Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version “REWIND”
July 15, 2016
John Thurman, was an early entrepreneur in what would become Warren County.
Elm Hill Farm, John Thurman’s Home
The Elm Hill Farm in the Town of Johnsburgh, comprised of 440 acres and owned by William McCarthy, was purchased in 1778 by John Warren Thurman, a merchant from New York City. Thurman’s intention was to build a city.
In 1790 he cleared the farm, erected a dam and built a mill on what is known as Mill Creek. Later he went to New York City and returned with a number of young men in their early teens. They worked for Thurman, clearing more land, and raising vegetables. When his workers reached 21 years of age, Thurman deeded each a parcel of land for their own. The young men would build small houses to live in. Before this, they all lived together in logging camps along Beaver River Brook.
John Thurman built the first framed house and barn in the Town of Johnsburgh in 1794, calling it Elm Hill Farm. The nails used were all hand-made. The framed buildings on Elm Hill Farm were constructed by Enos Grover, a cooper.
Thurman lived in the house for a while. Later, Nicholas Roosevelt and other Roosevelts lived there. The Roosevelts who gained fame in Washington, D.C. were descendants of these Roosevelts. (Montgomery). Nicholas Roosevelt III, a distant relative of Theodore and Franklin, married Thurman’s sister, Elizabeth). (Pearsall)
Thurman put up a distillery to create a market for the rye he and his tenants raised on the farm. In 1775 he erected a woolen factory which was later changed to a cotton mill. In addition, he built a kiln, store, and malt house to upgrade the operation.
In 1797 he erected a calico printing factory, believed to be the first such factory in America. John Snedly came from England for the purpose of superintendent it. He conducted this business until his death.
In 1810, Mr. Thurman erected the Ash Works on his property. Here he made large quantities of potash, which brought good prices. Farmers were paid one shilling a bushel, and potash brought from $2 – $3 per ton. Potash was important for glass production, soap, dyes, and explosives.
Mail was addressed to Elm Hill Farm from England, Ireland, and America and was carried on horseback (Pony Express) from Bolton to Elm Hill. The carriers ate their lunch under a large elm tree from which the area got its name.
Local legend has it that in an effort to colonize his patent, Thurman was in the habit of showing beechnuts to immigrants in New York City and told them that this was the kind of buckwheat he raised on Elm Hill.
The cotton mill was not successful, so Thurman decided to go into raising cattle. He raised some extra fine, well-bred stock, and among the herd was a full-blooded Ayrshire Bull. The people were afraid of it and they told Mr. Thurman that he had to get rid of the bull. So Thurman took the bull to Bolton to a Mr. Reese’s farm.
The people in Bolton, too, were afraid of the bull and ordered Mr. Reese to kill it. John went down to Bolton to defend the bull. While they were eating supper, Thurman insisted the bull was a harmless animal. He took a biscuit from the table, and going to the yard where the bull was feeding, he offered it the biscuit. The bull rushed forward and before Thurman could get out of the way, the bull killed him.
Thurman died in 1809. Thurman was buried on his own premises at Johnsburgh, now included in the Methodist cemetery. There is a monument to him in the Wevertown Cemetery and there may also be one in Bolton.
John Thurman was born in 1729 or 1730 in New York City, the son of John Thurman, Sr. and Elizabeth Wessells. His mother’s family were merchants in New York City, and he maintained commercial operations there throughout his lifetime. In 1774 he purchased land in the Hyde Township, on the west shore of the Hudson River part of the lands granted by King George III to the Jessup brothers.
On September 13, 2014, the Johnsburg Historical Society dedicated an historical marker to John Thurman at ‘Elm Hill,’ Thurman’s home.
For further reading on John Thurman’s life and the calico mill, refer to Glenn Pearsall’s book, Echoes in These Mountains and the Johnsburg section of the “Warren County, New York Commemorative Bicentennial Magazine,” prepared by Jo Ann Bateman Smith, Johnsburg Town Clerk and Historian.
Original research and writing for this article was done by Clara Montgomery, former Johnsburg Town Historian. Updating and additional material was added by Stan Cianfarano, Warren County Historian for the Warren County Historical Society.