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Houghton: From Bawdy to Penitent

Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

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Houghton: From bawdy to penitent

By Kathryn Ross

The Spectator

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Houghton - There are 29 towns in Allegany County, yet in spite of the fact that up until the late 19th century it was Native American territory (the demarcation line was located on the western border of the town of Andover) only one town bears an American Indian name - Caneadea.

Within Caneadea there are three principal areas: Belfast, Caneadea and Houghton. And it is only Houghton, which was settled across the Genesee River from the original Caneadea Indian Reservation, where are buried the rains of the last known survivor to have lived on that reservation - Copperhead.

In 1826, according to John Minard’s “Centennial History of Allegany County,” a treaty signed by 47 Seneca chiefs ceded the Reservation land to white speculators for little more than $48,000 (about $1 million in this day and age).

In the text of “And You Shall Remember,” by Frieda A. Gillette and Katharine W. Lindley it is written that “One Seneca Indian claimed he had not received payment for his land and concluded the white people owed him, a living. His name was Copperhead.

“Living in a hut on the bank near the intersection of the Centerville Road and Old River Road, he lived on the charity of the people of the community and often shared lunch with children who visited him. When he died in 1864, he claimed to be 120 years old. He was buried on a hilltop overlooking the cornfields along the river bordering the old reservation.”

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But 50 years later, his grave with his bones, riddle and kettle were in danger of being washed away by a growing stream according to the authors. Offers of financial help came from students and friends of Houghton Seminary after the intention to remove the body were made public in The Houghton Star newspaper. On June 10, 1914, the grave site was moved to the Houghton College campus, where a boulder now marks the grave of the last Seneca American Indian to live in Caneadea.

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White this is no doubt most of Houghton’s fame comes from the collect which bears its name, in the 1850s the character of the village was a far cry from the wholesome Christian reputation it bears today. Houghton College evolved from the Houghton Seminary founded in 1884 by the Rev. Willard J. Houghton, after Wesleyan Methodist Church leaders in central New York decided, “the village was the ideal site for a denomination school because it was free from the evils of the larger towns and cities,” according to Arch Merrill’s 1950 work, The Southern Tier.”

About 30 years earlier during the height of the Genesee Valley Canal era, Houghton, then known widely as Jockey Strut was also known as the roughest, toughest, bawdiest port town on the canal.

Merrill wrote, “The village has not always been so straight laced. In the days of the canal, long before the Georgian redbrick college buildings arose on the hill, Houghton was Jockey Street. It was a hang-out for horse thieves and rough characters and got its name because horse races were staged on its mile-long principal street. ….There was no rougher port on the old Genesee Valley Canal than Houghton. There were many brawls and much carousing in the village tavern.”

Gillette and Lindley wrote, “During the winter months when the canal was frozen over some of the boatmen spent their time in the area tavern.”

The village tavern still stands on Houghton’s main street (state Route 19). It was first moved back from the road, rotated to face north and renovated for the home of Professor Charles Finney, chairman of the college’s music department and his wife. Today, it is once again undergoing renovation by the building’s new owners.

But the canal era ended ostensibly the town quieted down. It is also suggested that a young Willard Hougton probably watched the races, which still took place. Willard was the fifth child of one of the area’s original landowners, Luther Houghton, who migrated to the area in 1811 and six years later purchased land across the river from the Caneadea Indian Reservation where he farmed and raised his family.


In 1851 when Willard Houghton was 26, the Genesee Valley Canal building project reached Houghton Creek.

“Undoubtedly he talked with the candlers who tied up at Houghton Creek….Presumably he watched the races on Jockey Street and observed closely some of what he later called the ‘evils of the world’, which touched even members of his own family,” wrote Gillette and Findley.

They go on to recount that later that same year, Willard was reclaimed at a Wesleyan Methodist Church revival in Short Tract and went about helping to organize the first congregation in Houghton.

According to Merrill, Houghton became a preacher and passed out Bible cards to children and Bible Tracts to their parents. After 1876, his primary work was organizing and teaching Sunday school and evangelism. Houghton died 12 years, after committing the last 40 years of his life to evangelism, after the establishment of the Houghton Seminary.

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He committed the last 40 years of his life to evangelism. Both boys and girls were educated at the seminary, which was located off Tucker Hill Road. Gillett and Lindley wrote that, “it quickly became apparent that the land around it was too wet and unstable for expansion. In 1906, the campus was moved to its present location the plateau above the hamlet of Houghton.

According to Houghton College history, “In 1899, the first few college classes were offered. James Luckey was appointed president in 1908 and Houghton College received its provisional charter from New York in 1923. A permanent charter was granted in 1927, and accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools came in 1935. Stephen Paine was appointed president in 1937.

“When the former Buffalo Bible Institute merged with Houghton College in 1969, the West Seneca campus was created. Wilber Dayton was appointed president in 1972 and he succeeded by Daniel R. Chamberlain in 1976. The college initiated its first master’s degree program in 2004 and currently offers nine such degrees. Shirley Mullen was appointed president in 2006.”

Today the main employer in the village of Houghton Academy, is the college, which employs more than 300 people and enroll about 1,200 students. The population was 1,693 at the 2010 census and the Houghton Community Association, a local organization for the betterment of the Houghton community, holds community evens throughout the year.

Much of the information for this article along with photos were provided through the assistance of the Houghton College Library Archives under the direction of David Stevick.

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