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Growing up With Ontario County


Me at work and play


I lived in only one place throughout my childhood, Orleans,

Phelps Township, Ontario County, New York.


According to the "Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of Vew York

State" for the year 1860 the population was 218. The year I was

born, 1934, saw the closing of both the Post Office and the

Railroad Station. The hamlet, once a thriving village had been in

decline since the fire of 1910.


Early settlers in Orleans were Wheats, Fergusons, Shekels,

and the Baggerlys, many of whom brought and kept slaves

until they were outlawed in New York in 1826.


The Current Baptist Church is the third on the site. It

burned in 1845 and in 1910.


In 1845 the records show Orleans with two churches, two

hotels, three shoe shops, three blacksmith shops, a potash

factory, a distillery, a tin shop, a tailor shop, a wood

turning shop, a harness shop, boot factory, tannery,

slaughter house, a saw mill and grist mill at the falls in

flint creek, a carding mill specializing in monks cloth and

there were three doctors and a post office.


The village was originally called Hardscrabble because there

were, of course, no bridges originally and it was a hard

scrabble getting from one side of town to the other, up and

down the creek banks. The inhabitants were particularly fond

of Andrew Jackson's valor in the battle of New Orleans and

shortly after the 1812 war Hardscrabble became Orleans, which

now possessed a bridge (built in 1816). One Elijah Goodale

was killed in the bridges construction.


In the late 1800s Orleans had a coronet band which travelled

around in a colorful wagon drawn by 4 horses. In the band

were John Runyan, Eben Potter, the Blythe boys, the Lambs and

Rulisons and others.


On April 10, 1910, a fire destroyed 23 homes and businesses

in Orleans, including 120 tons of coal. The town never

recovered from that loss and evolved into the sleepy town

that I grew up in.


One of the high points of life in Orleans was in the 1940s,

during the war we had a severe snow storm and the trains

could not get through the drifts. One day while watching the

trainmen work, Ed Preston and I were invited into the steam

locomotive and actually allowed to pull the lever which

started and stopped the train as it shuttled back and forth

doing it's work. That was exciting.




Chapter 2. The Birth of a County


I refer here to the history of European immigration into the

county. This is not meant as a slight against the indigenous

Americans who have a long and rich history in the area.


In 1783 the pre-emption line was established. I am not clear on all the

details of the agreement but, it seems that at one time the land in

western New York was given to Massachusetts, by the King, the boundary

of which was somewhat nebulous. The line was first drawn through the

middle of Seneca Lake and straight from Lake Ontario south to

Pennsylvania. The line was later moved a couple of miles west in

order to incorporate land, already settled by Seth Reed and Peter

Ryckman, into New York. All of the land west of the line was ceded to

Massachusetts, while the area east of the line became Tryon County which

bordered Albany County on its eastern boundary. In 1784 Tryon was

renamed for the Revolutionary hero Montgomery. Then, in 1786,

Massachusetts lost out and all of western New York, west of the

pre-emption line, also became part of Montgomery County.


Ontario County was born in 1789 taking from Montgomery County all

of the land in western New York that is west of the pre-emption line.

During the next three or four decades the counties of Chautauqua,

Cattaraugus, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming, Livingston, Genesee,

Monroe, and Yates were born from Ontario and in 1823 Wayne County

was created, separating Ontario County from the lake that it was named for.


New York State was, most likely, visited by Europeans prior to the

exploration by Hudson in 1609. The first settlement was around 1614

when a trading post sprang up on land purchased by the Dutch on the

Hudson River. New Amsterdam and Fort Orange were settled in 1623.

In October 1683, the first assembly of the colony established the

form of government and ruled that all trials would be by unanimous

juries of 12.


In the late summer and fall of 1779 Generals Sullivan and Clinton,

along with 5000 troops, met at Tioga Point on the Susquehannah and

proceeded to what is now Geneva, where not much resistance was met

as the Seneca were greatly outnumbered and overwhelmed by artillery.

Among the fleeing Seneca were a Mrs. Campbell and four children who

were previously taken prisoner and assimilated into an Indian family.


This sweep by Clinton and Sullivan served two purposes for the

colonists. First it was sort of a continuation of the Revolutionary

War. The Iroquois, being a highly civilized society had more or

less sided with the British who they thought to be much more civil

than the colonists. Very few British were encountered until later

when the army reached the Niagara Frontier. The Seneca were

considered the enemy and were driven from their homes which were

burned along with their crops.


The second and more important purpose of Sullivan's sweep was to

make the area available for settlement.


Canandaigua was developed on the site of a Seneca Indian Village,

Kanandarqua, meaning "the chosen spot". A soldier with the Sullivan

Campaign, remarked that it was the most well built village ever

seen in the region, consisting of 23, very well built log houses

with chimneys. This observation took place just before the village

was burned and the inhabitants ravaged.


The next frame house to be built there was that of Oliver Phelps who

set up the first land office to sell the land vacated by Sullivan's



My daughters, who practice law in Ontario County, will be interested

to know that the first jury trial west of Albany took place in

Canandaigua when a man was prosecuted for stealing a cowbell. This

occurred in 1795. Later, some trials of notoriety in Canandaigua

were that of "Stiff Armed George" defended by Red Jacket, an Indian,

and the blasphemy case against Jemima Wilkinson.


I will be writing more about this small city in which I spent

much of my time as a youth, attracted by the lake and other

neat things not found in Orleans. I met my wife in Canandaigua at

Roseland Park. But, back to Sullivan's adventures.


The army proceeded to Honeoye where ten houses  were

burned and crops destroyed. The inhabitants were totally caught off

guard. Some were cooking beans and preparing a meal. Among the

soldiers was a Captain Pitts who later returned to build a house

on this spot.


The winter that followed, that of 1779/80, was the most severe in

recent history, with over 5 feet of snow hanging on for months, and

killing much of the game and leaving the Seneca broken and beaten.

The European settlers soon followed driving them further to the west.


A Major Adam Hoops, who served with Sullivan, was acquainted

with financier Robert Morris and together with Oliver Phelps and

Nathaniel Gorham put together a deal, known as the Phelps Gorham

purchase involving the lands wests of the pre-emption line, about

two million and six hundred thousand acres, opening the way for the

migration that followed. General Israel Chapin was dispatched to

explore the land and William Walker employed to survey and map.


The first settlers came by bateaux on lakes and streams, as did

my Gr Gr Gr Grandfather, Daniel Gates, and his four Brothers. Then,

about 1796, a state road was completed from Utica to Geneva by

way of Auburn and a great improvement made when a bridge was

completed over Cayuga Lake in 1800. The financing of the bridge

was arranged by Col Aaron Burr, a distant relative.


One of the earliest names connected with the area was that of

Jasper Parish, an Indian agent. His name is associated with numerous

improvements in and around Canandaigua where he died July 12, 1836.


Samuel Coe, a soldier in Sullivan's Army, returned less than 10

years later, as a guide for one Oliver Phelps. This 1788 journey

began at Utica and took them through forests to where Geneva now

bustles, they passed the ruins of Seneca Castle* and stopped at the

home of Cyrus Gates, my Gr Gr Grandfather, in Hopewell Township.


Two Indian Traders, in 1788, named Reed and Ryckman, acquired

title to some land on Seneca Lake at the site were the Seneca

village of Kanadesaga once stood and the village of Geneva was born.

By 1789, several log cabins existed along the lake and were

inhabited with people with names like Barton, Benton and Birdsall.

A tavern was opened by Lark Jennings.


During 1789 the following people migrated into the County:

Roger Noble and family near Geneva.

Canandaigua Area:

Augustus Porter, Joel Steel, Orange Woodruff, Thaddeus Keyes,

Benjamin Gardner, Joseph Smith, General Isreal Chapin, indian

agent, Frederick Saxton, a surveyor, Daniel Gates, Phineas Bates,

Abner Barlow, Othniel Taylor, Nathaniel Gorham, Dr. Moses Atwater,

Judah Colt, John Call, Amos Hall, General Wells, John Clark,

Daniel Brainard, John Fanning, Martin Dudley, Luther Cole, Aaron

Heacock, Gamaliel Wilder, Ephraim Wilder, Timothy Crosby, Deacon

Williams, of Connecticut. William Walker set up the first office

in America, for the sale of land, on a site owned by Mr. Phelps.

I guess it is not necessary to say that they did a land office



I am in possession of a book entitled "History of Ontario County

1788-1876" Everts, Ensign and Everts, 716 Filbert Street, Philadelphia,

Pa. Press of J. B. Lippincott & Co. This book is full of very useful

information about the early settlers of the county.


The townships that make up the county as we know it today include

the towns of Phelps, Manchester, Farmington, Victor, West Bloomfield,

East Bloomfield, Canandaigua, Richmond, Canadice, Bristol, South Bristol,

Naples, Hopewell, Gorham, Seneca, and Geneva.


Deacon John Adams and family built first structure west of Canandiagua

at Bloomfield, while Gideon Pitts, James Goodwin, Asa Simmons, and

Calvin Jacobs settled at the ruins of Seneca village at Honeoye.


Among the first to buy land from Phelps/Gorham were Nathan, Otis

and Darius Comstock, Nathan Aldrich, Ben Russel, Nathaniel Sanborn,

and Bob Hathaway settling near Geneva and at Town of Phelps John D.

Robinson opened a tavern.


Early pioneers of the town of Victor are: the Adams family, Elijah

Hamlin, Philo Hamlin, Ben Goss, Moses Sperry, Lot and Ephraim Rue,

Joel and Christopher Park, Gideon King, Ashbol Beach, Cyprian Collins,

Ben Chapman, Alex Emmons, Nathan Waldron, Timothy Buell, Enos Hawley

and the founders; Asa Hecox, Ezekiel Scudder and Abe Boughton.


In 1790 Jonathan Whitney and Mr. Oaks take up temporary quarters at the inn

of Col. Seth Reed, in Geneva area, where they arrange to purchase large

parcels at 50c per acre. While there, they reported being bothered by

what they called Gamblers and Vermin.


The town of Richmond was settled by Peter Pitts, his wife and ten

children, for some period of time they were the sole residents of

the town. The came Dr. Lemuel Chipman and Dr. Cyrus Chipman and

their families, Philip Reed and family, Levi Blackmer, Pierce

Chamberlan, Asa Denneson, Isaac Adams and Roswell Turner, coming

in sleighs drawn by horses and ox teams during the winter of 1795.



In Canandaigua, Gen. Isreal Chapin who became the first County Justice

in 1791 and James D, Fish the first Town Clerk.


Oaks built first hotel in Oaks Corners in 1794.

First church in O.C. 1804.

First manufacture of cheese was by Mrs. Dean.


Jonathan Melvin was once chastised for picking up an apple near the

Seneca Castle* and thinking it rather mean to deny one an apple, he went

home to Melvin Hill and planted 100 apple trees to be forever open to

the public.


in 1790, my gr gr gr grandfather, Daniel Gates, along with Daniel Warren

and Samuel Day, bought land in Hopewell at 18c per acre. Daniel later

became first tax collector.

*note : Further study has convinced me that there was never a Seneca Castle. I don't know how the "hoax" started. There is a Seneca burial ground at the site. The supposed site of the castle is several miles from the Ontario County Hamlet of that name.

Obviously I have a lot of work to do on this history.

References : History of Ontario County, Conover.
             History of Ontario County New York 1876.  Everts, Ensign & Everts.
             Hopewell Pioneer Cemetery Records.
             Hopewell First Presbyterian Church Records.
             Family Bibles.
             County Records. 
             Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York, R. P. Smith Pub. 1860

by Burr Cook

Hopewell Index

Ontario County

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