This is our third feature article on old Herkimer and Montgomery Counties homes and their first residents. To date we've posted histories of the 19th century homes of Benjamin Bowen of Newport and Webster Wagner of Palatine Bridge. Last fall Town of Herkimer editor Betsy Voorhees visited the homestead of Colonel Matthew Keith of Winfield.
There were "roads to the north in Winfield leading from the Turnpike to the canal. One of these in 1857 was the present day Wall Street Road. One user of this highway long before the date of our map was Samuel McKee of E. Winfield whose business as early as 1825 was gravestones. He would hook up an ox or horse to a heavy wagon on his farm, which was there by the present day RR crossing on Rt. 51 north of Birmingham's, then drive to Col. M. Keith's at the head of Sales Rd. on Wall Street road. There he borrowed another ox or horse and proceeded north to Cedarville, where he entered the plank road (Ilion to Cedarville through the Gulf, Chepachet, then to Hansel's Cor., Richfield and Cooperstown), McKee went down the Gulf to Ilion and a wharf at the canal.
He loaded the slabs of granite or sandstone onto his heavy wagon, took care of his oxen or horses, had something to eat at a tavern. He would enter the costs of his trip in a note book - 11 cents for the meal, toll on the plank road, maybe 50 cents. (McKee was a meticulous man.)
Setting out for home he would proceed up the Ilion Gulf Plank Road for 2 to 3 miles then unload half the slabs at the roadside and go on home with the balance, thus easing the pull on his animals. He would continue on Plank Rd. to Chepachet where it turned toward what is now Petticoat Junction, then arrive at his farm a mile distant near what later (1874) became a railroad crossing. He would return to the gulf next day for the slabs of granite he had left there."
(Note: the above was re-copied from "Intimate History of Winfield" by Mr. Thomas W. Smith, published in 1979, who in turn had obtained his information from the West Winfield Library.)
The present owners of Col. Matthew Keith's home told this editor, in September 1999, that when they moved into the home, Matthew Keith's journal was found in the attic and they gave it to the Winfield historian for their records. The first photo shows the home Col. Keith built in 1810. The present owners are refurbishing and doing necessary repairs to restore it as much as possible to the original home. The inside of the home has plank floors and the front door is probably original as it's 54" wide and old but in good condition. The pantry was the only closet in the house, which is the way old homes were. They never built closets back then. In the right side yard is still the base of the old blockhouse the Keith's used. The "smoke house" used to be on a slab of cement.
The second photo was taken standing in the Colonel's yard, showing the stone schoolhouse in the neighboring lot, which Col. Keith also constructed for his children so they would not have to travel far to get to school - especially in the winter. The schoolhouse has now been remodeled into a modern home. Across the road can also be seen a barn which Matthew Keith built in the early 1800's.
The 1810 census for Winfield lists:
In 1820 the census taken for Herkimer County for Winfield showed: Ansil, Calvin, Mathew and Ozen. All had families and all were engaged in manufacturing.
At the present time this editor has no other information on the above people. It is hoped that at some future date, portions of Colonel Keith's journal can be added to this section.
It might be noted that previous owners of the Keith home, after the Keith family, were named Stafford and pictures recording the history of the home are labeled "Keith/Stafford".
In addition to building his home, the school house and various barns on his property, Matthew Keith was joined by his brother and together they built the Jerusalem Hill Church.
In the "History of Herkimer County" it relates that Eli Remington used the Keith home for vacations.