The Vandermarks (Frank Salisbury
farm) grew mint on the Outlet flats, had their still nearby and sold
the oil to
Hotchkiss. The late Mr. Salisbury sold the still for old iron in 1960;
stood uncovered for many years on its brick foundation in a field
The picture I have of the Lyman
Parrish still (Isaac Roy farm, Maryland St.) looks like any barn. Mrs.
Westfall (Lettie Parrish) has told me of its autumn activities. To
the beginning-in April workmen set out peppermint roots in close rows;
sometimes they walked barefoot while planting, holding the roots
toes to lessen bending. In September, when the plants blossomed pink,
began. The crop was cut with scythes (later, mowing machines), allowed
and then drawn dry to the still where it was packed by trampling into
tubs six to eight feet around, ten to twelve feet deep. The hay was
covered and steam applied. The boiler was like that of an old-time
engine or a large furnace with a network of pipes leading to and from
When the crop was large, men would work all night firing the boiler to
its steam. Earliest fuel was wood, later hard stove coal. The steam
through the hay-filled vats carried the oil with it into the worm
condensing tube of a still). The liquid then ran down through the worm
tubs of cold water from which the oil was skimmed.
The mint straw was
drawn back to
the barns to spread on the land and plow under, as a rule. Lettie
her sisters, as children, used to ride on the haywagons to the still,
till the mint was processed, then ride home on loads of straw so hot
they could scarcely sit still. Their father, Lyman Parrish, used to
board in his barns a dozen Erie Canal mules during winters, driving
them from Lyons. Sometimes the mint straw was used for their bedding
but proved a little too coarse and stiff even for mules. Perhaps its
pungent, medicinal odor may have been slightly soothing to the animals
after their sore summers on the towpath. Oil of peppermint was much in
demand as a headache cure
Burnett, Thomas Vandervort, Charles Van
Auken and John Wolvin-among others-grew mint. An 1893 history stated: "John Wolvin, Phelps, raises large quantities of mint on his fine farm of 320 acres." The Frank Overslaugh distillery was the last in this area to operate; wormwood was the last crop distilled. Sugar beet crops alternated well with peppermint; this was a practice from early times. About 1900 more mint was being grown in the west than here. However, farmers had not forgotten their earlier successes. A 1907 Phelps Citizen item read: "Owing to the advancing price of peppermint oil, farmers who have been raising sugar beets will set out mint roots instead this spring." My wicker-covered demijohns, bought at a Junius auction, are still fragrant; probably the oil they once held was extracted at the Bishop still near Dublin. The Phelps peppermint era is long past.
Roads and Their Family Names
EARLY ROAD NAMES with their associations have historic interest new names lack. It is fortunate for the Town of Phelps that its officers have chosen to publicize so many families, both old and new, in this way. I cannot list all, so have chosen some at random.
Carter, Cross and Cuddeback Roads have interesting stories. Dr. James Carter's very early farm (1829) was near the Geneva end of the road. He practiced medicine in Geneva, had his own drug business there. He served as a Phelps militia surgeon and supported Oaks Corners Church. If the road were ever renamed, Chase Road would be appropriate; Walter Chase pioneered there in 1791, and John and George Chase farm the same acres today.
In the early 1800s the
east Oaks Corners highway was Cross Road in honor of its most prominent
people; then the title was discontinued until the recent map of town
roads was printed. This new map perpetuates again the Cross name,
kinder in this respect than Nature who gave the John Crosses no sons,
three daughters only.
Some people have thought that Cross Road was merely a crossroad, never having heard of the family. The term "crossroad" originated long ago. In medieval times it was the English custom to erect carved wooden crosses at roadsides near intersections so that wayfarers might kneel before these crosses to pray. In time all intersections came to be called crossroads whether the actual crosses were or were not present. The Cross family received its name centuries ago, when surnames were being formed, because it lived near a certain cross. Appropriately the old Cross house has a "Christian" (or witch) front door its panel arrangement making the sign of the cross. These doors still used on colonial-type buildings, were once believed to keep witches or any other evils from entering the home.
The Oaks Corners Cross family is worth remembering. The pioneer Samuel, his wife and sons John and Sam Jr., arrived from Maryland about 1800 with their coach, wagons, riding horses and family of slaves-mother, father, one child. Young Samuel moved to Junius; John remained here, marrying Martha Sayre. Their daughters grew up to influence church and cultural life at the Corners. I have written elsewhere of the girls' summerhouse on the limbs of a big black locust tree on their front lawn but have only now read the following Phelps Citizen article of 1901 which tells more:
"A large limb from this tree extending over twenty feet in length straight out towards the road has been made into a rustic retreat. A floor, reached by steps winding around the tree trunk, has been laid on this limb with a railing enclosing it. Seats to accommodate twenty or more persons are conveniently arranged, and a light awning keeps out the sun or rain. There is still another platform about two feet above this which will hold three or four persons. Here in this cool and comfortable retreat the fair hostesses spend pleasant hours with friends and relatives. Rockeries, arches, a ",malleI' retreat in an apple tree west of the house, the large conservatory at the rear of the home, all make the place a picture for an artist."
lived as a child on the adjoining Sydney Cockett place-used to tell of
the tree house, but I had not realized its size. Church groups, as well
as casual callers, were entertained there-often by poetry readings
followed by tea. Raw wood circles where branches had been sawed off to
make space boasted watercolor scenes painted by the artist Miss Addie;
when dimmed by weather, a few strokes of her brush would renew them.
The tree itself was set out by Sam Cross Sr. who brought the shoot from
Maryland. After years of senvice the summer house, then in disrepair,
was removed. The huge tree itself fell only last summer (1961) during a
lightning storm, damaging a corner of the old home.
The north end of the farm has a fascinating feature, the moose wallow. I am told there is another along Seneca River. Naturalists say that in the early 1800s there were more moose than deer all through the Adirondack region; still earlier many were here. In springtime the Cross wallow is a lovely place-an oval, water-filled depression about seventy five feet long and half as wide, surrounded by a ring of tall trees, its banks bordered with wild flowers. In summer the water seeps away leaving first a mud hole, then damp leathery dirt where nothing ever grows. Both Indian and family tradition said that moose and perhaps other animals once came here to clean and cool themselves in dry, hot weather. An eerie air of other days still hovers over the place. The Cross farm has been the home of Myron Willson for nearly sixty years and is now owned by his son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Calvin P. Brown.
Directly across the road stood for many years the Patrick Doyle house, once the home of an Oaks Corners doctor. In January of 1962 Ben Pickard, last owner, tore down the building with its pegged, hand-hewn timbers as it had become impractical to keep it longer in repair. The old house had an interesting interior, an early split-level with a short flight of steps raising its west parlor to dignity. Joseph J. Doyle, Seneca Falls attorney and banker, as a boy often visited his grandparents here.
Cuddeback Road was named for Cornelius Cuddeback, a farmer in north part of the township. He was a fourth¬generation descendant of Jacob Caudebec born in Normandy, France, 1666, and married in ,,'hat is now New York City in 1695. Cornelius and his son Abram were owners of 450 Phelps acres in 1867. Conner Cuddeback, grandson of Abram, today lives on the old Issac Burgess-Cuddeback farm received by the Burgesses as a grant hom a Duke of Cumberland. The property is on Burnett Road, a prominent name in our town since 1795; Bunetts still live on Burnett Road. James Cudebec and his sister, Mrs.Willis Parish, know of no present relationship with Connor Cuddeback although the spelling of the former's 'name is closer than Connor's to the French original. Both men believe their ancestors were different branches of the same Huguenot Caudebec family. Three brothers migrated to England from France, but one disappeared. It is probable our Phelps families are descended from the two known brothers.
Griffith Road, running from Route 88 to Lester Road, used to be shorter, since its east end was Seager Road for years. The pioneer Joseph Griffith had his home at the west end of the highway; Mrs. Ridley has recorded his adventures. One of his sons, Robert, lived to the north on Griffith land (now the Horning-Salisbury farm) and ran a sawmill on the Creek there. The front part of the Horning house is very old; near it a tall lilac bush, thought to have been brought by the Griffiths from their Pennsylvania home, still blooms yearly. Today Frank A. Griffith, Phelps, and his son Allyn, Seneca Castle, are local bearers of the family name. Much interested in his family history is Frederick A. Griffith of Pittsford.
Hayes Road--named for
William Hayes--could equally well have been Eacker Road as Charles
Eacker and his father Ernest both farmed there. In 1867 John H.
(grand¬father of Charles) and his brother George 1. Eacker held three
hundred acres northwest of Phelps village. Abram Eacker was an early
owner of the John Hildreth farm on Newark Rd., later Will Hicks' and
now Mrs. Norman Rockefeller's. The outlet bridge there was known for
years as Eacker's Bridge. The Eackers came here from Johnstown, one of
the Mohawk Valley's very early Palatine German families.
Seager farm, in early days, was successively the John Chapman place, Horace Peck's and Harry C. Burdick's. Mr. Burdick, whose wife was a daughter of the Hon. Lewis Peck, named his land "Spring Brook Farm" and built the present brick house upon it .. Harry Burdick was editor of the Phelps newspaper just before Bussey Brothers. His brook--fed by the Lester farm spring and by a drainage brook from the wamp to the south--once had two important uses. Firat--its water ran in log pipes laid Underground down to the Village's old Globe Hotel sheds. There it filled a partly sunken wooden tub with a small but constant stream. Second--in springtime the burdick brook once ran the mill east of the barn. This property Was recently sold by George Seager, great grandson of the pioneer Levi Seager, to George Malloy. The present owner has an F. H. Wisewell Colored Postcard view of "Seager Avenue, Phelps," the brick house visible in the distance.
Lester Road honors James M. Lester whose farm William Gainey Purchased in 1910. I believe Caleb Phillips Was first owner of the farm. The second was Major Eleazer Hawks whose family owned it from 1807 to 1848 and carried on his limeburning business after the Major's 1829 death. Next owner of this farm was George W. Gates whose only daughter became the wife of James M. Lester. The next town map may show Adams Road instead of Lester since two farms on it are now owned by Arthur W. Adams and his Son Leon. The present tendency toward longer highways of one name makes for less Confusion but has eliminated some family names. For example, the south section of Lester Road Was once Blount Rd.; Mrs. Charles White is an Asher Blount daughter.
Marble town Road preserves the memory of stilI another early family. Daniel and Abijah Marble had their separate cattle earmarks registered in our first town book; Ephraim too Was an early resident. Norman Rockefeller (grandfather of the late Norman L.) Was born 1812 in Columbia Co. and came to Phelps in 1848; his great grandsons now own large acreages on and near Rockefeller Road.
In the northwest Part of town, the Outlet Road might Well have been Miller Rd. since Ruth Miller Bishop's great great grandfather Jacob Miller. bought from Phelps and Gorham in 1799 large tracts of land there at ten shillings an acre. The family's first log house Was iust east of the present homestead, Completed in 1818. This large frame house Was one of the area's first to be built Of boards, and people came from all around to see the new mansion. Its fireplace, deep and wide as a room, filled all the space between the present front and back parlors except for one narrow door on the west end. Both the old parlor and the family room behind it had openings for fire; at the family room hearth all cooking was done. The house was so planned that the wide front hall (once the spinning room) had outside doors both north and south so the Miller girls, as they spun on hot summer afternoons, might enjoy each breeze. One of these girls became the wife of James Robison, Gypsum.
Jacob's son, Daniel, carried on the farm although he became a semi-invalid quite early in life because of a doctor's error in prescription. Unable to mount his horse from the ground, Daniel had a special platform erected at the rear of the house from which he dropped easily to the animal's back and rode across his fields, overseeing the farms. The girls, too, probably used this platform as a mounting block to settle into their sidesaddle seats.
druggists were then more prone to human error than today. One young
woman of early Oaks Corners was given wrong medicine by a Geneva
druggist. Seriously ill for months, she lost all her hair and was
compelled the rest of her ruined life to wear a wig. "Locking the barn
after a horse was stolen," the druggist tied a bell on that particular
poison so the nearly fatal mistake would not be repeated.)
Daniel Miller's son Albert and grandson Elmer continued to farm their family acres. The homestead was recently sold to Mr. and Mrs. Maynard K. Drury by Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Bishop, who now live in another Miller house. nearby.
Salisbury Road, as
such, is no longer on the town map but forms the south end of Maryland
Street Road, named by first settlers the Roys and Parrishes from that
state. Vandermark Road it could have been called ever since 1792, when
Joseph Vandermark settled there; his farm is that of the Frank A.
Salisbury family. Elizabeth Vandermark, wife of Benjamin F. Salisbury,
was grandmother of Miss Anna and the late Lewis and Frank Salisbury.
The Salisbury family, with all its branches, is today the foremost in
the township with an enviable record of endeavor and influence in
church, town and social organizations. One can dial by phone fifteen
local Salisbury numbers.
The book "When Phelps Was Young" contains a sketch on the Vandermarks in this country. A printed genealogy gives their European background from 700 A.D. to their 1665 arrival in America. The Counts of Mark owned whole provinces in Germany, France and Holland; they intermarried frequently with royal families of Prussia and the Netherlands. One of these Counts--a Dutch admiral--laid the foundation of the Dutch republic by his victory over the Spaniards at Brill in 1572, called one of the decisive battles of the world. The family name of all Counts of Mark was Vander Mark (from or of the border). During the Reformation and Spanish Inquisition the Dutch nobility was persecuted and scattered; estates were lost, but descendants carried on.
Wheat Road places the 1795 pioneer Benjamin Wheat Sr. on the map. Mrs. Ridley has written of this family. The late Sidney T. Wheat was a great great grandson of the pioneer; Mrs. Wheat is a fine historian. Silver was once mined on Wheat Rd., though not in paying quantity. The mine's location was in a bank on the road's west side just north of the railway crossing. White Road--dead end since the Thruway--is named for Charles White's grandfather, Captain George White, who came to Phelps from Crieff, Scotland, after his retirement as a sea captain of the British Merchant Marine. Here he bought two farms whose operation was continued by his son David. Capt. White's reason for settling here was that his wife's brother, John Gibson, was already established in our town as owner of the Gibson Block and a large distillery. The White farm has just been sold by its owner Francis W. Eighmey.
Avery, Bell, Falkey, Gifford, McBurney, McIvor, Mott, Ridley, Stryker, Trimble and Wilber are a few more--not all--of the names perpetuated by our town map makers. There might have been other names, too. Ottley Rd., for instance, would have run from Mrs. Roy Facer's corner west to Melvin Hill. Mrs. Facer's handsome home was built by William Ottley, as were the two cobblestone houses near the foot of the Hill, then on Ottley land. These stone houses, built 1848 and 1854, are today the homes of Robert G. Stevens and Peter J. Haich, respectively. There might have been Peck Roads in several parts of the township, named for Lewis and Ezra Jones and the C. Sealey Peck farms. These suggestions of other family road names do not imply they would be more correct than those chosen by town officials; they are simply other possibilities. Of course, a road can have only one name.
A study of Phelps farm acreages in the 1867 Directory informs us that Crothers, Marsh, Musselman, Peck and Ridley families each owned over 400 acres then--the Burnetts, Crittendens, Van Aukens, Vandermarks and Warners over 500 each. The Westfalls worked and owned 900 acres, while Leman Hotchkiss 2nd topped them all with his 1400.
The east half of Gifford Rd. was Westfall land bought 1796 by Cornelius Westphall from Esopus on the Hudson. It was his great grandson Jacob who built the impressive Century Farm home of Frederick C. Van Derhoof. Mrs. Van Derhoof was Jacob's grand daughter and a great great great granddaughter of the pioneer Cornelius. At least three Westfall families live in Phelps today.
Some worthy families have been omitted from lack of space. Others have already been detailed by Conover, Milliken and Mrs. Ridley in their books and need no repetition. One fact lends dignity to nearly all our early settlers. They had fine ancestry; they grew from good stock. Some--like Crosbys, Ottleys, Parmalees and Vandermarks--are descended from noble or even royal blood lines; for example, let us consider the Prescotts of Prescott's Corner, one mile west of Oaks Corners. You remember that Joel Prescott 1st, Lester Rd., was the town's earliest doctor; his nephew Joel 2nd also practiced medicine at Prescott's Corner, in the home of Emor DeCann. These men were descendants of kings of Great Britain, of Charlemagne, Alfred the Great and Duncan, King of Scots, whose supposed murder was the theme of Shakespeare's play "Macbeth."
Miss Bertha McMillan, Phelps, is a skillful and enthusiastic historian--genealogist who has been able to trace her Clan McMillan lines from fifth--century Celtic kings from the Scottish royal house of Alpin who married a ninth-century Pict princess, through Macbeth to Gilchrist and later King John af England. During the great Scotch migration of 1749 to Canada and the American colonies, McMillan ancestors settled at Freehold, N. Jersey. The late Rev. Charles Dayton was another Phelps student of lineage with royal ancestors. The study of genealogy is a rewarding hobby, no matter what figures you find hanging on your family tree--princes, paupers or pirates.
It is interesting that
Prescotts had King Duncan as an ancestor, while McMillans had Macbeth.
Several historians have believed Shakespeare chose to use writers
license when he maligned Macbeth. The Misses McMillan have a 1959
booklet, "The Vindication of Macbeth," written by the Rev. Somerled
MacMillan, Paisley, Scotland. This author proves Macbeth had a stronger
claim than Duncan to the Scottish throne and was a good, philanthropic
king during his seventeen year reign until his 1057 death; he was one
of the first patrons of the Church of Scotland. Duncan was not murdered
in bed, as Shakespeare wrote, but was killed in battle the year of
1040; a roadside plaque near Inverness marks the scene of his death.
We have not finished this review of roads. Among names of other than family interest are Old State, Fort Hill, Old and New Pre-emption and Tileyard Roads. The Old State Road, we know, was one of the earliest ways west to the Genesee Country--across the State from Albany, over the bridge at Montezuma Marshes straight up past Vandermark's Tavern on the east border of Phelpstown, through Vienna village, past Hildreths' Free Bridge Hotel and on to the Niagara Frontier, Ohio and Michigan.
Fort Hill farm, now the
property of Glenn Crouch, lent its name to the road which runs through
it. The so-called fort was an ancient Indian one, probably erected as
protection against hostile tribes. The hill must have been the site of
a permanent village. The late Frederick Warder of Geneva used to make
interesting finds there for his artifact collection. There is still a
good spring east of the hill. John Gainey of New York City has written
me that in 1904 he helped dig up an Indian skeleton in the gravel pit
there. He was told that old Mr. Lynch, then owner of the farm, used to
collect all bones found and bury them once a year out of respect for
the dead. The two Pre-emption Roads we will discuss later in this book
in the story, "The Old Pre-emption Spring."
Tileyard Road, whose south end is in Town of Seneca, was once a busy thoroughfare. For the first thirty or more years of local settlement, much travel west was through Oaks Corners, up Melvin Hill and on to the foot of the long, difficult Orleans hill; here many travelers must have turned south on Tileyard toward the fine tavernhouse farm at its bend and then west up the short, easy hill. In no other way can I account for the tavern's well-authenticated location. Tradition has always said it was a coach stop too--perhaps an alternate route. The unusually large brick building with its pillared porch is now in disrepair; its spiral staircase, fireplaces and well-stocked wine cellar are gone. The present young owners, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Landuyt, live in a modernized apartment in the east wing of the house and work the land.
George B. Foster owned the old inn during the late 1800s when dances were held there regularly in the large second-floor ballroom. On ordinary evenings double doors and heavy curtains divided the space into bedrooms. As late as 1916 the neighborhood was still lively enough to have its name in the paper. "Jonesville and Vicinity" items were' appearing then in the Phelps Citizen; the Jones were one of the roads old families. North end of Tileyard was called Stuart Road while C. W. Stuart's Nurseries of Newark owned the corner farm.
It is said that a gang
of horse thieves once had a place in woods northeast of the tavern.
They operated so boldly that one Sunday a team was stolen from a Phelps
church shed while the owner was attending service. One member of the
gang was a professional who could change a gray team to a black one
over night; the transformed animals were then driven to Pennsylvania
and sold. Phelpstown's Horse Thief Society--formed May 5, 1832 at
Vienna's Eagle Tavern, with twelve riders-- must have been inactive
while all this was going on.
Undoubtedly the tavern's bricks were made from the same nearby clay beds that launched Oliver Childs in his early tilemaking industry. The Childs were from Conway, Mass., like so many Phelpstown folk; Oliver settled in the Town of Seneca in the early 1800s. His son Benjamin, who owned on both sides of Tileyard Rd., was well established in the tile business before his 1878 death. For years there were traces of corduroy roadways leading from his clay pits to the public road; over these mule carts once carried their loads to the plant on the road's north side. This plant was continued by Benjamin's son, Albert; using the latest machinery, Albert Childs began producing 20,000 tiles a day. His annual output was over 700,000. This seasonal business was still increasing when Milliken wrote of it in 1911. However, not long after this his supply of good clay ran out, and the plant permanently closed.
Basil Gillam now has
his dairy farm on former Childs and Peck acres; Patrick Linehan owns
other Childs land. Back in the fields on south side of the road a half
dozen of the long pits are still visible--their dimensions about a
hundred feet by fifty, I am told. Neighborhood boys used to fish in the
waterfilled holes, then deeper. On the north side of the now quiet
road, the drying sheds--once 250 feet long-sag in ruins.
Not only country road
but village street names sometimes change with the years. Phelps'
present Pearl, for instance, was once Coal Street--a pleasant change
from black to white. Early Castle folks took a long-range view of
things. Seneca Castle streets on the 1859 county map were Pennsylvania
Avenue, Albany, Ontario and Buffalo Streets.
We have read of Phelps
families, new and old, in this chapter. A few more names to remember
are the Bannisters, the Burtises of Alberta Stock Farm with its
handsome horses the Redfields, Tituses and the Ingalls of the beautiful
East Main St. stone house. now owned by William Whitson.
Orrin Redfield was Vienna's first merchant, setting up his dry goods and groceries in a log building. Ebenezer and Joel Redfield fought in the 1846 Mexican War and are buried in the Old Cemetery. The Redfields are direct descendants of Priscilla and John Alden of Mayflower and Longfellow fame.
At Phelps there were Silas, George and Hamilton too. However, it is Lysander, born 1817 at Vienna (Phelps), a son of Ebenezer, whom we particularly remember. At the age of fourteen he learned his trade of printing. When a young man, he traveled quite widely as a journeyman printer before settling in Phelps--first as the local printer, then as a merchant. Lysander was a good citizen, holding many town offices; he was Justice of Peace for forty years. He visited in southern and western states, enjoyed three European trips. In 1884 he culminated his years of public service when he bought and donated to the village the land for its public park, Redfield Common. He planted 200 maple trees for its beautification.
In 1888, on his seventy
first birthday, Squire Redfield was given a large surprise party at the
Town Hall. The Phelps Silver Cornet Band was on hand and busy; there
was an address by Dr. John Q. Howe with presentation of a goldheaded
cane. The Redfield Hook and Ladder Co. and the Cornet Band had marched
down Main Street one May evening in 1887 to serenade the Meyers
Thermometer Works, just opening. To return this gesture of good will,
"the works were lighted from cellar to garret, Mr. Meyers had the doors
thrown open to the crowd which had gathered, and over 1000 people
partook of his hospitality." This was surely not a beginning helpful to
Mr. Meyer's balancing of his business budget. All this was one item in
a long column of current Phelps news printed by the "Rochester Sunday
Morning Herald." I reprint it to prove once again how village life has
changed since then.
Redfield's Common was only five years old, the town's Centennial
celebration was held there close by the newly-erected monument to our
pioneers. It was Lysander who had led the movement to secure this
monument, and he himself designed it. Redfield Common has heard Fourth
of July celebrations and orations galore. It has served culture and
comedy to the village under Chautaugua tents; it has seen carnivals and
countless baseball games. All summer our children play under Lysander's
maple trees. His gift has proved communal indeed.
The Titus family was once important locally. Anson Titus Sr. came here in the 1830s as a young man to start a foundry. His father William had a furnace at Forge Hollow, Oneida Co., and young Anson had made several winter trips to the Genesee Country seIling plow castings for his father. He had made a study of locations and decided "there was excellent opportunity at Vienna, a town with eleven grist mills, thirteen saw mills, six plaster mills as well as an unusually fertile farming country surrounding it." His fifty years here, making stoves and plows, proved the wisdom of that decision. The Anson Titus Pointer Plow became widely known. In the 1850s he won many prizes at Syracuse State Fair and one year received there the silver medal of the State Agricultural Society for being inventor and manufacturer of so many types of premium plows, both in exhibits and plowing matches.
Of the four Titus sons
Anson Jr. was the most noteworthy. He became a minister in
Massachusetts and wrote for our village newpapers many invaluable local
history and genealogical sketches; he was a well known lecturer, too.
Billy was killed in the Civil War, from which his brother Oliver
returned safely to become a prominent resident of Shortsville. Oliver
was an official in the company of Messrs. Hiram L. and Calvin P. Brown,
makers of the Empire Grain Drill, which employed two hundred men. T.
Benton Titus settled in Clfiton Springs. The daughter, Susan Olive,
married Charles Carr of Phelps; she was a grandmother of Mrs. Iva
Britcher and her brother, George D. Weiss.
SOURCES OF SOME SURNAMES OF PHELPS
As you know, men have
not always had two names. Family name began to form in England one
hundred or more years after the country's 1066 conquest by the
Norman-French. So few personal names were in use during the Middle Ages
that nicknames and diminutive endings were given to distinguish people
from each other. For instance--Richard had nicknames Rick, Hick, Dick,
Rich, Hitch, Hotch, Digg and Higg; so, after a long time, there arose
families with such different names as Hicks (s for "son of"), Dickinson
(in for little), Richardson, Higgins and so on--all of whom had an
ancestor whose only name was Richard. The Welsh version was (a)
Prichard since Ap and Ab were Welsh prefixes meaning "son of." Bliven
was originally (A) bLawen, son of the happy one; Powell was a son of
Howell. Jones, Jenks, Jennings and Jensen were sons of an ancestor
named John. Many names have changed over the centuries. The French
DeVall and Devoe are the same, Carleton tells me; Denniston and
Tennyson were too.
A few other patronymic
Phelps names are:
Atkinson, Atkins-son of little Adam
Fitzgerald, son of Gerald (superior one) whose ancestors came to England with Wm. the Conqueror and settled in Ireland 1170
Hodges--son of Roger
Hoskins-kin of the chieftain-Anglo Saxon
McIvor, a Scotch clan-Son of Iver, the Saxon word for boar, signifying a brave person.
MacLeod-son of Light-Norse
McCallum-son of a dove, meaning a peace-loving man.
Oliver has same meaning in Latin.
McIntyre-son of the carpenter
McMillan-son of the tonsured one, a priest. Early Celtic priests were not celibate.
McAllister-son of Alister, Gaelic for Alexander Mickelsen-son of the large man (O)Conner-descendant of a chief
Connolly, Conley-descendants of the brave
Murphy-descendant of MacMurrough, the royal family of Leinster, Ireland
Watson-Son of Wat, early nickname of Walter
Whiting and Willing are the oldest patronymic forms, the "ing" suffix being much earlier than "son." Adam (s),
Davidson, Johnson, Williamson and Whitson are obviously sons of their forefathers. The first Whitson was a son of Whit(e), a noticeably light-skinned or light-haired person, and this name brings us to a second class of surnames, the descriptives. I list some Phelps examples.
Armstrong-name given in recognition of strength in battle
Brown-hair or eyes
Cobb--a large man or a leader, middle English
Fair, Fairman--evidently blonde
Palmer-a pilgrim to the Holy Land
Rodman--redhaired-"rod" was early spelling of red.
Falkey-a falcon, a
daring person, Scotch
Griffith-strong in faith, ancient Welsh
Humphrey-home lover, ancient English
Ingram--lng, a Norse god and ram, strong. A.S.
Jeffrey, Jeffery-nickname of Geoffrey, anc. Saxon--meaning-the gift of peace or security.
Pardee--in most cases, from the profane expression of Middle Ages, "Par Dieu" (By God)
Phelp(s), Phillip(s)--lover of horses, Greek-s=son of
Names formed from
nicknames are quite common and often odd. Cameron means "twisted nose"
from a feature of an early chief; Kennedy signifies the "ugly head" of
a far-away ancestor. The insignificant beginnings of so many of our
names is surprising, but that is the way it was. An interesting class
of titles is derived from early inn or shop signboards. These signs
were necessary because so few people could read. The early ancestor of
John (atte=at or near) Bell, for instance, must have owned or lived
near or worked at the sign of a bell. Buck, Bullock, Cockett, Coon,
Fox, Hand, Hart, Lyon (Lion) and Wolfe are Phelps examples. Buck may
also be derived from the Anglo-Saxon "bece," a beech tree.
The name Linquest has a
pleasing meaning, "linden twig"--from the poetic Swedish custom of
taking family names from objects in nature. Sources of a number of
names are given in the dictionary. Some may have more than one
interpretation depending on nationality. Dewey is a form of David in
Welsh; it is an island spring in Old English--the books tell us.
Eacker, if German, means a farmer; if English, it means an oaken man, a
brave, firm, unyielding man--from ack or eck, A.S. for oak. Rockefeller
may be the ryefielder, a farmer on the lower Rhine in German--or, if
Norman--French, the family of the rocky field, descendants of Norsemen
who came down to Normandy centuries ago. They are said to have left a
castle and estates in Southeast France to go to the country of the
Palatines from which they came to America in 1720. The latter is the
known history of our Phelps family. Perhaps both are-the Norman-French
source antedating the German.
Crothers--harper, a musician of ancient Celts
Cooper or Hooper--a maker of barrels
Fowler--a hunter of birds
Knight--from military rank
Marshall--army commander, old English
Rector--clergyman of a parish
Schafer--a shepherd, German
Sherman--a cloth cutter
Walker--a fuller of cloth.
Ward, Warden, Warner--official watchman
Webb, Webster--a weaver
Most occupational names originated in the great craft guilds in medieval cities. Under the manor system of old England the lord lived in the great hall, his village (ham or tun) near it. All births, marriages, deaths, debts et cetera were recorded by the clerk (Clark). If there were several Johns, he might write in his book "John the Shepherd" or "John, the fair." Later, "the" would disappear, and John's descendants had a family name as well as a first name. Spelling was in a state of disorder for centuries; it was poor and not uniform even in our early Phelps records.
A few of the lord's officials were the butler (Butler). bailiff (Bailey) and parker (Parker), in charge of his live¬stocked parks. An important annual event in village iife was the series of religious dramas whose chief players were, in time, given the names of the characters they played year after year--Lord, Gaylord, Prince, King and so on. Bishops, priors (pryors) and abbots traveled about the country in their church work with perhaps fifty men accompanying them--for example, John (with the) Bishop, Henry (the) Messenger, Will (the) Page.
In number, place or local names lead all the rest. These tell where a
man lived or where he came from at the time surnames were forming long
ago. Phelps examples are:
Avery-island of oats, Norse origin
Barnum (Bearnham)-town in the woods. This family originated in Southwick, Hampshire
Blackburn--the dark brook--name of a Lancashire town
Burns-Scotch for brook or stream-same as Brooks.
Cain-From Fr. City of Caen--other possible sources.
Cheney-(near an) oak grove, French
Clayton-a town built on clay
Conklin--at the head of the valley, Gaelic
Cornford--near the ford over Corn River, England
Crittenden--near the chalk hill
Crouch, Crosby--variants of Cross
Dimock, Dimick--near the dark oak.
Dunham--the hill town
Green--on or near the green, the common
Grimsley--the harsh field
Griswold--the gray woods
Harland--rough or long field, old Norse
Hause, House, Hall--near the manor house or hall
Holbrook, Hollenbeck--the valley brook
Horton--a Yorkshire town near a ravine (hor)
(H)osford--a ford over the River Ouse
Howe--hill, old English
Kenyon--a town in Lancashire
Lambert--excellent land, Old English
Lynch--from an early England division, hlinc, pronounced link--a ridge of land.
The word survives in "golf links."
Main, Maines--from Maine, an ancient government of Northern France
Nash--(AttenAsh--near a grove of ash trees or a certain landmark tree. "Atten" is Anglo Saxon for near
Needham--cattle town--a Suffolk market town
(N)Oaks-near oak trees-A.S.
Oldacre--a very old cultivated field (accer, A.S.)
Prescott--near the cottage of the priest
Preston--from the priests' town-name of a Lancashire city
(All early clergymen were called priests)
Randall--the fair valley, Old English
Ridley--the red field-A.S.
Southgate--near south gate of a walled town
Upchurch--family lived up (by the) church.
(O)Updyke--family lived up (by the) dyke.
Van Camp--near the battlefield
Vanderveer--near the ferry
Van Dyke--near the dyke.
Van Kirk--near the church
West, Weston--from the west town
Whitbeck, Whitney--near the white water. beck is Anglo Saxon for brook.
Name derivation is a fascinating study. If any Phelps resident is interested in learning the source of a name not listed here, your town historian will be glad to try to discover it.
This section is in the
nature of an obituary for the town's four passenger service
railroads--the Auburn Branch of the New York Central, the Fallbrook
Division of N.Y.C., the Lehigh Valley and the Great Sodus Bay and
Southern of the Pennsylvania System.
The old Auburn Road (1841), whose last passenger train passed through Phelps in spring of 1958, was once more than a means of transportation; it was a way of life a route to education, culture and entertainment. In its crowded coaches young people rode, commutation ticket in hand, to Phelps Union and Classical School and to Geneva's colleges. Adults found it indispensable for getting to and from work. Romances budded, bloomed or withered on the red plush seats. The old road carried boys and their evening dates to town for a silent movie and vaudeville at the new Temple Theater with time for a soda at an ice cream parlor before the ten o'clock train. In earlier years we often boarded the train for a Saturday afternoon at the Motion World, a nickelodeon on second floor of Seneca Street's Guard Building. It was there I first shuddered at Dr. Jekyll turned Hyde.
(We did not always go
to town by train. One winter's day Grandpa Shear drove in the big bobs,
with a dozen of us children tucked under the buffalo robes, to a
matinee performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin at the Smith Opera House. We
sat enthralled. As bloodhounds bayed and Eliza scurried across the icy
river on-stage, little Jennie sitting beside me screamed in excitement,
then fainted and had to be revived by the usher. That was a day to
The Auburn Road was
social, folksy, its riders congenial guests of the conductor host who
moved along the aisles greeting his company by name. Once in a while
there was group singing, especially on the five o'clock in winter dusk.
Then the conductor, lighting the gas ceiling lamps with his long taper,
would playfully turn it into a baton leading his impromptu chorus.
(First N.Y.C. trains were candle--lighted.) Once a ventriloquist
mystified and amused his fellow passengers. Occasionally we could stare
at a sullen-faced man bound for Auburn prison and handcuffed to an
officer. At Oaks Corners depot the agent always glued pennies to floor
and ticket window counter on April Fool's Day for his public's
entertainment. My sister and I--as little girls--often pushed our pet
white rabbits in the doll carriage to meet the trains. They would sit
there fascinated, pink ears erect, and never turn a hair; their calm
was especially surprising since the old depot was very close to the
Sometimes special trains were run--at State Fair time, for example. One evening we rode a special to hear Madame Schumann--Heink sing at Geneva's Armory, enjoying the unaccustomed luxury of its parlor cars' soft swivel chairs almost as much as the concert. Excursion trains to distant cities tempted us with bargain rates. Each train included, of course, that masculine blue heaven, the smoking car--long an anachronism. Children used to run to see the pony engine, bright with brass, carrying railway officials on inspection tours.
I have written of the conductor as "host" of the train--as indeed he is--but this was not always his position. In the book, "When Railroads were New," Charles Carter tells us that at first the engineer managed his train to suit himself; the conductor did nothing but take fares. Neither was there any way the conductor could let the engineer know when passengers wanted to get off. So, in 1842, one conductor on the old Erie (Western New York's first rail-road) arranged a signal for the engineer, a strong cord running the length of the train with a stout stick tied on the engine end. When the conductor pulled this up and down, the engineer was to stop the train. Instead, he three times removed the stick, feeling the conductor was exceed-ing his authority. Determined to be allowed use of this improvement, at the next stop the conductor dragged the engineer from his cab and thrashed him soundly. This set a precedent for other railroads, and ever since the conductor has been boss of the train.
At Vienna (early Phelps
village) there were two station stops for years. West Vienna was once
more important than East Vienna because of the early enterprises of the
William Hildreths, father and son, all centered there. They were.
ancestors of today's John H. Hildreth. Their interests included a mill,
large brick, stone-pillared hotel with store adjoining, ashery, cooper
shop and distillery. Their Free Bridge Hotel stood on the southeast
corner of Main and Newark Streets; it was later sold and dismantled.
The Hildreths owned six hundred acres on the Newark Road too. The
family fortunes declined rather sharply after the Erie Canal began to
turn traffic of all kinds away from Phelps. Later a brick school,
livery stable, carriage and blacksmith shops, a millinery store and
shoestore served the west village.
The West Vienna railway
station stood on the site of the present Seneca Kraut Company building.
This station boasted an attached restaurant where fifteen minute stops
for refreshments were made at meal times. Nearby waited the wood yard
for refueling engines; next yard west was at Shortsville. Whenever the
fireman had to "wood up," men passengers ran forward to help that the
delay might be as short as possible.
It was difficult for trains to make good time over the old strap rails; average speed was fourteen miles per hour. (When speeds of 35 and 40 miles were later attained some medical men both here and abroad predicted various physical injuries to passengers--from eye damage to insanity.) Tracks were then made by spiking wooden timbers on the ties and fastening flat bars (straps) of iron on top of the wooden rails. The piece I have from the Auburn Rd. track is seven-eights of an inch thick. Sometimes engines were derailed by a "snake head," a curled-up end of a strap rail whose spikes had loosened from the wood track, which did not adapt itself well to weather changes. The first accident on the Auburn Road happened in 1848 when one of these snakeheads entered a car floor and inflicted flesh wounds on the foot and leg of a woman passenger. Cowcatchers on early locomotives all too often lived up to their names; tracks were not well-fenced, and frenzied animals strayed on them would run ahead of the trains.
West Vienna's depot,
after many years of use, was moved to a corner of Exchange and Jay Sts.
and remodeled into a house. Then the Church Street Station was the one
and only. Earlier there had been regular stops at the Eagle St.
crossing and at Unionville. For a long period much of the township's
business was done at Unionville and W. Vienna; later, when Unionville
began its decline, the railroad had a flag stop by the inn. Passengers
might leave the train at the crossing just south of Fred King's
In fact, unscheduled
stops were common. Along this line I have been told two delightful
stories. Lucy Hemiup of Geneva occasionally came out from town for a
day's visit with her Carter Road cousins the Joneses (Arthur Hall
farm). When she boarded the train, she would tell the trainman she
wished to get off at the Jones place--and she did. On hearing the late
afternoon eastbound approaching, Mrs. Hemiup would saunter out to the
track behind the house, wave her parasol or handkerchief as signal, and
the train would obediently slow to a stop. Later she may have been
annoyed to find that she was then expected to ride some distance past
the Jones farm and descend at Oaks Corners station. Lucy (Mrs. Morris
Hemiup) was a Phelpstown girl, a granddaughter of Joel Prescott 1st of
Prescott's Corners--the town's earliest doctor.
The second story--One
Phelps resident remembers the spring day in 1886 when she rode an
Auburn Branch caboose to an Oaks Corners wedding. She and her father
had missed the train taken by the rest of the family, and the little
girl began to cry. Her resourceful father, remembering a freight soon
due, hurried her to the depot. In rolled the freight. Its conductor was
told the sad situation and agreed to carry two passengers. Past
Unionville and Oaks Corners they went, to the Carter Rd. crossing where
the engineer slowed just long enough for a trainman to whisk the child
down the caboose steps while her father jumped off under his own power.
The wedding ceremony had scarcely begun when they arrived at the red
brick house near the crossing, now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L.
Carpenter. Train accommodations really accommodated in those days.
Now petticoats enter our railroad review. I quote an amusing item from an 1847 Livingston Co. newspaper:
"These useful articles are creating quite a sensation not only in fashion circles but among railroad agents and directors. At several recent railroad meetings it was determined to raise the fare upon every lady wearing more than twenty." (Mau) However could they have made a count? I suppose so fashionable a lady would have filled a double seat.
Seventy years later a quite different petticoat incident occurred. Marguerite Van---, nearing the station for her daily ride to school, glanced down at her thin summer skirt and was horrified at its transparency. Waving a wild signal to the engineer just pulling into the depot, she raced home to step into her forgotten petticoat while the waiting engine puffed patiently until her return.
One more petticoat story, an earlier one. Addie Edmonston (Mrs. Nettie Crozier Adsitt's mother) awoke one morning in late winter one hundred years ago to hear her father's voice unusually loud and excited. Padding downstairs to the warm kitchen, the little girl soon learned the reason for excitement. Flint Creek's ice had broken up during the night, and large cakes had jammed against the railroad bridge behind the Ontario St. Edmonston home, now Mrs. Adsitt's. Her father had discovered the structure so damaged that the track across it was dangerously weakened. Below and around the bridge rushed the waters of Flint River (then called) in flood, and the early westbound train was due. Addie's parents were no longer young, and she knew where her duty lay. Quickly putting on clothes and wraps, Addie dashed out the door, clutching in one hand her mother's bright red handwoven petticoat. Up to the Eagle St. crossing she ran, then down the track to the bridge; across this she crawled, ice and deep swift water beneath her. The train was already leaving the east depot as Addie began to wave the red petticoat high above her head. Seeing her at once, the engineer braked his train. The child had prevented an almost certain wreck. That particular petticoat is doubly remembered in the Adsitt family as not only worn for warmth but waved for warning.
A bit of derivation to
end this petticoat prose--did you ever wonder why the petty (little)
coat is worn below the waist, not on the shoulders like other coats? It
was originally a light-weight coat worn under men's armor, but the
years have changed both its sex and its position.
Now we return to Phelps
railroads. The Fallbrook Road's history was part of the Pine Plains
story, you remember. Strangely, it was not uncommon for railway station
and postoffice, though adjacent, to have different names. For instance,
Mitchell's Station (named for the father of Mrs. Edney Skinner and Mrs.
Clair Bennett) on the Old State Road near Five Points was just across
the road from West Junius postoffice, housed in the store. Farther
north at Cuddeback's Station the postoffice was called Harvey; Albert
Harvey was station agent, his wife the postmistress. They were parents
of Mrs. Louis Holtz, Phelps. The old Citizen newspaper carried items
from "Harvey and Vicinity." In Phelps village the railroad stop was
still Vienna several years after the village had become Phelps.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad was built through Phelps in 1890 and 1891. The village station was at Griffith Road crossing; Oaks Corners depot was on the west road. There were at least six passenger trains stopping daily. The last Phelps agent was William Walters; Albert Salisbury and Will Vosburg were agents for the Corners.
Railroad officials had planned yards extending from Phelps station to Oaks Corners; these were all surveyed and a street development mapped north toward the village. However, farmers' prices for land were prohibitive, the railroad men decided, and Manchester became their choice. They had intended too to have a Phelps interchange with the Pennsylvania Road for shifting cars from one road to the other. As a railroad town the village would have been larger than today, but of different quality. One of the worst wrecks in the history of the Lehigh occurred at Manchester where twenty seven people met death one August noon in 1911.
The Lehigh's Black Diamond was called the most handsome train in the world; a nickname was the "Honeymoon Express" in recognition of all the brides and grooms it carried to Niagara Falls. In spring of 1959 the famous train made its last run, having been a symbol of up-to-date railroading for forty three years.
The Great Sodus Bay and Southern which ran from Stanley to Sodus Point-a distance of thirty-four mileswas leased for one hundred years by the Northern Central (Elmira to Canandaigua). First trains trundled over the tracks in 1876. Orleans and Phelps Junction were the township's stations. Two passenger trains went in each direction daily as well as freight.
The Junction station-where Auburn Road passengers changed trains-in summertime used to bulge with baggage of campers bound for the Point. Fourth generation members of the same local families today enjoy vacations there. Meeting the trains at the Point pavilion was a highlight in daily activity. The road's worst day was in 1901 when a wreck at Fairville sprayed passengers with scalding steam from the engine's boiler. Seventeen died.
Phelps Junction station
closed at 2:59 P.M., December 15, 1933-according to the record of
Adelbert (Bert) S. Hildreth, its last agent. Mr. Hildreth must have had
a feeling for history as he made that exact entry in his time-book.
Frank R. Myers, father of Mrs. Sidney Wheat Sr., was Orleans agent many
years; the last was Ross N. McCarthy. Today all four Phelpstown
railroads carry freight only. An era has ended.
railways were not our only ones. Every boy's ambition was to be an
engineer; to this end he often built his own play road. The Corners had
its (Albert) Oaks and (Allen) Marshallville Railroad, complete with
station playhouse, home-made tracks, car and switches on the Nathan
Later the Devil's Den Express, named from a natural cave in the woods, carried boys downgrade at high speed from Lehigh to Central on the Oaks Corners Stone Company's rail spur. This large hand car, braked with their heels, ran on weekends only, when the stone plant was closed. Remembering its adventures, I think again how Providence perennially protects boys.
(a) THE OLD
The present Arthur Day
farm, settled by one of our earliese pioneers, Major Joseph Hall, has a
remarkable spring just northwest of the house. An old Phelps Citizen
article tells of an 1880 local trip by historian Rev. Anson Titus:
"Soon we came to historic ground, the Chester Webster place [now the
Day farm]. It was here that Colonel Hugh Maxwell discovered the famous
spring when running the old pre-emption line in 1788. Here he pitched
his tent, remarked that the Indians had recently cultivated the land.
He looked around and almost at once found near the tent a fine Indian
hammer stone. Next we made a call at Mr. Kirtland's ........ " I have
wondered--did Col Maxwell the perambulator (surveyor) realize, as he
rested there by the spring, that he was making history just as surely
as on the day he had led his regiment into the battle of Bunker Hill?
He wrote back to his
wife and family in Massachusetts:
"The land in this country is exceeding good, but it wants good inhabitants." Two years later inhabitants were here. In 1805 a Boston visitor, Timothy Bigelow, recorded: "There are few streams here compared with the whole extent of the Genesee Country. Springs of water so common in hilly countries are seldom found here. On the whole, this tract may be said to be poorly watered. Some settlers complain that they are obliged to dig wells to supply their cattle. The drouth is now severe here."
This quote proves again
the early importance of never--failing springs; such water sources were
also called living or everlasting springs. The Oaks Corners Camp
Meeting Woods had three. The Arthur Day Sr. farm (now Mr. and Mrs.
Richard Minns') also holds more than ordinary historic interest. This
farm had twin springs (now joined) under tall pine trees, Wooden's
Brook and an Indian village site. However, no local spring compared in
volume with the Day spring where Colonel Maxwell camped so long ago. At
present its waters are piped to supply three Day families and all farm
stock. Called "Locust Spring Farm" in the 1904 County Atlas, the Day
place still has its honey locusts beside the spring; watercress grows
lush in the brook flowing east from it under the road to make a pretty
pond, then meander on to Wooden's Brook.
About the pre-emption lines--The first one was incorrectly surveyed although Colonel Maxwell was completely unaware of error. After Massachusetts had sold her claim to Messrs. Phelps and Gorham, the east line of this tract was run. It was agreed between the two purchasers and the "Lessees" that Hugh Maxwell should be surveyor for the former, Mr. Jenkins for the Lessee Company which claimed the Indian lands because of outrageous 999-year leases. Colonel Maxwell and Jenkins, with helpers, began the survey on the Pennsylvania border and continued until their provisions were almost gone. The Colonel went to the little village of Geneva, twenty miles away through the wilderness, to replenish supplies. Jenkins ran the line alone for ten miles before the Colonel returned.
During that time a
small jog occurred in the line, unknown to Maxwell but discovered later
after the line's completion on the shore of Lake Ontario. This jog
placed Geneva outside the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and in the
Lessees' tract where they wanted it to be. It is thought that these
unscrupulous men had ordered Jenkins to survey in their favor if
possible. However, the fraud is not certain; the error may have been
unintentional. Instruments used in 1788 were more primitive than those
of 1792, only four years later when the new line was run. This new
pre-emption line was surveyed through Phelpstown parallel with the old
one, but three main roads east of it; the new boundary included Geneva
in Phelps' and Gorham's tract.
Today the old line bisects Oaks Corners and is marked "Pre-emption Road." The new, correct line runs south through Seneca Lake, north from Border City; there it is marked "Pre-emption Street" but becomes "Pre-emption Road" as it goes on north into the country. It is also a town line and county line road. For clarity and historical accuracy, the roads should be marked Old and New. Although this explanation has been printed many times, it is still not generally understood. The late Glenn Rogers' pre-emption line pamphlet may be studied or purchased at Geneva's Historical Museum.
(b) A LOCAL
The interesting book, "Twenty two Years a Slave, Forty Years a Free Man," published in Rochester in 1861 (third edition), is the autobiography of Austin Steward of Canandaigua, written there after he had returned from London, Canada, where he was President of Wilberforce Colony. One chapter of the book concerns this area. Before 1800 the author--then a young slave--came up from the South with his master to Bath where Henry Towar (from Alloa, Scotland) came to hire slave boys. He hired three, one of whom was Austin--who wrote:
"Mr. Towar had just
bought a tract of wild land [now Alloway] on the Canandaigua Outlet.
Here he contemplated making great improvements, building mills and
stores. There were then only three buildings--a small house, store and
blacksmith shop; he next built a large gristmill and distillery.
"It was while I was living with that gentleman that the greatest general training ever known in Western New York came off at Oaks Corners in the town of Phelps. It seemed to me the whole world was going to the training. Mr. Towar permitted me to go. When I arrived within two or three miles of the place, the road was almost blocked with people, and when I got to Oaks Corners the crowd beggared all description. Carriages of every sort were there containing eatables. Tents, large and small, were at the roadside for the houses could not begin to accommodate the people.
"The entire brigade was to meet there, and Governor Lewis was expected to review the companies. All were anxious to see the Governor. It was a rare thing to see so high a dignitary in Western New York, the eastern part of the state having had everything of that kind their own way. Roads were new and rough and Our best public conveyances only the slow, lumbering stagecoach, yet there was an innumerable crowd. I spent the day walking about the encampment. Officers in uniform were riding over the ground mounted on their splendid steeds, their plumes waving over their cocked hats. A band of music accompanied the soldiers. There was also a sham fight, terrifying to me.
"The first night I spent at the encampment was one long to be remembered--the confusion of Babel. Men fired guns, quarreled and drank till daylight. There was such a crowd at the tavern that I could scarcely get a bed, shared with another slave boy. I had just begun to doze when the explosion of firearms startled all in the house. The keeper ran upstairs in alarm, found a musket had been accidentally discharged through the floor. No one was injured, though the house was overflowing with guests.
"The second day of the encampment was one of surpassing beauty. The field presented a fascinating spectacle with the brigade drawn up in a long line. When all were paraded, the Governor made his appearance dressed in full uniform, his hat of Bonaparte style, attended by his aide de-camp. When the Governor issued his orders, they were first given to his aide who passed them to the officers, and they gave the word of command to the soldiers until the whole brigade of regiments had complied with the order of His Excellency."
I wish the author had given more details, but, of course, many years had gone by before he wrote his memories. I told of this affair in "The Corners" but had not then read the above eye witness account. All this happened in the autumn of 1805 on the large field behind Oaks Corners Church. Today it seems incredible.
An article on Louis Philippe (later, King of France 1830-1848), printed in an old Geneva Times issue, has a link with two early local men--one of them the afore-mentioned Henry Towar of Alloway, which hamlet was once in Phelpstown. As youths, Louis and his two younger brothers were exiled wanderers in America during Napoleon's reign. They traveled widely here on horseback, afoot, by boat and stagecoach. They visited Presque Isle, Penna. (now City of Erie), then newly settled by Seth Reed, formerly of Geneva. Seth had died by then, and the young Frenchmen were guests at the inn of his son Rufus Seth who, the next year, was to return to Phelps to marry Doratha Oaks of Oaks Corners. The travelers viewed Niagara Falls, were entertained several weeks by Thomas Morris at Canandaigua. They passed through the village then called Middletown. Struck with the beauty of the country, the young Duke exclaimed, "Only one city can compare with this countryside--Naples, Italy!" Soon afterward, in 1806, Middletown became Naples. So the royal visit had at least one permanent effect on Western New York.
Next the young noblemen spent several months at the Potter house west of Penn Yan. This was about 1797. Here they say, Louis Philippe met and deeply loved an Indian girl, but thought of the throne led him back to France without her. From Penn Yan the brothers came to Geneva to board a sloop. They sailed the length of Seneca Lake, past Watkins and up the channel of Catherine Creek three miles to Catherine Town (Montour Falls) where they were entertained. Of our whole region Louis declared, "This is the loveliest spot God ever made and a land of great promise." The three walked on to Newtown (Elmira) where they stayed ten days at a tavern.
From here Henry Towar--agent for Capt. Williamson and promoter of Alloway near Lyons"'--carried the roving royalty on an ark down the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers to Wilkesbarre and Harrisburg. The Frenchmen then journeyed across country to Philadelphia, the sea and home.
Early Oaks Corners had a blacksmith named Joseph P. Towar on the east road, also a David Towar--perhaps not pertinent, but interesting. They were probably "poor relations" of the important Henry who built his Outlet settlement in North Phelpstown long ago. Captain Towar was prominent in this whole area and extremely prosperous until the hard times of 1837 brought him reverses. His land lay entirely in the District of Phelps until 1823 when Wayne County was taken from part of Ontario. Henry Towar was a Phelps highway commissioner in 1807; he and Thaddeus Oaks were 1819 town assessors.
In case anyone wonders about "arks" -- they were crude, one-way boats made of sawed planks pegged together to be floated downsteam and broken up to sell as lumber at the end of the trip. (Dr. Hedrick). All this is a part of our Western New York past.
(c) A PIONEER'S CANAL
John Sherman Jr., a
Revolutionary Captain, came to Phelpstown in 1792 from Conway, Mass.;
his wife was an Oaks Corners Dickinson. I have learned an inttiguing
achievement of his.
"In 1804 Capt. John Sherman, Mr. Payne and two other men came into what is now the Town of Galen, Wayne Co. Coming by way of Clyde River [Mud Creek and Canandaigua Outlet joined], they encountered an insurmountable obstacle of logs and brush in a bend of the stream, called 'bigwood raft.' They changed the course of the river and lessened the distance half a mile by cutting a channel twelve feet wide across the bend; this was long known as the 'old canal.' " (Cowles)
This obstruction was undoubtedly the same difficulty discovered by three Victor men who started in November of 1790 for the Onondaga salt springs at Salina (Solvay), their nearest salt supply. They "had to haul. their boat out of the water up a steep shore on rollers and around a stretch of driftwood sixteen rods in extent before they could re-embark below."
The historian's account
of the Victor men's trip home is worth repeating. "After procuring
twelve barrels of salt, they started home. While in Seneca River a
snow-storm came on, and ice formed in the shallow stream. Once the men
were forced to wade into the freezing water to lift their boat off
stones in the bottom. Both boat and salt had to be transported around
the flood-wood, and at Lyons Landing boat and ..cargo were left, then
later carried to their destination by the aid of six yoke of oxen,
wagons and sleds through the wilderness." Compare that adventure with a
trip today from Syracuse. to Victor! Contrast their total effort
expended in salt-buying with its present purchase from a super-market
In 1792 sixteen bushels of salt were being manufactured daily at Salina; twelve quarts of water made one quart of salt. The brine vein was said to run as far south as Virginia. Early Phelps men journeyed to Salina for salt as well as to Watkins. The salt museum at Liverpool is an interesting place to visit. About 1800, salt springs were discovered on Cayuga Outlet-- the Galen Springs. In 1805 forty bushels a day were being extracted and sold there at fifty cents per bushel.
Men have always been salt-hungry. In ancient Rome soldiers were given a "salarium" (salt money) apart from their regular pay--hence our word "salary." We have many sayings to prove its importance--"He's the salt of the earth, he isn't worth his salt," and so on. A recent history of salt states: "In our own time, the impetus to build the Erie Canal came from the need to get the salt of Syracuse, N. Y., to market." Until well after 1875 Syracuse was the principal source of salt supply for the entire United States. You may have read that Western New York's salt beds one thousand feet or more below ground are being considered as a disposal place for radio-active atomic waste products in this state.
To return to the
pioneers--The major undertaking of digging a canal to by-pass the Clyde
River wood raft apparently never occurred to the Victor men or to
others who followed them. They were not settlers in that section, just
travelers. Certainly Sherman and his friend did not dig that canal for
their own convenience only. Most Phelpstown pioneers had a compelling
sense of history, a feeling of obligation to those who were to come
that way in after years. They engineered their canal for the new
country's good; they were fine examples of pioneer enterprise--the will
and ability that, time after time, accomplished the seemingly
impossible. In terms of money, their canal's expense was low; in terms
of sweat and toil, the cost must have been considerable.
This entire area was
canal-conscious even at that early date. Elkanah Watson, passing
through in 1791, recorded thoughts on possible local canals in his
diary. His idea was to follow the track of Nature's canal and to remove
artificial or natural obstructions like the wood-reef. However, Mr.
Watson later said that, at first, the two Western New York Navigation
Companies "never entertained the most distant conception of a canal
from Lake Erie to the Hudson River. They would not have considered it
much more extravagant to have suggested the possibility of a canal to
the moon." Little did Mr. Watson dream of the space age, supposedly now
As early as 1803 there was occasional talk of construction of a canal west to Lake Erie, and the talk grew. In fact, the first suggestion that led to the Erie Canal is said to have been made in 1805 by Jesse Hawley of Geneva. Yet it was 1810 before DeWitt Clinton journeyed through our township on a trip planned to map out such a route. He and his party stayed two nights at Oaks Stand, the Corners' noted inn.
If Sherman had not dug
his short Clyde River canal, sooner or later another man would have
done so. However, Sherman recognized the need, acted and so helped with
his own two hands the opening of Western New York to. settlement. "For
twenty years or more following the advent of white settlers, Clyde
River was the avenue of considerable commerce; it conveyed the bateaux
of the pioneers, brought them merchandise and carried their produce to
market." Bateaux were flat-bottomed boats used by early Canadian
voyageurs, trappers and traders on northern and western rivers. Our own
settlers adopted both the boats and their French name.
John Sherman and his wife Chloe moved from Phelps to Rose Valley in 1811 where he became a prominent citizen, influential in construction of the Grand Erie Canal through Galen. The first Rose settler, Sherman built a double log house, half of which he opened as an inn, the only public house in that township. Captain Sherman must often have made use of his own canal, a do-it-yourself project well worth a pioneer's employment.
(d) PHELPSTOWN TRAGEDIES
Like any other community, Phelps has had its tragedies. Let us recall a few. The most widely known was the Crandall-Eighmey case which ended in Ontario County's first official hanging on Sept. 8, 1876 at Canandaigua. That city's museum has a formal card of invitation to the execution sent by Sheriff Boswell to a Dr. Simmons.
Some years earlier E. N. Phelps was occupied as publisher of "The Phelps Journal and Vienna Advertiser." He had corne here from Canandaigua where he had begun his newspaper work. He was also sexton of the Phelps Presbyterian Church, and an inexperienced one, I fear. While cleaning the church lamps one evening, he accidentally broke the rope holding the chandelier. As they fell, its lighted lamps exploded, setting fire to his clothing. Mr. Phelps was burned to death. The interior woodwork of the church caught fire too; the building was damaged to a considerable extent.
About 1872, George Van
Dine, with lumber wagon and team, was taking a load of barrels filled
with potash to the paper mill
at the end of N. Wayne St. As he drove with a bump on the Outlet bridge, one of the heavy barrels in the rear of the wagon overturned and rolled into the roadway behind him. Stopping the horses, George jumped down to retrieve it. As he lifted the barrel, he was horrified to find a small boy, Willie Hobbs, lying crushed and lifeless beneath it. Unknown to the driver, Willie must have been hitching a ride--his last one. This accident was such a shock to George Van Dine that it shadowed his life for years.
It was two years later
that the paper mill burned one night. Mr. Dobilinski, the proprietor
from Philadelphia, was making machinery repairs late in the evening so
the mill could operate the next morning. When the fire started, a
workman with him escaped. As the timbers toppled, Mr. D.--perhaps
overcome by fumes--fell face down on a wall. The next day, in the
cooling ruins, men found his body, clothes burned off except for one
collar-button still in proper place, standing upright on the back of
his charred neck. His mill, machinery and stock were valued at $40,000,
according to the newspaper item.
In April of 1887, four men were "dropping" (planting) peppermint roots--two men to a row--on the William Van Valkenburg farm, Clifton Springs Road, when lightning suddenly struck at them from a clear sky, a "bolt from the blue." John Lally and Frank Tolhurst were killed instantly. Thomas Lally (father of William Lally) and James Sabin (father of Leonard Sabin) were covering roots close behind the two unfortunates. Their hoes were thrown from their hands; they themselves were turned partly around but felt no shock. The four men were talking and laughing before the bolt came, and their smiles remained on the dead men's faces.
In the 1890s George Van
Dine's father, Abram, met tragic death. Phelps village was then lighted
at night by kerosene lamps set in their lanterns on tall posts; each
burner was fed by a round tank above it. The village officials had just
bought gasoline for the lamps in an effort to improve their lighting.
Each night or so Abe Van Dine, the village lamplighter, would carry
around his short ladder and five gallon can to refill the tanks;
usually he spilled a little so that his clothes became saturated. The
lamppost by the bridge (across from Margrove's) was the scene of a
tragedy one evening. As Abe stood there lighting a match, his coat
flared into flame. In a second he was a human torch; the lamplighter
had become a lighted lamp. Men ran to rescue, pushing him down the path
to the Creek and rolling him in the water. It was too late. Carried to
his home in a passing wagon, Abram Van Dine lived only a few hours. A
Phelps resident has told me that, as a young girl, she was a horrified
witness to this accident and remembers to this day the sickening smell
of scorched flesh that filled the air that autumn evening.
It was in 1891 that one man killed another in the southeast corner of Phelpstown. Daniel C. lived just west of Dobbin's Corners in a house he rented from John W. Driving home from Geneva on the New Pre-emption Road one summer day, Dan had nearly reached the corner when he heard a woman's screams coming from the direction of his home, plainly visible across the field. Stopping the horse and leaping from the wagon, Dan ran cross-lots toward the house and burst in to find his landlord, much the worse for drink, giving his wife a vicious beating with a pitchfork. Furiously Dan struck at the man; as they fought, they stumbled out through the open doorway into the front yard where Dan--though slight of figure--delivered a final blow that left W. unconscious. Still in a blind rage, scarcely realizing his action, he stamped on the fallen man. Only later did Dan learn from his wife details of the attack. Since rent had not been paid for several months, W. had ordered Mrs. C. to leave the house and had begun throwing household goods outdoors on the points of his pitchfork.
How W. reached his own
home we do not know. Each man swore out a warrant for the other's
arrest; however, W. died the next morning from a fractured skull. Dan
was indicted by the grand jury for manslaughter in the first degree. At
the trial his lawyer contended that C. was justified in assaulting his
landlord and had never intended to kill him. The prisoner in the
courtroom had his little boy on his knee much of the time and was
surrounded by his family. When the jury finally pronounced its verdict,
"Not Guilty," the judge was unable to maintain order; friends and
relatives, jurymen and audience crowded around the acquitted man to
congratulate him. C., completely overcome, sobbed aloud.
Pear trees still border the lane leading back into the field where Dan's home stood, but the house with its burden of memories has long since disappeared.
Mrs. Nettie Adsitt's Edmonston great grandfather once outwitted Leman Hotchkiss 1st on Vienna's Eagle Street many years ago. Hotchkiss land and buildings were on the west side, Elijah Edmonston's acres on the east. Elijah owned many acres south of Ontario St. too. Early Vienna (Phelps) had few cross streets; Eagle St. then ran south from West Main as far as the Hotchkiss Mill with only a rough lane on toward Ontario St. For his own business interests Leman wanted the village to improve this path into a highway--but not on his own land. With a touch of ruthlessness his highly successful sons may have inherited, the encroaching Leman brought pressure to bear on the village officers to cut this road through vacant Edmonston land instead, with or without permission.
Learning this through the village grapevine--flourishing and fruitful then as well as now-- Elijah Edmonston made his quiet plans. Informed on good authority that it was illegal to lay a road through private property if that property had a house upon it, Elijah and his son Marion dug a cellar hole. by night on the land in question. Next they erected the frame for a house without discovery, the Hotchkisses being conveniently away from home and the location isolated at the extreme south edge of the village. Finally, Marion Edmonston and his fiancee Ellen hastened their plans a bit and were married.
So it happened that on the morning men arrived to begin actual work on the new road, they found to their surprise not only a frame standing across their proposed route, but an occupied frame. Inside the enclosure stood a bedstead, and on this open couch rested the pretty bride, young Mrs. Marion Edmonston, modestly covered with one of her new quilts. Obviously she had set up housekeeping there.
Needless to say, the
roadway was cut a little to the west through Hotchkiss soil while
Edmonstons' remained intact. This same house, enlarged and altered,
stands on the east corner of Ontario and Eagle Streets. Mrs. Adsitt's
home stands on original Edmonston land.
(f) DR. BROOKS
In 1870 William R. Brooks settled with his family at Phelps to earn a livelihood as village photographer and to continue his astronomical study. Just south of his little red house on the present Harold Harland farm, Lester Road, he built a crude observatory which became famous around the world. Here he discovered eleven of his grand total of twenty seven comets which brought him many honors.
By 1880 Prof. Brooks
was on the list of astronomers--of this country and of Europe--to whom
free announcements of astronomical discoveries were immediately
telegraphed. An 1885 Phelps newspaper proudly printed this item: "Dr.
Whitney, an American physician from the City of Foo Choo, China,
visited the Red House Observatory on Tuesday and was delighted in his
interview with Professor Brooks. Our village is indebted to the
Professor's fame for many visits of distinguished persons from all over
the world. Foreigners often map out their routes so as to take in
Phelps, as Prof. Brook's name and residence are known in learned and
scien¬tific circles throughout the world."
The professor's lecture
on "The Wonders of the Heavens" was advertised in large headlines for
Oct. 6, 1887--"A Farewell Benefit Lecture for Prof. Brooks at Gibson
Hall. Admission $.25." Often a prophet is without honor in his own
country, but apparently not so in Phelpstown; we must
Scanning this historic treasure is an ongoing project and will take some time.
Unfinshed; Mabel Oak's books can be
The website: http://www.phelpsny.com/phelps-fun/historical-society/