History of Ontario County , New York


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Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer


From History of Ontario County, NY  

Published 1878  Pg 45 - 47     


                                                                                       CHAPTER XVII


Ontario County is centrally distant one hundred and eighty miles from Albany, and contains six hundred and forty square miles.  It contains sixteen towns, in which are contained of villages and hamlets thirty-five.  Five villages are incorporated.  Geneva was incorporated in 1806.  It is the largest village of the county, and has a fine location at the foot of Seneca lake.  Here was started the pioneer newspaper; here was established a model and still flourishing Union school.  It is the seat of Hobart College.  The Geneva Water-Cure and Hygienic Institute is a feature of the place.  Extensive malt-works are located near the lake, and in the vicinity are iron-works of considerable importance.  The place has a national bank, fine churches, a reliable press, and many stately and beautiful residences, surrounded by tasty and ornamental grounds.  It has a system of waterworks, a good fire department, and by steamboat and rail-car has excellent means of communication with other places.  It was long regarded as a leading business place in central New York, and is a pleasant resort for tourists.  Canandaigua was incorporated in 1815.  It is an important railroad station, and connects by steamer with Naples, at the head of Canandaigua lake.  In contains a handsome court-house; a town-hall, in which is a large library; an academy, founded in 1795; a private lunatic asylum, incorporated in 1859; three newspaper offices; three banks, one national; an extensive brewery; three large hotels, besides some others of less capacity; six churches; several handsome blocks, and many elegant private residences.

Phelps, early known as Vienna, was incorporated January 2, 1855.  It is located near the junction of Flint creek with Canandaigua outlet.  It contains a Union school of some reputation, a newspaper office, and six churches.

Naples, on Canandaigua inlet, is a recently incorporated village.  A newspaper is published at the village, which is well supplied with churches, and is the seat of a thriving business.  Clifton Springs was incorporated in 1859.  It is notable as the seat of an extensive water-cure establishment, and the site of the celebrated Clifton Mineral Springs.  East Bloomfield, in the town of the same name, has several manufactories, an academy, and several churches.  Shortsville is a manufacturing point in the town of Manchester, and is attracting some attention.  Centerfield, Cheshire, Chapinville, Gorham, Victor, and West Bloomfield are other villages which, from historic vicinage, beauty of location, or future promise, are deserving of mention.  Ontario presents a variety of surface and delightful scenery.  Its towns are situated upon the extreme northern declivities of the central Allegheny range, and have a northerly inclination.  The hills to the south have a general elevation of a thousand feet above the northern parts of the county.  The region west and south of Canandaigua lake is hilly and broken.  The ridges decline northward, and terminate in a pleasant-appearing, undulating region, which extends east to Geneva and north to Bristol.  The elevations of this region are sufficient to insure thorough drainage.  At right angles to the general range is a terrace with declivities, which extends through the north portions of East and West Bloomfield and the south part of Victor.  In the extreme north drift, ridges exist of a kind similar to those of Wayne and Seneca counties.  The surface of Bristol is a series of ridges, some of which reach an altitude of five hundred feet above the valley.  These ridges are cut by deep precipitous ravines.  Canadice has high upland, separated into ridges by Canadice lake.  The west ridge bears the name of Bold Hill; the eastern has a more gradual slope.  Canandaigua, hilly to the southward, is mainly level in the south, is broken by drift ridges towards the north.  East Bloomfield has a rolling surface.  Farmington, mainly level in the south, is broken by drift ridges towards the north.  Gorham has a rolling surface; its ridges have gradual slope, and rise only from twenty-eight to two hundred feet above the valleys.  Hopewell has a level surface, and the same may be said mainly of Manchester.  Naples has an elevated upland, with deep, narrow valleys.  Hills rise six hundred to one thousand feet above the lake surface.  The highest summits are High Point and Hatch Hill.  Phelps has a rolling surface; Richmond is hilly; Seneca is much like Phelps.  South Bristol is almost mountainous; is is divided into four ranges.  Declivities are precipitous, and lake bluffs rise three hundred to four hundred feet.  West Bloomfield is undulating, and Victor is occupied by drift ridges.

  The soil is a composition of clay, sand, and gravel, formed from the drift deposits.  The valleys and the rolling regions extending through the central and north parts of the county contain a deep, rich loam, which forms one of the finest farming sections in the State.  The hills had been regarded as of poor productive capacity, but experience has shown that some of the most valuable agricultural farms are found in such locations.  The soil is a disintegrated shale and slate, forming an excellent grazing section.  The drift hills in the west, covered by a deep, light sand, are morderately fertile. The gradual crumbling of the shale upon the hills, swept down and ground to sand and clay, has contributed to maintain the soil in its productiveness in the valleys.  The southern part of Farmington has a clay soil, and to the northward is a marshy region, but the general summary of Ontario soil is that of more than ordinary productiveness.  The scenery, supplied by uneven surface and varied soil, is beautiful.  The eye may rest upon distant hills, and in the interval see other hills, with checkered farms, woodlands, fields of grain, and comfortable dwellings.  Ontario County had known an Indian tillage for centuries, and there was a time when wide areas were destitute of timber; but when the pioneers of 1789 came in, they found an almost unbroken forest stretching interminably westward to Erie and northward to Ontario.  Magnificent forest-trees towered skywards; the oaks presented trunks with sixty feet of rail-cuts to the limbs; the sugar-maple was rich with the juices of spring's rising sap; the cucumber, with highly colored fruit; the birch, from which the Senecas formed the coverings of the canoes which skimmed the surface of Seneca, Canandaigua, and the lesser lakes; the sassafras, well known for healthful drink in spring-time; the slippery elm, with valued inner bark; the butternut, whose fibres gave color to the domestic cloths, and whose oval nuts were gathered for the winter's evening; the bass-wood, early used for puncheoned floor; the hickory, whose bark made torches, carried to protect from wolves or light for evening household labor; and besides these were strips of noble pine and an intermingled growth of chestnut, cherry, and walnut, buttonwood, ash, white-wood, and many another species valuable now, were they standing, but then indicative of fertility, and regarded as an incubus.  Upon the bluffs along the Canandaigua grew the red cedar, while the dark pines and hemlock were seen upon the banks of streams in the southern towns of Naples, Canadice, and Bristol.  At Wilder's Point, Geneva, and other points, were orchards of the peach and apple, grown from time undated by the earlier occupants; plums, varied in kind and delicious of flavor, were common to the swales, and the crab-apple offered its pungent fruit.  From the hard maple the settler soon learned to make the sugar still held in great repute, and Morris early writes of a fine loaf sugar, excellent and pure, manufactured by the pioneers.  Williamson names the wild fruits as "the plum, cherry, mulberry, grape, raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry, gooseberry, cranberry, strawberry, and black haw."  From the histories of towns we learn of apple-seeds brought on and planted by the first pioneers, and of young trees brought from Wilder's and the orchard at Geneva.  The fruit was indifferent, but its cultivation was heavily prosecuted.  The tavern-keepers occasionally purchased barrels of cider, and a dance in the ball-room of Pitts, Wilder, and others furnished enjoyment and relaxation from the toil of farm and household.

 The war of 1812 opened a way of profit to the settlers; orchards multiplied, and cider, brandy, and whisky were produced in large quantities.  In 1810, there were full seventy-six distilleries located within the limits of Ontario.  The growth of the apple is a present industry, and orchards, old and new, are found on most farms, whose yield finds ready sale at remunerative prices.  The wild grape has been eulogized, by old settlers, as the equal of present varieties, but the absence of a comparison, and the needs of the times, made all fruit seem palatable, and time has heightened the remembrance.  Efforts have been made to grow the vine, and the hill-sides of Naples are becoming known as the location of large and profitable vineyards.  At annual fairs fine fruit in great variety is exhibited, and the industry, spurred by success, extends its area until the hill-sides are dotted by vineyards, numerous and extensive.  The vicinity of Geneva has grown famous as the seat of nurseries begun thirty odd years ago,--- enlarging as to the original planters, and the example emulated by others, until at this time the number and size of the Geneva nurseries may well attract the attention of the writer, as well as the visitor, for trees to stock the orchard grounds of near and distant States.  Lakes, streams and springs diversify the scenery and promote the healthfulness of Ontario's territory.  East of the town of Geneva lies the foot of Seneca lake. This body of water occupies a deep valley between ridges, and has a varied depth.  Its length is about thirty-eight miles, while its width varies from one to four miles.  It has been asserted that the lake has never been entirely frozen over, but observations noted have proved this otherwise, although the presence of springs, subaqueous and of large volume, tend to counteract the influences of atmospheric temperature.  The greatest depth of the lake is about six hundred and thirty feet, and the mean temperature about 54 degrees.

Canandaigua lake is almost exclusively included in Ontario.  Its surface is six hundred and sixty-eight feet above tide.  It is about fourteen miles long, and has an average width of about a mile.  The towns of Richmond and Canadice contain the Canadice and the Honeoye, while on the west of Canadice lies the Hemlock lake,--small bodies of water extending north and south, and lying in valleys surrounded by high hills and bluffs, towering upwards from five hundred to seven hundred feet.  These lakes, from shape, location, waters, and surroundings, present an attractive view, and are popular resorts, for the native and the visitor, during the heated months of summer and fall.  Not a little of the celebrity which attaches to central New York is contributed by the presence in Ontario of her beautiful lakes, with pure waters and healthful influences.  From the foot of Canandaigua flows the outlet bearing the same name as the lake; its course is northward to Manchester, east to the eastern limits of Phelps, then northward into Wayne county.  Mud creek takes its rise among the defiles of South Bristol, flows north through Bristol, East Bloomfield, and Victor, and, with the Canandaigua outlet, forms tributaries of the Clyde.  The outlets of Hemlock and Honeoye join in northern Richmond, and then, known by the latter name, flow northward as a tributary of the Genesee.  Egypt brook is tributary to Honeoye outlet, while Mud creek receives the waters of Hog Hollow, Fish, and Beaver creeks.  In the northwest corner of Victor are found the head branches of Irondequoit creek, while Keshong creek and Burrall's and Castle creeks find their way to Seneca lake in the southeast.  Numerous springs, bursting from wild, romantic, rocky defiles, feed the rills which give these creeks their flow.  The noted springs of Ontario are named in town history.  The principal of these are the sulphur springs on Canandaigua outlet, especially those at Clifton Springs, and the gas springs of Bristol, East Bloomfield, and Richmond.  The springs at Clifton, before manipulation by the hand of art for medical uses were described as follows:  "The sulphur springs break ground in two or three different places, then almost immediately uniting, expand almost as speedily over a rough pavement of limestone, and pass quickly off to the marsh below, where they become almost stagnated.  Between the spring head and the rocky channel was a mass of pure sulphur, some five or six feet deep, and in so soft a state that the incautious have bogged themselves in it breast high."  It is said that discouraged early settlers, returning east, spoke of the locality as an opening to the infernal regions; loads of sulphur have been drawn from these according to statements of residences, and a strong sulphuric odor pervades this stream.  It is asserted that on the first discovery of the spring many curious petrifications were found in the channel, and among them the nests of the wasp and the hornet.

The history of Manchester deals further concerning this interesting locality.  The waters of the lakes and creeks abounded with fine fish.  A settler had brought a scine net west with him, and at one draw in Mud creek, made in July, 1800, he took twenty-two Oswego bass, two suckers, and one perch.  A second haul gave seventeen bass, two suckers, and a perch; the bass weighed on an average three pounds each.  A bass was taken that weighed eleven pounds, and a settler averred that he had seen one weighing sixteen pounds.  A trout was caught in Canandaigua lake in May, 1824, which weighed twenty-nine pounds, and another which weighed twenty-seven pounds.  Salmon used to ascend the Canandaigua outlet as far up as Shortsville before the erection of mill-dams.  The efforts to restock the lakes proved a success.  The lesser game up in number for their diminutive size.  The quails were flushed from their coverts, the ducks fed in flocks upon the marshes about the lakes, and pigeons built their nests in roosts of miles in length.  The squirrel---the red, the black, and the gray species---early attracted the notice of the tourist.  The red and the gray were rare, but the black squirrel was so numerous in 1800 that on one occasion two bands, of five young men each, set out in contrary directions, to return at an appointed hour to a feast to be provided by the party bringing in the fewest squirrels.  Three hundred squirrels were killed---all black but one, and that a gray squirrel.  In 1818, these squirrels were so abundant that in a corn-field eighteen or twenty were seen upon a tree, and any tolerable marksman could go to Fort Hill of a morning and bring in as many as he could conveniently carry, before breakfast.  While the destruction of game and wild beasts had made travel secure and driven out the hunter class, or impelled them to agriculture, yet it is on record that a panther weighing ninety-four pounds was killed in the town of Seneca as late as 1825.  There is yet one denizen of the rocky shelves of Naples, and other localities, deserving mention here.  The rattlesnake, once common, is now rarely if ever met.  In the early day the hay-makers frequently heard the warning rattle, and killed the reptile with greater alacrity than they would a wasp.  It has been asserted that during the summer of 1793 the scarcity of provisions was such that the rattlesnake was used for food, and was said to be good eating.  The venomous snake is free from the fetid odor so repulsive in the harmless varieties.  The hog prefers the rattlesnake to all others.  In the early day the hogs driven by the settlers,--not the choice breeds found now upon the farms, but gaunt, agile creatures,--sometimes straying to the woods, became wild and dangerous, and when the trail of a snake was crossed, the brute followed on to secure his victim.  The rattlesnake has been exterminated, choice stock crop the herbage, and quiet industry enhances the value of the lands which in the memory of many living were seen wild, strange, and forbidding.  We close our chapter with extracts of a letter penned by one of Canandaigua's distinguished citizens, advising his father of events and advantages in the Genesee country, so plainly and graphically expressed and of so early a date as to be a valuable contribution to local history: 

"Canandaigua, October 10, 1795.
"Honored Sir,--I am now settled in the seat of litigation for the western-most county of the State of New York, called Ontario.  The county town is situated in the midst of a large tract of country, the most fertile I ever beheld, and probably the most fertile yet explored in America.  The country is beautifully interpersed with lakes, some of them near a hundred miles in circumference.  Most have outlets leading into Lake Ontario--their ocean.  The land rises from the lakes in gentle swells, so that there is not a hill but what is arable.  It is a common affair to have thirty bushels of wheat and sixty bushels of corn to the acre.  Canandaigua, named from a lake at the bottom of which it stands, contains sixty houses, more elegant in their structure than those of any village I know in Connecticut, Litchfield excepted.  Acre lots fronting on Main street sell at from one to two hundred dollars; house lots beyond them, from twenty to forty dollars; farm lots within three miles, at ten dollars; and all good land within ten miles, at five dollars.  Six years ago the land was bought of Massachusetts by Gorham and Phelps, at less than a shilling currency per acre.  The whole country is about as large as Connecticut.  It is expected to be divided at the next session of the Legislature, so that the southern townships will make a new county.  I shall remain in the northern part, which has the better soil.  The only practicing lawyer here at present is Peter PORTER, a classmate and fellow law-student.  A son of Robert MORRIS, who has made a fortune here, is very hospitable, and I look for success in this agreeable settlement.  Severe hardships have been borne without ill consequences to health.  The northern part of the county is settled by a hardy, enterprising set of New England farmers and speculators, and is to be preferred to settlements in northern Pennsylvania.  The houses are mostly framed, and improvements are making round them very rapidly.  A temporary increase of prosperity will arise from the demands of the settlers on the Connecticut Lake Erie lands for provisions.  A canal by the side of Niagara Falls is frequently spoken of as a project to be consummated after the surrender of the western posts.  Augustus PORTER, chief surveyor of Phelps and Gorham from the beginning of the settlement, has viewed the level lands along the falls, and told me that by digging a canal eight miles long a very convenient passage could be affected.  Mr. Porter has written home to his father at Salisbury, to interest himself heavily in the Connecticut lands, and I, with all deference, yet earnestness, advise you to do the same.  A canal being opened between Erie and Ontario, the settlers around Lake Erie will have access to the ocean by the river St. Lawrence, or at least to Montreal or Quebec, if the British will not suffer them to go farther.  The commerce will be to Albany to Oswego river into Oneida lake; thence up Wood creek to the landing, between which and the headwaters of the Mohawk, a distance of a mile and a half, a canal will be cut next summer.  A fur-trader, met the other day, told me that apples and peaches were as plenty at Detroit as at Albany.  I was lately privy to a sale of wild lands in this country at eight dollars and fifty cents an acre, but it was at the mouth of the Genesee river on Lake Ontario, and promises in time to be a place of trade.  Nathaniel GORHAM, when he purchased wild lands here, is well known not to have been worth five hundred dollars, and is now a man of immense fortune.  Such opportunities still offer.  A farm of most excellent land, containing by accurate measurement three hundred and seventy-two acres, lies on the outlet of canandarque lake, sixteen miles from this town, known on the map as Canadaguay.  The farm was bought by a tavern-keeper of the town, from Phelps and Gorham, at a quarter of a dollar an acre, six years ago.  The man's name is Sanburn.  He being the first, and for some time the only tavern-keeper here, the proprietors lived with him and allowed him his choice.  He is now in want of money to fulfill contracts, and offers the farm for cash down at thirty shillings per acre.  I suppose he will not take less than three dollars and a half per acre.  Part of the tract is flat land overflowed annually, and sometimes twice a year, by the outlet.  The farm is surrounded by settlements, and will in three years time be worth a half-joe an acre.  This country is no longer a wilderness; here are good inhabitants--far better than those of New London---and fine farms, the cleared parts of which are clothed with the most luxuriant herbage.  The wild grass on the banks of some of the streams grows so high that a man on horseback cannot see over it without rising on his stirrups.  This is not gasconade.  Mr. CHANNING bought a farms three years ago on the Niagara road at four shillings lawful money per acre, for which he may now take four dollars an acre.

Your dutiful son,
"Captain Dudley SALTONSTALL."


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