History of Houndsfield, NY (Part 2 - Organization)

Organization.-According to unquestioned authority a proposition was then under advisement to create a new town from Watertown and Adams, taking therefor three tiers, or ranges, of lots from the north side of No. 7 (Adams) and annex them to No 1, and thus form a town by the name of Newport. This matter was discussed at a special town meeting held in Adams Nov. 10, 1803, when a vote was taken and the proposition was rejected. Almost three years passed before any further action was taken relating to township No. 1, but on February 17, 1806, an act was passed creating a town by the name of Hounsfield, embracing the territory of No. 1, and containing, according to Benjamin Wright's survey, 26,048 acres, but now, with its inland territory, 28,703 acres of land,

The town was named Hounsfield at the suggestion of Augustus Sacket, and was so called in honor of Ezra Hounsfield, an Englishman, who about 1800 came to New York as agent for his brothers, John and Bartholomew Hounsfield, manufacturers and merchants of Sheffield. Ezra Hounsfield was partner in business with Peter Kimball, and the firm became owners by purchase of the south half of township No. 1, as is previously stated. Mr. Hounsfield was a bachelor and generally passed the summer months in the town, in which he took a deep interest. He died in New York about 1817, and by his will David A. Ogden, Edward Lynde, John Day and Thomas L. Ogden were appointed executors of his estate. On August 1, 1817, the remaining Hounsfield lands were sold at Sackets Harbor, at public auction, and were purchased by the executors for Bartholomew Hounsfleld, in whom the title thereupon vested.

Within the jurisdiction of the town are the Galloup islands (2,216.2 and 48.8 acres in area respectively), Stony island (1,536 acres) and Calf island (34.8 acres). These islands were patented by the state to Elisha Camp, February 15, 1823, and were thereupon annexed for jurisdictional purposes to Hounsfield. However, by an act of the legislature, passed April 21, 1818, the jurisdiction of a part of the larger Galloup island was ceded to the United States for the purpose of a lighthouse. In the history of the town these islands have been of little consequence. They are occupied almost exclusively for agricultural purposes and contain excellent farming lands.

The first town meeting in Hounsfield was appointed to be held at the house of Ambrose Pease, upon the notification of pioneer Amasa Fox, but was adjourned to meet (March 4, 1806) at the house of Joseph Landon. Officers were elected as follows: Augustus Sacket, supervisor; William Waring, town clerk; Amasa Fox, William Baker, Samuel Bates, jr., and Theron Hinman, assessors; Ambrose Pease and Robert Robbins. highway commissioners; Jotham Wilder and John Patrick, overseers of the poor; Jeremiah Goodrich, collector; Jeremiah Goodrich, William Galloway and John Root, constables.

After the election of necessary officers the assembled voters gave their attention to the matter of highways, and also to the equally important duty of providing for the annihilation of wild animals, such as wolves, panthers and foxes. In 1806 it was resolved "that the inhabitants of this town, who shall hunt any wolf or panther in this town (though he should kill such wolf or panther in any other town) shall be entitled to $10 bounty." The wolf and panther bounties were continued until 1816, and the fox bounty for several years afterward, In 1812 it was voted to fine ($1.00) every owner of land who failed to cut the Canada thistles growing thereon; the fines to be paid as a reward to whoever should discover some means to effectually destroy the nuisance.

Thus was brought into existence, and thus was established the institutions of government in what afterward became one of the most historical localities in New York state. Among the towns of Jefferson county previous to about 1810, Hounsfield did not occupy a position of special importance, although its lands were as fertile and productive as any along the water front; but beginning about 1809 or '10, and from that until the present time Hounsfield has held a position of commanding prominence in this party of the country. True, in the earliest history of the town there were such earnest, active developers as Augustus Sacket, Elisha Camp and other determined men, whose work was an important element in later growth and development, but the fortunate geographical location of the town, and especially of Judge Sacket's little village, was the controlling factor in making the subsequent history which has always reflected great honor on the county and its people.

Hounsfield occupies a central position on the western boundary of the county, and is bounded north and west by the Black river and the waters of Black river and Henderson bays. The river itself has always been navigable as far as Dexter, while the bay proper has for almost a century been famed as forming one of the most safe, convenient, accessible and commodious harbors in all the great interior lake region. Its extent is ample, the distance between Six Town Point and Point Peninsula being something like five or six miles. The islands (Stony, Calf, Little Galloup and Galloup) are in the lake just outside the bay and form natural and permanent breakwaters to more securely protect the harbor.

In the county, and in fact in the whole northern region of the state, Sackets Harbor was the central point of operations during the embargo period and throughout the second war with Great Britain; and whatever honor was gained by the village in the past belongs to the town at large, for every man in the entire jurisdiction capable of bearing arms was almost daily at the harbor or within easy call of the place; and never in the history of the town was the old warning signal gun fired without a prompt response from the loyal men of Hounsfield. However, in this work the analysis and division of the subject of the county's history has been such that the town and village are deprived of much of their interesting history. The war of 1812-15 is made the subject of an extended general chapter, while Sackets Harbor as a military and naval station forms another of equal length and importance in this volume, hence it cannot be considered within the scope of the present chapter to reproduce the narrative, however interesting it may be.

After the close of the war and the return of permanent peace the farmer returned to his long neglected lands and devoted his efforts to re-establishing a comfortable condition for his family and children. It has been estimated that of the 1,200 or more inhabitants of the town during the war period, nearly four-fifths of them suffered actual loss as a result of the struggle, but the sacrifice was made freely and with few regrets. However, the determined settlers soon recovered the lost ground and for many years after the war peace and plenty prevailed on every hand; and between 1814 and 1820 the population increased from 1,386 to 3,429, a growth hardly equaled in any other town in the county.

As an evidence of growth and prosperity in Hounsfield reference may be had to the census reports, from which is taken the following statements showing the population of the town at the beginning of each half decade, viz.: In 1810 the inhabitants numbered 943; 1814, 1,386; 1820, 3,429; 1825, 2,760; 1830, 3,415; 1835, 3,558; 1840, 4,146; 1845, 3,917; 1850, 4,136; 1855, 3,221; 1860, 3,339; 1865, 2,754; 1870, 2,636; 1875, 2,552; 1880, 2,770; 1890, 2,651; 1892, 2,279.

Thus it appears that in HounsfIeld the inhabitants at the present time are only equal in number to those of 1825 and also that the maximum population was attained in 1840, the number then being 4,146. The next three years showed a decrease of only ten, while since 1850 the lose has been gradual and constant. This, however, does not indicate an unfortunate condition of affairs, for at one time in its history the town's population was out of proportion with its area, considering the fact that not at any time has it been a manufacturing or important commercial village. Many of the small farmers have left the town and their lands have been annexed to those adjoining with the ultimate results of some of the largest and best farms in the county. Previous to about ten years ago hops were an abundant and profitable crop, and were grown in large quantities between the harbor and the county seat. In more recent years dairying and market gardening have succeeded as special industries, while the town at large has lost none of its old-time prominence as a general agricultural district.

Notwithstanding the histpric interest which has ever been associated with the town, and despite the fact that it has always been regarded as one of the most productive regions of the county, it was not until 1875 that it was given the benefits of a permanent railroad. The subject, however, was discussed as early as 1837 (May 15), when the old Trenton and Sackets Harbor railroad company was formed, and organized to the extent of appointing commissioners to receive stock subscriptions; but in the way of railroad construction nothing was done. The next venture in the same direction was that of 1850, when on May 23, the Sackets Harbor and Ellisburgh railroad company was organized, as a part of a system proposed to extend to Albany and Boston. After much delay the road was completed from the harbor to Pierrepont Manor, and was opened June 1, 1853. It was operated in connection with the R., W. & 0. road, and also with the lake and river steamers at the harbor, but for some reason the investment proved unprofitable for the stockholders, and the road was finally abandoned in 1862. The town was then without railroad accommodations of any kind until the completion (in the late winter of 1874) of the Sackets Harbor division of the Carthage, Watertown & Sackets Harbor railroad. Along the line of the road in the town are three small stations known respectively as Warren's, in East Hounsfield; Alverson's, on lot No. 40, and Camp's Mills, in the western central part, where once stood a busy little hamlet, but which now exists chiefly in history.

East Houndsfield is a hamlet in the northeast part of the town, on the line of the old Watertown & Sackets Harbor plank road, the latter having been built and opened in 1847-8. The settlement, however, is best known as "the Hall-Way House," in allusion to the tavern which has been maintained here since the road was built, and which has been a convenient stopping place about half way between the county seat and the harbor. One of the first settlers in this locality was Stephen Blanchard, a Vermont Yankee, who came in 1820 and built a tavern, founding what was long known as the old Blan chard stand, Blanchard's Corners, and the Half-way House. "Steve" Blanchard was a famous country landlord, and the old house (a part of which stands) has been the scene of many joyful occasions. The settlement, under the name of East Hounsfield, became a post station in 1850, Nelson Jones being the postmaster. In the locality a cheese factory was built in 1870, and an industry of that character has since been maintained here. The only other vicinity interests of consequence are the district school, the Christian church and the splendid large farm of Anson R. Flower, the latter being so admirably managed and cared for as to entitle it to at least passing mention.

The Christian church of Hounsfield was organized in 1820 by Rev. Lebbeus Field, with an original membership of about 40 persons, but soon afterward a division in the society took place, whereupon a reorganization was effected. The little meeting house at Blanchard's corners was built in 1843, and cost $1,100. Elder Field was connected with the church for many years and was its mainstay and support. After his death the church was for a time prosperous but ultimately the congregation decreased in number, and at length the society could no longer support a pastor. Meetings were held irregularly but the church organization is still maintained and occasional services are held.

In the locality which was made famous by the residence, discoveries and manufactures of Dr. Samuel Guthrie (and where his old dwelling house still stands) was once a busy little hamlet called Jewettsville, and so named after Abram Jewett, who settled in Watertown in 1800 and removed thence to the Mill creek region in Hounsfield in 1818, One of the first settlers in this locality was silas Godfrey, who came in 1802. Benjamin Barnes came about the same time and built a framed house which he soon turned into a tavern. He also opened a brickyard and carried on a bakery for the benefit of the neighboring inhabitants. John McDole, who kept a tavern, and Nathan Jewett, brother of Abram, were other early residents here. Heman Pettit came about 1804 and settled on the west side of Mill creek. He was a millwright and built the wharves at Sackets Harbor. He also built a saw mill for Augustus Sacket, and a grist mill and saw mill near the mouth of the creek for Samuel Luff.

At one time during its history Jewettsville contained three brickyards and a lime kiln, which were carried on by Abram Jewett, after he had purchased Benj. Barnes' improvement; a woolen mill, owned by Jesse Stone; Samuel Ward's bakery; Joseph Kimball's and Leonard Dennison's large brewery; several asheries; four or five distilleries; Dr. Guthrie's powder mill and laboratory; Nathaniel Nobles' malt house; Leonard Dennison's tannery; and also a gunsmith shop, glove factory, two cooper shops, a wheelwright shop, a rope factory, three vinegar factories, and several other industries of less note. But with passing years. when interests began to center in more populous and favored localities, nearly all of these were removed and abandoned, and today the once flourishing Jewettsville is a "deserted village," without one industry to mark its former site.

The only other settled localities in the town are the portions of Brownville and Dexter villages, lying south of the river (each of which is treated at some length in the history of the town of Brownville), and Field's Settlement and Stowell's Corners, which are mere cross roads hamlets, named in allusion to prominent families, but otherwise are of little consequence in the history of the town. Another locality is known as Sulphur Springs, and is situated south of Alverton's station and west of Stowell's Corners, in the vicinity where once much fame was hoped for on account of the valuable properties of a certain sulphur spring. Here is an excellent farming region, and the thrifty inhabitants for their own convenience in December, 1847, organized a Seventh-Day Baptist society, Benj. Maxson, Elias Frink, John Utter, Nathan Truman and John Witter being the leading members and trustees. The meeting house, which still stands, was soon built and the society was reasonably prosperous until about 1870, when it began to decline, and at length gave way to the Methodists, the latter having been organized as a society in 1877, although preceded by a class. The old house of worship soon passed into the hands of the new society, whose members hold regular meetings in the building. The church now forms part of a joint charge.

Part 1 Houndsfield
Part 2 Organization
Part 3 Sackets Harbor
Part 4 Incorporation
Part 5 Supervisors 1806-1899

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