Shortsville (N.Y.) Enterprise
November 27, 1924
"The Kingdom," Once Thriving Little Known
Small Community's Heyday Century Ago Was
As Picturesque as its Name, But Now Its
Famous Distiller Has Vanished, Its Many
Characters Are Memories, and
Only Hamlet Remains
Midway between Waterloo and Seneca Falls on the state highway between Buffalo and Albany is a community known as "the Kingdom," which has a history not only decidedly interesting, but practically unknown even to some of the best historians of the Finger Lakes region. It was the original home of Sheriff Louis Blaisdell who, some claim, held sway over the territory a century ago in a manner not unlike the monarchies of Europe. The late Harrison Chamberlain, of Seneca Falls, and Attorney M.B. Hawley, a present-day historian of Geneva, has furnished much of the information concerning "the Kingdom."
It is said that nature never repeats its "master work."When Waterloo and Seneca Falls were thriving little communities, "the Kingdom," which even today carries the name, officially was hardly known, yet was destined to acquire more than a local fame. As the years rolled on, the beauty of the place, in river, field and woodland, attracted people to it. Newcomers felled the forest, erected homes, tilled the soil and built up trade and manufacturing business interests.
In his happy, youthful boom the place made wonderful strides ahead, soon outstripping its neighbors to the East and West, and if the fates had continued kind and propitious it would have left Schauyes and Mynderse Mills, as Waterloo and Seneca Falls were then known, far in the the rear. But its name! How strange and euphonious! Thousands have wondered at it.
A century ago the Kingdom was busy with life. Passengers were coming and going by stage-coach, people clustered about the tavern and little red schoolhouse, the grocery store, blacksmith shop and a dozen little houses. A little to the west of this activity stood the Great Western Distillery, parts of the foundation which still remain in silent testimony to the business activity of a century ago. There was a saw mill, flour mill, cooper shop, and on the south side of the river a considerable settlement surrounding the locks, which existed there.
When one wonders what peculiar, saintly quality could have given the place its name, a name which it was known along the pike from Buffalo to Albany, one is puzzled to image what has become of that great activity that now has ceased entirely.
Not Quite "Devil's Kingdom"
When one delves deep into the mystery and gains information from those who know, the name does not sound so singular, after all. Between the Globe Hotel of Seneca Falls and the Eagle Hotel of Waterloo, on the site of the present Towsley block, the Kingdom, at this point where the overflowing currents met, was ever a high tide of social an convivial life. Here the best and the worst met. The tavern was the center of all. Its landlord, one Hooper; though rough and swaggering, was eager to contribute to the comfort and pleasure of his guests. Fond of amusements, he encouraged the athletic sports, common at that day, and drew about him a number of bold venturesome spirits ready for anything. Foot races, jumping, wrestling, pitching quoits and casting weights were the sports indulged in, and often the Saturday afternoons were devoted to them, making the half-day an entertainment that drew not only the people of the community but many from other places.
It was general admitted that in all these contests the Kingdom had able champions and if outsiders came there, as they often did, expecting to carry away prizes, they would run up against a hard proposition. Or if it were a horse race or cock fight, the Kingdom was equally ready, for it had good racers and game cocks that could be brought out at a moment's notice. The place was indeed full of life, full of amusement, of a joy boisterous and loud at times, mingling much of evil with good, and yet undeserving of the name applied to it by those who either out of jest or malice called it the "Devil's Kingdom."
Three Periods of Growth
The growth of the place fell under three periods. Now and then a trapper or adventurous explorer would row his canoe up the river, but the first travel through the section of importance was after construction of the Cayuga Lake bridge and the organization of the stage-coach line. Hence the stage-coach period came first, from 1800 to 1815, when this method of travel and means of development had no rival. Of those who came in this manner, many were so favorably impressed with the place that they settled there.
Of those early settlers many were strong, able men; some came with reputations, while others acquired influence in local and state affairs. Lewis Birdsall settled there, and in 1809 built the brick house now standing just west of the baseball park, for years occupied by James Lawrence, and today owned by Mrs. Stephen Rogers. It was said to be the first brick house in the country. It is today a monument to pioneer enterprise and ingenuity.
The sand and clay of which the bricks were made were taken out of a lot and the kilns or pits in which were burned may still be seen in part. The house is after the Colonial order, with a central entrance and wide hall, the upper story thrown into one room, which was used for holding court and for political purposes. In its spacious room the first Masonic lodge was formed, and for years the building was the only Masonic temple in what is now known as the Finger Lakes Region.
Colonel Jacob Chamberlain
Just west of the building lived John Knox and John Burton, well known in Seneca county history. These men held high positions in the county and state. They were able and brilliant, and of their wit with humor many excellent stories are told today. West of the tavern lived Jacob Chamberlain. He came into this section with teams of oxen, transporting over the long bridge heavy pieces of cannon, and was so pleased with the country that he took 200 acres and actively identified himself with the place.
On the south side of the river there was a settlement, though very small and scattering. The place known today as the Sweet place was owned by Thomas and Frank Carr. Later the Carss sold to Matthew Sisson, and then removed to Seneca Falls where, Thomas Carr was for many years manager of the Carr hotel, which stood on the site of the present New Gould Hotel. West of the Carr property were the homes of S. Dimmick, John Babcock, John Perry and others. These men had taken up land immediately south of the river, and thrifty and industrious in their habits, they had already developed fine farms with large clearings for raising wheat, oats, rye and corn.
The second period came down in 1840. During it the growth on the north side was large. Many new residents had come in, the Lawrences, Reamers, Ilers, Fitts, Harrises, Scotts, Whitmores, Pease, Dennistons, and others, and some continued to live there down to recent years. Thomas R. Lawrence came from Long Island during this period and purchased the Birdsall house. He was a man well cultured and informed, of stately bearing and always dressed neatly in black. He was very fond of fishing, and on pleasant days he could be seen on the river bridge with his pole and line.
Period of Rapid Growth
The pole was the envy of everyone in those days. It would come all apart. It had a silver reel and and a fine silk line, in striking contrast with the rough pole and cotton line in vogue at the time. It was not only the fine tackle that he excelled Mr. Lawrence was an expert fisherman and the skill with which he could cast a line and capture the beauties of the water was the secret of imparting to many of those days a love for this sport that has increased in popularity in the Finger Lakes region.
The important additions, during this period, on the north side were the building of a new mill and turning shop, a cooper shop and grist mill. This was made possible by changes in the navigation of the river. A lock had been constructed with a fall of four to five feet of water. On the berm side a strip of land had been extended up the river, thus divides the canal from the river and creating hydraulic sites and gave a stimulus to the investment of capital in manufacturing enterprises. On the south side of the river, about the locks, the effect was even more marked.
The free navigation of the river, opening a water carriage all along eastward to tide wear, was an era in the development of this section. Boats were built for freight and passengers. The packet line, far more comfortable and expeditious than the Sherwood stage, became the popular mode of travel. At the lock Stephen Smith built a house and grocery and large barns for the accommodation of the boatmen, and his son, Rueben Smith, built a house next to him. John Babcock put up a grist mill, plaster and clover mill, and adjoining was yard for building boats.
Great Western Distillery
Deacon John Fitts, then landlord of the tavern, with a Mr. Gilbert, erected a wool-carding and cloth factory. Matthew Sisson was operating a brewery and malt house and supplying the country around with beer. The effect of these industries was immediate in attracting both people and capital. The population about the locks doubled many times. There were the Jolleys, Colwells, Allemans, Warners and many other newcomers. It was toward the close of this period in the year 1831 that Jacob B. Chamberlain moved down from Varick and settled on the Dimmick farm, just south of the bridge. He remained here twelve years, when he bought the lower Mynderse mills and moved to Seneca Falls. All these have disappeared today, and thee remains a peaceful little settlement of a dozen houses, a rich farming community, but absolutely no industries. There are no falls or locks, the entire water level being controlled from Seneca Falls as far back as Waterloo.
The third period, from 1840, was notable for the construction of the Great Western Distillery. If one should attempt to describe its size, the ground it covered and the number of bushels of wheat, rye, oats and corn consumed daily, all would admit that even in comparison with the great establishments that were stilled by the advent of prohibition a few years ago, it would stand out in great proportion. In those days it was simply a wonder, and there was nothing like it in America. Its original promoters were Colonel Jacob Chamberlain, Pinckney, Lee and Dodge. It was erected in 1841, after the most approved plans. The large boilers were made of copper, and also the large pumps, used in supplying the fermenting vats and for conducting the spirits. The cost of such appliances, when you consider the value of the material, may be readily imagined.
To install the plant and put it into operation, the expenditures ran so high that it was found necessary to bring into the scheme Thomas and Levi Fatzinger and Joseph Wright, of Waterloo. It was a great factor in the growth of the Kingdom. It was the crowning business enterprise, caring the place, drink the early forties, to its height of prosperity.
Many new families had come, including the Hopkins, Conkeys and others, the descendants of whom still live throughout the section. The tavern had grown, and had become in a true sense, a hotel with first class accommodations. Its landlord, George Kuney, constructed a half-mile race course on the site of old Lawrence Park, which was unexcelled in New York state.
It is said that the school house and church measure up a community. On this rule the Kingdom would not fare very well, unless you consider what was wanted in size was made up in quality. The building that served the double purpose was small and within a stone's throw of the tavern, used for school during the week and Sunday afternoons for sacred service. While it is says to draw a mental picture of the unimposing structure, it is not so easy to grasp an idea of what transpired inside, the method and character of school life.
Many changes have taken place in the modes of teaching, but it is a question after all whether the old method of two parts compulsion ad one part persuasion was ever excelled in good results. The plan of threshing ideas into obstinate and dull brains and was rather hard upon the scholar, but wonderfully successful. One who taught in this school for a term, not in intimation that the birch played a greater part than the textbook, but for the fact that Amelia Jenks, afterward Mrs. Bloomer, connected the Kingdom with one of the great progressive and social movements of the century. It was she that introduced the Bloomer mode of dress for women, not unlike the regalia of Turkish women.
Soon by the contributions of her pen she came to be known far and wide as a strong thinker of questions of dress, social and temperance reforms. She was active in the Washingtonian Temperance movement in 1840; and later on, with Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Be. Anthony, in securing the modifications in the law by which woman was given her own right a legal standing, and later complete enfranchisement.
Another incident may well be remember because of its connection with the place with a religious ism that has developed into vast proportions. Just east of the tavern and adjoining the blacksmith shop there stood in the early fifties a small house, one and one-half stories high. Older residents remember it, and recall when it was known as the house where Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, lived for awhile in the fall of 1823. Their impressions of him were not as a whole very flattering.
Smith had been in the habit of coming over from Palmyra, making his living by pretending he could detect hidden springs of water. He was a peculiar, odd-looking man, dressed in the plainest home-spun, and rather an object of wit and pleasantry. It was not till late in the fall of 1828 that he aroused peculiar interest in himself. Then he claimed that he had a singular and mysterious mission. At the start, only to a few of his most intimate friends did he disclose the nature of it. It soon became noised about that Smith had received some spiritual revelation, and the place was wild to learn more about it.
Under apparently a simple and innocent manner, Smith must have been a keen judge of human nature, understanding well how to excite curiosity and make converts. With confidence he told how he had a vision, how in that vision an angel, had pointed out to him a hill where golden plates were buried upon which were engraved the law of the "Latter Day Saints," how he had gone there and found these wonderful plates, becoming the possessor of the latest revelations of God. Some believed and by their influence and money gave the profit great assistance. A church was organized and the baptism of the first saints took place nearby, at Silver Creek. In June, 1830, the first Mormon conference was held in the adjoining town of Fayette.
A century ago the Kingdom was more than a rival of Seneca Falls and Waterloo. Sheriff Birdsall believed with others that it was destined to become the center of the legal and court business of the county. But the resolutions that followed in industrial and manufacturing conditions, the destruction of the Great Western Distillery in 1848, and the introduction of travel by train added to force the Kingdom to give way to other points of trade, and the energy was transplanted elsewhere.