Village of Clinton — Historically speaking!

Thomas M. Baker
Staff writer
Posted 3/14/19

In celebration of one year in publication the Clinton Record is taking a moment to recognize the history of the community it serves. People have been living, working and going to school in the little …

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Village of Clinton — Historically speaking!


In celebration of one year in publication the Clinton Record is taking a moment to recognize the history of the community it serves.

People have been living, working and going to school in the little village for more than 230 years. And before that, the land was home to the Native Americans for more than 800 years.

The community is the summer fun place with the village green, and the white gazebo in the center of the business district. The village with the farmer’s market on that green many residents in town flock to, with the shops that run along West Park Row, where people stroll slowly and window shop, seemingly always full on the weekends.

Even those who don’t live in the village come to be part of it, with its variety of food, arts and crafts, music and friendly people dancing, eating and chatting. It’s the little “New Englandy” village with a great ice hockey following — they don’t call it “Hockeyville” for nothing. And one of the country’s oldest colleges sitting regally, with it’s historic stone buildings and fine trimmed lawns sitting atop the hill of College Street.

But, do you know how Clinton was established? Do you know it’s history, how it came to be, and for whom it’s named and why?

Let us begin.

History has taught that before the Europeans moved to this country in droves, the Native American stood tall and alone alongside the animals, the trees and over the running streams and rivers of this continent, including upstate New York.

It was the Native American tribe of Oneida Indians who settled this land first. One of five-founding nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, or The Great League of Peace, a political and cultural union begun in 1142 by the “Great Peacemaker” or Deganawida (a name used with respect in special circumstances), with the assistance of Hiawatha, known for his great oratory skills, and Jigonhsasee, a woman known as the “Mother of Nations” within the Confederacy, established to ease the battle among warring tribes and competition for the land’s resources.

Initially, it was the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tribes along with the Oneida’s who formed the group. In 1722, a sixth tribe was added, the Tuscarora, and the group, or “League” was renamed the Six Nations.

At that time, the Iroquois Confederacy held sway in large areas of upstate New York from the St. Lawrence River, to west of the Hudson (River) and south into northern Pennsylvania, according to the book, “ Tuscarora: A History.”

In early March of 1787, four years after the end of the American Revolution, a party of seven families, made up primarily of Revolutionary War veterans from Plymouth, Conn., travelled and settled in the area that was to become Clinton. Led by pioneer, Captain Moses Foote (1734-1819 — hence Foote Road off Route 233), it’s written the settlers found good soil, plentiful forests and friendly Native Americans, according to the Clinton Historical Society.

The Yankee influence of New England is still witnessed today by the Village Green in the heart of the business district with the churches, businesses, and homes facing the square, according to the Town of Kirkland history page.

The settlers named the new village after the first governor of New York, American founding-father and Revolutionary War hero, George Clinton, who just happened to be a close friend of Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington. As a younger man, Clinton served and distinguished himself in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) as a lieutenant in the colonial militia. After the war, Clinton became an attorney, and a year later, district attorney of New York City, according to The Encyclopedia of New York State.

With the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, due to his earlier service, Clinton was commissioned brigadier general of the colonial militia by the New York Provincial Congress and was ordered to defend the Highlands of the Hudson River against British forces. In March of 1777, Clinton was commissioned brigadier general of the Continental Army, plus, he was elected both New York governor and lieutenant governor in June. He chose to resign the office of lieutenant governor and took the gubernatorial oath of office on July 30, 1777.

He did not resign his commission in the Continental Army.

Instead, he commanded forces at both Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery, two forts across from each other on opposite sides of the Hudson River, all the while serving the state of New York as a wartime governor — a governor who was elected five times and served until 1795. He would eventually go on to become the fourth vice-president of the United States under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (1805-1812). He died in office on April, 20 1812 from heart failure at the age of 72. He was the uncle of former New York Governor DeWitt Clinton.

Meanwhile, back in Clinton in 1793, Presbyterian minister and missionary, the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, whose missionary work centered around the caring and nurturing of the Oneida Indians, founded a new school for boys and named it the Hamilton-Oneida Seminary in honor of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who served on the first Board of Trustees, and the Oneida tribe, according to the book, “Alexander Hamilton,” by Ron Chernow.

The seminary admitted both white and Native American students. The school was renamed Hamilton College in 1812, making it the third oldest college in New York after Union College in Schenectady and Columbia University in New York City, according to materials archived at the Clinton Historical Society.

Early on the towns of Whitestown and Paris were where the Village of Clinton resided, but in 1827, it became a part of a new town named after a distinguished resident and benefactor to so many. The newly named Town of Kirkland absorbed the Village of Clinton.

On April 12, 1843, at the age of 56, the Village of Clinton received its charter and was incorporated with its own Board of Trustees, village officials and employees, and became its own taxing jurisdiction.

Three years later, on July 7, 1846 the free press was established in the village with the first publication of the Clinton Signal newspaper, launched by publisher Lewis W. Payne. It sold for $1.25 a year; nearly ten cents a month. The paper, a grey broadsheet with no sketches, no ads, just straight writing jammed on one sheet of paper, billed itself as a “family newspaper” independent in politics, devoted to literature, agriculture and foreign and domestic intelligence.” The Clinton Signal ran until 1851. Six years later, The Oneida Chief newspaper was established in 1857 by Ira D. Brown, and later merged with the new Clinton Courier/Oneida Chief until it became solely The Clinton Courier in 1859, according to the Library of Congress.

The Clinton Courier, published by M.D. Raymond ran in the village until 1956. For years afterwards the paper had nearly 20 separate publishers who kept it active. In 1972 the paper was sold to George Waters of the Rome Sentinel. Twenty years later, in 1992, Reuters Senior Executive Charles “Chuck” Kershner and his wife, Cynthia, took over the paper and once again as if going back to its roots, ran it as a “family newspaper” for 21 years, until the passing of Kershner in 2013.

In March of 2014 the paper was bought by John and Emily Howard, who ran it until September 2015, when it was ended in order to start an online publication, The Signal, which was actually a Twitter account page that began in 2014 and saw its last post in January of 2016.

In March of 2018, The Rome Sentinel came back to serve the village with the Clinton Record newspaper, marking it’s one year anniversary this week.

Other businesses have also been a part of the villages history.

Numerous industries flourished in Clinton throughout the years: grist mills, saw mills, a woolen factory, and the manufacturing of nails, hats, scythes, and bricks; the agricultural industry, started in 1787, is still thriving. In 1797 iron-mining was started, which made “Clinton Hematite Red” famous, but both the iron-mining and the Clinton Metallic Paint Company went out of existence in 1963, according to the Town of Kirkland history page.

In 1887 William McLaren Bristol and John Ripley Myers, Hamilton College graduates invested in a failing pharmaceutical company at 3-5 W. Park Row and founded the company, Bristol-Meyers, (as of 1989, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb,) one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world today.

The Clinton Knitting Company was established in 1912 and ran until 1950. The Clinton House Apartments now sit on its former site, according to the historical society. The Clinton Canning factory, formerly on McBride Avenue, ran from August of 1892 until some time in 1941, according to reports by the Clinton Courier archived by the Clinton Historical Society.

Over the years, Clinton became the home of dignitaries, artists and humanitarians alike. Many of the village’s daughters and sons have made considerable contributions not just to Clinton, but to the country, and the world.

Clinton was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Elihu Root: Secretary of War under presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt.

George Hastings: U.S. Congressman born in Clinton and graduate of Hamilton College.

Grover Cleveland: 22nd and 24th president of the U.S. lived in Clinton briefly as a young man.

B. F. Skinner: Famed psychologist at Harvard University was a Hamilton College graduate.

Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross, a student at the Clinton Liberal Institute, lived in Clinton from 1850-1852.

Natalie Babbitt: President of Kirkland College, the women’s college in Clinton before it was folded into Hamilton College in 1978.

Hildergarde Swift: Award-winning children’s author is a native of Clinton.

Nick Palmeri: Professional hockey player for the New Jersey Devils (2007) is a native of Clinton.

William McLaren Bristol and John Ripley Myers: Hamilton College graduates and founders of the Clinton based origin of Bristol-Myers-Squibb Co.

Today the Village of Clinton is a bustling, vibrant community of approximately 2,000 residents and visitors, steeped in historic charm and old-world glamour, with shops, restaurants and cordial residents and college students meandering the streets.


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