HISTORY of Stratford, NY

STRATFORD is the northwest corner town of the county, being bounded by Hamilton county on the north, Caroga on the east, Ephratah and Oppenheim on the south, and Herkimer county on the west. Its surface is high, rolling and hilly, being 800 to 1,200 feet above the Mohawk, and in the extreme north 1,800 to 2,000 feet above tide water, with a general inclination toward the southwest. East Canada creek flows through the northwest corner and forms a part of the western boundary. North creek, which has its source in several small lakes near the north line of the town, flows in a westerly direction and finds an outlet in East Canada creek. Ayers creek rises at Lake Pleasant and flows in a southwesterly direction, emptying into East Canada creek at Stratford village. Fish creek has its source in east Fish lake in the town of Caroga, and flows in a westerly direction through the southwest corner of Stratford. In the northern part are several small lakes, the principal of which are Dexter, Spectacle, North, Pleasant and Ayers lakes. The soil in the southwest and in the valley of East Canada creek is a clayey loam ; and in other parts is light and gravelly.

Lumbering is the chief industry of Stratford, and at one time there were sixteen saw-mills and five tanneries within the town, but this business has declined by reason of the destruction of the forests by the lumbermen and bark peelers. The manufacture of cheese is a leading agricultural interest, and has been highly profitable to the farmers in the neighborhood of Stratford and Emmonsburg.

Stratford was formed from Palatine, April 10, 1805, and a part was taken off and added to Caroga in 1842. The town comprises parts of Glen, and Bleecker & Company’s patents, also one tier of lots of Lott & Low’s patent, and a part of the Jerseyfield patent, granted to Henry Glen and others April 12, 1770. The celebrated “Royal Grant,” bestowed on Sir William Johnson by the king, extends into the southwest corner of this town as far as Mouse creek. Stratford contains 47,560 acres, which makes it the largest town in the cointy. The total assessed valuation of real estate is $95,980, and the aggregate taxation for the year 1891 was $1,587.44. The population in 1890 was 997.

Early Settlement.—Stratford was named after a town in Fairfield county, Connecticut, the place whence came some of its early settlers. John Wells is supposed to have been the first white man to locate within the present limits of the town, settling on what has more reèently been known as the Mallett farm. Others coming about 1800 were Samuel Bennett, Abiel Kibbe and Levi, Eleazer and Samuel Bliss, all of whom located on the Johnstown road. Among others who came in and took up land in different parts of the town were Isaac Wood, Ebenezer Bliss, Joseph Mallet, Nathan Gurney, Amos Kinney, Silas and Abijah Phillips. Chatiiicey Orton, Eli Winchell, Peter Buckley, Daniel Shottenkirk, Jesse and Ephraim Jennings, Daniel Bleekman, and Hezekiah Warner. Nearly all of the early settlers were from the New England states, but few (comparatively) of their descendants are now living in the town.

Unlike many parts of Fulton county, the town of Stratford was not the scene of Indian depredations, the pioneers seldom suffering from the savages. Occasionally the latter would call at the houses of some of the inhabitants and ask for food, but this was usually done in a peaceable manner. During the early days of the pioneers the region was infested by wild annimals, such as the wolf, bear and even panther, whose cry often filled the little settlement. Many hunting stories of intense interest have been told by the old residents, several of whom had well earned reputations as hunters and trappers. One of the most successful of these was Abiel Kibbee, who, during his lifetime, had caught fifty bears and eleven wolves. It is related that upon one occasion, when accompanied by Eben Beekrnan, he caught three bears on one trip; while on another hunt they captured a large wolf, which Kibbe managed to get in such a position that he could hold it by the ears, while Beekman bound its legs with rope and cord. They then carried their prize out of the woods and exhibited it at a militia training which was being held at Kibbe’s. Another notable adventure occurred to Richard Bullock and William Avery, who discovered the track of a panther while returning from their traps. They followed it to a cave, into which the animal had retired. Taking the risk of the number of such beasts that might be in the cave, and possessing but one gun between them, they found themselves in a precarious situation. Avery was the surest shot of the two, and therefore took the gun and stationed himself at the entrance of the cave. Bullock secured a stout stick, one end of which he sharpened to a point, and with unflinching nerve entered the cave and made his way into utter darkness. He soon perceived a pair of eyes glaring at him, but still undismayed, he still went onward being determined to learn what animal might be his foe. Avery, who was ready for any emergency, soon heard cries from within, after which all was quiet. He rushed quickly into the cave expecting to find the wounded body of his companion, but instead he met Bullock with three young panthers, the result of his wonderful daring. Highly elated over their capture and anxious to exhibit something as a proof of their adventure, they brought out two of the heads and one whole carcass.

Among the interesting events in social life may be mentioned the birth of the first male child, Lansing Wells, which occurred in 1800. The first female birth was that of Betsey Bliss, who was able to spin five knots of tow when only five years old. The first death was that of Jesse Wilson, who was killed by the falling of a tree in 1802. The earliest marriage was that of Samuel Ellis to Polly Gurney, the latter coming from a family which had some aristocratic pretensions, and it was therefore required that the daughter should be married by a magistrate from another town, hence Colonel Drake, of Salisbury, Herkimer county, was invited to officiate. Squire Thomas Bennett, of Stratford, however, was also invited as a guest. As was the custom in those days, upon any festive occasion, the guests indulged in wine to excess, and Colonel Drake plied the decanter so frequently that when the time for the ceremony arrived he was totally incompetent and it was necessary to call upon Squire Bennett to tie the knot.

The first road laid out through the town was the work of Clarence Brookins, who made a contract with the state in 1799 to build a passable road from Johnstown to Salisbury, Herkimer county. This road passed through Palatine District (as it was then called), crossing East Canada creek at Hart’s Bridge, now Emmonsburg.

The first saw. mill was built in 1806 by Martin Nichols, on the site more recently occupied by Livingston’s mill. The following year he also built a frame house, the first one in the town. It stood on the lot afterwards occupied by. the lodge-room. The first bridge across East Canada creek in Stratford was built in 1809, and connected Nicholsville and Devereaux. The first grist-mill was built in 1810 by Sanders Lansing, patentee of the Lansing patent. Martin Nichols built the second grist-mill as well as the first blacksmith shop, and the settlement was for a long time called Nicholsville. The first school-house was built of logs and stood on the farm more recently owned by Henry Leavitt. Daniel Cross built the first tannery in 1812 The first burying-ground was the one known as the Mallett burying place.

Willys Bennet, who died in September, 1877, was the oldest inhabitant then living in the town, having reached the advanced age of ninetynine years. He was a native of Connecticut and became noted as a lumberman, making a specialty of furnishing sounding board timber to piano manufacturers in New York and Boston. He sought the finest hemlock for this purpose and thus acquired a reputation.

Stratford, with a population of about 125, is the largest village in the town. Stephen P. Cade kept the first store and post-office, and David Potter was the first mail carrier. Bliss Kibbe is the present postmaster and also conducts a general store.

Emmonsburgh, formerly called Whitesburgh, is a hamlet situated on East Canada creek in the southwest part of the town, distant about two miles from Stratford post-office. The present postmaster at this place is Frank Bliss.

Town Officers. —The following officers were elected at the first town meeting, held in 1805: Supervisor, Samuel Bennett; town clerk, Nathan Gurney; justices of the peace, David Orton, Jonathan Gillett and William Deans; commissioners of highways, James Odell, Ebenezer Bliss and Silas Phillips; overseers of poor, Joseph Mallett and Amos Kinney; constable and collector, Samuel Bliss; constables, Chauncey Orton and Daniel Bleekman; fence viewers, Chauncey Orton and Eli Winchell; poundmasters, Joseph Mallett and Samuel Van Scriver. During the early history of the town William Bliss held the office of supervisor for many years, as did also other members of the Bliss family, and Abijah Phillips held the office of town clerk for ten years. With the exception of a few years, when the town clerk failed to make returns to the proper officials of the names of the persons elected at annual town meetings, the following is a complete list of the supervisors since 1855 : William Bliss, 1855—6; Ormel Leavitt, 1857—9; William Bliss, 1860; N. R. Crossman, 1861; Wheeler Knapp, 1867; William Bliss, 1869—71 ; David Helterline, 1872 and 1885 ; Ezra W. Leavitt, 1886—7; Jeremiah S. Austin, 1888—9; Frank M. Pierce, 1890—92.

Town Clerks. —Myron M. Phillips, 1855 ; ; Jerome Bleekman, 1856; W. H. Bennett, 1857—8; William M. Smith, 1859—61; Thomas B. Stewart, 1862; W. H. Bennett, 1863 ; J. E. B Stewart, 1867—9; George Shaad, 1870—2; A. L. Leavitt, 1874—6; V. S. Ferris, 1877; W. H. Bennett, 1885 ; John P. Lewis, 1886; William H. Scorsby, 1887—8; Frank M. Pierce, 1889; Frank Shaad, 1890—2.

The principal officers of the town at present are: Supervisor, F. M. Pierce; town clerk, Frank Shaad; justices of the peace, Samuel E. Hoxsie, Daniel F. Wood, James B Austin, D. S. Watson; collector, Allie Wood.

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