Gary V. Sackett is probably the most important person regarding the development of Seneca Falls on the south side of the Seneca River. He was a judge in the Court of Common Pleas and instrumental in the settling of much of the village of Seneca Falls south of the Seneca River and canal. He operated a large farm and his residence still stands at 115 W. Bayard St., now the current home of Seneca County Head Start.
Sackett was born on Aug. 9, 1790 to William and Parthena Patterson Sackett in Thetford, Vt. In 1805 the family moved to a farm in Aurelius, Cayuga County. After studying law with Thomas Mumford in Cayuga, Sackett set up his first law practice in West Cayuga (Bridgeport) in 1813. There was a growing need for legal services in the Bridgeport area because of the conflicting surveys and title claims arising from the opening up of the former West Cayuga Reservation lands to European American ownership and settlement.
In 1814 Sackett moved to Mynderse Mills (Seneca Falls), motivated apparently by his realization that the 40-foot-plus drop in the Seneca River there offered great potential for economic growth. He carried on a successful law partnership with Luther F. Stevens until 1823. In that year Stevens was appointed county judge and Sackett became a judge in the Court of Common Pleas.
A close friendship with Wilhemus Mynderse, the on-site agent and partner in the Bayard Land Company, helped Sackett become a major player in the economic development of Seneca Falls. In 1816, Sackett, Mynderse and Abijah Mann and Luther Stevens built Mechanics Hall, the largest and most imposing business block on Fall Street for many years. In 1825, he constructed a distillery, grist mill and oil mill. In 1829-30, Sackett erected a cotton mill and paper mill in the village.
Sackett, in partnership with Ansel Bascom and Andrew P. Tillman, bought up a large amount of property on the south side of the Seneca River and canal. They laid out much of it into lots which were sold to new village settlers. In 1828-29 he built what is known as the “Sackett block” of six brick two-story buildings at the intersection of West Bayard and Bridge streets. These buildings were the center of mercantile trade in the village of Seneca Falls for many years (the primary importance of the Fall Street stores would come later). He also erected the Franklin House and had an interest in the start of the Seneca Woolen Mills. In 1831 Sackett built two blocks of frame dwelling houses on Canal Street. In the 1840s, in partnership with a Van Rensselaer, he operated a general store on Canal Street. This store did a large business, both wholesale and retail, with large shipments by boat. Significantly, Sackett tended to construct these new business ventures and then sell them to others to operate.
Sackett was involved in many community efforts. He was the first warden of Trinity Episcopal Church and gave land for the location of the Catholic Church. He was a major contributor to and trustee of the Seneca Falls Academy that was built in 1833. Sackett was also a key leader in the formation of the Seneca County Agricultural Society in 1835.
Sackett kept 600 acres as his own farm. The property at that time extended from Kingdom Road to Bridge Street, a distance of over two miles. In 1833 he sold off about 400 acres. He kept the other 200 acres as his own farm and spent the rest of his life overseeing the operation of that farm and engaging in various agricultural experiments.
About 1833 he started building a new home at what is today 115 W. Bayard St.. This new home, 40-by-45 feet, was built entirely of cut stone and according to Sackett cost him more than $6,000 to construct. It was an unusual form in that the principal floor was raised one full story above ground level, reached by a rather monumental flight of steps. The house had an L-shaped wing to the rear, to provide housing for the 50 servants who cared for the farm and the house.
It needed to be a large residence, as Sackett took great pleasure in entertaining his numerous friends. He was a close friend of William Henry Seward of Auburn, including during his years as New York state governor and U.S. Secretary of State. That friendship led to Seward giving one set of china and a table from the White House. Other visitors to Sackett’s house were Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints; Red Jacket, the great Seneca Chief orator; and Abraham Lincoln. In one of his several visits, Chief Red Jacket confirmed that he was born near Canoga in 1750 and not at other places that were being claimed as his birthplace. When Abraham Lincoln visited, he left his signature in a Bible that he gave to Sackett.
The Judge Sackett article in the Portrait and Biographical Record of Seneca and Schuyler Counties described Sackett as “dignified, in manner courteous, in sympathies warm, a man of great generosity, and one who always desired the friendship of others.” He died on June 15, 1865 and is buried in Restvale Cemetery in Seneca Falls. In a 1905 tribute to Sackett, Janet Cowing of the Seneca Falls Historical Society wrote, “In fact, for thirty years he was most prominent in the small group of men who laid out and shaped our [Seneca Falls village] fortunes. His keen intuition rarely misled him; his energy and the confidence he inspired in others wrought out success for his plans.”
Gable is the Seneca County historian.