History of Marcellus, Onondaga County, NY

The following information was submitted by John Curtin

MARCELLUS, NEW YORK - 1794-1994 (from Nine Mile Country, by Kathryn C. Heffernan, Visual Artis Publications, Inc., 1978) (from Parsons, Israel. The Centennial History of the Town of Marcellus. Reed's Printing House, 1878) (from The Marcellus Observer, 1978-1994) The town of Marcellus, in Onondaga County, is one of the original townships of a Military Tract which consists of lands assigned to the State of New York and in turn to the Revolutionary soldiers serving from New York State. The lands were premiums, or bounty lands. The Onondaga Valley was the home of the Indians, and Marcellus was a part of their hunting and fishing grounds. In 1794, the land was surveyed, and a highway the width of 4 rods (22 yards) was constructed through the town of Marcellus and stretched from Utica to Canadaigua. The highway - east and west - was known as the Genesee Road. In 1802 it became known as the Seneca Turnpike. >From 1794 to 1800 quite a few settlers came to Marcellus largely from the New England States. Men came in summer or fall in search of homesites. However, the winter snows provided better sleighing to transport the rest of the family. After a time, the hustle and bustle of this community became so great that a stage running east to west came through the town each day. The first permanent settlement made in Marcellus was in 1794 by William Cobb, and the Lawrence families, who located on East Hill. Cyrus Holcomb, about the same time, settled on West Hill, joined later by Col. Bigelow Lawrence and his family. The first settlement made in the village was by Dan Bradley and Samuel Rice in the fall of 1795, and the following winter, Dr. Elnathan Beach came. Major Martin Cossit located in the village in 1798. South Hill was settled by the Wheadon, Frost, Godard, Helay and Cowles families in about 1800. The Northwest part of the town was settled by Henry S. Platt, Simon Pells, and Solomon S. Steele. A little later came the families of Shepards, Thomas North, and Dodge. Soon after, the settlers on East Hill were joined by the Todd, Hillyer, May, Edson, Dorchester and Bangs families. The northeast section of the town was inhabited by James C. Millen and, later in order came Seth Dunbar and Robert McCullough. The southwest part of town, on the turnpike, was settled by Parley E. Howe and Samuel Hayes. Dr. Elisha Chapman came in 1806, and William and Job Tyler were also early settlers. Settlement south of the village was started by the Taylor, Whitney and Bennett families. The region of Thorn Hill - just south of Marietta was settled in 1799 by David Earl, Eleazer Burns, Nathan Turner, and John Wiltsie. Most of these names can be seen today in the Marcellus Village Cemetery, where stones stand in mute evidence of the presence of these early, hardy pioneers. The first death in the village was that of a young man named Jones. He was buried in a place which later contained the house of Isaac Bradley on what is now South Street. The ground was used for several years as a burial place until in 1804, when some twenty bodies were moved to the present village cemetery. The first body interred in the present cemetery was that of Mrs. Eunice Bradley, the first wife of Dan Bradley. Bradley bequeathed this land to the Eastern Religious Society, now the First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus. The first log school house was established in the winter of 1796-97, and Judge Bradley was the first teacher. He taught for two years. Asenath Lawrence, daughter of Col. Bigelow Lawrence, was the first female school teacher. Several small schoolhouses were subsequently built until in the winter of 1812-13. The First Act was passed for the establishment of common schools in New York State. Public money could then be used for build and subsidize schools. The first building on Nine Mile Creek was a sawmill built by Rice and Bradley in 1795-96, and about the year 1800, Maj. May and Mr. Sayles erected a grist mill near the sawmill. By the early 1800's, businesses in operation included three sawmills, 3 custom and flouring mills, 3 paper mills, 1 woolen factory, 1 furniture factory, 1 barley mill, 1 plaster mill, and 1 flax mill. The village boasted six, sometimes seven, dry goods stores, several grocery stores, two drugstores, one hat store, and two taverns (including the Alvord House which opened in 1815 and is still in operation). Goods were replenished from Albany to New York once a year. Merchants travelled to these cities to procure their merchandise. About the year 1816, a smallpox epidemic appeared in town. Two pesthouses were established, one on East Hill, the other on what was then Factory (today Maple) Street - directly east of the village cemetery. All that were inoculated were obliged to live in one or the other pest house, there to be prepared by diet and medicine for the invasion of the disease. Because of the inoculation, the disease would run a much milder course than in those who would not, or by circumstance, could not be inoculated. St. John's Episcopal Church was organized in 1824, and the first services were held in the upper room of the old schoolhouse which stood in the rear of the old Presbyterian Church. In 1837 a new church was built on the corner of Main and Orange Streets, but fire destroyed this building in 1866. A new church was erected in its place in 1869, and later this building was moved to the corner of Maple and Orange Streets. The Methodist Episcopal Church - now named the United Methodist Church - was organized in 1823 at the house of Stephen Cobb. It was then called the First Zion Society of Marcellus. The first church was built on the site where the old Catholic cemetery is now located. Later, about 1830, the building was removed to its present site at the beginning of West Hill. The first Catholic religious services were held in 1853 in the house of John McNally, the first of a number of Irish immigrants who came to Marcellus in the period before America's Civil War. In 1854, a church of about 20 members was organized and called the Church of St. Francis Xavier. Services were held for a number of years in the second story of the old corner tavern, where in 1867 the present building was erected. The First Presbyterian Church of Marcellus began as the Eastern Society in 1801. Judge Bradley was considered the father of this society, and Rev. Levi Parsons the first licensed minister. The present building was erected in 1851. And a thriving Baptist Church at Thorn Hill dates to 1805. Dr. Parsons mentions approximatley 71 physicians who practiced medicine in and around Marcellus beginning with Dr. Elnathan Beach in 1795. Also, there were approximately 15 lawyers who served the village, beginning with David B. Noxon, the first lawyer in the village, and proceeding to lawyers Benoni Lee and W. G. Ellery in 1878. There was a great exodus from Marcellus in the 1830's as more and more people moved west. Stage service was discontinued through the village upon the completion of the railroad in 1837. This was a time of great depression and gloom in the village with old landmarks becoming dilapidated and businesses faltering. Syracuse began to take its place as a prosperous mercantile city, thus diverting business from many small towns like Marcellus. >From 1850, however, to 1887 there existed a great revival of business and building in Marcellus and soon, once more, the town became an object of pride. The woolen factory of Moses and Sayre, Hooper and Beach cabinetware, the printing office of Edmund Reed, the former Herring Paper Mill at the Falls, the Ryan Mill, the Flouring Mill of B. C. Johnson, the Iron and Blacksmith shop of Truman Eggleston, as well as the farm land and quarries, attracted large numbers of Irish immigrants to town - names like Powell, Curtin, Glover, Sennett and Thornton. In 1861, the American Civil War began, and many Marcellians enlisted in the 122d, 149th and 185th regiments, among others. In 1862, St. Francis Xavier Cemetery was opened, and some Civil War casualities from Marcellus were interred there. In 1873, the Lawless family took possession of the old mill (erected in 1804) which was the first paper mill west of the Connecticut Valley. In 1880, the old post office building was built by William Gallup. Edward Moir came to the woolen mills in 1884 and brought with him skilled workers from Scotland. That same year the Marcellus Fire Department was organized. In 1888 the Nightingale Mills went into operation, and that was the same year that Highland Cemetery Association was formed. The Pearl Barley Mills were established by A. V. Smith in 1890 and flagstone sidewalks were placed all over the village as well. D. J. Chrisler Lumber Company opened in 1891 and in the same year the Union Free School District was formed. The next year (1892) a school was built on West Main Street, and in 1898 the M. and O. L. Railroad was founded - one of the shortest carriers in the U.S. next year, 1899, the first electric power from the raceway of the sawmill was used to light 16 modern lights in the village and businesses, plus some homes. Frank Knapp, an attorney, was instrumental in the organization of the M. & O.L., and he also started the Telephone Co. in 1903. That was the same year the Auburn and Syracuse Electric Trolley began operation. In 1908 the first pipeline from Otisco Lake to suburban Syracuse was laid through the village along the creek. In 1909, water became available from Rockwell Springs. That same year, the Town Clock was donated to the Methodist Church by the George Case family, and later the clock was donated to the village. Frank Knapp opened the first bank in 1910, the same year that the Boy Scouts became organized. St. Francis Church Rectory was opened in 1912 and the next year St. John's Parish Center was built. Also in 1913 the Marcellus Library was organized. Samuel Pilot opened the first auto agency in 1916 and the next year, as more Marcellians again marched off to War, in 1917, the Marcellus Bank moved into its new building. In 1921 an antique business was opened known as Martha Jane's, and later Ruth Reed Cummings took over the business. In 1924, St. Francis Church Hall was built and in 1926, the new section of St. Francis Xavier Cemetery was opened. The Masonic House, site of the old Taylor-Talbot Mill, was purchased in 1928 and in the 1930's the present sewer system was placed in the village, under the direction of Mayor Michael Thornton. The Marcellus Strand Theater was opened in 1935 and the next year was dedicated. In 1939, D. J. Chrisler Lumber Co. was purchased by L. D. Paul. A number of Marcellians went off to war in 1941, and the Marcellus Health Council was organized in 1943. In 1947 the present County Garage was opened, and in the same year the Marcellus Community Council was formed. A new telephone building was opened in 1953, the same year the Marcellus Welcome Wagon was formed. In 1955, the gas franchise was granted for Marcellus. In 1959, the Marcellus Bowling Lanes opened. And in 1962, the new Post Office was dedicated, the same year the Lee-Mulroy Road was completed. In 1965, the Marcellus Chorale was founded by Dr. Joseph Centrone. In 1966, the new Fire House was dedicated, the same year as the Loss Apartments were built. In 1968 the new sewage treatment plant opened, and the Janycees were formed, joining the Jaycees who had been organized the year before. In 1970, St. Francis Xavier Instructional Center was dedicated, and Spadatto Construction opened in 1971. Between 1969-71 the Braeside Apartments were built. The new pharmacy opened in 1973 - the same year the St. Francis Xavier Parish celebrated its centennial. In 1976, our nation celebrated its bicentennial and so too did the Town of Marcellus. Following the establishment of the Marcellus Recreation Commission early in 1978, the Marcellus Community Council voted itself out of existence. The new physicians' offices on East Main Street opened in August of 1978, and in that same year the Lower Crown Mill was purchased for the purpose of restoring it and attracting a variety of business tenants. The Marcellus Village Hall was renovated in 1979 and the Onondaga Nature Center at Baltimore Woods was already raising money to move an old home onto their property where it would be set up as part of the Environmental Education and Historic Land Use Center. In 1980, cable television came to Marcellus and 1981 saw the addition of fluoride to Marcellus Village water, causing some discussion among residents. In 1982, the Kasson Road school was leased out to Little Learners and the Marcellus Schools went on an austerity budget for the first time in its history. 1983 saw the construction of a new refreshment stand at the Marcellus athletic field by the Booster Club and a new post office was erected in Marietta. In addition, the bridge over 9 Mile Creek, near Nightingale Mills, was rebuilt, and the Marcellus Girls Soccer team, as representatives of Central New York, went to the first-ever New York State Championship competition. 1984 witnessed a great deal of discussion over a teachers' contract in the district and 1985 saw the completion of a multi-million dollar filtration plant at Otisco Lake by the Onondaga County Water Authority. In 1986, Cathy North became the first female (and officer) of the Marcellus Volunteer Fire Department, and the Marcellus Town Hall was relocated in the Marcellus Key Bank Building. 1987 witnessed the construction of a natural gas pipeline through part of the Town of Marcellus, and the village added new parking, new lighting and a re-greening of the downtown section by the Beautification Committee. In 1988, there was a great deal of controversy over a proposed landfill in the Town of Marcellus by Onondaga County, and the Marcellus Recycling Group got a head start on the rest of the County in its drive for environmental cleanup. And Gail Banks became the first female member of the Marcellus Town Board as well. In 1989, Kasson Road school was leased to BOCES and the Marcellus Girls Soccer Team became the only team in the history of Onondaga County to win a New York State Championship up to that time. That same year Marcellus citizens became involved in a controversy over the zoning of a wholesale supply company on Paul Street, and the Village Board discussed the need for a barking dog ordinance. In 1990, the lower Crown Mill was forced to close because the cost of installing numerous safety codes proved to be too prohibitive, and mandatory recycling became part of life in Marcellus and Onondaga County. In 1991, the economic recession that affected much of the country caused the school, village and town budgets to be cut dramatically, and there was much discussion about the flooding and mud slides that occurred on Highland Drive and Hall Avenue in the village. 1992 witnessed much debate in the town and village over garbage disposal, drainage, and water run-off as well as over the proposed Greenway Trail Project from Otisco to Onondaga Lakes. There was also much discussion over and a vote to keep the village police department. And the Marcellus schools and groundswere given a much needed facelift. In 1993, Marcellus Park was taken over by the Town, Howlett Hill Road was reconstructed, and a large drainage project in the village was completed. Disappearing Lake didn't this year, resulting in a massive pumping project by town authorities. As the bicentennial of the Town of Marcellus approached in 1994, new projects were already underway. A senior citizen housing project in the village, at the end of Austindale Avenue, and the completion of a new fire station on Platt Road would welcome Marcellus into its 3rd century. The village and town, always a picturesque community, today boasts many fine homes - new and old. And throughout its history, Marcellus has had many organizations to enhance its position of pride. The Marcellus Central School, a multi-school campus, is considered one of the finest in the area. The school academic and athletic programs have consistently attained honors for many years. In 1894, 100 years after Bradley, Rice and others put down their roots in the Town of Marcellus, prosperous farms dotted the countryside, mill wheels hummed along Nine Mile Creek and a busy village provided business, social and cultural services to both town and country dwellers. Today, 200 years after its settlement, the town has changed considerably, yet it has remained the same in some respects. No longer is agriculture the mainstay of the economy, and people often travel to nearby communities to shop, dine and find services. The community, however, still retains its small-town atmosphere, and offers what many want - "A Great Place To Live!"

Return to Towns and Villages of Onondaga County page.

Return to Onondaga County NY Gen-Web page.

25 October 1995

14 November 1997