefferson County, was established April 28, 1810.' The
mails were at first carried on horseback, but in the summer of 1819
a line of coaches was put on the route. Among the proprietors o,f
Ibis line was James Thomson, who also owned the " Home Hotel." A
rival line was also put in operation about the same time from Utica
via the Black Uiver country. The trips wore made tri- weekly.

T/ie New London Plank- Road Company. — Authorized
Nov. 22, 1847. Extended from Abraiu Lent's tavern, iu
Vienna, to one mile below the village of New London, in
Verona. Length 5| miles.

Rome and Turin Plank-Road Company. — Extended
from Rome through the towns of Lee and Ava,.near the
canal turnpike, to Turin, in Lewis County. Located in
1848. Surrendered in 1855.

Fixh Greek Pinik-Road Company. — Extending from
the Rome and Oswego Plank-Road, near MoConnellsyille,
to Fish Creek Landing, in Vienna.

Bridgeioater'and Utica Plank- Road C(nnpany. — Road
laid out in August, 1848.

Northern Planh-Road Company. — Road built in

Hamilton and Deansville Plank-Rond Company. — Road
surveyed and laid out in June, 1848. Total length, 15
miles, 30 chains, and 42 links. Abandoned io 1874.

Uticrc and Waterville Central Plank-Road Company. —
Road laid out iu February, 1849. Surrendered in 1856.

Fmnhfort and Utica Plank-Road Company. — Road
laid in April, 1849. Abandoned 1861.

Russia and Korth Gage Plank-Road Ojmpaiiy. — Road
laid in 1849. Surrendered in 1860.

Rome and Madison Plank-Road. C'lmjiany. — Road
laid in April, 1851), from Rome, through Vernon and
Augusta, to Madison.

The Seneca Plank-Road Company. — Laid on the Seneca

Waterville and Utica Plank-Road Company. — Road
laid in December, 1848.

Earlvillc and Waterville Plank-Road Company. — Or-
ganized in 1849. Road extended from Waterville, Oneida
County, to Earlville, Madison County. Abandoned in

Augusta Plank-Road Company. — Organized 1852.
Road mostly abandoned in 1869.

Holland Patent and Marcy Planli^Road Company. —
Road laid in December, 1850.

Central Square and Vienna Plank-Road Company. —
Road abandoned in 1855.

Rom:e and Taherg Plank-Road Company. — Organized
March 28, 1854. Road abandoned in 1871.

^y infield and Paris Plank- Road Company. — Organized
under act of 1854. Abandoned in 1872.

Tlie Trenton and Prospect Plank-Road Company. — This
company are still running three miles of their road, extend-
ing from Prospect Station, on the Utica and Black River
Railroad to Gang Jlills, above Prospect Village. The portion
from the station to Trenton Village was abandoned in 1860.

Utica and Deerfield MacAdam, Road. — Extending from
Genesee Street bridge to Deerfield Corners. The Utica
and Deerfield Street Railway Company, incorporated in
1871, have the privilege of laying down their track on
this road.

Some further accounts of roads will be found in the
. hi.story of the several townships.

Dr. Bagg, in his valuable compilation, " The Pioneers of
Utica," gives a great amount of information upon a variety
of subjects, among others the primitive means of trunspor-



tation before the era of canals and railways. From his
work we learn that the first person to inaugurate a stage-
line was Jason Parker, a native of Adams, Mass., who
came to Oneida County, and permanently settled at Utica,
in 1794. His fii-st experience was that of post-rider
between Canajoharie and Whitestown. The contract for
carrying the mail, which had been given to one Simeon
Pool, was soon transferred to Mr. Parker. His first trips
were sometimes made on foot and sometimes on horseback.
In August, 1795,, he put on a regular stage between the
towns mentioned, and advertised his venture in the follow-
ing words :

" The mail leaves Whitestown every Monday and Thursday, at two
o'clock P.U.J and proceeds to Old Fort Schuyler (Utica) the same
evening J next morning starts at four o'clock, and arrives at Canajo-
harie in the evening, exchanges passengers with the Albany and
Cooperstown stages, and the next day returns to Old Fort Schuyler.
Fare for pa^Bengers, four cents per mile j fourteen pounds of baggage
gratis. One hundred and lifty pounds weight rated the same as a
passenger. Seats may be had by applying at the post-office. Whites-
town, at the bouse of the subscriber, Old Fort Schuyler, or at Captain
Roof'!!, Canajoharie."

In 1797, finding the business risky, expensive, and of
doubtful profit, he joined with others in a petition to the
Legislature for pecuniary assistance. There is no evidence
that they obtained any relief, but the stage-line was kept
running, and in 1799 the name of Moses Real appears in
connection with that of Parker as proprietors of a mail-
stage which ran twice a week between Schenectady and

In ] 802 a stage was put on the line from Utica to Onon-
daga, which carried mails and passengers twice a week. In
March, 1803, Mr. Parker, Levi Stephens, and others, pe-
titioned for the exclusive right of running stages between
the villages of Utica and Canandaigua for the term of ten
years, affirming that " the present emoluments are inade-
quate to reimburse the expense by the proprietors." In
the following year the Legislature passed an act " granting
to- Jason Parker and Levi Stephens the exclusive right, for
seven years, of running a line of stages for the conveyance
of passengers, at least twice a week, along the Genesee
road, or Seneca turnpike, between the above-mentioned
villages. They were bound to furnish four good and sub-
stantial covered wagons or sleighs, and sufficient horses to
run the same. The fare was not to exceed five cents per
mile, and they were to run through in forty-eight hours,
accidents excepted. They were forbidden £o carry more
than seven passengers in any one carriage, except by the
unanimous consent of said passengers. If four passengers
above the seven applied for passage, they were to fit out
and start an extra carriage for their accommodation. Any
number less than four might be accommodated by paying
the rate of four."

In . September, 1810, a daily line of stages was started
between Albany and Utica, and a year later (September,
1811), another tri-weekly line was added. As early as
January, 1811, the route had been extended westward to
Buffitlo and Niagara Falls.

In 1813, Theodore S. Faxton was admitted to the firm
of J. Parker & Co., as outside assistant, and in 1816, S. D.
Childs was also taken in as book-keeper. Another remark-

able man, John Butterfield, was employed as runner in
1822, and eventually became the successor of J. Parker &
Co. in the stage and transportation business. At the time
of Mr. Parker's decease, in 1830, the business first started
by him in 1794-95 had grown from humble beginnings to
remarkable proportions. Utica had become a great centre
for stages, there being eight daily lines running east and
west, and twelve daily, semi-weekly, and weekly lines north
and south.

Like every other business there was brisk competition in
this, and about 1810-11 a, number of rival companies were
in the field ; among them we find Joshua Ostrom, Baker &
Swan, J. Wetmore & Co., Powell & Parker, and Campbell
& Co. A portion of them, however, failed, and left the
business to their rivals. On the line in May, 1811, were
Powell, Parker, Baker & Co., Parker & Powell, Hosmer &
Co.,. and Landon & Co.

After Mr. Parker's death, Messrs. Faxton & Childs con-
tinued in the staging business until 1838. Subsequently,
Mr. Faxton, in company with John Butterfield, Hiram
Greenman,and others, put a packet line in operation on the
canal, and the same parties were also interested in steamboat
lines on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

About 1805 a company was organized for the purpose of
building a turnpike from Utica through Trenton to Boon-
ville. Trenton was then called " Oldenbarneveld." Col-
onel A. G. Mappa was secretary of the company. Sub-
scriptions were taken in Utica, Deerfield, Oldenbarneveld,
Renisen, and Steuben. The company experienced great
difficulty in raising sufficient means to prosecute the work,
and Colonel Mappa, in a letter to Hon. Morris S. Miller
dated at Oldenbarneveld, Dec. 10, 1805, complains that the
heavy property-owners and merchants of Utica had done
very little, and shows by comparison with other points the
small amount of stock taken by them, thus : Utica, 37
shares ; Oldenbarneveld village, 92 shares ; town of Rem-
sen, 35 shares.

At that date there had not been sufficient stock taken to
enable the company to choose directors. The colonel set
forth in forcible language and at great length the advantages
that would accrue to Utica by the completion of the road,
and showed that if Utica failed to do her duty, the towns
of Johnstown, Little Falls, and German Flatts would un-
doubtedly enter the field and carry off the profits of a
trade which should properly come to the former. From a
similar letter, written June 25, 1814, it appears that the
company was much embarrassed.


As early as 1774 the idea of connecting the valley of
the Hudson with the western lakes and Lake Champlain
by means of canals and locks at the rapids and carrying-
places was discussed by Governor Tiyon and others ; but
the breaking out of the Revolutionary war put an end to
any measures for carrying the project into execution.

The matter assumed tangible shape iu the mind of
Christopher Colles, of New York, in 1785, and on the
30th of March, 1792, the Legislature passed an act in-
corporating the " Western Inland Lock Navigation Com-
pany," for the purpose of opening lock navigation from the



navigable part of Hudson's River to Lake Ontario and
Seneca Lake. The commissioners appointed for distribu-
ting the stock were Samuel Jones, David Gelston, Comfort
Sands, Melancthon Smith, Nicholas Hoffman, Abraham
Ten Broeck, John Taylor, Philip S. Van Rensselaer, Cor-
nelius Glen, and John Ten Broeck.

The first directors were Philip Schuyler, Leonard Ganse-
voort, Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, Elkanah Watson, John
Taylor, Jellis A. Fonda, William North, Goldsbrow Banyar,
Daniel Hale, John Watts, Walter Livingston, Dominick
Lynch, James Watson, Matthew Clarkson, Ezra L'Hom-
medieu, Melancthon Smith, David Gelston, Stephen Lush,
Cornelius Glen, Silas Talbot, John Frey, Douw Fonda,
John Sanders, Nicholas J. Rosevelt, Daniel McCormick,

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 48 of 192)