JEFFERSON COUNTY, NEW YORK

HISTORY of the Town of Watertown

Visited by S. W. Durant & H. B. Peirce in 1878


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The history of this town is so closely intermingled with that of the adjacent city of the same name that it is somewhat difficult to separate them. The boundaries begin in the middle of Black River, on the line between the old survey townships numbers 2 and 3 of the "Eleven Towns," then south to the southeast corner of Township No, 2, six and a third miles; thence west to the southwest corner of No. 2, six and a half miles; then easterly along the centre of the river two and a half miles, to the city boundary; then southerly, westerly, and northerly along that boundary, at various angles, but in a general semicircular direction, for six and a half miles, as laid down in the history of Watertown City, to the centre of Black River, striking two and three-fourths miles from the point of deflection; and then easterly along the entre of the river, two miles and a quarter, to the place of beginning...

This town, together with that part of the city south of Black River, was originally Township No. 2 of the "Eleven Towns....it is only necessary here to say that at the beginning of settlement it was owned, together with Adams in this county and Lowville in Lewis County, by Nicholas Low, of the latter place, his agent being Silas Stow. The township (the present city and town) had been surveyed in 1796 by Benjamin Wright, into 52 lots of from 400-625 acres each, but it was not until 1800 that its settlement was actually begun.

In March of 1800, Deacon Oliver Bartholomew, a Connecticut native and Revolutionary soldier, at age 42, made his way from Oneida Co., through the forest and made the first settlement in the present town of Watertown, close to its northwestern corner. Bartholomew died in June, 1850 at the age of 92 years.

Up to this time, Township No. 2 was a part of the gigantic town of Mexico, Oneida County, which town extended from Oneida Lake on the south to Black River on the north, and from the same river on the east to Lake Ontario on the west. But almost simultaneously, with the advent of the first settler, namely March 14, 1800, Watertown was formed by an act of the legislature. It comprised Townships Nos. 1, 2 and 3 of the "Eleven Towns," now known as Hounsfield, Watertown and Rutland, and the main part of the city of Watertown. All the inhabitants were in what is now Rutland, and it was there that the first town meeting of the Town of Watertown was held. The name was probably derived from Watertown, Massachusetts...Owing to the destruction of the early records by fire, we cannot give the names of the first officers, but they doubtless lived in Rutland.

Bartholomew had bought his land in October previous (1799), and at the same time purchases were made by Simeon and Benjamin Woodruff, E. Allen, James Rogers, and Thomas Delano. During the year 1800, the two Woodruffs, Jotham Ives and perhaps others, came on and built cabins preparatory to settlement; but the only man who remained through the winter in the present town was Deacon Bartholomew. The next year, Simeon and Benjamin Woodruff with their families, their father, Jonah Woodruff, and their younger brother, Frederick, came on and located where the two first-named had built their cabin, a short distance northeast of Burrville, in what has since been known as the Woodruff neighborhood. Jotham Ives, afterwards one of the prominent men of the county, made a permanent location in that year, at the extreme western part of the town, in the district now called Field Settlement, as did also his brothers, Joel and Dr. Titus Ives. It is said that Jotham Ives raised the first wheat in the present town of Watertown. There were numerous other settlers during this year...among those who settled in the eastern part of the town in 1801 and 1802 were William Sampson, Rev. Ebenezer Lazelle, Thomas and Job Sawyer, John Blevan, Abram Fisk, Lewis Drury, Sherebiah Fay, Aaron Bacon, Jonathan E. Miles, Jacob Stears, Seth Peck, Henderson Howk, Silas Howk, Job Whitney and Caleb and Nathaniel Burnham. James Wilson settled in 1802 on the "Wilson Hill," south of Burrville, cutting his own road from Adams. His son John, then an infant, so far as we can learn, is the earliest surviving resident of the town. In the central part were Eli Rogers, Aaron Brown, Elijah Allen, James Rogers, and others; while in the west were Joseph Wadleigh, Bennett Rice, Thomas H. Biddlecom, John and Zebediah Buell, Friend Dayton, and others. We give also a further list of others who had purchased lande in Township No. 2 in 1800, and most of whom, though perhaps not all, located in the present Town of Watertown during the years 1801-02: Silas Alden, Heman Pellit, David Bent, Luther Demming, Ira Brown, Calvin Brown, Abram Jewett, N. Jewett, Benj. Allen, James Glass, Henry Jewett, Ephraim Edwards and John Patrick. All of these purchases were made by contract, and it was not until August 20, 1802, that the first deeds in the township were given to Jotham Ives, Elijah Allen, David Bent, Ezra Parker, William Parker, Joseph Tuttle and Joseph Moore.

Meanwhile, Mr. Stow, as agent for the proprietor, seeing that the settlement was likely to be very rapid, made a contract with Hart Massey, under which a sawmill and a rude gristmill for grinding corner were to be built that season. Massey was to furnish three acres of land and erect the mills, while Stow was to contribute provisions, mill stones, irons, and in short whatever cost money. The expenses were to be equalized when the work was done and the mills to be owned in partnership by Stow and Massey.

The point chosen for these important structures was on the branch of Sandy Creek...a few rods below the somewhat celebrated cascade upon it. This cascade is just within the present Town of Watertown, on its eastern edge...

The sawmill was built according to contract, and the gristmill was completed in 1801 or 02. These were the first mills of any description in Jefferson County south of the river, and are both still used for their original purposes. In 1802, they were sold to Captain John Burr, who, with several sons, located there at that time, and remained for many years. One of the sons, Theodore Burr, was afterwards and eminent engineer and bridge builder. From this family the place received the name of Burrville, which it has ever since retained...

On the first day of April, 1802, the Town of Rutland was formed by the legislature, reducing Watertown to the present limits of Watertown, Hounsfield, and the main part of the city.

The first minister in the town, and perhaps in the county, was Rev. Ebenezer Lazelle, who came in 1801 or 1802, and, oddly enough as it sounds to modern ears, he owned the first distillery in town, situated in Burrville, He is supposed to have built it; at all events, he owned it in 1802.

Immigration was very rapid, and in the fall of 1802 there were about 60 families in the present town. Clearings were appearing in every direction, but the deer still bounded swiftly over the hills by day and the wolves howled dismally in the darksome glades by night...

The first birth was that of a son of Adam Bacon of Watertown Centre. Tradition asserts that on the next visit of the proprietor of Watertown the jubilant father informed him that a son had been born to him (Mr. Bacon), and added, "I have named him after you." The proprietor responded, "Well, here is 50 cents for him!"

The first girl born in the present Town of Watertown was Sally Rogers, daughter of Eli Rogers, who also resided near the Centre. The first death, so far as known, was that of John Arnold, residing on the creek below Burrville.

In March, 1803, Tilley Richardson, commonly known as Captain Richardson, an old Revolutionary soldier, located himself in the valley, about a mile and a half southwest of Burrville, where he was long a prominent citizen, surviving until 1852. His daughter, now Mrs. Lydia Skeeles, was born in the fore part of 1804,and is the oldest native of the town, now resident in it, whom we have been able to discover. Joseph Sheldon came with Captain Richardson and settled on "Dry Hill", in the south part of the town, where he was long a prominent citizen.

In 1803, Rev. Mr. Lazelle of Burrville, sold his distillery to Thomas M. Converse. The original deed is now in the possession of the nephew of the grantee, Hiram M. Converse, of North Watertown...Mr. Converse soon after became the proprietor of a store at Burrville, the first in the present town of Watertown, in company with the late Hon. Jabez Foster, the firm name being Foster and Converse. After Mr. Foster's removal to Watertown village, about 1807, Mr. Converse continued the business alone, also managing his distillery and an ashery, and being the leading man of the little village until his death in 1811. Orville Hungerford, afterwards one of the distinguished men of the State, was a clerk for Foster & Converse during their partnership. Timothy and Anson Hungerford were early and prominent settlers between Burrville and Watertown Centre...

The first church in town, and probably the second in the county, was the First Congregational Church of Watertown, organized at Burrville, in Caleb Burnham's barn, on the third day of June, 1803, by Rev. Ebenezer Lazelle. The first members were 12 in number, viz: James Thompson, Gershom Tuttle, Thomas Sawyer, ___Hinman, Joel Goodale, Mrs. Martha Pettit, Mrs. Sarah Tuttle, Susannah Sawyer, Jeruah Eno, Chloe Bailey, Hannah Eddy and Sarah Tayler. The first deacons were Thomas Sawyer and Samuel Calkins, as appears by the early records. When Mr. Burnham wanted his barn to put wheat in, the church held meetings in diverse places: in the ballroom of Colonel Tuttle, in the wagon shop of Deacon Sawyer, in school houses and private houses. There was no regular pastor, and the preaching was mostly by missionaries from older localities.

Among those who located in the east part of the town, from 1803 to 1812, were Jonathan Baker, whose widow died during the present year (1878), lacking but a few weeks of 90 years old. Wiliam Huntington, John Gotham, Seth Bailey, Doris Doty, Cyrus Butterfield, Crenius Woodworth, Levi Cole, Samuel Thurston, Captain Job Whitney, Anthony and Andrew Sigourney, William Fellows and Samuel thurston. In the centre were Corlis Hinds, Reuben Scott, Benjamin Green, and many others. In the west the most prominent settler was Elijah Field of Woodstock, Vermont, who in 1805, purchased the Buell farm on the western line of the township. He had no less than nine sons and three daughters, most of whom were of mature age, and settled nearby, but over the line in township number one, now Hounsfield. The whole district on both sides of the line has since been called Field Settlement. Among those in that part of the town, besides those already named, were Adam Blodgett, Samuel Bates, ___Bates, ___Spencer and Asaph Butterfield. In the northwest were Captain James Parker and others...

On February 17, 1806, the town of Hounsfield was formed from Watertown by the legislature, corresponding in size to survey township Number One, and reducing Watertown to the size which it retained up to the incorporation of the city in 1869...

BURRVILLE:

Burrville was at this period quite a rival of Watertown. William Lampson, the pioneer blacksmith, had also an ax factory, with a trip hammer carried by water, where he made edge tools and which was kept in operation until about ten years ago. James Mann built a tannery there about 1806. A few years later it passed into the hands of Theophilus Redfield, best known to the old settlers as Deacon Redfield...About 1809 a carding machine was built a little below the grist mill. Afterwords, but before the war, a cloth dressing establishment was put up nearer the falls. There had been a hotel from the first, the earliest landlord whom anyone remembers being Septimus S. Adams.

All these establishments, together with the store, ashery and distillery of Mr. Converse, made quite a lively little place. There was no organized church in Watertown village, and many of its people used to go on foot (a distance of five miles) and on horseback to attend religious services at Burrville. Mr. Hart Massey made the journey very regularly; he and his boys walking and his wife riding on horseback, with her daughter behind her on a pillion. When there was no minister, sermons would be read by Dr. Brainerd or Judge Strong...

It was proposed to build a church edifice at Watertown Centre for the accommodation of both villages. In February 1811, the "Religious Society of Watertown" was formed, with the view of carrying out that idea. The trustees were: Tilley Richardson, John Sikes, Thomas Sawyer and William Fellows, representing Burrville and vicinity; Hart Massey and Isaac Benedict, on the part of Watertown Village; and Aaron Brown, the tavern keeper at the Centre. It was voted to build a church at the latter point, but nothing further was done, and the next year the breaking out of the war prevented all action in that direction for the time being...

Among those who preached through this town, besides the Reverent Mr. Lazelle, already mentioned, were "Father Puffer," celebrated for his knowledge of the Bible, which a doubtful tradition asserts he could repeat from beginning to end, Rev. B. Tyler, Rev. N. Dutton, Father Bliss, Rev. Libeus Field, one of the Fields of Field Settlement, who still survives, a resident of Hounsfield at the age of 98. Rev. Hezekiah Field, another member of the same family, and Rev. David Speer, resided in Rodman, but he preached throughout Watertown in the pioneer days, beginning as early as 1805. He continued his services for more than 50 years and died in extreme old age...

The principal physician in town was Dr. Craft P. Kimball, who began to practice at Burrville before the War of 1812, and continued to do so till his death in 1872...

By the time of the War of 1812, Watertown looked very much like an old settled country. One the principal roads more than half the houses were of frame, the trough covered log schoolhouses were abandoned for frame ones and the whole town was pretty well cleared up except on some of the hills and along the river in the northeastern portion.

Among the settlers of 1809 were Anthony and Andrew Sigourney, brothers, who located in the Woodruff settlement in the east part of town. Anthony Sigourney's son, Alanson P., was born the following Decemeber, and is still living on the hold homestead to whom and to his brother, James M. Sigourney, four years younger, we are much indebted for information regarding that part of the town. Anthony Sigourney bought the farm of Enos Scott, who died about a year ago, age a hundred years and six months. Mrs. Simeon Woodruff died last summer, in Illinois, at the age of 99. A hardy, long-lived race were the pioneer men and women of Jefferson County. Another instance of this hardihood is to be found in James Brintnall, who was among the few newcomers of 1812, settling on the farm in the western part of the town, on which he now resides at the age of 88, though apparently as strong as most men of 70. He has been our principal authority for events occurring in that locality...

The first uniformed militia company in Jefferson County was the Watertown Rifles, formed principally in the eastern part of that town in the spring of 1813. William Sampson, of Burrville, was the first captain; Jonathan Miles, who lived down the creek from Burrville, was the first lieutenant; the ensign's name is unknown; and John Gotham, later Colonel Gotham, was orderly sergeant. Most of the young men and middle-aged men of that locality were in it. Squire William Huntington had four sons in it; there were five Delanos, three Woodruffs, two Woodworths, two Sigourneys, etc. The company organization was kept up until 1846 when it was disbanded on the repeal of the old militia law. When Sacket's Harbor was actually attacked in May 1813, expresses came galloping in hot haste through the county, and on every side the farmers were seen hurrying in hot haste, on foot and on horseback, with guns on their shoulders, towards the endangered post. The Watertown Rifles turned out in full force. Benjamin Woodruff happened to be away from home...he arrived several hours later with shouldered rifle and started for the harbor, drawing powder to use from the Watertown Arsenal on the way...Four citizens of the western part of Watertown were captured in that affair and taken to Halifax. Two of them, Messrs. Ayers and Ingalls, died in Halifax; Mr. Graves and another returned home...

In October of November 1815, the regular place of meeting of the First Congregational Church of Watertown was removed to Watertown village...Six years later the church was changed into the First Presbyterian Church of Watertown, by which name it is still known.

A little after the War, Mr. Abel Brigham came to Burrville, from Whitesboro, Oneida County, and replaced Mr. Converse as a merchant, remaining there five or six years...

The tract between the State Road and the river, in the northeast part of the town, was the latest considerable section to be settled. A man named White moved in there and made a clearing about 1820 and about 1821 William Huntington settled at the point now called Huntingtonville, built a dam across to Huntington Island and erected a large sawmill. Shortly afterwards a scythe factory was built at the same point, followed by a shingle machine and clover mill...In 1828 a hotel was opened by Charles Tuell, on the State Road about four miles east of the centre of Watertown village, now called the Grove Hotel. A public house has been kept there ever since 1828 except between 1836 and 1844.

About 1825, Captain Sampson erected a blast furnace at the top of the Burrville cascade...Deacon Redfield moved to Watertown, the tannery passed through several hands and was finally abandoned....

On October 14, 1833 the "Burrville Society" was formed by persons of the Congregationalist, Methodist, and Universalist denominations for the prupose of erecting a Union church edifice. Dr. Craft P. Kemble, George M. Jenks and Elnathan Lucas were the first trustees. The next year a small house of worship was erected by this society at Burrville, at an estimated cost of $1,550.



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