Land of Liquid Gold
OIL IS LIQUID GOLD. It is a prize of empire, the richest stake of war. Because of man's lust for this buried treasure, bloody wars have been fought, the destinies of nations and the course of politics swayed, governments debauched and princely fortunes won and lost.
Without it, all the wheels of world industry would cease and all the engines of war on all the fronts would rust away.
As long as the drills go down into the earth, seeking out thisburied treasure, America still will have a frontier. For in a landof pumps and derricks, there is a vividness of life, an air of daring,of playing for high stakes, a keen and often ruthless competition-the things that keep alive the flickering fires of the pioneering spirit.
This flame burns in the Genesee Country, along the southernreaches of the river that flows through Rochester. In that ruggedcountryside was discovered the first petroleum in all America. For64 years the buckled terrain of Allegany County has given liberallyof its underground riches that lay untapped for millions of years.The geologists tell us that the oil began as organic matter eons ago,deep down in the shale and seeped up through cracks into the sands,waiting for the drills of men to come and harvest it.
There are few acres of southern Allegany soil that have notbeen punctured in the quest of oil and its sister resource, combustible gas. Both have been found in paying quantities in thesouthern row of towns.
Wellsville on the Genesee may be called the Capital of the OilCountry but Bolivar, the village named after the South Americanliberator, is its production center and little Richburg was the sceneof the region's most spectacular boom. Allentown and the townsof Genesee, Independence, Scio, Clarksville, Ward, Andover andAmity all contribute to the county's production.
Apparently oil and Genesee water do not mix for one mustwander away a few miles from the river to explore the oil and gas fields.
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In that rugged land, the air reeks with the pungent odor of theoil. You taste it in the water you drink. Along the road from thenorthern rim of Richburg almost to the corporate limits of Wellsville, you hear the constant chug of the engines that power thethousands of pumps, and the slide of the polished rod. The thickwoods around Allentown often hide the wells but you can hear themonotonous, ceaseless chant of the pumps. Looking up into thehills, you see a swath cut through the woods and you know in thatcleared path is a pipe line, leading to one of the refineries or one ofthe huge storage tanks that dot the landscape.
The talk is all of oil and gas and leases. There is an undercurrent of excitement, of things unpredictable, characteristic of allregions where wealth is taken from the earth.
In Richburg there are oil wells on the front lawns and even one in a churchyard. The chug of the engines goes on even during thechurch service. Oil is pumped a few feet from the village cemetery. One oil well is so close to a house that the resident can almosttouch it from a side window.
Bolivar, a rich, brisk town, has no oil wells in its dooryards butis surrounded by them. A town of about 1,500, it has an assessedvaluation of seven millions.
Don't look askance at some roughly clad, hustling man yousee racing from lease to lease in a dust.smeared car. He may be amillionaire oil operator who can buy and sell you a thousand times.
There are mansions on North Main Street in Wellsville andon the shady, side streets of Bolivar that tell of fabulous fortunesthe pumps in the hills and valleys have built.
Most of the glamour and the drama of the Oil Country lie inthe past. The days of mad speculation, akin to a gold rush, aregone forever. The oil and gas industry is a stabilized business, inthe hands of responsible operators. Some of them are independents and natives of the region. Others are the big combines. Thefeverish speculation and wildcat promotion of the early days aremissing.
The monthly drilling report for July showed 81 wells are beingsunk in the Allegany field. In my ignorance I looked for a sea ofderricks along the roads. Derricks are used nowadays only indrilling new wells. Prior to the adoption of "flooding" in 1920,the tall derricks with their huge timbers stood throughout the periodof production.
The Allegany field began producing in 1879. The peak production of the early days was in 1882-24,000 barrels a day. Laterthe field showed signs of exhaustion but "flooding" brought amarked revival.
All New York State oil sands produce some gas along withthe oil. This gas escaped faster than oil was produced. Thus thegas pressure which encouraged the flow of oil out of the pores ofthe sand, was largely lost after a period of production. This gaspressure was restored by flooding exhausted fields. By this process,the large amount of oil still left in the sands is driven from one wellto another by the introduction of water to create hydrostatic pressure.
Under this system, rows of water wells are first drilled instraight lines. After at least six months, sometimes longer, oil wellsare put down in a line from a point midway between two lines ofwater wells which push the oil at right angles to the travel of the water.
The principle of flooding was known-and was used surreptitiously-prior to its legalization in 1920. This process proved ablessing in preserving the life of the Allegany fields.
"Black gold" is a misnomer when applied to Allegany Countyoil, which is of a greenish, gold cast. Genesee Country oil is listedin the trade under the heading of "Pennsylvania oil" and is of asfine quality as a lubricant as any produced in America.
Throughout the section many wells produce both oil and commercial gas. In early days gas had no great recovery value andfarmers used the surplus for huge outdoor lights that burned allnight in the barnyards. Since then, the value of natural gas hasbeen greatly enhanced. Allegany County is the state's most reliable source of that elusive and fickle resource.
The gas fields are chiefly on the fringe of the oil pools, surrounding Wellsville. Deep well testing began in 1927 and one wellin the town of Wirt holds a record for drilling depth-6,500 feetwithout paying gas. The shallow wells throughout the area havea more consistent history.
In Wellsville alone, some 2,300 people are employed in somephase of the oil industry, with 600 on the payrolls of the big Sinclair Refinery alone. Prior to the introduction of "flooding," theoil production for the Allegany field was around 100 barrels aday. Now the average will reach 10,000 to 11,000 barrels daily.
Which reminds me of a story they still tell in the Oil Country. A Boston lady, who had never seen an oil well, paid a visit to the fields. She was told a certain well produced 100 barrels a day.
"But," she said, "how do they get the barrels down in the wells?"
In Rochester ever since gas rationing began, there have been persistent reports of such a surplus of oil in the Southern Tier that it was being pumped back into the ground. Every person in the oil business with whom I talked ridiculed this story. On the contrary, they said, concern is felt over dwindling production because of government quotas, labor shortage and material priorities.
Just the same, people who live in a countryside studded withoil wells, are not too keen about having their automobile gasolinerationed-or their driving policed.
Everybody in the Oil Country remembers the great fire whichfive years ago swept the refinery in Wellsville. And they recall,too, the gas "gusher" which ran wild from a deep well south ofWellsville in 1940. It was a tremendous sight. At first the liquidshot straight in the air, later fanned out. The loss was enormousand the hazard from fire was grave. The operators had neverdreamed of such a flow and were unprepared for the "runaway."To stem the flow and to prevent fire, a crew of specialists was imported from Texas. They used weighted mud, which had to beheavier than the gas pressure, to tame the mad "gusher."
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In the Genesee Country, but some miles west of the river, isthe spring from wh.ich bubbled the first known petroleum inAmerica. It is in the town of Cuba and for three centuries hasbeen known as the Seneca Oil Spring.
It was first made known to white men in 1627, when FatherD'Allion, a Franciscan friar, wrote of it. The Iroquois tribes carried word of its great medicinal qualities to far places. In 1700 Lord Belmont directed an agent to find "the spring that blazeswhen a hot coal is applied and which lies eight miles southwest of the furthest Seneca castle (Caneadea)."
According to Seneca tradition, a very fat squaw fell into thepool and disappeared forever. Ever since then, oil has arisen out ofits depths. The Indians gathered the oil seepage by spreadingblankets over the surface of the spring. These absorbed the oilwhich was wrung out and put up in vials as the famed Senecamineral oil.
Oil was never produced in paying quantities at the spring although an 1857 "duster" drilled there makes it, according to someaccounts, the state's first oil well. The Seneca Spring is a shrine ofthe industry, however, and bears a historical marker.
Ever since Col. Edwin L. Drake made his epochal oil "strike" at Titusville in 1857, the first producing oil well in America, and the consequent development of the Pennsylvania field, oil operatorshad cast their eyes over the state line into Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties.
In 1866 a well was drilled near Whitesville but it was not aprofitable venture. But pioneers kept on drilling in Southern Alegany. One of the most persistent and energetic of these pioneerswas Orville P. Taylor, who has been called "The Colonel Drakeof the Allegany fields."
In June, 1879, after he had sunk several dry wells, Taylorbrought in the famous Triangle No. 1 well, four miles southwestof Wellsville, This was the discovery well, the first productivewell in the Allegany field. Immediately the excitement began. Whathad been a barren field became a mushroom town, christened "Triangle City." For years this staunch pioneer well produced consistently.
And recently the memory of O. P. Taylor, the man who Iwould not give up, was honored by the government when a Liberty Iship was launched bearing his name.
But Richburg was the Eldorado, the hell-roaring boom town of the Allegany fields. This village was named after a settler and without any prophetic allusion to its future wealth. For years it had slept, a hamlet of some 25 buildings and less than 200 souls, on the shady road that led over the hills to Friendship, 11 miles away. Farmers plowed the fields, little dreaming of the wealth that lay beneath their furrows. The arrival of the stage with the mail and an occasional passenger was the big event of the day in Richburg.
But in 1881, the pioneers were drilling for oil in the countryside.
On the morning of April 27, 1881, a gusher came in one mile west of the village-and Richburg was no longer a crossroads hamlet. For a little over a year it was the wildest, wickedest boom town in America.
Oil scouts rode on horseback to the railroad towns and thewires carried news of the gusher to newspapers in all parts of thecountry. Thousands read the news and the next day the invasionwas on. Oil men came pouring across the border, from Bradford,from Pittsburgh, from Oil City, from all points of the compass,along with the unsavory army of camp followers that in those daysfollowed the discovery of new oil fields.
There was a wild scramble for leases. In a week Richburg grew from a hamlet of 200 to a veritable city of 8,000.
On my way down to Wellsville, I talked with Charles Rickerat Fillmore. Ever since he left his Black Creek home, a boy of16, Ricker has been interested in oil. When the gusher came in atRichburg, he opened a hardware store in the boom town.
From this man, now over 80, with leonine head and the bearing of a senator, from written reminiscences and oral accounts ofother pioneers, a picture of Rithburg's lurid past can be piecedtogether.
In less than a week after the discovery of oil, four stage lineswere in operation over into Pennsylvania. Big old-fashioned stagecoaches, drawn by four horses, came lumbering into Richburg,laden with oil-crazed passengers. Flimsy houses, stores with falsefronts, saloons and gambling halls sprang up.
There were few sleeping accommodations. It was nothingstrange to see 20 men crawl out of a hay mow at daybreak. Sometimes as many as 200 slept under the maples of the little park bythe village schoolhouse. Others paid $1 a night for the privilege ofsleeping on a billiard table.
One saloon keeper did not wait for the carpenters. He placedtwo whisky barrels on end, used a plank for a bar and set upbusiness in the street. The village grist mill became a bagnio.Ricker said at one time there were 135 women plying the oldestprofession in the world in the oil town. There were gamblinghells in barns, over stores. Money flowed like water. There weremurders and stabbings and gang fights. No mining camp in theRockies was wilder than Richburg in the heyday of the oil boom.
Narrow gauge railroads were hastily built over the hills. Afine opera house arose in Main Street. There stars of the spokenstage appeared, among them Fay Templeton. Richburg becamepart of the Oil Country Circuit which included Pittsburgh, Bradford and Oil City, and John L. Sullivan came there on one of hisbarnstorming tours. Ricker recalled that an oil gang foremannamed McGarvey put on the gloves with the champ and gave agood account of himself.
The men of the Oil Country were husky fellows, athletic, fleetof foot. The Ackerman Hose Company of Richburg once made aworld's record in a hose race at a tournament at Bradford.
A parasitic breed known as the "oil dipper" flourished for atime in those lush days, when the overflow of oil formed veritablelakes in low places. Two men built a dam on the flats, an ingenious contrivance, that would skim the oil off the water. At onetime they were storing 700 barrels of oil.
Another man set up a tank near a creek that was full offloating oil. By the simple law of gravity, the oil laden water justflowed into his tank. The law of the state finally halted his enterprise.
A horde of men, and boys and even women, spent their days dipping the oil off the waters in the lowlands with every sort ofreceptacle. In the woods a big "dippers' oil dam" held an accumulation of driftwood and debris, as well as liquid gold. One nightit caught fire, how no one knows, Hundreds fought the blaze thatraced for a mile along the creek and lit up the heavens. That wasthe end of the chiselers "oil dam."
In the van of the prospectors who came to Richburg were theIrish, who loved the adventure and the gamble of the oil rush.Some of them stayed to flavor the stern New England strain of thecountryside.
Farmers on whose lands oil was struck became rich overnight.Men who had never seen more than $50 at one time in their lives,counted their wealth in the thousands.
One man who did not trust banks, took out his lease money, aconsiderable sum, in gold, shoved it into grain sacks and sat up allnight beside it, with a rifle. Another went in for gaudy harnesstrimmings. When the country was being scoured for old gold inthe 1930s, much precious metal came out of hiding in Richburg,a hangover from the boom days. Relatives sold the two heavy goldwatches that one long dead, get-rich-quick farmer had purchased-and carried-just because he did not know what else to do withhis newly found wealth.
But Richburg's day of glory was shortlived. In the summerof 1882 word spread of a rich new gusher at Cherry Grove, Pa.Almost as quickly as they came, the fickle army that followed theoil fields deserted Richburg. Besides the field was showing signsof exhaustion.
Slowly Richburg went back to sleep. The opera house was converted into a cheese factory and later burned. Some of the buildingsfell into ruin. Some were moved away bodily. Bolivar becamethe center of production. In 1895 Richburg was called "a ghosttown."
Wellsville had its hectic boom period, too, In 1884 there were55 saloons and 12 houses of ill fame in the village and a Law andOrder League formed to preserve the peace.
With the advent of "flooding," the Allegany fields received amighty shot in the arm, Richburg rallied from its eclipse and thefields around the village became steady producers again.
The wild days and wilder nights of the rush of '81 today liveonly in the memories of the old men in the Oil Country.
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Old timers in Bolivar remember a youth of 15 who came thereto live in 1891. He was an enterprising lad who delivered thedaily papers on the first "safety" two-wheeled bicycle the villagehad ever seen. He had bought the bike out of his savings. Healso bought a cornet and played in a boys' band. He caught onthe village baseball nine, which numbered on its rolls such futuregreats as Pat Dougherty and Fielder Jones. This lad lived inBolivar two years, then went on to Cornell University and to famein fields other than baseball. His name was Frank Gannett.
Wellsville is the birthplace of two noted writers of their day;Charles M. Sheldon, author of a religious story, "In His Steps,"which was one of the best sellers of all time, and Grace LivingstonHill, writer of more modern fiction. Adam McMullen, one-timegovernor of Nebraska, also first saw the light of day in the capitalof the Oil Country.
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The Oil Country has had a glamorous and romantic past. Itis the center of a mighty industry today.
But the oil producers are looking into the future. A comprehensive research program is contemplated. The oil men are seekingways of taking even more of the crude from the sands of AlleganyCounty.
If they are successful, the life of the oil fields will be greatly prolonged.
And if history is any criterion, the men of the Oil Country will find a way!
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A Mansion and A Sage
THIS paraphrase of the old song that I had concocted kept running through my head as I turned my back on opulent Wellsville and the Oil Country and the mountains and pursued the meandering Genesee, astride Shank's Mare:
"Where do we go from here, boys?
Where do we go from here?
On to Angelica and to Belmont
And all the way to Belvidere."
As the river flows northward, the valley widens and little bylittle, the hills slough off their towering stature. Still Central Allegany is mighty rugged country.
A couple of miles out of Wellsville, an elderly physician-his auto bore an M. D. license-gave me a lift into Scio. The doctor turned out to be a man of kindly deeds but few words. Here is our conversation:
Q. - Nice weather, isn't it?
A. - Too dry.
Q. - Great cars, these Buicks (This after deducing he had been addicted to the make for years.)
A. - First one I ever owned. Always drove Hudsons before.
With that, I gave up. We rode on in silence. That rural doctor could never be called a chatterbox or accused of overdoing "thebedside manner."
There are oil and gas wells in the hills around Scio but littleevidence of mineral wealth in the village. A big sign flapped inthe breeze in front of the church. "Evangelistic meeting tonight,"it read. It was fairly early in the morning so I pushed on.
Again Lady Luck walked with me that bright July morning. Some two miles north of Scio something that clattered and groanedand squealed pulled alongside. It was the remnants of a Ford, '32vintage, and what held it together was a mystery. The driver wasa pleasant faced youngish farmer who was only too willing to talkabout the weather.
Only he thought it had been too wet.
By the time we rattled into Belmont, I thought my name was Tom Collins. I was that shaken up.
The farmer was going on to Angelica. I hope he made it before the fate of the One Hoss Shay overtook his chariot.
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Belmont is the county seat of Allegany. A new and-handsomecourthouse graces a hilltop overlooking the river, on the site of anancient Indian fort and burying ground.
"This town is livelier when court's in session," I was told atthe hotel. Court or no court, it is a pleasant village under itsspreading old trees, on the fringe of the Oil Country and the centerof a rich dairying section.
The Borden plant there has manufactured powdered milk foryears. Now it is making a lemon concentrate which can be converted into a cooling drink for the parched throats of our warriorsin far off deserts and steaming jungles.
In Belmont I sought out Russell F. Pierson, editor of the Dispatch. He is a big man, brisk and fortright. When I told him mymission, he said: "Jump into the car. I'll take you to just the fellow you want to see."
The "fellow" was Charles E. Whitcomb, the most fascinatingpersonality I encountered in my prowls along the Genesee fromthe Pennsylvania mountains to the Lake Ontario plain.
Despite all his mechanical skill, Charley Whitcomb has neverbeen able to get his dozens of clocks to strike at the same time.One was striking as we arrived. Another rang out a few minuteslater. And a little later another. It was a bit confusing.
Charley's old house on the southern edge of Belvidere is a veritable, museum. There are clocks everywhere. Add to the ensemble an array of guns, violins, pipes, lathes, work benches, books of history, maps and old documents and the result is the most remarkable living quarters in all Allegany County.
Serene, amid his treasures, sat a slender, gray-haired man withshrewd and kindly blue eyes, with the thin, aesthetic features ofa scholar and the long, slim hands of an artist. Charley Whitcombis both.
Ever since his wife died years ago, he has lived alone in theold house where his father lived before him-alone with his manyhobbies.
All of his nearly 80 years have been spent along the Genesee.He has fished its waters and hunted its hills since boyhood. Hehas delved deeply into its history and he knows its people. He wasonce active in politics and served as supervisor of his town. Hehas known all the dignitaries of the county.
His flair for the mechanical is known throughout the countryside. There is no mechanism so intricate he cannot master it, no clock or gun he cannot doctor. But he does not commercialize his skill. He "runs no repair shop" but will occasionally fix a timepiece for a neighbor.
His amazing collection of clocks has been accumulated overyears of rambling the countryside. There are tall Grandfatherclocks, wall clocks with bronze pendulums, genuine antiques,mantle clocks, every conceivable kind of timepiece. Sharing hishobby is his neighbor, the Rev. Jerome Kates, rector of St. Stephen'sEpiscopal Church in Rochester, whose summer farm home is afew rods up the Belmont road. The clergyman has spent manysummers there. Maybe his enthusiasm for clock collecting can betraced to his association with Charley.
A real gun fancier would go into ecstasies over his collection.Alas, I knew so little about clocks or guns or violins. Some of hisguns are a century old. There are beautiful long rifles like theKentuckians fired in the long ago. There are Civil War pieces withold time target sights.
In his youth, when there were gunsmiths on the river, Charleylearned that now lost art. Today he could turn out a rifle complete.One of his most prized treasures is the last gun A. D. Brown, afamous Belvidere gunsmith, made in the 1870s.
Among his violins is one that is 140 years old. It belonged tohis uncle, a celebrated fiddler in his time. It played for countlessdances up and down the river. It accompanied its owner to thebloody field of Gettysburg in the War Between the States.
"Ever play the violin yourself ?" I asked Charley.
"Not when anyone is around."
I will wager that he can play-and play well.
In his younger days he was an ardent hunter and angler. Asa boy he heard his elders talk of the wild deer that once roved theriver country. In manhood, he had to go many miles, way downinto Pennsylvania forest, after them. And now in his old age,they romp almost on his very doorstep and "I pay no attention tothem." He said there were no fish worth catching in the river anymore. The stream is so full of oil that even the fish shun it. Thusthe shadow of the oil fields falls on the lands to the north.
Mention any name or event in Allegany history and Charleyhas the answer-either in his well stocked mental storehouse or inhis books and maps in his cluttered living room. He is an authority on the Church family, the pioneers and landed gentry of theregion. His father was superintendent of the vast Church estate atBelvidere and as a boy Charley Whitcomb lived in the mansion thatPhilip Church built beside the Genesee 133 years ago. And as aboy. Charley had access to the extensive library in the mansion,which no doubt fostered his love for literature.
In quiet tones and in scholarly language, Charley went backinto the earlier days of Allegany, while the rain beat on the roof,the first shower since I began my walking trip. I could think ofno better shelter than this "House of a Hundred Clocks" and nobetter company than this "Sage of Belvidere."
Charley told of great days at the manor house of the Churches, when the Wadsworths would drive down from the Middle Valleyin coach and four, when he saw Horatio Seymour, once a candidatefor President of the United States, standing before the huge fireplace in the drawing room.
He told of the Indians and the pioneers; of Moses Van Campen, the border fighter, who ran the gauntlet at Caneadea.
He spoke of the days when Belvidere was an important shipping point on the main line of the Erie. Now it is not even awhistle stop and even the station has been torn down.
Charley was born on the Big Tree farm of General Wadsworth, of which his father was overseer. He has a piece of theoriginal Big Tree of treaty fame among his souvenirs.
Charley smokes a special brand of tobacco that is almost clear perique. At least two decades ago, a friend warned him that "thatstuff will put you in your grave in five years." Within less thanfive years perique-puffig Charley attended his friend's funeral.
The Sage of Belvidere lives an enviable life. He does prettymuch as he pleases. If he wants to read a book or the HobbyistMagazine half the night, well, he does not have to rise early. Ifhe wants to tinker with clocks or oil his guns or tune his fiddles,there is nobody to say him nay.
As I was leaving, Charley pointed out a compass he had cutinto the cement curbing beside his driveway. He was directing meto the mansion of the Churches that I was to visit on the morrow.
I might ramble all the rivers of America and still not findanother Charley Whitcomb.
When I walked back to Belmont, the rain had ceased and the sun was shining on the flats and on the hills.
That night at 9 p. m. a shrill whistle blast shattered the quiet of the county seat. I asked the man behind the counter whatit meant. "Curfew for the kids. Don't mean a thing," he said.
At 10 p. m. the same whistle sounded, only longer and louder. It meant something this time, for all the lights in the hotel suddenlywinked out. It was blackout, The war had come to peaceful Belmont, where already half the town had gone to bed and put out the lights.
It all seemed a bit silly. But, of course, the Great White Father knows best.
The next morning when I trudged down Belmont's main street,bound for the Mansion on the Genesee, a voice boomed out behindme. I looked back. A big man was waving and shouting "GoodBye, Good Luck." It was Russ Pierson, the editor. Somehow, thesunshine was brighter, the skies bluer and the birds' song moreblithe that dewy morning after that friendly farewell.
But then, Belmont is in the township of AMITY and adjoining it is the town of FRIENDSHIP.
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As a boy, I had heard of the big estate around Angelica withits pure-blooded Jersey cattle, and veritable castle hidden among the trees.
But I knew nothing of the history of Belvidere Farms untilI had talked with Charley Whitcomb and had pored over old histories of Allegany County. Across those pages the name of Philip Church is written in bold letters. He was the patroon, the pioneer,the first citizen of the lower Genesee, playing much the same role inits early development as did the Wadsworths in the Middle Valley.Indeed, the paths of the two aristocratic families crossed many times.
During the Revolution, the commissaries general of the Colonial and French armies were John B. Church and Jeremiah Wadsworth of Hartford, Conn. The British-born Church had come to America before the Revolution and amassed a fortune in Boston as an underwriter.
John B. Church had loaned Robert Morris, the land promoter,$80,000 and had taken as security 100,000 acres of Genesee Countryland. Morris failed to meet his obligations. And so it-came aboutthat young Philip Church, son of John B., journeyed over the roughtrails to Canandaigua in the year 1801 to bid in at foreclosure salewhat is now the central portion of Allegany County.
Philip Church had lived in Paris and London, had studied atEton, hobnobbed with the Prince of Wales, studied law in theMiddle Temple. His mother was the daughter of Gen. PhilipSchuyler. His uncle and mentor was the famous Alexander Hamilton. He had served on the staff of General Washington after thewar and as private secretary to Hamilton. He remembered filingaway among other papers, the final draft of Washington's FarewellAddress.
This was the background of the man who was to become themaster of a vast estate in the backwoods, miles from any settlementand to live there, the community's most influential citizen, the restof his days.
Church had his 100,000 acres surveyed and selected a site near their center as the principal town, which he named Angelica afterhis mother. He reserved 2,000 acres for his personal estate andplanned to sell the rest to settlers in the Wadsworth tradition. Hecalled his home site Belvidere and there along the river he built in1804 the White House, the first painted building in the wilds, intowhich were driven only nails hammered out by hand. That framebuilding stood for 100 years until a wind storm blew it down.
It was to this home that in 1805 Philip Church brought hisbride, Anna Matilda Stewart, whom he had met when attendingGeneral Washington's funeral in Philadelphia. This 19-year-oldbelle was suddenly transplanted from the gay whirl of Philadelphiasociety to the wilderness.
Their wedding journey was a strange one, first by coach andfour to Bath, then by jolting wagon to Hornellsville whence theyrode on horseback along a rough trail, marked only by blazed trees.When they reached the White House, the pack horses with beddingand provisions were far behind so they slept that night on strawmattresses on the floor, annoyed by rats indoors and howling wolvesoutside.
In 1810 Church built the brick and stone, white-columnedmanor house that still stands beside a bend in the Genesee andlooks out over a romantic vista of mingled flats, table land androlling hills. It is said Church, an athletic man adept at cricket andfoot races, climbed a tall pine tree to prospect out the site for hishomestead.
He became the leading man of the new county, of which hemade Angelica the county seat. He was influential in bringing theGenesee Valley Canal and the Erie Railroad to the area and wasan early judge of the county.
After Judge Church's death in 1861, his son, Richard, lived in the mansion and continued its tradition of lavish hospitality. Therewere merry gatherings in the high old rooms whose walls werelined with rare paintings and well-filled book shelves. The horn ofthe hunter was heard on the Allegany hills and the crack of therifle sounded through the woods.
In the desks of the mansion were stored private papers of the Hamiltons, the Schuylers, the Rensselaers and other notable kinfolkof the Churches. And in possession of the family were the historic pistols-that Alexander Hamilton carried to his death at Weehawkenin his duel with Aaron Burr.
Financial reverses beset the house of Church and the mansion in the 1890s passed into other hands. Richard, the last of his line inWestern New York, died in 1911 at the home of his daughter,Mrs. E. P. Hart, in Rochester.
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Belvidere Farms was sold under foreclosure in 1892 to Fred B. Keeney of Warsaw. In 1909 the property passed to the late wealthy Grace Emery of Bradford, Pa,, and Louise Squires Clark. Since Mrs. Clark's death, her husband, S. Hoxie Clark, seldom visits the place and quiet has settled over once gay Belvidere Farms.
One can hardly see the mansion from the road, it sets so farback amid towering trees and dense shrubbery, There is a stonewall around the grounds and a curving driveway that leads throughonce magnificent lawns and gardens.
As I ambled up that winding driveway, the elderly caretakercame to meet me. His name is L. A. Van Campen and he is a descendant of the pioneer who ran the Seneca gauntlet. He has beenin charge of the place for 18 years and "never have the groundslooked so unkept."
"I can't get any help and this is too much for one man, not soyoung at that," he mourned and as we walked through the flowergardens, the spacious lawns and surveyed the stables, I agreed withhim. The place still has an air of splendor.
The mansion of the Churches still stands staunchly, its stately south porch with the white pillars looking out on the winding Genesee. Time cannot dim the beauty of the wide, old-fashioned white doors or the high green blinds. The structure is a rambling one with servants' quarters built on the rear. All around it are sky-reaching hemlocks and in the front yard, the biggest maple I have ever seen.
I would like to have explored the interior but Van Campensaid, "Sorry, can't let anybody in without a note from Mr. Clark."
"Where is Mr. Clark ?" I asked.
"Miami, last I heard."
So I gave up the idea.
But Van Campen told me something of the 22 rooms, thedozen bathrooms, the score of fireplaces, the great chandeliers in thehigh ceilinged rooms, most of which are now unused.
Because now only an elderly caretaker and his wife dwell in the 133-year-old mansion of the Churches beside the Genesee.
* * * * *
The road that leads over the hills from Belvidere Farms to Angelica is a lonely one, but a farmer gave me a ride for the last mile of the four.
About Angelica clings an air of antiquity, a scent of musk and mignonette. It is the oldest town in the county and once was itsmost important center. Judge Church saw to it that this village henamed after his mother became the county seat, even although hehad to annex three towns to Allegany from Steuben so that Angelicawould be nearer the geographical center.
But when in the 1850s, the Genesee Valley Canal and the ErieRailroad had both passed it by, a cry arose for a county seat on therailroad. A commission in 1858 picked Belmont, but still Angelicafought on and succeeded in having the Legislature divide the countyinto two shires so that alternate court terms were held in bothvillages, So for 50 years Allegany had two county seats, onlyseven miles apart! But since 1898, Belmont has been the sole shiretown and now the old and bitter rivalry is forgotten.
On the public square, at Angelica, flanked by four churchesand the high school, the old Courthouse, built in 1819, still stands.The cream-colored structure now is used as a community center. In October, 1854, the first Republican convention in the state-and it is claimed, the nation-met there to name Myron H. Clark for governor. Ripon, Wis., claims to be the birthplace of the GOPby virtue of a similar convention there in the spring of 1854. Friendship also has a claim because a convention was called there thatsame year but nobody attended save the promoters.
Angelica about 1792 was the haven of a group of FrenchRoyalists who fled to America after the fall of the Bourbons. Amongthem was Baron Hyde de Neuville, who after the downfall of Napoleon, returned to France and became a political power. He once was France's Ambassador at Washington.
A young Frenchman lived in Angelica at that time, namedVictor Dupont de Nemours. His name appears on the first deedever recorded in the county. After a short time he joined hisbrother, Irenee, on the banks of the Brandywine in Delaware.There the family founded one of the greatest industrial dynasties inAmerica.
There is a house near the square that is 141 years old. Awhite colonial home with green blinds, built by Ewart Van Winkle,it stands far back from the street. Charley Whitcomb said on oneof the window frames are scratched the initials "JBC." He figuresthat John B. Church, brother of Philip, carved them there a century ago.
Angelica, a lovely old village with a lovely old name, is saturated with history.
* * * * *
In Friendship village, over the hills south of Angelica, oncelived a bearded former prophet of the Mormon Church. The storygoes that he spent his last years in the quiet village in mortal fear,even boarding up his windows at night. His name was SidneyRigdon, a onetime Baptist preacher and a founder, with AlexanderCampbell, of the sect known as the Campbellites. Rigdon was anearly convert of Joseph Smith and skeptics have maintained he wrotemuch of the "revelations" of the unlettered Palmyra farm boy whobecame the founder of a mighty church. Rigdon rose to power inthe new sect, but when Smith was slain in Illinois and BrighamYoung, the former Mendon carpenter, came to the throne, Rigdonfell on evil days. He quarreled with Young and was ousted fromhis high place in the church. He came to live in the town calledFriendship, perhaps in the hope its magic name would give himsanctuary. There is no record he ever was disturbed but his fearwas real indeed.
Ghosts Walk Old Trails
"VILLAGE OF BELFAST. Speed limit 25 miles per hour. Hawking andPeddling forbidden." That sign was to me like an oasis in the desert to a heat-parched caravan, like the sight of land to long shipwrecked mariners.
My speed limit had slowed down to considerably less than 25miles an hour. I had no desire to to hawk or to peddle. All Iwanted was to rest my feet.
For I had walked 14 weary miles that summer's day-fromBelmont to Belvidere, then back to the river at Transit Bridge andnow, praised be Allah, I was at the gates of Belfast.
The road from Angelica to Transit Bridge was a lonely one.There were few autos and no offers of lifts. Only the occasionalclatter of a reaper in the fields, the song of the birds, the hum ofthe bees broke the silence of that green and smiling countryside.It was hard to believe that these tranquil hills and valleys under acloudless sky were part of a world at war.
There was more traffic on the road along the river fromTransit Bridge to Belfast-but it all whizzed right by. Feet, thatlong had been accustomed to no more than a three-block saunter tothe corner store, were protesting vehemently as I ambled throughthe ever widening valley of the Genesee.
That is why Belfast, gateway to Northern Allegany, to me was the portal of a Promised Land, the end of the road-for that day.
* * * * *
Back in 1824 a band of New Englanders established a tinysettlement that they called Orrinsburgh on the river flats. Thegreat flood of 1836 in the wake of three days of downpour washedit away, along with every bridge on the river from Pennsylvania andRochester, many houses, barns, mills, dams, animals and crops. Undaunted, the pioneers built anew but on higher ground to thesouthwest. This reborn village on its new site later was calledBelfast, after an older town on the Irish Sea.
Two years later, in 1838, came the big wind, so mighty that,according to legend, it scooped all the water out of the river sothat for a few minutes the channel of the Genesee was dry.
There are many legends that cluster about this old river town. The principal one deals with two strong men in whose veins flowedfighting Irish blood. Their names were John Lawrence Sullivan andWilliam Muldoon. Sullivan was a native of Boston but Muldoonwas born on a Belfast farm.
For a few months in 1889 the eyes of the sporting world werefixed upon this village in the Allegany hills. For it was here thatBilly Muldoon was training Sullivan, then world's heavyweightchampion, for his bout with Jake Kilrain. Sullivan had come toMuldoon's training camp at Belfast, a besotted wreck. In a fewweeks the stern, iron willed, tyrannical Muldoon had whipped thechampion back into shape to conquer Kilrain.
It had been no easy task. Muldoon's principal worry had beenJohn L.'s love of liquor. Muldoon guarded his charge day andnight, but occasionally the Strong Boy would elude his jailer. And then as women and children scurried to cover, the cry would beheard in the streets of Belfast:
"John L. is loose again. Send for Muldoon!"
Muldoon would come, snatch the champ away from the barand take him back to the training camp in the heart of the village.Most of the buildings are still standing. The long, low house,flanked by the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries (for Belfast ishalf Irish Catholic and half Yankee Protestant), is still there underthe tall maples although the wide porches that surrounded it inMuldoon's day are gone.
In one of the stables, a pair of iron rings still hang from the ceiling just as they did 54 years ago when John L. Sullivan swungupon them.
Old timers around Belfast proudly say: "Yes, I remember whenJohn L. trained here," As boys, they saw the big Irish fighter trotting along the river roads on his daily grind behind the dour Muldoon. Some recall the trainer driving up to the village saloon ina buckboard, picking up the drink-paralyzed Sullivan and tossingthat great hulk into the wagon that clattered back to the house withthe wide porches.
As I stood, looking over that historic house and trying to recreate its glamorous past, I could see the lace curtains in the windowof an adjoining residence pulled back by a thin, blue veined hand.Strangers who stand and gape at old buildings aren't too commonin Belfast village.
Tourists will remember Belfast as the town by the big railroad bridge. At its northern outskirts stands an engineering triumph of1910. Stretching for three-fifths of a mile across the valley at theheight of 140 feet, the Genesee Viaduct of the Erie Railroad is animpressive structure. It is part of what is known as the "cut-off," afreight line built by the Erie to by-pass the formidable hills ofsouthern Allegany County. A few miles to the northward near Fillmore is an even higher viaduct. It is 155 feet high but only 1,922feet long.
* * * * *
In 1851 there were music and bonfires and high jinks alongthe river. The Genesee Valley Canal from Rochester to Belfast wascompleted. Two years before, the stretch from Shakers' (nearMount Morris) to Oramel had been cut through by hand labor,mostly Irish immigrants.
Allegany County folk saw the new canal as a great boon. Thisribbon of water eventually was to join the Allegheny River atOlean with the Erie Canal at Rochester and channel the commerceof the entire Mississippi basin across the Empire State. That wasthe dream of its promoters. It was begun in 1840. It was 1856before it was completed to Olean. In 1878 it was abandoned afterthe state had sunk three and one quarter million dollars in its rockybed.
The old canal followed the river from Rochester to Belfast,then swung off to the southwest to join the Allegheny at Olean.In its brief heyday it brought color and life to the river towns aswell as goods and commerce.
Oramel today is just a hamlet - a handful of old houses, astore, two churches, a gasoline station. A fire six years ago helpedalong its disintegration. But in the 1850s, in the boom days of theGenesee Valley Canal, it was the bustling capital of that inlandwaterway, THE town of river towns.
* * * * *
Caneadea is a historian's paradise. Its name in the Indiantongue means "where the heavens rest upon the earth," and thereon the east bank of the river, the Senecas built the southernmostvillage of their ancient domain along the Genesee. Caneadea wasthe southern door to the Long House of the Iroquois and a hereditary sachem of the league dwelt here.
Walk the east side of the Genesee and you walk with ghostsof the past. You will come across John Hudson, Seneca orator andchief, the head man of the village that once squatted on the river'sbank, opposite the present site of Houghton College and two milesnortheast of the village that now bears the name of Caneactea.
You will meet Captain Nellis, the Tory renegade who livedthere with his squaw wife and incited the tribesmen to attacks onthe settlers.
Mary Jemison, the White Woman,- will be coming down thetrail again to stop at Caneadea on her long trek from the Ohio toher new home along the Genesee.
You will encounter doughty Moses Van Campen, the DanielBoone of the Genesee Country. You will see him run the gauntletagain the 30 yards from the road to the old Council House of theSenecas. When the Red Men captured Van Campen, a soldier ofthe Revolution and a famous scout, they brought him to Caneadea.There they forced him to run through a line of squaws, armed withwicked clubs and whips that stung the flesh.
The warriors stood aside, watching the sport. Van Campen,fleet and crafty, had dodged and ducked his way, virtually unscathed, to within a few feet of his goal. In his path were only two young squaws with whips poised to strike the bared back of the scout. Van Campen suddenly charged them like a football player. He gave one the straight arm treatment and sent her sprawling. He lashed out and kicked the other in the stomach and she joinedher comrade on the ground. The braves guffawed and after that Moses Van Campen was held in high respect by the Senecas.
The scene of Van Campen's dash and the site of the CouncilHouse are marked by a boulder and plate today. The old meetingplace, which resounded to the eloquence of Red Jacket and Brantand Cornplanter, was built in 1780 by British troops sent from FortNiagara to assist their Seneca allies.
After the Revolution, it stood on the 10,000-acre reservationset aside for the Indians by the 1797 treaty of Big Tree. After theSenecas had sold their reservation to land speculators for $48,000 in1826 and moved away, a settler added three or four logs to itsheight and made his home there. Later, it was used as a barn andwas rotting away when William Pryor Letchworth had it removed to his estate at Glen Iris, now Letchworth Park, where it was reconstructed.
Walking down the river road, you may run across JosephJones, the Quaker surveyor, with his men. The deer and the wolvesare startled at these intruders, with their compasses and theodolites,chains and flags and the Senecas watch the palefaces uneasily.Jones is subdividing 170 acres of wilderness into lots and streetsand a public square. With the water power of the Genesee at hand, he visualizes a city at Caneadea - a city that never materialized.
Or you may look over the shoulder of Elisha Johnson, wholatter became a pioneer at Rochesterville, and was engaged to makea survey of the region in 1807, as he dips his quill in home-made inkand pens these words to his employer, John Greig of Canandaigua:
* * * * *
There are more recent ghosts along the river. There is avacant farm house near Freeman Bridge that brought back memoriesto me.
In that house on a September afternoon in 1927, a 23-year-old farm youth, Wilmot Leroy Wagner, shot to death two State Troopers who had come to arrest him on a petty charge. I recalledthe grim man hunt that ended two weeks later with Wagner'scapture in the Pennsylvania mountains. I saw the point where theslayer swam the river in the night, while armed men guarded theroads. And in retrospect I sat again in a crowded Buffalo courtroom as I had 16 years before and saw the young defendant, withall the stoicism of an Indian, stand to hear the verdict that meantdeath in the electric chair. There was no sign of emotion in hiscurious, unfathomable eyes, one blue, the other gray, no change ofcolor in his poker face.
Since the murder, the house above the river has remainedvacant most of the time. Maybe the river people see ghosts there.
To Rochesterians, Caneadea brings to mind the huge powerdam that the Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation built therein 1926-27. The dam holds the water of a large artificial lake ofconsiderable scenic charm. This lake covers the onetime hamlet ofEast Rushford and many acres of farm lands. About this dam andlake there hangs a tale of two villages.
The power project is about midway between the villages ofCaneadea on the river flats and Rushford in the hills, Each wantedthe lake and dam to bear its name. Caneadea folk put up a bigsign, "Caneadea Dam and Lake." Rushfordites tore it down andput up one of their own that read "Rushford Lake and Dam." Thiswent on for months until a compromise was evolved. Today it isCaneadea Dam and Rushford Lake.
On their family farm near Caneadea some 15 years ago, twophysician brothers, Drs. William H. and Stephen V. Mountain ofOlean, established a unique philanthropy. It was a home foraged and indigent physicians and their families. After the death of the Mountains, the home was abandoned.
* * * * *
Houghton on the Genesee is one of the few college towns inAmerica where it is impossible to buy liquor or tobacco in any form. The college, now beginning its 60th year on its hilltopcampus overlooking the valley is a citadel of the Wesleyan faith,and frivolities and dissipation have no part in its creed.
This village was not always so straight laced. In the days ofthe canal, long before the Georgian red-brick college buildingsarose on the hill, Houghton was Jockey Street. It was a hang-outfor horse thieves and rough characters and got its name becausehorse races were staged in its principal street.
Houghton College is one of Allegany County's two institutionsof higher education. The other at Alfred, some miles east ofGenesee water, was founded by the Seventh Day Baptists. Membersof this sect in the 1820's and 30's came to the shelter of the Allegany hills, to worship away from the haunts of men. They settledat Alfred, Little Genesee and Nile and in those places members ofthe sect stilt are numerous. Other than their belief that Saturdayis the true Sabbath, these thrifty, industrious people are no differentfrom their neighbors.
Much to the delight of Alfred students, so a recent graduatetold me, the college does not hold classes on either Saturday orSunday. He also said that some Seventh Day Baptist washing is onthe line on Sunday mornings in plain sight of the church-goers ofother faiths.
* * * * *
When I reached Fillmore, liveliest of the river towns in Northern Allegany, I felt very much at home. My brother-in-law, EugeneTowell, is postmaster of that village. The length and breadth ofthe county he is known as "Beaner" Towell, a star baseball playerof a decade ago. He saw to it that I did little walking in his endof the Genesee Country.
Fillmore is the center of a prosperous dairying region. The hills that surround it abound with deer and foxes. There is a night quarantine on dogs but residents often are awakened by the bayingof the dogs as they chase the wild deer in the hills.
While I was at Fillmore, a young deer stalked fearlessly outof Cole Creek and into the village street. Children petted it, thedeer posed for pictures and a villager holding out a handful ofgrass as bait, enticed the animal into his barnyard. Then a dogappeared and the deer, with one graceful leap, cleared the fenceand romped off into the woods. The next day it was back again,looking for a hand-out.
Once the hills were thickly clad with pine. There is still one considerable stand of virgin timber around Fillmore. In the 1850's,lumbering was a mighty industry in these parts and saw millswhined along the river and barges laden with lumber plied thecanal.
In the early days timber thieves flourished, too. They wouldraid the pine woods and cut down other men's trees. Sometimesthey were victimized themselves, for other thieves would haul awaythe timber they had hewed down.
Frank Purdy, a farmer beside the river all of his 80 years,remembers when the hills were thickly timbered and there were abig saw mill and dam near his land. This man, straight and sturdy,was busy moving fence posts from his barn to his pasture lot bywheel barrow. He told how as a boy he rode a canal boat toRochester. The trip took four days. "Now," he said, gazing at theautos whizzing by on the highway beside his pasture, "a car makesit in two hours."
Sprightly John Hammond, 77-year-old retired mail carrier, remembered how as a boy of ten, he had driven horses on the oldtowpath all the way to Rochester with a barge load of coal. "Thosecanal days were wild ones." And he grinned reminiscently. "Therewas a saloon at every lock and there were many locks. I have seenmany fights between canal men, many tow lines cut and heard manya splash as men were tossed into the water,"
Hume was once the main center of the region. Now it is really a suburb of Fillmore. In Hume there lived a lawyer named GeorgeHarding. He had been dead for some years but whenever his namewas spoken, men slapped their thighs and chuckled. For GeorgeHarding possessed a biting wit and was a shrewd master of courtroom strategy. In winter he pinned up his overcoat with a hugehorse blanket pin. He chewed tobacco incessantly and his spittingprecision was remarkable. He frequently would remove his shoesin the court room, even when appearing before the august Appelate Division. This stocky, shrewd and highly successful rurallawyer feared neither judge, rival barrister, man or devil.
Whenever he was to try a case or to preside over one, for healso was a peace justice, crowds flocked from all over the countryside. And he always gave them a show.
Once a judge fined Harding $5 for contempt of court. Thelawyer had spoken witheringly of the jurist. Harding forked overa $10 bill.
"I said $5, Lawyer Harding," said the judge.
"Keep it," retorted Harding. "I shall probably utter another $5 worth of contempt before this case is over."
Again when another jurist slapped a $5 fine on Harding for contempt of court, the lawyer merely said. "I will apply it on account."
It seemed the jurist owed him money.
Once Harding tangled with a big city lawyer, who gettingthe worst of it in the battle of wits with his "backwoods" adversary, snarled:
"I could eat you whole, you little squirt."
"In which case you would have more brains in your stomach than you ever will have in your head," shot back Harding.
* * * * *
This friendly Northern Allegany countryside, this land ofmajestic hills and fertile river bottoms, flows with much milkand some honey and-with many tales of the days of yore.
It was a hot-bed of abolitionism before the Civil War and ledin the foundation of the new Republican party. Its men flockeddown from the hills in droves to wear the Union blue.
Fiery crosses blazed on those same hills in the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's.
Although many parts of the region have voted "dry" for years, more than one wildcat still flourished in the hills in the prohibition era.
There are still old-time cheese factories where the farmer brings his milk and takes home with him cans of whey for his hogs just as in the days of my own bucolic boyhood.
And in spring, sap flows from the maples on the hills to betransformed into golden syrup.
It is great deer hunting country and in pre-gasoline rationing days, its villages were full of hunters in the open season.
And I have heard vague and doubtless unfounded rumors, thatvenison has been served on rural tables out of season.
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