Former Town Historian
Russell G. Marriott
The wilderness area about eight miles north of Fort Stanwix which became the Town of Western was largely included in grants by the crown of England to two men, Jelles Fonda, who received 40,000 acres and Thomas Machin receiving 24,000 acres.
Jelles Fonda was formerly a Major in Colonel Guy Johnson's regiment of Tryon County Militia. He sold parcels from his 400,000 acre patent for 10 cents and acre to John Lansing Jr., George Clinton, William Floyd and Stephen Lush. This property now constitutes parts of the Towns of Rome, Floyd, Lee, Western and Steuben.
The very first bridge ever built across the Mohawk River was built in the Town of Western in the fall of 1789 by some inhabitants of this town.
In 1789 Asa Beckwith Sr. and his son Asa Jr. purchased 550 acres on the east and west sides of the Mohawk River in what is now the Town of Western. The Beckwiths, apparently the first white settlers, built a log house on their property which was the first dwelling in the town. The location was on a well-known Indian trail leading from Oneida Lake to the Adirondacks. Eight years later a brick house was completed about one-half mile south of the log house, still on the western side of the Mohawk River. The bricks were made by hand, from a strata of clay found along the river. This was mixed with the necessary amount of sand. The two kinds of soil were properly joined by driving cattle back and forth over the mixture. The house was completed in 1798 and remained an occupied dwelling until it was taken down in the early 1970s. In 1851 the Beckwiths sold their holdings to Robert Warcup whose descendants still own the original 550 acres.
The boundaries of the Town of Western were established in 1797 from the original Town of Steuben which encompassed a very large area. The name Western came from the fact that this town was the western portion of the original township. It then included what is now the Town of Lee, which was set off in 1811. The first town meeting was held at the house of Ezekiel Sheldon on April 4, 1797.
During the pioneer days there was no road from Rome to Western. There were only Indian trails which followed the Mohawk River and the Lansing Kill Creek. This trail was made into a road which could be traveled by horse and wagon. It was the first real road in town. It was probably about 16 feet wide in the country but 12 feet wide in the villages. This road, with rerouting in places, is about where Route 46 is now.
As more land was cleared and more residents arrived, farmers raised and produced more than they needed for the family consumption. Cheese making was the answer for surplus milk. It is not clear who started the first cheese factory in Western but David Brill built the second one in 1830 in North Western.
Farmers took the milk to the factory where it was weighed and made into Limburger and Cheddar Cheese. Each spring the farmer was given a choice of major cheese centers for pricing. Watertown and Governeur were two. Whatever the selling price for cheese in the center chosen, that would be the price farmers received during the summer months.
Jacob Karlen came from Switzerland in the med-1850s. He established cheese factories in all areas where enough milk was available to make cheese making practical. At one time there were 36 cheese factories in the town. With the advent of refrigerated trucks, cheese making in the town disappeared by mid-1950.
Most of the settlers of Western were of English, Irish, Welsh German or Swiss descent.
The early schools of the town were among the best, for the period, in the country. Probably the first school in the town was on top of the hill bordering on the river by what was then the William Piper property. Parents of the first students assisted in the construction of the 25-foot square frame building. It was dedicated in 1802. Tuition was paid in grain and labor. The last school in Westernville was a brick building of colonial design built in 1941 on the corner of Route 46 and Gifford Hill Road. The land was formerly the property of General William Floyd.
The first school in North Western was built in 1824 and 1825. It too was replaced and relocated twice. The schools were built in every neighborhood; children usually not having to walk more than a mile or a mile and a half from any direction.
July 1, 1957 the school in Westernville and the affiliated districts bordering it consolidated with the Rome School District. The children were bused to the appointed school for each grade. For the next few years only kindergarten, first and second grade were held in the brick school. The brick building in Westernville now belongs to the Town of Western. It serves as the town library and recreation center for youth.
School districts both east and west of Westernville including Gifford Hill, Frenchville, North Western, Mullen and Quaker Hill Schools, centralized with Holland Patent School in 1936. The school districts north of North Western centralized with Boonville. The final chapter for the school in the Town of Western is finished. It is regrettable but there are no schools in session in the Town of Western.
Since the nearest "shopping center" in 1790 was Fort Stanwix or Rome, the shopping trips were few and far between. George Brayton and Jonathan Swan ran the first store. Since it was the only store at the time, the settlers were dependent on it to supply the basic raw materials like sugar, molasses and salt. No doubt many of the transactions did not involve money. The settlers would exchange eggs, butter or whatever they had for the merchandise they needed. Mr. Brayton sold the farm products in the city. He did a large business with the Indians because they were numerous around the area then.
As time went on stores sprang up in many areas of the town. Thomas R. Reese's store in Westernville was one of the largest ones. It was a general store, selling almost anything needed from groceries and notions to cloth, shoes, dishes and hardware. It burned in 1918. Country stores have long been a part of the Towns heritage. Unfortunately, the doors of the Capron Store in Westernville and the Davis Store in North Western are now closed.
The people of central and northern New York repeatedly petitioned the state to construct a waterway that would connect their area with the Erie Canal. After many delays the canal was finally finished. On June 23, 1849 water was first turned into the Black River Canal. It served the area for almost 80 years. Wood for fuel, lumber, potatoes and dairy products, among other things, were loaded on canal boats at various dry docks during the canal season form April to November. Many of the products went on to New York City. The busiest year for the canal was 1910 when all the sand and rocks for the construction of Delta Dam were shipped over it. After that the tonnage dropped. The agricultural picture was changing; coal was replacing wood. The canal had served its usefulness; it was officially closed at the end of the season in 1924.
Before 1908, there was a thriving village in the southwest part of the town. This was Delta, a lovely village of over 100 homes on very fertile land. The State of New York was building the Barge Canal, a deeper and wider successor to the Erie. To help maintain the water level in the canal reservoir needed to be created. Delta Dam was constructed across the Mohawk River at its narrowest point in the valley which was the southern point of the palisades of the Mohawk.
So it was that the Delta village and the fertile farms were doomed for extinction. The buildings were dismantled. Many of the residents relocated in Rome and other nearby towns. The graves in the cemetery, some of which dated back to 1805, were removed to a high point on the northwest shore of the lake. The dam was completed January 28, 1912. Water began to cover the condemned land later that year.
There began talk of turning this wasteland into a park in 1950. The Lake Delta State Park was finally opened in 1968. The facilities include a boat launch site, a large sandy beach with bathhouses, parking for 300 cars, large picnic areas and a campground.
About 1880 Charles Pillmore, a very enterprising young man, built the first gristmill as a local source of livestock feed. In the early 1900s Mr. Pillmore was searching for a cheaper power source to run his mill. He purchased the feed mill in North Western on the Mohawk River and rebuilt the dam on the site. With this water power he began the manufacture of electricity which became the town's first source of electrical power about 1918 or 1919. He intended to use it solely for his mill in Westernville, but the clamor for electricity was so great by residents that it was made available for those who wished it. It was available during the day and evening but turned off at 10:30 PM. Within a few years Mr. Pillmore sold this phase of his operations to a public company.
Necessity was the motivation of Charles Decker when he built a telephone line in 1908 from his home to Davis's Store to connect with the Old Home Telephone Company that had one line from Rome to North Western. His business was fur buying in the North Country and selling the fur in New York City. Almost immediately other people wanted phones so his telephone business grew until he had about 24 lines. It remained in the family until 1953 when his wife sold to Oneida County Rural Telephone Company.
There were several small businesses during the 19th century that were active for a while but have since completely disappeared. There was a shoe peg factory and a limestone quarry in Frenchville. There were sawmills, tanneries and woodworking shops in various parts of the town.
Other industries were the Olney & Floyd Canning Factories in Delta and Westernville. They provided a market for the farmers who raised cash crops such as : peas, beans, corn and pumpkin. The canning factory provided work for all ages of the labor force the year around. Another canning factory located below the William F. Pillmore farm was operated by Mr. Pillmore.
The Town of Western changed as time went on. In the beginning the dairy farms were small, occupying practically all the land of the town outside the villages and forest slopes. Now the dairy farms are larger and fewer. The small dairy farm has all but disappeared.
Some farmland has been abandoned entirely, some rented to the larger farms. Other farmers raise beef cattle and cash crops of hay or grain. Horse farms are getting popular too. A large percentage of the residents are now employed elsewhere in Rome or Utica.
Recreation is becoming increasingly important. Woods Valley Ski Resort, just oof Route 46, is very popular. Lake Delta State Park has miles of snowmobile trails. Future plans in the town include horseback riding trails, hiking trails and bicycle paths.
One of the only industries outside of farming is the George J. Olney, Inc. Machine Shop, which presently employs about 30 workers. George J. Olney Sr. started this shop as a young inventor of food processing machines in 1909. During the years his machines have been sold all over the United States and to countries abroad. The company, operated for years by his sons, George J. Jr., John and William (Floyd), continues in the hands of his grandchildren.
An expanding business in Western is the Farmers Fire & Lightening Insurance Company started in 1877 by L.G. Van Wagenen and Israel White. The company serves the counties of Oneida, Lewis, Madison, Oswego and Herkimer.
The social side of life in Western includes two churches, a 4-H Club, Senior Citizens Club, American Legion and a Fireman's Auxiliary. A very active Volunteer Fire Company was founded in 1945.
In order to plan for the orderly growth of the town, a planning board was created in the 1960s. A master plan is in force and the town is now officially zoned.
The last twenty years have brought about a renewed interest and pride in the historic and architectural heritage of the Town of Western. When our country celebrated the Bicentennial of the Constitution, the Town joined other municipalities in becoming a "Bicentennial Town". From that celebration came the birth of the Town of Western Historical Society. The Society is engaged in a Landmark Program that researches and recognizes sites and structures of historic and architectural significance, such as the Western Town Hall. This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Heritage Green, formerly the site of the Westernville Hotel that burned in July 1993, was purchased through donations by the Historical Society and has been developed into a village green. In 1997, the Society was proud to organize the Town of Western's yearlong Bicentennial celebration.
Other milestones during the past two decades have been the 175th anniversary of the Westernille Presbyterian Church in 1993. The Town of Western Fire Company consolidated two smaller firehouses into a new firehouse on Route 46. In 1989, the Highway department also moved into new facilities on Route 46. American Legion Post 1840 completely remodeled its facility near Frenchville. In 1994, the Library was extensively remodeled and made handicapped accessible.
The youth of Western continue to be supported by ministers and volunteers at weekly gatherings at the former Westernville Methodist church site.
In 1985, the William Floyd House, built by a signer of the Declaration of Independence from New York State, was visited by an organization known as the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Among the guests were descendants of such notables as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Robert Morris and of course General Floyd. The Bicentennial of the house was celebrated in 2003.
The Town of Western remains a town of traditions and people proud to be who they are and where they live.
This two story, white clapboard Greek Revival building was the center of both civic and social activities in two different villages over a span of 100 years. The structure had it's beginning as a hotel in the Village of Delta around 1850. It went by many names including Delta Hotel, Kane Hotel and the Empire Hotel, changing hands nine times between 1857 and 1899. When all the buildings in the village were condemned to make way for the creation of Delta lake, a group of Western citizens banded together, calling themselves the Friends of Liberty. They sold shares to raise the $2,500.00 needed to purchase the structure. Then, they contracted Fred and Frank Thrasher, two local barn builders, to dismantle the hotel and reconstruct it in Westernville. The site that was chosen, the corner of Main Street and what is now known as the Stokes-Westernville Road, was a lot which had passed down through the Floyd family and was originally part of the large land holdings of General William Floyd. The dismantled hotel was hauled to Westernville by team and wagon by Joe Racha.
The architecture and size of the building was changed somewhat to accommodate the site. One of the most notable exclusions in the reconstructed building was the large impressive porch which was present at the time of purchase. When the building was completed it was renamed Liberty Hall, in honor of General William Floyd's signing of the Declaration of Independence. For the next fifty years, Liberty Hall would be the center of social activities in the Town of Western. Concerts, plays, church suppers, rallies, meetings and dances were activities that filled the hall with sight and sound.
By the 1950s, it was becoming increasingly more difficult for the shareholders to maintain the building and by the early 1960s it was deemed unsafe for large gatherings. In 1962, the Friends of Liberty decided to dissolve their organization and sell Liberty Hall to the Town of Western. The selling price was $2,500.00. The buildng was refurbished, renamed Western Town Hall and officially became the seat of the Town's government. Gradually, offices of many of the town's elected officials were moved out of their homes and into the town hall. In addition to office space, an archive room was constructed to house the town's records. The Hall again became a center for social activities which continues today. In 1994 and 1995, using a master plan developed by a committee from the Town of Western Historical Society, the town hall underwent major landscape changes including the creation of parking facilities, a handicapped entrance, shrubbery, a flagpole and a marquis. The interior was refurbished the next year.
The interior of the Western Town Hall is a blend of 1911 reconstruction and salvaged materials from the 1850 hotel. The first floor has been divided into meeting rooms and offices. The second floor features an auditorium with an elevated stage with an elliptical front. The walls have bead board wainscoting on the bottom and plaster on the top. As with the first floor, the second floor windows have recessed panels and Greek Revival casings with plinth and corner blocks. They appear to be salvaged from the earlier structure.
In 1995, through the efforts of members of the Town of Western Historical Society, the Western Town Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
© 2018 Town Of Western, New York