The following story was submitted by Town of Granger Historian, Loreen Bentley. It was published originally in the Olean Times Herald, unknown time, believed to be 1967.


Conch Shell Told Time For Pioneers

by Dorothy Godfrey Wayman

     In the 1820s the whole village of Short Tract got up, ate lunch and retired by Isaac Van Nostrand's conch shell time signal.

     At that time, Capt. Van Nostrand owned the only timepiece in Short Tract, Town of Granger, Allegany County.

     The deprivations endured by men and women who settled the wilderness of Western New York after the Revolution may be somewhat imagined by remembering Isaac's story.

     Isaac was a millwright who was born and raised in Connecticut.  Impressed by the primeval forest when he travelled to Western New York in 1819, he bought 200 acres of land from William Short, for whom Short Tract was named.  He built a sawmill on the banks of  Rush Creek, and a log cabin in which to live.

     The next year, he brought to Allegany county his wife, Grace Hatch Van Nostrand, and their six adult sons and two daughters, who built homes near his.  Other settlers lived within a radius of a few miles.

     None of them owned a watch, except Isaac Van Nostrand.

     When someone observed that Isaac owned the only timepiece in the settlement, a plan was devised and a proposal was made.

     Isaac was a neighborly soul, and he agreed to be "watchman" for Short Tract.  Besides the watch, he had brought from Connecticut one of those large conch shells seafaring men picked up on Florida or African beaches.

     Each day at 4 a.m. when Isaac got up to build the fire and milk the cows, he stood in his yard and blew the shell.  Men said, if the wind was right, you could hear his conch horn seven miles!

     Isaac blew the horn again at noon and a curfew at 9 p.m.  The whole village got up and ate and went to bed by Isaac's conch.

     The first mechanical "clocks" were only possible after Galileo in 1581 A.D. discovered the principle of the pendulum.  Then from sundials and hourglasses, Europe progressed to church-tower clocks and grandfather clocks.  The era of marking time by "tick-tock" began.

     According to the Encyclopedia Britannnica, the word "clock" applies only to one that strikes the hours audibly.  A non-striking mechanism is a "timepiece".  In Europe, notably in St. Mark's Square in Venice, was a clock surmounted by a bell on which two figures of men with hammers banged out "12 o'clock".

     By that distinction, the Olean Municipal Building has a timepiece on its west wall, while St. Mary of the Angels Church on W. Henley St. has a clock that not only strikes the hours but every quarter hour.   It also rings the Angelus signal as did the monasteries in old Europe.  Some churches also ring a curfew derived from the French "couvrez les feux" (cover the fires before going to bed).