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Afton, New York's Rich History

Afton Main Street, circa 1914

 

 

Today, Afton is quite a different place from that described in the 1880 History of Chenango and Madison Counties. In 1902, 155 places in the town had some cows, usually about 8 or 10. The largest dairy had 45 cows. Today, there are fewer than 10 dairies, but the number of cows is much greater for each. The advent of the refrigerated railroad car, then the tank truck, enabled local farmers to send fresh milk to metropolitan markets. The production of butter and cheese declined as a result. The work horse, once the power source for all kinds of jobs, has all but disappeared, but pleasure and race horses have kept the population higher than in the good old days when timothy hay was sent to New York City as a cash crop to feed the horses there.

With the advent of the automobile, passenger train service has ended, leaving our Delaware & Hudson Station to be converted into the River Club Restaurant. Even bus service is limited to one bus each way from Binghamton to Albany, with the closest stop in Sidney. The building of Interstate Highway 88 during the 1960's bisected many valley farms, further hastening the decline of dairying. 1-88 has also had an effect on business and trade. Afton has always been Oneonta-Binghamton oriented, because of transportation.

Today, one can work, dine, and be entertained at more distant places. This has altered the make-up of our Main Street which was once a mixture of many stores and businesses. Except for a few retailers such as Horton Hardware, many of our business blocks are occupied by small shops and service businesses. Some, such as Homeward Bound Video, were unimagined only a few years ago. Education has become the biggest employer in Afton. The old wooden Afton Academy was replaced by the brick High School in 1908. This has been expanded by successive additions. A staff of about 8 in 1923 has now increased to over 60 and a fleet of school buses transports students to and from the central school. The First National Bank of Afton merged with the National Bank and Trust Company of Norwich and occupies a modem facility completed in 1972. Computers are apparent everywhere in business, banking, and school. The Village of Afton was incorporated in 1892. Shortly after, in 1895, the Afton water system was developed, enabling the use of up-to-date fire fighting equipment by the Afton Hose Company which is now over 100 years old and has a modem building on Spring Street.

House where Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon religion) and Emma Hale were married on January 18th, 1827
The Afton Free Library, founded in 1933, has very attractive space in the Afton Community Center, a new facility which also houses the Village of Afton offices and the Susqueharma Room for public meetings. The old Carpenter Block, which housed Eldred's Clothing Store, is now the site of the Town of Afton offices. The Afton Historical Society, chartered in 1986, occupies a house and barn on Main Street. The annual Arts and Crafts Days have been held for over 25 years and draw many visitors to Afton during its two days. The Afton Fair has been held continuously each year since its founding in 1889. Fraternal and other organizations have declined in numbers and membership as people have found other ways to occupy their time. There are now seven churches in the town: 2 Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Christian Assembly. Afton Lake, which was formerly a resort area, is now surrounded by private homes whose members belong to the Afton Lake Association. In the early 20th century, much of that property was owned by Ansco, a manufacturer of photographic film. The plant was demolished in the 1930's. The Afton Inn continues the tradition of a hotel on the site since 1823. During the heyday of the railroads, there were as many as three hotels at the same time. The Afton Golf Course is one of the earliest in the area to open and brings many players to Afton. Weekly stock car races are held at the Afton fairgrounds during the summer season. Little League teams play on Davey's Field. The Afton Sertoma Club sponsors many local projects. The Afton Community Chest raises money annually to support organizations and activities. In spite of the many changes in modern life, Afton has been able to maintain an active business life. Its attractive and well-maintained homes make it a good place to live.

By Charles J. Decker Afton Historian

Where did the name "Afton" come from?
An article from the Daily Star