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. 670—681.
Originally transcribed by Luella Long (2004).
THE TOWN OF REDFIELD
Though now one of the minor towns of Oswego county in population and business, the history of Redfield goes back into the past century, and on its territory was once one of the most flourishing early settlements. Its formation as a town took place on the 14th of March, 1800, when it was taken from the great town of Mexico, then a part of Oneida county, and was the second town in chronological order formed in what later became Oswego county. It is situated in the northeastern corner of the county and a considerable portion of it is still covered by the original forest. Hilly in the southern part, its surface spreads out in the northern part, a high rolling plateau. Salmon River runs nearly east and west across the southern part, and a branch extends northward across the town in that direction, giving excellent drainage. Along this stream extends a wide intervale, the soil of which is a deep sandy loam; elsewhere the underlying rock is limestone and the soil above it is generally thin and fairly fertile. The town comprises townships 7 and 12 of the Boylston tract. No. 7, the northern half, was originally called "Arcadia," while No. 12, as a survey-township, received the name of Redfield, in honor of Mr. Frederick Redfield, who bought a large tract of land here in early years. Arcadia was annexed to Redfield February 20, 1807, but it contained no inhabitants at that time and hence merely extended the territory of this town. After that part of the town became settled, its inhabitants thought they were entitled to town representation, and on February 21, 1843, Arcadia was erected into a town and called "Greenboro," and a post office of that name was established on the State road near the Boylston line. But the new town had not sufficient population to properly support an organization, which condition was further complicated by difficulties in assessing and collecting the taxes on its non-resident lands, and therefore, on the 1st of March, 1848, "Greenboro" was reannexed to Redfield. Its present area is 55,618 acres.
Although this town is now less thickly settled than other sections of Oswego county, its pioneers came in earlier than the first settlers in most other towns. Just who was the first to arrive is not positively known; but between 1795 and 1798 several adventurous spirits permanently located in the town. Prominent among these was Capt. Nathan Sage, a former Connecticut sea captain, who, with a few Connecticut companions, settled on or near the site of Redfield Square between the spring of 1795 and the fall of 1797. Captain Sage became a leading citizen of the town and in 1802 judge of the Common Pleas for the county. In 1811 he removed to Oswego.
A little four-year-old girl, who became the wife of Ashbel Porter (a resident of Orwell), related before her death that her father, Eli Strong, of Connecticut, came to Redfield in March, 1798, and took herself and a still younger brother down the Salmon River on the ice from Captain Sage's house to the point selected for their home. The two children were carried, one by Captain Sage's black servant and the other by his white hired man.
Among others who came in previous to 1798, besides those just mentioned, were Deacon Amos Kent, James Drake, Benjamin Thrall, Josiah Lyon, Samuel Brooks, Eliakim Simons, and Isham Simons. Tradition credits the latter two with building the first barn in the town. Samuel Brooks was unmarried when he arrived in 1797 and was twenty-eight years old. He married in 1801 a daughter of Eli Strong; the first marriage in the town. Mrs. Sarah McKinney, who married George McKinney, is a daughter of Samuel Brooks, and is still living at the age of eighty years.
The first settlers in Redfield sent back to their eastern friends glowing accounts of the fertile soil, pure water, and valuable timber they had found, and in the spring of 1798 a considerable number of immigrants arrived. The assessment roll for 1798 of the great town of Mexico contains the names of the following persons assessed in "No. 12" in that year:
Samuel Brooks, Phineas Corey, Nathan Cook, Ebenezer Chamberlain, Joseph Clark, Taylor Chapman, Roger Cooke, James Drake, John Edwards, Nathaniel Eels, Titus Meacham, Amos Kent, Joseph Overton, Joel Overton, Silas Phelps, John Pruyn, Nathan Sage, Eli Strong, Jedediah Smith, Obadiah Smith, Samuel Smith, Joshua Tryon, Joseph Strickland, George Seymour, Benjamin Thrall, Jonathan Worth, Joseph Wickham, Thomas Wells, Luke Winchell, Charles Webster, Daniel Wilcox, and Jonathan Waldo—thirty-two in all. There were only twenty-six assessed in all the rest of Oswego county east of the Oswego River.
A few of these had merely acquired title to their lands and had not settled in 1798. One of these was Phineas Corey, who came, according to statements by his son, John H., in 1796, and bought and paid for a tract of land, returned East, and did not permanently settle here until 1800, when John was three years old. The latter lived to be one of the oldest citizens of the town and died only a few years ago on the well known Corey homestead.
Erastus Hoskins, Benjamin Austin, Elihu Ingraham, and David and Jonathon Harmon came in either before, during, or very soon after 1798. Captain Sage, who was agent for the proprietors, treated the settlers fairly, and farms along the river, on and near the site of Redfield Square, were rapidly taken up and improved. Most, if not all, of the pioneers came in over the route from Rome through what is now Florence in Oneida county; it was merely a wagon way cut through the forest and was often almost impassable. What became known as the State road was laid out in the period under consideration, but was not opened until a few years later. It started from Rome and ran through Redfield and the northeast part of Boylston to Sackett's Harbor; it was used for the passage of troops in the war of 1812. But in spite of all the obstacles to settlement in this wilderness hardy pioneers continued to push onward, passing what are now more favored localities to reach the region so much praised by those who had preceded them. It has been related that Eli Strong and others could have bought land in the Mohawk Valley, near Utica, as cheaply as in Redfield; but they did not like the water and the low lands, and pressed on northward. Their hardships were many and discouraging, but were endured with characteristic fortitude. Provisions had to be transported from Rome over the road that for many months of the year was blocked with deep snow, and at other times was nearly impassable from other causes. This Salmon River settlement was composed largely of Connecticut people, and was almost wholly isolated from other communities that soon sprang up in other parts of the great town of Mexico; but it may be inferred that they found elements of contentment and of happiness in their wilderness homes.
On the first day of April, 1800, the voters of the new town met at the house of Josiah Tyron (son-in-law of Captain Sage), and elected the following as the first officers:
Supervisor, Luke Winchell; town clerk, Eli Strong; assessors, Erastus Hoskins, James Drake, and Benjamin Austin; collector, Benjamin Thrall; overseers of the poor, Amos Kent and Jonathan Harmon; commissioners of highways, Samuel Brooks, Daniel Wilcox, and Eliakim Simons; constable, Nathan Cook; pathmasters, Ebenezer Chamberlain, David Harmon, and Elihu Ingraham; fence-viewers, Titus Meacham, Isham Simons, and Nathan Sage; poundmaster, David Harmon.
At the first town meeting a vote was taken to build a pound, "as near the forks of the road, by David Harmon's, as can be found convenient," and it was to be made of "round timber, laid up forty feet by thirty." The public pound was a useful and necessary institution in these early communities.
Steps were promptly taken by the proprietors to lay the foundations of a village, and in the summer of 1800 they gave to the town for public purposes fifteen acres of land, and a special meeting was held in September at which the gift was formally accepted. The land was laid out in a square, the name "Center Square" given to it and to the immediate vicinity, and the pioneers gave that name to their little settlement. This name was, however, soon abbreviated to "The Square," and in course of time was changed to Redfield Square, by which name the village is now known.
The early town authorities voted the customary regulations, among them a bounty of $5 for each wolf killed, and a penalty of $5 for felling trees into the Salmon River unless they were immediately cut out.
The first of the numerous saw mills in this town was built in 1800 by Elihu Ingraham, who soon connected with it a run of rude millstones. Both were of great usefulness to the tillers. This mill was about one and a quarter miles from the village and near where Mrs. McKinney was born. The grist mill was operated only a few years, when it was abandoned, and the inhabitants were again forced to go to Rome to get their grain ground, or to pound it in a mortar in the top of a stump.
In 1800 or 1801 David Butler became a resident and opened the first public house in the town in a log house that stood near the northeast corner of the Square. The log building was soon afterward replaced by a frame structure. Col. Amos Johnson, who came in at the same time (1800 or 1801), opened the second tavern, south of the creek at the Square. His brother Joshua came with him; the latter was a Congregational preacher, the first in the town, and lived with his brother Amos. The first physician came also in the first or second year of the century, from Rome, in the person of Dr. Enoch Alden. His infant son, Franklin, was buried in the new burial ground at the Square in 1801. The first death in the town was that of Wells Kellogg, who was buried on a hill on Captain Sage's farm, just west of the Square. The first birth in town was a son to Ebenezer Chamberlain.
Schools and churches were quick to spring up in every American settlement, and the intelligence and piety of the early settlers in Redfield is indicated by the fact that the first church in the county was organized here in 1802 by Rev. Mr. Johnson (before mentioned), with fourteen members. This church antedated by five years the first one in Mexico, and by about fourteen years the first one in Oswego village. The Redfield church was of the Congregational faith and the predecessor of the Presbyterian church, which is described further on. The first school of which any account remains was also taught in 1802 by the minister, Mr. Johnson. It is probable that children had been publicly taught earlier than that, but no record of the fact exists.
The town of Redfield gave to Oswego county in 1802 the first official higher than a supervisor, in the person of Captain Sage, who was appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas.
The foregoing annals are a clear indication of the prominence of this town among the early settlements of Oswego county, of the intelligence and energy of its pioneers, and their faith in the future of their community.
Allyn Seymour, father of the late Rodney Seymour, came in 1802, locating about a mile east of the Square. An incident of that year which has lived in tradition was the burning of Benjamin Austin's dwelling, and the saving from the flames of an infant by another child of five or six years. The babe lived to become a celebrated Universalist minister.
The proceedings of the early town meetings were often quaint and curious though of little importance. The first public pound was probably not built, as a special meeting was held in August, 1802, at which it was ordered that a pound forty feet square and eight feet high should be built on the public square. The detailed description of this proposed structure indicates that the inhabitants realized its importance in a time when fences were few and of temporary character. The pound was to be of hemlock timber, with sills and plates on all sides; to have three posts between each corner; the spaces between each pair of posts to be occupied with seven bars of sawed timber, two by five inches each, tenoned into the posts; the structure to be furnished with a good gate, with lock and hinges. At this same meeting hogs were voted "free commoners," and the highway commissioners were directed to open "the great road" from Allen Merrell's to the bridge, for which the town was to furnish the money.
The school and church in Redfield flourished in spite of untoward circumstances. In the years 1817 and 1818 the town voted to raise for schools three times the amount received from the State—a very unusual proceeding. Dr. Alden served as "the good physician" until about 1806, when he removed to Rome and left the little settlement almost helpless in time of sickness; but in those times every mother and grandmother was, perforce, something of a doctor, and roots and herbs sufficed for ordinary ailments. The physician's departure, the abandonment of Ingraham's grist mill, and the fact that there was still no store in the community, forced the people to go to Rome for most of their domestic needs. Not long afterward a store was opened in the town of Florence, which was a great convenience.
On the 1st of April, 1807, the first post-office in the town was established with the name of "Redfield" and Russell Stone as postmaster. Besides the settlers already mentioned there were many other arrivals previous to the beginning of the war of 1812, among them Richard Dimick, Squire Heriman, John Castor, Ezra Dewey, and James, Nathan and John Harris. At some time during this period Wells Kellogg began to sell some kinds of goods, though there is no evidence that he had a regular store.
Prior to 1812 the "great road" was opened through to Sackett's Harbor, and during the war was of great and unexpected benefit for the passage of troops to that important military point. The going and coming of the soldiers furnished the inhabitants considerable excitement and the public square often presented animated and sometimes boisterous scenes. The late Mrs. Porter related that on one occasion the captain of a company, encamped on the Square, invited the young ladies who were attending a quilting party near by to come out and dance with his men. The ladies consented, and there in the heart of the wilderness the green sward was pressed by nimble feet to the sound of the violin.1
In 1813 there were only four or five houses at "Center Square" besides the taverns of Colonel Johnson and Mr. West. In that year Dr. David Dickerson came to the Square; as Dr. Alden had gone, he was the only one to minister to the ills of the settlers. With his wife, who arrived a little later, came her sister, Miss Sophronia Sherwood, who became the wife of Rodney Seymour and lived a long time in the town. She died a few years ago in Michigan.
With the close of the war immigration was renewed, but not with its early activity. More fertile and accessible lands were found in other localities and pioneers passed on. Immigration and other travel made the State road, before mentioned, a busy highway for those times. That and the road down the Black River were the two thoroughfares between the valleys of the Mohawk and the St. Lawrence.
Just after the close of the war Dr. Alden, the first physician of the town, returned and built a grist mill at the Square across the road from the site of the present cheese factory, which was operated many years, but was finally abandoned. He also build a saw mill near by. At the present time (1895) there is no grist mill in the town.
Arrangements were begun in 1818 for the construction of what was probably the first bridge over Salmon River. The highway commissioners were instructed to treat with those of Orwell in the matter. As the commissioners were restricted to an expenditure of $30, it could not have been much of a bridge that was contemplated, unless this sum was to pay their expenses in preliminary negotiations. In 1820 the town contained 336 inhabitants.
Down to the year 1830, the northern part of the town, which embraced the "Nine Mile woods," had no inhabitants, except one Webb, who kept a rude tavern deep in the forest. After 1830 settlers slowly located in and began clearing up this section of the town. The clearing away of the almost interminable forests led to an immense lumber and bark business, which has continued to be extensive to the present day. What has been known as the Sanders mill road extends east and west across the town, and on this road fifty or more years ago Seymour Green built a saw mill. In 1859 this mill was operated by a Mr. Otto, and in that year he began the manufacture of floor tile, obtaining his capital in New York city; the enterprise failed. At one period there were six mills on this road, but Thomas Sanders operates the only one now running. Samuel B. Adsit built in 1890 a mill about a mile north of the village, which is still in operation. Mr. Adsit has quite a local reputation as a bear hunter. On January 13, 1894, he killed three full-grown bears, for which he received $71.18; and on the 23d of the same month he killed another large one.
In 1879 a dam was constructed at a cost of $10,000 and a saw mill built by De Witt C. Littlejohn, of Oswego, in Greenboro, on the north branch of Salmon River. Frank Joyner built a steam mill, which was burned and rebuilt in 1890. Frank Moyer built a steam mill in 1887, about three miles east of the village. J. G. Flagg & Sons built a steam mill two miles east of the village in 1887, and in the same vicinity James McKinley built a steam mill in 1892. W. P. Curtiss built an excellent steam mill one and a half miles north of the village in 1890. Robert Bailey has a water mill seven miles north of the village, formerly known as the Otto mill. What was formerly the Thorpe mill in the same vicinity is now operated by Carter Brothers, and still further north Chester Button has a water mill. All of these mills are now in operation and the output of lumber is, of course, large. The production of bark has nearly ceased. When bark was largely produced, the tanning industry was extensive and profitable. About 1855 two large tanneries were built at Redfield Square, one by Streeter Brothers and one by Chauncey Burket. They were temporarily closed by the financial stringency of 1857, but were afterwards started up, one by J. A. Coles, and the other by Lapham, Clarington & Burket. Both subsequently passed to the possession of O. K. Lapham, and one of them was burned July 2, 1879, and not rebuilt; the other was set on fire on the night of Cleveland's election in 1892. Neither had been operated for several years previous.
In a business sense the town saw its greatest activity during the period when these tanneries were in operation and the various mills were producing great quantities of lumber. A steam railroad was built about 1865 from the village of Williamstown to what was known as "Maple Hill" (see history of Williamstown), and was extended into Redfield about two and a half miles. It was used chiefly for transporting wood, and during five or six years large quantities were drawn out. The road was abandoned and the track taken up about 1876.
The town sent fifty-one men to the Union army in the war of the Rebellion, five of whom held commissions, viz: James Coey, captain and afterwards major; Joseph Bartlett, first lieutenant; William Bartlett, second lieutenant; Sidney C. Gaylord, second lieutenant, killed at battle of Petersburg; H. Seymour, second lieutenant, killed at battle of Fredericksburg.
The iron bridge over the Salmon River on the State road was built in 1893 under direction of James F. Cooper, commissioner. It is 130 feet long and cost $3,300.
The mercantile business of Redfield Square is now carried on by George Simons (who has been in trade many years), William Phillips, Charles Crow, and George Thompson. William Wilson has a wagon shop and George Crangle and William Phillips are blacksmiths. The "Ben Lewis House" was built in 1874 by Lamont & Gardner, and is now conducted by W. A. Kilts. The Salmon River House was built in the same year by Honora Sturgeon and is now owned by her heirs.
What is now known as Edrington Park in Redfield is owned by Hon. John Davidson, of Elizabeth, N. J., a retired New York lawyer. He made a sportman's visit to the town in 1861 and has fished in Salmon River nearly every year since. He purchased over a mile of river frontage with a considerable area of land on either side and about two miles of brooks which flow into the river. This tract he has fenced, the banks of the stream have been protected form washing with thousands of loads of stone, bridges have been built, part of the landed seeded, and trees trimmed and planted. On a hill called from Mr. Davidson's son, Newcomb hill, is built the "Daisy Cottage," from which is obtained a magnificent view. Further up the hill is the "Buck's Head" log cabin, built and furnished with curiosities from all parts of the world. To aid in preserving the trout Mr. Davidson leases about two miles on either side of his park. He has become much attached to the people of the town and freely aids its public institutions.
The northern part of the town is still known as "Greenboro," and a post-office is maintained there by that name, of which Merritt Joyner is postmaster and carries on a general store.
The first school, as previously mentioned, was taught by Rev. Joshua Johnson in 1802. In 1860 the town had nine school districts, which were attended by 393 children. There are now twelve districts with a school house in each, in which thirteen teachers were employed and 141 scholars taught during the year 1892—3. The school buildings and sites are valued at $6,325; assessed valuation of the districts, $255,357; money received from the State in 1892—3; $1,465.16; raised by local tax, $1,368.10. The districts are locally known as follows: No. 1, Village; 2, Quinn; 3, Bourne; 4, Balcom; 5, Castor; 6, Otto Mills; 7, Cooper; 8, Button; 9, Taylor; 10, Clifford; 11, Littlejohn; 12, South Woods.
Population of the town: In 1830, 341; 1835, 412; 1840, 507; 1845, 510; 1850, 752; 1855, 798; 1860, 1,087; 1865, 1,072; 1870, 1,324; 1875, 1,303; 1880, 1,294; 1890, 1,060.
Supervisors' statistics of 1894 Assessed valuation of real estate, $252,075; equalized, $271,026; town tax, $2,988.06; county tax, $1,517.75; total tax levy, $5,071.21; ratio of tax on $100, $2, the highest in the county. The town has a single election district and in November, 1894, polled 219 votes.
The supervisors of Redfield have been as follows:
Luke Winchell, 1800; Eli Storng, 1801; Nathan Sage, 1802—10; William Lord, 1811—26; Daniel Dimmick, 1827—33; Edwin Rockwell, 1834—39; Rodney Seymour, 1840; Reuben Drake, 1841—42; Rodney Seymour, 1843—44; Gideon Parkhurst, 1845—46; Rodney Seymour, 1847; Daniel Dimmick, 1848—49; Sheldon Brooks, 1850—52; Gideon Parkhurst, 1853; Arthur V. Perry, 1854—55; Daniel Dimmick, 1856—57; Charles McKinney, 1858; Daniel Dimmick, 1859—61; Sylvester Goodrich, 1862; Daniel Dimmick, 1863—64; Charles McKinney, 1865—66; Daniel Dimmick, 1867; James Petrie, 1868; Daniel Dimmick, 1869; A. G. Sexton, 1870—72; Lewis L. Fleming, 1873—76; Andrew S. Coey, 1877—78; Lewis L. Fleming, 1879—88; George S. Thompson, 1889—90; M. V. B. Clemens, 1891; John Wilson, 1892—93; Lewis L. Fleming, 1894—95.
Eli Strong, 1800; Wells Kellogg, 1801; Eli Strong, 1802—4; Isaac Conkling, 1805; Jonathan Deming, 1806—13; Amos Kent, 1814—17; Allyn Seymour, 1818; Amos Kent, 1819—21; Samuel W. Johnson, 1822—23; Ira Seymour, 1824—27; William Lord, jr., 1828—29; George McKinney, 1830; William Lord, jr., 1831; Moses H. Webster, 1832; Reuben Drake, 1833; William Lord jr., 1834—35; John Corey, 1836; Hinman Griswold, 1837; Henry Brooks, 1838—39; John K. Perry, 1840—42; Franklin Washburn, 1843; Henry Brooks, 1844—51; Reuben Drake, 1852—55; John K. Perry, 1856; Alphonso H. Seymour, 1857; Heman Bacon, 1858; A. H. Seymour, 1859; Gilbert M. Parsons, 1860; Elias M. Parsons, 1861; Charles McKinney, 1862; Joseph C. Thompson, 1863—64; George Elmer, 1865—66; J. M. Burton, 1867; Henry J. Burkett, 1868; J. B. Parsons, 1869; H. J. Burkett, 1870; Robert Cooper, 1871; John Cooper, 1872; William J. Gooding, 1873—76; Stephen C. Thompson, 1877—79; Virgil J. Seymour, 1880; Robert Cooper, 1881; Samuel Adsit, 1882—83; George S. Thompson, 1884; Asa Parsons, 1885; Charles J. Williams, 1886—87; Charles Crow, 1888; Collins Waterbury, 1889—91; Andrew Ott, 1892—93; Robert Aloan, 1894.
The town officers for 1894—5 were as follows:
Supervisor, Lewis L. Fleming; town clerk, Robert Aloan; justices of the peace, D'Estaing Thorp, Daniel McCahan; assessors, Charles Cooper, Fernando Castor; commissioner of highways, Lester Yerdon; overseer of the poor, William Crangle; collector, Charles Adsit; constables, Charles Grant, John Hill, George Hogan, William Joyner.
Churches.—The oldest church in Redfield was the one before mentioned, organized in 1802 with nineteen members of the Congregational faith. Rev. Joshua Johnson was the first pastor and probably served the church twelve or fifteen years; he also taught the early schools. Rev. William Stone was his successor. For nearly thirty years the services were held in the school house and about 1829 a small church was built at the Square. This is all that is known of the early history of the society, as the records are lost. The Presbyterian form was subsequently adopted and the society has continued under that faith to the present time. Rev. G. W. Bergen is the pastor.
A Methodist class was organized at Redfield Square as early as 1820 and a house of worship was erected in 1824. In 1845 Redfield, Williamstown, Amboy, and Florence (Oneida county) were united in one circuit. In 1848 the circuit was reduced to Redfield and Florence, and in 1853 each of these towns was made a separate charge, but were subsequently re-united. The church still exists, with Rev. O. D. Sprague, pastor; the membership is sixty-six.
An Episcopal church was organized at the Square and now has a membership of twenty-four. Rev. Mr. Daly is pastor. The church was erected a short time ago.
A Union church was built at Greenboro and dedicated August 19, 1894, and a Union church is in existence south of the Village, where regular services are held.
1. Johnson's History of Oswego County, p. 426
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