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Otsdawa History

We are blessed to live in an area with much history. We thought some of you might enjoy sharing what we have discovered about the history of our own property:


Around the year 1797, young Phineas Cooke of Preston, Connecticut, took whatever inheritance was due him as the youngest of seven sons, and with three of his older brothers, headed West. It was a wonderful time to be young. America itself was young and secure for the sons and daughters of well-established Yankees -- and he was a third generation descendant. John Cook who had come from Northampton, England with his brothers, Richard and George, probably as indentured laborers, in the early part of the previous century, gained his status as "freeman" by 1637, and by 1642 was serving as Justice of the Peace in Salem, Massachusetts. His descendants, (and there were many of them) like those of both of his brothers, went on to become solid citizens: educated people, leaders in the politics of New England as well as in the Church. 1.

By 1797, Judge Cooper was opening up an area of Central New York for settlement. It was still what was called "untamed wilderness", with occasional Indian foot paths serving as Interstate Highways for those who found them. Evidently the young Cook brothers had been enticed by offers of steady employment in what is now Cooperstown, but they preferred to strike out on their own, heading down the Susquehanna River. Elias and Jair seem to have settled down fairly quickly along with the other first settlers of Otego, clearing farmsteads, marrying and raising families. Stephen tried and failed -- by 1809 he was advertising to sell his 170 acres, "40 under improvement with a small Framed house and two log barns..." for "immediate cash."2. He went into business as a saddler in the emerging village of Otego, dying in 1825, in debt, with no will and no descendents.3.

Phineas, although the youngest, seems to have been the most enterprising of the brothers. Somehow, by 1800 he had raised the capital to purchase several hundred acres of what was known as The Great Otego Patent, in a completely unsettled area north of the present village of Otego, on both sides of the East Branch of the Otsdawa Creek.4. By 1801, the millpond with its dam that exists to this day, must have been constructed, and the first of his industries, a cloth dressing mill which included a carding machine, was being advertised.5. Soon he was selling development lots, and a construction crew using surprisingly modern modular building techniques was putting up houses in the area with timber from the cleared acres turned into lumber at his saw mill. The first known town meeting within the area of modern Otego was held in 1802 in a farm house about one mile southeast of the Otsdawa crossroads with 43 members present.6. One of the first schools in the town of Otego met in Phineas Cook's clothing mill.7. By 1810, the Otsdawa is listed with its own Post Office.

Phineas aimed at having a self-sufficient operation: he raised teasels to use in the clothing business and also "medical" plants.8. He owned enough goats to give the settlement an early name of “Goatsville.”9. In 1823 he persuaded Rufus Mudge, a tanner and shoemaker of Cooperstown, to build a tannery with him below the saw mill.10. His seemingly sudden death in 1826 at the age of 52 did not interrupt progress: his second son, Woodbury K. Cook, inherited the property and business, and continued with the enterprise. Woodbury built a large house that served the area as a tavern for several generations, and a drovers’ inn was built near the mills on a development lot sold to Ezra Griffiths. The first store in Otsdawa was started by Norman Phillips before 1828, and soon Winslow Whitcomb, a physician, settled in the village. Annual summer fairs, barn dances, and other social events enlivened the neighborhood.11. By 1834, when the population of nearby Oneonta was still less than 700, the first stagecoach road in the area to run "day and night" was built by the Charlotte Turnpike Company on a route running "from the head of the Delaware to Oxford, via Oneonta, West Oneonta, Otsdawa, Maple Grove and Gilbertsville."12.

1834, however, also brought the last local references to Woodbury K. Cook that are known to us: A survey by Julius Hathaway for the Highway Commission of the town of Otego in that year uses his property and fulling mills as landmarks,13. and in that year Woodbury deeded over a section of his property to his mother, Eunice. She resold that same property to Jesse Bunnell the day she received it, and also vanishes from the records of the town.14. Her husband, Phineas, lies buried in the small cemetery by the hamlet he founded, but she and her sons moved on, further West to Ohio.

By 1840, a congregation of the Free Will Baptist Church had organized itself 15. and began building the house of worship that stands to this day and has been listed on the National Historic Registry . Daniel Tanner and his wife were living in the old Cook homestead and petitioned for a new road to the fulling mill also in 1840.16. There are references to a fulling mill run by various persons as late as 1866 and the grain and saw mill continued in operation well into the 20th Century, with Thomas Decker, Justice of the Peace, being the best-known proprietor. After the last of the mills closed, the dam continued working as a source of electrical power for the nearby houses until well into the 1950’s.

Still, prosperity seemed to elude the Otsdawa after the Cook family left. The stagecoach road to Albany brought travellers more often through Otego than through Otsdawa; the canals and railroads began to bring in goods grown much more cheaply on the vast acres of the developing midwest, where the descendents of Phineas Cook had moved with their canny sense for development. The once major stage coach turnpike is a back road not listed on many modern maps, the remains of the fulling mill are overgrown with timber, the saw mill has been washed away together with the "new" road that led across the dam, and the last half-standing wall of the village school house has collapsed. Today, only some well-built homes and barns, the millpond with its dam and the small Baptist Church, remain standing as reminders of a once-promising era.

Phineas Cook had not been unique. While his was the first cloth fulling mill in the town of Otego, Otsego County developed quickly as a whole in the early 1800's, quickly outdistancing its neighbors in iron works, trip hammers, distilleries, asheries and oil mills as well as the more common grist mills, saw mills, carding machines, cotton and woolen factories.17. Still, he had set unusually high building standards. The houses he built will stand for many generations to come, and it remains to be seen if all our modern technology can even repair the structures that he and his workers were able to build with the advanced machinery of horse and wagon, before there were even roads for supplies.

Note: The dam is registered as Otsdawa Dam #131A-4869 with The Albany Dam Safety Division of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The wetlands they create were made part of the Federal Wetlands Easement program in 2001. The Otsdawa Free Will Baptist Church was given Historic Landmark status at the end of the year 2001. To preserve these historic structures for the use and enjoyment of the present residents of the Otsdawa, support and funds are being sought by the owners, Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery.


1. Biographical sketches of Harlem Township, Delaware County, Ohio, c. 1890. pp.840-841.

2. Old Time Notes, typed manuscript, Huntington Library, Oneonta, NY vol.7 1805-1812 p.1368 #38.

3. Otsego County Records. Administration Book A, p. 23 Cooperstown, NY.

4. History of Otego, Stuart Banyar Blakely. Cooperstown: 1907. Pp. 84-86.

5. Old Time Notes. vol. 6, p.1082 #97 and Blakely p. 84.

6. ibid. p.1141 #51.

7. Blakely, idem.

8. idem.

9. idem.

10. idem.

11. Carrie Simon's reminiscences - unpublished notes. manuscript. Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery. 1987: Otego, NY.

12. Old Time Notes. vol. 10, p. 1984 #46.

13. Records of the Town of Otego, Otego Town Hall. April 9, 1832

14. Otsego County Records. Deeds. Liber 51 pp. 309 & 486.

15. Otsego County Records Incorporations Book C. page 52.

16. Records of the Town of Otego, November 23, 1842.

17. Old Time Notes. Vol.9 p.1930 #14


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