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Early Steuben County History
- The lands now enclosed within the boundaries of Steuben County were the present of a King to Massachusetts; released by that commonwealth to New York, they were sold to Phelps and Gorham, and later, resold to Robert Morris and Sir William Pultenay. The original county included parts of five adjoining counties, but even with the losses to form these divisions, Steuben is forty miles long and almost as wide, with an area of 1,500 square miles.
Its surface is a continuation of the Alleghany Mountains, consisting of long ridges and rolling uplands. Branches of the Tioga, Canisteo, Cohocton and Chemung rivers drain the region and served as highways for the pioneers. There are few minerals in the hills. Building and sand stones are quarried in some towns, notably Bath, Woodhull, Jasper, Greenwood and Canisteo. Marl beds have been found in a fifth of the towns of the county. Shale brick is one of the products of the Hornell section, and deposits of the same material are to be found at Corning and Erwin. Petroleum and natural gas are present in sufficient quantities for home supplies in many parts of Steuben. The soils of the county are somewhat varied, but average well.
It is well to recall that Steuben is an old and long occupied section. It is the land of the "Painted Post," known to Indian, trader and priest. Here the Indian held sway, and when that sway became ruthless, General Sullivan was sent to end it. The first white man to locate in this region was a trader with the Indians, William Harris, who, in 1786, had his cabin at Painted Post. The first permanent settlement in the county was started by Frederick Calkins, in 1789. The first deed recorded in the district was one given by Oliver Phelps to Colonel Arthur Irwin, dated July 18, 1789, covering 22,040 acres around Painted Post.
Settlement became general about 1790 and so many came to this area that the narrow Indian trails could not handle the traffic. In 1792 a Captain Williams determined to build a wagon road from Northumberland, on the Susquehanna, to Williamsburg (Mount Morris) on the Genesee, a distance of I50 miles. This road, opened and used the next autumn, was the fore-runner of others which added to the accessibility of the section. In 1825 the Erie Canal was finished, to which, by lateral waterways, Steuben County was connected. In 1854 a railroad was built joining Corning with Lawrenceville, making the first outlet for the bituminous coal of Pennsylvania. The Erie gave Steuben trunk connections with southern New York in 1850. Today there are several through lines with many branches, while electric and bus lines give intercommunication between parts of the county.
The early settler was not only hunter, trader and farmer, but a manufacturer as well, making most of the things he used. Water mills were the first utilization of more than manual power; with these they ground their grains and sawed their lumber. Carding and woolen mills came when the early interest in sheep was at its height. Bath, Urbana, Wheeler, and many of the smaller villages were at one time extensively engaged in the making of woolen products. Wagon factories centered at Bath, Hammondsport, and Hornellsville. The latter city now does something in all of the mentioned industries, but the materials are not now those grown in the county, nor is the county the market for the finished goods.
Agriculture is the most important industry of Steuben, and by constant effort has been kept modernized and successful. The cow, the pig and the hen form the foundation of the farms, and the growing of feedstuff for these animals is the great task. Potatoes are grown largely, as is tobacco in parts. The muck lands are planted to celery, onions and cabbages. Apples and other fruits have a place on many farms, while the vineyards of the northern part of the county have a wide reputation. Steuben is first among the counties of the State in the production of buckwheat.
The county was formed from a part of Ontario County in March, 1796, with Bath as the shiretown. The other towns were Canisteo, Dansville, Fredericktown, Middletown and Painted Post. In 1853 the county was divided in two jury districts, with Corning and Bath as half shire towns. In 1905 another division was made when Hornellsville was made the third of the shire towns.
- 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.