THE OLD STATE ROAD
AN ADDRESS BY GEORGE L. JOHNSON OF ILION
Delivered Before the Herkimer county Historical Society Nov. 2, 1904
After Sir William Johnson returned from the capture of Montreal, in the fall of 1760, he obtained the Royal Grant, and also commenced building Johnstown, and his second and last mansion, Johnson Hall, which is still to be seen on the State Road about a mile northerly of Johnstown.
He was the founder of Johnstown, and beside many other things of importance which he did, he built a church and school at his own expense, and made them free to all. Johnstown grew rapidly for the times under his fostering care.
After the battle of Lake George in 1755, where he won his title of Baronet, he lived in true baronial style.
In 1772 he was instrumental in getting Albany County divided, and the new county of Tryon organized.
Governor Tryon, with his wife, visited Sir William at Johnson Hall, and were entertained right royally, and in honor of the Governor, the new county was named Tryon, with county seat at Johnstown. Sir William's son-in-law Guy Johnson, was the first county judge.
Sir William died at the hall in July 1774.
The Royal Grant is all that tract of land, not before or otherwise appropriated, north of the Mohawk River, between the two creeks East and West Canada, to the line of Jerseyfield, which line starts in the village of Devereaux and runs thence northwesterly through or by Gray, across the West Canada, above Hinckley. The line between the towns of Norway and Ohio is on the same line. The Grant contains about 93,000 acres although Sir William, in his petition to the King, called it 40,000.
Soon after the war of the American Revolution, and the peace of 1783, settlement commenced on the Grant, quite rapidly, and westward in Oneida County, towards and in the Black River country, through Lewis and Jefferson Counties, to Lake Ontario and River St. Lawrence.
The question was agitated to build a road from the Mohawk Valley, across the Royal Grant in the direction of the Black River.
In 1790, the State legislature passed an act, appropriating money to build a bridge across the East Canada Creek, at a point three miles from its mouth, to the Royal Grant.
That was not to be as there was nothing done about it.
The first stage that carried mail west from Albany to Schenectady, Johnstown and Canajoharie, was in 1790. There was no great established road in the Mohawk Valley, west from Schenectady, previous to 1800, the Mohawk was the only highway until that time.
In 1792, the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was chartered, which built the locks at Little Falls, and others westward.
About 1792-97, a turnpike was established from Albany across the plain to Schenectady, to connect there with boating on the Mohawk.
The Mohawk Turnpike from Schenectady to Utica was chartered in 1800.
On March 26th, 1803, an act of the legislature was passed, authorizing the building of certain great roads, and $41,500, appropriated for the purpose, to be raised by lottery. That may sound curious in these days, but it is a fact that there was lottery at that time authorized by legislature, and the proceeds appropriated for public improvement, especially roads and bridges. I will mention two bridges built previous to 1797, and the money appropriated for payment that year - one between Herkimer and Fort Herkimer, the other over the Mohawk at the foot of Genesee Street, Utica.
Johnstown is geographically in the right line for a road from the Black River, and the Royal Grant, to Albany, and the route was surveyed and established in 1804-5, and opened about 1806.
It was authorized to be run from "Preston's Tavern" in Steuben, Oneida County, to within three miles of the High Falls (now known as Lyons Falls) of the Black River, and thence to Brownville; and eastward from the same starting point to Johnstown. Its location fixed the location of Salisbury Corners, Norway Village, Cold Brook and Russia Corners.
Albany was the farmer's market, and as soon as they had something to sell, wheat, corn and pork, they needed a road to get there.
The route is very direct and generally straight, especially through Herkimer County; all the villages above named and also Dolgeville included are very nearly in a straight line.
From Johnstown eastward, it connected directly to Tribes Hill, with the Mohawk Turnpike - northwesterly from Johnstown, it passes through Garoga, Lassellville, and Oppenheim, in Fulton County, to Brockett's Bridge (now Dolgeville) on the line in Herkimer County, then it passes through a corner of Manheim, Salisbury, a small corner of Fairfield, Norway, a very small corner of Newport, Cold Brook and Russia, to Boons Bridge, on the West Canada near Prospect, Oneida County, and on through Remsen, to Boonville, Watertown and Brownville, crossing the Royal Grant in its widest part.
There had been a route of travel about on this line for years, notably in two wars - the French War of 1756-63, and the American Revolution twenty years later. History tells us that war parties came from Canada, to the Mohawk Valley, by way of the Black River and Jerseyfield, which is to the north of the Royal Grant. The old fording place on the West Canada is above the mouth of Black Creek, in the present town of Ohio, so in order to reach that it is necessary to make a diversion northward into Jerseyfield.
The last notable incident was the famous retreat of Ross and Butler, from the vicinity of Johnstown, in the fall of 1781 - they came directly on this line into Norway - about two miles east of the village they turned northward, and after crossing Black Creek, wended their way to the crossing where Butler was found dead. There is a monumental stone set up there.
For reasons well understood by readers of Revolutionary history, the legislature of our State of New York, on the 2nd of April, 1784, struck from the statute book, the name of the great county of Tryon, and Montgomery, the honored name of him who fell at Quebec, was inserted in its place; - Johnstown continued the county seat of Montgomery. Prior to 1817, Manheim and Salisbury had Johnstown for their county seat , and it, next to Albany, was the objective point for business from the north, and from the Grant.
This road came to be the "grand crossing" over the Grant, between the Black River country and Albany, by way of Johnstown.
Farmers along the line of road, and others in the vicinity of it, who had a surplus of food stuffs - grain, and meat, particularly wheat, and pork, as soon as there was snow enough for sleighing, would load a sleigh and start for Albany, - those near the Mohawk Valley, and turnpike need not wait for sleighing.
Potash was quite an important article of commerce in the early days when the forest was being cleared away, and the ashes from the burnt wood gathered and leached, the lye boiled down in those great thick iron kettles to potash; a concentrated article then went down the road to market. How many of the young people of today, have seen those great kettles, and know what they were made for? In later days some of them have been used in the sugar bush boiling the maple sap, and now one may occasionally be seen in soap making, or in hog killing time, heating water.
Potasheries were plentiful before 1830, most of the merchants had them - they bought ashes in exchange for goods. V.S. Kenyon, a merchant of Middleville, had one in operation after 1840, he used to send a man around with a team - gathering ashes.
Some individual farmers worked at it, the late Fred Smith in a paper given this society in 1898, entitled "Fragments of Norway's Early History," told of one "Sylvanus Ferris, who came on to Dairy Hill, about two miles east of Norway Village in 1798 and bought 110 acres of land at $6.00 per acre, - the avails of his potash soon paid for the land, - other farms were bought and in 1824, he was the owner of about 400 acres."
Before the construction of the Schenectady and Utica railroad in 1835, the State road was a thoroughfare, thronged with teams from the Black River country and the Grant. The carriage of grain, pork, potash, flax, wool, fish from Lake Ontario, venison, furs and other products from the field, forest and waters, made an animated scene along the whole road.
Taverns stood at short intervals, and at these the men of northern farms and hamlets, found good cheer; - they often brought their own provisions, paying moderate sums for lodging and the stabling of their teams, - large open fire places piled high with wood, warmed and lighted up the spacious bar rooms with a ruddy glow, - a heated iron pendant from an iron rod, converted their strong ale into "flip," and no exciseman hindered their homely festivity.
About 1812, according also to Mr. Smith, "cheese dairying was inaugurated on Dairy Hill, by Colonel Jared Thayer from Massachusetts with a dairy of 20 cows; - the first of that size in the county or state." Atwater Cook in Salisbury, father of Sheriff Jas. J. Cook, was another to early adopt cheese making, - others soon followed, and then the product of the farm could be sent to market in a more concentrated form.
Dr. Stephen Todd of Salisbury, a man of ability, thought that "dairying would be a boon to raising grain, - especially as the land was better adapted to dairying than grain."
Previous to 1840, cheese were sent to the New York market packed in cheap barrels called "casks," made of thin unplaned basswood, each containing four to six, or more cheese, according to their thickness.
As the trade increased and the Erie Canal was opened for business about 1825, cheese were delivered at Little Falls, for shipment on the boats, which were several days on the way.
That system continued until about 1840, when round hoop boxes were made with adjustable covers, and single cheese sent to market in those. Norway was the pioneer, and banner town, of the county and state in cheese making, and Little Falls the market after the canal was opened. Ferris and Nesbit were the first buyers in Norway.
The late Harry Burrill, father of David H. Burrill, as a merchant founded his fortune at Salisbury on the State road. In addition to general merchandising in a country store, he bought pork, and cheese. He became a wholesale buyer and leading exporter of cheese, and had agents buying for him, - the late Lyman Parkhurst of Middleville one of them as late as 1860, also he had two sons, Seymour and Isaac, looking after sales in Europe, - they were older than David; - he owned a long line of seven farms on the road between Salisbury and Little Falls, which he leased to tenants who made cheese for him; - it was said he could export chese from his own farm dairies. I used to see Burrill in Little Falls about 1868, he had a fine house built expressly for him on East Main street.
Burrill used the state road much for twenty or thirty years, as did all merchants, - business men and progressive farmers, along and in vicinity of the road: - there was no other way to market.
About the time of the close of Burrill's career, and the establishment of the dairy board of trade in Utica, after 1850, Little Falls was in touch with Liverpool and the leading market of the world, for producing sales of cheese.
The first great, and perhaps most important event connected with the State road, was the state's use of it in our war of 1812, with Great Britain, in sending soldiers, military supplies, and cannon, over it to Sackets Harbor, which was made a rendezvous and depot of supplies, as the frontier was considered in danger of invasion from Canada.
The militia of Herkimer county, and some others was called out en masse. I have known several veterans of that campaign; my wife's father, George Buell of Fairfield being one.
My mother was born in 1803, in the northeast corner of Fairfield, near and in plain sight of the road as it is. She being nine years old in 1812, the sight of soldiers with cannon, going along up the road made an impression upon her, which she used to tell me about in my boyhood. Her school days were spent on that road.
The soldiers claimed large freedom on the whole route, and sometimes took forcible possession of the Taverns - they had too, a festive way of fishing out bottles, with nooses on the end of their ramrods over the palings that the tavern keeper found needful to protect his liquors.
The road was very useful to the state at that time, and became at once a great thoroughfare. It was an important mail route from Johnstown northerly, for thirty years or more, and connected in Oneida County, with a route from Utica north.
Utica had grown and a road had been opened north through Trenton, known as the Black River turnpike. John Butterfield, in Utica, ran a line of stages; Concord coaches, more commonly now called tally-ho, with four horses carrying the mail through Trenton, - to Boonville and Watertown.
A tally-ho coach and four lively horses with a good driver was an institution; - nearing a station he would blow his horn, then with a few cracks of his long whip would get the horses into a smart gallop, going up to the station at top of speed.
I witnessed such an incident in Trenton, about 1836-8. Boy as I was, it made a lasting impression.
Villages grew on the State road as soon as it opened, but business had been started in some places off from that line.
I will give one illustration.
At Norway the first store was located, by the prominent merchants, W.H. and Geo. W. Cook in 1793, half a mile north of the present village.
Cooks' store was the rallying point for all town business for fifteen years.
In my recollection in the years 1836 to 44 there was the annual military parade, (General Training) at some point on the State Road, generally at Norway or Salisbury. There were two regiments, one of riflemen, and another of militia: - the militia officers wore some uniform, but the private had all sorts of dr ess, and carried all sorts of guns, muskets, etc.
All men not specially exempt, between the ages of 18 and 45 were liable to military duty as militia.
The riflemen were enlisted for 14 years at age of 18 to 32. Each company had its own special uniform all alike in the company, but each company was different from another. The Newport company in which was my father, had frock coats of scotch plaid worsted, trimmed with yellow braid and brass buttons, and with green fringe around the skirt; - the pants were red worsted, trimmed with black cord. The low hat or it might be called a cap, was of some kind of animal skin, with ornamental brass plate in front, containing three black ostrich feathers.
One company had blue coats, white pants, and white plumes in their hats; another company, gray, and so on through the regiment.
The officers still more gorgeous according to rank, especially the brigade inspector general with his staff.
At bugle call the major would form the regiment on the street near headquarters; then the Colonel with his staff, in proper marching order at its head, with martial music, (fife and drum) and flags flying, would take up the line of march for the field (a large meadow) making an inspiring scene for boys ten to fifteen years old.
The brigade inspector general with his staff came on the field for review and inspection of arms and accoutrements.
The road was a great thoroughfare for droves of animals, cattle and sheep, going to market at Albany, for 40 or 50 years; - in the years 1830 to 1850, in the fall season, hundreds and some days thousands, of animals could be seen moving along toward Johnstown; - some of them came long distances from points in Lewis or Jefferson counties. Some of the droves were very large numbering several hundred. The largest one I remember was gotten together by Norman Butler, a merchant of Fairfield, about 1840 or 42.
I am not now positive as to the exact number, but I feel quite sure it was 700 or over, probably as many as 900, - I think it was his effort to make it 1000. There was much said at the time about Butler's big drove, but memory is very uncertain. He took it in sections to the State road at Salisbury. That drove may have helped his financial failure which occurred soon after. He had kept a general country store, also bought cheese, and had made potash. My father was one of his creditors for cheese.
There was all along the road what might be called drovers' taverns, that is farmers who made quite a business keeping droves. I will mention one only whom I knew personally after he retired to Norway village. Palmer Root, it was said made his fortune (a modest one) keeping droves on the sand hills between Norway and Cold Brook.
I have passed over that portion of the road in this county many times, it is a hilly hard road to travel.
About 1843, I passed over the eastern portion twice in the fall season, with droves of sheep for Albany, - we took the road at Salisbury and staid the first night with Charlie Brockett, in the old Brockett tavern at Brockett's Bridge.
A short time ago the same old white tavern was there, on the east side of the creek, apparently about the same as 61 years ago. The old wooden covered bridge has been replaced by iron.
Nearing Johnstown, which was about a mile in front of us, my uncle, Aaron G. Swift, pointed to a house a little distance from the road, and said, "That is Johnson Hall, built by Sir William Johnson."
The house was then probably about as he left it - 70 years before, but since that it has been somewhat modernized, with porticos, bay windows, etc.
In 1897, one writer has said that "Mrs. Wells, whose late husband's family, have occupied it for nearly a hundred years, bears the nuisance of living in a house subject to the constant intrusion of strangers in a most courteous spirit: - the five Lombardy poplars, and the lilacs he planted 140 years ago were fresh in bud as any May."
In 1902, the Colonial Dames of the State of New York, visited Johnstown, and unveiled a bronze tablet in Johnson Hall, in commemoration of the services of Sir William; - it stated the house was built in 1762.
It is probably the oldest building on the road, out of Johnstown, and the one of most historic importance; - next to it in interest may be St. Johns' Church (Episcopal) in Johnstown, built by Sir William "which after two fires, still preserves in its walls the original cut stone brought from Tribes Hill quarry. The Court House, once of Tryon County, seems not very ancient, and houses the collections of the Historical Society. The jail on a commanding hill, once the old Fort in the American Revolution, (built partly or wholly by or at the expense of Sir William), with its newly pointed masonry, and smart sheriffs' residence looks of today."
In some of the newspapers not very long ago, was an announcement that the Johnson Hall property is now for sale, and the suggestion made that it be bought by some organization, or the State, and held in a way that the public may have access to it.
There are all along the road dwellings, some of them once taverns, and in the villages, churches 90 to 100 years old.
Salisbury once had a paper mill, up the road northwesterly a mile or so from the corners to and on the Spruce Creek. I first saw the building in 1847, it looking old then, and since has been used for lumber as a planing mill, and still called the paper mill.
The first pioneers, who came into the forest and settled on the line of the State road, in this county were of that sterling puritan stock, from the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, - many of them became prominent, useful men. I will name only a very few, one or two from each town in this county.
In Salisbury, Harry Burrill, has been already mentioned. In addition to him, there was Atwater Cook, born in 1795, farmer, pioneer cheese dairyman, mechanic, merchant, justice of the peace many years, and held other offices of trust, Member of Assembly 1831 and 1839. Died in 1853 at 58 years of age.
Dr. Stephen Todd, another prominent personage, came into Salisbury in 1792, was farmer, doctor, and captain of militia in the war of 1812.
Stephen Ayres came into Fairfield in 1792; was farmer, and notably, a prominent surveyor, in locating lots on the Royal Grant, and also surveying line for the state road, Member of Assembly in 1836. Died in 1850, at 81 years of age. His son, Hiram remained at the homestead and was also a noted surveyor. That school district No. 1 Fairfield is known as the Ayres district. Next to Ayres on the road was Daniel C. Henderson in Norway, farmer, historian, pettifogger, Member of Assembly in 1827.
At Norway village there seems to have been a north and south road before the State road was laid. The Cooks and Coes were a half mile north, Tillinghast and Manly, as much south.
W.H. Cook, came in 1792, was farmer, merchant, sheriff of the county five years form 1802.
Thomas Manley from Vermont, came in 1789, his family in 1790; was farmer, supervisor fifteen years, Member of Assembly, 1799, 1809 and 1820. Died in 1852 at 88 years of age.
Henry Tillinghast from Rhode Island came in 1792; was farmer, tanner, held various town offices, supervisor near 30 years. Member of Assembly in 1823. Died in 1841 at 69 years of age.
According to the record we have of him Sylvanus Ferris, must have been an enterprising business man, in addition to his potash industry, he bought and sold country produce, and was a partner with Robert Nesbit in the butter and cheese trade many years. It is the enterprising that emigrate.
In 1836, he with his five sons, sold out their holding of 700 acres on Dairy Hill, the highest, bleakest, and most uncomfortable place in Norway, about six months of the year, and went to Galesburg, Illl., and settled on government land, which was then plenty at $1.25 per acre. He gave each of his sons a section (640 acres) of land, 3,200 acres for all. My father visited them in 1843, but I cannot now tell how much Ferris had for himself. The estate was vastly increased. One of the boys had been a captain in that rifle company before mentioned. In the census of 1900 Galesburg had a population of 18,600. Norway a little over 800 in the town.
Ferris of Ferris wheel notoriety was a grandson of Sylvanus.
Dr. Westel Willoughby, the first doctor in Norway came in 1792, at 23 years of age, and settled on the hills about ten miles northeast of Norway village; a rough, cold country for a young man of his education and ability. The Bowens about his time got started at Newport, building mills, a saw mill in 1793 and a grist mill 1794 and some time before 1806, when the town of Newport was organized, the doctor left Norway, and found a fine spot for a home at the northwestern part of the village of Newport.
At the first town meeting he was moderator, (chairman). The doctor was a man of fine education and natural ability, and was very useful in town and country 40 years. Besides having a large practice in the valley, he was a professor in the Medical College at Fairfield 25 years, president of the same many years, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1805, Member of Assembly 1807-9 to 1821, on the medical staff of the county in the war of 1812, at Sacketts Harbor, Member of Congress 1814. I used to see him at Newport in the years 1836 to 1844, the year in which he died at 75 years of age.
After the doctor's death, his home place, the Park, has been occupied by the fine stone mansions of Perry and Sweezy, the western part by Stewart Perry, and the eastern by Sweezy; the house he had built and made his home in many years, was moved up the road towards Norway, to make a home for Deacon Isaac Smith; his office was on the corner across the way, now occupied by an octagon stone house, built by Ira L. Cady, a son-in-law of Linus Yale.
Edmond Varney came to Russia, from Dutchess County in 1809, his father was a patriot in the American Revolution.
Edmond, known as Judge, was farmer, Justice of the Peace form 1812 for 25 years, town clerk 5 years, supervisor 5 years, judge in County Court, school commissioner, master in chancery, Member of Assembly in 1825, State Senator in 1841. Died in 1847 at the age of 59 years.
Mr. Smith, in the paper before mentioned, gave a fine pen picture of Norway in prosperity in the years 1820 to 1840,- later he gave another of conditions in 1898, pessimistic, gloomy, doleful. There are several reasons for the change.
He said "cheese making was universal before 1830." The facts are, the successful, grasping dairy farmer, in order to increase his dairy would buy out his neighbor, and in time perhaps two or three, adding to his farm sufficient to keep 40, 50 and perhaps 60 cows. I knew one who in 1869, was keeping 80 cows.
The hired man or men and girl to help do the milking lived in the family; - the houses of those sold out, became tenantless and went to decay. In later years one may see them, the pit of a cellar and perhaps a few stones left of the chimney foundatoin, near the fence by the road side there may be a few scrubby lilac bushes, and in the rear a few old neglected, decaying apple trees and where the lawn and garden should be is a cow pasture.
Norway never had any very good water power, as the country became cleared of the forest, the small streams became useless for business, which sought the larger streams in the valleys of the East and West Canada.
At the west side of Norway village, a little creek crosses the State road, on which was a wool carding and cloth dressing mill, operated by Mr. Hurlbut, later one of his sons made cheese boxes there. Now, where the dam and ditch was that carried water to the mill, it is nicely grassed over in a cow pasture.
Cold Brook, at Cold Brook village, is a small but very reliable stream, and has always been utilized for small business, as sawing, grinding jobbing shops of both wood and iron, and later a cheese box factory, a saw handle factory and a planing mill with sash and door factory.
That village is prosperous and grows slowly. The East Canada Creek at Dolgeville has power for business of greater magnitude. The first in my recollection at Brockett's Bridge in addition to the regular mills for sawing and grinding, was a large tannery, operated by George Ladue. Later came Alfred Dolge who produced parts for pianos; felt and sounding boards; also felt shoes were manufactured, which became quite celebrated. Dolge was instrumental in building a large fine school building, largely or wholly it is said at his own expense.
We are as we are educated to be, the bright boys see that it is the educated men, that win the best position in life, and they go for it.
The college man may be slow in getting started, but he is pretty sure to win in the end.
Who of you will blame the boys or the girls for leaving the farms in the hill country and going to the valley and cities.
Norway has a grand delegation in Herkimer.
This article was carefully proofread and all odd spelling, punctuation and grammatical structure are given exactly as in the original. For further information about persons and events mentioned, please visit or order a search from the Herkimer County Historical Society.
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