RUSHFORD — Before the construction of the Caneadea Dam that forms Rushford Lake, the Town of Rushford was in danger of fading into just another hill town in the northern part of Allegany County.
Town Historian Homer Norton, pointing to a time line on the wall of his office located next to the Rushford Free Library, says that the high point in the Town of Rushford’s population was in the mid-1800s. "Then people just started moving out, because there weren’t any jobs.”
When Rushford was founded, the lumbering business employed most of the people, he explained. It was part of the process of clearing the land for farming. The cash crop of the time was lumber that was used to make Pearl Ash which was used for fertilizer.
Construction of the Caneadea Dam which formed Rushford Lake, got started in December of 1926. The dam impounds 2,700 acres of water in the Caneadea Valley. Its storage capacity is nine billion gallons of water. At its peak, 500 people were employed in the construction of the 125 foot structure. Photos from the files of former Rushford Town Historian, Homer Norton.
After that, came the dairy farms and the cheese industry evolved from that. You couldn’t go very far down the road before you came to a cheese factory,” Norton said. “The Tonawanda Valley and Cuba, a narrow gage railroad, was constructed to transport the heavy cheese.”
“J. Elmer, one of the foremost names in Rushford history was one of the entrepreneurs who capitalized on the cheese making in the area. Mostly the farmers made curd, until Elmer traveled to Cheddar, England, and learned the secret of making cheddar cheese. He brought the method back and started making cheddar here. At one time we were the Cheddar Cheese Center of the world.”
Elmer developed the famous “Pineapple” cheese that turned out to be very popular, Norton said. He explained that it was cheddar cheese molded into the shape of a pineapple.
By the turn of the century economics were pretty much at a low point in Rushford’s history. Then, in the early 1920s the Mohawk Power Company, which owned Rochester Gas and Electric saw the need for more electrical power. A plan was made to build a $2 million dam on Caneadea Creek that would save RG&E the expense of purchasing 100,000 tons of coal a year to generate electrical power. The plan called for the water impounded by the dam to be released in the fall when the water level of the Genesee River had dropped to a point below that which is required to supply the power need ed to operate the company’s hydro power plant located in Rochester.
The logical site for the dam was located in the Caneadea Creek gorge, an area that was well-known to locals as a playground, where families could picnic, hike and enjoy nature. That is according to Rushford old timer Mildred Falsion who recalls playing in the gorge. “Oh it was a great place to go,” she said.
The selected area also included the town of East Rushford. By the early part of the century, East Rushford had long since seen its glory days. A small community that housed a melodium factory, several farms and gristmills was described as “Only a handful of scattered buildings,” when the dam was pro posed. The Caneadea Power Corporation, which was formed as a subsidiary to RG&E to build the dam, paid $1,200 for a small farm, and $12,000 for a larger farm, $10,000 for a feed mill and $15,000 for a sawmill. The people moved to Rushford, sometimes taking their homes with them, or out of the area completely leaving the land open for the dam construction.
Norton said that sometimes fishermen with radar detectors will pick up the outline of an old building on the bottom of the lake.
Work on the dam started in December of 1926, and at its peak, 500 were employed on the project. The dam was completed in 1929.