The settlers transformed this heavily wooded region into tillable acres supporting mixed crop agriculture. They grew wheat, corn and potatoes, cut hay for the livestock, and made small quantities of maple products. Potash from wood ash was their first cash crop.

Along the Tioughnioga River at Port Watson, now within the Cortland city limits, a planned community developed, and between 1800 and 1840, "arks" loaded with local products floated down river on the high waters of spring to Harrisburg and Baltimore. This was a one way trip for these flatboats.

With the opening of the Erie Canal river shipping declined. The canal and shortly, the railroads, began hauling cheap western grains which eventually competed with those of local farmers. As more land was cleared, acreage devoted to animal husbandry greatly increased. Here the soils and climate produced lush pastures and abundant hay crops suitable for the raising of cattle and sheep. By 1845, dairying was well established with most milk being made into butter and cheese and shipped out to the eastern markets. Shipments of livestock were made to those markets in the early 19th century, as well.