Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Tri-County Communites
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
150 Years - Big Flats NY 1822-1972


1822 - 1972


Part One Part Two Part Three
Part Four Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight
150 Years - Big Flats NY 1822-1972
Reprinted 2003 with permission of Big Flats Historical Society
Year: 1972
Booklet by Big Flats Historical Society 
Submitted by Elwyn VanEtten
Retyped by Elaine Frey
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In 1794, seven years after the first settler, Robert Miller came to Big Flatt, and to him is given the credit for donating the first school site. On this land, donated in 1809, the Robert Miller School was built. It was the first school house in the village and was built in 1814 of rough logs. This school was located on one corner of the old cemetery that was about an acre in size.

In "A Brief History of the Big Flats Union School", assembled and written by Mrs. Judson Manning, she states: "Records disagree as to who was the first teacher. Noah Hawley was mentioned by one historian, and the honor is given Cornelius McGuinis by another recorder. It seems more probable that Mr. Hawley was the original teacher, for his name is mentioned as among the very early settlers, while the name of McGiunis is not recorded".

The town of Big Flats was formed in 1822, and in the year 1837, the second school was built. This was called the Red Schoolhouse. It was one room and was built near the site of the barn on the John Coon Property. (Today, this plot is located at the junction of Rt. #352 and River Street.) This was in use until 1853 when a two-room wooden structure was built on the site of the present Big Flats Union School. "It was built of wood, painted white and head a large dome on top which housed the bell. The two rooms were called big and little rooms, not because of their size but because of the size of the pupils." A student was graduated or promoted from the little room when he had finished the fourth grade, and he then entered the big room, taught by the principal. School was held during summer as well as winter, and there was a short vacation each spring and fall. The principal was teacher for the winter term when the big boys of town went to school; but, as soon as work commence in the spring, the older boys left to work on the farms, and two women teachers were hired, and school continued throughout the summer. The first Principal in this two-roomed school was Mr. Tolles, familiarly called "Yankee Tolles", so Mrs. Manning wrote.

This two-room school served the community for over forty years. Then, two small for the increasing number of pupils, in 1897 on the site of the old building, a new brick school house was built. The old school was moved to a location across from the Erie Railroad Station and used as a warehouse by a local tobacco firm. It was torn down about 1935.

The Big Flats Graded School, built of brick and containing four rooms, was the latest word in what should be housed in a structure for school purposes in 1897. When this was built, several nearby districts were taken in to District No. 1. About 1938, a plan to further enlarge the district by building a central school was defeated by the taxpayers.

The first principal of the Big Flats Graded School was Mr. Levi R. Tubbs, Miss Anna Drake had the 5th and 6th grades, Miss Capitola Yawger the 3rd and 4th and Miss Mattie Norris the primary rooms.

The first graduating class in 1899 received diplomas stating that they had successfully completed the work required for the 9th grade. In about 1906, the name of the school was changed to Big Flats Union School; Regents were given, and two years of high school were taught. The teaching force at this time was increased to five teachers. This was done in order to give the principal more time to supervise, Mrs. Manning’s history states. Later on, a sixth teacher was hired, and shortly afterward under Mr. Hildreth, a seventh teacher was added for instruction in Physical Education. It then became necessary to hire the use of a recreation hall for the gymnasium work, as there was no room suitable for such purpose in the school building. In 1938, the high school work was discontinued, and pupils in the district were taken each school day to and from Corning to either Corning Free Academy or Northside High School. In 1941, there were 136 pupils enrolled.

Mr. Tubbs was succeeded as principal by Mr. Frederick Sickles, Mr. Hubert Jones, Mr. Lloyd Stewart, Mr. Henry Greenfield, Mr. Thomas Stewart, Mr. Brill, Mr. Leland Hoke, Mr. Bassage, Mr. Thomas Bentley, Mr. Manchester, Mr. C. U. Smith, Mr. Lyle Hildreth, Mr. Carlton J. Jackson and Lewis L. Kelly.

Other men of our town who served as trustees of the school were Mr. Luther Brant, Mr. John Bates, Dr. E. H. Wakelee, Mr. T. J. Ryan, Mr. Ed. Rhodes, Mr. M. H. Welles, Mr. Warren Markle, Mr. August Bottcher, Mr. Isreal Farr, Mr. Jerry Rhodes, Mr. Dudley Olcott, Mr. Ezra Wolcott, Sr., and Mr. Luther Knapp.

A Brief History of the Big Flats Union School contained the following very interesting capsulized history of 1877. "It is interesting to note in passing that the first superintendent of schools for the town was Dr. William Woodward. In 1877, there were eleven districts in all and 506 children of school age. $1911.55 was paid out for teacher’s wages, $816.33 for school repairs and $228.21 for other expenses. State appropriation was $1123.95.

In 1954, the remaining schools in Big Flats were a part of the sixteen closed by the Horseheads Central School District, after the centralization.


Compiled by Pamela M. Farr

On January 1, 1809 the first Big Flats Post Office was established with Robert Miller as the first Postmaster. Robert Miller had come to Big Flats in 1794 -95, settled on the farm next to John Winters and was also Justice of the Peace before moving westward.

Caleb L. Gardner became Postmaster, January 3, 1833. Caleb Gardner came from Pennsylvania in 1788 and located on the farm later owned by Christian Myneer’s grandson John Minier.

Ebenezer S. Roberts became Postmaster July 29, 1841 and Lauren A. Tuttle became Postmaster May 18, 1844. Lauren and his brother William formed a partnership in 1838 and ran a store which was located on the main street of Big Flats.

Lauren Tuttle was a Republican and when the G.O.P. was in power, Lauren was Postmaster. His brother William was an unswerving Democrat, and when they were in power William was Postmaster. Other Postmasters that were recorded were Horace Weller, April 18, 1852; Nelson Hotchkiss, Dec. 31, 1853; William A. Tuttle, Feb. 11, 1859; Theophilus W. Read, April 7, 1863; William E. Tuttle, May 3, 1867; Thomas Cuddeback, May 16, 1871; Edgar A. Campbell, May 18, 1879; William A. Seeley, Marcy 21, 1881; Edwin C. Taylor, Jan. 15, 1883; Samuel A. Minier, Aug. 24, 1885; Edgar A. Campbell, May 13, 1889.

Ed Campbell had a store on the corner of Main and Canal Streets before the Brick Block was built. Lyda Quackenbush Foshay’s sister worked in the Post Office then. The Post Office was on the west side of the store and groceries on the east side. In the back of the store was a barbershop. (Campbell’s store was torn down for the Brick Block that was built in 1898 by Tede Hooker.)

The Post Office went back to Sam and John Minier’s store about 1893 when Sam Minier was reappointed. In 1898 William S. Carpenter was appointed and in January of 1906 M. A. E. Neidhardt was appointed to the post and he hired C. Castle Cunnings as his assistant. When the Brick Block was built in 1898, Riggs Watrous had a Drug Store and Soda Fountain there for a short time then, Dr. Wakelee had a Drug Store and Soda Fountain. The Post Office was moved there from Minier’s store. Dr. W. A. Hanor purchased this building so Dr. Wakelee moved across the street to what is now Knickerbocker’s Building on the northeast corner about 1904. The Post Office went along with the Drug Store. About two years later when ashes of the disastrous fire that leveled all the buildings on the south side of Main St. had cooled, Dr. Wakelee purchased a lot for his new Drug Store, Post Office, and his private office that was to be in the rear. The second floor was occupied as a lodge room for the "Red Men" organization.

C. Castle Cunnings continued as Assistant Postmaster until about 1909 when Mr. Neidhardt died and the recently elected President, William Howard Taft then appointed him Postmaster. Mr. Cunnings continued as Postmaster until his resignation at the end of 1917.

In 1918 Dr. E. H. Wakelee became Postmaster. In an April 12, 1928 newspaper story Dr. Wakelee was celebrating his 40th year as a Big Flats Resident and practicing Physician, and his 30th year at conducting a Drug Store and his 12th year as Town Postmaster. Dr. Wakelee had served as Town Supervisor for eight years, been a Mason and a Red Man and was active in many community affairs.

Dr. E. H. Wakelee was Postmaster until his death in 1936 and David LeRoy (D.L.) Churcher, a Democrat was appointed till 1944 when Bob Faulkerson became acting Postmaster. However, the Democrats were in power in Washington so Republican Faulkerson’s appointment never came through and in 1945 Madeline Andrews was appointed till 1957. Mrs. Andrews had four boys in the service in World War II and at this time things such as this were important to Postmaster appointments. During all these years the Post Office remained in Dr. Wakelee’s new building that he had built on the south side of Main St. (This now houses a Diver’s Shop.) The Post Office remained in this same building until 1959.

Harry Beebe was made Postmaster in September, 1957 and in January of 1959 he moved the Post Office to its present Canal Street location. Mr. Beebe was the Big Flats Postmaster until his retirement in November of 1970. At this time our present Postmaster, Alva Johnson, was appointed.


Prior to 1950, the county librarian distributed small quantities of books to such places a the Red and White Store, operated by Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Pickering, and to the home of Mrs. Emma Randall (1946-50).

In December of 1950, a Bookmobile Service began in Chemung County. Because of this, larger collections of books could be delivered to homes. The home of Mrs. Henry Weaver was used to house the library from 1950-59, and from 1959 to 1965 the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burt of Main Street was used. Bookmobile Service was given to the Big Flats Elementary School on a monthly schedule.

Three-day-a-week service for the two years of 1965 and 1966 was furnished by a Mobile Trailer Library operated by the Southern Tier Library System. This mobile trailer was parked on the lot of our present library.

At the close of 1966, Town Hall ground floor quarters were offered so that library operations could be set for a more complete service.

Library assistants who served the Big Flats Community, besides the householders previously mentioned, include Mrs. James Hicks, Mrs. Waldo Kuhl, Mrs. Marcy Punnett and Mrs. Henry B. Minier.

In 1958, the Big Flats Woman’s Club and the Big Flats Rotary Club began a movement toward a new library branch for the Town of Big Flats. They were encouraged by other groups and individuals, and they all served as invaluable aid and backup for the persistent efforts of Supervisor Rowland W. Farr.

Ten years later, in 1968, the new building was dedicated. The Board of Trustees of the Steele Memorial Library of Chemung County, assisted by the Big Flats Woman’s Club, cordially welcomed the community to the opening of the Big Flats Branch Library on Canal Street on Thursday evening, June 13, 1968 at eight o’clock.

The architects for the Big Flats Branch Library were Hirsch and Cassetti, and the general contractor was Duane T. Kinsman.

Some of the facts and figures released at the opening were as follows: The site was sold by the Town of Big Flats to Chemung County for one dollar. The building, including furnishings, landscaping, paving, well and pump and architectural fees, amounting to a total of $107,951.19, were purchased with Chemung County Capital Funds. In 1967, the circulation was 29,323. In 1971, the total circulation was 47,595. The number of books number 5,626 in 1968 and 12,000 in 1971. The floor space in the building is 3,450 sq. ft.

The services of the Big Flats Branch Library have grown to include story hours, 8mm and Super-8 films, records, vacation reading clubs and inter-library loan service.

Mrs. Eleanor Minier is presently the Librarian, Mrs. June Frederick the clerk-typist, and three Big Flats girls work as pages.


The Erie Railroad was built in 1849 and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western in 1882. The railroads ran nearly parallel. Not until 1959 did the D.L. & W. abandon its tracks and begin to use those of the Erie.

The arrival of the Railroads were very important to the History of Big Flats. Before their arrival there was no way to get livestock to market (Niagara Falls, New York City, etc.) Therefore the valley was the scene of huge cattle drives that started and passed through the Flats headed for New York City or following Sullivan’s Trail to Niagara. Valentine Farr once said that you could sit on your front porch and wait all day for a herd to pass the house.

The Erie Railroad had a creamery on it, located where Black’s Feed Mill now is. Beside this creamery was a coal trestle. Then came the Milk Station built in 1890, next the Depot and a long Freight House on a switch. Wagons could be pulled up via the lower road and loaded here. The Erie had a cattle rack and here is where Mr. Hammond loaded his pigs after driving them down Hog Alley.

The Milk Station was the first station where fluid milk was shipped to New York City. (This by the way, put the creamery out of business.)

Milk was taken to the Milk Station in cans and these were lowered into huge vats packed with ice. When the train was coming, the cans were lifted on to an elevator and on to the dock. The cans were rolled into the baggage car and ice, that was waiting there on the dock, was packed on top of the cans and off it went to New York City.

Cutting ice on the river was a big activity all winter. The local farmers would hire out their teams and wagons and haul ice from the river to the Milk Station.

The D.L. & W. Railroad had a large coal trestle, a freight house, and depot (This remains today). About the 1920’s about where Latta Brook stood, there was a small stock yard. This railroad had a "double-decker shoot" so that animals could be loaded on to two floors of the cattle cars.

Trains stopped in Big Flats morning, noon, and night loading and unloading school children, commuting workers, farm animals, coal and milk.

It’s no wonder everyone was headed to Corning or Elmira via train, when you can imagine hitching up the horse and wagon or horse and buggy and heading there via dry, dusty, rutty or wet and mucky dirt roads. Remember, the Big Flats Union School only had two years of high school so if one was to go on to High School, one finished in Corning, Elmira or a private school.


History and Data

Authorized – 1929 – In use – 1833

Length – 23 Mi. Canal, 16 Mi. Navigable Feeder

Width – 42 ft., Depth – 4 ft., Lockage 516 ft.

53 Wooden Locks – 90 ft. long x 15 ft. wide

Burden of Boats – 76 Ton – Power – Animal

Stations and Distances (1860)
Seneca Lake 0 Miles
Havana (Montour Falls) 4 Miles
Millport 6 Miles
Horseheads 7 Miles
Elmira 6 Miles
Knoxville (Corning) 22 Miles
Total 45 Miles

Horseheads 0 Miles
Miller’s Basin 7 Miles
Gibson 7 Miles
Knoxville 2 Miles
Total 16 Miles

In 1833, the Chemung Canal and Feeder Canal were completed. The Feeder Canal began on the Chemung River at Gibson (just below Corning) and ran 16 miles to Horseheads. The purpose of the feeder was to supply the Chemung Canal with water from the Chemung River. The wooden dam across the river at the head of the feeder was 645 feet long and seven and one-half feet high. A chute in the dam was constructed to permit rafts and arks to pass. Much timber was sent down the river on these rafts which passed through this chute.

A flood in the spring of 1883 did considerable damage to this dam. The Chemung River rose more than ten feet over the dam and undermined the embankments. Heavy rains put the canal out of commission on May 5, 1867, until October of that year. In 1879, a flood destroyed the dam at Gibson, and it had to be rebuilt again the next year.

At one time before its abandonment in 1878, the feeder Canal through Big Flats conveyed more tonnage than the main canal.

The toll house was located at Horseheads because it was at the junction of the feeder with the main canal. The collector of tolls was kept very busy, since clearances were made out at all hours of the day and night. It was a test of endurance during the early and closing months of navigation.

The highway superintendent of the time was charged with the duty of checking the speed of canal boats, which was limited by law to 4 m.p.h.

The following are some facts about the Canal that might be interesting to note here. In 1825, the first canal boat left Hector Falls and went through the Erie Canal before it was finished.

The only place that used steamboats was in Watkins Glen, and there they pulled the canal boats to Geneva. Sometimes as many as 70 boats would be pulled at one time.

Along the canal and feeder canal was a tow path, and the canal boats were pulled along by mules and/or horses. There were bridges across the canals to change the animals from one side to the other.

Charlie Stonemetz, the grandfather of Ralph and Walter Branch of Big Flats, also drove horses on the canal. The town historian’s files hold chattel mortgages of their great grandfather, Cornelius Stonematch when he purchased the scow boat called "Illinois of Millport" and another called "The Elita of Elmira".

Col. John Hendy, the first settler of Newtown, turned the first shovel of dirt in 1830 for the Chemung Canal.

It took 2 days to go from Watkins to Elmira.

In a dry season, this canal took almost all the water out of the river.

The first canal boat was loaded at Hector Falls with flour and wheat.

One eighth of all the tonnage of coal, grain and lumber that went to Albany passed through the Feeder Canal.

The cost of building the canal was $8,504. 96 a mile.

The Lackawanna Railroad was built for the most part on the towpath (of the Feeder Canal) between Horseheads and Gibson.

To pull the boats, the horses were harnessed to ropes two inches thick and about 100 feet long; and they walked along the well worn towpaths along the sides of the canal. As the boats approached the locks, the steerman took down his horn and blasted a long, mournful note into the air, upon which the huge gates of the locks began to swing open.