August 1, 2004

Early transportation and crime

I'm not sure what George Goodrich would think of Dryden's current road network, but I'm sure he'd appreciate its general lack of mud, especially on the Bridle Road, now Routes 13 and 366 (and maybe 392 as well, though I need to find an old map to check that.) In this chapter from the Centennial History of Dryden, Goodrich examines the difficulties of getting around in Dryden's early history, as well as a notorious crime in Lansing with Dryden connections. (Ruloff's bar on College Avenue in Ithaca is named after the villain.)

Chapter XIII.

The Period of Development - Transportation

We now enter upon the second quarter-century of Dryden's inhabitation, extending from 1823 to 1847 inclusive, which, for the want of a more appropriate name, we shall refer to as the "Period of Development." The term development might properly be applied to the entire period of Dryden's history, but we feel justified in applying it especially here from the fact that during this particular time the town supported, and was developed with the aid of, its largest number of inhabitants, and the change of its territory from a "howling wilderness" to a productive, civilized country township was more rapid at this time than any other. We shall not attempt to review the events of this period so much in their chronological order as was done in treating the "Pioneer Period," but we shall view the development of our subject from several different standpoints, first giving attention to the matter of transportation.

As we have already seen, the earliest pioneer settlers came bringing their scanty supplies on ox-sleds with wooden shoes, the primitive "Bridle Road" presumably not being adapted to transportation by wheeled vehicles, even in the summer time. At the end of the first twenty-five years the principal thoroughfares had become passable by wagons and stages, the stumps having been removed, the low places being filled with corduroy crossing and the principal streams being spanned with pole bridges. Our highways are none too good at the present time, but we can realize that very much has been done, and much time and labor has been required, to bring them to even their present state of development. Those of us who have occasion to use "woods roads" of the present day are not surprised to read the accounts of the frequency with which the teamsters became "mired" in using the only means of transportation which was then afforded. In view of these circumstances we are not surprised to learn that the first mail was carried by a man on foot between Oxford and Ithaca from 1811 to 1817, and that the first stage commenced running between Homer and Ithaca through Dryden in 1824. Other localities seem to have been more early favored than ours in this respect and the Bath and Jericho Turnpike, chartered by the State in 1804, and later forming a part of the old Ithaca and Catskill stage route and still known as the "turnpike" from Slaterville to Ithaca, passing through the southwest corner of our town, was one of the early thoroughfares connecting the East with the West. But during the period of which we are now speaking transportation on the principal highways, in the absence of all other means, was very much employed, and upon the Bridle Road between Dryden and Ithaca nearly, if not quite, a dozen local hotels or "Taverns," as they were then called, ministered to the wants of travelers and teamsters, and in so doing conducted a thriving business. One of them was the Dryden Center House originally built and operated early in this period by Benjamin Aldrich, already mentioned among the early town officers.

Unlike most of these country inns the Center House has not been permitted to run down, but under the management of its present proprietor, Gardner W. S. Gibson, has been repaired and improved so that it now presents a modern appearance, fully in keeping with its prominence in the early part of the town. Here for a long time town meetings were held and the official business of the town transacted and it is still patronized as the proper place for holding town caucuses. It was not uncommon in those days for such farmers as Edward Griswold and Elias W. Cady to take a wagon load of produce to market at Albany, returning with a load of store goods, and at certain seasons of the year the roads to Syracuse were lined with teamsters returning with wagon loads of salt, lime, and plaster, after having taken loads of farm produce to market. Towanda, then the head of navigation on the Susquehanna river, was also a favorite shipping point at which Dryden farmers marketed their produce.

The Erie Canal ("Clinton's Ditch" as it was derisively called in those times) was opened to navigation in 1825, and in the absence of railroads it soon became a great aid in the means of transportation. Some of the later settlers of this period, James Tripp, for example, who came in from Columbia county in 1836, shipped their goods by way of the canal and drove across the country with their horses and wagons. The Ithaca & Owego Railroad, the second to be chartered in the State, passed over a small corner of Dryden and was opened in 1834, but it was operated wholly by horse power in those days, and gave but little indication of the efficiency, as a means of transportation, afforded by railroads at the present time. Still until the financial panic of 1836, which was a temporary set back, this was a time of rapid growth and prosperity. Permanent buildings were constructed and manufacturing enterprises were instituted. The only brick dwelling ever constructed in Dryden village was built by John Southworth in 1836. The Mallory brothers, from Homer, in 1826 at a point since called from then Malloryville, and there operated a saw-mill, chair factory, carding and cloth dressing machinery and a dye house, employing from thirty to forty hands, and prospering until their mills were destroyed by fire in 1836, when they removed farther west. One of these Mallory brothers (Samuel) recently died at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in his ninety-ninth year.

One of the distressing occurrences of this time, but one which we do not feel at liberty to omit from our History, which professes to speak of all the prominent events, resulted from the connection of the murderer, Edward H. Ruloff, with the town of Dryden. In the year 1842 he served as school teacher in Dryden village and numbers of his pupils are still residents here. He came originally from the province of New Brunswick. On December 31, 1843, he married Miss Harriet Schutt, a lovely Dryden girl seventeen years of age, who had been one of his pupils. They moved to the town of Lansing. In 1845 a daughter was born to them, but shortly afterwards the wife and daughter disappeared, the only visible means of their disappearance being a large strong wooden box which Ruloff was seen to drive away in a wagon towards Cayuga Lake.

He was soon after arrested in the West and brought back to this county; the bottom of the lake was dredged for the box in vain, and, there being no direct evidence of murder, Ruloff was finally sentenced to ten years in State's Prison for abducting his wife. Having served his term he was released and disappeared from public view until the year 1871, when he was convicted of participating in a robbery and murder at Binghamton, for which he was executed. He was a singular character, being a profound and diligent student, and his career was an interesting, though terrible one, afterwards being made the subject of magazine articles upon moral insanity, of which it seemed to furnish a striking example.

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 40-43.

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

Posted by simon at August 1, 2004 12:12 AM in , ,
Note on photos