Thursday, April 25, 2013

Street Wise in Fredonia

(The history of Fredonia’s earliest streets, which were named after pioneers such as Barker, Risley, Cushing, Berry, Seymour, Hart, Davis, Forbes, Newton, Glisan, Gillis, Norton, Dunn, Howard, and Leverett)


By Douglas Shepard / Barker Museum Newsletter (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2005)


In the 14 May 1959 issue of The Fredonia Censor, Miss Elizabeth Crocker discussed the naming of Mechanic Street and touched on the later controversy over its renaming, as well as that of Center Street. (The column was reprinted in Vol. I of her pamphlet series, also titled Yesterdays, on pp. 5-6. There were minor typographical changes in the later version as well as two spelling changes. Her original “impliments” was corrected to “implements,” and “latter” was changed, in error, to “later.” This suggests that anyone consulting one of her columns would want to check both versions. In this case, the substance of the original stayed the same.)


Although she does touch on others in some of her columns, this was the only one devoted to one particular street, although there are many interesting aspects to the stories of other early streets in the Village.


For the 21 years before the Village was incorporated, the location surveying and upkeep of all roads, paths, lanes and alleys were done by the Town of Pomfret. Unfortunately, in the Town records only the official designation was used and that was always a brief description of where a road started, or ended, or what it passed by, not its name as it was commonly used at the time.


A good example is the survey done by Samuel Berry on 16 April 1822 of a road across or through private property: “Survey of a private Road from the village of Fredonia on the East side of the Creek down the same to a little below the House of Hezekiah Turner on the west side of the creek. This Road…[runs] to the Eastwardly end of the Bridge that crosseth the Creek near Mr. H. Turners thence…to the public Road on the Westwardly side of the Creek.” The road’s measurements begin “25 links North East of the North East corner of Capt. C. Burritt’s village lot.”


That northeast corner was the intersection of the center line of Main Street with the new street being laid out. The “Bridge that crosseth the Creek” near Mr. Turner’s is what we now call the Risley Street bridge. The “public Road on the Westwardly side of the Creek: is today’s Chestnut Street. The survey itself was of the Mechanic Street Miss Crocker wrote about: today’s Forest Place.


It is impossible to imagine that anyone intending to walk or ride along such a road used the cumbersome surveyor’s formula of “the road that runs from….” Surely the locals had some kind of shorthand, such as the Turner Road for Chestnut Street and, perhaps, Burritt’s Road or the Mechanic Road.


There are some small bits of evidence to that effect. In an advertisement of 2 July 1827, J. Crane, Esq. of Fredonia and S. Russell, Esq. of Buffalo offered for sale a two-story house “corner of Cushing and Main Streets.” That is, East Main Street.. and Eagle Street  (where Zattu Cushing lived). Obviously, then, the surveyor might call it “the road from Buffalo to Erie,” but the locals just said “the Main Street.” We can imagine this was true of most if not all of the other streets in the Village which finally were given their official names once the Village was incorporated, and that was on 18 September 1830.


There were eight streets all within the new Village’s limits, which were very different from today’s. The Village bounds were roughly rectangular, with the east end about at Newton Street, the west end near Chestnut Street, with Main Street center line. The long sides of the “rectangle: were each 80 rods or 20 chains (for the mathematically challenged, 1320 feet) from the Main Street center line. That means the Village’s northern limit on Temple Street, was just past Terrace Street, the southern limit on Water Street just past the Liberty Street intersection.


Within those confined bounds, the eight streets were: Main, Hamlet, Mechanic, Temple, Eagle, Water, Factory and Lake.


We have seen that “Main” had been in use for some years. “Hamlet” referred to the Cascade Hamlet on West Main Street. The road had been roughly cut through by Joseph Skinner to give easy access for “the citizens of Bull’s Mills [Laona] to get to the mechanics of the great center, the Hamlet.” Therefore it would seem it made sense for the street to be named according to the location it was designed to reach. However, the Cascade Hamlet was, by September 1830, abandoned. It is more likely that the road had been called “the Hamlet Road” for so long, the name was maintained simply because of its familiarity.


“Mechanic,” the name given to the street we call Forest Place, had been its nickname, according to an account of its early history by Franklin Burritt in the Fredonia Censor of 12 April 1899. In fact it is parts of Burritt’s account that Miss Crocker repeated in her 1959 column on the subject. Burritt explained that the Trustees decided to make the nickname official, first, because there was a large foundry and an accompanying blacksmith shop, both of which employed many “artisans and craftsmen,” that is, mechanics. The second reason was that “two thirds of the denizens of the street were mechanics.” He then listed a sampling of the names: Harts, A. Barnaby, T.G. Abell, Wm. Tappan, Cyrus Grannis, P. Crosby, W. Stevens and Jesse [i.e Joseph] Starr.


When Miss Crocker repeated Burritt’s account she reversed the order, giving the impression that the primary reason for the street’s name was the people who lived there in 1830. Probably her strong interest in local individuals and their family histories caused her to see it that way, but Burritt’s sequence was the right one. For one thing, some of the mechanics he lists as living on the street were not there in 1830, when the name was agreed on. For example, Barnaby had died in 1829, Sennett didn’t join the foundry operation until late in 1831, and Starr only arrived in Fredonia in 1840, so the workers at the foundry must be given the credit for making the Mechanic Street nickname official.


The next name to be considered is “Temple.” This could have referred to a family of that name living on the road at the time, or to a religious building. There is only a single record of such a personal name, a “Mr. Temple” who was paid $50 for supplying a yoke of oxen in the building of the Academy in October 1821. However, it’s clear “Temple” meant “church,” although it not clear why the latter name wasn’t chosen. There is good evidence that, after the Baptist Church building was erected in 1823, the nickname, as Burritt called it, was, in fact, “Chapel Street.” An advertisement of May 1841 for D.D. Franklin’s Cabinet and Chair Shop: -- the ad was still running in December 1843 – describes the shop as on Chapel Street. It seems odd that the most grandiose of the three possibilities was chosen, but at least it is clear what the street name referred to.


The reason for the next name is not so clear. What had been the Cushing Road for a long time  -- It was referred to that way as late as the 24 September 1828 issue if the Censor -- suddenly became Eagle “Street.”


One reason for not continuing with “Cushing” is that most of Fredonia’s pioneers, such as Hezekiah Barker, Zattu Cushing and Elijah Risley, were still alive. There were not enough streets to honor all, so the decision was probably made to avoid trouble by honoring none – for the time being. But why “Eagle”? Did it refer, patriotically, to the American Eagle? If patriotism was the motivation, Washington, Liberty, Union or Columbus seem to be more obvious choices. Perhaps someone saw – or shot – a particularly fine eagle in the vicinity. We may never know, but it has been Eagle Street ever since 1830.


The next one, “Water Street,” is straightforward. This was a little stub of a street giving easy access to one bank of Canadaway Creek (The Water Street bridge was not built until 1833.) As a convenient watering place for horses and oxen, it probably was called Water Street from the beginning.


Near Water Street was the next one, today’s Norton Place, then called “Factory Street.” This was a very early access road, leading from the Cushing Road (Eagle Street) to a mill on the bank of Canadaway Creek. It was probably not named Mill Street because, in 1830, the mill was on West Main Street at the bridge. (In fact, although “Factory Street” was still its official name according to the Village Trustees’ Minutes of 18 June 1849, by the time the 1851 map of Fredonia appeared, it had indeed become Mill Street, which it remained until 1919.) The only real oddity about Factory Street has to do with the language, not the street. “Factory” is a short form of “Manufactory,” a word formed from Latin meaning hand-made. Why that was used for a building containing machinery is probably to be explained only by those who understand the difference between flammable and inflammable, or ravel and unravel.


We have now arrived at the last of our 1830 Village streets, Lake Street. That referred to the few feet of today’s Central Avenue then lying within the Village bounds. Technically the name should have gone to either Chestnut Street (but in 1830 outside the Village limits) or Temple Street, since those had always been main roads to Lake Erie. What we call Central Avenue had been surveyed in 1808 from Dunkirk Harbor, at the time known as Strong’s Bay, but it was not used as a through road until the 1850s because parts of it were virtually impassable. Apparently without any formal action, it was being called Dunkirk Street by 1849 and by 1863. When Dunkirk was agitating to name its street “Central Avenue,” the Censor editorialized that Fredonia should do the same. There is no record of when the change was made official, but the Censor used “Central Avenue,” in an article of 14 October 1865 as though it were now the correct name. The Trustees must have agreed because a Village survey of 28 May 1866 of Newton Street, and all later references, from that time to this, as the old tales say, call it Central Avenue as well.


Of course, that is not the end of the story. The Village bounds were increased twice more, and streets were altered, added and had their names changed, sometimes in odd wondrous ways. Spinning off of Miss Crocker’s article entitled “Mechanic St. Named by the Trustees” originally published in the Censor and republished in her Yesterdays, our own historical research has concluded those eight streets were existent in Fredonia in 1830, but many more were soon on the way.


We should understand that these eight streets were not created by the Village but, in a sense, inherited. Until the Village was incorporated, all the thoroughfares were Town of Pomfret roads, and each one was designed to lead from one fixed point to another. The act of incorporation defined the outline of the new Village and the parts of the roads within those new boundaries became our streets. It was not until two years later that the first street created just for the Village appeared. Canadaway Street, laid out on November 15, 1832.


The most significant fact about the first street to be created by the Village was that it led nowhere; there was as yet no Water Street bridge. Isaac Saxton and Alanson Buckingham had petitioned the Trustees to lay out the street through their property, solely so that they could sell off building lots to prospective home owners. A notable “first” in the history of the Village, but a practice that was to become the norm.


Three years later on May 18, 1835 the next street was recorded as Barker Street. Since Hezekiah Barker had died on July 5, 1834, it would seem this was the first opportunity to honor one of Fredonia’s pioneers who was safely departed, unless it was named for Leverett Barker?


It is worth pointing out here that there is almost no record of the deliberations that must have gone into choosing each street’s name. Except for an extended article such as the one by Burritt or chance remarks in other sources, we have no way of being sure what the namers had in mind. We are forced to guess as with Barker Street. On the same date as Barker Street, two others were also added to the list, Nassau and Green. Green for a local family? For local trees? Unfortunately, we don’t know.


For Nassau Street we are told the source. In the April 12, 1899 article in the Censor in which Franklin Burritt objected to changing Mechanic Street to Forest Place, he mentioned in passing, that Nassau Street “had been suggested by the Risleys in honor of a great historical personage and a street in New York City.” Nassau Street in lower Manhattan was named in honor of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange (1567-1625) who first freed the Netherlands from Spanish rule. However that does not explain why either a short New York City street or a Dutch prince was something a short Fredonia street should honor. Our Nassau Street only ran as far as Barker Street. For that matter, why the English chose to change Pye-Woman Lane, its name at least until 1696, to honor a Dutch prince is equally mysterious. Nevertheless, they did and the Risleys did. Where Nassau Street was to run had been an alleyway from Main Street giving access to the rear of a large, wooden hotel – in 1835 it was Abell’s hotel – where the trash bins, outhouses and horse stables were located. No wonder when Nassau Street was opened, the local wags referred to it as Nasty Street. Unfortunately, there were other unpleasant aspects to the street yet to come, but that we will get to soon enough.


In May 1837, the Village of Fredonia enlarged its bounds. The new configuration was a square 1 ½ mile on each side with its center at the west side of Barker Common. That meant the eastern bounds along Main Street moved from today’s Newton Street out to Clinton Street and the north bounds from Terrace Street to today’s Cottage Street. What that meant was more roads within the Village jurisdiction. So by March 1839, the Board of Trustees were ready to name the roads and paths it had recently acquired: Ridge (later Seymour), Chautauque, Chesnut (it was frequently spelled that way), Garden (the street from Mechanic to Temple, i.e., Risley), and Berry (where Samuel Berry’s home stood).


In 1846 Ridge Street changed to Seymour and in 1847 the Nassau Street troubles began. The three Risley brothers had built their packet seed business into the largest enterprise in Fredonia at the time. To put things into perspective, in 1847 when each field worker in the Risley concern earned $6.00 a month, property taxes ranged from $1.00 to $4.00 and up to $10.00 for those with homes and businesses. Charles Burritt the druggist, Franklin’s father, paid a respectable $11.87 that year, and Henry Frisbee, owner of the Censor $11.87. The Risleys paid a total if $71.01! Their closest competitor was Leverett Barker for whose brick home (the Barker Historical Museum) and tannery he paid $53.57. Clearly, the Risleys were very important. Another sign of their standing in the community was having the architect John Jones design and build their three Greek Revival mansions at the northern edge of their seed gardens.


The three were spaced out along Garden (now Risley Street); Elijah, Jr.’s near the Creek, William’s in the middle and Levi’s near Temple Street. It was William Risley who took the next step. On April 7, 1847, he presented an “Application” to the Village Trustees proposing that Nassau Street be “extended across Barker Street to Garden Street.” A two-man committee was appointed to go with a surveyor to look into the matter. The committee consisted of Suel H. Dickinson and Thomas Warren. Warren had married a Risley sister, Philena, in 1810 and, in the 1840s, with a small seed company of his own, had used the Risley Seed Co. wagons to distribute his seeds country-wide. We could not call him entirely disinterested, so it is not surprising that the committee returned at 7 PM that same day with a report in favor of extending Nassau Street according to a survey already completed.


The survey itself is a very peculiar document. The center line of the proposed street began at Main Street and ran northwest 1,160 feet to today’s Terrace Street. There it stopped abruptly, made a right angle turn some 60 feet, left 97 feet, left again 60 feet, and then northwest on its original course some 1,115 feet to Garden Street. The odd jog was to avoid running Nassau Street extension through a building that happened to be standing in the way, a building owned by the other local power, General Leverett Barker. So the evening meeting concluded with instructions to the Clerk to “draw [up] a notice & serve [it] on L. Barker tomorrow that the street is laid according to the same [survey].”


In May 1847 Barker took his case to the Court of Common Pleas, claiming that the Nassau Street extension crossed his land, which had been improved and cultivated. The court decided in favor for Barker and declared the Trustees’ action reversed and annulled. (At the same time, Barker had his own street, Terrace Street surveyed, although it was not officially opened until August 1851.)


The Trustees – Thomas Warren was the one to make the motion – agreed that no work was to be done on the stretch of road between “Garden Street & the South line of Gen. Barker’s Land” and that nothing was to be paid to William Risley for work on that section. Risley, for his part, appealed the decision, lost his appeal and then requested and was granted permission by the Board “to bring a Writ of Certiorari in the name of the Corporation” provided he execute a bond of $500 “to save and keep harmless the said President [Mayor] & Trustees & their successors in office from all costs and expenses in the prosecution and determination of said suit.” The Writ of Certiorari was to ask a superior court to review the lower court’s decision. The Trustees had said “you’re on your own” and Risley had answered “I haven’t given up yet.”


There is no further record in the Trustees’ Minutes of the outcome of all this, except that Nassau Street did go through. Perhaps the issue became moot when Gen. Barker died on May 11, 1848. The next mention of the street, on April 5, 1851, is that its name was to be changed to Center Street.


That too raised a fuss, according to Franklin Burritt.


I remember distinctly the clamor that was raised over the changing of the name….It was a question for some time whether the name, Center, should stick or that of Nassau be restored….The questions were pertinently asked. Why Center Street? Center of what?


Of course, the answer, as Burritt knew perfectly well, was the center of William Risley’s Greek revival mansion standing midway between those of his two brothers. No longer would one have to go down Mechanic or Temple streets and then in on Garden. There was now a single, grand avenue going directly from Main Street to the heart of the Risley enclave.


There is another set of Village streets that came about through a lawsuit. Hezekiah Barker’s son Charles died intestate on July 7, 1840. The estate was probate, but a dispute between some of the heirs caused the whole matter to end up in the courts. Ultimately, William Barker brought suit against his brother, Samuel Barker, “and others.” The outcome was that three Commissioners in Partition were appointed to settle the matter. They determined that Charles Barker’s property, a large rectangular parcel on the east side of Central Avenue with a kind of blunt arrow shape at the south end, should be surveyed into building lots and the lots auctioned off with the proceeds divided among the heirs. The formal survey was dated October 18, 1852. It had taken twelve years to settle the matter.


The lots along Central Avenue were immediately accessible, but to reach into the rest of the land required laying out some new streets. Therefore, Day Street was to run from today’s Church Street northwest to Dunkirk Street (Central Ave.), while Free Street (Lambert Avenue) was laid from Temple northeast to a corner, then north parallel to Central Avenue. Those two streets gave access to the lots on the south and east. To do the same for interior lots, another street was laid across the middle of the land dividing it roughly into two halves, It was called Division Street, today’s Curtis Place.


Day, Division and Free were officially admitted as public streets in November 1852. The fact that Day Street began at Church Street calls for some explanation. The 1851 map of Fredonia shows Barker Common with Day Street running from East Main Street to Church, and Church Street from Day almost to Center Street. However both are outlined with dotted lines meaning they were proposed streets, not yet officially accepted by the Village, because the Village did not own the land. On April 18, 1825 Hezekiah Barker had finally deeded the Common he had long promised to the Town of Pomfret. In November 1852, it still belonged to the Town, which meant that Village residents, when walking along the paths they called Day Street and Church Street, were legally walking on the edges of the Town Common. For the same reason the Village’s Day Street as laid out in 1852 could only begin at the edge of the Common and run down to Central Avenue.


It was not until some twenty years later that a transfer was made. On May 6, 1878 M.M. Fenner Supervisor of the Town of Pomfret appeared before the Board and stated that he did not feel authorized to expend the sum usually ordered by the Board of Trustees for Care and Keeping of the Parks [the two halves of the Common]. He therefore offered in behalf of the Town of Pomfret to place the custody of the Parks in the hands of the Board of Trustees – until the Voters of said Town at the next annual meeting shall have an opportunity to take action. The offer was accepted, and on March 17, 1879. The following communication was ordered on file and the proposition accepted.


Fredonia N.Y. March 17, 1879

To the President and Board of Trustees of the Village of Fredonia.




The following is a correct copy of a resolution adopted by the electors of the Town of Pomfret at noon of Tuesday February 18, 1879 in town Meeting assembled.


Resolved – That the Public Parks belonging to the Town of Pomfret but located in the Village of Fredonia be placed in the custody of the President and Board of Trustees of said village.

I have the honor as present custodian of the public property of the town, to tender you the custody of the public parks, in accordance with this Resolution.


Respectfully yours

Milton M. Fenner


That is when Fredonia’s Day Street was finally allowed to begin at Main Street.


Church Street had a similar history that adds to our understanding of how Fredonia’s streets developed. Its presence on the 1851 map makes clear that there was de facto, a street named “Church” long before it became official. The first Baptist meeting house on the corner of Temple and Church streets was dedicated on December 4, 1823. Earlier that year the Presbyterians had purchased the second floor of the Academy building on the opposite corner of Temple Street. There can be no doubt where the “Church” street name came from. The name for Free Street appears first  in the survey of Charles Barker’s estate in 1852 and must be related to the furious debates then raging over the Fugitive Slave Act and all the other free vs. slave states issues. The same is probably true for Liberty and Union streets, which appear, like Church and Day, within dotted lines, as proposed streets on the 1851 map.


It seems odd that in a self-consciously patriotic place as Fredonia there are so few “patriotic” street names other than Washington Avenue (1891). There was a Ludivici Street established in February 1904. Some speculate that this was the early Link Street, given the name Link in 1914, and others might have proof of a different story. Also, there was Pulaski Street in 1947. Both apparently honoring foreigners of note, but otherwise no Adams, Jefferson, Franklin or even Lincoln.


By far the most frequently used source has been personal names, either to honor those who were gone or commemorate the owners through whose lands the streets were laid. We have already noted Berry, Seymour, Hart (for a while, then Davis, then Hart again) Barker, Leverett, Day and Lambert. To these we could add Risley, Newton, Forbes, Glisan (the original name of the Newton Street leg at East Main Street), Gillis, Clinton (originally Ball Street), Cushing, Norton, Dunn, Howard, and many more.


There is one other class of streets we should touch on before we close. That is Fredonia streets of record that never existed. The compilers of certain kinds of reference books, for example biographical directories such as Who’s Who or city directories, work very hard gathering and verifying the accuracy of their listings. An unscrupulous competitor could easily copy the whole thing – claiming to have done the research himself – or abstract a group such as Doctors and Dentists of Western New York to make a separate publication and an easy profit. To fight this kind of piracy, compilers build in fake biographies and, more important for us, fake streets.


Fredonia residents in 1972 were probably quite surprised to find their Village streets included Dresden Avenue, which ran from Nellie Lane south to Pasture Street. Or that Griffin Way reached from La Bonte Avenue to McCormick Lane, and Pepper Road went from Nellie Lane, at least according to Manning’s Dunkirk and Fredonia Directory. By the time of the 1979 Directory, Nellie ran from Dresden to Hill Road, while Hill Road didn’t seem to run anywhere. Griffin Way survived into 1980 as did Nellie, Pepper and Emily. In addition, Sand Hill Drive was added, running from “Gansett easterly” although, according to this listing, Gansett didn’t run anywhere either.


There are a multitude of ways we can look at our Village streets, past, present and non-existent, but as we have seen, the one consistent theme that links them all is that each has a story to tell.


Orpha Turner

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2013


            Buried in the “Family Histories” files of the Barker Historical Museum is a typewritten copy of an original handwritten autobiographical sketch. It is unsigned, but the exuberant piece by a young woman just turned 21 on 9 February 1854 has a note on it: “Found in Family History file under Taylor,” which is not a lot of help since the young woman’s name was Turner, not Taylor. Orpha Turner. Once that identification was made, it was obvious that this is the young woman referred to by Elizabeth Cowden Rink in her article entitled, “The Turners in Chautauqua County” from The Chautauqua Genealogist Vol.15, No.2 (May 1992). In fact the early portion of the article summarizes much of what Orpha had originally written for her 21st birthday. Orpha’s sketch is so charming and so filled with local details that it should be available for anyone interested in our Pomfret predecessors.


            [Some few typographical errors have been silently corrected.]


            Feb.9th. Heigho! My 21st birthday!1 Yes another year has gone to that bourne from whence no lost moments can return, yes and 20 have proceeded this since I first began an existence and how have they profited me? Much of it I remember with remorse as having been misspent alas too much, but how can we better make amend for lost time than by improving to the best of our ability what remains with — How well I remember 17 years ago today — We had just got comfortably settled in our Spring Creek2 home which was a little log house with only one room surrounded by stately pines and hemlock so near that we feared their falling on the house in times of heavy wind. And one mile and a half to our nearest neighbor, on one side and two on the other and all the way through a dense forest. There all the childhood associations that I can remember were formed or most of them. I remember of being sent to John Evers to attend school when quite young and Oh I remember how sadly those few weeks past, my home was humble but I loved it and many were the tears I shed at that short separation. After that I went to school from home always attended by little George who led me by the hand so tenderly that my heart still yearns toward those days and I had one friend3 in those days that I still remember with much love, with her how oft have I wandered through the dark forest and beside the well remembered Spring Creek, she was a participator in all my childish joys and sorrows and I in hers. But we are separated now, she is doomed to new cares and interests as Mrs. Mary Donaldson  In the year 1842, March 30th, father and mother took me to George White’s, a cousin of mothers that lived in Lodi, now Gowanda, to go to school. He was wealthy kept public house and 15 months was spent there much to my advantage. There again I had two warm hearted little friends, Mary Locks and Hepsabah Tucker and I remember many of the hours spent there with pleasure. I first attended a female school taught by Mrs. Fisk and Mrs. Bradish from there I went to a select school by Mrs. House next Mr. Bacon. I then returned home and staid I think a year during which I went from home one term to Albert Eldred. Father had a pair of steers that he wanted broke and the boys liked the fun so Augustus use to drive us to school with them. I enjoyed that winter well. The next year H.4 and I went to Ringsville, Ashtabula Co. O. She to work at her trade and I to attend school and I remember my stay there as the happiest part of my school girl days. The school was a very flourishing one, Mr. Graves, Mr. Marks and Mr. Spencer were the teachers. There too I had many warm friends among whom were Cornelia Williams, Lucy Pratt, Angeline Ring and Harriet Davis. While there I had the reputation of writing excellent compositions more on account of the fun they contained than anything else. Oh that I could redeem the precious moments that were spent there in inventing mischief. But Oh those were happy moments such as did my very soul good and I guess more than I remember them. I also spent 15 months in K. George was with me there and I can see but few dark spots in that time I think none excepting two fits of sickness of a few weeks duration also Hannah being ill a short time. Oh yes I can not forget the pains we felt on receiving a letter from home bearing the sad news of Geo. being very ill with the small pox or varzoloid.5 Poor mother she endured a great deal there in the woods alone! After our return from K. I went to a school of 18 or 20 scholars in the same old school house where I had so often received instruction. It seemed strange that the scholars who had been to school with me so long should stand at all in fear of me, still a little girl with short dresses, high apron and hair curled in my neck; but I only went in for a short time as they had three months school already and I succeeded tolerably well. The ensuing summer I taught near Columbus in what was called the Win district, 15 scholars and 1 dollar per week, boarded around and had some times long to be remembered especially while I boarded at Minnegars. They had six cats and about twice as many dogs. Cooked by a fire place and the dogs and cats invariably regaled themselves from the same dish before the family. The geese always came into my room and awoke me in the morning and oh much more that I have not room to write here. Had the measles which laid me aside for four weeks and I heartily wished it could have been as much longer or at least long enough to keep me from going into that school again and I cared not how sick; but this was not to be and I was doomed to drag out three months which passed as drearily as any that I remember. The next winter Mr. McGlachan made a kind offer to take me home with him and attend school three months free gratis but the winter was far enough from being one of enjoyment. The ensuing summer I commenced a school in Concord and taught about six weeks when our folks moved to this place and I could not make up my mind to stay after they left. I well remember our moving, it was some time near the first of July, 1848. Father and I started about sundown (and that was the last look I gave to my old home till last winter) with a load, I walked most of the way to Samples and the roads being so rough our progress was slow, it was dark and muddy and I had to walk nimbly to keep up with the wagon and was all besmeared with mud by the time we reached Columbus. We spent the night there and proceeded on our journey the next day, arrived at Westfield about dark and spent the night. Arrived at this place the next day and I must say I was somewhat disappointed, the house6 a little old white washed thing with only two rooms but we have since built a comfortable house and we know how to appreciate it the better. The next fall after I came here I attended school at Fredonia7 half a term, walked from home and I think I went another half term in the winter, the next summer I taught one mile east of Fredonia, 14 shillings per week, 30 scholars and good satisfaction. The ensuing winter half a term at the academy again which was the last of my school days, S. and I had a room and boarded ourselves and enjoyed it first rate only one remarkable thing transpired during the time and I can not suppress a smile as I think of the manner that I performed. Oren8 was living in Fredonia and he being gone, Martha9 wished S.10 and I to stay with her, we had sat up that night very late attending to our studies that night and had only been in bed a short time when we heard a great noise but it being the usual time for serenaders it did not create sufficient alarm to thoroughly awaken us although we were partly conscious; but soon we saw the flames bursting furiously from the adjoining building11 and with no thought save our own safety we leaped from our own beds I only putting on nothing save my stockings and a skirt keeping on my night clothes the while and I do not know how I came by it but an old shawl about my shoulders we ran down stairs and up street rail road speed. The ground was frozen like a rock, my stockings rolled down around my ankles and nothing but a night cap on my head and my hair braided up (so as to wave the next day) in to little horns each side of my face, I do not wonder that Olive Hamilton12 thought me crazy. Mart saved mostly all her furniture and oh how comical she looked with the old leghorn bonnet stuck on two hairs holding Samalia on one side and I on the other as firmly as though we were her prisoners ploughing her way through the crowd and I might say through the fire for she made me go so near that I burnt me. The Woleben block and three or four dwelling houses and a nice cabinet, and I think carriage shop was burned. Shall I ever forget that night! S. and I went to school no longer. The next summer we taught in Laona, 14 shillings per week, between 30 and 60 scholars for me and nearly the same in her school, bad success, hard scholars and discouragement. Taught three months and here Sept 1, 1850, my first journal was commenced.


            This is a brief outline of my education and teaching from my fourth birthday which is as vivid to my mind as most that have succeeded it. Oh how my little heart leaped for joy that morning as I stood in that “old armed chair” splint bottomed and ancient, singing to the top of my voice, “I’m four years old today!” But alas my joy as it has so often been since was changed by a trifling circumstance. Our folks were eating breakfast and I asked for a piece of bread and butter, because I was waiting, father handed me a piece of bread but instead of butter, covered it with potato peelings, my dignity was insulted and I could only find relief in a hearty bawling spell.


            Oh what a delightful eve this is, light fleecy clouds with now and then a bright jewel sparkling upon its bosom and the crescent moon riding in grandeur on the blue expanse and shedding its solemn silvery radiance on this earth makes the evening one of surpassing loveliness, and what makes it the more pleasant to me, my dear brother G.13 and friend S. are with me. Take it all together, this has been what kind of birthday! Ah some as happy moments as I ever experienced I have seen today, and some have been dark and gloomy



1.      Orpha Turner was born on 9 February 1834.

2.      9 February 1837. There was an early Evers family in Spring Creek.

3.      This was probably Mary Amanda Deming, born 3 December 1831. She married Daniel Donaldson of Spring Creek village.

4.      Probably her older sister Hannah.

5.      Varioloid, a milder form of smallpox.

6.      M. Turner’s house is shown on the 1854 map of Chautauqua County on the south side of today’s Webster Street between Seymour Street and Chautauqua Road.

7.      Orpha Elizabeth Turner was at the Fredonia Academy for three terms in 1848-1850 beginning when she was 16.

8.      Oren may be her brother Orren.

9.      Martha/Mart: unidentified.

10.  “S.” is apparently Samaria (misspelled Samalia) Bartholomew who attended the Academy with Orpha in 1848-50. The Bartholomew and Turner families lived next door to each other on Webster Street.

11.  An arsonist set a building afire just west of the Main Street bridge on the north side of the street on the night of 27 February 1850. The fire spread, destroying five buildings there. At the same time the old Woleben Block (45-53 West Main Street) was set on fire and completely destroyed. Orpha Turner’s account reads as though she and Samaria were rooming next to the Woleben Block, either in the small house just behind it on today’s Forest Place or in the house next east of the Woleben Block owned by Joshua Turner.

12.  Olive A. Hamilton, who attended the Academy for four terms in 1849-1852.

     13.  “G.” is probably her brother George.

Early School Houses of Fredonia, 1807-1907

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2013


            The earliest “school house” in Fredonia was probably the log cabin home of the Oliver Woodcock family. Mrs. Sophia Harris, daughter of Richard and Sophia Williams, wrote in The Fredonia Censor of 25 June 1873 an account of her family’s arrival here. They were accompanied by the Oliver Woodcock family and the James Morgan family. The Williams family, with their six children, left Sangerfield NY on 1 June 1807. The Woodcocks and Morgans had gone on ahead by a few days. The Williams family settled in a small cabin about two miles downstream from the spot where Richard Williams and Hezekiah Barker would build a saw mill and a grist mill.

            Mrs.  Harris’ cousin, Mrs. Ursula (Woodcock) Ashley had written her own account in the issue of 18 June 1873. She too described how the group left Sangerfield, where her father Oliver Woodcock had traded his cart and oxen for 700 acres that an unnamed man had in Pomfret. That would be two of the Holland Land Company’s lots which were about 360 acres each. Their home here “was built of logs; one door of plank, hewed out with a broad-axe; no window, low roof; stone fire-place, hemlock bark roof, and the floor of hemlock bark — the whole only 18 feet square. It was chinked on the outside with clay, and the family of eight considered themselves quite snug that winter.” 

            The neighbors requested Mrs.Woodcock to teach the children that winter, and she did so, according to these accounts. It was the first school in Pomfret, and had 16 children. Mrs. Harris dated the groups’ arrival here as 1807. Although Mrs. Ashley gave the date as 1806, that seems unlikely since we have a detailed account of what “Canadaway” looked like then. Elisha Fay wrote in the Censor of 19 July 1871 that he “came in June, 1806. . . . At that time there was no house where Fredonia is, and the nearest one east was owned by Mr. Mann, since known as the Jeremiah Baldwin farm [about at 430 East Main Street]. The owner of the land where your village is situated was Thomas McClintock, who kept a public house a little south of there. Coming on west, [that is, on the old Erie Road along Webster Street]  I saw Philo Orton with his axe and provisions, going to cut logs to build a house on what is called the Crocker farm [about 509 West Main Street]. The first house west of Mr. McClintock’s was Captain James Dunn’s, a little west of what is now the center of Portland.” 

            The earliest built school house in Fredonia was made of logs and built in 1807 at the side of a trail running through the grove of trees on what we now call Barker Common. That may sound simply picturesque, but it has real significance for the history of the Village. In 1807 it is not a village; it is Hezekiah Barker’s 360-acre lot that he has “articled,” contracted to buy from the Holland Land Company, and it is almost entirely covered with trees. There are no streets and no buildings except for the small log cabin the Barkers live in, situated in a clearing on the flats east of today’s Water Street.

            The cabin was built by the previous occupant, Thomas McClintock, where the ancient trail from Buffalo to Erie crossed Canadaway Creek at a shallow ford. The first settlers found two other old trails snaking down from the shore of Lake Erie through the forest, paralleling the contours of the Creek on the high ground west of it (Chestnut and Seymour streets) and east (Temple, Main, Eagle streets).

            Why, then, was the first school house not built near the crossroads where Barker’s cabin was situated? For several reasons. This was Barker’s farm and the land was valuable. His contract with the Holland Land Company stipulated that the occupant had to “improve” what he was intending to own by clearing it and raising crops on it.

            The grove where the school house was located, on the other hand, was not valuable. For a ceremony naming the Common in his honor, his great-granddaughter, Mrs. Flora Clothier, wrote an account of its history, which was printed in the Censor of 5 June 1931. In it she wrote, “One would not belittle the generosity of an ancestor, but one must recall a certain family tradition that when Hezekiah spoke of dividing his lands among his children, several of them were known to inform him that they would under no circumstances accept that ‘pesky black walnut grove’.” [The black walnut tree roots give off a toxic substance that is harmful to many plants.]

            To this she added another element in choosing the location. “The real reason for the donation [of the Common], however, must be sought in the New England origin of these people. To them a village had only one pattern and that pattern consisted of a central green about which to group the churches, the school, the town hall.” The “central green” that Hezekiah Barker had in mind was the black walnut grove at the center of his farm, and there he placed the school.

The school house itself was probably what Phin M. Miller described as typical in his County Schools and Education: 1807-1902. The building was made of logs, was 16 to 18 feet wide by 22 to 24 feet long, with the side walls 8 feet high. “At one end was built a stone or stick chimney, with a stone fire-place and projecting hearth-stone.” There were five windows, two on each side and one opposite the fire-place. Each had four lights, 7 x 9 inches. Desks were long planks on supports along three walls, and seats were made the same way.

Levi Risley wrote in a letter in the 22 March 1871 issue of the Censor, “I commenced my education by attending school with my older sister one half day at the old log school house, standing then on the common near where Temple street [in 1871] divides it, and about between the fountains [installed in the 1850s] which school was presided over by Miss Nabby Brigham, now my beloved and bereaved sister, [Mrs. Gen. Risley — Ed.].” Levi Risley’s older brother William attended that school and, in the Censor of 5 December 1877, repeated that “it was taught by Miss Brigham, afterwards the wife and now the widow of the late Gen. Elijah Risley.” That was in the summer of 1807 since he goes on to say, “The first winter school was taught by Samuel Perry [i.e. Berry].”

In 1808 a number of significant events occurred. The Erie Road was rerouted to where today’s Main Street runs, across Hezekiah Barker’s farm, past his common, and between the saw mill and grist mill by Canadaway Creek. Although a bridge was not put across the creek until 1809, in anticipation of the change, Barker built a log inn by the Erie Road facing the common, and Richard Williams did the same at today’s 189 West Main Street, the beginning of the competition between the east and west sides as to where the center of the community would be.

It was also in 1808 that Barker hired Israel Lewis to clear the common of trees. An article in the Censor of 27 January 1869, which noted that Israel Lewis was still alive, remarked that in 1808 “there were then only a few acres cleared in the vicinity and no roads but paths through the forest followed by marked trees.”

In his account of early school days in Fredonia in The Fredonia Censor of 25 June 1884, Levi Risley explained that in 1809 the original school district was divided. “The west side had no school-house, but a school was opened in an old dilapidated house or stable standing near the south line of the old common that was afterward laid out by Judge Houghton.” It seems a little odd that a building put up no earlier than late 1806, according to Elisha Fay’s account, would be “old” and “dilapidated” less than three years later. It may be that Levi Risley, who was five at the time, was remembering what the building looked like some years later. There was no school held on the west side in 1810 and in 1811 the Risleys moved to Ohio, not returning until May 1814.

By the time the Risleys returned, much had changed. The War of 1812 had broken out and, in 1813, had taken the life of Abner Williams in the Battle of Lake Erie. Earlier, on 12 November 1812, Hezekiah Barker finally received the deed to his land from the Holland Land Company, permitting him to begin selling off house and business lots as he worked to develop the community around the common. At some point late in 1812 he built a new school house, this time of planks from his saw mill. With the common now free from trees, he located the building on the northern edge of the common next to today’s Temple Street. It is referred to in a 25 January 1813 survey “of an amendment of a Road [Temple Street] from Canadaway Common to Mr. Eastwood’s, beginning at a stake standing on the Common 50 links south of the new schoolhouse.”

It was that “new schoolhouse” that Levi Risley seems to be describing in his article in the Censor of 25 June 1884, although he confuses it with the earlier log schoolhouse. “The school house was a frame building and made from some of the lumber sawed at Barker’s new sawmill, which stood just above the west bridge on the Canadaway Creek. The school house was about twenty-five feet by thirty feet square.”

When the Risleys returned from Ohio in May 1814 they found “both sides of the creek much improved, and both claiming to be the center of gravity…. The west common had been cleared off and the stumps taken out and a school-house built near its center, and a Rev. Mr. West had taught school in it one winter.”

Years later, when a dispute arose about a fence around the West Hill Common, the Fredonia Advertiser commented in an article that was reprinted in the Censor of 29 May 1867, “That Common was dedicated to the people in the year 1814 (as near as we can learn), by a public celebration, and was used as such for about thirty-six years. The address on that occasion [in 1814] was delivered by Dr. Whaley, son-in-law of Richard Williams, the donor of the Common, and one of the early settlers of that town, and who was, with others at the time, ambitious to have that locality [West Hill] considered the center of the town or village.”

(John P. M. Whaley was a physician in Chautauqua County. He is recorded as being in Pomfret in the Douglass-Houghton Ledger on 12 March 1813; he was an ensign, later a Lieutenant in the State Militia, 169th Regiment in 1817 and 1818; and he was one of the founding members of the Chautauqua County Medical Society which was formed in June 1818.)

In his article, Risley adds that the school house on the West Hill Common burned down around 1816. A new one was built at the corner of Chestnut and Berry streets. Around 1820 that building also burned. A fancier one, one with a steeple, replaced it on the same lot. It was dubbed “Trinity School” by Jacob Houghton, perhaps because the Episcopalians worshipped there. The Rev. Garland in his History of Trinity Church adds that someone unnamed made a sign for “Trinity School” and put it over the entrance. “There is plenty of evidence of the resulting antagonisms,” apparently on the part of local Presbyterians and Baptists.

While this was going on, other elements in the tug of war between the west and east sides were at work also, involving religious groups and the schools. Among the early congregations was one of twelve settlers who met in September 1810 at the home of Asa French on West Hill and entered into “a Christian Covenant.” In 1811 they incorporated as the “Pomfret Religious Society” and in December 1819 reincorporated as the First Presbyterian Society of Pomfret. At that point the decision was made to put up a permanent meeting house, and on 8 February 1820 it was decided “that the site for the meeting house be located on the hill.” The locations suggested were on the north side of West Main Street just east and just west of Chestnut Street. This would have been the first church building in the community and given real weight to the west side.

The reaction was immediate. A subscription list was circulated in 1821 to raise enough funds to put up an Academy building on land to be donated by Hezekiah Barker just north of the school house on his Common. The wording of the preamble to the list is telling. “We the subscribers, having it in contemplation to build a house, which shall answer the purposes of an academy and a [blank space] meeting house. . . .” A space was left where a later hand inserted “Presbyterian” indicating that any one of the local congregations, none of whom had a church building, would be welcome. In the end, it was the Presbyterians, although not those with land on West Hill, who signed on.

Actual work on the Academy building seems to have begun in 1822 with the massive frames going up on 9 July 1822. On 11 October 1823 the Presbyterians met on the second floor of the Academy building for the first time. The Academy itself took much longer to organize. While efforts were being made to have the Legislature grant a charter, a front room on the ground floor was leased to School District No. 8 and the plank school house was abandoned. However, once the Academy began to function, in October 1826, that room had to be vacated.

On 7 June 1827 a lot on Temple Street was purchased and a stone school building put up. (It was not so lovingly referred to as the “jail.”) In 1848 a new site was acquired at Center and Barker streets and a two-story wooden building constructed there. Early in June 1853 it burned and was replaced by a four-room brick building that served until 1901.

In order to have enough students for their practice department, as it was called, the District No. 2 school on West Hill was closed down and the students transferred to the Barker Street School and some to the Normal School. That West Hill school house was a red brick building located on the site of today’s 48 Houghton Street. The Censor of 22 January 1834 reported that it had lost its roof during a severe storm on 12 January. However, it was repaired and can be seen on the 1851, 1854 and 1867 maps. Addison Cushing, at the time President [Mayor] of Fredonia, referred to it in a speech at the Censor’s Semi-Centennial on 1 February 1871 as a “dilapidated brick structure.”

In 1938 the Censor ran a series of pictures and articles about the old days in Fredonia. In the issue of 4 February 1938, a local columnist asked “who knows anything about the old brick schoolhouse that stood on the lot at 48 Houghton Street? Mrs. Bessie Blodgett who now lives there in a home built by her father 50 years ago would be very much interested in finding someone who can tell her more about the old structure. She remembers hearing her father tell about inkwells, pens, and fragments of desks — articles undeniably connected with the schoolroom.” In the following issue appeared an answer. “Mrs. Blodgett received a letter from the former Miss ‘Dilly’ Ranney, now Mrs. Leslie Kelley, of Jamestown; parts of which follow:

‘I read in the Censor that you want to know about the little school house that stood on Houghton lands. That land belonged to Jacob Eleck and Mrs. Bradish. The school was the first one I went to; I must have been between five and six. I will try to tell you how it looked on the inside.

‘You went into a small entry where you hung your wraps — the boys on one side and girls on the other, dinner pails on the floor. The seats and desks were made of wide boards. If necessary three could sit in one of the seats; they were so very long. Originally they were painted a dark red.

‘I can still see the way the top of the inkwell came through the top of the desk. All the seats faced the back of the room. There were several benches around the room where we sat for our recitations and when the weather was very cold we drew the benches up near the stove to get warm. Our great joy was to pass the water out of a tin pail, giving each one a drink out of the old tin cup.

‘We had only two terms of school then — the older boys came in the winter and things were lively then! Paper wads decorated the room. My teacher, Mr. Tate, on snowy mornings would rap on the door and say, “Little girl, get your wraps on and I will carry you on my arm to school.” At night he brought me home.

‘Among the students were the Ives boys and a sister whom they called “Pickles,” John and Sarah Pratt, Norah Barclay and brother Leonard, a family by the name of Moss, Flora Wilbur and her brothers, my two brothers and many others whose names I can’t recall.

‘In the summer a Miss Colvin taught. How we all liked her! We were moved down town to the school back of the Normal and Mrs. Carlisle taught the room of older pupils while Mrs. Merritt had the smaller ones.

‘Many of the boys carved their initials in those desks. I never knew what became of the schoolhouse.

‘And so Time Marches On and only memories of the little old schoolhouse remains’!”

The date of Della Ranne’s attendance in the last days of West Hill school can be pretty well narrowed down to 1866-1867. Her teacher, Mr. Tate, was George Tate, who had attended the Fredonia Academy, volunteered in the Civil War, returned and was married and spent one year in the grocery business before beginning a long career as a teacher. He may have boarded at the Ranne’s home, which was directly opposite the school house on the north side of West Main Street.

Flora Wilbur was born about 1863, so she may have been five years old when she and Della were classmates. Apparently Della attended Mr. Tate’s winter term (when the older, trouble-making boys could attend school) and then Miss Colvin’s summer term, after which they all moved down to the Barker Street school around 1868.

That school building sufficed for a number of years. In 1894 the voters agreed to form a “Union Free School” district, combining the old Districts No. 2 and No. 8 and build a four-room addition on the front of the Barker Street School. It was finished in 1895 and served until 1901, when additional space had to be rented to take care of the increasing population. Not long after, it was necessary to buy 101 Eagle Street, the former Stoddard residence. But again, by 1905 three additional buildings were rented for classrooms. By 1907 a new arrangement was seen as inevitable and a new era in Fredonia’s educational system began.

Many, many changes had taken place in local education and in the school houses since 1807 when that little log school house first stood by the side of a trail running through the grove of pesky black walnut trees.