Historian


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The town of Volney was part of the 530,000 acres known as the Roosevelt Purchase.  As most of you know the history of Scriba’s Patent, I will skip right to the growing pains the town of Volney endured to reach its present size; March 1798 Oneida County was formed which included town of Volney.  The town was originally called Fredericksburg to honor George Scriba’s son.  “Fredericksburg,”  along with the towns of Scriba, Palermo and Schroeppel, split from the town of Mexico in March 1806.  April of 1811 the town was renamed Volney and town of Scriba was removed.  Parts of Oneida and Onondaga counties were removed to form county of Oswego on the first of March 1816.  Volneys struggles were not done.  In April 1832 towns of Palermo and Schroeppel were removed to form their own townships.  The village of Fulton incorporated and split from Volney in 1902.  Volney stayed this size until 2003 when the city of Fulton annexed 25 acres including the Riverside Mall. 

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Daniel Masters in the spring of 1793 became the first permanent settler in the town locating at the “Upper Landing.”  Masters was by trade a blacksmith.  For one silver dollar, he would make a spearhead.  A year later Masters opened the first hotel.  In 1796 Masters and Mr. Goodell built the first sawmill in the town.

In the spring of 1795 Major Lawrence Van Valkenburg and his wife, son Abraham and wife Zilpha and son James built a home just below the falls at Orchard Lock.  Abraham and Zilpha were the parents of the first white child, Ephraim Van Valkenburgh, born in the town in 1796. The Major kept a public-house.  As customary the tavern became a central point of the community, hosting town meetings and social activities. 

The third settler of the town was John Van Buren from Kinderhook settling near Battle Island.  It took Van Buren eight years to build a large brick house at a cost of $5000.  The home had a tavern in the downstairs area.  Mr. Van Buren had five sons, Peter, John Jr, Jacob, Volkert and David.  Van Buren and his five sons contributed greatly to the growth of Volney.  As did the men who followed them:  John Waterhouse, Joshua Forman, and Whitman Church, Ebenezer Wright, Dr. Bissell, Noah Whitney, and Gideon Candee, Gideon Seymour, William Dean, Amos Bishop settled in Volney Center.  Gideon Candee went on to open a tavern in Volney Center in 1809.  Unfortunately it burned in 1870.  Gideon Seymour opened the first hotel in 1817.     

James Parker settles near Drakes Corners in 1811 and voted at the first town meeting.  Ebenezer Wright, a surveyor, located at Lower Landing in 1800.  

James Bundy settled beyond Van Buren tavern and the place took his name, Bundy’s Crossing.  Later the hamlet was known as Bundyville.  1811 Ansel and Thomas Hubbard came from Pittsfield, Mass and settled several miles North of Volney Center.  Thomas was said to be a hard-working pioneer and has probably chopped and cleared more land than any other man now living in town.  The corner became known as Hubbard’s Corners, but later was changed to Mt. Pleasant. 

The census of 1820 was the first in this county shows the Town of Volney had 1691 inhabitants. The population of the town had grown to 2995 in 1835.  It reached its high point in 1860 with a population of 8,045.  In 1900 the population was 7674 but when the Village of Fulton split in 1902, it dropped to 2339. 

Volney is settling, now comes the growth.  So the first town meeting was held on March 3, 1812 at the inn of Major Van Valkenburg.  The following officers were elected:  Supervisor, Samuel Holland; Town clerk, John Waterhouse; Assessors, Ebenezer Wright, Oliver Burdick and Stephen Gardner; Poormasters, Samuel Holland and Gideon Candee; 3 commissioners of highways, tax collector, 3 constables, and 10 path-masters. 

Path-masters?  The rural people soon realized the dirt roads needed constant repair.  So every property owner was assessed so much work on the road each year to pay for the taxes that he owed.  A path-master was issued a list of men in his district and the amount of hours that he would be required to work to pay the taxes for that year.   As the required number of hours was completed it was recorded against that person’s name.  In the spring they would fill in bad ruts in the roads, build bridges over creeks and do general maintenance.  Later came plank roads with their tolls. 

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The cornerstone of any community is their churches and schools.  Volney’s first church was the Congregational Church organized in 1812.  Later building their church at Bristol Hill in 1832 at a cost of $2500.  The Bristol Hill church would later become a stop in the underground railroad.  The Seventh Day Adventists began holding meetings in a barn east of Mt Pleasant cemetery in 1848.  For many years the Methodist held services in various homes throughout the area, finally building the first church at North Volney in 1859.  The second Methodist church was built at Mt. Pleasant in 1870 at a cost of $4000.  Also in that year, the Methodist Protestant had a church in Bundyville.   By 1945 the parsonage was sold and the church tore down. 

The hamlets were Volney Center, North Volney, Bundy’s Crossing, Mt Pleasant, Seneca Hill, Ingall’s Crossing and Bristol Hill (no school).  Each had their own post office and schoolhouse.  The first recorded school in Volney was held in the Van Valkenburg’s tavern about 1805.  Benjamin Robinson was the teacher in 1808.  By 1840 there were 14 school districts.  Amos Hull became the first town superintendent of common schools in 1843.

As Volney grew so did the nine cemeteries: Volney Center Cemetery is  the oldest.  The oldest grave is that of Eunice Moss dated 1815, Mt Pleasant, North Volney Cemetery, Sixteenth Cemetery (abandoned), Fairview Cemetery, Ives Family Cemetery, Emery Road Cemetery (abandoned) Van Buren Cemetery (abandoned), Van Valkenburg Cemetery (abandoned) in Rogers Dairy pasture.  This is important because of the graves of earliest settlers in the town. 

As early as 1791 Elkannah Watson promoted a canal, from Albany to Lake Ontario.  By 1820 the preliminary survey for the Oswego Canal was made.  On April 22, 1823 an act was passed which directed the canal commissioners to cause a survey to be made of the Oswego River from the head of the falls to Oswego and to report the same and the probable expense.  November 20, 1824 the act authorizing the canal between Oswego and Syracuse was passed.  Two years from its initial act, April 20, 1825, appropriation of $160,000 was made for the canal work.  Three years later (1828) the canal was completed to Oswego at a cost of $525,115.  Passenger packets on the canal ran for about 25 years.  The largest flour mill in the U. S. was on the canal at Seneca Hill built in 1847.      

Waterways are a major factor in the development of an area.  With the power of the Oswego River forming the west boundary for Volney, industry quickly sprang up: sawmills, flour mills, and starch mills.  During the 1800’s there were six mills erected with various runs of stone, grinding and storage capacity:  Genesee Mills, Riverside Mills, Volney Mills, Fulton Mills, Farmer’s Mills and Oswego River Mills. One such had a storage capacity of one hundred thousand bushels. 

The Battle Island Starch Factory built in 1854 at cost of $175,000 burned 7 years later and was not rebuilt.  The Battle Island Paper Mill became Arrowhead Plant.    then Armstrong Cork, Armstrong World Industries, and today, Interface Solutions.

Volney had a number of apple driers and cider mills.  The Dunsmore family on the Howard Road operated a cider mill for three generations.  Some apple Dryers: Burt ives, Stevens brothers in North Volney, Osborne, Willis Clark, Ike Chesbro, John Drake and Frank Fairbanks.  Here the apples were peeled and cored by a hand operated machine.  The operator of the paring machine was expected to do from 50 to 60 bushels of apples a day.

Still the backbones of the town were the farmers who raised crops and had a few head of cattle.  There were at least seven cheese factories; Volney Cheese Factory, Smith, Battle Island Cheese Factory, Loomis, Druce at North Volney, G. Tremble at Bristol Hill, and Isaac Hales at Mt. Pleasant.  Many times the family would live above or in other rooms in the factory.

The farmers were many and strong.  As a force and social life they joined and organized the first Grange in the township at Ingall’s Crossing in March, 1874.  It was to be known as the Volney Grange #165.  In 1876 the hall was built and said to be the oldest in the state and fourth oldest in the country.  The building burned down on December 10, 1975.  The following year 1875 the Mt Pleasant Grange # 349 was organized with 40 members.  Zadock Austin served as secretary for 50 years.  A new grange hall was built in 1908 at a cost of $4500.    

All the time Volney is struggling, settling and growing, there are wars.  Touching briefly on this enormous subject as there is much already written, but this is not meant in any way to make small their sacrifice.  

During the early history of the town there was a story told regarding John Van Buren being in the Van Valkenburg tavern when the British soldiers were present and toasting the king.  Van Buren being a loyal patriot proposed a toast to America and its liberty and immediately had to take to his heels and beat a hasty retreat (thanks to Byron Rowlee).  Twelve men from Volney fought in the Revolutionary War.  

 Some of veterans of the War of 1812 and buried in Volney cemeteries are: Henry Bartlett, Ephraim Beardsley, David Bell, Ezra Bronley, William Cook, Otis Drake, Freeman Gasper, Richard Graham, David Hinman, Thomas Hubbard, Joseph Moss Jr, Seth Myrich, Giles Peckham, Warren Rockwood, Jonathan Sherman, John Stephens, Joseph Tate, Peter Van Wormer, David Weed, Walter Wilber and Joel Wright. 

The next conflict was the Civil War, the struggle to keep our union together.  Out of the 1975 males between the age of 16 and 50 that were listed on the census for year 1860, nearly 600 from the town of Volney enlisted or drafted.   If you were drafted you could pay the sum of $300 and be excused or hire someone to go in your place.  Due to strong patriotism or perhaps too poor to buy their way out of service, most of the men answered the call. 

Jobe H Babcock, Damon Clark Brockway, Harvey L Bundy, Oren Bundy, Adelbert Caywood, Joseph Warren Distin, R D Drake, James H Flower, Fitch E Fonda, David R Grommom, Henry Hale, Levi E Harris, Benjamin B Hart, Deloss Piper, Nathan Rowlee, Christopher Springer, Jeremaih Tripp, Alphonzo Underwood, Charles Van Buren, and George L Wright did not come back.  Pictured : Brown, 87, of North Volney has the 13-ounce grapeshot that nearly cost his life and left him for dead eight days on Battlefield of Wilderness.

Three men from the town fought in the Spanish American War: George Babcock and Wesley John Goodfellow.  Eugene Washington Rowlee did not come back. 

When WW1, the war to end all wars, was raging in Europe, 38 men from Volney went.  Blessed only one, Frank Leon Goodrow, died in battle.   

During WW 11 Rosy the Riveter became a symbol for women as they toiled in  factories to provide necessary materials for the war effort.  The Men from Volney went to war to defend our way of life and they continue to serve…….  

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The 1900’s brought a new industry to the town, muck farming.  Probably the hardest part of working mucks was the clearing and draining of the land by hand or a horse if you were lucky.  Eugene Bartlett was one of the first to clear muck land around 1900.  Fueled by stories of one farmer earning $8,000 from eleven acres of lettuce, Wesley Goodfellow had cleared some land at Drake’s Corners by 1909 and John Wise began to clear land the next year.  After WW 1 the Italian immigrants began settling in this area and working the mucks.  The first type of lettuce was Boston or Romaine.  By WW 11 Cornell began experimenting with a type called iceburg.  The lettuce would be shipped by train to New York City for sale.  Like any farming enterprise there were problems and weather was a big factor in determining crop yield.   Competition from the western states lowered the acres of lettuce production.  The muck farmers started growing onions on a large scale. 

Still the number of farms declined from about 100 in the 70’s to only 14 today.  .  Local growers contribute close to 50,000 tons.  Recently a consortium of 14 have started marketing a new onion, New York Bold.  The onion with attitude boast lower water content so they caramelize faster and the flavor doesn’t mush and melt away. 

Guarrera, Fiumara, Curcuruto, Trovato, Sheldon, Marano, Sorbello, Leotta, Corsiniti, and so many other names synonymous with Town of Volney muck farming are gone and in some cases the muck land has reverted to lowland with cattails, flag and scrub trees.  

In the 1970’s Volney experienced a boom when the American Challenger Corporation opened a plant to manufacture marine engines.  The Miller Brewing Company bought 415 acres and built a brewery in 1974.  Two years later they built a wastewater treatment plant.  Owens Illinois Corporation opened a bottling plant in 1977.  Reynolds can plant opened.  Volney became a hustling and bustling town.  Money was flowing like water. 

December 1993 the good times were over and Volney was struggling again.  Millers shut its doors.  As did the other three plants.  Men and women were without jobs.  Many were drawing unemployment and out looking for jobs that were not in this area.  Others left the state.   In 1998 the population was 5,676.  Volney consists of 31,224 acres; 48,7875 square miles.  The town went to 100 per cent equalization rate in 2000.  Today there are 2,891 total parcels with an assessed total value of $292,500,312.