EARLY FRANKFORT HISTORY
Herkimer County has the distinction of being the longest county in New York State, its length north to south being ninety miles, and covers an area of one thousand three hundred and seventy square miles. It was divided into 20 townships: Columbia, Danube, Fairfield, Frankfort, German Flatts, Herkimer, Litchfield, Little Falls, Manheim, Newport, Norway, Ohio, Russia, Salisbury, Schuyler, Stark, Warren, Winfield, Wilmurt and Webb. Webb was set off from Wilmurt in 1896. The town of Wilmurt was originally formed in 1836 and comprised a part from Russia and West Brunswick (Ohio). Its main industry was lumbering. When the Town of Webb was created, Wilmurt became a smaller town with a very small population. On January 10, 1918, the Board of Supervisors abolished the town of Wilmurt by adding land to Ohio and also to Webb.
Herkimer County has but one city - Little Falls; at one time its population was more than 13,000. Thriving villages at the turn of the century were Herkimer (the county seat), Ilion, Frankfort, Dolgeville, Mohawk, Newport, Middleville, West Winfield, Poland, and Cold Brook.
It was February 4, 1796 that the township of Frankfort was taken from the town of German Flatts. At that time the western town line was at the foot of Genesee Street (Bagg's Square) in Utica. Two years later, 1798, the northwest corner was annexed to the Town of Deerfield, this when Oneida County was set off from Herkimer County.
The town of Frankfort comprises a large part of Cosby's Manor, 11.4 tiers of great lots of Bayard's Patent, four lots of Burnetsfield Patent, also portions of Frank's, Staley's, and Colden's Patents. It has been said that the township of Frankfort "may justifiably boast of supplying one of the most intriguing chapters in American History."
Frankfort received its name from Lawrence (Lewis) Frank who was one of the early settlers. He owned a large tract of land, and history reflects that he did a great deal to promote the industrial and agricultural progress in the town. His popularity is reflected in the fact that Howard's Bush was renamed Frankfort Center and McGowansville was renamed East Frankfort.
The principal water courses are Moyer Creek, which empties into the Mohawk River, and Ferguson Creek, which discharges about a mile from the west bounds of the town. Several smaller streams also discharge into the Mohawk River. The soil upon the hills is a calcareous loam. That of the valley is composed largely of the sediment which the waters of the Mohawk have deposited when they have covered this valley. Both are well adapted to the production of grass, and dairying has come to be the principal business of the farmers in the town. It is estimated that the milk from between 2,000 and 3,000 cows is manufactured into cheese at the different factories in the town, and that these cows have given an average return of $34 to $40 each, reckoning the price of cheese 6.7 cents per pound. Though the soil is also adapted to the growth of the various cereals which are produced in this climate, not enough of these are produced to more than supply the home market, thus the reason that dairying is found to be more profitable than raising grain.
The first permanent settler was Jacob Folts, a prominent name in the town of Frankfort for many years. Other pioneer names are Moyer (after whom Moyer Creek was named), and Ferguson who also will be remembered by a stream that flows through the town.
It also should be remembered that several Welsh families settled about 1800 in Welsh's Bush in the western section of the town. The Howard family settled Frankfort Center and even today it is referred to by old timers as Howard's Bush, Frankfort Hill.
In addition other pioneer settlers included Conrad Folts, Andrew Piper, David Dederick, Aaron James, Evan Evans, Joseph Harris, John Morris, John Myers, Adam Wheeler, and a family named Morgan.
Like most early settlements, the beginning industry was of necessity - saw and grist mills. The first saw mill was built in 1794 by John Hollister, the first grist mill by Adam J. Campbell in 1808, and the first inn was kept by John Myers in 1795. Later industry included a paper mill, a distillery, ashery, and the first woolen mill in Herkimer County.
About 1816 Matthew and Michael Myers built a large ashery on the bank of the river near the village, which was successfully operated for many years. George W. Henry established a manufacture of cow-bells in 1823, and later engaged in various enterprises. Several attempts have been made in Herkimer and Oneida counties to develop iron industries, both in smelting and manufacturing. The Frankfort furnace was established in 1819, by a stock company, bringing its ore from Clinton, Oneida County. It was quite successful for some years, but was finally abandoned. The town of Salisbury has an iron ore bed.
The Frankfort Woolen Factory was built in 1807 by Joseph Ingham, of Schuyler, and Joseph Collins of Frankfort. It continued to do business until 1879, the first primitive machinery being used down to 1865 when Robert Kerr purchased it from Mr. Collins and refitted it with modern machinery. It was the first woolen factory in Herkimer County.
One of the early industrial promoters worthy of mention back in the 1800's was George W. Henry who started a cow-bell factory and at the same time other minor industries as well as carried on the duties of the local Methodist minister.
Dr. Caleb Budlong was the first physician in the town and village of Frankfort; he was one of the four persons who made up the first graduating class of Fairfield Medical College in 1817. The first attorney was Samuel Chapman. Later Col. George B. Judd was a prominent lawyer in this town.
The name of William Gates still brings a gleam to the eyes of Frankfort folks, and to Herkimer County residents. They enjoyed pointing to the Gates Home, the site of the old Match Factory. A display of a collection of Gates matches in the village library attracted much attention. The manufacture of friction matches began in 1844. These man-made matches were cut in three-foot lengths, both ends dipped in Selfware, dried and cut in half, making the finished match one and one-half feet long.
It took great effort and patience to introduce this new fire maker to the public. Gates, however, met the challenge and enlarged his factory eight times, operated 19 buildings, and employed three hundred people. During the 13 years when the factory reached its peak of production, the United States Government collected more than three million dollars of revenue on one cent a box of every one hundred matches. Later the interests were joined with the Diamond Match Company and after 50 years of prosperity in Frankfort, the industry was moved to Oswego in order to be nearer the lumber resources. Thus, the origin of the Diamond Match Company has its beginnings in Herkimer County and in the town and village of Frankfort. The marker at the site of the William Gates Match Factory reads: "1844 peddled matches in Utica; 1854 invented the first continuous match machine; and 1855 introduced the first phosphorus match." (This was accomplished by Mayor George Corrado some years ago.)
The village of Frankfort was incorporated on May 7, 1863 and by 1872 had four churches, a bank, a grist mill, a saw mill, woolen factory, and the match factory owned and operated by William Gates. The village was a principal manufacturing center for the Central New York Center for the West Shore Railroad. The railroad buildings are still here, but occupied by the Union Fork & Hoe Company and other firms.
After the completion of the West Shore Railroad the company located its shops in Frankfort. After the railroad passed into the hands and control of the New York Central, the shops were transplanted to Depew. This unexpected removal on the part of the railroad officials was, at first, regarded by the residents as an irretrievable calamity. The building of the West Shore Railroad brought prosperity to the village. The railroad's repair shops were located in Frankfort and it was a sad day when the railroad decided to discontinue its maintenance operations here.
It should be pointed out that more than 850,000 pounds of the famous Herkimer County Cheese were shipped from the West Shore Railroad Depot located within the village.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that Frankfort village and town once was an important part of the electric trolley system that linked Upstate New York all the way to Wisconsin, this as late as 1918. The only break in continued service east was between Little Falls and Fonda. That section never was built, although plans had been prepared and approved. In Frankfort there was the main line that cut through the village just south of the Town Hall. There also was a local service that accommodated Main Street.
Another historical landmark and recalled of days gone past is the Balloon Farm located at the top of Cemetery Hill. In its hey-day not only were balloons manufactured there, some for the U. S. Government, but others who enjoyed "taking to the air" including the famous Carlotta Myers. The mansion still crowns the hill and is suitably identified by an historical marker. The marker reads: "Balloon Farm. Carlotta and Carl Myers invented and manufactured balloons here in the late 1800's. Their balloon ascensions were attractions at fairs."
Town clocks have been noted in the Mohawk Valley over the past 135 years. Frankfort boasts such a clock - located on the Union Building.
A settlement existed in Frankfort as early as 1807 and consisted of 7 houses. Ten years later the population had reached 100, at which time Dr. Caleb Budlong established his medical practice. The doctor became an ardent political and ran as an elector in the interests of Henry Clay in 1844. He afterwards became associated in practice of medicine with his son-in-law, Dr. W. H. H. Parkhurst, also a graduate from the Fairfield Medical School. Dr. Parkhurst, who was a very successful practioner, followed aesoupapian (The Roman God of Medicine) art for nearly 60 years until natural infirmities and advancing years compelled him to desist.
Another outstanding resident was James McCauley, a courtly old gentleman who authored the "History of the State of New York" published in 1826.
Other industries in Frankfort utilized the building vacated by the West Shore Railroad and included the Continental Tool Company, Pratt Chuck Company, Utica Steam Gauge Company, the Michigan Condensed Milk Company, and the Acme Road Machining Company.
The Union Fork & Hoe Company, major employer in Frankfort, now occupies some of these buildings. The condensary was destroyed by fire and the bricks from its chimney were used in the construction of buildings at the Russian Monastery in Jordanville.
Other interesting facts about communities in Frankfort township include these names; Frankfort Center, once was known as "Howard's Bush" and is in the geographical center of the town. At one time it was known for its cheese factory.
West Frankfort once was known as "Four Mile Grocery" due to the fact that it was on the main highway from Utica to Frankfort, and was about four miles west of Utica. This settlement also was on the Erie Canal and once boasted of a hotel, mechanic's shops and a general store.
The community of East Frankfort, located on the boundary line of German Flatts township and the village of Ilion, stems back to the early Erie Canal when it was one of the main ports-of-call for those using "Clinton's Ditch". Located about one mile east of Frankfort village, the pioneer settlement comprised two general stores, a dry dock for barges and a dozen or more houses.
The founding father was Archibald C. McGowan, a native of Pownal, Vt. born in 1825. He was left an orphan early in life and through his own efforts obtained an education. To finance this, he worked as a clerk, merchant, farmer, and boat builder. He came to Frankfort in 1854 and immediately saw a future in the Erie Canal. He established a home, built a dry dock and a general store (all on the site where the present Route 5S ends.) The area became known at McGowanville.
Archibald McGowan's early political efforts were as a Democrat, but in 1858, he turned Republican and served several terms as supervisor, then in the State Assembly and later State Senate. In those times, the senatorial district comprised Herkimer and Otsego Counties.
Mr. McGowan took a deep interest in the promotion of steam navigation on the canal boats, including packets which carried passengers. It was after Mr. McGowan's death that the hamlet became known as East Frankfort. All that remains is a high which was named McGowan Road. It links with the reconstructed Route 5S.
In the 1824 Gazetteer of the State of New York by H. G. Spafford, the write-up about Frankfort is as follows:
FRANKFORT, a Post-Township of Herkimer County, on the S. side of the Mohawk, 8 miles W. of Herkimer, and 86 miles WNW of Albany; bounded N. by the Mohawk, or Schuyler and Herkimer; E. by German FIatts, W. by Oneida County. The flats along the river are pretty good and extensive, but there is a large proportion of rough, broken land. It has no public buildings, excepting schoolhouses, of which there are 9: schools kept 8 months in 12: public monies received in 1821, $201.09; 294 children between 5 and 15; no. taught that year, 307; taxable property, $276,580: no. of families 319; electors, 422; the whole population, 1860: no. of acres of improved land, 7066; head of cattle, 1733; horses, 517; sheep 3532; 15,674 yards of cloth made in families; 3 grist mills, 7 saw mills, 2 fulling mills, 2 carding machines, 1 iron works, 1 trip hammer, 3 distilleries, and l ashery. The Post Office is on the river road, 1 mile W. of the E. line, 6 miles from Herkimer (the seat of the County building) and a Correspondent writes there is a furnace in operation on the S border, which is making good castings. This Township has 3 locks on the Erie Canal, where the level from Salina terminates, a distance of 69-1/2 miles without a lock.
Data for this write-up was extracted from the following publications:
HISTORY OF HERKIMER COUNTY by George A. Hardin, Frank H. Willard, 1893.
High School, Frankfort, N.Y. dated 1913
Business Section-East Main St., Frankfort, N. Y. dated 1918
Data compiled by Esther Hays, volunteer for Frankfort Free Library; member Daughters of American Revolution, Col. Marinus Willett Chapter, Frankfort; member Colonial Dames XVII Century, Mohawk Valley Chapter; member Daughters of Founders and Patriots Early Frontier Chapter, New York State.