Historically Speaking

by Robert F. Oakes



ANGELICA - The pretty little village of Angelica, nestled among the hills of Allegany County, has had a long and in­teresting history and can boast of many great men who molded its early destiny.

Such a man was Alpha Morse who became one of that community's outstanding businessmen after erecting woolen mills that have long since passed into oblivion.

Born in Shelburne, Mass., in 1796 while George Washington was still president of the United States, he moved to Eaton, Madison County, New York, with his parents and was married there in 1819.

Engaged in the manufacture of heavy woolen goods, he managed his large business very successfully.

Morse quickly discovered that the home town market was not large enough to purchase the products of his mills, so he packed a quantity of cashmeres and other goods on wagons and hauled them from Eaton through Allegany County to a place then called Olean Point at the headquarters of the Allegheny River.

The journey through the wilderness was long and difficult with only an occasional small clearing to break the monotony of the trip. At Olean he found other adventurers, bound like himself for the distant settlements on the banks of the Ohio River.

It was at Olean that Morse built a flat boat, hired a crew, packed his goods on board and started down the river. He passed old Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh and sailed down the Ohio with Indians at many points occupying the shores on both sides of the stream.

Morse finally reached Cincinnati but instead of finding the great metropolis that it later became, he found only a small town, nestling on the river bank with the flag floating over

Fort Washington, built there to protect the citizens from the wild Indians.

At Cincinnati, the manufacturer exchanged his woolen goods for furs, which he carried back to New York, realizing a very handsome profit to reward him for his enterprise.

It was during this trip to the Ohio country that Morse first passed through Angelica and his quick eye discerned the natural advantages of its position with an excellent supply of available waterpower and a magnificent stretch of pine forests reaching far away on every side. This picture never left his mind and a few years later he settled in Angelica where he erected his large woolen mills a mile below the village.

The woolen mills at Angelica gave that community the only business of its kind in this section of New York.

It flourished, and in 1839 Morse brought his family to their new home where he remained for more than 40 years continuing a busy and active life.

In Angelica, Morse rebuilt a sawmill and a grist mill, operated in real estate, bought wool, grain and timber and was one of the community's leaders in all public enterprises.

He was active in politics, being a member of the old Whig Party. He later became associated with the Republican Party and was warmly associated with its interests.

The prominent Angelica manufacturer's only daughter and only child was married in 1840 to Prof. J.B. Raymond of Madison University, who later became president of Vassar College.

Morse rebuilt and redecorated a handsome home in Angelica, planted shade trees and Ornamental shrubbery and Fountain Home "became known far and wide for its beauty and generous hospitality."

Mr. and Mrs. Morse were known to be generous people and the halls of their home rang for

many years with the happy shouts of youngsters even into the fourth generation. They were said to have been the most obliging of neighbors.

Angelica's well known woolen factory contributed widely to the Baptist Church and his efforts were said to have done much to secure the plank road which was built from the village to the nearby community of Belvidere.

He was also one of those who organized and operated the bank at Angelica.

Following the death of Mrs. Morse in 1875, he spent a great deal of his time with his daughter at Vassar College.

A newspaper article in 1883 noting the death of the revered Angelican said in part,

"He had a strong sinewy frame, and his habits were so temperate that his strength continued long after he had passed his four score years.

"In July last, he had a fall which considerably disabled him, and has since been con­fined to his bed most of the time, and the days and nights have been passing in quiet, painless slumber.

"In September he entered on his 88th year, but his failing faculties showed that the end was near. On Sabbath afternoon, October 21, he quietly passed away and the long life which has so richly blessed so many other lives was ended."

Pretty little Angelica has had more than its share of colorful history, but today it is un­doubtedly best known as the site for the annual Allegany County Fair.

Thousands of persons flock there each summer to witness the fair events and those who have made their home in that community are always welcomed "home" at fairtime.

Angelica is also widely known as the former site of the Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern Railroad repair shops where many residents of that community gained their livelihood for many years.

The shops closed in the late 1940's ending the village's long standing as a rail center.

The demise of the Shawmut, as the railroad was called, changed things in Angelica. Families moved away, other residents grew old and passed away, but the village still remains one of the friendliest and prettiest in the area.

Any history of Angelica cannot be passed over, however, without mentioning its famed croquet court in the center of the village. It is one of the few most of us have ever seen and it also has helped make the community one most people cannot forget.