May 23, 2004

Opening the road to Dryden

In this chapter near the start of his Centennial History, George Goodrich tells of the early surveying and naming of Dryden, its passage from county to county, its sale to soldiers of the Revolutionary War, and the challenge of building the Bridle Road, which many of us drive in considerably widened form today.

Chapter III.

The Approach of Civilization.

The War of the Revolution was practically ended in 1781, two years after Sullivan's Campaign was carried out against the Indians of Western New York. Within the next ten years the remnants of the Iroquois confederacy ceded their lands, by various treaties, to the State. Conditions favorable to the settlement of this locality were thus rapidly developed. Other sections of the country, both north and south of us, more readily reached by means of navigable lakes and rivers, were already occupied by the pioneer settlers, while the ridge separating the head waters of the St. Lawrence from those of the Susquehanna, of which our town forms a part, were still largely uninhabited. In February, 1789, the N. Y. State Legislature passed a law for surveying and setting apart for the use of its soldiers of the Revolution who then survived, a large section of land between Seneca and Oneida lakes afterwards known as the "Military Tract", comprising nearly two million acres, and including the town of Dryden, which was designated in the survey as Township No. 23. This tract was surveyed in the years 1789 and 1790, and divided into twenty-six townships, to which two more were afterwards added, making twenty-eight in all, each being about ten miles square and containing one hundred lots of about one mile square each. Dryden is one of the few to retain nearly its original dimensions. The little notch which formerly existed in the southeast corner of the town before the seven lots were set off to Caroline, was caused by the overlapping of the territory known as the Massachusetts Ten Townships upon the Military Tract, the West Owego Creek, which rises in Dryden near the southwest corner, being the west boundary of the former. The lots of Dryden were surveyed in the year 1790, by John Konkle, of Schoharie. In the southeast corner of each lot was set apart one hundred acres, known and frequently referred to in old descriptions, which are brought down into deeds of even this date, as the "State's Hundred Acres," which the owner had the option of exchanging for an equal number of acres of U. S. lands in Ohio; and out of each lot was reserved a piece of fifty acres, known as the "Survey Fifty Acres," which was retained by the surveyor for his services, unless redeemed by the owner at eight dollars. So poor were the early inhabitants in those days, and so scarce was money, that many of them were unable to raise the eight dollars necessary to save the Survey Fifty Acres of their lots even on those terms.

Out of each township one lot was reserved for gospel and school purposes and another for promoting literature, the gospel and school lot in Dryden being No. 29 and the literature lot No. 63. The other lots were drawn by ballot in the year 1791 by the New York soldiers of the Revolution, each private and non-commissioned officer being entitled to draw one lot. A copy of the "Balloting Book" containing the names of the soldiers of the Revolution by whom the lots of the Town of Dryden were originally drawn, can now be found in the Tompkins county clerk's office. This method of distribution of the land of the township by ballot, accounts for the fact that the early settlers of the town did not come in large colonies from any particular part of the older settlements, but came singly or in small groups from localities widely separated.

Prior to this time all of the western part of the state was embraced in the old county of Montgomery, but in the year 1791 Herkimer and Tioga counties, the latter including Dryden, were set off from Montgomery and in 1794 Onondaga county, then made to include all of the Military Tract, was formed and set off from Tioga and Herkimer. Thus our Township No. 23 was, from 1791 to 1794, a part of Tioga county, becoming in 1794 a part of Onondaga county, and so remained until it was appropriated to form a part of the new county of Cayuga in 1799, and was afterwards set off to form a part of the present county of Tompkins upon its organization in the year 1817.

It is thus seen how it happens that all of the records of land titles of the town of Dryden, prior to 1817 and subsequent to 1799, are found in the clerk's office of the county of Cayuga, the records of our own county commencing with its formation in 1817. Township No. 23, while in Montgomery county, was included in the political subdivision of Whitestown; upon its incorporation into Tioga county in 1791 it became a part of the old town of Owego; but when it was absorbed by Onondaga county it was at first included, in its political existence, with the present townships of Enfield and Ithaca in the original town of Ulysses, the organization of which dates back to the formation of Onondaga county in 1794. On Feb. 22, 1803, Township No. 23 was set off by itself, having been previously named Dryden by the commissioners of the land office, in honor of John Dryden, the English poet. The townships of Ithaca and Enfield remained a part of Ulysses, in their political organization, until four years later.

But few of the soldiers of the Revolution came and settled upon the lots which fell to them. The old veterans of those days, like some of later times, cared more for their present comfort than for an opportunity of finding new homes in the wilderness of the Military Tract. Nor can the old Revolutionary soldiers, after having passed through the hardships involved in the seven years' war with England, be blamed for shrinking from the privation and suffering incident to pioneer life in a new country. Many of them disposed of their titles for a mere trifle. For instance, it is said that the original owner of the lot of 640 acres upon which the Dryden Center House now stands, sold it for a coat, hat, one drink of rum, and one dollar in money, and that the soldier who drew Lot No. 9 sold it for "one great coat." "Land sharks" existed even in those days and a great many of the soldiers' claims to the territory of Dryden were bought up for a trifling consideration by speculators in the East, who held them for advanced prices, at which time they were sold to those who became actual settlers.

So great a length of time elapsed between the drawing of the lots and the actual occupation of them, and so many loose and fraudulent transfers were made of them in the meantime, that the uncertainty of titles resulting was one of the troubles which vexed and disappointed the early settlers, much more than we of the present day can realize. Some, however, of the original owners retained their lots and occupied the lands which the government has given them as a bounty for their services. As an example, Elias Larabee, who drew Lot No. 49, including the southeast quarter of Dryden village, came and lived for a long time upon his lot, and one of his descendants, Daniel Lawson, a pensioner of the War of the Rebellion, still owns and occupies a small part of it.

The town having been surveyed in 1790 and the lots being drawn in 1791, the next question was how were these possessions in the wilderness of the Military Tract to be reached. The first settlers had already arrived at Owego and Elmira by way of the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers, while others had come to Syracuse and Auburn by way of the Mohawk and Seneca rivers and the lakes, and settlements had been commenced in and about Ithaca and Lansing, on the banks of Cayuga Lake, by parties who had taken these routes, but there was no direct practicable way to reach from the east the elevated watershed lying between the two, until a road was cut through the woods from Oxford on the Chenango River to Ithaca at the head of Cayuga Lake, which was done in the years 1793, 1794 and 1795 by Joseph Chaplin under a contract from the State. Mr. Chaplin was the first settler in the town of Virgil and we quote from Bouton's History of that town, pages 9 and 10, concerning him and his work as follows :

"To facilitate the settlement of this section of the country, a road was projected connecting Oxford with the Cayuga Lake, to pass through this town [Virgil.] Joseph Chaplin, the first inhabitant, was intrusted with this work. The instrument by which he was authorized to engage in it was authenticated on the fifth of May, 1792. He spent that season in exploring and surveying the route, the length of which is about sixty miles. He came to Lot No. 50 [of Virgil], which he owned and afterward settled, erected a house and prosecuted his work, having a woman to keep the house and cook for workmen. The work of cutting and clearing the road was done in 1793-4; so that he moved his family from Oxford over it in the winter of 1794-5, employing six or seven sleighs freighted with family, furniture, provisions, etc."

But it seems that when he had complete the road as far as Virgil he was persuaded by some settlers from Kidder's Ferry (near Ludlowville) to continue the road from Virgil through to that point, as it then contained more inhabitants than Ithaca. Having done so he presented his bill to the Legislature, which rejected it on the ground that he had not complied with the terms of his contract, which required the road to be built to Ithaca. He then returned and in the year 1795 cut the road through from Virgil to Ithaca known as the "Bridle Road," and thus became entitled to his pay, the first road opened by him being now known as the old State Road, extending between the towns of Dryden and Groton and through Lansing to the Lake.

The foregoing is the version of this matter which has appeared in the local histories previously published, but it is now claimed, with better reason as it seems to us and more consistently with the conditions which are known to have existed, that the Bridle Road was the trial route first partly opened by Chaplin, and which the state government refused to accept because it did not terminate as required by the contract at a point on Cayuga Lake, the early Ithaca settlement being at least a mile from the nearest shore; and that he then fulfilled the letter of his contract by afterwards opening the old State Road to Kidder's Ferry, leaving the first route only a bridle path which Capt. Robertson, as we shall see hereafter, was obliged to widen in order to reach with ox teams by way of Ithaca his site on Lot 53 of Dryden.

We are told that in this work of cutting these new roads through the wilderness, Mr. Chaplin was assisted by his step-son, then a young man, Gideon Messenger by name, who is the ancestor of the present Messenger family of Dryden and the uncle of H. J. Messenger, of Cortland. From Bouton's History we learn that this same Gideon Messenger was the first town clerk of Virgil in 1795, afterwards its supervisor, and that he passed over the State Road from State Bridge, in the eastern part of Virgil, to Cayuga Lake, before there was a single habitation in the whole distance. (Bouton's Supplement, page 39.)

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 6-10.

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

Posted by simon at May 23, 2004 4:19 PM in
Note on photos


Ron Coon said:

Joseph s Coon b 1782 Dryden
married Polly Prosser b 1781 Dryden . Any idea where I may verify birth or marriage. Some of their children were born in dryden , which I have not verified. any help

Mary Jane Lewis Cook said:

Looking for the name of the first (Lewis) husband of Martha (Patty) Larrabee Lewis Lawson, dau. of Elias Larrabee and wife of Daniel Lawson. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks