History of the Town of Ontario

Wayne County, NY

By George W. Cowles


Ontario, the northwest corner town in Wayne county, was set off from Williamson as Freetown on the 27th of March, 1807. The name was changed February 12, 1808. As originally constituted it included also Walworth, which was organized into a separate township April 20, 1829. This town derives its appellation from Lake Ontario, which forms its northern boundary; Williamson lies on the east, Walworth on the south, and Monroe county on the west. It contains an area of 19,171 acres. Excellent drainage is afforded by Bear, Deer, and Davis Creeks, which flow northerly into the lake. The surface is generally level, with a slight inclination northward; through the south part of the town extends the famous ridge, to the north of which the soil is a clay loam; on the south it is largely a gravelly loam and muck. The chief industry is farming. Wheat, oats, barley and fruit are grown in abundance. Considerable attention is given to raspberries and apples, and there are a number of well equipped evaporators scattered throughout the town.

In 1810 Noah Fuller, while hunting, found two salt springs, which he secured by title and sold to Stimson & Schanks, who commenced manufacturing salt the same year. They continued the business five or six years, but it proved unprofitable and they abandoned it.

In 1811 a Mr. Knickerbocker, in digging a well near the center of the town, discovered the first bed of iron ore here in the form of red oxide. Extending east and west, it had an average width of half a mile and a depth of from six to forty inches. Little notice was taken of Knickerbocker's discovery until four or five years later, when Samuel Smith, one of Walworth's pioneers, constructed a forge near the furnace dam and began manufacturing iron at the rate of 400 pounds per day. Soon afterward two more forges were erected. In 1825 Henry S. Gilbert built the first furnace on the site of the one recently abandoned at Furnaceville. Its capacity was three or four tons daily, and the iron was drawn to Rochester. In 1840 the Clinton Iron Company erected another furnace of six or seven tons capacity on the property subsequently owned by Joseph La Frois. This carried on until 1867, when the plant was burned.

In February, 1870, the Ontario Iron Company was organized with these officers: James Brackett, president; Isaac Palmer, vice-president; W. H. Bowman, secretary and treasurer; the latter was succeeded by John H. White in 1873, and two years later William H. Averill became secretary, and Isaac S. Averill treasurer. A large furnace, containing two blast ovens and two blooming tubes, was erected in 1870 at Furnaceville, the site of Gilbert's pioneer establishment, and the first iron was manufactured October 10. The capacity was twenty tons of No. 1 iron per day, and, including the miners, from 100 to 200 men were employed. A switch connected the furnace with the R., W. & O. Railroad at Ontario village, and upon it a locomotive and several cars were placed by the company. About $200,000 were expended in the enterprise, and several ore beds were opened and worked. The business eventually declined, and in 1887 the works were permanently abandoned. The old stone walls, the railroad, the adjacent ore beds and heaps of iron refuse are the only evidences left of one of the largest manufacturing establishments ever founded in Wayne county.

The town was originally covered with heavy timber; portions of the surface were marshy and conducive to the creation and spread of miasmatic diseases, which troubled the early settlers for many years. Suffering from all the hardships and privations incident to a new country, it is not surprising that many of them became discouraged, but if they did history fails to record the fact. The pioneers braved the perils of frontier life with commendable heroism, and established for succeeding generations comfortable homes, thriving villages, flourishing churches, and excellent schools.The fruits of their labors, seen on every hand, attest their sterling characteristics and exalted ideas of civilization.

The Lake Ontario shore Railroad (now the R., W. & O.) was constructed through the town and opened in 1874, for which bonds were voted to the amount of $85,000 on December 24, 1870, when Lorenzo R. Boyington, Hezekiah Hill, and Alonzo W. Casey were appointed railroad commissioners. In May, 1871, $5,000 of stock of said railroad was subscribed for at par, and in September following $51,000 in bonds were issued, the balance of $34,000 being issued about September, 1873. December 4, 1893, the net indebtedness of the town was estimated at $50,517.21. The opening of the road imparted a new impetus to this section. Prior to its construction transportation and communication were carried on by teams or by water from Pultneyville.

It is impossible to ascertain any information concerning the earliest town meetings as the records prior to 1878 are destroyed. The first town meeting after Walworth was set off was held at Ashville Culver's tavern in Ontario village in April, 1830, and among the officers chosen were the following: Henry S. Gilbert, supervisor; John Stolph, town clerk; Joseph Patterson and Ashville Culver, magistrates; Daniel Inman, collector; Alonzo Peckham, constable. The supervisors since 1878 have been:

Stephen N. Maine, 1878-82.Russell Johnson, 1889-91.
Francis A. Hill, 1883-88.Freeman Pintler, 1892-93.

Charles J. Nash was elected town clerk in 1879 and has served continuously to the present time. The Board of Health was organized April 20, 1882. The officers for 1894 are E. D. Willits, supervisor; Charles J. Nash, town clerk; Walter L. Cone, Chauncey C. Norton, Harvey Jones, assessors; George H. Brown, Russell Johnson, Oscar C. Palmer, Horatio Waldo, justices of the peace; William Jamieson, collector; Charles Fewster, highway commissioner; Charles Gurney, overseer of the poor.

The first settler in Ontario was Freeman Hopkins, who came from Rhode Island and located on the lake shore in 1806. Being a Quaker, and consequently deprecating warfare, he returned with his family to the east upon the beginnings of hostilities with the British in 1812, but came again to this town in 1818. He built the first saw mill, and becoming blind in old age he drowned himself in a cistern. The birth of his daughter Melissa on May 7, 1806, was the first in Ontario.

In 1807 Peter Thatcher settled with his family in the north part of the town in a log cabin which he had caused to be built the year before. He came in a one-horse wagon from Oneida county, and was the pioneer blacksmith in Ontario, building a log shop near his home in 1811. Daniel Inman came here from Connecticut in 1807 and purchased 400 acres where Ontario village now stands. He erected his log dwelling on the site of the old steam mill. In 1810 he built the first tavern and at an early day put up a saw mill. In 1810 he built the first tavern and at an early day put up a saw mill. He was the first postmaster and collector in town, and a prominent and influential man for many years. With his son Joseph, he finally went west. The same year James Lavens, also from Connecticut, purchased 99 1/2 acres of lot 76 for $298.50 and settled his family upon it. His daughter was Mrs. Joseph W. Gates.

In 1808 Jonas Davis located on the farm which finally passed to his nephew, Munson Davis. About the same time came Noah Fuller from Massachusetts, Major Inglesby, from Connecticut, and Messers. Fifer and Kilburn. The latter died in Webster and Fifer in this town. Major Inglesby was a Revolutionary soldier, and eventually moved west. Elder Wilkins came from Massachusetts with a large family and settled near the lake shore. He died soon afterward and the family removed.

From this date to 1810 few settlers arrived. In the latter year Isaac Simmons came in from Connecticut, and in 1815 built a tavern, which he kept a few years, when he removed to Monroe county. Amos, Amasa, and Levi Thayer removed from Rhode Island and located on the ridge in the west part of the town, but they soon went to Palmyra and engaged in merchandising. Willard Church (on the lake shore), John Case, and David Jennings settled in Ontario about the same time.

In 1811 Zebedee Hodges came in; he was the father of Zebedee J. and Isaac Z. Hodges and Mrs. Jesse Hurley. The same year Dr. William Greenwood, the pioneer physician, located at Ontario village and practiced until his death in 1829. Milton Worster, who had settled in Macedon in 1810, came here in 1811 and began the manufacture of axes in a log shop, an occupation he followed in Ontario village many years. Alfred Town located on the Peter Freer farm and died here. Josiah Goodman, a Vermonter, removed hither from Oneida county with his son Alanson, then fifteen years of age. William Billings and Nathaniel Grant were pioneers in the west and center parts of town respectively; the latter died here and the former in Webster. The death of Harriet Kilburn occurred in 1811, and was the first in town.

William Middleton removed from New Jersey to Montgomery county, N.Y., and thence to Ontario. In 1810 he purchased 300 acres of land on the lake shore for $3 per acre, and settled his family thereon in 1812. He was the first hatter in town and prosecuted the business about twenty years. His son Joseph succeeded to the paternal homestead. John Stolph, the first clerk of the present township, became a settler the same year; he finally removed to Illinois. Nathan Hallock, the first tailor, resided near the lake shore until his death. George Sawyer came from Connecticut and located on the Ridge road west of Ontario Center, whence he moved eighteen years later to Michigan.

The war of 1812 checked the tide of immigration and few settlers arrived until that conflict subsided. In 1813 George Putnam, the father of Mrs. Chauncey Smith, located in the northwest corner of the town and Burton Simmons and Jared Putnam near the Monroe county line. The three were from Connecticut. Among others who came in about this time were Samuel Sabin, John Edmonds, Lewis Janes, and Abraham Smith.

In 1815 Ezekiel Alcott settled in town and commenced the manufacture of pearlash. He was a man of considerable enterprise and influence. The following year Ashville Culver and Isaac Gates came to Ontario. The former was an early tavern keeper and one of the first magistrates of the present town. Mr. Gates had eighteen children, all but four of whom accompanied him hither from Chenango county. In 1817 Joseph W. Gates, a son of Isaac, made a visit here and in 1818 settled permanently. He taught school winters, was married in 1826, and purchased an article from Stephen Sabin for fifty acres of land at $5 per acre.

Hezekiah Hill was born in 1811, in Walworth, where his parents had settled in 1800, and where his father died in 1815. He early taught school, held several town offices, married a daughter of Samuel Strickland, and moved to Ontario village in 1848. He laid out the site into village lots and sold them. He was a very prominent man and always highly respected.

Other early settlers were Gardner Robb, Samuel Gilbert, Henry Barnhart, Henry S. Gilbert, a Mr. Knickerbocker, Alonzo Peckham, Messrs. Stimson & Schanks, Alanson Goodnow, Joseph Middleton, Cyrus Thatcher, Reynolds K. Northrup, Isaac Pratt and Jonathan Chandler. Nathan K. Pound came here in March, 1835, and held various town offices.

Prominent among subsequent settlers and present residents of Ontario may be mentioned the names of:

Freeman Pintler, Alanson Warner, Charles Pease.
A. W. Casey, D. L. Reed, Aldrich Thayer, and
G. W. Crandall, O. F. Whitney, Joseph W. Gates, two
Dr. F. M. Ellsworth, Dr. L. D. Rhodes, of the oldest citizens,
W. E. Clark, E. Rood, jr., Melvin B. Gates,
N. A. Fitts, B. B. Weeks, E. D. Willits,
B. W. Gates, M. A. Risley, J. C. Howk,
F. A. HIll, J. A. Stokes, Alexander Sands,
P. H. Norton, N. C. Richmond, G. P. Norton,
B. J. Hopkins, Edson Smith, Charles J. Nash,
J. B. Pratt, Flynn Whitcomb (ex-) R. A. Woodhams,

member of Assembly,)

And many others noticed a little farther on and in Part II, of this work.

The first grist mill in town was erected about 1825 by Henry Barnhart, on the farm subsequently owned by Henry Brewer. It has long been discontinued for milling purposes. In an old warehouse in the northeast corner of Ontario, an early, and probably first, store was opened in 1830 by Henry S. Gilbert, who closed out at the end of two years.

The first school house was a log structure erected about 1816 on the lake road, on the farm latterly owned by Abraham Albright. It was finally demolished and a stone building put up near by; the latter in turn gave place to a brick school house. In 1820 a school building was erected on the Daniel Eldridge place in which Lucy Chandler taught the first three terms. In 1835 the structure was torn down. In June, 1894, districts 5 and 6, comprising the villages of Ontario and Ontario Center, were united to form a union free school district, and the sum of $8,000 was voted for the erection of a suitable school house near the old dividing line. It is expected to have the building in readiness for the fall term of school.

The town has fourteen districts, with a school house in each, taught during the year 1892-93 by sixteen teachers and attended by 669 scholars; value of buildings and sites, $11,4,50; assessed valuation of districts, $1,176,000; public money received from the State, $2,057.82; raised by local tax, $3,446.49.

No town in Wayne county, in proportion to the size, can show a better record in the war of the Rebellion than Ontario. During that sanguinary struggle a total of 190 brave and heroic citizens went out from within her borders to fight the nation's battles. Many of them met untimely deaths on Southern fields, or in Rebel prisons; a few were promoted to commissioned officers. The veterans who remain to tell the thrilling story of that conflict are steadily joining their comrades gone before, and on each Memorial day the survivors and the dead are tenderly remembered by a grateful country.

In 1858 the town had 13,887 acres improved land, real estate assessed at $464,509, personal property valued at $72,588, 1,222 male and 1,101 female inhabitants, 451 dwellings, 466 families, 371 freeholders, 11 school districts, 1,319 school children, 886 horses, 1,201 oxen and calves, 923 cows, 4,020 sheep and 1,286 swine. There were produced that year 9,510 bushels winter and 83,610 bushels spring wheat, 2,686 tons hay, 15,272 bushels potatoes, 17,431 bushels apples, 86,375 pounds butter, 17,400 pounds cheese, and 1,669 yards domestic cloths.

In 1890 the population was 6,211, or 351 less than in 1880. In 1893 the assessed value of land aggregated $754,832 (equalized $686,561); village and mill property, $83,143 (equalized $176,153); railroads and telegraphs, $86,,482; personal property, $72,400. Schedule for taxes for 1893: Contingent fund, $1,476.36; town poor fund, $300; roads and bridges, $200; special town tax, $3,789.34; school tax, $934.68; county tax, $2,236.34; State tax, $1,232,34; State insane tax, $317.92; dog tax, $121.50. Total tax levy, $11,173.10; rate per cent, .01018646. The town has two election districts, and in 1893 polled 475 votes.

ONTARIO VILLAGE is situated in the southwest part of the town about a mile east of Ontario Center. It lies on the ridge road, running east and west, and is a station and post-office on the south side of the R. W. & O. Railroad. The site was originally settled in 1807 by Daniel Inman, who built a saw mill and tavern previously noted.

Ashville Culver erected a second public house in 1827, and Gardner Robb subsequently put up a third hostelry on the site of the present hotel. In 1828 the village contained two taverns, one blacksmith shop, a saw mill, and about ten houses. Robert Horton in 1854 erected and kept the first store, which was finally destroyed by fire. In 1873 the Ontario Sun, afterward changed to the Lake Shore Independent, was started, and after a brief existence discontinued publication. The advent of the railroad gave new impetus to the village, and since then it has developed rapidly and steadily. Its broad streets are lined with commodious business houses and attractive dwellings. June 21, 1885, the hotel and other buildings were burned, entailing a loss of $30,000, but upon its site a new and better hostelry was at once erected.

A foundry and agricultural implement manufactory was started a number of years ago by George Parnell, sr., who continued it until his death, when the business passed to his son, George, jr.

The village of Ontario now consists of four general stores, a drug store, one furniture and undertaking establishment, one hardware store, a meat market, harness shop, two blacksmith shops, an hotel and livery, one clothing and shoe store, one jeweler, four milliners, a bakery, one variety store, a shoe shop, one lumber and coal yard, two produce dealers, a foundry, an agricultural implement dealer, three physicians, three churches, a district school, and about 600 inhabitants. The present postmaster is H. E. Van Derveer.

ONTARIO CENTER is a post village on the Ridge road a little south of the center of the town and about one mile west of Ontario. It lies south of the R., W. & O. Railroad, the station being nearly midway between the two villages. Reynolds K. Northrup built a tavern on the site of the present hotel in 1830; this was finally removed and a portion converted into a hardware store. Another hotel was erected in which the Masons held their meetings until its destruction by fire. Soon afterward the lodge was moved at midnight to Ontario village, where it is still continued. The old hotel burned in 1886, under the proprietorship of E. A. Booth, who also built and keeps the present one. Foote & Northrup erected a store on the southwest corner about 1830, and in it business was conducted until it was burned in 1844. The village now contains three general stores, a hardware store, one drug store, an hotel and livery, harness shop, blacksmith shop, a carriage repository, one church, a district school, one physician, and about 300 inhabitants. The postmaster is John Freeh.

FURNACEVILLE, situated in the eastern part of the town, derives its name from the blast furnace that was operated there almost continuously from 1825 to 1887. It owes its existence to that establishment, and for fifteen years following 1870 was a very busy hamlet. In 1873 the post-office was established with L. J. Bundy as postmaster. Since the furnace was abandoned the place has lost nearly all its former prestige, and consists now of merely a store and post-office and a number of dwellings. The postmaster is Arthur L. Fries.

FRUITLAND (Lakeside station) is a post-office on the R., W. & O. Railroad, about two miles west of Ontario Center. The postmaster is D. J. Fitzgerald.

LAKESIDE is a postal hamlet two and one-half miles north of Fruitland. The postmistress ins Mrs. W. G. Willard.

CHURCHES.- The Baptist Church of Ontario was organized July 3, 1817, with Jonathan Chandler and Abraham Foster as deacons and Rev. George B. Davis as first pastor. In 1834 a church edifice was built at Ontario Center; it was repaired in 1849 and used as a house of worship until 1884, when the society moved to Ontario village. The old building is now owned and occupied by Charles J. Nash as a storehouse and carriage repository; for a few years the elections were held in it. In 1884 the society purchased the old Advent Church in Ontario village, repaired it, and have since used it as a place of worship. There are about 100 members and a Sunday school of which S. S. Russell is superintendent. Among the pastors succeeding Rev. Mr. David were Revs. James Davis, Kinney, James Going, Draper (sixteen years), William Corbin, Orin Munger, and others. The present pastor is Rev. Lazarus Golden, who was installed in April, 1891.

The First Wesleyan Methodist Church of Ontario was organized by Rev. George Pegler in March, 1857, with these members; William and Mary Pye, John and Elizabeth Clark, John and Elizabeth Pye, Robert Norgate, Henry Alton, Thomas Barnsdale, Thomas and Ann Smith, George Smith, Aaron W. Graham, Francis Eaton, Matilda Cooper, Seth Easton, Sarah and Eliza King, O. B. and Caroline Turner, and Seth Easton, and the first class leader was William Pye. In 1865 their present frame edifice as built in Ontario village, and was dedicated May 15, 1869, by Rev. Adam Crooks. The Sunday school was organized with the church with John Cooper as superintendent. The church was remodeled a few years since and connected with it is a frame parsonage. There are about 100 members under the pastoral care of Rev. F. J. Wilson. The superintendent of the Sunday school is Flynn Whitcomb.

St. Mary's of the Lake Roman Catholic church of Ontario was organized by Rev. P. C. McGrath in August, 1869, with about forty families. In 1870 the present edifice was erected in Ontario village, and is valued at $4,000. Rev. Father McGrath became the first pastor, and remained in that capacity many years. The present incumbent is Rev. Joseph Maguin, of Webster.

The Free Advent Christian church was legally organized by Revs. R. C. Brown and James E. Wells, December 23, 1874, with the following members: Levi L. Allen, James Woodhams, Willard T. Bishop, Sarah Briggs, Roxa Decker, Amelia E. Decker, John Freeh, Rebecca Hutson, Melvin and Melvina A. Howe, Sylvester Howe, Mrs. George Near, Charles and Helen Prentiss, Laura Truax, George Wilson, and Jacob Wemesfelder. The first trustees were William Birdsall, Hezekiah Hill, and Willard T. Bishop. The first pastor was Rev. James E. Wells. In 1875 a frame church was erected, mainly through the efforts and liberality of Hezekiah Hill; it was dedicated on December 3, 1875, by Rev. Miles Grant. In 1878 Rev. Milton Miles became pastor and served until October 1, 1879; on the 20th of the preceding January the society was reorganized, but soon after that year it disbanded and the property reverted to Mr. Hill, who sold it in 1884 to the Baptist society for $1,000. A Sunday school was organized January 30, 1876, with Henry E. Van Derveer as superintendent.

The Presbyterian church of Ontario Center was organized by Rev. Mr. Bliss in 1832, The Congregational form of government was adopted, which was afterward changed to Presbyterian, and the first meetings were held in a school house in Ontario village. The constituent members were Mr. and Mrs. Sutphin, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis, Mr. and Mrs. Mack, and Mr. Decker. In 1842 the present stone edifice in Ontario Center was built and dedicated. The earlier pastors were Revs. Bliss, Merritt, Judson, Eddy, Burbank, Manley, Halcomb, Young, Bosworth, and others. The present pastor is Rev. H. G. C. Hallock and J. C. Howk is superintendent of the Sunday school. The society has about seventy-five members.

The first Methodist Episcopal church of Ontario was organized as a class about 1812, at the dwelling of Zebedee Hodges, where many of the earlier meetings were held. In 1836 a stone edifice, 36x46 feet, was built two and one-half miles north of Ontario Center. This was torn down in 1865, and in 1866 the corner stone of the present structure was laid by Rev. I. H. Kellogg. It is of brick and was dedicated in August, 1867. In May, 1872, this church became a separate charge; prior to that it was connected with the Walworth circuit. The society has about eighty members under the pastorship of Rev. Josiah S. Duxbury. H. S. Stanford is superintendent of the Sunday school.

The Second Methodist Episcopal church of Webster, locally known as the "Boston Church" from the fact that it is situated in a locality called New Boston, was organized in the summer of 1838 by Rev. Mrs. Osborne with about nine members. In 1849 the present frame edifice was built near the county line in the northwest part of the town. It was dedicated by Rev. John Dennis, and is valued at $1,000. The society has about fifty members and a Sunday school of sixty scholars. The first name on the record as pastor is Rev. L. B. Chase, who presided over this and the church in Webster from 1869 to 1872; in 1872-3 Rev. P. W. Chandler was pastor of this and the First M. E. church previously mentioned, since which time the two have constituted one charge. The present pastor is Rev. Joseph S. Duxbury. The two societies own jointly a frame parsonage at Lakeside, the value of which is $1,200.

The First Free Methodist Church of Ontario was organized December 9, 1866, with eleven members, viz.: George and Adelaide Willard, Horace and Eliza T. Moore, Barton and Mary Vandewarker, Bennett H. and Hannah Tarber, Richard and Adelia Ridley, and Hannah E. Tarber. The first Board of Trustees consisted of George Willard, Charles E. Heuston, and Willard Rogers. It was incorporated January 5, 1867, and the first pastor was Rev. J. Olney in 1866-67. The society now has forty-five members, under the pastoral care of Rev. J. E. Tiffany. The first and present church edifice was built of wood in 1867 at a cost of $1,200; it will seat 200 persons, and is situated about three miles west of Ontario Center. At its organization the church was in the Bushnell Basin circuit; it is now in the Webster and Ontario charge.

Source: Landmarks of Wayne County, New York, by George Washington Cowles. Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason. 1895. Chapter XXIII.

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