TOWN OF ELMIRA.
This town was originally organized as Newtown, April 10, 1792, and its name changed to Elmira, April 6, 1808 (For the various changes in its territory, see under head of "Civil Organization."). The town is situated a little south of the geographical centre of the county. On the east and west boarder are ranges of hills, between which extends a wide and fertile valley. The summits of the hills are from four hundred to six hundred feet above the valleys, and their declivities are generally steep. Chemung River, which forms the south boundary, and Newtown, Baldwin, and Goldsmith Creeks are the principal streams. The soil is a gravelly loam upon the uplands, and a productive sandy loam in the valleys.
The following interesting items, touching the history of this town, are taken from an old chronicle, by Rev. Clark Brown, prepared in August, 1803, and since published in the ninth volume of the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society:
"The principal wood is the oak, walnut, and maple; lint, birch, elm, butternut, and pine are not scarce. Adjacent to the village, for a little more than a mile each way, the timber is mostly pine and hemlock. The soil upon which this grows is not so clear and good as that which produces hard wood.
"Price of Land.--- The cleared and improved lands are as clear as they are in old settled country towns in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The new land, about six miles from the village, is from twenty to twenty-four shillings York currency by the acre. Lots are sold six years’ credit, and three years, without interest. The quality of the land is good, and it is easily cleared. It affords great encouragement to those who wish to purchase new farms. There is scarcely any cleared and improved land, except small lots in the village, for sale in the town. The country is considered very healthful.
" There are seven distilleries, one of which, two miles east of the village, is on a new plan, as secured to the inventor by patent from Congress. The greater part of the spirits, which is whisky, is sold to the inhabitants living on the Susquehanna River. Some of it is sent down to Baltimore."
The reverend chronicler closes his valuable and interesting paper with the following significant sentence: "The western wilderness, in a civil and rural sense, is beginning to blossom like the rose."
Among the pioneers who settled in what now constitutes the town (See history of the City of Elmira.) of Elmira were the following:
Colonel John Hendy arrived in April, 1788, and was one of the first white settlers in the town, but not the first in the Chemung Valley (See hisotry of the towns of Chemung, Horseheads and Southport.), as has been claimed for him by local writers and others. From the "History of the Chemung Valley," which appeared in the Elmira City Directory of 1868, we quote the subjoined account, which with the exception of the assertion of exclusive priority for Colonel Hendy, is correct.
"He came up the river in a canoe from Wilkesbarre, in April, 1788, accompanied by a bound boy, Dan Hill, who lived with him for many years. They landed at what was then known as Newtown Forks, the junction of Newtown Creek and Chemung River, just below the present Arnot Mill. He put up a lodge of boughs and bark, and planted corn....
He was singularly happy in securing the friendship and good-will of the Indians, and was able to ward off personal contests or quarrels. Colonel Hendy had taken an active in the Revolution, and served under Washington at the early age of nineteen; fought at Princeton, Trenton and Monmouth. Before the latter battle he had been commissioned as captain, and in brilliant style brought off the remnant of the army from this hard-won field. Here he gallantly bore off the battle-ground the brave General Mercer, who was wounded during the action, and died a few days after...
"In April the colonel had planted the first field of corn ever planted by a white man in the valley (See history of town of Chemung for correction of this statement)." The summer was spent in surveying the country for a favorable location for a fixed settlement, and several times he passed up and down the river, between his lodge and Tioga Point, bringing up two canoe-loads of boards, which were used in the fall in putting up the first shanty in Hendytown. After securing his corn crop for the winter, late in the fall he and Dan Hill went back to Tioga Point, the residence of his family, and upon the 25th of October, 1788, came back with them to Hendytown, where he arranged his future home. His family then consisted of one son, Samuel, and two daughters, Rebecca and Sallie. After their arrival and settlement here, there were born Thomas, Anna, Jane, John, Hannah, Mary, and Betsey."
The location of the shanty mentioned in the above quotation was on the bank of the river, almost on a line with the old log house, still standing, which he built four yars later, and on which he spent the remainder of his life. This log house, together with the site of the former humble dwelling, are on the farm now occupied by Joseph Hoffman. This farm is a part of the 800 acres described in the following patent, which we copy from the original document, now in possession of Mr. Hoffman:
"The People of the State of New York, by the Grace of God, From and Independent. To all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Know ye that we have Given, Granted, and Confirmed, and by these Presents do Give, Grant, and Confirm unto John Hendy all that certain Tract or Lot of Land situate now or late in the Town of Chemung, in out mid state, known as Lot. No. 114; Beginning at a small maple tree marked with three notches and a blaze on four sides, on the northerly bank of the Tioga River, and running from thence North 80 chains to a leaning dogwood tree marked; thence East 70 chains to a stone set in the ground, on the easterly side of a high hill; thence South 190, East 93 chains to the said River; thence up the same, its several courses, to the place of beginning, containing 800 acres.
"Dated at New York, "Lewis A. Scott, Secretary
"April 12, 1791. "Geo. Clinton, Governor."
The only portion of the estate of Colonel John Hendy now possessed by any descendant of his, is by Mrs. Katie Starr, a granddaughter, who owns a farm of 100 acres, 50 acres of which was partly inherited by her mother from the colonel and partly purchased by her father, and divided to her by them; the balance belongs to Charles Savage, a brother-in-law of Mrs. Starr.
Another early and prominent settler was Judge John Miller, who came into town about 1790. He was a son of Judge Abraham Miller, who settled on the other side of the river, in what is now Southport. Judge John obtained a patent for 400 acres of land, dated 1792. He erected the first frame house in the town, which, after undergoing sundry repairings, painting, etc., still stands, and is now occupied by ---- Smitherly, a tenant on the Foster estate. The house is just within the corporate limits of the city.
Libbeus Tubbs came in at about the same time as Colonel Hendy, and was a prominent settler. Josiah and John Brown came in 1815; the former resided in the house now occupied by A. K. Coleman, and the latter on the place upon which W. A. Bigelow now lives. Among others in the southwest part of the town was Judge Hiram Gray (See under head of The Bar in general history of the county), who purchased the place where he now resides in 1838. He is now the only settler who lives in the place cleared by himself in this part of the town. He came to the village of Elmira in 1825, and has lived to see it grow from a small settlement to a thriving and prosperous city, and to personally develop his homestead from a wild, uncultivated spot to a home of comfort and even elegance, thus admirably typifying in his life the energy and enterprise of the pioneer, and the instincts of the refined gentleman and scholar.
In the southeast part of the town Archibald Jenkins occupies the proud position of the oldest inhabitant. He is the son of Wilkes Jenkins, who came from Luzerne Co., Pa., and settled in what is now Ashland as early as 1790, where Archie first saw the light, in the forest that then surrounded the old home, Nov. 12, 1792. In 1799 they moved to the place where "Uncle Archie," as he is familiarly called, has resided for nearly fourscore years. It is a place pleasantly situated on an elevation overlooking the Chemung, which flows placidly through the valley beneath. Here the post-octogenarian pioneer passes his closing years amid the scenes of his youth, dwelling in thought on the past, and recalling the time when the bark canoe shot swiftly o’er old Tioga’s peaceful bosom, freighted with the dusky Indian, and bound on expeditions of peaceful business or harmless amusement; perchance to catch the sportive pickerel or wily perch.
Benjamin Lyuleton arrived about 1797-98, and settled on the farm now occupied by Jackson Goldsmith. A year or so subsequent came John Tubbs, who located on the farm upon which his grandson, Samuel Tubbs, now resides.
In 1811, Benjamin Goldsmith arrived from Orange Co., N.Y., and located on the farm now occupied by George W. Holbert. The Greatsingers were also among the early settlers of the south and southeast parts of the town. John S. Greatsinger is a prominent representative of this family.
Among those who settled in the northwest part of the town, principally in the Thomas Whitney Patent, at an early period in its history, was John McCann, who came originally from Belfast, Ireland, but more immediately from New York City. He arrived in Elmira in 1809, and settled on a tract of 320 acres he purchased of Thomas Whitney. He subsequently added to his original purchase, and owned at his death the site of the New York State Reformatory, 140 acres of which his son, George S. McCann, Esq., sold to the commissioners of prisons prior to the erection of the buildings. About 1820, Thomas McCann, brother to John, came in and settled near his brother, but subsequently moved to the town of Erin, where he died, at the advanced age of ninety-two, in the fall of 1877.
The Carrs, of Carr’s Corners, were early settlers; also S. S. Matthews, of the Hillside View homestead, J. W. Compton, J. Carruthers, and others.
In the northern part of the town is located Eldridge Park, the property of the Eldridge estate, and by its original owner, Edwin Edlridge, M.D., thrown open to the public. For a fuller description of this lovely spot, we refer our readers to the history proper of the city of Elmira.
Elmira was formed from Chemung as Newtown, April 10, 1792, and its name was changed April 6, 1808. Catharine (Schuyler County), which then included the north half of towns Nos. 1 and 4, and all of towns 2 and 3 of the Watkins and Flint purchase, was taken off March 15, 1798; Big Flats and Southport, April 16, 1822; Horseheads, Feb. 8, 1854; and a part of Ashland, April 25, 1867. The description of the division of Chemung and formation of Newtown (Elmira), as given in the act ereeting (sic) the latter, is as follows: "All that part of Chemung lying east of the Massachusetts Pre-emption Line, and west of a line drawn north and south from the middle of Baldniss’ (Baldwin’s) Mill Creek to the north and south line of Tioga County (Pennsylvania line, and north tier of towns in the military tract), shall be called Newtown." The present area of the town is 14,682 acres.
The First town-meeting was held at the house of Dunn & Hornell; but of its proceedings, and of those of subsequent meetings up to 1854, we have no data, the town records from 1792 to 1853 inclusive having been lost or destroyed.
The names of supervisors, town clerks, and justices of the peace, from 1854 to 1878 inclusive, are as follows:
Supervisors.---Stephen McDonald, Erastus L. Hart, Levi J. Cooley (2 years), John Hill, James G. Hathaway (2 years), Gabriel L. Smith, Henry Baker (2 years), John Cass, James McCann (3 years), George O’Hanlon (3 years), George Maley (2 years), Joseph Hoffman, George S. McCann (3 years), Milton Newkirk (2 years), present (1878) incumbent.
Town Clerks.---Henry Potter, Hiram Potter, John Cass, William Lee (2 years), Robert R. R. Dundas, Jesse L. Cooley, Hector M. Stocum, Jesse L Cooley, James H. Paine, G. G. Reynolds, John W. Hathorn (3 years), Charles F. West (4 years), William S. Carr, George W. Holbert (4 years), Charles F. West, Sylvester W. Osborn, present incumbents.
Justices of the Peace.---William Foster, Isaac M. Baldwin (vacancy), Andrew B. Galatian, William F. Roe, (vacancy), George L. Davis, Thomas S. Spaulding, Uriah S. Lowe, (vacancy), Schuyler C. Reynolds, Shubael B. Denton, George L. Davis, James De Witt, Reuben H. Ransom, William Goldsmith, George L. Davis, George S. McCann, James C. Brooks, James L. Beech (vacancy), James Jenkins, Wilkes W. Jenkins, Joseph Hoffman (vacancy), Samuel M. Carr, J. H. Cooper, Joseph Hoffman, W. W. Jenkins, Samuel M. Carr, Charles F. West, Wm. S. Carr (vacancy), Vincent M. Goldsmith, William S. Carr, Hiram Ketcham, Samuel M. Carr, and James Abbott—last four present incumbents.
The present town officers, other than those included in the above lists, are Almond Goldsmith, Jacob Tice, and Joseph Wood, Assessors; Jackson Goldmith, John H. Greatsinger, and Michael H. Thurston, Commissioners of Highways; Edgar B. Terwilliger, Collector; Frank Stanard, John Thorn, and James McCann, Auditors; John Van Steamburg, Isaac R. Terwilliger, Overseers of the Poor; Christian Greatsinger, Henry E. Morgan, and Wm. W. Yeisley, Inspectors of Elections; Isaac A. Taylor, Henry W. Tice, Charles H. Kilmer, Stephen Goldsmith, and Madison Gunis, Constables.
After the civil organization of the town the influx of settlers was more numerous, and the general improvements were correspondingly rapid. Spafford, in his "Gazetter," published in 1813, writes concerning this town as follows:
"Elmira, a large post-township in the southwest corner of Tioga County, twenty miles southwest of Spencer village and two hundred and ten miles from Albany; it was formerly called Newtown, name changed in 1808; bounded north by Catharine, east by Chemung, south by the State of Pennsylvania, west by the county of Steuben. Its extent is twelve miles east and west, and ten miles north and south. There are two post-offices, one called Elmira, at Elmira village or Newtown, the other Big Flats. The Tioga River runs through this township southeastward and there are several small creeks that supply an abundance of mill-scats. Newtown or Elmira Creek is the largest, and the whole tract is well watered. The river hills present a rugged aspect, but are not very high, and contain a large proportion of arable land, dry, warm, and productive as is the upland in general. The alluvial flats along the river are extensive and rich. The land is held in fee, and the settlements are about twenty-six years old. There are in this township seven grist-mills, ten saw mills, a fulling-mill, carding machine, etc. The population in 1810 was 2169; the senatorial electors, 165, and 220 freeholders. There is a small mineral spring in this town, which from all accounts, must be one of the common sulphureted hydrogen springs, useful in the cause of scorbutic and cutaneous affections. There are two turnpike roads,---the one from Elmira village to the head of Seneca Lake, and the other belongs to an extensive line that connects Bath, in Steuben County, with Newburg, on the Hudson. This runs along the north side of the Susquehanna, on which (turnpike) stands the village of Elmira, a little northeast of the centre of the town, sixteen miles east of Painted Post. Here (at Elmira) is a handsome village of about forty houses, and a considerable and increasing trade. The courts were formerly held here, and their removal to Spencer has occasioned all the discontent that might have been expected."
The first school taught within the present limits of the town of Elmira was in a small log school-house, which stood on the farm now owned by Archilbald Jenkins, in 1798. The first teacher was Amariah Hammond, nephew of Lebbcus Hammond, the hero of the Wyoming massacre. Among the first scholars were children of the Jenkins and Tubbs families, and others.
From the annual report of Robert P.Bush, County Superintendent of Schools, we find that there were in the town 7 districts, 471 children of school age, 2 male and 14 female teachers employed, 253 weeks taught, 344 scholars attending school; 276 volumes in school library, valued at $95; 7 school-houses, valued with sites at $7275. Received---
State appropriation, $962; raised by tax, $1753; from other sources, $90. Paid---For teachers’ wages, $1977; other expenses, $731.
The population of the town for the lustrums from 1865 to 1875 inclusive, as shown in the State census compiled in 1875, is, in 1865, 1169; 1870, 1190; 1875, 1481.
The above data was kindly furnished by the following persons, to whom we herby acknowledge our obligations: Judge Hiram Gray, Archibald Jenkins, Joseph Hoffman, George S. McCann, Lyman Covell, of Elmira City, and others. Also to the Historical Sketch of Elmira, edited by Dr. Ira F. Hart, of the Advertiser, prepared for publication from various sources, principally the articles of Hon. Thomas Maxwell, which first appeared in Lewis Gaylord Clark’s Knickerbocker Magazine, and from a work published in 1840 by J. B. Wilkinson, Esq.
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