Town Of Colesville

St. Luke's Church Museum
Robert Harpur:

Robert Harpur   1733-1825



Patriotic Statesman


Land Developer


Leaving Europe 


Robert Harpur was born January 25, 1733 in Ballybay, Ireland of parents who left Scotland to practice their  Presbyterian religion in peace.  Robert was raised to appreciate the disciplines of religion and the benefits of education.  Upon graduation from Glasgow University he taught in Ireland for 7 years before being called to experience life in the "New World" in 1760.


Immediate Acceptance 


In New York City, King's College sought from Archbishop of Canterbury and Glasgow University for teaching positions at the institution founded in 1754.  Harpur was nominated and 3 days after his arrival in 1761, he was installed as Professor of mathematics.  In 1762. he was granted an honorary M.A. and a professorship in natural History.  Robert was also assigned to develop a library, a museum and named Librarian.   


Developing the "New World"


Among Harpur's duties at King's College was the expansion of education in England's Upper Hudson and Mohawk River holdings.  In 1763, Harpur applied to King George for 24,000 acres in the Lake George area for King's College and another 24,000 acres for his personal development.

In 1764, Harpur built roads on the acreage and invited 100 Irish families to settle in "Harpursville". The land was inhospitable for farming and Robert's first development project was doomed.

In 1764, Harpur received another grant for 24,000 acres of more favorable land between Lake George and theConnecticut River.  He invited settlers displaced by the NY- Conn border disputes to populate this land and met with success. 


Larger Roles and Responsibilities 


Harpur continued his college duties, performed land surveys and led its development. In 1773, he married Elizabeth Crygier of New York City, started a family and enlarged his Kingston home.  He became involved in the Colonial opposition to British rule and joined the "Sons of Liberty", becoming instrumental in creating "Ruled of Governance". 

On July 8, 1775 the first Provincial Congress was formed n New York City.  Harpur was a member and was appointed to procure cloth from France to make Colonial uniforms.  In April, the "Committee for Safety" ordered King's College to leave its property to facilitate General George Washington's occupation.  Torn between loyalty to his King and his duties to his new country, Harpur transferred the King's College Library to his Kingston home.  In July of 1776, the Declaration of Independence reached New York from Philadelphia.  A hastily convened New York Congress, with Harpur in attendance, ratified the Declaration.

By mid 1776, Harpur became "Supervisor of Acquisition of Supplies" dealing with France for gun powerd. British naval forces thwarted Harpur's attempts. 


Military Service- Where and How 


In September of 1776, British troops invaded Long Island. Harpur joined the Colonial militia. British occupied New York City,

Washington retreated and King's College became British Military Prison.  Harpur's  active military service was shortened by his recall for "Administrative Services". He became Chairman of the "Committee for Arrangements" (draft board) and began dealing with Native Americans captured and lands acquired, (including the Aughquaga and Susquehanna River settlements). 

In 1777, Harpur was named "Assemblyman to the New York Legislature" a position he held until 1784.  British troops burned Harpur's  Kingston home destroying both Harpur's and King's College libaries.

In March 1778, "Sons of Liberty " stalwarts John Scott and Robert Harpur were named Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the New York Legislature.  


The Native American Prescence  


  In 1778 Iroquois Chief Joseph Brant (who for years harassed Colonial Settlers on British lands) brought 400 British militia to Aughquaga for more raids on tribes sympathetic to the Colonist.  On October 9 th, Colonial troops led by James Butler and on orders from General Washington and Governor Clinton, destroyed the Susquehanna settlements of British allied Native American tribes at Unadillia and Aughquaga.   


The Land Conquered - and Divided 


In 1781, Harpur was named "Clerk of the Council of Appointments" Responsibility for the records of financial matters enhanced his bookkeeping ability.  Additional Secretarial duties include the position of "Secretary of the Land Board"  with accountability for all territories won from British and Native American occupation.  


A New Era in a New World 


October 24,  1782 British forces surrendered  at Yorktown, negotiated a peace and terminated all land claims.  The British vacated New York City.  New York State petitioned its Legislature to open King's College as Columbia College". Harpur was named to the Board of Regents. 

A life serving the New York State Legislature, the Land Board and Columbia College hardly deterred Hurpur from continued land speculation.  In 1786, Robert acquired 2 large grants, 15,360 acres on the Susquehanna River ( including the Aughquaga site) and 16,000 acres inland (in current Chenango County).  In 1787,on a visit to his "Susquehanna Lands" to sell squatters the right to own, Harpur built a log cabin on lot # 122 (the site of the Onaquaga Indian Chieftain Adam's dwelling on a map missionary Rev. Gideon Hawley drew in 1754). Harpur also built 2 mills, one on Belden Brook (grist) and one on Wylie Brook (lumber) in the area known as Harpur's Mills.


Harpur Remarries, Begins Second Family, Continues Duties  


On April 30, 1789, 56 year old Robert Harpur married Myra Lackey, 16, with thoughts of living in his new mansion on Cortlandt Street in New York City.  They never did, choosing the rural Fishkill residence instead.

Robert was vitally active for his "new country" and in 1790 surveyed the Chenango 20 lands' he purchased, as well as the "Military Tract" in Central New York for the Land Board.  Robert acquired an 8 mile square tract in Clinton (now Chenango) County for specific use by "Vermont Sufferers" (families who lost lands in the continuing NY-Conn border disputes).  He called this area "Jericho", later to become Afton, and Bainbridge in Chenango County.   


Harpur Retires From Service 


New York's political climate was not amenable to Robert's vision and in  1795 Harpur retires from 34 years of public service.  He gathered his family from New York City and Kingston to move to the Susquehanna Lands.

In 1796, construction began on another mansion to house family and domestics.  In 1797, structural faults caused leakage and foundation problems to the building. 

From 1798 to 1818, Harpur concentrated on land and forestry management, land sales and development as well as livestock ventures and experiments in agricultural and millwork improvements.

By 1805, son Robert, Jr. built a new mansion copied from his brother Warren's home (Gracemore Farms) on the flat lands below

his father's home.   


The Public Service Mantle is Passed 


By 1821, the local population petitioned Broome County for township status and 47,179 acres were set off from Windsor Township to become the Town of Colesville.  At an 1821 organizational meeting in Coles Tavern, Robert's son John was elected Supervisor.  

  In late 1822 Harpur relegated responsibilities of land ownership and management to his son John, During 1821, Robert Harpur Sr. moved his family into Robert Jr's , large house known as "Harpur's Manor".


A Remarkable Life Ends 


On April 15, 1825 Robert Harpur died in his 93rd year.  This man of "Old World" beginning saw the birth and growth of a "New World". His role as educator, patriotic statesman, solider and benevolent land developer is historic.  He was buried on his Susquehanna Lands next to his wife Myra.  Progress once more touched Robert's life. Construction of Interstate I-88 in 1973 caused this mansion to be dismantled and the graves relocated to Riverside Cemetery in Harpursville - a name Robert denied use until his final departure.   












Nathaniel Cole:

Nathaniel Cole, Sr.  1747-1832


Mayflower Descendent

Revolutionary Soldier

Land Developer 


The Early Years


Nathaniel-Cole was born in Eastham, Massachusetts, On August 8th, 1747, to rural landowners - a 7th generation in the line of Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins. 

In 1756, Nathaniel, age 9, his parents and 5 siblings migrated to Putnam County, New York, for better farming conditions.  In 1765, his father's death caused a return to New Milford, Connecticut and family lands. Nathaniel reached maturity at age 18.

At age 26, Nathaniel married Abigail Oviatt, worked his land and sired 3 children before his first voluntary enlistment in State Militia in in 1776.  Corporal Cole volunteered for 2 more tours of duty.  In 1779, Sergeant Cole was conscripted for his final tour of duty, and discharged one year later.

By 1780, the family had grown by 2, and Cole attempted raising a farm family where lands and political conditions were severe.  

      The lure of virgin Indian territories across New York's Hudson River held great hopes for all Revolutionary War veterans.  Cole's choice was uncertain.  


Another Migration East


            Following the defeat of the British, President George Washington urged land ownership by the survivors of the Revolution.  Based on his own surveying of lands in Virginia, the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 began accurate mapping of unexplored lands occupied by Native Americans.  Connecticut land taxes to support state governments were becoming increasingly costly for patriots such as Cole.  New lands beckoned the growing family.

            In the late 1790's, Nathaniel Cole, his wife and 6 children (first son Andrew was left buried in Connecticut), along with older brother Sylvanus and his family, and some Connecticut neighbors, left their farms and headed east into Indian lands of Central New York. 


The Journey and The Destination


            Accurate details of the journey of the Cole expedition are lacking, but other journals of similar New England migrants show a popular route of travel.  East to Esopus (Kingston), across the Hudson River to the Kaatz Kill (Catskill) turnpike, overland to the Susquehanna River, then north or south as pre-scouting dictated. 

Current records show that in 1795, the group from New England settled in North-Central Broome County, 12 miles east-northeast of Chenengo Point (later to become Binghamton).

            The Cambridge Settlement was over the southeastern edge of Robert Harper's "Warren Patent" (a 1786 purchase of 15,360 acres from the New York Land Board), and located on land identified as the Abijah Hammond Patent. 

            Cole applied to a land agent for this land upon which to settle.  Since rural banks were decades away, land ownership was transacted with a handshake and a "grantee-grantor" contract.  In the "Index of Deeds 1806-1843" in the Broome County land records, middle man William Johnson granted Nathaniel Cole, Sr. land within the Abijah Hammond patent and the "Cambridge Settlement" was born.


Coles Hill and the "Cambridge Settlement"


            On the hilltop "where the sun shines in every direction", Nathaniel Cole, Sr. stopped his caravan of migrant New Englanders and said, "This is home".  Acreage was apportioned among families of Nathaniel and Sylvanus Cole.  They were soon joined by other Connecticut deportees; Titus Humaston his wife and 13 children, (2 more came by 1796), Job Wilmont, Jed Merchant, Bateman Dickinson, David Crofut, John Ruggles, and Isaac Tyrell, and their extended families.  Quite an immediate population!

            All hands were put to work clearing lands, planting gardens, fencing pastures, and building shelters.  Whether of log construction or lumber from nearby mills, housing grew quickly around the crossroads settlement. 

            By 1800, Nathaniel Cole's original house was enlarged to become the first tavern in the area known as "Cambridge Settlement".  It served as a stop on the Chenengo Point-Albany frontier route, as well as a meeting hall and social center for the growing number of local families.

            Under government mandate to "maintain a prepared militia", Cole's Tavern and its adjacent parade ground became the site of military drills and instructions.  Local men of service age were under the command of visiting officers who were housed and fed in the tavern.  A nearby racetrack provided entertainment for visitors and residents.  The settlement was expanding. 

            Even by 1800 standards, the tavern was impressive.  Two stories in height, painted red with hipped roofs and 5 large windows across the upper front and each side of the clapboard structure, it stood out in the settlement at its highest crest. 

            The tavern had two front entrances and two large chimneys at either side housed large interior fireplaces.  Ground level access was into a large entry hall that featured fine carpentry hewn from local red pine, with planking 36 inches wide.  A bar was at the right of the hall and a sitting parlor on the left. 

            A broad staircase led up to the second level.  The ballroom at the top of the stairs spanned the full front of the building and had a raised bandstand.  Wax mannequins of celebrities graced the wall spaces and created a party-like atmosphere for occupants.  Guest bedrooms occupied the back of the second level.


With Growth Comes Recognition


            In 1806, Nathaniel Cole, Sr. applied to the U.S. Government for authority to establish a post office.  Cole became the Postmaster and the area served was identified as Colesville.  Under requirements of the Land Ordinance Act, one "square" of a 6x6 mile "township" was to be set aside for education.  A schoolhouse was built across Farm to Market Road, opposite the tavern.  Soon after, a Presbyterian Church joined the group of buildings around the tavern.  Cambridge Settlement now became known as Colesville.

            Rural life around the crossroads flourished during the first two decades of the 1800's.  In 1821 the citizens petitioned Broome County for the privilege of becoming a township.  It was so granted and named after one of its prominent early settlers, Nathaniel Cole, Sr.  At the first official meeting held in Cole's Tavern in 1822, John Warren Harpur, son of another prominent citizen, Robert Harpur, was elected Supervisor.  Nathaniel Cole, Jr. was chosen for overseer of the poor.  Based on the New England pattern of civil government, the "town council" provided for the administration of service, aid, and the maintenance of property. 


The Legacy of Nathaniel Cole


            Since 1875, pioneer Nathaniel Cole, Sr. hand-shaped a colony of family, friends, and neighbors into a thriving community.  Over his busy lifetime, he selflessly gave much to the betterment of others.  In his later years, he turned the operation of the tavern over to his son Nathaniel Cole, Jr., and later to Junior's son, James Henry Cole.  The tavern left Cole family ownership following its sale when the post office closed in 1876.

            In 1832, Nathaniel Cole, Sr. died.  He was buried near his beloved Colesville.  Jesse Wilmont, one of the original 1795 settlers, deeded land for a cemetery "for the inhabitants from the Cambridge Settlement" from his apportioned land.  The beautiful rural cemetery atop what has become Coles Hill is the final resting place for Cole and the early settlers.


A Community Grows  


Growth at Coles Hill Slowed.  Few new settlers found land available at Nathaniel  Cole's purchase.  The tavern struggled with decling travel and social activities.  When no longer under family ownership, the buildng deteriorated and ws razed in 1926.  Olnly the foundation and the cemetery are evidence of what was once "Cambridge Settlement". 


For more information, the Old Onaquaga Historical Society recommends "Nathaniel Cole 1747-1832" by Terri Robbins, published in 2013.  


Interested in Colesville history?


Historians, scholars and those seeking connections with the past are invited to visit Colesville's two "Museums of Antiquities" for a step back in time.


Doraville Schoolhouse and Museum


Built in 1832, this authentic one-room structure re-creates educational conditions during the mid 1800's.  Open holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and by appointment. (607-648-6959)


St. Luke's Church and Museum


Erected in 1828, this building houses local history from Indian settlements through 1800's development and life.  Open monthly (2nd Sunday 2-5pm) from Memorial Day to St. Luke's Day in October.  For information call 607-693-1222.

Historical Museum:

An historic museum in an historic church 


St. Luke's Church and Museum is Harpursville, NY Stands today just as it was built 186 years ago, except not as the 2nd oldest Episcopal Church in New York State but as a repository for local history since Native Americans first populated the Susquehanna Valley prior to discovery in the 1600's.


Documenting the earliest occupants through their displacement of Revolutionary forces, The museum tells of settlements after the war, the ownership of land and the influx of migrants into these fertile lands.  Of special interest is the early growth of the village of Harpursville (1786), the formation of the Township of Colesville (1821) and the many colorful hamlets that populate its 47,000 acres.   


Visitors are shown artifacts used by Indians to cultivate the lands and a progression of implements use by settlers to work the land and homesteads, right up to the World War II.  This walk through local history recalls memories for the elderly and some - eye opening revelations for students.


  The museum is open from 2 to 5 pm on the second Sunday of each month from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

   Free Admission 




In 1786, Robert Harpur (see Robert Harpur, this website) purchased a vast land holding along the Susquehanna River which was to become the Town of Colesville and include the hamlet of Harpursville. 


Harpur welcomed disgruntled settlers from New England's crowded lands.  These hard working, religious families soon populated nearby fertile lands.  In 1799 the heads of 60 of these newcomer families met at the home of Abel Doolittle in Aughquaga (Ouaquaga) to form the area's first Episcopal Church.  It was second in the State to St. Paul's in Paris Hill (Utica), founded in 1797.


For eight years these faithful Episcopalians met in the homes of neighbors to practice the acts of service from the Book of Common Prayer and schooling from the Holy Bible. 


In the 1800's, a building committee was elected and purchased a knoll on the southern end of the Community on which to build a church and rectory.  The price was $50.00.  Soon a 40'x60' framed pegged beam structure was begun and completed in 1828.   


The Nave (interior) measures  40'x60' with a 35' high arched Cathedral ceiling.  The original triple sash windows  - 3 per side - were replaced with the current leaded glass windows in 1889.  The Sanctuary (altar cove) projects out from the east (sunrise) wall.  The original glass window behind the Altar was replaced with a leaded stained glass window whose craftsmanship and glass date to 1850.  The original hewn Altar was replaced with one of black walnut, a gift of Edward Harpur, grandson of Robert Harpur, Sr.  


The 74 foot Bell Tower juts out from the western front of the church and provides the formal entrance.  Its crown was remodeled to remove the original four corner pointers and four balustrades.  It houses a massive cast iron bell, the second, cast in Troy, NY and installed in 1870.


The building was consecrated on September 28, 1828 by the Reverend John Henry Hobart, Bishop of the State of New York.  The final completed cost was $2,190.00.


The church functioned without an assigned rector, using visitations by circuit riders for baptisms,. confirmations, weddings and Sunday services.  In 1959, a group of dedicated parishoners raised the 131 year-old building, excavated a basement, poured a cement floor and installed a cinder block foundation.


Dwindling attendance and a dearth of young parishioners doomed the life of St. Luke's, and on May 2, 1968, the Archdeacon of the Diocese closed the aged doors.  The church was never deconsecrated and is available for any denominational baptisms or weddings.


But new life for the building was ahead.  Upon learning of the possible demolition by the Diocese, the Old Onaquaga Historical Society stepped in to preserve this historical landmark.   


Under the leadership of R. Leone Jacobs, Town of Colesville Historian and retired school teacher, negotiations with the Diocese led to the building being spared and turned into a Museum for the preservation of local history.  Mrs. Jacob was relentless in obtaining official status for the building, and in late 1968 obtained a formal "Charter for Museums" from the State of New York.


The interior of the church is intact as of the day of closing in 1968, and houses the history of all the religious groups that functioned from the 1800's to the present.  The basement is a tour of the history of the land, from its discovery by missionaries in 1754, through Native American settlements, incursion by white settlers, the use of lands and waterways, up through the development of factories and businesses.  Donations of tools and materials from early settlers and items up to the advent of WWII, gives visitors a glimpse into rural life and its transition to current day comforts.


The Museum is open to the public, free of charge, from Memorial Day to St. Luke's Patrons Day in October.  Regular visiting schedules are the second Sunday of each  month from 1-5pm.  Special guided tours are available, courtesy of the Old Onaquaga Historical Society. 


Additionally, the Old Onaquaga Historical Society conducts monthly meetings in this historic structure on the third Monday of the month from May to October at 7:00pm.  Business and historical informational programs are open to the public and are free of charge.

Doraville Schoolhouse:

A Brief History of the Doraville Schoolhouse

(from the Doraville Schoolhouse Cookbook)

The Doraville Schoolhouse was built about 1830 and was used as a schoolhouse for 110 years.  In 1939, the Doraville school district centralized with Harpursville Central School, and the building thereafter ceased to be a school.  For a while the building was used as a community clubhouse for meetings, suppers, and wedding receptions.  It was used as a polling place until 1987, but after that year the residents went to Harpursville to vote.  The old building began to need repairs, but the resident taxpayers did not want the added expense to repair it.

At this time a committee of interested people was recruited by the Town Historian, Minerva Flagg, to see if the schoolhouse could be restored and saved.  It was, after all, the last remaining one-room schoolhouse in the Town of Colesville.  Others had fallen down, burned, or been converted to other uses.  The community response was overwhelming.  Money flowed in through donations and numerous fund-raisers.  Johnny Hart, local citizen and well-known cartoonist, provided the logo for the campaign to "Save the Doraville Schoolhouse". 

In 1993, the Doraville Schoolhouse was moved, in two sections, from its original site to its present location behind the Colesville Town Hall, in Harpursville.  The distance was three and one-half miles.  It was here placed on piers set by the Harpursville Rotary Club.  From that point, the old schoolhouse began to reappear under the direction of Restoration Committee Chairman, Donald Olin, and his dedicated crew of volunteers.

The goal set by the committee was to restore the building to what it was in the mid-1800's.  All foundation stones, including the two large flag-stones on the porch landing, were moved from the original site and used.  Many of the original hand-made bricks were used to rebuild the chimney.  The windows were taken apart, and some of the original glass was preserved.  Two of the original blackboards were uncovered.  (These were simply boards painted black; more recent schools used slate "blackboards".)  The outline of the teacher's platform was visible on the old floor, so a new platform was rebuilt on the same location.  Similar outlines appeared on the floor where the boys and girls entrances were; new entryways were then built on them.

This Colesville treasure stands restored as a result of a large community effort.  Over 1800 hours of volunteer labor went into this project, and volunteer labor continues for its maintenance.  And, proudly, no taxpayer money was used in the restoration project.

Our schoolhouse has received recognition from beyond the local community too.  The Preservation Society of the Southern Tier gave its distinguished P.A.S.T. award for its authentic restoration to us in 1994.  Over a thousand people have visited the schoolhouse since its restoration, and programs are presented to show what school was like a hundred years ago.  We are proud of our Colesville heritage and are trying to keep it alive.

As compiled by Rexford Cole, October, 1994.

The Ouaquaga Bridge as a Heritage Site:

Ouite apart from the engineering importance of the Ouaquaga bridge, it is its located at a site of some historical significance which merited attention when is was proposed for listbg in the National Register of Historic Places.  Prior to 1778 the immediate area to the south of the bridge was the center of what was the largest Indian town on the Susquehanna River at that time.  It was a  crossing point having a cluster of permanent settlements with a mixture of members of the Tuscarora, Mohawk, and Oneida tribes.  It was also a place of refuge for those Indians dispossessed from their homelands to the south and the east. One visitor on the eve of the American Revolution described this extensive settlement as having "neat and warm habitations..... and a "great deal of industry."  In 1778 a Lt. Colonel Butler observed "it was the finest Indian town I have ever saw; on both sides [of] the  river there was about 40 good houses, square logs, shingles & some width Chimneys, good Floors, glass Windows, &c. , &c." (taken from Alan Taylor's Pulitzer Prize winning "William Coopers Town," 1996 and Marjory Barnum Hinman's "Ouaquaga: Hub of the Border Wars," 1975) 


At the start of our Revolution this part of the Susquehanna River and to the north found partisans on both sides pressuring those in the middle. At this time the Loyalist Indian leader, Joseph Brant, used Ouaquaga as a base of operations, led Loyalist Rangers up the river to attack villages in and about the Mohawk valley.  In October 1778, American soldiers descended the river to Ouaquaga where they "plundered, and burnt their houses, drove away and killed their cattle, mowed their corn, and cut down the chief of their orchards." The next month the loyalists gained their revenge for the destruction of Ouaquqaga  when they attacked the fort and settlement of Cherry Valley. the nest year, Ouaquaga was visited by the Continental Army force led by General James Clinton as one wing of General Sullivan's four winged army.  Clinton bivouacked here from August 14-18, 1789, to link up with a smaller force led by Colonel Albert Pawling (which did not come to pass) before proceeding westward to meet Sullivan at Tioga.  (Extracted from "William Coopers Town" and A Well-Executed Failure " by Joseph R. Fischer, 1997). 


It is believed that the uniqueness of the Ouaquaga Bridge, the setting in which it is located, together with the history of the immediate area point to the utility of this location becoming a site for an interpretive center open to the public.. The center would focus on the frontier in central New York leading up to and during the time of our Revolution.  An effort is underway to test this premise and prepare materials that will justify such a center being established.  A successful completion of this very worthwhile project will depend on the individual  members of the community who wish and will work to see such a worthwhile project come into being.   

Colesville Historian Advisory Committee
Town Historian
Val LaClair
P.O. Box 27
Harpursville, NY 13787
Phone: 607-648-8341
The Colesville Historian Advisory Committee meets on the 2nd Monday of each month at  7:00 pm at the Town of Colesville Town Hall, excluding December, January, and February.
Mrs. Eileen Ruggieri, President,
Old Onaquaga Historical Society
St. Luke's Church Museum
42 Maple Street
P.O. Box 318
Harpursville, NY 13787-0318
Phone: (607) 775-1190
Doraville Schoolhouse, 2006