The patriotic fervor of the early Americans who fought so valiantly for independence and who endured almost continued hardship to bring into reality the dreams of liberty and freedom, is rooted deep in the Village of Herkimer.
The history of Herkimer is indeed one to be proud of. It reflects the community’s active participation in the birth of this great nation, its immediate response to bear arms against t
hose powers who would seek to destroy our American Way of Life.
To get the whole story, let’s turn back the pages, or years, to about 1700. This region then was part of the domain of the mighty Mohawks of the Iroquois Five Nations. Winding paths through the wilderness and the Mohawk River provided the only means of linking one Mohawk castle with another.
The first arrival of the Palantine Germans in New York State was in August 1708 and in the Mohawk Valley as early as 1720, with the advance guard coming to Herkimer in 1722. Soon after 1722 a blockhouse and a church were erected in Herkimer, the church being on the site of the present Reformed Church. A schoolhouse was erected soon afterward.
Because the population comprised mostly Germans, the area became known as “German Flatts”. Except for the hardships naturally arising from settling in wilderness territory, the development of the community progressed peacefully until the outbreak of the French and Indian War which was fought for the mastery of the North American continent.
Herkimer at that time was a “Palantine village” and in the French and Indian War, it suffered one of the most terrible massacres recorded in the Colonial period.
The settlement at Herkimer is the oldest in Herkimer County. The land upon which it is located is what was called “The Stone Ridge” during the Colonial days.
It extended along both sides of the Mohawk River between Frankfort and Little Falls, and included the villages of Herkimer, Mohawk and Ilion. There were 46 lots on each side of the river.
It was divided into tracts of 30 acres each. The 30-acre tracts covered the side of the Village of Herkimer. The settlers, thus being provided with land, worked the soil and built a community consisting of five blockhouses. They also enjoyed the privilege of worshipping God in their own way.
There were about 30 houses on the present site of the Village of Herkimer. At Fort Herkimer there were about 20 on the south side of the river and eight on the north.
In April 1758, the settlement on the south side of the river near the fort was attacked and about 30 settlers were killed. Captain Nicholas Herkimer was in command of the fort. At the unexpected assault he collected within the fort all the settlers he could gather.
Thus the German Flatts settlement prospered until the Revolutionary days when, in 1776, Fort Dayton was erected in the village on a site extending north from Court Street. About the same time the stockade of Fort Herkimer was built, enclosing the stone walls and the historic church there.
These two forts provided a place of safety and protection. They also provided a place to store part of their goods. The fort in the village was named after Col. Elias Dayton, the builder. He also built other forts in the Mohawk Valley.
Fort Dayton occupied the national spotlight on August 4, 1777, when the Tryon County Militia mobilized within its stockade to a strength of about 900 men. A marker in front of the present Courthouse shows the site of Fort Dayton and of this mobilization.
On that same day General Herkimer led his regiment from Fort Dayton and began the fateful march to Oriskany. He followed
the north shore of the Mohawk River, and encamped the first night west of Sterling (Staring) Creek. A DAR marker along Route 5, placed in 1912, notes the spot.
The march westward continued on August 5, and Herkimer’s army, which comprised pioneer German settlers, crossed the Mohawk at old Fort Schuyler (Utica). The second night found the army camped between Sauquoit and Oriskany Creeks, the site also noted by a DAR marker.
Enroute to relieve the siege of Fort Stanwix (Rome), Herkimer’s plans were disrupted when on August 6 he suddenly found himself in the middle of an ambuscade. This was in a small ravine now marked by the Oriskany Battle Field monument.
Although wounded severely in the first fire, Herkimer directed the battle against great odds and when the smoke had cleared it was Herkimer’s gallant army that won what later was determined as one of the decisive battles of the Revolutionary War.
The battle turned the tide in favor of the Americans and prevented the union of British, Tories and Indian forces led by Col. Barry St. Ledger and General Burgoyne.
General Herkimer died August 17, 1777, at his homestead in the Town of Danube. It was only natural that the inhabitants of Fort Dayton area later should decide on Herkimer as the name for their community, in recognition of this great American patriot and hero.
Gen. Benedict Arnold, a brave American soldier at that time, came to Fort Dayton and volunteered with 800 men. He recruited an army to 1,200 men and marched on to Oriskany where on August 22 he found the British, already weakened by the onslaught earlier with Herkimer’s army, had fled.
Thus Fort Dayton was the starting point for many expeditions. General George Washington visited Fort Dayton in July 1783, when he toured the Mohawk Valley to inspect the fortifications.
Herkimer County was set off from Montgomery County in 1791 and Village of Herkimer was made the county seat. By 1797 the village had a courthouse, jail, and the Reformed Dutch Church, also about 40 houses and a population of about 250.
Fort Dayton was torn down soon after the Revolutionary War. General Francis E. Spinner, who served as Treasurer of the United States during the Lincoln’s administration, is perpetuated by a monument of his likeness in Myers Park.
Herkimer was in the midst of the stage coach era in the early 19th century. Relay stations were established here to replace the tired horses.
Herkimer, like other communities of the time, had several whiskey distilleries. Other early industries included an ashery used for the making of potash and a tannery. Rounding out Herkimer’s pioneer industries and businesses were a number of tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, and others. This was an era before ready-to-wear clothing.
The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and skirted Herkimer to the west and south. The Herkimer Hydraulic Canal was built in 1833. The construction of the Hydraulic Canal was heralded as a major achievement in that it harnessed the waters of West Canada Creek and provided waterpower for Herkimer’s mills. The completion of Erie Canal, later the enlarged Erie and then the Barge Canal, added importance to Herkimer as an industrial center.
The Village of Herkimer was incorporated April 6, 1807. The territory for Herkimer at first did not extend to the Mohawk River to the south, nor to the West Canada Creek to the east, but was confined to what was called “Stone Ridge”. On
April 20, 1832, the State Legislature passed an act to consolidate and amend the village charter by enlarging the territory to its present size. The action also provided for the election of a president, four trustees, three assessors, a clerk, a treasurer, a collector and a constable. The charter was amended in 1840 and again in 1851, but the changes were minor.
The people in 1875 voted 270 to 34 to dispense with the special charter, and reorganization was effected under the General Village Law, by which Herkimer still is governed.