The History of New York State
Book VIII, Chapter III

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




On Lake Ontario, between Monroe and Niagara counties, and north of Genesee, lies Orleans County, with its compact area of 405 square miles. Its surface is undulating in the form of three distinct plateaus extending from the east to the west. The odd character of the terrain is due the fact that, in the ancient geological times, all the north front of the county was under the land, and what is called the Lake Ridge was the shore of the older and larger Ontario. Farther back is a more marked ridge which extends across the county. The plateaus between are generally level, or partake of the nature of the ridges.

The middle ridge, which is about 100 to 300 feet wide on the top, has a peculiar interest to the student of the history of the county, for on it was, from time immemorial , the great trail or road through the country. The Indians knew of it and used it in their journeys to this, one of their great hunting grounds. When the whites drifted into the region, it was by this ridge road that they came and long it they established their first settlements. In 1792 it was the principal route into Canada, and the road on which cattle and supplies were sent to the soldiers at Niagara during the War of 1812, and even earlier. And when the Holland Land Company, of which more later, built the first road from Batavia to Buffalo, it was but by improving the ancient "Ridge Road."

Who was the pioneer of the county is now known. There is a tradition that a Canadian settled in the region in 1792. It seems likely that the first permanent settlements were made by James and William Walworth, who came from Canada and located, the first at the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek, the second at Johnston's Creek, both in the town of Carlton. In 1803, Joseph Elliott had planned a village, which he called Manilla, hoping that this might grow into a harbor town for the entrance of settlers, and handle the commerce that settlement would produce. It was at this projected village that the Walworths came in 1803, and proceeded to make a home.

Settlement proceeded at a rather slow pace until 1809, when the Ridge road was thrown open to travel. The Holland Company has sold between 1802 and 1808, inclusive, nearly 3,700 parcels of land, but it would seem that practically all of these had never been occupied until the latter date. the influx of settlers was great from 1809 until the breaking out of the War of 1812. When the British captured Fort Niagara in 1812, many of the newcomers in the section returned to their former homes, but soon came back after peace had been declared. The tide of immigration rose. The most of the settlements were in the more northerly parts, still clinging to the Ridge Road. But the Erie Canal soon opened a more attractive path and settlements moved to the south.

The county area was one fitted to agriculture, and when once the fever of land speculation had abated, and the timber of the section had been removed enough to open wide areas, farming became the great industry. Grains, particularly wheat, were the main crops, and were successful until the insects and diseases which follow the repeated planting of any one crop cut down the amounts produced, and the canal proved to be a drawback, sine it opened too much wheat land. Then came a diversifying of crops. Potatoes were found to do well; the coarser grains were planted; both the sheep and the cow were brought in on a commercial scale. But the more interesting development in farming came in more recent years. Little use had been made of the fact that the climate and soil of the county were particularly adapted to the growing of fruit. Apples had been planted, but only on a small scale. It was not until 1845 that there was a concerted attempt to care for the orchards, and to graft a few and improved varieties. The apple crop is one of the more important in the county, with its allied industries, evaporators, canneries, and presses. Beans came in as a paying crop and soil improved about this same year (1845), and wheat under modern culture has in this century come in again as a paying grain.

Meanwhile we have been discussing a section as Orleans County, which was a part of the large Genesee County (the whole of western New York) until November 11, 1824. In that year Orleans was set off as a separate entity, to have added to it on April 5 of the next year the town of Shelby. Gaines was appointed the shiretown of the new division, but the county seat was soon removed to Albion on the Erie Canal in the central part of the county. A fine set of buildings was erected in a park in Albion, and the choice of the village for so great an honor proved wise.

Mention has been made of the Holland Company as a great factor in the settlement and growth of the county. The three eastern towns of Orleans belong to the Connecticut Tract and the Pultenay estate; the remaining section was the possession of the Holland Company. This was a group of Hollanders who, through an American agent, purchased from Robert Morris 3,600,000 acres in 1792-93. The company had their land surveyed, offered all manner of inducements to settlers, and assisted by building roads, establishing inns, convenient land offices and lot initial payments by prospective settlers. The latter mentioned aid proved to a boomerang, for when full payment was in the end insisted upon, there were riots by malcontents and ne'er-do-wells, and the company found it expedient to sell out its remaining lands and retire from the field.


In 1802, Genesee County was formed from all the State lying to the west of the Genesee river, and at the same time all of the Holland Purchase, which embraced the town of Northampton, was divided into four towns, of which Batavia comprised all the land west of the "Transit Line." Batavia, in turn, was split into four towns, three of which are" Yates, Ridgeway and Shelby, now in Orleans County. Ridgeway then was take from Batavia. June 8, 1808, and included Kendall, which was taken from it April 7, 1837. Clarendon was taken from Sweden, February 4, 1816. Ridgeway was first divided by the setting off of Gaines, February 4, 1816; the latter then including the present towns of Barre, set off March 6, 1813; Albion, separated from Barre in 1875, and a part of Carlton. Carlton was formed from Gaines and Ridgeway, April 3, 1825. Shelby and Yates were taken from Ridgeway, the former on March 6, 1818, and the latter April 17, 1822. The list of the towns and their population in recent years are as follows:






Albion town, including part of Albion village




Barre town




Carlton town




Clarendon town




Gaines town, including part of Albion village




Kendall town




Murray town, including Holley village




Ridgeway town, including part of Medina village




Shelby town, including part of Medina village




Yates town, including Lyndonville village









Albion, the smallest and one of the more central towns, has an area of 16,337 acres. The soil is level and of high average fertility, producing large crops of the grains and fruits. The presence of the Erie Canal and railroads give ample transportation. The territory of the town, outside the village of Albion, is small and the history of the section is too closely connected with this place to be separated. A Mr. McAllister was evidently the first to locate in the district, 1811, and the opening of the war the next year probably prevented the coming of neighbors for a few years. Not until 1825, when the canal was put through, was there anything that might be called a village, and at that time it was known as Newport, or by some of the derisive neighbors, "Mudport." The canal, however, gave it an impulse that not only soon made of it a real village, but won the recognition of the county which established it as the shiretown. Albion was incorporated April 21, 1828, and in a decade had a population of more then a thousand. The asheries, the only form of manufacture when the village started, has given way to some thirty factories, and industrial concerns. One of the principal products of the place is evaporated apples.

Barre, in the south middle portion of the county, is one of the largest towns in Orleans. It has a wide variety of soils, ranging from sand to muck, which had been brought to a high state of cultivation by intelligent farming. The region is one of the heavier apple producers, in addition to the quantities of potatoes and vegetables grown. Although a number of lots had been sold by the Holland Company in this region, the first to settle on one of them was Stephen Paine, who came in the autumn of 1815. Barre Center, the geographical and trading center of the town, was founded in 1817. South and west Barre are two thriving hamlets.

Carlton, originally "Oak Orchard," lies on the lake shore. It has an area of 26,385 acres of generally level and sandy land, which in the early days was covered with a heavy deciduous tree growth and which brought much wealth to the district. There were also fine water powers for the use of the first colonizers. The pioneers of the region were Matthew Dunham and his sons who settled near Johnson Creek in the fall of 1803. In the development of the region is number of hamlets have come into being, among which are: Waterport, the largest business place; Carlton and Kuckville, small hamlets; Kenyonville and East Carlton, both having post offices; Sawyer, Carlton, all hamlets; and Point Breeze and Oak Orchard and Lakeside, all three of which are popular summer resorts.

Clarendon, the southwest corner town of the county, has an area of 21,656 acres. Several thousand acres of Tonawanda Swamp are in the town, while the south line has some of the ruggedest hills in Orleans. Agriculture and horticulture are the main occupations of the residents. Clarendon is the business center of the town, and the seat of the first settlement. The name of the village was for some time Farwell's Mills, after Eldridge Farwell, the pioneer, who came in 1811.

Gaines is the central town of the county, and with its fine loamy soil one of the richest of the agricultural sections. Fruit, grain, potatoes, beans and all manner of garden crops are produced in large quantities and shipped. The "Ridge," which was the early road of the pioneers, passes through the town, and it was along this that the first settlers built their home prior to 1809. Gaines villages, at the founding of the county, was the most important place in Orleans, and was made the first county seat. On April 26, 1832, it was incorporated. The failure to be on the line of the Erie Canal gave it a setback from which it never recovered. Among the many hamlets of Gaines town are: Eagle Harbor, East and West Gaines, Fair Haven, five Corners.

Kendall, on the lake shore in the northeast corner of Orleans, is a particularly good fruit region, although most of the farm crops, do well. The protection of the lake to the north, not only enables the horticulturists to fruit the hardier trees, but has built up a successful peach belt. The first of the settlements was that made by Samuel Bates, in 1812. He was from Vermont, and built his cabin near the present village. Morton. Other villages are: Kendall's Mills, Troutburg, an ancient fishing place, but now a resort.

Murray, on the east border of the county, is one of the Old Ridge Road towns. It had for its first permanent settler, Epaphras Mattison, who came with his family in 1809. Holey is the mercantile and industrial center of the town. It is an outgrowth of the erection of the Erie Canal. Hulbertson is another village, founded in canal times, but never passed the hamlet stage. Brockville, Hindsburg and Murray Station are small settlements.

Ridgeway lies on the west border, was formerly an important salt and building stone district. Its name implies its location. In 1809 Seymour Murdock bought on of the lots in this region and settled on it the next year. He was the first of many who soon located along the ridge. The hamlet Knowlesville gets its name from another of the pioneers, William Knowles, who settled in 1810. Jeddo, another small place, was the seat of one of the first mills. Ridgeway and Oak Orchard are two small hamlets.

Medina village is the metropolis of the section. Located on the fall of Oak Creek, it gave early promise of becoming an important place. Mills were erected in 1805, salt was discovered, and the surrounding area was fertile. The Erie Canal gave it the backing that it needed, to become prominently industrially, and along these lines it ranks first in the county. There are now probably fifty manufacturing concerns in the village, producing all manner of met work; pipe is largely turned out including plumbers' supplies. Furniture, men's furnishings and motor accessories make up another section; while the canning and evaporating of fruits and vegetables employs many. Medina was incorporated March 3, 1832, although the charter has since been modified a number of times.

Shelby, the southwest corner town, with an area of 28,528 acres, is one of the fertile, thrifty agricultural districts of Orleans. Alexander Coon was the first purchaser of land in the region and the earliest settler, 1810. The hamlets of the township are: Shelby, formerly known as Barnegat; Millville, so named because the confluence of two streams occasioned mills; West and East Shelby. A part of Medina lies within the town, and is the main center of trade and shipment of produce.

Yates, originally Northton, is the most westerly town on Lake Ontario. The area, 22,559 acres, was in the early times a fine timber section and much of the lumber produced at that time went into the building of boats. With the clearing of the land, fine areas of soil were uncovered, and in these have been grown the fruit trees that do so well in this part of Orleans. Not only are apples grown, but great quantities of pears, plums and peaches are produced as well as berries and grapes. Yates Center was the earliest trading point of the town, but Lyndonville, with its location on the railroad, now shares the mercantile trade. County Line is a small hamlet whose location may be guessed. The first permanent settler came in on the Ridge road. His name was George Housman, and the date, 1809.


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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