Town of Chemung New York

Early History of the Town of Chemung

Long before the Town of Chemung was inhabited by colonial settlers it was home to the Iroquois. The Seneca Tribe and perhaps the Cayuga Tribe of the Six nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. This well established village was located in the vicinity of the current town with many cleared fields of crops, orchards and long houses. The flats, a large area of land adjacent to the Chemung River (formerly Tioga River) fertile from the spring flooding, providing the Seneca with abundant crops. This tribe protected what was known as the western and southern doors of their nation, considered the lower Chemung River Valley. The Chemung River was known as the “Forbidden Path” to Genesee and Niagara by the Iroquois. The translation for Chemung is Place of the Horn, named for a mammoth tusk found in the river bank by Native Americans.

The Revolutionary War began in 1775 between Great Britain and the 13 colonies. The Iroquois became allies with the British who held the support of the Six Nations of the Iroquois and of many colonists who were opposed to the rebellion. Together, the “Loyalists” engaged in military operations on behalf of King George III. John Butler a Loyalist from Mohawk Valley organized a military unit and led his Rangers and Six Nations Allies into raids in New York State and Pennsylvania. The colonial farmlands were important sources of supply for the Continental Army. The Continental Congress, was aware of the danger of backwoods attacks and how it produced serious effects on their strained American Military. The Six Nations Villages were important sources of supply to the British. To counter the raids and to punish the Six Nations for their allegiance to the King, the Continental Congress detached a large part of the Continental Army in 1779. Using the river systems, the Army marched into Iroquois Country with orders from General Washington to destroy all villages and crops on their expedition.

Scouts who were sent by General Sullivan from the Tioga Point Fort in Athens, PA reported the Old Chemung Village to be empty and deserted. A New Chemung Village had been established 3 miles further up the river in a north westerly direction, past the narrows along the river. This Village was known as the Iroquois War Town. A state historical marker describes this area: From this hidden stronghold, British, Indians and Tories, ravaged the frontier from the West Branch to the Mohawk. Destroyed by Sullivan-Clinton Expedition, August 13, 1779. A state historic marker located in the center of town reads: Old Chemung Indian Village Destroyed By General Sullivan. August 13, 1779. The largest expedition took place in the Chemung Valley, The Battle of Newtown near Lowman, Sunday August 29, 1779. (Lowman is the adjoining town to the west of Chemung). As many as 5,000 on both sides engaged in a battle that ensued for three hours. Less than 25 were killed. The British and Iroquois defeated, they retreated to the north. The final treaty with the Six Nations was signed in 1791.

March 1783 the legislature of the State of New York passed an act favorable to settlers in the valley and to those holding military warrants for land. Settlers began moving into the valley in 1784. Early settlers poled or pulled their way up the river in flat boats, durham boats or canoes, while others walked along the river bank or carried their belongings on oxen sleds, following the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers.

The earliest known settler was David Bosworth in 1780 and the Isaac Baldwin Sr. Family in 1784. In the spring of 1786, Maj. William Wynkoop, William Buck and son Elijah, Daniel McDowell, Joseph Bennett, Thomas Burt, Enock Warren and his son, Enoch Jr. settled in the area of the current Town of Chemung. Known at that time as Buckville, it became a town on March 22, 1788, within the County of Montgomery. Montgomery stretched out over most of Central New York and on February 16, 1791 the county was divided and Tioga County was created. Another split was made in 1836 when Chemung County was formed. Other early settlers to the area were: Jacob Lowman, Jonathan Griswold, John Squires, Abijah Batterson, Ebenezer Green, James Wilson, Uriah Wilson, David Burt, Justus Bennett, Benjamin Wynkoop, John Hillman, Joseph Drake, Moses De Puy, Jacob Decker and Samuel Westbrook.

General James Clinton, from the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition and son of New York State Governor Clinton, was one of the three commissioners of the state appointed to make a survey of the Chemung Country to determine the rights of the early settlers there. A reported survey confirmed on February 12, 1789 that 207,656 acres were surveyed. Of these, 28,300 acres were military locations, 159,186 acres were disposed of to settlers and 20,170 acres were vacant. The settlers paid 18 pence an acre. Titles were issued in October and November of 1788. Although some actual settlement reportedly occurred years before that date.

One of the first establishments in the town was a tavern and grist mill in 1788, run by Maj. William Wynkoop, patriot of the Revolutionary War. In 1789, a Baptist Church Society was formed with the Rev. Roswell Goff. The first school was taught in the weaving room of Maj. Wynkoop’s home in 1795 with the first log school house built in 1799. The post office was established April 1, 1801 with Sgt. Elijah Buck, a Revolutionary War Patriot as the first postmaster and proprietor of the first general store and hotel. With a route through Chemung, a horseback post boy traveled from Wilkes Barre, PA to Elmira, NY and back again. Roads were opened on both sides of the river from Chemung to Elmira by the year 1807. The first stage route of the county began in 1819 from Wilkes Barre to Elmira. Grist and saw mills sprung up quickly along the river and mill streams. The Chemung River was determined a navigable stream by Legislature in 1813. It is reported a saw mill was established on the river as early as 1820 and the first river dam was built in 1826. The oldest framed house in the town dates to the year 1789. An old stone chimney is all that remains of a two story log home built in 1793. The settlers relied on ferries, which were nothing more than primitive rafts to travel from one side of town to the other. Location of the ferry was determined by land/river access and fordability of the river. Travelers might have been expected to pay as much as a shilling for a two horse team, sixpence for a one horse rig, with many payments being paid in barley, whiskey, corn or butter.

In 1829, Chemung was the largest manufacturer within the local communities of Linen, producing 7,726 yards and 1,813 yards of fulled woolen cloth manufactured. The 1829 census for the Town of Chemung showed 1,150 inhabitants and 2,231 in 1835. 5,489 acres had been improved and 42,511 acres remained unimproved.

The Junction Canal was completed in 1858, from Tioga Point, Athens, PA to Elmira. It was abandoned in 1872. Although the canal was short lived it was very important to the economy of the town and area. The Erie Railroad was established in the Town of Chemung, 1850. Both were situated on the north side of the river. One of the single greatest historical journey’s of the Erie Railroad through the Chemung River Valley was in the years 1864 and 1865 when nearly 12,000 confederate soldiers were transported to prison camp in Elmira. Another railroad played a great part in our Country’s history. The Underground Railroad. Slavery was abolished in New York State in 1828. Although I am unaware of safe houses, depots or stations in the town, it is very possible the Chemung river banks served as a path to freedom where runaway slaves found their way to Elmira where they were actually transported by railcar to Canada. The first bridge to cross the Chemung River in the Town of Chemung was a suspension bridge, erected in 1875. A sign on the bridge read $25.00 fine for riding or driving on the bridge faster than a walk. The mid 1880’s brought the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad through the area on the south side of the river, with a station stop in Wilawana, PA (Wilawana is located at the southeast corner of the town). Chemung is well known for it’s Never Failing Spring. Used by Native Americans and colonial settlers in earlier times, the Chemung Spring Water Co. was founded in 1880. Prior to WWI, the Erie Railroad shipped water by tank cars to New York City.

Progress has continued through the years and today the Town of Chemung continues to strive with a balance of agriculture and industry . Interstate 86 and Norfolk Southern Railroad runs along the Chemung River and through the town. The river is now used for recreational activities.

With over 225 years of history to cover, I found it difficult to leave facts out of this early historical summary. Thus, I ended up with three pages when I intended to write only one. Although I feel as though I have only touched the surface on the history of the town, I hope I have highlighted some of the earliest achievements. Mary Ellen P. Kunst, Historian, Town of Chemung


A History of the Valley and County of Chemung, Ausburn Towner
New York History Net, Webmaster Stony Brook Search Engine, Stony

Brook State Univ. of NY
New York State History, Univ. of Albany
Old Fort Niagara Assoc., Youngstown, NY in cooperation with NYS

Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, CCNN Web Design

Town Historian
Mary Ellen P. Kunst
Phone: (607) 529-3501

Tri-Counties Genealogy and History by Joyce M. Tice
Tri-Counties Genealogy and History by Joyce M. Tice

Chemung County Historical Society
Chemung County Historical Society

Chemung Valley Living History Center
Chemung Valley Living History Center

Friends of the Chemung River Watershed
Friends of the Chemung River Watershed

Historical Echoes
Local history of Lower Chemung River Valley and Town of Chemung by MaryEllen Kunst

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Town of Chemung | 48 Rotary Road Extension, Chemung NY 14825