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History of Williamstown, New York


The territory embraced in this town was formerly a part of the town of Mexico, and when erected into a town, March 24, 1804, was a part of Oneida county. At its formation it included the present town of Richland (set off in 1807) and of Amboy (set off in 1830). Williamstown is situated on the eastern boundary of the county and is bounded north by Orwell and Redfield, east by Oneida county, south by Amboy, and west by Albion.

The surface is nearly level, or rolling in the eastern part, where begin the hills that rise farther on northeasterly into the plateau region of Oswego and Lewis counties. The west branch of Fish Creek has its rise in this town, and furnishes excellent mill sites; the other streams are small. The soil is a sandy loam, stony in some portions, and fairly productive, but is best adapted to grazing. In early years the land as it was cleared was devoted largely to the growing of the various grains and vegetables, but in later years the farmers have paid more and more attention to dairying, particularly the making of cheese in factories, of which there are now (1894) three in town. The town was originally heavily timbered, much of which was hemlock, and for many years lumbering, bark peeling, and tanning were the chief industries. All this has changed; not a tannery is in operation and saw mills are few.

The original survey township was No. 5 of Scriba’s Patent, and was given the name of “Franklin” by the proprietor; but the new name, given it in honor of Henry Williams, one of the first settlers, soon superseded the other.  Settlement began in Williamstown in i8oi, most of the pioneers of that year coming from Connecticut. Ichabod Comstock made the first clearing on lot 155, near the center of the town, and Solomon Goodwin settled adjoining him about two miles north of the site of Williamstown
village. Mr. Comstock lived in the town until 1837. He had nine children, all of whom are dead.


Heman Goodwin, a brother of Solomon, lived across the road from them and reached the age of ninety years. Gilbert Taylor located at what was early known as “The Corners,” about a mile and a quarter west of the site of Williamstown village, and kept one of the first stores in town. He sold out in 1805 to Isaac Alden and removed to Jefferson county. At that point it was believed the business center of the town would become established and grow into a village. A little hamlet gathered there, and there the early town meetings were held. The expectations of the pioneers in this regard were not to be realized, as will appear. Daniel Freeman kept one of the first stores; he was from Connecticut and moved out of the town early.

Dennis Orton settled just east of Comstock, but remained only a short time. Henry Williams located on lots 189 and 190, about a mile southerly from the site of the present village, and near to Ichabod Cormtock. He became a prominent citizen, and was town clerk in 1806—08. He was one of the county side judges in 1816, 1821, and 1824, and member of assembly in 1826, and held the office of supervisor from 1810 to 1825 inclusive and from 1827 to 1832. His death took place in 1835, in Pennsylvania, whither he removed in 1833. Henry Filkins took up a lot in the same neighborhood with Goodwin and Comstock, where he built a substantial dwelling and lived in it until his death. He left seven children, all of whom are deceased.

Isaac Alden came into the town from Cooperstown, N. Y., in 1802, and opened his dwelling for the accommodation of the few travelers of the time. He built the first rude saw mill in 1802, which for some years was the only one in town, but it supplied the necessities of the early corners. It was on the site of the present mill at Williamstown village. Mr. Alden was the first supervisor, and held the office several years. In 1804 Dr. Torbert came into the town and built the first grist mill, which is a part of the present mill at Williarnstown. It has since been repaired and remodeled several times. The building of these mills and the water-power of the creek drew settlers to that locality and destroyed the prospects of a village at “The Corners.” Squire Marvin built a later saw mill.

In the winter of 1803—4 a school was taught at “the Corners” by Philander Allen, the first one in town. Joel Rathburn and Miss P. Alden were married in September, i 802, which was the first marriage. The first white child born in the town was Julius, son of Ichabod Comstock. Thomas Brownell, who is still living, was one of the pioneers in the edge of what is now Amboy. He is a carpenter and erected many of the early buildings, among them the tannery for Jacob Cromwell, noticed further on.

John Potts was an early settler and had three sons, William, Henry and Jacob. They located on the road leading towards Oswego. Henry Potts was supervisor in 1835—37, and again in 1841. Caleb Carr, father of Caleb L. Carr, settled adjoining and west of Henry Williams. He was member of assembly in 1837. William Hempstead located at ‘ the Corners,” kept a tavern, and ultimately died there. He was several times supervisor and town clerk.

Asa B. Selden, who was town clerk seven years, and supervisor from 1820 to 1826 inclusive, was a brother of Joseph, and father of Gustavus V. Selden. He located on a farm near Kasoag. G. V. Selden was supervisor in 1847—8. His brothers, Jacob M. and Josiah, were also prominent citizens. Jacob M. Selden was especially active in local affairs, was several years supervisor, and held other positions of importance. He was a leading citizen, and died in town a few years since. Jesse Fish was an early settler and subsequently bought out the heirs of William Hempstead, and kept the tavern built by the latter. Mr. Fish was supervisor in 1839. Joseph F. Beckwith settled early in the Comstock neighborhood, was supervisor in 1843—44, and removed to Illinois, where he died.

Abijah Towsley settled near “the Corners” and was a prominent farmer of the town. He was justice of the peace thirty. one years, and supervisor in 1851. He was a brother of Hiram Towsley.

In 1806 the first store of much account was opened at “the Corners” by Samuel Freeman, who came in a few years earlier and became a prominent citizen. He held the office of supervisor in 1826, and again in 1838. Other early settlers were Samuel Bird, John Thornton, Asa Belknap, Obed Smith, Philander Alden (the first town clerk and a justice), Newton Marsh (the second supervisor of the town and a justice of the peace, removed to Richiand about. 1812), John Farr, Peter B. Wright, Russell Morgan, Israel B. Spencer, and Jesse Merrills. Samuel Clark was an early inn-keeper, and at his house many of the earlier town meetings were held.

These pioneers were all men of sturdy character, came mostly from New England, and devoted their lives to subduing a wilderness, that their posterity might enjoy the benefits. Cary Burdick came in very early, removed to Albion, N. Y., and later went west. Daniel Stilson settled in town early from Columbia county, and died in the town. Gaston G. Comstock, a relative of the other settlers of that name, came from Connecticut, and was town clerk in 1809—10, and justice of the peace in 1813. Edanus Comstock, perhaps othe same family, was town clerk in 1811 to 1819 inclusive,, and also held the office of justice of the peace. Asa Belden came from Connecticut in 1807, and removed to Rome in middle life; he was town clerk from 1820 to 1826 inclusive, and supervisor in 1834.

Some of the residents of the town who were prominent in public affairs at later dates are Caleb L. Carr, who was justice of sessions in 1859-60; William R. Potts, who held the same office in 1874; Jacob M. Selden, who was member of assembly in 1855, and Channcey S. Sage, who held the office in 1858, and 1871—72; N. A. Towsley, who was justice of the peace twenty-three years; and Henry Potts who held the same office twenty years.

The first town meeting was held March 5, 1805, at the house of Daniel Stilson, at which the following officers were elected:

Supervisor, Isaac Alden; town clerk, Philander Alden; assessors, Henry Williams. Solomon Goodwin, and Israel Jones; collector, Daniel Freeman; overseers of poor, Daniel Stilson and Ichabod Comstock; commissioners of highways, Newton Marsh, Ichabod Comstock, and Benjamin Bool; constables, Daniel Freeman, Samuel Bird, and John Thornton; fenceviewers, Solomon Goodwin, Assia Belknap, and Israel Jones; sealer of weights and measures, Isaac Alden; pound masters, Obed Smith. and John Farnum. The town was divided into, nine road districts, with the following pathrnasters respectively: No. 1, Peter B. Wright; 2. Cary Burdick; 3. Newton Marsh; 4, Russell Morgan; 5, Israel B. Spencer; 6, Jesse Merrills; 7, John Ingersoll; 8. John Thornton, and 9, Joseph Hurd.

This list of officers adds the names of several early settlers to those before noticed, who located chiefly in the vicinity of the creek and on the road leading towards Oswego. At this meeting a bounty of $25 was voted for each wolf or panther killed in the town.

In 1810 William Hamilton began improvements on the site of Kasoag by the erection of a darn which is still in use, and a saw mill, which was operated many years, on the site of the present mill. About the same time Daniel Stacy built a carding mill at Williamstown, but he did not get it in operation until 1815. It stood on the opposite side of the creek from the present grist mill. He sold it to Hiram Towsley about 1818 and removed to Camden, and the carding establishment finally went down.

The religious inclinations of the pioneers led them early to form a church and in 1805 the Congregational society was organized by Rev. William Stone, father of William L. Stone, the well known historical writer. Services were held for a time in Dr. Torbert’s barn, and he afterward gave the society the use of, a building that stood near the present cemetery entrance. The church was not built until several years later. This is now occupied, in a remodeled form, by the Presbyterian society.

Among other settlers of the town the following should be named:

Albert F. Austin, Austin Burdick, George C. Bronson, Dr. Samuel Cox, H. C. Case, Edwin Comatock, Charles Curran, Myron Case, Henry Carr, T. E. Comstock, Robert Filkinns, Dr. Joseph Gardner, James Goodwin, Thomas and T. H. Greenhow, E. P. Harris, George Humphrey, Peter Hutt, William C. and M. Hyatt, E. McLean, J. A. Nichols, Ashbel Orton. V. R. and William Potts, Robert S. Paul, Frederick K. Potts, J. S. and S. B. Selden, Spafford Towsley, and C. P. Winsor.

Wild animals were very numerous through this region in early years and numerous bounties were offered for their destruction, being continued in some instances down to comparatively recent years. In 1805 the bounty for a wolf scalp was $25, but this was soon reduced to $10. This amount was paid at intervals down to 1836, and in 1827 it was made $15. In 1809 $10 bounty was paid for bears.

The war of 1812 created some excitement in the town, as it did throughout the northern part of New York. General Brown, with a body of soldiers passed through Williamstown on his way from Rome to Sackett’s Harbor, but there is no record of any of the pioneers joining the army.

In 1847, during the plank road enthusiasm that swept over the State, one of these useful (if temporary) highways was projected from Rome to Oswego, passing through Williamstown. Solicitation was made to the towns along the line to take stock in the company, and a special town meeting was held January 27, of the year named, at which it was decided that the town should subscribe for $10,000 of the stock. This road was built and continued in use until about the time the railroad was built, and was of great benefit in enabling the people to get to market.

A – settlement was commenced at what is known as Maple Hill, about four miles north of Williamstown, in 1860, which was the outgrowth of a large contract made by Calvert Comstock with the New York Central Railroad Company for wood and lumber. To fulfil his contract Mr. Comstock constructed a railroad from Williamstown to the point named and there built several mills, one of which was capable of sawing 8,ooo,ooo feet of lumber annually. A post-office called Maple Hill was established in 1863 and quite a village sprang up. When timber became scarce, the road was extended into Redfield. The work was carried on to about 1876, when the mills were removed and nothing now remains of the settlement.

In the war of the Rebellion this town evinced commendable patriotism, sending sixty-three men. Among those who attained promotion were Josiah Ashpole, James Marsh, Byron and William R. Potts, Alexander Robinson, and Sylvester S. Rodgers. Population: In 1820, 652; 1830, 606; 1835, 658; 1840, 830; 1845, 782; 1850, 1,121; 1855, 953; 1860, 1,144; 1865, 1,948; 1870, 1,833; 1875, 1,808; 1880, 1,820; 1890, 1,215.

Supervisors’ statistics of 1894: Assessed value of real estate, $307,601 ; equalized, $324,255; personal property. $5,600; railroads, 9.13 miles, $78,331; town tax, $1,380.11; county tax, $1,845.51; total tax levy, $3,913.10; ratio of tax on $100, $1.25; dog tax, $60.50. The town constitutes a single election district and in November, 1894, 247 votes were cast.

Following is a list of supervisors from the organization of the town to the present time, with the years of their service 1805, Isaac Alden; 1806—7, Newton Marsh; 1808, Tsaac Alden; 1809, Newton Marsh;

1810 to 1825, inclusive, Henry Williams; 1826, Samuel Freeman; 1827 to 1832, Henry Williams; 1833, William Hempstead; 1834, Asa B. Selden; 1835—3 7, Henry Potts; 1838, Samuel Freeman; 1839, Jesse Fish; 1840, Jacob Cromwell; 1841. Henry Potts; 1842, Jacob Cromwell; 1843—44, Joseph F. Beckwith; 1845, Jacob Cromwell; 1846, Austin Burdick; 1847—48, Gustavus V. Selden; 1849, Abijah Towsley; 1850, Michael Freeman; 1851, Abijah Towsley; 1852, W. J. Dodge; 1853—54, William Harding; 1855—56,Chauncey S. Sage; 1857—58, Jacob M. Selden; 1859, 0. B. Phelps; 1860, Chauncey S. Sage; 1861, C. L. Carr; 1862, Chauncey S. Sage; 1863, J. M. Selden; 1864, Isaac M. Hempstead; 1865—60, Dwight J. Morse; 1867, Isaac M. Hempstead; 1868-71, Jacob M. Selden; 1872, Edwin Comstock; 1873—74, B. Delos Burton; 1875, Jacob M. Selden; 1876—7, Chauncey S. Sage; 1878—82, John L. Sage; 1883, Charles J. Bacon; 1884—88, W. H. Selleck; 1889—93, Thomas Laing; 1894—95, Albert Warren.

Following were town officers for 1894—95:
Supervisors, Albert Warren; town clerk. Rensselaer L. Rathbuu; assessors, James
A. Hughes, Charles Parkhurst, Robert Armstrong; justices of the peace, Alexander McAuley, J. S. Fox, A. G. House, and Austin Hutt; overseer of the poor, W. D Rosa; collector, Thomas Morrison; commissioner of highways. Kiock J. Saltsman; constables, James Madison, Caleb Totman, Henry Larouche.

By Chapter 467 of the Laws of 1871, the supervisor, town clerk, and justices of the peace and their successors in office were constituted a board, to be known as the Williamstown Cemetery Board. They were authorized to buy a suitable cemetery site and ‘establish a cemetery, and the Board of Supervisors were authorized to lay a tax on the town of not to exceed $1,000 for the purpose. The project was carried out, and the beautiful cemetery in Williamstown village is the result. The act creating this board was drawn by Chauncey S. Sage. The cemetery plot contained at first about fifteen acres, and now contains about twenty.

In 1860 the town had seven school districts, which were attended by 312 children. It now has ten districts with a comfortable school house in each, which in 1892—3 were taught by eleven teachers and attended by 297 scholars. The school sites and buildings are valued at $7,525 assessed valuation of districts in 1893, $341,555 ; money received from the State, $1,316.74; raised by local tax, $1,449.86. The districts are locally designated: No. 1, Stellbrook; 2, Wardville; 3, Kasoag; 4, Checkered House; 5, Carr; 6, Williamstown; 7, North Williamstown 8, West Maple Hill; 9, Curran; 10, East Maple Hill.

The Williamstown Union Free School house was built of brick in 1885 at a cost of $3,000, for which sum the district was bonded. The old school building and site were sold to Dr. E. W. Crispell in 1894 for $50. April 8, 1887, the district was organized as a Union Free School with the following Board of Education:

John L. Sage, president; Henry A. White, Albert Warren, Thomas Laing, Edward B. Acker, William H. Potts, Oliver H. Farnsworth, Lucien C. Carr, and Theophilus Larouche. The principals have been W. J. Teal, W. H. Adams, Jay B. Cole, Emily Williams, Jessie E. Burkhart, Roscoe Sergeant, and Olaribel Preston, incumbent. The presidents of the board have been John L. Sage, Henry A. White, C. J. Williams, and J. B. Cole. The board for 1894—95 consists of Jay B. Cole, president; R. L. Rathbun, clerk; H. A White, D. H. Shaw, John Rogers, W. D. Rosa, J. W. Rice, W. H. Huntley, and Thomas Look.

Williamstown Village.—This village is pleasantly situated on Fish Creek, in the southeastern part of the town. The R., W. & 0. Railroad (now controlled by the N. Y. C. & H. R. R. Co) was opened through this town in May, 1851. Many of the early settlers at this point have been mentioned. The establishment here of the early mills and of a large tannery gave the settlement a start and by 1830 its population had reached 606, and five years later was 830. The tannery was built by Thomas Brownwell for Jacob Cromwell. He carried it on for some years, enlarged it, and sold to Phelps, Stone & Parker, who transferred it to D. F. Morse. Mr. Morse operated it for a number of years, and sold to P. C. and P. H. Costello. It was burned April 20, 1873, and the firm immediately erected on the site what was then the largest tannery in the State, the large yard containing 329 vats. The consumption of bark was for a time 7,000 cords per year. The supply soon failed and the establishment was moved to Pennsylvania.

Among former prominent merchants here were Austin Burdick, supervisor in 1839 and many years a leading citizen; J. & J. M. Selden, who also built a large hotel, the Selden House, burned in 1884; William Harding, supervisor 1853—4; Morse, Morrison & Co.; McCabe & Rogers; McCabe & Costello; and Morse & Parker. H. A. White came to Williamstown as clerk for the last named firm and in 1864 began trade, which he has successfully continued to the present time. He is now one of the leading merchants. His brick store is on the site of the old Selden House, and was erected in 1885. The only manufacturing establishments in the village now are -two saw mills, a grist mill, and a canning factory.

The post-office was established in 1813 with Dr. Samuel Freeman as postmaster. It was located at “the Corners,” but soon followed other business interests to the present village. The present postmaster is Thomas Laing, who assumed the charge in August, 1894, succeeding Albert Warren. who held it four years as successor of Dr. Joseph Gardner.

The present business of the place consists of the stores of Henry White, John Rogers, John L. Sage (at the railroad station), M. T. Larouche (grocery), and the drug store of G. W. Taft. There are three hotels, three blacksmith shops, wagon repair shops, a tin shop, etc. Laing & Rathbun are undertakers, and Mr. Rathbun has a furniture store. Hon. Chauncey S. Sage came to Williamstown in 1850 and purchased the Rensselaer Burdick farm of 100 acres lying on the west edge of the village and south of the railroad, from which he sold a number of building lots. He engaged extensively in lumbering, and at the depot built the Sage House, a large three- story frame hotel, in 1868, and about the same time opened a store there, moving from his farm just mentioned to the station. He always leased the hotel, first to G. C. Potter, and afterward to others. Soon after settling in town Mr. Sage, in company with Goodwin Plumb, purchased the establishment of W. J. Goodfrey and for several years carried on trade as general merchants. Mr. Sage was long a leading citizen, and served as postmaster about twenty-one years, from 1861. He was supervisor for several years, and member of assembly in 1858, 1871, and 1872. He died November 23, 1890. John L. Sage, his son, now carries on a large trade there, and the Sage House is kept by John J. Burlingame. F. & I. J. White have quite an extensive canning factory near the station.

Williamstown has several times suffered severely from fires; one on May 4, 1884, burning the Selden House, Dygert House, etc.; and one on July 3, 1888, destroying much of the business portion of the village, only a part of which has been rebuilt. The loss at the first fire was about $50,000, and at the latter about $30,000. On the 16th of July, 1889, another fire destroyed property worth $6,000.

About 1872 E. D. Burton brought to the village a small printing outfit and began the publication of an advertising sheet in his own interests. This was the first printing business established in town. About 1876 he sold the material to Healy & Garnsworth. The first regular newspaper started in town was the Williamstown Local, which was first issued on May 4, 1893, by Emerson C. Smith, the present proprietor.

Kasoag.— This is a post hamlet in the northern part of the town about three miles north of Williamstown village, on the old Indian trail from Oneida Castle to the Salmon River. The Oneida Indians had a camping ground on the site of Kasoag and many relics have been found there. The settlement was started around the saw mill and dam which were built about 1810 by William Hamilton, the second mill in the town. The mill has passed away, but the original dam, more or less improved, is still in use. Not much business was carried on at Kasoag until after 1848, in which year William J. Dodge and James L. Humphrey, who came from Albany, built a large barrel manufactory there, with a capacity of 1,000 barrels a day. These were sold largely in Syracuse and Oswego. The first factory was burned, but was rebuilt and the business continued several years, until suitable timber became scarce. The senior member of this firm, W. J. Dodge, was supervisor in 1852. The business interests of Kasoag consists at the present time of a store kept by Frank Coon; a hotel, by Michael McDermott; a feed store; a large factory for the manufacture of furniture, and the saw mill, by the Kasoag Manufacturing Company, and a few shops. The postmaster is Alonzo Frost, who succeeded George Bailey.

Ricard is a post hamlet, with a store kept by H. W. Blount. There are some business interests here. Joseph Nash is postmaster, succeeding Lewis Barnes in that position. Herbert W. Blount has a large general store and with George R. Blount also conducts the Blount Lumber Company, manufacturing and dealing in lumber extensively.

Fraicheur is a post-office recently established in the southwest part of this town on the Amboy town line. The postmaster is W. H. Phillips.

Churches.— The Presbyterian church of Williamstown was organized soon after the war of 1812—15 and probably in 1817. In this year the trustees were Samuel Torbert, Edamus Comstock, and Daniel Stacy. The ground on which the church stands was given to the society in 1817 by Matthew Brown. The building was considerably improved in 1850 and also in the summer of 1866. Rev. John Burkhart is pastor.

The Methodist society was organized about 1825, the early records not being in existence to give the exact year or the date of erection of the building. Rev. D. M. Phelps is the present pastor.

A Catholic church is now under the pastoral care of the priest, Rev. Joseph F. Tiernan, who is stationed at Camden, Oneida county. They have a neat church edifice, which was built in 1884, and dedicated by Rev. Father Beecham, the first pastor.

The Seventh Day Adventists have a society here and hold services about every two weeks in private houses.

The M. E. church at Ricard was built in 1894, following the organization of the society, and was dedicated on December 5 of that year. it cost about $2,000. Prior to the erection of this edifice Methodist services had been occasionally held in the school house.

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