History of Gerry, NY

FROM: History of Chautauqua County, New York and its people
John P. Downs – Editor-in-Charge.
Fenwick Y. Hedley Editor-in-Chief.
Published By American Historical Society, Inc. 1921

Gerry was formed from Pomfret, June 1, 1812. Ellington, including Cherry Creek, was taken off in 1824 and Charlotte in 1829. It was named from Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a Vice-President. It lies southeast of the center of the county, is bounded on the north by Charlotte, east by Ellington, south by Ellicott, west by Ellery and Stockton, and comprises township three, range eleven, and contains thirty-six square miles. The highest hills are in the northeastern and southwestern sections, their summits being 400 feet above the Cassadaga Valley and 1,700 feet above the ocean. The wide and fertile Cassadaga Valley extends from the northwest part southeasterly to its southern boundary, and averages two miles wide. Through it runs the Dunkirk, Allegheny Valley & Pittsburgh railroad, built in 1871. Gerry Station is 722 feet and Sinclairville Station 757 feet above Lake Erie. Cassadaga Creek, a large, slow, crooked stream, flowing southerly through the valley is the principal water course. The other streams are Mill creek, which empties into the Cassadaga in the northwestern part of the town. E. A. Ross says: “Mill creek takes its source by two branches, one from Arkwright and one from Cherry Creek, and flows southwesterly through Charlotte and part of Gerry. The lower mill on this stream was lOcated half way between the Cassadaga and Sinclairville, and was built by John McAllister on land later owned by his son James.” Hatch creek rises in the northeastern part, flows southerly through the village of Gerry and empties into the Cassadaga. Folsom creek rises in the northeastern part, flows nearly south into Ellicott and into the Cassadaga. The town is well adapted to grazing and dairying, and the valley is adapted to the raising of corn and other grains. The soil of the uplands is clay loam, that of the valleys sand loam.

The principal portion of the present town of Gerry was an unbroken wilderness up to1815, although in the northern part contiguous to Sinclairville a few settlements had been made as early as 1810. In 1815 several families, all from Vermont, including those of William Alverson, Porter Phelps, Dexter and Nathan Hatch, and Reuben and Solomon Fessenden, plunged into the unbroken pine forest. bordering the Cassadaga Creek on the east and commenced carving out the new settlement called Vermont. These were soon followed by many others, nearly all from Guilford and Halifax, Windham county. They came with oxteams and on foot. Among the family names we note Bucklin, Cutting, Shepardson,. Mathews, Pratt, Salisbury, Starr, Cobb and many others. These pioneers found – themselves subject to laws unknown in the old Vermont. In 1813 the first town meeting in Gerry was held at the house of Samuel Sinclear, when the following town law was enacted: “Oxsleds to be four feet in ‘wedth.’ Penalty for being ‘cetched’ on the road with an ox sled less than four feet wide, five dollars.” The hog was also placed under restrictions at that time, not being allowed to run common without a suitable yoke.

The work of home-making progressed rapidly, log houses were built, clearings made, a road was early cut through to Sinclairyule, a distance of five miles, and roads opened in other directions. The first official recognition of the name Vermont to this locality we find in the town records of 1818: “A survey of a road beginning at a pine stump near James Bucklin’s house, said stump standing in the highway now designated by the name of Vermont.” In 1820 James Bucklin opened a hotel which caused the place to be known as “Bucklin’s Corners.” In 1822 a postoffice was established called Vermont, with Dexter Hatch as postmaster.

In 1822 Caleb Mathews commenced the manufacture of pottery on his farm east of Vermont Corners. This was carried on successfully on a small scale for a few years. About this time Solomon Fessenden established a brickyard, and for many years supplied brick of superior quality to the inhabitants of the central portion of the county. In 1838-39 a craze for manufacturing developed in the northern portion of Vermont, settlement and three factories were built for the production of wooden pails, wooden bowls and veneering respectively. This movement gained for the neighborhood the title of New Pittsburg, which it held locally for a number of years. These enterprises met failure with the exception of the veneer business which has grown from this small beginning to one of great importance. Here in 1845 Riley Greenleaf, who was a genius in mechanics, invented and put in successful operation the first machine for cutting veneers in a continuous sheet from the surface of a slowly revolving log. These machines are now universally used wherever this business is carried on.

One of the largest factories in the United States is located at Gerry Village, and is owned and managed in part by John Strong, who used the first machine made over half a century ago.

A general store was opened at Vermont by Howard B. Blodgett in 1826. He was succeeded by Norman Gurnsey. Sidney E. Palmer, his clerk, became the owner of the store and goods in 1838. Mr. Palmer was afterwards made postmaster, his commission bearing date August 1, 1841. He held this position continuously until his death in 1896, a period of fifty-five years, and was said to have been the oldest postmaster in point of service in the United States. A large portion of this time Mr. Palmer was town clerk. He was also five years on the board of supervisors from Gerry, and in 1860 represented the Second Assembly District of Chautauqua in the Legislature.

The postoffice, which long held the name of Vermont, was changed to Gerry about 1876, and the station on the Dunkirk, Allegheny Valley & Pittsburgh railroad was changed from Vermont to Gerry as late as 1881. When these changes were made, “Vermont in Gerry” was no longer a fact, but a memory. The pioneers are gone, but many of their descendants are occupying their places. It was believed in 1902 that there are but two persons living who came with the first settlers, Caroline Phelps Eaton, daughter of Porter Phelps, and Aibro Fessenden, son of Reuben Fessenden, were brought here by their parents in the fall of 1815 and the spring of 1816, respectively, making the journey from Vermont by ox-teams.

The Vermonters in Gerry have always furnished their proportion of men of affairs in town business. One of the most conspicuous examples was Willard Bucklin, one of the pioneer settlers. He was eight years on the board of supervisors, and for thirty years almost continuously held the office of justice of the peace, noted for the correctness and fairness of his decisions and rulings. Other Vermonters or their descendants who have represented the town on the board of supervisors include the names of James Bucklin, Henry Starr, John F. Phelps, and the present incumbent, Orson N. Salisbury.

The first birth of a white person occurred in the Jones family. Atkins, same year, built a log house on the northeast part of lot 55, a few rods from Jones’ log dwelling, upon the farm now owned by B. F. Dennison. In 1815 his wife Clarinda died, the first death in the town.

During 1811 the “old Chautauqua road” from Mayville to Ellicottville, was cut through the northern part of the town by John West, Peter Barnhart and Dexter Barnes, one rod wide, and cleared it of small trees and fallen ones for ten dollars per mile. They began July 4, 1811, at the fourteenth mile stake east of the court house, near the house of Amos Atkins (the Love stand) in Gerry. They were about three months in cutting the twenty-one miles to the Cattaraugus line. September 1, 1814, the same parties and others began to work upon this road and continued until cold weather. They resumed work September 1, 1815. Bridges were built and the road otherwise improved. It became the route by which, to some extent, the settlers came in from the east, and communication was had with Genesee county.

The first town meeting in Gerry, as at present constituted, was held at the house of Calvin Cutting, May 2, 1830. The officers chosen were: Supervisor, Hugh B. Patterson; town clerk, Howard B. Blodgett; assessors, William Mellen, William M. Wagoner, Calvin Smith; commissioners of highways, William Mellen, Jr., Willard Bucklin, Horace Strong; commissioners of schools, Benjamin Tuttle, Jr., James Scofield, Nathan Hatch; inspectors of schools, William Mellen, Jr., James Bucklin, Jr., Samuel J. Goodrich; overseers of poor, William Gilmour, Gilbert Strong; collector, William Gilmour; justices, Leander Mellen, Hugh B. Patterson; sealer, Nehemiah Horton; poundmaster, David Cobb.

Stages were first run through the town in 1827 by Obed Edson and Reuben Scott. In 1852 the Fredonia and Sinclairville plank road was built through the village of Gerry.

Sinclairville station is in the village of Sinclairville. A little more than one-third of the corporate limits of the village and much the smaller proportion of its population lies in Gerry.

Gerry Village is not incorporated, but is a prosperous little village containing about two hundred fifty inhabitants. Its principal manufacturing establishment is the prominent one owned by the Strong Veneer Company. Large amounts of timber adapted to the manufacture of veneers once grew in localities in this county near Charlotte and Gerry, and at an early period many engaged in this manufacture – Philip Edgerton, of Sinclairville, Greenleaf & Cole. Leffingwell, Colton, Lewis and Jonah Cutting, and John Strong, of Gerry. T. D. Copp made voyages to London, as also did William S. Fish later, to sell veneers. John Strong and his son Burdette commenced business January 1, 1893, in a new mill at Gerry, which had two cutting veneer mills with a capacity of twenty thousand feet per day. August 28, 1893, this mill was destroyed by fire. The value of the property was $25,000, insured for $5,000. They immediately erected a new iron-clad mill at Gerry, forty by eighty feet, three stories high, with cutting machine that weighs eighteen tons and will cut -an eight- foot log. The timber comes from New York, Michigan, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Curly walnut, birch, maple, ash, sycamore and mahogany are used. A. J. Peterson’s steam sawmill at Gerry Village has all modern improvements, employs fifteen men and manufactures twenty-five thousand feet of lumber per day. William and Addison Murch owned the sawmill at the east side of the village. The basket factory was formerly owned by George Noble, who for several years extensively manufactured grape-baskets. One season besides his factory at Gerry he had others at Brocton, Portland, and Ashville, at which he manufactured one million grape baskets. The Gerry creamery, and the Starr factory are butter and cheese factories of Gerry.

The Methodist Episcopal church in Gerry, the first religious association, was formed about 1819, by Elder Jonathan Wilson. It was subsequently legally organized, and December 12, 1828, a deed was executed by the. Holland Land Company of one hundred acres on lot 53 of land appropriated to religious purposes to James Scofield, William Alverson and Stoddard Cannon, Methodist members, as trustees. In or soon after 1829, with the proceeds of the sale of a portion of it, a meeting house was built upon the west side of the highway, about two miles south of Sinclairville. It was the first church built in Gerry and in the Cassadaga Valley, and one of the first Methodist meeting houses in the county. For years it was the only church in Gerry. It was the center of Methodism and was fondly regarded by the early Methodists. Adjacent to it a public burying place was set apart from this tract of land. The old church has long since passed away, as have the earnest and faithful fathers of the little society that built it. Of the builders of this church and early members of this society whose influence was long felt in Gerry, are buried, James R. Alverson; his wife, Damaris; his brother William; James Heath; and Gilbert Strong, aged 92. Here are buried other pioneers of Gerry: John McCullough, James Langworthy, Robert Lenox, David Strong, David Cowden; and Susannah Woods. died June 15, 1873, aged 100 years, 8 months and 22 days. The church was merged in the Methodist Episcopal Church of Sinclairville, and later the meeting house was accidentally destroyed by fire.

The first Baptist church of Gerry was formed by Rev. Jonathan Wilson about 1820, chiefly of members from the Stockton church. They held meetings in Gerry Abbey’s log house at “The Huddle,” a small cluster of log houses near the old Cutting stand. This church organization has ceased to exist.

The first society of the Methodist Protestant church was organized at the school house in district No. 4 in Poland, in May, 1839, by Rev. James Covell. The second was organized in district No. 11 (Miller’s settlement), in Poland in 1840 by Rev. O. C. Payne. The third was organized by Rev. James Covell at Bucklin’s Corners, April 15, 1840. The fourth was organized by Rev. Joseph Parkyn in district No. 2 in Gerry, December 28, 1840, and included the country around the early Methodist Episcopal meeting house. The first regularly appointed preacher was Rev. Joseph Parkyn, superintendent, and Rev. E. A. Wheat, assistant. Their successors have been: William Emmons, Elisha Brownson, Alanson Kingsley, Randolph Pennell, Lewis Sweetland, O. C. Payne, John W. Davis, William H. Farnham, Isaac Fister, S. M. Short, A. O. Hutchinson, C. K. Akley, H. L. Bowen, Charles Hundson, until 1882, when the Free Methodist class was organized at Gerry by withdrawing members. The Kennedy class of Methodist Protestants was about this time separated from Gerry, making Gerry a station to which Rev. F. N. Foster was appointed and served six years, supplying Kennedy also for three years. He was succeeded by Rev. C. C. Reynolds, A. L. Stinard, S. E. Mathews.

The Free Methodist Church of Gerry was organized in 1880. In 1883 an excellent church building was erected on a lot donated by N. J. Wilson, at Gerry Village. Among those who contributed largely were N. J. Wilson, John Strong, L. R. Barmore, Walter A. Sellew, Jarvis K. Wilson, Joseph Trusler, H. N. Sealy and others. Of the ministers who have served this church are those who stand high in the councils of the church at large, among whom are: J. H. Harmon; Walter A. Sellew, B. R. Jones, editor of the denominational paper; Prof. D. S. Warner, principal of Spring Arbor Seminary, Michigan; J. S. McGeary, a prominent member of the Genesee Conference, and others. An excellent parsonage is connected with the church. A fine toned bell from the McShane bell foundry of Baltimore, a gift from N. J. Wilson, hangs in the belfry.

To the Free Methodist Church and the public spirit of the citizens of Gerry the county is indebted for a valuable benevolent institution, Gerry Orphanage and Home. Its history is given in the following contribution:

In the years from 1880 to 1885, several ministers and laymen in Western New York were much exercised about the necessity of having a suitable home for orphans and homeless children. Among these were Rev. S. K. J. Chesbro, Rev. Henry Hornsby and Rev. Walter A. Sellew. In 1885 at the annual session of the Genesee Conference, a resolution was introduced by Rev. Sellew authorizing the appointment of a committee to secure the legal incorporation of such an institution. This committee was appointed, consisting of the ministers named above, and a charter was drafted, which was made the basis of an incorporation by act of the Legislature of New York State, May 6, 1886. The following were named as trustees: Henry Hornsby, S. K. J. Chesbro, Walter A. Sellow, Wilson T. Hogue, Wm. Manning, Newell J. Wilson, Albert McCoy, Alanson K. Bacon, Tristam Cortiss, Peter D. Miller, Owen M. Owen, Geo. W. Gurley, John T. Michael, Hiram Beardsley and Wm. Gould. The first meeting of this board was held at Gerry, August 17, 1886, and officers were elected: Henry Hornsby, president; John T. Michael, vice-president; S. K. J. Chesbro, secretary; Walter A. Sellew, treasurer.

Nothing was done toward establishing the institution till 1888, when Rev. Walter A. Sellew (later Bishop Sellew) offered to donate the property in Gerry known as the “Seminary property,” consisting of eight acres of land and a building of two stories and basement, with barns and suitable outbuildings. The land, estimated at $I,2oo, had been donated a few years before to Mr. Sellew by the citizens of Gerry to be used for seminary purposes. The donation by Mr. Sellew made to the Orphanage and Home was estimated at about $5,000. This donation from Mr. Sellew was accepted. In the spring of 1889 Rev. O. O. Bacon and wife were elected manager and matron, and entered upon their duties. The first children, four in number, were received as inmates in June, 1889.

There had been a pressing demand for a “Home” for aged persons, and the management decided to admit that class of dependent people also. The first age 60 inmate was received June 3, 1889. At the annual mee ing in September, 1890, there were ten children ai. seven aged persons as inmates.

In May, 1890, the trustees purchased the property adjoining, known as the “Starr Estate,” ten acres of land with dwelling house. In October, 1903, they also purchased the Oscar Partridge farm, also adjoining, consisting of 110 acres with the usual farm buildings. The large increase in the number of inmates, both children and old people, rendered it necessary that more room should be provided. The association of children and aged people in the same building was not pleasant to either class, and this fact also made it imperative that a new building should be provided. Accordingly in 1900 this new building was constructed, three stories and a full basement, with modern heating and sanition plumbing. To obtain a suitable location for this building the trustees purchased the John Strong homestead on the main road running towards Sinclairville, and on this location the new building now stands.

The first manager and matron, Rev. O. O. Bacon and wife, remained till April, 1893. The Rev. George M. Allen and wife succeeded them and remained till October, 1898, when Rev. L. D. Perkins and wife became manager and matron.

The largest contributions to the institution besides Rev. Walter A. Sellew, who gave the original property, and those giving the original land for a location, has been as follows: William and Charlotte Phillips of Newfane, New York, gave their farm which was sold for $4,000 cash; they also deeded the institution the village property valued at $2,000, to be sold after their death. Mrs. Lavanche Essex of Franklinville, New York, gave $2,550; L. Atwood, of Rome, New York, Thankful Burrett, of North Chili, New York, and Jarvis K. Wilson, of Gerry, New York, have each given $1,000. Mrs. Burrett and Mr. Wilson made repeated liberal donations from time to time. Rev. Henry Hornsby has also given the institution something over $1,000 and has deeded to them his farm in West Kendall, New York, valued at about $7,000. and he and his wife retain the use of it during life. The larger part, however, of all moneys received, both for property and for current expenses, has been contributed in small amounts by a large number of people from a wide scope of territory. In 1903 there were contributors from twenty-six States and Territories, including Canada, besides some from foreign countries.

While this institution receives and cares for both children and aged people, they have always made a specialty of caring for homeless children, and obtaining for such, good Christian homes. The Gerry Orphanage believes that the best place for a child is in a good family, but that -an orphanage is a necessity in order to gather and care for these homeless ones until a proper home in a family can be secured. They have conducted their institution so that it has been a medium between a homeless child and a childless home, and they take the children committed to them, keep them a year or two, training, educating and developing them meanwhile, and then place them in some Christian family for adoption. This plan they have steadily pursued so that they have since their opening placed out a large number of such children in good homes.

The Orphanage building has lately undergone extensive repairs. They have a nursery, with competent nurses, and make a specialty of caring for infants and small children. They have a fine day school for the larger scholars with an attendance of about thirty-five. The school is under the control and supervision of the Public School Commissioner. They have never had a serious case of sickness of a child over one year old, and no deaths except of young infants. According to their reports, the total expenditures for medicine, medical supplies and attendance for ten years was only twenty dollars and ninety-five cents.

Supervisors-Samuel Sinclear, six years; Amos Atkins, 1814; Selah Pickett, 1817; Joel Burnell, two years; Hugh B. Patterson, eleven years; Nathan Lake, 1829; James Scofield, 1831; Samuel Fargo, 1836; Willard Bucklin, eight years: William M. Waggoner, two years; William Bliss, two years; William R. Wilson, two years; Sidney F. Palmer, five years; William Mellen, 1856: James Bucklin, six years; Lyman Eaton, 1853; Samuel Griffith, two years; Robert Lenox, 1860; Galusha Beardsley, six years: George A. Aldrich, two years; B. F. Dennison, two years; William H. Scott, three years: Jarvis K. Wilson. three years; John F. Phelps, 1879; Charles A. Tracy, nine years; Henry Starr, six years; 1896-1901, John A. Almy: 1902-07, Orson N. Salisbury; 1908-11, Obed F. Ostrander; 1912-15, George N. Tompkins; 1916-20, Park L. Starr.

The population of Gerry in 1915 (State census) was 1,175 citizens, 19 aliens. The full value of real estate in the town in 1918 (supervisors’ report) was $843,197; its equalized assessed value, $661,547. Gerry schools are also of high grade.