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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher


Chapter II.
Original Civil Divisions—Erection of Counties—Dates of the Creation of Counties in Western New York—Formation of Tompkins County—Towns and when Formed—Present Towns and Dates of Organization—Geographical Location of the County—Area and Population-Soil and Original Forest-Its Water Courses, Scenery and Water Falls thereon—Climate—Absence of Excessive Snow Fall— Absence of Fogs on Waters Flowing Northward.

In compiling the history of any locality, reference must of necessity be had to every source of information possible. These sources are to be examined and their accuracy determined; this involves the perusal of old records, of scattered memoranda, and the separation of fact from fiction and errors, which, by reiteration at times grow into accepted truth, subsequently found to be without foundation. It is subject of regret that the pioneers of Tompkins county did not appreciate the importance of events in which they were actors and preserve in tangible form a detailed record of occurrences which were of little apparent interest to them, but which in the lapse of a century have become very material, possess absorbing interest, and yet require great labor and research on the part of the eager historian to obtain the facts regarding them. While this condition is to be deplored, it does not lessen the sense of duty on the part of those who may essay to preserve and perpetuate incidents connected with the original settlement of this part of the State, which has been transformed from a dense forest into broad acres of cultivated fields; from a region where the woodman's clearing was the only evidence of occupation, to a beautiful country where are now to be found villages and cities teeming with population and filled with every evidence of refinement and wealth; where the hum of busy industry and successful trade is heard, and where educational institutions of the most advanced type have been created, which are the glory of the inhabitants and the wonder of the world.

In a preceding chapter the history of Indian occupation of this locality, so far as known and can be ascertained, is given. The settlement of the white race followed closely upon the close of the SULLIVAN campaign in 1779, which resulted in the practical extinction of the Cayugas, who were driven westward, their families scattered, their villages destroyed, and the field left open for peaceful possession by the white pioneers at least a dozen years before the beginning of the present century.

In order to trace properly the history of the State of New York and the counties composing it at the present time, reference to original civil divisions is made. Under the Dutch the only divisions were the cities and towns. In 1665, a district, or sheriffalty, called Yorkshire, was erected. It comprised Long Island, Staten Island, and part of the present county of Westchester. For judicial purposes it was divided into three "Ridings." The East Riding comprised the present county of Suffolk; the West Riding, Staten Island, the present Kings County, Newtown and part of Westchester; the North Riding, all of the present county of Queens excepting Newtown.

Counties were erected for the first time by the act of 1683, and were twelve in number, as follows: Albany, Cornwall, Dukes, Dutchess, Kings, New York, Orange, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster, and Westchester. The county of Cornwall consisted of what was known as the District of Pemaquid (now in Maine), and Dukes county consisted of the several islands on the coast of Massachusetts. These counties were included in the patent to the Duke of York. They were detached on the reorganization of the government in 1691. Cumberland county in 1766, Gloucester in 1770, and Charlotte in 1772, were formed out of Albany county. The first two and part of the last are now in the State of Vermont.

Tryon county was erected in 1772, also from Albany, and comprised the country west of a north and south line extending from St Regis to the west bounds of the township of Schenectady, thence running irregularly southwest to the head of the Mohawk branch of the Delaware, and along the same to the southeast bounds of the present county of Broome; thence in a northwesterly direction to Fort Bull, on Wood creek, near the present city of Rome—all west of the last mentioned line being then Indian territory. Thus the province consisted at the Revolution of fourteen counties.

On April 2, 1784, the name of Tryon county was changed to Montgomery. On the 16th of February, 1791, Herkimer county was erected from Montgomery; on March 5, 1794, Onondaga county was created, its territory having been apart of Herkimer. Cayuga county was taken from Onondaga on the 8th of March, 1799. Seneca county was erected from Cayuga March 29, 1794; and Tompkins county was erected from Cayuga and Seneca on the 17th of April, 1817.

As originally organized Tompkins county embraced the towns of Hector, Ulysses, and Dryden (from Seneca county), and portions of Locke and Genoa (from Cayuga county). The towns afterwards erected from Locke and Genoa were called Division (now Groton) and Lansing. The original dimensions of Tompkins county were enlarged March 22, 1822, by adding thereto the towns of Caroline, Danby, and Cayuta (now Newfield) from Tioga county. In 1853 a strip from the west side of Newfield was annexed to Chemung county; and on April 17, 1854, Hector was made a part of the then newly-erected county of Schuyler. Tompkins therefore now consists of nine towns, viz:

Caroline, organized February 22, 1811, and taken from Tioga and annexed to Tompkins March 22, 1822.

Danby, organized on the same date as Caroline and also transferred to Tompkins from Tioga at the same time.

Dryden, taken from the original town of Ulysses (then in Seneca county), February 22, 1803.

Enfield, taken from Ulysses March 11, 1821.

Groton (as Division), taken from Locke April 7, 1817.

Ithaca, taken from Ulysses March 16, 1821.

Lansing, taken from Genoa April 7, 1817.

Newfield, taken from Spencer February 22, 1811.

Ulysses, organized March 5, 1794, the date of organization of Onondaga county. 1, 2

In 1794 the Board of Supervisors of Onondaga county fixed the valuation of the town of Ulysses, then comprising in addition to its present boundaries, the present towns of Dryden, Enfield, and Ithaca, at £100 and the total taxes at £12 10 0. In 1797 the board gave the census of Ulysses at 52 and the valuation at $4,777.In 1798 the inhabitants had increased to 60 and the valuation to $5,000.

A glance at the map of the State of New York shows Tompkins county situated in the western part, nearly central between Lake Ontario and Pennsylvania, practically square in form, and bounded on the north by Cayuga and Seneca counties, east by Cortland and Tioga counties, south by Tioga and Chemung, and west by Schuyler. The territory embraced in its borders is divided into nine towns, with an aggregate area of 292,724 acres, and a population of 32,923 according, to the United States census of 1890, which is the latest national enumeration. The State enumeration of 1892 gives the population at 35,055, an increase of 2,132.

The town of Ulysses borders on Cayuga Lake on the east, and is the northwest division; Enfield lies centrally west, south of Ulysses; Newfield in the southwest; Danby centrally south; Caroline southeast; Dryden centrally east; Groton northeast; Lansing between Groton, Dryden and Cayuga Lake on the north, with Ithaca, the county seat, in the center. Cayuga Lake, about forty miles long, and from one to three and a half miles wide, extends into Ithaca from the north, separating Ulysses and Lansing.

The soil in the northern half of the county is generally a gravelly or clay loam, created by drift deposits, while the larger portion of the southern half is a slaty loam, created by disintegration of the softer rock, which, dipping slightly to the south, appears on the surface of the hillsides where they fall away to the north.

Excepting small parts of the county, the original forests consisted of a magnificent growth of white pine of the highest quality. The more elevated parts of some of the southern towns produced hemlock, beech, maple; oak and other varieties of valuable woods.

The south half of the county is high and rolling, with elevations of from 400 to 700 feet, forming the watershed from which streams flow into the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay on the south, and the Seneca-Oswego River into Lake Ontario on the north. This watershed reaches on the southwest into Schuyler and Chemung counties, and on the east and northeast into Cortland and Onondaga counties. In their passage from the upland the streams have worn deep gullies or gorges in the soil, and there is no other portion of the State containing waterfalls in either number, height or beauty, at all approaching the locality embraced within the county of Tompkins adjoining the head of Cayuga Lake.

Salmon Creek reaches the lake in the town of Lansing, rising in Cayuga county and flowing generally in a southerly direction. It is noted for some picturesque falls and beautiful gorges.

Fall Creek has its source, for one of its branches, in Dryden Lake, a small body of water situated close to the Cortland county line just south of the center of the town of Dryden. The other and larger branch rises in Cayuga county in the town of Summer Hill, flows southerly across the town of Groton and unites with the south branch in Dryden, and thence through the city limits of Ithaca and into Cayuga Lake. This stream, the largest in the county, has upon it within the city of Ithaca five falls ranging in height from 40 to 140 feet, and overhanging banks equal to these distances above the water, which tumbles and foams as it flows downward through the gorge below.

Cascadilla Creek rises in Dryden and flows nearly west through the northern part of Ithaca, joining a branch of Fall Creek and the Inlet at the steamboat landing. This is the smallest of the streams reaching Cayuga Lake through the city. In its descent from the table lands above there are may picturesque gorges and beautiful cascades.

Six Mile Creek rises in Dryden, flows southwest through Slaterville and Brookton, thence northwest through Ithaca, uniting with the Inlet at the foot of State street. The only considerable waterfall upon it is known as Wells Falls, situated inside the city limits, but the valley of the stream above abounds with deep gorges and wild, impressive scenery.

Buttermilk Creek rises in Danby, flows nearly north, and reaches the Inlet just outside of and south of the city line. There is a magnificent cascade upon this stream in full view of passing railroad trains, which is an object of attraction to every traveler upon both the D., L. and W. and the Lehigh Valley Railroads. It is from this stream that the water supply of Ithaca is taken, and as the creek is fed wholly by springs at its sources, the supply is remarkably pure and free from contamination.

Less than a mile south of Buttermilk Creek a streamlet known as Lick Brook affords a beautiful waterfall over 125 feet in height, while along the length of the stream are several remarkable scenic gorges.

Ithaca Inlet rises in Spencer, Tioga county, flows through Danby, Newfield and Ithaca, into Cayuga Lake. It follows a deep valley, flanked by hills on either side hundreds of feet in height.

Five Mile, or Enfield Creek, rises in the town from which it is named, flows south and southeast, joining the Inlet on the border town lines of Newfield and Ithaca. Enfield Falls upon this stream, near nine miles southwest of Ithaca, is a point of great resort, and has been made the subject of many sketches by artists, attracted by the natural beauties of the scenery.

The head waters of Taughannock Creek are in Hector, just over the county line, and the stream reaches Cayuga Lake nine miles north of Ithaca. The swiftly flowing waters have worn a very deep gorge for the distance of a mile back from the lake, where the recession was arrested by a surface strata of hard rock, over which the water is precipitated in an unbroken sheet 215 feet, the highest waterfall in this State. Precipitous banks tower 150 feet above the stream, and below the fall show a sheer unbroken wall of 365 feet. Taughannock Falls have an extended reputation and are visited by thousands of admiring sightseers yearly.

Trumansburgh Creek has its extreme sources in both Seneca and Schuyler counties. Its general course is east through Trumansburgh village and then bending to the north it empties into the lake in county of Seneca.

The face of the country in this county and its slope in all directions towards the lake, with the great number of streams feeding it, produces the rare combination of gorge and waterfall found no where else in this State.

On the southeast Owego Creek forms the border line between the town of Caroline and Tioga county. In Newfield, at the southwest, a valley slopes to the south and Cayuta Creek follows it, reaching the Chemung River near Waverly, after traversing Van Etten and other portions of Chemung and Tioga counties.

Rising in Dryden, the Owasco Inlet flows north through the central valley of Groton, and thence through Locke and Moravia to Owasco Lake.

In climate Tompkins county partakes of the general characteristics of Central and Western New York, with more favorable temperature and less range than elsewhere in the region named. GOODWIN's History of Cortland County states that the mean temperature of Homer is 44 deg., 17 min., while at Ithaca it is 47 deg., 88 min., or 3 degrees and 71 minutes in favor of Ithaca. The same authority states the annual range of the thermometer at Homer is 104 deg., while that of Ithaca was 91, or 13 deg. in favor of Ithaca. This immediate locality also escapes the excessive snow falls which cover Cortland, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Herkimer and Otsego counties. These snow falls in that part of the State lying east of Tompkins county are doubtless owing largely to evaporation from the surface of Lake Ontario, the waters of which very deep and seldom freeze. The prevailing northwest air currents in winter carry this evaporation over the localities before named, where it is deposited as snow by condensation.

The territory embraced in Tompkins county, excepting in the southeastern and southwestern sections, is almost wholly free from the dense fogs which, especially in autumn, appear almost daily in the valley of the Susquehanna and its tributaries. The author is unaware that any satisfactory solution of the cause of the frequency of fogs on all waters flowing to the south, and their absence, as a rule, on waters flowing to the north, throughout the whole central part of this State, has ever been attempted. A remarkable verification of this difference appears in the town of Caroline, where a swamp is the source of streams running, both north and south. Those ultimately reaching Chesapeake Bay will often be covered with a dense fog, and not a mile distant the stream heading for Lake Ontario will at the same hour bask in bright sunshine. For weeks, and often for months, on the land sloping to the north traversed by streams discharging into Lake Ontario, not a vestige of fog is seen, and the author has known a whole year to pass in this locality without a single foggy morning being experienced.

1 Although for convenient reference the towns are given in alphabetical order, in the subsequent pages of this work they will be treated in the order of the dates of their formation.

2 A township on the Military Tract was a particular parcel of land laid out, containing certain one hundred lots. Thus in the Military Tract which covered part of Tompkins county, Ulysses was numbered 22, and Dryden 23.—CLARK's Onondaga, p. 360.

Landmarks - Chapter III

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

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