History of Wirt, New York
A Centennial Memorial
History of Allegany County, New York
John S. Minard, Esq. Historian
Mrs. Georgia Drew Andrews, Editor.
W. A. Fergusson & Co., Alfred, N. Y. 1896


WIRT WAS FORMED from Bolivar and Friendship April 12, 1838, and named by Peleg Sherman for the writer, William Wirt. It is an interior town, lying southwest of the center of the county and contains 22,860 acres. The surface is an upland broken into three distinct ridges extending north and south. The streams are headwaters of Van Campen’s, Little Genesee and Dodge’s creeks. It is a fact worthy of mention that the farms of Caleb Wilcox and Uriah Pierce lie upon the water-shed between Van Campen’s and Little Genesee creeks, and the water which flows from the roof of the house on each farm from one side finds its way into the Atlantic Ocean by the Allegany, Ohio and Mississippi rivers, while that from the opposite side reaches the same ocean through the Genesee river, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence river. The soil is a clayey loam, well adapted to raising hay and fruits, of which large quantities are annually shipped. It is also well adapted to grazing. The rearing of sheep is an important industry. The town has in 1895 an equalized value of real estate of $477,265, an equalized value of personal property of $21,900. There is $77,616 assessed to corporations. The equalized value per acre is $20.89, and the total amount of taxes spread on valuation is $4,879.23.

The first settlement was made in the north part of the town, on the farms now owned by Mott Whitwood and D. S. Willard, in 1812 by Benjamin Crabtree and Levi Abbott from Amsterdam, Montgomery county. Chauncey Axtell and Horace Ketchum came in 1814. Azel Buckley and Dathel Wifiard in 1815, Luther Austin in 1818, Alvan Richardson and Nathan Gilbert in 1819, James Smith in 1820, Simon Wightman, Reuben Whitney. Philip Applebee, Josiah Wheeler and Joseph Allen in 1821, Jonah French in 1822. Gilbert Thomas, Levi Applebee, Calvin Wheeler. Isaiah Jordan, Elisha Dakin and Robert Almy in 1823, Pliny Evans and Aaron Smith in 1824. Sheldon P. Stanton in 1825. John Scott, in 1828, brought 3 sons with him from Genesee county and made quite a clearing where he sowed mifiet and oats among the stumps, and made one of the primitive log cabins as his future home. This accomplished they returned to the home in. Genesee county and harvested their crops there and then returned to secure their grain in Wirt. Before this was fully accomplished snow was from 4 to 6 inches deep. He did not move his family to Wirt until the spring of 1829. Clark E. Newton came early from Madison county, and bought land west of the South Branch creek. With his brother, H. B. Newton, he began chopping on lot 39. They cleared 10 acres their first season and sowed it with winter wheat, without having a team or help except that obtained by exchanging work with a few of their not very numerous neighbors, some of whom owned oxen. They built a log house to describe which will give a picture of every one in the town. It was hewn inside, plastered inside and out, and had in one end a fireplace with a stone back and a chimney of split sticks. This primitive dwelling was supplied with a floor and had one door and two windows. (Some of the earliest houses of the county had no floor, and only the “openings” for the windows.) Mr. Newton was a stonemason, and one of his early jobs was thelaying of a brick parching-oven for Capt. Ebenezer Steward near Nile, which was the first one constructed in this part of the county. He also helped plaster the first courthouse at Angelica.

Stephen Withey, son of Lemuel, was born in Connecticut, and came in 1823 to Wirt and settled on the farm which Henry Pierce now owns. Of his 8 children only 2 survive, Mrs. Hiram Taylor and Mrs. Mark Goodwin. Hiram Taylor. son of Ebenezer, came from Spafford, Onondaga county, to Wirt about 1828, and located on the place where he resided until his death in 1869. (Mrs. Silas C. Burdick of Alfred is his daughter.) Joseph Allen., Calvin Wheeler and Ruth Stanton, wife of Sheldon P. Stanton, are the only ones now living who settled prior to 1830. Ira Gilbert, who came with his father in 1819, lived on the same farm 75 years, during which time he was a resident of 3 different towns. Philip Applebee constructed the first gristmifi, on lot 12, which consisted of an oak stump hollowed out for a mortar and a stone hung to a spring-pole for a pestle. Many grists of corn were thus ground for the neighbors.

The first birth was that of Benjamin Crabtree, son of Benjamin, in 1813. The first marriage, that of Hyra Axtell and Lucy Crabtree, occurred in 1814. The first school was taught in the north part by Sophia Hitchcock in 1820. Alvan Richardson kept the first inn in 1824. He also built the first sawmill in that year and the first gristmill, in 1825, on Little Genesee creek near Richburg. Francis L. Leroy kept the first store in 1824 at Richburg.

The early lumber interests of the town were mainly in the northeast part where 6 sawmills were built on the headwaters of Van Campen’s creek within a distance of 2 miles, which cut a large quantity of pine and oak, found here in rare perfection. Samuel Sherman built a sawmill on lot 14 in 1826, afterward adding thereto a linseed oil mill, an ashery for manufacturing potash, a cabinet factory, a blacksmith shop and a grocery. Many farmers gathered the ashes where log-heaps had been burned and in a small way manufactured black salts, trading them with Sherman for groceries.

P0PULATI0N.—. 1840, 1,207; 1850, 1,544; 1860, 1,390; 1870, 1,204; 1875, 1,204; 1880, 1,225; 1890, 1,219; 1892, 1,157. It will be noted that the increase in the number of people resident in town during the oil excitement was so ephemeral in its nature as not to affect in any degree the figures of the national census.

RICHBURG, in the southwest part, perpetuates the name of its founder
Alvin Richardson, contains 2 churches, 1 steam gristmill, 1 cheese factory, 5 general stores, 1 drug and 1 clothing store, the postoffice and about 300 inhabitants. During the development of the oil territory in the south part of the town Richburg was incorporated and contained about 3,000 inhabitants.

AN OIL TOWN.— Soon after the completion of the wells on the Sawyer farm in Bolivar in 1880, the Richburg Oil Co., which leased several hundred acres, was formed by Riley Allen, O. P. Taylor, Crandall Lester, A. B. Cottrell and several “silent” partners. The first well drilled was located on the Reading farm, lot 33, Wirt. The well was finished April 28, 1881, and started off at 80 barrels a day. At a depth of 1,280 feet, 20 feet of sand was found. The well was drilled into the sand at midnight and at daybreak the next morning Riley Allen bought the Reading farm outright at $100 an acre. This well was the key to the situation and opened to the world a rich oil field. In a few weeks Taylor was a rich man. One deal alone netted him $46,000. J. P. Herrick thus vividly describes the “Rise and fall of Richburg” in the Buffalo Sunday Express: “On April 27, 1881,Richburg was a quiet little village of perhaps 150 people, and was connected with the outside world by a stage line. Within a few months it was one of the liveliest oil towns in the country, and boasted of a population of nearly 3,000, recruited from the four points of the compass. Stores, hotels, machine shops, saloons, bagnios, dance-houses and gambling dens sprung up as if by magic. For several weeks after the tide set in, sleeping apartments indoors could not be secured at any price, and many a night several hundred of Richburg’s floating population slept on benches under the maple trees in village park, and in many cases on the bare ground. One old oil man. remembers paying a dollar for the privilege of sleeping on a billiard table over night, and another paid half as much for the privilege of sleeping in a bar-room chair. At this time Richburg boasted of two banks, and a morning and evening newspaper. The Oil Echo, a morning paper edited by P. C. Boyle, now of the Oil City Derrick, was printed on a three-revolution Hoe press and possessed a valuable news franchise. The first month’s freight receipts when the Allegany Central Railroad was completed as far as Richburg, amounted to $12,000, and a boxcar served as a depot for some time. The Bradford, Eldred & Cuba Railroad built a spur from Bolivar up the valley to Richburg and ran trains both ways every half hour. For a long time the spur averaged 700 passengers daily. Rent for building lots quickly jumped up and $500 a year rent for a 20-foot front lot on Main street was not regarded as extortionate. In fact, the lot owner could name his own price. Everybody was “oil crazy.” Oil wells were drified in village gardens and in door-yards. Even the church people became afflicted with the popular craze. One of the leading ministers speculated in oil on week days and preached powerful sermons on Sunday, and no one chided him. A well was finally drilled on a parsonage lot, and oil was struck, but the venture was not a profitable one and the trustees decided that it was not best to invest church funds in that kind of a gamble. R ichburg had a fine system of water works, an electric fire-alarm system, an elegant brick church, a fine opera house, and at one time a street-car line was strongly talked of. Liquor was sold at 100 different places, and prostitutes occupied over 40 buildings. In one instance the village gristmill was purchased and converted into a bagino. The finest attractions were nightly seen at the opera house and money flowed like water. But the boom was not to last forever. In May, 1882, the news of the big gusher at Cherry C-rove carried the floating population away with a rush and few of them ever returned. This was the beginning of the end of Richburg’s greatness. Bolivar, a little hamlet a mile further down the valley, began to boom in earnest early in 1882, and gradually superseded Richburg as the metropolis of the Allegany field. Fires swept away some of Richburg’s noted buildings, and many others were torn down and moved to adjacent villages. Fine buildings that cost thousands of dollars went for a mere song. To-day Richburg is desolate and almost deserted, and in a few years it will appear very much as it did before the oil boom came. The population at present is less than 400. An elegant church and a fine academy building are the only noted relics of its former greatness. The opera house in which operatic stars once shone so brightly is now used as a cheese factory, and the railroads have given way to a stage line.”

A certain steady production of oil is stifi had in the oil producing section that is so large as to be worthily called one of the industries of the town.

THE SOLDIER DEAD, who lost their lives in the Rebellion: Henry Stebbins enlisted 1869; died Andersonville Sept., 1864. Lewis Tibbs enlisted Sept., 1861; died New York City 1862. Charles Witter enlisted 1861; died Andersonvifie Sept., 1862. John Monahan enlisted Sept., 1861, in the 85th N. Y.; died Andersonville 1864. Delos Phillips enlisted 1862 in 16th N. Y.; died July 5, 1863, in Louisiana. Charles Duffin enlisted Sept., 1861, in 85th N. Y.; killed Fair Oaks May 31, 1862. Jackson Vosburg enlisted Sept., 1861; died Washington 1862. Wifiard Tibbs enlisted Sept., 1862, in 160th N. Y.; died Loulsana Sept., 1863. Charles Dut enlisted Sept., 1861, 85th N. Y.; died Andersonville Aug., 1864. Elmer Dodson enlisted Sept., 1861, in 85th N. Y.; died Andersonville July, 1864.

OTHER SOLDIERS.— William Champlin, son of Henry, was born in the county in. 1828. He married Hannah, a daughter of Joel Kenyon, and settled in Wirt. In 1862 he enlisted in Co. E, 85th N. Y., was taken prisoner at Plymouth, N. C., in April, 1864, and died in Andersonville prison of starvation. His children were Lavinia E., William H., L. Adelbert, and M. Louisa (Mrs. J. O. Price of Friendship). Rufus H. Harwood served in the Civil War in Co. L, 14th Regt. H. A. Capt. John W. Jordan, son of John, was assessor 23 years, justice many years. He enlisted in Co. I, 85th N. Y., in the late war and was captain of the Co.

WIRT CENTRE and UTOPIA are postoffices near the center. INAVALE in the north-east part contains a postoffice, grocery, cheese factory and public hall.

Richburg Cheese Factory was built as an opera house in 1882 by Anson Brown, and after the decline and fall of Richburg’s municipal importance was converted into a cheese factory. In 1894 Frank J. Brown purchased it and is the proprietor. The capacity is about 80,000 lbs. annually, and it uses the milk of 250 cows.

There are in all 3 cheese factories in town manufacturing the milk of from 700 to 800 cows. -

There are 11 district schools in Wirt. It receives $1,528.95 of school money in 1896 apportioned thus: Dist. 1, $423.83; 2, $110.86; 3, $108.24; 4, $109.65; 5, $113.47; 6, $109.70; 7, $103.56; 8, $107.67; 9, $124.10; 10, $108.07;
11, $110.09. From 1850 to 1860 Richburg Academy, incorporated April 12, 1850, was the leading educational institution of quite a section. It had 3 teachers and nearly 90 students in 1859. of whom over 50 were classical students. With the multiplicity of normal and other advanced schools it shared the fate of so many of the old academies and before 1870 was merged into the common school system of the town and conducted as a graded school.

RELIGIOUS.— The first religious services were held by the Baptists, under the leadership of Rev. Jonathan Post in 1816.

The Seventh Day Baptist Church of Richburg was organized Dec. 30, 1827, with these members, Ephriam Rogers, Elijah Fuller, Ransom Fuller, Zina Gilbert; Nathan R. Blivin, Clark Rogers, Lemuel D. Rogers, Calvin Messenger, Pliny L. Evans, Cloe Rogers, Abigail Fuller, Prudence Gilbert, Lucinda Blivin, Lucinda Wheelock, Martha Messenger, Achsa Messenger, Polly Evans and Roxy Messenger. Of these Roxy Messenger is the only one now living. She has passed her eighty-third year. The first pastor was Elder John Green. He was followed by J. L. Scott, Rouse Babcock, Zurial Campbell, Clark T. Champlain, T. E. Babcock, Leman Andrus, Geo. J. Crandall, James Summerbell, J. E. N. Backus, B. E. Fisk, M. G. Stiffman and A. Lawrence, the present pastor. It has 94 members. The first officers were Zina Gilbert, Ephriam Rogers deacons, Pliny L. Evans clerk, Nathan H. Bliven treasurer. The church property is valued at $5,000. The present church secretary is Fred L. Coats. There are 69 pupils and 5 teachers in the Sabbath schooL

The Baptist Church of Richburg was organized Feb. 27, 1828. Its constituent members were Dea. Azel Buckley, Dea. Sylvester Perry, Betsy Perry, Dea. Isaiah Jordan, Polly Jordan, Simon Wightman. Catherine Wightman, Roomy Wight man, Rhoda Wightman, Edward Wightman, Jonathan Hitchcock, Sally Hitchcock, Norman Buckley and Ruth Buckley. Dea. Isaiah Jordan the last survivor of these constituent members died Aug. 18, 1885, aged 87 years. The first pastor was Elder Joseph Wilcox. Among the early deacons were S. S. Carter, Samuel King, J. D. Ackerman, Azel Buckley, Isaiah Jordan and Alvan Richardson. The clerks have been Edward H. Wightman, Isaiah Jordan, Alvin Richardson, A. Chapin, S. C. S. Rowley, William Richardson and Dorr E. Brokaw. The present officers are F. C. Carrier, Michael Jordan, R. D. Thompson and Dorr E. Brokaw, deacons; Dorr E. Brokaw, clerk; A. A. Woods, M. J. Jordan and Geo. Ballard, trustees. The present pastor is Rev. C. A. Stone. The membership is 131. The Sunday school has enrolled 180 members and 7 teachers. The present superintendent is A. A. Wood; secretary, Miss Irene Millis; treasurer, Miss Lulu Thompson. In the early days the church had a severe struggle to maintain its existence, but it is now in a very flourishing condition. In 1881 the old church building was replaced by a substantial brick structure, which, with the parsonage, is valued at $10,000.

About 1839 a Methodist class was formed in the northeast part of the town, which held services in the Cooley schoolhouse under the leadership of Samuel Hurd. The early members were Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Hurd, Mr. and Mrs. James Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Phinney, Mrs. D. W. Cooley, Mrs. Curtin Smith, Mrs. Samuel Sherman and others. Preachers from Friendship have preached to the class since that date. There is another class of later origin which holds meetings at Inavale hall and Dimick schoolhouse, supplied with preachers from Allentown.

Gassius Maxson Post, No. 249, G. A. R., was organized at Richburg Jan. 5, 1882. The membership now numbers 20. The officers for 1895, were Com. F. C. Carrier; S. V. C., Harvey Hurlbert; J. V. C., Ethel P. Rogers; Chap., Rev. E. A. Stone; Sur., S. W. Green; O. D., M. D. Crandall; Q. M., John T. King; Adjt., Geo. P. Beaumont; G. Levi Smith. The Post owns a good lodge room and is in a flourishing condition.

Woman’s Relief Corps, No. 68, was organized Feb. 4, 1886, as an auxiliary to Cassius Maxson Post. Present officers, Pres., Mrs. W. A. Riddall; S. V. P., Mrs. H. Saterley; J. V. P., Mrs. G. Harwood; Sec., Miss Lavina Champlain; Treas., Cora L. Smith; Con., Katie Lester; Asst. Con.,. Lena Eastman; Chap. Mrs. S. A. Carpenter; G., Mrs. Alice Carrier.

D. C Ackerman Hose Co. of Richburg was first organized in Dec., 1881, with 20 members. It is named from D. C. Ackerman, now of Wellsville, its organizer and constant friend. This was extensively known for its fine quality and enjoyed a great reputation as a runing team. They are equipped with an engine and a good supply of hose. Present officers are, Pres., Geo. Stohr; Sec., F. J. Brown; Treas., F. M. Stone.

The other society organizations are: Wirt Alliance, No. 1.— Pres., M. C. Westcott; Sec., Wifi Scott. Knight’s of Labor Assembly, No. 4615.— M. W., M. C. Westcott; Sec., Geo. Trask. K. 0. T. M., No. 17.— Com., Geo. Stohr; H. K, M. L. Keller. L. 0. T. M., No. 90.—Com., Kitty Lester; H. K., Estella Keller. W. C. T. U— Pres., Frances Lester; Sec., Jannette Pierce. National Protective Legion, No. 90.—Pres., Fred Hasard; Sec., M. C. Westcott.

CIVIL LIST. Supervisors.— 1839--40, Jonah French; 1841—43, Samuel Sherman; 1844, Stephen Collins; 1845-47, Sheldon P. Stanton; 1848-49, J. L. Russell; 1850—51, Hiram Dimick; 1852, Chelson W. Furnald; 1853, Alfred Scott; 1854—56, Edward H. Wightman; 1857, Samuel Sherman; 1858—59, Walter Evans; 1860, Hiram Dimick; 1861, Rufus Scott; 1862-63, Alfred Scott; 1864, Alanson Kenyon; 1865, Edward H. Wightman; 1866—67, Wm. H. Withey; 1868—71, Hiram Dimick; 1872—73, J. S. Rowley; 1874, Charles A. Withey; 1875, Washington Steenrod; 1876, Hiram Dimick; 1877, Washington Steenrod; 1878, Charles A. Withey; 1879, Henry Spencer; 1880, J. W. Foster; 1881, Hiram Dimick; 1882-83, A. B. Cottrell; 1884, Wm. Richardson; 1885, Hiram Dimick, 1886, Wm. Richardson; 1887—8, R. H. Maxson; 1889—90, A. A. Wood; 1891—93, Rufus Harwood; 1894—95, M. C. Westcott.

Town Clerks.— 1839, Azariah A. F. Randolph; 1840, Peter Lesure; 1841— 43, Alanson Kenyon; 1844, Wm. B. Smith; 1845—7, Alanson Kenyon; 1848-49, Wm. B. Smith; 1850—52, David Brown; 1853, 0. C. Lesure; 1854, Geo. Willett; 1855, Joseph Ferris; 1856—57, David Brown; 1858—60, William B. Smith; 1861, John S. Rowley; 1862, William B. Smith; 1863, William H. Withey; 1864, E. S. Rockwell; 1865, Luther Pershall; 1866, David Brown: 1867, E. S. Rockwell; 1868, Wm. Beicher; 1869—71, J. S. Rowley; 1872, Chas. A. Withey; 1873, Joseph Foster; 1874—77, E. S. Bliss; 1878—81, Crandall Lester; 1882, William J. Richardson; 1883, J. S. Rowley, 1884. John Nicholson; 1885, A. R. Marlin; 1886, C. M. Voorhies; 1887, M. C. Westcott; 1888, A. A. Wood; 1889—90, W. G. Richardson; 1891—93, M. C. Westcott; 1894—95, Rufus Harwood.

TOWN OFFICERS OF 1895.—Supervisor, M. C. Westcott; clerk, Rufus Harwood; justices of the peace, S. L. Stanton, Fred Hasard, John N. Jordan and W. C. Richardson.; commissioner of highways, Milton A. Jordan; assessors, James McGibeny, A. S. Brainard and H. D. Thompson; collector, Leman Messenger; constables, Leman Messenger, Benjamin Green, Sidney Barnes, Ward Lester and Wm. D. Brown.

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