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History of Oriskany

The Village of Oriskany is located in Oneida County at the junction of the Mohawk River and the Oriskany Creek, midway between Rome and Utica, New York, and is situated on the rich alluvial plain of the Mohawk Valley.


The earliest traces of settlement was a large village of Oneida Indians, a tribe of the Iroquois nation.  They named the area ORISKA, the place or stream of nettles.  The site was a good location for their village as it offered a good supply of fresh water from the creek, a favorable high vantage point, protection on two sides by the Oriskany Creek and the Mohawk River and fertile soil as indicated by the presence of the nettles.  The location of the village was very close to the major east-west Indian trails of the Mohawk Valley leading to the "Great Carrying Place" which was the pathway of Oneida Lake and thence to the Great Lakes and the west.  The location was also the source of a major north-south transportation artery of the Oriskany Valley that led to the southern portion of New York State and the Susquehanna Valley.


On August 6th, 1777, a significant battle of the American Revolution took place not far from the present Village of Oriskany.  The British plan was to invade the New York Colony by means of a three prong attack.  General John Burgoyne would invade the colony from Canada with a huge army of British regulars, Hessians, Indians and Tories.  He was to capture Fort Ticonderoga and proceed to Albany where he was to meet General Henry Clinton who was to move his British forces north from New York City, capturing the forts along the Hudson River and then meet Burgoyne at Albany.  The third prong was led General Barry St. Leger.  He was to leave Canada with 1400 British regulars, a small number of Hessians, Canadians and was to be joined by large numbers of Tories and Iroquois Indians.  His orders were to travel south, cross Oneida Lake and capture the isolated Fort Stanwix, the only place where a concerted resistance would be met.  He was then to proceed down the Mohawk Valley where Tories and Loyalists were expected to join him as he proceeded to Albany to meet Burgoyne and Howe.  The plan was then to proceed eastward and put an end to the Yankee resistance in New England.


St. Leger believed Fort Stanwix would easily surrender but he was unaware of the tenacity and the courage of Commander Colonel Peter Gansavoort and Colonel Marinus Willett.  Against great odds they defied the order to surrender and relied on General Nicholas Herkimer to come to their aid.


General Herkimer has received news of the siege of Fort Stanwix and was ordered to proceed from Fort Dayton with the Tryon County Militia to relieve the siege.  This small band of men were "un-uniformed, undisciplined, badly drilled and poorly armed" but their valor and determination to protect their homes and their valley and their expert marks-men-ship made up for their shortcomings.  The Tryon County Militia was made up of about 800 men with 15 supply wagons.  Two days after leaving Fort Dayton they arrived at the Oneida village of ORISKA and were joined by 60 friendly Oneida scouts.  This location was about 2 miles from the spot where any ambuscade would shatter the militia.  Word had been sent by Molly Brant to her brother, Iroquois Chief Joseph Brant at St. Leger's camp that Herkimer was in route to relieve Fort Stanwix.  Plans were made by Joseph Brant to surprise Herkimer at a spot a few miles east of the fort.  His detachment had 20 British Rangers, 400 Iroquois and 50 Royal Greens to accomplish his mission.  In a deep ravine, on August 6th, 1777, two miles west of ORISKA the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution took place.  General Herkimer was mortally wounded and the losses to the Tryon County Militia were about 500 to death, wounds and capture.


Brant's forces, especially the Seneca's, took great losses and lost their will to suffer more.  They returned to Fort Stanwix, only to learn that while they were away, Colonel Willett had sacked their camp, taking the necessities of the Indians and returned to the fort laden with supplies and British orders without losing a single soldier.


The siege of the fort continued until August 22 when General Benedict Arnold came up the Mohawk Valley and by a clever ruse led St. Leger and his allies to believe he had a large powerful force with him.


General Herkimer died of his wounds on August 17th and the Mohawk Valley felt the loss of manpower for generations to come.  "Old men who survived found themselves burdened with the widows and families of the yound men."  "Lads, mere striplings, found themselves responsible for sisters, brothers and mothers."  "Homes once happy, were now places of misery."  "Want and suffering were the common inheritance of the entire valley."


Shortly after the Battle of Oriskany the Oneida village of ORISKA was burned to the ground, the crops were destroyed and the cattle were driven off by Mohawk Indians as retaliation for the Oneida's support of the Americans.  The Oneida's of ORISKA responded by moving down the Mohawk Valley, drove Molly Brant from her home in Canajoharie and proceeded to pillage it.  The "irate band" plundered the upper castle of the Mohawk's, driving off livestock and carting off loads of corn and vegetables to make up for their own losses.  Among their booty were gold and silver items and silk gowns.  Honyery Doxtoder, an Oneida with General Herkimer at Oriskany and a resident of ORISKA, moved himself and his family into Mary Brant's house.


Before the Revoluntionary Ware much of what is the present village of Oriskany was owned by the Fauconnier Family.  It was then passed to the DeLancy's, an aggressive loyalist family.  When the Revolution ended, under the Forfeiture Act of 1784, the DeLancy tract was set aside by the state and put up for public sale.


In 1785, Gerrit G. Lansing came into this area to survey the Oriskany Patent.  He had been a soldier in the Revolution and had visited this area in 1779 as a member of the Clinton Sullivan Campaign against the Iroquois in southern and western New York.  Recognizing the beauty, the fertility and potential of the area he returned in 1802 and purchased 400 acres of the Oriskany Patent extending south-west from the Mohawk River on the western side of the Oriskany Creek.


The first settler was Ephraim Webster, who came to this area from New Hampshire in 1784, as an agent to handle relations with the Oneida's and to establish a trading post.


In 1786 an old fur trader, Abraham VanEpps, took over the trading post when Webster moved west to work with the Senecas and Onondagas.


In 1802 Gerrit G. Lansing settled in Oriskany with his wife, Mary Antill Lansing, and his four children, Richard Ray, Barent Bleeker, Edward Antill and Charlotta.  Col. Lansing was born December 11, 1760 and entered the American army at 16 years old and served the entire war.  He was present at several important battles and was at Yorktown under the command of Col. Alexander Hamilton, where he led the "forlorn hope" as a lieutenant.  It was while he was at Yorktown that he became a friend of the Marquis deLafayette.  Col. Lansing came from a politically prominent family of Albany.


He had three brothers; John TenEyck Lansing, delegate to the United States Constitutional Convention, justice of the New York State Supreme Court and Chancellor of the State of New York; Abraham G. Lansing, served in the American Revolution, was the state treasurer and involved in the development of the Great Western Turnpike and the Champlain Steam Boat Co.; and Sanders G. Lansing, a distinguished lawyer of Herkimer County, a supreme court judge and a delegate to draw up the new New York State Constitution.  He had one sister, Sarah, who married Barent Bleeker of Albany.


The Oriskany Creek had ample waterfalls, caused by the 1000 foot drop from its source 30 miles south of Oriskany.  The fast moving water was able to keep the "waterwheels" turning.  In 1810 Lansing erected a grist mill and a saw mill on the west bank of the creek, providing a necessary service to a new, young settlement.


Shortly after Lansing came to Oriskany, problems began to arise between the new nation and Great Britain over the freedom of the seas and trade issues.  Several prominent gentlemen, especially Dr. Seth Capron, became concerned and wanted to aid in "rendering this country independent of England for a supply of clothing."  Two years before a charter for the incorporation of the enterprise could be obtained from the state legislature plans and financing were being attended to.


Land was purchased from Col. Lansing.  The establishment of the woollen mill was a great gamble into unknown areas of manufacturing.  As Dr. Capron's son stated "everything was to be created and everything learned."  Spindles had been imported earlier from Rhode Island in 1794, and these were acquired for the new venture.  William Goss, a Scotchman, was imported to operate the spindles, William Graham was brought here because of his practical knowledge of loom weaving and Mr. Sharp who was an expert in finishing the woven goods.


The Oriskany Manufacturing Company was incorporated February 16, 1811, with capitalization of $200,000, a huge investment at the time, indicating the importance of the project.  The mill was a three story, T shaped, brick and stone building with basement and attic and was filled with the best machinery to be had.  The mill employed about 120 men and consumed about 200,000 pounds of wool in the manufacture of more than 100,000 yards of broad cloths, tweeds and satinetts.  Col. Gerrit Lansing was the first president of the company.  Wages were $15.00 a month, $10.00 of that came in the form of credit at the company store.  In 1818 James Graham introduced the first power loom for weaving woolen yarn ever used in this country.


To provide an adequate supply of wool for the factory, the Mount Merino Association, with $40,000 capital stock, was formed for this purpose.  The Association imported merino sheep directly from Spain and raised them directly across the Mohawk River from Oriskany at a place called Mount Merino.  Dr. Seth Capron was head of this enterprise.  This local supply of fine fleece provided the factory with wool at an equitable price and near at hand as well as being exceedingly remunerative for the Association during the war and during the embargo.


In 1815, at the end of the war, our ports were opened and the introduction of foreign wools "so materially reduced the demand for domestic production that the wool produced by the Association could find no market".  In 1825 Dr. Capron moved to Orange County where he established the manufacturing Town of Walden and it is believed that it was about this time the "sad sequel of the killing of two thousand costly sheep for their pelts, their fleece not paying the expense of their keeping" took place.


On July 4th, 1817, the Erie Canal was begun in the City of Rome, New York.  On October 23, 1819, the channel of the Erie, between Rome and Utica was filled with water from the Oriskany Creek and a jubilant and festive day marked the occasion.  The first boat to test the course had Gerrit Lansing, Governor DeWitt Clinton, and other prominent members of the canal commission and area residents on board.  The canal boat was greeted at Oriskany by the ringing of the mill bell "while little girls were seen throwing flowers and green sprigs into the boat".


In 1825 the Erie Canal was officially opened from Albany to Buffalo.  This was a momentous occasion for every hamlet, village and city along the canal.  For Oriskany it was the beginning of growth and development as the village catered to the demands of the canal travelers and felt the growing pains resulting from the "canawlers" who put down roots and from the settlement of families of men who maintained the canal.  For the most part the effects were on the positive side but the epidemics of cholera and smallpox of the 1830's and 1840's were a detriment.


In June of 1825 the village enjoyed the great distinction when the Marquis deLafayette, who was on a tour of the United States, stepped from his ornately decorated barge at 6 a.m. and breakfasted at the white-pillared Lansing home.  The two old military friends visited for two hours and then proceeded to celebrations in Whitesboro and Utica.


In 1831, just 6 years after the canal opened, Oriskany factories employed more workers, had a larger capitol and used more wool than any other woolen mill in the state.  The canal provided a cheap means of transport of raw materials and a way to ship the finished products to the markets of New York and the west.


On May 27, 1831, Oriskany lost its first citizen when Col. Gerrit G. Lansing passed away at his home.


In this early period several important developments had occurred that affected the everyday lives of the citizens.  In 1810 the first school, a log structure with a four sided roof, was built at the corner of Cider Street and the Rome-Utica Road.  The first post office dates to 1820 with Gerrit Lansing as the first post-master.  The first location was at the end of Dexter Ave. and was moved several times after that.  In 1830 St. Peter's Episcopal Church was founded and a brick school that was used until 1854 was constructed.  The Presbyterian Church had its beginnings in 1831 with the church being erected in 1835.  In the 1840's a Welsh Methodist Church was founded.  In 1839 the Utica Syracuse railroad was built and in 1848 the plank road between Rome and Whitesboro, with Oriskany on the route, was completed.  In 1854 a four room frame school was erected and used until 1892 when the larger brick Union school was built.


The Oriskany Manufacturing Co. continued to operate until 1854.  Presbyterian and Episcopal records indicate there was no employment and many church families moved away.  Some of those years were prosperous, others slow and arduous.  In 1833 a tobacco factory was installed in part of the property, but this only operated for a short time.  In 1856-1857 A.B. Buell purchased the mill site for $12,000 and established it into a furnace.  They turned out castings for farm implements and some typewriter frames for Remington.  This furnace became known as the Buell and Merriman Malleable Iron Co.  In other parts of the old mill woolen machinery was replaced with cotton machinery and still later woolen machinery was reinserted.  This portion of the old mill became the property of Thomas Wood of Utica and subsequently, his son-in-law Dr. Clark.


In 1878 The Empire Felting Co. of Rensselaerville tried to purchase the property owned by the Thomas Wood Estate.  The estate could not reach an agreement with the company so the citizens of Oriskany took matters into their own hands and appointed a committee to purchase the property and then sell it to the Felting Company.  The committee of Walbran, Williams and Shaw sold it to Henry Waterbury, a member of the felting company.  The malleable iron business of Buell and Merriman, occupying part of the purchased property, would not be interfered with.  The far sightedness of the citizens saw the necessity that a viable industry was crucial to the future development and stability of the village.


The Henry Waterbury Company manufactured a thick heavy felting of pure wool making it up into blankets for paper maker mill rollers.


In April 1879 the Buell and Merriman Oriskany Malleable Iron Company was induced to move to Rome, New York.  In October a committee of citizens, composed of George Graham, Samuel Nelson, and William J. Walbran, began books of subscription, for capitol stock in a company to be called The Oriskany Malleable Iron Company, Limited.  The new company took up residence in the former malleable iron company's location and in January of 1880 they began the processing of iron products. 


In 1882 Baker and Scrafford began a "rather splendid" cider mill on the north bank of the Erie Canal.  This prosperous venture was operated by businessmen associated with the hop industry.  Sales agents served both ventures as they traveled about the country.  In June of 1883 Seward Baker severed his connection to the Mohawk Valley Cider Mill and William Locke of Waterville became the sole owner.  In 1886 the Oriskany Malleable Iron Company, Ltd. moved its operation to the site of the cider mill and built their iron works on its foundation.  One year later Henry Waterbury & Sons had doubled their size and had become a major employer and main-stay for the Village of Oriskany.


In 1889 Seward Baker began the development of "Oklahoma" on the east bank of the Oriskany Creek.  This is now a permanent part of the present village.  Other important industries of Oriskany in the late 1880's was the raising of hops, the shipping of thousands of bushels of potatoes by way of the railroad and canal, a steam operated grist mill, a broom factory, and the Oriskany Knitting Co. that manufactured seamless men's hose.


In 1897 Seward Baker became involved in a venture with the trolley company, known as The Belt Line, in the development of a wonderful amusement park, on the Oriskany bluffs, known as Summit Park.  Here, people from all over central New York, came to dance in the beautiful open pavilion, view the surrounding vistas from the observation tower, enjoy good food at the casino, have a glass of sasparilla, view exotic entertainment in the open air amphitheater, and ride on the merry-go-round, the miniature railroad and the roller-coaster.  There was also a grandstand for 300 people, a baseball field and many games of chance such as a penny arcade, a shooting gallery and a skeeball alley.  Behind the grand stand was a sheer cliff dropping more than 125 feet to the Oriskany Creek, which formed a lake, 50 feet wide, behind the old state dam used as a feeder to the Erie Canal.  Steps and landings led a visitor down to the boat house and dock.  Here 20 boats and a canoe could be rented for $.25 an hour.


The average crowd was about 1,000 a night, 1,500 on Saturday and 6,000-7,000 on Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  All records were broken on August 23, 1910 when Teddy Roosevelt was the speaker and 20,000 people entered the turnstiles that day.  The park closed in 1926 after 29 years.  Summit Park serves as a reminder of a more leisurely lifestyle that influenced the development of social and cultural life of this area in the early 20th century.


In 1900, after several serious fires, the citizens of the village saw the need to organize the Oriskany Independent Fire and Hose Company.  In 1903 a fire house was constructed and the following year they purchased a bob-sleigh for $15.00 from Mr. Rice.  The first motorized fire apparatus for the department was a 1923 Reo chemical-engine.  From its inception, the members have been faithful to their purpose by supporting the Fireman's Home on the Hudson and participating in various fire, educational and professional projects.  They consistently care for the Oriskany community with many civic projects.  In 1969 a new municipal building was dedicated and the village shares office space with the fire department and its equipment.


In 1914 the village was incorporated with Edwin H. Salisbury becoming the first president in January of 1915.


In 1931 the Oriskany School became centralized.  In 1932 a new school was built a short way west of the old graded school.  This new building was a dream come true, for the students of the Union school, with a gym, a cafeteria and all the amenities of a new educational facility.  Today this school, with several additions, is a junior-senior high school.  In 1961, the Nicholas A. Walbran Elementary School was constructed in the eastern part of the village.  The present educational facility also includes a bus garage, on the site of the Graded School, a business office across the street from the Junior-Senior High School and extensive athletic fields for the students.


In 1933 the State of New York was ready to construct a state highway from Rome to Utica on the north side of the Mohawk River and Barge Canal, by-passing the location of the Battle of Oriskany.  This produced a fire-storm of debate by villagers, "patriotic and historical societies as well as old families of the Mohawk Valley whose ancestors participated in the battle."  The main argument put forth was that the road should be built over the original last two miles that Herkimer marched.  The public's demand were heard and Route 69 followed his original line of march.  Through the Oriskany Village this highway is the bed and tow-path of the Erie Canal.


During the depression, in 1937, several prominent ladies of the village organized a public library.  Its first home was an abandoned gas station.  The first books of the library were donated by Holland Patent Free Library, the Niles family and the Waterbury Presbyterian Church.  Other supplies such as a stove, a coal box, a sign, a ton of coal and stove pipe were all donated and many people worked to put up shelves and do other necessary work.  In a contest, with Colmar, New Mexico, it was deemed the smallest library in the United States.  In 1941 its contents were moved across the street and served its patrons from there until 1988 when a new library was constructed.  The new library building was named the Helen B. Lawrence Memorial Library in honor of a very devoted, long time librarian.


In August 1943, the 134th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany, the Congress of the United States authorized the construction of the Carrier, U.S.S. ORISKANY (CVA 34).  The ship was launched in October 1945 but final completion was done after many modifications.  In September 1950 She was commissioned at Brooklyn Naval Shipyard.  More renovations were necessary to her flight deck and she was re-commissioned in May of 1952.  Planes flew 7,001 sorties from her decks during the Korean War.  In 1953 and 1954 the ORISKANY served as the ship in the motion picture "The Bridges of Toko Ri" and the next year played host to the staff and crew of the movie "The Men of the Fighting Lady."  After more modifications she was re-commissioned and joined the 7th fleet and deployed in 1965 to her first combat cruise.  On October 25th, 1966, off the coast of Vietnam, a tragic fire below deck broke out and 44 men lost their lives.  Repairs were made and she was assigned 4 more combat cruises in Vietnam.   Her last cruise ended on March 3, 1976 and on September 30, 1976 her flag was lowered for the last time.  To her crew and to the people of Oriskany, She was the "Mighty O."  She brought prestige, honor and respect to the name "Oriskany" and sustained the same valor and devotion as the men who fought in 1777.


In the early 1800's William Green had a beautiful, elegant home built for his son.  In the later 1800's this home was acquired by Charles Waterbury and in 1946 this landmark became the property of Henry Trinkaus, who with his five sons, turned it into a beautiful restaurant.  They were able to maintain the integrity of the old home, and add onto it to become one of the finest dining places in Central New York.  Over the years their Christmas display of lights and decorations brought buses and people from all over New York.  When the "Manor" burned in 1992 a beautiful landmark was destroyed and memories of many special occasions and good times were all that remained. 


A short distance, north and west of the site of the "Manor" has become Trinkaus Park.  It is here where a 15 ton anchor of the U.S.S. ORISKANY, a bell from her deck and an AE4 Sky Hawk rest.  Around the anchor are 44 name plates in honor of the 44 crew members who lose their lives in October of 1966 on board the ship.  At the west end of the park is the Oriskany Village Museum, dedicated in 1997, where dioramas depict the history of the Battle of Oriskany, memorabilia and artifacts tell the history of the village, and it serves as a depository for the archives and artifacts that interpret the history of the ship.  The museum became a reality when the new library was built, as it, and the Battle of Oriskany Historical Society shared the same building.  Robert Heeley's dream of a museum took shape and many joined in to make it a reality.  Besides storing the history of the community it serves as a home where all veterans of the U.S.S. ORISKANY are always welcome.

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