Town of Spencer History


Jean Alve, Town/Village Historian

In the years following the close of the Revolutionary War and after Sullivan’s raids in New York, many pioneers moved into these as yet unsettled lands.

In 1791 John W. Watkins and Royal W. Flint of New York City purchased about 336,000acres for three shillings and four pence per acre. They had it surveyed into 12 townships and had it ready for sale in 1794. Spencer is made up of parts of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th townships.

The Town of Spencer was much larger when first organized in 1806. It included the towns of Candor, Caroline, Danby, Newfield and Cayuta (VanEtten).

Around 1794, Benjamin Drake settled along Catatonk Creek in what is now the Village of Spencer. He built the first frame building, later known as Purdy’s Tavern at 45 North Main Street. He also built the first gristmill. The settlement was called “Drake Settlement” until 1806 when the town was organized and named “Spencer” after Judge Ambrose Spencer, who was a noted jurist of the state at that time.

The early settlement also had a nickname, “Pumpkin Hook,” for as the story goes, Mother Purdy at Purdy’s Tavern had baked some pumpkin pies and set them in an open window to cool. Someone “hooked,” or took the pies.

Various sections of the Town of Spencer as we know it today were given local place names. Cowell’s Corners, a settlement 1 ¾ miles east of Spencer Village, was named after Joshua, Abram and Benjamin Cowell, who settled there in 1806.

Spencer Springs, located three miles northeast of the village on the Crumtown Road, had a large hotel and healthful mineral springs. The largest of these buildings burned in 1873. It was about that year that the railroad came through Spencer Village and Spencer Springs soon closed.

Milltown, an area south and west of the village, had a steam sawmill and a brickyard. Huggtown was a settlement located about four miles north of the village, so called for the Hugg brothers who settled there in 1800. The school was built in 1848, and a Union Church as organized in 1870. There was once a railroad station, creamery, stores and post office and it became known as North Spencer.

As the Village of Spencer grew, place names were also given to various sections. The northern part of the village was known as Bradleytown for the Bradley brothers, who improved the area and built a large store in 1850.

The downtown area was known as “The Corners.” In this area the Fishers, the Emmons and others built stores and businesses. Across Catatonk Creek from the Corners was an area known as “Brooklyn.” The western part of town was known as “Seelytown” for the Seely Company that was made up of sawmill, gristmill, an electric company, store, hotel and a glove factory. The railroad station was also located there.

About 1909 the Finnish people started moving into the area, buying mostly the poor farms. There were frugal and prospered. They started the Spencer Cooperative Society which sold first groceries, then hardware, farm machinery, and feed. As the poultry industry in Spencer became a very big business, the Co-Op also bought and sold eggs. As the young Finns grew up, many went to college, joined the army and did not come back to this area. The older generation had saved their money and many of them moved to Florida in their retirement.

Today the biggest industry is the Spencer-Van Etten School. The Tioga State Bank, which has six branches, has its headquarters in Spencer. Other businesses are: Northern Lights, an upholstery business, Raymond Hadley Packaging firm, Starfire Swords, Ltd., a florist, nursery, landscaping, blacktopping, Bed and Breakfast, food store, café, restaurant, pizza place, gas station, Ford car dealer, local newspaper and many other small businesses.

There are five churches and a Historical Society with a museum. There is a Doctor’s clinic, an osteopath, a Message Therapist, midwife, and veterinarians. There are nine dairy farmers.



110 Front Street, Owego, NY 13827                                  Phone: 607-687-2460                                Email: museum@tiogahistory.org