History of Somerset, New York

FROM LANDMARKS OF NIAGARA COUNTY, NEW YORK
EDITED BY: WILLIAM POOL
PUBLISHED BY D. MASON & CO. PUBLISHERS, SYRACUSE, NY 1897



CHAPTER XIX.
THE TOWN OF SOMERSET.

The town of Somerset was erected February 8, 1823, from Hartland. It was reduced in its area by the setting off of a part of the present town of Newfane. It lies in the northeast corner of the county and is bounded on the north by Lake Ontario. The surface is generally level and the soil a sandy or clayey loam. Golden Hill Creek crosses the town in a northeasterly direction in the central and eastern parts, and Fish Creek in a similar direction in the western part. A small salt spring was discovered in early years near the mouth of Fish Creek, from which salt was made to a limited extent. The town contains about 23,314 acres.

The first town meeting was held April 1, 1823. at the house of Silas Meade, and the following officers elected

Supervisor, James Wisner town clerk, Samuel Palmer; assessors, Nathaniel Pond, jr., Ezra Reade, and James Hess; collector, John Sherwood; overseers of the poor, Samuel Coleman. James Stevens: commissioners of highways, James Hess, Samuel Coleman, and Joseph S. Bailey; commissioners of schools, David Barker, Heman Pratt. and Jacob Aibright; inspectors of schools, Peter Hess, William Mosher, and Josiah Bullen; constables, John Sherwood, William Palmer.

The supervisors of Somerset have been as follows:
In 1823, James Wisner; 1824-26, Samuel Palmer; 1827-28, John Sherwood; 1829-33, Roswell Downer; 1834, David Barker; 1835, John McNitt; 1836, John Sherwood, 1837-38, David Barker; 1839-42, Jeptha W. Babcock; 1843-44, Morgan Van Wagoner; 1845, Johnson Aldrich; 1846-48, Charles B. Lane; 1849, Samuel S. Rising; 1850, Stephen T. Peckham; 18i1, Emmor K. Gardner; 1852, Samuel S. Rising; 1853, George K. Hood; 1854, Morgan Van Wagoner: 1855, Pixley M. Humphrey; 1856, Vernon D. Bateman; 1857, Morgan Van Wagoner; 1858, Guy C. Humphrey; 1859, Samuel S. Rising; 1860, 1861, Guy C. Humphrey; 1862-64, George M. Swain; 1865, Henry B. Miller: 1866-69, Oscar E. Mann; 1870-72, George K. Hood; 1873, Oscar E. Mann; 1874-75, George M. Swain; 1876-80, Guy C. Humphrey; 1881-82, Charles W. Wilcox; 1883, Andrew M. Armstrong; 1884-88, Charles F. Ackerson; 1889-90, Andrew M. Armstrong; 1891-92, Charles F. Ackerson: 1893-96, Andrew M. Armstrong: 1897-98, Wallace E. Peacock.

Henry H. Frost was town clerk in 1868-70 and from 1872 to 1881, when he was succeeded by his son, S. W. Frost, who has filled the office ever since. The other town officers for 1897 are Loren Church, William L. Atwater, William P. Hoffman, and Eldridge Lewis, justices of the peace; George B. Hood, Prentice Fox, and Elmer Perry, assessors; Charles N. Taylor, collector; Bennett Eaton, highway commissioner; and Richard Ray and Curtis G. Lum, overseers of the poor.

The first settler within this town was Jacob Fitts, who came with his family in 1810 to what is now Olcott, in the town of Newfane, where his wife had a relative then living. This relative was one of the Kemp family, and when Mr. Fitts reached what is now Wright's Corners, they turned northerly to the lake. In locating Mr. Fitts, his relative guided him along a road which he had cut along the lake shore for the Holland Company to a point opposite what is now Somerset Corners, and about a mile and a half distant from it. The farm there settled long remained in possession of the Fitts family.

Mr. Fitts soon had neighbors in the persons of Archibald Whitton, Philip Fitts, Truman and David Mudgett, and Zachariah Patterson. These constituted the population until after the war of 1812. One of these, Philip Fitts, was drafted into the army, was taken sick, and returned only to die. The little community were compelled to endure much suffering, often wanting for food, living sometimes on leeks and a little wild game. But with the close of the war came more settlers and better times in every respect.

Among the first settlers after the war were James Matthews, Samuel Palmer, David Barker, Adam Pease, Samuel Coleman, Asa Coleman, Ezra C. and Ezra Meade, Masten and John Sherwood, Heman Pratt, Francis N. Aibright, Peter Hess, and a few others. In writing of those early times an early settler said:

Humphrey Sharpsteen, then just married, came in with his wife and his wife's sisters; Isaac Starbuck with his family; then young Capt. Ezra Meade, two sisters, young women, and some other very respectable ladies who were not afraid or ashamed to rough it in the woods, for the sake of being independent, and several young unmarried men, helped to make up an assortment. We were all brothers and sisters and friends. . . . The worst for us was when we got out of flour and meal and no mill to grind short of Niagara Falls. John Flavington carried eighteen bushels of wheat to Olcott and gave it for a barrel of salt. . . When I commenced clearing, which was just after the war, and the cold season of 1816 came on, wheat was worth twenty shillings a bushel, and pork thirty-five dollars a barrel. When I had raised some wheat to sell, in was worth only twenty-five cents a bushel. I once had a tax of twenty shillings to pay, and I carried butter sixty miles and sold it for one shilling per pound to pay the tax.

In 1817 John Sherwood was married to Rebecca Meade; this was the first wedding in the town. The first birth was that of Delilah Fitts, daughter of Jacob Fitts, who was born in 1811. Philip Fitts, before mentioned as having been drafted into the army, died in 1814, the first death in the town. In the course of time a little hamlet gathered at what became known as Somerset Corners, the name of the post-office now being simply Somerset. About 1820 James Matthews opened a small store there in the first frame building in town; this building is still standing. The first tavern was opened by Josiah S Bailey in 1817 at what was then called Bailey's Corners, about a mile and a half east of Somerset Corners; while two and a half miles west of the latter place James Stevens had a blacksmith shop in 1825 and continued the business a number of years. In 1825 Archibald McDaniels built and operated the first grist mill ; it was situated on Fish Creek two miles northeast of the Corners, and was afterwards burned. In the same year Guy Griswold built a small tannery at the Corners; it was operated several years. In 1822 John Randolph built the first saw mill in this town, about three-quarters of a mile north of the Corners. With other early mills it went to decay in course of time. Near this site the first bridge in town was built across Fisk Creek in 1822. In later years a steam saw mill was built at Somerset and one at South Somerset, in which staves and headings were also made. Both have been burned.

Among other early prominent residents of Somerset were John Sherwood, Roswell Downer, David Barker, Jeptha W. Babcock. Morgan Van Wagoner, Albert M. Hastings, Silas Meade, Daniel Landers, Gorman Bush and others.

Previous to 1825 mail came into this town by the hand of some person who might be going to Buffalo, Rochester or Batavia. The first post.office was established in the year named with James Matthews, postmaster. The post-office at West Somerset was established in 1844, with Marvin S. Hess, postmaster. The post-office of Lake Road, in the northwest part of the town, is of more recent existence; the first postmaster was Jeptha W. Babcock. The other post-offices are South Somerset, Barker and County Line, the latter being a mere hamlet on the line between this town and Yates in Orleans county.

The following were also prominent early settlers of the town:

Loren Fitts, Albert M. Hastings, Francis 0. Pratt. Solomon Morse. Jonathan M. Shurtliff, Samuel Kemp, Albert Van Wagoner, William Sherwood, Oscar E. Mann, a Mr. Benson (the first carpenter). Dr. Brown (the first physician, in 1826), C. H. Akley, William L. Atwater, Edwin E. Arnold, George Badgely, Samuel Barry çwhose son Chester F. was the first man to enlist in the Rebellion from Somerset), Vernon D. Bateman, Nathan Pond, jr., and Wiliam H. Hyde. Loren Church was born in this town in 1827 and has served as a justice of the peace for about ninteen years.

Other residents, many of whom are living, are
I. J. Gardner, John and Samuel Coates, Philip aud Thomas Hoag, Hardy Fitts, Aaron Coleman, Jacob S. Haight, Jared T. Aldrich. Andrew M. Armstrong, S. H. Armstrong (keeper of the lighthouse), Henry and Lewis Arnold, Stephen Atwater, Gaston J. Baugham, Calvin S. Bateman, Arthur M. and George W. Bennett, William and Franklin Bowen, George H. and Frank M. Bradley, Lewis A. Bradley, John Brigham, Aaron Bullen, Arthur T. Burgess, Prank Button, Minor T. and William Cartwright, Edward Coon, James Cronkhite, Edwin O. and George W. Denton, Henry W. and John K. Denton, John Fitts, Matthew Fitzgerald, George and Prentice Fox, Hiram and Isaac J. Frost, Albert H. and Joshua J. Haight, H. Nelson Harringron, Lemuel Haves, Charles E. and George Higgs, Guy C. and Sirneon N. Humphrey, Andrew Hungerford. David and George A. Huntington, Albert and Gordon Huntington, William Henry Hyde. David H. Hyde, James Licidell, Silas Lum, Willis T. Mann. Homer D. and William A. C. Meade, Harvey and Stephen Meade, Michael Morrissey, Romvne W. Nobles, Henry F. Peacock, L. W. Pettit, Frank B. and George W. Porter, Ely C. Rising, William A. Sawyer, Benjamin F. and John Sherwood, Austin Skutt. E. L. and I. W. Smith George M. Swain, J olin P. Townsend, Cornelius Treat, Andrew R. Webb, John Whitlam, Charles W. Wilcox, Charles and S. H. Zoss. Many others are noticed at length in Part III of this volume.

The land on which Somerset Corners stands, which is one of the most prosperous hamlets in the town, was formerly owned by Samuel Palmer on the northeast corner of the streets; Isaac Lockwood on the northwest corner; Isaac Starbuck on the southwest corner; and William Harrington on the southeast corner. Here around the early store, tavern, and a few shops gradually gathered a little village. Among the old-time merchants were Omon P. Wright, a partner with James Matthews, under the firm name of Matthews & Wright ; Francis 0. Pratt, Samuel Kemp, James Matthews, jr., Stephen B. Starbuck, Daniel P. Holt,Jotham M. Aldrich, John N. Pease, Cyrus Aldrich (who was succeeded by Henry H. Frost), and Samuel S. Rising (who was succccdcd by Sidney Smith). Henry H. Frost & Son now have the only general store of importance in the place. A steam grist mill was erected and put in operation here by Stephen Peckham in 1845. and for many years did a flourishing business.

The Somerset Siftings, under the proprietorship of W. H. Warren and E. T. Williams, was established May 4, 1888. Mr. Warren retired from the firm in July of that year. E. T. Williams continued the paper until May, 1889, when it was suspended. The Reveille was established by W. H. Warren, May 26, 1894 It was a success financially, but the proprietor's business in the line of commercial printing and advertising specialties grew to such an extent he discontinued the publication of the paper in October, 1896.

Barker (Somerset Station) is a post office and station on the R., W. & O. Railroad, and the chief shipping point in town. It is of recent growth, dating from the opening of the railroad, and contains the stores of Jay L. Taylor, general merchant and postmaster; Compton & Bennett, furniture ; Jesson Brothers, hardware ; Reed & Cartwright, furniture ; and John O'Malley, general merchant. In July, 1895. a fire burned all the stores, etc., along the street west of the depot, but the structures were soon mostly rebuilt.

The government lighthouse. known as the Thirty-mile Point Lighthouse, was completed and lighted in April, 1875. It cost about $90,000.

A small log school house was built about a mile and a half west of the Corners in 1817, and there Masten Sherwood opened the first school in Somerset. In 1823 the town was divided into six school districts, and in 1826 the number of scholars taught was 165. By 1860 the number of districts had increased to fourteen; at the present time there are thirteen, with a comfortable school house in each.

The first church organized in this town was the Methodist, the class being formed in 1817 at the house of Silas Meade. Masten Sherwood was leader. After two years of meetings at Mr. Meade's house they were held in the school house five years, on Mr. Meade's farm. Rev. Daniel Shepherdson was the first preacher on this part of a large circuit A site for building a church was purchased in 1831, at Somerset Corners, and a small edifice erected, in 1839, the money for which was raised by subscription. In 1870 the society built a parsonage. In 1878 the old church was sold to Dr. Irving Hotaling, and the present edifice built on the site.

In 1843 a meeting was held preliminary to organizing the West Somerset Baptist church. It was there determined to purchase a certain house with one acre of land of S. J. Colby, which was done for $200. A little later the society made an addition to the house for the use of the pastor and there services were held for seven years. The first covenant meeting was held April 12, 1845, and on May 28 of that year a reorganization was effected as the West Baptist Church of Somerset. Thomas Briggs was the first deacon, and he with Marcus Noble and Reuben Raze, were the first trustees. The first ordained minister was Elder Harvey Pettit, who began in 1846. The present brick church edifice was completed in 1850, the site having been donated by Elder Jesse Colby. Rev. L. W. Gross has been pastor for several years.

The Baptist Church of Somerset was first recognized by an ecciesias. tical council in January, 1820, at the house of James Stevens. During the next three or four years meetings were held in various dwellings, itinerant preachers holding the services. In June, 1830, a council was held and Elder R. L. Wilson was ordained pastor. In 1832 the society was granted fifty acres of land by the Holland Company, the proceeds of which were devoted to building a Baptist church edifice in Somerset village, the first church erected in town. It was extensively remodeled in 1857. The society became weak in numbers and finally ceased holding meetings. About 1894 the church was purchased by Dr. I. W. Houghtaling and converted into business uses.

The Presbyterian church, Somerset, was organized January 26, 1824, at the house of Stephen Sherwood, with six members. Rev. E. Everett was present and officiated. From that time to 1840 the pastors were Revs. David Pratt, David Page and Truman Baldwin. The first church edifice was erected and dedicated October 1, 1840. Previous to that time meetings had been held in the upper rooms of James Matthews's store and in the brick school house in Somerset. In 1852 the society purchased a house and lot for a parsonage, which was remodeled and improved in 1870. The church was rebuilt and enlarged in 1878.

The M. E. church at Barker is a neat frame edifice, and was built in 1894.

A society of Friends was organized in this town in 1821, with twenty members, and in 1836 a brick church was erected. The first settled preacher was Mrs. Miriam Winslow, who died in 1828; she was followed by David Gardner, and he was succeeded by David Haight.

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