George Washington Cowles.

Landmarks of Wayne County, New York online

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of the Niagara Ridge or State Road, in the town of Wolcott." On
the 22d of March, 1822, commissioners were named by the Legislature
to lay out a road "from Adams' Mills, in the town of Wolcott, and
from Cooper's Mills, in the town of Sterling, to the bridge over the
Seneca River in the town of Conquest, " aud thence "to the State
Prison in Auburn." A year later, April 3, 1823, commissioners were
appointed to lay out a road from near Oswego Falls to Hannibal, and
thence through Sterling to Wolcott Cemetery " (to connect) "with one
of the present roads leading to the bridge at the head of Sodus Bay."

The reader will clearly observe the general trend of these several
improvements; they were a part of the general struggle to obtain bet-
ter means of communication with the East, a struggle that was to
largely cease after the opening of the Erie Canal.

It is not necessary in these pages to enter into a lengthy and detailed
account of the inception and progress of the canal. Every intelligent
reader has been made familiar with it through one or more of the very
numerous publications in which its history is found. The subject of
water communication from the Hudson River westward was discussed
some years prior to the beginning of the present century, and in 1792
the Western Inland and Lock Navigation Company was organized, and
within the next few years completed the canal around the rapids at
Little Falls and improved the channels of the Mohawk and Wood


Creek, greatly facilitating navigation from the Hudson to Oneida Lake
and conferring vast benefit on the State at large.

The claim is made that Gouverneur Morris suggested the construc-
tion of a canal westward to Lake Erie to Simeon De Witt, then sur-
veyor-general, as early as 1803, and that De Witt, like most others at
that time, considered the scheme wildly visionary. 1 Morris talked
with James Geddes, a practical engineer of Onondaga county, about
the project, and he believed the scheme a feasible one, and began cor-
respondence with other engineers on the subject, thus awakening gen-
eral interest. In 1805 Jesse Hawley, a native of Connecticut, was buy-
ing wheat in the Genesee Valley, transporting it to a mill at Seneca
Falls, and thence carrying the flour to the Albany market. However
he may have become impressed with the desirability of a canal, he
wrote a series of newspaper articles in favor of the undertaking, which
created considerable favorable influence. The subject finally became
a political issue and was taken in hand by Hon. Josuha Forman, of
Syracuse, who was elected to the Assembly on the "canal ticket."
Mr. Forman from that time on until the canal was an accomplished
fact was its enthusiastic advocate, and to him as much as to any other
person is due the credit for the great work. He secured a small appro-
priation of $600 and Mr. Geddes received authority to make a prelim-
inary survey. As between the two proposed routes, the one by way of
Lake Ontario and the other direct to Lake Erie, Mr. Geddes reported
in favor of the latter. This took the line directly along or across the
southern part of Wayne county, and we quote as follows regarding the
local features of the project:

Mr. Geddes suggested that there might ' ' be found some place in the Ridge that
bounds the Tonawanda Valley on the north, as low as the level of Lake Erie, where
a canal may be led across and conducted onward without increasing the lockage by
rising to the Tonawanda Swamp." The latter difficulty was involved in the route

1 There is a tradition that Governor Colden as early as 1724 expressed the hope that
sometime the western part of this State might be penetrated by boats independent of
Lake Ontario. In his memoir on the fur trade, written in the year just named, cer-
tainly occurs the following passage: " There is a river which comes from the country
of the Sinnekes and falls into the Onondaga River, by which we have an easy car-
riage into that country without going near the Cataracqui (Ontario) Lake. The
head of this river goes near to Lake Erie and probably may give a very near passage
into that lake, much more advantageous than the way the French are obliged to take
by the way of the great falls of Niagara." It seems possible that the old governor
had a faint vision of clear water communication to Lake Erie.


that had been contemplated by Joseph Ellicott. He supposed the summit on that
line would not be more than twenty feet above Lake Erie, and that upon it a suffi-
cient supply of water might be obtained from Oak Orchard Creek and other streams.
In this he was mistaken; the summit was found to be seventy-five feet above Lake
Erie, and to be supplied with no adequate feeder.

It is entirely probable that the canal could never have been a suc-
cess through Western New York, except for the discovery through the
great genius of Mr. Geddes, that it could follow the course finally
adopted, permitting a continuous flow eastward from Lake Erie.

Commissioners were appointed at the legislative session of 1810 to
thoroughly explore the proposed routes of water communication across
the State, which they did and reported on the 2d of March, 1811. They
recommended the route favored by Mr. Geddes. The estimated cost
of the work was $5,000,000. The Legislature approved this report by
continuing the commission and voting $15,000 for further operations.
Attempts to obtain congressional aid for the undertaking failed, and in
the following year the Legislature authorized the commissioners to
borrow $5,000,000 on the State credit, for the construction of the canal.
The oncoming of the war with Great Britain put a stop to the under-
taking; but in 1815, it was revived and public meetings were held in
various parts of the State, where enthusiastic speakers advocated the
speedy completion of the work. The Legislature of 1810 appointed a
new canal commission, and in the next year Governor Clinton pre-
pared an act authorizing the beginning of the work. The canal was
divided into three sections, eastern, middle and western, Mr. Geddes
being made chief engineer of the western section. Up to the year 1820
nothing but the survey had been accomplished on this division, aside
from the adoption of the route advised by Mr. Geddes. In 1820 he
was succeeded by David Thomas, who in that year made an examina-
tion of the course adopted from Rochester to Pendleton and made some
modification east of Oak Orchard Creek in Orleans county. A more
important change was made in reference to the point of passing the
mountain ridge in Niagara county, and which determined the site of
the city of Lockport. The whole western part of the canal was put
under contract in L821. The work was pushed energetically and dur-
ing tlie autumn of 1825 the canal was navigable as far west on the
western section as Holley (Orleans county), and during the following
season readied the loot of the ridge at Lockport. The great rock-cut-
ting at the latter place was the last piece of work finished between


Buffalo and Albany. William C. Bouck, afterwards governor of the
State, was the commissioner in charge of the construction of the west-
ern portion of the canal. On the 20th of September, 1825, he wrote
from Lockport to Stephen Van Rensselaer, another commissioner, as
follows :

Sir: The unfinished parts of the Erie Canal will be completed and in a condition to
admit the passage of boats on Wednesday, the 26th day of October next. It would
have been gratifying to have accomplished this result as eaidy as the first of Septem-
ber, but embarrassments which I could not control delayed it.

On this grand event, so auspicious to the character and wealth of the citizens of
New York, permits me to congratulate you.

By extra exertion the final filling was finished on the 25th of Octo-
ber, and in the forenoon or the next day a flotilla of five boats left Buf-
falo, laden with the highest State officers and other prominent men.
Cannon had been stationed a few miles apart along the whole line of
the canal, to be discharged in order as fast as they were reached by the
boats. A few boats had started westward from Lockport about the
time of the sailing of the flotilla from Buffalo, and met the latter in
Tonawanda Creek, whence all sailed on eastward. 1 Enthusiastic
crowds of people, among them, we may be sure, many who had
ridiculed and opposed the undertaking, met the fleet at the various
villages — Newark (what there was of it), Palmyra, Lyons, and Clyde —
in a general celebration of the event. 2

The Erie canal was at first 302 miles long, and its original cost was
$7,143,780.86. Under an act of Legislature of May, 1835, the canal was
enlarged from a width of forty feet at top and twenty-eight at bottom,
to seventy feet at top and fifty-two and one-half at bottom, and so much
straightened as to reduce its length to 350 and 1-2 miles. The cost of
the enlargement was more than $30,000,000.

x It was considered an impossibility to make the Erie Canal. People said it might
be possible to make water run up hill, but canal boats never. Some said the}- would
be willing to die, having lived long enough, when boats in a canal should float
through their farms; but afterwards when they saw the boats passing by, they
wanted to live more than ever, to see what would be done next. — Reminisce?ices
of George E. Mix.

2 At the prominent points from Rochester to Albany, where the fleet was to pass
by daylight, celebrations had been arranged: there were processions, congratulatory
addresses, firing of cannon, music and other demonstrations of popular enthusiasm;
even when small villages were passed in the night, crowds were assembled, and some
form of greeting tendered. "It was," said one of the western committee men, "like
a continuous or protracted Fourth of July celebration."


This great waterway was quite generally known in early years as
"the grand canal;" and its wonderful influence upon the material con-
ditions in Wayne county and Western New York generally, it was
"grand" indeed. Those who had from the first ridiculed the project,
were now either silent or converted into enthusiastic eulogists, as they
saw the laden freight boats and the well-patronized packets silently and
rapidly (as compared with other existing means of travel) floating east-
ward and westward along the turbid tide. Wayne county lands, even
to the lake shore, appreciated in value; farmers were encouraged to
new energy and to extend their planting and sowing ; money became
more plenty, and freights fell from $100 per ton to Albany, to ten dol-
lars; a new era of prosperity began. Villages along the canal line that
already had an insignificant existence, took on new life and growth,
while others sprang into being around the warehouses and docks that
were built especially to accommodate the active traffic. Clyde, Lyons,
Newark and Palmyra, with other points of shipment in the county,
promptly felt the influence of the canal (while Newark ma}- be said to
owe its existence to the same influence).

The first boat on this division of the canal left the basin on the east
side of the Genesee River at Rochester, loaded with flour for Little
Falls, on the 20th of October, 1822. The first cargo of wheat from
Ohio reached Rochester in 1831, the vanguard of the great current of
western grains that have since gradually grown into active, if not
ruinous, competition with those of New York State. When navigation
opened in 1823, 10,000 barrels of flour were shipped eastward from
Rochester in the first ten days after the opening.

Among those who were early engaged in the canal trade in this
county were Joel and Levi Thayer, of Palmyra, who built a number of
freight boats. The two men were twins, and on that account one of
their boats was named "The Twin Brothers." Davenport, Barnes &
Co. were extensive produce and commission men at Jessup's Basin, and
were succeeded by S L. Thompson & Co. Aaron Griswold built a
boat near King's Bridge in 1822, which plied between that point and
Lyons and was the first boat to run into the town. Mr. Griswold, in
association with Stephen Ferguson, built two boats in 1820, near Lock-
Berlin, one of the settlements that was born of the canal. Griswold
was an early merchant at that place. Seymour Scovell was an early
merchant of Palmyra; became a canal contractor and built the boat
"Myron Holley," one of the early crafts on the canal. Esbon and Ran-


som Blackmar were merchants and extensive shippers by canal in New-
ark, a village that was practically created by the great waterway.
There were occasions during- the most active period of canal business,
previous to the opening of railroads, when fifty or more teams were in
waiting to unload produce at the warehouses and docks in Newark.
The active market for grain and kindred products thus established, led
to the building of quite a number of flouring and grist mills in Lyons
and elsewhere within the county. In March, 1827, the Palmyra Manu-
facturing Company was incorporated, with $30,000 capital, to produce
flour, etc., by George Palmer, Joel McCollum, and Thomas Rogers,
2d; and in the same spring the Pultneyville Steam Mill Company was
incorporated by Daniel Grandin, Joseph Granger, Andrew Cornwall,
Russell Whipple, Roswell Nichols, Jeremiah B. Selly, and Philander B.
Royce. The capital stock was $15,000 and the purpose to grind grain.

Every phase of this condition of prosperity was shared, either directly
or indirectly, by all the towns of Wayne county, and the influence
thereof is felt to the present day.

Following soon upon the opening of the canal, and on April 14,
1827, the Legislature incorporated the Canal Turnpike Company, to
build "a good and sufficient road along the north bank of the canal
from Lyons, through Clyde, to intercept the Montezuma turnpike
on the Cayuga marsh." The capital of the company was $20,000. In
April of the following year (1828), commissioners were named in an
act of the Legislature to lay out a road between Palmyra and Man-
chester in Ontario county. Other similar improvements followed in
later years.

The immediate and unequivocal success of the Erie Canal inaugu-
rated what may be termed a period of "canal fever" throughout
the State of New York and to a less extent in several other States.
During the ten years succeeding the opening of the Erie, the various
Legislatures were besieged with petitions and bills for the incorpora-
tion of canal companies, as they were a little later in the interest of
railroads. The first of the canal schemes having a direct bearing on
Wayne county was the Sodus Canal Company, incorporated March
19, 182!), with capital stock of $200,000. This company was authorized
to construct a canal from the Canandaigua outlet, or Seneca River,
"where the Erie Canal crosses said streams, near Montezuma, to
such convenient place on Great Sodus Bay as is accessible to vessels
navigating Lake Ontario." This canal was to be finished in ten years,


and was designed to open a large waterway from Lake Ontario to the
head of Cayuga Lake, at Ithaca, with a possibility of future connection
with the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. It was a most
attractive scheme! In Tompkins county, and especially at Ithaca, it
commanded widespread attention, as that place was belived to be the
one that would be most benefited by it. Eloquent speakers advocated
the project and inspired visions of future commercial greatness for
the little village at the head of the lake, as well as for the less important
trade centers of Wayne county. An old painting of Ithaca and the
lake in that vicinity, made just after the canal was projected, shows
the water thickly studded with vessels, many of them apparently large
sea-going ships. A little work was done on the canal at Soclus Bay,
after subscriptions to the stock had begun, and later the State Legis-
lature was asked to aid the undertaking. This request was refused and
the project began to languish. Capitalists did not support it as had
been expected, and in 1861, after repeated amendments and extensions,
the charter expired by limitation. In 1862 a new act was passed pro-
viding that if the general government would supply money to finish
the canal, it should have perpetual right of transit through its waters
for government vessels, free of toll. But Uncle Sam declined the
speculation and the Great Sodus Canal, like very many other similar
projects, died from lack of nutrition. It is probable that this canal
scheme was in some measure due to lingering influence of the early
hopes we have before alluded to, of a southern water outlet for the
products of the Genesee country.

The only other canal company in which Wayne county felt a direct
interest was called the Ontario Canal Campany, which had its incep-
tion at a public meeting held in Canandaigua August 21, 1820. There
the plan was discussed of building a lateral canal from Canandaigua
Lake to "the Grand Canal." A committee was appointed consisting
of John C. Spencer, James D. Bemis (long a conspicuous newspaper
publisher of Canandaigua), Asa Stanley, Dudley Marvin, and William
H. Adams, to locate a route for the canal. Their report was made
December 21, 1820, to the effect that the proposed waterway would lie
nineteen and one-half miles long; that its northern terminus should be
at the Erie Canal three and one-half miles west of Palmyra village ;
that the descent from the lake to Ganargwa Creek was 22.') feet, requir-
ing twenty-three locks in the canal; that the gross cost would he not
more than $60,000. The proposed eapital of the company was $100,-


000. A committee of fifteen persons was then appointed to petition
the Legislature for an act of incorporation, and the desired act was
passed March 31, L821. Stock subscription books were opened May
23, by Commissioners Nathaniel Gorham, Zachariah Seymour, Asa
Stanley, P. P. Bates, and William H. Adams. Subscriptions were
liberal at the first, and ultimately reached about $50,000, when the
following persons were elected directors of the company: Evan Johns,
H. B. Gibson, Israel Chapin, Asa Stanley, John C. Spencer, Mark H.
Sibley, Robert Pomeroy, and H. M. Mead. At this stage for some
reason the project was abandoned. It is propable that the extensive
shipping facilities supplied by the Erie Canal led to the conclusion that
the lateral canal would not prove a paying investment.

The next event of importance in chronological order, with which we
are interested, was the erection of Wayne county on the 11th of April,
L823. (For act of Legislature creating the county see Session Laws,
1823). The new county, with Ontario, Seneca and Yates, was made
to constitute the Twenty-sixth Congressional District, and with Cay-
uga, Onondaga, Ontario, Seneca and Yates, constitute the Seventh
Senatorial District. By subsequent enactments changes were made in
these districts as follows: By act of June 29, 1832, Wayne and Seneca
counties became the Twenty-fifth Congressional District; by act of Sep-
tember 6, 1842, the same counties were made the Twenty-seventh
District; act of July 19, 1851, Cayuga and Wayne were made the
Twenty-fifth District; act of April 23, 1862, Wayne, Cayuga and Sen-
eca were made the Twenty-fourth District. In 1836 Cortland county
was added to those above named as constituting the Seventh Senatorial
District. (Lists of the various officials of the county will be given in
their proper plaee on a later page).

Closely following the formation of the county the various courts
were established, as described in a later chapter; civil officers were
elected, and all the machinery of county government was soon working
harmoniously. A kind of local enthusiasm pervaded the inhabitants
of the county, as would naturally follow their separation from the
larger and more widely-diffused population of Ontario county, and
various public improvements were inaugurated to closely precede the
oncoming of the first railroad — and Mormonism.

A legislative act of February 15, 1825, divided the town of Lyons
and erected Arcadia; and on April 18, of the same year, the town of
Williamson was divided and the town of Winchester (now Marion)



erected. February 25, 18*20, the towns of Butler and Rose were erected
from Wolcott; and April 20, 1820, Walworth was erected from Ontario.

An attempt, which was not very successful, was made under legis-
lative sanction of April, 1825, to drain Crusoe Lake, in the town of
Savannah. Andrew Chapin, David Arne, jr., and Merritt Candee were
appointed commissioners to direct the work, which was to consist of
cutting ditches to the channel of " the stream which runs to Lake On-
tario through the town of Wolcott, on which the furnaces in Wolcott
are situated."

On the 20th of April, 1825, William Patrick, John G. Gillespie, and
Paul Reeves were named by the Legislature as commissioners to lay
out a road from Lyons to the Ridge road "near the dwelling of P.
Reeves, in the western part of Williamson ;" and in April, 1826, a road
was authorized from Main street in Canandaigna to Palmyra, the com-
missioners being Nathan Barlow, of Canandaigua; Stimson Harvey,
of Farmington ; and Thomas Rogers, of Palmyra.

Meanwhile evidences of prosperity were visible in all directions.
The several villages of the county were growing, though their relative
status and prospects were soon to be changed by the railroads; schools
and churches multiplied in number and improved in character and in-
fluence; banks were established ; additional newspapers were founded,
and other institutions indicating healthful growth came into being.
What was called the Palmyra High School was incorporated in March,
1820, by James White, Ovid Lord, Henry Jessup, and others. It was
a stock organization with capital of $12,000. This school absorbed the
house and lot of district number one. The Wayne Count}' Bank, at
Palmyra, was chartered April 30, 1820, and the Bank of Lyons was in-
corporated May 14, 1836. Miller's Bank was established in Clyde in
1837. These financial institutions, as well as the people at large, and
particularly tradesmen, were destined to suffer considerably from the
financial stringency and succeeding revulsion which swept over the
country in 1836-8; but Wayne county was, as it is at present, largely
agricultural, and hence felt the effects of the stringency less severely
than many other localities.

The first railroad in the State of New York was built between Albany
and Schenectady by the Mohawk and Hudson River Railroad Company,
and was finished in 1831 : its length was sixteen miles. The cars were
at first drawn by horses, but soon after the completion of the road a
steam locomotive was brought from England and the first steam rail-


road passenger train in America was run over the road. In spite of
the very many objectionable features of this pioneer railroad and its
equipment, it was clear to sagacious men that a rival of the canal was
at hand. The Auburn and Rochester Railroad was chartered in 1836,
but the construction was not commenced until 1838. The first time
table for this road was made public September 8, 1840, and trains were
run on the 10th over a part of the line. The work of construction was
energetically continued and on July 5, 1841, an excursion train passed
over the road between Rochester and Seneca Falls. In November, of
that year trains were running between Rochester and Albany.

As yet no railroad passed through Wayne county ; but the immediate
success of the existing lines led to the early agitation of the subject of
building many others. As early as 1836 a meeting was held in Lyons
to consider the project of constructing a road that should extend east-
ward from Rochester and pass through Palmyra, Lyons, Clyde, etc.,
to Syracuse. While it was several years before further steps were
taken in this direction, it was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later
the rich territory now traversed by the direct road, as it is termed,
between Rochester and Syracuse would be favored with railroad com-
munication. A company was finally organized under the corporate
name of the Rochester and Syracuse Direct Railroad Company and the
road was rapidly pushed to completion. This company with the
Auburn and Syracuse, and the Auburn and Rochester companies were
consolidated in 1850 as the Rochester and Syracuse Railroad Company.
The first regular passenger train passed over the road on May 30, 1853.