History of Rathbone, 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 village of Rathboneville]

RATHBONE. - William Benham and William Hadley were indeed brave pioneers of the Canisteo valley an hundred years ago when they made the first settlement in the wild and uninviting region now called Rathbone. If record and tradition be true, these men came to the valley in the year 1793, and had not even the companionship of one another, for Benham built his cabin on the east line of the town, while Hadley was on the west side. Notwithstanding this, each made a successful location, paving the way for other settlers and opening the land for cultivation. Of necessity thepioneers were lumbermen, for we are told that when Benham and Hadley first visited the locality nothing was in view except woods and rocks and the noiseless waters of the Canisteo. And we are also told that the stillness of night was almost invariably broken by the noises of wild animals, while rattlesnakes were frequently unwelcome visitors to the settler's log cabin.

Such was the character of this region a century ago, but with steady advances the pioneers cleared the forests, cultivated the land, and finally destroyed all the objectionable elements of wilderness life. Yet all this was not accomplished by the single efforts of pioneers Benham and Hadley, for others soon came to the locality and gave material assistance in developing the resources of the town. As early as the year 1804 Samuel Benham had built and opened a public house, and Abel White furnished the settlers with game and fish. In 1806 Solomon Tracy and Benjamin Biggs made an improvement on the site of Rathbonville, and, among other things, built a large double log house. On the opposite side of the Canisteo, Isaac and Jonathan Tracy built the first saw mill in the town, and in 1816 a grist mill was added to the industries of the vicinity.

Among the other early settlers were Peleg Cole, Martin Young, Moses Powers, Jacob Cook, Zephaniah Townsend, Thomas Maybury, Zeno Sellick, John Sellick, John Helmer, from whom Helmer creek received its name, Jonathan Rowley, Benjamin Northrup, founder of the Northrup settlement, Thomas Allen, Jacob Cole, Harvey Fultz, Seth Cook and others whose names are now forgotten. These were the leading men of this part of the valley previous to 1825, and at least thirty years before the town was set off and separately organized.

Recalling briefly some of the more important first events of town history, we may note that the first white child born here was Luther White, that event taking place June 4, 1804. In the same year Luther Benham opened a tavern. The first marriage was that of Peleg Cole and Polly Tracy. Moses Powers taught the first school, and General Rathbone opened the first store in 1842, although previous to that time he was an extensive lumberman and land owner. Isaac Tracy built the first saw mill in 1806. The first school house was built of logs, and the second on the same site, was of frame, built in 1852.

Previous to its separate organization, Rathbone formed a part of the older towns of Addison, Cameron and Woodhull. On the Phelps and Gorham purchase it includes portions of townships two in the third and fourth ranges, and being set off contains 20,600 acres of land. Geographically, the town lies near and south of the center of the county. Its principal water course is Canisteo river, while the north branch of Tuscarora creek flows across the southwest corner. The uplands are from three hundred to four hundred feet above the valleys. The first settlers were attracted to this part of the valley by the magnificent growth of forest trees, and naturally lumbering was the chief occupation of the early inhabitants. This brought to the region an entirely desirable class of residents and for many years peace and plenty were the lot of the people. So deeply indeed were the settlers engaged in clearing the forests and rafting timber to market that they gave little heed to the founding of villages or establishing trading places until about fifty years ago. At that time Addison was the common trading and marketing center for the whole region, and there, too, the lumbermen were wont to visit for the transaction of their business, and not until Ransom Rathbone opened a store in this town in 1845, also secured a post office, that a hamlet was founded in what is now Rathbone. Still, for at least twenty five years previous to 1845 this was a very busy locality, as mills lined the Canisteo on both sides.

Through the efforts of General Rathbone and a few other leading operators in this part of the valley a new town was created, on March 28, 1850, and was named Rathbone in allusion to the person just mentioned. On the 6th of May following the electors assembled in town meeting and chose officers as follows: William R. Rathbone, supervisor; George W. Young, town clerk; Israel Horton and Stephen Gloyd, justices of the peace; Edmund L. Peckham, superintendent of common schools; Lucius Parker, commissioner of highways; George Northrup, Jonathan Bromley and William C. Cummins, assessors; Abram Rogers and James Northrup, overseers of the poor; Samuel Edmunds, collector.

This first town town meeting appears to have been an event of great importance in local annals; for there were present 243 persons who cast votes. This would indicate a total population of about 1,000. There was no federal census of the town previous to 1860, at which time the population was 1,381. The subsequent fluctations in number of inhabitants is best shown by quoting from the census reports. In 1870 the population was 1,357; in 1880 was 1,371; in 1890 was 1,269, and in 1892 was 1,226.

The supervisors of Rathbone since 1850 have been as follows: Win. H. Rathbone, 1856; Cormander H. Cole, 1857; Wm. R. Rathbone, 1858; George Northrup, 1859-60; A. H. Kinney, 1861; George C. Lloyd, 1862-64; John Miles, 1865; George W. Young, 1866-73; James Northrup, 1894; John Kenally, 1875-77; Moses Northrup, 1878; Horace Mather, 1879-83; John Toles, 1884; Horace Mather, 1885; N. Northrup, 1886; C. S. Whitmore, 1887; Norman Northrup, 1888-91; G. S. Goff, 1892-93; John MacWilliams, 1894-95.

The present town officers are John McWilliams, supervisor; Jesse F. Cole, town clerk; N. P. Young, D. W. Floyd, John Toles and William McCaig, justices of the peace; George M. Lloyd, F. S. Chapel and George E. Meering, assessors; Wm. Bailey, collector; Richard McCaig, overseer of the poor; William Young, collector; Kitchell Lyon, Levi Perry and B. F. Chapel, excise commissioners.

During the war of 1861-65, the town is credited with having furnished a total of one hundred and seventy four men for the service. They were scattered through the several commands recruited in the county, noticeably in the 23d, 86th, and 107th regiments of infantry. A more full record of the services and composition of each of these regiments will be found in the military chapter in this volume.

Previous to the formation of Rathbone the schools of the vicinity were a part of the system in use in the older towns from which this was erected. At the first town meeting in Rathbone, Edmund L. Peckham was elected superintendent of common schools, and soon after the organization the territory was divided into districts according to the requirements of the inhabitants. At present, the districts are twelve in number, each provided with a comfortable school. The town contains a school pcpulation of about 375. The value of school property is estimated at $6,990. Thirteen teachers were employed during the last school year, and for maintenance the appropriation of public moneys amounted to $1417,94, while the town raised by local tax the additional sum of $1,654.36. Twenty six trees were planted by pupils in 1894.

Rathboneville and Cameron Mills are the hamlets of this town. The former is located near and east of the center, and the latter in the northeast part, near the Cameron line. Both are on the line of the Erie railroad, to the construction of which in 185o they owe their chief importance. The road, too, is benefited by the villages, for they are shipping points for agricultural products and lumber of no mean importance. However, for further record of the hamlets of Rathbone, the reader is directed to the municipal department of this work.

[Also see the village of Rathboneville]

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