A History of Oneonta
from its earliest settlement
to the present time
by Dudley M. Campbell. Oneonta, NY
G. W. Fairchild & Co. 1906

Transcribed & Contributed
by Sandy Goodspeed


The first settlers in this part of the valley were from the older settlements on the Mohawk. Among the earliest pioneers was Henry SCHRAMLING and family from German Flats. He came some years before the war began, and settled near the Otego creek bridge.

Some idea can be formed of the hardships endured by this family when it is recalled that the mill, for flouring their grain, was on the Mohawk, east of Fort Plain. The grain was conveyed in small boats or canoes to the head of Otsego lake and thence to its destination by pack-horses. To make this journey of fifty miles or more and return required several days. The wants of the family could be supplied in no other way except when dire necessity brought into use the Indian mortar and pestle. The troubled condition of the country after the year 1775 compelled Mr. Schramling to return to his former home on the Mohawk. After the close of hostilities, he, with his brothers George and David, came back to the Susquehanna.

Previous to the close of the war John VanDERWERKER, from Schoharie, had built a grist mill which has already been alluded to. It appears on good authority that his daughter Polly was the first white child known to have been born in the town as it now is, which birth occurred in the year 1782. This Polly afterwards became the wife of Tice COUSE, a famous deer-hunter. Abram HOUGHTALING was the first male child born in town, his birth being in 1786.

The first settlements were made near the river, and probably, in most cases, not far from the old Indian trail.

Abram HOUGHTALING, Elias BREWER and Peter SWARTZ became settlers here in 1786. Houghtaling and Brewer came from Washington county, and Swartz from Schoharie. About the same date, James YOUNG settled near the mouth of the Charlotte, and Baltus KIMBALL settled north of the village on the farm next east of Glenwood cemetery.

About the year 1790, Thomas MORENUS* and Peter SWARTZ settled on the south side of the river. About the same time Frederick BROWN came from Fulton, N.Y. and settled on the farm later owned and occupied by E. R. Ford. At this time Brown's house was the only frame house standing within the limits of the present village corporation. About the year 1780, Aaron BRINK built a large log house, which stood east of Main street near the railroad crossing. Brink's house was the first hotel kept in the village of Oneonta, perhaps the first that was kept in the town. Between Brown's house and Brink's tavern there was only a common woodroad, with a dense forest on either side. Afterwards, John FRITTS kept a tavern at the northwest corner of Main and Chestnut streets.


*Thomas Morenus, before settling here, had been a captive among the Indians, and had "run the gauntlet" at Fort Niagara. The terrible scourging he had received at the hands of the savages left marks which were plainly traceable when he had become an old man.


In 1791, Asel MARVIN came from Vermont and first settled at Oneonta Plains. Shortly afterwards he removed on a large tract of wild land, about two miles from the village, upon the Oneonta Creek. He was a well-known builder and lumberman. For twenty-two consecutive years he rafted lumber to Baltimore. He built the first school house on the Oneonta creek road, and when the first church edifice was built in town, he was one of the trustees of the church society. When Mr. Marvin moved into the valley of the Oneonta Creek, the country across the hill from Oneonta to Laurens, was almost an unbroken wilderness.

Some years later than the last named date, Peter DINNINNY opened the first store kept in the town. The store then stood where the Stanton opera house block now stands. The first school house was built soon after 1790, and stood on the rise of ground on the south side of the river near the YOUNGMAN farm.

Previous to 1816, when the Presbyterian church was built, church services were generally held in Frederick Brown's barn. The first clergyman who regularly preached here was the Rev. Alfred CONKEY, who was settled at Milford. Mr. Conkey was a very earnest and zealous man, besides being a person of liberal culture.

John & Nicholas BEAMS were early settlers to the east of the village. Elisha SHEPHERD came from New England at an early day and settled at Oneonta Plains. His sons, in after years, became actively engaged in different branches of industry, and the Plains at one time bid fair to become the most prominent village in town. It contained a hotel, a store, two churches and a distillery.

Andrew PARISH was also one of the pioneers of Oneonta. He was born in Massachusetts in 1786, and moved from Springfield here in 1808. He settled on the south side of the river on the John FRITTS farm, now owned by Mr. E. H. PARDEE, and afterwards on the hill near the "Round Top." From the latter place he moved to the farm formerly owned by his son, the late Stephen, on the south side of the river. Mr. Parish raised a large family of children, all of whom became successful farmers, and men of business. Andrew Parish was a justice of the town for twenty years in succession. He was also a commissioner of schools under the old system. In 1809 he put up a brick kiln on the Elisha Shepherd farm at the Oneonta Plains, from which came the first bricks that were used in town.

Dr. Joseph LINDSAY was the first physician in Oneonta. He came from Pelham, in the old county of Hampshire, Mass., in the year 1807, settling first at Cherry Valley, where his uncle, John LINDSAY, of New Hampshire, was at one time so large a land owner as to give the place the local name of Lindsay's Bush. Having received a liberal education in the advanced schools of his native state and at Williams College, Dr. Lindsay in after years became a teacher to many of the younger people of the country who were ambitious of extending their studies beyond the rudimentary branches taught at that time in the schools of the neighborhood. In 1815, Frederick BORNT moved on a farm on the east side of Oneonta creek near the lower reservoir. He had been a soldier in the war of 1812, and had served at the battle of Plattsburg. He came from Rensselaer county, N. Y.

Before the date last named, Jacob VAN WOERT, whose ancestors were from Holland, and father of the late Peter and John VanWoert, came from Albany and settled on the farm lately owned by his son Peter, near the mouth of the Otego creek. Asa EMMONS about the same time settled on the south side of the river, near the Charlotte. He came from Vermont, and settled where Deacon SLADE formerly lived. Jacob WOLF, the father of the late Conradt Wolf, had also made his home in the southern part of the town at about the close of the Revolutionary war. Mr. Wolf had been taken as an Indian captive to Canada, where he had been detained for several years. His home, when captured, was in the valley of the Mohawk. While extinguishing a fire which had caught in a tall hemlock, by night, he was surprised by a company of Indians, by whom he was easily overpowered. He at length escaped from his captors, and making his way southward, after a long and perilous journey, he met with friends on the Tioga river. He rejoined his wife on the Mohawk, and afterwards removed to the Susquehanna, on the farm now owned by George SWART, southwest of the village.

Elihu GIFFORD, with four sons, came from Albany county in 1803, and first settled in West Oneonta, on the farm lately owned by Joseph TABER. In 1806, Mr. Gifford moved to the farm now owned by Henry Gifford on the Oneonta creek. About the same time Josiah PEET and Ephraim FARRINGTON moved into the same neighborhood. Later Col. W. RICHARDSON settled further up the creek and built a well-known place in a few years, and a thriving hamlet soon began to form around them. Col. Richardson was an enterprising man of business and took a prominent part in the affairs of the town. He served in the war of 1812-15.

When Elihu Gifford moved to the Oneonta creek there were only four "clearings" in that valley. A Mr. ARMITAGE had made some inroads upon the wilderness, on what is now known as the LOSEE farm, by the lower reservoir; Asel MARVIN had made a clearing on the James SHELDON farm, and there were others on Mrs. RICHARDSON's farm, and where Peter YAGER formerly lived. The settlers along the Oneonta creek, after Mr. Marvin, moved in slowly.

About 1804, David YAGER came from Greenbush, N. Y., and purchased the farm now known as the Peter Yager farm. Solomon YAGER, the father of David, came afterwards, purchasing his son's farm.*

Timothy MURPHY, the famous scout, was at one time a resident of the town, his home then being on the South Side of the river on what is generally known as the Slade farm, now owned by Rev. Granville RATHBUN. He had served in the south as one of Morgan's riflemen. His first wife and her babe having been scalped by the savages near Schoharie, he became the implacable foe of the Indians. He was a daring and wary Irishman, and lost no opportunity to wreak vengeance upon them, and had many narrow escapes. Murphy's exploits are quite fully set forth in the histories of Schoharie county.


*For the purpose of showing the increase in the value of real estate, it may be mentioned that at the time David Yager sold to his father, he was offered a farm laying between Maple street and the farm of J. R. L. WALLING, containing 150 acres, for $400.


James McDONALD settled at the lower end of the village at an early date. Mr. McDonald was of Scotch descent, and an active business man. He was descendant of the great clan that was broken in Scotland in 1692. Families from this clan emigrated to Nova Scotia from whence representatives migrated to the colony of New York early in the XVIII century. The original McDonald hotel is still standing on the northwest corner of Main and River streets, now transformed into a dwelling house. The lower part of the village was largely built through his enterprise, and at one time bid fair to become the business center of the village. He built a mill and hotel, and also became an extensive landowner. He kept the first post-office established within the limits of the town.

The first settlers were mostly German Palatinates from Schoharie and the Mohawk. The German was the language of common conversation, and so continued until Dr. LINDSAY and Asa EMMONS came into the settlement. At this time the Emmons and Lindsay families were the only ones that made the English their exclusive language.

These German settlers were a patient and persevering people, and betook themselves to the task of felling the forest and rearing homes for themselves and their posterity, with a noble and praiseworthy resolution. Beneath the sturdy strokes of the axe, the wilderness slowly but gradually disappeared around their rude homes, and in the place of the gloomy forest, fields of waving grain appeared on every side to cheer and encourage the industrious woodsman. The forests abounded in the most ravenous animals such as bears, panthers, and wolves, while along the river and creek bottoms, the ground was at places almost literally covered with poisonous reptiles. The climate was severe, and the country remote from the frontier, yet not withstanding the obstacles and discouragements that beset them, these were not sufficient to cause the settlers to relax their efforts to rear comfortable homes for their descendants. As the following extract from an old book vividly described the perils and adventures of the pioneer hunters, and conveys a good idea of some of the game of the country, I have quoted freely:

"Ben WHEATON was one of the first settlers on the waters of the Susquehanna, immediately after the war, a rough, uncultivated and primitive man. As many others of the same stamp and character, he subsisted chiefly by hunting, cultivating the land but sparingly, and in this way raised a numerous family amid the woods, in a half starved condition and comparative nakedness. But as the Susquehanna country rapidly increased in population, the hunting grounds of Wheaton were encroached upon; so that a chance with his smooth- bore, among the deer and bears was lessened. On this account Wheaton removed from the Susquehanna country, in Otsego county, to the more unsettled wilds of the Delaware, near a place yet known by the appellation of Wait's Settlement, where game was more plenty. The distance from where he made his home in the woods, through to the Susquehanna, was about fifteen miles, and was one continuous wilderness at that time. Through these woods this almost aboriginal hunter was often compelled to pass to the Susquehanna, for various necessaries, and among the rest no small quantity of whiskey, as he was of very intemperate habits. On one of these visits, in the midst of summer, with his smooth-bore always on his shoulder, knife, hatchet, etc., in their proper place, he had nearly penetrated the distance, when he became weary, and having come to the summit of a ridge (sometime in the afternoon) which overlooks the vale of the Susquehanna, he selected a convenient place in the shade, as it was hot, for the rays of the sun from the west poured his sultry influence through all the forest, where he lay down to rest awhile among the leaves, after having taken a drink from his pint bottle of green glass, and a mouthful of cold Johnny cake from his pocket.

"In this situation he was soothed to drowsiness by the hum of insects, and the monotony of passing winds among the foliage around him, when he soon unwarily fell asleep with his gun folded in his arms. But after a while he awoke from his sleep, and for a moment or two lay still in the same position, as it happened, without stirring, when he found that something had taken place while he slept, which had situated him somewhat differently from the manner in which he first went to sleep. On reflecting a moment he found that he was entirely covered over, head and ears, with leaves and light stuff, occasioned, as he now suspected, either by the sudden blowing of the wind, or by some wild animal. On which account he became a little disturbed in his mind, as he well knew the manner of the panther at that season of the year, when it hunts to support its young, and will often cover it's prey with leaves and bring its whelps to the banquet. He therefore continued to lie perfectly still, as when he first awoke. He thought he heard the step of some kind of heavy animal near him; and he knew that if it were a panther, the distance between himself and death could not be far, if he should attempt to rise up. Accordingly, as he suspected, after having lain a full minute, he now distinctly heard the retiring tread of the stealthy panther, of which he had no doubt, from his knowledge of the creature's ways. It had taken but a few steps however, when it again stopped a longer time; still Wheaton continued his silent position, knowing his safety depended much on this. Soon the tread was again heard, farther and farther off, till it entirely died away in the distance, but he still lay motionless a few minutes longer, when he ventured gently and cautiously to raise his head and cast an eye in the direction of the creature, whatever it was, had gone, but could see nothing. He now rose up with a spring, for his blood had been running from his heart to his extremities, and back again, with uncommon velocity; all the while his ears had listened to the steps of the animal on the leaves and brush. He now saw plainly the marks of design among the leaves, and that he had been covered over, and that the paws of some creature had done it.

"And as he suspected the panther was the animal, he knew it would soon return to kill him, on which account he made haste to deceive it, and to put himself in a situation to give it a taste of the contents of old smooth-bore. He now seized upon some pieces of old wood which lay all about, and placed as much as was equal to his own bulk, exactly where he had slept, and covered it over with leaves in the same manner the panther had done, and then sprang to a tree near by, into which he ascended, from whence he had a view a good distance about him, and especially in the direction the creature had gone. Here in the crotch of the tree he stood, with his gun resting across a limb, in the direction of the place where he had been left by the panther, looking sharply as far among the wood as possible, in the direction he expected the creature's return. But he had remained in this condition but a short time, and had barely thrust the ram-rod down the barrel of his piece, to be sure the charge was in her, and to examine her priming, and to shut down the pan slowly, so that it should not snap, and thus make a noise, when his keen Indian eye, for such he had, caught a glimpse of a monstrous panther, leading warily two panther kittens toward her intended supper.

"Now matters were hastening to a climax rapidly, when Wheaton or the panther must finish their hunting on the mountains of the Susquehanna, for if old smooth-bore should flash in the pan, or miss her aim, the die would be cast, as a second load would be impossible ere her claws would have sundered his heart strings in the tree where he was, or if he should but partially wound her the same must have been his fate. During these thoughts the panther hid her young under some brush, and had come within some thirty feet of the spot where she supposed her victim was still sleeping; and seeing all as she had left it, she dropped down to a crouching position, precisely as a cat, when about to spring on its prey. Now was seen the soul of the panther in its perfection, emerging from the recesses of nature where hidden by the creator, along the whole nervous system, but resting chiefly in the brain, whence it glared, in bright horror, from the burning eyes, curled in the strong and vibrating tail, pushed out the sharp, white and elliptical fangs from the broad and powerful claws ready for rending, glittered on the points of its uncovered teeth, and smoked in rapid tissues of steam from its red and open jaws, while every hair of its long dung back stood erect in savage joy, denoting that the fatal and decisive moment of its leap had come. "Now the horrid nestling of its hinder claws, drawn under its belly was heard, and the bent ham-strings were seen but a half instant by Wheaton, from where he sat in his tree, when the tremendous leap was made. It rose on a long curve in the air, of about ten feet in the highest place, and from thence descending, it struck exactly where the breast, head and bowels of its prey had lain, with a scream too horrible for description, when it tore to atoms the rotten wood, filling for several feet above it, the air with the leaves and light brush, the covering of the deception. But instantly the panther found herself cheated, and seem to droop a little with disappointment, when however she resumed an erect posture, and surveyed quite around on every side on a horizontal line, in search of her prey, but not discovering it, she cast a furious look aloft among the tops of the trees, when in a moment or two the eyes of Wheaton and the panther met. Now for another leap, when dropped for that purpose; but the bullet and two buck-shot of old smooth-bore were too quick, as he lodged them all exactly in the brain of the savage monster, and stretched her dead on the spot the hunter had slept but a short time before, in the soundness of a mountain dream.

"Wheaton had marked the spot where her young were hidden, which, at the report of the gun, were frightened and ran up a tree. He now came down and found the panther to measure, from the end of its nose to the point of its tail, eight feet six inches in length; a creature sufficiently strong to have carried him off on a full run, had he fallen into its power. He now reloaded and went to the tree where her kittens, or the young panthers, were, and soon brought them down from their grapple among the limbs, companions for their conquered and slain parent.

"Wheaton dismantled them of their hides, and hastened away before the night should set in, lest some other encounter might overtake him of a similar character, when the disadvantage of darkness might decide the victory in a way more advantageous to the roamers of the forest. Of this feat Ben Wheaton never ceased to boast; reciting it as the most appalling passage of his hunting life.

The animal had found him while asleep and had him concealed, as he supposed, intending to give her young a specimen of the manner of their future life; or if this is too much for the mind of a dumb animal, she intended to give them a supper.

"This circumstance was all that saved his life, or the panther would have leapt upon him first, and have torn him to pieces, instead of covering him with leaves as she did, for the sake of her young. The panther is a ferocious and almost untamable animal, whose nature and habits are like those of a cat; except that the nature and powers of this domestic creature are in the panther immensely magnified, in strength and voracity. It is in the American forest what a tiger is in Africa and India, a dangerous and savage animal, the terror of all other creatures, as well as of the Indian and the white man."

Other famous hunters were Michael HILSINGER, one MAYALL, and Tice COUSE. Mayall's hunting exploits were mainly along the Otego creek, though some of his adventures took him far up and down the Susquehanna valley. Couse's field of operation sometimes extended far over into Delaware county. Hilsinger on one occasion had a narrow escape in a conflict with a large black bear in the ravine along Silver creek. In this fight the hunter was drawn into deep water and had dropped his gun and came out victorious only by the use of his hunting knife with which he despatched (sic) the bear.

Another old timer was David T. EVANS, who came to Oneonta in 1829 from Washington county. Dr. Evans as he was called, was a well-known character of local fame as a story-teller, who was wont to regale evening audiences in the village stores with his wonderful tales.

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