History of Johnstown, NY
From: History of Fulton County
Revised and Edited by: Washington Frothingham
Published by: D. Mason & Co. Syracuse, NY 1892


A WEALTH of historic lore opens before us as we review the events which mark the settlement and development of this ancient town. The surrounding region has indeed witnessed the early efforts of a people of varied origin, and of widely different customs which they brought from their homes in the old world. All the sturdy pioneers who settled the country north of the Mohawk have long since passed away, and with them has gone the record of many thrilling scenes, which, could they be related to the modern reader, would awaken intense interest, and would also recall many of the stories with which their parents and grandparents often delighted a circle of young but eager listeners. The descendants of these intrepid pioneers, some of them now living on the original homestead of their ancestors, cannot but feel a patriotic pride when these tales of hardship and bravery are revived. What a scene, indeed, was presented to those venturesome pioneers whose duty called them to enter a vast wilderness and to create homes in a forest which had no path but the Indian trail, whence so often the terrific war whoop broke their midnight slumbers! Personal mention of many of these earlier settlers will be found in another portion of this work and therefore we proceed to the more general facts in the historic record.

All the territory embraced within the town as it was originally erected, formed a part of the old town of Caughnawaga. This latter town was set apart in compliance with the legislative act passed March 7, 1788, requiring the division of Montgomery county into towns, in which act Caughnawaga was thus described: "All that part of the county of Montgomery bounded northerly by the north boundary of this state; easterly by the counties of Clinton, Washington and Albany; southerly by the Mohawk river; westerly by a line running from the hill called 'Anthony's nose,' north to the north bounds of the state, be and hereby is erected into a town by the name of Caughnawaga." It will thus be seen that a vast area of country was included within the ancient town, out of which several counties have since then been formed. On March 12, 1793, five years after the above date, another subdivision was made by which the towns of Amsterdam, Johnstown, Mayfield and Broadalbin were erected, but the east and west lines of Johnstown remained undisturbed. Its western boundary, indeed, was also the western boundary of Caughnawaga, being a line running directly north from Anthony's Nose, the same boundary now separating the towns of Mohawk and Palatine in Montgomery county. The south and north boundaries of Johnstown, however, have both been changed at different times, the former to create the town of Mohawk, April 4, 1837; the latter to create the town of Bleecker, April 4, 183r, and again to form a portion of the town of Caroga, April 11, 1842. The northern limits of the old town of Caughnawaga were shortened February 16, 1791, when upon the erection of Herkimer county, the present northern boundary of Fulton county (then Montgomery) was formed.

The present boundaries of the town are formed by Caroga and Bleecker on the north; Mayfield and Perth on the east; Mohawk (in Montgomery county) on the south; and Ephratah on the West. It contains 45,208 1/2, acres, with an assessed valuation of $3,158,462.

The surface of the town is variable, affording many landscapes of picturesque beauty. In the northern part a high range of hills extends in a southwesterly direction, and also through the western portion of the town. These hills form the central of three high ridges extending northeast and southwest through Fulton county, and rising in the northern part to a height of Soo to 1,200 feet above the Mohawk. The principal stream is Cayadutta Creek, which runs in a southwesterly direction and empties into the Mohawk river at Fonda. This stream has a very rapid current, thus affording valuable water power for the numerous leather mills located in close vicinity along its course.

The soil in the northern part is composed largely of sand and sand loam, while south of a line extending nearly east and west, half way between Johnstown village and Gloversville, the sand gives place to clay and clayey loam. Hence farming is less profitable in the northern portion, while the southern part of the town contains many excellent farms, and a portion of the land, indeed, is highly productive.

The town of Johnstown as at present constituted is composed of parts of four great patents of land, all famous in the annals of early New York history. The first of these was the Stone Arabia Patent, 12,700 acres, granted to John Christian Garlock and twenty six others, October 19, 1723. The land embraced within this grant extends into what is now the southwestern portion of the town. The three other properties were Butler's Patent of 4,000 acres, granted to Walter Butler and three others, December 31, 1735; the Sacandaga Patent, 28,000 acres, granted to Lendert Gansevoort and others, December 2, 1741; and the Kingsborough Patent, which consisted of 20,000 acres, covering the larger part of the present town, and granted to Arent Stevens and others, June 23, 1753.

From the holders of these grants Sir William Johnson secured large tracts of land both prior and subsequent to 1760; thus preparing for the settlement of the region in and about Johnstown which took place about that date. The fertile lands in the south part of the present town offered an inviting prospect to the German and the Scotch emigrants who settled there on Sir William's invitation. Their occupation of the territory must have been as early as 176o, as it is practically conceded that there were numerous settlers in the neighborhood of Johnson Hall a year or two before that structure was built. It has been said that two hundred families of the Scotch Highlanders professing the Roman Catholic faith were residents of Johnstown at the beginning of the revolution. Another element forming an important part of the settlement of this region were the Germans and Dutch, many of whom came up from the valley of the Mohawk, where large numbers settled as early as 1740 To these were added within a short time, and notably soon after the close of the revolution, a great number of New England families; these latter constituting an important factor in the ancestry of many of the old families of Fulton county at the present time. The Indians, under the guidance and general supervision of Sir William, who was ever their patron and counselor, formed no small portion of the population of Johnstown in those early days. Sir William followed the British custom of leasing the manorial lands and among his early tenants were Dr. William Adams, Gilbert Tice, inn keeper; Peter Young, miller; William Phillips, wagon maker; James Davis, hatter; Peter Yost, tanner; Adrian Van Sickle, Major John Little and Zephaniah Bachelor. At the time Sir William moved to the hall in 1761 or 1762, there were about one hundred tenants on the adjacent farms. The settlement of a part of the Kingsboro Patent was made several years later by a number of Scotch families, who went thither at the request of Sir William, and remaining loyal to the British crown, were compelled to leave the country during the revolution. The first permanent settlement on the site of Kingsboro village (now a part of the city of Gloversville), was made about 1786, though a few New Englanders had located in the immediate vicinity prior to that date. Among the number Nathaniel Burr, grandfather of Tames H. Burr, of Gloversville, who came from Connecticut to Kingsboro about 1784 and reared a family, many of whose descendants are now living in the same vicinity and are mentioned in various parts of this work. Among other prominent names which appear in the records previous to the present century are Homer, Mills, Steele, Hosmer, Parsons, Potter, Smith, Case, Green, Gillett, Heacock, Leonard, Livingston, and Cheedle and others which equally indicate their New England origin.

The early settlers of the village of Johnstown are mentioned in another portion of this work, but notice may be here made of the eccentric Elias Dawley, who came at an early day (about 1790), from Connecticut. He lived between Johnstown and Bennet's corners for many years, and is said to have gone unshaved and unwashed and even bareheaded during the war of 1812, as a result of some vow or determination occasioned by intense political excitement. Charles, Rose was another pioneer, who came from Rensselaer county and located on a farm, more recently owned by his grandson, S. S. Rose. Barney Vosburg was also one of the earliest settlers, locating in the vicinity of Albany Bush, and some of his descendants are still living in Johnstown.

Among the hamlets and smaller villages in various parts of the town may be mentioned McEwen's Corners, formally called "Scotch Bush," about two miles distant in a westerly direction from Gloversville. Nicholas Stoner, whose name is familiar to every reader of early New York border tales, was for many years a resident of this place, to which he moved from the vicinity of Johnson Hall, where he lived for two years after the revolution. After his removal to Scotch Bush, he engaged in hunting and trapping through a wide region, penetrating far into the wilderness, which then extended over the greater portion of the town. The following anecdote of Major Stoner's experience with a bear, while living near Johnson Hall, will illustrate at least the unsettled condition of that day. The bear having made damaging incursions into Stoner's fields of ripening corn and wheat, had been sought with loaded rifle for several nights with no other result than a shot, which only inflicted a slight wound, not serious enough to prevent bruin from returning on the following day to resume his depredations in a neighboring orchard. The major at once repaired to the spot with his rifle and dog, but his first shot failed to cripple the bear, which was about to seek a place of refuge by climbing a tree. The dog, however, pulled him down as he made the attempt. At which he became so infuriated that he turned upon the dog, catching one of the latter's paws between his teeth. In the mean time Stoner had been prevented from taking a second shot by accidentally breaking off the stopper of his powder horn, but finally succeeded in reloading just in time to thrust the muzzle of his rifle into the bear's throat and the shot that followed was fatal, thus releasing his faithful dog, who by this time was suffering excruciating pain.

McEwen Corners received its present name from the father of J. D. and Daniel McEwen, who built a grist mill there as early as 1816. The sons built a skin mill there in 1847 which is still operated by Daniel McEwen.

Sammonsville. - This village, which is but a short distance from the railroad station of the same name on the line of the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville railroad, is situated near the southern border of Johnstown. Its settlement is dated 1819, in which year Myndert Starin engaged in business there, and built at different times a hotel, a potash factory, a distillery, a flour mill, also blacksmith and machine shops, and gave the place a decidedly business aspect. Starin remained at Sammonsville until 1826, when he removed to what is now Fultonville. His industries in Sammonsville were followed in later years by the manufacture of strawboard, vinegar, cider, lumber and cheese boxes. G. H. Sholtus, who began business there in 1842, was postmaster for a number of years. Among the old family names of the place are those of Hillabrandt, Wemple and Martin. The village was named for the Sammons family, who were among the pioneers of Montgomery county, as well as among its revolutionary patriots.

Keck's Centre, a hamlet four and a half miles west of Johnstown village, was made the nucleus of some little business in 1849, when Joseph Keck opened a store there, and in 1869 added a strawboard mill with a capacity of one hundred tons per year. He was a grandson of George Keck, a soldier of the revolution.

One of the first grist mills in the town, after that built at Johnstown by Sir William, was the one known as "Hale's Mill," located about two miles east of Johnstown. It was built about the year 1795, and its proprietor for many years has been James Hale, from whom the mill and the adjacent cluster of houses are called "Hale's Mills."

Perhaps the very first road laid out within the present limits of the town was one leading from Johnstown southward, connecting at some point on the Mohawk with the highway which skirts that river. Whether this road led to Tribes Hill, or whether it was the one now known as the "Old Road," a continuation of South William street (Johnstown) is not known. There were several very early roads, among them being one described in the records (in the county clerk's office) as connecting Johnson Hall and Stone Arabia, another led from the house of Gilbert Tice, in the village of Johnstown, to the highway which traversed the Caughnawaga patent to East Canada creek. The former bears the date of August, 1768, and the latter April 2, 1770. In 1772 Sir William Johnson laid out a carriage road fourteen miles in length, leading from the hall to Summer House Point, where he built a house which he called Castle Cumberland. In 1786 the only road between Johnstown and Kingsboro was a foot path through the woods, and blazed trees served for guide boards. How strange to think that the forefathers of many of Johnstown and Gloversville's present leading citizens were limited to this rude method of visiting neighbors or reaching places of traffic, and what a change has been wrought by the opening of what is now Kingsboro avenue (in the city of Gloversville), which lies directly north and south, so that the traveler approaching Kingsboro from the south can, on a clear night, see the north star directly in front. Much of the land on each side of this avenue was owned at an early day by the Potter family of Iiingsboro.

During the days of highways and post routes Johnstown was an important point on the east and west line, and far the greatest share of both traffic and passage was done over the "State Road," which passes through the center of the village and forms Main street. Concerning this road A. S. Benton, in his history of Herkimer county, says:

"March 26, 1803, an act was passed authorizing certain great roads in this state to be opened and improved, and for that purpose $41,500 was directed to be raised by lottery. The state road, so called, from Johnstown to the Black river country, passing through parts of Manheim and Salisbury, and the towns of Norway and Russia, in this county, was laid out and surveyed, and probably opened, by commissioners appointed by the governor, pursuant to the authority conferred by the above act. This road was used a good deal in the early part of the present century, when the eastern emigration was flowing towards the present counties of Lewis and Jefferson, the western portion of St. Lawrence, and the northern parts of Oneida and Herkimer. . . . An opinion prevailed at an early day that the northern travel would leave the Mohawk Valley at East creek or Little Falls, and turn towards the Black river country, but the project of opening and improving a road from Little Falls in that direction was never carried into effect. The people of Johnstown, Utica, Whitestown and Rome were too much alive to their own interests to allow such a project to get the start of them. The route from Johnstown through the northern parts of Montgomery and Herkimer, crossing the East Canada creek at Brockett's Bridge, and the West Canada creek at Boon's Bridge near Prospect, Oneida county, was much the shortest and the best adapted to emigrant travel."

This road was a very general artery for heavy traffic until the construction of the Erie canal, which of course afforded easier and cheaper transportation, and the state road lost its importance which never will return.

The first stage route was established by Fleathcote Johnson in 1815, and was conducted between Johnstown and Fonda's Bush, now Broadalbin. A mail route was also in operation about the same time between Johnstown and the "Fish House," on the Sacandaga. This was conducted by a man named Le Roy. About the years 1831 or 1832 a familiar figure was that of Asa Tiffany, who carried the mail between Johnstown and Benton's Corners on an old white horse, and made the trip twice a week. In 1839 stage lines had become more general, one of which connected Johnstown with Broadalbin on the east, and St. Johnsville on the west. Ten years later, in 1849, the plank road leading from Johnstown to Gloversville was constructed, the company obtaining the charter for thirty years, and at the same time another company built a similar road from Johnstown to Fultonville. Both roads are still profitably operated, probably being one of a few instances where this almost extinct method of road building is maintained at a profit.

The early town records reveal but few events of an interesting character, for the population was small and its early movements required no historic pen. The town was organized in 1793, and yet no regular book of record seems to have been in service until 1809, since which time minutes of the annual town meetings, together with surveys of certain roads and school districts, have been preserved and are in the possession of the town clerk. The following list of supervisors and town clerks of Johnstown since 1809 has been carefully copied from the above mentioned records.

Supervisors. - Daniel Cady, 1809-10; Abraham B. Vosburgh, 1811; John Holland, 1812-13; Abraham B. Vosburgh, 1814; Aaron Haring, 1815; Daniel Paris, 1816; Aaron Haring, 1817; John A. Cady, 1818-22; William I. Dodge, 1823; Oran Johnson, 1824-25; John W. Cady, 1826-29; Charles Easton, 1830-32; John Frothingham, 1833-34; William T. Sammons, 1835-36; Joseph Cuyler, 1837-38; Duncan Robertson, 1839; James McIntyre, 1840; Elijah W. Prindle, 1841; Chester Gilbert, 1842; John Hillabrandt, 1843-44; Elihu Enos, 1845; John Frothingliam, 1846; William H. Johnson, 1847; Lucius F. Potter, 1848; William Rood, 1849; Allen C. Churchill, 1850-52; Pifer W. Case, 1853-55; T. W. Miller, 1856; James I. McMartin, 1857; Burnet H. Dewey, 1858-60; Thomas R. Briggs, 1861; Allen C. Churchill, 1862-65; James M. Dudley, 1866-67; Seymour Sexton, 1868-69; Eli J. Dorn, 1870-7t; Seymour Sexton, 1872-73; Burnet H. Dewey, 1874-75; Frederick M. Young, 1876; James S. Hosmer, 1877-78; David S. Baird, 1877; Andrew J. Thompson, 1880; George C. Potter, 1881; John Ferguson, 1882-83; Alden W. Berry, 1884; Oscar I. Everest, 1885; Martin L. Schaffer, 1886; James M. Thompson, 1887; William S. McKie, 1888; James S. Thompson, 1889 and part of 1890; Oliver Getman, 1890-91.

Town Clerks. - Caleb Johnson, 1809-10; William Middleton, 1811; Aaron Haring, 1812-13; John W. Cady, 1814; Abraham Morrell, 1815; John W. Cady, 1816-17; Tobias A. Stoutenburgh, 1818-20; Oran Johnson, 1821-23; Volkert C. Douw, 1824-26; George Johnson, 1827-29; Robert Campbell, 1830-32; John McCarthy, 1833-35; Rodney H. Johnson, 1836-37; Harvey Young, 1838; George Yost, 1839; Hiram Yauney, 1840; Daniel C. Holden, 1841; David H. Cuyler, 1842; Marvin R. Maxwell, 1843; Seymour Sexton, 1844; George Henry, 1845; George M. Haring, 1846; Harvey Young, 1847; Ambrose S. Haring, 1848; Charles W. Johnson, 1849; Eleazer C. Ely, 1850; Baltus Heagle, 185I; Charles W. Johnson, 1852; Fraser Mason, 1853 P. P. Argersinger, 1854; John J. Young, 1855; Amos M. Clark, 1856; John Kibbe, 1857; John P. Miller, 1858-59; Michael Hollenbeck, 1860; Edward J. Hickey, 1861; George D. Henry, 1862; John J. Young, 1863; John D. Houghtailing, 1864; William Burns, 1865; William S McKie, 1866-67; William C. Leaton, 1868; George D. Henry, 1869; George W. Marby, 1870; George D. Henry, 1871; William Argersinger, jr., 1872; James Heagle, 1873-74; James Y. Fulton, 1875-76; Frederick Benton, 1877-78; Lot Ostrom, 1879; William Muddle, 1880-83; Thomas Parker, 1884-85; Charles S. Porter, 1887-88; George H. Plantz, 1889-90; F. J. Moore, jr., 1891-92.

The present officers of the town are as follows: Supervisor, Henry W Potter; town clerk, F. J. Moore, jr.; justices of the peace, Fayette E. Moyer, Richard Murray, Daniel R. Stewart and George H. Sholtus; assessors, Daniel Stewart and Talirnadge L. Parsons; collector, Ralph R. Chant.

Village of Johnstown Pages

Part 1 - Early General History

Part 2 - Schools, St. John's Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church of Johnstown

Part 3 - Other Churches

Part 4 - Cemeteries - Historical Society - Utilities - Railroad

Part 5 - Banks, Newspapers, Opera House, Societies.

Part 6 - Glove Manufacturers

Part 7 - Leather Manufacturers - Miscellaneous Manufactures

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