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.