History of the Town of Savannah

Wayne County, NY

By George W. Cowles


Savannah, the southeast corner town in Wayne county, was formed from Galen on November 24, 1825. It comprises the eastern part of lot 27 of the Military Tract, and has an area of 21,908 acres, which was originally surveyed into lots of 600 acres each. It is bounded on the north by Butler, on the east by Cayuga county, on the south by Seneca county, and on the west by Galen. The name Savannah is derived from the Latin, Sabanum, and from the Spanish, Savana or Sabada, and means, according to Webster, an extensive open plain or meadow, or a plain destitute of trees, and covered with grass. From the following description it will be seen that the town was appropriately named.

In the southern, central and northern portions the surface is broken into ridges of drift sand, which generally trend north and south. In the southwest part is an extensive swamp, covering nearly 1,900 acres. It is thickly covered with a coarse grass, which was successfully utilized in 1867 in the manufacture of paper by the two paper mills then conducted at Clyde. Efforts have been made to reclaim this immense tract by a system of drainage, but the undertaking was evidently too great for the means obtainable. At one time it was proposed to turn the course of Crusoe Creek to the northeast, but commercial interests at Oswego interfered and the scheme was abandoned. A second plan was to blast out the bed of Seneca river, thus lowering it enough to drain the surface; this also was never carried out. A resident some years since spent several thousand dollars endeavoring to reclaim a small portion, but as soon as the work was suspended it went back to its original condition. The soil is a rich black muck, and a few feet below the surface lies a stratum of valuable marl and shell. In wet seasons the whole is covered with shallow water and presents a continuous inland lake. Flowing northeasterly from Galen through the north end of this swamp is Marsh Creek, which empties into a small body of water north of Savannah village, called Crusoe Lake. Through this lake from the town of Butler flows Crusoe Creek, which forms a junction with Seneca River, a little north of the railroad. The considerable body of elevated land thus surrounded, lying between the swamp and Seneca river, is locally termed Crusoe Island; it is nearly six miles long and four miles wide, and extends southward to the Clyde River in Seneca county, but more than one-half of its area lies within the limits of this town. Extensive low swampy lands border Crusoe Creek and Seneca River and form the northwestern portion of the famous Montezuma marshes. Seneca River forms the eastern boundary line of the town and county for nearly five miles. Excepting the large open marsh in the southwestern part, the town was originally covered with heavy timber, nearly all of which long ago disappeared. The soil of the high lands is a sandy and gravelly loam. The whole is very fertile, particularly the portions bordering on the marshes. It is generally susceptible of easy cultivation, and produces excellent crops of hay, grain, fruit, etc. Agriculture forms the chief industry, and fruit growing is given considerable attention. In 1858 the town produced 15,925 bushels of winter and 113,854 bushels of spring wheat, 1,904 tons of hay, 14,376 bushels of potatoes, 14,907 bushels of apples, 69,216 pounds of butter, 2,290 pounds of cheese, and 1,366 yards of domestic cloths. Of domestic animals Savannah then contained 675 horses, 1,348 oxen and calves, 761 cows, 4,947 sheep, and 1,335 swine.

Probably no town in Wayne county ever acquired the degree of prominence among sportsmen that was obtained by Savannah in years gone by. It even yet maintains a respectable reputation in this direction, and fishing and duck hunting have always attracted the most attention; on the marshes along Seneca River grows a species of wild oats which in the fall attracts numerous blackbirds, many of which fall victims to the sportsman's gun.

The highest elevation of land in the town is Fort Hill, so named from an ancient earthwork discovered upon its extreme summit. It is supposed to have been a work of defense, but aside from this its history is buried in oblivion. It is situated near Seneca River south of the railroad. The old Jesuit "Relations" notice a mission as existing on this hill about 1657. It was established by Father René Menard.

The development of the town in its earlier settlement was slow, yet it has enjoyed a steady growth and kept pace with other similar subdivisions of the county. The extensive marshes have ever menaced the health and comfort of the inhabitants. The pioneers were a sturdy class of people from New England and the eastern part of the State, and imparted to the community their sterling characteristics, indomitable energy, an d native perseverance. They subdued a gloomy wilderness and built attractive homes, many of which have passed to their children and grandchildren. The latter have inherited the noble traits of their ancestors, and ably maintain the moral status so thoroughly implanted by the generation that has passed away. Their pleasant homes and comfortable surroundings seldom manifest a sign of the primitive conditions of frontier life.

Unlike all the other towns in Wayne county, Savannah was not destined to enjoy the immediate benefits of the Erie Canal, for that waterway approached it only through the extreme southwest corner; but the advent of the New York Central Railroad in 1854 gave an impetus to the settlement and caused the village of Savannah to spring up and become incorporated. Prior to this not even a hamlet worthy the name existed within its borders. The completion of the West Shore Railroad in 1884 afforded still better transportation facilities. These railroads run parallel through the southern central part of the town and have stations at Savannah village.

Before settlers began to arrive the Galen Salt Works were established on lot 37 near the Seneca River. The original patent of this lot was vested in Dr. James Young, of the Revolution. A well was sunk 400 feet deep, which produced strong brine; another well was put down which emitted inflammable gas. But the manufacture of salt here was unsuccessful and the business was finally abandoned. In 1808 the works were apparently prosperous, but in 1811 they had ceased operations entirely, and Prentice Palmer moved in from Butler to take care of them. The owners opened a highway in the town which led from their works to Great Sodus Bay. This was known as the Galen road, and extended westward to Clyde. The first thoroughfare in this vicinity, however, was an old military trail called the State road, which ran west to the block house (Clyde), but this was impassable when settlers began to arrive. The construction of the Montezuma turnpike gave a decided impetus to immigration. About 1835 a mail route was established from Auburn via Montezuma, through Savannah and Butler to Wolcott, with a post-office at Crusoe Lake called "Crusoe." When the New York Central Railroad was completed this route was discontinued and the post-office moved to Savannah village. The eastern plank road was constructed at an early date from Clyde to Port Byron by way of the old salt works and Howland's Island, the latter points being connected by a bridge, which after a few years was neglected and finally went down. This road was graded to the river, but planked eastward from Clyde only to the highway leading north from the depot. Other thoroughfares were surveyed and opened from time to time, and all are kept in excellent condition.

The first town meeting was held at Crusoe House, one-half mile east of Crusoe Lake, in April, 1825, and David Cushman was elected the first supervisor. The absence of the early town records renders it impossible to give the other officers chosen at this meeting or of the subsequent supervisors until 1845. The supervisors since then have been as follows:

Sylvanus Thompson, 1845.R. M. Evens, 1862-63.
Nelson Payn, 1846.William G. Soule, 1864-65.
Chauncey T. Ives, 1847-48.William R. Stultz, 1866-71.
Nelson Payn, 1849.Charles Wood, 1872-74.
Benajah Abrams, 1850.John A. Munson, 1875-78.
Charles D. Haddon, 1851-52.Ammon S. Farnum, 1879-83.
Ebenezer Fitch, 1853.Alonzo D. Wood, 1884-86.
Frank Knapp, 1854.John A. Munson, 1887-89.
Benajah Abram, 1855.E. L. Adams, 1890-92.
James M. Servis, 1856-61.Addison P. Smith, 1893-94.

The town officers for 1894 are: Addison P. Smith, supervisor; Charles C. Taylor, town clerk; John H. Bixby, W. C. Soule, Charles Reed, H. C. Rising, justices of the peace; Ebenezer Harrington, highway commissioner; John L. Spoor and Gustavus Stuck, overseers of the poor; E. M. Clark, George Anderson, H. O. Bagley, assessors; Fred M. Haddon, collector.

The Wayne County Gazetteer and Directory (1866) states that Elias Converse and Joseph Mosher made the first settlements in Savannah in 1812, but according to information furnished by H. H. Wheeler, of South Butler, and printed in a subsequent publication, it is evident that settlers were living within the borders of this town as early as 1808. In that year Eli Wheeler visited this region, and in 1810 located on a farm of 200 acres in Butler. Stephen Titus was living in Savannah, three miles east of Harrington's Corners, in 1808, and Noah Starr and Ephraim Burch were residents of that neighborhood in 1810. Silas Winans located one-half mile east of Harrington's as early as 1812.

In 1811 Prentice Palmer moved hither from Butler to care for the then idle establishment of the old Galen Salt works. He was originally from Massachusetts, and in 1815 he removed to the town line one-half mile west of South Butler. For many years he was justice of the peace, constable, and collector.

Daniel Harrington, the grandfather of the late resident of that name, located at the junction of the Muskeeto Point and Galen roads prior to 1815, and from him the place was long known as Harrington's Corners. His sons were John, Nehemiah, Theophilus, Ira, and Peter. The same year Noah and Horace Peck (Brothers), Aaron Hall, and Peter Blasdell settled on the south side of the State road in the northwest part of the town.

The first settlers between Harrington's Corners and the old Galen Salt Works were Michael Weatherwax and Job Cushman in 1818. David, son of the latter, married Polly Ann, the eldest daughter of Prentice Palmer, and died in town; his widow married John Gorham, and their daughter became the wife of George Wilson, who settled on the Cushman homestead. Orrin Wellman, whose father, Paul, was a Revolutionary soldier, married Hannah, another daughter of Mr. Palmer, and resided on lot 39 under a lease of Jacob Winchell. This property for many years was celebrated in the annals of litigation. About 1820 Charles Clapp settled on a farm south of Mr. Weatherwax, and Howell Bidwell, his brother-in-law, on the place subsequently occupied by Byron G. Clark. Horace Bidwell, a brother of Howell, located there with him and married Rhoda, youngest daughter of Paul Wellman.

Joseph Mosher and George Vredenburgh settled on the road from Weatherwax's to Crusoe Creek in 1812. From a landing place at the junction of this road and the creek there was prosecuted for many years a small commercial business in row boats. Mr. Mosher became well known for his numerous swarms of bees.

Settlements on Crusoe Island, in the southern part of the town, commenced about as earl as those already mentioned. Smith Ward came in by water from Montezuma to May's Point, and thence to a locality on the Montezuma turnpike since known as Penstock. In 1818 Nehemiah Bunyea settled near the north end of the island and erected a dwelling on the site of the old Soule homestead; in 1819 George Vredenburgh and Elias Converse (father-in-law of Bunyea) moved over. Mr. Vredenburgh afterward married Sally, youngest daughter of Mr. Converse, and to them a child was born, being respectively the first marriage and the first birth in the town. Mr. Bunyea finally moved to the Kingsbury farm and built thereon the first barn on the island; he eventually went to Montezuma, where he erected for Dr. Clark and Jethro Wood the two conspicuous dwellings, long since landmarks, and for the Montezuma Turnpike Company the first bridges across the Cayuga and Canandaigua outlets. His father-in-law, Dr. William May, from whom May's Point was named, was the first physician at Montezuma.

Titus Lockwood, the one-legged Revolutionary soldier, settled on the State road in the extreme northwest corner of the town in 1819; about 1825 he sold to John M. Cobb. Jerry Mead came in from Cayuga county about 1819, settled south of Lockwood, and died a few years later. His successor was John Caywood, who came from Galen and died on the place, aged 102 years.

In 1820 Leonard Ferris, with his father, Caleb, and mother, Judah, and Richard Ryan, his brother-in-law, settled in the northern part of the town, and Amos Winnegar on the farm adjoining that of Silas Winan. Henry Winnegar, a brother of Amos, located about 1830 on the place afterward occupied by his son James R. In 1822 Philip Cook located west of Crusoe Lake and about the same year Henry O'Neil settled near by. In 1827 James Stiles came in, at which time Medad Blasdell, son of Peter, sr., and Samuel Gilbert were residents. The latter was succeeded by Hubbard Hamlin, and he by his son-in-law, Mansfield B. Winnegar. Ashley Hogan, Russell Palmer (brother of Prentice), and Luther Chapin became settlers between 1823 and 1825. Russell Palmer was active in town affairs and served as supervisor, justice of the peace, etc. Mr. Chapin was elected to the Legislature in 1828.

On a road leading from the turnpike across the island to Crusoe Creek, Henry Taylor built a house in 1824, near where the Central depot now stands. He died in October, 1893. About the same year George F. Torry, Chauncey Ives, and Garry Burnham settled in the neighborhood.

In the northwest part of the town Edward Bivins and Benjamin Hall, brothers-in-law, settled in 1818; about 1819 Richard Rice started an ashery in Savannah on the old State road at a point then called "Indian Camp." Thomas Hall, from Saratoga county, the father of Joshua, Benjamin, Elias, Stephen and Peter, was an early settler. Another Thomas Hall, a Baptist preacher from Junius, Seneca county, held the first religious services in the town. He was father-in-law of Richard Rice, and the successors to his homestead were John Sedore, William Robinson, John Gorham, and William Reed. A Mr. Stackus erected a log house on the west side of Fort Hill at an early day and got out quantities of oak staves and heading for market. Royal Torrey, father of George F., built the celebrated Crusoe House in 1824; it stood north of Crusoe Creek and one-half mile east of Crusoe Lake, on the Savannah and South Butler road and for many years was the only tavern in the town. In it were held the earlier town meetings and the public gatherings. When the railroad was completed in 1854 it ceased its career of usefulness. Mr. Torrey built the first saw mill in town in 1824, a mile east of his hotel.

To the foregoing list of early settlers may be added the names of Benjamin Seeley, John Green, Abner and Ezra Brockway, Henry Myers, Sampson McBane, Alexander and Martin Lamb, and John Brockway.

Prominent among those now living are Albert Williams, Jacob and Abner Wurtz, George, George A., and Ebenezer Farrand (sons of B. C., who died in May, 1894), Benjamin F. Gage, John H. and Charles G. Wood, Richard S. and John T. Crandall, James B. Wiley (ex-superintendent of the poor), John B. and Henry Carris, Rev. Philip Swift (brother of the late Rev. Nathan M.), George Safford (for many years the conductor of the only Cheddar cheese factory in the county, and which is now used for an evaporator), Simeon Titus (contractor), Rev. D. D. Davis, Jacob S., George W., and Frank Taylor (sons of Henry, Welling C. and Ernest C. Soule (sons of William G.), Herbert C. Soule (son of Rowland), George Lockwood, Ebenezer Harrington, Aaron F. and Andrew S. Hall, O'Connell Ferris, James M. Hadden, John A. Munson (ex-supervisor, ex-assemblyman, and son of Archibald), Ensign L. Adams, Ammon S. Farnum (clerk of the board of supervisors), Horace W. and Addison R. Smith, Hutchings E. Newton (proprietor of the Newton House), Adelbert Hungerford, Arthur W. Evans, Dr. W. H. Sweeting, D. J. Cotten, Adam and Sylvester Secor, H. Owen Bagley, Norman and George D. Springstead, Jeduthan E. Tallman, E. M. Clark, and Benjamin Southwick.

Moses Cook, a son of the pioneer, Peter, died here in September, 1891. Rev. Nathan R. Swift, born in 1821, settled on a farm in Savannah soon after 1841, and died there in December 1890. He was one of the founders and president of Adrian College, of which he was long treasurer and for twenty-five years a trustee. F. M. Johnson, a native of this town, died here in 1891. Dr. W. H. Smith, father of Horace W. and Addison P., and for twenty-five years a practitioner in Savannah village, died in California in 1891; Sylvester A. Farnum, father of Hon. A. S., died here in February, 1892.

In 1858 Savannah had 951 males and 811 female inhabitants, 343 dwellings, 349 families, 212 freeholders, and 11,251 acres improved land. The real estate was assessed at $ 455,362 and the personal property at $8,000. In 1890 the population was 1,788, or seventy-nine less than in 180. In 1893 the real estate was assessed at $623,690 (equalized $636,500); village and mill property $127,679 (equalized $115,824); railroads and telegraphs $257,259 (equalized $23,120); personal property $246,425. Schedule of taxes 1893: Contingent fund, $1,222.19; poor fund, $300; roads and bridges, $550; school tax, $1,074.16; county tax $2,570.06; State tax, $1,416.24; State insane, $365.36; dog tax, $74. Total tax levied, $8,135.88; rate per cent, .0070134. The town has two election districts and in 1893 polled 367 votes.

During the Rebellion the town contributed 158 volunteers to the Union forces. Its obligations in that long conflict were cheerfully and promptly met, and its citizens may well feel proud of Savannah's excellent war record.

The first school house in Savannah was erected on the site of the present Evans Cemetery as early as 1816, and the first teacher therein was Loren Brown, who received five dollars per month. On what was then Big Hill, where now stands an old orchard, a log school house was built in 1822; the first teachers in it were Maria Westcott and Austin Roe. In Savannah village a union school was established several years since by the consolidation of two districts, and a brick school house erected at a cost of $5,000. In 1892 this was replaced by the present frame structure at an expense of $8,000; this was opened in February, 1893. It has four departments, a library of 500 volumes, and employs five teachers, the present principal being Howard N. Tolman. Although nominally a graded institution, it affords all the privileges of a High School and is governed accordingly. It was placed under the Board of Regents of the State mainly through the efforts of C. G. Plumb, M. D., now of Red Creek. The trustees elected in August, 1893, were D. J. Cotten, president; J. A. Munson, secretary; and E. M. Clark. The town has twelve school districts with a school house in each, employing seventeen teachers, during the year 1892-93. The number of children attending these schools is 458. The school buildings and sites are valued at $16,760; assessed valuation of districts is $1,348,646; money received from the State, $2,133.23; amount raised by local tax, $11,217.99.

The first saw mill has previously been mentioned. Following that came another at Crusoe Creek, near the plank road crossing, which was erected by Kendrick Bixby. It was operated by steam, and about 1850 was sold to Othniel Palmer, son of Prentice, in whose possession it burned. A. Wise built a steam saw mill near the west town line, with which he converted a fine grove of hemlock on the farm of Charles A. Rose into lumber. Archibald Munson built another saw mill near Fort Hill and sawed up a large quantity of oak, hickory, chestnut, and whitewood timber. Gideon Ramsdell erected one near the site of the old Galen Salt Works some twenty-five years since, which facilitated his extensive lumber operations for the railroad. A saw mill near South Butler was the last one of the kind in town. It was built by Samuel B. Tucker and O. H. Wheeler in 1839, and finally passed into the possession of Bradway & Crofoot, who conducted it several years. They also carried on a large business in manufacturing shingles and cooperage. Capt. William B. Dodge built and conducted at the depot in Savannah village a flouring mill, cider mill, saw mill, and wheel-barrow manufactory; these operated about three years, when they burned. Hiram Dieffendorf, about 1864, erected a large barrel, stave and heading manufactory near the depot, which was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1866; it was rebuilt and soon burned again.

Hill & Munson's flouring mill west of the depot, was built by Hill & Bradley in 1889. In February, 1890, John A. Munson purchased Mr. Bradley's interest. This contains the full roller process, and is the only grist mill in town. Mr. Munson also carries on the coal, grain, and lumber business that was established by his father, Archibald, in 1858, and which was conducted by the latter until his death in December, 1873.

SAVANNAH VILLAGE.- This is the only village, post-office, or railroad station in the town, and its corporate limits include nearly the whole of military lots 64 and 65, of township 27. These lots contain 600 acres each, and were set apart and reserved for the support of the gospel. When the railroad was completed and the depot built in 1854 this place comprised only Michael Curry's grocery store and Henry Taylor's residence. In 1867 it was legally incorporated and the first officers elected were: Board of Trustees, Hiram Dieffendorf (president), Peter J. Powell, Nicholas C. Vaught, and Patrick McCullum; police justice, Joseph Renyon; assessors, William R. Stults, John Evans, Horace Wadsworth; collector, Hezekiah Stults; clerk and treasurer, Edward Luce; street commissioner and police constable, M. Quackenbush. The succeeding presidents have been:

W. E. Smith, 1868.Charles Wood, 1876.
Peter J. Powell, 1869-70.Records inaccessible, 1877 to 1885.
Charles Wood, 1871.A. Gregg, 1886.
Cyrus Andrews, 1872.C. B. Jepson, 1887-88.
Delos Betz, 1873.Ammon S. Farnum, 1889-91.
Andrew J. Holdridge, 1874.A. S. Hall, 1892-93.
Charles H. Hamlin, 1875.A. S. Farnum, 1894.

The village officers for 1894 are: A. S. Farnum (president), Horace W. Smith, Ensign L. Adams, Charles B. Jepson, trustees; O. Clate Silver, clerk; E. M. Crandall, collector; Hiram Ellis, police justice; William H. Fitch, police constable; L. C. Sherman, treasurer; J. Wyman Joslyn, street commissioner; Dr. William H. Phelps, Andrew J. Holdridge, John A. Munson, assessors.

Archibald Munson settled on a farm here in 1825 and erected the second house on the site of the village; Henry Taylor, previously mentioned, preceded him in 1824. The first regular store was opened by John Evans in 1854 near the railroad; in 1855 he went into partnership with R. W. Evans and moved to a larger building erected by Winans Winnegar, where business was afterward prosecuted by R. W. Evans alone, William R. Stults, and W. G. Smith. The Savannah Hotel was built by Archibald Munson in 1858 and opened by Bela Smith and A. J. Squires, lessees, February 20, 1859. This subsequently had several landlords. The first blacksmith shop was built and kept by Joseph Remer in 1854. Putnam & Co.'s barrel factory was started by them in 1893. In 1888 A. J. Conroe began the manufacture of a Chinese laundry bluing; in October, 1893, the business was sold to C. H. Betts, of Wolcott, who organized the Consolidated Bluing Company. A few years since the manufacturing of flag salt, a proprietary medicine, was commenced; this was developed into quite an extensive business under the direction of Dr. W. H. Sweeting. Besides these the village contains six general stores, one hardware store, a jewelry store, two hotels and liveries, two newspapers and printing offices, a meat market, two coal, lumber, and produce dealers, one millinery store, a grist mill, two churches, a graded school, three physicians, the usual shops, etc., and a population of 505.

The Savannah Fire Company No. 1, was organized July 26, 1887, and reorganized February 6, 1893. It is equipped with a hand engine, hose cart, ladders, hose, etc. The officers for 1894 are: Michael McGinniss, president; George W. Cooper, vice-president; O. Clate Silver, secretary; Horace W. Smith, treasurer; W. C. Soule, chief engineer; D. B. Remer and Addison Smith, foremen.

May's Point, in the south part of the town, contains a store and a half dozen dwellings. A half mile north is the jewelry establishment of William Farrand.

CHURCHES.- The Presbyterian church, of Savannah, was organized by Revs. Wilson and Young, from Lyons, in 1864, in the district school house, with seventeen constituent members. The first pastor was Rev. George W. Warner and the first elders and deacons were Moses Treat and John North. Their house of worship was built at a cost of about $5,000, and was dedicated August 18, 1864, by Rev. Horace Eaton, D.D., of Palmyra. The first superintendent of the Sunday school was Archibald Munson, and the last pastor of the church was Rev. E. B. Fisher. The society finally grew weaker in members and influence,and is now virtually disbanded. The edifice though still owned in the name of the board of trustees, was converted into cold storage in 1893.

The Methodist Episcopal church, of Savannah, was organized about 1867 and their frame edifice was completed and dedicated in November, 1870. This church owes its foundation largely to Archibald Munson, who contributed $1,000 towards the lot and building, and who was otherwise influential in sustaining and promoting its interests. The society's parsonage was erected in 1883-84 at a cost of about $1,500. The present pastor is Rev. A. G. Campbell.

St. Patrick's church (Roman Catholic), of Savannah was built in 1875-76, and cost about $2,500. Fulfilling the wishes of Mrs. Michale C. Curry the lot on which it stands was donated to the parish by her daughter, Mrs. Andrew McDade, of Rochester. The church is in charge of the resident priest in Clyde and is served from there. It owes its foundation to the Rev. P. W. O'Connell, D.D., assisted by Edward Flinn.

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

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