The History of New York State
Book V, Chapter IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER IV.

ERIE COUNTY. #1

The genealogy of Erie county is this: Albany, one of the original division of the State, 1683, gave territory to erect Montgomery County in 1772, from Montgomery was taken Ontario in 1789, embracing all the western part of the State; from Ontario came Genesee in 1802; from Genesee was taken Niagara, march 11, 1808; and separating from Niagara, Erie County was erected April 2, 1821. It lies on Lake Erie and the Niagara River in the extreme western part of New York. The land area is 1,071 square miles, and the Lake Erie area 160 square miles.

Topographically, the features of the country are varied. While in general the surface is level, particularly in the north, the central part if rolling, and the southern section hilly. There are few mineral of commercial value in the county, and agriculture has become dominant and as diversified as the soils. The waters of Lake Erie modify the climate, particularly of those town which border on it, giving them the advantage in fruit growing. The presence of Buffalo and other cities has made vegetable growing profitable. So the farming processes of Erie are today very different from the time when the grains, particularly wheat, were the main crops of the whole area. The Niagara River, with its falls, has been the means of developing industries varied and great, not even dreamed of when the timber of the county was the main, almost only, natural resource, and the small streams entering the river or the lake, were the water powers used to drive their simple mills.

Although this region was known by the French about the time first settlements were being made on Manhattan Island, Virginia and Plymouth, and although they were the first settlers, they had little influence on the region. But after a short period under English dominion, the area came to be a part of the new American State. The lands never had the mixed titles of most districts. With the exception of the Indian Reservation and the "One Mile Strip," along the Niagara river, all the county was bought through a period of years. The first settlements in the section were on the site of the present city of Buffalo about 1794-95 and scatteringly all over the county within a few years. the Holland company was very liberal in the funds spent to build roads, bridges, mills, taverns, which led to the rapid settlement of the region. But there were to be set-backs to the progress. War was declared against Britain in 1812, and the lake sections were those most open to invasion. On December 30, 1813, the British came from Canada and captured Black Rock and Buffalo, in the face of superior, but untrained American forces. The thriving village of Buffalo was burned, and Erie County was in great distress and poverty that winter. It is well to recall that at this time there were in the whole country not 4,000 people.

Immigration is a tide which has its ebb and flow, and after the end of the war an unrestrained flood of settlers entered this part of New York. In 1821 the district was too large to handle politically, and all the southern part became the county of Erie. The great demand was for means of transportation all over the State. The roads were un-surfaced, mere cleared ways through new country. There was little intercommunication and no outlet for produce. But the Erie Canal was under way, and completed in 1825, it probably had more to do with the determination of Erie's destiny then any other one thing. Meanwhile, on the waters on which had been launched, by La Salle 139 years before, the first white man's vessel, a steamboat plowed the waves (august 23, 1818). This was the celebrated "Walk-in-the-Water." Meanwhile steam was bring applied to railroads, and the first steam road in the county being the buffalo and Niagara build in 1836. There was a railroad from Black Rock to Buffalo used in 1834, but it had the horse as its motive power. The 1850's were somewhat in advance of other parts of the State, which leadership had never been lost.

By 1850 the population of the county was just over 100,000, with Buffalo a city of 42,261, and already a great grain and lumber port. Nearly three and a quarter millions of bushels of wheat were received in this year by lake; in ten years the amount had reached eighteen and a half million, and corn came into the amount of eleven and a third million bushels. Both buffalo and the county were extremely prosperous. The breaking out of the Civil War checked much of this; even the high years following the war not preparing it for the panic of 1873. But the natural advantages of the location of Erie County told in the end, and the despondency of 1875 left, never to return. Railroad extension kept pace with other material growth, and coal became one of the commodities passing through the county. To care for the lake traffic, the great breakwater at buffalo was projected in 1895. Buffalo, which had not been to any large extent an industrial city, became the home of hundreds of manufacturers. When the World War was thrust upon an unprepared nation, there were few sections in the State which so promptly switched its industries to those needed by the United States, and few sections, if we include Niagara County, did more to supply the essentials of warfare.

Buffalo--naturally the most of the history revolves around it principal city and county seat, the first place to be settled, and always the home of nearly to more then half of the residents of the county. As early as 1687, the site of the city was recommended by a French traveler, La Hontan, for a fort. The first of the permanent settlers on the site was Ezekiel Lake who cane nearly a hundred years after Baon La Hontan, 1784. The first land owner was William Johnson who derived his title as a gift from the Indians (1780), a title which he had trouble to hold, until compromised by the Holland Company. In 1795 another French visitor passed this way and described Buffalo as consisting of "A collection of four or five houses a quarter of a mile from the Lake." By 1800, Buffalo had at least four taxable, the amount of the taxes paid by future city being $4.55! The Holland Company's survey, completed in 1801, named the settlement New Amsterdam, which was chosen as the county seat of Niagara County at its erection in 1808. The hamlet had then probably seventy-five houses and a population of 300. Black rock, with a small harbor, now arose as a rival of Buffalo. But the War of 1812 came and in December of 1813, a party of British and Indians completely destroyed both places.

Of the rebuilding of the hamlet, which began in 1815, its reappointment as the shiretown of the newly erected county of Erie in 1821, and the impetus given to its growth by the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, only this need be said: that in 1825 Buffalo had between 400 and 500 buildings and a population of 2,412; and that in the next five years its population quadrupled. On May 23, 1832, Buffalo had become a city, with its first charter granted, and a population of 10.000.

An Indian Reservation was still within the limits of the present city, which was not removed until ten years later. Neither was there a railroad, for the first steam connection was the Attica and Buffalo of 1843. A number of plank roads had to be built in the "City," and one visited the place , coming by canal or by stage over mud and corduroyed roads. Macadamizing was unknown until 1838 in the western counties. Oil supplied light but this was supplemented with gas in 1838. In 1850 buffalo had 42,25 residents despite the cholera epidemic of 1849 in which nearly a thousand died. In 1860 the population was 82,129, a part of this great increase being due to the annexation of Black Rock in 1853. Buffalo comprised four and a half square miles in 1832, and forty-two square miles in 1854.

From the crude village to the city of more than half a million, how marvelous the change! It is well to recall that some of the changes were those of more recent years, for the transition from commerce to manufacturing came about twenty-five years or less ago. The present day outlook is for an industrial distract that shall extend from Niagara Falls to Lackawanna on the south with a population of upwards of 2,000,000. Buffalo had the natural location; with the harnessing of Niagara, she was supplied with almost inexhaustible power. With a thousand miles of track within the city limits, all parts are closely connected with the thousands of miles leading all over the State, the Great lakes, and the Barge Canal that has replaced the "ditch," which had so much to do with the early making of Buffalo. Buffalo harbor has been called the "Mightiest Store-house of Grain on Earth." With the Tonawanda, it has been the largest lumber section of the world,. The city handled 900 tons of coal in 1842, she now measures it by the million. One cargo carried by one of the lake boats in 1920 was 14,613 tons. The largest linseed oil crushing plant in the world is at buffalo, as well as the largest maker of varnish. Until 1902, the interests of the city were commercial, but the coming of one great steel company changed its destiny, starting it off on its career as a great manufacturing district. The figures of the census of 1920 for the county gives the number of establishments as 2,453; average number employed, 94,051; value of products, $772,004,056.

Tonawanda--Much of the history of Tonawanda has been told in the story of Niagara County, in the story of North Tonawanda. The two cities are one interest, only the Tonawanda Creek separates them physically. The southern city was incorporated as a village December 3, 1853; its 1920 population was 10,068. In1860 it was noted for its lumber trade, its fair harbor, and the advantage that might come to it because of its location on the Erie Canal. There were five churches, a newspaper, one bank, a grain elevator, and a half dozen wood-working establishments. Population, 1,257.

Today one speaks of it as being bounded on the north by Niagara Falls, from which is derived most of the power that drives its many manufacturing plants; on the east by Lockport, the great last lift of the "thousand ton" barge canal, of which Tonawanda is the real outlet; on the south by Buffalo, the queen city of the Lakes; and on the west by Niagara River, on which the "fair harbor" has become one of the finest of the lake ports. Nine railroads enter the city, it being the third largest freight point in New York. Once the greatest lumber market in the world, this industry no longer dominates its business. Factories have increased, and in some products, such as bolts and nuts, mechanical pianos, it leads the world. With all its commercial and industrial character it has taken advantage of its natural rescues in making of itself one of the real livable, interesting, comfortable places of resident in Western New York.

 

The civil divisions of Erie County, with their population according to the census of 1920, are as follows:

Erie County

1900

1910

1920

Alden

2,304

2,748

2,433

Amherst

4,014

4,529

6,286

Aurora

3,266

4,479

5,312

Brant

1,278

1,535

1,325

Buffalo City

255,604

423,715

506,775

Cheektowaga

2,074

7,650

11,923

Clarence

3,195

2,991

2,660

Colden

1,378

1,303

1,250

Collins

2,362

4,568

4,061

East Hamburg

3,881

4,391

4,223

Eden

2,288

2,526

2,352

Elma

2,163

2,130

1,966

Evans

2,692

3,124

3,468

Grand Island

1,048

914

728

Hamburg

3,802

6,059

8,656

Holland

1,595

1,468

1,419

Lackawanna City

---

14,540

17,918

Lancaster

3,962

9,663

13,172

Marilla

1,599

1,382

1,237

Newstead

3,721

3,760

4,043

North Collins

2,016

2,424

2,271

Sardinia

1,728

1,644

1,518

Tonawanda

7,666

2,175

5,505

Tonawanda City

---

8,290

10.068

Wales

1,200

1,203

985

West Seneca

3,485

4,605

7,062

Cattaraugus Indian Reservation (part of)

---

1,125

1,067

Tonawanda Indian Reservation (part of)

---

63

55

Inmates of Institutions

---

---

---

Totals

322,981

528,085

634,688

 

TOWNS.

Alden, on the eastern border, consisting of 20,833 acres, was formed from Clarence, March 27, 1823. It has a deep fertile soil, and arming has a high place among its occupations. The first settlement was by Moses Fenno in 1810. The villages within the town are: Alden, incorporated May 7, 1869, with a new charter in 1891; West Alden, a rural settlement; Alden Center, a hamlet where the first mill in the section was built; Crittendon, a railroad place; and the hamlets, Mill Grove, Peter's Corners, town Line and Wende.

Amherst, formed from the town of Buffalo, April 10, 1818, included Checktowaga, which was erected in 1839. Of the 33,608 acres comprising its area, nearly all is under farm fence. Besides the large amount of farm produce, line is also one of the exports of the town. In 1799 Benjamin Ellicott and James Thompson bought 300 acres of land from the Holland company, and the first settlement grew around the mill which Thompson erected in 1801. The villages in the town are: Williamsville is the most important, incorporated November 4, 1850, it was once quite an industrial place, and after the burning of buffalo was thought to have a chance to become a large city. Eggertsville, Getzville, Transit Station and Snyderville are hamlets.

Aurora, set off from Batavia as Willink, April 11, 1804, changed its name in 1818. Fromit has been taken Clarence and Cambria (Niagara County), 1808; buffalo is 1810; concord, Hamburg and Eden in 1812; Holland and Wales in 11818; and part of Elma in 1857. Its acreage is now 23,600, the soil is rich and lasting, fruits and diversified crops are the main products of the district. In June of 1803, Jabez Warren surveyed and opened the Big tree road through this section, settled the next year, and has the first home in the region in 1804. Following the sawmills, of which there were many in this forested country, came a variety of industries, the most of which have been displaced by farming. Villages in the section are: East Aurora, one of the principal villages in Erie County, a most desirable residence town, particularly in the summer. It is eighteen miles from Buffalo and had, in 1920, a population of 3.703. It is a combination of the Upper and Lowe Aurora villages, the latter being incorporated in 1851 as Willink, and in 1873 this incorporation was extended over both places. West Falls is a small place of ancient settlement, having a mill and store in 1818. Griffin's Mills and Jewettville are small hamlets.

Boston, formed from Eden, April 5, 1817, is one of the more hilly interior towns with an acreage of 22,730. Agriculture is the main industry. The first settlement was made by Didemus Kinney in 1803. The villages of the town are: Patchin, formerly Boston Center, Boston Corners once Torrey's Corners, and North Boston.

Brant, the extreme southwest town in Erie, was formed from Collins and Evans, March 25, 1839. It has an area of thirty-two square miles, lies along the shore of Lake Erie, and is one of the best of the fruit and vegetable centers. The pioneer of the section was a Moses Tucker, who came in 1816. Brant Center, the pleasant principal village of Brant, has several drying and canning factories. Farnham is the only other settlement of any size.

Cheektowaga, formed from Amherst March 20, 1829, lost territory in the setting up of West Seneca in 1851., it lies just west of Buffalo and is a very level district. The central lands are taken by railroads, but the sections on either side products some of the vegetable which supply the nearly city. Settlement began in the district in 1808 with the coming of Apollos Hitchcock. Proximity t a large city has prevented the growth of any important villages. Depew is only partly in the town, while Bellevue is still small.

Clarence, on the north boundary of Erie, was formed from Willink (aurora) March 11, 1808. Buffalo was taken off in 1810, Alden in 1823, and Lancaster in 1833. The pioneer of the town was Asa Ransom in 1799, at Clarence Hollow, the first settlement in Erie County. He kept the first tavern and built a saw mill in 1804. The many small prairies of the region attracted the pioneers, and these same prairies are still come of the finest farm lands in the county. Clarence village is not only the oldest settlement in the town (and county), but is the principal center of the township. Clarence Center lies in a good dairy section. Shimerville, Swornville, Wolcottsburg, East Clarence, Sturnerville, Gunville, and Millersport are some of the hamlets of Clarence.

Colden, formed from Holland, April 2, 1827, is one of the agricultural central towns of Erie. It was first settled in 1810 b y Richard Buffum of Rhode Island, who located with a family of eleven children. Where once was his farm is the farm village of Colden.

Collins, formed from Concord march 16, 1821, lost in the erection of Brant in 1839, and North Collins in 1852. It is the southernmost town in the county with an acreage of 29,496. It is a dairy section and once had ten cheese factories. The pioneers of the region were a group of Friends under Jacob Taylor who came from Philadelphia to teach the Indians. They purchased 300 acres near the Reservation, erected mills (1809) and went sedately about their work with the aborigines. Whether because of their example or form native ability, the Indians of the Cattaraugus reservation are, for the most part, good farmers. The main villages of the section are: Gowanda, with a population of 2,673, the business and shipping enter of the town; Collins Center, the meeting place of the farmers of a rich agricultural district; Collins, a railroad stations, with minor industries; and Bagdad, a small hamlet.

Concord, formed from Willink, March 20, 1812, comprised the present towns of Sardinia, Collins, North Collins, and itself. It is the largest town in Erie, having an area of 44,734 acres, and is located among the hills of the southern part of the county. Settlement began on the sire of he present main village of the section, Springville, in 1807, by Christopher Stone and John Albro. They were soon joined by others, mills, stores and a tavern built, and the beginnings of one of the most attractive of the Erie villages was started. Springville was incorporated April 11, 1834; has a number of factories, and a large mercantile district. Population, 1920, 2,331. Other settlements are; East concord, Morton's Corners, Woodward's Hollow (Wyndale), Concord and Kahes Bridge.

East Hamburgh, formed from Hamburgh, as Ellicott, October 15, 1850, received the present title in 1852. With an area of forty square miles, it is a good dairy, fruit and grape section. In the spring of 1812, the first settlement was started by Daniel Sumner on Chestnut Ridge, the highest land in the town. Orchard Park, the largest village, is the mercantile and industrial center of the district. Among the hamlets are: Webster's Corners, Deuel's corners, Ellicott, Armor, and Windom.

Eden, a southwest interior town, was form from Willink, March 20, 1812. From it has been taken Boston in 1817, and Evans in 1821. Grapes, small fruits, and dairy products are the main exports of the township. Settlement began in this district in 1808, with the arrival of Samuel Tubbs and his family, the town made a rapid growth after the War of 1812. The villages of the township are: Eden Center, known as Hills Corner down to 1822, now the main store and shipping point in the region; East Eden and Eden Valley, small hamlets.

Elma, set up from Lancaster and Aurora, December 4, 1857, the last town in Erie, has an area of thirty-six square miles, and is the seat of a prosperous diversified farm community. In 1827 Taber Earl build a tavern on the road from Aurora to Buffalo, the first building in the township. The principal village of this section is Spring Brook, for yeas an important sawmill place. East Elma, Elma and Blossom are hamlets.

Evans, in the southwest part of the county on Lake Erie, was formed from Eden, March 23, 1821. It comprises an acreage of 25,481, the most of which is used for dairying and the production of vegetable for the Buffalo markets. There are a number of popular summer resorts along the lake. The first settler of the region was Joel Harvey, who located on Eighteen Mile Creek in 1804, and opened the first tavern two years later. The village of Evans are: Evans Center, Angola, Jerusalem, North Evans, Derby, and Pontiac.

Grand Island was formed from Tonawanda October 19, 1852. It consists principally of the island of that name around which the Niagara river flows to the Falls. Until about 1834 it was mainly in forest growth, but is now well cultivated and one of the finest resorts of the county. The first settlers were squatters coming shortly after the War of 1812 before the ownership of the island had been decided. In 1820 Mordecai Noah of New York City conceived the idea of making Grand Island the home of the great colony of Jews, and purchased a large acreage to this end. The place was to be called Ararat, but the project proved a failure. The present settlements of the township are mainly along the shore, where many fine residences have been built in more recent years.

Hamburg, formed from Aurora, March 20, 1812, lost territory in the making of Evans in 1826, East Hamburg in 1850, and part of West Seneca in 1851. It is beautifully situated on lake Erie, has an area of 25,000 acres, is a section devoted to farming and the growing of vegetables. Its location has attached many who have erected fine residences along the lake shore. It is thought that the first settler of Hamburg was John Cummings, who purchased land from the Holland company in 1803, although there were a number who came to the region during this year. the village of this district are; Hamburg, an old mill hamlet, now one of the thirty villages in Erie, with a large number of stores and several manufacturing plants. The population in 1920 was 3,186. Other villages are Armor, Abbott's road, Water Valley, once the best mill site in Hamburg, Big Tree, Windom, Blasdell. The following are summer resorts on Lake Erie: Woodlawn Beach, Bay View, Athol Springs, Hamburg-on-the-lake, Wanakah, lake View and Idlewood.

Holland, formed from Willink, April 15, 1818, lost in the erection of Colden in 1827. It is an interior town of 24,934 acres where some of the largest dairies in the county are located. The region had its pioneers in Abner Currier and others who bought land in the northwestern part in 1807. Holland village is the main settlement, while Protection, East Holland Cooper's Mills are pleasant hamlets.

Lancaster, formed from Clarence, March 20, 1833, gave territory for the making of West Seneca in 1851 and part of Elma in 1857. Outside of the villages, farming is the main industry. The first land purchased in this division was by Alanson Eggleston in 1803, but Asa Woodward and William Sheldon who secured their lands later in the same year seem to have located upon them at once. The most important village of the township is Lancaster, incorporated March 13, 1849, which grew around the grist mill and tavern of one of the pioneers. Saw and planing mills became the greatest of the early industries, a variety of small factories taking their place in more recent times. The population in 1920 was 6,039. Depew, named after the president of the Central system, is a modern development coming into existence as the home of the repair shops of the railroad, and around which have gathered allied industries. Founded in May 1892, the village was incorporated July 23, 1894. It has a population (1920) of 5,850. Bowmansville, Wilhelm Pavement, Town Line and Looneyville are all hamlets, stations on various railroads.

Marilla, formed from Alden and Wales, December 2, 1853, lies near the center of the east border. Settlement began in 1827 with the coming of Jesse Barto, farmer. The principal villages are: Marilla, Porterville, Wiliston, Iron Bridge.

Newstead, formed from Clarence, March 27, 1823, with the name Erie, received is present designation in 1831. It is the north corner town on the Tonawanda Creek. Agriculture is the main occupation. Cement was formerly one of the principal products of the section. The villages are: Akron, founded in 1826 and incorporated in October of 1850, or June , 1847. Cement mills were, from the beginning, the main manufacturing plants, and until the close of the last century Akron was one of the large cement centers of the United States. There are some twenty factories in the industrial section now, but the products are of a different character, the most of them connected with the agriculture and horticulture of the township. Population, 1,960 (1920). South Newstead, Hawkin's Corners and Swift's Mills are all small hamlets.

North Collins, set up from Collins, November 24, 1852, is one of the southern towns with an area of forty-three square miles. Formerly a lumber section, the deforested land has proven well adapted to farming and fruit growing. The firs settlement in the town was made by Nathaniel Sisson in 1809. The villages are: North Collins, Shirley, Lawton, Marshfield, Langford, and New Oregon.

Sardinia, the southeast corner town of Erie, was erected from Concord, March 16, 1821. It is five and one-half miles in area, has much good farm land, on which are located some of the beat dairies in the county. The pioneer of the district was George Richmond, who came in the spring of 1809. Sardinia village is the rural center of the township, with Chaffee and Prattham, the principal hamlets.

Tonawanda was formed from buffalo, April 16, 1836, and included Grand Island, which was lost in 1852. Large quantities of garden truck are grown in the section for city markets, but much of the area has been used for the suburban homes of the city dwellers, and the county estates of the wealthy. Settlement began here as early as 1805, and in 1811 a blockhouse was built in Tonawanda, which was destroyed by the English the next year. the city of the district has already had mention./ the only other large settlement is Kenmore, a residential suburb of Buffalo, which had a population, in 1920, of 3,160.

Wales, taken from Aurora, April 15, 1818, lost area in the erection of Marilla, in 1853. It was settled in 1806, and is one of the farming towns of the east border. Wales Center is a small village in the northern part of the town, sharing with Wales village the business of the region. south Wales is a hamlet.

West Seneca, formed from Cheektowaga and Hamburg, October 16, 1851, lies wholly within the old Buffalo Creek Reservation, and was not opened to settlement until 1842. Reuben Sackett, by permission from the Indians, built a frame hotel in 1826, and is credited with being the pioneer of the district. In 1843 a German sect called "The Community of Inspiration," purchased nearly 7,500 acres of West Seneca an settled more then 2,000 people on their tract in the next two yeas. In 1864 the last of the company moved into Iowa. The main villages are: Gardenville, formerly Middle Ebenezer, Reserve, East Seneca, Blossom, New Ebenezer, South Buffalo (Winchester), and West Seneca.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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