OVER THE HILLS
By Alexis L. Johnson, 1902
"Over the Hills," a story of a day's buggy ride from Schuyler to Fairfield, was donated by BetteJo Caldwell, who has an original newspaper clipping from one of the Citizen newspapers (Ilion or Herkimer). BetteJo tells us that Mr. Johnson was a resident of the town of Schuyler. He must have been in his late 80s or 90s in 1902.
And Through the Bushes - A Twenty Mile Ride Through Towns of Schuyler, Fairfield and Herkimer .--Interesting Narrative by Alexis L Johnson.
Our Venerable correspondent Alexis L. Johnson took a twenty mile drive over the Hassenclever Hills last fall and wrote it up for the Citizen. Not until this week have we been able to make room for the article. Here it is, two months late, but just as interesting:
October 22, 1902, I am particular about dates, during this season of dark damp days. Your correspondent and his son Seymour, started on a day's ride for business and pleasure in going over the road, visiting the scenes of my childhood, and possibly meeting some old friend. Our small but willing horse was not accustomed to the hill, but did good service, and brought us home safely ere sunset; it was near 10 a.m. when we started. Something will be told of what we saw and of what we did not see and of whom we met.
The road from Schuyler over the Hassenclever Hill is now little used and is in poor condition, but seventy-five years ago there was considerable travel from Fairfield village and Middleville to Utica. James Borden of Fairfield village often with his team, carried a load of students and professors from the medical college and academy to Utica. But the college and academy are things of the past, and jolly, rollicking voices of the students are silent.
But we digress, and hope the reader will pardon the recurrence of old memories as we take him with us. Before we were out of the bounds of the town we saw with sorrow some uncultivated fields and unused ruined farm buildings that once were tilled and occupied by thrifty framers and families whose children filled the now nearly empty school houses. We will not speculate on these matters now, but resume our narrative.
At the summit of a portion of the Hassenclever range, on the "Ellison" farm, we found a crew of threshers with steam engine and machine getting ready for work. Here we passed a small cemetery where reposed the remains of the pioneers of the vicinity. It was not enclosed and the few low stones that marked the graves were hidden by grass and bushes. On this farm ninety years ago a tavern was kept by a man named Norton: fifty years ago a dairy of fifty cows and cheese made; now about thirty cows are there and the milk used for butter on a adjoining farm.
At the four corners we took the right hand road down the "Nicholson Hill," so named from a lawyer of Herkimer village, who nearly or quite a century ago owned a farm there.
Myers Schoolhouse in 2000
We passed the "Myers" schoolhouse, where the writer in 1828 taught his first school in the first house that was built in the new district that had been set off from the "Farmer Settlement". Here some forty years ago an M.E. church was built, a shed built and cemetery planned, but the church and shed are gone and cemetery not used. As we reached the foot of the Farrington Hill (I use the first old name) a train of ours going north was vanishing in the distance. A small den on the side of the road was marked "Countrymans." It was a flag station and here the highway and railroad were parallel and side by side. Another ancient and forsaken cemetery was passed near the cheese factory which also appeared to be idle. Along through Farmer Settlement we noticed some fair looking corn fields on one side and flourishing orchards on the other of our route. In one orchard we saw two persons picking up apples and several barrels were standing nearby. The fruit seemed to be a fair crop, the buildings along this road were very good. One had been used as a tavern many years ago by Esq John Farmer. In all this time no person or team had been seen on the way, we were the solitary travelers, but as we approached Middleville we first met an aged man and woman, next a women alone, both with top buggys; then a man and team with a wagon box full of short wood on his way to Herkimer, where he probably expected to get a big price by reason of the coal famine.
We noticed the dooryard of Jerome Osborn's house ornamented with odd shaped stones and fossils and some of the antique relics that he has gathered during his life. We should have been pleased to call and visit him and his curiosities, but time forbid. At the massive county house and neat surroundings that the county has provided for its poor, we drove slowly, allowed our horse to be refreshed at the convenient tank, but not an inmate of the house was to be seen outside nor a face at the window. No man or beast was seen about the premises. This absence of signs of life surprised us and we drove on. As we went along near the village where the rocks almost overhang the way, we saw cavities that had been broken into to obtain the rock crystals that are found in them. The canal that leads the water of the creek to the factory, grist mill and saw mill was empty and the mills were silent; perhaps some repairs were being made. The blackened ruins of the tannery that was lately burned loomed up as we crossed the bridge. This was a great loss to the village as it was one of the largest tanneries in the state. It was started by John Wood nearly a century ago. Owing to the distance from the hemlock forest that furnish the bark for tanning it is doubtful if it is ever rebuilt. Crossing the bridge we turned to the right, and soon reached the home of A. Ford, and found the genial gentleman at work with a wheelbarrow cleaning his yard of rubbish before the winter came. We told him we had come for some of the honey his "industrious bees had hoard." Mr. Ford has been a successful beekeeper most of his life, but the last season has been very unfavorable for the production of honey. While Mr. Ford was getting the honey ready for us, we fed our faithful beast and ate the lunch we had with us and in a short time resumed our journey over the hills of Fairfield. We have had honey for several years of Mr. Ford, and hope that he, and his bees, may survive many years to sweeten the people.
We found the road bed in fairly good condition, passed the old lime stone quarry. A derrick was there and some marks of work, but little has been done there for some years. A lime kiln was there in former years. We passed the cheese factory operated by Mr. McKerrow but no person was seen. At the Stony Brook we remembered that a saw mill had been operated on the stream a little distance below the bridge, but like most of the small mills in the country, had long ago fallen into disuse. The dwelling near the bridge had once been a tavern, but no tall post was there on which a swinging sign told the traveler that entertainment could be had for man and beast.
Turning into the yard of Mr. Alphonzo Petrie who has a large creamery or butter factory, we called. In the absence of Mr Petrie, his son kindly showed and explained the machinery, and briefly the progress used; as he is the expert who manages the work. Owing to lack of time, and absence of Mr. Petrie we did not get as much statistical information as we desired. He has nearly one hundred cows of his own on two farms, and uses the milk from four other dairies near by, we did not learn the numbers of cows, or the terms on which he handles the milk. The creamery is better for the farmer than cheese making, as he gets skim milk instead of whey for his calves and hogs. Mr. Petie's butter is carried to Little Falls weekly and is sold to consumers, but of the prices and details we did not learn. From the appearances of the buildings and premises of Mr. Petrie, we should think his business was profitable, and that he has ready sale for all the butter he makes. Butter is used at every meal and on every table, and if the quality is satisfactory will always find a ready sale. As we had more hills to climb, Eaton's Bush and Schells Bush in our route, we could not spend as much time here as we would like.
On our way to Eaton's Bush, the only person we saw was Mr. A.G. Fenner in the road near his home. We were strangers, and asked him if he was the man whose name was on the barn, he said he was and introducing ourselves, said his father and grandfather I had seen when quite young. His grandfather, Maj Fenner, I remembered seeing on horseback at a Battalions Training, 85 years ago at Eaton's Bush. Mr. Fenner is nearly 80 years old, and has always lived on the farm where he was born. He remembered my father and my brother Jerome when they lived at Eaton's Bush. The brief history of families and farms, that he gave us was interesting, for which we thank him. With regret that our interview could not be longer, we moved on. Perhaps we may ask Mr. Fenner for more history of the "Barton School District."
Eastman's house, we noticed that it had "changed fronts." When the house was built nearly a century ago by Richard Haile the road was the other side of the house, but later to make the ascent easier the road was changed to the rear. My son at Eaton's Bush Cemetery visited the graves of his grandparents Cephas and Sophia Johnson. After taking a hasty and sorrowing look at the wilderness of weeds that almost hide many of the monuments that marked the resting place of the pioneers of the vicinity, we resumed our journey. At the school house near by where the writer attended under the tuition of Walter H. Ward, whose remains lie within call, we met two small boys, the only persons we saw till we drove into the yard of Marcus Rasbach.
Turning to the right, "where once the sign post caught the passer's eye" we saw only a slight depression in the pasture land to mark the sight of the old tavern. Silence reigned where 80 years ago sounds of music and revelry were heard, where militia trainings were held, travellers and teamsters entertained, New Years, and Independence Balls were danced, and Justices Bela Ward, John Hall and Isaac Cooper held their courts. The old meeting house was there, it had not fared the fate of many such buildings in the royal districts, and was yet used, but only as a barn. No persons were seen, and new names were on the mail boxes. Left to sad reflections we slowly drove from "The Hill" and crossed the bridge on which we used to sit and fish for the gamey speckled trout that were found in the North Creek. We passed the old small house where our youth was spent, no mark was seen where near by, once lived the pensioner of the Revolution, Zadoc Wheeler. We used to visit his home and read his two books that he used to swear by, but would never lend. Weem's Life of Washington, and Memoirs of Andrew Jackson, were the foundation of his creed and the solace of his years. He was pleased to allow me to read them, which I often read aloud to him, while he would add some comment or explanation. His grave in the cemetery tells on the slab that he was a "soldier of the revolution." But the sun was going west and so must we, as we had other hills to climb and a grassy, rough road, showing little travel until we reached the Schells Bush road near Sanford Eysaman's. Turning to right, as we passed along we looked to the field where the brave Christian Schell defended his log house.
Reaching the residence of Marcus Rasbach we drove into his place finding him and son at work. We did not alight. As time passed with a cheerful greeting, we had a brief interview, each asking and answering questions. I remembered his father as he used to draw logs to my father's saw mill when I was a lad. Bidding them good bye we passed the school house. We asked a small lad who was dismissed, how many pupils they had, he promptly answered one hundred and twenty and four or five teachers. We saw a smile in the little wag's eye as he winked to his companion. Probably there were a dozen, maybe a score of pupils, for country schools are small. We passed the hall of the Schell's Bush Grange, and noticed they had a shed to shelter their teams at their grange meetings, or at their dances, as I see by the papers that dances are held there occasionally; all this shows that the grangers are lively people and kind to their teams.
Our next call was at the home of Wm. U. Smith. As we drove into his yard we luckily found Mr. Smith at work out doors, and Mrs. Smith near, this saved us from the delay of alighting. Receiving a cordial greeting, we told them of our trip, they urged us to stop and have a lunch, which we thankfully declined, and instead they treated us with a drink of new cider, and sample of their apples and pears, putting some in our wagon to take home. The declining sun admonished us to move on, we bid them good bye. Passing the "Fiddler's Town" school house. (this was the ancient name for the place) we went down the winding ravine road, and across the West Canada Creek. This ravine is now a good road bed since the bridge was built, as it affords a shorter and better route for the people of Schell's Bush to get to Herkimer village. Before the bridge was built, and the road across the flat land that was shut in by the curve of the hill on one side, and the creek on the other, this ravine road was rarely used. The new iron bridge is a fine structure, and probably the longest one across the creek. After crossing we took the old "Steuben Road" a part of the way as our shortest way home, arriving at sunset without incident, but weary both man and beast, and glad to be at home.
Here is the probable route Alexis L. Johnson took over the Hassenclever Hills:
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Copyright © 2000 BetteJo Caldwell/ Martha S. Magill
Photograph of Schoolhouse and Commentary Copyright © 2000 Betsy Voorhees
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