Bainbridge, a Chenango County Town, has a very special place in the County’s history. The first county settlements were in the Bainbridge area in what was then known as Clinton and also included Afton. People were drawn to this area after they saw its bounty during the Revolutionary War. (It was Indian territory before then.) Many were exposed to it during the Clinton Campaign:
In 1779, General James Clinton led a group of 1600 soldiers the Susquehanna from Cooperstown to near Binghamton NY to rid the area of Indians, most of whom had already left. The group came upon a burned out village just south of Bainbridge near Afton. A journal entry of one of the soldiers describes what they found:
” [We] proceeded on to Conihunto a small Indian Town that
was, but was destroyed by our detachment last fall…A little below
this town there is three or four islands in the River where the Indians raised their corn. On one of those islands our troops
encamped with the boats & cattle…there were apples plenty at this
“Chenango” means “pleasant river flowing through the land of the bull thistle” and the tenacity of many of the residents in weathering hard times is a constant reminder of the county’s namesake, the bull thistle. Established in 1798 and originally including all of Madison as well as Chenango counties, the present boundaries were established in 1806. While the county was originally settled with its share of small farms and mills, it was the tinkle of a cow bell which made the area a name for itself. Subsistence farming on the pastoral hills of the county made way for specialization into the dairy industry.
Gail Borden, a native of Norwich, developed the vacuum process to condense mild and there were ornate Borden’s condenseries in almost every town in the county by the mid-20th century.
The forested hills of the county today seem to show that the country is wild and as untouched as it has ever been. Closer inspection, though, shows hillsides with home foundations hidden beneath the rows of planted evergreens. When the county was first settled, pioneers cleared most of the hills for farms. Many of the farms, however, were established on poor quality soil and the farms failed. In the 1930’s, a lot of the abandoned farmland was replanted with trees by the CCC so the hills which appear carpeted with trees were established with a plan.
Between the rolling hills of the county run four rivers: The Susquehanna, the Chenango, the Unadilla and the Otselic. Along their banks are wildlife and waterfowl that draw visitors to appreciate the rural beauty of the county. The hills divide the population into distinct communities who take price in their distinctives and landmarks: Norwich, the county seat with an elegant domed courthouse built in 1838; Otselic, where fishermen flock to the banks of the river on the first day of trout season and whose fishing line industry once earned it the name of Tackle Town, USA; Sherburne, with its annual Pageant of Bands and nearby waterfall and historic bridge; and Bainbridge, with the Jericho Tavern, a landmark restaurant from 1805 and a village park, ringed with white churches and punctuated with a Victorian fountain and gazebo.
The history of communities like Bainbridge and others are going to be recorded in a pictorial history book of Chenango County published for the county’s Bicentennial in 1998. Bainbridge author Shelly McFee is collecting history photos, memorabilia and recollections to be included in the book. If anyone has something they think might be of interest, they can contact her in the following fashion: by mail: Shelly McFee, P.O.Box 16, Bainbridge NY 13733
or E-mail to: Shelley McFee.