The History of New York State
Book VII, Chapter IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




Writing, in 1671, of the region which is now Seneca County, Father Raffeix, a Jesuit priest, said: "Goiogouen is the fairest country I have seen in America. It is a tract between two lakes and not exceeding four leagues in width, consisting of almost uninterrupted plains, the woods bordering it are extremely beautiful. Around Goiogouen there are killed more than a thousand deer annually. Fish, salmon, as well as eels and other fish are plentiful. Four leagues from here I saw by the side of a river (Seneca) fin e salt springs."

Little more then a hundred years later, the army of General Sullivan penetrated to this same district, and were likewise impressed by the beauties of this region. They found it a favorite home place of the Indians, and the plains covered with quantities of corn, beans, melons; also an abundance o apples, plums and peaches. One of this army was the first to settle in Seneca County.

A traveler passing through here in 1791 remarked that: "the map of the world does not exhibit two lakes equal in magnitude to the Senaca and Cayuga, which are so happily situated. The country between these two lakes rises gradually in symmetry from the opposite shores towards the center, producing a pleasing effect. Whenever it reached a state of cultivation, it will become the 'Paradise of American.'"

The narrow strip thirty-five miles from north to south, and ten miles wide, now known as Seneca County, has retained much of its pristine beauty and has certainly reached a "cultivated state." The plateau has become the seat of hundreds of farmsteads; the shores of the lakes are the favored building sites of lovers of nature; and the great bodies of water contribute an ameliorating influence on the climate that makes not only region the more habitable, but has made its soil more surely productive.

The Jesuits were the first white men to reach this district with their missions to the aborigines. The lakes and their shores had been divided by two tribes; the Cayugas ranged both sides of the lake which has been given their name, and the Senecas holding both shores of Lake Seneca. In the period from 1656 to 1684 the Fathers carried on their missionary labors in the Indian towns of the Seneca country. The Moravian missionaries, Bishop Cammerhoff and Rev. David Zeisberger, passed through the territory in 1750, and Rev. Samuel Kirkland tells of going up the Seneca river in 1756. Sullivan, in 1779, came with his troops, and it was but a few years before the great tide of immigration had set in, and the country began to have the cleared lands and homes of the pioneers. Job Smith, the first of the permanent settlers, came from Ulster county, in 1787, and built a log house on the present site of the village of Seneca Falls. Lawrence Van Cleef, another of Sullivan's army, located in the same region in 1789 with his family, buying Smith's hundred acre claim. Romulus, Ovid, Lodi and Waterloo were all settled in 1781, while the other towns of the county were pioneered but a few years later. By 1800 there were nearly 5,000 people in the Seneca District. These early pioneers were of many nationalities, and from many different sections of the colonies. German and Scotch Irish, from Pennsylvania; Holland and Dutch and English from eastern New York; Yankees, and a few who were directly from foreign lands. It is probably this admixture of so many peoples, minds and interests that resulted in the solid, shrewd hard-working population which built here their homes and county.

Seneca was, when these first settlement were made, a part of Montgomery County, passing from this to Herkimer, 1791; to Onondaga, in 1794; then in Cayuga, 1799; from which is separated, March 24, 1804, when the laws of its incorporation were signed by Governor Clinton. The name was derived from the lakes, river and Indians, who are said to have been the most warlike of the Six nations of the Iroquois. Perhaps some of this warlike nature was absorbed by the inhabitants of the county, for there had been many difficulties and political fights before any county had been erected; and there were others started when the question arose of where the county seat should be established. In an effort to prevent this not unusual condition, an act has been passed that the courthouse and jail were "to be erected in the town of Ovid, within certain specified boundaries." But vigorous protest came from the village of Lancaster (Willard) besides one or two others, and the matter was brought before the Legislature, which only confirmed its order, and a courthouse and jail was started in Ovid, in 1806.

In 1817 the new county of Tompkins was set up with a per of lower Seneca, leaving the county seat within four miles of the southern line, and, although Covert returned to the fold in 1819, Ovid was still too far from the center of the county to be desirable as the county seat, hence Waterloo was named the sole county seat in 1819. The erection of a new county, in 1823, put Waterloo in much the same relation to the rest of Seneca, as had been Ovid. A division of county affairs was made and the double shire, or half-half shire system, still in force, came into being.

The original county extended some sixty-three miles north and south and included Ithaca, with an average width of eleven miles, and a total area of 744 square miles. As reduced by the changes and as it now is, the length of Seneca is thirty-two miles, the width ten, area neatly 200,000 acres, with two county seats fifteen miles apart, at Ovid and Waterloo.

The county has been strongly agricultural from the beginning, even the Indians recognizing the value of this region fro the growth of their cultivated crops. The first things planted by the whites were those most needed for this subsistence, but it was not so many years before the fitness of the soil for wheat was recognized and for fifty years was the main grain planted. Mills multiplied and flour became one of the principal exports of the county; the flour mills of Seneca Falls were third only to Rochester and Oswego. The Erie Canal opened the way to more extensive and easier worked wheat lands and brought about a change in the trend of agriculture. A greater variety of crops were planted; potatoes came to be important; the dairy is one of the principal industries now. But the most marked change was in the expansion of horticulture which, although the Jesuits had found fruits in abundance centuries before, had never tanked high. Seneca apples, grapes and other fruits have become real factors in the market. On four occasions the State premium for the best farm in New York has been given to residents of this county, and the first of the agricultural colleges was established within its borders.

There have been a number of rather distinct periods of development of the county since the first settlers came and created their farms, built mills and branched out into such industries as fulling, tanning, lumber sawing and distilling. The establishment of a ferry over Lake Cayuga connecting two ends of the State road in 1790, and the building of the Cayuga Bridge in 1800, preceded the beginnings of industries on more than a local scale, for transportation had to be established before there could be any large movement of products. Advance in this same line was made by the improvement of navigation on the Seneca River by a Canal company, in 1813-19. The Erie Canal, in 1825, and the Cayuga Canal, opened in 1828, made it possible to transfer large quantities of freight, and steamboats about this time enabled one to travel on the lakes, with what was thought luxury, to visit friend and neighbor, or to transact business. The auburn and Rochester Railroad entered the county in 1841, making it easy to reach Albany and the city of New York, and the completion of lines, now apart of the Leigh Railroad, in 1873, gave complete intercommunication between parts of the county and the outside State.

There has been an unusual type of industries developed in the county. The fist was the ordinary one, a mill built by Wilhelmus Mynderse, in 1795, to which a flour mill was added a year later. A fulling mill was started in 1806, and Andrew Tillman erected a tannery, in 1824. Several paper mills were established about this same time, while knitting mills and cotton factories were found before 1830. With the completion of the Seneca Canal, in 1815, there was a demand created for a different type of boat than that used for lake transportation, which brought about quite a large boat building industry in Seneca. Cooperage also became important, for the county supplied the salt barrels in large quantities to the salt works at Salina. Both of these trades were discontinued before the Civil War.

In the decade preceding 1850, the most of the greater industrial concerns were formed, and the products which made famous the name of Seneca were manufactured and sent all over the States. Thomas I. Payne was the first builder of pumps in the county, and became a partner of Noah Caldwell, in 1839. Difficulty over the patents shortened the life of this firm, but Seneca became, and is, on of the greatest producers of pumps and allied articles in the State. John A. Rumsey, as a member of the firm of Cowing and Company, came to Seneca Falls, in 1849, and made the first hand fire engine used in that village. Wheeler and Downs was the firm first making an iron pump, and also the first to use a steam engine to drive a plant. Gould's pumps, known all over the world, are the result of Seabury S. Gould buying out the interest of Mynderse in the pump works in 1852. In the beginning these works employed five men and consumed about a tone of iron a week, which in a few years increased to seventy men and four tons of metal daily. In 1920 the Gould Company employed an average of 900 hands and the Rumsey 250. It is interesting to mote that the first rotary steam fire engine was supervised in its manufacture of Birdsall Holley, in 1855. It has had a world wide use; Mr. Holley was the inventor of a water system for municipalities.

Along with its industries and agriculture have advanced the movements necessary to the better life of a community, such as religion and education. At the organization of the county there were five organized religious bodies in the district, worshipping in private homes. there are now nearly seventy-five churches in the county. One of the notables in religion was Joseph Smith, who organized with five others, in the town of Fayette, the Mormon Church, (April 6, 1830).

Education was by private school in the county even after the law of 1795 encouraged the creation of public schools. In 1813, however, there were thirty-three schools in the towns o f Ovid, Romulus and Fayette, and probably there were enough in the other towns to bring the number up to fifty. Three academies had been incorporated from 1830 to 1842. The State Agricultural College was established in 1835 and located on the farm of John Delafield, in Fayette town, he being its first president. On his death, in1860, the college was removed to Ovid; a new building being erected and opened under the leadership of General Marsena R. Patrick. This college was eventually removed to Havanna, Schuyler county, and afterwards to Ithaca, where is now a department of Cornell University.

Seneca Falls--The principal village of Seneca County is Seneca Falls, with a population of 6,389. Located on a plateau considerably higher than Cayuga Lake, two miles east, cut by a ravine of the Seneca River, the village is divided into two almost equal parts. Eight miles to the west is Lake Seneca, and eighteen miles north, lake Ontario. Two railroads supply transportation, and electric and motor bus lines join it with other cities. The fall of the river, which is forty feet within the town limits, furnished power and light. The store section of the city is larger than is usual for a place of its size, possibly because of the nature of the forty factories which employ several thousand of the residents. Although a variety of articles are made, the National reputation of the village was made by the pumps it has manufactured from early days. It is reputed to be the place making the largest number of pumps in the world.

Some one has said that the village of Seneca Falls had been "immortalized" by four great historical events; The introduction to society of a new style of dress in 1851 by the daughter of Gerritt Smith, which later became known as "Bloomers"; the promulgation of "Women's rights," put forth in the village; the "Holly inventions," a water system for municipalities, and the rotary fire engine used the world over; and the Mormon religion, founded by Joseph Smith. Probably these are enough to immortalize any place.

The first four settlers of the village were: Job Smith (1787); Lawrence Van Cleef the real founder of the place (1789), of whom mention has already been made. Mr. Parkhurst, who bought Van Cleef's tavern on the "flats" in 1794. And Wilhelmus Mynderse, the first to introduce industries to the section. This latter individual was the owner of a large portion of the site of the village. He lived to see the town carved out of virgin forest; he died in 1838. The village park is a gift of his, and the academy bearing his name was made possible through his generosity.

Seneca Falls was incorporated April 22, 1831, the charter being emended in 1837. In1860 a new charter was granted, which in turn was changed in 1896. The population (19200 was 7,179.


Covert was formed from the town of Ovid April 7, 1817, and Lodi taken off in 1826. For a time the most of it was a part of Tompkins, but returned to the fold and became the great wheat section in the early 1800's. Jonathan Woodworth was the pioneer of the area in 1797. Farmer is the main village, settled early, but having no framed building (a store) until 1815. It was, and is, a rural center to which the agriculturists of the surrounding country come to trade, put their children in school, and attend church. Covert is a hamlet on the railroad.

Fayette as formed from Romulus, as Washington, March 14, 1800, changing its name in 1808. It included Junius until 1803. It is the

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Largest town in Seneca, lies on the south bank of the Seneca River and extending to Cayuga Lake, and has some of the finest farms in the county. John Bennett, who located on the shore of the lake in 1789, was the first settler. The town claims Red jacket, the famous Seneca orator, as a member of its first families, believing he first saw the light of day on the banks of the Canoga, about 1759. His name was Saguwatha, "the keeper awake,' but he was known by his more familiar title because of the gorgeous jacket given him by the British during the Revolution. Joseph smith, the Mormon, was for a time a resident of Fayette, and discovered the "Golden Bible" on one of the his trips with a diving rod searching for gold. He brought his averred find to the home of one of Fayette's farmers, Whitmer, and there translated it, or wrote the Mormon Bible.

Canoga, Fayette, on the line of Varick, and South Waterloo, one of the wards of the village of Waterloo, are the principal places of residence in the town. West Fayette, Yale, and MacDougall are stations on the railroad.

Junius was organized from Washington (Fayette) February 12, 1803, comprising 210,000 acres. The most of this large area has been taken in the forming of Wolcott (Wayne County), in 1807; Galen, now in Wayne, 1812; and Seneca Falls, Tyre, and Waterloo, in 1829. The pioneer settlement was by Thomas Beadle, in 1795, who at once set out an orchard. This section was one of the first to lead as a fruit district, apples and other fruits being an important part of its products. Junius post office, for a long time known as Dublin, and West Junius are the two main hamlets.

Lodi, originally a part of Ovid, was formed from Covert, January 27, 1826. The town is finely located on lake Seneca, and was visited by General Sullivan's army, who destroyed an Indian orchard near Lodi Landing. The first white men to settle in the region was George Fausett, of Pennsylvania, who came in 1789. Lodi is the main village, with a nearby station on the railroad; Caywood is also on the same road.

Ovid was erected as a part of Onondaga County March 5, 1794, hector being taken off in 1802, and Covert in 1817. It extends from lake to lake, a distance of about eight miles, and at its highest point is more then 700 feet above lake Seneca. Andrew Dunlop, following the track of Sullivan's army, came to the section and set up his home in 1789. He is considered by some to have been the first settler in the county. Ovid, the half shiretown of Seneca, was incorporated April 17, 1816, dis-incorporated in 1849, and re-incorporated in July, 1852. John Seeley was the pioneer, who purchased 900 acres in the district on a portion of which the village is now located. In 1806 the first courthouse in the county was erected in Ovid, and in the next few years the hamlet had become a most flourishing town. The removal of the seat of justice later gave the hamlet a setback, but being in the midst of a fertile section it has always held its own as a mercantile and social center of the agriculturists. There are now a few factories of rather small size. Willard is partly in the town. Ovid Center is one of the hamlets.

Romulus, one of the original towns, was formed March 5, 1794, as a part of Onondaga County; Fayette, then extending to Lake Ontario, was taken off in 1800. David Wisner is usually credit with being the first settler (1789), but it is known that one Abram Brown had peaches of his own raising in 1791; which would indicate that he had arrived prior to Wisner. The interests of the town are mainly agricultural. Romulus village, on the border line of Varick; Hayt Corners, and Kendaia are the three settlements of importance in the section, all of them being on railroads..

Tyre was erected from Junius March 26, 1829. A large area of its eastern half is swampy, being the southern termination of the montexuma marches. The higher ;lands are fertile, but it is remarkable that as early as 1794 one Ezekial Crane located and grew as his first crop potatoes, and started the first orchard four year later. The main village is of the same title as the town.

Varick, organized from Romulus February 6, 1830, was formed originally, however, in 1794, before there was white settler within its borders. Most if the first comers arrived just before the close of the century. The town is one of the central district extending from lake to lake, and the land is used to a great extent for horticultural purposes. The principal villages are Fayette on the north line, and Romulus on the south line.

Waterloo, formed from Junius March 26, 1829, is the level farming and gardening town in the northwest border of Seneca, with the Seneca River as its south boundary. John Greene, a hunter and trapper from Rhode Island, came to the region in 1789, but other pioneers arrived in a year or two, but since these spoiled his business, he sold out to Walter Wood, who in turn sold to John Tripp, al this before 1800. Waterloo village, the principal place of the town, was started in 1795, when Jabez Gorham built a cabin on the north side of the Seneca River. in 1807 the whole site of Waterloo came into the possession of John McKinstry, who immediately conveyed it to Elisha Williams, of Hudson, New York who gave it the name of New Hudson, which name it kept until changed to its present title, in 1816. Before this time it has been made the county seat which honor it now shares with Ovid. The water power of the Seneca probably drew many of the firs settlers, and it was as an industrial village that it became known. It still is important industrially, having nearly thirty factories. Among the products of these concerns are:

Woolen cloth, wagons and other horse-drawn vehicles, knit articles of apparel, canned goods of many kinds and pickled vegetables. The Geneva and Auburn railroad have repair yards which employ a number of hands. Waterloo's growth has been rather a rural center for the farmers of the well cultivated country in which it is located. Population, 1920, 3,809, incorporated, 1824. Border City, on Seneca lake, is second industrially, with its main products coke, gas and by-products of the process used.






Covert town, including Interlaken village




Fayette town, including parts of Waterloo village




Junius town




Lodi town




Ovid town, including Ovid village




Romulus town




Seneca Falls town, including Seneca Falls village




Tyre town




Varick town




Waterloo town, including part of Waterloo village










The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

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