Monday, September 14, 2009

Sangerfield/Waterville History 1976


by Mary C. Cleary, Town Historian,
M. L. Peterson, Researcher,
Hilda R. Barton, Martin F. Cleary,
Sydney Erickson

The Town of Sangerfield, with the neighboring Town of Bridgewater, occupies the most southern portion of Oneida County. Its water supply attracted early settlers and its rich soil provided the basis for successful farming through the years.
U.S. Route 20 (east-west) intersects Route 12 (north-south) at the hamlet of Sangerfield, very near the site of the first dwelling built by Zerah Phelps in 1791 when he emigrated here from Massachusetts. The land then was owned by three land speculators, Michael Myers, John J. Morgan and Jedediah Sanger. Judge Sanger, anxious to have the area settled and named after him, promised a cask of rum for the first town meeting and 50 acres of land to the religious organization building the first church.
In the next few years settlers trickled in, and the population grew. The Town of Sangerfield was offlcially established on March 5,1795. The first town meeting was held on April 7, 1795, in Mr. Phelps' home. Records show that "after the meeting was opened, they voted to adjourn to the barn," no doubt to sample Judge Sanger's rum, which had been delivered as promised. Incidentally, the 50 acres were equally divided between the Congregationalists, who had the first organization, and the Baptists, who had the first church building.
The year following the first town meeting the tax rolls showed 85 taxable inhabitants who paid a total of $108.56 in taxes. The highest tax of $5.04 was paid by Benjamin White. From this inauspicious beginning the township has grown to include a population of 2475 in 1970. The 1976 budget was $206,000.
Settlement was encouraged by the Cherry Valley Tumpike, built in 1811 as an extension of the Great Westem Turnpike. Tumpike travel made the thriving community of Sangerfield Center the most important settlement in the township, temporarily outshining the Huddle, the name given to the collection of houses, mills and stores built on the banks of the Big Creek, and later named Waterville. Numerous tavems on the village green at the Center catered to the needs of the drovers who passed back and forth between Albany and Buffalo. When hay sold for $20 a ton, innkeepers charged $1 to keep a span of horses overnight, but when hay dropped to $10 a ton, the price dropped to 50 cents. These wagons progressed slowly up the hilly terrain, sometimes taking a week to haul freight from Sangerfield to Albany.
In those early days, the town also boasted its own newspaper, the Civil and Religious Intelligencer, founded in 1815. The name was later shortened to the Sangerfield Intelligencer, and then became the Sangerfield Intelligencer and Madison and Oneida Counties Gleaner in 1830. The paper's editor-publisher, Joseph Tenney, prided himself on his firm's efficient delivery of papers over sometimes dusty and sometimes muddy roads by a boy on horseback who loudly announced his coming with a blast of a horn. In 1856 the Waterville Times was established and is still published weekly in Waterville.
By the late 1820s Waterville's expanding industries began to outstrip those of Sangerfield Center. Earlier established gristmills and sawmills were joined by taverns, stores, a distillery, a tannery, a brewery, a cotton mill and a foundry. Contributions to Waterville's early growth were made by many families who came here from New England, and were mainly of English stock. Prominent names include the Tower brothers: Jeduthan, Justus, John and Jotham; Benjamin White, Amos Osborn, Sylvanus Dyer, and Amos Muzzey. (Jeduthan Tower was the great-grandfather of Charlemagne Tower Jr., lawyer, industrialist and U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany in the late 1800s.)
With the land cleared, houses built, and industries started, the people began to turn their attention to the educational needs of theirchildren. In 1815 the first public school was built on the corner of White Street and Academy (now Stafford Avenue South). Waterville Central School District was organized in 1928. The curriculum of this new school was expanded to include agriculture, shop, music and home economics; and the commercial and physical education departments were enlarged. The school had a separate auditorium, the gift of George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, who was born in Waterville. From 1930-1954 the student population doubled. A new open-space junior-senior high school was first used for graduation exercises in June of 1974.
By far the most important industry in the town has been farming. Farmers once raised their own grain for milling, fattened cattle and hogs for meat, and made their own butter and cheese. With the introduction of hops in 1830 these practices were largely abandoned. Hop growing reached its peak in the 1880s, although it continued well into the 1900s. Waterville became the main shipping point for hops, and the exchange center for hops in the United States. In 1882, when hops sold for the high price of $1 a pound, deposits in the National Bank of Waterville totaled three-quarters of a million dollars. Many people who did not grow hops made a living in numerous outshoots of this industry, such as the manufacture of hop presses, buying and selling hops, transporting hop pickers, drying or shipping hops.
In this time of prosperity, many farmers retired and built homes in Waterville. The village by this time had a thriving railroad, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Westem; a new residential street, Putnam Street; a new Opera House built in 1880; a new firehouse built in 1872 on White Street, several hotels, and a new public water supply. A public library system was begun in 1874.
The hop industry began to decline around the turn of the century due to: the high risk involved in fluctuating hop prices, depletion of the soil, increase in hop diseases and pests, and most important of all, growing competition from hop growers in Oregon and Washington. When this happened, farmers in this area began to return to dairy farming and added peas or beans as a cash crop. Peas were a major crop through the 1930s and 1940s, but declined after World War ll, and practically disappeared in the late 1960s. Broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and snap beans have replaced peas as major cash crops in this locality. Efforts were made to revive the hop industry in the late 1930s and 1940s, but proved unsuccessful.
Potatoes are another important crop. Although the number of farms has declined in the past hundred years, the average size of farms has increased, a trend which is by no means confined to Sangerfield. Statistics compiled by the Oneida County Cooperative Extension Service showed the combined number of dairy cows in the Towns of Marshall and Sangerfield had risen from 2,606 in 1875 to 4,874 in 1964.
Another interesting industry in the township was brick and tile manufacturing. A brickyard was built by John Haven of Connecticut in 1812. At the height of its production, 12 men worked year-round. Brick and tile were shipped to many parts of the country. When Hamilton College was built in Clinton, brick was drawn by horse and wagon, 1,000 bricks to the load. Little mention can be found of this industry after World War 1.
An industry with a long history is the Buell Boot and Shoe Factory. At one time this industry employed 100 people, about 80 in the factory and 20 at the tannery. One of the fastest-selling items was a lumberman's boot which reached to the knee, and had two rows of wooden pegs in the sole, in between which the lumberjack could insert spikes to help him keep his footing on slippery logs. Most of the shoes and boots were shipped to the Midwest, which may or may not account for the story that the shoes worn by Abraham Lincoln at his inauguration as President in 1861 came from Waterville.
At the present time Waterville's largest employer is the Waterville Knitting Mills, Inc. which employs 200. Its most important product is sweaters. It is owned by Barclay Knitwear Corporation of New York City. This firm succeeded the Waterville Textile Mills, Inc. which had been established in 1922 by LeRoy Harding and Shelby Jarman in the former Buell Boot and Shoe Factory.
Smaller industries were the cheese box factory and the soap factory in Stockwell, a hamlet located in the southern part of the town. The cheese box factory was operated by members of the Benjamin Stetson family for over 150 years. Shoe boxes for the Buell Boot and Shoe Factory were made there, as were hop boxes.
An enterprising businessman, Charles Marsh, made shoe pegs for the Buells. He also made a hard white soap that would float, which he called Ivory Soap, which became very popular. However, he failed to have the name patented, and so he was forced to change the name to Ivy Soap. Years ago, the stencils for Ivy Soap wrappers were displayed in the window of the Waterville Times in Waterville.
Stockwell was first settled in the 1790s. Early settlers included Enos Stockwell and his wife Mary, John Berry and his family, and the Stetson family. Benjamin Stetson was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and the father of ten children. The oldest, Joel, built a lumber mill.
Throughout Sangerfield's history, its church organizations have been a vital force. Following the organization of the Lisbon Congregational Society in Sangerfield Center in 1796, a church was built on the green by 18 members. In 1823 the First Presbyterian Church was organized in Waterville.
The Baptist chuch was begun in 1808 on a site near the present church on Main Street. The steeple of the first structure was finished on the day word was received the War of 1812 had ended. The people placed lighted candles in their windows, and a sailor climbed the steeple and placed a candle at the top. There was no wind, and the candle bumed to its base. The present brick church was erected in 1832.
Grace Episcopal Church had its beginnings in 1840. The first society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Waterville dates back to 1835. Before 1850, when the first Catholic Church was built in Waterville, Catholics attended mass in private homes, the Berrill Foundry and the ballroom of the American Hotel.
No history of Sangerfield would be complete without mention of its most colorful and notorious family—the Loomis Gang of Nine Mile Swamp. The Loomis homestead overlooked the Nine Mile Swamp Road between Sangerfield Center and Heads Corners. Although this house has vanished, stories of the family's cunning and ruthless exploits are still remembered and rival the deeds of the legendary outlaws of the old West. Accused of arson, counterfeiting, horse stealing and other offenses, the Loomis brothers, Wash, Grove and Plumb, and other members of the family were always able to avoid the punishment of the law. Sheriff James L. Filkins proved to be their undoing when he led a raid on the Loomis home, accompanied by three young men, Cort Terry, Henry Bissell, and John Garvey. This raid on October 31, 1865, resulted in the death of Wash, and severe injuries to Grove. A second raid took place on June 16,1866, in which the house was looted and burned and Plumb hanged almost to the point of death to get him to reveal information. Plumb, who had several brushes with the law after this, stayed in the Waterville area, and enjoyed cussing matches with men he knew in the Waterville taverns, although he was not a heavy drinker. Plumb died of a heart condition in 1903. The last member of the family, Wheeler Loomis, was a prosperous and respected farmer in Canada.
In recent years, it appears that industry in the town of Sangerfield has come full circle with the building of two new feed mills— the Agway Regional Feed Mills in 1970, and Allied Mills, Inc. in 1973. The mills manufacture dairy and chicken feed from grain by-products. Another business, Wickes Building Supplies, was opened in 1960. This plant is one of 218 outlets of Wickes Corporation whose headquarters are in Saginaw, Michigan.
In 1969, Edward Hanna, now mayor of Utica, opened the Hanna Manufacturing Corporation in the former roller skating rink outside the village line on Stafford Avenue. In this factory, rope products are made, as well as cameras, photo chemicals and electronic units relating to photography. In 1971 a new 92-bed nursing home, the Harding Nursing Home, was built. Sangerfield's newest industry is Champion Home Builders Company of Dryden, Michigan, which opened a plant here in 1973.
There are numerous social, religious and civic organizations in the township. The Waterville Fire Department is probably the oldest organization in Waterville, dating back to 1829. The Volunteer Ambulance Corps was formed in 1971 to provide ambulance service to residents of southern Oneida and northern Madison Counties.
Today the Town of Sangerfield remains predominately rural, but is able to provide services generally found in more heavily populated areas. Its blend of diversified manufacturing, farming and farm-related industries provides the stability necessary for steady and continued growth.

Waterville, New York, Centennial History 1871-1971, (Waterville Centennial, 1971).

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