Read Before The
HERKIMER COUNTY HISTORICAL
During The Years
1896, 1897, AND 1898
Compiled by Arthur T. Smith
Secretary of the Society.
Herkimer and Ilion, N. Y.
Citizen Publishing Company, Publishers
THE TOWN OF DANUBE.
An Address by Edward Simms, of the Town of Danube
Delivered before the Herkimer County Historical Society, September 10, 1898.
Of the aboriginal history of what is now known as the town of Danube, but little save tradition is known. At the time of the advent of the Palatine, commencing about the year 1712 and continuing for several years thereafter King Hendrick, the great chieftain of the Mohawks, had his home at or near the present mouth of the Nowadaga creek. Here for generations unknown the Mohawks, then by far the most numerous and powerful of all the tribes afterward known as the five Nations, had hunted the wild beasts of the forest, paddled their birch bark canoes upon the stream that yet bears their name, and made war upon their savage neighbors east, west and south of them. But with the advent of the sturdy Hollander from the lowlands and their German neighbors from the highlands of Central Europe, a mighty change was brought into the history of these sons of the forest. Civilization opened up a great gap, and where the war-whoop had once rung out could now be heard the roar of the falling forest tree.
History gives mention of naught but peace between the native and the foreign residents of the valley, until the breaking out of the French and Indian war, about the year 1755. From thence forward until the close of the Revolutionary struggle, the early settlers of Danube, like all of their neighbors up and down the Mohawk valley, were subjected to the inhuman treatment of the traitorous Tories and their Indian allies.
The land lying upon both sides of the Mohawk was patented about the year 1730, and settlements were soon afterward rapidly made. The town of Manheim was more fully settled at an early date than the town of Danube. The flat lands on the north of the river afforded greater inducements to the keen-eyed Hollander than the rough and rugged shores upon the south side, and through a number of families were located near the mouth of the Nowadaga early in 1700, the greater portion of Danube was unbroken forest until the close of the war of the Revolution.
The Herkimer family were among the earliest settlers and while they accumulated a large property and members thereof became prominent in the history of our county and state, they showed a great lack of judgment in the location of their lands---for all the rough and rocky farms lying in the Mohawk valley, the Herkimer farm can easily take the lead.
History both local and national have time and again given to the public a record of the prominent events in the life of our favorite general and a repetition here would be entirely out of order. The Herkimer, Van Alstyne, Seeber, Schuyler and Hess families were among the earliest settlers, and the most of them were loyal to their adopted country at the time of the commencement of the Revolutionary struggle, but it was not an uncommon occurrence to find one of more of the members of each family who chose to cast their lot with the followers of the crown, and thus cast a shadow upon the history of many an otherwise honored family.
Soon after the treaty of peace between great Britain and colonies, settlers from the Hudson river counties, Connecticut and Rhode Island began to found new homes for themselves and their descendants upon the hitherto unoccupied lands lying both north and south of the Mohawk river, and within twenty-five years the lands within the present limits of Danube had been entirely taken up.
The German settlers in the selection of farming lands by far out-generaled the New Englanders. The former were reared upon the rich bottom land of Holland and the latter had never seen aught but the rocks and clay of sterile New England, and thought that New York state was all built on the eastern plan. The finest farms in Danube at this date and lying adjacent to Montgomery county are owned and almost exclusively occupied by the descend of the early German families. As the Hollanders for generation past have used wind mills for procuring water for the use of the dairy, so these descendants of the thrifty Lowlander today use wind mills for a like purpose.
The name of the first family to found a home in eastern Danube I have been unable to ascertain, but during the time from 1790 to 1810, the families of the Cronkhite, Davies, Snells, Smiths, Bellingers, Dillenbecks, Dueslers, Wagoners and Countrymans settled in what is now known as the western portion of Dutchtown. Lying partly in Danube and partly in Minden are about 5,00 acres of as fine farming lands as the state of New York can boast of.
At about the same date as before mentioned, the families of the Ostranders, Mesicks, Delong, Harders, Walters, Johnsons and Spoors settled upon the broad uplands of what is now known as Fire Hill. Whence or why this name I cannot tell, but for the past fifty years that term has been in common use to designate the southern part of the town.
At about the same time that the eastern portion of the town was taken possession of the families of Ackermans, Deckers, Carvers, Snells, Bushes and Bellingers settled in the western part of the town. These families were less fortunate in the selection of their land. They were possessed of less means, and in most instances they occupied land leased from the Bleeker estate at a yearly rental of so many pecks of wheat per acre, payment of which was made at Albany. For many years the occupants of the land sought to purchase the title in fee, and it is only within the past thirty years that the last full title has been acquired. In nearly every instance the land thus leased and afterward purchased is now occupied by tenant farmers, while as before mentioned, lands lying in the eastern and southern portions of the town are almost without exception owned and occupied by the descendants of the original settlers.
The general appearance of the above mentioned locality is quite marked, and I can partially attribute it to two causes: First, the soil is less productive, and discouragement soon follows a scanty crop. Second, there was a mixture of Yankee blood among the last mentioned settlers, and mankind everywhere knows that the Yankee is satisfied only with quick returns and large profits. If the soil fails to respond it is leased to a foreigner and the owner seeks some other field of labor, either public or private.
The families of Landt, Jones, Baum, Garlock, Gardinier and Stafford came into town early in 1800, and occupied the land in the central part of the town. In the case of the last above named families the greater portion have sold the original farms, which are now occupied by tenant. The exception is the Gardinier family, who still own and occupy about 500 acres of the original purchase.
Among the early settler in the northern part of the town were the Hess family, more prominent in early history than some of the others, from the fact that Augustine Hess is mentioned as one of the patentees of the Burnetsfield Patent. One member of the family was on of the committee of safety at the commencement of the revolutionary struggle. The elder, Augustine Hess, was killed by the Indians in 1782.
The Reed family came from Dutchess county about the year 1800. The Walraths, Devendorfs, Shalls, Foxes and Cramers were all early settlers, and like their German neighbors of the eastern part of town, they selected choice lots for farms, and the large red barns, white houses and neat outbuildings of today attest the good judgment of the original owners.
The Green family, once one of the largest in point of numbers in Danube, several members of which in former years occupied positions of trust, have at this date nearly all removed to other localities.
In and around what is now known as Newville settlements were begun in 1792. The first who came were Isaiah and Nathan Wilcox, brothers. They came from the barren and rocky shore at watch Hill in Rhode Island, now one of the most fashionable seaside resorts upon the Atlantic coast.
In the summer of 1791 these two brothers, with their ox teams, journeyed from their New England home into the upper valley of the Nowadaga. They had secured a lease from the Bleeckers to two lots of land. Here alone in the forest they built a log house for each of the brothers, cleared and burned a few acres of land, sowed sufficient wheat for the next year's crop, and in the early autumn they returned to their Rhode Island home. The first snow of winter found them, with their young wives and children, one a babe of three months old, safely packed with all their earthly belongings in their ox sleigh on the road to their Danube home. Christmas day they crossed the Hudson river at Albany on the ice, and a few days more brought them to their future home. Here for over fifty years the brothers and their wives toiled and prospered.
Of the family of the eldest of the brothers, Nathan, I am more particularly acquainted, and you will pardon this, my allusion to him and his family of ten children. Three sons and seven daughters were born to him, all of whom lived, grew to manhood and womanhood, married and had families of their own. Nathan Wilcox was gathered to rest in 1842, and sixty-seven grandchildren blessed his name. The youngest grandchild of Nathan Wilcox owns and occupies the fifty-acre farm leased from the Bleeckers over one hundred years ago. A peculiar feature of this family was that the parents and the ten children were all Free Will Baptists: that of seven daughters six married Baptists and seventh married a Universalist.
About the year 1797 Samuel Houpt, a Low Dutchman from Berks county, Pennsylvania, settled in Newville. He was the second new comer. He brought a bright and thrifty young wife with him. They settled upon the best farming land in the valley. He, probably in a business way was the smartest man in the settlement, and did more to advance the interests of the neighborhood than any of his neighbors. He built a sawmill, two grist mills, fulling and carding mill, a large tannery, and last, but not least, a distillery. He was for many years the head man of the settlement in money matters. He could build mill dams and lay out courses for water power without consulting an engineer. He owned about three hundred acres of land and all of the available water privileges along either side of the Nowadaga creek belonged to him, and for over fifty years they were utilized for the benefit of the owner and the general public. But the time brings old age, and "Uncle Sam," as the men and boys all called him, was in due time gathered to his fathers. A favorite tonic and laxative of the old man was a lump of aloes as large as a walnut and a glass of homemade whiskey. Seated in his arm chair under the porch of his, the grandest house in the Nowadaga valley, located so that he could see about all that was going on in the village that he had almost entirely built up; he seemed the picture of contentment. Like all the Low Dutchmen and some of the High Dutchmen, "Uncle Sam" was quite willing that his cheery little wife should do full one-half of the outdoor work and all the indoor work beside. The idea that women were made for ornament had never suggested itself to him.
Of all the mills and shops that once made music in Newville, the grist and sawmills alone remain. The coopers, cabinet makers, tanners, tailors, harness makers and shoe makers, have passed to the other side and none came to take their places. A small country store supplies the wants of the people for the time being, and Little Falls is but an hour's drive away. Among the German farmers who settled upon leased land in the western part of the town, the Bellinger family were rather more prominent than many others. Captain Daniel Bellinger, noted for his conservative Democracy, and the uncommon faculty of making money from the poorest tract of land in Danube, is a worthy example. Nature and cultivation had advanced him a few grades above his German neighbors. He came straight down from the Revolutionary struggle without any of the faults or follies of modern times, and was what some people call a gentleman of the old school. He represented the second district of Herkimer county in the legislature in 1840. Captain Bellinger was the pioneer cheese manufacturer of Danube. The exact date when he commenced the business cannot be ascertained. Danube like all of the country towns of Herkimer county, is gradually lessening in population. In 1855, the inhabitants numbered about 1,800; at the present date they number less than 1,200. Ezra Holmes, Benjamin Klock, John Dyslin, Jeremiah Landt, James H. Mattison, Jacob Guiwits, Ralph Simms, Levi Ackerman, and Dw. C. Jones, were old-time merchants at Newville, and William Kretsinger was a merchant at the Indian Castle. The Doctors Holmes, father and son, at the Indian Castle and the Doctors Abraham Snyder and his son Horace at Newville, ministered to the physical wants of the people for many years. They traveled, at an early date, on horseback with their saddlebags behind them. A visit to a patient a few miles distant, generally took the better part of the day. The doctor and his horse were regaled with the best that the house and the stable could afford. The lancet and the calomel bottle duly brought forth, and if the patient had a good hardy constitution he or she, as the case might be, generally recovered. Times and methods have changed; slowly but surely the sugar pills, the palatable little tablets and the quick come and go, have taken the place of "the old style."
Much of the history of Danube has long since become public property. B. J. Lossing, J. R. Simms, N. S. Benton, and others of lesser note, have gathered and garnered the most important events connected with its early history.
In educational matters the early German settlers were not as far advanced as their neighbors of New England descent, and even at this late day the Mohawk Dutchman takes more pride in a well-kept and well-stocked farm and dairy than he does in the country school house.
In matters political, Danube had invariably been true to Democracy, until the advent of the Republican party, and even now the name "Democrat," when attached to some popular candidate at election time, will cause some of the elder members in each community to return for brief season to their early love. Within the past seventy years Danube has furnished but four members to the assembly. Twice has the county clerk been selected from that town, and our present honored county judge hails Danube as his birth place. Much that is commendable can be written and spoken of both her early sons and daughters; of the hardships and trials they endured, of how they strove early and late indoors and out to build up homes for themselves and their children. Lightly will we tread over their last resting places, and day by day we will bless the Good Father who gave to us the brave and true fathers and mothers of Danube's early days.
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