HISTORY of GRAND ISLAND, NY
FROM OUR COUNTY AND ITS PEOPLE
A DESCRIPTIVE WORK ON ERIE COUNTY
NEW YORK
EDITED BY: TRUMAN C. WHITE
THE BOSTON HISTORY COMPANY, PUBLISHERS 1898


TOWN OF GRAND ISLAND.

Grand Island is situated in the Niagara River and contains an area of 17,381 acres of good agricultural land. Up to about the year 1834 it was mostly covered with a heavy growth of timber. At its southern extremity and separated from it by the small arm of Beaver Creek, is Beaver Island, containing forty acres. The scenery on and around this great island is grandly picturesque and has aided in making it a popular resort.

An act of the Legislature of April 12, 1824, made it the duty of the commissioners of the land office to cause Grand Island to be surveyed into lots of not more than 200 acres each, which should be appraised by the surveyors and a report made to the surveyor-general; and that the commissioners of the land office should thereupon sell the lots at public auction. The same act annexed the island to Erie county as part of the old town of Buffalo. It has been stated in earlier chapters that the island was purchased from the Seneca Indians in September, 1815, for about $11,000. The island was for some time occupied by squatters, who were driven away by force in 1819.

Succeeding the survey just mentioned, a historical event was inaugurated on Grand Island. Major Mordecai Manuel Noah, a prominent Israelite of New York city and editor of the National Advocate, conceived the idea that the island would make a suitable asylum for the Jews of all nations, where they could found a great city and emancipate themselves from oppression in foreign countries. Major Noah, although a man of conceded ability, a politician of prominence, and influential in high places, was an extreme visionary. His Grand Island scheme is ample evidence of this fact. To carry out his plans he incluced his friend, Samuel Leggett, of New York, to purchase 2,555 acres of land on the island, upon which the settlement of the Jews was to begin. Noah’s plans involved also the energetic promotion of commerce at Tonawanda, which he believed would soon give it the ascendency over both Buffalo and Black Rock. These plans were extensively advertised through Noah’s paper, and several capitalists were induced to enter into the project. Mr. Leggett’s purchase included 1,020 acres at the head of the island and the remainder opposite Tonawanda; for the whole he paid nearly $10,000. John B. Yates and Archibald McIntyre, then lottery manipulators, and Peter Smith, father of the late Gerrit Smith, and others were among the purchasers of lands on the island, but not in connection with the scheme of Major Noah. With the aid of a friend named A. S. Siexas, a man of indomitable perseverance, Noah made his final preparations, and in August, 1825, they left New York, Noah’s insignia and robes of office packed in trunks. The Jewish city was to be named Ararat, and Noah had prepared a stone which was to be “the chief of the corner,” bearing a proper inscription. When he arrived in Buffalo, finding it inconvenient to get to Grand Island for the ceremonial planned, Noah adopted the ridiculous course of laying the stone in the Episcopal church of the village; this astonishing proceeding took place on September 2, 1825. A day or two later Major Noah returned to New York; the corner stone was taken from the audience room of the church and placed outside against the rear wall; the project of founding the city of Ararat vanished into air. Noah had collected considerable money from wealthy Jews, by whom he was warmly denounced and ridiculed. But by his ready wit, and through his newspaper, he replied to the jeers and accusations in good humor and lost little of his former prestige. After a migratory career of many years the famous corner stone finally found a home in the Buffalo Historical Society’s rooms in January, 1866.

In 1833 a purchase was made of Leggett and other owners by some Boston men, with whom the late Lewis F. Allen was interested, of 16,000 acres of Grand Island lands; the price was a little above $5 an acre. The purpose of these men was to make use of the valuable white oak timber on the island, which was to be cut and shipped to New York and Boston for ship building. A steam saw mill and several houses were built on the island and the work of clearing began. In 1849 the lands of the island were opened for sale to individuals, and many farms were sold and rapidly improved. A population of about 1,200 finally gathered into a prosperous community, with ample school accommodations, three churches, good roads, and all facilities for town government. When the town of Tonawanda was formed from Buffalo in 1836 it included Grand Island and so remained until October 19, 1852, when the town of Grand Island was erected.

The following are the supervisors of Grand Island from the organization of the town to the present time, with their years of service:

John Nice, 1852—54; David Morgan, 1855—56; Asa Ransom, 1857—58; David Morgan, 1859; John Nice, 1860; Ossian Bedell, 1861—62; Levant Ransom, 1863; John Nice, 1864—66; Dr. H. B. Ransom, 1867—69; Levant Ransom, 1870; John H. W. Staley, 1871—72; Sutliff Staley, 1873; Dr. H. B. Ransom, 1874; Conrad Spohr, 1875—76; Henry Stamler. 1877; Dr. H. B. Ransom, 1878; John H. Stoneway, 1879—82; John H. W. Staley, 1883; Joachim Long, 1884—85; John H. Stoneway 1886—90; Thomas McConkey, 1891—92; Peter De Glopper, 1893—97.

Within the past fifteen years a number of handsome residences have been built on the island, several public houses especially adapted for summer visitors established and two popular clubs have well appointed houses there.

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