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A Brief History of Ava (by James Pitcher)
A Brief History of Ava (by James Pitcher):
A town in the north western section of Oneida County, known as Ava, was formed from the Town of Boonville on May 12, 1846, hence, the first 50 years of its history is intertwined with Boonville’s history. With all due respect to Ava folks, I tend to think of Ava as an extension of Boonville through its geography, commerce, schools and families. The Town of Ava sits on the eastern-most edge of the infamous Tug Hill Plateau, where tons of snow and 30-degree-below-zero weather are a familiar part of winter life. The foothills of Ava crisscross numerous streams, as well as tributaries of both the Mohawk and the Black Rivers. The Mohawk, rich in history and lore, cuts through the heart of Ava as it winds its way south. The most prominent manmade structure in Ava is the stately and proud Hilltop Methodist Church, that is first seen from a great distance as one approaches from the south. The town was first settled in 1797 by New Englanders pouring out of Connecticut and Massachusetts. The earliest inhabitants were the families of Ebenezer and Philo Harger, Justus Beardsley and the Woods, Abner and Zephaniah. These early pioneers, who chose a remote section of New York to settle, were soon followed by Germans eager to leave Europe in the 1800s. Today, the population of Ava is about 850 people, who mainly live along the rolling hillsides. In 1800, there were nine people living in Ava and by 1860 the population peaked at 1,260. The mainstay for most residents throughout the history of Ava has been agricultural. One hundred years ago, cheese factories dotted the countryside. In more recent times, lumbering and related industries have become a part of the local economy. It is also the site of the well-known and highly rated Boy Scout Camp, Camp Kingsley. Today, Ava provides a quiet, unpolluted refuge for families who may work in nearby villages and cities. The continuing desire to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life is evidenced by the increasing number of residences being erected. Ava is a quiet, serene section of Upstate, the people there like it that way.
Early Settlers of Ava
The arrival of the first non-Native American settlers to the Town of Ava is recorded as taking place in 1797 or 1798. The new arrivals to the section of Boonville, now called Ava, migrated from their homes in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Following the Revolutionary War, the conditions in New England became overcrowded, while rich farmland was being rapidly depleted, henceforth, the more adventuresome Yankees started heading westward across New York State. The Harger Family is closely identified with the early history of Ava. It is claimed that Ebenezer Harger and his family, Connecticut Yankees, built the first log cabin about three quarters of a mile east of what is now Ava Corners. The area was a heavily forested wilderness still inhabited by a few Native Americans. Family tradition states that the Hargers were friendly with the natives, and even exchanged visits and gifts. The first child born to the newcomers was Chauncey Harger, who was born in March 1800. The first sawmill was built by Philo Harger and Benjamin Jones in 1801. In 1846, when Ava was created by an act of the Legislature, Truman Harger presided at the first town meeting of the newly formed Ava. Luke Harger, son of Ebenezer, married the daughter of Major Alpheus Pease, the first settler of what is now known as West Leyden. Members of this family served and even gave their lives in the Civil War. Other families who cleared land in this remote area, still frequented by panthers and other wildlife, included: Zephaniah and Abner Wood, Benjamin Jones, Justus Beardsley, Salmon Bates, Eli Mitchell, Rickerson Kenyon, Isaac Knight, John Hunt, Ezra Adams, Edmund Fanning, and Daniel Buck. In one interesting account, it is noted that Isaac Knight boasted of being able to catch a washtub full of brook trout in one day from Moose Creek. Despite Mr. Knight’s success in fishing, life was extremely difficult for the area residents. It is claimed that they endured hardships that other neighboring groups were able to escape. However, the hardy transplanted New Englanders persevered, cleared their farms, learned lessons of self-reliance, and raised their children to be good citizens. An early history of Oneida County states that the schools in the town were generously sustained. The funds raised to maintain high educational standards in Ava exceeded the majority of towns in the county. The early schools were often located in buildings that served other purposes, such as local meeting halls. Long before the Methodist Church was built, the only place of worship in Ava was a house used by the Society of Friends, the Quakers. Known Friends included the Adams and Beardsley families and no doubt many others. Within the town boundaries are to be found Quaker burial grounds, which are difficult to pinpoint due to the no frills custom of using unmarked field stones as grave-markers. Remnants of the Society of Friends still existed into the 20th century, with their main meeting place located in West Branch, just a few miles south of Ava. The early years saw the rapid clearing of the timberland, in order to make way for agricultural pursuits. Since the soil conditions were better suited for grazing than growing grain, dairy farming became the standard way of life. In the years that followed the opening of the Ava wilderness, another group of people began to populate the hillsides. Soon the area was filled with Germans, Germans, and more Germans who definitely left their own mark on the land.
© 2016 Town Of Ava, Oneida County
Website Contact: John Doiron
Ava, NY 13303
Printed On April 25, 2016