Old Inns and Taverns

From: History of Chautauqua County
New York And Its People
Editors: John P. Downs and Fenwick Y. Hedley
Published by: American Historical Society, Inc,
Boston, New York, Chicago 1921


Many of the early day taverns were due to the liberality of the Holland Land Company, which sold the prospective landlords a tract of land on long-time payments, without interest, at the very lowest price afforded to cash purchasers. This was an attractive proposition, to which was to be added the income arising from conducting a tavern. No extra expense need be incurred in most cases, as not more than one-tenth of all those public houses was more than a log house such as the owner would have built for his own personal use, but perhaps a little larger. Along the lake road, a public house marked about every mile. Among the most noted of the early taverns was James McMahan's, at the Cross Roads, and D. Royce's, at Ripley. The tavern keepers of those days were usually men of strong character, and considerable political influence. Not all the inns sold liquor, as no tavern keeper was licensed who had not a securely enclosed yard large enough to contain all sleighs, wagons, carts or carriages of guests. The early tavern passed gradually away after the coming of the stage coach, and by 1850 hardly one was left In their place came the Village Inn, thus described by Charles Dickens.

"The great room with its low ceiled and neatly sanded floor; its bright pewter dishes, and stout backed slat-bottomed chairs ranged along the walls, its long table, its huge fireplace with the benches on either side where the dogs slept at night and where the guests sat, when the dipped candles were lighted to drink mull and flip, possessed some attractions for every one. The place was at once the town hall and assembly room, the court house and the show tent, the tavern and the exchange.

On Its doors were fastened the list of names drawn for the jury, notices of vendues, offers of reward for stray cattle, the names of tavern haunters and advertisements of the farmers who had the best seed potatoes and the best seed corn for sale. It was there that wandering showmen exhibited their automatons and musical clocks, that dancing masters gave their lessons, that singing school was held, that the caucus met, that the Colonel stopped during general training. Hither came the farmers from the back country bringing their food in boxes and their horses food In bags, to save paying the landlord more than lodging rates. Hither many a clear night in winter came sleighloads of young men and women to dance and romp and go home by the light of the moon. Hither too on Saturdays came the male population of the village. They wrangled over politics, made bets, played tricks, and fell into disputes which were sure to lead to jumping matches or wrestling matches or trials of strength on the village green. As the shadows lengthened the loungers dispersed, the tavern was closed and quiet settled upon the town."

This was a good description of the Village Inn of the decade 1840-50, and for half a century later it would apply to many a rural tavern with a fair degree of accuracy.

In Arkwright, Isaiah Martin built the first frame house and kept the first tavern on the fann he bought in 1821 in the southeastern part of the town. In connection with it he kept a store for several years. He had ten children, but only one, a son, George W., remained long in the town.

The first hotel in Busti was built by Heman Bush, and there the first town meeting was held, March 2, 1824. The old hotel was standing at the beginning of the twentieth century and used as a residence. In Carroll, John Myers opened a tavern in 1814 on the Conewango, about a mile from Frewsburg, and the same year William Sears established one in now Kiantone, John Owens opening another in 1816 at Fentonville, where he also operated a ferry. These taverns were much frequented by raftsmen, boatmen and prospective settlers, and it is said raftsmen would quarrel for the privilege of a sleeping space on the bar-room floor, that they might enjoy Owens' stories. Owens was a soldier of the Revolution, from Connecticut, and claimed that he never found but one his better in a fair "stand up" fight He died in Carroll, February 6, 1843, aged 107 years, ten months, eight days. John Myers was also an early tavern keeper of Carroll, and is described as "goodnatured and shrewd, enjoying life, while having an eye always open for business." He had thirteen children.

Samuel Sinclear and Jonathan Hedges were the first innkeepers in Charlotte. In the town of Chautauqua, Capt. John Scott built an inn of logs on the site of the later Mayville House. He was supervisor in 1813, but left Mayville about 1826. In 1808, George Lowry opened a primitive inn at Mayville, and Waterman Tinkcom was an early settler and innkeeper. In 1811, the county being fully organized, Capt Scott enlarged his log tavern by adding a frame addition which was used as a court house; the first court of record was held there in June, 1811, and in October the board of supervisors met there.

William Peacock, agent for the Holland Land Company, built a handsome residence at Mayville, now known as the Peacock Inn, having been a public house for many years.

Alvin Williams kept the first tavern in Clymer, in 1826, and in Cherry Creek, George H. Frost was the first settler with a family, the first tavern keeper, and the first postmaster. For many years he was supervisor.

Lay's Tavern was a well known place of entertainment near the Lake shore in what is now the city of Dunkirk in 1813, and was at one time plundered by the sailors and men from an English vessel. Prior to 1837, Walter Smith, Dunkirk's most valuable citizen of that period, began the erection of a large brick hotel to be known as the Loder House, but when the financial panic of 1837 swept the country, work was stopped, and for thirteen years, "the great unfinished Loder House was the home of bats and owls.

The first hotel in the town of Ellicott was built in Jamestown by Jacob Fenton, who settled there in 1814 a Revolutionary soldier from Connecticut With the aid. of Judge Prendergast, he erected a fine tavern for that period, fronting the Chadakoin at the Keelboat landing, east of Main street and south of Second street In 1817 Jacob Fenton established a pottery at now Fluvanna, which he conducted until 1822. The cups and saucers made in the Fenton pottery have not all been destroyed, but some are yet preserved as antiques in Jamestown homes. Jamestown has always had good hotels. The present "Samuel's," a modern hotel, replacing the Sherman House, which was destroyed in the great "Gokey Block fire."

In Ellington, James Bates in 1815 settled on lot 48, later known as the George L. Wade place, and there kept the first tavern in town. Later, in the same place, Alamanson Hadley and Henry McConnell kept a tavern, while about a mile east, on the old Chautauqua road, Benjamin Follet kept a log tavern until 1822, when he was succeeded by Lucretia French. Joshua Bentley erected a frame building at Olds Corners, and kept tavern about 1823, and about 1826 Stephen Nichols erected a frame building at Gear Creek which was also a house of public entertainment.

William Graves kept the first tavern in French Creek, he building the first grist mill in the town, both in 1822.

The village of Vermont, now Gerry, in the town of Gerry, was originally known as Bucklin's Corners, from the fact that in 1820 James Bucklin opened a hotel there.

The first hotel mentioned in the town of Harmony was opened in Panama, in 1827, and later Jesse Smith built a tavern on the corner, which was a hotel site until the present brick building was erected.

William G. Sidney kept the Cattaraugus House at Cattaraugus, in the town of Hanover, selling to Capt John Mack, whose daughter Elizabeth was married at the Cattaraugus House in 1807 to Judge Richard Smith, theirs the first marriage in the town.

William Sears is credited with erecting the first Inn in Kiantone, at what was then Sears, now the village of Kiantone; later he built another tavern on his farm, and there resided until his death.

Joseph Clark, well known among the early settlers of the town of Poland, kept a tavern near the saw mill on Mud Creek, now Clark's Corners.

In 1808, Hezekiah Barker built his log tavern in the town of Pomfret, in now Fredonia, the log tavern standing on the site of the later Taylor House. Mr. Barker also built the first saw mill above the Main street bridge, and the first grist mill below the bridge. Richard Williams built a log tavern near the later site of the Pemberton House. The Columbia was a noted Fredonia hotel of half a century ago.

James Dunn, the first settler in the town of Portland, came in 1805, and in 1808 opened a tavern on the road surveyed by James McMahan in 1805.

John Post, an early settler of Ripley and builder of the first tannery in that town, bought a farm in East Ripley and built a house which was kept as a tavern for many years. Samuel Truesdale kept the first tavern at the State Line in-the town of Ripley in 1805. Later James Truesdale built a tavern called the State Line House, the main building in Pennsylvania, the other buildings in Ripley. That tavern was later torn down and a church built upon the site. Perry G. Ellsworth, Oliver Loomis, Elihu Murray, Asa Spear, Henry Fairchild, David Royce and John Post were all early tavern keepers in Ripley.

Orsamus Holmes, a soldier of the Revolution from Massachusetts, came to the town of Sheridan in 1804, brought his family in 1805, kept the first tavern in the town, was postmaster, and a highly respected citizen. William Griswold kept the first tavern at the "Center," where he located in 1805. Prtor's Inn was located at Roberts Corners in 1812, but burned prior to 1815. Benjamin Roberts settled on lot in 1811, later moving to the location which long bore his name, where he kept a hotel. He made frequent additions to the original house until the Roberts Hotel was considered quite spacious. Benjamin Roberts kept the hotel until his death in 1836, his son Abner succeeding him. The Kensington tavern was . established probably about 1812 and changed landlords many times before being torn down in 1865. Richard Huyck kept a tavern on the same road about one mile distant from the Kensington tavern, the fine stretch of gravel road between the two being used as a race course. There were at one time seven taverns in the town, but so great was the demand for accommodations from emigrants that often people were turned away. The Orsamus Holmes Tavern, the first in Sheridan, and also the first post office, was the second office established in the county. The original name of the office was Canadaway.

Bela Todd started a log tavern in the town of Stockton in 1814, and John West kept a log, then a frame, tavern for twenty-five years, Jonathan Bugbee began business as a hotel man in 1821, at Centralia, in the southern part of the town. In 1816, Ichabod Fisher had a tavern in Cassadaga and Amos Brunson engaged in the same business in 1824

Villeroy Balcom, the first postmaster, as well as justice of the peace and supervisor, opened tavern in Villenova in 1829.

The first tavern in Chautauqua county was kept by Edward McHenry, who settled next to James McMahan in 1802. Edward McHenry was drowned in 1803, and it is recorded that Col. Nathan Bird, who came in 1815, kept for years a "free tavern" for emigrants at his house. The first town meeting was held at The Westfield House, April 7, 1829, and Westfield has never lacked for good houses of public entertainment

The resorts of Chautauqua county are well furnished with modern hotels, the Lake villages of Chautauqua, Lalcewood, Bemus Point, Lily Dale, Findley Lake, and other summer resorts, boasting large and modern houses of public entertainment The cities and larger villages also maintain good hotels for the accommodation of transient and permanent guests. The outlawing of the liquor traffic has changed the character of the modern hotel, and as the change becomes more apparent and better understood the hotels themselves will be great gainers.

The following paper was read before Jamestown Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, by the author, Mrs. Seth W. Thompson, March 14, 1912:

To quite comprehend the necessity and environment of these taverns, one must go back to our pioneer days - no railroads, telephones or electric light, not even kerosene. Dreadful roads, sometimes corduroy; houses few and small - travel was largely on foot or by lumber wagon or horseback Of course, traveling under such difficulties necessitated many and frequent stops for rest and refreshment On the most important roads, there were taverns from one-half a mile to seven miles apart, many where liquor was sold. Every little burg had its tavern. Very many emigrant wagons were going westward, and many droves of cattle were driven eastward for market in the seaboard cities. On the completion of the Erie railroad, these emigrant wagons disappeared, together with the country taverns. The stage routes running east and west were abandoned about the same time. Quoting from "History of Chautauqua County":

In a trip along the Ridge Road of Lake Erie, the traveler will note the long line of desolation In ghostly hotels once gay and joyous with ringing laughter, sent to oblivion and trampled under foot by the Iron horse and his train of thundering cars.

The frequency of the tavern was due in early years to the rough and muddy roads that were almost impassable in the inclement seasons of the year, which made short distances long for the heavy wagons and slow moving teams of those days. It would be a mistake to suppose these taverns were devoted solely to revelry and drink. The great open fireplaces, piled with blazing logs, the tables loaded with good cheer, the kindness and old fashioned hospitality of the landlord and his wife, made these old hotels welcome havens of rest to the chilled and wearied traveler who was compelled to face the storms of Chautauqua winter.

My earliest recollections go back to an old inn, or tavern, as it was called, halfway between Ellicottville and Franklinville. It was a strictly temperance house, and because it was so very much like very many others of that thy, I will dwell upon it: A rather large house, with eaves to the road; a platform across the front, with one door opening into the bar-room, another into the sitting-room. The bar-room had a very large fireplace, the sitting-room a Franklin stove. Then there was a very large kitchen where the cooking was done over a mammoth fireplace. This room also served as dining room. Three bedrooms below and pantry, completed the downstairs. Above were two large rooms.

The landlord came of a family of scholars, and ought to have been the village doctor or pastor. The landlady was all ambition and energy, and kept up the reputation of the house. I knew this house as a five-year old; going back at ten, I was sadly disappointed to see how much smaller and more commonplace it seemed than I had remembered it. A few years ago a midmght fire entirely consumed it; the family were saved by the frantic barking of their little dog, who perished with the house.

At seven, I was again near neighbor to the tavern at Rutledge, called the McGlashen House. This was larger than most, and held many country dances. A little older, I was again next neighbor to a country tavern with its large ballroom and country dances. These, I imagine, were a little rough. With a bar-room below, and no exclusiveness as to attendance, it was well to be a descendant of New England pilgrims, who committed a deadly sin to dance or play cards. In both of these hotels I heard whispers of dark rooms where gambling was carried on.

We heard much of the tavern at Waterborough, of the drinking, and its bad reputation. I never pass it now without wishing its old walls could tell its story. It looked very uninviting now. There was said to be a gang of horse thieves that passed through Cherry Creek, Conewango, Waterborough, and down the river, with unsuspected stations all around. A few years later, some arrests were made, and some families left very unexpectedly for the Far West, and the rumors died out

As an older school girl, I was at Ellington. This hotel was a more pretentious house, and had a better reputation. While we were at school, the house was kept by a bachelor and two maiden sisters. The brother wished to hold a dance, and the sisters objected. The older sister knelt on the stairs and prayed long and earnestly; she had a wonderful gift. I remember, as the guests had to pass her to reach the hall, and she was as much proprietor as the brother was, the dance was broken up; and I think she rather had the sympathy of the students, as having as good a right to do as she wished, as he had. This house was burned in 1861, and was never rebuilt.

There seems a strange fatality hanging over these old historic inns, built of wood and very combustible. Their usefulness passed; often occupying valuable sites, uncared for, they seem to be doomed. The last months of 1911 saw the last of a hotel at Gerry, and one at Falconer. The first month of this year (1912) the old hotel at Clear Creek meets a like fate.

Button's Inn has been made famous by the very interesting work of Albion Tourgee. One reads the book with much interest, and thinks he really knows so much about that interesting spot But knowing it is a novel, you are prepared to leave -out much of the love story, (although you hate to) the conversations and minor things, but you hold to the ghost, the Mormons, and some interesting legends. You will be sorry if, after reading the book and half believing it, you turn to the preface and find that the ghost was not the real one, and that the story did not all center around the Inn. But the Inn was there, and I must perforce quote from the book:

Button Inn stands,-let me not say stands, since all the name imports has disappeared, and the wayfarer now can scarcely trace the footprints of its departed glory. It stood on a little shelf in the line of verdant hills that stretches along the Southern shores of Lake Erie. Three miles away and five hundred feet below, was Barcelona, to which the road led that ran by its door. Even yet there are few more romantic scenes, cosier nooks, or wilder bits, than are found around Its site. It commanded in fair weather a view of the shore line for ten miles in either direction from the little harbor, and the light from its windows was visible upon the lake for a greater distance than it was from Barcelona lighthouse, and was claimed to be a safer guide than. that was. The Inn itself was a rambIing structure that had grown up around the original log house that was built before this portage was abandoned for the longer but safer and easier one at Erie. It was built as fort and residence, its upper story overlapping the lower one to prevent assault. Tradition gives its locating and building to a L'Hounete Boutonne, but does not know whether he was a deserter from the army or one of the very earliest and hardiest of those very adventurous French pioneers, and chose this location because of its very extensive outlook and its easy access to the impassable gorge in its rear made it possible to bid defiance to any number of savage foes. He must have been a bold man, or he would not have dared to make his dwelling a hundred miles from his nearest people, and a shrewd one to have fixed upon a location combining as many and such rare advantages, satisfying at once the demands of a strategist and the instincts of a poet

Tradition says he married a fair haired English girl, whom he found a captive among the Indians, and bought He passed away before the English really came into possession, and his son and his son's son succeeded him in turn as hosts of the Ian, the Holland Land Company confirming their rights to their land. The Inn had for its sign a fearfully and wonderfully painted Indian smoking the pipe of peace, and the name was spelled Bouton, a great descent from the beautiful old French name, but had not then reached the very commonplace name of Button, that is now the name of his very numerous descendants.

The old original log house that formed the first Inn, had been boarded over and held the place of honor as the public room. On either side were modern additions, and a low broad porch extended across the front of the original gable and its numerous additions. Across the road were the barns and sheds, before which stood a great trough supplied with water from a spring in the rear of the house. The downward slope in the rear of the barns was covered with apple trees, and rich meadows lay beyond. For more years than any record tells, this Inn was the favorite for many a mile on the great highway that joined the newest West to the oldest East, as well as upon that cross artery of traffic which led back from the harbor towards the settlements on and around Chautauqua Lake. But at the time of the third Bouton, Lonny by name, its popularity was on the wane. The grass began to grow on the road that led to its hospitable door. Its landlord often sat alone in his splint-bottomed rocker before the great log fire in the public room, The Inn was thought to be haunted, and the fact that the roaring great fire burned always on the hearth, night and day, summer and winter alike, was ominous, and looked upon with disfavor. There seemed something uncanny about it, and our ancestors were very superstitious. So, while' the graineries were full. and the table of the best, Lonny Bouton sat before his roaring fire alone, a peevish, bitter old man. The old Inn grew older; children crept by with dread; and the traveler kept the straight road rather than climb the hill to seek refreshments for the night

This description of Button's Inn is largely taken from Tourgee's book I am going to believe it all, because I want to do so. He says his ghost is not the traditional ghost, but they had one; that his story of the connection of the Mormons was not with the Inn, but more with the country, as was also the inventions, but the name and site and description of the original Inn has been retained. So I have not told the story of the ghost, or the love story, or the legends. We will each picture this old Inn and its very interesting location in those pioneer times, and build our own story around it Indeed, I wonder why a man of Tourgee's ability did not do better. I think he did not get enthused with his story-a very tame ghost story, no raids or sieges by Indians, no troubles with the English-just a quiet commonplace pretty story. He wrote in 1887; if he could find so little of interest so many years ago, what can we do in 1912? It is pleasanter to believe something, even if not true, than to know so very little. And one enjoys the old legends and myths of the olden days. If they are not true, they ought to be, so let each of us build up a romance around this our most famous Inn of our lake region, and nay its fame never grow less.

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