Allegany County Towns, Villages Got Their Names in Many Ways

(Transcribed 2/1/2024 by Roger Easton for Allegany County Historical Society; The material used in this article on Names in Allegany County was compiled by the late Historian, Winifred Knight Thornton, and was used with the permission of James and Knight Thornton by Wellsville Daily Reporter on publication, 16 October 1955.)

Names of places attract many people for a variety of reasons. Allegany County has many attractive names and what names could reflect a pleasanter environment than Angelica, Amity, Friendship, Willing. No doubt you have smiled when you read in the local papers that the “Willing ladies will serve supper in the Church parlors Thursdays” and that the “Willing firemen answered a call to smother a grass fire.”

Angelica was named after Angelica Schuyler. Daughter of Philip Schuyler of Albany. She married John Barker Church and her sister married Alexander Hamilton. John Barker Church was an Englishman, under an assumed name, who came to America at the time of the Revolution, being in sympathy, as many of his countrymen were, with the colonists. He became a great friend of George Washington, Phillip Schuyler, Robert Morris, Lafayette, and many prominent men of those days.

In 1800 he bought 100,000 acres of land, in what later became Allegany County from Robert Morris and his son, Philip. He laid out a village in the center of the tract in 1802 and named it Angelica in honor of his mother.

In 1807 Belvidere, the beautiful mansion house was started. It was completed in 1810. The mansion house was called Belvidere no doubt because of the beautiful view. The settlement Belvidere was originally Hobbyville named after the Postmaster General.

There is an old story to the effect that a well known and militant suffragetter by the name of Belva Lockwood was travelling on the Erie to Dunkirk, when the trainman opened the door of the coach and shouted “Belvidere”, and a mild riot followed.

Belmont was originally named Philipsville after Philip Church. The County seat was first established in Angelica in 1851 but when the Erie Railroad by-passed Angelica in favor of Belmont, the problem of moving the County seat to Philipsville was agitated because it was more accessible. After many wordy and bloodless battles it was decided to make the County a half shire with both Angelica and Philipsville as county seat. For some time the Angelicans called their rival Pilfersville, but the name did not stick. In 1892 Belmont won the battle and since that date has been the county seat.

The name Philipsville was changed to Belmont in 1871. The reason for the change may have been because of the “beautiful mount” surrounding the village.
The reason for naming the township “Amity” is unknown except to fall in line with Angelica and Friendship. The title given to the latter for many years was “Fighting Corners”. In those days men gathered at the four corners and as the evening progressed many arguments developed into wrestling and fist fights, hence the name. The less belligerent citizens finally held a meeting and voted to do the limit and call the village Friendship. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, traveling through the county on the Erie Railroad was so attracted by the name that she mentioned it in her newspaper column “My Day”.

The name Scio is a difficult one to trace. There are many references to Classical Green history in New York State. Joseph Knight, great-grandfather of James and Knight Thornton, was the first settler in Scio arriving there in 1805. In 1820 there was a massacre of Christians on the Greek Island of Scio in the Aegean Sea. The massacre horrified Christendom and Daniel Webster made a speech about it which swept the country. In accordance with spirit of that day many towns were given classical names such as Macedon, Palmyra, Scipio, Hanibal. So when Scio was incorporated in 1820 it assumed that name.

Alfred was named after Alfred the Great who took over England in 1066. Alfred, possibly Alfred Station, was originally known as Bakers Bridge at Whitney’s Creek. This Baker family was not related to the Baker family in Baker Valley. They built a log bridge over the Creek in order to get to the grist mill at Almond.

Almond would seem to be a curious name for village and one wonders how it acquired it name. Judge Crandall informs us that while the Town Board was in session discussing possible names a boy wandered into the meeting nibbling on almonds and passed the plate to members of the Board. Another queer suggestion is some people driving though the village were eating almonds and threw the shells on the street and so the name was suggested.

Alma was named by Miss Bessie Wyvell’s father, Charles M. Wyvell, when he was a small boy. There was an epoch making battle fought in the Crimean War in 1854 on the banks of the Alma, in Crimea Russia between the British, French and Turks against the Russians. The battle aroused much interest.

Obi is an unusual name and required much searching to run down its origin. It was originally called Moonshanty Bridge. The postal authorities allowed that name was to long and asked for a shorter name. The Town Board was stumped for a name buy finally found a dictionary of proper names and came across Obi in a river in Siberia. Could any name be shorter? It was adopted in due form. There is a Gulf of Obi in the Artic Sea.

Bolivar created no problem for it was named after the Great South American Explorer and Liberator. Kossuth – never heard of it – a small settlement near Bolivar was names after a famous Pole.

Wellsville could have had originally, an Indian name, Gis-ta-quat. There was an Indian village on the present site of Wellsville. When the village was very small it was named Wellsville after Gardner Wells, its largest land owner. In 1871 on petition of the citizens the State Legislature changed name to Genesee. The Erie gladly adopted the name as it was here that the Railroad entered Genesee Valley. The Railroad had to change names on tickets and the brass baggage checks. The Post Office authorities refused to recognize the change because of possible confusion with Geneseo, NY. Finally, in 1873 the village became Wellsville and remains so.

Birdsall was named for Judge John Birdsall, in 1824, circuit Judge of the 8th Judicial District.

Belfast, originally Orrinsburg, was called Buttsville for a time after a very popular resident, Martin Butts. He moved to Friendship and the village retained the name but in 1831 a dispute arose, some desiring Buttsville, others wanting Antioch. At that time Andrew Jackson was in the headlines. Jacksonites wanted one name and anti’s another. A good natured battle ensued of placing a sign on the bridge entering the village with the opposition replacing it with another name. various names were suggested, the Huddle, Poland, Poduck, Portland. Finally Judge McKeen who came Belfast, Maine, suggested Belfast and he made it stick.

Centerville, Why? It is in the North West corner of the County. it is centrally located between several creeks and about equi-distant from each. It had at one time 48 people with six hotels.

Rushford was named because it is located on the banks of a creek heavily covered with rushes. Another possibility is that the village was named after Dr. Rush, a medical man from Philadelphia. It is recorded that some New Englanders wanted to name it after Windsor, Vt.

Garwood Station, near Burns, was named after James Garwood, a farmer and lumberman from Lincolnshire, England. Burns was named after the poet, Robert Burns.

Clarksville took its name from S. W. Clark, at one time agent for the Holland Land Co., Hallsport was named for Calvin Hall. Richburg after Alvan Richardson. Granger was named after Frances Granger of Canandaigua, at one time Post Master General of the United States. Willing received its name from Charles Willing, one of the owners of the Willing and Frances Tract.

Whitesville was named after Samuel S. White who settled there in 1819. Fulmer Valley named after Joseph Fulmer; Stannards Corners after John Stannard, who operated the first hotel there. The township of Ward was named for the Hon. Hamilton Ward of Belmont. Wirt was named after William Wirt who gained fame as a writer. Spring Mills because of the many springs in the vicinity. It was in the Town of Independence and was prominent in the County because of the Cobb family who were money spenders. Pikeville was named after Mark M. Pike; Allentown after Riley Allen; Rockville because the stone quarries nearby; Houghton once known as Jockey Street because of the horse racing, named for Willard J. Houghton. William Short bought or took mortgage of 15,000 acres from the Church Estate and the one street town was named after him; Grove, once called Swainville after Samuel Swains.

Hume was probably named for Hume the English historian. Hume was at one time called Cold Creek; Fillmore after Millard Fillmore, President of the United States; Elm Valley was the site of the first white settler in the county, Nathaniel Dike who came in 1795, it was at one time known as Shoemaker’s Corners. Transit Bridge was so named because the transit meridian was the west line of the Church Tract. The line was located by a surveyor who ran it by an instrument called a transit. The line between Belfast and Angelica is on the diagonal. The two towns of Belfast and Angelica spilt cost of maintenance. The bridge was the first bridge crossing the Genesee River in the County and was built in 1809. A few years ago a new bridge was erected a few feet below the old bridge.

Several names of towns in the County were not arrived at peaceably. New Hudson was first named after General Haight. He gave a hundred acres in the center of the village with the stipulation that the village retain his name. He moved to Cuba which did not set well with the people of the village so they changed it to New Hudson. Why New Hudson we don’t know.
Petrolia was once Triangle City and the first oil well was drilled here by O. P. Taylor called the Triangle well.

Because there was another village in the State named Triangle, the name was appropriately changed to Petrolia. Oramel was named after Oramel Griffin; Rossburg after a cobbler named Ross; Bishopsville after a man named Bishop; Mapes was a family name; Independence was once called Green’s Corners after Luther Green; Mills near Hume was located there by Webster an Stanley Mills.

Some of the smaller communities acquired nicknames; Squintville was saddled with this title because the owner of the hotel spent his time on the porch watching for trade. A traveler saw him and his squint and so named the settlement. It is now more properly known as Philips Creek after Judge Philip Church.

Cuba could be a contraction of a West Indian work Cuanacan, meaning “full cup” “Pot of Gold” referring to the Indian oil well nearby. It was once called Oil Creek. Beyond doubt the name came from the Island of Cuba.

There is the town of Stoney Lonesome in the Town of Alma; Pigtail Road, west of Friendship; Chicken Thief Holler; Salt Rising; Hell’s Holler now called Pleasant Valley.
There are many Indian names which are too difficult to spell or pronounce. One might think of Penn Yan as a Indian name but it is a compromise between farmers in that district some of whom came from New England and some from Pennsylvania. They took the first syllable from each name and got Penn Yan. New Englanders were Yankees.

Central and Western New York in the early part of the century abounds in classical names. There are Palmyra, Macedon, Attica, Utica, Pompey, Hannibal, Mexico. There are many explanations for this condition. The late Dr. Arthur Parker said that people in the 1820s were sentimental over great European events and named their towns accordingly. There was in the 1820s the rise of many Church Colleges which emphasized the classics hence many such names.

The late Dr. Parker gives the meaning of some of the Indian names in the County. Starting with Allegany which could come from the Mountain Range of which the County is in the foot hills.

The Genesee River got its name from the Seneca word meaning pleasant banks.

Caneadea means “The Sky Rests on the Earth”. It was an important Indian village and a camping ground for Indians travelling between Pittsburg and Quebec. It was here that Moses Van Campen ran the gauntlet. The Old Council House was in Caneadea and later moved and reconstructed in Letchworth Park. The Catherine Schuyler Chapter of the D.A.R. marked the original spot with a giant boulder with a bronze tablet in 1909.

Shongo is a contraction of an Indian word meaning “blue lips”. It was the name of a famous Indian Chief who lived near Caneadea, possibly Chief Mohawk.

Alma was at one time called Shongo but that name now belongs to a settlement south of Wellsville in the Town of Willing, originally also known as Beanville.

Wiscoy was once known as Mixville after Ebenezer Mix, meaning “under the banks”. Canaseraga means among the milkweeds.

Allegany County like many Counties in the State possesses Indian and Classical names, like Aristotle, Caneadea, Canaseraga, local names such as Wellsville, and Allentown.

Lord Tweedsmir in his autobiography “Pilgrim Ways” speaks of his trip through the United States and says that the country is “specially desirable for habitation, it is designed for homes, adapted to human needs, a friendly land. I like the way in which the nomenclature reflects its history, its racial varieties, its odd cultural mixtures; the grandiose rubbing shoulders with the homespun; I have no objection to Mechnanicsville, Higginsville along with Utica, Syracuse, Macedonia. They are a legitimate part of the record and behind are the ancient memorials of the first dwellers.” Names are like symphonies-Susquehanna, Ticonderoga, Shenandoah, Wyoming.