NORWICH — The City of Norwich will reach the 206th year since it was established as a village in 1816 on Sunday, April 17. Founders’ Day is a time to remember and reflect on the history of the area, and the massive strides the city has made in its more than two centuries of existence.
City of Norwich Mayor Brian Doliver explained that the Guernsey Memorial Library “used to do something every year” to celebrate Founders’ Day. He added that, now that the city has an official historian, “I just thought it’d be nice for us to do something, and this year we talked about doing an article.”
“In years in the future maybe we’ll do something more. But it’s just something that we need to be reminiscent of. You know, this is our Founders’ Day, and we kind of only started as a village,” he continued.
According to the City of Norwich website, norwichnewyork.net, the city’s history began in 1816 when settlers relocated to the area from New England, with most coming from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
With them they brought the name Norwich, which was first transported from England to Connecticut, and incorporated the area as a village. In 1914, they received a charter through the State of New York, incorporating Norwich as a city.
“It’s kind of interesting, if you don’t know the older history before it was a city, it was a village and it was much bigger. And then basically portions became the towns around,” said City Historian Agnes Eaton. “So I thought that was interesting that they made the village smaller, and then made it a city.”
With the city's history spanning 206 years, it’s not surprising that many locals have a far-reaching history themselves.
“My family owned Victory Markets, my father and grandfather were presidents of Victory Markets, and my husband’s family was Norwich Eaton Pharmaceuticals. So we do have a lot of family history here,” Eaton explained.
“Agnes [Eaton], like myself, like a lot of us that work here, are native. Not all of us are native and that’s okay too, but obviously her family has been here for a very long time,” said Doliver. “So we all have our own unique little history.”
Norwich boomed after its formation, and is largely known for its manufacturing industry. The Maydole Hammer Factory, which was in operation from 1845 to 1961, grew to become the largest hammer factory in the United States, according to the Chenango County Historical Society (CCHS) website, chenangohistorical.org.
“In the 1830s, David Maydole, a blacksmith from Oxford living and working in Norwich, solved an age-old problem. How do you keep a hammerhead from flying off the handle?” reads the CCHS website. “David Maydole secured his reputation for what would be known as the best hammers in the world for over a century. The Maydole Hammer Factory opened in 1845 and remained in the Maydole family until 1939 when Mayhew Tools purchased the company.”
The full exhibit on the Maydole Hammer Factory can be viewed virtually on the CCHS website, under the “Education” tab.
The city is still home to several historical buildings as well. An article published in the Chenango Semi Weekly Telegraph on August 7, 1889 details the construction of a “magnificent school building” situated on West Main Street.
“The building merits a brief description, as it is one of the finest educational buildings in the State, and has no superior in Central New York,” the article reads. “The building itself is of the most modern architecture, three stories in height above the basement, 137 in length by 72 feet in width.”
The Chenango County Historical Society and Museum is housed in Ward School No. 2 on Rexford Street. The CCHS website says the building was opened as a school on November 21, 1896, and was in operation until 1957.
Norwich has several resources available for information on its long history, including the City Historian, Guernsey Memorial Library, and the Chenango County Historical Society. Residents are encouraged to call Eaton at 607-334-1201 with questions about local history, or to set up an appointment to browse the historical records located at the City of Norwich Firehouse.
Those interested in their own history and genealogy can find records and resources on the Guernsey Memorial Library website, guernseymemoriallibrary.org, under the “Local History” tab.
Although there is no event planned for this year’s Founders’ Day, Eaton said they have been held in the past, as she’s found several references to events occurring in 1999. Doliver said he would like to hold a celebration in the future, but for now they are focusing on establishing Eaton in her new role as City Historian, and providing historical articles to the public.
“I think it would be nice to have an article maybe two or three times a year,” he said. “We’re just excited to be a part of this. You know, we have a Museum District, and so I thought it was just fitting to have a City Historian at this point.”
“In order to know where you’re going, sometimes you need to know where you came from.”