ILION VILLAGE AFFAIRS
VILLAGE OF ILION
HERKIMER COUNTY, N.Y.
The following is taken from "Ilion 1852-1952." We thank the Mayor and
other officials of Ilion for granting us permission to provide this
information to our visitors.
VILLAGE AFFAIRS . . .
The following story of Ilion and German Flatts might be used to point
up part of one of the Commandments: ". . . visiting the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation . . ."
Iniquity is definitely too harsh a word, possibly lack of foresight
might be better.
The railroad fever of the 70's touched Ilion when the "Cummings Road"
or the nNw York, Utica and Ogdensburgh R. R. was proposed to be built
through "our town". The route was to run through Ilion and Mohawk
passing north of the cemetary and then bearing south. The fever reached
such a pitch locally that the Town Board was petitioned "to create and
issue bonds to amount not exceeding $160,000 and invest the same . . . in
the stock of the New York, Utica and Ogdensburgh R. R. Company . . ."
This petition is almost an assessment roll of the town. Judge Earl,
going to New York to examine the financial soundness of the company,
brought back such a favorable report that 20% of the money, or $32,000, was
actually handed over. Other Herkimer County towns raised sums ranging
from $20,000 to $200,000 but German Flatts was the only one to deliver
any of the money to the company.
These bonds were to run 30 years at 7% interest. This added $2,240
yearly to the tax burden of the town. At the end of the 30 years new
bonds at 3 1/2% took their place and a one thousand dollar bond was to be
retired each year. When the last bond was retired in January 1, 1931
this attack of railroad fever had cost German Flatts $32,000 principal,
$67,200 interest at 7% and $$17,360 interest at 3 1/2% or a total of
$116,560 for one bogus railroad. Ilion did its share in promoting the
furor and had to stand its share of paying for a railroad which never
CENTENNIAL OF 1916 . . .
The greatest celebration in the history of the Mohawk Valley was the
centennial anniversary of the first manufacture of a Remington gun.
Plans for the occasion were made far in advance with a publicity
expenditure of $20,000 of which $1,700 was alloted for the electrical display
featuring lights strung across the streets in arch shape. Large banners
in the downtown area and flags on homes throughout the village added to
the gala effect. The Masonic Temple was formally opened as
headquarters, sharing the limelight with the House residence on West and First
Streets where famous officials including Senators Harding and Cristman and
Governor Charles Whitman enjoyed its hospitality while in Ilion to give
addresses during the three festival days. Opening exercises at
Monument Park were followed by a pilgrimage to the old forge where the
commemoration tablet, erected by the local chapter of the U. S. Daughters of
1812, was unveiled. The Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls participated in a
children's parade, complete with floats, a forerunner of the great
industrial parade of 10,0000 working men and women. The ladies of the
typewriter made a particularly fine showing, dressed in white, at the head
of the first division, particularly applauded as they did not drop out
of the line of march, altho men did, in the face of a downpour. A
spectacular exhibition of Payne's fireworks on the river flats, a field day
at recreation Park, and a trap-shooting contest at the Arms Athletic
Field were exciting events climaxed by the final parade sponsored by the
Boosters Association which hired the Utica, Little Falls, Herkimer,
Remington Typewriter and Ilion Military Bands. Eighteen bands and drum
corps marched in the gigantic parade.
VILLAGE PARKS - PLAYGROUNDS . . .
Away back in 1880 the question of parks arose and the citizens asked
"What are the City Fathers doing for a Village Park?" "Why not the
dykes along the races?"
The first tangible step towards the movement was the acquisition and
improvement of the ingersoll Park, at the intersection of Otsego and
John Streets. This little triangle was the gift of Dr. James Hunt,
grandson of John Ingersoll.
Then in 1887 a group of citizens on West Hill purchased the land for
West Hill Park and some years later this land was transferred to the
village for park purposes. This is an attractive undeveloped piece of
natural hillside including about five acres. The hillside extends from
St. Augustine's church property northward to West Main St. and borders on
But the greatest impetus to the public park movement came in 1924,
when on May 9, Samuel T. Russell, one of Ilion's most public spirited
citizens deeded to the Village 162 acres of natural woodland, located
within the eastern bounds of the Village and so situated that it overlooks
Ilion and the Valley.
In Mr. Russell's letter to the treustees in which he offered the park,
he said: "In offering you this property I make no restrictions except
that it be forever used for park and recreation purposes." The trustees
accepted this gift and named the park, "Albert N. Russell Park", in
memory of the donor's father, a pioneer in Ilion's industrial life.
The first Park Board was composed of Samuel T. Russell, Charles Brill
and Frank Bellinger. Much time was spent by Mr. Russell and the board
planning the details of the park. In 1926 Russell Park was finally
completed and a field day was enjoyed by more than 2,000 people was held.
Among the many outstanding features of this park is the Girl Scout Day
Camp which was given by the Kiwanis Club in 1936.
Many societies, organizations, clubs and groups of Ilion and other
communities take advantage of Russell Park. During the past year it was
visited by more than 28,000 people.
In 1922 the people of Ilion voted to appropriate $50,000 to purchase
from the State the stretch of land running through the village, that was
once the old Erie Canal. This land was to be used chiefly for park or
boulevard purposes except a small part to be sold to local industries.
In the fall of this year the Board of Light Commissioners took over
about an acre of these lands along West Main Street and made it into a
park. On Memorial Day, 1926, the park, to be known as Memorial Park, was
formally dedicated to the Ilion boys who fought in World War I.
Year by year progress has been made by developing these lands into a
thing of beauty. As funds became available the site at the eastern end
of the Village all the way to the Mohawk junction will be reclaimed so
that the approach to Ilion from east or west will be a joy to look
Ilion's first children's playground was presented Memorial Day, 1926,
by the Crim-Shaffer Post, American Legion, in memory of two war heroes
after whom the post was named, Earl Crim and Howard Shaffer. The
playground was adjacent to Memorial Park and contained about one acre, a
portion of which was given by Samuel T. Russell.
In 1950 the village built two more playgrounds equipped with wading
pools, one known as the East St. playground and the other Montgomery St.
playground. There is also a playground south of Benedict Ave. adjacent
to the High School lands.
A park may be only a tiny bit of green or ot may be a natural
wilderness, but no matter what its size and facilities, a park is meant for the
enjoyment of all.
This does not pretend to be a history of village affairs for the past
one hundred years but will hit a few of the high spots. Because the
new village had no village hall Board meetings and annual elections were
held in the Remington House or the Ilion House. An early concern of
the Village Fathers was the condition of the streets, the sidewalks and
crosswalks. In 1854 a special election authorized the grading and
repair of Main (When did it cease to be called the River Road?), Morgan,
West, First, Second and Third Streets. To digress a map dated 1846 shows
Morgan Street labeled Devoe Street and a map dated 1863 shows Second
Street called Church Street.
By 1856 William Breadon, formerly Collector, was appointed the first
street commissioner, his pay not to exceed ten pence for each twelve
hour day so employed. Commissioner Breadon was authorized to build
sidewalks along the streets. These sidewalks were made of planks which soon
rotted out and had to be replaced often. The Ilion Independent in
1857 said: "Our corporation is making great improvements planking the
walks for which taxpayers must pay cash." As the village streets
lengthened and new streets were added, sidewalks and crosswalks followed.
Property owners were taxed for their construction and paid either with money
In the 70's stone sidewalks are mentioned and even a cement walk
around the Osgood House. In 1883 the Citizen said: "Armory Street is the
only one in the village with flagstone sidewalks the entire length on
both sides." Most of these are still doing service. Many of the elm
trees along the village streets were planted in the 80's.
But the streets were in constant need of repair. "Pitchholes"
developed, mud sometimes was hub deep and in the summer dust could be
unbearable. This last was partially controlled by the sprinkling wagon.
In 1897 a start was made for permanently better streets when a steam
roller was purchased and Main Street between Otsego and Union was
macadamized. The next spring the macadam showed its value for this part of
the street was "dry and smooth while the other streets are about
impassable." In 1902 Ilion was proud when Union Street and First Street as
far as Morgan were paved with BRICK. The editor said "Let's keep it
clean", a necessary admonition. To keep the business section clean a
street sweeper was employed.
Today Ilion has 26 miles of paved streets. There are only a few
streets which remain unpaved. But would not the citizens of 1852 be
appalled by the very thought of his village having in 1952 the budget of
$101,407 for streets and highways!
In 1881 a Board of Health is first mentioned in the village minutes.
The Citizen commends the trustees for initiatiating the work "which had
been neglected too long." It continues: "If the owners of premises
having uncleaned privvies, foul drains, filthy garbage dumps etc. will not
put things in order let the severe hand of the law be laid upon them."
Health regulations were formulated and published. By the next year a
doctor remarked that there was one third less sickness since the Board
of Health began its labors.
Another problem to be solved was the disposal of garbage. Dumping
places became noxious in spite of the efforts to cover and disinfect them.
Finally in 1899 the Board urged the village authorities to collect and
dispose of garbage and add the cost to the tax budget. It was 1920
before this was voted by the taxpayers. Today the Department of
Sanitation is a regular part of the village services with nine employees, two
covered trucks and one open truck and a modern disposal plant on the
Mohawk River at the head of East Street. One map that Ilion was glad to be
ommitted from was the one of the Mohawk Valley Drainage Basin with
known points of pollution marked. Ilion has met the requirements set up by
the state in this respect.
Pastuerization and inspection of milk was urged by the Board of Health
long before the regulation became village law. The first trial of
pastuerization which was made in 1914 found the public indifferent. In
1920 all dealers were required to obtain a license from the Board. But
1940 came before the regulation was passed that all milk sold in the
village must be pastuerized.
Steele's Creek has always been a mixed blessing to Ilion. Without it
there would have been no village as its water power possibilities
induced the establishment of manufacturing here in the early days. Its
early course was twisting and has been changed several times. In 1844 when
the canal was enlarged it was made to cross Main Street some distance
to the east. About 1850 it was moved closer to West Hill, following the
old mill race, from its meanderings as far east as Morgan Street.
Again in 1930 the bed was changed to cross Main Street directly, as we find
it today. The Board of Health for years found it necessary to fight
against its use as a receiver of sewage and refuse of all kinds.
Floods were a menace and "floods as usual" was apt to be in the news
when spring came around. One of the worst occurred in 1910 when trolley
service and electric service were cut off for two days; another in June
of 1922 tore away several bridges in the gorge and flooded several
streets; again in 1938 ten days of rain caused an estimated damageof
$120.000 forcing the evacuation of several families from Richfield Street.
The original village charter was amended at different times through
acts of the State legislature. For example when the Library was given to
Ilion by Mr. Seamans, an act had to be passed by the Legislature before
it could be administered legally by the village. By 1894 agitation for
a change caused the formation of a committee, appointed by the Village
Board, of seven Democrats and seven Republicans. After a year's work a
new charter governed Ilion. It had been the work principally of A. D.
Richardson, B. B. VanDeusen, A. D. Morgan, John Hoefler, James
Conkling, and George O. Rasbach. This charter still governs Ilion. The State
Home Rule Law enacted 1940, allows villages of the first class to amend
their charters without legislative enactment.
Agitation to become a city went on for many years. In 1920 a campaign
to change to city form of government was voted down with 1891 against
and 403 for the proposition. This decisice vote seems to have buried
this issue fairly deep.
At present a move is advocated to search the records so that all
by-laws may be codified and amendments thereto, also to find those rescinded
so the information will be in one place and easily available.