Transcribed by Crist Middaugh


Allegany County is formed, prospers

The year without a summer bring out the best in people during famine; canals bring the world to Allegany and open the doors to prosperity

Last of a series

By Herriet Balcom Davis

Local History Series Last Photo 1 of 1

The County Formed and Divided

In 1808 the boundaries of Allegany County were established. At this time Angelica was divided and Alfred and Caneadea formed. Angelica became the seat of County Government. County officers included Judge Philip Church, a sheriff, county treasurer, clerk and district attorney.

As the settlements increased there was more division. Rushford, Friendship and Belfast were formed from Caneadea. New Hudson was formed from a part of Rushford. Cuba from a portion of Friendship. Almond was set off from Alfred. Amity and Belmont, Allen and Scio were formed from Angelica. The townships were divided and subdivided over the years to form the township and villages of today.

Business and Industry

Dairying and lumbering were the main industries but small businesses and manufacturing establishments grew to fill the need of the increasing population. There were by 1812 saw mills and villages with bankers, merchants, shoe makers, blacksmith, harness makes, carpenters, cheese makers, millers, carding mills, tanners, and shoe makers.

With mills to saw the logs into lumber frame houses being to take the place of the lowly log cabins and window sashes, blinds and doors, lath and shingle were manufactured.

The wheat raises was still cut with a sickle, the grain separated from the stalk with a flail and separated from the chaff. Prices ere low. Wheat sold for thirty-eight cents a bushel, potatoes for thirteen cents, butter sold for six to eight cents a pound. A cow as worth ten to twelve dollars.

The State Militia

Following the Revolutionary War the State had created a militia of all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. All were to meet at a designated place for military training the first Monday of September and one other day before the end of the month.

Officers were further required to meet two days in succession at some time during the summer months for drill under the brigade inspector. Failure to appear meant court martial and a fine unless a good excuse could be given. If unable to pay a fine a time was spent in the county jail house in Angelica.

Some men who were actively employed were exempt as were state officers, clergymen, school teachers and students. Persons with a religious objection could purchase annual exemption. Top officers were appointed by the State. Captains and officers of lower status were chosen by ballot vote of the regiment or battalion. Each noncommissioned officer and private had to provide his own equipment and uniform. Each man was obligated for military duty for fifteen years but could get exemption after seven years.

By September crops had mostly been harvested and the men found the time of training something of a holiday. This was a time of socializing and exchanging the latest news as well as a time of training.

The maintenance of a Militia was thought necessary in the even of an Indian uprising. But, with the event of the War of 1812, the Seneca Indians of the Caneadea Reservation befriended the settlers of Allegany County.

Having heard by their grapevine that the Huron Indians of Canada had crossed the Niagara River, burned Buffalo and were planning to come Southeast to the Genesee Valley destroying every pioneer cabin en route, they offered to guard the residence of Belvidere. Mrs. Church of Belvidere had been a visitor at their ceremonies at Caneadea and was well liked. Their offer was refused and fortunately not needed.

An other exampled recorded of their concern for their white neighbors was regarding Col. Alanson Burr of Caneadea. He was drafted for service and left his wife and two young children to go to Batavia where he was to enlist. On the way he became ill and was given lodging and care by another pioneer family. According to the custom of the time he had to give his shoes and hat and a sum of money to someone to go in his place.

When recovered he returned home barefoot. As he approached his cabin he noticed that there was no smoke coming from the chimney. What had become of his wife and children? He hurried his steps and at the door of the cabin found a crotches stick. This he knew to be a sign that the Indians of Caneadea Reservation had been to his cabin. Hastening to their village in the hills east of the river he found his wife and children safe. The Senecas had taken them there for their protection.

Taverns and Migration

The year of 1912 saw many changes. More people arrived daily and while some stayed to settle in the county many more only used the towns as a gateway to points farther west. They came in wagon teams. Over the hill to Almond, to Olean and then down the Allegheny River to the Ohio and even on down the Mississippi.

The great wester migration was in progress and from 1913 to 1917 was at its height. The roads were now opened and it was not uncommon to have twenty-five to fifty teams passing through daily during the spring and summer. Some migrants came from Utica, west to Canandaigua, South to Angelica and then to Olean.

Nearly every town now had a tavern. This was a place providing lodging and meals and care for the animals of the migrants. Business was booming.

In Cuba another business sprang up during these years. This was the building of boats in which the emigrants went down Oil Creek to the Allegheny and then to the Ohio Rivers. These boats were constructed of logs and planks sixteen by twenty-four feet in length and sold for $2.00 per not in length. There were oars fore and aft and carried one or two families according to the length of the boat.

With so much travel the roads in low lying swampy areas became nearly impassable. Here logs were placed across the roads to avoid sinking in the mud. These roads were called “corduroy roads”. The ridges of the logs certainly resembled the ridges of corduroy but whether the roads or material came first has not been researched.

The Summer That Was Not

1816 went down in history as the year without a summer. The temperatures were so cold that there were frequent frosts and the crops planted did not grow. If the seeds sprouted the young plants did not mature. The pioneers faced a possible famine. There was not wheat to be ground into flour. Neither were they any other crops. Some people in desperation even dug up potatoes that had been planted as seed, washed and cooked them for food.

This was a time when the courage and stamina of the settlers was sorely tried. The people who had been in the county the longest had some supplies left from the previous year and shared with their neighbors. They, too, had more money with which to buy supplies. In several of the towns those who had prospered in former years took up collections for a fund with which to purchase flour from places farther East for the more unfortunate. The owners of the grist mills who had a supply of flour rationed it to the buyers that all might have a share. Except for the caring and generosity of the minority there would have been starvation during this time of famine. Throughout history hardships have often brought out the best in people. This time was no exception.

Another Source of Income

Hunting and trapping had always been a part of a pioneer’s life to provide food and clothing, and cash from the sale of first. But, in 1917 there was even a further incentive to wade the snowdrifts and brave the blizzards. A bounty had been placed on wolves. The wolves had become so numerous and were destroying so many sheep that $40 was offered by the county for each wolf killed. Several men, making sure their cabins were snug and their families supplied with ample provisions, left the relative comfort of the fireplace to spend the winter in the forest hunting and trapping. So many wolves were killed that some of the hunters had to wait for their pay until the county coffers had been replenished from taxes the following year.

A Way to Market and Prosperity

The Erie Canal form the Hudson River to Buffalo was completed in 1825. Commerce flourished between the East and West. Now the towns of the southwestern counties pushed harder for some means of transportation to get their goods to market. In 1827 Governor Clinton recommended a survey for a canal route to connect the Erie Canal at Rochester with the Allegheny River.

A decade passed before a canal was started in 1937. This was planned to extend from Rochester to Olean with a side cut to Dansville. All of the work was done by hand. There were no steam shovels or any earth moving equipment. By 1840 the canal was opened to Mt. Morris and by 1841 had reached Dansville. This area was relatively level. By 1842 the work was virtually stopped. In the hilly region south of Nunda progress was slow. Locks had to be built.

How was the canal to go around the Falls of the Genesee River hear Portageville? At first it was believed that a tunnel could be cut through the mountain below the Middle Falls. Men worked carrying the stone, dirt and rocks in aprons from the hole dug into the bank until an area was created large enough for a team of horses or oxen and a wagon. The tunnel kept caving in; several men lost their lives and this plan had to be abandoned. Then, finally the canal was built along the side of the gorge bank. At Portageville and aqueduct was built to cross the Genesee River to the West side.

In spite of the delays the canal brought business to the area. There were many newcomers. Quarries were opened. One such was South of Caneadea gorge, just East of the present Caneadea Dam. The Genesee Valley Canal was finished to Oramel in 1851, to Belfast in 1853, to Rockville in 1854 and to Olean in 1856. By today’s standards the canal was no more than a giant ditch but it provided a way of transportation. The barges were pulled by mules and toll charged for each mile goods were transported.

Lumber was the biggest item to be shipped on the barges but farm produce also found its way to both an eastern and a western market.

The Genesee Valley Canal in Allegany County went through Fillmore, Houghton, Burrville, Caneadea, Oramel, Belfast, Rockville, Black Creek Corners, Cuba, to Hinsdale and Olean with a canal basin near Oramel for the barges to tie up. Oramel became a small city. It was at this time larger than was Olean. By the mid ‘50s Oramel had two churches, several mills and 733 inhabitants. In Cuba a dam was built across Oil Creek to make a reservoir to maintain the water level of the canal. Allegany County prospered during this time.

The commerce on the Genesee Valley Canal contributed somewhat to the income of the Erie Canal but the money form tolls of its use never equaled expenditures for the continual repairs needed. By an act of the state legislature it was abandoned in 1878. The county experienced an economic recession but it was not long before railroads were built and the area flourished again.

Editor’s Note: The writer, an Allegany County native, now lives in Arizona.