Romulus on Wikipedia
A Brief History of the Town of Romulus
The Township of Romulus developed from Military Tract Bounty Land given to veterans of the Revolutionary War. Romulus was formed in 1794, which at that time encompassed all lands northward to the shores of Lake Ontario.
The area that Comprises the Town of Romulus
The Town of Romulus was formally established by the New York Legislature on March 5, 1794, by Chapter 18 of the Laws of 1794, which created Onondaga County as a separate county from Herkimer County. This new Onondaga County comprised all of the lands of the Military Tract surveyed as bounty lands to be given to Revolutionary War veterans. The town of Romulus at that time extended all the way north to Lake Ontario and comprised 437.5 square miles or approximately 280,000 acres. On March 31, 1800, the northern portion of the Town of Romulus became a separate Town of Washington (which was renamed Fayette on April 6, 1808). On April 1, 1830, the then northern portion of the Town of Romulus became the Town of Varick. As a result, the Town of Romulus, as it exists today, consists of 37.8 square miles of land area.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, the present town of Romulus was part of the lands of the Seneca and Cayuga Indians. Five Iroquois nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca—formed the Iroquois Confederacy of Five Nations, probably between 1450 and 1525 In 1721, the Tuscaroras joined the Confederacy. The Confederacy was also known as the Iroquois League, the Great League of Peace, the Six Nations, and the Haudenosaunee (a Seneca term meaning “the longhouse”. The Senecas were known as the “Keeper of the Western Door” and the Cayugas were known as the “People of the Great Swamp.”
The present town of Romulus had Cayuga and Seneca settlements, with a major Seneca settlement at Kendaia. The Iroquois thrived by hunting and fishing and growing the “three sisters”—corn- beans and squash, and fruit orchards. They lived in wooden structures called longhouses containing more than one family. It is estimated that the Iroquois population was 9,000 in 1775, just before the outbreak of the American Revolution.
The Sullivan Expedition
The Iroquois tribes were neutral at the beginning of the American Revolution, but in 1777 they sided with the British. The Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Onondaga tribes, together with Loyalist forces, ravaged colonial settlements on the Pennsylvania and New York frontiers. They also provided important food supplies to the British forces. As a result, General Washington in the summer of 1779 ordered General John Sullivan and General James Clinton and about 5000 Continental troops to crush the Iroquois tribes in the greater Finger Lakes area by burning their Indian villages and destroying their crops and fruit trees. (There are numerous stone monuments along the routes of the Sullivan Expedition forces. Shown is the one at Kendaia.)
Following a victory at Newtown (near present Elmira) in late August 1779, Sullivan’s expedition was general unopposed at it marched north to Canadasaga (present Geneva) along the east side of Seneca Lake. On the night of September 4, 1779, the advance guard of Sullivan’s army camped about ½ miles northeast of what became later the Willard Asylum, while the main force encamped near the later Combs schoolhouse in the town of Ovid.
It was on Sunday, September 5, 1779, that the military forces under General John Sullivan reached the Indian village of Kendaia (Apple Town). Lieutenant Barber, one of the soldiers involved in the Sullivan Campaign, described the Kendaia village as appearing “to be oldest town we have passed, here being a considerable orchard, trees very old as are the buildings, very pleasantly situated about a quarter of a mile from the lake on a high piece of ground.” It is believed by many historians that this Indian village consisted of some 40 houses. Based on the various soldiers’ accounts, these houses were of hewn logs, covered with bark. It was not unusual for one of these “long houses” to be used by eight families, each living in a big room with the fireplace in the middle. Nearby there were as many as 80 fruit trees—mostly apple and some peach. Corn was grown in several small fields surrounding the village. (Shown is the historic marker for the Indian village of Kendaia. Note that the marker has an incorrect date.)
The Sullivan forces found a white at Kendaia when they arrived. He was Luke Swetland who had been captured along with Joseph Blanchard at Nanticoke, Pennsylvania on August 24, 1778 and taken to Kendaia. In the little over a year that he had been there at Kendaia, he had been given to an old squaw who kept him as her son. He had been employed in the making of salt some twenty miles from Kendaia, probably at Watkins Glen. Swetland said that about 500 male Indians and about 300 Tories fled from Kendaia two days before Sullivan forces arrived.
Sullivan’s army found plenty to do at Kendaia. The destroyed the buildings and burned the cornfields. The fruit trees were girdled or cut down. The soldiers found about 60 to 70 livestock.
After proceeding to Canadasaga, the Sullivan Expedition forces split up. One portion, under the command of Colonel Henry Dearborn and his 700 men marched down the western shore of Cayuga Lake to Ithaca. Cayuga Indian villages were destroyed en route.
The soldiers of the Sullivan Expedition saw the natural beauty of this area and envisioned its economic potential as farmland once the forest trees were cut down. The reports of these soldiers motivated many European Americans (whites) to move into the area after the American Revolution.
The New Military Tract and Early White Settlement
Following the end of the American Revolution, the state of New York established a New Military Tract of approximately 1.8 million acres to give as land grants to New York veterans. Present Seneca County—including the town of Romulus–was the westernmost portion of the New Military Tract. It wasn’t until after 1790 that soldiers were actually awarded specific lots within this New Military Tract. Treaties with certain Iroquois tribes had to be negotiated so that these Indian tribes would give up their “title” to their portions of lands west of 1768 Treat Line. The Tract lands had to be surveyed. Each township—such as Romulus—was divided up into approximately 100 lots of approximately 600 acres each. (The map shows the various townships of this New Military Tract. Note the 2 Indian reservations that were not part of the New Military Tract.)
Given these delays and the lapse of over 10 years since the end of the American Revolution, it should not be surprising that some European Americans (whites)—who became known as “squatters”—settled on portions of the land before it was awarded to soldiers. In the case of what became the town of Romulus, David Wisner settled in 1789 on what became Lot 95. Abram Brown settled on Lot 71 in 1791. Other early settlers were Anthony Swarthout (Lot 94), Isaac Johnson (Lot 89), Haynes Bartlett (Lot 65), and a McMath and a McKnight (Lot 64)
(This map shows the 100 lots for the township of Romulus in the New Military Tract. The numbering began at the north—the south side of the Seneca River, with the numbering going left (from Seneca Lake) to right (to the Cayuga Reservation) and then going back to Seneca Lake and going left to right again, etc. At the time New Military Tract was being surveyed, the township of Romulus extended north to the Seneca River. On March 14, 1800, the northern part of Romulus became the town of Washington which was renamed Fayette on April 6, 1808. On February 6, 1830, the then northern portion of the town of Romulus became the town of Varick. As a result, the present town of Romulus consists only of Lots 64 to 100 of the original township of Romulus.)
(This 1850 map contains the names of the property owners at that date. The map also shows the Lot Numbers—ranging from 64 to 100–of the original township of Romulus of the New Military Tract. You will note that most of the town of Romulus consisted of farms.)
The New York State Agricultural College at Ovid
On December 5, 1860, the New York State Agricultural College at Ovid opened. It was located on towns of Romulus and Ovid farmlands west of the village of Ovid. It was the first state-chartered agricultural college in the state. On April 1, 1853, the New York State Legislature voted to create an agricultural college. The college had been intended to be located on the Oaklands Farms of John Delafield, the then president of the State Agricultural Society and the champion of such a college, in the western part of the town of Fayette. The sudden death of Delafield changed the plans. The Rev. Amos Brown spearheaded a group of Ovid area residents to have the college located instead at Ovid. Raising $46,000 locally and securing a $40,000 state loan, over 600 acres in the towns of Romulus and Ovid were purchased and a large brick building was constructed to house students and provide classrooms for 350 students.
For $200 a year, students would receive classroom instruction and practical on-the-farm experience to become familiar with “the principles and practice of the methods of clearing and cleaning land, nourishment of plants and grasses, restoration and exhaustion of the soil, rotation of crops and their adaptation to the season, gathering hay and grain, management of the diary, gardening, fattening, rearing and breeding stock, training colts, the diseases of animals and veterinary practice, preparation of timber for fences, surveying, landscape gardening, and book-keeping as applied to farming.”
With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1865, so many staff and students went off to war that the trustees “temporarily” closed the College. The College never re-opened. The State of New York foreclosed on its loan and took over ownership of the lands.
The Willard Asylum for the Insane
The Willard Asylum for the Insane (later renamed the Willard State Hospital and still later renamed the Willard Psychiatric Center) became the largest state mental facility in the United States. It was located on the property of the former State Agricultural College at Ovid, partially in both the towns of Romulus and Ovid.
On April 8, 1865, the New York State Legislature passed the Willard Act to establish a State Asylum for the chronic insane and for the better care of the insane poor. The law was named after Dr. Sylvester Willard who prepared a report to the legislature on the state of the insane in this state. This new Willard facility was the second state mental facility in this state, helping to alleviate the overcrowded State Lunatic Asylum at Utica and to remove the insane poor from the various county almshouses (poorhouses). (Shown is a c. 1875 drawing of the Willard facility. Photo courtesy of W.E. Morrison, Jr.) The new Willard facility came to be located on the property of the former agricultural college largely because a priority criterion was to make use of the suitable property that the state already owned.
The first patients came to the Willard facility on October 13, 1869. A new building, initially called the Main Building and later renamed Chapin House, was built near the Seneca Lakeshore. Initially, chronically insane and insane poor patients came to Willard from all across the state. As more state mental institutions were opened, patients came to Willard only from its own District within the state. The Willard facility will have over 3000 patients at its peak in the mid-1900s. In 1962, the Willard Hospital had 2,582 patients and its Sampson branch unit (located in the buildings of the former hospital of the Sampson Air Force Base) had 853 patients.
The Willard facility emphasized a new way of caring for the mentally insane. They were treated more humanely (rather than neglected), providing access to various recreational and cultural offerings, encouraged to work on the facility’s farms or workshops if willing and able, and provided treatments as new practices developed.
By the 1970s emerged a new attitude that “confinement and hospitalization” should be replaced by housing mental patients in private housing facilities. As a result, by December 31, 1977, the in-patient number had declined to 890 patients.
The Willard Hospital closed in 1995. At that time its patient population had been reduced to 135. Most of the former Hospital properties were taken over as the Willard Drug Treatment Campus, NYS Department of Correctional Services and Community Supervision.
The Seneca Army Depot
By 1941, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was preparing the United States for probable entry into World War Two. A part of these plans was the construction of munitions supply bases that could be used to defend against an enemy attack on our coastal shores. By mid-June 1941, a mid-Seneca County site—partially in the towns of Varick and Romulus–was selected from over 60 other sites considered as one of these munitions sites—to become known as the Seneca Ordnance Depot (and later renamed the Seneca Army Depot). Over 100 farm families, as well as the First Baptist Church of Romulus and a fruit-packing business, were dispossessed of their property that summer. By Thanksgiving, 500 munitions storage igloos had been constructed out of poured concrete in steel frames on what had been primarily farmland since the first European American settlers came into this area after the Revolutionary War.
With the formal U.S. entry into World War Two, the role of the Seneca Ordnance Depot expanded into providing all kinds of supplies and supply storage and reconditioning services during that war and subsequent wars up through the Persian Gulf War. In addition, in the 1950s the Q-area (aka North Depot Area) of the base became the site of the storage of nuclear weapons components as well as such missiles.
The entire Depot facility from the beginning was enclosed in a metal fence. This fence provided much protection from natural predators, enabling a large number of white (but not albino) white-tailed deer to survive and thrive. The Depot became the site of the largest number of such white white-tailed deer in the world.
The Seneca Army Depot in the summer and fall of 1983 was the site of the first anti-nuclear weapons demonstrations on any Department of Defense facilities.
With the end of the Cold War, many Defense Department bases were closed. The Seneca Army Depot was closed on July 20, 2000. The former Depot property has become the site of many different businesses. The Five Points Correctional Facility is located at the southeastern portion of the former Depot. Seneca County built a new Law Enforcement Center near the southern end of the former Depot. The Finger Lakes Technology Group has had a long-term lease on the former Q-Area. Until 2020, KidsPeace (aka Hillside) operated a facility in the northern part of the former Depot. In 2018 approximately 7500 acres in the towns of Varick and Romulus were purchased by Earl Martin. His acreage is providing a site for the expansion of his Seneca Iron Works business, farm lots for many Amish families, and a leased site for the public tours provided by Seneca White Deer, Inc. (The picture shows 2 all-white appearings white-tailed deer with the much more common brown-appearing white-tailed deer. Photo courtesy of Seneca White Deer, Inc.)
(In the c. 2012 picture at left, looking east toward Cayuga Lake, the Kendaia Cemetery can be seen in the lower center, and the Five Points Correctional Facility in the upper right.)
Sampson: Naval Training Station, Air Force Base, State Park, etc.
In 1942, shore property along Seneca Lake in the town of Romulus was selected as a site for a naval training facility. Four hundred buildings were constructed in 270 days. Over 400,000 sailors received basic training there to proceed to actual fighting in World War Two. Following World War Two, the Sampson facility was used for various things, such as Sampson College (a 2-year college for returning G.I.s), Youth Town, granary storage, and the hospital area becoming part of the Willard Hospital.
With the outbreak of the Korean War, the former naval base area became the Sampson Air Force Base. Basic training was provided for over 300,000 airmen before they became fully involved in the War. An airstrip was constructed.
Following the end of the Korean War, the Sampson Air Base was closed. In 1960 most of the property became the Sampson State Park. A portion at the very southern end of the former air force base has become the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery.