Wednesday, June 27, 2012

History of Cottage City

George Henry, Historian

Folks have long thought that the shores of Canandaigua Lake and the surrounding fields and ravines at Cottage City was a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Before our ancestors started the daunting task of clearing the virgin forest people have lived there. In 1890 Richard Gage plowed up a skeleton and a skull. Professor Arey and his group at the Natural Science Camp were informed. They came across the lake with a photographer and excavated two sites. About two feet below the surface they found a mound of packed clay and charred wood containing the complete skeleton of an Indian.

There was speculation that this was the first evidence of Mound Builders east of the Mississippi River. If this is so then it would predate the Seneca Nation who later had a camp in and around the ravine at Hall Road.

So it was that when Southwick Cole purchased land in lot Five and settled there in 1805 he was greeted with a virgin forest and a few Indians. Otis Lincoln followed the next year and settled on lot Two. Otis was veteran of the Revolutionary War and when his son was drafted  to serve in the War of 1812, Otis got out his old sword and went to serve in his place. Apparently not a man to be fooled with, Mr. Cole and Mr. Lincoln were the only pioneer inhabitants of the area. There were two other settlers in the seven-mile stretch to Canandaigua.

It was not long before the water in the creek coming down Hall Road would be harnessed and in 1808 a Tannery was built. This was followed in 1815 with a grist mill built by Henry Elliott. The Tannery did not last long and the building was used for a school. This proved too drafty in the winter and a new school was built on the hill where E. Lake Rd and Rt. 364 split.

It was not long after that Amasa Gage, the head of the numerous Gage family, purchased land from Nathaniel Gorham in lot Five. The Gage family was an important part of this community until well into the late Forties.

Southwick Cole sold his farm and Jushua Washburn purchased part of the farm in lot Four in 1827. Mr Washburn and wife had five children. With this expanding family Mr Washburn decided the log cabin to small and built a large home. The bricks for this home were hauled from Palmyra. Now that would be about thirty miles. Today with a truck that would only be about one hour travel, but with Ox or Horse cart it would be a long day. If they came part way by water I do not know, but either way it was a monumental task. On the death of his first wife he married Phoebe Porter, a widow with one child. That union produced eight more children. Again it was time to expand his home and he built a wood addition on the South side. This house still stands just North of the Fire House.

The steamboat business started about 1845 and by 1870 there were two, one on the West side and one on the East side. They hauled produce, barley and wheat North for the flour mills of Rochester or the Mckechnie brewery of Canandaigua. In the fall tons of Grapes. The return trip would be supplies for the business and folks South. Both trips carried passengers.

The offspring of the original Amsas Gage purchased land along the lake. Amasa the grandson had control of the original farm. Being an enterprising man in 1870 he built a large steamboat dock.. This became a regular stop and was known as Gage's Landing. About this same time he began selling lots for summer cottages. Businessmen from Rochester and Canandaigua made this their summer home. The steamboats made Gage's landing a regular stop at six in the morning. The folks working in Rochester would board and be on the pier in Canandaigua at seven to meet the electric trolley, which ran down Main St to the pier and up to the train station. At the station they would get on the Rochester Eastern train for the trip to the city. Of course the reverse trip home at night.

There is a bit of oral history told by one of the Gage boys about his Father. Seems his father had a farm bordering the lake. Well, he cut a sapling ten feet in length. When someone wanted to buy some lake front he would measure off as many ten feet as the person wanted. He told his son “if anyone wants to pay me a $1.00 per foot for this worthless pasture I'll sell them all they want”. My, My, if he only knew what that ten foot was worth today.

About 1890 Richard Gage, son of Amsas, built a store at Gage's landing. This was the only store on the East side between Canandaigua and Vine Valley. It was later enlarged to include an Ice Cream parlor, a billiard room, upstairs dance hall and rooms where folks from Rochester could live for the summer. This was a very lively place until well after WWII. In 1905 the name was changed to Cottage City.

The Finger Lakes Land Company, owned by Paul Ritchey, purchased the Washburn farm and filed a subdivision map in 1929 and was called Crystal Beach. This land went from the lake to County Road 1. It was divided into about 900 lots, 80 feet by 30 feet. The roads were 40 to 50 feet wide. There was no sewer or water, they had a water well by Maiden Lane for folks to use. There are two “right aways” to the lake. This was during the depression and most lot owners built their own cottage, some winterized them when times were really tough and lived there all year. So we have two communities separated only by a property line, Cottage City and Crystal Beach.

Ed Geiger purchased the Washburn homestead for use as a Tavern until the Town was voted dry.

The Crystal Beach Fire dept was established after Barnes store burned in the late 50's.

Today many folks have purchased two or three lots and built larger year around homes. This area still remains a wonderful lake side community to live and raise a family.


*Natural Science Camp at Canandaigua Lake
Ray Henry

*Book Of Deeds
Ontario County Archives

*History of Cottage City
Leora Gratsley

*History of Ontario County

*Steamboats and Ice cream
Dewey Gage

*Crystal Beach
Ruth Erway

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