History of Homer, New York

HOMER was formed March 5, 1794. Solon was taken off in 1798, Virgil in 1804 and Cortlandville in 1829. It lies upon the west border of the County, a little north of the center. The surface is uneven and consists of the valleys of the two branches of the Tioughnioga River and the ridges which border upon them. The valley of the western branch is about a. mile in width and elevated 1,096 feet above tide. The eastern valley is narrower. The two valleys are separated by a ridge of hills from 200 to 500 feet above the river, and another similar ridge occupies the south-eastern corner of the town. The western part of the town is a hilly upland, 1,500 to .1,600 feet above tide. The Tioughnioga receives Cold and Factory Brooks from the west, which are its chief tributaries. The valleys of these streams open into corresponding valleys to the northward, through which flow streams emptying into Otisco and Skaneateles Lakes. The soil upon the river flats is a deep, rich alluvial loam, well adapted to tillage; upon the highlands it is a sandy and. gravelly loam, better adapted to pasturage.

Homer, (p. v.) incorporated May 11, 1835, is finely situated on the Tioughnioga River and is a station on the Syracuse, Binghamton and New York Railroad. It contains four churches, an academy, a newspaper office, a bank, three hotels, several manufactories and about 2,000 inhabitants. The streets and walks are very broad and ornamented with beautiful shade trees, which add much to the general appearance of the village. There are many very pretty residences and some very fine business blocks. The main street extends nearly north and south, is about a mile in length and embraces most of the business part of the village. Near the center of the village is a beautiful park, upon the west side of which stand the Baptist, Methodist, Congregational and Episcopal churches, and the Cortland Academy, all facing the park. The streets are lighted with gas.

Cortland Academy was incorporated February 4, 1819. The course of study includes all the branches usually taught in the common schools, in our best academies, and most of the studies pursued in our colleges. The library numbers over fifteen hundred volumes of choice works in the various departments of literature and science. The philosophical and chemical apparatus is ampie for illustrating the principles of these sciences. The geological and mineralogical cabinet has been much enlarged by the liberality of the President of the Academy, and now includes a complete suit of rocks and minerals of this State, and many foreign specimens of great beauty and value. The library, apparatus and. cabinet are arranged in a room which has been elegantly fitted up by the citizens of the village and is always open to visitors. A new edifice is in process of erection which will be an ornament to the village and an honor to its projectors. The new edifice occupies the site of the old one, is of brick, ninety-six feet long, and its greatest width seventy-two feet. The corners of the end projections and of the central tower are of hewn stone. The main entrance in the tower is finished in the same way and arched. The windows are all surmounted by cut stone. The lower story is for the heating apparatus and for chemical and lecture rooms. The second story is for the library, the cabinet, the mathematical and two large study rooms. The third story is for chapel and four study and recitation rooms. A Mansard roof gives room in the fourth story for two ante-rooms and a large hail with a central height of twenty-six feet. There are two rear entrances with stair-cases communicating with every story. George Almy is the architect.

The village contains two public halls.

Barber's Hall is seventy-five feet by eighty, finished in the most elaborate style and capable of seating 1,000 persons. It is one of the finest halls in. Central New York.

Wheadon Hall is forty by fifty feet in size and capable of seating about 700 or 800 people.

Homer Flouring and Gristmill is situated on the west hank of the Tioughnioga River, near the center of the village. It is owned by Messrs. Darby & Son, and is capable of grinding about 300 bushels per day.

An Oil Mill, located in the south-west part of the village, is doing a good business.

The Edge Tool Manufactory of R. Blanshan & Co., upon the east bank of the river, is run by steam and manufactures all kinds of edge too]s of an excellent quality.

A Marble Factory, near the depot, turns out very nice work.

A Brewery, upon "Brewery Hill," is doing a fair business.

A Flax and Cordage Mill is located a little outside of the corporation, owned by John L. Boorum. This mill produces about a tun of cotton cordage per day, and manufactures the flax from about 1,000 acres per year, valued at forty dollars per acre. There are fifteen tenant houses connected with the factory which employs about thirty-five hands.

Glen Wood Cemetery occupies an elevated position about half a mile west of the village. The grounds include about thirty acres, are laid out with much taste and overlook the villages of Homer and Cortland, and a large extent of surrounding country. The Cemetery is under the control of an association organized February
21, 1862.

Homer Mechanical Brass Band was organized in 1865, and furnishes music for all occasions.

East Homer, (p. v.) situated in the east part of the town, near the Tioughnioga River, contains a church (M. E.,) a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter and wagon shop, a school house and about 150 inhabitants. The church was erected in 1841 and dedicated in 1842. Rev. H. Hawley was the first pastor.

Hibbard's Butter and Cheese Factory is situated about one-half mile north-east of East Homer. The building was erected in 1866 and is thirty feet by one hundred and twenty, and two stories high. The milk of from 300 to 500 cows is used, and from 20,000 to 37,000 pounds of butter, and from 55,000 to 100,000 pounds of cheese are made annually. The heating of the vats and the churning are done by steam. Twenty churns can be run at a time &nd thirty cheeses pressed.

Carpenterville, situated on the east branch of the Tioughnioga River, about four miles from Cortland Village, contains a gristmill, a sawmill, a wagon shop, a blacksmith shop, two turning shops and about a dozen houses.

Mr. V. Carpenter, on lot 47, has a fine trout pond, well stocked with fish of all sizes from the smallest size to two pounds in weight.

Little York, (p. v.) situated on the west branch of Tioughnioga River, in the north part of the town, contains a hotel, a store, a very fine school house, a gristmill, a sawmill, a peg factory, a wagon shop and about twenty dwellings.

Homer Cheese Factory is situated about one and a half miles from Homer Village, it was erected in 1864 and uses the milk of from 600 to 1200 cows. The building is 175 feet by 32, and two stories high. In 1865, 573,868 pounds of cheese were made; in 1866, 382,579 pounds; and in 1867, 233,571 pounds were made.

The first settlement of this town, and of Cortland County, was made in 1791, by Spencer Beebe and his brother-in-law, Amos Todd. They emigrated from New Haven, Conn., in 1789, and located at Windsor, Broome County. In the fall of 1791 they settled a little north of Homer Village. Mrs. Beebe was the only female who acoompanied them. Their first residence was composed of poles and was twelve by fifteen feet. Previous to its completion their team strayed away and Messrs. Beebe and Todd both went in pursuit, leaving Mrs. B. alone for three days, with no protection but the four walls of their cabin, without roof or floor, and only a blanket fastened by forks for a door. Without, the howling wolf and screaming panther made night hideous. During the following winter the husband and the brother of Mrs. Beebe again left her to return to Windsor for their goods, and were snow-bound for six weeks, during which time she was the sole occupant of her lonely cabin and the only human being within a circuit of thirty miles. Their goods were brought up the river in a boat. At Binghamton they were joined by John Miller, who assisted them in removing obstructions and propelling the boat. Where the water was too shallow for the boat it was drawn across by the oxen. Mr. Todd located on lot 42. In the spring of 1792 John House, James Matthews, James Moore, Silas and Daniel Miller, came from Binghamton. Squire Miller located on lot 56 and Mr. Matthews on the same lot. Darius Kinney came from Brimfield, Mass., in 1793, and located on the east river. Thomas L. and Jacob Bishop located on lot 25 in 1795, and Thomas Wilcox on lot 64. John Keep, Solomon and John Hubbard, came from Massachusetts and settled, Mr. Keep on lot 56, Solomon Hubbard on lot 25, and John on lot 26.

The first male child born in the town was Homer Moore, and the first female, Betsey House. The first death was that of Mrs. Thomas Gould Alvord, in 1795; and the first marriage that of Zadoe Strong and Widow Russell. The first school house was built a little north of Homer village in 1798, and the first teacher was Joshua Ballard. Enos Stimson kept the first inn and John Coats the first store. Jedediah Barber was the first permanent and successful merchant. The first gristmill was built in 1798 by John Keep, Solomon Hubbard and Asa White. Luther Rice was the first physician and Townsend Ross was the first lawyer and postmaster. Prof. W. B. Beck was the first daguerreian artist and. built the first daguerreian carriage in the State.

In 1798 forty dollars and seventy-eight cents were appropriated for the common schools of the town. The annual town meeting was held at Mr. Miller's house, April 8, 1796. John Miller was elected supervisor and Peter Ingersoll town clerk. In 1796 it was voted 'that every man make his own pound. That hogs run at large without yokes or rings. That fences be made four feet and a half Fiigh, and not to exceed four inches between logs or poles.' In 1797, it was agreed by a unanimous vote 'that every man in the town may provide his own pound for every creature that does him damage, and yet be entitled to damage the same as at the town pound, and that hogs be free commoners.' In 1798 a wolf's scalp commanded a premium of from five to ten dollars, according to size; that of a bear, five dollars; a panther ten dollars, and fox fifty cents. The population of Homer in 1797 was ninety-two.

in 1815 William Sherman came to Homer and erected a machine shop for the manufacture of nails, the machinery being so constructed as to feed, cut, head and stamp the letter S on the head of each nail, without any hand work. This was the first of the kind in the State of New York. Iron was very high at that time and fourpenny nails were worth twenty-five cents a pound. Mr. Sherman also engaged in the manufacture of oil. In 1827 he erected the "Homer Exchange" store in which for nearly thirty years he conducted a heavy mercantile trade.

John Hubbard, the father of Simon Hubbard, was one of the early settlers; he located here in 1794. The first millstone ever used in Cortland County was taken from the farm now owned by Simon Hubbard. The place from which it was taken is distinctly visible at this time.. William Blashfield came from Hampden County, Mass., in 1802, and helped to clear the land upon which Homer village is located. Mr. Blashfield died in 1864, upon the farm where he had lived for forty-seven years. Mrs. Electa Robert. came in 1800, and has lived sixty years upon the same farm, known as the Robert farm. Mr. Gideon Hobart, whose name was formerly Hoar, came to this town in 1799, with an ox team, from Brimfield, Mass. Harvey Fairbanks, one of the early settlers, is stillalive, and has lived for fifty.three years on the same farm. The valley in which he now lives was a wilderness which he helped to clear. William Walter came from Litchfield, Oonn., in' 1808, and has since lived upon the farm upon which he first settled. On lot 13 is a small but finely situated cemetery, called the Atwater burying ground, the land having been given by Mr. Atwater. Some of the most distinguished of the early settlers are buried here; among them Thomas G-., Ebenezer and Charles Alvord, and others.

Mr. Conrad Delong, the father of Mrs. Daniel Topping, who resides upon lot 8, is now living and retains his faculties to a remarkable degree for one of his age. He was born March 4, 1772, in Dutchess County, and is of course a little more than four years older than our Republic. With one exception he has voted at every spring and fall election since he cast his first vote, and greatly regrets that he failed in one instance. He has voted at every Presidential election since, and at the last one he rode two miles and cast his vote for Ulysses S. Grant. His hearing is greatly impaired but his eyesight and his memory are good, and with the aid of a staff is able to walk half a mile and return without serious inconvenience.

The pioneers of Homer were religious people, and when six families had arrived they assembled together for religious worship on the Sabbath, and from that time (1793) to this there has been only one occasion on which the Sabbath service has been omitted. In 1794 or 1795 a number of families came from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and these formed the germ of the future church. Meetings were held in a log barn in the summer and in a dwelling house in the winter. In the fall of 1798 a grist mill was erected which served the people as a place of worship upon the Sabbath. The first sermon was preached by Elder Peter P. Roots, of the Baptist denomination, in Mr. Baker's barn, from the text, "Faith, Hope, Charity." The second was preached by Rev. Asa Hillyer, of New Jersey. Mr. H. was in the place on business and attended the raising of a building; when 'it became known that ne was a preacher he was invited to preach to the settlers, which he did in the open air under a beech tree. In 1799 an organization for sustaining public worship was formed under the title of "The First Religious Society of the town of Homer," which is the title of the society connected with the Congregational Church at the present time. In December of the same year a house of worship was erected on the north-east corner of the village green. Rev. Dr. Williston, one of the early preachers of this town, says, under date December 15, 1799: "This is almost the only house in all this western country which has been erected with a principal reference to the worship of God."

The first Congregational Church was organized October 12, 1801, by Rev. Hugh Willis, of Solon. It consisted of fourteen members. The first stated supply was by a Mr. Jones. The first settled pastor was Rev. Nathan B. Darrow, who was ordained and installed February 2, 1803. This was the first instance of ordination by the denomination in the Military Tract, and the third installation. By the terms of his settlement he was to receive a salary of $300 a year, one-half of which was to be paid in cash and one-half in wheat, and it was to be increased annually ten dollars until it should amount to $400. The. ordination was performed by an Ecclesiastical Council, composed of ministers and delegates from churches in Aurelius, Geneva, Owasco, Lisle, Pompey, Clinton and Cazenovia. Mr. Darrow, after serving the church about six years, was succeeded by Rev. Elnathan Walker, October 25, 1809. Mr. Walker continued until his death in 1820. Rev. John Keep was the next pastor, and Rev. Dennis Platt and Rev. Thomas K. Fessenden were successively pastors of this church. The church now numbers five hundred and fifty. Rev. J. C. Holbrook, D. D., is the present pastor. The present house of worship is an elegant brick structure with stone facings, stained glass windows, and a tower surmounted by a tall and graceful spire, furnished with a bell and clock.

The First Baptist Church was dedicated November 4th, 1827. The number of members at the date of its organization was 130 and the present number 384.

The M. E. Church was organized in 1833, with forty-five members, under the pastoral labors of Rev. Nelson Rounds. The present number is 124. Rev. A. M. Lake is the present pastor.

Calvary Prostestant Episcopal Church was organized in 1831, and the church edifice erected in 1832. The first rector was Rev. Henry Gregory. The number of communicants at the date of organization was twenty; the present number is forty-five. Rev. A. W. Cornell is the present rector.

Among the former residents of this town who have attained a national reputation is MR. FRANCIS B. CARPENTER, the artist who gave to the world the "First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation:" The history of that picture is told in his "Six Months at the White House." Mr. Carpenter was born in Homer, August 6, 1830, his father having settled here in 1800. His educational advantages were limited to the common school and one term at the academy in his native town. He early manifested a desire to become an artist and of course exhibited a strong aversion to the labors of the farm. The fences and out-buildings upon the farm were decorated by the ideal images formed in the brain of the young artist .and executed with chalk, brick-dust, lamp-black and any other materials upon which he could lay his hands. The father opposed what he regarded the "boy's nonsense," but the mother sympathized with him and at length sat for her portrait, which was so accurate a likeness that the father gave up his opposition and became the second person to sit for a likeness. Soon after completing the portrait of his father he entered the studio of Sandford Thayer, of Syracuse, where he remained about five months, receiving assistance from that artist and making rapid progress in his chosen avocation. While here he made the acquaintance of the artist Elliott, recently deceased, who encouraged him ard gave him such instruction as he thought would aid him in his work. in 1846, before he was sixteen years of age, he returned to his native town and opened a studio. Here he received little encouragement at first, the citizens distrusting his ability. As prejudice gradually wore away, he began to receive encouragement, and the field of his operations was gradually enlarged. Hon. Henry S. Randall was one of the first to encourage the young artist by his patronage, having employed him to prepare some drawings for a work which be was about to publish, and subsequently sat for his portrait. In 1850 he located in New York and has been growing in favor ever since.

The population of Homer in 1865 was 3,856 and its area 29,321 acres.

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