The original inhabitants of Chenango County were nomadic Native Americans of the Archaic Period (6000 BC – 700 BC) or earlier, who fished along the Chenango River re-using campsites over hundreds of years. Archaeologists have excavated a small village on the White Site near Norwich which has been carbon dated approximately AD 950. This site is one of the largest and best examples of the Hunter’s Home Phase of Indian occupation in the state. When European settlers arrived, the Chenango Valley had long been the traditional hunting and fishing grounds of the Oneida Iroquois.
Chenango County was part of a purchase made by Governor George Clinton from the Oneida Indians on September 22, 1788, and was formed March 15, 1798 from Herkimer and Tioga Counties. Sangerfield (Oneida County) was taken off in 1804, and Madison County in 1806. In 1807, Norwich was designated county seat and a wooden courthouse was built, followed by a stone courthouse constructed in 1837, still in use.
Beginning in 1800 settlers poured into the county from New England and the Hudson River Valley. Many were Revolutionary War veterans. In spite of the difficulties of the dense forest, settlement progressed at a rapid rate and large successful dairy farms were created.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 caused a clamor for a canal of its own in Chenango County. In 1837 the Chenango Canal linking the Erie Canal at Utica to the Susquehanna River at Binghamton opened. It provided a huge boost to the economy of Chenango County, both for farmers and for manufacturers.
Agricultural products such as hops and barrels of cider were shipped to large markets along the Erie. The Canal provided the impetus for industrial development that previously was not possible. Coal and iron ore were shipped in, finished products such as hammers and iron fencing were shipped out.
With the opening of the Chenango Canal, dairy farms increased in size and production, and for the first time, industry began to flourish in the county. David Maydole invented the process that created the adz-eye hammerhead which, designed to stay on the handle, corrected a major flaw in hammers of the day; the Maydole Hammer Factory was a leading industry for over a century. Hart Pottery opened in Sherburne importing clay and salt to combine with plentiful local wood and water to produce beautiful pottery. The Parsons Low-Down Wagon factory was established at Earlville, and Lyon Iron Works was established in Greene. In 1869 the New York and Oswego Midland Railroad began operation in the county. With the success of this and other railroads through the county, the Chenango Canal declined steadily until it was closed in 1878.
Industrial development continued during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with many nationally known industries springing up in the county. Gail Borden invented Borden’s Condensed Milk, and in 1856 began manufacture of condensed milk in Chenago County. The main Borden’s plant was for many years located in Norwich. Elmer’s Glue (a Borden product) is still manufactured in Bainbridge. Oxford Blue Stone was quarried beginning in the late 19th century.
The Norwich Pharmacal Company, manufacturer of Pepto-Bismol, Unguentine, Norwich Aspirin, and other pharmaceuticals grew into a vast company, eventually was purchased by Procter and Gamble. Today, a manufacturing and packaging plant at North Norwich, and a research facility at Woods Corners are still in operation. Today, Raymond Corporation, Quest International (formerly Sheffield), Unison Industries, Ltd. (formerly GLA); Chenango Valley Pet Foods (formerly Gaines), Gladding Corporation, REA-D-Pack Foods and Page Seed Co. remain in operation out of many companies which flourished in the late 19th century.
Our beautiful valleys and pastoral landscape have encouraged tourism with more people visiting the county each year. Chenango County today is still agricultural in nature. Small family farms have been replaced by vast agribusiness and dairy products remain the major export.