History of the town of Corning, NY
From: Landmarks of Steuben County, New York
Edited by: Hon. Harlo Hakes
Assisted By: L. C. Aldrich and Others
D. Mason & Company, Publishers,
Syracuse, New York, 1896

[Also see the City of Corning]

CORNING. - In the latter part of the year 1789 Frederick Calkins and Ephraim and Ichabod Patterson made the first settlement in the town of Corning. Frederick Calkins, a Vermonter, had, in the summer before, made an improvement in what is now Erwin, but soon learned that he was on Colonel Erwin's lands, consequently he left that locality and built a new cabin opposite the Chimney Narrows, on the south side of the Chemung. Thus was made the pioneer settlement in the present town of Corning, although many years elapsed before this name was applied to the region.

The town was originally a part of one of the provisional districts of Ontario county, and was organized in 1793 under the name of Painted Post. Three years later Steuben county was created, the old district name was retained, and its territory included all that is now Horuby, Campbell, Erwin, Corning, Caton and Lindley. By reason of important early events the present central portion of the township of Corning was a locality of much note, although no hamlet worthy the name was built up until nearly half a century afterward. The important events alluded to were in the nature of land operations and had a direct bearing on the early history of the town.

In the spring of the year 1790 an association was formed for the purpose of purchasing from the Phelps and Gorham proprietary a large tract of land in this part of Ontario county. The members comprised Frederick Calkins, Caleb Gardner, Ephraim Patterson, Justus Wolcott, Peleg Gorton and Silas Wood, and their purchase, substantially, was the present town of Corning, or township 2, of range 1. All of these purchasers, except Mr. Wood, settled on the land and began improvements as early as the year 1792. However, there appears to have been some dissatisfaction in the company, growing out of what was said to be an unequal division of the land, and on the 15th of March, 1792, a number of the members, with others who purchased from the company, reconveyed to Mr. Phelps 10,040 acres of land; and on April 4, following Peleg Gorton likewise deeded to Mr. Phelps 2,000 acres of land in the town.

During their brief ownership, the proprietors caused a survey of the town to be made, after which the apportionment was effected, and when the feeling of disaffection arose the matter was referred for settlement to William Jenkins, Eleazer Lindley and John Hendy. The adjustment made by these arbiters proved satisfactory to the interested owners, and thereafter the question of land titles in Corning was permanently settled. Then improvements began, one of the first and most needed of which was the erection of a grist mill on Post Creek, near Ephraim Patterson's house, by Colonel Henderson and Mr. Payne. Two years later, 1795, Benjamin Eaton opened a store on the highway between Corning and Knoxville. The next year Charles Williamson, ever alert in the interest of his estates, purchased a tract of land on the north side of the Chemung and began the erection of a large and well appointed public house, one which in appearance and size far outstripped any then in the Genesee country; and one which has withstood the ravages of time for almost a century. This hostelry was long known as the "Jennings Tavern," John Jennings having been its owner and proprietor from 1813 to 1834, but the original landlord was Benjamin Patterson, the famous hunter and guide of the region in after years. Patterson came to the house in June, 1797, and on his arrival found these residents in the vicinity: David Fuller, Stephen Ross, Eli and Eldad Mead, George McCullough, H owell Bull, afterward prominent in Bath history; Benjamin Eaton, Mrs. Nehemiah Hubbell, widow of Ichabod Patterson; Jared Irwin, Jonathan and Jeduthan Rowley, Abraham and Dr. Phineas Bradley, Eliakim Jones, Enos Calkins, Frederick Calkins, and the Grotons, Wolcotts, Rowleys, the latter three living farther east. Besides these settlers there were in the valley and elsewhere James Turner, William Knox, Hezekiah Thurber, Samuel Shannon, David Hayden, Joseph Grant, Jonathan Cook and David Trowbridge.

Knoxville (now part of the city), says a cotemporary writer, "was founded and named after Hon. John Knox, who came to the place about 1795. He led a distinguished and active life, reflecting the highest honor upon the community in which he lived. His residence, in which he kept public house, was located on the second lot below the Methodist church (1876) in Knoxville. It was in this house that the original Painted Post Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons occupied rooms, and where it flourished till 1827."

Ansel McCall moved into the town in 1804, and in the next year erected both saw and grist mills, on the south side of the river, near and below the canal dam.

Centerville, according to the same authority as noted above, formed part of the large farm of Judge Thomas McBurney, who, in 1824 or '25, laid out village lots, and also set up a high post which he claimed to be on the site of the original Painted Post, Hon. Philo P, Hubbell kept a large hotel, while other early business men were Fidelis Ferenbaugh, saddler and harnessmaker; Z. F. Wilder, blacksmith; John Arnot and H. H. Matthews, storekeepers; Charles L. Mills and Charles E. Osborne were also prominent business men of the place. At Centerville Judge Thomas A. Johnson began his legal career, and Ansel J. McCall, now of Bath, taught the first school. The old "Mallory House" was built about 1824, and in one of its wings the "Bank of Corning" began business in 1839. The act authorizing the construction of the Chemung Canal was passed April 15, 1829, and the work of building was finished in 1833. A State dam was built across the river at the lower end of the village, and a "feeder" was constructed to Horseheads, a distance of fifteen miles.

Thus have we briefly narrated the events by which this town was brought into existence and subsequently developed and built up, until it became in all respects the most progressive and firmly established town in Steuben county; not, perhaps, the most populous, but one which from every point of view may justly lay claim to the title of metropolis of the shire. In general fertility of soil, natural advantages, thrift, enterprise and general progressiveness, the town of Corning, including of course the chartered city within its limits, is one of the best civil divisions in this part of the State.

However, retrospecting briefly, let us note some of the changes in the original territory of the town called Painted Post. The first reduction in area was made in 1826, when Erwin and Hornby (including Campbell and Lindly) were set off, after which the town contained but two townships, numbers 1 and 2, range 1, or, as now constituted, Corning and Caton. The latter was separated from the mother town in 1839, leaving to Painted Post a single township, number 2, range 1. The old name was continued until March 31, 1852, and then changed to Corning, in honorable allusion to the enterprise of the "Corning Company," the acknowledged leader in which was Erastus Corning, of Albany, N. Y. This subject, however, will be more fully treated in the history of the city of Corning.

Reduced to its present area, Corning contains (inclusive of the city) 24,200 acres of land; and land which agriculturists regard as rich and fertile as can be found in all Steuben county. Noting its physical characteristics, the wide valley of the Chemung, extending northwest and southeast through the center of the town, together with several lateral valleys, divide the uplands into rounded hills and narrow ridges. Its principal stream is the Chemung River, tributaries of which are Borden, Post, Narrows, Clump Foot and Winfield Creeks, as known a quarter of a century and more ago. The soil on the hills is a heavy, slaty loam, and in the valleys a fine quality of sandy and gravelly loam, occasionally intermixed with clay. These elements are desirable for successful agricultural pursuits, and in response to the proper efforts of the husbandman yield abundantly in general crops, and as well in vegetables and tobacco. The assessed valuation of the town, in real and personal property, is $761,760; in real, $719,260, and personal, $42,500.

One of the most noticeable incidents of local history in Corning has been the constant and healthful increase in number of inhabitants in the town. In proof of this we may have recourse to the census tables, by which we learn that in 1800 the sparsely settled town of Painted Post had a population of 262, and during the next ten years the number had increased to 950. The census of 1820 gave Corning 2,088 inhabitants, but the reductions in territory which were made in 1826 also took many inhabitants, and the consequence was that in 183o the town had 974 population. However, during the succeeding ten years the number was increased to 1,674, while the census of 1850 showed the population to be 4,372. In 1860 it was 6,003, in 187o was 6,502, in 188o was 7,402, and in 189o, was 10,188. The city of Corning was created by act of the Legislature in 1890, and, according to the count of 1892, had a population of 10,025. In the same year the town had 1,838 inhabitants.

As we have noted, the town was organized under the name of Painted Post. in the year 1793, then comprising one of the districts or towns of Ontario county. When Steuben county was erected, in 1796, and its towns formed, Painted Post was continued though somewhat reduced in area. In 1826 still other and greater portions of territory were taken in forming other towns. Previous to this time officers had been regularly elected and were chosen from the township at large. A complete succession of these early officers, or at least the supervisors, would be desirable, but it is impossible owing to the absence of reliable records. However, having recourse to published documents, and relying somewhat upon verified recollections, we are able to furnish a reasonably accurate list of supervisors from the year 1823, as follows;

Thomas McBurney, 1823-24; John Knox, 1825; Thomas McBurney, 1826-27; John Knox, 1828-29; Henry H. Matthews, 1830-32; Daniel Gorton, 1833-34; William Bonham; 1835; Samuel K. Wolcott, 1836; John McBurney, 1837-38; Henry H. Matthews, 1839; Thomas A. Johnson, 1840-41; John McBurney, 1842-43; John Sly, jr., 1844; Thomas A. Johnson, 1845-46; H. B. Noyes, 1847; Jonathan Brown, 1848; Benjamin P. Bailey, 1879-80; Daniel B. Cump-stou, 1851; William Irvin, 1852; Simeon Hammond, 1853; John Maynard, 1854; Charles Packer, 1855; Benjamin P. Bailey, 1856; Stephen T. Hayt, 1857; Charles C. B. Walker, 1858; Stephen T. Hayt, 185963; Nelson Cowan, 1864-66; Henry Goff, 1867-68; John Vischer, 1869; Austin Lathrop, jr., 1870-77; Nelson Cowan, 1878; S. C. Robertson, 1879-80; L. C. Kinesbury, 1881-83; Stephen T. Hayt, 1884; L. C. Kingsbury, 1885; H. C. Heermans, 1886-87; L. C. Kingsbury, 1888; B. W. Wellington, 1889; James L. Packer, 1890-92; R. F. Clark, 1893; Myron W. Robbins, 1894-95.

The town offiers for the years 1898 are as follows: Myron W. Robbins, supervisor; Frank H. Johnson, town clerk; Egbert Shoemaker, W. H. Sweetland, H. W. Van Etten. and Wm. Goff, justices of the peace; Henry Teak, commissioner of highways; P. A. Rouse, Peter Covenhoven, and G. W. Barnard, assessors; J. W. Calkins, overseer of the poor.

About the time the town of Painted Post was divided (in 1826) the inhabitants of the county were much disturbed on account of the feeling of unrest and dissatisfaction occasioned by the attitude of the Pulteney Association in the land controversy just beginning. However, in this particular locality little of the prevailing distress was felt, for the lands of Painted Post generally were very desirable and much sought. Still, acting in common with the entire region, this town assembled in meeting and selected representatives to the historic Bath convention, as follows: Robert H. Hoyt, Joseph Gillett, Charles Wolcott, Br., William Webster and Henry D. Smith.

From this time (about 183o) forth no disturbing event occurred to mar the harmony of local growth and progress. Soon after the settlement of the controversy the Corning Company was organized and laid the foundation for what is now a flourishing city, and on every hand were evidences of prosperity. All interests were enlarged, railroads, one following another. were constructed through the town and Corning became indeed an important community in the southern part of New York.

The next period of importance in local and general history was that commonly mentioned as the war of 1861-65, during which the martial spirit of this town was put to the test and not found wanting. A reference to the military roster of the town discloses the fact that Corning, town and village, furnished for the service a total of 324 men, who were scattered through the several regiments raised in southern New York. During the war the village was an important seat of operations and its close proximity to Elmira gave an additional interest to rapidly occurring events. In another chapter particular reference is made to the several companies recruited in the town and to their service at the front.

Record and tradition alike are almost silent regarding the early schools in this important town, and the unfortunate loss of town books leaves us quite in the dark as to the time when the town was first apportioned into school districts. Yet we know that the pioneers were not neglectful of the educational welfare of their youth, for as early as the year 1793 Samuel Colgrove opened a school in the town. In later years, as the town was divided and other jurisdictions created, it became necessary to as frequently redistrict the remaining portions of Painted Post, or Corning, and when the village assumed proportions of importance excellent academic institutions were established. These naturally 'drew attendance from the town at large, a condition of things which exists even to the present time, for the superior excellence of Corning's schools is known throughout the southern tier.

As at present disposed, the town is divided into sixteen districts, and during the last school year 2,428 pupils attended school in both town and city. The value of school buildings and property is estimated at $108,230, and the assessed valuation of the town and city is $4,200,445. Forty eight teachers are employed annually. The joint town and city received public moneys to the amount of $7,981.06, while there was raised by local tax the additional sum of $24,143.24 Eleven trees were planted in 1894.

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