Biography of Dr. Clark D. Snell, Town of Mexico, NY

Many thanks to Esther Rancier for sharing her information on the Snell family. Esther is researching in Richland and Mexico the Soul/Soule, Brace and Daniel P. Smith families, and would appreciate hearing from anyone researching these surnames.   Esther Rancier at:

For more information on the Snell Family, please contact the 
Historians and Historical Societies.

      One of the residents of Mexico, Oswego Co., NY was Dr. Clark D. Snell.  He became involved in several life changing events that happened in the town. 

 Clark was born 8 August 1808 in Paris, Oneida Co., NY.  He grew up on a farm.  The name of his father was not given in published records, but the 1800 Paris census had only two Snells living there: Edmund/Edmond and his father Job Snell.  Edmund was born 14 October 1771 in Little Compton, RI.  His parents were Job and Ruth (Davenport) Snell.  Ruth was the daughter of Eliphalet Davenport.  Job was the son of Samuel and Mary (Head) Snell.  Samuel’s parents were Samuel and Mary (Almy) Snell living at Tiverton, RI ca. 1700.  There are earlier Snell records at Tiverton which need to be researched.
 As a young man Clark studied medicine with the well-regarded Dr. George Bissell at Clinton, NY.  During his two years of study he met Fanny Byers.  In 1832 they were married in Clinton.  In 1839 this young couple removed to Mexico, a few miles to the west near Lake Ontario.  

Dr. Clark was active in Republican Party circles which were very strong in this abolitionist area. The Republicans as they formed and grew in this era were strongly anti-slavery. Like many others Dr. Snell assisted in the Underground Railroad.  Records were not kept as a safety measure to keep participants from arrest.  But locals knew that Dr. Snell’s home was used in the slave escapes.  In his home there was a water storage tank where men could be hidden. The house was on Pulaski Street east of Salmon Creek.

In 1850 the Methodist Church and parsonage on Main St. burned.  Dr. Snell bought this property.  The fire on 12 November 1850 brought the volunteers out to fight it.  A line of men from Black Creek to the flames passed buckets of water, but to no avail.  The scene was included in the work of Historian Elizabeth Simpson.  She also noted that on 1 May the deed was sold to Dr. Snell, 80 square rods, for $1,100.      

 This property on Main St. was used by Dr. Snell to build a brick structure called the Empire Hotel.  Later a whole block of buildings  next to the hotel were called the Empire Block.  Dr. Snell owned one store in it which cost $2500 to build.  He also put a wooden wing on the hotel at a total cost of $8500. 

 On 22 July 1864 there was a massive fire in Mexico causing $70,000 in damage.  The fire began when a young clerk was drawing naphtha in a rear room when an explosion occurred.  The clerk barely escaped when a second explosion happened. Tenants barely saved themselves.  The wind blew embers to the west corner of Main and Church Sts.  Flames went on and on.  In two hours 17 buildings on the south side of Main St. lay in smoking ruin. 

 Dr. Snell’s house had fire burn right up to it.  But there was a solid brick wall next to the house and his office which saved the home.  

 In 1866 Dr. Snell had sold all his the Empire Block holdings to George Swanson. On 29 June 1866 about 1 A.M. a fire was discovered in T.G. Parker’s store next to the hotel where an explosion was heard.  The hotel bar was carried out into the street bar for safety of the liquor supply.  Later it was discovered that its money drawer had been rifled.

 Fires continued to be a Mexico problem for years, but Dr. Snell never again suffered the losses he had in 1864 and 1866. For years the Mexico Fire Engine House had two fire buckets that had been given by Fannie Louise Thomas, a granddaughter of Dr. Snell. The information on the fires was from the records of Historian Elizabeth Simpson.
 For a time Dr. Snell involved himself in civic affairs.  In 1851 he was a Trustee of the Village of Mexico.

 But there are events which test a person’s moral character far more than financial losses.  In 1858 Miss Huldah Clark, a daughter of Starr Clark, went to New York City to attend an auction.  She bought some heavy draperies which when she returned home, she hung at the home of William Bissell on Lincoln Ave. 

 Miss Clark then developed a light case of varioloid.  But Mr. Bissell had a severe case of smallpox.  Mrs. Bissell acted as his nurse.  Dr. Snell became Bissell’s doctor.  Despite attentive efforts, the patient died 6 December 1858.  

 Neighbors were afraid to visit.  No one would deliver a coffin to the house.  Finally George Wheeler delivered a coffin by putting it over the fence.  John McCann, a smallpox survivor, cared for the body and it burial in the Mexico Village Cemetery.  Mr. McCann pulled the coffin on a hand sled at night through the fields to avoid the road, according to Simpson in her sympathetic description of these events.   

 Dr. Snell always felt he had been too slow in his diagnosis.  His feelings of guilt never left him.  It was believed by Simpson that because of Dr. Snell’s role in the death of her husband, Mrs. Bissell always had a room in the Snell home until her death at age 88 on 5 October 1909.

 In 1909 her nephew insisted that her grave be dug on the family cemetery lot as far as possible from her deceased husband’s grave.  This death was fifty-one years later, but smallpox was considered to last forever.
 In the 1850 Mexico census the doctor’s family was enumerated thusly: 

Snell, Clark D.  41 b.  NY Physician net worth $5500
 Fanny 39                 “
 Francis L. 17            “
 Delia    4                 “
The two daughters were Clark and Fanny’s only children.
 By the 1860 Mexico census the enumeration was as follows:
Snell, C. D  52 b.  NY physician net worth $16,000
 Fanny 49            “
 Delia M.  15        “
  Daughter Francis L. had married T.V. Ely.  She had 1 son, 1858-1863, named Clark Snell Ely who was buried in the Mexico Village Cemetery.  Her husband died before 1880.  Delia married Amos Thomas, but died in 1866.  She had a daughter, Fannie L. Thomas, born ca. 1865.
 In the 1880 Mexico census many changes were recorded:
Snell, Fanny 68      b.  NY keeping house
Ely, Francis L.  45        “    daughter
Thomas, Fannie L.  15   “   granddaughter
Porter, John 17            “   servant
Bissell, Mary L. 56        “    seamstress [widow of William Bissell]
Dr. Snell died 9 December 1867.  Fanny died in 1890.  Francis L. Ely died in 1892.  The only survivor of this family was Fannie L. Thomas who lived until 1965, age 100.  She remained in the old house alone.  She also owned three buildings. One of which housed Moore’s Barber Shop, a twentieth century landmark.  

 The kindness of Dr. Snell can still be recalled in Mexico.  Historian Crisfield Johnson, a contemporary, described him, “Gentle, sympathizing and tender, with a strong sense of duty.”

 Engravings of Dr. Snell still exist. He was shown as bearded man with bags beneath his expressive eyes. For thirty years he was a “leading physician and surgeon” in the Mexico area.  


 Ancestry World Tree Project.  Available.  [online] [25 May 2003] 
 Cemetery Census of the Town of Mexico, Oswego County, New York.   Mexico: Mexico Historical Society, 1984.
 Dr. Scolland obituary, Clinton, NY 20 February 1903.
 Johnson, Crisfield.  History of Oswego County, New York.  Philadelphia: Everts, 1895.
 N.Y.  Oswego Co.  Wills, v. J, p. 231; v. R, p. 255; and v. S, p. 190.
 Shumway, Bonnie et al.  Mexico Memories.  Mexico: Mexico Historical Society, 1997.
 Simpson, Elizabeth M.  Mexico; Mother of Towns.  Buffalo: Clement, 1949.
 U.S. Census Paris, Oneida Co., NY 1800.
 U.S. Census Mexico, Oswego Co., NY 1840, 1859, 1860 & 1880.
         U.S. Census Little Compton, Newport Co., RI 1790. 

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