Thursday, May 21, 2009

THE ORIGIN OF “SWAIN”

By Richard Palmer

Swain was once fairly well known as a railroad junction point – predominated by the Erie and the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern and its predecessors, as well as for a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Over the years the hamlet has also been known as Swains and Swainsville. Today, it is home to a popular ski resort, and has about 300 residents.

Swain sprang into existence after the coming of the railroad. This line was chartered as the Attica & Hornellsville on May 14, 1845 and reorganized as the Buffalo & New York City Railroad on April 15, 1851. It was opened between what was then called Hornellsville and Portageville on Jan. 22, 1852, and to Attica on May 3, 1852.

Swain was a typical small community with a few houses, a general store, and a sawmill. A post office was established there after the railroad was built and was located in the railroad depot built by Samuel Swain, which he later sold to the railroad.

The two-story structure was destroyed by fire on Feb. 10, 1880. It was a large, two-story structure. The station agent, J. J. Benchley, his wife and child who lived in the rear of the depot, barely escaped with their lives. At the time the fire broke out, John Stuart, the telegraph operator, was on duty. He discovered the fire at about 4 a.m. The building also housed the freight office and served as the local general store and post office, and also served as the town hall. It was completely destroyed by fire. At the time, 800 bushels of grain were stored in the freight section. Cause of the fire was an overheated stovepipe.

The place was named for Mr. Swain who was born in Northword, N. H. in 1809 and came to Oakland, just west of Nunda, in 1818, which was then known as Messenger’s Hollow. He moved from there to Nunda in 1825, to Swains in 1856, and back to Nunda in 1870. In 1828 he and Lindsay Joslyn built a grist mill on Mill Street. Swain also was involved in the development of a woolen mill in Nunda.

Mr. Swain was on the building committee for the local Baptist Church, as well as serving on the board of trustees for many years. About 1844 he purchased about 9,000 acres of land in Allegany county. He was one of the leading proponents for the railroad and granted a right of way through his property to the railroad. He ultimately served on the railroad company’s board of directors. He also represented the town of Grove on the Allegany County Board of Supervisors. He also served as a Justice of the Peace for eight years, and was also the local tax collector. In the early days he used his talents as a surveyor to lay out local real estate lots.

Mr. Swain took an active role in the development of the Rochester, Nunda and Pennsylvania Railroad and was elected a director and vice president in 1871. Benjamin F. Dow of York was elected president. At the time of his death on Feb. 7, 1885, he served on the Nunda Village Board of Trustees. He was survived by his wife, Clara; two sons, Samuel Jr., and Charles; and three daughters, Julia, Anna and Kittie; and his 81-year-old brother, Alfred. He had a mansion on Massachusetts Street in Nunda.

Sources: Nunda News, Feb. 4, 1885, Feb. 9, 1956; Buffalo Courier, Feb. 11, 1880; P. 302, History of Allegany County, N.Y., F.W. Beers & Co., New York, 1879; “Between the Ocean and the Lakes,” 1899, by Harold T. Mott.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Great history of Swain, Richard! Thanks for posting.

Just a note - Swain is also the final resting place of Frederick Decker, the "Ossian Giant" who toured with P T Barnum. Frederick Decker died in 1886.

Regards
Doug Morgan
Lima Town Historian