History of Geneva, New York
SARACUSE, N. Y., 1893


THE original town of Seneca was composed of township 9 and the south half of township 10, range 1, of the Phelps and Gorham tract; also so much of the “Gore “as was east of the same and which lay between the old and new pre-emption lines. From this the town of Geneva was set off October 11, 1872, and embraced “All that part of the town of Seneca lying east of the west line of the first tier of township lots next west of the old pre-emption line,” or, all that part of the old town of Seneca which was in the gore, and the eastern tier of lots in townships 9 and 10.

The history of this town has a peculiar interest, and forms a record without parallel in any other of the civil divisions of Ontario county. However, it is difficult to separate the history of the town from that of the corporate village, yet we may mention the names of some of the early settlers of the town without reference to particular location, and later treat of the history of the village as a separate municipal organization, devoting to it the greater attention, for here have taken place many of the most important events in connection with the history of the Genesee country.

Gleaning information from all sources, we may mention among the pioneers of the town Jerome Loomis, whose settlement in the northwest portion was made in 1788. He was a survivor of the Revolution and a man of influence in the new country. About the same time came Major Sanford Williams, Phineas Stevens, William Ansley, a Pennsylvanian, made an improvement in the south part of the town. Other pioneers and early settlers whose names can be recalled, but the date of whose location in the town cannot be accurately determined, were John Scoon, Thomas Huie, the latter having been in service during the War of 1812, thus gaining, the title of “Major”; Thomas McKelvie, James Barnes, Cornelius Roberts, Benjamin Cromwell, the latter being a pioneer tanner at “Cromwell’s Hollow”; Aaron, Hugh and Archibald Black, James Armstrong, William Price, John McIntyre, Adam Fisher, George Wilkie, Christopher Richardson, Mathew Bennett, and others whose names are now lost, and all of whom contributed with their families to increase the town’s population, and who were also identified with the improvement and development of this fertile region.

The reader will of course understand that the persons herein named were pioneers of Seneca, not Geneva, but in that portion of the old town which was set off and separately organized in 1872. This mention naturally leads us to make a record of the organization of the youngest town of Ontario county, though at the same time the most populous, the first town meeting of which was held at the Franklin House, March 4, 1873, when these officers were elected: Supervisor, John J. Doolittle; town clerk, Charles Kipp; justices, George W. French and Martin H. Smith; assessors, George R. Long and William H. Gambee; overseer of poor, Wm. H. Dox; commissioner of highways, Samuel S. Graves; collector, Edmund S. Spendlow.

In this connection, also, may properly be given the succession of incumbents of the chief office of the town, viz.: Supervisor, John J. Doolittle, 1873—75; Abraham Robinson, 1876—77; William Slosson, 1878— So; Charles A. Steele, 1881; O. J. Cammann Rose, 1882—84; Charles A. Steele, 1885—86; E. Bayard Webster, 1887; Philip N. Nicholas, 1888—91; WaIter Clark, 1892—93.

The present principal town officers of Geneva are: Walter A. Clark, supervisor; John W. Mellen, town clerk; Stephen Coursey, D. W. Colvin and Robert Bilsborrow, assessors; George W. Nicholas, William P. O’Malley, Edward N. Squires and John G. Farwell, justices of the peace.

Among the prominent settlers of rather an early day was Judge John Nicholas, who came to Geneva in 1801 and contracted for the purchase of a large farm at the White Springs, and with him was his brother-in-law, who contracted far a large farm in Seneca county at the northeast corner of Seneca Lake. These two gentlemen with their families and slaves emigrated from Virginia in 1803 and settled down on their respective farms, both becoming actively engaged in agricultural pursuits and in raising and improving the breed of sheep. They were both very prominent and influential men in this community. Mr. Rose was three times elected to the Legislature, was a member of the constitutional convention in 1821 and for six years a member of Congress. He died November 24, 1835. John Nicholas was appointed first judge of Ontario county March 11, 1805, and served as such until March, 1819, and was a member of the State Senate 1806-9. He died December 31, 1819.

Cephas Hawkes, who with his brothers Eleazer and Joseph were early settlers in Phelps, previous to the War of 1812 erected a large woolen factory at the White Sjrings on the farm of Judge Nicholas; bought fine wool of the Wadsworths and others; sold cloth at from $5 to $12 per yard, and made money rapidly, but after the war low prices prevailed and consequent failure succeeded. He removed to Michigan. For many years a grist mill was operated at this place, but some years ago it was destroyed by fire, and the enterprise was abandoned.


On the 4th of April, 1806, the Legislature of the State passed an act "to vest certain powers and privileges in the freeholders and inhabitants of the 'village of Geneva,' in the county of Ontario," which act was the first authoritative recognition of the existence of a village of that name, and here, ordinarily, the history of the body corporate and politic would naturally begin. However, as early as the year 1788 the village of Geneva had a distinct and positive existence, and the name by which it is now known was then in use, first applied during that year, and, it is supposed, so given in allusion to Geneva, a municipality in Switzerland. The tradition is that the name was given by a Swiss engineer in the employ of Charles Williamson, but inasmuch as Williamson had no interest in this region until the fall of 1791, and never saw the Genesee country until he made a flying visit to it in February, 1792, and there are a number of documents yet in existence bearing date October and November, 1788, in which the name of Geneva is used, the fallacy of the tradition is apparent. Two of these papers, a letter of Dr. Caleb Benton to William Walker, October 15, 1788, and a letter of Enos Boughton, November 7, 1788, can be found pasted in the back part of Vol. I, Village Records. In addition there are contracts of Wm. Walker with John Decker Robison; Hickox, receipt for goods stored for the winter, and dated 1788; certificates of Benj. Allen and Eleazer Lindsley; letter of Major Ab’m Hardenberg to Gov. Clinton, 1789; map of Genesee lands, 1790, and two journals, 1791, all using the name of Geneva for this place.

In noting the history of this old village we may go back still further and to a time when the first inhabited village here was known as Kanadesaga, the capital of the Senecas, the home of their famous king Say-en quera-gh-ta, and one of the most important Indian villages in the whole Iroquois country. This Indian village was located about two miles northwesterly from the. foot of Seneca Lake, just outside the corporate limits of the village of Geneva, and is now in part occupied by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. In 1756, as is fully narrated in a preceding chapter, General William Johnson caused to be built the first structure in this region in which civilized white man took a part, and this was the stockade or palisade fortifcation and block houses to be used by the Senecas and English in defending themselves against an attack by the French. However, there was no permanent occupancy of the fortress, or of Kanadesaga, by the whites during the period of the last French war, but its erection had the positive effect of cementing the friendship of the Senecas of this region to the English cause, which action was a highly important factor in the British interest in the success finally achieved by that power.

At a still later day, during the early years of the Revolution, Colonel John Butler, in command of the English tories at Niagara, caused to be erected within the limits of the present village of Geneva a barracks and storehouse, which stood near the canal bridge and which were occupied as a place of rendezvous and military depot in the British interest. From this point there were sent out various marauding and destroying parties, until the depredations and merciless slaughters perpetrated by the bloodthirsty savages and their no less inhuipan white companions could no longer be borne in silence. It was from here that the Indians marched to the bloody battle of Oriskany, and with their English allies to the bloody scenes of Wyoming, Cherry Valley, Fort Freeland and other places on the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania. To avenge the outrages and punish the Indians, General Sullivan invaded this country, burned every habitation and other building, and destroyed the growing crops and vast orchards which abounded in the region. The Seneca village of Kanadesaga with all its appurtenances was destroyed in September, 1779. Butler’s buildings were also destroyed at the same time, and the same is noted in the journals of some of the officers, and recorded on the map of the surveyor who accompanied the army as “Tory Butler’s Quarters.”

The name Kanadesaga was bestowed by the Indians not only upon their “new settlement village,” but also upon the creek, the lake, the outlet, and at a subsequent day it was transferred to Geneva. After the destruction of the village by General Sullivan in 1779, no permanent settlement was ever made at that place, although it was temporarily occupied at different times by small bands of Thdians. After the close of the Revolutionary War, when traders and speculators began to penetrate into the country, the focus of operations was “under the hill,” on present Exchange street, at and south of the east end of Seneca Street. Here a trading establishment sprang up, and it was here that the cabins of the Indians became located and all operations between them and the white people were carried on. This place was the headquarters of the notorious “Leasee Company,” and here they had their trading establishment with Dr, Caleb Benton, at its head, and which was located “under the hill where the bluff approaches the lake,” or near the foot of “ Colt’s Hill” or present Washington street. It was at this point that the “Leäsees” carried on their operations against the State and for a long time prevented any successful negotiations by’ the State with the Indians, freely supplying them with provisions and liquor, keeping the Indians in a continual state of intoxication, severely threatening and ordering off the ground Peter Ryckman and Colonel Seth Reed, who were using their influence in favor of the State, and using even an armed force to prevent the Indians from going to the treaty, Dr. Benton and Col. McKinstry having from twenty to thirty riflemen under arms for about twenty-four hours for that purpose. it was here that John Livingston, Dr. Benton and others held a treaty with the Indians, November 30, 1787, by which they obtained for themselves and associates of the “Leasee Company” the lease for 999 years of all the lands of the Indians in the State. It was here that the first permanent occupation of the place was made, the early settler being Elark Jennings, whose unfinished log cabin, the first tavern in the place, was found by the committee of exploration of Jemima Wilkinson’s followers in the early summer of 1788. This tavern was located on the west side of Exchange street, north of the foot of Washington street. This was the place where the traders, speculators, surveyors and others gathered and formed the nucleus for the settlement of the new country. This place became known as Kanadesaga, while the old locality was designated as the Old Castle. The distinctive diflerence was well known and fully recognized by the early settlers, and is fully evidenced by many documents yet in existence. The map of the traverse and survey of Seneca Lake, now in possession of Cayuga County Historical Society, Auburn, N. Y., made in August, 1789, by Captain John L. Hardenbergh, one of the surveyors of the Military Tract, places “Cannadasego” on the lake shore south of the mouth of Cemetery Creek, the very spot aforementioned, and thus fully corroborates and positively settles the place of the first settlement at Geneva.

The Indian village of Kashong, situate on the lake shore on Kashong Creek, about seven miles south of Geneva, has been alluded to in another place, but as the locality was intimately connected with the early history of Geneva, it may be stated here that under date of August 15, 1789, Capt. Hardenbergh notes on the above map the “Frenchman’s house” as being "18 chains south of Sawmill Creek.” The Frenchman alluded to was Dominique De Bartzch, a French trader, who occupied the place with Joseph Poudre, the latter married to an Indian woman, and receiving a grant of land at that place from the State. Kashong Creek, in consequençe of a saw-mill having been erected on it by Dr. Caleb Benton, was called Sawmill Creek.

In 1788 the Widner family settled in the village, locating where afterwards stood Tillman’s tannery, near the northeast corner of Exchange and Castle streets. According to the reminiscences of John Widner the inhabitants then were Peter Bartle, Elark Jennings and Horatio Jones. The latter was living in a log house covered with bark. In 1781 he was captured by the Indians, adopted by them, and having learned their language, was an interpreter in after years. In this settlement he was a trader, having a small stock of goods. His son, William W. Jones, born on this site in 1786, is said to have been the first white child born west of Utica. Elark Jennings kept tavern in a log house at the foot of the hill, as noted above. Peter Bartle was also a trader. Herman H. Bogert commenced the practice of law in 1797, was a large land operator and a prominent man. Ezra Patterson was an early settler in the village, a tavern keeper, whose house stood about where the Mansion House is on Seneca street, and in which the first court in Ontario county was held in 1793. He was an early supervisor of the town, and in 1806 a member of the State Legislature.

Among the other early inhabitants of the village were Major Benjamiri Barton and Joseph Annin, a carpenter named Butler, Dr. William Adams, the first physician, Gilbert R. Berry and Asa Ransom, silversmiths. Mr. Widner also relates that the early settlers near the “Old Castle” were Jerome Loomis, Col. Seth Reed, Sanford Williams, Isaac Mullender, and families named Crittenden, Solomon Warner, Ringer and others, while further south lived pioneer Phineas Stevens. Jonathan Whitney was also an early settler at the Old Castle.

Although a subject which is fully treated in an earlier chapter, we may here briefly state that Geneva was supposed to be a part of the Phelps and Gorham purchase, and for the purpose of carrying out his plans Oliver Phelps arrived at the place on June 2, 1788, and here he proposed to treat with the Indians for the purchase of their title to the land. Here also he proposed founding a city, but the fact was soon made apparent that, according to the survey, Geneva or Kanadesaga was east of the pre-emption line, hence on the land claimed by the lessee company. Mr. Phelps thereupon moved to Canandaigua and established his land office at that place. After the withdrawal of the proprietary in the fall of 1788, Geneva became a village of some note and was the center of operations for land speculators, explorers, the lessee company and its agents, and the principal seat of the Indian trade.. Horatio Jones lived in a log house on the lake shore and had a small stock of goods; Asa Ransom occupied a log hut and made Indian trinkets; Elark Jennings kept the log tavern, while the lessees had a larger framed hotel, yet roofed with bark, which stood near the lake shore about where the high land is nearest the water. Dr. Benton oc cupied the tavern. There was also a cluster of log houses along the low ground near the lake. The geographical locations were designated “hill” and “bottom.” Peter Ryckman and Peter Bartle; Col. Seth Reed was at the Old Castle site, and Dominique De Bartzch, whose chief seat was at Kashong, was a frequent visitor to the settlement.

It may here be stated that most of the improvements and settlements made on the village tract previous to 1793 were accomplished under the direction of Reed. and Ryckman and the lessee company. It was here also that the company conducted their negotiations with the Indians which resulted in the historic “long lease ;“ and here, too, the lessees and others held their meeting on November 25, 1793, which they intended to result in the formation of a new state. This scheme failed, being defeated through the vigilant efforts of Ontario county citizens, and in the same year the first court in this county was held in the village. Reed and Ryckman were the owners of 16,000 acres of land in the gore, and the south part of the village has been built up on that tract. Seth Reed became the owner of 2,000 acres north of this tract, while to the east lay the Military tract on which the northeast parfof Geneva has been built. However, Reed and Ryckman received but little benefit from their vast tract, the same passing to Leonard M. Cutting in 1791, thence to various owners, but the titles becoming valueless after the running of the new pre-emption line, the recognized owner, under whose administration the village was in fact founded, was Charles Williamson, representative of the Pulteney Associates.

As above indicated, the village of Geneva may be considered in three parts. The patent granted to Reed and Ryckman, commonly called their reservation, comprised all the land in the village of Geneva south of what is known as the Reed and Ryckman line, which commenced at Seneca Lake, about two rods north of the mouth of Cemetery Creek, and ran due west on a line two chains north of Seneca street, as said street was originally laid out (it being then four rods wide and formerly called Genesee street), and continuing on in a due west course and along the north boundary of the Pulteney Street burial ground and through the center of High street to the old pre-emption line, and is the base line of all the original surveys of the village. The reservation was bounded on the east by Seneca Lake, on the west by the old preemption line, and extended south in Yates county, comprising 16,000 acres of land.

The patent of Colonel Seth Reed’s location comprised all that part of the village lying north of the Reed and Ryckman line, between the old pre. emption line on the west and the Military line on the east, and embraced that part of the town of Geneva almost to the present south line of the town of Phelps. It comprised 2,000 acres of land.

All that part of the village lying east of Seth Reed’s location, and bounded on the west by the Military line which started at Seneca Lake at the east end of the Reed and Ryckman line, and run north 30 D 45' east, crossing the west side of present Exchange street at Castle Creek and continuing on to Lake Ontario. This comprised the northeast part of the village and town, and falling within the Military tract was granted by the State to different soldiers of the Revolution.

As has been stated in another place these lands were finally found to be within the cession to Massachusetts, and the New York State grants were void, and so recognized by the State, who granted compensation lands in other parts of the State for the loss of title.

Geneva being located at the northwest corner of Seneca Lake, it may here be stated, that the only thorough survey of the lake was made by triangulation during the summers from 1878 to ‘83, under the direction of Prof. E. A. Fuertes, Dean of the department of Civil Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. The following is a summary:








5,250 ft.


8½ miles

from 7,750

560 ft

17 “ “


580 ft

25½ “ “


438 ft




Total length along axis 34 miles. Greatest depth—6i8 feet, 12.1 miles from Watkins or 1.5 miles north of North Hector Landing.

Greatest width—3.12 miles opposite Dresden, which is 22.7 miles from Watkins. Here the deepest point is 500 feet below water.

From the foregoing it will be seen that the length of Seneca lake is 34 miles. This, of course, is in a direct straight line. The route of Sullivan’s army in 1779 along the east shore of Seneca Lake, as measured by the surveyor who accompanied the army, was about 35 miles. At a very early day, and before there was any settlement of moment at present Watkins, the head of navigation was some three or four miles up the inlet at Catherinestown, so named in consequence of its being the residence of Catherine Montour, a prominent Indian character, sometimes called Queen Catherine, the site of which is now known as Havana. To this point the early sloop made regular trips, and it was commonly called the head of the lake, and from this fact the length of the lake came to be called (in round numbers) 40 miles, notwithstanding the measurement of 35 miles by the surveyor of Sulli-. van's army was well known.

In a preceding chapter will be found an account of the life and work of Captain Williamson, wherefore in the present connection little need be said further than to record the more important of his acts relating to the early history of Geneva. He first visited the village in February, 1792, and found himself confronted with many obstacles, for everything which was British met with disfavor from the settlers, especially those who had served in the Revolutionary War. In 1793 Williamson was in Geneva much of the time, looking up his interest in that quarter. He took possession of the Reed and Ryckman Reservation and caused the northern part of that tract to be surveyed into village and out lots, the work being done by Joseph Annin, whose map stands to this day as the original reference map of the titles to that part of the village. John Livingston, having become the owner of the title of Reed and Ryckman, brought an ejectment suit against Williamson, but in 1794 or '5 the court in the city of New York decided in favor of Williamson, John Cuyler, of Albany, being his attorney.

Seth Reed's location was surveyed and plotted by Jacob Hart in May, 1790, and the map still stands as the reference for land titles in that tract. Williamson allowed the titles which had emanated from the original grantee to stand, but became the owner of many such by purchase.

In 1794 Williamson began preparations for extensive improvements, but not until his titles were confirmed was anything substantial really done. By the village survey Main street became the principal thqroughfare, while the laterals were South (St. Clair), Middle (Hamilton), and North (Washington) streets. Along Main street the first and most important improvements were made in 1796. At the south end of the street a fine country house was begun, and completed the next year; a large and convenient tavern was erected (now a part of the Hygienic Institute), and about the same time a sloop of forty tons burden was built and launched on Seneca Lake This craft was intended to run as a packet boat between Geneva and Catherinestown (Havana), and was the first vessel of any size built on Seneca Lake. A copy of the first newspaper published in Geneva is in the Reynolds Library, Rochester, N. Y. It was established by Williamson, published by Lucius Carey, dated November 24, 1796, and called the Ontario County Gazette and Western Chronicle.

Although plotted on the map of 1793, Main street, on the hill, was not laid out and regulated until 1796, and it was the intention of Williamson that no buildings should ever be erected on the east side of the street, thus perpetuating a free and unobstructed view of the lake, and it is a misfortune that this original intention was not strictly adhered to. Many other large and well finished houses were completed during the year 1796. The house at the south end of Main street, known as the Mile Point House, cost $4,228.84. James Barden, who had leased the Dr. Benton saw mill on Kashong Creek, supplied the lumber,his bill for the same being $425.45, and as early as December 13, 1794, David Bryant, of Geneva, received $500 in payment for 100,000 brick furnished by him for this house. The Mile Point house was a large and spacious mansion, standing on the triangular piece of ground at the south end of Main street, fronting to the north and commanding a fine view of the street. It was demolished more than sixty years ago, previous to which it had the reputation of being "haunted," and was a terror to many of the people.

The Geneva Hotel, above mentioned, was an institution of more than ordinary importance. Its construction began in the spring and was finished in the falL It fronted on the large open park and was in all respects an imposing building, and one the reputation of which extended throughout the State, and was maintained for more than half a century. Its first landlord was Thomas Powell, whom Captain Williamson selected., and. who contributed much to its early success. At this hotel was a general rendezvous for the stage lines and wagons carrying merchandise from the east to the west. It was also a famous resort for all travelers, and many public officers have found entertainment and rest within its comfortable walls. Wm. Powell succeeded Thomas Powell as landlord. The old house at last fulfilled its mission, but still maintains a quasi existence as a hotel, bein'g a part of the popular Sanitarium now owned and managed by Dr. A. B. Smith. The cost of the building was $9,577.39, the bill of David Abbey for carpenter work being $4,538.47, of John Woods, mason, $774.90, and of James Barden for lumber, $1,411.40. Captain Williamson had two rooms in this hotel appropriated to himself, and he took care that Landlord Powell did justice to the establishment and his guests, so that as regarded provisions, liquors, beds and stabling there were few inns in America equal to this hotel.

The foregoing is a good representation of the old Geneva Hotel as it appeared in its glory many years ago. It shows the original wooden building in front, as erected by Captain Williamson in 1796, and the brick addition in the rear built in 1828 by William Tiliman. It fronts on the public square or Pulteney Park, the addition in the rear on Washington street, comprises about one half of the building as shown in the cut. The engraving, having been made many years ago, does not show the beautiful condition of the park as it flow is It has been owned and occupied a number of years by A. B. Smith, M. D., as a hygienic institute, a large brick addition on the rear on Washington street having been erected by him in 1882. The older buildings have been altered, thoroughly renovated and greatly improved, and a fourth story added in 1886. In fact Dr. Smith is constantly making improvements.

John Maude, an English gentleman, who made a hurried exploration of the new country in 1800, says: "Geneva is situate at the northwest extremity of Seneca Lake. It is divided into Upper and Lower Town. The first establishments were on the margin of the lake, as best adapted to business; but Captain Williamson, struck with the peculiar beauty of the elevated plain which crowns the high bank of the lake, and the many advantages which it possessed as a site for a town, began here to lay out his building lots parallel with and facing the lake. These lots are three quarters of an acre deep, and half an acre in front, and valued at $375 per lot. One article in the agreement with Captain Williamson is that no buildings shall be erected on the east side of the street, that a view of the lake may be kept open. Those who purchase a lot have also the option of purchasing such land as lays between their lot and the lake-a convenience and advantage which I suppose few will forego -the quantity not being very great, and consisting principally of the declivity of the bank, which, for the most part is not so steep as to unfit it for pastu rage or gardens."

The launching of the sloop, which took place the latter part of 1796, drew together an assemblage of several thousand people, and no circumstance having before occurred to draw together the different settlements, the people composing them were not a little surprised to find themselves in a country containing so many inhabitants, and these so respectable. Natives of every State in the Union and of every nation of Europe, were to be found in the assemblage, all ambitious of the one object, the aggrandizement of the Genesee country. The sloop was named Alexander, built by Brown & Sheffield, and cost $2,304.28. About 1800 the name was changed to Seneca. The following interesting incident shows how important events sometimes flow from a trifling circumstance. The launching of the sloop being an unusual event, the people came from far and near to witness it, and among them was Major James Cochran, then a young man. At night the young people wanted a dance, and having a fiddle young Cochran, who was an amateur performer, was pressed into service. In commendation of his achievement a gentleman remarked at the supper table, "He is fit for Congress," and the hint being favorably received by the company, he was nominated and elected to a seat in Congress from the district which then included the whole of New York west of Albany. So, says Major Cochran, "I fiddled my way into Congress."

During the year 1796 the little village was provided with a water supply, by the formation of a company, followed by the laying of pipes from the White Springs, about one and one-half miles southwest of Pulteney Park The pipes were of logs, ten to twelve inches in diameter with a two-inch bore through which water could be supplied to each house in the village. The Geneva Water Works Company was incorporated in 1803, which will be more fully referred to later on in this chapter. Ten years of Captain Williamson's efforts increased Geneva to a population of 325 in 1806, there being then thirty-five houses, besides stores and public buildings, while a mill was by this time in operai.ion in the near vicinity and a steamboat was plying on Seneca Lake A1so during the same year Colonel James Bogert first published the Expositor, from which it is learned that the merchants and business men who advertised their wares were A. Dox, Septimus Evans, Williams, Samuel Warner, Reuben Bordwell, Foster Barnard, James Reese, Richard M. Stoddard and E. H. Gordon. About 1797 a person from Scotland; John Moffat, established at Geneva a respectable brewery which Captain Williamson says "promises to destroy in the neighborhood the baneful use of spirituous liquors." This brewery was located on the lake shore at Mile Point.

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