Clifton Springs History 

History of Ontario Co, NY & its People 

Pub 1911, Vol 1   Pgs. 419 - 424

Transcribed by Dianne Thomas



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The Village  of Clifton Springs 

The town of Manchester has several stirring and beautifully located villages and hamlets.  The largest village is Clifton Springs, formerly called Sulphur Springs on account of its noted mineral water. It is a place of about sixteen hundred inhabitants. The first white man to penetrate these lands came about the year 1790, according to TURNER in his “Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham Purchase.” He tells of a Highlander, Donald STEWART, of “Achnaun by Appin, in Argyleshire,” who had organized a colony to come over to America. They were to settle in Cumberland, N.C., but after the emigrants had set sail and it was too late to change their course, another proposition was offered their leader, STEWART, by Patrick COLQUHOUN, an Englishman, to bring the colony into the land in which the latter was interested, the Genesee country. On his arrival in America, Mr. STEWART decided to explore the country for himself, and he and a Mr. WILLIAMSON, a Lowlander, who was prospecting for a suitable location for a German colony that he had organized, set out together on horseback.

Mr. TURNER says: “A good anecdote came of it, however, which it is said had something to do with his dislike of the country. Threading the forest on horseback, Mr. WILLIAMSON and his companion were attracted by the noise of falling water. Approaching it, the water gushing from a rock, and falling over a precipice, the bed of the stream, the rocks and banks covered with sulphur, riveted their attention. It was a feast for the eyes, but not exactly agreeable to their smell. After gazing for a few minutes, Mr. WILLIAMSON broke the silence by observing that they had found just the place for a Highland colony. The reader will observe, as the keenly sensitive Highlander did, that the harmless joke had reference to a certain cutaneous infirmity. It came, too, from a Lowlander, and touched a tender cord; called up reminiscences of ancient feuds in their native land; was resented; and is said to be one of the reasons why a large Highland colony was not early introduced into this region. The reader will have surmised that the party were viewing Clifton Springs.”

It was ten years after the above incident occurred that the first settlement was made in Clifton Springs, in the year 1800, by John SHEKELS. He built his log house on “east hill.” where now stands a comfortable frame dwelling, known as Miss BALCOM’S boarding house.

John SHEKELS brought three slaves with him from Maryland. This was the first introduction of slavery into the township. To his credit be it said, after a short residence here, he liberated them.

Out of necessity, the most of these early homes, in primitive days, were converted into taverns to accommodate other immigrants, and the SHEKELS’ double log house was no exception to the rule. It did duty as a tavern for many years.

When and why the name was changed from Sulphur Springs to Clifton Springs is a question, possibly the odor in the town was not a pleasant reminder; but the fact remains that these Sulphur Springs have made Clifton a great resort for invalids seeking health and quiet, while the natural beauty of the village and its surrounding country draws hither as well the tourist and the pleasure seeker. It is worthy of note, that in 1806, a hotel was erected here as a dispensary.

The Sanitarium, started by the late Dr. Henry FOSTER in 1849, has become world renowned. Its surroundings are very pleasing, beautiful groves, which are most attractive and restful. A handsome and artistic pavilion, built as a gift of the late Mr. Andrew PIERCE, a former Boston man, greatly enhances and lends charm to the landscape and comfort to the many invalids who are here seeking relief and health. Mr. PIERCE also founded the library that bears his name.

An Air Cure was established in May, 1867, by a stock company with a cash capital of $75,000. It was located in the large hotel, which stood at the brink of East hill, and was formerly owned by Lyman CRAIN. This cure had but a short existence, being destroyed by fire.

At one time Clifton Springs could boast of two private schools. The Clifton Springs Seminary was chartered in 1868 and was in a flourishing condition for more than twenty-five years. The Foster School was started in 1875 and was carried on most successfully for a period of ten years.

Clifton Springs is situated on two railroads, the New York Central and the Lehigh Valley. There is a large and well organized Y.M.C.A., and a High School, five churches, and a National bank. It became an incorporated village in 1859.


The village of Shortsville is situated on the New York Central railroad and is admirably located for a manufacturing town. It was named in honor of Theophilus SHORT, who was the first man to utilize the water power which the outlet of Canandaigua lake offered to the village. It was first known as Short’s Mills and was gradually changed to Shortsville. Theophilus SHORT erected his flouring mill in 1804, and the same year he built a saw mill on the east bank of the outlet. Finding the capacity of the first flouring mill too limited for his growing business, he erected, in 1822, another and a much larger flouring mill, Both of these mills were burned in the early forties. Another very large flouring mill took their place. In the late fifties, a large distillery was built by a stock company. These mills were also burned. Near their ruins the Star Paper Company located its mills. In 1811, William GRIMES erected a woolen mill a little farther down the stream, on the south bank of the outlet. In the year 1818 he sold the woolen mill to Stephen BREWSTER, who operated it for many years. From Mr. BREWSTER it passed into the hands of a paper company and was converted into the Diamond Paper Mill. The present Jones Paper Mill occupies a site on which was established an earlier industry of the same character, the original mill being built at the early date of 1817 by Case, Abbey & Co.

In 1850 Hiram and Calvin BROWN came to Shortsville and established the Empire Drill Works. This enterprise flourished for fifty years, when it was sold to a syndicate and the plant was dismantled and removed to Indiana. The buildings and the water power are now the property of the Papec Machine Company, which manufactures ensilage cutters on a large scale.

Outside of Shortsville village limits, but located within the town of Manchester, is one of the largest spoke and wheel factories in the country, the property of the Shortsville Wheel Company. Adjoining this company’s main factory is a building devoted to the manufacture of automobile wheels.

Shortsville has about 1100 inhabitants and it became an incorporated village in 1889. There are four churches and it has reason to be proud of its admirable High School.

Manchester Village

The village of Manchester has the honor of being the oldest settlement in the township. This fact, and its being situated on the outlet of Canandaigua lake, giving it a natural water power, made the pioneer outlook full of promise that it would become a great manufacturing town. Hence it was named Manchester, after Manchester in England and New Hampshire. Its central location was another flattering prospect for its future, being just half east and west between Phelps and Victor, and north and south between Canandaigua and Palmyra. It was also the head of navigation on the outlet. The old landing was near Dr. STAFFORD’S saw mill. Many a pioneer came over its waters in flat boats. There is on record but one or two instances of bateaux being floated to the mouth of Canandaigua lake.

The early belief in Manchester as a manufacturing center seemed about to be realized, when in the year 1811, a stock company, called “Ontario Manufacturing Company.” was organized for the purpose of building a large woolen mill to manufacture woolen cloth. This mill stood back of the present site of the old flouring mill, which was recently purchased by the Ontario Electric Light Company. The main building was about sixty feet square and three stories high. For those days it was a well equipped woolen mill, consisting of one spinning jenny with seventy-five spindles, one jack with forty spindles, six looms, which then were worked by hand, a fulling mill, a dyeing room, etc. On the footsteps of the new enterprise came the war of 1812 to wreck the anticipated growth, to handicap the business, and the looked for prosperity was of short duration. Owing to the central location of Manchester it still remained a trading point for the farming country.

The advent of the Lehigh Valley railroad worked a material change to the old village, converting it into a typical railroad town. The original directors of the town for this road were the late Sidney D. JACKSON, of Clifton Springs, and John R. PRATT, M. D., of Manchester. Manchester is the division end and here are located extensive yards, shops and coal pockets. The yards cover over one hundred and thirty acres and there are about thirty miles of side track. A freight transfer house is in process of erection.

Swift & Company, of Chicago, have a mammoth ice house here for icing their meat cars. There are also large stock yards for feeding live-stock in transit.

The Manchester Produce Company is one of the largest enterprises of its kind in the country. The various branches in railroading carried on at this point and the other industries located in the village require many skilled workmen and give employment to several hundred men.

Manchester was incorporated in the year 1892 and has about one thousand inhabitants. There are three churches in the village and a modern and well equipped High School.

The Three Hamlets

The three hamlets in the township are Port Gibson, Gypsum, and Manchester Center.

Port Gibson was named after Mr. Henry B. GIBSON, of Canandaigua, who was then a prominent banker, and this was the port for Canandaigua on the Erie canal, it being the only point where it touches Ontario county. There are several general stores, one church, and a hotel. The population is between three and four hundred.

The little hamlet of Gypsum was first known as the “Dutch Settlement,” it having been settled by people of that race. How and when the name came to be Plainsville, remains unanswered. Later it was christened Gypsum, on account of the plaster beds and a plaster mill in the vicinity. Only a few houses remain in this hamlet.

Coonsville, now Manchester Center, was originally called after a pioneer by the name of COON. Only a few scattered houses are left of this early hamlet.

There are many localities throughout the town that still stand as landmarks by their pioneer names, such as Stafford street, on the western edge of the town, named after the six brothers who settled along this road. “Shaving street,” which runs east and west between Manchester and Clifton Springs, received this name from the fact that the Yankees settled the neighborhood and in all their dealings they never forgot their Yankee shrewdness. The “North Woods” have disappeared, but the name still indicates the north and central portion of the town. Then there is Armington school-house, which is still standing on the road between Manchester and Palmyra. The family for whom it was named have long ago left this vicinity. These are sign-posts of a primitive past that remain to point the way in the rural districts.

From primitive beginnings, when the scattered pioneers in their lonely cabins recorded time by the shadow of the sun upon the floor and bravely suffered the hardships of the wilderness, the history through which the town entered upon the smoother path of development is well worth recording in the annals of Ontario county. “Old things have passed away and all things have become new.”


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