Our Town History
Constantia is rich in history centered around George Scriba and his land patent. There are substantial wins and heavy losses in the development of this area during the newly formed State of New York. Here is a short history:
Centered on the north shore of Oneida Lake, Constantia has always been a place of water and forests, of resources and opportunities. For centuries the Oneida Nation came to this land for fishing and hunting, and to travel by water and trail between Oneida Lake and Lake Ontario. After the War for Independence, while the newly formed State of New York was selling vast tracts of land to investors, half a million acres between the two lakes was bought by a consortium of New-York merchants led by German immigrant George Scriba, with the land patent for the purchase issued in his name and appearing on deeds and property titles to this day. Scriba did much to encourage settlements in the newly occupied lands, and for many years lived in Constantia himself. And the settlers came, attracted by the abundant forests and the easy transportation of Oneida Lake. Farms and communities soon followed, and industries that were served by Constantia’s abundant creeks: the grist and saw mills, iron foundries, glass factories, leather tanneries, and fishing that drew upon the resources of the land and its people.
The first settlements started along the lakeshore: Constantia, at the mouth of Scriba Creek; Cleveland, at the mouth of Black Creek; and Bernhard’s Bay between them. Occupied land began to stretch northward along the creeks and logging trails that became roads. Clusters of homes formed hamlets: Gayville, Constantia Center, North Constantia (known as Putterville), and Panther Lake. Schools were built where there were families with children: before consolidation with the Central Square School District in the 1950s, there were thirteen school districts in the Town of Constantia, in such settlements as Dutcherville, the Reed Tract, the Salt Road, and the Shacksbush Road. The larger hamlets had Post Offices which often doubled as general stores; after the development of the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) system, most of the small Post Offices were closed. Cleveland, Bernhard’s Bay, and Constantia had churches of several denominations, and some of the hamlets had churches too, with the Constantia Center Baptist Church still active today.
Change, Growth and Today
Throughout the town’s history Constantia has adapted to change. For instance, when canal boats were the principal means of carrying cargo, production emphasized nonperishable necessities carried on the Erie Canal, like “lumber, coal and hay.” When the Ontario and Western railroad was built along the north shore of Oneida Lake, perishable produce could reach a wider market more quickly, so farmers began developing market gardens to grow crops such as strawberries and lettuces that they shipped to city stores, and commercial fishing shifted from salted to fresh fish kept on ice from the lake stored in ice houses. The railroad made passenger travel quicker and more convenient, so Constantia catered to tourists with hotels, cabins, fishing boats, and steamboats to bring in the travelers. Family automobiles and the resulting road improvements continued the shift from a mix of local agriculture and industry to commuting to centralized places of employment. Constantia, Bernhards Bay, Cleveland, and our Hamlets, are still changing, meeting the challenges of the new century with water and sewer districts along the north shore of the lake. New businesses, tourism and development are bringing much deserved excitement to our beloved town! Constantia, NY is an affordable place to raise a family, and a warm, inviting place for people to visit and vacation or just enjoy our beautiful sunrises and sunsets over Oneida Lake.