History of Van Buren, NY
FROM: History of Onondaga County, New York
With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches.
By: Professor W. W. Clayton
Published By D. Mason & Co., Syracust NY 1878


VAN BUREN was organized in 1829, and received its name from Hon. Martin Van Buren, then newly elected Governor of the State of New York. The territory embraced in it was originally part of the township of Camillus, of the Military Tract, and included in the town of Marcellus from the organization of the county in 1794 to the organization of the town of Camillus in 1799. On the 26th of March, 1829, it was taken from the northern part of Camillus and organized into the town of Van Buren. Gabriel Tappan was one of the Commissioners appointed to effect the formation of the new town.

The surface of the town is somewhat level compared with the southern portions of the county, yet it is in many places beautifully undulating, and the land, especially the valleys of the small streams, rich and productive. Perhaps there is no section of the county, of an equal number of square miles, better adapted to agricultural purposes or containing less waste land. The sandy loam chiefly prevails, alternating with clay loam, some muck and beds of marl and calcarious tufa, and affording a wide range of productions, among which wheat, corn, fruit and tobacco take the lead. The town has long been noted for its excellent crops of wheat and corn. The best land, perhaps, for the production of the latter crop is that in the vicinity of Jack's Reefs, while the best wheat land is that characterized by an outcrop of the red clay shales in the northwest part of the town. The proportion of clay soil as compared with the sandy and gravelly loam is very small. In the immediate vicinity of Baldwinsville the soil is chiefly sandy, while in the more eastern portion it is gravelly loam intermixed with small stones and boulders.

A ride through the town of Van Buren will show a finely improved country both in respect to lands and buildings, the houses being neat and substantial, and the barns capacious, well underpinned with stone, finished outside with clapboards, painted, and often surmounted with cupolas or towers, which render them sightly and attractive.

The first temporary settlement was made in the town by John Dunn, who settled on Lot No. 12, about one mile south of Baldwin sville in 1789. He made a small clearing, and subsequently, after the death of his wife, left the country. John McHarrie, Sen., came from the State of Maryland and settled on the south bank of the Seneca River, (Lot No. 7) in the latter part of 1789. John McHarrie, Jr., became a resident of the town (then included in Camillus) in 1794, and Mary and Lydia McHarrie soon after. They all rest in the Baldwinsville Cemetery, and were the first persons buried in that ground.

David Haynes and Joseph Wilson were early settlers in the town, probably as early as 1790, or soon after. David Haynes came from Salina. His son, Col. Thaddeus Haynes, still lives on almost the same spot occupied by his father, and is now (1878) one of the oldest residents of Van Buren.

Col. Gabriel Tappan settled in Van Buren February 18, 1796. He was a prominent citizen and father of Wallace Tappan, Esq., of Baldwinsvifle. William Lindsay, 1795; Jacob and Chester Molby, the Delanos ; Asher, John, Stephen, Abraham and William Tappan, about 1797; Reuben Smith, 1800; John and William Lakin, James and John Williams, and Ira Barnes soon after 1800; James Wells, 1803.

In about 1800, or soon after, Eleazer Dunham, Amos, Seth and Heman Warner founded Warner's Settlement, and Benjamin Bolton located at Jack's Reefs. The latter place, we are informed, took its name from a colored man known as "Jack," who lived near the rapids at an early day and assisted boatmen in transferring their freight. Gilbert Totten settled at Jack's Reefs, in the town of VanBuren, in 1810. He subsequently owned considerable land at the Reefs, and raised a large family.

Charles H. Toll, Phineas Barnes, Isaac Earll and Jonathan Skinner, also settled in town about the year 1810, and about 1812 Nicholas Vader, Cyrus H. Kingsley and Nathaniel Cornell.

At this period the country was entirely new and presented few attractions for settlers, most of the people preferring the higher grounds of the towns of Camillus and Marcellus. The farmers who had flocks were often obliged to fold them in high enclosures during the night for their protection against the wolves which prowled around in the forests in great numbers, and whose savage propensities, whetted by hunger, made them very destructive. Bears were common and deer very plenty, having been driven from the higher grounds south by the clearing up of the lands.

The first village or hamlet founded in the town was at the point now called Ionia, the name being given it by the postoffice established here in 1816 -the first postoffice in the town, Charles H. Toll, Postmaster. Phineas Barnes erected the first frame house here in 1808, and Isaac Earll and Charles H. Toll soon after erected others. Oliver and Job Nichols were afterwards Postmasters. The building of the Erie Canal attracted business to Canton (now Memphis) and destroyed the prospects of lonia.

The first town meeting for VanBuren was held at the house of Eleazer Dunham, March 26, 1829, at which Gabriel Tappan was elected Supervisor, and Abel Tryon, Town Clerk.

The first lawyer was Theodore Popell, in 1818; the second, Medad Curtis, in 1829. The first physician, Dr. Jonathan S. Buell, settled at Ionia in 1812; the second, Dr. William Laughlin, at Canton, (now Memphis) in 1815.

In this town, a mile and a half south of the river at Baldwinsville and on the left side of the road to Warner's, is the site of an old stockade fort. It is on a low, oval hill, which rises on the south side of a small stream flowing into Crooked Brook. Col. Thaddeus Haynes, Mr. J. Wells, and others, describe the circular line of post-holes, which were so close together as almost to form a ditch, until the ground was cleared and plowed. The palisades had fallen outward, and the bark of many still remained. The circle had an opening on the north, with a path down the steep bank to the water. Charred corn, arrow-heads, stone and clay pipes, and pottery, were plowed up. In 1878, every lodge could yet be traced.

Generally the Indians frequented rapids which were important as fords and fishing stations. Hence the rapids along the Oneida, Oswego and Seneca Rivers are marked with the remains of Indian town sites. There are several about the village of Baldwinsville: one at Float Bridge; another on the hill north of the village; one at the lock, and another a mile west, on the farm of C. H. Emerick, Lot No. 78, in Lysander. On the Van Buren side, there was one where several skeletons have been found, between Seneca and McHarrie streets; anotner was far up Syracuse street towards the river; and a large village may be traced at the water's edge on the southwest corporation line, exhibiting a few traces of European intercourse.

On the west side of Dead Creek, formerly called Camp Creek, from the Indian's camps, was a small settlement, and there are evidences of a grave-yard near the Indian orchard, farther west. This orchard was in a ravine near the river on Lot No. 3, Van Buren, and the last trees were cut down about 1873.

Above the latter spot, at the foot of Bishop's Reefs is a curious pre-historic work, which has been overflowed ever since the building of the Baldwinsville dam. It is a stone fish-weir, on the Van Buren side, and opposite U. M. Kelley's, Lot No. 75, Lysander. It runs down stream on the south shore two hundred and five feet, with a depth of two feet; then returns at a sharp angle, three hundred and twenty-five feet up the river, forming an angle like the letter V. To this must be added twenty-five feet more, making an obtuse angle to the south. North of this begins another wall, running down one hundred and forty-five feet, and returning one hundred and sixty feet. These are rough measurements made from a boat in 1877. The walls are well laid, of large and small stones, and the south one reaches the surface only in extremely low water; the north one is even then a foot beneath the surface. The total length is about eight hundred and sixty feet. Several others, partly destroyed, are to be seen some miles above.

The valley of the Seneca is rich in relics of the stone age. Many beautiful and characteristic pipes have been found, formed in many ages and of varying forms and materials. Many fine articles might be described from the valuable collections of Messrs. Bigelow and Perkins, of Baldwinsville, and those now in the Connecticut Historical Rooms. With a view to fuller preservation, about seven hundred articles have been drawn and described by Rev. W. M. Beauchamp, of Baldwinsville, with their history as far as it could be ascertained.

We may add to this general enumeration, stone plummets and cups, sinkers, pestles, hammers, gouges with a cross groove on the back, pierced tablets of many forms, stone clubs, and other massive things as yet unnamed. Two copper arrows have been found in the west part of Lysander, both having hafts instead of sockets. The last, which is very fine, was hoed up in 1876, On Judge Voorhees' farm, lot 74. The occasional polished slate arrows are of great interest, and seem peculiar to this region. Broken pottery, highly ornamented, is abundant, but perfect vessels are rare. Some were fourteen inches in diameter, and often very thin. Others were of curious forms. The flint implements are of the usual types, mixed with some forms new to science. They comprise arrows of the finest and coarsest finish and material, lance-heads, knives, scrapers, drills, &c., many of which are made of the hornstone so abundant in our corniferous limestone.

In 1878, Mr. Justice Stephens, of Van Buren, in working up a hemlock log, came to the marks of a cutting tool, outside of which were two hundred and fifty-four rings of growth. This would date back to 1624, a little over thirty years before the Onondagas are known to have received steel axes from the French. The wood is charred, according to the Indian custom, and the several marks correspond with those of stone axes. This was on Lot 2, Van Buren, not far from the old stone fish-weir. About the same time a similar cut was found in a tree in Lysander overgrown with two hundred and forty rings.

That part of the village of Baldwinsville which lies on the south side of the Seneca River, is included in the town of Van Buren. It was originally called "Macksville" from the McHarries, the first settlers. Both " "Macksville" and " "Columbia," (the original village on the Lysander side of the river,) have long since been absorbed in the flourishing village of Baldwinsville. That portion of the village situated in Van Buren is well laid out, occupies a beautiful site, and contains some of the most desirable residence property within the corporation.


This village was formerly called Canton. It is near the southern line of the town of Van Buren, on the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad. It has two churches, two hotels, one dry goods and grocery store, one canal grocery, two wagon and three blacksmith shops, four millinery shops or stores, a postoffice and American Express office.

The postofilce was removed here from Ionia in 1828. The name Canton was rejected by the department on account of there being another Canton in St. Lawrence county, and gradually it was dropped as the name of the place, Memphis being now generally substituted in its stead.

The Hotels are: Headquarters, by T. H. Wilkes, and Memphis House, by Lindsay & Johnson.

William Lakin was an old resident of the village, and resided here till his death in 1864. He was the father of John Lakin, one of the first merchants of the village, and for many years a prominent man. William Lakin was Deputy Sheriff, member of Assembly, and held the office of Justice of the Peace for a long time.

Others of the early merchants were David Lytle and Isaac Hill, and of a later date, John D. Norton, Joseph Glass, Barrett & Brown, and Toll, Lusk &Co.

BAPTIST CHURCH OF MEMPHIS - This society was first organized at Warners in 1815, with a membership of about twenty, and known as the Second Baptist Church of Camillus. At that time a large territory was embraced under this organization, and from 1815 to until 1834 meetings were held at the school houses and private houses in various places within the boundaries of the church. The earliest meetings, however, were held in the Warner Settlement school house. Among the original members may be mentioned the Warners, Bentleys, Weavers, Tabors and Marshalls. In 1834 a church edifice was built at a cost of $2,500 in Canton, now Memphis, and for a long period this society enjoyed a prosperous and flourishing condition. Among the most prominent and influential members who were added to the society at this time were the Hills, Halsteds, Auyers, Glasses and many others whose names we are unable to ascertain.

The following pastors have served this church at different times: Rev. B. Dowsit, Rev. J, P. Parsons, Rev. Ira Dudley, Rev. T. Brown, Rev. Erastus Miner, Rev. John Roscoe, Rev. L. C. Bates, Rev. - Johnston, Rev. J. J. Fuller, Rev. N. Camp, Rev. M. H. DeWitt, Rev. Wm. A. Wells, Rev. B. Newton, Rev. J. Smith. Present pastor Rev. Wm. A. Wells.

The present membership numbers twenty-seven; the average attendance at Sunday School, thirty.

THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH AT MEMPHIS was organized in 1818 in the town of Camillus, which then embraced Van Buren, Elbridge, &c. It was formerly located at "lonia," but was removed to Memphis in 1868. The number of original members was thirty.five, among whom Elder Elijah Shaw, Abraham Wood, Daniel Godfrey, John Cox and Stephen Daniels were prominent. The first house of worship was built at "Ionia," a half mile or near that distance north of Memphis, in 1829, at a cost of $1,200. The second edifice was erected in Memphis in 1868, and cost $2,500.

The following named clergymen have officiated as pastors: Elder E. Shaw, about five years; O. E. Morrill, about ten years; Joseph Marsh, J. D. Childs, S. Hayward, L. E. Reynolds, J. W. Guthrie, Benjamin Rider, John Showers, Elder Keyes, Elder Coburn, Joseph W. Stearns, E. R. Wade, A. A. Lason, A. J. Welton, M. G. Dean and Wm, J. Grimes, present pastor. The latter has been six years in charge of the church, April 1, 1878.

The parsonage was purchased in 1877, and its present value is about $1,500. The church numbers thirty-seven members, and the Sunday School about seventy.

METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, WARNER'S STATION. - On the 18th day of January, 1831, a meeting was called at the "old brick school house" at Warner's Settlement, and a "Union Society" was formed. Heman Warner, Delanson Foster, Alfred Stephens, Peter Peck and Asa Barnes were duly elected Trustees.

On the 21st day of March, 1846, the "First Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Van Buren Circuit" was formed. Jacob Steves, Lawrence Lamberson, Aaron Quimby, Francis R. Nichols and Ezra Nichols were elected Trustees.

The instrument of incorporation was signed and sealed in presence of Francis R. Nichols and Aaron Fuller, and acknowledged before "Daniel Pratt, first Judge of Onondaga County," and recorded in Book G of Miscellaneous Records, page 169, April I, 1846, at 1 o'clock P. M.

In the summer of 1869, under the pastorship of Rev. A. L. Smalley, the old church was thoroughly repaired and enlarged at a cost of $5,000, and rededicated in September, 1869.

Three of the Trustees of the original M. E. Church, viz: Francis R. Nichols, Ezra Nichols and Lawrence Lamberson are deceased ; while Aaron Quimby and Jacob Steves still survive.

The present membership of the church is i6o average attendance at the Sunday School, 60.

All the original Trustees of the "Union Society," formed in 1831, are dead.

MOSES WORMUTH was born in Minden, Montgomery county, N. Y., September 2, 1815, and lived there with his father till twenty-two years of age. February 2, 1837, he married Miss Mary Failing, and one year later removed with his wife and parents to the town of Van Buren, Onondaga County, where he settled on a farm of one hundred and seventy-five acres which he brought to a fine state of cultivation and rendered valuable by improvements and fine buildings during the thirtynine years of his life upon the place. Mr. Worinuth held the office of Assessor for one term, and was often solicited to accept of that and other offices of trust in his town, but he always declined, preferring the quietude of his family and many friends to the disturbances of an official life. He died October 4, 1875, leaving to his wife and family the possession of one of the finest farms in this part of the country.

His only son, George B. Wormuth, succeeds him in the possession and management of the place, and is carrying out in various ways such improvements as make him entirely worthy of the trust confided in him by his father.

GEORGE ECKER came to Onondaga County and settled in the town of Van Buren, on the farm where he now resides, in 1839. He was born in Johnstown, Montgomery county, April 6, 1811, his parents soon after removing to Canajoharie, where he lived and attended school till eleven years of age. From that place his parents removed to Stockbridge, Madison county. He lived here seventeen years, engaged in farming, during which time he was three months in attendance at the Stockbridge Academy. Designing himself for the quiet life of a farmer, he wished to settle in a rich and desirable section of the country, and accordingly fnade choice of the beautiful place where he now resides. He has since devoted himself to farming, and to the adornments of his tasteful and comfortable home, and has been eminently successful in all the enterprises connected with his estate, at the same time taking a lively interest in educational and other matters relating to the public welfare. The first District School Library in the neighborhood was placed under his charge and kept at his house.

NATHANIEL CORNELL, was born in New Bedford, Mass., on the 22d day of December, 1764. For his second wife he married Sally Coffin, and removed in 1812, about the time of the breaking out of the war with Great Britain, to Camillus, now Van Buren, with a family of nine children, and settled on a farm near "Hardscrabble," or Van Buren Postoffice. He subsequently disposed of his farm and carried on shoemaking the remainder of his life in that vicinity, where he died in August, 1838. All who now remain of the nine children are Nathaniel Cornell, Jr., and two sisters residing in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

NATHANIEL CORNELL, Jr., the only remaining representative of the family in this county, was born in New Bedford, Mass., November 23d, 1797. He was brought up by his father on the farm in Vermont and came to Van Buren after his father's arrival, in the winter of 1813. He worked for his father and took various jobs of chopping cord wood, felling timber, &c., up to about the time of his marriage, being married December 28, 1817, to Martha, daughter of Elihu Peck, of Van Buren. He has had nine children, three sons and six daughters, seven of whom (three sons and four daughters) are now living.

The story of Mr. Cornell's life may be briefly told. He has been a hard working, industrious, persevering man, having begun life without capital, supported and raised a large and respectable family, endured and overcome the privations and hardships of pioneer life, and through all this has maintained a character for honesty and integrity eminently worthy of the confidence and esteem in which he is held by all who know him. He has been for many years a prominent member of the Christian Church.

He moved upon his farm in 1820, having then but twenty acres; adding to this from time to time, he had finally a farm of one hundred and forty acres. Mrs. Cornell died in 1873. His health becoming impaired, and being no longer able to work his farm, he purchased a resi4ence in the village of Baldwinsville, to which he removed in 1873, and the year following sold his farm, thus freeing himself from the cares and responsibilities of active business.

RUSSEL FOSTER was born in the town of Pompey, July 24, 1806, and remained in that town about three years, removing to the town of Van Buren (then Camillus) with his parents, who settled a little east of where he now resides. Here he remained on his father's farm till twenty-one years of age, when feeling a desire to procure a home and enter upon a career for himself, he purchased jointly with his brother Heman 220 acres of land, including the present homestead, then a dense forest. He and his brother set to work to clear the land, which was an undertaking of no small magnitude, requiring energy, perseverance and physical endurance, such as marked in an eminent degree the pioneers of the country. The training which Mr. Foster had received during his minority on his father's farm, and his natural energy and determination, admirably fitted him for the work of carving out of the unimproved wilderness the beautiful and comfortable home which now in his old age rewards his toil and industry. The two brothers worked together with a common purpose and interest for nine years, when they divided the farm, each taking one hundred and ten acres.

In December, 1827, Mr. Foster was married to Margaret Hall, who lived only sixteen months. He married Miss Lucinda Vanyea, his present wife, in October, 1830.

Mr. Foster has been more successful than many, for by his industry and economy he has added 'argely to his original purchase of lands and erected fine buildings, having one of the finest grain-producing farms in this section of the country. He has held the office of Overseer of the Poor four years in his town, and enjoys in a large degree the confidence and respect of his fellow-citizens, among whom he has lived an upright and exemplary life from boyhood, and is now in the quiet enjoyment of a home in which he has spent fifty-two years of his life.

COL. GABRIEL TAPPAN was born in Morristown, New Jersey, June 20th, 1783. He died August 4, 1865. He came into the county February i8, 1796. His life covered a period verging on eighty-three years. He early immigrated to Onondaga County and was one of its first pioneer settlers, having lived nearly seventy years within its limits. He was the first Supervisor of the town of Van Buren. In after years he was many times reelected by his neighbors to fill that position. He was appointed one of the commissioners (1829) to set off the town of Van Bureri from the then large town of Camillus. He was appointed by the Legislature as commissioner to carry out many important trusts. He acted as arbitrator in numerous cases to adjust difficulties among men. He did much for the improvement of Onondaga County in ameliorating the condition of its roads, building anew many bridges, and urging on new settlements in Van Buren, which to-day are the gardens of the great State of New York. He conceived the idea which was most satisfactorily carried out of building the bridge across "Dead Creek" fiats towards the northern part of the town, which in after years became of inestimable value to the farmers of the western portion of Van Buren. He did perhaps as much as any other man in building up the interests and improving the condition of the now thriving village of Baldwinsville. He was foremost in securing and putting to good use the valuable water privileges which Baldwinsville now enjoys, he having constructed, through the assistance cf John McHarrie and Dr. Jonas C. Baldwin, the dam across the Seneca River at an early day. With his own ax he opened nearly fifty miles of road through a dense wilderness, many places through swamps and over other barriers. In 1833, he represented the First Assembly District of Onondaga County in the Assembly and his record as a legislator was eminently satisfactory to his constituents. He took a very active part in the military affairs of the country. He was a veteran of the war of 1812. Two hundred of his fellow-men called him out to serve as their Captain in the war of 1812 and '13. He served his country faithfully at Oswego and elsewhere as Captain of the militia. Subsequently he received the title of Colonel, and for many years was the head of a militia regiment in the county. His familiarity with military matters was most creditable, he having received a very good military education for the times. For a period of sixtyfive years he was an active business man.

He married Lydia McHarrie in about the year 1805, by whom he had twelve children, seven of whom are now living. When he first came to VanBuren, he located on "Dead Creek," and occupied for his wilderness home a rude brush tent, and his bed was made of hemlock boughs laid on the ground. His food was salted raw pork and bread.

His companion was his ax. His night visitors were howling wolves, varied by the frequent visitations of panthers, bears, &c. Relived to see the close of the great rebellion, and no man was more gratified than he when Abraham Lincoln read his famous Emancipation Proclamation, announcing to forty millions of people that slavery was forever abolished in the United States. He was liberal, kind to the poor; and it can be said of him that "he made the wilderness blossom as the rose," and kept pace with the foremost men of his time in agricultural improvements, valuable to himself and to his neighbors as well.

He gave to the orphans, and his home was always thrown open to the distressed and needy. He died in Syracuse, and his remains are interred in the Baldwinsville Cemetery--the very ground he had given to the village many years before.

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