Friday, August 29, 2008

Early Records of the Town of Gates, N.Y.

By John M. Robortella

The following is an excerpt from The Settlement of Western New York With a Review of Early Records of the Town of Gates 1809-1837, historical essay and transcription by John M. Robortella.

A transcription of the early records of the Town of Gates, N.Y., was made as a volunteer project for the Gates Town Historian, 1605 Buffalo Road, Rochester, New York 14624. The documents in the historian's archive are public records and are not under copyright.

Opportunity on the frontier of the new nation. This was western New York State shortly after the American Revolution. Here was where the happiness described by Jefferson in the Declaration could be pursued, where every child would receive an education, where one's faith could be practiced freely, and where a man with even limited means could buy land and build a new life for his family.

America was founded on the concepts of freedom and opportunity -- notions unheard of in the Old World. America provided a dream, albeit one with flaws some of which are still not resolved to this day. But for many, nonetheless, it was a dream, an improvement over life across the Atlantic.

It was all to begin in western New York. The first real estate office in America was opened here. The average American had liberty and opportunity here. And the Town of Gates in Monroe County became a place where the great American experiment took root and flourished. Gates became a quintessential American town that has never stopped evolving.

Introduction to the Transcription of Early Gates Records
The earliest documentation of the government of the Town of Gates in the possession of the town historian is a handwritten book of minutes, finance, school district, and road survey records dating from 1809 to 1837. The text begins on Page 35 of this historic book and concludes on Page 142 with a listing of owners' marks and brands for farm animals in the town.

Among these records are the original surveys for Pixley Road, Spencerport Road, and Wegman Road in Gates.

The founding of the Town of Gates evolved from an early transaction in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase with the sale of Town No. 1 in the Short Range of the purchase on November 8, 1790, to a group of investors from Northampton and Springfield, Massachusetts. The town that they purchased became known as Northampton and included present-day Gates, N.Y.

The first official Northampton town meeting was held on April 4, 1797, at the home of Peter Sheffer, near Scottsville, N.Y.

In 1802, the state legislature subdivided Ontario County and created Genesee County which included four towns: Northampton, Southampton, Leicester, and Batavia.

By 1808, three new towns were founded and separated from Northampton: Murray, Parma, and Riga. Settlers in the last remaining remnant of Northampton then had to reorganize their town and begin thinking of a new name.

Hugh McDiarmid (the exact spelling of his last name is unclear) was elected town clerk at the Northampton reorganization meeting on April 4, 1809, and probably began keeping the minutes on loose-leafed pages. John Williams served as town clerk in 1810 and 1811. Frederic Harford and Francis Brown succeeded him in 1812 and 1813, respectively, and the minutes and written records of the town were passed on to each clerk in succession.

Town officers soon realized that a formal minute and record book was needed. At the 1811 town meeting, they voted to transfer five dollars from the poor fund to enable Town Clerk John Williams to make the purchase: "Voted that the Poor Master send to John Williams five dol. to buy a Town Book."

It is believed that the book now in the town historian's archive is the minute book purchased by Mr. Williams in 1811. The pages are 8 inches wide x 12-3/4 inches deep, and are lined and pre-numbered by the manufacturer.

The text begins on Page 35. It is assumed that Mr. Williams or a succeeding clerk started to record the minutes on Page 1, possibly recopying the records of the first three meetings at the beginning of the book.

At some point, one of the succeeding clerks ripped out the first 34 pages of the book and recopied everything, perhaps to have all the early town records available in one book. There is little doubt that the entire minute book has been written by the same person. The writing is clear, the pages are well preserved, and the records are remarkably easy to read.

The book concludes on Page 142 and the last dated entry is from 1837 (although that entry appears on Page 140 of the book).

The book ultimately passed to Franklin Hinchey, the son of pioneer William S. Hinchey who settled in Gates circa 1810. The family owned several hundred acres in the town and became active in public service. For example, on June 9, 1829, William Hinchey hosted a town meeting in his home, which is documented on Page 135 of the minute book. In the 1870's, William's son, Franklin, built the homestead that stands today and is the only site in the town on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hincheys were leading citizens of Gates and were active in community and church activities. It is not surprising that one of the later town officials entrusted the minute book to Franklin for safe keeping, especially since the annual town meetings and town clerk records were held and kept in private homes until the 1940's when the first Gates Town Hall was opened in the former Lee's Tavern on Buffalo Road.

For at least 100 years, then, the book remained within the Hinchey homestead. It resurfaced in 1999 when Wolcott Hinchey was preparing to sell the property to the Gates Historical Society. He presented the book to Town Historian Jack C. Hart on December 11, 1999. In a letter to Mr. Hinchey, Mr. Hart wrote that "please be assured that I will protect and preserve this book as one of the treasures of the town historian's file."

The book remains in the historian's vault and a transcript was made for study and local history research.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

1830s, Here We Come

Traveler James Stuart whiles away the final days of 1829

by David Minor

December of 1829 had been an unusually warm month; the following month remained so for awhile. New York harbor remained free of ice. Visitor James Stuart was able to make quite a few visits to Manhattan from his boarding house in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he and his wife were staying.

Quite often his fellow passengers aboard the Stevens family steamboats were males; men did most of the marketing in the shops and stalls of Manhattan, returning later in the day with their produce and meats. Stuart had heard that even U. S. Chief Justice John Marshall, who occupied his residence on Staten Island when the Supreme Court was not in session, was often seen returning home with his dinner tucked under his arm, even the occasional turkey.

Most New Yorkers ate quite well. Stuart went to meet some friends for dinner once at a Manhattan boarding house. His shoes got dusty on the trip over; he stopped at a boot black’s house on Leonard Street for a polish, and found the man and his wife, “persons of colour” as he described them, “at dinner, consisting of one of the fattest roast geese I had ever seen, with potatoes, and apple-pie.”

In the several months they spent in Hoboken, many Sundays would find the Stuarts attending divine services in Manhattan. He mentions attending services at Episcopal, Presbyterian, Reformed Presbyterian, Baptist and Roman Catholic churches, as well as at several Methodist meetings. He found the various ministers to be equally impressive in their abilities. He was a little surprised when, turning up at the Oliver Street Baptist Church to hear the Reverend Spencer Wallace Cone, to find that he really had to hunt to find a vacant seat. “. . . the tide of Mr Cone's popularity was so great when I heard him, that the regular sitters were in some degree tenacious of their rights.”

It’s not too surprising that Cone was a popular preacher. The Princeton, New Jersey, native, had become an actor, much to the dismay of his devout mother, when he turned twenty. It may have been his presence during a fire that killed 72 people at the Richmond Theatre in the Virginia capital in 1811, including the state’s new governor, that made him decide to leave the stage. Afterwards, during a stint as a newspaper editor and writer, he was inspired by the biography of English divine John Newton to enter the Baptist church. Commanding a rifle company in the War of 1812, during which he witnessed the burning of Washington and the attack on Fort McHenry, he then moved to the nation’s capital. After preaching in the Washington and Philadelphia areas he moved to New York City in 1823 to take up the pastorate at the Baptist Church. Certainly Cone had a wealth of experiences to draw on, and by the time Stuart heard him, knew well how to work up a crowd.

The Stuarts must have done a bit of clothes shopping while they were in the area, probably in expectation of being on the road before long. He notes that most of the work in the fashion trade is done by women, apparently as opposed to the custom in Britain. The visiting couple may also have been refurbishing their outfits for the New Year’s celebrations to come at the end of the month. Well before Times Square was invented.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Query: Hunt Flour Mill

M. S. of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, wants information on when and where the Hunt Flour Mill was established.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Full Steam Ahead

Another trip back to New York, this time as 1829 tuns the page

by David Minor
“The situation is most convenient, in a charming spot in the country, with the finest walks conceivable at our door, and it is in our power at any time to be in the heart of New York in twenty minutes.”
Last April we left James Stuart and his wife, our Scots travelers, in mid-December of 1829, moving from their boarding house in New Rochelle, New York; as it was closing for the winter. While they made their plans for upcoming travels they had settled temporarily in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Their boarding house is run by a Mr. and Mrs. Van Boskerck, a couple in their sixties, who live there with their two maiden daughters, who actually manage the business. Only one other boarder is in residence at the time. Leaving the operations to his daughters, Mr. Van Boskerck makes several trips a week over to Manhattan to drum up trade. Stuart will be paying a number of visits to the city as well. They most likely made their commutes on a steam ferry owned by elderly inventor and Revolutionary War veteran Colonel John Stevens, rather than aboard a rival vessel belonging to young Staten Island native Cornelius Vanderbilt. At the close of the revolution Stevens bought extensive land along three miles of lower Hudson River property confiscated from the estate of Loyalist William Bayard. Over the past ten years he’s begun making improvements to the property. The stretch of marshy New Jersey land had cost Stevens today’s equivalent of $90,000 (which will buy you almost a fifth of a condominium there today) and he’d chosen to name the site Hoboken, after the Dutch name Hoebuck, or High Bluff. Today it’s the site of the Stevens Institute of Technology.

It was at one end of this property that the Van Boskerck house stood, so his loyalties would have been to his neighbor’s fleet of steam vessels. In addition to four steamboats making runs between New York and Albany, Stevens and his four sons operate a number of other boats between here and Manhattan and to Philadelphia, as well as stage coaches across much of New Jersey. In the upcoming year Vanderbilt will become an increasingly large thorn in the sides of the five Stevenses, decreasing his fares to the point of unprofitability, eventually forcing them to buy him out at a cost of $100,000 plus ten annual payments of $5,000. The Commodore didn’t mess around.

Both Stuart and Van Boskerck had an easy commute. An eight minute walk to the Stevens dock down by the water, where the family manufactured their own vessels, and a ten-minute crossing in one of the four ferries, all of which can accommodate entire stagecoaches, which the passengers needn’t get out of. You have your choice of two landing sites, the foots of Barclay and Canal streets. All of this for a whopping sixpence sterling (only threepence during the summer months).

The Stevens family has other sources of income besides their basic transportation business. Spaces on the boats are rented out to concessionaires, who sell, “liquor, fruit, confectionaries, &c.” They also lease out their own hotel here on the New Jersey side. They charge pedestrians nothing for the privilege of strolling along public walks they laid out along the river. They do all right what with all those three- and sixpence fares to get there, thank you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Early Transportation Hub

by David Minor

During the final decades of the twin Purnell kingdoms – the House of David and Mary’s City of David - St. Joseph and Benton Harbor had not been stagnating. Even as their Berrien County courts bustled and buzzed with two major headline-grabbing court cases, in the twenties and thirties, the two cities on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan, noted for their resorts and their fruit orchards, continued to grow, on into the early 1960s.

The transportation industry had many of its roots in the area, from just before the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1894 Benton Harbor carriage shop owners, the Baushke Brothers, Louis and Albert, manufactured the first American automobile. An investment experiment, the 7.5-horsepower vehicle caused a sensation when the brothers trotted – or should we say putted – it down Main Street. The boys missed out on automotive fame when an engineer who had been hired to develop the gas-powered engine then took his idea off to Indiana. Benton Harbor would not become Detroit. Nor actually, would Kokomo, Indiana. Some Baushke family members would join the House of David and later help lure the sect to the area.

Joseph and Ben Mammina, sons of Sicilian immigrants, set up a transport company around 1920 which began providing trucks for the orchard industry; later their Motor Express company carried many school children and other excursionists to area beaches.

Offshore transportation began expanding after the Truscott Boat Company moved from Grand Rapids to St. Joseph in 1892. By 1905 they were turning out 600 boats a year, later providing gondolas for both the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1933 World’s Fair. During World War II shipbuilding facilities were one of the largest area employers. In another field, the Heath Company turned out the popular Heathkits for do-it-yourself Edisons, up into the mid-1980s.

In 1898 pioneer aviator Augustus Moore Herring traveled through low-to-the-ground space for a grand total of seven seconds, covering nearly fifty feet, right on the sands of St. Joseph’s Silver Beach. And this was five years before the Wright Brothers! He got left out of the record books however. His 12-foot long craft with an 18-foot wingspan, had no practical controls. Despite the fact it was propelled by a compressed air engine, not being powered from a fuel tank, it was considered a glider. Which form of flying machine we saw some time ago, had been successfully flown only two years previously back in Gary, Indiana. By 1912 air mail service had come to Benton Harbor, the planes taking off and landing from a luxurious cow pasture. The 1940s would see the beginnings of the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport, still active today.

On another note - Among the many immigrant populations in the two cities, such as the Italians and the Germans was one group coming from within the U. S. itself. As we saw some time back, the 1840 U. S. Census showed sixteen free blacks in residence in St, Joseph. Benton Township would see no black residents until twenty year later and then only a total of 19. We’ll end our visit to the cities next time with a closer look at the growth of their African-American communities.

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Final Innings

A look at Michigan’s Benton Harbor / St. Joseph area just after World War II

by David Minor

In April 1997 the House of David Museum opened in Riverside, Michigan.
Other than its memorabilia very little else, with the exception of several
web sites and books, remains of the House of David and the City of David.
It’s not too likely that more than a handful of members still live.

There’s one slight problem with strict group celibacy. It plays havoc with
dynasties and family lines. The House of David and City of David sects
found their memberships rapidly shrinking as members died off and had no
offspring to replace them. It can be said the group died because of its
beliefs but not for them.

Right up until the Depression the groups would dominate southwestern
Michigan's economy, tourism and agriculture. After the U. S. entry into
the war the diversion of resources, especially motor fuel, would seriously
diminish out-of-area tourism (thus local economies). Sect membership had
dwindled by this time, which hurt their agricultural pursuits. They would
even end up using German war prisoners to help work their farms.

So small had their total numbers become that fundamental objections to war
made little difference in the House of David populations. In World War I
four members – out of the 35 who agreed to perform non-combat services -
had spent time in Leavenworth Prison as conscientious objectors. They had
been inducted into the Army but were sent to Leavenworth, according to
historian Robert S. Fogarty, “. . . after they refused to handle dead
animal carcasses, since [they believed] the Israelite injunction against
the ‘dead burying the dead’ still applied.” Actually the correct version
is to let the dead bury their own dead. How that was supposed to happen
was never explained by sect members.

After the war House of David activities began diminishing. The miniature
railroad engines they had begun turning out from scratch for their
amusement park rides back in the early 1900s ground to a halt as the
manufacturing plants turned out their final three locomotives. These were
far superior to the many they replaced and continued in service right up
until the park closed in 1971. In May of 2000 the Northwest Ohio Railroad
Preservation group purchased one of the three remaining quarter-scale
engines - #901. You can visit their Findlay, Ohio, museum today, close
your eyes, and let old 901 haul you off to yesterday.

Mary’s City of David baseball teams continued touring right up until 1956,
but Mary would not be rooting for the home team, having passed away in
October of 1953, at the age of 91. But even then Purnells couldn’t stay
out of court. Grandson Samuel Coy Purnell sued the colony, claiming his
right to the assets and properties of Mary’s City of David. He lost his
lawsuit when City of David attorneys proved the assets were held only in
trust by Mary, not as personal property. Samuel did alright, though, The
City of David paid him $750,000 to drop any further claims.

We have to wonder what would have happened if he’d won his suit. Would we
be reading about Grandson’s House of David?

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Query: Underwater Archeology in NY

I am looking for information about underwater archeology in Upstate New York, and would like to hear from anyone who has information about this interesting subject.

Historian Kirk House has reported on efforts to raise an old lake steamer in Keuka Lake near Hammondsport. There must be oither great stories of finds in other lakes and even in rivers.

Martha Treichler