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Early Genesee County History
- Between Lake Seneca and Lake Erie, the most important natural feature is the Genesee River. The eastern bank was the west boundary of the Iroquois, and the valley along the stream was the beloved Zon-esche-o in their tongue, or "beautiful valley." As pronounced by certain tribes, "Gen-nes-see" became the name of a district famed for its beauty and fertility. When, on March 30, 1802, a new county was formed from part of Ontario, this title was the appropriate one chosen for this new division. Originally it comprised all of that part of the State west of the Genesee River, and a line extending due south from the point of the junction of the Genesee and Canaseraga Creek to the south line of the State. Eight counties have been organized from this great territory, but the Genesee County of today is no small section, having, as it does, an area of 507 square miles. It also retained through all the separations, the original shiretown, Batavia.
Along the south border of the county is a range of hills. Sloping gently from these heights, the land extends in a series of low waves to the northern line. In the beginning, covered with a dense forest growth of great variety, timbering operations uncovered a soil which in fertility is not excelled in the State, and the salubrity of the climate and ease of access have made it one of the leaders in State agriculture. Grain was, and is to a smaller extent, the great product of the land. "Genesee flour" had an enviable reputation. Wheat is less grown in the present century; its place being taken by the coarser grains, and a more general type of farming. Fruits are much planted, and make a name for themselves as distinctive as the flour of the former days. There are not many things that will grow in a temperate climate that somewhere in the county it may not be found doing well.
There were but few settlers in the county until after the Revolution. Many desired to come, but fear of the Indians held them back. Charles Wilbur located at Le Roy as early as 1792, and the Gansons settled in 1798, but there were but few in all this country until the opening of the nineteenth century. The original survey was made in 1798-99 by Joseph and Benjamin Ellicott, and endeavors were made by the Holland Company to secure settlers. To this end land was sold at reduced prices to those who would locate and build; one of the requirements was the erection of a "habitation fit for man" not less than I8 feet square. Three lots were sold to Asa Ransom, Garrett Davis and Frederick Walther in 1799 with the proviso that they should have these "habitations" completed by January Ist of the next year.
The Holland Company mentioned was a group of Dutch capitalists who had purchased most of the land now in the county from Robert Morris, July 20, 1793. The greater part of the western part of New York State belonged to Phelps and Gorham, but on their failure to meet their obligations, a large share of their tract reverted to the State and was bought by Samuel Ogden for Robert Morris, May 12, 1791. Morris sold the west part of his purchase to the American agent of the Holland Company, reserving a strip 12 miles wide on the east side. The Indian powwow, held to clear the title on the property, was convened at "Big Tree," now Geneseo, September, 1797, at which the Indians ceded their lands to the whites.
In October of 1800 the company opened a land office, which was removed to Batavia two years later, when the county was founded, and here it remained until the close of the affairs of the Holland Company in 1835, when they sold all their remaining interests to a set of Batavians. For a century the old stone land office stood in Batavia as a reminder of the days when all the region was a wilderness until it was settled under the policy of an intelligent and liberal minded set of men; and perhaps, there would be no Batavia had not this company chosen this as the center of their work. Batavia was made by the choice a business place of consequence, and probably for the same reason, the county seat. Other land offices were established in this area, but all of them were of minor character.
The law which made Batavia the shiretown called on the Holland Company to donate one acre and to built thereon proper buildings for the county courts. This was done in 1802, and in these buildings were the affairs of the county handled until a new courthouse was erected in 1841-1842. The town Batavia covered most of the area of the present county as set off originally, although the larger Genesee consisted of three others, Northampton, Leicester, and Southampton.
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- Town & County
- Native American
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Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.