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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

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.

Cannonsville

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.

Cleaver

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.

Granton

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.

Rock Rift

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

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.

Two Survivors

Kelsey

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.

Trout Creek

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.

Historical Sites

Historical Sites

The Future

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 [2006]

See also:

Tompkins: The First 200 Years [2006] by Perry Shelton

Memories [2007] by Helen Schriver-Zandt

Once Upon A Time There Was A Cannonsville Valley [1996] by Georgiana W. Merwin

“Peaceful Valley” of Trout Creek [1994] by Georgian W. Merwin

Trout Creek Community Days Recipe Book, Recollection & History of Trout Creek [1992] 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.

30 Comments

    • Robert W. Strilka
    • Posted November 21, 2009 at 8:13 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Hello: I am trying to find a map circa 1890-1913 with the marked homes and names of occupants along the road from Sands Creek to Bush Hill Road along Pine Swamp Brook. It starts in Town of Hancock, goes through Town of Tompkins and ends up in what is now Town of Deposit.
    Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Bob Strilka

  1. Excellent website in that it is both educational and promotes the area. The transparency of the governing body is an example which others would do well to follow. Reviewing the goings on, in the Town of Tompkins, makes me proud of rural America and reminds me this is truly the core of our great nation.

  2. hello, i am looking to buy a home on dry brook rd, the listing tells me it is Walton, in the town Tompkins. In an effort to learn more about the area i have turned to your site. Am I looking at the correct town site?

    • The Town (township) of Tompkins in Delaware County has two Dry Brook Roads:
      1) (South) Dry Brook Road off of Sands Creek Road (Co Rd 67) near the hamlet of Kelsey and
      2) Dry Brook Road which runs through portions of Barbour Brook State Forest and Steam Mill State Forest.
      Yes, this is the correct site for the Town of Tompkins. But Dry Brook Road is a fairly popular name in this region.

  3. Hi, I own the old school house on Finch Hollow Road between Cross road and Dryden Road. I was wondering if anyone had any info, photos, history of the house? Thanks Rob

    • I would recommend obtaining a copy of Perry Shelton’s book “Tompkins: The First 200 Years”. It is an excellent read for someone who is interested in the history of Tompkins and covers many areas including all the old school houses within the town.

        • Cathy Hernandez
        • Posted March 5, 2012 at 2:12 am
        • Permalink

        I would like to purchase a copy of Tompkins: The First 200 Years. Do you know where I can get a copy? I am related to the Giffords, the Cummings, and the Culvers, who were in the Masonville & Trout Creek areas.

  4. Perry Shelton’s book is available at the clerk’s office in the Town of Tompkins Town Hall, 148 Bridge Street, Trout Creek, NY, 13847. Check under the Elected & Appointed Officials tab on this website for the Town Clerk’s hours.

  5. Raised in Trout Creek back in the 50′s thru the 70′s. My Dad had a bar in Cannonsville and Trout Creek called the “Friendly Tavern” Anyone remember Bucky Smith?

    • Hi Gary,

      I guess you would be my fathers half brother. My fathers name is Lynn Smith. His father Maynard Smith divorced his mother Rose when he was young and they didn’t see much of Maynard after that. My mom took us to see my grand father once when I was about 7. We went to his tavern. My name is Debbie and I was born September 21, 1961 two weeks after my great grand mother Debbie Smith died. That is who I was named after. I Hope I didn’t shock you with this information. my email address is debra.schmitz@gmail.com if you would like to have further contact.

      Deb Schmitz

    • Gary, I remember the Friendly Tavern, my family had the Delaware Inn in Hancock, 1963 to late 89

    • My name is Stanley Woodford. The Bucky Smith you mentioned, If his given first name is Philip, He was in the class of 1958 and graduated from Deposit along with me.

  6. I am a direct descent of Samuel Teed, the orginator of Teedville, now Trout Creek. I am trying to find more info on the family.

    • I will talk to Perry Shelton, he wrote two books about the town of Tompkins and he lived here all his life, he is 94 years old, he may be able to help. Bill Layton

  7. I’m trying to locate where Peck Hill Road in Apex was – I’ve seen mention of this road in early 1900s. I suspect it might be the old road that ran from Apex up the hill to the Hathaway Pond Road, towards Kelsey? Thanks, Tom.

    • I think you might be right, I will talk to Perry Shelton and ask him if that is so. I will get back to you——-Bill Layton

    • Tara Hayes Orlowski
    • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:05 am
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    • Reply

    I enjoyed reading about the history of your area. My ancestors are the Boice, VanValkenburg, & Davie families from Tompkins, Granton, Walton, & Dehli. Does anyone know anything about Samuel Boice 1840-1894 or his wife Louise Ann (aka Lucy or LuLu) Latham abt. 1846-1894? Or perhaps know where I can find out about them?

  8. Growing up in Hancock I found this real connection to the Cannonsville area, I have hiked all through the hills finding old homesites, stonequarrys. Have walked the old Gratton road many of times. Their use to be a gathering in Unadilla, NY of the Cannonsville survivors. Haven’t seen that for a while, last one I went to was in the late 90s. I have photo of the stone barn , Rockroyal Dairy barn,on my living room wall,framed. It’s a treasure. Still love the area, now that the city has opened to day boats and canoeing , that’s a real great way to explore..

      • Judi smith-vanwhy
      • Posted September 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm
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      • Reply

      Cliff, my GGF John Shanly built the Delaware Inn. Wondering if you have any memorabilia from living there that you could take a picture of and send me’ I have been inside downstairs in the building. Curious to know what it used to look like in the past. So sad to hear it burned down. It was a beauty in its day.I saw the original Shanly Hotel too. Is that still
      standing. Would have loved to go in there too.

  9. I grew up on Mormon Hollow Road, and went to the one room Rockroyal School (District #4 I believe) between 1956 and 1960. Elsie Ray was our teacher, and I recall that we put on Christmas plays at the church next door every year. My father put in the dam 2 miles up Mormon Hollow (with Jess Howe’s help as I recall) and sold the property to Pam Dawber. I have lived in California since graduating from college in the early 70′s. I remember stopping in at the Friendly Tavern on the way home from my summer job at Bendix ECD in Sidney once or twice. I have lots of memories of the area, including the bonfires when the houses and farms were bulldozed and burned down, and long rides to Deposit Central School on the oldest bus in the fleet (was it #19, or #17?).

    • Stacey Siepmann
    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm
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    • Reply

    I am doing research on an ancestor who lived in Tompkins, circa 1808-1817, who arrived there after living in New York City for 10 years. His name was Henry Lowther. He should have arrived with his wife and his two oldest sons, Edward Hamilton Lowther and William H Lowther, my 3rd ggf. He also may have had a daughter Sarah. According to what I have found, he both had a farm outside of Tompkins and a pub within the town limits. He also had a dispute over his rank in the War of 1812 in the militia. He was promised a lieutenant’s grade, was ovelooked and finally made an ensign. I believe he left Tompkins right around 1820 to go to Ohio where his sons were. Any help would be appreciated.

  10. Looking for information on a John Peck born in Tompkins, I believe his father was Orange Peck and mother was Christy Alger Peck. I also believe after his mother past he lived with an Arnold Day atleast that’s where I find him in the census. Any information would be appreciated.

  11. Orange Peck is my one of my great great grandfathers. The Pecks of Parker Hollow, of Masonville NY. I remember stories of him being the first Peck to come to the US from Wales.

  12. My family believes that Orange Peck is buried in the cemetery in Trout Creek.

    • Traci, I did some searching once for a man named Dave Coons who lived just out of Sidney on old Rt 8. On the back of his property was an old homestead and he always wondered who lived there so many years ago. Beside Dave’s house is an old road that went up over the hill towards Masonville and it connected with what is Parker Hollow today. This was the road used before Rt 8 was built. Near the top of the hill on that old road is where Orange Peck lived . Same place Dave Coons visited many times. Prior to that Orange Peck lived near Mormon Hollow. He is buried in Prospect Cemetery in Sidney and his wife is buried in Pioneer Cemetery if I remember correctly.

  13. Greetings posters! This is a very attractive site. I am looking for any information on Joseph Bradt/Brodt and family who lived in the Trout Creek area until about 1835. The Bradts were an old family originally from Schenectady and Albany. Joseph’s parents would have been Samuel S Bradt born 1764 and Engeltje (Angelique) Veeder born 1762. Would love to know where Joseph lived and the full name of the wife of Joseph. She is listed as Margaret unknown – possibly a Corson. Ten children were born in the Trout Creek area. Joseph would die in Chautauqua in 1790 and the family moved west to Wyalusing, WI.

    Any information would be deeply appreciated!

  14. I am a decendent of Orlando Samuel Hoagland and Charles Wesley
    Orchard – both having lived and raised families in Delaware County. I was
    visiting last fall with my uncle, Gould Warwick Orchard, and we visited the
    Christianville Cemetery on Sands Creek Road, just past the Last Chance
    Hunting Club. In front of the cemetery is the remains of the Christianville
    School, property I understand that is privately owned.

    Several of my Hoagland relatives are buried in the cemetery. While their
    markers are in pretty good shape, there are others which are broken and even
    listing into the creek.

    I’ll be visiting again in Oct. and would like to do little work to preserve the graves most in danger. Who would I need to contact for permission to work in the cemetery? I’d love to learn more about the cemetery and the school. And finally, would love to make arrangements to be sure cemetery is properly kept up. If it were at all possible, I would like to explore the option of purchasing the properties together and restoring the school building as well as the cemetery. I felt so sad to see the state of the cemetery and burned ruin of the school, knowing how much of my family’s history is bound in that area.

    As I am nearly the last living member of that branch of the family, it is especially meaningful to me to know more about those who came before me.

    • Hello Martha T., I’ve notified the town supervisor of your post. I think he’d be the one who could either help you directly or point you in the right direction. His number at the town is listed on the Elected & Appointed Officials tab. Leave a message with your number if he isn’t there to pick-up.

    • I am the town supervisor and I think I know a person that can help you. You can give me a call at 607-865-6310.

  15. Thank you ! I’ll call you tomorrow.


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