History of the town of Hornellsville, 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 history of the City of Hornellsville.]

HORNELLSVILLE - In the early part of the year 1790 Solomon Bennett, Capt. John Jamison, Benjamin Crosby, Uriah Stephens, and possibly Elisha Brown, left the Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania and proceeded by way of the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers to visit the Phelps and Gorham purchase, for the purpose of investigating the character of the region, with the ultimate intention of making for themselves and their families permanent homes in the new country. On reaching the historic locality known as Painted Post, the party journeyed up the Conhocton several miles, but not finding the lands suited to their desires, returned, and next proceeded up the valley of the Canisteo to the present town of Hornellsville. In this vicinity a careful examination of the lands was made, and here the party decided to purchase and establish a settlement.

Accordingly, a company was organized, comprising Solomon Bennett, Elisha Brown, James Hadley, John Jamison, Arthur Erwin, Uriah Stephens. jr., Joel Thomas, Christian Kress, John Stephens, William Bennett, Uriah Stephens, sr., and William Wynkoop. Solomon Bennett and Elisha Brown were delegated to visit Oliver Phelps at Canandaigua and purchase from the proprietary two townships No. 3 in the 5th range and No. 4 in the 6th range, but through an error they in fact purchased townships numbers 3 in the 5th and 6th ranges, and the mistake was not discovered until after some improvements had been made in the township first mentioned; and when the company applied to Mr. Phelps for a correction of the error that shrewd proprietor made a new conveyance only after taking from the north side of number 4, range 6, a strip of land one mile in width. The corrected deed was executed on the 17th day of September, 1790. We may further state by way of explanation that township 3 of the 5th range comprises substantially the present town of Canisteo, while number 4 of the 6th range in the same manner constitutes the division of the county now known as Hornellsville, although now within its boundaries are included portions of other townships.

As constituted by this conveyance the town last mentioned was six miles from east to west, and five miles north and south. However, since its organization as a separate town (April 1, 1820), Hornellsville has surrendered portions of her territory to other formations; Hartsville was taken off in 1844, and a part of Fremont in 1854 Hornellsville, within its present boundaries, contains 26,200 acres of land.

The new proprietors, immediately after their purchase, proceeded to draw lots for lands in the township, which for this purpose was divided into twelve parts. This disposition of the lands (which now would be quite novel, but was then common) resulted in James Hadley securing Lot No. i; John Jamison (or Jemingsen), No. 2; Arthur Erwin, No. 3; Christian Kress, No. 4; Joel Thomas, No. 5; Uriah Stephens, jr., No. 6; John Stephens, No. 7; William Wynkoop, No. 8; Uriah Stephens, sr., No. 9; Thomas Bennett, No. 10; Elisha Brown, No. I 1; Solomon Bennett, No. 12.

The pioneer and early settlement of this town was accomplished while the territory formed a part of the still older town of Canisteo, and for the purpose of designation, the region of which we write was known as "Upper Canisteo;" a name which was in fact continued until the separate organization of the town of Hornellsville.

There has long existed a difference of opinion among writers of early local history as to the year in which the first permanent settlement was made in this town, and according to the reminiscences of Deacon Mowry Thatcher, of honored memory, the date may be recorded as 1790 instead of 1793; and drawing information from all reliable sources, the present writer feels bound to accord the honor of pioneership to Benjamin Crosby, who, in the year 1790, located on the site of the present city of Hornellsville. His lands comprised 1,600 acres, and his dwelling is believed to have stood where now is built the Hotel Osborne. Richard Crosby, son of the pioneer, came at the same time, and his house was located near the creek, just north of the Mr. Hough's, on Maple avenue.

Oliver Harding is believed to have been the second settler, following soon after pioneer Crosby, and located between Main and Genesee streets, near Hakes avenue. He was the nearest neighbor to Mr. Crosby. Later on he moved to Harding Hill, in Fremont. The Stephens family was also prominent among the pioneers, Uriah, sr., being the head, although Uriah, jr., attained greater prominence in local history. His name is still well preserved in the county.

"On July 9th, 1793," says Mr. Near, "John Stephens, who drew great lot No. 7, conveyed this lot, containing 1,600 acres, to George Hornell, for a consideration of £111." From the same authority we also learn that judge Hornell built the first mill on the site afterward occupied by the Thacher mill, being the first grist mill west of Elmira, except the Bennett mill at Canisteo. According to the researches of Miles W. Hawley, Mr. Hornell had previously visited this region in the capacity of trader among the Indians, and thus became acquainted with the locality in which he permanently settled in 1792, although he did not purchase the Stephens lot until the next year. judge Hornell, as afterward known, made a small clearing at the upper end of Main street, near the intersection with Washington street. In 1800 he built the first tavern in either town or village, and by his enterprise and public spiritedness almost at once became the leading man of the upper Canisteo region. He was identified with many measures which benefited the public rather than himself, hence the honors that were afterward bestowed upon him were worthily deserved. The town, the village, and the present city of Hornellsville have been successively named in his honor. He was one of the early associate judges of the county, also one of the first postmasters, and was in the Legislature in 1808. Judge Hornell died during the fever epidemic of 1813, which swept so disastrously throughout this region.

These were the earliest settlers in the town, and in fact the Crosbys, Hardings, Stephens and Hornells were about the only settlers previous to 18m on what is now the city site. However, in the upper part of the valley the lands were taken quite early, and from Mr. Hawley's papers we learn that Judge Hurlbut and his son John located at Arkport as early as 1797, and made improvements. Among the other settlers in the same locality were Nathan Corey, Stephen Webb, Joel Atherton, Joseph Corey, while later comers were William Hyde, Elias Van Scoter, Julius Cleveland, Captain Abbott, John P. Ryers, John Pitts, Silas Stephens, Willis Hyde, William Sharp, Capt. Andrew Morris and others.

Arkport became a place of some note at an early day, due largely to the efforts of Judge Hurlbut, who built a public house in 1798, a saw mill and storehouse in 1800, and in the same year launched the famous "ark" on the waters of the Canisteo, and transported the first cargo of grain from this region to Baltimore. Referring to the other early settlers in the town, we may mention Nathaniel Thacher, father of Deacon Mowry Thacher, who came from Troupsburg in 1810 and settled a mile below the village site, near the Arnot grist mill. He was also a strong man in the new region, and was frequently elected to positions of trust and honor. Deacon Thacher was only a boy when his father moved into the valley, and possessed the fortunate faculty of retaining early memories of the town, and from his reminiscences have come many of the most interesting facts of local history, Still other and perhaps later settlers, worthy, however, of mention were Dugald Cameron, John R. Stephens, Medad Bostwick, Andy L. Smith, James Dildine, Martin Adsit, William O'Connor, Jonathan Nicholson, Orson Sheldon, Abram Cadogan, Jesse Eddy, John Peak, Nathaniel Finch, Rufus Tuttle and Peter Labour, all of whom were in some manner identified with the development and growth of the town more than half a century ago.

Settlement on the hills which abound in the town was naturally delayed to a time later than the occupation of the valleys. In the locality known as Wellever Hill, near the Hartsville line, the first settler was Mr. Cahran, followed later on by David Wellever, Andrew Hendershott, Samuel Hathaway, Peter Best, John Meeks and James Spencer. Alanson Stephens made a clearing on the hill overlooking the city. In the Crosby Creek neighborhood the first settlers were Leonard Drake, Jerry Davis, William D. Burdick, Richard Peterson, Samuel and Thomas Burnett, Asa Whitford, Isaiah Bartlett and Elisha Potter. Among the first occupants of the region of Pennsylvania Hill were James Dildine, James McMichael, William Emery, A. Sutton, Daniel Sutton, Ira Hyde and Gilbert Wright. The well known Webb district was settled by Col. John R. Stephens, Stephen Webb and Bazey Baker. Matthias Reed was the first settler in the Winfield neighborhood, where the Winfields, Clevelands, Burches, Belts, Keefers and Newsons afterwards located. On the turnpike road between this town and Bath, Major Burnett made a settlement in 1808, and later on there came here John Beattie, Jonathan Nicholson, Dudley Robinson, William R. Stephens, Samuel Jones, Henry Chapman, Nathaniel Finch, Nathan Osborne and others.

The first birth in the town is said to have been that of William Stephens, in December, 1792; the first marriage, that of Reuben Crosby and Jenny McQueen, in 1799; and the first death, that of a child of Judge Hornell. The judge built the first saw and grist mill, kept the first public house, and also the first store. The first school was taught by Abigail Hurlbut in 1796.

Early settlement in this part of the Canisteo valley was somewhat slow, as the census reports inform us that in 1800 the entire town had only 510 inhabitants, in 1810 but 656, and in 1820 the number was 891. However, the inhabitants of the Upper Canisteo country felt the necessity of a separate jurisdiction, and accordingly had recourse to the Legislature, and the result was the creation of a new town named Hornellsville, a tribute of respect to the memory of one of the foremost men of the region. The erecting act was passed April 1, 1820, and within the limits of the new formation was all the territory of the present town of Hornellsville, together with Hartsville and a portion of Fremont. The former was separated from this town in 1844, and the latter ten years later.

The full organization was completed at a meeting of the freemen held at the house of Martha Hornell, widow of the pioneer, on the first Tuesday in March, 1821, at which time these officers were elected: Ira Davenport, supervisor; John R. Stephens, town clerk; John Hurlbut, George Hornell and James Harding, assessors; William B. Bostwick, collector; Elijah Stephens and Stephen Webb, overseers of the poor; Stephen Coon, Asa Upton and Samuel Harding, highway commissioners; Christopher Hurlbut, Arvin Kennedy and George Hornell, inspectors of schools; James Taggart, William Stephens and Amos Graves, commissioners of common schools; William B. Bostwick, David Whitney and William Webb, constables; Amasa Thacher, Justus Harding and William Stephens, jr., fence viewers.

Having become fully organized, the authorities of the town, acting in harmony with the leading inhabitants, at once set about the development of all local interests, establishing a prosperous condition of affairs on every hand as the best and strongest inducement to attract other settlers. The result was an immediate and thenceforth constant growth in population and business interests, and whereas the entire jurisdiction of Canisteo had a population of 891 in 1820, the town of Hornellsville contained 834 inhabitants in 1825. In 1830 the number had increased to 1,572, and ten years later to 2,121. In 1850 the population was 2,637, and 4,230 in 1860, despite the fact that during the last two decades one full town and a portion of another had been formed from the territory of this town. Again, in 1870 the census gave Hornellville a population of 5,837, and in 1880 of 9,852. During the next decade, in 1888, the city was entirely separated from the mother town, taking therefrom nearly 10,000 of her inhabitants; still, in 1890, the town had a population of 1,939. Including the population of the city, which lies wholly within the geographical limits of the town, the number of inhabitants now living in the joint districts is conservatively estimated at 14,000.

The history of the city, from the time when pioneers Crosby, Harding, Hornell and their early associates made the first improvement, forms an interesting element of the history of the town at large; yet, according to the plan of this work, they are separated and each is made the subject of a distinct chapter. The busy little hamlet of Arkport will also be found mentioned in another part of this volume.

In this connection it is interesting to note the succession of leading officers of the town; that is, the supervisors, town clerks and justices of the peace.

Supervisors. - Ira Davenport, 1821-22; John R. Stephens, 1823-25; Thomas Bennett, 1826-27; James McBurney, 1828-31; James Dyke, 1832-33; James McBurney, 1834-35; Ira Davenport, 1836-39; Hugh Magee, 1840-41; John R. Morris, 1842-44; Thomas Major, 1845-47; Martin Adsit, 1848; Aaron Morris, 1849-50; Elisha G. Stevens, 1851-52; Wm. Bennett, 1853-54; Lewis D. Benton, 1855; Marcus E. Brown, 1856-57; Alanson Stephens, 1858-59; Philip Van Scoter, 1860-61; J. H. Stephens, jr., 1862-64; John A. Major, 1865-66; Chas. F. Smith, 1867; J. W. Robinson, 1868; Arza P. Breeze, 1869; John McDougall, 1870-72; Walter G. Rose, 1873-74; Miles W. Hawley, 1875-77; S. E. Shattuck, 1878; Samuel Mitchell, 1879; Esek Page, 1880-82; J. William Nicholson, 1883; M. W. Hawley, 1884; Walter G. Rose, 1885 George Holland, 1886; Avery McDougall, 1887; Miles W. Hawley, 1888; Henry Colgrove, 1889; L. C. Healy, 1890; Henry Colgrove, 1891; L. C. Healy, 1892; William S. Hurlbut, 1893-95.

Town Clerks. - John R. Stephens, 1821-22; George Hornell, 1823; Samuel Thacher, 1824; William Stephens, jr., 1825; Otis Thacher, 1826-28; Augustus Newell, 1829; Thomas Bennett, 1830; John Morris, 1831; Jno. R. Morris, 1836; Thomas J. Reynolds, 1833; Martin Adsit, 1834-39; Charles Lefferts, 1840; Andy L. Smith, Br., 1841; Hiram Bennett, 1842-44; Rufus Tuttle, 1845; Andy L. Smith, Br., 1846; Rufus Tuttle, 1847; Daniel Bullard, 1848; William H. Doty, 1849; Nath. Blakesley, 1853-52; Marcus E. Brown, 1853-55; Chas. E. Baldwin, 1856; Nathan Nichols, 1857; Miles W. Hawley, 1858; Theo. Badger, 1859; Nathan Nichols, 1860; Joseph Lauphear, 1861; C. C. Reynolds, 1862; Elmon D. Smith, 1863; Peter P. Houck, 1864; M. W. Hawley, 1865-72; Wm. H. Greenhow, 1873-77; Joseph Cameron, 1880; Niles L. Harrison, 1881; Wm. H. Reynolds, 1882-83; Jos. Cameron, 1884-86; Harris C. Sawyer, 1887-88; Julius Weber, 1889-90; Wm. Ford, 1891-92; James F. Deeter, 1893-95.

Justices of the Peace, (elected).-John Pitts, Jabez Lanphear, 1830; Jno. R. Stephens, 1831; Ephraim Wood, 1832; Chas. N. Hart, 1833 and 37; Jno. Baldwin, 1834 and 38; Stephen Abbott, 1835; Dexter Strait, 1836; Jno. Pitts, 1838-39,1844; David Crandall, 1839 and 40; Chas. Lefferts, 1841; Elisha G. Stephens, 1842; Israel Adams, 1842; Sidney Frisbie, 1843; Nathaniel Finch, 1844, 1848 and 1849; Hiram Bennett, 1845, 1850, '54, '61 and '65; Benj. T. Hoyes, 1846; Ethan Coats, 1847; Andrew Morris, 1847-51; John Hurlbut, 1848, '56, '60: Wm. E. Haight, 1852; James Atley, 1853; Jno. M. Wisewell, 1857; Homer Holiday, 1855, '59, '63, '68 and 73; Richard C. Major, 1858; Wm. W. Osgoodby, 1862; James McWoolever, 1864; F. Colgrove, 1865; S. M. Thacher, 1866; S. D. Pitts, 1866; Stephen F. Gilbert, 1867; Rodney Dennis and Henry Howard, 1869; Chas. E. Beard, 1870, '94; H. F. Howard, 1871, '75, '79, '83; Martin V. Doty, 1872; Orson Mosher, 1876; Edwin J. Cox, 1877; Henry L. Walker, 1878- 79; Fay P. Rathbun, 1870; John Griffin, 1880; Wm. E. Haight, 1882; Irving Paine, 1884; James H. Clancy, 1885; Lot Reznor, 1886; Warren W. Oxx, 1887; Frank Kelley, 1888; Chas. P. Emery, 1889; M. A. Emery and D. C. Hopkins, 1890; W. E. Ellis and D. L. Dungan, 1891; J. L. Kellison, 1892; Norman Bennett, 1893; Chester Halbert and A. A. Sewell, 1894; W. E. Ellis, 1895.

Present Town Officers (1895). - William S. Hurlbut, supervisor; James F. Deeter, town clerk; Wells E. Ellis, Chester Halbert, J. L. Kellison and Adelbert A. Sewell, justices; Nelson Ayres, Thomas Burris and Henry Colegrove, assessors; Austin C. Hill, overseer of the poor; John W. Wood, collector; Lot Reznor, highway commissioner; Henry Lovee, Hiram Ellis and Frank Waddington, excise commissioners.

The civil history of the town of Hornellsville, from first to last, forms an interesting and instructive chapter in the annals of Steuben county. The pioneers of this special region had to contend with the same obstacles and the same discouragements as did those of other localities, and the lands here were not more inviting than in other parts of the Canisteo valley. The first corners found a few patches of cleared land and the Indians were still occupants of the soil. Within the present boundaries of the town were several places where stood the rude habitations of the red man, and while the latter were not hostile, they were never particularly friendly, and yielded to the advances of civilization with ill disguised feelings of reluctance. During the war of 1812, the remaining Indians were regarded with distrust and apprehension by the settlers, as it was feared they might again return to their old alliance with the British. However, after the danger of an outbreak had passed, the arts of peace engaged the undivided attention of the inhabitants, farms were cleared, new lands were developed, and an era of prosperity prevailed on every hand.

Preceding and during the period of the so called Anti rent Conflict, the public mind was much interested, but as the Pulteney and Hornby associations had no interests in this town the people here fortunately escaped the embarrassments caused by it. In fact the disturbed condition of affairs elsewhere had the effect of attracting settlement to this town, and during the five years between 1825 and 1830, the population of Hornellsville was nearly doubled.

The one great event which above all others contributed to the promotion of local interests, was the construction of the New York and Erie railroad. The preliminary surveys were made by De Witt Clinton in 1832, and the company was organized in 1833. The first work of construction in this town was done in 1841, though nearly ten years elapsed before the road was in operation. On Sunday, September 1, 1850, the first train of cars was run into Hornellsville. The road was completed to Dunkirk, May 14, 1851, With this great consummation the prosperity of the town was assured, and later railway interests only added to the general welfare. With soil that yields profitably in return to proper cultivation, it is only in the natural course of events that Hornellsville ranks well among the agricultural towns of the county; and in the production of potatoes, as a special interest, the locality is unsurpassed.

The military record of the town is one in which the whole people feel just and pardonable pride. With a population of 4,230 in 1860, we find credited to the town during the period of the war a total of almost 425 men in all branches of the service. In a preceding chapter of this volume special reference is made to the various companies and regiments to which this town contributed, and the memory of the volunteers is kept alive in the hearts of every patriotic citizen of the town by the monuments erected in their honor.


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