Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

The Daily Reporter, Wednesday, December 13, 1989


Genesee Reflections

Bill Greene

A brief historical sketch of Birdsall

One hot Saturday in the summer of 1979, when there were only three gas stations in all of Allegany County, do you think that the Town of Birdsall would have cancelled their sesquicentennial celebration?

No way! Those who did not know that the newly opened truck stop at Belvidere had 20,000 gallons were siphoning gas from their field tractors. But the party was on. From all over Western New York they came. Over a thousand of them. As the cliche goes, “A good time was had by all.” There were chain sawing contests, a greased pig contest, and a tug-of-war with the losers landing in the swamp. It was such a good time that it was repeated every year until the insurance problem did what the Arabs couldn’t.

The folk up there have answers for a lot of things. They needed a use for the money they made on the celebration so they bought new road signs. After that they built a fire hall. They had had a small epidemic of fires which caused me to comment to town historian Fay Clancy, “If you don’t quit burning things down, you won’t have a town to be historian of.” She replied, “I’ll have you know that this town is booming. Why in the past year, we have doubled our number of farms. Now we have TWO of them!”

Then there was the time a contractor was told to go to Birdsall and tear down the church. When he was almost done he found out it was the wrong church.

Up on the Jersey Hill Road there is a fine Catholic cemetery. The town is justly proud of its upkeep. For a long time I could find no other cemetery in the town so I had to conclude that no protestant would be caught dead in Birdsall.

Finally, however, we did locate another burial ground on Jersey Hill just inside the town line. It is grown over and you can’t tell it from the state forest. Last summer I was going by and decided to check it out. I found the stone for John Dey. I had been looking all over West Almond for him.

If you thought that by not staring the column with the usual notes on the town boundary, Birdsall was somehow different form other towns, sorry. About two thirds of the land came from the Town of Allen with the remainder coming from Almond. It was part of Alfred from 1816-1821, and then Almond form 1821-1829.

They must have heard about “here comes the judge” in 1929 because the place was named for a circuit riding justice by the name of John Birdsall.

Among the early settlers was Andrew C. Hull who was one of the first overseers of the poor, and helped build the county home. He owned about 5,000 acres of what is now known as Keeney (there are several spellings) Swamp. The 1830 census indicates that he had an iron furnace there. He got “bog iron” out of the swamp and make his own charcoal. I have heard of a pile of stones that could have been his furnace. We still need to locate a source of limestone.

In 1875 the Allegany Chemical Works was a major establishment making alcohol and charcoal. Wood was drawn from miles around. Near the plant was an open field of some six acres. It was known to have been cleared long before white settlement began. It might be interesting to locate this place, and do an archaeological study. Not to say that some parts of the town are remote, but last summer when I was campaigning in Bishopsville I found it shortest to get there by way of Birdsall. It is a good thing that the moon was out, because the drive has a lot of twisting and turning. In other words, I had to use celestial navigation to find Birdsall. I can imagine that the first settlers had to resort to the same means of reckoning.

The most truly unbiased environmental impact statement that I have worked on showed that the swamp is best left for the birds, and not a lake for people.

It is too bad that they had to tear down the fire tower. How do you spell relief? BIRDSALL.