In November 2018, the fall colors of New York State were on full display as I drove from Oneonta, New York to the historic Village of Gilbertsville in the town of Butternuts. I didn’t know what to expect from the small picturesque one square mile village, in Otsego County. What I found was quite a history lesson about a region I had not explored.
The Village’s population, at any given time, is about four hundred residents. Gilbertsville has the unique distinction of being the only village to be recorded on the National Register of Historic Places as of May 1983.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Leigh C. Eckmair, Archivist and Municipal Historian of Gilbertsville about the history of the village and the surrounding area. Our conversation was wide-ranging from the Native Americans that lived in the region to the settlers that developed the region, and Leigh told me that “She was born to be a historian.”
Location, Location, Location
Gilbertsville is located next to Butternut Creek that runs alongside the Old Butternut Road. The road is now Highway 51. One of the longest stretches of road in the county, Highway 51 stretches from the Mississippi River to Nova Scotia. The road was known to Dutch Traders in the mid-1600s and had been used by the indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
With the signing of the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, the Butternut Valley began to be developed. At that time, the quickest way to develop property in the colonies was to get families living on it to produce income. Abijah Gilbert, a prosperous Englishman who wanted to explore the New World, arrived from England in 1786. In 1787, he purchased one thousand acres of property from the Morris brothers, who had received the property as compensation for the loss of their property in the Revolutionary War. Many English settlers, as well as New Englanders, moved to the west for better land to cultivate, thus the reason that the Village of Gilbertsville the feel of an English village.
The settlers knew Abijah Gilbert as “Squire Gilbert’. He died in Gilbertsville in 1811 at age 64. By the time of his death, few buildings had been erected in the village, but the surrounding farms saw substantial growth.
During the time of development of the Butternuts, the land purchasers had three years to get farm families settled on the land. The larger landowners that included signers of the Declaration of Independence wanted to increase the trading route. Negotiations with the Native Americans stated that the Mohawk River was to be the trading line that was not to be crossed; however, as history taught us, that did not last.
During the mid-1800s, the economic health of the area was robust, and many of the churches in the area were paid for and built. Agriculture, sheep farming, goat herding, and cheese making was profitable in Gilbertsville. Carriage makers were abundant in the town, and by 1880 the village was a major stop for travelers. Many of the village buildings were constructed in the mid to late 1800s. Unfortunately, the village suffered four major fires between 1866 and 1895.
The First Presbyterian Church built in 1888 in the Picturesque style.
The Empire House is a B&B style hotel and restaurant is the only commercial building that remains in the same business as it was when founded in 1835. The hotel closed in 2003 and underwent a renovation and reopened in 2008. The local landmark is a well-known hotel and restaurant. As with many sites throughout the Oswego County, the hotel was a center of abolitionism in the area before the Civil War.
Local sculpture artist, Jason Roth runs Gilbertsville Expressive Movements or GEM. The garden outside his studio serves as one of the galleries for his impressive creations.
History fills the air in Gilbertsville as you walk the streets of this unique village. You can touch the history of the village in its stone houses, churches, and rock walls that surround the properties. The beauty of nature was on full display during my visit in November.
The Historic District
The village post office is a gathering point for the residents on the main street of the village.
The Gilbertsville Free Library was constructed as a small stone schoolhouse in 1818. The structure was renovated in 1888 for use as the first public library in Otsego County.
Just across the street from the library is the village green featuring a Civil War monument, and cannon. The historic district embodies the quintessential New York charm of this one of a kind village.
Gilbertsville lives up to its storied ancestry and the residents take great pride in their village in Otsego County. It is time well spent to visit and enjoy this significant historic village.
Visit the website below for more information on Gilbertsville.