This brief history of the Town of Tompkins was composed in 2006 on the occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the Town of Tompkins.
Town of Tompkins
Once part of the Town of Walton, the Town of Pinefield was split off from Walton in 1806. In 1808 it was renamed Tompkins, after New York state governor Daniel D. Tompkins. In the late 1800s Tompkins was the most populous town in Delaware County with over 4,000 inhabitants and had more schools than any other town to serve that population. In 1880 forty-four square miles were taken from the Town of Tompkins to form the Town of Deposit.
Cannonsville was the Town center, and most populous village, until the construction of the Cannonsville Reservoir in the early 1960s. This New York City Board of Water Supply project forced the evacuation of the populations of Cannonsville, Granton, Rock Rift and Rockroyal and the forfeiture of a vast amount of low-lying, prime farmland. In addition, the flooding disrupted the network of roads that tied the community together, and, in effect, divided the Town into two districts, north and south of the reservoir.
In 1962 the Town offices were relocated to the hamlet of Trout Creek, which has since served as the Town center. For many years the Town operated out of the highway building, but, due to a shortage of space, several Town officers used their own homes to conduct town business.
In 2004 construction began on a Town hall. A year later, as that building was nearing completion, a fire occurred in the Highway building, completely destroying it and a fleet of trucks and other machinery. A new building has been erected to house new trucks and equipment.
Currently the Town’s area is 104 square miles, 66,560 acres, with a population of about 1100 residents. TheTown of Tompkins Highway Dept. maintains 78 miles of their own roads, and in the winter, plows an additional 30 miles of county and city roads. Though in area Tompkins is one of the largest towns in Delaware County, it has the smallest population.
A Look Into the Past
Apex was once a bustling center with an O&W Railroad station. This small hamlet, nestled in the mountains, supported a post office, school, and store. The Kerry brothers, who in 1876 built the first acid factory in Delaware County (located south of Apex on the town line), had both a boarding house and horse barn here. Lumbering, along with stone quarrying, was the major source of income for the residents.
The Pierson Sawmill was located 3/4 mile south of Apex. Large stands of timber were cut for shipment to supply down state builders, and the tops were cut into “acid wood” to supply the nearby acid factories. Eventually the hills were stripped of the prime lumber and, at the start of World War I, Mr. Pierson closed his sawmill operation.
The quarrying of stone slowed, probably for lack of demand. The O&W Railroad eventually ceased operation. With no source of income, many residents moved elsewhere to find employment.
Today, the most visible point of history stands in the form of the old schoolhouse, now a privately owned antique store, on Apex Road off of State Route 268.
At the confluence of Trout Creek and the West Branch Delaware River, a settlement was first established by Jessie Dickenson in 1786, hence the original name, Dickenson City. Mr. Dickenson built several businesses but was never able to fulfill his dream. In the early 1800s, the holdings of Mr. Dickenson were sold to Benjamin Cannon who built a homestead across the river.
The area was heavily forested with prime lumber which was cut and rafted down the river to markets in Philadelphia and vicinity. Farmers moved into the area cleared by the lumbermen, and over the next one hundred and fifty years a thriving village grew with churches; grocery, hardware, and feed stores; a post office and a school. It became Tompkins’ Town Center.
Cannonsville residents, like those of Granton, Rockrift, and Rockroyal, were devastated when the news came that the land and homes they had held for generations would be flooded to form a large reservoir to serve the needs of the people of New York City.
Some landmarks still survive the deluge, such as the indestructible Mt. Speedwell, and a monument dedicated to the memory of those who had served their country. The clatter of the milk cans at the creamery is silenced, as well as the rumble of the old bridge, but to those who have experienced these sights and sounds, they will live with us throughout our lives.
Little is known about the settlement of Cleaver, once located on Loomis Brook. It had a schoolhouse and post office, and it is assumed that the early settlers were self-sufficient. In time, these settlers either passed away or moved on, and the land was absorbed by farmers expanding their holdings to support more animals.
In the valley of the West Branch Delaware River, between Cannonsville and Rock Rift, the small settlement of Granton (formerly Carpenter’s Eddy) developed. Early settlers assembled rafts for lumber which they floated down the Delaware on the spring freshets. The rich soil in the area was prime farmland, and in the summer the crops were grown that would have to feed the residents and their livestock throughout the winter. Though the hamlet was small, it did not deter the building of a creamery, post office, and a school.
The building of the reservoir brought the demise of this once quiet little area, where everyone knew their neighbors and held them with great respect. Some years, when the water is low, the remains of the Granton Bridge, built in 1907, can still be seen. Gone but not forgotten.
The first half of the 19th century was a period of steady growth for a small community on the West Branch Delaware River called Rocky Rift. The name was changed to Rock Rift in 1857 with the building of the post office. Lumbering and rafting of timber was their largest industry.
In 1850 construction began on a plank toll road connecting Walton, on the West Branch Delaware River, to the Erie Railroad in Hancock on the East Branch Delaware. This road passed through Rock Rift, sparking a new surge of development. In the 1870s, the Midland (soon to be the O&W) Railroad laid tracks along the same route as the plank road, boosting the development of Rock Rift, but spelling the demise of the plank toll road.
The Inderlied Chemical Company, which operated a large acid factory in Rock Rift, constructed housing for its workers, a store, and a hotel. During World War I, and shortly after, companies in Germany, and DuPont in the U.S., found ways of producing the same chemicals at a far lower cost, and by 1930 the acid factory was closed.
Little is left of the hamlet of Rock Rift, engulfed by the Cannonsville reservoir. If one is aware of the area, the knoll that once was the cemetery can be seen as well as the bridge abutments of the road leading into Rock Rift. All is quiet now, but if one listens carefully, sounds of the many country entertainers who lived in the area can be heard. Memories, oh how precious they are.
Rockroyal was located below the confluence of Loomis Brook and Trout Creek. It was originally named Walleyville, after Sam Walley, the first pioneer to settle in this area, with a land purchase of some 1100 acres.
Mr. Walley’s contribution to the growth of the area was considerable, but it took a New York City boy, turned country, by the name of David Lewis, to really bring the village to life. In the late 1800s, small enterprises began to develop, including a creamery, blacksmith shop, a store, church and a school. Mr. Lewis also built an inn for city borders.
During the depression in the 1930s, the price of milk reached an incredible low, making it impossible for dairy farmers to survive. In an innovative move, farmers here organized a cooperative to buy their own creamery. Their efforts brought nationwide publicity with the Supreme Court case of the “U.S vs. Rockroyal,” the settlement of which proved to be a milestone in establishing the dairy cooperative’s rights in the market place. From 1938 to 1956, the volume of milk sold quadrupled, reaching a high of 24,000,000 lbs annually, with sales exceeding $1,000,000, placing the cooperative among the larger contributors to the economy of Delaware County.
Though their cooperative effort beat the depression, they couldn’t stop New York City’s thirst for land and water. Even Mr. Lewis’ beautiful stone barn was not spared.
James Kelsey, one of the early settlers in Cannonsville, migrated over the hill to the east to form a new hamlet which he called Kelsey, located on Sands Creek. Perhaps the large tracts of unsettled land convinced Mr. Kelsey of the potential for a good life.
Soon, several members of the Hathaway, Frazier, Crawford, Moore, Christian, and Carpenter families came to settle in the area. A post office, store, creamery, and a school, were established to serve the residents. Lumber and bark mills were built, and soon the area was cleared of the prime timber that covered the land. There was some quarrying of stone, and most all materials were hauled to the river to go down the Delaware by raft.
The introduction of the Erie Railroad brought an end to river traffic. The production of dairy products then became the primary source of income for many years. Farming started to decline in the late nineteen fifties, and then the Cannonsville Dam was constructed, bringing the demise of dairy farming in the hamlet.
Today Kelsey is home to a large number of retirees, and the location of many seasonal homes. A few full time residents work for the school, and the D.O.T. in Hancock. While some are self employed in the quarrying of stone, others work out of the area.
Throughout the years, Kelsey has maintained the old schoolhouse as a community center, which is also the voting place for Tompkins District #1. A small, private airport, known as White Birch Field, is located just off Dry Brook Road. Kelsey is also home to Camp Hilltop, a summer camp for boys and girls ages six to sixteen, and the Kingswood Methodist Camp, for families, couples, and friends. Both offer a variety of programs and services.
Look for what’s happening in Kelsey on the web site: www.kelseycommunity.org.
Located on the northern border of the Town of Tompkins, Trout Creek as a community had its beginnings in 1788 when Samuel Teed purchased several 200 acre parcels of what had formerly been the Rapalje Patent of pre-Revolutionary War times. Several friends and relatives, and their families, moved to the area with him and named it Teedville. Situated along the creek known to the Indians as the Gannuissa, both village and stream were later renamed Trout Creek.
Within twenty years it had become a busy crossroads village along the route of the newly constructed Esopus (Catskill) Turnpike. Its economy continued to grow, supported by lumber, trade and farming.
Near the beginning of the 20th century, the building of the mill dams, raceway, mill pond, sawmill, and grist mill, was another masterpiece of Rockroyal’s David Lewis. The mill pond, located just north of Bridge Street, also served as a source from which the ice was cut necessary for every creamery nearby.
On the south side of Bridge St. can be found the building that served as the village lockup; the old schoolhouse, now used as a senior center; and the new Tompkins Town Hall, completed in the summer of 2005, the polling place for Tompkins District #2 voters. A U.S.post office is located on the corner of Bridge St. and County Highway 27.
Trout Creek is also the home of the Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. organized in 1963; the Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary, begun in 1964, and the Trout Creek Emergency Squad, begun in 1965. The Fire Hall is used for many community events. Volunteers today continue to tirelessly serve the 104 square miles of the Town of Tompkins, and neighboring communities.
The future of the Town of Tompkins, of course, is its people: their values, their wisdom, their vision.
The town is unique in being host to a wide range of religious communities: the Trout Creek Community Church, the Kingswood Methodist Camp outside of Kelsey, Padma Samye Ling Buddhist Retreat Center off Bullock Hill, and the International Quaranic Open University off Roods Creek.
Several new neighborhoods are springing up in the town as well: Camelot, Castleview, Tower Mountain, Windfall Run, and another on Dry Brook Road near the Masonville town line.
The town is host to a variety of small businesses such as lumbering, blue stone quarrying, construction, manufacturing, fencing, printing, promotional consulting, communications, bulldozing, dairy, beef, goat, sheep and alpaca farming, recreational vehicle sales, restaurants, taverns, an auction barn, antique shops, greeting cards, arts and crafts, soap making, as well as a growing group of artists – potters, painters, poets and musicians.
Tompkins also has a 4H Club, Gun Town Post 1554 of the American Legion, an American Legion Ladies Auxiliary, and the Trout Creek Senior Club.
Realizing the increasing shortage of fossil fuels, the Town is considering a proposal which would locate wind generators in a remote region of Tompkins, thereby harnessing one of our untapped resources.
The New York City Water Board continues to influence development in the town and county with its regulations, administered by the DEP, and still remains a force to be reckoned with in its reach for more land in the name of water.
Everett Rhinebeck, PB, NR, CFS 
Tompkins: The First 200 Years  by Perry Shelton
Memories  by Helen Schriver-Zandt
Once Upon A Time There Was A Cannonsville Valley  by Georgiana W. Merwin
“Peaceful Valley” of Trout Creek  by Georgian W. Merwin
Trout Creek Community Days Recipe Book, Recollection & History of Trout Creek  compiled by Mary Backus and Carol Seward
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[Added Sept 8, 2012] An article on the drilling of the 44 mile long aqueduct connected to the Cannonsville Reservoir appeared in the March 25, 1956 issue of The Sunday Press, Binghamton, NY. A PDF of the scanned article can be found here.