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Town of Independence Related Articles

Uncommon, Independent Folk

Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

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Uncommon, independent folk

By Kathryn Ross

The Spectator

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Whitesville - A little harder for the settlers of the early 1800s to get to than it is today, Whitesville in the town of Independence on state Route 248 certainly embodies the spirit of independence.

Cryder Creek, which flows through the village, was named for John Cryder of Dutchess County, who found his way into the area in 1798.

The fast-flowing Cryder Creek is his namesake and has served the village of Whitesville well. It was the first path into the area traveled by both the Seneca tribesmen and the first permanent settlers.

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Upon its banks, pioneers such as Samuel White built their homes and businesses. It also became a source of power for the lumber mills and grist mills, which would make Whitesville one of the first prosperous communities in Allegany County.

The town was named for White, who arrived in 1819 with an axe and the princely sum of $2.50 in hand. He accumulated property, built this first hotel and by his death in the 1860s, is said to have been worth $80,000 according to Sesquicentennial History printed in 1971.

Independence Historical Society members Roger Easton and Donald Nelson say the town grew as a farm community with stores, churches, mills, restaurants, hotels, an undertaker and an opera house, with farmers coming from a wide area to do buisness.

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In the 1830 census, the population of the town was recorded as 877 and by 1840 it had grown to 1,440. Whitesville alone is listed as having 300 people, two churches, two stores, one grist mill, two sawmills, 40 houses, two taverns, a woolen factory and a tannery.

In the 1860s, Whitesville sent more than 50 men to the Civil War who became part of the 85th New York Volunteers, the 13th Artillery and the First NY Dragoons. Among them was Cpl. Selic A. Sawyer.

One of seven children, Sawyer is the first soldier enlisted from Whitesville to be killed in the war. As part of Company H., he was killed at the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia in May 1862, just eight months after enlisting and eight months before turning 21.

Whitesville’s soldiers came home to a booming economy. Along with a growing number of businesses and factories, in 1877 the Whitesville Driving Park Association was organized to promote the annual fair and horse races.

The Association soon built a half-mile, round, flat track for horse racing both astride and driven.

In the 1940 issue of the Whitesville News, Fred D. White recalled, “Ours was one of the best half-mile tracks in the state, being almost a perfect circle.”Whitesville Photo 4 of 5

It also chronicled that people came from miles around many by rail, to attend the three-day fair and races where the purse sometimes reached $500.

Today, aside from the flattened area near Whitesville Wood Products, there is little left of the old racetrack except the starting bell that adorns the Wilson house, a stone’s throw from the old race track site.

In the 1890s, work began on a 57-mile-long railroad line that would link the Erie Railroad in Canisteo to the Pittsburgh, Shawmut and Northern Railroad in Ceres, running through Whitesville.

The line became known as the NYP (nip) for New York and Pennsylvania Railroad and brought prosperity to the town until floods waters damaged the tracks in 1934.

In 1935, the line was abandoned. In its time, the NYP provided a way for farmers, lumberman, tanners and others to get their produce to market as well as excursion trains to Elmira, Olean, Buffalo and even Toronto, Canada.

From 1905 into the 1950s, the Whitesville News reported the national and local news and kept history alive for its readers. In 1929, Glen Robbins purchased the paper and remained its editor until its demise in the ‘50s.

A part of Whitesville’s history is reported the tale of Dr. Anthony Barney who in the early 1800s was one of the first physicians in the county.

The story goes that after attending to a medical emergency in far-away Arkport, he became the interest of a pack of wolves on the long woody ride home.

The wolves smelled the deea carcass, his payment for services rendered, which he’d placed on his horse. The prudent doctor dumped the deer carcass for the wolves and hastened home at no doubt a faster pace.

The News also reported the construction of the condensory, which became the Borden plant, and in 1944, the Civil Aeronautics Administration’s authorization of an airport in Whitesville. The airport is located northeast of the town, with an east-west airstrip 3,500 feet long and a north-south strip 1,800 feet long.

The spirit of Whitesville’s early settlers has been nurtured in many of their descendants. Historical Society members clearly recall two characters from when they were growing up in Whitesville - Sophia Teeter and Edna Silvernail.

Teater (1895-1981) was born in Whitesville, studied nursing at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and served as surrogate court secretary in Akron, Ohio. But she is best known as the Avon lady of Whitesville.

“She had a little wagon that she pulled behind her and she’d walk everywhere from Independence to Beech Hill and even Wellsville selling Avon (products),” said IHS President Shallee Lauzze.

“I remember she would come into the school with the Bergdorf-Goodman catalog and we would look at it together,” said retired Whitesville math teacher Sue Dempsey, secretary for IHS.

Member Marlee Cannon recalled Silvernail as a character. Silvernail (1897-1984) was Teater’s cousin. She lived on her family’s Beech Hill farm her entire life.

Living off the land, Silversnail raised cows, sheep, chickens and pigs and maintained a home all with no modern convenience, such as indoor plumbing and electricity. She designed her own clothes, made patters and took them to a seamstress.

During World War II, Silvernail served her country by walking to work at Worthington in Wellsville, more than 13 miles away.

In the 1960s, D.H. and Peg Ramsey opened the Cow Palace in Whitesville. An idea ahead of its time, it featured a view of cows eating form its dining area separating the diners from the livestock by only a glass partition.

Today the school and businessman James Fitzpatrick’s poultry business are the two largest employers.

From Cryder and White to Teater and Silvernail the people of Whitesville have maintained a fierce independence that serves them well to this day.

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