Steuben is a small town located North of Utica in the Mohawk Valley, but the history of Steuben doesn't begin in Central New York. It actually starts in Prussia, with the story of one man, Baron von Steuben. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, Cara Thomas tells us about the town's namesake, and Steuben's important role in the history of our nation.
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STEUBEN, N.Y. -- Agriculture is a major part of Steuben’s roots. The town lies amongst the hills of the Mohawk Valley.
Jean Kraeger, Remsen-Steuben Historical Society President, says, "At one point in time, there were more sheep than people in the town of Steuben."
Their roots take them all the way back to 1792, when the town was officially named after its founder, Baron Von Steuben. Baron Von Steuben played an integral role in the Revolutionary War, leading the Continental Army to a victory over Britain.
New York State Parks Regional Historic Preservation Supervisor, Nancy Demyttenaere, says, "He knew people, and he knew how to manage people, and he knew how to get people to work together. And it's because of his leadership that we're here today."
During the Revolutionary War, America was struggling and in desperate need of help. So, Benjamin Franklin was sent to France to find the answer to their problems. He found it in Frederich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben, also known as “The Baron.”
Demyttenaere says, "When Steuben came across their doorstep, Franklin and Dean in Paris, he really was the right person, at the right time, for the right reasons."
Steuben voluntarily came to America and with his help he turned the United States army into a well oiled machine."
In a matter of months, the Baron transformed an army, with no leadership and no training manual, to a well trained, organized and disciplined army, with a manual that is still used today. Steuben wrote the Blue Book, a drill manual which taught soldiers the proper way to march and how to safely use their muskets. And while those practices aren't relevant for today's military, there was one aspect of the Blue Book that's stuck.
Demyttenaere says, "As a part of his Blue Book, as a part of his standard of leadership, he codified the face that the officers are responsible for, the welfare of their men. And that really is at the basis of our continued and our modern mantra, of we leave no one behind, everyone comes home."
When the war was all said and done, the Baron was given 16,000 acres of his choice, as a reward for his assistance and was made a United States citizen. His choice, was a spot of land in Central New York, where Steuben, Remsen and Westernville now sit.
During the winters, Steuben lived in New York City, but would summer in a small cabin on a hill in Remsen. Today, a replica of Steuben's home sits on Starr Hill Road.
Kraeger says, "The Baron opened his home, here on the fourth of July, to picnic. Y'all come, whoever was here, y'all come to picnic at the Baron's house. He was personable."
The baron's cabin wasn't meant to be his main living quarters here in Central New York. There were plans to build a much bigger and luxurious home, but he died before those plans came to fruition.
Steuben died in his cabin after suffering a stroke. He was laid to rest on his land in Central New York. A simple burial in the woods, but years later he was moved to a much more elaborate grave.
Demyttenaere says, "The community up there still thinks of him as a neighbor. It was really interesting to see that and to see how much care they have to that place; and that they want it to be as successful as it possibly can be."
Kraeger says, "That's what we still call him today, ‘The Baron:’ Frederich Wilhelm Augustus Henry Ferdinand Steuben ‘The Baron.’"
While the Baron wanted Steuben to be a populated and urban area, residents and historians say it's the small town feel that keeps his legacy alive and well.
If you'd like to learn more about Baron von Steuben, his memorial site on Starr Hill Road in Remsen is open to the public year round. Historians say people from all over the world have come to visit his final resting place.