The Diary of Miss Alvina Helmer

Written at Kast Bridge - March 1915

My Recollections of Eatonville as it Was in 1850

The diary of Miss Alvina Helmer, in the collections of the Herkimer County Historical Society, was digitally transcribed by Jane Dieffenbacher, Fairfield Town Historian. The reminiscences in the diary notebook speak of the residents of Eatonville, a hamlet on the southwest corner of Fairfield, bordering on the Towns of Herkimer and Little Falls. Eatonville used to be a thriving community with its own post office. Miss Helmer's reminiscences detail who was related to whom, what they did for a living, and where individuals migrated to.

In looking over a "Scrap Book" not so very ancient either, I came to some reminiscences of Eaton Bush written by Alexis Johnson which reminded me of a resolution made some years ago of continuing those recollections although of later date which brings me to the year of 1850. April 1st of that being the first time I ever saw Eaton's Bush or Eatonville as it is usually called these later days. It was on a bright April morning when we left our home in Herkimer which was on the Steuben road situated directly opposite the Smith mansion in which resided the brothers, John, Nicholas, and George Smith, who were cousins of our mother, and on whose farm we had lived for three years. There were no other houses on that road; neither were there any houses on Lake Street, and many a time I went after school with my older brother and helped him drive home the cows from the meadow where they had been feeding on the aftermath. There were but two cottages on what is now called Prescott street. The one next to the Smith brothers' home was owned and occupied by Matthew Smith, a cousin, and his family consisting of his wife and one daughter Sally. Two other sisters, Mary and Roxy had married and gone to homes of their own. Mary married _____ Stevens and Roxy, Joseph Bellinger. Next to theirs was the house in which Warren Mack and family, consisting of wife, two daughters, Sophia and Evaline, and one son, Warren Mack, Jr., resided. And a little farther on was an old log house built before the Revolutionary War. But I did not intend to write of Herkimer, but of Eatonville and perhaps of North Creek.

It seemed to us younger children a very long journey indeed, from Herkimer to our home in Eaton Bush and when we reached the road beyond North Creek Bridge, my youngest brother, not quite two years old, arose and was about to jump from the wagon, saying, "Now I've rode enough, I want to go home." But tired as we were, had three miles to travel before we reached our destination, and had not yet passed our old home on North Creek from where we had removed three years previously, but could see the saw mill and house from the road as we passed by. The next house on the same road belonged to the Hailes and was occupied by Tracy Carr and family. A little farther up the hill on the opposite side of the road was the dwelling owned and occupied by Benjamin Willard and family. There were no more houses then until we reached that of Squire Hall, situated on the lower side of the road and was an old- fashioned structure with chimney in the center middle rising from the cellar, but sufficient room in which a good sized family had been reared. He had a second wife then, who had been the widow of D'n'l Bucklin, her maiden name having been Sally Warner. She had 5 children of her former husband, three sons and two daughters. They were Daniel, Bradley, William, Sarah, and Mary Bucklin, who although grown up to man and womenhood, still made their home off and on with their mother until after marriage. The last children of Mr. Hall being all girls, Ellen, Lucy Ann, Rosalia, and Laura, all of them yet school girls. Bradley was an artist of considerable merit and he had some very fine pictures painted of scenery on the North Creek. Rosalia was living with a half-sister who was married and lived in Troy. Ellen married Dudley Ward and died in 18--, survived by husband and a daughter Sarah Ward. Later he married again, Ella Bucklin, a relative of the first wife. Lucy Ann married a man, Underwood by name, and was living, when I last heard of her, in Kingston. Laura's husband's name was Bell, and if I remember rightly, resided in Kansas, when she made a visit to Eatonville to see her sister Ellen. After the death of Squire Hall, the property fell into the hands of his son Albert of whom my family purchased it at a large figure, and my brother, L.B. Helmer, took up his residence there in the spring following his marriage in the fall of 1866, and has been residing there until the present time.

(Insert) Since writing of Squire Hall's family, the following has come to my notice, copied from Utica semiweekly Press of Apr. 9, 1915, "Little Falls artist dead, L. Falls, Apr. 7. Bradley Brayton Bucklin, a former resident of this city, passed away in his studio at Troy, Mon. P.M. Apr. 5, where he has been located for the past 60 years. He was found dead in his chair, easel and paint brush in his hand, when a member of the family with whom he resided went to summon him to supper. He was born in the town of Little Falls near the site of the present C. Club in 1824, being the son of Daniel and Sarah Bucklin. From childhood he showed considerable aptitude as an artist and his parents gratified his desire for an art education. He never married. He leaves three sisters. Mrs. Otis Eysaman of this city is a cousin."

The last house at the corner on the Little Falls road was the one into which we were to make our home. It had formerly been the home of Dr. Nathaniel I. Willard, the father of Xerxes A. Willard, a popular writer on dairying, agriculture, etc. It had been rented since the demise of the Doctor, many years previous, Seth Keeler being its last occupant before us. The house was comfortable and pleasantly situated but not a pretentious structure, with two large rooms fronting the Little Falls road and the same chambers above. There was a basement of considerable dimensions with cellar adjoining. From the cellar kitchen opened a nice pantry where the doctor had kept his medicines, and left an odor which my mother vainly strove to eradicate, but there was also a fine large bedroom next to it, pleasantly located, but was not put to use on account of a long crack next the floor, ready to admit any vermin willing to enter. A board walk ran from the front door steps down past the cellar kitchen door into the wood house. There was a fine orchard with delicious pears and apples of superior quality. Great yellow Pound Sweets that make my mouth water just to think of them, besides Greenings, Spitzenbergs, Seek-no-farthers and etc. A fertile garden in another corner of the one acre and barn in which my father kept his team and one cow.

Next adjoining our place was the cemetery where you will see many names of the early settlers, and where also the bones of many patriotic soldiers of the Revolution, and a few (since that time) of soldiers of the Civil War. Just below the cemetery was the school house filled with children, some of whom were young men and women; we having a very superior teacher in the person of Miss Lurancy Wilcox, a graduate of the Normal School. She taught several young ladies in branches not generally taught in common school. I remember the names of Margaret Wetherwax, Maryette and Charlotte Ward. The teacher of our winter school was John Bateson who, being a man of more advanced years than usual, also had a large school, including many young men and women and he taught a very good school also.

Just below the school house was the blacksmith shop of Wm. Young who not long after sold out and went to Illinois. I have been wondering if this might not have been the same shop in which Daniel Eastman labored at his vocation so many years previous, it being during my mother's girlhood as I remember hearing her speak of visiting at his home, having been an acquaintance of his daughters. But where the home was located I cannot say.

Then came the Brook. For many years previous to our residence in Eatonville, it must have been a very thriving and prosperous community, considering the number of so many large two story dwellings that showed their having been erected years before, especially the one just across the brook, directly opposite the shoeshop and "grocery store" of George Huyck, and was the residence at that time of "old" Garret Van Slyke, his wife, and her granddaughter Kate Smith, also a lame sister of Mrs. Van Slyke who was spoken of as "Aunt Nancy Hotaling". Her sister's name before her marriage to Thomas Smith was Catherine Hotaling and she had three children by this marriage, Nicholas, the father of Alonzo Smith who owned a farm with five buildings a short distance above Middleville, also Polly Smith, wife of Nathan Arnold, and John, I think, who was the father of Kate, John, Nate, and Martha. Kate married Gaylord Steele and Martha was the wife of Anderson Young and died at Middleville. I have a dim recollection that this house standing on the verge of the hill had once been used for a tavern, being large and commodious, with basement and situated conveniently for such purpose.

Before the Erie Canal was constructed this road was a regular thoroughfare for teams on their way to Albany, the great commercial center of trade in grain, especially market for wheat, and generally laden both going and returning with merchandise of various kinds for the northern towns situated on that road. I have heard it said that there had been three taverns in Eatonville, all of which had been well patronized by travellers and the public generally, especially during the time of "General" Training which had been held there at various times. The dwelling next to this a little further on, a large two story building, was occupied by Tunis, a son of Garret Van Slyke, and his family which consisted of a wife and two children, Daniel and Jane. His wife was a milliner and had done work of that kind for my mother before her marriage, and after, and she often spoke of her maiden name, Jane Griffiths, I think she called her. These two large dwellings were demolished a few years later perhaps in 1856 or '57. I judge from the fact that my father purchased a large quantity of brick from Henry Nelson which had been taken from the chimneys of these old buildings, which he used to "brick up" the interior walls of his own home which was erected in the summer of 1857.

It was in the possession of Clark Houghton who resided there until after the death of his wife in Nov. 188_. They had but one child, Mary, who married Alexander Martin of Honeoye but a short time before her mother's death, who I think, died of pneumonia as she was not sick long, but not well for sometime before. Their adopted son, Elmer, died of tuberculosis several years previous. Later the farm was rented to various parties and in the fall of 1908, on Election Day, while the owner Jerry Conners was away, the house which had withstood the storms of so many years was entirely consumed by flames and but a very little of the contents saved, and that once famous structure, like the other public houses of Eatonville, became a thing of the past, and the barns and surrounding buildings were reduced to ashes. Clark Houghton spent the last years of his life with his daughter, Mrs. Alex. Martin, in Honeoye Falls and died there March 10, 1909, at the advanced age of 91 years. Next to these buildings, on the same side of the road to Little Falls, was the tannery and home of Smith Parrent. He had one son whom in school was always called Al. Parrent, I presume his name was Albert. Across the ravine was a neat brown house, the home of Loren Hall, a son of Erastus Hall, who was a brother of "old Squire Hall". His wife was a daughter of Bela Ward; her name was Louisa and she was the sister of Henry and Charles Ward of Middleville. One son Henry lived at home and attended the district school. The daughters, older, were not at home then. Sarah Ann was married to a man by the name of Adams and Louisa married Lon Bailey of Middleville. Angeline, the youngest daughter, was a school teacher at that time, but a few years later married Philip Helmer.

I have been told that a few years previous to 1850, Glover Young and a brother had on this place conducted a Cabinet Shop and their home was situated on this same elevation, but they removed to Little Falls where they continued the same business many years later. Another brother, Ben. Young, was an artist and painted portraits, one of his sister Chloe I saw many times in the home of Edmund Ward where, with many fine oil paintings painted by the hand of Bradley Bucklin, they were consumed by the fire that laid the home of Dudley Ward in ashes in the spring of ______. He had also painted portraits of Demon Haile, also of his wife, Mrs. Lucy Brown Haile, which were always hanging in the parlor of their home in West Neighborhood.

A little distance farther on the road to Little Falls, but opposite in the corner north of the road which leads over to "Top Notch'" is the large sightly farm house which in 1850 was the residence of Jeremiah Cooper and his family. His wife was a sister of Loren Hall, and they had at least five daughters and one son. Sally, the oldest daughter, was the wife of Fred Woodruff. Caroline married Henry Hudson. Elinor died when a young woman with tuberculosis. Carradora passed away early with the same disease, I think. Rosalia was the smallest but not the youngest daughter. Benton I., their only son, married Josephine Alexander and after their marriage purchased the old _____ Churchill place where his daughter Sophia had established a select school and called it "Apple Hill Seminary". It is quite a number of years since Benton I. passed away and I think his family have remained there since his death. Recently I have heard that his son, ____, was about to return and take up his residence in the old Cooper homestead. Jerry Cooper died April 22, 1871.

INSERT  Little Falls, Nov. 14, 1916. John Irving Eaton, one of the best known farming men of Herkimer County and descendant of a prominent pioneer family of this section, died at 7 o'clock this morning, Nov. 14, 1916, at his home at corner of Jackson and Monroe streets after an extended illness. Mr. Eaton was born Nov. 15, 1833, on the Eaton homestead farm, in the town of Little Falls, near Eatonville, where his father before him was born. His parents were John and Anna Stanton Eaton. His mother was a descendant of Elijah Stanton of Revolutionary fame, and was a sister of Samantha Stanton Nellis, who is still living at Naples, N.Y. at the ripe old age of 106 years. J. Irving Eaton was the only nephew of Mrs. Nellis. The Eatons were of Mayflower stock settling in this country in the Pilgrim days. They came to this section from Connecticut and gave their name to the settlement of Eatonville. Up to 24 years ago the deceased resided on the home farm of over 200 acres in Eatonville. In 1870 deceased was united in marriage to Miss Anice Keyser. Besides the wife, he is survived by an only daughter, Belle Eaton Livingston, wife of former County Judge R.F. Livingston of this city.

The next farm house toward Eatonville was that of John Eaton. He had a daughter who was the wife of Roswell D. Brown, who crossed the ocean several times in the interest of agriculture, dairying & etc., and two sons. Charley the elder married Matilda Smith. He was a cheese maker. Irving Eaton was a school teacher and taught one district school in West Neighborhood in the winter of 185_ and was well liked as a teacher. The cheese factory was not then in existence but was built later somewhere in the vicinity of the Cunningham residence. I do not remember Mr. C's first name but it might have been Martin. At least he had a son of that name, besides three daughters. Mrs. Cool, I think she was the eldest, was a widow and had a son Judson, who came to school with her youngest sister Ellen. The other sister's name was Ann, and if I remember rightly, later married Walter Fenner. Mrs. Cool, while her husband was living, had resided in the same house in which we then did. Perhaps he owned it. She came there and took up flowers which she said she had set out there and planted on her husband's grave in the cemetery near by. Her son was a pale sickly lad and died young. I think Mr. Cunningham, the father, was a carpenter.

The "Fifty-Acre Lot" situated on north side of the road opposite the Squire Hall farm was purchased of Tunis Van Slyke before our residence in Eatonville, probably in 1849 and perhaps at the same time the house was. This "Lot" was also called the "Dr. Willard Lot." The next residence to these old buildings on the Shells Bush road was owned and occupied by Edmund Ward, a son of Bela Ward, and was similar in size and construction to the one in which Tunis Van Slyke was living but in much better condition, probably later built. His family consisted of his wife and one son, Arthur Dudley. His wife Elizabeth was the daughter of Arthur and "Aunt Molly" Fenner whose home was in West Neighborhood and were yet living there. There was another son Wellington, but he was away at that time. Some years later Dudley married Ellen Hall and I think the Post Office was kept there about this time. Following that road, there was but one more house, in connection with a saw mill, and which had been previously the property of Cephas Johnson. In 1850 it was the home of Garret Huyck, wife, and youngest son, Harvey, who married Mary Arnold, a daughter of William Arnold who lived on the road to Fairfield. After his marriage he went with her people to Scriba Ave. ______. I think then this property fell into the hands of his brother George. The house must have been kept in repair for but a few years ago it was occupied by George Calister and family until after his death. He was a son-in-law of Hiram Huyck. Returning, situated across the road directly opposite the house of Edmund Ward was the large hotel property built by Norman Enos, and of which Albert Churchill was then proprietor. His family consisted of his wife and two daughters, Cornelia and Julia, both attended school in the old school house. Some years later Julia married John De Ryther of Rome, where her parents were then residing. She had a fine voice and studied music in New York City and sang in public several years. I quote from the Telegram of March 16, 1915, a notice of her death in New York, March 14, 1915, at the age of 73 years. Her father died in 1897. Her remains were brought to Little Falls for burial.

My brother, L.B. Helmer, tells me that following after Albert Churchill, Theophilas Evans was the next proprietor before Alexander Van Slyke. He was a brother-in-law of Albert Churchill, his wife being Margaret Churchill. There was another sister, Miss Reate Churchill, who passed away a few years since, but Mrs. Evans is still living, a resident of Little Falls.

This tavern was a very fine structure in its day, constructed with a broad spacious veranda the full length of the building facing the corners. And I have been told that the ballroom in the second story was enormous. It had been a very popular resort for young people, but never used as a public house during my remembrance, but as a family residence. After the canal and railroad became established, merchandise & etc. were taken principally that way except cheese and dairying products, which invariably found a ready market in Little Falls, ever since my remembrance, and the cheese market I think, is there to stay. The Plank Road which was laid through from Middleville to Little Falls through Eatonville in the summer of 1850 was considered as very fine thing for people who traversed that road very frequently. I well remember how I enjoyed riding, yes, walking too, over that nice clean road. There was a "Toll Gate" about midway between Eatonville and Little Falls but I can bring to mind but two keepers of said gate. Parley Eaton was the first whom I remember and Morgan Case the other.

The next occupant of this mansion whom I recollect was Alexander Van Slyke, the youngest son of Garret Van Slyke and who I think had not long been married. The Post Office was there and I, a timid little girl, was sent to get our mail and was met and waited upon by a very pleasant young woman, whom I learned was Mrs. Alexander Van Slyke. I do not think they remained very long in Eatonville, but went to Dennison Corners, where he died several years later, survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter, who afterwards became Mrs. Clark Miller of Herkimer. The son whose name I think was Garry, (perhaps Garret) passed away before his mother. Her maiden name was Desire Hewitt and she was born in Oppenheim. She had a second husband, Luther Brown, and was his widow a good many years. She then resided with her daughter on Main Street, Herkimer, where she passed away Nov. 8, 1913, aged 91 years. I met her several times at the home of my nieces, the Misses Arnold, whose father was a relative of her first husband; after their residence in Herkimer, and found her to be a very agreeable and lovable woman whom it was a pleasure to meet, and converse with.

This hotel property, together with the farm of "old" Garret Van Slyke, situated to the west of Eaton Bush, below the cemetery and extending to the Eastman Brook which flows across the road near the residence of L.B. Helmer and empties in North Creek, was purchased by Henry Nelson, which must have been early in the 50's because the son and oldest daughter Eliza attended school at Fairfield Seminary the winter of 1855 and '56, the same time I did which was my first term spent at that Institution. His wife's maiden name was Elizabeth Smith. She was a sister of Mrs. Nathan Arnold of Fairfield (her name was Polly), Nicholas Smith of Middleville and there was also another brother of whose name I am not certain. These persons named here were children of Thomas Smith and Catherine Hotaling Smith, who was second wife of Garret Van Slyke and step mother to John, Tunis, Mason and Alexander Van Slyke. But I think she was mother to Nancy who married John Nelson and resided in the West. She was the mother of Florence and Cassius Nelson who in their youth used to spend considerable time with their Aunt Mrs. Nathan Arnold. Henry Nelson died suddenly in Aug. 1863. The son Varnum married Fanny Todd of Fairfield, a sister of Luzerne Todd who gave his life in the service of his country. The mother and daughters worked hard after the father's death to manage the farm but had to let it go and it was sold at auction and was bid in by Nathan Arnold and purchased for his son-in-law Clark Houghton. The Nelsons purchased a house in Herkimer and the girls married there. Eliza was the wife of William Lewis and Fanny was the wife of Clinton Beckwith. Both husbands are Civil War veterans. Mrs. Nelson passed away in Herkimer.

Continue to Part 2.

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Created: 8/13/98
Last Updated: 8/20/98
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Copyright ©1998 Jane Dieffenbacher/ Martha S. Magill
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