History of Grafton, New York


The town of Grafton is located north of the centre of Rensselaer county. It is bounded on the north by Pittstown and Hoosick, on the east by Petersburgh, on the south by Berlin and Poestenkill and on the west by Brunswick. Like Stephentown it is rectangular in shape. Its surface contains more small lakes and ponds than any other town in the county, and these are the headwaters of many streams flowing in every direction. The town may be said to be the centre of the watershed of Rensselaer county. The town is described as follows in the Revised Statutes of New York State:

The town of Grafton shall contain all that part of said county bounded westerly by Brunswick, southerly by Sand Lake and Berlin, northerly by the north bounds of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, easterly by a line to commence on the said north bounds, seven miles east of the northeast corner of Brunswick, and running from thence southerly, parallel to the east line of Brunswick, to the north line of Berlin.

Grafton possesses the most uneven surface of any town in the county. It is located within the limits of the Petersburgh range of mountains and the principal peaks in the town reach an altitude of from a thousand to twelve hundred feet above the level of the sea. A small portion of the land only is cultivable, .but the hillsides afford excellent grazing. Nevertheless many of the inhabitants of Grafton have farms which, by years of constant care and cultivation, have been rendered almost as productive as any within the county. As already stated, ponds and small streams are very abundant. Cranberry lake, in the southern part, is the source of the Quackenkill, which flows by a devious route to the- western limits of the town, affording numerous excellent mill sites. In the northern part of the town are several creeks flowing towards the Hoosick valley. The ponds of Grafton are noted for the purity and high quality of their water, and some of them on this account have frequently been considered as available sources of supply for Troy's drinking water. Among the principal ponds, some of which are exceedingly picturesque, are White Lily pond, so named for the water lilies which abound therein; Babcock's pond, named in honor of an early inhabitant long known as "Honest John" Babcock; Long pond, so named on account of its shape; South Long pond, Peckham pond, Hayner pond, Gravel pond, Mud ponds, Mill pond and Red pond, all of which names are of obvious sources.

The question of the first settlement of Grafton has never been settled. The names of the first white men who built new homes in the wilderness and the date of their coming probably never will be known. In all probability, however, the town was the last in Rensselaer county to become settled. Grafton was formed from the towns of Troy and Petersburgh March 20, 1807, and even at this comparatively late day it had few inhabitants. Abel Owen is generally believed to have been the first man to enter the rather unattractive mountain wilderness and build himself a home. He was a sturdy farmer, an indefatigable laborer, and to encourage further settlement the patroon gave him a grant of two hundred acres or more of what was then thought tobe the best land in that section adapted to farming. Mr. Owen was not long without neighbors, if indeed there were not one or more families located in that vicinity when he built his log house.

There is nothing to show when Mr. Owen moved to Grafton, but from subsequent settlements and other occurrences it is thought that it could not have been very long before the War of the Revolution. Possibly it was several years later, during that war or at its close. Immediately after the period when the colonists were fighting for independence, or beginning with 1784 or 1785, several families leased land in Grafton of General Van Rensselaer and began the cultivation of the land there. Abel Owen is recorded as a Revolutionary soldier, so that the preponderance of opinion is that no settlements were made in the town until the closing years of the war or later. Perhaps those who located there in the years mentioned accompanied Owen. About 1786 the latter had at least two or three neighbors, families named Coon and Demmon being early lessees of the patroon's lands. About 1796 Abel Owen sold his farm to Lemuel Steward and removed with his family to Onondaga county.

Among the other early inhabitants, during the eighteenth century, were John BabcOck, who came from Rhode Island about the close of the Revolution; Elkanah Smith, who came from New Jersey; William Scriven, from Rhode Island, who located in the eastern part of the town; Joshua Banker, John Phillips, Thomas Phillips; Abel Ford, who came from Massachusetts; David Mills, John Mills; Francis Brock, who came from Vermont; John Monroe, one of the first settlers in the northern part of the town; Rufus Rix, Solomon Smith, John P. Hayner, Daniel Littlefield, Solomon Root, Francis West, Captain Charles Ferry, Nathaniel Dumbleton, who came from Grafton, Vt., in 1796; Henry Coonradt, Daniel Saunders, Godfrey Howard, Henry Hydorn, John Hydorn, Marcus Simmons and Lodewick Bonesteel. Others who removed to the town some time prior to 1813, as shown by the jury lists and assessment rolls, included Marius (probably Marcus) Simmons, Stephen Chandler, Nathan West, Ezra Davidson, Daniel Smith, Ziba Hewitt, Patrick Agan, Thomas West, Rev. Carey Rogers, William Potter, Matthew Maxon, Joseph Burdick, Nathan Hakes, jr., Joshua Scriven, Jedediah Weilman, Abraham File, Jacob File, Reuben Gallup, Zebulon Scriven, Walter Durkee, John Worthington, John T. Hanor, Clark Rogers, Benjamin Rogers, John Twogood, Luke Clark, Beniamin Phillips, Christopher Mitchell.

Nathaniel Dumbleton, who was first elected to the office of supervisor, removed to the town from Grafton, Vt., and tradition says that through his influence the town received the name which it has since borne. The first town meeting was held soon after the organization, on the first Tuesday of April, 1807, at the house of Nathan Hakes. Joseph Berwick was chosen moderator and these town officers were elected:

Supervisor, Nathaniel Dumbleton; town clerk, David S. Crandall; assessors, Patrick Agan, Ziba Hewitt, John Babcock; overseers of the poor, Joseph Burdick, Benjamin West; commissioners of highways, Samuel Prindall, James West 2nd, Jedediah Wellman; collector, Joseph Burdick, jr.; constables, Ethan Maxon, Simeon Smith, Joseph Burdick, jr.; overseers of highways and fence viewers. Thomas West, Jonathan Brooks, James West, John Worthington, Nathan West, Joseph Burdick, John Phillips, Marcus Simmons, William Snyder, Henry Coonradt, John Reed, Sylvester Chase, Peter Wager, Stephen Chandler, Walter Durkee, William Scriven, Francis Brook, Zebulon Scriven 2nd, Jonathan M. Scriven, Michael Brenanstuhl, Charles Hall, John Babcock; poundmasters, Thomas Smith, Joseph Scriven, John Babcock.

Two taverns are mentioned by various authorities as the earliest in town. One was located at East Grafton and was built and maintained by Thomas Scriven; the other was located in the western part of the town and was kept by Elijah Terry. The tavern of S. McChesney was opened about the year 1800. The Grafton house was built about 1838 by General Van Rensselaer. It was the most pretentious affair in the town and for many years one of the most prominent taverns in the central part of the county.

About the year 1800 Josiah Litchfield opened a general store at Quackenkill, erecting a saw mill about the same time. S. McChesney, in addition to his tavern, also kept an early store at Quackenkill. Gen eral Van Rensse'aer built a grist mill in 1836 or 1837. These were for many years the principal business enterprises in Grafton.

The first physician to practice in town of whom there is any knowledge was Dr. Rufus S. Waite, a native of Petersburgh, who came to Grafton Centre from Brownsville, N. Y., in 1819. He practiced for about forty years and became widely known throughout Rensselaer county.. Dr. Amos Allen, also a native of Petersburgh, settled in Grafton in 1846, immediately after his graduation from the Berkshire Medical School. For many years Dr. Allen was the only physician in the town.

When, in pursuance of the school law of 1812-1813, the town voted its first appropriation for the maintenance of the schools at public expense, Jedediah Weliman, Daniel Mills and Thomas West were chosen school commissioners. In the fall of 1813 the town was divided into ten districts, and soon after a common school was maintained in each district. In common with all other towns of the State the school system was changed from time to time in accordance with legislative enactment. Under the system of supervision by town superintendents, Thomas W. Potter served in 1844 and 1845, John C. Potter in 1846, Paul K. Davison in 1847 and 1848, Dr. Amos Allen from 1850 to 1853 and Daniel H. Davison from 1854 to 1856. The schools to-day have an excellent standing and are well attended.

December 19, 1845, occurred a tragedy in Grafton, one of many taking place in Rensselaer county during the famous Anti-Rent War. It was the shooting of Elijah Smith by an unknown person during one of the numerous struggles which took place between the anti renters and the authorities of the county. Several ol the older inhabitants of the town remember the crime.

The early industries of Grafton have been briefly referred to in preceding pages in this chapter. Saw mills were among the earliest enterprises, as they were rendered necessary by the presence of an almost unbroken forest over mountain and valley. These mills also sent out large quanties of tan bark, and vast quantities of the wood were reduced to charcoal arid sent to nearby markets. As the timber was cleared awar the inhabitants began to pay more attention to agriculture, stock raising and dairying, which to day form the leading industrial pursuits of the town. Grist mills followed the raising of grain and the rearing of stock. The manufacture of shirts was begun about 1855 by Caleb W. Scriven, who introduced the first sewing machine in the town. The work was done by his ernployés at their homes and the product of their toil was sent to New York city. Others who engaged in the business at an early day were the firm of J. H. & A. H. Scriven, Ford & Bennett and their successors. Many families in town have found the industry a profitable one.

Among the early proprietors of saw mills, grist mills, etc., may be mentioned the following: Saw mills-John Steward, at Cranberry pond; Joseph Burdick, on the Rensselaer pond; Ebenezer Stevens, John Armsbury, John Baxter, Dennis Baxter, Simeon Smith, George Avery, Shaver, Worthington, Philip Bonesteel, James Hill, John P. Hayner, William Hydorn, Josiah Littlefleld and others. Some authorities say that the latter built the first saw mill, and that it was located on the Quacken kill about 1800. Two years later General Van Rensselaer built a grist mill near the Centre, the first in town. The McChesney saw mill at Quackenkill was one of the first, and was built about 1803.

Daniel B. Biddle of New York began the manufacture of paint in the town about 1857 or 1858, using the red argillite, which abounds in that vicinity, for the base of the product. Before 1830 a mill for the manufacture of Prussian blue was established south of Quackenkill. In 1864 a chair factory was established a short distance below Mill pond in a building erected for a woolen factory but never operated as such. Near by Albertus Stevens had a small carding mill. Further down was an early paint mill established many years ago by Potter Maxon, who is reputed to have been the originator of the mineral paint business in this country. Dennis Baxter was associated with him at one time. After being used as a paint factory for more than a score of years the building came into possession of Smith & Randall, who established a cloth-dressing mill at that point. In the same vicinity, on the Shaver pond stream, the Martin mill and the Littlefield saw mill were early enterprises. In the northwestern part of the town was the Rifenburgh saw mill, near which were the Douglass mill and that of Coonradt Ham. Jonathan Brock, Aaron Eldridge, Samuel Stowell, Joseph McChesney, Tompkins Hull and others were among mill owners doing business in the first half of the nineteenth century. From time to time industries of a different character have been established in town, but most of these were abandoned after a few years. Among these may be mentioned John Babcock's distillery, the Parks tannery, Caleb Scrivens wood-turning factory, and other less important establishments.

Grafton has no Revolutionary history, as the town was not settled at the beginning of that war. But many of the pioneers fought in that war and afterwards made their homes in Grafton. Abel Owen, John Barnhart, Abel Ford, James Scriven, Zebulon Scriven and John Scriven were among these. Among those who, in the War of 1812, joined the Eddy expedition to Plattsburgh, were Henry Simmons, Matthew Burdick, Aipheus Ford, Daniel Birdsall, Aipheus Dumbleton, John Howard and Varnum Jones. Benjamin Burdick served under General Custer in the famous Indian wars in the West. Alonzo Warren, David Coons, Niles Beals, Melvin Wood and others have also served in the regular army of the United States.

When the call to arms was sounded in 1861, Grafton sent all the men demanded of the town, about seventy-five all told, and raised nearly $20,000 for war expenses. Those who died in the service of the United States in the War of the Rebellion were:

Samuel C. Burdick, Wesley Howard, Alonzo Green, David W. Crandall, jr., Levi Hayner, Charles G. Bruce, Charles Dumbleton, Stephen V. R. McChesney. Albert S. Hall, Amos B. Sweet, jr., and Levi Wagar. Adam Feathers and Calvin W. Feathers died in 1865 at their homes from diseases contracted in the army.

None of the three villages of Grafton is very large. The principal one is Grafton Centre, but like the others it is a hamlet rather than a village. It has always been the principal business centre of the town, but none of its industries have ever been of much magnitude. Saw mills, grist mills, wagon shops, blacksmith shops, shoe shops, general stores and several hotels at various periods have been the principal enterprises.

East Grafton and Quackenkill are the other hamlets. A paint mill was established at the latter point many years ago by H. S. S. Clark, the paint base being rock found in that vicinity. The Grafton mineral paint produced there became celebrated a quarter of a century ago.

A Baptist organization existed in Grafton at a very early day, soon after the settlement of the town, probably as early as 1800. The early Baptist families worshipped with the church in Berlin. Several small congregations existed in various parts of the town. In 1815 the Rev. Nathan Lewis, son of Elder John Lewis, was ordained to the charge of a congregation in Grafton, and four years later the Rev. Joseph D Rogers, son of Elder Corey Rogers, was ordained to look after the spiritual interests of another Baptist congregation. Both of these bodies were disbanded in 1827 and a new organization formed, services being held in the meeting house at Grafton Centre. This church, the first in the town, was built by General Stephen Van Rensselaer, the patroon, not for any particular denomination but for the Christians of the town in general; but as the Baptist. society happened to be the only one in the town at that time they were invited to occupy it, which they did. The Rev. Nathan Lewis and the Rev. Joseph D. Rogers became the first pastors of the society. About 1830 Elder David Gifford removed to Grafton and frequently preached in the church. Work upon a new church edifice was began in 1852, being dedicated soon after under the pastorate of the Rev. Joseph D. Rogers. In 1879 the house of worship was remodeled, under the pastorate of the Rev. H. J. S. Lewis. The church was connected with the Stephentown Baptist association in 1832, and was legally incorporated August 14, 1841.

The Methodist families in Grafton held religious services at an early day, though the society was not incorporated until April 7, 1828. As early as 1800 the famous Lorenzo Dow had preached to the families of this denomination. The first church was known as the Hemlock church, and was located about a mile east of Quackenkill. Seven years after the incorporation of the society meetings were instituted at Grafton Centre in the old meeting house built by General Van Rensselaer. In 1877 the Hemlock church was torn down and used in the construction of a parsonage at Grafton Centre, in connection with the new church edifice built there in that year.

The Free Methodist church at Grafton was incorporated June 18,1872, though the society had been organized since January 5, 1863. The Rev. A. B. Burdick was the first pastor. The house of worship, a short distance east of Quackenkill, was erected in 1873.

The Free Will Baptist church of Grafton was incorporated July 20, 1873, soon after the organization of the society. The first pastor was the Rev. T. Choate Pratt.


1807-1808, Nathaniel Dumbleton; 1809-1817, Ziba Hewitt; 1818, John Babcock; 1819-1823, Ziba Hewitt; 1824. John Babcock ; 1825-1828, John Worthington; 1829- 1832, Ziba Hewitt; 1833-1835, Nathan West; 1836, Ebenezer Stevens; 1837, Zebulon P. Burdick; 1838, Ebenezer Stevens; 1839, Ziba Hewitt; 1840-1841, James McChesney; 1842-1843, David See, jr.; 1844-1845, John M. Davison; 1846, Ira Allen; 1847- 1848, Joseph D. Wells; 1849-1850, Abijah D. Littlefleld; 1851, Caleb W. Scriven; 1852-1853, Paul D. Davison; 1854-1855, John Tillev; 1856-1857, Ebenezer Stevens; 1858, Amos Allen; 1859-1860, Daniel E. Saunders, a tie vote, but Daniel E. Saunders held over; 1861, John H. Bonesteel; 1862, Peter F. Hydorn; 1863-1866, Ira B. Ford; 1867-1868, Caleb W. Scriven; 1869-1872, Ira B. Ford; 1873-1876, Alva H. Scriven; 1877-1879, Levi T. Dunham; 1880, none elected; 1881-1884, Harvey W. Ford; 1885- 1888, Joseph S. Saunders; 1889-1893, Calvin B. Dunham; 1894--, Charles Z. Bennett.


1807, David S. Crandall; 1808, Elisha Wells; 1809-1811, David S. Crandall; 1812- 1813, Thomas West; 1814, Lemuel Stewart; 1815-1822, William Potter; 1823. Elijah Smith; 1824-1828, Joseph A. Potter; 1829-1835, Joseph Burdick; 1836-1837, David See, jr.; 1838, Potter Maxon; 1839, Joseph Burdick: 1840-1841, John M. Davison; 1842, Paul K. Davison; 1843, Nathan T. Burdick; 1844-1845, Rufus S. Waite; 1846- 1847, Hiram B. Littlefield; 1848-1849, Joel T. Burdick; 1850-1851, Rufus S. Waite, jr.; 1852-1853, Allen Maxon; 1854, Morgan Stevens; 1855, Joshua W. Hakes; 1856- 1858, Daniel E. Saunders; 1859-1860, Reuben S. F. Waite; 1861, George W. Maxon; 1862-1868, Reuben S. F. Waite; 1869-1871, Amos B. Sweet; 1872, George W. Maxon; 1873-1874, Warren Steward; 1875-1876, Henry Whitney; 1877-1878, Braddock H. Peckham; 1879-1880, Harvey W. Ford; 1881-1884, Chester F. Waite; 1885-1887, William C. Waite; 1888-1892, Adelbert Maxon; 1893. Merritt E. Tilley; 1894, Fernando Babcock; 1896, Arthur M. Crandall.


sworn in February 24, 1823; Joseph Burdick, February 28, 1823; Nathan West, February 28, 1823; John Steward, December 31, 1827; Alpheus Dumbleton, December 31, 1827; Nathan West, December 31, 1827; Francis West, December 31, 1827; Aipheus Dumbleton, January 1, 1829; William Heydorn, December 31, 1829; John Steward, January 12, 1831.

The election of justices at town meetings commenced in 1831, and the list is as follows:
1831, Nathan West; 1832, Alpheus Dumbleton (full term), Daniel Mills (vacancy); 1833, Zebulon P. Burdick; 1834, (name omitted in records); 1835, Nathan West; 1836, Israel Smith; 1837, Aipheus Dumbleton; 1838, John P. Davison; 1839, Andrew Hayner; 1840, Isaac Smith (full term), Andrus Brown (vacancy), Patrick Hill (vacancy); 1841, Asa Partridge; 1842, Joseph D. Wells (full term), Ira Allen (vacancy); 1843, Leonard C. Burdick; 1844, Eliphalet Steward; 1845, Potter Maxon; 1846, Andrew P. Hayner; 1847, Leonard C. Burdick; 1848, Eliphalet Steward; 1849, William Heydorn; 1850, Nathan T. Burdick; 1851, Linus P. Worthington; 1852, Eliphalet Steward; 1853, William Heydorn; 1854, Caleb Slade; 1855, Aaron F. Dumbleton; 1856, Nathan T. Burdick; 1857, William Heydorn; 1858, Caleb Slade; 1859, Aaron F. Dumbleton; 1860, Rufus F. Waite; 1861, Varnum B. Jones; 1862, Nathan T. Burclick; 1863, John H. Bonesteel; 1864, Joel T. Burdick; 1865, Varnum B. Jones; 1866, Elijah B. Howard; 1867, John H. Bonesteel; 1868, Reuben S. F. Waite; 1869, Varnum B. Jones; 1870, Elijah B. Howard (full term), William Heydorn (vacancy); 1871, Nathan E. Burdick (full term); 1872, Reuben S. F. Waite; 1873, Ralph Westervelt; 1874, Zebulon Tilley (full term), Benjamin F. Hayner (vacancy); 1875, Nathan T. Burdick (full term), Daniel J. Peckham (vacancy); 1876, Daniel J. Peckham (full term), William H. Simmons (vacancy); 1877, William H. Simmons (full term), William F. Brown (vacancy); 1878, William B. Odell (full term), Hiram B. Phillips (vacancy); 1879, Hiram B. Phillips (full term), Calvin B. Dunham (vacancy); 1880, Joseph S. Saunders; 1881, William H. Simmons; 1882, Calvin B. Dunham; 1883, Hiram Phillips; 1884, Joseph S. Saunders; 1885, William P. Brenénstuhi; 1886, Harvey W. Ford; 1887, Wesley 0. Howard; 1888, Parley R. Scriven; 1889, M. V. B. Jones; 1890, Harper V. Brown; 1891, Parley R. Scriven; 1892, George E. Bonesteel; 1893, Reuben S. F. Waite; 1894, Clinton W. Scriven; 1895, Parley R. Scriven; 1896, George E. Bonesteel.

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