Schoharie County was created in 1795, and had in it six towns,including the Town of Schoharie, which was larger in area than it is today. The Town of Schoharie as it stands today was created in 1846, when the Towns of Wright and Esperance were established from the larger Town of Schoharie. But Schoharie had been settled many years before this.
The name “Schoharie” comes from the Indian word To-Was-Scho-Hor, meaning “driftwood”. Driftwood would pile up in the Schoharie Creek, and one such pile near Middleburgh was so named, and was used by the Indians as a bridge.
Several Indian tribes moved into the Schoharie Valley and by 1700 had settled the land. European settlement began early on. Col. Nicholas Bayard was granted a patent covering the entire Schoharie Valley in 1699. Palatine Germans settled the area beginning in 1711. Winters were hard, but they were apparently helped by the Indians.
The Palatines established seven “dorfs”, or small farm villages. The names of the dorfs were taken from those of their leaders. One called Brunnen Dorf was near the site of the present County Court House in the Village of Schoharie. Another, Foxen Dorf was on the north side of Fox Creek near the intersection of Rts. 443 and 30, while a third, Smith’s Dorf, was situated near the present Old Stone Fort. Two more, Garlach’s Dorf and Kniskern’s Dorf were to the north near the Schoharie Creek. Thus, it was in the Town of Schoharie that many of the Palatines first settled. Many of their descendants still inhabit this area.
As crops were sowed, the fertile soils of the Schoharie Valley allowed the early settlers to grow in prosperity. Mills were built on Fox Creek to grind the corn and wheat into flour. The first such Mill was built in 1718 by Peter Fuchs (Fox). The Schoharie Valley became known as “The Breadbasket of the Revolution”, since the farmers could send as many as 80,000 bushels of wheat to Washington’s Continental Army when it was encamped at Newburgh.
Churches were built at an early date. The Schoharie Reformed Church congregation was formed in 1721, and in 1772, the Reformed Church congregation built the Old Stone Church. It is an impressive stone building, complete with iron shutters on the first floor. During the Revolution, it was converted into a Fort, and surrounded by a wooden stockade. In 1780, it withstood a raid by the British as they moved through the Schoharie Valley intent on destroying the crops and barns. In 1844, the Schoharie Reformed Church built its present church building on Main Street, and in 1857, the Old Stone Fort was sold to the State of New York as an arsenal. Finally, in 1889, the Old Stone Fort was transferred to the County, and is now a Historical Museum, and the seat of the Schoharie County Historical Society. The area around the Old Stone Fort is the site of present day re-enactments of both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. These events attract thousands of visitors to Schoharie each year.
The Lutheran congregation was formed in 1743. The red brick Lutheran Church building on Main Street in the Village now houses the Schoharie Presbyterian Church. The Lutheran Parsonage is the oldest existing building in Schoharie County, and was built in 1743. It has been restored and still stands on Spring Street in the Village, where it houses an interpretive museum of those early times.
Several other churches were established during the latter half of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church building, on Main Street in Schoharie, was built in 1964. In the Hamlet of Central Bridge, the Methodist Church building was erected in 1899, and the Bethany Lutheran Church building in 1906. The Church of Jesus of the Latter-Day Saints was constructed in 1973. By the mid 1800’s, the commercial hub of Schoharie had moved into the present village. The Court House was built, and around it sprung up many small industries. The Village of Schoharie was incorporated in 1867. By 1850, the population of Schoharie was 2,588, not too much smaller than the present population. By the late 1800’s (1850 to 1890), there were, according to one writer,
“three tailor shops, one tin shop, two shoe shops, one harness shop, a hat factory, a wagon factory employing forty workmen, and a cabinet and furniture factory, where coffins were also made.
There were also two dry goods stores, three grocery stores, a marble works where monuments and headstones were made, and three hotels (Mansion House, Schoharie Hotel, and Eagle Hotel). The only drug store in the county was located in Schoharie and was owned by O.B. Throop (and is still in operation today as the Schoharie Pharmacy).”
In 1865, the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad was constructed, and passed through Central Bridge. This hamlet became an important transshipment point for the produce of the valley farms. At that time, the citizens of Schoharie founded the Schoharie Valley Railroad, which came into service in 1867, and joined Schoharie to the A& S Railroad at Schoharie Junction. By 1870, the Middleburgh and Schoharie Railroad was created, which extended the tracks south to the Village of Middleburgh. Thus the Valley was joined to the outside world. The Parrott House was built at this time.
The old station depot can be seen on Depot Lane, where a restored 1891 train car from the Middleburgh and Schoharie Railroad also stands. Near this site is the Easter Egg Museum, which contains a unique collection of over 5,000 hand-made Easter egg dolls arrayed in historical, religious, or storybook themes. The egg dolls were fashioned during the 1970’s by Mildred Vroman and Elizabeth Warner and are still being made to this day. Thousands of visitors come to see them around the Easter season.
In the late 1800’s farmers grew hops, an important ingredient in the making of beer. There were hop fields on nearly every valley farm. In early September, hop pickers would arrive from the cities and pick the hops, which were then shipped by rail to breweries elsewhere. In terms of economics, for many years, hops was the most important crop in the region.
The Schoharie County Agricultural Society Fairgrounds were located in the Village of Schoharie, on lands now occupied by Guernsey Nurseries. There was a race track for horses, and grandstands and exhibit halls. The Fair was held after the hops were picked, when cash from the crop was readily available. The fairgrounds were no longer used after 1917.
One of the world’s best known inventors came from Central Bridge. George Westinghouse Jr. was born there in 1846. His father manufactured agricultural implements, and developed a new thresher. George Westinghouse made the first of his many inventions at his father’s shop, and received the first of his patents while residing there. Later, he founded the Westinghouse Corporation and, for business reasons, moved to Pittsburgh. Schoharie was the site of the world’s first open air movies, which were first shown on Thursday, June 7, 1917 and continued every Thursday night during the summers until 1943. A large screen Comprehensive Plan 13 was stretched in front of the Schoharie County Court House. The movies attracted thousands. People watched the movies from Main Street, or from their open cars parked in front of the screen. The world’s first open air “talkies” also were shown here on June 11, 1931.
The Village of Schoharie is also the County Seat. The modern County Building houses many of the County’s administrative offices, and also the meeting rooms of the Board of Supervisors. The present Court House, a beautiful Victorian masterpiece, was built in 1870, and has been expanded with several recent additions. The Public Safety Buildings on Depot Lane were opened in 1992. Schoharie’s major commercial enterprises include the Harva Company, established in 1949, and Support Services Alliance (SSA), formed in 1977. Between them, these corporations employ over 90 people in the Village of Schoharie.
In all, the Town of Schoharie has an extensive history. The entire history of this nation can be traced through its buildings and monuments, from the earliest settlements to modern times. The presence of the Old Stone Fort Museum complex ensures that many of the Town’s inhabitants are enthusiasts of history, and of the Town they live in.
(Many sources were consulted to get the material for this brief history. Among them were The Sloughter’s History of Schoharie County, by Lester and Anne Whitbeck Hendrix; Over the Bridge to Yesteryear, compiled by the Eccentric Club of Central Bridge; photographs from a Souvenir of Schoharie, Pierre W. Danforth, Publisher; and several articles appearing in the Schoharie County Historical Review.)