The following is taken from "Ilion 1852-1952." We thank the Mayor and other officials of Ilion for granting us permission to provide this information to our visitors.


The following story of Ilion and German Flatts might be used to point up part of one of the Commandments: ". . . visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation . . ." Iniquity is definitely too harsh a word, possibly lack of foresight might be better.

The railroad fever of the 70's touched Ilion when the "Cummings Road" or the nNw York, Utica and Ogdensburgh R. R. was proposed to be built through "our town". The route was to run through Ilion and Mohawk passing north of the cemetary and then bearing south. The fever reached such a pitch locally that the Town Board was petitioned "to create and issue bonds to amount not exceeding $160,000 and invest the same . . . in the stock of the New York, Utica and Ogdensburgh R. R. Company . . ." This petition is almost an assessment roll of the town. Judge Earl, going to New York to examine the financial soundness of the company, brought back such a favorable report that 20% of the money, or $32,000, was actually handed over. Other Herkimer County towns raised sums ranging from $20,000 to $200,000 but German Flatts was the only one to deliver any of the money to the company.

These bonds were to run 30 years at 7% interest. This added $2,240 yearly to the tax burden of the town. At the end of the 30 years new bonds at 3 1/2% took their place and a one thousand dollar bond was to be retired each year. When the last bond was retired in January 1, 1931 this attack of railroad fever had cost German Flatts $32,000 principal, $67,200 interest at 7% and $$17,360 interest at 3 1/2% or a total of $116,560 for one bogus railroad. Ilion did its share in promoting the furor and had to stand its share of paying for a railroad which never exsisted.

CENTENNIAL OF 1916 . . .

The greatest celebration in the history of the Mohawk Valley was the centennial anniversary of the first manufacture of a Remington gun. Plans for the occasion were made far in advance with a publicity expenditure of $20,000 of which $1,700 was alloted for the electrical display featuring lights strung across the streets in arch shape. Large banners in the downtown area and flags on homes throughout the village added to the gala effect. The Masonic Temple was formally opened as headquarters, sharing the limelight with the House residence on West and First Streets where famous officials including Senators Harding and Cristman and Governor Charles Whitman enjoyed its hospitality while in Ilion to give addresses during the three festival days. Opening exercises at Monument Park were followed by a pilgrimage to the old forge where the commemoration tablet, erected by the local chapter of the U. S. Daughters of 1812, was unveiled. The Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls participated in a children's parade, complete with floats, a forerunner of the great industrial parade of 10,0000 working men and women. The ladies of the typewriter made a particularly fine showing, dressed in white, at the head of the first division, particularly applauded as they did not drop out of the line of march, altho men did, in the face of a downpour. A spectacular exhibition of Payne's fireworks on the river flats, a field day at recreation Park, and a trap-shooting contest at the Arms Athletic Field were exciting events climaxed by the final parade sponsored by the Boosters Association which hired the Utica, Little Falls, Herkimer, Remington Typewriter and Ilion Military Bands. Eighteen bands and drum corps marched in the gigantic parade.


Away back in 1880 the question of parks arose and the citizens asked "What are the City Fathers doing for a Village Park?" "Why not the dykes along the races?"

The first tangible step towards the movement was the acquisition and improvement of the ingersoll Park, at the intersection of Otsego and John Streets. This little triangle was the gift of Dr. James Hunt, grandson of John Ingersoll.

Then in 1887 a group of citizens on West Hill purchased the land for West Hill Park and some years later this land was transferred to the village for park purposes. This is an attractive undeveloped piece of natural hillside including about five acres. The hillside extends from St. Augustine's church property northward to West Main St. and borders on Steele's Creek.

But the greatest impetus to the public park movement came in 1924, when on May 9, Samuel T. Russell, one of Ilion's most public spirited citizens deeded to the Village 162 acres of natural woodland, located within the eastern bounds of the Village and so situated that it overlooks Ilion and the Valley.

In Mr. Russell's letter to the treustees in which he offered the park, he said: "In offering you this property I make no restrictions except that it be forever used for park and recreation purposes." The trustees accepted this gift and named the park, "Albert N. Russell Park", in memory of the donor's father, a pioneer in Ilion's industrial life.

The first Park Board was composed of Samuel T. Russell, Charles Brill and Frank Bellinger. Much time was spent by Mr. Russell and the board planning the details of the park. In 1926 Russell Park was finally completed and a field day was enjoyed by more than 2,000 people was held.

Among the many outstanding features of this park is the Girl Scout Day Camp which was given by the Kiwanis Club in 1936.

Many societies, organizations, clubs and groups of Ilion and other communities take advantage of Russell Park. During the past year it was visited by more than 28,000 people.

In 1922 the people of Ilion voted to appropriate $50,000 to purchase from the State the stretch of land running through the village, that was once the old Erie Canal. This land was to be used chiefly for park or boulevard purposes except a small part to be sold to local industries. In the fall of this year the Board of Light Commissioners took over about an acre of these lands along West Main Street and made it into a park. On Memorial Day, 1926, the park, to be known as Memorial Park, was formally dedicated to the Ilion boys who fought in World War I.

Year by year progress has been made by developing these lands into a thing of beauty. As funds became available the site at the eastern end of the Village all the way to the Mohawk junction will be reclaimed so that the approach to Ilion from east or west will be a joy to look upon.

Ilion's first children's playground was presented Memorial Day, 1926, by the Crim-Shaffer Post, American Legion, in memory of two war heroes after whom the post was named, Earl Crim and Howard Shaffer. The playground was adjacent to Memorial Park and contained about one acre, a portion of which was given by Samuel T. Russell.

In 1950 the village built two more playgrounds equipped with wading pools, one known as the East St. playground and the other Montgomery St. playground. There is also a playground south of Benedict Ave. adjacent to the High School lands.

A park may be only a tiny bit of green or ot may be a natural wilderness, but no matter what its size and facilities, a park is meant for the enjoyment of all.

This does not pretend to be a history of village affairs for the past one hundred years but will hit a few of the high spots. Because the new village had no village hall Board meetings and annual elections were held in the Remington House or the Ilion House. An early concern of the Village Fathers was the condition of the streets, the sidewalks and crosswalks. In 1854 a special election authorized the grading and repair of Main (When did it cease to be called the River Road?), Morgan, West, First, Second and Third Streets. To digress a map dated 1846 shows Morgan Street labeled Devoe Street and a map dated 1863 shows Second Street called Church Street.

By 1856 William Breadon, formerly Collector, was appointed the first street commissioner, his pay not to exceed ten pence for each twelve hour day so employed. Commissioner Breadon was authorized to build sidewalks along the streets. These sidewalks were made of planks which soon rotted out and had to be replaced often. The Ilion Independent in 1857 said: "Our corporation is making great improvements planking the walks for which taxpayers must pay cash." As the village streets lengthened and new streets were added, sidewalks and crosswalks followed. Property owners were taxed for their construction and paid either with money or labor.

In the 70's stone sidewalks are mentioned and even a cement walk around the Osgood House. In 1883 the Citizen said: "Armory Street is the only one in the village with flagstone sidewalks the entire length on both sides." Most of these are still doing service. Many of the elm trees along the village streets were planted in the 80's.

But the streets were in constant need of repair. "Pitchholes" developed, mud sometimes was hub deep and in the summer dust could be unbearable. This last was partially controlled by the sprinkling wagon.

In 1897 a start was made for permanently better streets when a steam roller was purchased and Main Street between Otsego and Union was macadamized. The next spring the macadam showed its value for this part of the street was "dry and smooth while the other streets are about impassable." In 1902 Ilion was proud when Union Street and First Street as far as Morgan were paved with BRICK. The editor said "Let's keep it clean", a necessary admonition. To keep the business section clean a street sweeper was employed.

Today Ilion has 26 miles of paved streets. There are only a few streets which remain unpaved. But would not the citizens of 1852 be appalled by the very thought of his village having in 1952 the budget of $101,407 for streets and highways!

In 1881 a Board of Health is first mentioned in the village minutes. The Citizen commends the trustees for initiatiating the work "which had been neglected too long." It continues: "If the owners of premises having uncleaned privvies, foul drains, filthy garbage dumps etc. will not put things in order let the severe hand of the law be laid upon them." Health regulations were formulated and published. By the next year a doctor remarked that there was one third less sickness since the Board of Health began its labors.

Another problem to be solved was the disposal of garbage. Dumping places became noxious in spite of the efforts to cover and disinfect them. Finally in 1899 the Board urged the village authorities to collect and dispose of garbage and add the cost to the tax budget. It was 1920 before this was voted by the taxpayers. Today the Department of Sanitation is a regular part of the village services with nine employees, two covered trucks and one open truck and a modern disposal plant on the Mohawk River at the head of East Street. One map that Ilion was glad to be ommitted from was the one of the Mohawk Valley Drainage Basin with known points of pollution marked. Ilion has met the requirements set up by the state in this respect.

Pastuerization and inspection of milk was urged by the Board of Health long before the regulation became village law. The first trial of pastuerization which was made in 1914 found the public indifferent. In 1920 all dealers were required to obtain a license from the Board. But 1940 came before the regulation was passed that all milk sold in the village must be pastuerized.

Steele's Creek has always been a mixed blessing to Ilion. Without it there would have been no village as its water power possibilities induced the establishment of manufacturing here in the early days. Its early course was twisting and has been changed several times. In 1844 when the canal was enlarged it was made to cross Main Street some distance to the east. About 1850 it was moved closer to West Hill, following the old mill race, from its meanderings as far east as Morgan Street. Again in 1930 the bed was changed to cross Main Street directly, as we find it today. The Board of Health for years found it necessary to fight against its use as a receiver of sewage and refuse of all kinds.

Floods were a menace and "floods as usual" was apt to be in the news when spring came around. One of the worst occurred in 1910 when trolley service and electric service were cut off for two days; another in June of 1922 tore away several bridges in the gorge and flooded several streets; again in 1938 ten days of rain caused an estimated damageof $120.000 forcing the evacuation of several families from Richfield Street.

The original village charter was amended at different times through acts of the State legislature. For example when the Library was given to Ilion by Mr. Seamans, an act had to be passed by the Legislature before it could be administered legally by the village. By 1894 agitation for a change caused the formation of a committee, appointed by the Village Board, of seven Democrats and seven Republicans. After a year's work a new charter governed Ilion. It had been the work principally of A. D. Richardson, B. B. VanDeusen, A. D. Morgan, John Hoefler, James Conkling, and George O. Rasbach. This charter still governs Ilion. The State Home Rule Law enacted 1940, allows villages of the first class to amend their charters without legislative enactment.

Agitation to become a city went on for many years. In 1920 a campaign to change to city form of government was voted down with 1891 against and 403 for the proposition. This decisice vote seems to have buried this issue fairly deep.

At present a move is advocated to search the records so that all by-laws may be codified and amendments thereto, also to find those rescinded so the information will be in one place and easily available.

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Created 4/26/02
Copyright © 2002 Paul McLaughlin/ Judy Breedlove/ Martha S. Magill
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