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Growing up With Ontario County
Me at work
I lived in only one place throughout my childhood, Orleans,
Phelps Township, Ontario County, New York.
According to the "Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of Vew York
State" for the year 1860 the population was 218. The year I was
born, 1934, saw the closing of both the Post Office and the
Railroad Station. The hamlet, once a thriving village had been in
decline since the fire of 1910.
Early settlers in Orleans were Wheats, Fergusons, Shekels,
and the Baggerlys, many of whom brought and kept slaves
until they were outlawed in New York in 1826.
The Current Baptist Church is the third on the site. It
burned in 1845 and in 1910.
In 1845 the records show Orleans with two churches, two
hotels, three shoe shops, three blacksmith shops, a potash
factory, a distillery, a tin shop, a tailor shop, a wood
turning shop, a harness shop, boot factory, tannery,
slaughter house, a saw mill and grist mill at the falls in
flint creek, a carding mill specializing in monks cloth and
there were three doctors and a post office.
The village was originally called Hardscrabble because there
were, of course, no bridges originally and it was a hard
scrabble getting from one side of town to the other, up and
down the creek banks. The inhabitants were particularly fond
of Andrew Jackson's valor in the battle of New Orleans and
shortly after the 1812 war Hardscrabble became Orleans, which
now possessed a bridge (built in 1816). One Elijah Goodale
was killed in the bridges construction.
In the late 1800s Orleans had a coronet band which travelled
around in a colorful wagon drawn by 4 horses. In the band
were John Runyan, Eben Potter, the Blythe boys, the Lambs and
Rulisons and others.
On April 10, 1910, a fire destroyed 23 homes and businesses
in Orleans, including 120 tons of coal. The town never
recovered from that loss and evolved into the sleepy town
that I grew up in.
One of the high points of life in Orleans was in the 1940s,
during the war we had a severe snow storm and the trains
could not get through the drifts. One day while watching the
trainmen work, Ed Preston and I were invited into the steam
locomotive and actually allowed to pull the lever which
started and stopped the train as it shuttled back and forth
doing it's work. That was exciting.
Chapter 2. The Birth of a County
I refer here to the history of European immigration into the
county. This is not meant as a slight against the indigenous
Americans who have a long and rich history in the area.
In 1783 the pre-emption line was established. I am not clear on all the
details of the agreement but, it seems that at one time the land in
western New York was given to Massachusetts, by the King, the boundary
of which was somewhat nebulous. The line was first drawn through the
middle of Seneca Lake and straight from Lake Ontario south to
Pennsylvania. The line was later moved a couple of miles west in
order to incorporate land, already settled by Seth Reed and Peter
Ryckman, into New York. All of the land west of the line was ceded to
Massachusetts, while the area east of the line became Tryon County which
bordered Albany County on its eastern boundary. In 1784 Tryon was
renamed for the Revolutionary hero Montgomery. Then, in 1786,
Massachusetts lost out and all of western New York, west of the
pre-emption line, also became part of Montgomery County.
Ontario County was born in 1789 taking from Montgomery County all
of the land in western New York that is west of the pre-emption line.
During the next three or four decades the counties of Chautauqua,
Cattaraugus, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming, Livingston, Genesee,
Monroe, and Yates were born from Ontario and in 1823 Wayne County
was created, separating Ontario County from the lake that it was named for.
New York State was, most likely, visited by Europeans prior to the
exploration by Hudson in 1609. The first settlement was around 1614
when a trading post sprang up on land purchased by the Dutch on the
Hudson River. New Amsterdam and Fort Orange were settled in 1623.
In October 1683, the first assembly of the colony established the
form of government and ruled that all trials would be by unanimous
juries of 12.
In the late summer and fall of 1779 Generals Sullivan and Clinton,
along with 5000 troops, met at Tioga Point on the Susquehannah and
proceeded to what is now Geneva, where not much resistance was met
as the Seneca were greatly outnumbered and overwhelmed by artillery.
Among the fleeing Seneca were a Mrs. Campbell and four children who
were previously taken prisoner and assimilated into an Indian family.
This sweep by Clinton and Sullivan served two purposes for the
colonists. First it was sort of a continuation of the Revolutionary
War. The Iroquois, being a highly civilized society had more or
less sided with the British who they thought to be much more civil
than the colonists. Very few British were encountered until later
when the army reached the Niagara Frontier. The Seneca were
considered the enemy and were driven from their homes which were
burned along with their crops.
The second and more important purpose of Sullivan's sweep was to
make the area available for settlement.
Canandaigua was developed on the site of a Seneca Indian Village,
Kanandarqua, meaning "the chosen spot". A soldier with the Sullivan
Campaign, remarked that it was the most well built village ever
seen in the region, consisting of 23, very well built log houses
with chimneys. This observation took place just before the village
was burned and the inhabitants ravaged.
The next frame house to be built there was that of Oliver Phelps who
set up the first land office to sell the land vacated by Sullivan's
My daughters, who practice law in Ontario County, will be interested
to know that the first jury trial west of Albany took place in
Canandaigua when a man was prosecuted for stealing a cowbell. This
occurred in 1795. Later, some trials of notoriety in Canandaigua
were that of "Stiff Armed George" defended by Red Jacket, an Indian,
and the blasphemy case against Jemima Wilkinson.
I will be writing more about this small city in which I spent
much of my time as a youth, attracted by the lake and other
neat things not found in Orleans. I met my wife in Canandaigua at
Roseland Park. But, back to Sullivan's adventures.
The army proceeded to Honeoye where ten houses were
burned and crops destroyed. The inhabitants were totally caught off
guard. Some were cooking beans and preparing a meal. Among the
soldiers was a Captain Pitts who later returned to build a house
on this spot.
The winter that followed, that of 1779/80, was the most severe in
recent history, with over 5 feet of snow hanging on for months, and
killing much of the game and leaving the Seneca broken and beaten.
The European settlers soon followed driving them further to the west.
A Major Adam Hoops, who served with Sullivan, was acquainted
with financier Robert Morris and together with Oliver Phelps and
Nathaniel Gorham put together a deal, known as the Phelps Gorham
purchase involving the lands wests of the pre-emption line, about
two million and six hundred thousand acres, opening the way for the
migration that followed. General Israel Chapin was dispatched to
explore the land and William Walker employed to survey and map.
The first settlers came by bateaux on lakes and streams, as did
my Gr Gr Gr Grandfather, Daniel Gates, and his four Brothers. Then,
about 1796, a state road was completed from Utica to Geneva by
way of Auburn and a great improvement made when a bridge was
completed over Cayuga Lake in 1800. The financing of the bridge
was arranged by Col Aaron Burr, a distant relative.
One of the earliest names connected with the area was that of
Jasper Parish, an Indian agent. His name is associated with numerous
improvements in and around Canandaigua where he died July 12, 1836.
Samuel Coe, a soldier in Sullivan's Army, returned less than 10
years later, as a guide for one Oliver Phelps. This 1788 journey
began at Utica and took them through forests to where Geneva now
bustles, they passed the ruins of Seneca Castle* and stopped at the
home of Cyrus Gates, my Gr Gr Grandfather, in Hopewell Township.
Two Indian Traders, in 1788, named Reed and Ryckman, acquired
title to some land on Seneca Lake at the site were the Seneca
village of Kanadesaga once stood and the village of Geneva was born.
By 1789, several log cabins existed along the lake and were
inhabited with people with names like Barton, Benton and Birdsall.
A tavern was opened by Lark Jennings.
During 1789 the following people migrated into the County:
Roger Noble and family near Geneva.
Augustus Porter, Joel Steel, Orange Woodruff, Thaddeus Keyes,
Benjamin Gardner, Joseph Smith, General Isreal Chapin, indian
agent, Frederick Saxton, a surveyor, Daniel Gates, Phineas Bates,
Abner Barlow, Othniel Taylor, Nathaniel Gorham, Dr. Moses Atwater,
Judah Colt, John Call, Amos Hall, General Wells, John Clark,
Daniel Brainard, John Fanning, Martin Dudley, Luther Cole, Aaron
Heacock, Gamaliel Wilder, Ephraim Wilder, Timothy Crosby, Deacon
Williams, of Connecticut. William Walker set up the first office
in America, for the sale of land, on a site owned by Mr. Phelps.
I guess it is not necessary to say that they did a land office
I am in possession of a book entitled "History of Ontario County
1788-1876" Everts, Ensign and Everts, 716 Filbert Street, Philadelphia,
Pa. Press of J. B. Lippincott & Co. This book is full of very useful
information about the early settlers of the county.
The townships that make up the county as we know it today include
the towns of Phelps, Manchester, Farmington, Victor, West Bloomfield,
East Bloomfield, Canandaigua, Richmond, Canadice, Bristol, South Bristol,
Naples, Hopewell, Gorham, Seneca, and Geneva.
Deacon John Adams and family built first structure west of Canandiagua
at Bloomfield, while Gideon Pitts, James Goodwin, Asa Simmons, and
Calvin Jacobs settled at the ruins of Seneca village at Honeoye.
Among the first to buy land from Phelps/Gorham were Nathan, Otis
and Darius Comstock, Nathan Aldrich, Ben Russel, Nathaniel Sanborn,
and Bob Hathaway settling near Geneva and at Town of Phelps John D.
Robinson opened a tavern.
Early pioneers of the town of Victor are: the Adams family, Elijah
Hamlin, Philo Hamlin, Ben Goss, Moses Sperry, Lot and Ephraim Rue,
Joel and Christopher Park, Gideon King, Ashbol Beach, Cyprian Collins,
Ben Chapman, Alex Emmons, Nathan Waldron, Timothy Buell, Enos Hawley
and the founders; Asa Hecox, Ezekiel Scudder and Abe Boughton.
In 1790 Jonathan Whitney and Mr. Oaks take up temporary quarters at the inn
of Col. Seth Reed, in Geneva area, where they arrange to purchase large
parcels at 50c per acre. While there, they reported being bothered by
what they called Gamblers and Vermin.
The town of Richmond was settled by Peter Pitts, his wife and ten
children, for some period of time they were the sole residents of
the town. The came Dr. Lemuel Chipman and Dr. Cyrus Chipman and
their families, Philip Reed and family, Levi Blackmer, Pierce
Chamberlan, Asa Denneson, Isaac Adams and Roswell Turner, coming
in sleighs drawn by horses and ox teams during the winter of 1795.
In Canandaigua, Gen. Isreal Chapin who became the first County Justice
in 1791 and James D, Fish the first Town Clerk.
Oaks built first hotel in Oaks Corners in 1794.
First church in O.C. 1804.
First manufacture of cheese was by Mrs. Dean.
Jonathan Melvin was once chastised for picking up an apple near the
Seneca Castle* and thinking it rather mean to deny one an apple, he went
home to Melvin Hill and planted 100 apple trees to be forever open to
in 1790, my gr gr gr grandfather, Daniel Gates, along with Daniel Warren
and Samuel Day, bought land in Hopewell at 18c per acre. Daniel later
became first tax collector.
*note : Further study has convinced me that there was never a Seneca Castle. I don't know how the "hoax" started. There is a Seneca burial ground at the site. The supposed site of the castle is several miles from the Ontario County Hamlet of that name.
Obviously I have a lot of work to do on this history.
References : History of
Ontario County, Conover.
History of Ontario County New York 1876. Everts, Ensign & Everts.
Hopewell Pioneer Cemetery Records.
Hopewell First Presbyterian Church Records.
Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York, R. P. Smith Pub. 1860
by Burr Cook