SOURCE: "LEGACY - Annals of Herkimer County" is published quarterly by the Herkimer County Historical Society, 400 North Main Street, Herkimer, N.Y. 13350.

Individual copies of LEGACY may be purchased by contacting the Society at the above address, or by visiting their website: http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyhchs/ On the site you can review a list of which copies of LEGACY are still available and their content under "gift shop" then "books".

We are grateful to the Herkimer County Historical Society, which holds the copyrights, for granting us permission to reproduce the following articles for our reader's enjoyment.

Ilion in 1830
Interesting Local History of Days Long Ago
In The Gun Town

In its issue of February 19, 1904 the Ilion Citizen published the following account of the village as it was in 1830 and also what Ilion citizens who lived there then remembered of even earlier times. The "map" referred to in the text for some reason did not appear with the story in the paper, but has been included here. LEGACY is indebted to Mr. Robert J. Hoffman of Ilion for bringing this to our attention.

There has been prepared by Walter C. Green and Dennis Dygert a map of Ilion as it was 75 years ago; it is a most interesting exhibit; no greater contrast can be conceived than the village as shown then and the village as it is now. Otsego street was the only street running north and south; "London" or upper West Main street, was the principal part of the village; Mr. Dygert tells of catching fish in a little creek which ran where Morgan street now runs: and the whole exhibit is so intensely interesting that the tale can only be rightly told by those who live over and over again in memory the old days when they were boys; days when not even the old horse railroad was dreamed of and when the idea of a canal boat was a dream too wild to be considered any thing but the vision of a disordered mind.


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Mr. Green has kindly prepared a sketch of Ilion in the days long gone and we take great pleasure in presenting it to the readers of the Citizen:

Ilion in 1830

The first settlers came to this vicinity in 1723 and 1724, and the Burnetsfield Patent was dated April 30, 1725, but there is little known of the early history of the first settlers who found a home where our beautiful village now stands. A half century, filled with work and worry and Indian alarms culminated in the war with England and the horrors of border strife. For years the settlerís rifle was his constant companion; for not alone were Indians to be expected and looked for at any time, but the worse dreaded Tory might be hiding among his friends, ready to waylay and surprise his former neighbors. More than once every man woman and child fled for their lives to Fort Herkimer or to the block house that they built in the orchard just south of East Clark street. Scouting parties were kept out at times of alarm to guard against surprise and sometimes they needed all the skill, courage and cunning that their frontier life had taught them.

I have heard several traditions of close places in which the scouts showed coolness and skill. One was told me in 1860 by Nicholas Steele, father of Mrs. A. A. Rivers and Mrs. Wright. He said that four scouts went from Fort Herkimer to warn settlers on the hills and watch the approach of Brant and his Tories and Indians. On their return late in the afternoon they separated, one taking the more direct way past the Spencer Place [Shoemaker Tavern-RJH], while the other three came to the Flatts along the crest of the hill west of Ilion and descended the hill where the steps are now near Main street; they stopped at the creek for drink; there were some trout under a root, and one of the number, a great uncle of the narrator by the same name, lay down and tried to catch them with his hands, when there was the report of a musket, the ball striking Mr. Steele in the heel. The Indians had struck their trail but the whites made good their escape to Fort Herkimer; but when they found all the houses deserted they were afraid to go direct, so forded the river at the mouth of Fulmer creek and again at the riff below the fort:;Steelís wounded heel did not hinder his running and afterward it healed up all right.

The other scout met with an adventure fully as startling. He was following a ridge where the Warren road is now, and when about a hundred yards from the river road he saw an Indian directly in his path step behind a tree; of course he placed the nearest hemlock between his enemy and himself and each tried to get a sight of the other without exposing himself.

With the white man time was precious for he did not know how many more savages might be near; in fact, four or five hundred of Brantís men lay in the little valley forty or fifty rods west of where he stood; so fearing the deadly rifle behind that other hemlock ten rods away, he placed his cap on his gun and carefully exposed it, then drew it quickly back; but the second time the Indian put a bullet through it; then he let it drop, stepped out and saw his enemy with tomahawk and scalping knife in the open thirty feet away; when the Indian saw him he threw up his arms and uttered his last "ugh" and the scout succeeded in reaching the fort in safety.

I have heard the story many times in my boyhood and could point out the spot where the big hemlock stood. Dennis Dygert tells me that he once talked to a colored woman who was a slave in the family of Rudolf Shoemaker at the time of Brantís raid; she was a young married slave with one or two children. The settlers in their flight to the fort took with them what they could carry of their valued effects; some of them were overloaded and left bundles of clothing at the Shoemaker Tavern thinking as the Shoemakers were loyalists they would be safe from the Tories; but that night was rainy and the Tories and Indians who came to the tavern tore up the coats and pants for covers for their flint lock guns, the sleeves and legs making ideal gun cases. The raiders spared the Shoemakers when they burned the buildings and drove off the stock of the other settlers but they took the slave womanís little boy with them and she never saw him again.

After peace came, fifty years more passed before the date of which this paper treats but it was a time of peace in the valley and prosperity among the hardy farmers.

Not many of the names that appeared in the Burnetsfield Patent remained. The Shoemakers had acquired title to four times as much land as they had a century before; but in place of Richert, Speis, Beebe, Fuller, etc, we have Staley or Steele, Myers, Clapsaddle, Morgan, Dygert, Ingersoll, Remington, and others.

All that was left in 1830 of the old block house was a depression filled with stone and brush. The canal had been in use about ten years and had brought with it many changes. The farmers had a market for their grain although many of them continued to draw it to Albany with their own teams. Store houses had been built and FORWARDING in large letters appeared on many buildings. Mills and shops had given employment to numbers of men. The old log had disappeared and substantial frame houses had taken their place.

The busy little hamlet, London, had two hotels, a hat factory, two cooper shops, a blacksmith shop, a paint shop, the county house and some dozen dwellings; but Morganís landing which took its name from Morganís store house which stood nearly where the new Morgan block now stands was beginning to take the lead.

Eliphalet Remington had bought the Clapsaddle farm in 1827 and had commenced the industry that has made the name of Remington and Ilion known throughout the world; but the great shops had not yet been built and there was but little promise of the thriving village that now occupies the valley and surrounding hills. There was a little school house that had been moved in 1827 from the canal bank where the coal sheds are, to a spot near the east end of the Armsí companyís store house site.

There was the old river road, corresponding to Main street, except from Rasbachís bridge to the gas house bridge it ran on the north side of the canal, the low swampy ground on the south side being unfit for a road. Then there was the old creek road following the route of Otsego street from Ingersollís south but occupying nearly the line of John street from Ingersollís to the grist mill that stood nearly where the ME. church parsonage now does, crossing the creek about twenty rods north of Second Street and then following the creek to the river road.

There was a pine swamp between Grove and Fourth streets and across that a corduroy road had been made that afforded plenty of exercise to passengers.

Otsego street had been opened when the canal went into operation but in the spring and fall it was almost impassable; it was in a mud hole in this street that E. Remington was so seriously hurt as to cause his death.

There was no house on Otsego street until E. Remington built one in 1828 near where the upper armory building now stands. There was a house, oil mill and saw mill at the drop at the Wever place and a saw mill and plaster mill on the creek at Ingersollís; the house stood near the hill. The only house standing on what is now John street was near the grist mill; there was an old cellar near the head of the mill race said to have been the site of the first log house in the creek valley.

All the other houses on the present site of Ilion were near the river and canal; several of them were of the old Dutch pattern with wide stone fireplaces and stick chimneys; the front doors were made in two parts so that the upper half could stand open while the lower part was closed, an arrangement which admitted the sunshine and fresh air while keeping the pigs and poultry on the outside. The Clapsaddle, Piper, Steele and Shoemaker houses were on this style and some of them were gambrel roofed like the Spencer house [Shoemaker House-RJH] which burned near Mohawk a few years ago.

A hotel was built by E. Remington in 1829 on the corner where OB. Rudís store now is. There was a farm bridge over the canal where the lift bridge now is but there was no street north of the river road except a lane ten rods long reaching across the Dygert land and connecting with the Morgan and Clapsaddle farms. There was no river bridge and the only communication with the north side was by boat or in the winter across the ice.

The farming community south of us was nearly as numerous as at present and there were numerous saw mills and other mills using the Water of Steeleís creek and its tributaries; but the roads were bad, the hills steep, and but little trade came this way.

It remains for the next twenty-five years to show what push and vim could do in making business, creating a market, and bettering the roads, to change a little hamlet into a thriving village.

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Copyright ©2005 Paul McLaughlin / Lisa Slaski
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