A Brief History of Camillus
Founded on March 8, 1799, the Town of Camillus is named after the Roman general Marcus Furius Camillus and is the only Town in the United States to bear that name. The Town of Camillus occupies nearly 35 square miles of land, which includes Fairmount, Amboy-Belle Isle, Warners, and the Village of Camillus. A fire in 1829 destroyed the records of the first 20 years of the Town of Camillus’ history.
In 1790, the first white settler, Isaac Lindsay, arrived in the area that would later become Camillus. In 1792, Isaac was joined by his brothers James, William, and Elijah. William Lindsay discovered the large deposits of gypsum (plaster) which would lead to a prosperous new industry in area of the Village of Camillus. In 1795, Isaac built the first wood frame house in the area, a house that still stands at #3 Leroy Street.
Revolutionary War grants of 600 acres each caught the attention of early settlers. Free land offered ex-soldiers the opportunity to make their dreams come true and improve work and living conditions for themselves and their families. The rich soil to farm and an abundant supply of lumber with which to build homes, coupled with hard work and determination, gave them great hope for their future.
The first school of record in Camillus was housed in a log cabin built in 1808. The U.S. Census records of 1845 reported that there were just fewer than 3,000 residents with over 800 children attending 11 common schools.
The Camillus Post Office was established in 1811.
The building of the Erie Canal in 1825 changed the lives of many Camillus residents almost overnight. As many as 19 mills sprang up along the Nine Mile Creek because of the power source it provided and its access to the Canal for shipping of goods to eager markets. Stores also developed along the canal to meet the needs of the boat crews and passengers. Wider docks to accommodate barges and warehouses to store grain and other products produced in Camillus and other nearby towns were built by the Dill brothers, thus it became known as Dill’s Landing in Camillus.
The 1838 introduction of the railroad line from Syracuse to Auburn further enhanced the lives of Camillus residents and attracted businesses that became well known around the world for their products. One such company, Camillus Cutlery, established in 1894, attracted skilled cutlers from England and Germany who immigrated to the area to work for the company. Another, Syracuse Pottery, established in 1894, was a family owned business that manufactured flowerpots made from the red clay found in a portion of Camillus and shipped an estimated 8 million pounds of pottery from their plant every year.
From 1861 to 1865, Camillus was a major distributor of grain in Central New York. One can only imagine the prosperity for both the farmers and the mill manufacturers this hub of activity brought here.
Although a longstanding dispute exists, there is ample and compelling evidence that a group of very influential government leaders and businessmen from Camillus protesting the “Fugitive Slave Law” wrote the proclamation on which the principles of the Republican Party are based. This historic event happened during a meeting at the Rowe Hotel in the Village of Camillus in 1852, a full two years ahead of all other claimants’ evidence to the title “Birthplace of the Republican Party”. A detailed publication of this event is available through the Camillus Historical Society.
Transportation advancements continued in 1900s, starting with the introduction of electric “trolley cars” to Camillus in 1909.
The first airplane, flown by Harry Atwood, landed in a field in Amboy in 1912 and established a long distance flight record from Chicago to New York. By 1925, the Amboy Airport was in full swing and in 1927, it became the original home of the Syracuse Municipal Airport, making Camillus the center of aviation activity for the whole county. National recognition came with the first mail run in 1929. Notable aviators who landed here were Charles Lindberg, who arrived in the “Spirit of St. Louis” to a crowd of 2000 people in 1927, Will Rogers and Wiley Post in 1931, General Jimmy Doolittle in 1932, Amelia Earhart in 1936, and Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan in 1938. The airport played an important role during WWII as a landing field for military planes, but as military operations became more demanding, the need for a larger landing area led to the purchase and development of the location where Syracuse’s Hancock Airport now stands. However, Camillus continued to play an important role as a training field for civilians to move supplies and equipment, as well as for coastal patrol pilots watching for enemy subs and ships.
The Town has a population of over 25,000 residents. The most recent census reports 5100 students are now attending 1 high school, 2 middle schools, and 4 elementary schools in the 1951 formed West Genesee School District alone, with additional residents attending school in the surrounding Jordan-Elbridge, Marcellus, and Solvay school districts.
The Town of Camillus owns and maintains over 500 acres of park land that provide a staggering array of recreational choices for every season, including a small lake, a community swimming pool, and an enclosed skating arena amongst other offerings. The Town of Camillus is also home to five golf courses, a well-appointed senior citizen’s center, numerous civic and membership organizations, as well as volunteer groups of all kinds that further enhance community living. The Town has a strong business base, with enterprises stretching the entire length of West Genesee Street, from Fairmount to the furthest western Town border, all of whom provide convenient and safe access to shopping, dining, and services to fill almost every conceivable need.
The Town is protected and served by a 26-member police department, five volunteer fire departments, and a volunteer ambulance corps. Medical Center West is home to an immediate care walk-in center, numerous primary care physicians and specialists, testing facilities, and therapy centers.
Easy access to routes 690, 81, and 90 lessen commutes to Syracuse and other points within the county to an average of 20 minutes or less by car.
Five historical museums are located within the Town: The Octagon House, Sims Store, Martisco Station, School House #1 and an Agricultural museum, all of which give everyone who visits them a visual time line to the chain of steady growth and development throughout Camillus over the past 207 years.
Rich in history, a complete synopsis of the impressive advancements in the Town of Camillus over the years can be found in two books: “Among the Hills of Camillus” by Mary Ellen Maxwell and “The History of Camillus” by Ralph Sims, which are available for purchase Camillus Municipal Building.
The preceding historical information was provided by Camillus Historical Society President Judy Fittipaldi and Historian Ralph Sims. Please visit the Camillus Historical Society's website for more information.