Landmarks of Oswego County, New York; by John Charles (1821—1905). Churchill, H. P. (Henry Perry) Smith (1839—1925) and W. Stanley Child; 1895; pgs. 626—637

Originally transcribed by Steve Swales (2004).


Orwell,1 lying in the northern central part of Oswego county, was formed from Richland on the 28th of February, 1817, and at that time included also the present town of Boylston, which was set off February 7, 1828. A narrow strip was annexed from Richland on March 27, 1844. An interior town, Orwell comprises an area of 25,883 acres, and is bounded on the north by Boylston, on the east by Redfield, on the south by Williamstown and Albion, and on the west by Albion, Richland, and Sandy Creek. It lies wholly within the southern limits of the Boylston tract, in which it was known as Survey Township No. 11, or Longinus, a classic name applied by Thomas Boylston.

The surface is quite hilly and considerably broken by the deep and picturesque ravines of the water courses. It has a decided south-westerly inclination, the eastern border being from 300 to 500 feet higher than the west part and from 700 to 1,000 feet above Lake Ontario. The soil is generally a rich gravelly loam. The eastern portion of the town still contains large tracts of uncultivated land. Salmon River, the principal water course, is a stream of unusual beauty and affords much picturesque scenery. Flowing over a rocky bed, through a series of rapids about two miles in length, it falls over a precipice 110 feet in height, the banks at this point being 200 feet high. This is one of the great natural curiosities of the State. The stream has one or two small tributaries in its course through the southern part of the town, and all combined afford excellent drainage and several good mill privileges, which in time past were extensively utilized by numerous saw mills and various other manufacturing establishments. Efforts have been made to improve Salmon River by removing obstructions so that logs could be more easily floated down its waters, notably in 1871, when, on April 27, the Salmon River Improvement Company was incorporated by Calvert Comstock, Samuel Dent, Theodore S. Comstock, William Mahar, and Edward Comstock, who composed the first board of directors. The capital was $50,000.

Few towns in this county have afforded lumbermen more profitable employment than has Orwell. Its dense forests long contributed millions of logs to the numerous saw mills within its borders as well as to many others operated nearer the lake. At one time the manufacture of lumber and kindred products formed the chief industry of the town, and as late as 1860 sixteen saw mill. as many shingle mills, a grist mill, and a tannery were in active operation. The valuable mill sites were early sought and utilized, and the wealth of distant markets flowed into the coffers of the proprietors. The best timber, however, rapidly fell before the woodman's axe, and in its place fruitful fields and attractive homes have sprung into existence. Agriculture superseded the pioneer occupation and steadily advanced in extent and importance. Many of the lumbermen settled on the fertile farms, built comfortable habitations, and converted the wilderness into productive homesteads. Of the first inhabitants scarcely one is living to recount their deeds of sacrifice and privation, yet thrilling stories of olden days survive in tradition if not in printed narrative. Their descendants and successors worthily maintain the sturdy characteristics and substantial industry inherited from their ancestors, while the beautiful homes that dot the more settled portions of the town attest their thrifty habits and successful labor.

The pioneers found their way into the town by following the Salmon River, which stream furnished their tables with salmon and other fish, In the forests roamed wild game of various kinds, affording abundant sport to the adventurous hunter and no little annoyance to the quiet settler. Deer, bear, wolves, and panthers infested the hills even down to recent years.

The agricultural productions of Orwell consist mainly of grain, fruit, hay and potatoes. Considerable attention is given to stock raising and especially to dairying, which dates from about 1860.

The town is devoid of the benefits of a railroad within its borders, although the R., W. & O. passes close to its southwest corner; yet it possesses excellent shipping facilities at adjacent villages. The nearest stations are Sand Bank, in Albion, and Richland Junction, in Richland. From the first settlement to the present time the popular method of communication has been by stage. Probably the earliest thoroughfare opened through Orwell was the road leading from Rome to Sackett's Harbor, over which large bodies of troops passed on their way to and from the defense of the frontier during the war of 1812. The inhabitants of this town were too few to form a separate company in that struggle, but many joined organizations elsewhere. Other highways were opened and improved as the settlements advanced, and have kept pace with other public improvements.

The first town meeting was held at the house of Timothy Balch in April, 1817, and the following officers were chosen:

Supervisor, John Reynolds; town clerk, Eli Strong, jr.; assessors, John Wart, jr., Edward Gilbert, Asa Hewitt; commissioners of highways, John F. Dean, Timothy Balch, Nathaniel Bennett; overseers of the poor, Michael H. Sweetman, Timothy Balch; collector, Timothy Batch, jr.; school commissioners, Thomas Dutcher, John Reynolds, Eli Strong, jr.; constables, Peter Wells, jr., Timothy Balch, jr.; inspectors of schools John F. Dean, John Wart, jr., John B. Tully, Asa Hewitt; fenceviewers, Martin Lillie, John Reynolds, John B. Tully; pound-keepers, Martin Lillie, John B. Tully; path-masters, John Wart, jr., Martin Lillie, Allen Gilbert, Eli Strong jr., Nathaniel Bennett, Perley Wyman.

At this meeting a bounty of $5 was voted for the "pate" of each wolf killed in town; the next year this sum was doubled, and a fine of fifty cents imposed for "snaking" timber (logs) on the ground more than three rods after the snow was twelve inches deep. The latter ordinance was adopted to prevent the spoiling of roads by tearing up their deep beds of snow.

The supervisors of Orwell have been as follows:

John Reynolds, 1817—24, 1826—30, 1833; John Wart, 1825; Jabez H. Gilbert, 1831—32, 1835—36; Alban Strong 1834, 1837, 1842; Theodore S. Gilbert, 1838; Mason Salisbury, 1839; John Beadle, 1840, 1843; Henry Tillinghast, 1841; Oramel B. Olmstead, 1844, 1856, 1862—63; Nathan Simons, 1845, 1847—48; William Beecher, jr., 1846; Flavel Crocker, 1849; Edward Allen, 1850, 1852; William Strong, 1851, 1860; Daniel Pruyn, 1853; Orrin Beadle, 1854; Floyd W. Aldrich, 1855; Hoyt N. Weed, 1857—59, 1861; Alexander Potter, 1864—73; H. H. Potter, 1874—75; Norman Hall, 1876—79; H. H. Finster, 1880—82; Albert S. Barker, 1883—84, 1890; E. S. Beecher, 1885—86; A. E. Olmstead, 1887—89; De Witt Carpenter, 1891—95.

The town clerks have been: Eli Strong, jr., 1817—18; Samuel Stowell, 1819—21; James B. Sandford, 1822, 1824; Moses Snyder, 1823; Reuben Snyder, 1825; J. H. Gilbert, 1826—29; Alban Strong, 1830—33; Hiram Towsley, 1834, 1842; Edward Allen, 1835; Dolson Morton, 1836—37; Mason Salisbury, 1838; Alanson Strong, 1839, 1843; John H. Cook, 1840—41; Oramel B. Olmstead, 1844; William Strong, 1845; S. F. Mason, 1846—47, 1849, 1852—55, 1857, 1861; James F. Davis, 1848; Milo C. Beman, 1850; M. H. Thomas, 1851; George E. Stowell, 1856, 1858, 1862; Ira S. Platt, 1859; Hoyt N. Weed, 1860, 1865—66; Homer J. Burch, 1863; T. T. Richards, 1864; Robert N. Sawyer, 1867—68; Nelson C. Burch, 1869—72; Frank J. Parker, 1873—74, 1876; A. E. Olmstead, 1875; George W. Nelson, 1877; D. B. Woodbury, 1878—80; J. C. Ferguson, 1881—83; Albert Wooliver, 1884; L. P. Blount, 1885; G. O. Olmstead, 1886; Lewis E. Joy, 1887, 1889, 1893—94; F. B. Woodbury, 1888; Albert House, 1890—92.

The town officers for 1894—5 were as follows:

De Witt Carpenter, supervisor; Lewis E. Joy, town clerk; Lewis C. Sampson, Henry H. Finster, Homer West, Freeland Davis, justices of the peace; John F. Bonner, Alexander Potter, Henry Hitton, town auditors; Ward Finster, Lucius Beadle, Orville Stowell, assessors; Elvin G. Potter, overseer of the poor; Charles Paddock, commissioner of highways; William S. Damon, collector.

The first settlers within the present town of Orwell were Frederick Eastman and Jesse Merrill, who came with their families in 1806 and located on the north bank of the Salmon River about one mile below the site of the hamlet of Molino or Pekin. Mr. Eastman's son, Elliot, who died in 1882, the last survivor of this little band of pioneers, was then six years old. For one year they were the sole white inhabitants of the town, and during that period they suffered innumerable hardships. In 1808 David Eastman, another son of Frederick, married Betsey, a daughter of Nathaniel Bennett, which was probably the first marriage in town. The "State Gazetteer" gives this honor to "Robert Wooley and a daughter of Nathaniel Bennett, sr., in 1807," but the best authority points to the accuracy of the first statement. The first white birth was that of a child of David Eastman, whose young wife was the first victim of death, in 1810, unless it was the mother of Timothy Balch, who died about the same time.

In 1807 Nathaniel Bennett, sr., and Nathaniel, jr., settled in the Eastman and Merrill locality, while Capt. George W. Noyes located at what is now Orwell village. The latter soon moved away. In this year, or in 1808, Silas Maxham took up his residence half a mile east of Pekin and Elias Mason became a settler near the falls. About 1809 Timothy Balch came from Sandy Creek, where he had lived two or three years, and erected a log house at "Orwell Corners." He was originally from the Mohawk Valley, and upon his settlement here opened his house as a tavern, the first of the kind in the town. It became a noted stopping place, and dispensed good whisky and comfortable entertainment to the neighboring pioneers.

Settlers came in slowly, or, coming, were dissatisfied with the hills and broken surface of the territory and continued on farther west. About 1811 Millan Aiken built on Salmon River, above the falls, the first saw mill in Orwell. Soon afterward James Hughes placed a triphammer shop in operation on the brook which runs through Pekin, at a point about eighty rods below that hamlet. He made scythes, axes, and other tools and was a very useful man in the settlement.

Among others who settled in Orwell prior to the war of 1812 were Joshua Hollis, near the Sandy Creek line; Orrin Stowell, near the site of Orwell Corners; Ebenezer Robbins, on the hill east of Orwell village; Silas West in the Bennett neighborhood; and Eli Strong, jr., and John Reynolds (the first supervisor), between Orwell village and Pekin. Eli Strong had settled in Redfield about 1790, whence he came to this town, where he served as postmaster for twenty four years. His son William was born here February 12, 1814; both moved to Pulaski in 1867, where the father died aged eighty-six.

The war of 1812 checked the tide of immigration and caused no little uneasiness among the families who had already braved the perils of frontier life to establish homes in this then almost unbroken wilderness. Sickness and occasional dearth of provisions were not the least of their many hardships, but each affliction was met with a fortitude characteristic of the true pioneer. Closely following the war came the "cold season" of 1816, which resulted in an almost complete destruction of crops and suffering to man and beast during the succeeding winter. None of these discouraged the patient settlers. With few exceptions they remained and rapidly acquired comfortable homes.

After the war ceased immigration revived and the better portions of the town gradually filled up with a substantial class of citizens. In 1816 Samuel Stowell, then twenty-five years of age, made a visit to his brother Orrin and in 1817 became a permanent settler. He died in 1886. The year he came there were then living in town, besides many of those already mentioned, James Wood, John B. Tully, Allen Gilbert and sons, Edward and Allen, jr, on the road to Sandy Creek; Frederick Brooks, and Timothy, jr., and John, sons of Timothy Balch, sr., in the vicinity of Orwell village; Asa Hewitt, near the river; and two Lewis families and Perley Wyman, above Pekin.

William Strong was a son of Eli and Charlotte (West) Strong, who came to Redfield from Connecticut about 1790. Nearly a quarter of a century later they removed to Orwell, where William was born February 12, 1814, being the fourth of five children. Eli Strong was postmaster at Orwell twenty-four years. When twenty-one William Strong purchased the homestead, upon which he resided until 1867, when he came with his father to Pulaski, where the latter died at the age of eighty-six.

In 1817, the year of the new town's organization, a militia company was formed with John Reynolds as captain, Eli Strong, jr., as lieutenant, and Timothy Balch as ensign. The latter two subsequently became captains. Mr. Reynolds was a prominent man in Orwell and aided in many ways to organize its government and develop its resources. In 1818 Nathaniel Beadle and his son John with five others came into the town and settled near Orwell Corners, which then consisted of only two corners, the road eastward not having been laid out. John Beadle was born in January, 1801, and died in March, 1885.

In 1820 the population (including the inhabitants of what is now Boylston), had increased to 488. In that year, or a little later, Jonas Thompson erected a saw mill at Pekin and in it placed a single run of stone, which was the first attempt to establish a grist mill in town. Prior to that time grists were carried to Pulaski, a journey that was fraught with more or less peril, as the roads were filled with stumps and other obstructions. Settlers then were coming in rapidly, the forests were disappearing, and cabins were rising in the clearings in all directions.

In 1826 Nathan F. Montague settled on the farm subsequently occupied by H. H. Potter, where his son James J. was born February 2, 1836. In 1855 the family removed to another farm. The father lost his life by an accident in 1859. John E. Potter came to the town in 1828 and died here. Other settlers prior to 1830 were Joseph M. Bonner, Eli S. Bennett, Edward S. Bonner, Alonzo Hitton, Aroma Blount, A. Caswell, Alexander Potter, Daniel Pratt, George Potter, Allen Stowell, I. N. Stowell, John Woodbury and George W. Cogswell.

Between 1830 and 1840 Albert E. Bonner, James Hitton, A. D. Bonner, Dr. James F. Davis (dentist), D. McKinney, Henry J. Stowell, S. B. Miner, John Parker, Horace Parker, and Elvin Potter became residents.

Hon. John Parker, who settled in this town in June, 1834, was born in Steuben, Oneida county, December 27, 1810, the son of John and Louisa (Frisby) Parker, natives of Columbia county, N. Y. He married Polly E. Bonner, March 15, 1831, who died November 18, 1873. They had six sons and three daughters, of whom Horace became a substantial citizen of Orwell. In 1874 Mr. Parker married Mrs. Maria Loring, nee Davis. He held several town offices and represented his district as a Republican in the Assembly of 1866 and 1870. He was always prominent in political affairs both of the town and county. His grandfather was killed in the Revolutionary war, his father served in the war of 1812, and four of his sons and a son-in-law participated in the war of the Rebellion, in which the latter lost his life.

Among the settlers between 1840 and 1860 were Edmund G. Bonner, Charles Kaine, Newman S. Crossett, S. C. Davis, William Lattimer, John Washburn, Edward Near, Andrew J. Thomas, William Shipley, and Isaac Sidebottom. S. C. Davis located in Orwell in March, 1851. He was born in Steuben, N. Y., December 22, 1822, being the youngest of twelve children of Colonel Ichabod and Mary F. Davis.

"Historical Collections of the State of New York," published in 1846, speaks of Orwell as being "distant from Albany 157 miles, and from Pulaski, centrally distant, east nine miles. Population, 809. The falls of the Salmon River here are 107 feet perpendicular, and with a width during freshets of 250 feet. Above them the rocky banks rise eighty feet-below, 200 above the water."

The population at various periods has been as follows: In 1830, 501; 1835, 679; 1840, 809; 1845, 1,016; 1850, 1,106; 1855, 1,258; 1860, 1,435; 1865, 1,427; 1870, 1,215; 1875, 1,455; 1880, 1,550 1890, 1,370.

In 1818 the town comprised two school districts, and in that year a school was taught by Lucy Gilbert at the house of James Wood. The first school in town, however, was taught by Jesse Aiken in 1810. During the summer of 1818 a small frame school house was erected at Orwell village, where school was kept the following winter by Samuel Stowell. At the same time a Mr. Wheelock taught a school at Pekin. The town now has eleven school districts with a school house in each, which were attended in 1892—3 by 310 scholars and taught by twelve teachers. The value of school buildings and sites is $4,600; assessed valuation of the districts, $339,748; public money received from the State, $1,404.46; raised by local tax, $1,223.66. The districts are locally disignated as follows: No. 1, Potter; 2, Castor; 3, Pekin; 4, Orwell village; 5, River; 6, Chateaugay ; 7, Vorea; 8, Stillwater; 9, Pine Meadow; 10, New Scriba; 11, Beecherville.

During the war of the Rebellion the town of Orwell sent 184 men to the Union army and navy. Of this number, which more than filled the town's quotas, Captain Burch, John J. Hollis, Oramel B. Olmstead, Alfred N. Beadle, Dr. John S. Stillman, and Charles H. Parker were commissioned officers. All served with credit to their town and county. After the war closed a few remained in the regular service. On July 4, 1894, an appropriate memorial to these 184 brave men was unveiled in Evergreen Cemetery in Orwell. The monument cost $1,550, and fittingly commemorates their patriotism and courage and the gratitude and love of their fellow citizens, who generously bore the expense by subscription.

Supervisors' statistics of 1894:  assessed valuation of real estate, $351,780; equalized, $374,072; personal property, $20,650; town tax, $1,967.75; county tax, $2,210.44; total tax levy; $5,001.63; ratio of tax on $100, $1.34; dog tax, $80.50. The town constitutes a single election district, and in November 1894, polled 257 votes.

Villages.—Orwell post-office, or Orwell Corners as it is locally known, in a pleasant place of about 300 inhabitants. In 1827 the village consisted of two or three log houses. The first store was opened about 1830, but the honor of being the first merchant is in dispute between Alvin Strong and the firm of Gilbert & Decker. Authorities differ, and at this distant day it is impossible to establish which is entitled to priority. Timothy Balch, as previously stated, built and opened the first tavern. In early days the place was given the name of "Moscow" by young Elliott Eastman, who had a penchant for things foreign. But the Russian designation was superseded by the present name, Orwell, upon the establishment of the post—office.

About 1835 Reuben Salisbury built the first grist mill at the Corners and the first of any consequence in town. It has two runs of stone and is owned by W. F. Keeney, who succeeded D. B. Hanchett as proprietor in 1872. About 1838 a small tannery was erected by Orrin Weston; in 1854 it was purchased and enlarged by Weston & Lewis, who rebuilt the establishment upon its destruction by fire in August, 1862. It subsequently passed to Lane, Pierce & Co., of Boston, by whom it was conducted until 1884. After remaining idle for about three years it was purchased by A. E. Olmstead and converted into a chair factory. Two years later he sold to Frank B. Woodbury, the present proprietor. At one time the tannery employed from twenty-five to fifty men and brought considerable money into the town.

Among the later business and manufacturing interests of the village may be mentioned the cheese factory of Albert Thompson, the planing mill of Stowell & Lattimer, the saw mill of W. Henderson, and the dry goods store of G. F. Woodbury. The present industries are conducted by A. E. Olmstead (successor to O. B. Olmstead), E. S. Beecher, Willis Coon, and S. J. Olmstead, dry goods, etc.; R. B. House, drugs and groceries; Ralph Pratt, cheese box factory; William Lattimer, steam planing mill; Lyon & Van Auken, George Stowell, and Edward Barker, manufacturers of ladders; Henry J. Stowell, undertaker and planing mill; A. E. Olmstead and Frank B. Woodbury, saw mills; Allen Campbell, Ira Pratt, and Clayton Pratt, blacksmiths; Nelson Burch, shoemaker; Dr. James F. Davis, dentist; Albert Barker, Edward Lyon, and Freelove Davis, lawyers; and Dr. George W. Nelson, the only physician in town.

The village has suffered from several small fires, the first of importance occurring in August, 1862, which destroyed the tannery, the store of W. Beecher, the Beadle block, familiarly known as "the Kremlin" and other buildings. In May, 1888, H. H. Howell's machine shop, planing mill, and dwelling, were burned, and in December following the hotel of S. W. Springsteen, two stores, and other structures were consumed.

Molino is a small hamlet in the south part of the town. Following his penchant for applying foreign appellations to local settlements, Elliott Eastman early gave it the name of "Pekin," which still clings to the place in a more familiar sense than the title under which the post-office was established there prior to 1840. This office was long ago discontinued. To the little settlement on the river flats farther down the stream the youth applied the name "Syphax." The village commenced with a store, which was opened sometime before 1827. About 1850 a Methodist church was erected, and several years later a cheese factory, the first in town, was placed in operation by Bonfoy Bennett; it is now owned by Homer West.

Other localities in town are Vorea and "Shatagee" (Chateaugay), but they are mere collections of dwellings.

Churches.—The first religious organization effected in Orwell was by the Presbyterians in 1809, but no regular supply of ministers was had until December, 1845, after which Revs. Wilson, Wheelock, and Webb officiated at various times. This society eventually grew weak in numbers and finally disbanded. They commenced the erection of the present church edifice in Orwell village in 1842. On March 13, 1858, the remaining members of this band of worshipers, and others, under the pastorate of Rev. John Shepherd, organized the Congregational church of Orwell. The constituent members were Francis and B. Maria Beadle, Orpha Burkitt, Malinda Groat, David and Laura Hollis, Jane Potter, Elon and Abigail Stowell, Selinda and Temperance A. Stowell, and Cornelius and Ruth Acker. The deacons were Elon Stowell and David Hollis. In 1882 the edifice was remodeled and enlarged. The pastors succeeding Rev. Mr. Shepherd have been Revs. Cutter, Bates, Decker, Crosby, Frank N. Greeley, Wheelock, Douglass, Griffith, Branch, Raven, and Davies.

Methodist Episcopal Churches.—It is said that Bishop Asbury, on his way from Canada early in the century, came through Sackett's Harbor and followed the old military road through Redfield and thence continued down the Salmon River to Pekin, Williamstown, Camden and Rome. The beginning of Methodist preaching in Orwell was at Pekin by Ira Fairbanks in 1811. A society was organized in that neighborhood and since that organization Pekin has remained a regular appointment. A small church was built there in 1850. Elder Fairbanks, during his year on the Mexico circuit, received only $25.00 and left the charge out of debt. The number of members then on the circuit was 258. Among the early members of the class at Pekin were Fredcrick Eastman, at whose house the meetings were held, and who had previously been a Presbyterian; the two Nathaniel Bennetts and their wives; Millen Aiken, John and Caroline Reynolds; Robert Wooley, Aaron West, Betsey Beadle, and a man named Herrick, and the wives and sons of most of these. After school houses were built meetings were held in them a part of the time and in dwelling houses—chiefly in Mr. Eastman's and Judge Reynolds's, which were more commodious than most others. In 1812 Isaac Teller was appointed to the Mexico circuit. In 1815 the number of members on the circuit had increased to 354. In 1823 George White was one of the circuit preachers and lived in Orwell. One of his appointments was at the "Dutch Settlement" of about ten families up the river from the present Stillwater bridge. In 1825—30 the disciplinary allowance for preachers was $100 for a young man and $200 for a married man.

The Orwell class was organized in 1841 by William Tripp, who preached in a little house that had been built by the Baptists. About 1842 they joined with the Congregationalists in building a new union church, which has ever since been occupied by the two societies on alternate Sabbaths. The building cost $1,963, and was dedicated in February, 1845. The first quarterly meeting held in Pekin was in 1852, on which occasion a claim was presented by the preacher for quarterage $200, house rent $18, fuel $10, table expenses $40, traveling expenses $8, the whole being apportioned to Pineville $138, Pekin $69, and Moscow $69. The parsonage at Orwell was built in 1866. The present circuit has three charges—Orwell, Pekin, and Richland Station. Services are held on alternate Sundays at Orwell and Pekin and every Sunday at Richland. There is a Union Sunday school in which the offices are divided, the superintendent being Methodist one year and Congregationalist the next. The record of 1852 gives Samuel Salisbury as acting pastor. His successors have been:

M. H. Gaylord, 1853; H. M. Church, 1854; G. W. Ellwood, 1855; P. H. Miles, 1856—7; S. B. Whitcomb, 1858—9; J. N. Brown, 1860—61; Joseph de Larme, 1862—3; J. S. George, 1864—6; S. F. Kenyon, 1867; F. Devitt, 1868—9; L. Kelsey, 1870—72; L. R. Grant, 1873—4; J. R. Crofoot, 1875—7; A. M. Fradenburgh, 1878—80; B. DeForest Snyder, 1881—3 ; Horace Chase, 1884 ; George Mattoon, October, 1885, to April, 1886; B. Day Brown, 1886—8 ; Truman Ward, 1889; W. J. Hancock, 1890—2; W. H. Jago, 1893—4.


1. Named from Orwell, Vt. The name is said to have been suggested by John Reynolds, the first and, with one intermission, for fourteen consecutive years, supervisor of this town.



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