Town of Winfield History
by Deb Nolan
In the rolling hills and valley streams that feed the Unadilla River, on a portion of the Allegheny Plateau lies the peaceful Town of Winfield. The first settlers were mainly from Connecticut and Massachusetts.
This land was originally part of the Towns of Richfield, Plainfield, Litchfield and counties of Herkimer and Otsego. On April 17th , 1816 Dr John J. Prendergast procured the new Township. He was a member of the State Senate and owned the first farm in this area which is now known as the Ferris Farm.
The Town lies in the Southeast corner of Herkimer County. It includes parts of the Schuyler’s, Bayard’s and Lispenards patents. It is bound on the North by the Town of Litchfield, on the East by the Town of Columbia and Otsego County, on the West by Oneida County and on the South by Otsego County. Situated within it’s boundaries is the incorporated Village of West Winfield. There are also hamlets within the Township. East Winfield is two miles East of the Village and Chepachet is to the Northeast.
Our Town was not always so quiet and peaceful. In 1805 the Great Western Turnpike was developed which opened the center part of the state. Many businesses opened and thrived on and around what is now known as Route 20. There were saw mills, grist mills, a tannery and shops for every need, repair or notion. In 1854 a bank was opened. The first school was built in 1850 and called “The Academy”. On August 23, 1859 the first news paper was published and named “The Standard Bearer”. The current area newspaper “The Winfield Star” started on August 18, 1892.
Local churches began with the Congregational Church in 1799. The First Baptist, also known as the Guild Society, was established in 1803. The Methodist Church was built in 1828 and the Catholic Church in 1875. All of the Original churches have been destroyed. The Catholic Church was rebuilt in 1921 and managed to save their original bell which is still there today. The other three churches were combined forming the Federated Church on May 17, 1970. The new church has many salvaged items from the previous churches. It is a very interesting story and they also have a great recipe for Hillbilly Stew in their cookbook.
Fire has been very destructive to our area. Buildings were rebuilt only to burn again. Whole sections of the area went up in smoke at times. So in April of 1906 the Henry Hiteman Engine & Hole Company was established. It is still active along with the West Winfield Fire Department.
A great center for social activity was built in 1909 and named Bisby Memorial Hall. It once held a movie theatre and dance hall. The library moved there in 1912 and is now bigger and better than ever. It shares space with the Village Clerk’s Office, New York State Trooper’s field office and Town Court rooms are upstairs. Many meetings and activities are enjoyed at the back portion of the library.
The construction of the Erie Barge Canal and the New York Thruway rerouted the paths of population and prosper in the mid 1900’s. Although there are very few businesses left in our community we are still part of the beautiful Route 20 Scenic Byway. Our old family values and warm welcomes to new friends make our wonderful town unforgettable.
References: The Village of West Winfield Centennial Book by The Centennial Committe
Saving Our Valley (2nd Edition) by Upper Unadilla Valley Association