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1850s in Clinton

Can anyone take a look backwards to 1852 and visualize what Clinton looked like, what buildings and homes were standing, what business ventures prospered or failed, or what citizens did for fun and entertainment in the middle of the 19th century?

Let’s turn the clock back now to the less stressful and bucolic days of yore prior to central heating, VCR’s, electricity, cell phones, computers, dvd’s, space flight, Nexium, prozac, stress, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The 1852 Oneida County map is the source for much of this trip to yesteryear.

Clinton had a smaller population and fewer village streets compared with the present and did not look much like today. 750 people resided within the village in 1850, they lived as 131 families in 111 dwelling houses. (Around 650 parcels are within the village today).

Population has increased threefold in the town to 10,000 since 1850. Then the census recorded 3421 people living in the Town of Kirkland of which 521 were foreign-born and 2900 were born here. Immigrants were mainly from Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, and Germany.

The village park had been laid out in an oval shape and was a bit shorter on the south end. The West Park Row blocks were wooden frame structures which were to be lost to separate fires in the 1860’s and 1870’s after which the present brick blocks were built.

Clintonians worshiped in five churches in the 1850’s: the Clinton Methodist Church (now the Kirkland Art Center), the Clinton Baptist Church (now the Clinton Historical Society), the old Stone Presbyterian Church (called the Congregational Church which was destroyed in an 1876 fire), the Universalist Church at 8 Utica Street, and the then-new St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on the corner of Marvin and Prospect streets.

Through the area on today’s State Route 12-B went the Waterville and Utica Plank Road, a financially unsuccessful venture that featured toll houses every few miles. It operated between 1848 and December 1877 when the gates were thrown open. This was a private stock company which provided what we consider today as a legitimate governmental function……public highways. Privatization is nothing new to New York State!

In the village these streets had been laid out: College, Utica, Elm, Prospect, Dwight, Franklin, Meadow, Water (Kirkland), Chestnut (from Marvin to Williams only), Mulberry, Kellogg, Fountain, Marvin, Ives, and the four Park Rows.

The Chenango Canal passed through the village en route between Binghamton and Utica and was in existence from 1836 to 1878 when the new railroads put it out of business. It paralleled the plank road from New Hartford and Franklin Springs(then Franklin Iron Works) to Deansboro and Oriskany Falls and south.

Some remaining locks can be seen just east of McBride Avenue towards Robinson Road and just south of College Street next to Chenango Avenue just before the Milkhouse Apartments. Chenango Avenue was the exact canal bed and was filled in back in the 1920’s to form a street. Bridges carried the canal over College Street and Water (Kirkland) Avenue.

Within sight of the canal in 1852 from his home at 26 Utica Street future President Grover Cleveland lived with his Presbyterian minister father and family. Cleveland attended the Clinton Grammar School at 86-88 College Street as a 14 year old boy. His father worked for the American Home Missionary Society.

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, went to the female division of the Clinton Liberal Institute in 1851-2 as a 29 year old student. This was on Chestnut Street at the top of Williams Street and was run by the Universalist Church. It also had a male division at the corner of Utica and Mulberry streets. In 1878 the C.L.I. moved to fort Plain, New York.

By 1852 the weekly newspaper, the Clinton Signal, had been around just six years and survives today as the Clinton Courier, the oldest continuous business establishment in the town. A sampling of stories from the 1850’s included local news, opinion, and articles on national topics such as the temperance movement, slavery and the abolition movement, and the women’s suffrage drive to allow women to vote.

Ads for traveling shows and exhibitions and usual local stores were in the paper.

Merchants who advertised in the 1850’s were S. Comstock, books; Jesse Willard, glue; Butler’s, flour, tea, lard, needles, boots, lemons, ointment, and remedies; R. Root, stoves; and Gregory’s Saloon and Grocery Store, quinces, sweet potatoes, lemons, sugar, bird seed, and tobacco.

Rev. H.H. Kellogg wanted readers to be aware of his water cure sanitarium at 23 Kellogg Street, and E. Mannering had sashes and blinds for sale at his shop on College Street at the Chenango Canal.

Clinton and the Town of Kirkland had 16-17 one-room school districts. In the village the school was on East Park Row just south of the Kirkland Art Center.

J.C. Hastings ran a nursery on the grounds of the present Clinton Central School, and the first village bank was on East Park Row next to the public school.

Some landmark buildings remain today that were newer structures in 1852: Othniel S. Williams home (Alexander Hamilton Institute built 1825-30 at 21 West Park Row), Miss Royce’s Seminary (15-17 Kirkland Avenue), Kirkland Art Center (Methodist Church built in 1842), Historical Society (built as Baptist Church in 1832), The Burns Agency, dating from the 1790’s, and the Marvin farmhouse (34 College Street), also dating from the 1790’s.

Public school population was 909 students compared to around 1400 today.

The old 1852 Oneida County map listed 68 foreign-born as illiterate while 15 native-born could not read or write.

In the 1850 census 342 farmers and 223 laborers lived and work in town along with 2 locktenders, 12 clergymen, 6 physicians, 47 carpenters, 6 coopers, 16 blacksmiths, 16 wagonmakers, 126 students (Hamilton College),11 masons, 6 attorneys, 6 teachers, 8 innkeepers, 13 merchants, and 20 shoemakers. This totals 1005 people employed.

The 1850 census listed the town as having 557 dwellings where 591 family units resided.

A look back to 1852 years sees a community with many different occupations which are no longer needed such as cooper and wagonmaker. Technology, inventions, and our global economy have changed dramatically what we eat, what we wear, what we do in our leisure, how we move about, how we learn, how and where we worship, and where we shop.

Today most Clintonians are native-born. Our population turns over as people come and go due to jobs, deaths, retirements, etc.. Our mobile society differs from the 1850’s when many stayed here all their lives.

How many Clinton students spend all 13 years in Clinton schools today? How many local homes change hands every 5-10 years? Real estate transfers for Kirkland property appear regularly in the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

We can never go back nor do we want to as we all have grown up in a different world…….a world of conveniences, technology, and scientific advances, and none of us is a Luddite (British workers who destroyed laborsaving textile machinery in the early 1800’s).

Clinton 160 years ago was a different village in a different world, not even a fond memory from anyone living today. Change remains the only constant in Clinton.


Information in this article is as correct and factually accurate as possible. If you notice a fact that you believe is incorrect, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.

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  1. Reply
    Marsha J OBrien says

    Have you heard the name Amanda Beatrice Clinton?…..born around 1850’s. She married a walker. Thanks.

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