The name Herkimer was originally spelled “Erghemar,” and it has been variously writted as “Herchkeimer, Hareniger, Harkemar, Herchamer, Harchamer, Harkamer, and finally Herkimer.”
Herkimer County once covered a vast section of New York State – eleven counties – and appropriately could be called the “Mother of the Empire State’s Heart Section,” formed in 1791.
Herkimer County enjoyed its king-sized spread and enveloping forests. This prevailed only until 1794 when Onondaga County was erected. Eventually the following counties were removed from the great pie: Oneida, Chenango, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Jefferson, Madison, Cortland, and finally Oswego was born in 1816.
The present courthouse, remodeled and restored many times, is an historic landmark. Its courtroom has been the scene of many publicized trials, including “The American Tragedy” the Droxy Druse case, and the Geanini trial. The American Tragedy Story, written by Theodore Dreiser, was based on the trial of Chester Gillette, found guilty of the murder of Grace “Billie” Brown.
The Mohawk River flows easterly through the county, its course hollowing a deep valley which cuts the ridges at right angles and separates the highland into two distinct parts. At Little Falls, the mountains on each side of the river are masses of naked rock rising nearly perpendicular to a height of 500 or more feet. In the midst of all this are the nationally famous potholes, Lover’s Leap, Profile Rock, and one of the highest locks in the world.
Among the minerals found in the area of crystals of quartz better known as “Little Falls Diamonds.” There is also a deposit of similar “sparklers’ near Middleville, and these have become nationally known as “Herkimer Diamonds.”
The amount of cheese produced in the Little Falls, Poland, and Dolgeville area, was at one time three times as great as in any other county in New York State. In fact, Little Falls was know as the Cheese Market Capital of the nation, and it was through this market tat “Herkimer County Cheese” became world famous. Prices paid for cheese were those established at the Little Falls market. The quotations were flashed via Morse code over telegraph wires to all parts of the country.
The first settlements were made upon the Mohawk River intervals (flat lands) above Little Falls, about 1722 by the Palatines. Accessions were made to their number from time to time, and up to the close of the Revolution they constituted almost the sole inhabitants of the county.
During the French and Indian War of 1756 this area was twice invaded and many settlers were killed or carried away as prisoners. The story was much the same during the Revolution. This area was the granary or breadbasket for the pioneer settlers, largely due to the fertile lands and the long growing seasons. Thus, the reason for the many raids for which the object was to destroy whatever could not be carried away. Many settlers were forced to abandon their homes and seek protection in the lower part of the Mohawk Valley.
Fort Herkimer was built in the French and Indian war and Fort Dayton (now the village of Herkimer) was erected before the Revolution. Fort Herkimer stood around the present historic stone church and other buildings in German Flatts (south side of the river), and Fort Dayton was a few rods from the present courthouse building (north side of the river).
General Benedict Arnold came as far as German Flatts in the summer of 1777, on his way to relieve Fort Stanwix. It was from this place that Tory Hans Yost Schuyler was sent to spread alarm among the savages in St. Leger’s camp and thus hastened the abandonment of the siege.
Finally, Herkimer County has a glorious historic past that roots to the very first birth plans of this great nation. Each community, each township, and every four-corners played a role in the county’s contribution to the causes of freedom, the American way of life, and to the progress that followed.