History of Auburn (Village), New York
From: History of Cayuga County, New York
By: Elliot G. Storke, Assisted by: Jos H. Smith
Published by: D. Mason & Co.,
Syracuse, New York, 1879



IN 1815, Auburn was the largest village in Central or Western New York. Rochester and Syracuse had not then been incorporated as villages, Buffalo had been reduced to ashes and Geneva and Canandaigua were behind the "loveliest village" in population and general business activity.

Hitherto it had been under the town government of Aurelius; but in April, 1815, it was incorporated as a village, with ample powers for the necessary improvement of the place. The first president was Joseph Colt, and the first trustees were Enos T. Throop, Bradley Tuttle, Lyman Payne and David Hyde.

Protection of the village from fire and the improvement of the streets and walks were among its first official acts. A fire engine was purchased in New York and shipped by boat up the Hudson. At Newburgh the boat was ice-bound, and the engine brought thence by team, which required fifteen days.

Auburn had a notorious reputation for mud. Its walks, where any were found, consisted of slabs irregulatly laid in the spring, but regularly consumed for fuel in the winter, and her streets were a sea of mud during the wet season; hence the ordinances of the trustees for the protection and improvement of the place were seconded by the hearty cooperation of the citizens. For a further view of this subject see "Village Government."

THE CAYUGA BIBLE SOCIETY was formed at a public meeting, in Auburn, February 22d, 1815, more than one year before the formation of the American Bible Society, and the auxiliary Bible Society, in June, 1817. The object of the latter was the gratuitous distribution of the sacred Scriptures among the poor of the County. In 1818 the first Sabbath School in Auburn was begun by Dr. Richard Steel, Henry Ammerman and Noble D. Strong, for the religious instruction of the colored people of the village. It was organized in the face of much ridicule and opposition, but the men having the enterprise in charge, were not to be turned aside by the idle badinage of the thoughtless or prejudiced crowd. They were men of clear heads and pure hearts and their enterprise led not only to the success of the colored schools, but one for the white children as well, which was speedily followed by others. The hearty approval of the whole religious public was soon secured, and Sabbath Schools were soon instituted by the churches generally.

COTTON-MILL.- The first inanufactory of cotton goods in Auburn is due to the enterprise of Elijah Miller and John H. Beach, who in 1814 began the erection of the cotton-mill at Clarksville. It went into operation in 1817. The mill, in 1822, was sold to a company, of which Alvah Worden was President, and Robert Wiltsie, Secretary. It was chiefly occupied in the manufacture of ticking. Robert Muir, George B. Throop and Nathaniel Garrow, bought the property in 1827. Though for a time the mill was operated profitably, its financial affairs finally became so embarrassed as to necessitate its sale. It then passed through several hands, by none of whom was its prosperity restored until it was purchased in 1853 by L. W. Nye, by whom and the lessees, Howlet & Bailey, it was run with highly satisfactory results.

THE FIRST PAPER-MILL.- Thornas M. and George C. Skinner and Ebenezer Hoskins, erected, below the cotton-mill just described, the first paper-mill in Auburn, which was put in operation in 1829. It made chiefly fine writing papers, which found a ready market for several years; but in 1837 they, in common with nearly all business men, were forced to close out their business and their interest in the property was transferred to the Cayuga County Bank in 1840. The subsequent lessees of the mill were L. W. Nye and Charles Eldred, who were succeeded by David S. West, Henry Ivison and Chauncey Markham. A company was formed in 1849 with a capital of $20,000, the trustees of which were David S. West, L. W. Nye, John C. Ivison, David Foote, Henry Ivison, Aurelius Wheeler, Asahel Cooley and Russell Chappel. The business department of the company was placed in charge of S. H. Henry, and William H. Barnes superintended the manufacturing department. In 1854 there was a reorganization of the company with an increased capital, and its business was greatly enlarged. The two large publishing houses here of Derby & Miller and Alden, Beardsley & Co., were large consumers of the paper produced by this company. In 1858 the mill was destroyed by fire and the business discontinued.

The first Auburn Bank was organized in 1825, the instruments being procured by the liberal subscriptions of our citizens.

In 1828 a memorable effort was made in Auburn and throughout the country, to promote the due observance of the Sabbath by organizations, the object of which was to prevent Sunday travel. State, central and local auxiliary societies and a large combination of individuals were formed to effect this object. The incidents and results of this movement are given in the article relating to "Travel and Transportation," to which the reader is referred.

The militia system of the State was, at this time, very imperfect, it was regarded by our citizens as the merest farce, and unsuccessful efforts were made to reform it by a change in the laws of the State. Failing in that, a few publicspirited men attempted to supply the deficiency by voluntary efforts to raise, equip and drill an artillery regiment, to comprise five companies, one from each of the towns of Auburn, Brutus, Scipio, Locke and Genoa. The Auburn company was commanded by Captain William H. Seward. The regiment was finally organized in 1829 with Mr. Seward as Colonel; John Wright, Lieutenant-Colonel; Lyman Hinman, Major; Oscar S. Burgess, Adjutant; John H. Chedell, Quartermaster; Nelson Beardsley, Paymaster; Frank L. Markham, Surgeon; Dr. Elan chard Fosgate, Surgeon's Mate. The regiment was denominated the 33d Artillery. The organization was kept up about 13 years, when it was disbanded.

FUSILEERING. - The military system of the State was regarded as so farcical and inefficient that an attempt was made to so scandalize it as to shame the authorities into the adoption of measures for its improvement. For this purpose bodies of Fusileers, so called, were formed and rigged out in the most fantastic style. They were mounted, the better to carry and display their bulky and varied trumpery of immense wooden swords six to eight feet in length, their straw valises the size of small cotton bales, their bedaubed and clay faces and calico uniforms of every conceivable size and shape, the whole forming a most ridiculous burlesque when mounted and piled upon nags, that were as unique in deformity as were the loads they bore.

These Fusileers exhibited their fantastic drill and discipline and their ridiculous uniforms, on occasions of the militia parades, drawing immense crowds of spectators, and so incensing the legal "trainers" as, in some cases, to lead to their expulsion from the field. Though the burlesque was ridiculous in the extreme, it led to the revision of the laws and to the improvement of the militia system.

THE FIRST MARKET in Auburn was opened in 1820, by Edward Patten, and the business is still continued here by his descendants.

LA FAYETTE made a tour of the country in 1825, accompanied by his son George Washington La Fayette. His reception in Auburn was very enthusiastic. Vast crowds from the village, the County and adjoining counties, came to greet him. He was met at Cayuga by a reception committee in carriages, and an escort of cavalry and mounted citizens. He rode in a barouche draw-n by six beautiful chestnut horses, supplied for the occasion by the Sherwoods, who were then the great stage proprietors of this route. An imposing display of military companies, Revolutionary soldiers and Free-Masons lined the road in front of Fort Hill, across which an evergreen arch was thrown, bearing the words:

"Hail Patriot, Statesman, Hero, Sage!
Hail Freedom's Chief hail Gallia's Son
Whose laurels greener grow with age,
Won by the side of Washington."

On passing the arch a salute of artillery was fired from the hill above them, the bells of the village pealed their welcome, and deafening cheers were given by the thousands that lined the wayside. It was a bright and beautiful day in June, and everything conspired to give eclet to the imposing event. It is related that on reaching the Western Exchange, the General recognized in the crowd an old soldier who had served under him and rushing to him, he threw his arms about him and heartily kissed him, to the great amusement of the crowd.

He was received by Colonel John W. Hulbert, in an elegant and patriotic speech, to which the General made a graceful and fitting response. Introductions and greetings followed, succeeded by a repast, served in a shaded 'field in the rear of the hotel. Toasts were drank from the wine cups, and, as was the usual practice of the times, accompanied by volleys of artillery and martial music. A ball followed in the evening which was visited by the Marquis, from which at eleven o'clock, P. M., he departed in a carriage for Syracuse, escorted as far as Elbridge by a committee of citizens. It is now easy enough to take a midnight train to Syracuse; but at that time it was no special luxury to drive twenty-six miles after eleven, P. M., over the hilly and rough roads which then formed the thoroughfare to Syracuse; yet the General was due there on the following day, and he kept his engagement. From Syracuse eastward, he traveled by way of the grand Erie Canal, whose packet boats were then regarded as the perfection of luxurious travel.

PREPARING FOR A PANIC.- In the fifteen years, between 1820 and 1835 Auburn had rapidly increased in population, having risen from 2233 in the former, to 5363 in the latter year, and improvements of all kinds had increased in a still greater ratio. As before the panic of 1873, there was scarcely any limit to the expenditures for public or private improvements, so, for several years before that of 1837, the expenditures for buildings, street and other improvements, and in the purchase of real estate, had been on the most extravagant scale. Every one believed himself rich, or at least, that he would soon be so. Money was abundant, easily obtained, and very liberally used. As usual, at such times, credits wee readily granted, and indebtedness largely increased. The streets were graded and macadamized, and shade trees planted by the concurrent action of the citizens. The wooden bridge over the Outlet on Genesee street was replaced by a costly stone bridge, so imperfectly constructed, that when the supporting wooden arches were removed it fell into ruins. Eighty new residences were erected in 1835, and the same year, the eleven stone stores comprising the Exchange block. The old market and present City Hall, costing about $30,000, was erected in 1836. The plan had been to locate in the first story all the butcher's stalls, and to confine their business exclusively to this building; but John E. Patten, under legal advice, refused to obey the ordinance, which the courts declared illegal, and the plan was abandoned. The building has re cently been refitted for the several city offices. The court house was erected in 1836, costing about the same as the town ball. The Auburn House and Merchants' Exchange, completed in 1839, was another expensive enterprise of this year, undertaken by an association of our citizens. But the ambition, enterprise and resources of our citizens were not bounded by merely local improvements, extensive and magnificent as thesewere. In 1835, The Owasco Canal Company engaged their earnest attention and they resolved to go forward with the work, to lay, on the 14th day of October, the foundation stone of the "big dam," which was to raise the waters of the Outlet to a level with the surface of the lake, and that the Hon. Wm. H. Seward be requested to deliver an address on the occasion. Arrangements were made for a grand and imposing procession in which a special and interesting feature was the appearance of the several trades, plying, on appropriate cars, their respective arts. The day was fine and the attendance very large. Mr. Seward's address was one of his happiest, and the liveliest enthusiasm was aroused.

The exercises were followed by a dinner at the American, with toasts, and concluded by a ball in the evening. The construction of the dam was at once commenced and carried up as the water permitted during the next three years to the height of 25 feet. Thirty-eight feet had been the proposed height of the dam. In the meantime the financial collapse of 1837 had come and borne down many, on whom the progress of the work depended, and it was suspended. Had it been otherwise, and had no "Mill River" disaster resulted from the giving away of the big dam; it would have largely added to the water-power of the city, estimated at 700 horse power, and would, in that view alone, have been an important and paying investment, while the proposed navigation of the Outlet would, in the light of subsequent improvements, have been of no practical consequence.

The project of a railroad to the canal at Weedsport and to Syracuse were also suggestions of the vigor and enterprise of our citizens, resulting in the building of the latter. Of the $400,000 of authorized capital of the latter road, Auburn and its immediate vicinity supplied $650,000.

AUBURN COLLEGE.- The ambition of the Loveliest Village" was by no means satisfied with the public, private and internal improvements in which she had so liberally engaged. She also aspired to the honor and literary advantages to be derived from the location of a college here, under the patronage and direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

It was suggested by the Oneida Conference and approved by that of Genesee. The plan also met the hearty approval of our principal citizens, including such influential and substantial men as Seward, Garrow, Throop, John Seymour and others. The purpose was really entertained and earnest and hopeful efforts at one time made to carry it into practical effect. At a meeting called to consider the subject and held at the Methodist Church, in Auburn; $18.000 were subscribed, a committee to solicit additional subscriptions appointed, and a board of trustees organized. So encouraging were the prospects that the trustees obtained the consent of the Regents of the University to charter a college whenever the proposed conditions were complied with, viz. : A building erected of the value of $30,000 and an endowment of $50,000, which the trustees believed, in the then condition of the country, could be readily procured. Such, doubtless, would have been the case if the season of prosperity, so called, had been continued a year longer. As it was, $40,000 was pledged, a fine site, comprising ten acres, donated, plans prepared and every preparation made for building. But the crash came and the plan of the Auburn College sank in the general ruin.

THE FINANCIAL CRASH OF 1837.- As we have seen, the business prosperity of Auburn for several years previous to 1837 had been unchecked and, on the approach of the new year, the people were animated by the same golden visions by which the last few years had been gladdened. "A Happy New-Year" had come, and the distant rumbling of the coming storm was soon heard. The banks of the State manifested symptoms of distress. On them rested the risks of the general business of the country. They were the dispensers of mercantile and business credits and were sound only as their customers were so. In the fancied prosperity of the previous years and the visionary wealth which floated before the minds of the people, the latter had freely indulged in expensive luxuries, and the large amount of foreign goods which had been consumed had drained the country of specie to meet the large balances of trade ; and when, as was now speedily manifest, the banks saw that the large discounts to their customers could not be paid, further accommodations to them became impossible and a general suspension of specie payments by the banks followed, as well as the general stoppage of payment by creditors of all classes. The suspension of specie payments by the banks of the State for one year was authorized by law, and the circulation of bills of a less denomination than five dollars was prohibited. This latter measure was a source of great inconvenience and compelled corporations and individuals to issue their checks of small denominations, varying from five cents to three dollars, and these checks and notes were the principal circulating medium for years, of which at one time their amount was estimated at $150,000. A part was lost or worn out and the balance redeemed.

The depression in its worst form continued about five years, during which the decline in real estate was very large, sales being made at onesixth of the fictitious valuations of 1836. It followed necessarily that large fortunes were swept away, enforced economy in expenses induced, projected enterprises abandoned, and the progress of the village arrested, throwing large numbers out of employment and producing much distress. The village recently so active, so full of hope and visions of greatness, was suddenly deserted, and disappointment and despondency reigned in their stead.

Several of our citizens took an active part in what was called the " Patriot War," the object of which was to revolutionize the government of Canada. The leader of the movement was an enthusiastic Canadian of the name of W. L. McKenzie, an editor of more zeal than discretion, though a good writer and effective speaker. He secured a large number of followers in Canada and made an unsuccessful military demonstration upon Toronto. He then came to the United States with the view of organizing here a military force of sufficient strength to accomplish his purpose. In furtherance of his plans he visited the region bordering upon Canada and organized secret lodges of Patriots or Reubens, one of which, in Auburn, is said to have comprised 700 members pledged to his cause. After perfecting his plans, the proposed invasion was attempted on the 7th day of November, 1838, with a small force, of which about 40 were from the Auburn lodge. They landed at Windmill Point, and after a short conflict with the Canadian forces, were overpowered, and such of them as had landed were taken prisoners, four of whom were Auburn men, namely, E. P. Senter, Oliver Lawton, Asa Priest and Bemis Woodbury. The prisoners were tried and sentenced to death, but Senter and Lawton were pardoned, and the sentences of Priest and Woodbury, commuted to twenty-five years banishment.

Auburn was honored, at different periods, by visits from three eminent statesmen, Henry Clay, President Martin Van Buren, and John Quincy Adams; the two former in 1839, and the latter in 1843. Mr. Clay was welcomed by an eloquent address by Parliament Bronson, Esq., to which he responded in his own peculiarly happy and eloquent style. Mr. Van Buren was addressed by George Rathbun, Esq., and the response from the President was forcible and pleasantly expressed. Ex-President Adams was welcomed to Auburn by Governor Seward, in a classical and beautiful address, and the reply of "the old man eloquent" engaged the fixed attention of an immense audience. The ex-President while here, was the guest of Governor Seward.

THE FIRST W0OLEN-FACTORY.-- The site for the mill was selected on the property of the Owasco Canal Company, by the Auburn Woolen Company, of which the following were the officers: John Porter, President; Henry G. Ellsworth, Manufacturer; Joseph T. Pitney, John H. Chedell, Abijah Fitch, E. P. Williams, William C. Beardsley, Bradley Tuttle, and C. D. McIntyre, Directors. The capital was fixed at $100,000, but was increased to $158,400 in September, 1851, in order to finish and properly supply the mill.

While the first results of the operation of the business were satisfactory, it soon proved unremunerative to the owners, by whom it was sold to Philadelphia parties at a heavy loss to the stockholders. The mill passed afterwards into the hands of Samuel Bush and an associate. In 1859, C. N. Fearing bought the establishment. Of the present organization of the company, which has existed since 1864, Mr. Fearing is the President, associated with Benjamin L. Swan and William G. Wise, as Trustees. The latter is the Secretary and Treasurer of the Company, and Samuel Laurie is the Superintendent. The capital of the present company is $200,000 and, under the existing management, the mill has been steadily and successfully operated, and has greatly aided the settlement of the eastern portion of the city and, by its large pay roil, contributed to the advancement of the place.

The Company have a branch mill in the western part of the city, upon the Outlet, which is under the same management, and has added largely to the growth and prosperity of that locality.

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