Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

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A Brief History of Davenport

by Mrs. Mary S. Briggs, Historian, Town of Davenport - February, 1997

Of the 39,749 acres of land in the present town of Davenport, the 26,000 acres extending one mile north and south along the Charlotte River make up the Charlotte River Patent. It was granted to Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Crown.

Sir William Johnson had tremendous influence on the Indians, solving their problems and maintaining their loyalty. It was Johnson who executed the treaty at Fort Stanwix. He felt great loyalty to the Crown, but had understanding and sympathy for the cause of the colonists.

Very few settlers were homesteading in this area as the Johnson Patent was not registered until 1768. Though he died June 24,1774 the Charlotte River Patent was safe sanctuary for Indians and Tories during the Revolutionary War.

Among the early settlers in what became Davenport were three families of Scots who immigrated to America on the ''Blessing' in 1773. Roderick, Angus, and Captain John McDonald purchased three lots from Sir William Johnson in 1773. When war came they fought for the Tory cause as did most other Scots in Kortright and Stamford.

After the Revolution their land and animals were confiscated, their homes burned and their families imprisoned five miles south of Albany. Those who escaped went to Canada. Some stayed in Canada; others returned to the Davenport area.

Other early settlers were Germans many of whom paddled down the Charlotte River from Schoharie. The Irish and the Scots came from Bovina and Delhi way, and the English came largely from Connecticut, Massachusetts and from Westchester County. They settled in their little hamlets with little need for interaction since each group followed its own customs and religious habits.

The New York State Legislature realized early the need for financial aid to cities and towns to provide for the growth of the new nation. In that respect legislation was passed in 1790 to give aid to organized towns. Local settlers recognized their needs. Among them was the need to educate their children and the need to have some method of controlling sheep, hogs and cattle who were " free commoners", meaning animals could be pastured anywhere. The animals invaded gardens and were particularly troublesome during rutting season. Discovered in a statistical report found in the 1860 edition of the Gazetteer of New York State by J. H. French, in Davenport, farmers reported 563 horses, 1382 oxen and calves, 1749 cows, 3,445 sheep, and 973 swine. It is easy to understand why the custom of open pasturing was a problem in need of control.

On March 31,1817 the legislature granted Davenport permission to organize a town. Soon after, the first meeting was held at the home of the Widow Sigsbee on April 8,1817. Hugh Orr was chairman of that meeting and Dr. Gardner Westcott acted as clerk. The following officers were elected: John Davenport, supervisor; Seth Goodrich, town clerk; Jesse Booth and David Olmstead Jr., justices of the peace; David Olmstead, John Banner and Gaius Northway, assessors; Andrew TenEick and David Brewer, poor masters; Stephen Olmstead, Coonrod Burgett, and Joseph Goodrich, Commissioners of highways; David P. grower, constable and collector; David Olmstead Jr. Caleb Crandall and Hugh Orr, commissioners of common schools; Gardner Westcott, Jesse Booth, Whitman Bryant, Asa Emmons, and Nathan Bennett, inspectors of common schools.

The first teacher hired was the Widow Hannah Dodge. Within one month four schools were in operation in Davenport. District #1 was near the west end of the ten mile long town; District #2 opened its doors in West Davenport; #3 in Davenport Center; #4 at High Point. Soon after, in 1817, District #5 hired a teacher. By 1858 there were 19 school districts and 959 students in the town.

The Union Free School, grades one through twelve, was built in 1914. In 1939 the Charlotte Valley Central School was built, kindergarten through high school, to serve the expanded Central School District. For comparison, in 1997, in the single centralized school district, extending far beyond the boundaries of Davenport, the enrollment is 480 students who come from parts of Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties.

The Charlotte Turnpike was completed in 1834 having been built by a stock company. Its twenty miles replaced the wagon tracks and spurred on commerce. Salesmen carried new products and ideas to and from the cities to the hinterland. Michael Fletcher, drover, used the turnpike to move cattle, sheep, hogs and turkeys from farms to the Catskill Turnpike and on to the Hudson River where they were loaded on boats headed for New York City.

Being a long narrow town it geographically divided itself into four hamlets. The smallest, on the east end, was Fergusonville. One of its "circuit rider'' pastors was Rev. Samuel D. Ferguson. By 1835 the residents decided to organize the Methodist Society. The same Rev. Ferguson served as the pastor there. Later he built the Fergusonville Boarding Academy with his educator brother, Sanford I. Ferguson. From 1848-1856 the academy prepared young men for Harvard and Weslyan colleges mostly. In 1856 the highly reputed academy was under the direction of James Oliver, still maintaining its reputation as a superior institution. Fergusonville also had a grocery store, a cheese factory, a sawmill, a woolen mill, a shoe shop and a blacksmith. A wagon maker and a wheelwright were nearby.

The hamlet of Davenport grew rapidly after the coming of the turnpike. It had two hotels, one printing office, four dry goods and grocery stores, one hardware store, one jewelry store, three harness shops, one grist mill, one sawmill, three cooper shops, two blacksmiths and two shoe shops. It had one Presbyterian Church until 1878 when a Methodist Church was built.

Davenport Center is on the south side of the Charlotte River at the mouth of the Kortright Creek. Located here was the first Methodist Church, built in 1834. The hamlet had three hotels, three grocery stores, one tannery, three sawmills, one shingle mill, one sash and blind factory, two cooper shops, one wagon shop, one blacksmith, one shoe shop, and one furniture manufactory.

In the western part of the town West Davenport is near Otsego County on the north side of the Charlotte River. It had two churches, the Methodist and the Free Will Baptist Church, a hotel, a store, one grist mill, one sawmill, one woolen mill, one plaster mill, one blacksmith shop, one harness shop, and three cooper shops.

For several years the Ulster & Delaware Railroad transported fluid milk and eggs to New York City and returned with tourists who came to notable boarding houses to escape the summer heat of New York City.

The other railroad to serve Davenport was the Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad. It was especially important for the transportation of huge hop crops to the breweries in Utica.

Orlando Coss operated a cheese factory in Davenport. His cheese was marketed in Utica. With the railroads, local farms increased in size and number encouraged by the demand for fluid milk in the cities. To serve this metropolitan demand two Sheffield Farms creameries operated, one in Davenport and one in Davenport Center.

With the improvements in the highway system, in the 20th century, commerce changed from its dependence on railroads to the use of trucks as its main transportation source. The highly efficient automobile also made it possible for men and women to work away from the 19th century farms. Consequently most farms have ceased operation as we near the year 2,000. In 1939 there were 162 WORKING farms in Davenport; in 1997 there are few more than seven. Farms have been turned into subdivisions or family homes.

It is interesting to note that in 1858 Davenport had 19,220 improved acres of land and 14,844 acres of unoccupied land. There were 399 dwellings but 422 families and a total population of 2233 individuals. In 1997 the Town Clerk mailed out 1842 tax bills though the Davenport population is but 2480 individuals. Obviously, many tax bills went to absentee landowners.

Preparation for the National Bicentennial in 1976 was an opportunity to survey the families who had lived in Davenport for a long time. What was found was both a surprise and a revelation. One hundred thirty-nine families had lived in Davenport continuously for more than a century and more could be added to that list. To be sure the character of the town has changed. No longer a farming community, the descendants of many century families still claim Davenport as home.

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