What is a Hamlet?

If you're doing research in New York State (outside of New York City), you may be wondering what the difference is between a hamlet, a village and a town. Understanding their places in local government can help greatly in locating historical records. Ruth Hotaling, Historian for the Town of Pompey, located in Onondaga County in Central New York, clears up the confusion between a hamlet and a village. - Susan Hughes, Director, APHGA

From The Town of Pompey Historical Society newsletter, January 2016, vol. 1, p. 6.

What is a Hamlet? Town Historian Ruth Hotaling explains…

Hamlet is one of those nebulous words that we use. In our Town of Pompey, a hamlet is where the early settlers settled in groups to build a small community comprised of homes and shops (small businesses). Old dictionaries tend to have a definition for the word that is closer to the current commonly accepted definition. Our 1941 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, defines hamlet as “a little cluster of houses in the country, esp. belonging to a parish or village.” In New York State, hamlets are not the same as villages because they do not have an independent governing body. All of our current five Hamlets originally had a schoolhouse, and most of them had a church. The focal point for hamlets, early in their development, tended to be their churches. Today, our Hamlet residents tend to identify themselves by their school districts, which can be very different from the Hamlet in which they live. The children of our five Hamlets are served by five different districts: Fabius-Pompey, Fayetteville-Manlius, Jamesville-Dewitt, Lafayette, and Cazenovia. Hamlet boundaries are defined in the Town’s Master Plan. Change to any of these areas requires passage of a local law by the Pompey Town Board. Our Town has had several Hamlets that are no longer recognized as such. Examples include Buellville (assimilated into Oran), Berwyn/Marionville (part of Lafayette since 1825), and Log-City (came to its demise as Pompey Hill prospered). So, what do you think? Mull over the word, hamlet, for a while – let us know what it means to you!

Copyrighted material.   Used with the permission of the Town of Pompey Historical Society.

Note: The Town of Pompey Historical Museum and Research Center is located at the corner of Pompey Center Road and Route 20. For more information and directions, visit www.pompeyhistorical.org.