THE TOWN OF STARK
AN ADDRESS by WARREN HAWN of STARKVILLE
Delivered Before the Herkimer County Historical Society, February 11, 1905.
There is little of interest connected with the history of the Town of Stark since it became one of the political divisions of Herkimer County. No startling event has taken place within its borders. No men of brilliant fame claim it as the place of their nativity, and the generations that come and go, indicate that this honor may never come to us. We are plain plodding farm folk, tending strictly to our own business, and incidently, to that of our neighbors. The town of Stark was taken from the Town of Danube, April 28th, 1828, and was named after Gen. John Stark, of Revolutionary fame. In 1868, there was added to it from the Town of Little Falls, sixteen hundred acres, (1600) and in 1869, three hundred (300) were taken from the Town of Warren, making the total area of the town at this time, nineteen thousand eight hundred thirty nine (19,839) acres. The first census taken in 1830, shows the population to have been seventeen hundred and eighty one (1781); five years later it is given as fifteen hundred eighty one (1581), a loss of two hundred (200), to what cause due, is not definitely known. In the month of August 1834, a cyclone passed over the town from east to west, devastating a strip of country two miles in width. Hundreds of acres of forest were laid low, and building, fences, and crops were destroyed. Van Hornesville was in this belt and suffered severely. The damage done by this storm is said to have been $250,000. The loss in population has been attributed to this disaster. No lives were lost, which is quite remarkable considering it's severity, but it may have been the cause of some families removing from the town whose homes were in the path of the storm. The surface of the town is rough and broken; the hills on the south and west rise to an elevation of about sixteen hundred (1600) feet above tide water and slope toward the center, forming the valley of the Otsquago, through which the stream by this name flows.
The soil is calcareous sand and argilaceous loam, resting on Trenton lime stone, red and gray sand stone, and gray and black slate; the stratas appearing in the order named. The soil is quite productive, and is well adapted to dairying, which is the principal industry of the town. The numerous small streams and springs give an abundance of pure water, so necessary to make this business a success.
The butter and cheese produced is of superior quality. The butter manufactured by the Starkville Creamery Company scored the highest, 98.5 per cent at the last State Fair, and was awarded the first premium. All other industries of the town are subordinate to this dairy interest, and are wholly dependent upon it.
We have two small villages, Starkville and Van Hornesville; they are located in the Otsquago Valley in the central part of the town and contain about one hundred fifty (150) and two hundred (200) inhabitants respectively. There are also in the north west part of the town, two little hamlets, Deck and Smiths Corners of perhaps fifty (50) inhabitants each. Other sections have distinguishing names, as the Squake, Browns Hollow, Wards Hollow, Cramers Corners, but do not denote a concentration of inhabitants, although in the early days more or less business was done in each.
The stage route from Fort Plain to Cooperstown passes through the two villages, giving them a daily mail. Rural Free Delivery routes enter the town from Mohawk and Fort Plain, and with the Interstate, the Glen, and the Central New York Telephone lines passing through the town, we are in close touch with the rest of the world.
We have five stores, five saw mills, two grist mills, three hotels, five blacksmith shops, three wagon repair shops, four cheese factories and one creamery. We have one resident minister, and five churches, in three of which regular services are held. This comprises all there is of the Stark of today.
Of minerals we have but a trace: Lead, Iron and Silver. Many years ago, a German whose name is not remembered, made careful search for these metals; his prospecting occupied a period of some months, and resulted in his locating a Silver mine on the farm now owned by Mr. Harvey Deck, near the hamlet of that name in the north west part of the town. He began mining operations, and drove a tunnel into the hill about two thousand feet (2000 feet). He took out a quantity of ore which he claimed to be Silver; encountering a large vein of water, his mine was flooded and work discontinued.
He soon after left the neighborhood and never returned. This was the first and last mining venture in Stark.
There are several mineral springs scattered over the town, that are highly saturated with the salts of sulpher and iron. Those at Van Hornesville near the head waters of the Otsquago Creek are very strong, and tradition has it, the Indians attributed to them great curative qualities. The water from these springs flow into the Otsquago, and from the medicinal qualities of these waters, the stream is said to have derived its named "Ostquage"; the Indian term for "Healing Water." We now call this stream Otsquago, but I find that on Claud Joseph Sautheirs's map of Tryon County, published by William Fadden of London in 1779, it is there set down as "Ostquage". This being the oldest map on which the name of this stream appears, I have assumed it to be correct.
The hills of Stark are outlying spurs of the Adirondack range of mountains, which are a part of the Appalachaian (sic) chain, that enters the state on the north east, and extends in a south westerly direction to its center, crossing the Mohawk River at Little Falls. These hills form the water-shead (sic) between the Mohawk River and Susquehanna rivers. Strictly speaking, the head of the Susquehanna River is Summit Lake, commonly spoken of as mud lake, which lays about two miles south of Van Hornesville, in the county of Otsego. This lake has an elevation of 1363 feet; in the spring, when the water is high, the water from the lake flows both ways, that from the north end, in to the Mohawk by the way of the Otsquago Creek, and that from the south end, into the Susquehanna by the way of Otsego Lake. This is the only lake in this part of the state, that distributes its waters to different river systems.
In the gorge just below Van Hornesville, is an interesting rock formation. It is Calcareous Tufa, and contains many beautiful specimens of petrified vegetable matter. It forms a barrier across the gorge, over which the Otsquago Creek plunges, forming a beautiful cascade, some fifteen (15) feet in height. At some time, the action of the water has cut out in this mass, chambers and passage-ways, some of which are quite large. One of these is called the kitchen and will shelter eight or ten people very comfortably. It has a natural fireplace and chimney, and from their blackend and discolored condition, it is evident that many fires have been kindled in this cave. It is situated a short distance north of the trail, that lead from the Mohawk Valley to Otsego Lake and the Susquehanna country; undoubtedly, this was a favorite camping place during those early days. On the Tilyou farm, one mile south of Van Hornesville, there is a cave in which ice and snow may be found at any time during the year. A convulsion of Nature has pulled great masses of rock away from each other, leaving broad fissures between them of varying depths. One of these leads you into this cave under the over hanging rock; it is not very large or very attractive, but the perpetual winter found there, brings to it many visitors. Just back of what was once a busy cotton mill at Van Hornesville, there is a continuous flow of natural gas, from a very narrow crevice in the rock; by placing a funnel over the opening it can be burned. The flame is a pale blue, indicating that it is sulphureted hydrogen, and of no value for illuminating purposes. Near the Hamlet of Deck, there is a small stream so highly saturated with the carbonate of lime, that where it falls over a ledge of rock, the spray from it petrifies the moss, ferns, and leaves, on which it falls. The Oheisa is another stream of some size that has its source in the town, and flows through it into the Nowadaga Creek, which drains a portion of the town of Danube. The fall of this stream is very rapid, some two hundred feet to the mile, and it has cut a gorge or canyon three and one half miles long, about two hundred fifty (250) feet wide at the top, and of an average depth of one hundred fifty (150) feet. There are two beautiful cascades on this stream, one of sixty four (64) feet and one of one hundred (100) feet in height. It is well worth ones' time to visit these places as they are very interesting, and many beautiful bits of scenery are found near them.
The water shed of the streams of Stark, being so abrupt, subjects the town to severe floods. In July 1877, a cloud burst on the hill west of Van Hornesville, doing a large amount of damage to that village. No indication of this storm was visible at Starkville, and the first intimation the people had of the disaster, was the deep roar of the waters as they rushed in a mighty torrent down the Otsquago, filled with the debris of buildings and bridges that had been swept away. In July 1888, we were again visited by a similar flood increased in proportions; the furniture ware-house of House Brothers at Van Hornesville, in which a large amount of finished furniture was stored, was carried away, and a large amount of damage done to mill property. The blacksmith shop of Able Maxwell at Starkville, was carried away, and not a bridge left standing on the Otsquago or Oheisa creeks. The damage this flood did to roads, bridges, and private property approximated $10,000.
Previous to the Revolution and up to 1784, what is now Stark, was a part of the Canajoharie district of Tryon County; all the lands within its present bounds, except a part of L'Hommedieu's and Vroman's patents, were granted by the Colonial Government before the Revolution.
To whom is due the honor of being the first settler within its present limits, is not known. Youngsfield, or what is now known as Chyle in the town of Warren, was settled in 1765. Some six or eight years later, as near as I have been able to learn, Jacob Bronner, Frederick Bronner, John and George Fetterly, the descendants of whom are still residents of Stark, formed "Squak" settlement as it was called, on the highlands about two miles north west of the present village of Van Hornesville. This is said to have been the first settlement in what is now known as Stark.
It is natural that this point should have been selected as a place of settlement, by pioneers of that early day; they were within two miles of Youngsfield which gave them near neighbors; the trail from Fort Johnson by the way of Fort Plain to Oneida Castle, passed through it from east to west; the trail from the Mohawk Castle by the way of the Nowadaga valley and Youngsfield, to the head of Otsego Lake, crossed it from north to south.
There was also a trail from the German Flatts, that joined the trail from the Mohawk Castle, for Youngsfield, in the valley of the Nowadaga, about two miles south west of Newville, in Danube. This afforded them frequent means of communication with the larger settlements of the valley, by using the travelers passing over these trails as messengers. Among the early comers, were the Shaul brothers, John, Sebastian, and Matthew, and the Betinger and Philips families. The settlement continued to increase and at the beginning of the Revolution contained about fifteen (15) families.
In the autumn of 1778, the Shaul brothers, John, Sebastian and Matthew, were threshing at the home of John, and were captured by a raiding party of Indians. When the party reached the head of the Otsego Lake, the elder brother, John, either made his escape or was permitted to return, upon this point my informant is not quite clear, but in any event, he reached Fort Plank in safety, and immediately there after entered the army and served until the close of the war.
Sebastian and Matthew were taken to the Susquehanna Country as it was then called, and were held there until Gen. Sullivan's army entered in 1779, when they were taken to Canada.
They were kindly treated, and in time, their captors became strongly attached to the young men, and gave them many liberties.
This gave them an opportunity to escape, and one dark rainy night in the early summer they started on their journey home. They reached the banks of the St. Lawrence River in safety, but before they could effect a crossing, were recaptured by a party that had been sent in pursuit of them. These Indians were very friendly to them, or undoubtedly they would have killed then and there. They plead earnestly to be permitted to go home, and after much parleying with their dusky friends, Matthew saw it was useless to plead further, as his brother seemed willing to return, he seized a club and told them they could kill him if they wanted to, but he would not go back with them, nor should his brother. A demonstration was made as if they would attack him in a body, and one threw a Tomahawk at him, but they found he was not to be frightened.
At this point a Chief, and an English officer who happened to be present, interfered in their behalf, and they were given their liberty. They were taken across the river, furnished with provisions for their journey, and arms for their protection. They reached home in due time but suffered much hardship on the way. After the close of the war, and the Indians could travel unmolested, twenty-six of the tribe with whom the Shaul brothers had lived, came to see them one summer; they pitched their wigwams on the home farm now owned by Mr. David Shaul of Van Hornesville, and remained until late in the fall, before returning to Canada. The incidents here related, were obtained from Mr. David Shaul, who is a grandson of the John Shaul referred to here; he also says that to the best if his recollection, his relatives were with the indians about five years, which would have brought them back to their homes in 1783.
In the autumn of 1781, the Squak settlement was destroyed by Brant, sharing the fate of its neighbor, Youngsfield. The inhabitants had been warned of the approach of Brant's force of Indians and Tories; all succeeded in reaching a place of safety, except Jacob Bronner, his son Christian, his daughter Sophronia, and Maria Betinger, who were captured and held as prisoners. Mr. Bronner and his son were released, but the daughter and Miss Betinger were carried to Canada. Jacob Eckler of Youngsfield, was one of this party of prisoners and was held eight years before he was released. On his return home, he told the parents of the girls where they could be found, and Jacob Bronner and Martin Betinger, started for Canada as soon as possible to obtain their children. Mr. Bronner had little trouble in securing the release of his daughter, but Mr. Betinger was not so successful; he found Maria married to an Indian Chief.
She wished to return with her father, but her husband refused to release her and said, that if she deserted him, he would kill them both. She, knowing that he would carry out his threat, even if he had to follow them into the States to accomplish his purpose, decided to remain with him. Maria Betinger was the sister of Madaline Betinger Smith, the grandmother of Alexander Smith of Starkville, from whom the foregoing facts were obtained.
At the close of the war, the inhabitants returned to their desolated homes, and began to repair as best they could the damage war had wrought. The rifle and sword were laid aside for the plow and oxe. Willing hands, strong arms, and stout hearts, soon restored their homes; but at many hearth stones, there were vacant places of loved ones whose voices were forever hushed.
Shortly after the return of the "Squak" settlers to their homes at the close of the war, the surrounding country began to be settled, and it was for a time, the center of population.
A store and hotel were opened and a church built. The amount of trading done here, must have been considerable, as the store was still doing business in 1845. Nelson Phillips was its last proprietor and closed it out in that, or the following year. The hotel was continued for several years longer, but when it passed out of existence I have been unable to learn. A Mr. Ducher was its last landlord. Passing through this part of town today, there is nothing to indicate to the traveller, that this settlement ever existed. The church has also disappeared, and all that remains to show where it stood, is the silent city of the dead.
In the spring of 1788, Johannes Smith built himself a home in the valley of the Otsquago, at what is now the village of Starkville. He is said to have been the first settler in this part of the town, and his descendant, Mr. Alexander Smith tells me the log house he built was about sixty feet long, and that he completed it in time to return to his home in the Helderberg Mountains for his family, returning with them before winter set in of the same year.
It would seem he could not have been alone in his venture, as the amount of work accomplished could not have been done by one man in the time stated.
This was the beginning of the settlement of Southville as it soon was called, and in a few years a thriving village had sprung up in the wilderness. It was natural that its growth should be rapid, as it was situated at the confluence of the Camp and Otsquago creeks, which furnished mill power and an abundance of pure water; and the trails from the Delaware country, the Susquehanna, and the Oneida Castle, joined at this point, the trail to Fort Johnson and Fort Plain, crossing the trail from Cherry Valley to the Mohawk Castle, furnishing an excellent opportunity for trade and communication. Johannes Smith fully understood the advantages of the location; being a thrifty German with the business instinct fully developed, he had built his home larger than his wants required and on arriving with his family opened a tavern for the accommodation of the traveling public. His venture was very successful and at his death in 1796, his son Andrew continued the business up to 1844.
Among the early settlers were the Champion brothers from Massachusetts, Daniel and John. They located here in 1798, and to their energy and business ability, is largely due the prosperity that came to the little village among the hills. In 1800, Daniel Champion built a sawmill on the south side of the Otsquago, one and a half mile south west of the village, and the same year a cloth finishing and fulling mill, which did a large and profitable business for a number of years, under the management of Sherman Wentworth. In 1802, a schoolhouse was built and is said to have been the first one erected in the town; Miles Bristol was installed as teacher, and remained in charge of the school a long time. He was very acceptable to the parents of the children under his charge, as he was a firm believer in the truth of the maxim "spare the rod and spoil the child" and I am assured from reliable sources, that none were spoiled under his tuition.
In 1810, John Champion built a store and two years later a gristmill, and in 1823, he erected a forge and moulding shop, where the home of Oliver Hall now stands. In 1814, Jesse Brown built a wool carding mill, which later on passed into the hands of Abram Dore, who continued to operate it up to 1856. In 1820, Elisha Champion built a tannery in which hides were finished ready for the shoe-maker's last About this time A. S. & W. Champion erected a large cooperage and cabinet shop, and William Gibson began the manufacture of looms and spinning wheels. In 1829, a church was built and incorporated as "The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Stark" and Jesse Pomery was its first pastor. Southville could at that time, by its own industries, supply every want of the inhabitants of the surrounding country, and it became the center of trade for a large section. It had become a post village, and the mail was taken up and delivered on Saturday of each week. The route began and ended at Southville and included Fords Bush (now Minden) and Fort Plain. Mr. Alexander Smith at the age of eighteen served as post-rider for one dollar ($1.00) the round trip.
In 1848 and 1849, a plank road was built from Fort Plain to Cooperstown, and a daily mail route established between the two places. At that time the name of Southville was dropped, and Starkville took its place as the name of the village.
The first settler at what is now Van Hornesville, was Thomas Van Horne, who held the office of Orderly Sergeant in Captain Eckler's company of Militia. The date of his locating there can be approximately mixed. He was born in Hunterdon County, N.J., and migrated to Tryon County in 1770, locating in what is now the town of Glen, Montgomery County. On October 23d., 1774, he married Maria Frederic, and afterwards moved to what later on became the village of VanHornesville. Henry Eckler was appointed Captain, May 18th., 1776, and enlisted his company the same year. To have been enrolled as one of the officers of this company, he must have been a resident of Canajoharie military district, to which he must have moved from the Mohawk district between 23d. of October, 1774, and May 18th, 1776, which would have brought him to his new home sometime during the year of 1775, and in that year I believe we are safe in saying, the settlement of VanHornesville was begun. No increase in population came to this place, until the close of the Revolution. In 1791, Abram VanHorne, a cousin of Thomas, located there; he was a man of some note and deserves more than passing notice. He was born at White House, Hunterdon County, N.J., August 28th., 1738. In 1771 he migrated to what was then called Warrenbush, in the present town of Florida, Montgomery Co. N.Y. He was a staunch Whig, and in June 1775, he was elected a member of the committee of Safety of Tryon County, and continued a member for several years. He was a member of the State Assembly from 1777, to 1781, and was appointed High Sheriff of Tryon Co., by Gov. Clinton, May 22nd of that year. These honors coming to him in rapid succession show that he had the confidence of the people, and no man could hold a commission under Gov. Clinton, whose integrity, devotion, or patriotism was in doubt.
He was a man of energy, and the second year after his settling at VanHornesville, with the aid of his sons Richard and Daniel, began to develop the water-power of the Otsquago creek. A saw-mill, gristmill, and distillery were soon in operation, and are said to have been the first erected within the present limits of the town. The two run of stone for the mill were purchased at Esopus, and delivered at Fort Plain by boat; from there they were drawn by teams on woodshod sleds to VanHornesville. These sleds were called "bungoes" and were the only means of transporting heavy loads at all seasons of the year, as the so called roads were little better than pack trails in those days.
In 1794, Mr. VanHorne opened a store and this little settlement at the headwaters of the Otsquago, soon developed into a thriving village, and was known as VanHorne's Mills, and was so called for many years. In 1800, it contained the following industries in addition to those already mentioned, a tannery, a trip-hammer shop in which axes and scythes were made, a cloth fulling and finishing mill, and a cabinet shop. In 1827, Paul Stansil, erected a furnace and molding shop, and in 1836, Elias Braman and Co. built a large cotton mill of nine hundred spindles. This mill was operated up to 1856 and did a very profitable business for some years, but the competition of other mills more favorable situated, and the long haul to and from the valley, of manufactured products and raw material, forced them out of business. The Property passed into the hands of Allen and Hanks in 1870, and was run as a yarn mill under their management for a time but was not a success. All the machinery has been sold, and the building, a fine stone structure, stands as a monument to the dead industries of Stark.
In 1823, a fire lighted by the hands of Mary Pope, an insane woman, destroyed the distillery built at this place in 1793. She claimed to have had a vision, in which she saw a little child clothed in rags, and reduced by starvation to a mere skeleton, wandering among the bags of grain stored in the building, crying "Hunger! Hunger! Hunger!" This was interpreted by her to mean that unless the manufacture of spirits was stopped, a famine would come upon the people. No attention being paid to her prophecy, she took matters in her own hands, and destroyed that which she believed would bring upon the people this calamity. The loss was a severe one to the VanHorne brothers, as a large amount of grain and distilled spirits was destroyed, but business was soon resumed, and later on a substantial stone structure was erected which still stands. In 1856, the manufacture of spirits having been discontinued, J. Shipman and Co., opened it as a foundry, manufacturing iron and steel axles, and bridge material. They continued the business up to 1867, when the plant was moved to Fort Plain, N.Y.
This was the flitting of the last important manufacturing industry of Stark. Previous to 1814, at a date I have been unable to fix, Henry Brown, bought a tract of land on the Otsquago Creek, midway between Southville and Van Hornes Mills. He erected numerous buildings, and in 1814, the following industries were in full operation, in which many hands were employed, a saw-mill, fulling mill, carding mill, hat factory and clover hulling mill.
There was also a store and hotel, and for a while it seemed that Browns Hollow was destined to be the leading village in the valley. Its location, however, was not favorable to its growth, being so near the natural centers of trade of the town, Southville and the VanHornes Mills, about two miles form each, and today there is not building standing that was erected by Judge Brown; all that remains is a memory of departed activity and a name.
Careful inquiry reveals but little of the history of Judge Brown; that he was a man of some influence is denoted by his appointment by the Governor, in 1823, first Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Herkimer County. He removed from the town about the year 1838.
There is one other inhabitant of the town I must mention before I close, John Concuponk. He was an Oneida Indian of pure blood, who made his home in Stark, until called by the Great Spirit, to the Happy Hunting Grounds of his Fathers. His wigwam was pitched on the Hawn farm, one half mile south of the village of Starkville on the Otsquago creek, just beyond the point of the hill that jutts out close to the highway, and is called by us, Cape Horn. In this sheltered spot his wife, Canadalacadoa, led a peaceful life and we trust a happy life, supporting themselves by making baskets and moccasins. Peter P. Murphy, was the resident physician at Southville when Indian John was called to his Fathers; needing a subject for his students to operate upon, the body soon after the interment, was removed in some mysterious way to his dissecting room. He had been buried at the foot of a tall pine, on the crest of a hill that sheltered his home from the rough winds of winter, and his widow discovered at once that his grave had been desecrated. Some one told her what had been done with the body of her husband and in a frenzy of her grief and anger, she attempted to take the doctor's life. Immediately after this occurrence she was taken to the Reservation in Oneida.
This is the story of Stark, as I have been able to gather it, from tradition and record, and brings us up to the present time.
In comparing our past with our present condition, we find that we have not kept pace with the majority in the race for wealth, we have lost, instead of gained in the struggle.
One half century ago, all our wants were supplied by our artisans at home; the clothes and shoes we wore; the harnesses and saddles we put on our horses, the wagons and carriages in which we rode in fact all the necessary appliances of life, were their handiwork. Today, all this has been changed by an industrial revolution of great magnitude, that has been so quietly and slowly going on, that we hardly realize that it has taken place.
Our population decreased as our industries departed from us, to become the foundation of the upbuilding of the great corporations of today. In 1845, before this change began, it was seventeen hundred seventy five (1775). In 1855, it was fourteen hundred fifty eight (1458) and today, according to the last census filed in the office of Clerk of the County, it is eleven hundred ninety one (1191) a loss of nearly one third in sixty years, and our farms have shrunk in value, in thirty years, sixty per cent. A generation ago, the farms are worked by the owners, today tenant farmers are taking their places, and the individual ownership of the property by the majority of our population is rapidly decreasing.
This is not only true of Stark, but of the country at large, and we are becoming a nation that will eventually be divided into two classes, those who have and those who have not.
We have performed our part in developing the Empire State to the best of our ability, and our present condition is due to circumstances over which we have no control.
The whole scene of industrial activity, has been shifted from the small villages of the country, to the large cities located on the great railroad systems, and waterways; and from numerous small circles of trade, controlled by individual effort, to centers of commercial activity, that embrace the whole country, and are under the absolute control of a few great corporations, that hold within their grasp the nations trade and more than half the nations wealth.
To place these corporations under proper government supervision, so that individual effort may not be at their mercy to be ruthlessly crushed out, has become the greatest political problem of our time.
Source: "Papers Read Before the Herkimer County Historical Society Covering the Period From September 1902 to May 1914, Volume 3"
Warren Hawn's profile of Stark was prepared by Town of Stark editor Carol Perry. Carol is seeking information on Stark area surnames Borst, Youngs, Eldridge, Pickard, and Brookman.
Copyright © 2000 Carol Perry/ Martha S. Magill
All Rights Reserved.