County History

Setting Clocks & Borders Back to 1790 - Early Surveying Efforts

From the Wellsville Daily Reporter, January, 1986.
Transcribed by Crist Middaugh.


Setting clocks and borders back to 1790

by Bill Greene

Today let’s set our clocks back to about 1790, and introduce some new names to our cast of characters.

Let’s see what John Adlum and Thomas Davis were up to. For your first hint let me name my reference. A little more than 100 years ago the states of New York and Pennsylvania decided it would be a good idea to have a join commission resurvey the boundaries between the two states, and resent any damaged or missing monuments. This was done, and their report was published in 1875. This material mainly is from that report.

You recall that the wheeler-dealers were buying and selling this vas chunks of land. Well, every time the land would change hands, someone would have to add more to the surveys. At one point the “pre-emption line” or eastern edge of the Indian territories was about where the eastern edge of Steuben County now is. This was exactly 82 miles west of the Delaware River. The southern boundary of New York was pretty well figured out on paper even before the lose of the Revolution, and was laid out on the ground almost immediately thereafter. Stone markers were set every mile. Every few years the pre-emption line would be moved west about the width of one of our present counties.

One of these deals was made in 1788. This time the demarkation line was to pass through the mouth of Canaseraga Creek. Extended to the north, the line would run into Lake Ontario at about Hilton. But we aren’t too interested in that end of it. What we are concerned about is where the line went to the south.

In 1788, the territory was divided into seven ranges by Hugh Maxwell, running from the state line to the lake, and the next year the ranges were cut up into towns. There was some hanky-panky and the range lines were not all evenly spaced nor did they run exactly north and south. On Aug. 13, 1789, Augustus Porter began selling tracts along the border - a town at a time.

In 1790, Robert Morris took title, and wanted a better surveying job. Now enter John Adlum. In the fall of ’91, Mr. Adlum was commissioned to run a line south from the mouth of Canaseraga Creek to the state line. An entry on the matter reads: “On Oct. 17, 1791, began a survey of the line dividing the lands of Gotham and Phelps and the Indians…Beginning at the forks of the Genesee at an elm marked ‘O.P.’ on the east side…First mile on the nite of the 15 and 17 of October by accurate observations of the pole start passing the meridian…found the magnetic variable to be 5 minutes east…”

He took “frequent observations” and found the variation at the south end to be 40 feet west. “On the eighth of November at 51 miles and 293.7 perches (a perch is the same as a rod - 16 1/2 feet) we struck the state line. They marked the spot with a post and put market on two beech trees. The point is also 22.14 chains east of milestone 127 on the state line.” The 1875 report notes that no trace of the point could be found, “not even a fence.”

Meanwhile, Major Adam Hoops was resurveying the tact for some new owners, Sir William Pultney, John Hornby, and Patrick Colquahoun, with Mr. Pultney making the land along the south. Town One of range seven was subdivided by Moses Van Campen.

In 1795, John Adlum’s line became the western limit of the town of Canisteo in the new County of Steuben. In the restructuring of Allegany County in 1808 it became the western limit of the towns of Alfred and Ossian. (Ossian had been a part of Dansville.) That’s Canaseraga Creek that the new bridge crosses just east of Mount Morris.

We all tend to think of Nathaniel Dyke’s first cabin as having been right “downtown” Elm Valley, but it must have been about a mile to the east. When he got there in 1795 he would have found the Adlum line as his west line already marked out. What is now Elm Valley would have still been Indian territory. The present offsets in the Andover-Wellsville town lines came as much as 50 years later. Town One range seven, as referred to, is now Independence.