Town of DeRuyter History
Town of DeRuyter History

 The village of DeRuyter population (about) 650, takes pride in the fact 
that their community is the only one in the world named DeRuyter. The name 
was assigned by John Lincklaen, founder of Cazenovia and agent for the 
Holland Land Company, owners of this territory in the late 1700s. 

Lincklaen took the name from Michael DeRuyter, who is regarded as the foremost military hero in Dutch history and the greatest naval strategist of the seventeenth century. The town and village are proud of the name. Without it, their residents could never have witnessed nor participated in an extraordinary event which took place in April 1982. The occasion was the 375th anniversary of Admiral DeRuyter's birth, coinciding with the 200 years of official relations between the United States and the Netherlands.

What began as a dream in the minds of a few ended up in a two-day celebration of peoples and cultures. On the weekend of April 24 and 25, 1982 nearly 20,000 Central New Yorkers joined with over 150 Dutch naval officers and crewmen (some from the "DeRuyter," flagship of the Dutch fleet) and the Royal Netherlands Marine Band in what one newspaper called a "delicious, delightful, de-lovely" event. The town and village were named "Flagship Town U.S.A." by Federal and State proclamation. The bands marched, there were flowers and flags, speeches by admirals, generals, congressmen, and senators. Lasting friendships and memories were made, all on the thread of a thin historical connection.

The building stock dates predominantly from the early to late Victorian period, the peak population and commercial era in DeRuyter's history. The plank road construction in 1850 and access to rail transportation in the early 1810s aided the prosperity and development of the area. Prosperity waned as the automotive age advanced. The railroad, which eventually became a branch of the Lehigh Valley was pulled up in 1968. The old freight house, c. 1870, remains in solemn if somewhat forlorn tribute.

Beyond the village and extending into the towns, occupying the north west corner of the town, is a man-made body of water of approximately 650 acres. Officially, it is the Tioughnioga Reservoir, so named after the tributary used to supply it with water. More commonly it is called DeRuyter Lake (or Reservoir). The actual name, as all local residents know it, is "The Lake."

There was deep, forested valley here in 1793 and 1794 when the town's first settlers, men like Eli Cosgrove, Elias and Elijah Benjamin and Thompson Burdick, built homesteads here. What is now East Lake Road became the main route to Cazenovia and points north. The town's first improved road, the DeRuyter Plank Road, passed along this route in 1850. By then prosperous farms had been established throughout the area, and a sawmill ran in the valley floor.

Around 1860, surveyors for the State Canal Department identified the valley as a likely location for a reservoir to supply water to the Erie Canal east of Syracuse. Work began in 1860, but because of the Civil War was not completed until 1870. The dam was approximately 75 feet high, rising from a width at the base of 375 feet. The structure, of local stone and faced with limestone from Ithaca and Hamilton, was entirely built by men, wagons, and horses.

A number of small hamlets and crossroads have played an important part of the town's development:

Paradise Hill - rises up in the south-central part of the town. The now semi-wild country was for a time at the turn of the century the winter quarters for the Sig Sautelle Circus, the original "Greatest Show on Earth." Sautelle was the first to transport his show by rail. The barns on Paradise Hill once were home to Sig's elephants, among other animals. Somehow, it's hard to conjure an image of this scene today.

Quaker Basin - area southeast of the village was settled as early as 1890 by Quakers, most of whom came up from southern New York and Pennsylvania along the "Old Joe Road" (named for its builder, Joe Messinger). The Society of Friends built a meeting house that stood in the center of the valley for 90 years. Ezra Comell, founder of Cornell University, grew up in "the Basin" and attended meetings there.

The meeting house was replaced by a small Methodist Church in 1890. The building is now the home of the active Quaker Basin Community Center, providing a continuing sense of community to the area.

Sheds - proud, cohesive hamlet in the north-central part of the town. This is the only "place" in the town to show up on many road maps, due to the crossing of state routes 13 and 80 here.

Events and traditions have also contributed much to the character of the town. The DeRuyter Fair is just such a tradition. Begun in 1908 as the "Four County Fair," the event was once one of the largest of its kind in Central New York, featuring horse races, more than 1000 exhibitions of all kinds, bands, and carnivals. For years special excursion trains delivered fairgoers from points north and south.

Now held for four days each August and sponsored by the Volunteer Fire Department, the Fair - although somewhat scaled down from those of the early years - continues to help enliven, entertain, and enrich the community.

Date: Sunday, November 15, 1998 11:12 AM

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