Did you know that Maple Avenue used to be called Merrick Street? As near as I can tell, it was named for David or Danforth Merrick, a father, and son who came here from Massachusetts in 1800. The newspaper article I’ve been using as a starting point for research says that the “Merrick family owned a large tract covering what is now Lincoln and Maple.” The 1855 map of Cortland, the 1876 atlas, and the 1888 map do not show a large tract owned by the Merrick family in that area so perhaps they owned land in that area prior to 1855. It’s unclear when the name was changed to Maple Avenue, but by 1888, it is shown as Maple on the map of Cortland. It is stated in the newspaper article that the name change was due to the many maple trees on the street, however, the writer contends there were no more maple trees on the street than on any others in the city.
David Merrick married Marcia/Martha Groves, and they had five children. They first settled in the Little York area and later moved to Cortland where he built a hotel just west of where the Cortland Hotel stood. He kept it as a tavern for more than 20 years. When Merrick moved to the area, it was largely wilderness, and there were certainly no comforts of home available. This story is taken directly from H.P. Smith’s “History of Cortland,” (1885) and gives you a good idea of what white settlers were faced with when they came to this area.
“The early pioneers located in these dense forests erected their rude unadorned cabins, hoping for the sure rewards of industry, perseverance, and economy. But they were often subjected to great inconvenience and suffering, for the want of the necessary articles of husbandry, and also those of subsistence. We have been told of instances of whole families living for successive weeks upon turnips and salt; of others who boiled roots gathered in the forest and ate them with a relish that is unknown to the epicurean lords of the present day. To them, a mess of parsley presented by a neighboring hand was regarded as an act of marked and generous attention. Grain and potatoes were not to be had in the country. David Merrick (of Cortland) sent his team through the woods to Geneva by a neighbor, to whom he gave five dollars, just enough to purchase two bushels of wheat. It was procured and ground; but on the return, one of the bags was torn open by coming in contact with a tree, and the flour of one bushel was lost; the remainder was emptied on its arrival by Mrs. Merrick into a four-quart pan.” The account was taken from an earlier history of Cortland by H.C. Goodwin. I guess we can’t complain about grocery shopping if we keep this story in mind!
David’s son Danforth followed in his father’s footsteps and built a tavern in 1829 that would occupy a spot in downtown Cortland until 1883 when it was destroyed by fire. The Cortland House had changed hands by that time and was then owned by Delos Bauder. Bauder rebuilt the establishment, and you will remember it as the Hotel Cortland. Danforth was married to Lucinda Hutchinson and they had three children.
According to information supplied by the step-granddaughter of Louise Merrick Forbush, Danforth Merrick operated the stagecoach line between Cortland and Syracuse. We have a mailbag in the collection that was used at the Cortland House as well as a wallet that belonged to Danforth Merrick. Both are in good condition, but the mailbag is fascinating! It has a belt along the top that weaves the two sides together, and a clasp at the top would be where a lock could be placed to secure the mail. The bottom is leather and has Danforth Merrick’s name and information written there. It’s very scratchy and seems to be made from wool. It’s in remarkable condition for something that was used daily almost 200 years ago!
Both David and Danforth Merrick were involved in community life, but another story caught my eye in Smith’s “History of Cortland” that seemed particularly relevant. In 1832, cholera had been introduced to North America and fear was running high. Cholera is a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration which can kill an otherwise healthy person within hours. It is a consequence of poor sanitation and was often spread through contaminated drinking water. Cholera has largely been eliminated throughout the world today. When cholera appeared in New York City, Cortland was proactive and established a board of health to combat this serious threat to public health. Danforth Merrick, Harry McGraw, Joshua Ballard, Mead Merrill, William Bartlit, William H. Shankland, and William Randall constituted the newly formed board of health, and Dr. Miles Goodyear was appointed the health officer. The board put measures in place to prevent a cholera outbreak in Cortland. No stagecoach or other means of public transportation could carry a person sick with cholera (or who had been exposed to it) through the village or the penalty was $100. Citizens had to clean their premises or be fined $25. Each morning at 9am, the health officer had to report all cases of infectious diseases to the board of health. Citizens were also urged to report all infectious cases. While cholera made its way across the country, thanks to the precautions followed by Cortland, the disease had very little impact here.
There’s surely more information about this family and this street, but we never have enough time to find it all! That’s the beauty of history, there are always more clues to find in the archives! ~Tabitha
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