HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE TOWN OF LITTLE FALLS
AN ADDRESS BY MRS. ADAM CASLER OF LITTLE FALLS
Delivered before the Herkimer County Historical Society, February 14, 1903
The sunlight has marked the hours for centuries on old dials in English gardens but there remains no record of their number or of their beginning.
In the heart of the earth there are ancient memories and men and women have kept for part of their lives register of their thoughts and deeds. Professor Mathews says: "Every author has a right to repeat himself" and fall into line but to what extent he does not say.
People nowadays are watching for brilliancy and if there is any merit are ready for suggestions. A collection of historical events, however, if accurate, gives to the producer, courage. In searching after facts among and in the homes of townspeople, there is a blunt personality that sometimes staggers and dampens hope of obtaining knowledge for those who are in search of light at your expense, and one feels that "Happy is the country that has no history."
It is impossible to note the events of history pleasing to all. From the time our forefathers first set foot within its borders, this town is replete with history. The soil now yields an abundant harvest, changes have developed, and the ancestry can look with pride upon the splendid achievements in art, science, literature and agriculture.
As one stands on the shelving rocks that overlook the city, reminiscences of forefathers are pictured in the peaceful valley which is the ground work of the town of Little Falls.
John Jost Petrie and Conrad Rickert were the petitioners in behalf of themselves and others for the purchase of the lands, and five Iroquois Indians were witnesses to the deed, making their mark before the justice and interpreter. It was in 1770 eight thousand acres were granted, Livingston's patent covering about 1000 acres. Ezra Hornedien next bought 4000 acres. One of the purchasers of the Fall Hill patent was Henry Uhle, great grandfather of James Uhle, and esteemed citizen of Little Falls. A question arose in his mind as to the ability to pay 15 pounds for the purchase of four acres, it being necessary for him to find shelter for his family at once, and he proposed to pin his buildings together with long wooden pins, so that if he was unable to pay the purchase price or was disturbed by enemies he could remove the buildings. Since that time one hundred and twelve years have elapsed and original four acres are owned by one of his lineal descendants, Mrs. Ida Uhle Shaul of Little Falls.
In the extreme southern point, north of the river, one of the most important patents was that of Glens purchase which forms a part of the eastern and western purchase also. Fall Hill patent was granted in 1752, lands of which are still owned by descendants of John Kesler, now Casler, the first having been continuously in their possession on hundred and seventy-eight years.
In 1739 Johan Jost Petrie made a purchase, but this title was granted by royal patent from the crown of Great Britain. The Burnetsfield patent tried or aimed to give ninety-four persons, on hundred acres apiece, beginning at a point in Frankfort and extending along the line into the town of Little Falls, and our lots north of the city which is the foundation proper, formed from the towns of Herkimer, Fairfield and German Flatts.
It is in the interior of the county a little south and surrounded by seven of the towns of Fairfield on the north, Warren south, Herkimer and German Flatts west, Danube and Manheim east, and Stark southeast, the history of all being identical.
The grandeur of its natural scenery, its now fertile hills and valleys wrought by the hands that feared no toil, and whose life threads entwined within its borders have been charmingly portrayed with the windings of the Mohawk river through picturesque scenery; her it is that the rapids descend over fifty feet or more in a miles distance, and the rugged moss covered rocks tower to the height of 600 feet, standing sentinel to the valley.
It is the town of Little Falls that the famous Birdseye limestone developed, valuable for building purposes, specimens having been sent to all parts of the world.
The first settlement made here was in 1723. At that time the Mohawk river was navigable for small flat boats and canoes from the Hudson river to Rome, except at Little Falls, where the boats were hauled out and carried around the falls, hence the name "Astogan," interpreted the crossing place "under the rock." Women and children could also safely ford the river here unseen by the Indians.
In 1786 John Vaughn and seven others were granted 8000 acres. There was a grist mill on Furnace Creek and buy on habitable dwelling occupied by John Portens, before the Revolution which was built by the Petrie family.
It is not as replete with tragic historic events as some of the neighboring towns. Being the center of travel during the Revolution, the enemy hastened to more unguarded grounds.
At one time the great water power of the town was in peril on account of the ownership of a member of the British parliament.
North and Beaver Creeks in the northern port of the town flow peacefully along, tributary to the Mohawk which we are told was once the bed of a much larger river.
Jacksonburg in the west, Bethel in the south, Paines Hollow in the southwest and Eatonville in the northern port of the town are small hamlets.
The old canal and wooden locks were constructed in 1795 on the north side of the river. In 1804 they were rebuilt of stone and were in good repair when the canal opened in 1825. Under the direction of Abram Neely, Mr. Thumb and H. J. Klock, the old Octagonal church was built, where now stands the Church street school house, and members of all sects worshipped there. The first Sunday school was composed of scholars of Lutheran extraction. Rev. John Taylor, a missionary passing through the country at that time, made his report as follows: "The church is new and beautiful but the people do not improve."
The first or next settlement of the town was made by Jacob Weaver, Nicholas Kesler and the Stauring family and they were granted land in 1730. After the war John Portens, Josiah Skinner and William Alexander were among the first settlers. The area of the town is 17,393 acres most of it yielding an abundant harvest to the husbandman.
The first school taught in the town was by Elijah Case in a stone house that still stands near the old Girvan house. With a tin horn he summoned the scholars to school, the same horn being used to summon the people to worship upon the Sabbath day. The horn is now in possession of the Little Falls fire department. Another mode of announcement was made by one Billy Lapham, ringing a bell through the streets and crying "Hear ye! hear ye! today Dr. Kennedy is married, he is taking "Lovers leap."
Mr. S. W. Stimson of Herkimer built Washington Hall, for many years called the Getman house. It was dedicated to the cause of anti-slavery and temperance.
A full length portrait of Washington decorated the front portal.
Among the early settlers of the town were the Bellingers, Hesses, Landts, Keslers, Petries, Dockstaters, Uhles and many other substantial and sturdy supporters; and there are still traces of their peculiar customs. The Goldens trace their ancestry to the landing of the Pilgrims.
Among the early published newspapers of the town were the People's Friend and Mohawk Courier, afterwards consolidated with the Journal and now one of the largest publishing houses in the county.
In 1782 a band of Indians and Tories invaded the town and burned the grist mill on Furnace Creek, killing and scalping the settlers, among whom was Captain Small who was shot while picking apples a short distance from where now stands the Smalls Bush cheese factory.
Little Falls was not behind in sending men for their country's service during the rebellion, from 1861 to 1865. company B of the 34th Regiment was organized in Little Falls and just outside of the city there is a beautiful resting place for the soldiers who risked their lives for a future lesson.
Although the valley contracts to a small breadth in Little Falls it is the seat of large manufacturing interests, and many of the townspeople are ignorant of the knowledge of the busy hands that find employment in the manufactories of the town. On the north side of the river, mills remain standing that were built in the eighteenth century. Of the eight churches in the town, there is but one, the Methodist of Paines Hollow, outside of the city.
In looking over the list of business men of 1868 now living we find James S. Aldrige, Wm. Milligan, Abram E. Bellinger, Augustus Goldern, Peter A. Conyne, Dennis Collins, Irving Snell, the Casler Bros. and some others which time will not permit me to mention. The early jurists were Nathaniel S. Benton, Evans Wharry and Arphaxed Loomis who was also first judge of Herkimer county. Of the manufacturers I believe there is but one now living, Charles Bailey.
About the year 1830 Christian Sharer of the town of Little Falls thought the state of agriculture was very low, and he forthwith set about introducing the pure blood, short horned Durham cattle, Zalman Wakeman also purchased some, their reputation being so good. Hon. Wm. I. Skinner was the first to try Holstein and Ayreshire stock, and the result today is satisfactory to Herkimer County farmers. In Sir William Johnson's time he said "no farmer raised as much as a load of hay" in the Mohawk Valley. At his own expense he encouraged all the useful branches of husbandry and a spirit of industry was stirred up and proper utensils were brought into use.
A report of the Board of Trade of Tryon County Dec. 5th, 1709, pronounced the proper place for settling the Palatines was on the Mohawk river, some lands being specified by pioneer immigrants along the valley to Little Falls; John Jost Petrie and Jacob Wever being among those licensed, not to buy east of Little Falls.
The ill construction of roads at that time was a great hindrance to the prosperity of the people, and a moment's reflection will teach us that while we have advanced from the fording of creeks, the ascension of mountain roads, foot paths, etc.; there is chance for improvement yet. Among the Herkimer county Agricultural Society promoters were Ralph Simms, L. B. Arnold, Josiah Davis, Lorenzo Carrol and Charles DeLong, all natives of the town.
The first salesday of cheese in the county was established in Little Falls in 1864 and from that time up to 1870 it was called the center of cheese trade in America and had a controlling influence in establishing prices. The New York State Dairymen's Association and Board of Trade was organized in Little Falls and was the first on the continent.
Harry Burrell was the first dealer to ship cheese from this state to England and Hon. X. A. Willard wrote the first published account of the new dairy system.
The free school system was adopted in 1873. Since that time the hand of improvement has wrought changes and the school system of today is most worthy of mention. It is divided into seven rural districts which are under the supervision of a school commissioner, and three divisions in the city under the jurisdiction of a superintendent. The wealthiest of the rural districts in No. 1 called the Turnpike district which has a valuation of $239,252; district No. 2 has a valuation of $57,000 known as the Smalls Bush district; No. 3, $47,000; No. 4, nearly $90,000 (Paines Hollow); No. 5, $50,000; No. 6, $81,000 known as the Jacksonburg district; No. 7, $74,000. The teachers are working for the best interests of the scholars; the town uses the course of study and gives the grade examinations sent out by the state twice a year. The amount of money for the rural districts in 1902 was $733.18.
Three free rural mail delivery routes accommodate the farmer.
Noteworthy among the town's records and of present interest is the work being done by Little Falls Grange, a most worthy organization. Enthusiastic members in actual service since its institution in 1889 are still at their posts. Little Falls has numerous societies in prosperous circumstances. The supervision of the town today is under the careful management of men contributing largely of their time and talent.
A short distance from the home of General Herkimer at the foot of Fall Hill, the first full meeting for the restoration of peace was held at the home of Warner Dygert by the Tryon County Committeemen. The experiences of our forefathers, the situation and formation of the town could be further expanded, but the pressure of time reminds us that reasons laws govern further instruction.
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.
Thank you again to BetteJo Caldwell for another fine typing job! BetteJo also contributed the Minott Cemetery in the Town of Schuyler, including unmarked additions and photographs.
"I am doing research on James Mead Caldwell (b.05 Aug 1822 ) and family. His 1st marriage was to Mary Osborn (b.13 Oct 1821), daughter of Rev. Simon and Hannah Farrington Osborn. His 2nd marriage was to Lousia Minott (b.18 Jun 1828), daughter of James and Nancy Sheaf Minott.
Other surnames connected are Bradbury, Knapp, Johnson, Stringer, Carmer, Longstaff, Minott, Foster, Old, Dodge, Farrington, Dempster, Bennett, Harvey, Rice, Widrig, Henderick, Wiegand, Meade, Sparbier, Western, Patterson, Maynard, VanEtten, Hays."
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