History of the Town of Butler, Part 1

BY Prof. W.H. McIntosh, 1877

The Town of Butler comprises what in early times composed the southeasterly "quarter-section" of the old town of Wolcott, named after Oliver Wolcott, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the successor of Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, in the cabinet of President Washington.

The town was formed by act of legislature dividing Wolcott into four towns, on February 26, 1826, three years after the formation of Wayne County. It is about six miles square. The land is generally rolling. Ridges run north and south, and slope more gradually at the latter than the former terminations, but are neither too high nor too steep for cultivation. The intervening valleys, with few and small exceptions, and those susceptible of drainage, comprise excellent grass-lands, so that in fact there is no waste land in the town. Soil is a gravelly loam, varying in localities to more or less of clay or sand, and the lower lands incline to muck. For grain generally, and for Indian corn especially, the soil is scarcely excelled. It is all divided into small farms, of generally one hundred acres, with an occasional one of two or three hundred, and now and then one of fifty. These farms are mostly occupied by the owners, and tenant difficulties are unknown. Lime of good quality is burned from stone on the margin of Wolcott creek, about two miles south from the north line of the town, and also from quarries near the northeast corner of the town. No other mineral of consequence is known to exist; and barely cobble-stones enough are found for dwarf-fences along the highway. Wolcott creek takes its rise in the northeast part of the town, runs southwardly till within two miles of the south line of the town, when it turns round and runs north through Wolcott villlage, flowing into Point bay. Butler creek, a small stream, rises in the easterly portion of the town, meanders southwest, and crosses into Savannah at South Butler village. These comprise the water-courses of the town.


In the year 1808, Eli Wheeler purchased of Henry Bummell, one of the earliest settlers, who, upon making sale of his improvement, moved out over the river, as Cayuga county south of the river was called. The farm bought by Mr. Wheeler contained two hundred acres now occupied by John Devoe, about two miles northwest from the present village of South Butler. In 1810 he brought on his family and settled there. In 1814 he removed a mile south to the place now occupied by H.H. Wheeler, and there continued to reside till his death, in 1847. In 1808 there were but six families in the town. Among prominent pioneers of the old town were Dr. Zenas Hyde, an excellent physician, Dr. William N. Lummis, a gentleman of taste and education, Deacon Upson, and Elders Sheldon and Mudge, - all "good men and true." Besides these were Roger Olmsted, Abijah Moore, Daniel Roe, Major William Moulton, and the Churches, Osgood and Adonijah.


In 1808 there was in the town one road, and only one. This was known as the "Old Galen Road." The Galen salt-works was established about 1804 on the west side of Seneca river at the lower end of the "Cayuga marshes," near the westwardly end of the dyke and recently built bridge leading to hickory (or Howland's) Island. The company then conducting business had constructed this road from their establishment to Sodus bay. It passes up northwestwardly to the line of the town of Butler at the present site of the village of South Butler; thence west to the residence of Mr. Wheeler; thence northerly and northeastwardly, keeping on the tops of the hills as far as practicable, via what is known as West Butler, and Stewart's Corners, through to Port Glasgow. This road was intersected at the South Butler corner by the "Musketo Point" road from the east. On this latter road, about three miles east of the corner, there lived one family, and that one the only inhabitants between Wheeler's and Musketo point, a distance of ten miles. This solitary settler was Stephen Titus. In 1809, two other families moved in and settled on this road. These were Noah Starr, near the present residence of Benoni Burch, and Silas Winans, on the farm now occupied by C.M. Foster. Winans was a soldier of the Revolution, early inured to hardship and privation; a man competent and willing to keep those about him in good humor; able to sing a song or dance a hornpipe, and content with little.

The "Old State road", a mere opening through the woods, led westerly from "Wheeler's Corners," and more directly than any other road since, to the "Block-House," - one of those military outposts, half dwelling, half fortress, which were established at an early day on the frontiers, to guard against Indian intrusion. This noted building stood near the site of the present culvert under the Central Railroad at Clyde, which was then covered with primitive forest, and knew no other inhabitants. Galen was at the salt-works, and Savannah was not till 1824, when it was erected into a township from the east end of Galen. From West Butler - or Murrays's Corners, as it was long called from a man of that name residing there - a road led off to Melvin's hill, near Wolcott village. On the road, about a mile and a half from Wolcott, Abijah Moore began a settlement in 1805, and thereon lived till about 1860, and attained the age of eighty years. He was a self-reliant New Englander, of whom there came many to settle in the town of Butler.

Roger Olmsted, on the place now occupied by N.W. Tompkins, Esq., near Wolcott villlage, and Simeon Merrill the elder, less than half a mile south of Mr. Moore, were among the early settlers, at a period somewhat later than Moore. Mr. Olmsted and his son some years afterward built and ran a grist-mill and a saw-mill on Wolcott creek, opposite his house, and still later, Mr. Moore and his son erected a distillery and grain-mill on the creek fronting his residence, and operated them for many years. The former disappeared long ago, and the latter has been discontinued at a more recent date. A short distance north of West Butler, Miss Mary Woodruff, in the summer of 1811, taught the first school held in the town. At this time John Ward was living half a mile west of the corners, and farther on west, near the town line, John Harmon had made a commencement. John Grandy was one of the town's earliest settlers, on the place occupied for more than fifty years by Orestes Hubbard.

Seth Crane [Note by typist: This was an error, and it was perpetuated in later histories. The man's surname was Craw.] moved in during 1807, and lived on the hill north of Wheeler's till 1812, when he entered upon a new farm some two miles east of South Butler, being succeeded on the hill by Ezekiel Scott. Esquire Crane [Craw] was a tall, lean man, deliberate in movement, a deacon in the Baptist church and a justice of the peace. Mr. Scott was one who, without especial aversion, had delight in a hit at lawyers, doctors, and priests. The clergy were his particular mark. An instance illustrates. About the year 1822 a man named White came home sick from the "big job" on which he had been engaged, clearing one hundred acres where William G. Brown later resided. Scott felt an interest in the man, and on being told that the doctors had given him up, said. "The doctors have given him up, eh? Well, then, there's a chance for him yet." And, as if in verification of the judgment, White soon entirely recovered. Dining one day at a neighbor's, Scott remarked that the best meal he had ever eaten consisted of pork and cabbage, but it was after a three-days' march, during service in the army of the Revolution. Scott was invaluable during those early years, when sickness was general and few families could claim exceptional exemption. He rode for miles, alleviating want, inspiring cheerfulness, and rendering much-needed assistance. The simple annals of a town know of no subject more laudable than a recognition of such men.

Prentice Palmer was a settler in 1810, near the residence of Samuel Biggsby. The next year he moved to the salt-works, which had just ceased to be operated. Palmer was a rapid talker and an excellent shot. One winter, during twenty-five days' hunting, he killed twenty-six deer. The nearest neighbor was old Mr. Harrington, at what is now South Butler, four and a half miles distant. Paul Wellman lived a half-mile south of Wheeler, and moved in during the year 1810. He was a soldier of the Revolution. His son, Wheeler Wellman, taught a school in a rude log school-house between his house and that of Wheeler during the winter of 1811-12. This school was the first one taught by a male teacher in the town. Jedediah Wellman, father of Paul, came in with his son, with whose family he had resided a number of years. He was eighty-four years old, and survived only till the next spring. He was the oldest man, and save one, the first, that died in the town. These, with a few on the east side of the creek, comprise the pioneers of the town.


Horace and Noah Peck were early settlers, and in the fall of 1815 sold out to Edward Bivins, who purchased for himself and his father-in-law, Benjamin Hall. They moved in during the spring of 1816. James Bivins, a brother, and his father, Abner, another Revolutionary soldier, moved in a few years afterward, as did the four brothers of Hall - Joshua, Elias, Stephen, and Peter - and their father, Thomas, the "old squire." The second road in the town ran up from Harrington's Corners, now South Butler, along the eastern margin of the swamp to near the residence of Charles J. Viele, and thence nearly on the line of the present road to Wolcott. The dwellers on the other road called it "East street." Captain Mills, near the Viele residence, was probably the first settler on this street and the first man that died in the town. His grave was to be seen there in 1810. His son, Daniel Mills, lived on the place several years afterwards. John Foot lived near Mills in 1810, and was one of the first to locate on this street. Aaron Hoppen, about two miles farther north, was one of the early settlers on this road and among the earliest in the town. Daniel Roe succeeded Hoppen, and was one of the most noticeable farmers on the street. He lived to be ninety, and was a consistent leader in the Methodist church.

Major William Moulton had served as an officer during the Revolution. He was a decorous gentleman of the old school. He wore a powdered queue and cocked hat, top-boots, and white-headed cane. His appearance commanded observation and respect. He never passed a neighbor without a formal salutation, or entered his house without taking off his hat. He removed, about 1811, to near the centre of the present town of Butler, upon a six-hundred-acre lot, granted him for military service. His estate included a high, broad ridge, part of which has for many years been occupied by Hon. Thomas Armstrong, whose residence was highest, if not the best, in town.

Moulton was a land surveyor, and gave much time to the cultivation and dissemination of improved varieties of apples and other fruits. He was an active and influential politician, and others of like party principles having located near, the name "Democrat Hill" was applied to the place.Save excellent land, the expectations of Butler's early settlers were never realized. Galen salt-works, in the full tide of successful experiment, promised a thriving business town, trading direct with the great lakes and Canada West via Sodus bay, where an important commerical town must, as it seemed, inevitably soon arise.The thoroughfare between these two important points passed through this town, and along its line settlements were made. Scarcely had settlement become established when the salt-works ceased to operate, owing, as was said, to weakness of the brine. The owners hired Squire Palmer, at one hundred dollars a year and the use of the place, which embraced six hundred acres, mostly cleared of timber, to take charge of the property for fifteen years. The buildings, which had been erected regardless of cost, were dismantled, and the materials were removed, as they had been brought, in large oar-boats down the river. Thus vanished that enbryo town, whose site is marked alone by a tall poplar and a small grave-yard. The discontinuance of the salt-works cut off the internal trade of Port Glasgow. Captain Helm moved up to the floating bridge, a half-mile above, and died there, and so another promising town remains till this day unbuilt. Instead of enjoying the advantages of market and trade from through trade on each side of it, Butler was left isolated, and for many years the inhabitants were obliged to go to Hardenburg's Corners, as Auburn was then called, for their groceries and other necessary store-trade, - a distance of twenty to thirty miles, over roads hardly passable for anything but ox-teams or saddle-horses. Port Byron was but King's settlement, named from Philip King, an old Baptist deacon, or Bucksville, until after the construction of the Erie Canal.

The war of 1812 was a great drawback to all this section, and those who remained were not unfrequently alarmed by reports of invasions from Canada and fears of predatory incursions by British Indians. Sodus Point was attacked by the British in 1813. The alarm ran through the old town of Wolcott, and the people gathered and hurried to the scene of conflict. It was found that the invaders, one hundred strong, after a slight skirmish with a garrison of forty men and a failure to find flour and other provisions concealed in the woods, burned the few houses and left. There were not enough inhabitants to construct roads or establish schools. There were no markets. Money was extremely scarce. An anecdote of Abijah Moore illustrates the stringent finances. One season he lacked just a quarter of a dollar of sufficient money to pay his taxes, and so scarce was money, so difficult to obtain, that small as the sum was, he knew not how or where to obtain it. He went, finally, to Adams, then the man of Wolcott, a store and tavern keeper, and offered a bushel of wheat for the two shillings. The trade was agreed upon, and Moore went home for the wheat, and brought it back, a mile and a half distance, to Wolcott, and obtained the money.

Early buildings were from necessity extremely rude. Log houses have been seen by this generation, - here and there a discarded one, - but they had shingled roofs and were of the better class. The primitive ones would be a curiosity. Dwellings and barns were erected without a nail or a stick of sawed lumber. Nails could only be obtained for cash at exorbitant prices and from a great distance, and were therefore beyond the reach of a great many. Timber of most kinds, alive and standing, was abundant, yet sawed lumber could only be obtained at great expense. A saw-mill erected at Wolcott furnished lumber to a limited extent. Butler settlers cut logs, drew them to Wolcott, distant six miles, and got them sawed to the halves. The demand so far exceeded the capacity that a season not unfrequently passed over without their being able to get sawing done. There was not a pine-tree in the town of Butler. For pine lumber the settlers were obliged to go to Mynderse's mills, twenty miles distant, as late as 1819, when Jacob S. Viele, an enterprising man, purchased a three-hundred-acre farm near the centre of the town, and erected a saw-mill at what is now called Butler Centre. By this enlargement of lumber facilities building was made easier. The saw-mill did a good business for over forty years. Subsequently a fulling-mill and a carding mill, now obsolete, were erected near the mill and flourished for several years. No vestiges of these remain. About 1819, Simon S. Viele, a brother to Jacob, located a farm a mile or so north. Stephen S. Viele, a lawyer, murdered at Seneca Falls during the summer of 1860, was the eldest son.

Butler was still destined to isolation. The great thoroughfare through the State was via Cayuga bridge and turnpike, some twenty miles to the south, while another not inconsiderable route, from Oswego to Rochester passed some miles to the north. The streams of emigration passed on, leaving the town "unknowing and unknown." It seemed to require a special journey for those in and out of the town to see each other. Even when the Erie canal was opened, Clyde, the nearest market town, was seven to twelve miles distant. As late as 1826 or 1827, Eli Wheeler conveyed one hundred bushels of wheat to Clyde to obtain fify dollars to pay for a horse previously purchased on credit. At another time he carried five barrels of pork, well packed, to the same market, and sold it for twenty-four dollars, the precise sum paid in earlier times for a single barrel, besides going to Auburn for it, a round-trip of forty-two miles. Finally the town began to feel the influence given to the country by the canal, values rose, and settlement increased.


Of these, Butler for a time had none, and next to none awhile longer. At Wolcott village was the post-office for the town. A man rode through the town weekly on horseback, delivering to subscribers the Cayuga Patriot, published by U.F. Doubleday, father of him who assisted Anderson at Fort Sumter. The newsman carried his saddle-bags filled with papers, and by a tin horn called out the settlers from their dwellings along his route, threw out the paper, and rode on.

From 1825 to 1835 the Sodus canal was much talked of in Butler. A charter was granted by the State legislature in 1827, and was renewed in 1836. The route lay through the town of Butler. It was designed to run from the Erie canal, near Montezuma, to Sodus bay. It was to be a ship-canal, affording internal communication from Lake Ontario via Cayuga lake to the Susquehanna. Being prior to railroads, Congress was petitioned for a two-hundred-thousand-dollar appropriation, but without success. A survey by Judge Campbell, of Cherry Valley, showed an elevation, three-fourths of mile north of South Butler, of but six feet above Crusoe lake, which is nearly on a level with Seneca river. Hon. John Greig, of Canandaigua, was an original corporator, and the first president of the company. The line was changed. The charter was amended, and the canal located from Clyde to the bay, and was later spoken of as General Adam's ditch.

Volunteer typist: Leola Crane Sutton

Volunteer coder: Kathy Mott

Source of the above article: Everts, Ensign, & Everts. 1877. History of Wayne County, NY, 1789-1877. Press of J. B. Lippencott & Co. Philadelphia, PA. Reproduced 1975. Professor W. H. McIntosh. Dendron Press. Yankee Peddler Bookshop. Pultneyville, NY.

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