Schuyler County was named for Philip John Schuyler, a general in the French and Indian War and member of the Continental Congress. Schuyler’s acreage is part of the Finger Lakes area preempted from the Iroquois Confederacy at the order of the new U. S. Government. Schuyler became a reality by state law in April 1854, an act effective January 1, 1855. At that time there were seven townships in the 342 square mile county.
As plans were laid to form Schuyler, political, geographical, and personal factions vied for the prestige and power of being chosen as county seat. The frequently confrontational dispute led to the erection of official edifices in both principal villages, today known as Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, the former finally designated as the county seat.
Lakes in or contiguous with Schuyler, along with numerous tributaries, provided access for settlers before roads existed and made the digging of a canal feasible in the 1830’s. The branch, long known as the Chemung, went to Elmira and Corning. It is now officially part of the Seneca Canal with its two mile length kept open from Seneca Lake to Montour Marina. Schuyler’s most renowned waterway is arguably Catharine Creek, a famed rainbow trout spawning bed.
Many of Schuyler’s picturesque hills are rock bound. The ice ages and subsequent centuries of weathering have contributed to the formation of numerous ravines and stone-bed streams, most of them rife with waterfalls and potholes formerly used as swimming spots. Two such gorges are open to the public. Watkins Glen State Park has been a visitor attraction since 1864. Havana Glen, just south of Montour falls off NYS Route 14, is owned by the Town of Montour. Both glens offer the spectrum of recreational pursuits.
Once there were three railroads serving Schuyler. Only one remains today.
Located 1,800 or more feet below the ground’s surface, salt is brought to the settling tanks by a hydraulic mining process. Salt is also one of the contents of Schuyler’s mineral springs and wells which supplied the spas where people once came for “cures” to a variety of ailments. This salt was discovered in the pursuit of gas and oil.
Those looking for gas and oil were scantily rewarded. A few wells provided sufficient gas for some lucky landowners to use in homes or businesses for a few years. The only commercially viable bed was found in the Tyrone area in the late 1920’s. Other major manufacturing interests include Shepard-Niles-Cleveland Tramrail in Montour Falls, and the Cotton-Hanlon and Ireland Lumber Mills in the hamlet of Cayuta. Located in Orange is Camp Monterey, a minimum security prison and shock camp operated by the state correctional services division.
The Schuyler County Historical Society maintains two buildings in Montour Falls. The 1828 brick museum is open every day except Friday and Sunday, and offers exhibits, beginning with the Indian era, in ten display rooms. Its 1884 one-room school is open by appointment. Both buildings are listed on state and national registers of historic buildings.
Many geographic names in Schuyler honor its Native American roots. Perhaps the most widely recognized Catharine Montour. Of French and Indian ancestry, she was the last ruler of the resident Senecas. An historical marker commemorating her role in Schuyler’s history stands in Havana Glen. Another marker identifies the prehistoric Lamoka Indians in the Town of Tyrone. Another woman similarly honored is Townsend native Jane Delano, who organized Red Cross nursing for the U. S. Military during World War I.
Many other historical markers commemorate the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign of 1779 when the Colonial Army wiped out Seneca Villages in an effort to curb the potential advance of the Indians and British during the American Revolution.
While Schuyler County may never have figured prominently in state and national history, its traditional values and community minded residents contribute to the solid foundation upon which the United States is built.