Spring 1997

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Montville, Deserted

Mourns for Prosperous Bygone Days

contributed by

Richard Palmer

Montville is a settlement of a few houses but a mile and a half northeast
of the village of Moravia in Cayuga County

Syracuse Journal, May 11, 1910

Village Might Have Been Subject of Goldsmith's Poem

"A time there was when every rod of ground maintained its man;
For him light labor spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more;
His best companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance and wealth. "

Goldsmith is supposed to have had Lissoy, near Ballymahan, in mind, when he thus wrote of 'sweet Auburn' in the "Deserted Village," but more likely it was a hamlet suburban to Moravia, 18 miles south of Auburn.

Certainly what Goldsmith says about 'desolation saddens all thy green' applies to it.

Montville was once a community or colony that might have taken a beehive for its emblem. Drones were unknown there. The nearest approach to it were Uncle Billy Parker, Jeremiah Hunt and Franklin Goodrich, men who had worked both long and hard, amassed a little property and were content to rest in old age.

Every other man was a worker, and not a few of the older sons were engaged in useful occupations. Such as were not employed in Selover & Williamson's spoke factory, perched there on a cliff overlooking the cataract that was not only fine to look at, but was of great value as a water power, were working for Baker & Galloup, or in some other avocation.

Mill Creek was figuratively lined with mills. Upstream from Montville Falls, above the spoke factory, were the saw mill with its yard piled high with logs and lumber and the planing mill and the barrel factory of Baker & Galloup, the woolen mill of Hunt & Erb and still further up the grist mill of Otis G. Parker.

Then, too, were the wagon shop of William Bowen, the harness shop of Geroge Baker, and the cooperages of Dan Lilly, Uncle Jim White, Charley White and Levi White, his sons, say nothing about the village smithies and the quarries from which great building blocks of limerock were taken.

Montville was seeing its palmiest days back in 1876. As the busiest place in southern Cayuga County, it was fitting that Montville should arrange for and carry to successful execution plans for the biggest Fourth of July celebration in all that region in the centennial year. The moving spirit in that was Ezra Baker of Baker & Galloup.

Remote From The Railroad

Remotely situated from a railroad, the activities of the community waned as the tide turned toward railroad centers, and all this was hastened by the financial difficulties that overtook the hamlet's leading business men and made the pinch of poverty felt in every home.

Gradually every vestige of industry was swept aside, even the smithies disappearing, until today all that is left is a sawmill in ruins and the old red barrel factory, threatening to tumble from its foundation into the creek's narrowed bed. This has so shrunken that only in spring freshets will the stream make the waterfall which once soared and sprayed the whole hamlet with its mist.

Dams broken, torn out and swept aside by cloud burst and flood, and valuable only for the heavy hand-hewn timbers they contain, the spoke factory, Parker's mill and woolen factory have been razed and their equipment of machinery shipped away for employment elsewhere. All this means, of course, vacant houses, decreased population, fewer children of school age.

In fact, the little old brick schoolhouse has been converted into a dwelling, and the hamlet included in the district of another school, so complete is its decadence.

Rambling Old Houses

Facing one another on opposite sides of a roadway leading up a steep hill, and facing also the "hollow road," are two rambling old structures that were once more or less famous as taverns. These no longer have a welcome for guests. Truth is this decadent hamlet has lost its last industry, and all that remains to it of commercial enterprise is the store conducted by Dwight Powers.

Always dependent upon Moravia for its postal accommodations, Montville is now rather better served by a rural delivery carrier than ever before. But that is the only thing it can boast of.

Separated from Moravia only by Indian Mound Cemetery and a gulf, through which a state improved highway winds, residents of Montville no longer account themselves a separated people, but claim connection with the larger village and important shipping point in the valley below.

Of the hundreds who once were happy and prosperous there, but a mere handful remains. Perhaps the census enumerator counted 50. The older ones have all gone, never to return; practically all of the younger generations, too, have sought careers elsewhere and only go back for an occasional visit.

Those now there are alien to what was once a bustling burg, ambitious and enterprising. As Goldsmith said, those were the old days:

"As a bird, each fond endearment tries
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies:
They try each art, reprove each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way. "
© 1996, Richard F. Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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