Community of Philadelphia

Bodman Memorial Library
8 Aldrich Street
Philadelphia, NY 13673

Philadelphia Historical Society
Town History

(Excerpts from)
Historical Sketch of Philadelphia, NY
The First 194 years (1804 — 1998)
Compiled by Gwendolyn L. Acheson
Town and Village Historian 1976-2007
Addendum (1998 — 2010)
Compiled by Roger Livingston
Town Historian 2007 —
Topically Modified
By Cheryl Horton
Town Supervisor 1996 -

Historic Beginnings The original agreement to purchase land was made February 16, 1804 between 13 men from Philadelphia, PA and James D. LeRay (Count LeRay de Chaumont) of Burlington, NJ. The purchase agreement was finalized on April 13, 1821 consisting of 16 lots of 440 acres each @ $3.00 per acre to be separated from the Town of LeRay and to be paid in 5 installments. Quaker settlers from Philadelphia, PA chose the name for the land tract.

Two of the buyers, Cadwallader Child and Mordecai Taylor, accompanied by Samuel Evans, traveled north from Albany by horseback arriving in May 1804.

Child, a surveyor, was hired by LeRay to lay out a road from near LeRaysville to the St. Lawrence River. After conferring with his land agent, Jacob Brown at Brownville, Child was furnished a party to assist him with surveying the land tract. Their survey proceeded to a point on the St. Lawrence River where Alexandria Bay would be located.

LeRay gave the center lot #16 to promote education and religion. (In 1872 Lot #16 would be incorporated as the Village of Philadelphia)

Five of the original purchasers signed an agreement in 1805 to become trustees for the land tract and became the first settlers: Cadwallader Child, the Townsend Brothers, Robert Comfort and Jason Merrick. The Quakers remained in control of the center lot until 1838 when settlers were granted quit claim deeds @ $1250 to settle a dispute.

In 1809 John and Margaret Strickland, with ten of their eleven children, and extended family came from Pennsylvania to the settlement. John had sold all of his belongings in Pennsylvania and brought $25000 with him. He purchased 5000 acres, the saw mill, grist mills, and the Townsend Brothers blockhouse. In 1818 the first school was held in an addition to the building. The teacher was Anna Comstock.

The Townsend families moved to their respective farmlands which they acquired in a drawing of lots. Brothers Thomas and John with several other Quaker families who came north built a grist mill at the falls and a bridge over the Indian River on the center lot.

During the War of 1812, Strickland and Son-in-law, Samuel Case invested heavily in goods to sell to the U.S. Government. The war ended before they could sell all their goods. They never received payment for them and Strickland went bankrupt, salvaging only 220 acres at what became known as Strickland Corners.

Farms and Business Development

The Strickland sons, son-in-law and descendents became prominent farmers, businessmen and community leaders. Miles Strickland and Edmund Tucker took over the grist and saw mills. Miles also later served as Town Supervisor from 1837 - 1842.

Tucker, a surveyor and Land Agent previously employed by James D. LeRay, built the only brick house in the Village. The house still stands on the corner of North Main and Garden Road. He built a kiln on the bank of the Indian River and made the bricks for his home. His wife was the former Ann Strickland. Later Tucker helped form the first library. He also conducted the first Post Office in their home from 1822 - 1835 when he died at age 42 from tuberculosis.

Another Strickland son-in-law, Robert Gray, built the only distillery at the settlement. It was swept away during a flood and never rebuilt.

By 1821 more families were taking up farm land than were settling on the Center Lot. Several Quakers came from Galway in Saratoga County and settled on the road to Evans Mills. The road was known as Galway Street until long after it became NYS Route 11.

The first half of the nineteenth century many other Quaker families emigrated here. They cleared land, built homes, farms and businesses. From the many trees the new settlers burned in clearing the land they marketed potash to Canadian markets.

The farms were numerous and the small milking herds consisted mainly of red cows. From 1860 forward cheese factories sprung up producing a large variety of quality cheeses from spring until November each year. German cheese makers oversaw the production of limburger, brie, cheddar, sage, Muenster and English crème. Town Historians unyieldingly claim the original "Philadelphia Crème Cheese" was made here in Philadelphia, NY. These factories were gradually replaced by milk plants from the early 1900's on. Milking machines enabled farmers herd sizes to increase and dairying became a prominent industry.

Commercial and Rail Center

Surplus farm stock was driven in herds or hauled by teams of horses to livestock markets as far away as Utica. Rail lines from Watertown to Philadelphia (1855) and from Utica to Black River (1872) increased the markets, and by 1900 made a Philadelphia North-South, East-West railroad center. A hotel, grocery, restaurant, cattle pens, express office, freight house, water tower and coal shed serviced the expanding commercial trade, the steam-driven locomotives and other developing industries. Employment increased and many more homes were built.

In 1886 three buildings were erected on Main Street: Replacing a hotel that burned was the new 3-story brick Eagle Hotel. People looked for the large cupola used as a lookout for incoming trains. Transportation was sent to the station to bring passengers to the hotel for meals and lodging. It would become an historic landmark with time until it burned in the 1980's. 2) The Scofield-Comstock double block stood on the corner of Main and Antwerp Streets and 3) Ben Kent's Boot and Shoe Store.

The summer months brought tourists on excursion trains passing through on their way to the Thousand Islands. Passenger service was available several times each day.


William Roberts purchased the large island in the village to build a saw mill and shingle mill equipped with plane and lathe. He also purchased a large tract of land near Lake Bonaparte. Logs were cut in the Lewis County forest land and floated down the Indian River in the spring to his factories on the island in the middle of the village. Ten million feet of lumber were produced each year employing about seventy men.

In 1882 Roberts and Otis Brooks operated the large saw mill which later became the Indian River Chair Factory. It burned in 1897. It was replaced by a 300', 3 story furniture factory which employed up to 120 men. Later it became a casket factory which operated until 1939. The two men also built a Cheese Box and Tub Factory west of the village on Sandy Hollow Road. The partnership dissolved and Brooks relocated in Clayton. Water

In 1886 a water line was completed from abundant springs 4 miles south-east of the village, on present day Fort Drum. Farmers on the route received free water through the 1960's in lieu of the Village's right to run the water main by their properties. Alvin Nims, a local engineer, designed bridges and water systems here and throughout the country. The line remains in use in the Village and Township and in 2008 was extended to the Village of Theresa.

Businesses Prospered

The Village grew and prospered. Other businesses were: three general stores, a drug store, two grocery stores, two blacksmith shops, a tannery, a harness maker, a carriage manufacturer, a sash and blind factory, a furniture factory, two hotels, a cheese factory, men's clothing and tailor shop, a flour and feed mill.

The Post Office, three churches, a public school in the Village and several country schools within the Township also served the every day needs of local families.

William Roberts also erected an Opera House on Main Street in 1891.

A weekly newspaper, "The Philadelphia Advance", was started in 1896 by druggist, Martin Aldrich. In 1904 it became the "North Country Advance" with his son, Dewitt, as the Editor.


Twentieth Century Growth

The Opera House was destroyed in the "Big Fire" of 1906 along with the Groat Block and Grocery, the Cross Blacksmith Shop, Groat Planing Mill and a storage building. The Opera House was replaced by a 3-story building which housed a Town Hall, a Post Office, and Drake's General Store. (The Post Office later moved to the former Scofield - Comstock Block) The first floor later would become a Laundromat, a second-hand store, and Town Offices. Fire destroyed this landmark in 1967. Many official records of the Town were lost in that fire.

Other historical buildings and businesses added through the early 1900's were: an office building, fraternal lodges, a bank, hardware store, clock & watch shop, a pharmacy and a grocery store. Many apartments utilized upper floors above the businesses.

In 1906 an electric plant was erected on the bank of the Indian River on Sandy Hollow road costing $17000. Electric street lights replaced oil lamps that were lit each evening by a lamp-lighter. As the demand for power increased in the 20'h Century power was purchased from Niagara Mohawk Power Company. In 1959 the Village contracted with St. Lawrence Power to provide low-cost power to residents and businesses.

The Livingston Family Bakery

Claude Livingston and Robert Purcell partnered in the Philadelphia Bakery on half of the first floor of the Webb Gardner Block on Main Street in 1921. After only a year the partnership dissolved. Livingston bought the Groat Furniture Factory on the bank of the canal, remodeled and expanded the wholesale business to Jefferson & St. Lawrence counties. That building burned after only four years, but a new brick fireproof structure was erected on Aldrich Street .The Fleischmann Yeast Company sponsored a grand opening for over 2000 guests to tour the new factory. In 1930 it became the "Oven to Home Bakery", an expanding door-to-door retail business which covered three counties. The bakery thrived until WWII when tires, gasoline and baking supplies were rationed. The facility later would raise poultry for broilers, become a theater, a small restaurant, and today is an apartment building.


The upper floors of the Town Hall building were used for community activities such as silent movies, dances, talent shows, Medicine Shows, and a basketball court used by the High School until 1937. In 1940 the Crescent Movie Theater was opened there until 1956.

By 1915 a bandstand on "Crescent Park" (nicknamed 'Cucumber Park') in the business district became the center of celebrations. A large ornate water fountain also stood on the park. Increased traffic forced the removal of Crescent Park in later years.


There were nine country schools in the outlying rural areas, each with their own trustees. The Quakers controlled curriculum, teaching only reading, arithmetic, spelling, English and geography. Non-members of the Society of Friends in the village wanted equal treatment for their children as the Quaker children received. To fill the need a second meeting house built by the Quakers in 1869 eventually became a school which had to be replaced by a larger facility in 1935.

Consolidation of schools along the Indian River corridor in 1957 included Evans Mills, Theresa, Antwerp, Philadelphia and Calcium. In 1958 the new centrally located Junior- Senior High School building opened south of the Village on NYS Route 11. The original school became an elementary building for grades K-6. Continuing population growth in the region has required numerous expansions An Intermediate building (grades 4 - 5), and a Middle School (grades 6-8) were also added to the campus. The High School has more than doubled in size adding a swimming pool, an extensive Theater for the Performing Arts and music department. Numerous state-of-the-art athletic fields, Transportation Center and Fuel Depot are also amenities of the Indian River Central School campus. I.R.C.S. has become the largest employer in the Township.

About 1920 A.D. Deibert purchased the two-story office building built by William Roberts to the south of the former Opera House. He turned it into Deibert's Private Business School. Known for its educational excellence, it operated until his death in 1939.


Churches of Philadelphia's history from the first Quaker settlers to the 21 Century include Quaker Baptist & Congregational (1841 - shared), United Methodist (1843), Congregational (1860), St. Joseph's Catholic (1900), and Southern Baptist (1980's).

The first church building was erected for the Baptist & Congregational shared ministry in 1843. The Congregationalists built their own building on Antwerp Street in 1860. By 1960 both churches had closed. The Congregational building was donated to the Volunteer Fire Department and removed. The Masonic Lodge purchased the Baptist building. In the early 1980's a new Southern Baptist congregation purchased the building from the Lodge and it became Indian River Baptist Church. A native Philadelphian, Rev. Richard Graves, became the pastor in the 1980's thru 1996.

The first Methodist Church was built in 1843 on the corner of South Main Street and Sand Street. In 1858 the building was moved across the street to its present location and enlarged. In the 1970's the congregation purchased the corner house on the original church location for use as an educational building. Later it was sold and returned to a single residence. The United Methodists are still active and share a pastor with the Evans Mills United Methodists and also share the Philadelphia parsonage next to the church.

St. Joseph's Catholic Church was built in 1900 on Sophia Street. In 1914 the church was moved to its present site on Garden Road and enlarged. From the original 10 families St. Joseph's has grown. The closing of the Antwerp Church after the turn of the 21' century caused their congregations to join together and attend services in Philadelphia.

In April 1974 seven Amish families moved from Lancaster, PA to farms in the Philadelphia area. They started school in a home on Ore Bed Road in the fall. A church / school building was erected nearby soon after. Other Lancaster area families followed who have built several successful businesses in the community.

Sterlingville & Pine Camp Expansion

Sterlingville played an important part of Philadelphia's history. There was a sawmill on Black Creek (1835), a blast furnace built by James Sterling (1837), a forge by Caleb Essington (1839), where refined iron was produced. Iron ore came from the Sterling mines north of Antwerp and the Fuller & Shurtleff mines located on Ore Bed Road Northwest of Town. The Sterling Iron Company until 1840 became the Philadelphia Iron Company under various owners until it closed in 1869.

Sterlingville was a prosperous community with several stores, a school, a hotel, Post Office, railroad station, a Catholic and a Protestant church. The year was 1938 when the United States Government needed to expand its Pine Camp military training facility in preparation for the 4th Armored Division. This unit would later be instrumental in the European victory during VVWII. One third of the land in the Town of Philadelphia was acquisitioned by the Government, including many acres of prime farmland and the community of Sterlingville. Residents and farmers were forced to relocate, many moving into nearby Philadelphia.

Pine Camp was renamed Camp Drum. In mid 1980's it became Fort Drum as the military installation became the home of the 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed division in the US Army.

As the Fort increased its training and expansion within its borders the main access road from Philadelphia to communities and services located south of Fort Drum was permanently closed in late 1990's.

Meeting Needs & Challenges of Changing Times

With the Fort Drum expansion the student body of the school system more than doubled in size with 55% being from military families. Four apartment complexes have been built: Chase Harrington Senior Housing, PhiIly Courts subsidized apartments, 801(off-base) military housing, and Stone Wood Apartments, all located south within the Village limits. The Philadelphia Volunteer Fire Dept. built a large truck and ambulance building and meeting hall in the 1980's on the site of a former landmark, the Eagle Hotel.

Village offices and DPW took up residence in the former Fire Department building and added a community meeting room and kitchen. It became a daily gathering place for senior citizen noontime meals.

The Robert Markwick American Legion Post stands next to the Village offices. The Legionnaires also added a large banquet room, dance and bingo hall used extensively for area social events.

Klock Brothers Garage moved from Main Street to Route 11 in 1953 and • erected a Chevy/Pontiac car dealership. It closed in 1967. The Town purchased the site adding an office building and salt barn. A local preschool uses the former auto showroom. The Town used the garage until 1998 when they moved its Highway Department into the new state of the art Indian River Transportation Facility.

Next to Klock's Garage was Quaker Village Diner built in 1955 and operated (24/7) by Edwin Fikes and family for nearly 50 years. From 2006 the Cook Family Diner continues to be a gathering place for hungry locals and passersby.

The Lobdell Motel was of the same era as Klock's Garage and Quaker Village Diner and stood on the corner of Route 11 and Fort Drum Road (County Route 29). With earlier hotels in the Village no longer available it was a welcomed addition to the town until 1997.

The Ivan 'Cross Garage' was a mainstay business in downtown for many years. In the late 1980's the repair shop was expanded and moved to a new facility on Rt.11S owned by son-in-law,Everett Carpenter. Another garage and used car business is LaFave Auto on NYS Rt. 26.

North Counties Wholesale Building Supply stands on Sand Street as a thriving business for regional retail outlets.

In 1969 a municipal sewer system was installed throughout the village. This attraction for new businesses offers affordable water, sewer and electricity.

Sidewalks installed on Main Street and Route 11 to Indian River School make the streetscape attractive and safe.

A small strip mall was built in the 1990's which included a bank, medical center, a dentist office, restaurant, bar and general store. After the downtown Post Office building burned, (formerly the Scofield-Comstock bldg.) the P. 0. took up residency in the mall. A few changes of occupants have resulted in making the location a hub of commerce.

The Philadelphia Medical Center relocated from the Mall when Carthage area doctors built a larger facility further south on Route 11 in the late 1990's.

The Town purchased farm land on County Rt. 29, in 1993. It has since been developed into a 56 acre municipal recreation park. The Childs Falls Sunrise Cemetery adjoins the park as the first newly developed municipal cemetery in NYS in more than 100 years. These facilities were dedicated in ceremonies on June 20, 2009.

Dairy farming, once vibrant and predominant in the Town of Philadelphia has dwindled in numbers while increasing in size. Small family farms have rented or bought up crop acreage and increased herd size necessary to survive. Local feed dealers, milk markets and machinery dealerships have disappeared creating expensive distances for obtaining goods and services.

Ron's Big M Market was once the only 'super market 'in town. It became the drawing card of downtown Main Street businesses until closed by P&C Markets In June 2007. Small convenient stores and gas stations have now been replaced by much larger facilities that are helping to fill the gap left by the Big M closing. They are PhiIly Fuels and Food, Stewarts Gas and Ice Cream Shop, and Martins Country Store all on NYS Route 11.

Other needs that were met by new visionary developers are: North Country Mini Barns which brought the excellence of Amish storage buildings and lawn furniture in the late 1990's and expanded to include a tire service department in 2010; Jeff Cook, a local building contractor and partner in Cook's Family Diner, bought the former Roe Feed Co. property (Sand Street) after the buildings burned in 2005. Cook's Hardware store now stands in its place.

The Bodman Library and Philadelphia museum have worked together in a small house on the bend of Aldrich Street. Growth of the Library services created a need for the Historic Society to look for another place in which to expand. On June 11, 2010 the Philadelphia Museum was opened in the newly remodeled facility on the corner of Main and Aldrich Streets. This is a milestone for the community. More than that, the museum will be the legacy for Town Historians Roger Livingston and Gwendolyn Acheson, children of Claude and Ella Livingston, founders of the Livingston Bakery.


Thus, the history of Philadelphia, New York continues to be written. Like in all communities, Philadelphia has seen many changes since the first explorers and settlers laid claim to our lands. They built a foundation of commitment and service, good times and tragedies. The days of knowing everyone in town have gone by. The majority of our residents commute to jobs in other places. Renters come and go. Many of the original houses have been restored into beautiful homes for yet another generation of use. The grassroots of our community spirit is firmly intact and remains inviting to new families who come to visit and choose to stay. Folks feel welcomed and safe in our rural community and recognize the value of our abundant resources. New names, faces, buildings and entrepreneurs successes and failures remain to be added to the rolls of time. May they prosper and find peace and contentment within our boundaries. May they commit to safeguard the written history and that yet to be written, yet to be passed down to new generations.

Census Data