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Early Monroe County History
- Monroe, the central county on the Lake Ontario border, was erected February 23, 1821. The bill establishing it provided that it be made up of the towns of Gates, Parma, Ogden, Clarkson, Brighton, Penfield, Perinton, Pittsford, Mendon, Henrietta, a part of Sweden, Rush and Inverness, all taken under protest from the counties of Ontario and Genesee. The population of the new county was about 80,000; the shiretown, Rochester. The county has an area of 663 square miles, the greater part of which is not only arable, but brought to such a fine state of cultivation as to make it, in spite of its medium size, the foremost agricultural division of New York State. The most noteworthy physical features are the Genesee River, with the falls which made possible the industrial Rochester, and the northern border, Lake Ontario.
Western New York was for centuries disputed territory. Holland, France, England, which under Charles II had given it to the Duke of York (1664), New York and Massachusetts, all claimed ownership at various times. After the Revolution, the opposing claims of the two States were settled on the basis of New York having the right to govern, and Massachusetts the right of preemption in the district which is now Monroe. These rights were sold to Gorham and Phelps, and the most of them in turn to Robert Morris, who transferred the greater part to the Holland Land Company. The purchasers were to acquire quit claims from the original owners, the Indians.
Oliver Phelps will always be remembered by Monroe County and Rochester for the adroit way in which he secured the most valuable part of the county from the Iroquois. The tribes were willing to cede the lands east of the Genesee River, but the west must be their hunting ground. Phelps said he would build a mill and grind their grain, if they would let him have a mill yard. The liberal Indians threw in a mill yard with the already great territory east of the Genesee. That yard was a strip twelve miles wide and twenty long, beginning near Avon and reaching to Lake Ontario, than which there is no more valuable strip of land in the county, since on it is located Rochester, and much of the population outside that city. Phelps built the promised mill on the west side of the river in 1789 the first building in the county, and the first industry of Rochester.
It must not be thought that the importance of the Rochester location was early realized, or that it had the earliest of the pioneers of the region. Phelps opened the first land office in western New York at Canandaigua in 1789, and the first deed recorded there (it was then the county seat) for lands in the future Monroe, was September 16, 1790, and covered nearly all of the present town of Charlotte. The first permanent settlement in Monroe was made in 1789 by John Lusk on 1,500 acres near the head of Irondequoit Bay. During the same year Peter Sheffer settled near Scottsville on the west. Indian Allan was the real pioneer of the district, if so nomadic a person can be called a resident of a place; he lived in many parts of this and other western counties years before Lusk or Sheffer came.
The development of the county was naturally along the lines of agriculture, although the region was so heavily forested as to make the lumber industry the leading occupation in the early years. Monroe lies at the head of the famous Genesee country, even though it is located on the foot of the river. It had not been planted by the Indians, as had the section south. Eventually, the superiority of its soil was recognized, and the county became the granary of New York. The ameliorating effect of Lake Ontario's waters gave a frost protection above that of the southern neighbors. Fruit trees were planted relatively early, and experimental planting of vegetables tried long before even some of the older planted counties. Monroe is comparatively small in area, yet it was, according to the figures of 1920, the leading agricultural county in the State, and ranked with the first four in the United States. The value of its farms was $72,359,546, the third highest in New York, being exceeded only by a county three times as large, and another fifty percent bigger. In the production of cereals it was first, in vegetables second, in fruits fourth, in poultry fifth, in dairy production, in the upper fourth. What a variety and balance is shown in its leadership! And only one-eighth of Monroe population is rural.
Although agriculture has now attained a high estate, it was not until means of transportation had been provided to get its farm products to market that it even made a definite start. The natural outlet was by way of the Lake, and the markets of Canada were well supplied by its own people. Even the two halves of the county were divided by a practically unbridged river until the famous Carthage Bridge was built in 1819. The old Indian trails, slightly enlarged, were used as roads. Although stage coaches became plentiful by 1816 the movement of freight was a desperate task. Not until the completion of the Erie Canal was any great impetus given to the expansion of the industries of the county, but in a few years Monroe was paying more than an eighth of all the tolls of the waterway. The advent of the railroad was the making of the county, the power second to the canal which made for its growth. The Tonawanda road was the first, with Rochester as a station, of which the first small section was built in 1834. Not until 1841 was there steam connection with so near a place as Albany.
- Read more about it! . . . Summer Driftings Among the Lakes - a 19th century travelogue.
PLUS . . .
Each of these sections has different books on the same region:
- Town & County
- Native American
- Trains & Steamboats
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Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.