AMERICANA IN DRUMLIN SQUARE, Part 2
Old-timers in this area called the drumlins "razorbacks," as from a distance many of them seem to rise to a sharp ridge (as mentioned regarding Mormon Hill), and with their sloping contours reminded one of razorbacks sleeping peacefully on the ground.
Some of the drumlin summits are rounded gracefully on the top and sides, especially in the northern half of Drumlin Square. These rounded hills were wave-planed, and even the amateur can detect hills and slopes whose final graceful and sometimes rolling contour were formed by ancient lakes and streams.
Those drumlins still ridged may be presumed to have been islands sitting in what geologists call Clyde Bay, just mentioned, whose waters receded as the land rose with the removal of glacial pressures. Terraces on these ridged drumlins, many still visible, indicate water levels (beaches) of the ancient bay.
In this heart of New York's drumlin area, the hills point north with a slight slant perhaps to the southeast, following the accepted pattern of glacial advancement. As one views drumlins between Port Byron and Syracuse, one may note a gradual swing to a northwest-southeast axis; or going west to the few drumlins in the Rochester-Geneseo area, a swing the other way, namely northeast-southwest.
While geologists agree these drumlins were formed by successive action of the glaciers, just how they were formed is a matter of somewhat opposing theories.
Perhaps the earliest accepted theory was that glacial ice, once a mile in depth here, compressed the earth into drumlin patterns as it crept over the land. Herein lay adhesive material in the form of clay, causing a build-up of alluvial deposits, molded by both lateral and forward stress and motion, compacting the earth into the graceful drumlin pattern.
Another later theory holds that the melting or receding glaciers unloosed catastrophic torrents of water-borne ice, which acted somewhat as giant plows to furrow alluvian soils into the repetitious drumlin contour. While there is much more involved in the theories that these brief explanations, one thing sure is that no matter how gaciers formed drumlins, the resulting scenic beauty is most enjoyable to young and old alike.
In the Clyde area, the "good earth" was used in another manner to contribute to the Americana tradition of this region. A glass works was put into operation as early at 1828 to supply window glass for the region opened up with the completion of the Erie Canal.
This glass works was to endure almost a hundred years, closing in 1915 as a result of mechanical competition from home and abroad. During the period of operation the works branches into fruit jars, flasks, and many beautiful decanters, novelties, etc., popular in a Victorian age that even created a market for glass canes.
The fine hand-craftmanship of its ware is eagerly sought by collectors, as it is doubtful there is a civilized area in the world that did not at one time or another import glassware made in Clyde.
Clyde, as does its eastern neighbor, Savannah, holds some secrets of ancient Indian occupation. An unexplored Indian Mound was found in the late 1800's, in the village on the south bank of the Clyde River. Indian Mounds are rare in this area, although there is an unexplored Seneca mound in Geneva; a large aboriginal hill of the "Mound Builders" in nearby Auburn; and a small mound containing a few skeletons was found along the Canandaigua Outlet at a point midway between Phelps and Newark.
No mound has been found in the Savannah region just six miles east of Clyde, although there are indications of many temporary Indian settlements. Just south of Savannah village lies a very large drumlin that several hundred years ago was the site of an Indian village and fortification; also the site of an ancient Jesuit Mission, abandoned in the late 1650's. Some explorations have been made on this site, yielding the usual artifacts.
This tall drumlin is believed to have been used by the Indians as a lookout (tower hill), as it overlooks a long flat area which was once part of the ancient bay already mentioned.
While on the subject of Indian occupation in Drumlin Square, the entire area seems to have been a camping and hunting region for the Indians, but not one of permanent occupation. The finding of relics indicate there were small villages along the streams, but the more heavily populated and permanent village areas were to the south in the areas of the Finger Lakes.
Folsom man, who was ancient before the Pyramids were built, left evidence of his travels through this region - and he may have lived here. In the northeast corner of the Square in the general area between Red Creek and Wolcott, a few Folsom flints have been found by area collectors - the finding of such artifacts is exceedingly rare in the northeastern United States.
Crossing the ancient bay east of Savannah, now mostly a fertile muckland and a National Wild Life (swamp) Refuge, a few miles east is the village of Port Byron. This region not only makes a proper scenic boundary corner of the Square, but has its roots in Americana, too.
An old Erie Canal lock can be seen from the Thruway; looking north, clusters of little hills bounce prettily as they jut out from the quiet landscape; and three state historical markers flag down the passing tourist in Port Byron, begging attention to the small town's niche in history.
One marker states that Brigham Young first lived here when he came to New York State from Vermont. Old histories do state that Brigham Young first lived in Cayuga County for a while, but Mormon sources seem unable to positively verify the exact place of his residence there.
Another marker tells us that Isaac Singer made the first working model of his sewing machine in his Port Byron workshop. Singer lived in over a dozen places after leaving his home in nearby Oswego, and his brief residence in Port Byron obviously stitched a few more threads into the shroud of history that covers Drumlin Square.
Finally, Henry Wells of Wells-Fargo Express and Wells College fame, also lived in Port Byron, and his modest frame home still stands in the western part of the village, identified by a state historical marker.
In the early 1800's, of course, the whole western New York region was a log cabin country. Rare indeed are the remains of these early pioneer homes anywhere. However, tucked away on a dirt road (Lawville Road), in a sparsely populated area between Wolcott and Red Creek, are the remains of a log cabin built about 1820, possibly earlier.
All that remains of this pioneer cabin are four or five hand-hewn logs on each of the four sides which were part of its ground structure. Several years ago, when apple drying evaporators were to be found on practically every farm in this upstate apple country, this cabin had been converted to a small dryhouse. That era passed about 30 years ago, and with it the framework of this dryer. The logs were more enduring, and in their present thickly-bushed setting are relics of an age when Americana was the present, not the past.
Going west through Wolcott toward Sodus, we come upon a botanical colony, at the little community of Resort, that was established more than 300 years ago.
Here in the shallower waters on each side of the Resort Bridge are what appear to be thousands of pond lilies, but which in reality are Yellow Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), very rare in New York State and protected by the State Conservation department.
The Yellow Lotus, as far as can be determined, was in Sodus Bay when the first white men reached this area. The Indians may have planted it there, as they used tubers and seeds for food.
If the Indians did plant this lotus, it may have been brought from southern New Jersey or from the large colonies that grow along the Illinois River, which places are probably the nearest source. Before the taking of the lotus was prohibited by law, it had been found most difficult to transplant by area botanists. It likes "quiet water" and its extremely long roots are apparently most selective of the soil in which it will remain and thrive.
In any event, its August bloom is enjoyed by botanists and tourists alike, and can be seen only in one other spot of New York State - in Lake Cayuga where it was planted in 1924.
Botanists, too, would be interested in an ancient glacial bog or pond at the base of Wayne County's highest hill (drumlin), Brantling Hill, about five miles south of Sodus.
Mud Pond, as it appears on the map, is a so-called bottomless pond, unique in that it contains many plants and flowers not native to this area, and many of them rare in themselves, brought in by the glacier.
Bog-trotting groups often visit this area, although it is no place for the in-experienced bog-trotter to tread carelessly. Legend has it that Indians, suspected of sorcery, were tossed into it. And there are many stories, probably true, of teams of oxen and horses sinking into its depths.
But there are safe areas surrounding the dangerous ones, and the experienced "trotter" finds this a fascinating place to seek out rare orchids and flora, much as another man would be attracted to a dangerous mountain which he had never before climbed.
Getting out of the bog, back to the Sodus Bay region, we once again run into the religious roots which seemed to grow all through the Square.
A mile west of the Yellow Lotus region is Shaker Tract Road, which runs north about three miles to what was once a 1300-care tract run by the communal society known by the abbreviated title of "Shakers".
A recent history states there are now less than 50 members of this group who subscribed to the communistic but definitely not atheistic form of religious society wherein its members contribute their works and possessions to the common good.
The Shakers came to the United States from England in 1774, a small band burning with evangelical zeal. They established their first colony near Albany, and in spite of or because of much persecution, expanded their colonies westward until they had extended themselves as far as Ohio.
Seeking a link between their western and eastern communals, in 1826 they began to set up a colony at Sodus Bay, where a formal covenant was established in 1829. It appears that between 200 and 300 people from the general Wayne County region were established in community living at the Shaker Tract, where some of their original buildings remain to this day.
Meanwhile, plans were afoot to build a canal from Sodus Bay to Clyde, to connect with the Erie Canal. The Shakers were offered an attractive profit to sell their lands to the canal organizers, and gradually moved out in the period between 1836 and 1838.
Although a mile or so of this proposed canal was dug northward from Clyde, the endeavor failed financially, but with no loss to the Shakers who had been remunerated for their holdings. The Shakers moved on to Groveland, New York, to establish another colony to receive those who wished to move from the Sodus Covenant, but the Clyde-Sodus Canal project remained stagnant and finally passed into history.
The Shaker Tract was again a religious mecca, however, when another communal religious group, the Fourierist, moved into the former Shaker colony and occupied the grounds and buildings in the 1844-1846 period.
Like the Shakers, Fourierists have their own strict rules regarding social and religious customs, and the Sodus Bay group, known as a phalanx, was one of forty such communals established in the United States.
Such noted Americans as Arthur Brisbane, Horace Greeley and Nathaniel Hawthorne, were interested in this type of intra-social society that lived and practiced a mutual share-the-wealth program, as did the Shakers, as well.
Both the Fourierists and the Shakers had their religious roots in the beliefs of the Quakers. But whereas the Shakers were a divergent group, the Fourierists were a refined society concentrating on certain accepted Quaker beliefs and putting them into practice within self-sustaining communities.
Only one Fourierist phalanx has survived to this generaton. This community is located in France and has been fed and prospered by a well-managed iron foundry plus an apparently profitable agricultural program. But the Sodus Bay communal failed in 1846, apparently unable to self-feed on the ideal harmonious state which is the basis of Fourierism as founded in the early 1800's.
And with the failure of this second major religious thrust into the Sodus Bay region, it appears that new religious surges in Drumlin Square finally leveled off - its occupants mostly content to find religious expression in whatever old or new sects that were already established, including Spiritualism and Mormonism.
About three miles north of the Shaker Tract, the village of Sodus Point muddies its toes in the waters along the foot of Sodus Bay and the south shores of Lake Ontario.
This bay area needs no history to attract fishermen, vacationers, and sightseers who view the islands and bluffs that accent the drumlin area in which the six mile long bay nestles.
But the area does have historical roots too. For example, an old cemetery on a drumlin bluff of the lake holds the grave of a soldier who traveled in the distinguished company of the country's first president. He was Colonel Peregrine Fitzhugh, aide-de-camp to General Washington in the Army of the Revolution.
Fitzhugh was a native of the Virginia and Maryland colonies, but came to upstate New York after the war. His residence is reputed to have been on a hill at Sodus Point which overlooks and commands a beautiful view of the bay, near where a country club is now located.
Fitzhugh did not come to the Sodus region until after General Washington's death in 1799. Thus the area cannot lay claim to Washington's having visited his war-time assistant, and no old home in the region dares claim that "Washington Slept Here".
Charles Point, on the east side of the bay, alternates as an extension or point of the mainland, and then as an island. A sand bar connects it at times, only to disappear again as a result of high waters. James Fennimore Cooper, who had relatives in the village of Sodus, spent a summer here when it was a "point", and it was here that he is reported to have written most of his famous book, "The Last of the Mohicans".
During the war of 1812 it was not uncommon for the residents to view British frigates plying up and down the lake. Sodus Point and the village of Pultneyville a few miles west, took turns in getting a remarkably similar niche in the history of that war.
The writer has an 1839 edition of Brackenridge's "History of the Late War" in which on Page 123 Brackenridge writes -
"About the same time (June, 1813) a devastating and plundering party of the British made an attack on the village of Sodus (Point), where some public stores were deposited. On their approach, these were concealed in the woods, until the militia could be assembled to defend them. The British, exasperated at their disappointment, set fire to all the valuable buildings in the town, destroyed the private property of individuals and were only induced to desist from the entire destruction of the place, on the stipulation of the inhabitants to deliver the public stores at the wharf. The militia soon after appearing, the British were compelled to decamp with the booty they had already collected. They made a second attempt a few days afterwards, but were prevented from landing by the appearance of the militia. This marauding expedition had no pretext of retaliation to cover it".
And up the shore about seven miles west, in the northwest corner of Drumlin Square, another like invasion was made a year later at Pultneyville. On page 202, Brackenridge's History dedicates another paragraph to the area -
"On the 15th (May, 1814) a force proceeded to Pultneyville and demanded the public stores. The inhabitants were unable to repel the invaders, and the British commodore (this refers to Commodore Sir James Yeo, who a year earlier had likewise invaded Sodus Point) landed a party of sailors and marines, who indulged themselves in their usual depredations; when General Swift of the New York militia, opportunely arriving with a part of his brigade, put them to flight. The enemy did not attempt to re-land, but along with the other vessel of the squadron, sailed for Sackett's Harbor".
For those who are little interested in the fact that the British twice invaded the Sodus Point-Pultneyville area, or lobbed some cannon balls from their fleets, the scenic drive along the shore area is still rewarding. In the shore area between these two villaages, though, the drumlins are not to be seen and were either washed away, or were never there in the first place. Some geologists claim they were there a few thousand years ago; others state they were never formed in this small area along the lake.
Coincidental of the "invasions" previously referred to, when the British fleets were observed standing off Sodus Point and Pultneyville, is that horsemen were sent to the various towns throughout the "Square" to round up the local militia. Unfortunately, history did not preserve the names of these upstate horsemen who also rode through the countryside to warn the populace that the "British are Coming".
Old-timers in Palmyra recall their grandparents' stories of the Pultneyville invasion and the arrival of the horseman with the news of the impending invasion. One story recalled is that of a 14-year old boy who begged to ride along with his father and the other militia to the expected battle. Refused because of his age, he decided to follow them anyhow.
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Copyright © 1962 - 2011 Francis Smith
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