The History of New York State
Book VII, Chapter I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



According to an Indian legend, the Great Spirit gave to the Iroquois, as their happy hunting grounds, the central part of New York State, known as the finger lakes, and that these same bodies of water are but the imprints of the Great Spirit's hand. Scientists account for them otherwise, but do not deny that they were the happy valleys of the Indian, nor are the glorious recreation and abiding place of their happy successors. There are only four other places in the world having the same formation, and beauty of the Finer Lakes of New York; the lakes of Switzerland, the locks of Scotland, the lake region of England the and Finger lakes of Patagonia.

This finger District comprises an area of 2,500 square miles, with an approximate population of 250,000 people. Although having no large cities of it sown, four of the most important are gateways to the region. The Susquehanna Valley borders the south, and to the west is the Genesee country. To the east are the Susquehanna Highlands, where Cooper's Leather-stocking Tales were located. All of these are closely joined to the district by rail and highway.

Before the white man came, the Iroquois had built up a representative government and the highest type of Indian civilization in North America. In later times, the Finger Lake Region figured prominently in the history of our country. Many new religions originated here: Mormonism, Spiritualism, the "Holy rollers" and others. In 1848, the first Women's Rights Convention was held at Seneca Falls. this city was also the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Among the famous Americans who were born or lived in this area were: President Millard Fillmore, William Seward, Andrew D. White, Elihu Root, Ezra Cornell and John D. Rockefeller.

While noted fro scenic beauty, its variety of blue and emerald lakes, wild gorges and ravines, water falls and dancing cascades, the finer lake Region is as widely known for its cornfields, apple orchards and vineyards. Dairying is a great industry, and in few sections has poultry culture been brought to such scientific perfection. Cornell University and other schools of higher education have had much to do with the latter day development o the section; while the act that one-third of the population of the United States live within 200 miles of the Finger Lakes give permanency and prosperity to agriculture and industries.



A line drawn due north and south through New York State, touching the west shores of Lake Seneca, will mark the eastern boundary of the original county of Ontario as it was in 1789. All the State west, now divided into fourteen counties, was simply parts of Ontario. It was a territory greater then most European countries; a region that in the beneficent combination, soil water and climate, has seldom been equaled. Ten years earlier it was peopled by Indians, the Senecas, of the great confederacy of the Iroquois; only the trader and trapper knew much concerning it. Sullivan had penetrated parts of the district with his punitive army in 1779; the French and English has wandered through segments of it, erected a few forts, established a few puny settlements on the outskirts; but, as a whole, Ontario was a virgin territory.

In December, 1786, a section which included the present counties of Ontario, Steuben, Genesee, Alleghany, Niagara, Chautauqua, Monroe, Livingston, Erie, Yates and the western halves of Orleans and Wayne, were turned over to the State of Massachusetts, subject to the claims of the Seneca Indians. In July, 1788, Oliver Phelps secured the Indian title, and in November of the same year, Mr. Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham bought the Massachusetts rights of the eastern sector.

The first act of the owners was to find the proper place for their headquarters in their domain and create a settlement. William Walker, as their agent, entered the wilderness to find the site of the Indian village of Kandesaga at the foot of Lake Seneca, and survey the lines of the projected village. Phelps meanwhile was informed that here had been a mistake in the marking off of the Preeemption Line, which would place his proposed settlement on lands not his own. He, therefore, hurried word to Walker, "you had better make ye outlet of Kennadaragua Lake your headquarters, as we mean to have you rule independent of any one."

The following year, 1789, the son of Mr. Gorham, accompanied by General Chapin and others, came to the later chosen location and became the pioneers of the town of Canandaigua and the founders of the present county of Ontario. The village which they developed became the headquarters of the company, the seat of the first land office in the western part of the State, and the shiretown of the eventually greatly reduced Ontario County.

Phelps and Gorham were unable to find the manes to pay their obligations and disposed of all the unsold lands to Robert Morris, in August, 1790, who shortly after parted with them to an English syndicate, represented by Charles Williamson, who aided greatly in the development of the district.

Ontario County, as now constituted, has an area of 640 square miles left from its original 6,000,000 acres. It has been a true "Mother of Counties." In 1796, Steuben was set off; in 1802 all the land west of the Genesee was taken. So rapidly had the country been settled that, even after the loss of Steuben, she had more then 10,000 inhabitants, and when the tremendous count of Genesee has been separated, she had as many resident as a few years previously there had been in the whole western part of New York. In 1810, the comparatively small section of Ontario left was credited with a population of 42,000. In 1821, both Livingston and Monroe were born; in 1823 Ontario gave area to Yates and Wayne; the boundaries established then are those of the present. Ontario has been the mother of six children; her total descendants now number fourteen.

The county, even when it covered the original territory, was recognized as one particularly suited to agriculture, especially that part now enclosed in Ontario. Col. Hugh Maxwell, who had charge of the early surveys, wrote to his wife n Massachusetts that the country exceeded his expectations "in richness of soil and pleasantness of location . . . . . . . . .the land in this country is exceedingly good." The pioneers came as farmers, and as such were not slow in developing the natural resources of the district. Abner Barlow, at his place in Canandaigua, in 1790, harvested the first wheat grown in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. the present Ontario has never been led away from its first love; it is today the premier grant growing county in the State. There was one other section (1920) that exceeded it slightly in wheat, but in the growing of barley it ranks first, and the large amounts of other cereals harvested brings its total to higher figures than any other county But it is not a one crop region, or even simply a grain country. The potato crops comes eighth among the divisions of New York; in small fruits it is fourth; grapes, fifth. .all the orchard fruits are grown, cherries being on of the specialties, in the production of which it is fourth.

Increasing attention is being given to livestock, but not particularly to dairy cattle, although milk products are not small items its agricultural totals. One of the first of the western districts to introduce sheep, it now is exceeded by only one county in the number possessed; in the number of swine on the farms is ranks second in the State. Manufacturing has never been a prominent factor in the progress of Ontario, even though thirty-seven per cent of its population is urban. Outside the cities of Geneva and Canandaigua, there are few factories, and these deal mostly in article made from agricultural raw materials.

The City of Canandaigua--mention has been made of the fortuitous circumstances which deprived Geneva of the advantages of being the headquarters of Phelps and Gorham. The village laid out by Walker, and settled by the son of one of the owners and his friends, in 17989, was immediately made the shiretown when the county was erected that same year. It was located west of "Canandaigua Creek" to the north of the lake, "a beautiful situation and good ground for a town plot." An attempt was made to saddle the new-born hamlet with the name Walkersburgh, which fortunately failed. The settlement was well laid out, with broad, straight, streets and a village square that became the pride of the place. About the square have the various county buildings been built, in 1794, 1823, and 1858, and around it are grouped now some of the larger of the city's institutions..

In the early days the hamlet was somewhat isolated, lake Canadaigua supplying the only means of transportation aside from the widened Indian trails. The Erie Canal passed to the north, but a railroad connected it with Rochester as early as 1840, and other lines came later. There was little of the water power, soused by the pioneer, near the village, so that industries, other than agriculture, were impeded in their development. Aside from saw ands grist mills, there were few manufacturing concerns in the village until the last half century, and the most of these were not of any great size. It is rather from a financial and mercantile standpoint that Canandaigua excels. As the shiretown and the center of the prosperous farming section, it is a favorite, banking and trade city. Canandaigua was incorporated as a village April 18, 1815, and chartered as a city in 1913. Population (1920), 7.356.

City of Geneva--the entry way tot he famous "Genesee Country" was by way of Bath and Geneva, the latter being the more used because it lay on the water route from the Hudson. Phelps and Gorham planned to make Kandesaga (Geneva), the fallen castle of the Senecas, their headquarters and principal settlement. But owing got a bit of misinformation, moved farther west. There had been a white man's home erected prior to Gorham's time. Elark Jennings had built a lot cabin in June, 1787, which he afterwards enlarged into a tavern, this being the first house and hotel on the site of Geneva. He seems to have had few neighbors for some time, since the place had only a dozen families as late as 1790.

One of the things which retarded the development of the hamlet, so admirably located, was the difficulty that attended the securing of clear titles on the site. The "Lessee" company, in 1787, had gotten from the Indians a 999-year lease of all the lands west of Utica. And even when this was settled, the mistake in the survey of the first "Preemption Line," not corrected until 1792, for the period up to this date, threw all titles previously secured into the discard. The "Gore," or the territory between these two lines, and on which a large part of Geneva was situated, was paid for by the State, and by 1796, it was possible for the resident of the section to buy land and know that his right to his purchase was unassailable.

From 1796, then, dates the real beginning of Geneva. In that year Main, as well as other streets, were laid out under the direction of Captain Williamson, and shortly after the Geneva Hotel, a magnificent hostelry for the time, was built, The first sloop to be created in Geneva, to sail the lake, was launched about this time; and the earliest of the news sheets, "The Ontario Gazette," issued its first number in this memorable 1796.

Minor industries came in during the next few years; the industrial Geneva was begun. Although the hamlet had only some seventy houses and a population of les than 400, when it was incorporated as a village, the first major manufacturing establishment, the Ontario Glass Factory, ha its start; the first bank in 1817. Out of the Geneva Academy, incorporated in 1813, came in 1822, Hobart college, a pioneer among the institutions of higher education in Western New York. The year 1825 was notable for the visit of Lafayette, celebrated with great eclat. The first steamboat, the "Seneca Chief, was built in 1828, which in connection with the Cayuga and Seneca Canal joined to the Eire in 1825, greatly advanced transpiration facilities. By 1833, the population had increased to 3,029. In the 1870's the coming of railroads made possible the expansion of Geneva as a manufacturing center. How advantage was taken of this, and the growth of the village into a city by 1898, no mention came be made. The present industrial Geneva had, in 1920, forty-eight factories, employing 2,428 hands, with an annual output valued at $10,219,321.


The county of Ontario is made up of sixteen towns and two cities. As originally laid out, the towns were" Bristol, Canandaigua, Bloomfield, Farmington, Easton, Burt, Middletown, Phelps, Pittstown and Seneca all formed under an act of the Legislature of 1789. Subsequent changes in the names and boundaries of the towns were as follows: Easton became Lincoln in April 1806, and Gorham one year later. Pittstown became Honeoye, April 6, 1808, and Richmond, April 11, 1815. Middletown was changed to Naples, April 6, 1808. Victor was formed from Bloomfield, May 26, 1812. Hopewell was erected from Gorham, March 29, 1822. Burt was renamed Manchester, April 6, 1822. Canadice was formed from Richmond, April 15, 1829; a per of which was returned to that town in 1826. South Bristol was separated from Bristol, March 8, 1838, and a part annexed to Richmond in 1848, but restored in 1852. West Bloomfield was erected from Bloomfield, February 11, 1833. The town of Geneva was erected by a board of supervisors from Seneca, November 15, 1872. The city of Geneva was organized from the town in 1898.


Canandaigua city was formed from part of the town in 1913. The populations of these division as given in the census are:

Ontario County




















Canadaigua city





East Bloomfield















Geneva city








































South Bristol










West Bloomfield





Inmates of Institutions











Bristol had a spring which was easily ignited, to which La Salle came in 1669, and it was one of the Indian sections visited by Sullivan, in 1779, indicating that the region was known, if not settled, at an early time. Elnathan Gooding deserves credit as the pioneer of the town, for he was the only one of several brothers who, locating in the district in 1788, remained. Most of the early settlers in this and other towns in the county came from New England. Bristol early became, in addition to its grain growing, one of the fruit centers of Ontario. Hops were formerly extensively planted. The three villages of the division are: Bristol Center, Vincent, and Bristol.

Canadice, the southwest corner town, enclosed Lake Canadice. Honeoye Lake lies on the eastern boundary, and it was on the shore of this lake that the first settlement was begun by Aaron Hunt and Jacob Holdren, in 1795. The valley had no additions until nine years later. Canadice Corners is the only considerable hamlet now. Sheep and swine are raised in numbers.

Canandaigua, known by the Indians as "The chosen Spot," is probably the site of what one of the writers in Sullivan's army described a the "best built Indian town." the city of the same name, the principal place in the region, might be described in the same manner with the change of the word, "Indian." The history of the town may be found in that of the city. Cheshire is the only other settlement.

East Bloomfield, as a township, was purchased from Phelps and Gorham, in 1789, by Capt. William Bacon and several others from New England. It then included Victor, Mendon, East and West Bloomfield. Deacon John Adams was the pioneer among the settlers, coming in the spring of 1789, bringing his family and stock with him. By the next year East Bloomfield contained sixty-five people. In 1813 it was spoken of as the "most populous town in the county." The soil of the section is one of the most fertile, and for more than a century has been kept in a fine state of cultivation. The village of East Bloomfield is the principal settlement.

Farmington is well named, for it is located in the heart of a lovely prosperous farm section. Besides those acres planted in the usual crops of Ontario, there are splendid meadows and hay fields. The township was purchased by Quakers in 1789, by whom the best that is now characteristic of the region, was founded. The first settlement was made in 1789 by Nathan Comstock, his sons, and Robert Hathaway. The present villages are: New Salem, Brownsville and Mertensia.

Geneva is the smallest township in the county since the separation of the city, eighteen square miles. The most of its history is wrapped up with that of the city of Geneva. Nurseries, fruit growing and general farming are the principal occupation of the town.

Gorham was first called Easton, then Lincoln, but finally became one of the two towns named in honor of the original purchasers of the county. It fronts for seven miles on Lake Canandaigua, and was sold to Caleb Benton. The first settlement was made in 1789 by James Wood, in the locality of Reed Corners. Agriculture is he main industry, but partakes of a very well rounded character, including, in addition to general farming, stock raising and fruit growing. Reed Corners, Gorham village, which had the first saw mill, and Rushville, incorporated in 1866, with a present population of about 500, are the main settlements. The Canandaigua Lake shore on the west boundary is the seat of he increasing summer development, Cottage city being the principal center.

Hopewell, so named, shall we say, because it expressed the wish of old Gorham town that gave it birth in 1822, was settled in January of 1789. The town, typically agricultural, did well from the start. It grew great crops of "Genesee wheat" and sent them to the Chapin and Phelp's mills, and erected other grist mills on the excellent water power of the "Outlet." The character of its farming has changed, many varieties of crops being grown from fruits to vegetables. Chapin and Hopewell are the principal villages.

Manchester was settled, in 1793, by Joab Gillett, Stephen Jared and Joel Phelps, the first mentioned being the only one to stay. The section was at the head of navigation on the Canandaigua Outlet, the natural entry-way to the county. Perhaps more notoriety has come to the town from the fact that Mormonism was born here, than from anything else the district has done. Joseph Smith moved into the town as the son of a squatter in 1818. The hill from which he dug the "Golden Bible: is only two miles outside Manchester village. The largest settlement in the town is Clinton Springs, formerly Sulphur Springs, noted for its mineral waters. It was incorporated in 1859 and had a population, in 1920, of 1,628. Shortsville is an industrial village with seven factories, the making of automobiles and wagon wheels being the specialty. Incorporated in 1889, the 1920 population was 1,300. Manchester village is the oldest of the settlements, incorporated in 1892, population, 1,418. Hamlets in the township are: port Gibson, Gypsum and Manchester Center.

Naples, on the south line of the county, is noted for its horticulture, particularly grape growing. This is not the main type of its agriculture, which is diversified, particularly since the making of wine was outlawed. Three Parish brother, coming with their families in the middle of the winter of 1790, were the first to locate in the section, but it was not until the early 1800's that there was any real development of the town. The beautifully situated village of maples, incorporated in 1894, two years after the building of a railroad, is the business and social center of the township. Of industries there are but few, and these mostly those which use the fruit and produce of the rich surrounding farm section. Population, 1920, 1,148.

Phelps was settled on May 14, 1789, by John Decker Robinson, of eastern New York. It is a thriving agricultural town, whose largest village is Phelps. A part of Clinton Springs is in the township, as are the hamlets of Orleans and Oaks Corners. Phelps village was incorporated in 1855, and had a population in 1920 of 1,200. There were fourteen small factories, the most of which were engaged in evaporating fruit and the making of sauerkraut and other vegetable products. One of the first threshing machines was invented by Ezra Goodell, a citizen of the village.

Richmond saw its first permanent settlers in 1790 in the persons of Captain Pitts and James Codding. Wheat was the first crop planted, and is still a prominent factor in the agriculture of the district. Whiskey making was an early industrial occupation, [principally because of the town's location and the cheapness of grains. Richmond is now on of the foremost farming towns in the county, and as such has a number of villages and hamlets. Among these are: Honeoye, the largest is so because of its location on the Outlet with its water power. Richmond Center is very small, as are Allen's Hill, Richmond Mills, and Dennisons' Corners.

Seneca, formerly including the town and city of Geneva, is one of the large agricultural towns of Ontario. The soils are suited to grains and vegetables, while much of the land is used for grazing and hay production. Nurseries are numerous, as well as orchards. Probably the pioneer of the section was Jonathan Whitney of Massachusetts, who came in 1792. The villages of the town are: Hall's Corners, a shipping point; Stanley, in a good farm section; Flint, with two small factories, and Seneca Castle.

South Bristol, in the southwestern part of the county, is one of the foremost in the raising of cattle, while apple growing presses it closed in the matter of importance. The first settlement was at Seneca Point on the lake, being started by a Mr. Wilder, in 1789. He also built the first mill, and probably made the first cider from the fruit of Indian trees, which Sullivan failed to destroy. South Bristol and Bristol springs are the main settlements.

Victor was the scene of the only battle between armed forced in the county, in 1687, when Denonville fought the Senecas. It was more than a century later that Jared Broughton and his brother, Enos, bought the most of the section and settled on it in the spring of 1789. The choice of lands was wise for Victor is one of the most excellent of farming towns. The village of Victor, incorporated in 1870, is the seat for the Locke Insulator Company, and several factories canning farm products. Fishers is a hamlet on the railroad.

West Bloomfield was settled by New Englanders, probably in 1790. It is a thriving agricultural community. The principal settlements are; West Bloomfield, Ionia, and North Bloomfield.


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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