Reminiscences of Wellsville, Part I




Uncle Billy was a unique character. When I knew him he was the “old sexton” of Wellsville, “ That gathered them in” from time to time as occasion required.


One day I was at the cemetery, located at the lower end of Genesee street and found uncle Billy digging a grave.  “Well, uncle Billy,” said I,. “does it ever make you feel a little nervous when you are digging a grave?”


“Naw”, said he as he straightened up and rested upon his spade.  “I’d just as soon dig a grave as a tater hole.  I’m like the old woman who said that when she died she hoped they would take her to a warm place, for it was a little too chilly here for her in this world.”


Uncle Billy was interviewed in 1868 with the following result.  He said “In 1824 I cut a road from the De Peyster place, up past where old Crowner’s would be now, and settled here.  There was not a building or any claim where your city stands.  Old Job Strait’s log house was the first settlement and the first house in Wellsville village..


“Asa Foster and I came here about together.  What did we do when we got here?  Why, young man, we worked.  For we did not use any money, and we did not need it and there was nothing to buy if we’d had it.  We paid our taxes with road orders.  There was a settlement then at Shoemakers Corners, (now Elm Valley) and the settlement of Knight’s and Palmer’s at Scio, which we called the lower settlement.  There was a sled road over the hills from Kings Settlement on the Little Genesee, past here to Dike’s at Shoemakers Corners.  They use to raise anything they wanted to there and people came out of King’s settlement to buy potatoes at Dike’s.


“In 1827, Ben Palmer opened a store in Wellsville and brought goods in.  They came from Albany by wagons.  My store trade was $7.00 a year.”


“I bought the first caldron kettle that year and give three hundred pounds of maple sugar for it. The same spring I bought that rifle, (pointing to it) of Miami York and give him 200 pounds of sugar for it.  My sugar works were right here then.  That old gun, to my notion, is the best there is though.  I have had it for forty years.  I have kept the old flint in it.  It is sure.  In one year I killed twenty four deers, one bear and one wolf with it, and only had one pound of powder.


“You hain’t got any good fishing now as we had then.  Church built a mill at Phillipsville and he had a high spar dam.  A man could go to the dam about four in the afternoon, on the right kind of a day, with a fish pole cut from the woods, horse hair line, worms for bait and take forty pounds of nice trout in less than two hours time.  It was quite easy living then, if we hadn’t any money.  Why I’d go a little way from here, look across that piece of iron, (the flint lock gun) and get me meat enough to last two weeks.  I have carried  two bushels of meal from Wilcox’s mill on my shoulder many a time.”


Uncle Billy was a genial man and always full of fun and sometimes his wit would seem a little out of place.  He once said, he hoped to live long enough to bury a certain neighbor of his.  Said he, “I’d dig his grave two feet longer and three feet deeper than any I have ever dug and will do it free, gratis for nothing.”  Whether he did outlive that neighbor or not, this deponent sayeth not.


Nov. 1894

H. M. Sheerar