Promoting historic preservation, education, and patriotism since 1897

History of Auburn

History of the City of Auburn, NY

~~~Compiled from articles by Thomas G. Eldred, Cayuga County Historian, and Michael J. Cuddy, Jr., featured in Auburn, NY, 200 Years of History-1793-1993.

When John L. Hardenbergh purchased a tract of land along the Owasco River on February 16, 1792, he could have hardly imagined that he would one day be considered the founder of a thriving community noted for its educational and cultural institutions, manufacturing and commercial enterprises, and natural beauty. Captain Hardenbergh, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, sold the lots assigned to him as bounty for his service and purchased lot 47, after noting the rapids and falls of the river while surveying surrounding land for Simon Dewitt. He came to the land in the winter of 1793 and he built a log dwelling and a grist and saw mill. The government of the Town of Aurelius was organized at his cabin in 1794 and he was elected first Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk. When Cayuga County was organized in 1799, Hardenbergh was designated Colonel of the militia and two years later the public school committee met at his cabin to provide an education for the youngsters in the settlement.


The Seneca Turnpike Company rebuilt the Genesee Road through the settlement and built a new bridge over the Owasco River in 1802 and 1803. The new growth inspired some of the citizens to consider a more imposing name for Hardenberghs Corners. The name of favor, Auburn, was suggested by Dr. Samuel Crossett after the Irish village mentioned in Goldsmith's poem.  In 1815, the citizens of Auburn secured a village charter, which established improved modes of self-government. The State of New York identified the village as an ideal site for a state prison, while its prestige was enhanced by the establishment of Auburn Theological Seminary in 1818. The first railroad in Central New York, the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad, opened in 1836, and in 1848, the village became a city. The city demonstrated its abilities to aid the nation through Auburnians' services to the Union and production of important components of the U.S.S. Monitor during the Civil War. Attention was then focused on economic prosperity, as mills and factories provided employment to a steady stream of immigrants, followed by the Great Depression. The city was mobilized for wars on the global battlefields, yet experienced a housing shortage for returning veterans and their families.

Over the years, Auburn has produced leaders in a wide variety of fields at the local, state, national, and international levels. They include William H. Seward, a leading figure in the purchase of Alaska; Harriet Tubman, who led over 300 to freedom on the Underground Railroad; Cyrenus Wheeler and D.M. Osborne, inventors and industrialists of agriculture equipment; Martha Wright, an organizer of the first women's rights convention in 1848; Jerome Holland, first African American to serve as ambassador to a European nation-Sweden; and Theodore Case, scientific innovator of technology for sound-on-film. The contributions of the men and women who have claimed Auburn as home, and who are in turn claimed by Auburn as sons and daughters, are a credit to the community.