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 in 1873.

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.

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Last Updated: 2/23/00
Copyright © 2000 Lisa K. Slaski
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