Rome As A Village

Following the American Revolution, several patents were sold to the wealthy of America. The modern day city of Rome was born out of several of these patents, including the Oriskany, Fonda, Scriba and Cox Patents. The ancient county of Tryon, made way for Oneida and Herkimer Counties. At first Rome was in the majority of Herkimer County, but later moved into Oneida County.

It was believed that John Roof was the first white settler of the Rome area and arrived here in 1760. During the siege, all civilians were moved to Albany, and John Roof was one of them. In all a handful of settlers lived near the fort. Colonel Gansevoort had their homes destroyed due to there proximity to the fort.

Dominick Lynch, a very wealthy Irishman, paid L2250 in 1786 for the “Expense Lot.” Upon this lot a city was built. “Lynchville” as it stated at the top of his personal map, was to be laid out in square lots. The dominate streets were Dominick and James (after his son). Unfortunately for Lynch, the new settlers of the city disliked him and Lynchville would never be. It is not known exactly why, but the village was incorporated in 1819 with the title of Rome. Perhaps, the village of Rome, saw themselves as a new empire that would endure the ages, like its namesake in Italy. Through the years a steady trickle of people settled in the area. By 1820, approximately 90 buildings covered the landscape, with a population of 3,500 people.

The Arsenal

Prior to 1810 a State Arsenal was constructed at the present site of St. Peters Church. The State Arsenal burned in 1822. Land was purchased from Dominick Lynch by the Federal Government in 1813. An arsenal was built in 1814. The arsenal served as a supply depot and was under the supervision of the Watervliet Arsenal. It consisted of several storehouses, and the only remaining building of the Arsenal complex is the Commandant’s House, which is located on West Dominick Street. The Arsenal had ten commander’s in it’s seventy years of service. Heavy supplies were a specialty like field ordnance, shells, canisters, swords, and accouterments. It was here on July 4, 1817 the first shovel full of dirt was turned over to mark the beginning of construction on the Erie Canal.

WAR OF 1812

The first war of the new United States of America was again against Great Britain. Perhaps the English were feeling confident with the defeat of Napoleon of France, but failed to remember the lesson of 1776. Although most of the war was fought on the seas and Great Lakes, some land battles were fought. When war was declared on July 18, 1812 many men of Rome were inspired by the “Fire of the Flint” as stated by Pomeroy Jones. A detachment of local militia left for Sacketts Harbor under the command of Colonel Bellinger and Major Samuel Dill of Rome. Joshua Hathaway, also of Rome, was appointed to the position of Quartermaster General of New York State and took command of the large supply base at Sacketts Harbor. Colonel John Wescott organized the 157th Regiment of Infantry, known as the Rome Regiment, and also marched to Sacketts Harbor. On November 3, 1812 Commodore Matthew Perry was in Utica and traveled through the area. Troops were constantly on the move throughout the county. A small invasion of Sacketts Harbor was attempted by the British, but never materialized. The war ended in 1815 with an American Victory.


During the years of 1830's, Rome became the center of the Democratic party in Oneida County. Ten miles away in Utica, the abolitionist movement was gaining momentum and sparking a heated debate. Gerret Smith of Utica, donated farms to freed slaves, supported the Underground Railroad and even funded John Brown’s raid. Half of the country’s citizens wanted to preserve the Union by force, while the others wanted to preserve states rights and compromise a solution. Few of the abolitionist’s wanted to free the slaves (Gradualist’s and Radical’s). The newspapers in Rome, the only source of communication at that time, were relentless in fueling the fire of opposition. The Democratic Sentinel and Republican Citizen stoked the fire on a daily basis.

A young man named Charles Skillin formed one of the most prestigious and well respected militia units Rome had ever seen. On October 11, 1858 at Tibbets Hall, the Gansevoort Light Guard was formed. Skillin, who was born in Albany in 1815, worked in and around that area as a mechanic. As a young man, he joined one of the local militias as a drummer boy and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1844 he ran for a Democratic seat in the Assembly and lost. From there he worked different jobs from the newspaper business to selling crockery products. Wherever he went, he was always a part of the local militia. He finally made his way to Rome in 1858 and set up a crockery store. Although Rome had several militia units like the Fort Stanwix Rifles, the Savage Artillery, and the National Guard, Skillin was not impressed with any of them. He was able to assemble a handful of men and as mentioned above formed the Gansevoort Light Guard. The unit received approval by the State of New York and received the designation of Company A, 46th Regiment of New York State Militia. The men were young, well equipped and well drilled. The Gansevoort Guard was quickly accepted by the citizenry of Rome and the guard became a staple at all local civic events. Their precision and appearance left a lasting impression upon all who saw them. The muster roll was just shy of 100 in 1859. Decades later, former members of the guard commented that, Captain Skillin was the finest commander they ever had the pleasure and privilege of serving under.

During the final hours of 1859, men imprisoned in the Rome jail organized a riot and refused to obey the commands of the deputy sheriffs. These men were described as “thirty of the toughest characters in the county.” The deputies notified the sheriff and he in turn notified Captain Skillin. Captain Skillin was somewhat surprised at the content of the note that he received late in the night.

“December 30, 1859. To Captain Charles Skillin, of Gansevoort Light Guards, Rome: Sir, I William McKown, Sheriff of Oneida County do, in pursuance of the statute in such case made and provided, hereby require the military under your command, armed and equipped as the law directs, to aid in quelling the riot at the jail in Rome, New York, and that you report yourself forthwith to me, with the number of men under your command ready for service at the said jail.”

Captain Skillin put the word out for the guard to assemble immediately at their armory located at Tibbets Hall. In full uniform and heavily armed the guard numbering 32, departed for the jail. There was just one small problem. Although the guard was armed, they had no live ammunition for their rifles, only blanks. The guard had expended the supply of ball cartridges a few weeks earlier during target practice. Captain Skillin had the men load there guns with the blanks and to “fix bayonets.” As one former guardsmen noted, “we marched as if our rifles were double loaded.” When Captain Skillin and his fearless band presented himself to the sheriff at the prison, he was notified that the prisoners would not return to their cells and that they would destroy the jail and anyone who tried to force them to do so. At the head of the company, Captain Skillin had the guard level their rifles at the rioting prisoners and ordered them sternly to return to their cells. Although the fight was evenly matched, the prisoners quietly turned and returned to their cells with little incident at bayonet point. Upon exiting the jail, the guard met with cheers and accolades of their bravery.

Another honor of the Gansevoort Light Guard was that they were the first military organization to cross the Canadian border under arms since the War of 1812. In total they were invited to Canada, specifically Kingston, twice. The first time was to celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria and the second trip was to escort the Prince of Wales into the United States for a tour of America. Just like Rome, the Gansevoort Light Guard left an impression on the people of Kingston. After two years of service to the city of Rome, many of the prominent citizens donated money in 1860 to purchase the guard a presentation flag from Tiffany and Company of New York City. The new banner cost $65 and was of the highest quality of silk.

The great hope of America, Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Presidency but did not carry Rome. Oneida County was about to have her own Civil War. Lincoln’s election train flew through Rome quicker than any other place in New York, but did stop in Utica. Both papers agreed with the comment, “Fearful times ahead.” The men of Rome were outspoken in their selected causes and made their opinions known. Many supporting the ideals set forth by their Revolutionary forefathers. Cooperheads, men who wore the liberty bust cut from a penny on there lapel and supported the democratic ideals, began to form in Rome. The Republicans responded with the Loyal National League. The Republican Citizen described the atmosphere of Rome, {June 12, 1861} “We do not believe that there is another village our size in the state that contains so many outspoken defenders of the Southern Rebels as does Rome. There are some, who if they believe what they bawl about in the streets, should go South at once to fight with and for the Rebels.” Civil war was brewing in Oneida County, but once Fort Sumter was fired on in April of 1861, there was no question as to what the men had to do for their country.

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