Histories of nations and states, and even of some counties and cities are at hand in most of our public and private libraries; but a history of a town is not often to be found. Why is this? Is it because such a history is not necessary; because of the small area of territory; of the small and scattered population; of the ignorance, poverty, want of enterprise among the people; of the small importance attached to the growth and development of the town, and the events to be mentioned; or is it because no person or persons have been able or willing to devote the necessary time to gather the facts and so arrange them as to make a history? This, last, is most likely the true reason.
Many times within the last twelve or fifteen years I have been entreated by several of my neighbors to write a history of the town of Elma. My reply "that I was not a historian," was met with the statement, ''that being one of the early settlers in the town (coming in the spring of 1851), and having surveyed every road and almost every lot in the town, having been the first Town Clerk, after the formation of the town, and continuing as such Clerk for three years, thus becoming acquainted with every man then residing in the town, and having in my possession and within my reach books and papers that no other person in the town had, or could have, that I ought to give this information to the people, in the form of a history of the town of Elma.
After much thought and with many doubts and fears, at seventy five years of age, being too old to be engaged at continuous hard labor, and thinking this might give employment for a few leisure hours I consented to write one chapter as an experiment; with the agreement that I should read that chapter at a meeting of the "Young People's Association of Elma Village." I thought when that chapter was read they would be satisfied that writing history was not in my line and that would close up the matter.
According to agreement I wrote what is here given as Chapter One, and read it before the Association on the evening of March 18th, 1897; but instead of saying that was enough, I was urged to go on and write a complete history of the town.
So I commenced on Chapter Two, thinking that it would take but a few pages to mention all that would be of interest, as the town had been organized but a few years; but I found that the recording of one incident introduced another that required mentioning, and that another, and so there grew to be a wider and more extended range of subjects, and so the work has been continued until some of the incidents of the year 1901 are mentioned.
I have consulted, as helps in obtaining facts for this work, histories and encyclopedias as to the early settlement of the country, the histories of the Civil War by J. T. Headley and Horace Greeley; and for other parts of the work, I have used the records in the Erie County Clerk's Office, the Records in the office of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors of Erie County, N. Y., and of the Town Clerk's office of the town of Elma.
In addition to the above, from my own personal knowledge, (having kept a diary for many years) and from information obtained by correspondence and from persons who were on the ground and who knew whereof they spoke I have gathered and arranged the facts here presented.
Among the persons who have been consulted and from whom very much valuable information has been obtained, they being, or having been, most of them, residents of the town of Elma, and many of them having been among the first or early settlers of the town, and to whom I am under many obligations, and to whom I hereby tender especial thanks for the help they have rendered, are the following, viz.:
Mr. Chester Adams,
Mr. John Quincy Adams,
Mr. Harry Dingman,
Mr. Edwin H. Dingman,
Mr. William H. Davis,
Mr. John Estabrook,
Mr. Willard Fairbanks,
Mr. Wallace W. Fones,
Mr. Joseph Grace,
Mr. James J. Grace,
Mr. George W. Hatch,
Mr. Niles Hatch,
Mr. Conrad P. Hensel,
Mr. Cyrus Hurd,
Mr. Harry Jones,
Mr. Jacob Kock,
Mr. George Leger,
Mrs. Erastus J. Markham,
Mr. Eli B. Northrup,
Mr. Stephen Northrup,
Mr. Harvey C. Palmer.
Mr. Christopher Peek,
Mr. John Scott,
Mr. W. Wesley Standart,
Mr. Benjamin F. Stetson,
Mr. Julius P. Wilder,
Mr. Thomas D. Williams,
Rev. William Waith,
Mrs. Wm. Baker (nee Lucia A. Morris) daughter of David J. Morris,
Mrs. Daniel Ronian (nee Betsey Hatch) daughter of Leonard Hatch,
Mr. and Mrs. Jos. B. Briggs,
Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo C. Bancroft,
Mr. and Mrs. John Carman,
Mr. and Mrs. Scott Fairbanks,
Mr. and Mrs. Wm W. Grace,
Mr. and Mrs. Clark W. Hurd,
Mr. and Mrs. Fowler Munger,
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Tillou,
Mr. and Mrs. James H. Ward,
Mr. and Mrs. Dennis L. Wilson,
Mr. and Mrs. Eron Woodard,
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Young.
While I have been able to obtain much information from the above mentioned sources, there have been many incidents and conditions in the town of Elma within the last 70 years which would be of much interest to particular individuals and communities, and which would make large additions to this history could they have been obtained; but it was practically impossible for me to personally see and interview every person or family in the town and to thus obtain these items, so I have been obliged to omit that part which, however, may be written by some historian in later years.
Some may say that there is much that is no part of, and has nothing to do with the town of Elma; while admitting that these parts may not be absolutely necessary, there is such a strong connecting link, that I thought it would make the whole chain more complete. It may be said that to some parts of the town more space is given, more items and incidents are mentioned than to other portions. To a certain extent this may be true, as in some parts of the town information was more readily given; and as great changes have been made in the resident population of the town, it was, in some places impossible to obtain the desired items, or to obtain correct and reliable information on the points desired.
In the History more than 8,000 times are individuals, places, subjects, and incidents mentioned, each having' required from ten minutes to five or six hours of time.
When I first consented to commence this work had I realized the amount of time, labor and thought that would be required to obtain and arrange the items, and write the History it is very likely that the Lion in the way would have appeared so large and terrible that I would have never begun the work; but I have always found the Lion securely chained, and the way open for my escape.
I have learned that the hardest thing to find in this world is exact truth; especially is this the case when the investigation has reference to incidents of past time; to the time whose actors are dead, and whose direct testimony cannot be obtained. To deal with these questions, and to get the truth when the opinions of the living conflict, becomes to the writer of history a matter of no small moment, and requires much thought and labor.
Perfection in the works of man being so exceedingly rare, and because of the inability to obtain at times the desired information, I cannot claim that this History in all its parts, is entirely perfect. That there may be found slight inaccuracies, and what some will say are errors or mistakes, is more than probable; but with the light, knowledge and help that has been within my reach, I have tried to reduce these to the lowest possible limit.
The first settlement in the town having been made on the Mile Strip (see Map), followed by settlements at East Elma and vicinity, at Elma Village and vicinity, and at Spring Brook and vicinity, a chapter has been devoted to each of these places from the date of settlement to the time the town was formed, December 4th, 1856; from that date the whole town is carried along together, year by year, to the close of the year 1900: my thought being to close the historical part with that date, but later I decided to add some of the incidents of the year 1901 in the town as an Appendix.
See table of contents for the subject matter and page of each Chapter.
Mention of any person, place or event can be readily found by the Index in the last part of the book.