HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF MARCELLUS

HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF MARCELLUS

Submitted by Kathy Crowell

Source:  Past and Present of Syracuse and Onondaga County by The Rev. William M. Beauchamp.  NY: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1908, pp. 390-394.


The township of Marcellus, No. 9 of the military tract, was named after a Roman general, slain 208 B. C.  His army was long successfully resisted at the siege of ancient Syracuse by the engineers of Archimedes.  It once included all Skaneateles, the north part of Spafford, and the northwest two-thirds of Otisco.  The latter part lay south of Onondaga, and was known as the "L of Marcellus."  The town retains thirty-two out of its hundred lots.  Most of the grantees sold their claims for very little.  The timber was heavy, with a dense undergrowth in the lowlands, and but little in the uplands.  An Indian trail followed the line of the electric road from the west to Nine Mile creek, crossing the hills due east to Onondaga.  The natural features have been described.

William Cobb, Joab and Rufus Lawrence settled on East hill in 1794.  The former was grandfather of Rev. Stephen Cobb.  That year Cyrus Holcomb settled on West hill, and Samuel Tyler at Tyler hollow, called from him. He was the first justice of the peace in 1798.  The Bowens and Codys came to Clintonville in 1794.  Joseph Cody kept the first tavern there in 1806, and Manasseh Eaton was a merchant there in 1815.  Hon. Dan Bradley and Deacon Samuel Rice came to Marcellus village in 1795, and found squatters there, who soon removed.  Mr. Bradley had been pastor of a Congregational church in Whitestown, New York, was afterward a judge of the county court, and first president of the Onondaga Agricultural Society in 1819.  Deacon Rice kept tavern in his log house, and in 1802 Rev. Mr. Robbins said he "drew a plan for a public house in this place" for him.   This was the third frame house in town.  This inn became popular and stood where St. Francis Xavier's church does now.  Dr. Israel Parsons, town historian, was Deacon Rice's grandson.

Dr. Elnathan Beach, the first physician, came in the winter of 1795-96, and built the first frame house in town.  He was the first postmaster, and was sheriff of Onondaga county in 1799, dying two years later.  The winter he arrived Bradley & Rice built the first sawmill in town, on Nine Mile creek.  As far as it had a name, this was the name of the village then.  Rev. Mr. Robbins uniformly styled it "the east part of the town."  Colonel Bigelow and his eight sons came to East and West hill about that time, owning about one thousand acres on these.  His daughter, Asenath, is said to have taught the first school in Marcellus in 1796, but Dr. Parsons gives Judge Bradley precedence.  The first death was that of a traveler in 1797, buried in the first cemetery on the Isaac Bradley place.  About twenty were buried there before a new site was chosen in 1804.

The Rathbones, Earlls, Cossitts, Wiltsies, Wheadons, Godards, Kelseys, Cowles, Shepards, Dorchesters, Dunbars, Taylors, etc., came later.  Stages went through in 1797.  It can hardly be said they ran.  In 1800 a rude grist mill was built by Messrs. May and Sayles.  In the old town William Stevens was supervisor, 1794-96, Samuel Tyler in 1797, and Winston Day in 1798.

In 1801 Lemuel Johnson built a new store, and Samuel Bishop became the first lawyer.  B. Davis Noxon was the second in 1808.  Woolen mills and distilleries were matters of course.  The first of the former was built about 1812, by Robert and Thomas Dyer.  Several have followed.  The site of the linseed oil mill of 1825, became that of the Marcellus Powder Company in 1881, after many changes.  An explosion once took place there.  There was an earlier powder mill built by Jeptha Cossitt about 1812.  At the present time there are paper mills there, always a great local industry.  The first is supposed to have been built by Mr. Cone in 1806.  John Herring bought this in 1816, and became a noted paper maker.  Tanneries, clock works, plaster mills, wooden ware, stone sawing, bark and barley mills, and machine shops have been some of the other industries on Nine Mile creek, some of these originating the village of Marcellus Falls in 1806.  It was at first called Union village, and nicknamed Algiers.

Clintonville had a post office and shops on the Skaneateles and Hamilton turnpike, but has vanished.  Thorn Hill has a Baptist church, and a name from the Thorn family.  Good agricultural fairs were once held there.  Rose Hill post office was established November 5, 1890, Frank B. Mills, postmaster.  He is a successful seedsman, doing a large business in seeds and catalogues.  Marietta is a hamlet near and on the outlet of Otisco lake.  A railroad running to the lake now makes these places easily accessible, and the lake is a favorite resort.

Marcellus village was a busy place in the days of great stage lines.  In the writer's boyhood it was well known as "Pucker Street," of which there are two stories told.  One is that a young lady was annoyed, as she said, at having to shout for her beau "right in the middle of Pucker Street," and the Lawrence brothers spread the story and the name.  Another was that it came from the confab of a tailor and his customer about a misfit.  The name proved popular.  July 4, 1853, the village was incorporated, William J. Machan being chosen president July 23.  The interurban electric road has proved a great convenience to the place, and it is becoming one of our prettiest towns.  The Otisco Lake railroad also passes through it, connecting with the New York Central at Marcellus Station.

The early settlers formed the "Church of Christ" October 13, 1801, followed by the society called the "Trustees of the Eastern Religious Society of Marcellus," May, 1802.  A church was built in 1803, two statements about which are erroneous.  It was not the first house of worship erected in the county," for Clark says, in Pompey (Vol. 2:244):  "The first house of worship in town was built at 'Butler's (Pompey) Hill,' of logs, about the year 1798."  next, at the dedication--as was the case--:  "It was then remarked, that it was the only meeting house between New-Hartford and the Pacific Ocean, which was literally the fact."  This was an error.   The Rev. Dr. Robbins, who preached there in 1802, said he preached also in a church in East Bloomfield, built in 1801, the first in Western New York.  (See also French's Gazetteer.)  Rev. Levi Parsons was the first pastor, serving for thirty-three years, except an interval of two years in Otisco.  The building has been much enlarged and improved.  A Sunday School was organized in 1818.

In January, 1819, the Third Presbyterian church was organized about five miles southeast of the village.  This lasted till about 1850.

The First Baptist Religious Society of Marcellus was organized at Thorn Hill, September 1, 1815.  The first church was built in 1816, a little southwest of the present one, which was completed in 1849.  The first pastor was Rev. Elias Harman, 1808-16.

The first Methodist society was formed December 8, 1823, at Stephen Cobb's house, but a class of sixteen members preceded this in 1816.  The first church was built of stone, on the hill used as a cemetery by the Roman Catholics, and formerly called Methodist hill.  The next was of stone, at the foot of this.  The third was built of brick in 1858, on the present site.  This was burned January 25, 1877, and the present fine edifice took its place the next year.  The organization in 1823 was called the "First Zion Society of Marcellus."  In September, 1877, it became "The First Methodist Episcopal Church."  A class was also formed at Marcellus Falls, and services were held there by Presbyterians and Methodists.

In 1820 a Universalist society was organized, but it disappeared without building a church.

February 8, 1824, St. John's (P. E.) church was incorporated, with Rev. Amos Pardee as first rector.  A church was consecrated September 2, 1833.  This was burned in December, 1866, and rebuilt in 1869.  This also was burned in July, 1879, when the site was changed, and the third was consecrated February 25, 1881.

St. Francis Xavier's (R. C.) church was organized in 1854, with services in 1853 by Rev. Michael Haes.  The Rev. J. J. Hayden became resident pastor in 1874.

Morning Star Lodge, No. 254, F. & A. M., was instituted in 1862, E. P. Howe, W. M.

Lodge No. 658, I. O. O. F., was instituted February 7, 1893, William McKenzie being N. G.

Dr. Israel Parsons relates how Abraham Tompkins, owner of Lot 24, on part of which Marcellus village stands, came to see it, "viewed the wildness and darkness of the scenery" with disgust, went away and took the first offer for his land.  Another of his stories follows, but as the writer recalls it as he heard it nearly seventy years ago, the man lived alone, lay down before his fire and had to await the coming of neighbors.

"When Judge Bradley and Deacon Rice first came here, there was a man belonging to one of their families who, one night made his bed in a large hemlock bark.  It resulted in a splendid night's sleep, but when he awoke in the morning how great was his surprise to find that he was firmly enclosed within the bark.  The animal heat had caused the bark to roll up, and as it was from a large tree, it was very strong.  His friends after enjoying themselves for awhile at his novel situation, released from his imprisonment by cutting the bark open with an axe.  New comers occasionally made shelves of nice bark, and sometimes would find their crockery shut up in the same way, and in some cases broken."

Two or more stage coaches ran each way daily; fare five cents a mile, and no extra charge for blowing horns.  Among other incidents there was often alcohol in distillery refuse, and the hogs would get drunk on this, acting as oddly as some bipeds.

Every two years general training was held at Marcellus, and its broad central street afforded a fine place for display.  In the last days of these the village had a fine infantry company, called the Marcellus Grays, from their uniform.  The cessation of training days soon ended the organization.

Dr. Parsons records the laying out of the Seneca turnpike in 1802, when the commissioners thought they would look at Camillus.   Their welcome was cold and the dinner colder, at a round price too.  They returned through Marcellus and had a great reception, the best of dinners, and nothing to pay.  Is it necessary to tell what happened?

In 1836 Marcellus village had a post office, An Episcopal, Methodist and a Presbyterian church, a stone flouring mill, sawmill, woolen factory, two paper mills, two taverns, four stores, and about eighty dwellings.  In 1886 there was one more church, three general stores, one hotel, three blacksmiths, grist mill, two woolen mills, two drug stores, two groceries, saloon, two meat markets, two milliners and dressmakers, one lawyer and insurance agent, furniture factory, undertaker, newspaper, powder company, three physicians, barber, three omnibus lines, shoe store, tailor, harness maker, hardware store and tin shop.

In 1836 Marcellus Falls had a grist, saw and a paper mill, a  woolen and a clock factory, a store and fifteen dwellings.  In 1886 there were two paper mills, two groceries, drug store and a grist mill.  At that time Marietta had two blacksmith shops, a general store, wagon shop, shoe shop, hotel, grist mill, sawmill and cooper shop.  The business changes are many and rapid all along the creek.


Submitted 4 December 1998