SUBDIVISIONS OF THE COUNTY ~ TOWNS AND VILLAGES.
The territory now comprising Niagara county was formerly a part of the great county of Ontario, which was erected
in 1789 and included all of the State of New York west of the Phelps and Gorham preemption line. The territory
of the original provinces of New York and Massachusetts was chartered to extend westward indefinitely. New York
in 1781 and Massachusetts in 1785 relinquished to the general government their claims to territory beyond the western
boundaries of this State, but Massachusetts still claimed that part of New York west of the meridian line extending
along the eastern line ot the present Ontario county. Against this presumptuous claim New York contended, but the
dispute was settled in 1786 by New York retaining the sovereignty of the territory, while the ownership, subject
to the Indian title, should remain with Massachusetts ; that is, the Indians could convey title only to Massachusetts.
The eastern boundary of the Massachusetts claim became known as the Pre-emption Line, as that State had the right
of pre-emption, or first purchase, of the territory in question. New York, however, retained a strip one mile wide
along the Niagara River.
In 1788 Massachusetts sold to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, and their associates, the pre-emption right to
Western New York for $1,000,000. To acquire the Indian title a council was held in Buffalo in July, 1788, at which
for $5,000 down and an annuity of $500 the company bought about 2,600,000 acres, bounded on the east by the pre-emption
line. The tract thus secured is known as the Phelps and Gorham purchase. In March, 1791, Robert Morris contracted
with Massachusetts for the pre-ernption right to all of New York west of the Phelps and Gorham purchase; the Indian
title to this was acquired in 1797, excepting eleven reservations, two of which were the Tuscarora reservation
(then about one mile square), and the Tonawanda reservation, both in what is now Niagara county. Morris sold his
lands in immense tracts, with only one of which are we here concerned. On December 24, 1792, he sold to Herman
Leroy and John Linklaen 1,500,000 acres west of the east transit line. On February 27 following he sold to the
same persons and Gerrit Boon 1,000,000 acres. July 20, 1793, he sold these three persons 800,000 acres, and to
Herman Leroy, William Bayard and Matthew Clarkson 300,000 acres. These vast purchases were made for what is known
as the Holland Land Company, or the Holland Company (though no such company ever existed), and the tract as the
Holland Purchase. It included what is now Niagara county.
In 1797 the survey of this purchase began by Joseph Ellicott for the Holland people, and Augustus Porter (see
history of the town of Niagara) for Mr. Morris, with numerous assistants. In the division of the land the plan
adopted on the Phelps and Gorham purchase was followed; strips six miles wide and extending from Pennsylvania to
Lake Ontario were laid out and called ranges; they were numbered from east to west. These ranges were divided into
townships by lines runfling east and west and numbered from south to north. These townships were to be subdivided
into sixteen mile-and-a-half squares called sections, and the sections into twelve lots, each containing 120 acres.
The mile strip along the river was surveyed in 1798 at the expense of the Hollanders. This plan of surveying in
its township and lot features was not strictly followed.
The next county to Ontario erected in the western part of the State was Genesee, which was formed in 1802 from
the territory west of the Genesee River and, of course, included what is now Niagara county. At the same time the
great town of Northampton, which had constituted a part of Ontario county and embraced the whole Holland Purchase,
was divided into four, of which Batavia included all of the State west of the east transit line.
On the 11th of March, 1808, Niagara county was erected from Genesee. Its eastern line has remained unchanged, except
that it extended southward to Cattaraugus Creek, which is the southern boundary of the present Erie county. Niagara
county at its formation included what is now Erie county, the latter being set off on April 2, 1821. The boundaries
of Niagara county have not since been changed. By the census of 1820 the population of the whole of Niagara county
was 23,313, of which number 15,668 were in the Erie county territory. The original town of Willink, erected in
1804 in what was then Genesee county, comprised a tract of land eighteen miles wide and perhaps a hundred long,
including all of Niagara county territory. When the latter county was erected its entire territory was constituted
one town Cambria. On June r, 1812, Cambria was divided and three new towns erected: Hartland included all the territory
east of the west transit line; Niagara the territory of township 13, ranges 7, 8, 9; township 14 in those ranges
retained the name of Cambria, and the remainder of the original Cambria was set off with the name of Porter. On
April 5, 1817, that part of Hartland south of township and extending to the south and east bounds of the county,
was erected into the town of Royalton. On February 27, 1818, Lewiston was set off from the west part of Cambria
with its present bounds. On June 1, 1812, Porter was erected from the western and northern part of Cambria, and
Wilson was set off from Porter on April 10, 1818. On the 8th of February, 1823, Somerset was formed from Hartland
with its present width, but extending west to the transit line, and on the 20th of March, 1824, the parts of Somerset
and Hartland between their present west bounds and the transit line, and the eastern part of Wilson were erected
into Newfane. Lockport was erected February 2, 1824, from Cambria and Royalton with its present boundaries. Niagara
originally included what are now Pendieton and Wheatfield; the former was set off April 16, 1827, and the latter
May 12, 1836. In the treatment of these county divisions, the cities and towns of Lockport and Niagara Falls will
be considered first, on account of their importance as business centers, one being the county seat. The remaining
towns will be noticed in the order of their formation as far as practicable.