December 7, 2003

Earliest days

I've been writing about current events and possibilities for the future outlined in the Draft Comprehensive Plan, but I think it's time to listen to George Goodrich about the past again. In this first chapter of The Centennial History of Dryden, he outlines the terrain that still largely defines plans for the town.

Chapter I - Prehistoric Conditions

The complete history of every atom of matter extends back to its creation; so the early history of the territory now known as the town of Dryden, is coeval with the formation of the present surface of the earth itself. While the scope of our work will be mainly confined to the century period immediately following the first settlement of the township by its present race of inhabitants, a brief reference to the earlier conditions will here be permitted, bringing it down to the time when our History properly begins.

Our knowledge of the earth's early history must be principally derived from the science of geology, which teaches that this portion the state of New York was once the bottom of an ancient ocean, of which the sea shells and fossil fishes, found in the stratified layers of our native rocks, and the extensive beds of salt which are now known to underlie the surface of certain sections, if not all of our county, seem to offer abundant proof. Scientific scholars tell us that the northern part of our state first emerged from this prehistoric sea, which, gradually receding toward the south, left bare the native stratified rock formation of our locality in what the geologists term the Chemung period of the Devonian age. They teach us that subsequently powerful forces, by means perhaps of icebergs and glacial action, brought here and scattered about boulders and gravel beds from older and more northern geological formations, at the same time plowing up and pulverizing into soil the native strata, in some places so deep as to form the beds of the numerous lakes which are a marked physical feature of Western New York. These lakes and valleys, with their intermediate ridges of hills and uplands, usually extend in a general north and south direction, the hills of our township varying from 1500 to 1800 feet above the present sea level, while the beds of some of the neighboring lakes, Seneca, for example, lie below the surface of the ocean itself. Just how these results were brought about must still be a matter for scientific study, but certain it is that that this process of creation or development, whatever it may have been, resulted in leaving a rolling surface and a deep and fertile soil covering the beautiful hills and dales of our county of Tompkins.

When first discovered by civilized man our town was a dense forest mostly of hemlock and hard wood timber, liberally sprinkled with large trees of white pine, which in some places grew to be so thrifty and thick as to monopolize the soil and overshadow and crowd out the inferior growth. How many generations of these undisturbed forest trees grew and decayed before being seen by the first settler is a matter of pure speculation; how this primeval forest appeared to the hardy pioneers who cleared it from the sites of our present homes, must be to us a subject for interesting reflections.

The physical features of the country which have suffered the least change in their appearance during the century period of our history, are the larger streams, which, "while man may come and man may go" still "flow on forever" from their fountains to the sea. When first discovered, Virgil, Fall, and Cascadilla creeks, although unconscious of their present names, with more obstructed channels but with larger volumes of water, drained the same valleys through which they still flow. They were then in their wild, untrained, and unbroken state, unsaddled by bridges and unbridled by mill dams, but they took the same general courses which they now pursue, and were the first landmarks in the boundless forest. The hills, too, although hidden from view by the foliage of the unbroken shade, must have presented the same general form as now. Our Dryden lake, since enlarged by artificial means, still had an existence as a small body of water, when nature turned it over for the use of man. For unknown ages, its tiny waves broke on the lonely shore, or in more placid mood, its calm surface, all unseen, reflected the shadows of the virgin forest of pine with which it was completely surrounded.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 1-3.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at December 7, 2003 6:28 AM in
Note on photos