March 28, 2004

Gilesville: tales of a lost hamlet

George Goodrich's Centennial History of the Town of Dryden includes a chapter on "Isaiah Giles and Gilesville". There was no Gilesville on any of the maps I had (including the one in Goodrich's book), so I asked about it last Saturday at the Dryden Historical Society. They pointed me to W. Glen Norris' The Origin of Place Names in Tompkins County, where the sad conclusion is:

the little settlement, which was situated between Etna and Freeville where the main road crosses Fall Creek, disappeared years ago and the name has been forgotten. (23)

Rachel Dickinson, in the Dryden section of The Towns of Tompkins County, described the area as 'Werninckville', presumbably after the furniture store (map) in the area, while discussing the 1996 flooding there.

The actual story is one of Goodrich's better ones, I think. The Giles family seems to have been an impressive group of people, though one regularly tried by difficulty, and which had largely disappeared even by 1897. Goodrich notes that in addition to being a pioneer of the town, Isaiah Giles was a pioneer of the separation of government and religion, despite his strong religious beliefs.

Chapter XXXIV.

Isaiah Giles and Gilesville

Early in the history of the country there came to New England from the mountains of Wales three sturdy brothers with their families, bearing the name of Giles or Gyles. They bore the characteristics that marked the sturdy and and determined followers of Owen Glendower. Courageous, thrifty and resourceful, they regarded nothing better in man than honor and self-reliance. One of these families or their descendants came early into Eastern New York, and it is from this branch that sprang the family that forms the subject of the following sketch. Owing to a serious misfortune that befell the family early in the present century, mention of which will hereafter be made, many records of the history of the family were totally lost, so that much pertaining to such history, prior to that event, has been perpetuated more by tradition than otherwise. But in the preparation of this paper all the care that the time would permit has been taken to reject everything that did not seem well authenticated.

In the summer of 1801 Isaiah Giles came from Orange county to begin a home for himself and family in the town of Dryden upon lands that he had recently purchased on Lot 15. He began his little clearing about, and built his log cabin near, the spring that in later years has been known as the Cheese Factory spring, just northwest of Freeville. After building the cabin he extended his clearing sufficiently to put in a piece of corn the next spring. He then returned east and early the next year, in the month of March, he came back, bringing his wife and children. He did not have time when putting up his house to put on the roof, so that one of the first things to be done, when moving in, was to shovel out the snow, and then cut and put up basswood bark for a roof. Then, with a blanket hung up at the doorway the home and castle of the Giles family was complete, for the time. From that time until the opening of spring, he was engaged in splitting and smoothing up puncheons for a door and flooring, and in building bunks for sleeping. In all the toil and care incident to such a beginning he had an earnest and efficient helper in the person of his good wife, Sarah Lanterman, whom he had married some nine years before. Their family then consisted of seven children, including two pairs of twins. There were subsequently born to them two sons and a daughter. To these children we shall have occasion to refer farther on.

Isaiah Giles and his wife were earnest, thrifty, pushing people, and about them soon began to cluster the evidences of their industry and economy. In the fall of 1802 they harvested their first corn and potatoes. The winter brought many privations and discomforts, but they passed through it without serious sickness or mishap. In the summer of 1803 they harvested their first crop of wheat, and threshed it in the little log barn that they had built the year before. They winnowed away the chaff, and carried the grist to the mill of Elder Daniel White, at Freeville, to be ground, and then had their first wheat bread in the town of Dryden. The clearings and improvements were extended each year by dint of hard labor and good management. But in spite of the energy and thrift of Mr. and Mrs. Giles a great misfortune was in store for them.

About 1806 there came a man by the name of Thompson who laid claim to the land which Isaiah had bought. Investigation showed that Thompson's title was good and that Giles had been defrauded in his purchase. Instances of this kind were not uncommon in the early history of Dryden. But the same spirit that had begun the first home in Dryden was ready to begin again. Gathering together his effects he went down upon Fall Creek at the point afterwards for years known as "Gilesville" and bought another tract of land and began anew. It was here that he, with his sons, built a saw-mill and a carding and fulling mill, and subsequently his sons built an extensive tannery.

Isaiah Giles was a man of considerable prominence in the affairs of the town, at one time serving as magistrate. In this connection a funny circumstance occurred. The writer repeats it as it was told him by Samuel Giles in 1870. Squire Giles, as he was then known, was an ardent Methodist withal, and one dark night a man by the name of Pipher, from the town of Groton, came with his wife to the Giles house and aroused the family, saying that they wanted to be baptised, and that the Lord's business was very urgent. They seemed to have the impression that the civil magistrate was the proper one to administer baptism. Esquire Giles explained the matter to them and directed them to Elder Daniel White, at Freeville, whom they aroused, and who administered the ordinance of baptism and sent them on their way rejoicing.

Although a strong Methodist and feeling the interests of the church of paramount importance, it is said Mr. Giles presented a resolution or notion at town meeting, "that the income from the gospel and school fund should thereafter be used wholly for school purposes." The resolution was carried through his influence, and that of some others.

Mr. Giles died when comparatively a young man, in 1822. His sickness was short and his death unexpected, but he died as he had lived, "diligent in business, fervent in spirit," and a firm believer in the tenets of the church of his choice. His wife survived him forty years, dying in 1862 a woman of great force of character, combined with very good judgment. These qualities were manifested in the manner in which she managed her household after the death of her husband.

Of the ten children of the family six lived to manhood and womanhood. Polly, the oldest of these, married John Van Nortwick, and died in 1823 at the age of twenty-six years. The other surviving daughter married Samuel Mead, and afterwards in 1857 moved to Iowa, where she died at the age of eighty years. It is of the sons that what follows will pertain more particularly.

Samuel and John Giles were twins born in Orange county in 1798. James Giles was born in the same county in 1800. These came with their parents to Dryden in 1802, and may be justly classed among the pioneers of the town. Samuel Giles learned the trade of cabinet making, and John served his time as a tanner and currier with Burnett Cook, late of Ulysses. It was here that he first saw her who was destined in after years to become his wife. She was then but a child in the cradle, and he a lad in his teens. Samuel and John, having finished their apprenticeships, worked as journeymen for some years. James in the meantime had staid at home with his mother and carried on the saw-mill and fulling mill, assisted by an adopted brother, George Van Horn, whose family was in after years well known in the Town of Dryden.

About 1823 Samuel and James went west to seek their fortunes, going as far as Indianapolis, Ind. After prospecting for a time and working at intervals, they concluded that while the soil was wonderfully fertile and the country presented many inducements to young men, the "shakes," as they termed it, more than offset the advantages. So at the beginning of winter they started for Dryden on foot. It was on this journey that their knowledge of mechanics stood them in good stead. They had the opportunity of putting into operation for different parties several carding machines, and when they reached home each had more money than when they started.

It was just after this that Samuel and John decided to build the tannery at Gilesville. This business they carried on with considerable success until 1832, when they built the Tompkins House, a historic hotel in the city of Ithaca. John in the meantime had waited until the child whose cradle he had rocked when an apprentice boy had grown to young womanhood, and in 1828 he was married to her (then Miss Mary A. Cook.) The union was a happy one. Samuel was married in 1832 to Miss Susan Depew.

In 1843, tired of hotel-keeping, they bought the Eddy property on East Hill, at Ithaca, on which they afterward built them a home, which they occupied until their deaths. These twin brothers during all their lives after beginning the tannery business at Gilesville occupied the same house and did business in partnership. John died in Agust, 1862, and Samuel in July, 1871, and his wife in February, 1872. The widow of John is still living at Trumansburg, N. Y.

James Giles was married to Barbara Raymer and shortly after bought one hundred acres of land on Lot 34, of Dryden. By subsequent additions thereto he owned three hundred and twenty acres. He was a man of unusual force of character, and possessed rare mechanical ability. He was a thorough farmer and early turned his attention to dairying, and was among the first in the town to realize what was then known as fancy prices for butter. He early saw that machinery must play a prominent part in farming, and he began fitting his meadows for the mower, and it was upon his farm one of the first, if not the first, mowers was used in town. For many years he was actively engaged in selling mowers and reapers, and in buying and selling butter, of which article he was long known as being a competent judge. In his good wife he found an efficient helpmate and a wise counselor. They were the parents of eight children, one son and seven daughters. In 1867, feeling the weight of years bearing upon them, they arranged to give up the hard work of life, and passed the management of affairs to the son, Capt. J. J. Giles of Freeville. Mrs. Giles died in November, 1887, and Mr. Giles in October, 1890, at the age of 90 years and 28 days. He had lived as long if not longer in the town of Dryden than any other person. Of the family of James Giles there are still living one son and four daughters.

Sarah Lanterman Giles, the wife of Isaiah Giles died in 1862 at the age of 91 years and 13 days.

In speaking of the misfortunes that befell the family of Isaiah Giles it may be mentioned that soon after moving to Fall Creek an event occurred that ever afterward cast a shadow over the life of James. It occurred during the time in the year when the latter was engaged in running the saw-mill. The little brother, Weyburn, some four or five years old, had been down to the mill, and, as his brother supposed, had gone to the house, as he saw him go down the path and across the foot bridge spanning the race leading from the mill. But it seems that something in the race had attracted the child and he had either climbed down or fallen into the race, just as James hoisted the gate. The rush of the waters and the noise of the mill drowned his cries, but the brother caught a glimpse of his clothing as he was struggling in the water. To shut the gate was but the work of a moment and he rushed to his rescue, but it was too late; as he carried the dripping form to the house he found that life was extinct.

It was when the creek farm was nearly paid for, and at a time when Isaiah Giles had gone to Dryden to make the last payment, the family home was burned. Little or nothing was saved from the house. Then it was that the family records afore-mentioned were lost.

Ai W. Giles, born in 1810, was the youngest child. When he came to man's estate he worked for and with Samuel Giles until they left the Tompkins House. He then took charge of it and for some time conducted the business alone. He at one time had charge of the tannery at Gilesville for a short period. He was engaged in the shoe business for a short time at Ithaca, and occupied the property known as the Half Way House, on the Bridle Road. He was afterward connected with the milling business at Free Hollow, as it was then known, and kept a flour and feed store in Ithaca. He was married in 1846 to Miss Nancy Leach, of Chenango county, N. Y. He died childless in Ithaca in November, 1889. His wife survived him some three or four years.

In matters of politics the Giles brothers were Democrats until 1856, when they became Republicans and remained such until the end. They never took any active part in political matters and none of them ever held any public office save Samuel, who in 1835 was trustee of the village of Ithaca, and in 1845 was supervisor of the town of Ithaca. In 1854, Samuel Giles was named by the Legislature, with Stephen B. Cushing and Horace Mack, as a building committee in the act authorizing the building of the Court House at Ithaca. S. & J. Giles was a firm name known and honored among business men of Central New York. Unlike in temperament, yet they lived and worked together without friction. John died childless and Samuel lived to bury his last child, Miss Sarah Giles, in 1866.

The records of Tompkins county show that the first will proven in the county, September 6, 1817, was witnessed by Isaiah and Sarah Giles, being the will of John Morris, of Lansing, and presumably drawn by Isaiah Giles. The family name has now but one representative, and when Capt. J. J. Giles shall have been gathered to his fathers, a name for nearly one hundred years so well and favorably known in the town will be known only as a matter of history.

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 144-9.

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

Posted by simon at March 28, 2004 10:05 AM in , ,
Note on photos