Transcribed by Crist Middaugh
Belvidere, Hub of the county
By Kathryn Ross
There are no road signs leading to Belvidere, but not that many years ago it was a thriving community at the crossroads of mass transportation and a candidate for the county seat, now its vine covered, rambling buildings are a shadow of yesteryear.
As you drive north on state Route 19 just before you come to the intersection of I-86 you are traveling over the heart of Belvidere, Allegany County Historian Craig Braack explained that before the present road, Route 19 traveled through Belvidere at the level of the railroad tracks.
“It was a very dangerous railroad crossing. There were a lot of accidents right there, so when they built the new road, they decided to raise the road going over the tracks using the abutment for the old B an S (Buffalo and Susquehanna) railroad and going over the heart of the town,” he said.
That wasn’t the start of the demise of Belvidere, but it added to it, along with the demise of the railroads, the rise of big department stores and the closing of certain industries and the increased use of the automobile.
The town of Belvidere received its name from Belvidere, the stone mansion Judge Philip Church built in 1810, in the northeast corner of the Town of Amity. A post office was established about 1835 and originally called Hobbyville after the assistant postmaster general, at the time, Selah Hobbie, who was Fromm Newburgh. The name was changed to Belvidere after the railroad was completed.
In her “Articles on Allegany County History” Miriam Thornton Fisher wrote in 1947, “There were three plank roads in Allegany County, one from Angelica to Belvidere, another from Scio to Allentown by way of Knights Creek. The third plank road ran from Wellsville through the Four Mile Wood to Alma and to Eleven Mile, Pa.
Around 1900, at the height of the railroad days in the county, three separate lines crossed the valley floor in Belvidere - the Erie, the Buffalo and Susquehanna and the Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern.
With so many roads and railroads, commericial buildings and industry, “Beers and Company” 1806-1879 stated, “Belvidere was a place of some importance and a trading point for farmers and lumbermen. There were three sawmills. In 1860 the population was 181, and by 1879, after the building of the railroad there were hotels, and stave mill, cheese factory, numerous small stores and mechanics ships.”
Due to the railroads and accommodations, in the 1870s Belvidere was considered as one of the sites for the county seat when it was suggested that government offices be moved from Angelica to a more central location. However, according to Braack, one of the deciding factors was that the courthouse (now part of the main county office complex) had been constructed in Belmont in 1859.
Historically the railroad brought catastrophe and humor to Belvidere before its demise. In 1908 there was a noted wreck of a Wells Fargo train. Another legend has it that Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood was on an Erie train passing through the area around 1884 when she was campaigning for the office of President of the United States.
Lockwood was born in Royalton, NY in Niagara County. She was a suffragette who was one of the first female lawyers in the United States. In 1879 she argued a case in the Supreme Court. Lockwood ran for president in 1884 and 1888 for the National Equal Rights Party and received about 4,100 votes.
As the story goes, most males were opposed to her candidacy, so when her campaign train stopped at the station, in Belvidere, and the conductor yelled out, “Bel-Va-Dear, Bel-Va-Dear,” a small riot ensued.
The “Belmont Dispatch” of April 18, 1935 reported, “Belvidere had its inception back in the early fifties when the Erie opened its railroad through this section. Back in 1860 French’s Gazetteer describes the place as one of the most important on the Genesee state and freight routes which radiated in all directions. It boasted three saw-mills, a couple of hundred population, a church, a hotel, a saw and stave mill, a cheese factory, and many small stores and mechanic’s shops.”
The 1935 story also reported, “With the Public Service heading today in Salamanca, relative to the retirement of the Erie R.R. station buildings at Belvidere, that village, once a thriving center of population and industry, and discussed strongly as Allegany’s county seat, will cease to be even a flag or whistle stop.”
The post office was abandoned previous to the April story in favor of a rural route from Belmont.
Although there seems to be little in Belvidere now, the area does have its claims to fame. From 1912 to 1942 it was the site of the Seager and Prindle Manufacturing Company which at its height provided jobs for 200 workers and shipped its products all over the world, acoording to the “Town of Amity Sesquicentennial 1830-1980” book.
The company manufactured items utilizing wood from the hard Maple trees which were abundant. It made shoe lasts which were shipped to London for the manufacture of footwear, and mangle rollers which were shipped to Germany for use in electric clothes irons. But its most famous product were bowling pins it manufactured and shipped mostly to the mid-West.
Two of Belvidere’s buildings are on the National Historic Register - the Belvidere Mansion built by Church, and Christ Episcopal Church which was built under the influence of Angelica and Elizabeth Church.
Nestled in a grove of trees on a slight rise, Christ Church was listed the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It was constructed in the Gothic Revival style in 1860 and features Carpenter Gothic elements. It is a one-story board and batten clad rectangular structure with a slate gable roof. Some of the unique features of the brick red painted church is that its slate roof contains two different colors of slate with the light color forming crosses on either side of the structure. Its narrow stained-glass windows are also protected by narrow shutters which make the church one of the gems of the county.
In the mid-1980’s the large farm fields west of the hamlet were one of the deciding factors in the vote to consolidate the Angelica and Belmont school districts according to accounts from that time. The fields were to be the site of the consolidated school building, but the fields proved to be an unfit building site due to drainage problems.
Up until a few years ago there where three thriving businesses in Belvidere - the Belvidere restaurant, a truck stop and medical clinic. Today only the clinic remains, but there may yet be another chapter in the story of Belvidere.