Spafford, Onondaga County, New York

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The Town of Spafford is located between the southern ends of Skaneateles and Otisco lakes. It is bordered on the northwest by the town of Skaneateles, the northeast by Marcellus, the southeast by Tully, the south end by Cortland County, and on the west by Cayuga County. The town is named for Horatio Spafford (1778-1832), father of the more well known H.G. Spafford who penned the hymn It Is Well.

The History of Spafford [1]

Spafford had its name from Horatio Spafford, author of an early gazetteer of the state, a man who had opinions and expressed them. It was set off April 8, 1811, from several towns. Marcellus gave it thirteen lots, Sempronius eight, and Tully sixteen. The town if about ten miles long and three broad, occupying the ridge between two lakes and their valleys. With Skaneateles lake on one side, and Otisco lake on the other, it has the longest lake front of any town here, and abounds in picturesque ravines and falls. Ripley hill is not as high as Fabius hill, but commands a finer view.

Gilbert Palmer was the first settler, locating on Lot 70 in 1794. His son had a nearly fatal accident that year, and Dr. White was summoned from Clinton. He and the father were guided on the return by an Oneida Indian, who promised to bring them to a log across the outlet at Otisco lake--and he did. Mr. Palmer and his crippled son had no near neighbors for about eight years.

Daniel Tinkham came about 1802, to Lot 89, south of Borodino, but soon found another site. Jonathan Berry succeeded him on the first in March, 1803, and became a prominent man. Dr. Archibald Farr, the first physician, came in April, settling about a mile north of Spafford Corners. The road from Berry's to Farr's was the first in town. This was extended in 1804, about the time Isaac Hall came, and in September, 1806, Mr. Hall drove the first wagon from Spafford to Scott Corners, a road having been opened in 1805 by John Babcock and Elisha Sabins, who came from Scott with sleds.

In 1806 came Jethro Bailey, Abel Amidon, Elias Davis, John Hullibut, Peter Knapp, Otis and Moses Legg, Job Lewis, along the road from Scott to Borodino. Levi Foster, Benjamin Homer, James and Cornelius Williamson, Benjamin Stanton, John Woodward and others came elsewhere. Knapp's landing was on Skaneateles lake.

In 1807 Asahel Roundy and James Bacon settled at Spafford Corners, the former becoming an influential citizen, and the first postmaster in 1814. He built a tavern there in 1820, selling it to William W. Legg in 1843. Samuel Conkling also came in 1807, building the first frame house near Borodino. In Cold Brook, about 1808, Luke Miller raised the first log cabin.

Daniel Wallace settled at Borodino in 1807, and was the head of a large family, one of his grandsons being the first volunteer from Spafford in the Union army. Dr. Farr built the first grist mill in the town in 1808, in Otisco Hollow, and opened the first tavern the same year near Spafford Corners. The first school there was taught that year by Miss Hannah Weston, who came on horseback from Skaneateles. She was afterward Mrs. Asahel Roundy. This was not the first school in town, that being in a log house a mile north of Borodino. This was taught by Miss Sally Packard. Jared Babcock opened the first store in town in 1809, at Spafford Corners, and Lauren Hotchkiss had another there the next year. In fact, that part of the town made most progress, and its people were always on the alert. Two instances of this may be cited in more modern days. The Bucktail road is yet a witness of the strength of the early Democrats there. In 1844 these built the great "Spafford Buggy," an immense structure, all of hickory, and drawn by twenty-four horses. In this they visited Skaneateles and Cortland. In 1856 the Democrats lived mostly at the south end of the town; the Whigs at the north, with the town meeting at Borodino. A great snow storm blocked the roads on the day for this, but a few nearby Whigs voted and went home, as all seemed safe. Late in the day every Democrat from the south end was there. They had turned out in a body, shoveled their way through, and quickly turned the scale.

In 1810 and 1811 Josiah Walker and Judge Walter Wood each built sawmills on Cold brook. The town received its name in 1811, from Mr. Spafford who bought land there, intending to settle, and offered a library to the town if it received his name. He sent books, Asahel Roundy being librarian a long time. A small portion of land was set off to Marcellus and Skaneateles in 1840. The first town meeting was in April, 1812, John Babcock being chosen supervisor and Sylvester Wheaton town clerk. Asahel Roundy was elected in 1813, and held the office for nine years, but not continuously. Job Smith, who came in 1806, was grandfather of Hon. Sidney Smith of Skaneateles, and of two eminent New York physicians, Drs. Stephen and J. Lewis Smith. Among other notable families were the Harmons, Hiscocks, Strongs, Burdicks, Harveys, Fishers, Kneelands, Fitzgeralds, etc.

Spafford made a good record in the war of 1812, and in that for the Union, developing a class of hardy men. Captain Asahel Roundy was noted in this way, physically and mentally. He came on horseback from Vermont in 1807, and many stories are told of him. A man who had settled at Spafford Landing broke his leg. Most people are breathless who climb the hill without a burden. Captain Roundy took the man on his back, and carried him up the steep ascent more than a mile away. He was indeed a Green Mountain boy. He took a hand at law occasionally, both in pleading and executing it, varied by deciding as a judge. One noted decision of his was against all evidence, but he knew the real culprit, who was himself. Right in deciding he may have been right in acting.

Daniel Burroughs, the first merchant in Borodino, sold goods in a log house, and was succeeded by Horace and Stephen Child. Among later merchants were William W. Legg, Thomas Anderson and Zachariah Berry. The first tavern there was built by Isaac Ryder, and the second by Lewis Davis. The first physician was Dr. J. Whiting. At one time the village had three stores, three taverns and three blacksmith shops. Also two churches. Strange as it may seem the town has no record of early distilleries, but there was one convenient across the lake, and reached by the "Jug Handle path" from Apple tree point.

A Freewill Baptist church was organized in 1816, and a plain church was built a little east of Spafford Corners. About 1835 most of the members became Mormons and went west. Their chapel was moved to the corners and became a dwelling. About 1836 another Baptist society was formed there, building a church in 1839. The society became extinct, and the chapel became a store in 1867. The present Methodist church there was built as a Union church in 1840, by Methodists, Universalists, and the remaining Freewill Baptists. A Methodist society was formed in 1809 at Borodino, where the first church stood on the site of the town hall. A Methodist society was also organized at Cold Brook before 1817, where a church was built in 1852. Another Methodist church is east of Spafford creek.

The shores of Skaneateles lake have proved ideal for summer cottages, and with these the old names of localities have often changed. Five Mile point was often called Factory point, from Miner's Wheelhead factory there. It is now Edgewater. Pork point, not far from Borodino Landing, retains its name. Some say that a cargo of pork was shipwrecked there, others that the first barrel of pork in Spafford was there unloaded. Hardscrabble presents fine sites for three cottages, as yet unoccupied. Ten mile point is attractive for large picnics. Hall's Landing is pleasant and picturesque. Then comes a long succession of cottages. Staghorn is one of the best-known points on the lake, and then comes Spafford Landing, once Randall's point, with boarding houses and cottages, and easy of access from many places, with good fishing nearby, picturesque views on every hand.

Among the local stories is that of Abel Amadown, who one day took a drop too much and went down literally. A man tried to raise him and failed. Then he asked his name and had the reply, "Amadown." As this came every time he got angry and said: "Are you down? of course you are, and if you won't get up, stay down." He got up with help. The name is now Amidon.

Elias Davis, a Revolutionary soldier, settled in Skaneateles in 1803, and came thence in a boat in 1806. He died in Spafford in 1851, aged eight-eight. He killed a great bear one winter, between the corners and the lake, one of the last in the town.

Captain Roundy has been mentioned as sometimes taking a hand in legal matters. Hon. Daniel Gott, a once noted lawyer, said he was one of the strongest advocates before a jury of any man he knew. The picturesque Bucktail road perpetuates his political faith, and there are good stories of how he managed things. He was captain of a militia company in 1812, which was called to Sackett's Harbor. His descendants may have inherited literary tastes from their mother, the school teacher.

Daniel Wallace, son of the pioneer of 1807, gave all his sons names of noted men, beginning with Napoleon Bonaparte and ending with Santa Anna. The latter was the first Spafford volunteer April 28, 1861. The name of Borodino may have come from these historic tastes, for Daniel lived and died there, owning over four hundred acres there at one time.

Daniel Burroughs, before mentioned, once swam from Mandana to Pork point on a wager, a distance of three miles. Others have occasionally crossed the lake in this way, but at narrower parts. In early days deer often did this. Before the lake was raised it was sometimes possible to ride around it on horseback, on the beach, as was done by one early resident.

In early times, too, there was a fancy for giving names at the raising of any conspicuous building. In this way a store built by Joseph R. Berry, in 1831, was called the "Proud Farmer's Ruin." He was expected to spend money for costly things, not within the reach of poorer neighbors.

The first child born in the town was Alvah Palmer, and the first marriage was that of Elisha Freeman and Phoebe Smith. The first death was that of Benjamin Chaffee, in August, 1801.

In 1836 Borodino had a church, two taverns, two stores, and about twenty dwellings. In 1886 it had a church, two general stores, two blacksmith shops, two shoe shops, hardware store, wagon shop, harness shop, spring bed factory, meat market and hotel.

At the same time Spafford (originally Spafford Corners) had three general stores, hotel, wagon shop, two blacksmith shops, a shoe shop and church. One can rest there "far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife," and look on forest, lake and hill.

Tully limestone has been quarried in the town to some extent, and on the higher hills there have been opened quarries of paving stone, but the cost of transportation was too high for profitable work.


  1. Past and Present of Syracuse and Onondaga County by The Rev. William M. Beauchamp. NY: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1908, pp. 432-435.

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