The History of New York State
Book VIII, Chapter IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER IV.

GENESEE COUNTY. #1

Between Lake Seneca and Lake Erie, the most important natural feature is the Genesee river. The eastern bank was the west boundary of the Iroquois, and the valley along the stream was the beloved Zon-es-che-o in their tongue, or "beautiful valley." AS pronounced by certain tribes, "Gen -nes-see" became the name of a district famed for its beauty and fertility. When, on March 30, 1802, a new county was formed from part of Ontario, this title was the appropriate one chosen for this new division. Originally it comprised all of that part of the State west of the Genesee river, and a line extending due south from the point of the junction of the Genesee and Canaseraga Creek to the south line of the State. Eight counties have been organized from this great territory, but in the Genesee County of today is no small section, having, at it does, an area of 507 square miles. It also retained through all the separations, the original shiretown, Batavia.

Along the south border of the county is a range of hills. Sloping gently from these heights, the land extends in a series of low waves to the northern line. In the beginning, covered with a dense forest growth of great variety, timbering operations uncovered a soil which in fertility is not excelled in the State, and the salubrity of the climate and ease of access have made it one of the leaders in State agriculture. Grain was, and is to a smaller extent, the great product of the land. "Genesee flour" had an enviable reputation. Wheat is less grown in the present century; its place being taken by the coarser grains, and a more general type of farming. Fruits are much planted, and make a name for themselves as distinctive as the flour of the former days. There are not many things that will grow a temperate climate that somewhere in the county it may not be found doing well.

There were but few settlers in the county until after the Revolution. Many desired to come, but feat of the Indians held them back. Charles Wilbur located at Le Roy as early as 1792, and the Gansoms settled in 1798, but there were but few in all this country until the opening of the nineteenth century. The original survey was made in 1798-99 by Joseph and Benjamin Ellicott, and endeavors were made by the Holland company to secure settlers. To this end land was sold at reduced prices to those who would locate and build; one of the requirements was the erection of a "habitation it for man" not less than 18 feet square. Three lots were sold to Asa Ransom, Garrett Davis, and Frederick Walther in 1799 with the proviso that they should have these "habitations' completed by January 1st of the next year.

The Holland Company mentioned was a group of Dutch capitalists who had purchased most of the land now in the county from Robert Morris, July 20, 1793. The greater part of the western part of New York States belonged to Phelps and Gorham, but on their failure to meet their obligations, a large share of their tract reverted to the State and was bought by Samuel Ogden for Robert Morris, May 12, 1791. Morris sold the west part of his purchase to the American agent of the Holland Company, reserving a strip 12 miles wide on the east side. The Indian powwow, held to clear the title on the property, was convened at "Big Tree," now Genesee, September, 1797, at which the Indians ceded their lands to the whites.

In October of 1800 the company opened a land office, which was removed to Batavia two years later, when the county was founded, and here it remained until the close of the affairs of the Holland Company in 1835, when they sold all their remaining interest to a set of Batavians. For a century the old stone land office stood in Batavia as a reminder of the days when all the region was a wilderness until it was settled under the policy of an intelligent and liberal minded set of men; and perhaps, there would be no Batavia had not this company chosen this as center of their work. Batavia was made by the choice a business place of consequence and probably for the same reason, the county seat. Other land offices were established in this area, but all of them were of minor character.

The law which made Batavia the shiretown called on the Holland company to donate one acre and to build thereon proper buildings for the country courts. This was done in 1802, and in these buildings were the affairs of the county handled until a new courthouse was erected in 1841-42. The town Batavia covered most of the area of the present county as set off originally, although the larger Genesee consisted of three others, Northampton, Leicester, and Southampton. The present civil divisions of Genesee are fourteen, including the city of Batavia, and with their 1920 populations.:

 

GENESEE COUNTY

1920

Alabama town, exclusive of part of Tonawanda Indian Reservation

1,530

Alexander town, including Alexander village

1,287

Batavia city

13,541

Batavia town

1,752

Bergen town, including Bergen village

1,497

Bethany town

1,196

Byron town

1,273

Darien town

1,617

Elba town, including Elba village

1,394

Leroy town including Leroy village

5.510

Oakfield town, including Oakfield village

2,438

Pavilion town

1,337

Pembroke town, including Corfu village, but exclusive of part of Tonawanda Indian Reservation

2.02`

Stafford town

1.057

Tonawanda Indian Reservation (part of)

345

Total

37,976

 

The settlement and growth of Genesee and its towns come properly under the head of towns, but attention maybe brought to the fact that, although the county had all that any section of a State could desire in the way of natural facilities, it was not until the railroads entered that the greatest growth and prosperity of their district begun. The Dutch were shrewd buyers of land, and fortunately they were wise enough to get tracts on the main trails across the State. These trails were the lines that the railroads also followed, and since the completion of the first road in 1827 to Batavia, transportation facilities have so incised until there is not a town in the county without its rail connection. Probably there is no county in the State better supplied with railroads.

TOWNS

Alabama, the northwest town in Genesee, was erected from Shelby, Orleans County, April 17, 1826, under the name Gerrysville. The land surface is level and low enough in the northwest part to be swampy. The Tonawanda Indian Reservation occupies about one quarter of the town. It is a good agricultural section, and some of the swamp lands under modern drainage is among the most productive of the soils. The first settlement was made by James Walworth in 1806, who also kept the first tavern. Alabama Center is an enterprising village, which was laid out on one of the earliest roads of the Holland Company. Smithville and Wheatville are the two other main hamlets. The Indian Reservation has part of it leased to white men, the moneys paid being one of the sources of support of the slowly waning Indian population.

Alexander, formed from Batavia, June 8, 1812, lies on the south border. it was one of the earliest settled sections of the county, probably because of the valuable lands along the Tonawanda Creek. It is estimated that a hundred families located here between 1802 and 1815. Alexander Rea is credited with being the pioneer, 1802. He was a surveyor of the Holland Company, the founder of the village of Alexander, and the builder of the first saw mill. This village, the main settlement of the district, is located on the Tonawanda, has several minor industries, and was incorporated April 24, 1834. Brookville is a small hamlet.

Batavia town, formed March 20, 1802, lost the most of its area in the making of Chautauqua in 1804, Alexander, Bergen, Bethany and Pembroke in 1812, Elba and a part of Stafford in 1820. It is the central town of the county, with a generally level surface, and the center of much of the best of the fruit, nursery and agricultural interests in Genesee. In March, 1801, Abel Rowe is said to have come and been the pioneer settler in the town. he erected the first building and ran the first tavern. There were 40 settlers in the district in 1801, 56 the next year, and 230 in 1803, so it is difficult to state just who was the first comer. Bushville, a small hamlet, was a lively place until overshadowed by the growing Batavia.

Bergen, the eastern town of the north tier, contains 17,389 acres. Formed from Batavia June 8, 1812, it then included the town of Byron. It is located in a rich rolling farm section, well watered and drained. Diversified farming and fruit culture are the main occupations of the residents. North Bergen, West Bergen, and Stone Church are three of its pleasant hamlets. Bergen village is the principal place in the district, a business and banking point, and the center of trade for a wide agricultural area. The first settlement in the town was made by Samuel Lincoln in 1801 on the site of the village. He had many neighbors in his first year, and the place soon took on the character of a long settled village. It has had several setbacks, mainly by reason of fires in 1866 and 1880, but in both cases there was rebuilding. There a half dozen industrial plants located here, the most of them being engaged in the handling of some agricultural product, such as the canning and evaporating of fruits and vegetables, or the sorting of beans.

Bethany, taken from Batavia June 8, 1812, was settled early in the history of the county, by John Torrey, in 1803. One of the first discovered were brine springs, which led to the expectation of a large salt industry, but all the attempts to drill a paying salt well failed. The strictly agricultural character of the region has led to the formation of many hamlets, of which Linden, first called Gad-Pouch, because of the gadding women (?) but changed to its present title at the suggestion of a literary clerk in the general store. Among the other places are Canada, which had one of the first mills, East Bethany, Bethany Center, Little Canada and West Bethany.

Byron, formed from Bergen, April 4, 1820, lies on the north border. one of the natural curiosities of the town is an acid spring. Benham Preston, coming from Batavia in 1807, was the first to locate within the region. It soon became one of the better wheat and dairy sections, which prominence it has never completely lost. The main village, Byron, was at one time the principal port market in Genesee. North and South Byron are the two remaining settlements.

Darien, formed from Pembroke, February 10, 1832, the southwest corner town is almost purely an agricultural section,. The first settlement was near Darien village by Orange Carter, in 1803. There are four hamlets and post offices in the town: Darien Center, Darien City, Fargo, and Sawens

Elba, erected from Batavia, March 14, 1820, covers an area of 22,631 acres. The slightly alkaline soil of the district responds well to intelligent cultivation, and the town ranks well agriculturally. Elba, the main village, has an importance resting upon the surrounding farming section of fort square miles. The pioneers of the town were Samuel and Amos Ranger, who located at what is now known as Daws Corners in 1801.

Le Roy, formed from Caledonia (Livingston County) June 8, 1812, was first called Bellona but changed to the resent tile in 1813. It is one of the fertile level towns of the interior, it surface being broken by a limestone ridge which supplies stone which was once in great demand for building purposes. Charles Wilbur was the first to make a permanent settlement within the borders of the town in 1797. This was near the present village of Le Roy, one of the largest and busiest of the east county places. A mill was erected in Le Roy in 1803, giving the first of the varied industries which have had their place in the industrial life of the village. Captain John Ganson, a soldier in Sullivan's army, had probably more to do with the early growth of the village than any other one man, and for a time it was called Ganson.s settlement. Le Roy was incorporated May 5, 1834; is finely located on the Oatka Creek; and is a well built, modern business center. While some of its progress and wealth is due to its position in a fine farm section, it is rather through the manufacturing concerns that expansion has come. In 1915 it had thirty factories, producing among other things, salt, one of its old standbys, agricultural tools, medicines and a variety of canned and dried farm products.

Oakfield, formed from Elba, April 11, 1842, lies on the north border, and is one of the gently rolling fertile farm section of the county. Most of the town was an Indian Reservation, not bought by the whites until 1832. The settlement of the town was begun with the location here of Aaron White and Erasmus Wolcott in 1801. One of the interesting antiquities of Oakfield is the remains of an ancient fortification, attributed to the aborigines, known as "Old Fort." It seems to have been a town covering ten acres, with a fort at either end. This is located near Caryville, the principal village of the area. Pavilion, organized from Covington, Wyoming County, May 10 the southeast corner town of Genesee. Oatka Creek flows through the center of the area, which is a fine type of rolling grain and fruit land. the first settlement as made in 1805 by Isaac Lyon, who was joined by a number of neighbors during the same and the next years. the old name as given the town in 1825, by a former owner of a hotel in Saratoga of the same title. Pavilion, South Le Roy and Bailey's Mills are the three hamlets of the district.

Pembroke, formed from Batavia, June 12, 1812, is one of the west towns of the county, and was first settled by David Goss in 1804. He kept the first tavern, and shared in the building of the first grist mills four years later. The villages in the town are Corfu, incorporated May 1, 1868; Indian Falls, and Richville, both former flour hamlets; East Pembroke, which has a large canning factory.

Stafford, formed from Batavia and Le Roy, March, 1820 claims the honor of having been the first settlement of the Holland Purchase. this is based on the coming of John Brisbane with a load of supplies for the surveyors of the tract in 1798. He located the store house, and made a clearing the next year near the present village of Stafford. The town as area of 20,000 acres, the greater part of which is arable. Beans, potatoes, and the staple farm crops make up the products exported, although milk and fruits play a large part in the industry. Horseshoe Lake is one of the several summer resorts of Stafford. The main villages are Stafford and Morganville.

 

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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