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August 24, 2013

Revolutionary War vet founded Van Hornesville in the 1790s

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The Daily Star

---- — It takes a unique imagination and vision for someone, while moving pretty much through a war zone, to see a future place in which to live and start a business. Abraham Van Horne was that someone when he passed through what is today’s Van Hornesville around 1779 during the Clinton-Sullivan campaign. Van Horne was among those attempting to halt American Indian massacres of white settlers in the region, such as the one in Cherry Valley just a year earlier.

According to Eunice F. Cooper’s history of Van Hornesville, there were four settlements in the area on the top of hills, called Squawk, Pumpkin Hook, Chyle and Wiltse. No one who knew Indian tactics ever considered settling in the ravine, the one Van Hornesville occupies today. Anyone in the area knew the dangers nearly 400 men of the 5th New York Line Regiment faced as they began their march from Starkville to Otsego Lake over the Otsquago Trail on the campaign.

The company made it through the area safely, including Abraham Van Horne, a quartermaster in what was called the Tryon County Militia. While danger of attack lurked, Van Horne observed the area’s water power and apparently tucked it away in his memory for possible future consideration.

Once the campaign and Revolutionary War ended, Van Horne returned to his home in nearby Warrensbush, near Fonda, and spoke with his three sons around 1790 about putting the water power he had seen to use. 

Abraham and two of his sons made the move to the new location, leaving a wife, daughter and oldest son to run their farm. They arrived in the ravine area in 1791 and had a gristmill operating by 1793, powered by the waters of the Otsquago Creek.

When the mill was operational, Abraham built a house suitable for a permanent residence. The daughter soon joined them, but Abraham’s wife, Hannah, was in poor health and remained on the farm, not wishing to take on frontier life. The settlement soon became known as Van Hornesville.

It was in August 1928 when nearly 200 descendants of Abraham Van Horne came to Van Hornesville to pay tribute to the founder of the village. The Oneonta Herald reported how on Wednesday, Aug. 22, a bronze tablet, mounted on a large granite boulder was unveiled, bearing Abraham’s name. The marker was placed on property then owned by another Van Hornesville icon, Owen D. Young. The marker is still on the site today.

Those on hand learned a lot about Abraham Van Horne before moving to his new home. Warrensbush was in today’s town of Florida, in Montgomery County. Van Horne was a staunch Whig and it was rumored that an attempt was about to be made by the Tories and Indians to massacre him and his family in 1775.

According to the 1928 Herald report, “A neighboring Tory was appointed to go at night and shoot him in bed through the window, but providently on the fatal night their child was sick and Hannah had got up and built a fire in the big fire place and nursed the child, but had now laid down on the front side of the bed with the child, when the neighbor came to the window. When he saw he could not shoot him without killing her, his heart failed him, as she was a noble woman and had nursed the sick even in his own family. The man’s report leaked out and a block house was built for the immediate defense of the family and the neighborhood, which was guarded by a few soldiers. He was a member of the State Assembly from 1777 to 1781, and was appointed High Sheriff of Tryon county May 22, 1781.” (Montgomery County formed later from Tryon County.) “In 1783 he moved to Cansdebanak Church, near Fort Plain, and from here afterwards moved up the Otsquago creek and built a mill.”

If Abraham Van Horne was seeking quieter life away from civilization, he quickly found it.

On Monday: A hill climb in Stamford in 1963.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.