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Centennial History of Delaware County, New York: 1797-1897

The following are some excerpts from the Centennial History of Delaware County, New York: 1797-1897. The section on Hancock was authored by Wesley Gould.

The Town of Hancock was formed in March, 1806. It was named after the celebrated John Hancock. The town contains nearly 170 square miles of territory, and the Delaware river, including the West and East branches thereof flows upwards of forty miles through the town and along its southerly border. The first permanent settler was Josiah Parks, who having been an officer in the British navy, was commonly known as “Bo’sen” Parks. Parks, after he left the British service, married and moved to Shawangunk, in Ulster county, where he remained until the breaking out of the Revolution. After the battle of Minisink he moved his family to Equinunk, coming up the river in a canoe with his family and all their belongings, and finding shelter in a cave in the rocks.

Shortly thereafter he built a log cabin on the line of what is now the Town of Hancock. In 1784 a Baptist minister, by the name of Ezekiel Sampson settled on the flats a short distance below where Hancock Village now is. In 1787 Judge Samuel Preston came to Stockport (across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania) to survey the lands in that vicinity, one Edward Doyle from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, coming with him. In 1789 Judge Preston determined to establish a colony, locating himself at Stockport. Young Doyle determined to remain with him, and settled at a point two and one-half miles below Shehocton, now Hancock Village. The first settlement made in the upper end, of the Town, was by Abraham Sprague at Long Flats, in 1788.

Abraham Sprague came direct to this place from Newburgh, upon his discharge from the Continental Army. In 1800 Titus Williams and one Stephenson built the first grist mill near there. Silas Bouker, Major Landfield and Jesse Baxter settled at Harvard in 1790. About two years thereafter Ichabod Benton, Solomon Miller and Elijah Thomas settled what is known as the Martin Flat near Harvard. In the same year James Miller and his two brothers settled at the juncture of the East branch and Beaverkill on the site of an ancient Indian village called “Pacatacan,” and on the exact spot where now stands the thriving village of East Branch. About the same year, 1792, Jonathan Bolton settled on Bolton Flat, and one Gilbert Early on the Early Flat, about midway between East Branch and Fish Eddy. This flat contained several hundred acres of productive land, and was considered one of the finest along the East Branch for many miles.

The first settler at Fish Eddy was Jonas Lakin, better known as Squire Lakin, who cleared a small place near the mouth of the brook, and erected a store, thought by some to have been the first store in town. About the year 1792 Ebenezer Wheeler, emigrating from Massachusetts, settled in the town and built a saw mill at Partridge Island. About this time there came to Cadosia and Hancock the Leonards, Hawks and Sands. Prior settlements had all been along the river and its principal branches, but little being known of the immense tract lying along the section known at the present time as the French Woods and Goulds. That vast territory being well watered, and mostly covered with hardwood timber, is much the best part of the town for agricultural purposes. Numerous streams starting along this elevation flow northwesterly into the East Branch, and southerly into the Delaware. At the heads of many of these streams are fine lakes and good farming lands, but in following the same as they near the river the valleys become narrow, and the mountains upon each side steep and high so that the land is practically untillable, and this is so with each of the score or more of streams rising in the highlands and flowing into the river, as already stated. This vast section of several thousand acres was deemed of little value by the early settlers.

There being no roads, nor means of getting the timber to the river, it remained comparatively an unbroken wilderness for many years after the settlements along the river. In the early part of the present century David, Asher and Loring Leonard settled the westerly part of this section, known as the French Woods. Shortly thereafter colonies of French and Germans, principally from New York city, settled there, many clearing their lands and making permanent homes.

In the fall of 1842, John Gould, having exchanged two brick houses in the City of Newburgh for a large tract of wild land, in the central part of the highlands between the rivers now known as Goulds, removed his family there. In the early part of October, having arrived at Westfield Flats, and the end of the roads and civilization, he together with his family consisting of a wife, one daughter and seven sons, started with a caravan of six ox teams and sleds. Cutting their way through the forests, they arrived at their destination October 13th, having been three days and two nights on the journey through the wilderness.

With the pioneer spirit and lofty puritanism he left the culture and civilization of the beautiful Hudson valley, thinking that he might better rear his large family of boys “Far from the mad’ning crowd’s ignoble strife.” Within a few years after Mr. Gould moved into this section quite a number of families, mostly from Schoharie county, settled there, generally engaging in farming. This settlement closed the period of pioneering, as the Town had no more large isolated tracts lying wild and unoccupied.

Cadosia Trestle on the former New York, Ontario, & Western Railway

The chief industries in the Town during the first three-quarters of the present century (1800’s) were tanning and rafting lumber down the Delaware. For many years millions of feet of hemlock, pine and hardwood were annually run to the down river markets, the hemlock bark being used principally at home in the tanneries. As the tanning business and the rafting of lumber declined, the manufacture of hardwood, by chemical processes, into acetate of lime, wood alcohol and charcoal developed into an extensive business.

There is at this time (1897) nine large factories in the town, costing, with equipments, several hundred thousand dollars, and giving employment to hundreds of men. If the destructive forest fires could be entirely suppressed, this industry might continue for countless ages, as the natural reproduction of wood, from lands cut over, would be sufficient to furnish the wood for an equal number of factories indefinitely. Another industry of much importance, and of great benefit, has lately been developed into substantial magnitude; quarrying of bluestone. While this business already has attained to importance, and gives employment to many men, it may no doubt be considered still in its infancy.

The hills and mountains of the town are seemingly full of fine stone quarries, hundreds and probably thousands of them yet unopened, and many of those opened are but partially developed or exhausted. There are still a number of saw mills in town; also a few wood working establishments. Of the latter the town has far too few. With unlimited water power, good facilities for shipping and plenty of timber, this industry should be encouraged, as it could give steady employment to numerous persons, without such a great waste of timber as was occasioned by the rafting of the lumber down the river, or by shipping it, only partially manufactured, from the mills.

The Erie Railway, traversing the town from east to west, has upwards of twenty miles of double track therein. The Ontario and Western and the Scranton branch have about twenty miles of single track in town, making with the Erie forty miles of railroad in town with nine stations. At that time the only means of crossing the river were by canoe, by boat or by fording. Now there is one suspension bridge across the West branch and one across the main river. These were erected by private capital. There are also three iron bridges across the East branch and one across the mouth of the Beaverkill, erected by the town. The total expense of these bridges was about $100,000.

*Modern Notations from the current Century

Interestingly, while the Ontario and Western Railway was abandoned in the 1950’s, the Erie Railway has gone through several ownerships and is now operated by the Central New York Railroad, a branch of the Delaware Otsego System. Timbering remains an important industry in the area as does bluestone. The industrial heritage associated with the railroad, logging and bluestone industries has also become an important tourist attraction. Vacation resorts developed along the former O&W Railroad in both New York and Pennsylvania, many of which remain as summer camps and restaurants.

The summer camp industry is particularly strong in the greater Hancock area and many miles of the former railroad right-of-way have been converted into trails for hiking, horseback riding and snowmobiling. Hunting and fishing have also become major industries for the area, with the West Branch and Upper Delaware both being major fishing attractions used by guides and fishing clubs in the area. Route 97 has been designated as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway and the Upper Delaware, as noted earlier, is part the National Park System. 

A strong second home industry has arisen around these attractions over the last several decades. The Hancock area has become ever more appealing to New York City metro area residents who have decided they want to live or at least be able to regularly enjoy such an area “far from the mad’ning crowd’s ignoble strife.”

Little has changed in the last 108 years since Mr. Wesley Gould quoted those words as the reason his own relatives had much earlier moved his family to Hancock. If the experience of the nearby Hudson Valley and Pocono regions is any guide, one can expect that Hancock will be increasingly chosen by similarly motivated individuals as the location for their permanent homes.

Finally, the Town of Hancock has also been indirectly affected by the construction of the New York City water supply reservoir system in adjoining towns. The nearby Cannonsville and Pepacton Reservoirs are, to some extent, recreational resources (although direct recreational use is strictly limited by the City) and add to the scenic character of the region. The character of the East and West Branches of the Delaware is, in fact, much affected by cold water releases from these reservoirs.

These releases have helped give birth to the area’s well-known fishing industry, which represents an estimated $759 million value ($507 million in economic activity plus another $252 million in second home real estate values connected with that activity.

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