Canaseraga – Allegany County’s forgotten gem

By Kathryn Ross
February 10, 2013
Transcribed by Kathy S. Bentley

 The village of Canaseraga is located in the farthest northeastern corner of Allegany County in the town of Burns, and was once part of Ossian, before Ossian was annexed to Livingston County in 1856.
According to John Minard’s 1896 ‘History of Allegany County,’ “Samuel Boylan of New Jersey was the first settler and came in 1806, accompanied by his son, James H. Boylan, 9.” The area became known as Boylan Corners.

The name Canaseraga is derived from the creek that flows past the village. Town Historian Holley Spencer says, “the earliest and best sources say the name means, “among the slippery elm.”
Until the end of the 19th century, a huge elm tree graced the entrance to the town. Bark from the tree and a photograph of the tree are displayed in the village’s history room in the Essential Club Free Library.

Minard noted, “The big elm is the name given to a noble tree standing at the side of Main street bridge in the village of Canaseraga. Although its trunk is 17 feet in circumference it is as shapely and as beautiful as it is majestic in its paw proportions..…this ancient land mark counts its admirers by the thousand among those who have visited the locality.”

Which brings us to the fact, that in the later part of the 1800s and early 1900s Canaseraga was the tourist destination in the county.

Spencer points out “Burns was first settled in 1805 and it was the business center right up until the time the railroad passed it by. With the building of the railroad in Canaseraga came an influx of people and business, education, religion and entertainment flourished.”

James Campbell built a steam sawmill in 1851, cutting from 300,000 to 400,000 feet of lumber per year.

The first newspaper in Canaseraga was started in 1869, by W. H. Harris, called the Monthly Advertiser.

In 1873 the town of Burns needed a jail and built a two-cell lock-up on the north end of Main Street. It was used until 1942. Today with its original blacksmith-wrought iron hinges and bars, heavy metal-clad doors and sheathing on the walls and ceiling, it is a favorite site on a self-guided walking tour of Canaseraga.

Canaseraga was incorporated as a village in 1892.

Canaseraga Creamery Co. was organized in 1894, collecting milk from about 250 cows.

The Canaseraga Water Works Co., (owned by the village) was organized July 1895.

Of the bustling village, in the Jan. 8, 1892 issue of the Canaseraga Times it was written, “Nine couples came from Hornellsville to Canaseraga for a sleigh ride and took supper at the Hotel Lackawanna.” But, in March 1895, the bustling Main Street was wiped out by a massive fire. Newspaper accounts stated:
“The entire business portion of the village is in ruins.” Headlines screamed: “Sixty Business Blocks and Other Buildings Destroyed, 34 Families lose their Homes, Total loss $200,000.”

Rochester newspaper, March 28, 1895. “Early, the entire Village of Canaseraga was wiped out by a fire this morning. It started at 12:40 a.m near the Cottage Hotel and under a brisk breeze spread rapidly to neighboring buildings.”

The Canaseraga Times reported, “The dreaded has happened, and our beautiful village laid waste. Fire was discovered in the rear of Henry Hulburt’s store about one o’clock Thursday morning, March 28th.

An alarm was soon given, but a strong wind was blowing from the west and before a stream of water could be obtained the fire had enveloped the stores of Mr. Robert Hulburt and S. N. Bennett. A few minutes later it jumped the street and attacked the brick block on the corner of Main and Church streets. The wind, which was at times almost a hurricane drove the flames through these stores and against the buildings on the opposite side of the street and they almost instantly caught fire.

“The completeness of the destruction may be imagined from the fact that from a meat market, a jewelry shop, a blacksmith shop, the cigar factory and the two depots, not a place of business was left. Fortunately none of the churches were destroyed.”

It was around this time that entrepreneur Daniel Kingston had a vision for the blackened village. To secure its position as a tourist destination, in 1895 he built the Hotel Kingston, and in 1898 he built an opera house. The hotel boasted opulent society balls, fine dining and fine accommodations. Kingston also founded the Kingston School of Dance.

For the last several years efforts have been made to restore the old building for town and village offices and a museum.

Canaseraga was also the destination for at least one notorious outlaw. The Aug. 1924 issue of the Nunda News reported that “Bert Perry, 44, confessed to robbery.” The brains of the Perry gang, he confessed to ‘having had a hand in many train robberies during the past 20 years.’ When officers searched his homes near Canaseraga, they found the houses “filled with stolen loot.” Perry made his permanent home in Niagara Falls, but also owned at least two farms near Canaseraga.

“The Perry Gang used to rob the trains when they stopped for water and he would then come to Canaseraga where he was well-known and spend his money,” Spencer said.

In the News account it states that detectives questioning Perry’s neighbors “found that most of them stood between respect and fear of the man. He was known as one who gives generously to his neighbors, but whose goings and comings were a source of mystery to the inhabitants.”

The Canaseraga Four Corners Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Spencer explained the district which includes the Kingston Hotel were all built with brick and of similar design.

Today with its walking tour of historic homes and buildings, a fall festival and other events Spencer said a planning committee is working hard to make the village a destination site for tourism again and that there is a new hope for the restoration of the Hotel Kingston, “as the Landmark Society of Western New York looks at our historic district,” she said.

Canaseraga Allegany Countys forgotten gem 1

From the PennySaver Plus, Feb. 10, 2013

  Canaseraga Allegany Countys forgotten gem 2

From the PennySaver Plus, Feb. 10, 2013

Canaseraga Allegany Countys forgotten gem 3   Canaseraga Allegany Countys forgotten gem 4

From the PennySaver Plus, Feb. 10, 2013