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Oak Orchard

Background and Introduction

wilderness forest
Throughout the eighteenth century, Wood Creek served as a fragile link connecting the eastward flowing waters of the Mohawk River with a series of westward flowing waterways leading to Oswego.

Its shallow, twisting channel ran 28 miles across a mosquito infested marshy lowland that lay west of Fort Stanwix; between what is now the City of Rome and Oneida Lake.

The margins of Wood Creek remained uninhabited, even by Native Americans, to the closing years of the 1700s, and the region through which it passed could rightly be described, until relatively recent times, as a "wilderness."

"We spent the night in scratching rather than in sleep for mosquitoes and small gnats are more numerous and troublesome along the banks of Wood Creek than any other part of the wilderness. We were obliged to send for water to a spring, which was known to the people on board our vessel, which was three miles away. This water, though bad in itself, was excellent in comparison with the muddy and stagnant water of Wood Creek, and with rum was drinkable."1 (1799)

But this tiny creek, wending its way sluggishly westward to Oneida Lake, remained a significant component of the inland waterway network that was the "Thruway" of its time; until the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825.

In the decades after the Revolution and before the turnpikes reached westward from the lower Mohawk Valley [c.1800], virtually all transport of any consequence through this region was conducted in small, flat-bottomed boats called "batteaux".

Based in the harbor at Schenectady, the eastern port for all inland shipping and commerce, such boats would be poled, rowed and sailed to the head of Mohawk River navigation at Fort Stanwix, interrupted by a one mile portage at Little Falls. On reaching the Fort, boats and cargo were again portaged over the Great Carrying Place [now Rome] which divided the eastern and western watersheds.

Having passed over the Carry, one faced hours of poling and dragging down Wood Creek to Oneida Lake, then a long row across that lake, at last entering the Oneida River and on to the Oswego River, which, after passage of the Oswego Falls [Fulton], one had reached the Great Lakes at Oswego.

 

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