Cherry Valley, New York
A Landmark Village
Cherry Valley seems a little out of the way today. But in the era before motorized transportation, when travelers and settlers had little choice but to obey the lay of the land, Cherry Valley was a gateway to the American Frontier.
The reason was this: there is a ridge of mountains and hills that run east to west, separating the Mohawk from the Susquehanna watersheds. But there are smooth fertile glacial valleys both north and south of this ridge at Cherry Valley. The ancient Iroquois discovered that these glacial valleys formed a natural stairway, giving them their easiest way through the ridge. Cherry Valley was also quite near to the Mohawk River itself, which veers sharply south into Canajoharie.
The result was that Cherry Valley was an important link between the Mohawk and the other Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Cherry Valley's favored position along the ridge made it part of the natural route east to west as well.
The settlement at Cherry Valley was established by John Lindesay in 1738. Lindesay's friend the Rev. Samuel Dunlop convinced seven Scotch-Irish families from New Hampshire to join Lindesay two years later. The fertile soil and strategic location attracted others, and Cherry Valley soon became one of the strongest settlements of the frontier.
But its position in the valley also made Cherry Valley vulnerable to attack. One of the most notorious events of the Revolutionary War was the Cherry Valley Massacre of November 11, 1778. A regiment of Tory rangers under Captain Walter Butler and Native forces under the Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, fell upon the settlement, killing 47, including 32 noncombatants -- mostly by tomahawk. The Cherry Valley Massacre, along with an earlier rout by Butler's forces at Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, in time induced General Washington to redeploy some of his forces who were staving off the British, and focus them on securing the frontier. Thus General Clinton's famous 1779 raid on the Southern Tier via Cooperstown, a tale best left for another day.
The construction, beginning in 1799, of the Cherry Valley Turnpike from Albany, brought
prosperity to the little village at the crossroads. There was a renowned girls' finishing
school, The Cherry Valley Academy. Oliver Judd established an iron foundry; a sample of
his work is at the Lithia Springs Pavilion.
The National Central Bank of Cherry Valley was established in 1818. It stands today as a branch of the Central National Bank, and is the oldest bank in New York State west of Albany and one of the most picturesque bank buildings in the United States.
There is one more highway that had its origins in Cherry Valley. It is a highway that should be of particular interest to us now because we're on it.
In 1837 Samuel F.B. Morse visited the Cherry Valley home of his cousin, Judge James
Otis Morse. It was here, with the assistance of Judge Morse and Amos L. Swan, manufacturer
of the Cherry Valley Melodian, that Samuel F.B. Morse developed the first working
telegraphic machine. He filed a Caveat with the U.S. Patent Office that same year. Morse
returned to Cherry Valley in 1844 to establish, with Swan, the first telegraph office in
the area, along the Albany-Syracuse telegraph run. (Swan would later be Captain in the
76th Regiment of the Union Forces, injured in the Battle of Gainesville, serving under
Brigadier General Abner Doubleday.)
The power of Morse's creation was inestimable. He had used an electric current and electromagnet to communicate digitally over long distances. He is with us everywhere, virtually every moment of our lives. The loudspeaker in your radio and the handset of your telephone are remotely controlled electromagnets. The words you are reading right now were transmitted to you digitally in ASCII, really an extended Morse code. The microprocessors that surround us are actually tiny telegraph operators, storing and relaying binary encoded messages at unimaginable speeds. Morse could not have known it, but he had in a sense extended the human nervous system beyond the body, creating new pathways into the minds and hearts of every sentient species.
Many of the distinctive buildings you will see on your walking tour of Cherry Valley date from the first half of the nineteenth century. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 greatly reduced the importance of the Cherry Valley Turnpike as a commercial thoroughfare. The building of the New York Central Railroad along the Mohawk Route, followed by the Albany and Susquehanna route to Binghamton, diminished the Turnpike further to the status of a rural stagecoach route.
Cherry Valley thus would never again be a major commercial center. But in 1870 Cherry Valley did become a spur of the Albany and Susquehanna, and with its new connection in Cobleskill was at least able to hold and support its own.
The advent of the automobile breathed new life into the Cherry Valley Turnpike which in time evolved into the mighty Transcontinental Highway, US Route 20. Route 20 in New York State was largely superseded by the New York State Thruway after the war. And in 1954 a section of the former Cherry Valley Turnpike was reconstructed to bypass Cherry Valley itself. An exit now leaves you one mile north. Most who love the character of this landmark village would agree that this change was probably for the best.
One casualty though was the old Cherry Valley Railroad, whose right-of-way was cut off by the construction of the "new" Route 20. A railroad bridge was built over the highway, a green structure that still greets you as you descend westward on Route 20 along the Mohawk side of Cherry Valley. But that railroad bridge has never borne track or tie.
Cherry Valley resonates with history, and a stop here will be one of the highlights of your visit to Central New York. Take our self-guided walking tour. Visit our Museum, and our fine stores. Spend the night if you'd like.
Let our beautiful village serve as a reminder that we make history ourselves with every act and every conscious choice.
Cherry Valley Community Guide
Did you know...that a filmmaker served three years in a Federal Penitentiary under the Espionage Act for his portrayal of the Cherry Valley Massacre? Read more here.
The Cherry Valley Museum can be found at 49 Main Street. Here you will see a unique collection of memorabilia from the settlement of the village through the early twentieth century. In the museum, built in 1832, are pumpers, clothing, farm tools, household equipment and melodeons as well as a relief map of the village as it was at the time of the Massacre of November 11, 1778. Relive the history of 1740 to 1818 by listening to a taped account of the major events of the village.
The Cherry Valley Museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM from Memorial Day Weekend through October 15. A modest admission is charged. Call (607) 264-3303 or 264-3060 for information.
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