In 1784 the federal government acquired a section of land from the Iroquois nation west of the Unadilla River known today as the town of Brookfield. In 1791 Stephen Hoxie and a young companion traveled from Rhode Island as agents for would-be-settlers to purchase land in this newly opened territory. In Albany, Hoxie bought 13 lots in Brookfield, sight unseen. He would soon discover the beauty, wealth of resources, and viability of his investment.
Concurrently, Captain Daniel Brown and his family were journeying westward to homestead on this land. These two men were not only among the first settlers, but were soon to become the first entrepreneurs in Brookfield.
Brookfield possessed abundant natural resources. Two of its greatest assets were the rolling hills covered with numerous varieties of timber and several strong and swift waterways Iying in the valleys in between. The Unadilla River forms Brookfield's eastern border. Beaver Creek (so named for a large dam built by the industrious creatures of the same name) almost bisects the town from north to south. Mill Creek runs between these two over numerous falls and a branch of the Chenango River cuts across the northwest corner of the town.
It was on Mill Creek in 1792 that Brown built the first sawmill. Another early settler, John Button, built the first gristmill a short distance away near a 70-foot waterfall on the creek which was thereafter known as Button's Falls.
These developments began a period of rapid settlement in the area. The pioneers for whom Hoxie bought parcels of land journeyed to Brookfield to claim their land and establish farms. However, at this time three wealthy Eastern speculators, Michael Myers, Jedidiah Sanger, and John I. Morgan bought up a great deal of the unsold government lands in Brookfield and Sangerfield. Some of this land was subsequently sold to settlers, but the largest portions were merely leased to area emigrants. For nearly a century, this land was controlled and leased by these men and their descendants greatly impeding progress and improvements in the town. Many of the earliest settlers moved on not wishing to continually farm and pay rent to landlords to seek lands of their own to purchase or homestead. It was not until the descendants of some of these men began to sell their shares in the property that Brookfield increased in the number of small, individual landholders. Even today, however, a large portion of the southwest quarter of the town is state-owned property, repurchased for its forestry and other natural resources.
In spite of this limitation on the amount of land open to purchase by the early settlers, those who were able to buy land tended to build their homesteads and watermills along the waterways. Most of the communities in Brookfield were established around such mills. Mill Creek and Beaver Creek were seen as ideal for such enterprises and many saw- and gristmills sprang up along their banks. The village of Brookfield (previously Clarkville) was one of the earliest settlements on Beaver Creek. A gristmill on the Unadilla River was the beginning of the settlement of Leonardsville so named for Reuben Leonard, a wealthy entrepreneur and the first storeowner in the area. To the north of Leonardsville, the village of Unadilla Forks also had a mill as its focus.
Severe flooding, often due to the spring thaws, was all too common along these waterways and several of the early mills were destroyed. Some owners simply rebuilt, others relocated to what they thought were safer locations. As the milling settlements grew, other small scale manufactories and businesses opened, such as tanneries, potasheries, wagon shops, and farm equipment suppliers. All of these were mainly for trade within the town and few of these business ventures grew much beyond their k~cal clientele.
The villages of North and South Brookfield were settled a bit later, the former on a tributary of the Chenango River in the northwest corner of the town and the latter on Beaver Creek. Both sites were ideal for the popular and potentially prosperous sawmills and gristmills which were quickly established. The area around North Brookfield also proved to be well suited to the growing of hops. Another successful business in North Brookfield was the wagon factory of Gorton and Fitch.
Until the Civil War, lumbering small crop farming, and dairy herding were the most common activities of the area's settlers. The farmers tended not to specialize, leaving the main industry of milling to the local merchants and entrepreneurs. Specialization in farming began in the 1860s as pasture land was gradually cleared and could support larger dairy herds. One of these early dairy farmers established a cheese factory on his land to process the enormous quantities of milk his herds produced. His example was soon followed by other dairy farmers and as the manufacture of cheese grew, so did the demand for milk and these mutually reinforcing endeavors made dairy farming a profitable venture.
Cheese factories opened in Brookfield, Leonardsville, Unadilla Forks, West Edmeston, and North Brookfield in rapid succession. One of the more elaborate factories was a chain of processing plants in Unadilla Forks opened in 1863, powered by steam engines, and owned by E. D. Lamb.
Two other points of interest set Brookfield apart from the other towns in Madison county. Sources vary slightly, but it is generally accepted that the first county fair was held in Brookfield in 1839, sponsored by the Madison County Agricultural Society. For several years the fair traveled the county, setting up at a different site every year. It finally settled in Brookfield as its permanent home after the northern parts of the county expressed little interest in hosting the fair. It has been on its present site in the village of Brookfield for nearly a century, having grown from an initial three acres rented from a local farmer to its present 38 acres including numerous permanent exhibit halls and a racetrack.
The fair's exhibitors have come from all parts of the county and even include a few traveling exhibits from other parts of the state. Most activities and competitions reflect the county's wide range of livelihoods and interests including livestock competitions, handcrafts, garden produce, baking, farm implements, 4-H activities, and horse show. Of course it would not he a fair without central amusement park rides, games and food stalls. The county fair has had cycles of both attendance and participation, but still thrives and is supported by both county and out-of-county enthusiasts.