History of the town of Erwin, Steuben County, 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

ERWIN. - On the 27th day of January, 1826, the town of Painted Post (formed March 18, 1796,) was divided and a portion of the territory set off was erected into a new town by the name of Erwin; and so called in allusion to Col. Arthur Erwin, formerly of Bucks county, Penn., who had been an officer in the Revolutionary army, and by whom the town was purchased from the Phelps and Gorham proprietary. However, from the original town of Erwin, Lindley was taken off in 1837, and a part of Corning was re annexed in 1856. As then constituted and now existing, this town contains 23,300 acres of land, of as good quality for general agricultural purposes as can be found in Steuben county.

The physical features and natural characteristics are remarkable and quite different from those of the county at large. The land surface is nearly equally divided between high rolling uplands and the low valleys of streams. The more elevated lands are from 400 to 65o feet above the valleys. In the southern part of the town the waters of the Canisteo unite with the Tioga, and in the northeast part the latter stream unites with the Cohoèton and forms the Chemung River. In all respects Erwin may justly be regarded the best watered division of this large county. The valleys of the streams vary in width from one to two miles, and the soil is a fine quality of alluvium.

However, notwithstanding all the various advantages of location, and the general fertility of soil, both on hills and in the valleys, it is only within the last score of years that the forest growths have been removed, and there are still in the town a few desirable timbered tracts.

This town contains, according to accredited authority, one of the most historic landmarks of Steuben county the famous "Painted Post," the subject of rhyme and story; and concerning which all students of archeology and the Indianologists as well, were at loss in satisfactorily basing and proving their theories. However, this subject is so fully treated in one of the early chapters of the present work that nothing more than a brief allusion to it is necessary at this time. The town abounds in Indian history and traditions, well authenticated in many cases, and purely mythical in others, and all have been treated and frequently enlarged upon by past writers, wherefore in this narrative we propose to deal only with the civilized white settlement, tracing briefly the interesting record of growth and development to the present time.

In the summer of 1789, Col. Arthur Erwin set out from his home in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, accompanied with a good number of helpers, bound for Canandaigua, the seat of operations of the Phelps and Gorham proprietary. This adventurous pioneer came with a determination to locate in the Genesee country, and brought with him a fair drove of cattle to be turned into cash or used as stock on his proposed purchase. At that time the fact was well known that Samuel Harris, trapper and Indian trader, had a cabin within the limits of the present village of Painted Post, and here Colonel Erwin stopped to rest his cattle. The location and general outlook pleased the colonel, and he immediately resumed his journey to Canandaigua, reaching which he at once enquired if township number two, range two, was in the market, and, if so, at what price. Phelps charged and Erwin paid the gross sum of £1,400 New York money, for the township, turning his cattle in part payment and cash for the balance and thus became the owner of the town afterwards named for him, the subject of this chapter.

Three years previous to this event, or in 1786, Samuel Harris built a cabin on the village site, and employed himself in trapping, curing and dealing in furs, and trading among the Indian occupants of the region. He was not in any sense a pioneer and made no attempt at clearing or improving the land. According to Judge McMaster, the Harris cabin was subsequently burned. In 1789 this pioneer adventurer moved to a point near the foot of Cayuga Lake. Augustus Porter, surveyor for Phelps and Gorham, made the Harris cabin his headquarters while laying out the townships in this part of Ontario county.

The settlement in fact of the town began in 1788, for account of which we have recourse to a previously published narrative, as follows: In 1788 came Eli Mead and George Goodhue and their families. In 1789 came David Fuller and family; in 1790, Bradford Edgeton, William Hitcher, James Shaw, with their families, and David Cook, whose family came in 1792. Col. Arthur Erwin, the owner of the township, came in the very early spring of 1791 with the intention of making it his permanent home. On his return to Bucks county for his family, he had reached his possessions then in Luzerne county, and while sitting in the house of his tenant, Daniel McDuffe, he was assassinated by a squatter, who immediately made his escape on a stolen horse. In 1791 came John Wyman and family, Capt. Samuel Erwin, then unmarried, and Major Arthur Erwin, both sons of Colonel Erwin. In 1793 Eldad Mead became a settler, and in the following year John Muihollen and several others were added to the settlement along the rivers. The year 1796 witnessed the arrival of Hugh Erwin, another son of Colonel Erwin, while among the settlers of 1797 were Joseph Grant, Jacob Turner, Homer and Asher Lane and John Kemp, nearly all of whom brought families.

Among the other early settlers in our town were Benjamin Patterson, famed throughout the region for his hunting proclivities, and as well for his generous hospitality as a tavern keeper; and as a story teller and general entertainer he was without a peer in the town. Prominent also among the pioneers were John E. Evans, who taught the first school in the town, and was at one time postmaster, also George Young and Edward Cooper, all of whom were identified with the town in its early history.

Referring briefly to some of the first events of local history, it may be stated that Samuel Erwin built the first saw mill, in 1820, and the the first grist mill in 1823, while David Fuller opened the first public house in 1792. John E. Evans began teaching school in 1812, and among his pupils were Robert and John Patterson, Gen. F. E. Erwin, Gen. William D. Knox, John Erwin, Col. F. E. Young, Thomas Wheat, Arthur H. Erwin, John McBurney, Samuel Shannon, Philander Knox and others, each of whom occupied positions of trust and responsibility in after years.

The war of 1812-15 was an important period in local history, and one not without interest to the people of the town. Among those drafted for service were Abner Trowbridge, Edmund C. Cooper, James Gillen and Thomas Wheat. Joseph Gillett held a lieutenant's commission, and was wounded in battle. Judge Thomas McBurney was another commissioned officer. Edmund C. Cooper sent a substitute in his place. Daniel Mulihoilen enlisted twice, and finally lost an arm in the service.

The town of Erwin, having within its boundaries parts of four considerable rivers, has several times been subjected to serious inundation, and some of these occasions have passed into history as notable events, hence worthy of at least passing mention. In the fall of the year 1817 there came what has ever been known as the "pumpkin" flood, by which crops, cattle and many buildings were swept away. In 1833 the waters of both Conhocton and Tioga were swollen to an unusual degree, and some damage and still more excitement was the result. Next came the great flood of 1857, which also proved disastrous, and finally that of St. Patrick's day, 1865.

The interest of Colonel Erwin in this town was an entire one, and had that worthy pioneer lived to witness the execution of his plans here indeed would undoubtedly have been a municipality of considerable commercial importance; but his unfortunate and untimely taking off unsettled all plans for the future of the town, although his sons showed commendable ability and zeal in settling the affairs of the estate and holding intact its value. After Colonel Erwin's death the property was divided among his ten children, of whom Samuel. Francis, Arthur, Rebecca and Mrs. Mulhollen became residents of the town. The estate was divided by a commission comprising John Konkle, Eleazer Ludley and Henry McCormick.

In this narrative thus far progressed we have generally alluded to the town under its present name - Erwin - although as a matter of fact the territory remained a part of Painted Post until 1826. After being set off, the first town meeting was held March 7, of the year mentioned, at the dwelling of Daniel Rooks, jr. Ethan Pier presided on this occasion and Capt. Samuel Erwin was elected supervisor, and John E. Evans, town clerk. From that time it is interesting to note the succession of supervisors, the principal town office, viz.:

Samuel Erwin, 1826-29; Abner Thurber, 1830-32; John Cooper, jr., 1833; Chauncey Hoffman, 1834-35; A. C. Morgan, 1836; Francis E. Erwin, 1837-38; Arthur Erwin, jr., 1839-42; William J. Gillett, 1843-48; Arthur H. Erwin, 1849-50; Ira P. Bennett, 1851; Uri Malcom, 1852-53; Samuel Erwin, 1854; Arthur H. Erwin, 1855-62; William J. Gilbert, 1863; Wm. C. Bronson, 1864-67; Alanson J. Fox, 1868; W. C. Bronson, 1869; Lyman Balcom, 1870; Ira P. Bennett, 1871; Charles J. Fox, 1872-74; Francis Erwin, 1875; W. S. Hodgman, 1876; Francis Erwin, 1877-80; Charles Iredell, 1881-33; Thomas R. Peck, 1884; W. S. Hodgman, 1885-88; F. E. Bronson, 1889-90; George W. Campbell, 1891-95.

In this connection we may also properly furnish the list of town officers for the present year, 1895: George W. Campbell, supervisor; J. D. Orcutt, town clerk; J. S. Tobias, S B. Howell, W. C. Morse and George Dunklee, justices; Hiram P. Badger, L. Kinsella and C. D. Rouse, assessors; Frank Berry, collector and overseer of the poor; F. C. Wilcox, highway commissioner; E. D. Bonham, W. A. Allen and E. Erwin, excise commissioners.

Soon after the separate organization of Erwin, the inhabitants of the entire region were much disturbed on account of the land controversy of about 1830, but as this town was entirely outside the interests of the Puitney Association, the serious effects of the conflict were not felt here. Ho wever,the event was the subject of much discussion in the accustomed resorts, and the town was represented by delegates in the famous Bath convention. This duty was delegated to John E. Evans, Samuel Erwin and John Cooper, jr.

In 1860 Erwin contained 1,859 inhabitants, yet, during the war of 1861-65, the town is credited with having furnishing a total of two hundred and ten men for the service, or about ten and one fourth per cent of the population. A history of the several companies in which were Erwin volunteers will be found in another chapter of this work.

During the period of its history, there have been built up and established within the limits of this town several villages or hamlets, known, respectively, as Painted Post, an incorporated village and as well one of the most interesting and historic localities in the county; Gang Mills, a hamlet southwest of the principal village and brought into existence about 1832; Cooper's Plains, a hamlet and postoffice in the north part of the town; and Erwin, a station on the Erie road and established about 1873. The village of Painted Post and also each of these hamlets will be found mentioned in the chapter devoted to municipal history.

In concluding this chapter we may with propriety refer briefly to the census reports and from that source glean some facts relative to the population of Erwin at different periods. In 1830 the inhabitants in the town were 795 in number, while in 1840 it had decreased to 785. During the next ten years the increase was remarkable, the census showing the population to be 1,435. In 186o the number increased to 1,859, and in 1870 to 1,977. The greatest number of inhabitants was reached in 1880, being 2,095, but a decrease followed, the number in 1890 being 1,884. According to the count of 1892, Erwin's population was 1,843.

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