History of the Town of Wilmurt
"History of Herkimer County, New York,"
edited by George A. Hardin, 1893
This is the largest town in the State of New York and includes the
whole north part of Herkimer county. It extends a distance of nearly
fifty miles in length north and south, and about sixteen in width.
Its boundaries are as follow: Beginning at the southwest corner of
the town of Morehouse (Hamilton county), and running westerly on the north
line of the Jerseyfield patent until it strikes the West Canada Creek;
thence continuing the same course of the Jerseyfield line until it strikes
the west line of Herkimer county; thence northerly on said line until it
strikes the north boundary line; thence easterly along the north bounds
of the county until it strikes the northwest corner of the town of Morehouse;
thence southerly on said line to the place of beginning. Within these
boundaries are all those parts of Remsenburgh and Vrooman's patents, Adgate's
Brown's, Nobleborough, Moose River, and Watson's tracts, and Totten and
Crossfield purchase which lie in Herkimer county.
The surface of Wilmurt is rocky and mountainous and a large part
of it is unfit for cultivation. In the deep valleys among the mountains
are numerous beautiful and picturesque lakes, often connected by streams
of pure cold water. The soil is a sandy loam. Numbers one to
four of the Fulton chain of lakes are in the town and sources of the Moose
River; while Transparent, Woodhull, Bisby and other lakes flow into Black
River. These lakes, streams and forests are favorite resorts for
the fisherman and huntsman. Trout abound in the pure waters, and
deer are numerous in the remote wilderness of the northern parts.
Wilmurt was formed from Russia and West Brunswick (now Ohio) May
3, 1836, when William Baker was chosen supervisor; he was succeeded in
1839 by David Thorp. There has been only a little public improvement
in the town, confined chiefly to the opening of necessary roads and the
construction of bridges.
In the year 1790 Arthur Noble, of Scotland, settled on the Nobleborough
tract of 40,960 acres in the southeast part of Wilmurt. There he
built a saw-mill, and attempted to colonize his land; but he failed.
In 1792 Alexander Macomb, of New York, purchased of the State 1,920,000
acres of land, at nine pence per acre, in the northern part of the State,
and in the same year John Brown, of Rhode Island, acquired the title to
about 200,000 acres of that purchase, which tract was divided into eight
townships, numbered from one to eight. This has always been known
as Brown's tract, and it extended into the northern part of Herkimer county.
Mr. Brown visited his lands near the close of the last century, made some
limited improvements by opening roads, building houses and mills, in the
hope of finding sale for them. He died before realizing his expectations.
A few years after Mr. Brown's death, his son-in-law, Charles F. Herreshoff,
visited the tract and made a determined effort to settle and improve it.
He cleared about 2,000 acres, repaired the mill formerly built by Brown,
erected new mills, including an iron forge, and finally gathered about
him thirty or forty families. These improvements were chiefly situated
near what has ever since been known as "The Old Forge" in the town of Wilmurt.
A little iron was actually manufactured; but Herreshoff's means became
exhausted and his courage failed. He therefore "resorted to the experiment
of drawing on his friends in Providence for the needful means to consummate
his dearly cherished project. The draft was returned to him protested;
he felt dishonor keenly, and deliberately shot himself through the head."
It is probable that Herreshoff was visionary and had poor judgment of business
matters. The town as a whole was at that time, and is still to a
considerable extent, a rugged wilderness, into which he should have seen
the difficulty of building roads, upon which must have depended his success.
Nothing but the most ambitious dreams could have kept him at his fruitless
and herculean task so long.
After Herreshoff's death the people he had brought to his settlement
gradually dispersed, and all the buildings and improvements that had been
made went to decay. A large portion of the tract eventually passed
to the State for unpaid taxes.
A second attempt was made to settle and improve the Nobleborough
tract in 1793, but this also failed. Mr. Benton wrote of this as
follows: "The remains of a grist and saw-mill were seen at this settlement
about the year 1811 by William Bensley, of Newport. Mr. Noble must
have been influenced by a monomania like that of John Brown when he caused
a carriage road to be cut and cleared to his lands, over which he passed
in his coach. Mr. Noble sojourned for a time at Little Falls while
his experiments in the woods were going on, but finally returned to Scotland."
Great hopes have at various times been inspired by the large iron
deposits existing in the northern part of this town; but it is now generally
admitted that the ore, situated as it is and with a character such as it
possesses, will not pay for working. Almost the entire town was formerly
a dense wilderness of valuable timber, and much of it still remains.
The practicability of turning this to valuable account in lumber business
long ago attracted the attention of men of means. In order that the
West Canada Creek might be used for floating logs successfully, the State
Legislature appropriated $5,000 many years ago to remove obstructions from
its channel, and a heavy lumber business was founded, Gardner Hinckley
being foremost in the work. Through this work a large tract of territory
in the eastern and southern parts of the town has been cleared of the forest
and considerable farming is carried on.
There is a post-office at what is called East Wilmurt, at which J.
Edward Spencer Wilkinson is postmaster, and keeps a store. A large
mill is operated on the West Canada Creek by the Richard Brothers, and
there is a steam mill on the Twin Lake stream.
There are a number of popular summer resorts within the limits of
the town. Mr. Wilkinson, before mentioned, has kept a public house
for many years, which is well known over a wide field, and there are others
on the lakes in the far northern part of the town. The opening of
the Adirondack and St. Lawrence Railroad through Wilmurt in 1892 will doubtless
lead to the more active development of this town.
Gang Mills post-office is in the southwestern part of the town and
takes its name from the large mills built there many years ago by Hinckley
& Ballou (the latter, Theodore P. Ballou, a prominent businessman of
Utica). The business part of Gang Mills is in the town of Wilmurt,
and the remainder in Oneida county. Robert Hall is postmaster there
and keeps a store. The opening of the branch of the Adirondack and
St. Lawrence Railroad to this point was effected in 1892. The extensive
mills are now owned by the Trenton Falls Lumber Company, and are operated
for the company by Edward C. Hargraves. The company also keep a store
on the east side of the creek. The Methodist church here was dedicated
Gardner Hinckley came into town early and became conspicuous in the
lumber business and was associated with Theodore P. Ballou, of Utica, in
the establishment of large saw-mills. (See biography in later pages
of this work.) Francis Wilkinson was supervisor of the town in 1852,
and father of J. E. S. Wilkinson, now postmaster and merchant of East Wilmurt.
The elder Wilkinson settled in Wilmurt in 1824, on the noble tract.
Edward Fallen settled in the town in 1840 and became a prominent lumberman
and mill owner, where the Richards Brothers' mill now is. John C.
Richards was father of the Richards Brothers (John and William), and settled
in Wilmurt in 1865; he was a farmer and lumberman, and now lives in Herkimer.