Town of Canajohaire

History

An Original District

When Montgomery County was formed in 1772, the south side of the river from The Noses to Little Falls was identified as “Canajoharie District.” This district became a town of the same name when boundaries were redefined in 1788. It was a very large area and divisions were soon made

The westernmost section of Canajoharie became part of the new Herkimer County in 1791. A second partitioning, also on the western side occurred in formation of the Town of Minden in 1798. A third shrinkage came on the east side when part of Canajoharie (also part of Charleston) was used to set up Root in 1823. As a result of these divisions, Canajoharie’s Mohawk River frontage shrank from more than 20 to about five miles within a few years.

Following development in which streams influenced settlements, Canajoharie Creek was the early focal point, providing water for mill power. The Iroquois name that has endured for more than three centuries is said to have been descriptive of “The pot that washes itself.” Reference was to the Canajoharie Gorge potholes enlarged by action of water on pieces of stone washed into bedrock holes to continue erosion through the ages. The creek winds from a rising point about two miles west of Cherry Valley. About a mile and a half south of its outlet into the Mohawk River there is a sheer drop of 45 feet that creates a picturesque falls with miniature canyon walls 100 feet high. Both red men and white have enjoyed the beauties of Canajoharie Falls.

Early Settlers

Two early settlers have shared honors as the first to occupy sites along Canajoharie Creek: Hendrick Schrembling and Marte Janse Van Alstyne who jointly purchased 775 acres along both sides of the creek about 1730. The holdings were divided about 20 years later when the Van Alstynes took the east side lands and Schremblings the west side of the creek. The latter family left the valley about the time of the Revolution, but the Van Alstynes remained and their descendants continued prominently in affairs of the Canajoharie section.

Another builder of the early years was Hendrick Frey, one of the Palatine Freys who moved to the south side of the Mohawk and erected a gristmill. It was not long before he had accumulated about 3,200 acres that encompassed the site of the present village of Canajoharie. Hendrick Frey’s background was impressive. Bearing the rank of colonel, he had served with Guy Johnson in the Provincial Assembly. He was one of the first judges of the Tryon County Sessions Court.

Rebel Activities

All Canajoharians were not in agreement on issues of independence but somehow the section along the river escaped heavy penalties of devastation. Hendrick Frey, although a Loyalist through Johnstown connections, conducted himself with discretion and also concentrated on business. Those who bought his lands bought also his milling services and the transactions were highly profitable. It was a rebellious section, nonetheless. Exactly 16 important meetings of the Tryon County Committee of Safety were held at the Van Alstyne home. John Roof’s Tavern, in operation as early as 1777, benefited through military activities.

General James Clinton was said to have stayed at the Roof Tavern while awaiting arrival of supplies for the 1779 expedition to the Susquehanna. Some historians have also awarded the Washington-slept-here distinction to the Van Alstyne House on August 1, 1783.

The war over, economic recovery was encouraging. A 1799 account credits one of the business firms, the Seven Kane Brothers, with gross sales of $120,000. Potash and wheat accounted for much of the trading that attracted customers from settlements far up the valley. Canajoharie connections to the south were also excellent and four-horse stages carried passengers and mail to Cherry Valley and other points in the Schoharie country. A rail line was being talked about in the early 1830’s.

Disastrous Fires

A Canajoharie fire company organized in 1831 acquired engine equipment and the volunteers and their successors became experienced through a series of fires that caused losses far above normal. An 1840 conflagration swept both sides of Church St. and some of Mohawk St., leveling 60 structures and rendering homeless about 40 families. Another disastrous fire occurred in 1849, but the biggest loss to the often-hit village came in 1877 when damage to the same business area was estimated at $250,000.

This was a crippling blow to the community, but two years later, in 1879, came the pride and joy of Canajoharians: The 40-room Hotel Wagner, named after the builder, sleeping car inventor Webster Wagner, a native of Palatine Bridge. The hotel, taken over by the Beech-Nut Packing Co. in 1915, was operated by the food corporation until 1958. Hostelry antiques went on the block in 1965 and the hotel was demolished in 1966.

The Village of Canajoharie was incorporated April 30, 1829, and enjoyed diversified industrialization in addition to bag making and food products after Erie Canal boat building had gone into decline. The Spraker Bank was opened in 1853, and the Canajoharie Bank began business two years later. Among community setbacks was failure of the Canajoharie National Bank on January 25, 1900.

At the time the Village of Canajoharie was incorporated, the Town of Canajoharie had a population of 4,348. The township reached an all time high population of 5,146 in 1840, and then leveled off. It was 4,097 in 1850; 4,134 in 1860; 4,256 in 1870; 4,294 in 1880; and 4,267 in 1890. Federal census figures for the village in 1870 were 1,822. In 1880 the population had increased to 2,013; in 1890 it was 2,089. The Village of Ames was founded by census enumerators in 1870 when 150 residents were counted.

Canajoharie Settlements

A section of Canajoharie Creek extending for about five miles in the southern part of the town became known as Bowman’s Creek after Settler Jacob Bowman acquired a large tract about 1760. The post office for the areas was designated as Bowman’s Creek until Buel received priority in 1830.

Buel with much early promise of community growth was named after Jesse Buel, prominent agriculturist of the state. John Seeber was listed among the early innkeepers and many familiar Canajoharie names came from families who located to the south along Canajoharie Creek. Sprout Brook, about a mile to the west of Buel also had a post office and attracted settlers by reason of the Justus Van Deusen mill that produced wollen yarn.

The place where Jacob Ehle and James Knox, brothers-in-law, located in 1791, on the old Indian trail from Canajoharie to New Dorlach, was cleared without removal of numerous maple trees and the area acquired the name of Mapletown. A Reformed Church was built nearby about 1800 as the community grew.

Marshville, a hamlet near the center of the town, got a start through construction of an extensive sawmill operation by one of the Seeber family. Since it was on the main route to Cherry Valley, the vicinity attracted settlers who provided travel services.

Ames, which took name after Fisher Ames, came into prominence with a post office about the same time that Buel was taking over from Bowman’s Creek. Its earliest settlement dated from Revolutionary years. The community makeup was unusual in that first settlers were largely New Englanders instead of Dutch or German. This was the only one of the pioneering hamlets that showed continued growth and in 1924, became an incorporated village, the smallest in New York State.

Hugh P. Donlon. History of Montgomery County 1772-1972. Amsterdam, NY: Noteworthy Company 1973 Lithographs obtained from FW Beers, Illustrated History of Montgomery and Fulton County. FW Beers & Company, 1878.

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