The History of New York State
Book VIII, Chapter II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER II.

LIVINGTON COUNTY. #1

Livington County is not a section that has been ravaged with the wars and events which are the incidents that go to make up what is called "history." Instead of being the ground over which armies have marched, and for which they fought, it has rather always been the home of those who tilled and loved the soil, and with one great exception, been left to peaceful possession. Before ever the eyes of the white man looked upon this fertile land the Seneca had made it his granary, and the seat of the largest of his villages. He had attained some height in civilization, and acquired a few of its arts. Much of the land had been brought under cultivation, the forest had been cleared over quite large areas. He grew his corns and grain, melons and vegetables, his apple and other fruit trees were wonders in the sight of the whites as later these were disclosed to them. The Seneca was the Keeper of the Western Gate in the confederacy known as the Iroquois, the living barriers against the enemies from the wide west reached of America. The first mention of them by Europeans is that in the "Jesuit Relations" under the date of 1644-45, but Jacques Cartier knew of them a hundred years and more prior to this.

The one great exception to the peace of this region came as a consequence of the Senecas taking sides in a quarrel which was not their own. When the colonies were struggling to be rid of the yoke of the Mother County, the Senecas joined forces with the British, as did several other tribes. The result of this interference was the destruction of the homes and the laying waste of the Indian cornfields and orchard. In 1779 General Sullivan was sent by Congress to march to the head of the Indian country, burning as he went all the towns and possessions o the Iroquois, so that they might be completely removed from the struggle between two white peoples. Chenussio (Geneseo), the great town of the Seneca, was the end and aim of the march, and it was at this place, and in other parts of Livingston County that the climax of Sullivan's devastating expedition was reached. After wiping out forty Indian villages, burning more then 1260,000 bushels of corn and chopping down untold hundred of fruit trees, he ended the power of the Iroquois forever. He did more than this, for his expedition discovered and disclosed the exceedingly beauty and richness of the country, particularly that now enclosed in Livington County, leading to its very early settlement after the Revolution.

The Indians received rather shabby treatment by the allies after their defeat by the colonies, for there was not provision in the treaty of the Revolution which protected the Iroquois. They received better treatment by the victors, and in September, 1797, the tribes were gathered at Geneseo and a treaty was signed whereby the Indians transferred their lands to the State except selected spots which they reserved for their own use. Previous to this time there were few settlers in the county, although a few had located in the years following 1790. The most prominent of these pioneers was James and William Wadsworth, from Durham, Connecticut, who located at Geneseo, June 10, 1790. They became large land holders later, and because of their liberal policy in the selling of this land greatly helped the settlement of the district. Most of the first settlements were at Geneseo, and near the sites of the old Seneca towns, and were made by folk from New England. Just a little later York, Avon and Caledonia were founded by colonies of Scotch.

Livingston County was formed from Genesee February 23, 1821, to which were added in 1846 and 1856 part of Alleghany County. It is located in the central part of the western half of the State, being bounded on the north by Monroe; on the east by Steuben and Ontario; on the south by Alleghany and Steuben counties; and on the west by Alleghany, Genesee and Wyoming counties. The Genesee River flows through the district; there are several beautiful lakes, Hemlock and Conesus, being the most noted (Conesus was called by the Indians, "Ganeasost," meaning where "heavens rest upon the earth"). There are many streams which furnished water power to the pioneers, and some of these when canalized were the mans of transportation in the early days. The whole country is an upland, with hills that in a few places reach an elevation of 2,000 feet; but the slopes are gentle, the terrain rolling rather than hilly, and the vast majority of its 380,665 acres are arable.

Livington is almost exclusively an agricultural county, one of the foremost of the State. Its soil is almost universally good, being covered originally with a dense forest in which the hardwoods and deciduous trees were numerous. the river flats, while subject to over-flow, are broad and very fertile. Three-quarters of the area is the best of grain land, and it was by its wheat that this part of New York became known. Changes took place even as early as 1825, which took some of the profit out of wheat growing, and insects and disease brought about a shift to spring wheat. In these later years wheat has come back as a crop, mostly of the spring variety. The Indian showed the way in the matter o fruit growing, but is was many years before the settlers followed the example and planted trees that made this a banner fruit section. Dairying came early into a prominence which it has never entirely lost. Summed up, Livington County has the land, the climate and the people. In early years it had in addition what attracted the pioneer, forests, water transportation and powers, fish and game, and a freedom from Indian invasions. It explains in a measure why Livingston grew from a handful of people just before 1800, to have a population of 13,390 in 1810. It also explains why the county has remained an agricultural section, with relatively few industries.

TOWNS.

Avon, organized as Hartford, January, 1789, changed its name to the present form in 1808. It has an elevated surface descending to the Genesee river flats. The sandy uplands are devoted to fruits and dairies, the power land producing the vegetable and grains. Population, 1920, 3,350. The first settlement was made by Gilbert Berry in the spring of 1789. He was followed the next year by quite a colony from Connecticut. The village of Avon, with a population of more the 2,500, is the principal business and industrial center of the section. The village is charmingly situated overlooking the Genesee river, has noted mineral springs, and is a very popular resort with the summer folks. The manufacturing interests of Avon are not extensive, the fifteen factories of he town being mostly devoted to evaporating fruit or canning vegetables. East and South Avon and Littleville are the three other settlements of this area.

Caledonia, formed as "Southampton," March 30, 1802, changed to the present title in 1806. A part of York was taken off in 1819. It is the northwest corner town of the county, with 26,199 acres. It is a generally level section, the soil a strong loam, but stony in many places. This was once a great wheat center, but is now a general farming and dairy town; beans are the main crop. Population, 1920, 1,987. The first settlement was made about 1797 by a Mr. Peterson, although two Englishmen had a hut neat Caledonia in 1795. The real opening of the town was in 1799, when a number of Scotch families emigrated from Broadalbin, Scotland, and, after a delay of a year, located in this part of the county. They were responsible for the name the town now bears, and for the founding of the village of the same name. This village, with a population of about 1,200, is a thriving business place, having among its factories one specializing on the making of bean harvesters, and another utilizing the marl and gypsum as soil importers and fertilizers. The only other settlement of size is Canawaugus, supposed to be located on the site of a famous Indian town which was the birthplace of the noted Chief Red Jacket.

Conesus, situated on the eastern border, with an area of six square miles, is one of the strictly agricultural towns. It was formed from Livonia and Groveland, as Freeport, April 12, 1819. The name was changed to Browersville in 1825, and to the present title less than a month later in the same year. The surface is hilly, lying between two beautiful lakes, Conesus and Hemlock, with a deep valley running through the center. The first settlement of the town was at the head of Conesus Lake, in 1793, by James Henderson, who built the first mill at Conesus Center the next year and also erected a wool and caring mill in 1815. The principal hamlets of the section are Conesus Center, Foot's Corners and Union Corners. The population of the town in 1920 was 814.

Geneseo, Indian for "Pleasant Valley," was formed in January of 1789. It is an interior town, with the trend of the land being from the heights of the east down to the Genesee river, which is the west boundary. The river flats, which are about a half mile wide, is the corn and pasture section, while the hills, good wheat land, are planted in a variety of crops. The area of 25,648 acres is practically all under farm fence. The pioneer of the region was Lemuel B. Jenkins, who built his cabin near the present village in 1788. But the settlers who had the most effect upon the development of the section were James and William Wadsworth, who arrived in 1790. They bought 2,000 acres, and later extended their possession, built mills, induced others to come and locate, besides improving the lands which they owned. Geneseo is the only village, incorporated April 21, 1832. It early became the mercantile hamlet of the region, with a population that exceeded all others (in 1820, having 1,598). This preeminence, as well as its location near the geographical center of the county, were the causes of its being chosen as the shiretown of Livingston. It has never been an industrial place, although there are some dozen concerns producing articles, but these are mostly those connected with the farm crops of the surrounding fertile district. The population of the village, in 1920, was 2,157, of the town, 3,007.

Groveland, formed January 27, 1789, lost some of its territory to make Conesus in 1819, and Sparta in 1856. Its beautiful location, the apparent fertility of this upland plateau, early caught the eye of one Captain Williamson, an agent for the Pultenay estate, great land owners in this region, who planned great things for it. And it is a fact that the first village founded in the county was in the town of Groveland. Through the influence of another agent of the estate a party of Germans were induced to come to the Genesee country to settle. In 1792 the village of Williamsburgh was started with a population of more than a hundred. A post office was established the first year and a school opened the next. And the first race track in all this part of New York was made by Williamson at this same time, the "Albany Gazette" of July 15, 1793, carrying an advertisement of the "Williamsburgh Fair and Genesee Races." The colonist on closer acquaintance proved to the "vagabonds from the streets of Hamburgh," who soon went on one grant riot and fled the country and soon there was not even a trace of the village left. The present hamlets of Groveland all bear the name of the town, with the geographical locations indicated, such as Center, East and the Corners. Population, 1920, of the town, 2920.

Leicester, formed as Lester, March 30, 1802, but changed to the present title in 1805, lost of its area to establish Mount Morris in 1813, and a part of York in 1819. With level loamy lands, and much alluvial low land, it has some of the finest farms in the county. Its population in 1920 was 1,686. A matter of historical interest attached to the town in that if was the seat of three of the leading Seneca village: Little Beard's town, Squakie Hill and Big Tree. These were the objectives of Sullivan's march, and after the destruction of them, the point of his departure for the east. The earliest of the permanent settlers was Horatio Jones, who came in 1789. Moscow and Cuylersville are the two villages of the district, the former being incorporated in 1850, and the latter in 1848. Cuylersville was laid out in 1814, since 1910 it was re-incorporated under the name Leicester.

Lima, formed as Charleston, January 27, 1789, changed its name April 6, 1808. The pioneers of the town were Paul Davidson and Jonathan Gould, who are supposed to have come from Pennsylvania in 1788. These made the first settlement west of Bloomfield. They were joined during the next few years by quite a number so that the section became one of the earliest to have an appreciable population. The village, Lima, is one of the oldest villages in western New York still extant. With a present population of 843 (1920) it carries on a large mercantile business, and with ten factories, manufactures a number of articles, such as insulators, cigars, and evaporated and canned fruits and vegetables. Population of the town (1920) 1,890.

Livonia, formed as Pittstown, February 12, 1808, lies on the east border of the county, contains 22,811 acres, and is a splendid farm section. The first settlement was made by Solomon Woodruff, from Connecticut, in 1792. There are not five villages in the township, Livonia Station, Livonia, South Livonia, Hemlock and Lakeville. The first is the most populous and the trading point, that last two because of their locations on t he lakes of the same name, are well known as summer resorts.

Mount Morris, organized from Leicester April 17, 1818, is one of the hilly, fertile farm towns drained by the Genesee river. A part of the Gardeau Reservation is located within its borders. The first white settler in the region, and the entire Genesee Valley, was Mary Jemison, who resided with the Indians seventy-eight years, seventy-two of the in the valley, but the settler who left some trace of his presence was Ebenezer Allan, 1784-85. Mount Morris, the village, was incorporated May 2, 1835, is the second largest place in the county and probably is not exceeded by any as a trading place and shipping point for the farmers of the section surrounding it. There are seventeen manufacturing concerns located in the village, the most of them engaged in the canning of vegetables or the putting up of fruit. Population, 1920, 3,312. Of the town, 4,457.

North Dansville, taken from Sparta February 27, 1846, lies at the head of the Genesee river, or flats. The soil of the bottoms is alluvial, or the superior bottom timber lands. All crops do well in some parts of the towns, and horticulture has been brought to a high state of perfection, grapes doing exceedingly well on the hillsides. The nursery business has become of importance near the village of Dansville. The first of the settlements was near this village, and was made by Amariah Hammond, and Cornelius McCoy, in 1795. Dansville, incorporated May 7, 1845, is the metropolis of the county and the home of most of its larger industries. Mills were erected at an early date, a branch of the defunct Genesee Canal reached its doors and a railroad in 1871 gave an added impetus to its growth. Today it has a population approaching 5,000, the business section is unusually large for its size, and all the conveniences of a modern town are in use. Among the products of the twenty factories of place as super-heaters, garbage destroyers, felt shoes, paper, as well as a number of minor articles.

Nunda, formed in Angelica (Alleghany County) March 11, 1808, lies on the south border. it is a hilly section, and from some of its hill a good quality of building stone was one time quarried. The acreage of 22,291, is mostly arable, and was at one time planted almost exclusively to wheat. There are now a number of dairies, while apple growing is carried on by many of the farmers. The first to locate within the district was Phineas Bates, near the present village of Nunda. This place made a good growth early and was incorporated in 1839, April 26. Its present population is 1,152. Among the main industries of its factories is the making of concrete mixers, caskets, and the evaporating of apples and other fruits. Dalton and Coopersville are hamlets. Population of the town, 1920, 2,272.

Ossian, formed from Angelica, March 11, 1808, has an area of 25,086 acres. Probably there is more land unused, or only partially used, than in any other town. The timber of this section led to its mid-early settlement, although the pioneer of the town was Judge Richard W. Porter, who came from New Jersey in 1804 and made here his home. Ossian Center and West View are the principal hamlets of the section. Population, 1920, 596.

Portage, one of the most picturesque of the Livingston towns, lies in the southwest corner of the county. It has been called the "Switzerland of New York State." Taken from Nunda, it was formed March 8, 1827. The Genesee river is the west boundary of the town, and its the high banks of this stream with its several falls which not only make for beauty, but were one of the valuable possessions of the first comers. Settlement was not begun, however, until 1810, when Jacob Shaver located on Lot 150. The present population is 860, and the important hamlets are: Portage, Oakland, Hunts and portage Bridge.

Sparta, formed in 1789, has lost the most of its territory in the making of the towns: Springwater, 1816; West Sparta, 1846, and part of North Danville, in 1846 and 1849. The town has an area of 16,625 acres and a population in 1920 of 833. The first settler was Jesse Collar, from Pennsylvania, in 1794. He located near the present village of Scottsburgh, the commercial center of the township. Other hamlets re; Sparta, North Sparta and Reeds.

Springwater, the largest town of the county, with an area of 32,579 acres, was erected from Sparta and maples (Ontario County) April 17, 1816. It is very hilly, with its principal stream the outlet of Hemlock Lake. The first settlement was begun in 1807, by Seth Knowles, of Connecticut. Webster Crossing and Springwater are the principal hamlets of the section, the latter being the trading point of the farmers of the town. population, 1920, 1,416.

West Sparta, formed from Sparta February 27, 1946, is one of the hilly interior towns, although quite a part of its surface is taken by a part of the Canaseraga Swamp. Lumbering was formerly the main occupation, but the deforested land is now in the hands of dairymen and horticulturists. The town was first settled in 1795 by Jeremiah Gregory. Kysorville, Woodville, Byersville and Union Corners are some of the hamlets which have grownup in the town. the population in 1920 was 695.

York, with an area of nearly 30,000 acres, ranks with the largest of the towns and is one of the most important agriculturally. It was settled in 1800 by several Scotch families, and was erected as a town from Caledonia and Leicester, March 26, 1819. Population in 1920, 2,640. The town contains five villages and hamlets: York Center, Fowlersville, Piffard and North and South Greigsville. The two former are the largest and most important of the places.

 

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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