Squire Fisher's Open House
from The Groaning Tree and Other Stories
Squire Fisher's house was always open to travelers and was a gathering place for civic enterprises, some national in scope. When Charles "Squire" Fisher came with his parents in 1811, from his birthplace in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, they built a log cabin. In a few years he bought a sawmill so he could make a frame addition to the log cabin. In 1849 part of the original cabin was replaced with a two-story Greek Revival wing. An opposite east wing had already been added to house the Fishers post office. At one time fifteen family members and seven servants lived in the house.
The saw mill prospered as other new houses were being built but still a surplus of lumber piled up with no market because of the lack of a year-round shipping facility. The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, made only summer shipments to eastern markets. Because experiments were being made in the east with steam railroads, a meeting was held at the homestead in 1827 to consider a railroad though the Finger Lakes country from Rochester to Syracuse. The idea met with approval, and ten years later the railroad was actually started. The family doctor, Dr. Hartwell Carver of Pittsford, attended and also proposed a transcontinental railroad. Dr. Carver pursued his idea until its completion in 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah.
The Fisher family joined the Mendon Baptist Church. Other members at that time were Brigham Young a furniture maker; Heber C. Kimball, and the Tomlinson and Parks families. Brigham Young was hired to put window panes in the Fisher homestead and to build a house next door. Baptist socials and meetings were held at the Fisher home. In the winter of 1832 five Mormon missionaries came to Mendon, holding meetings in homes including some in the large dining room of the Fisher's. There were so many Mormon converts that it amounted to a raid on the Mendon Baptist Church. The Mormon converts later moved to Kirtland, Ohio.
In 1847, Spiritualism was started by the Fox sisters. The Squire's daughter, Almira, died in 1847, and the next year his wife, Rebecca, died. In his grief he took up Spiritualism and held "Light" meetings at his home, which became an outpost for that religion with visits by the Fox sisters and other leaders. Sister Margretta Fox left her tortoise-shell hair comb there by mistake.
The Baptist Church in the Rochester area wanted a college, and in 1847 proposed to move Colgate University to this city. The leading promoters instead decided to establish a new univeristy, the University of Rochester. Receipts to Charles Fisher from the new university show that he provided a substantial sum of money. The fund-raising trustees were overnight guests of the Squire during their campaign in the Town of Mendon.
When the Fishers Hotel overflowed with customers, the Squire always found room at his house. On their way to settle on western land in the fall of 1852, Henry Van Voorhis and his family got off the train at Fishers. The Squire put them up for the night. Because they liked the local hospitality, they bought a farm upon which their descendants still live.
About 1831, the Canandaigua Academy debating team competed with a Fishers team and spent the night at the Squire's house. Stephen A. Douglas was on the Canandaigua team and left two years later to seek his fortune in Illinois. During his presidential campaign against Lincoln he came back to see his mother and sister at Clifton Springs and gave a memorable speech in the park. On his way back over the Auburn Road he stopped in Fishers to greet old friends and seek votes.
Dr. Charles Came of Pittsford presented his famous "Scientific Exhibition" in 1840 in the Fishers schoolhouse and spent the night at the Squire's house. For over fifty years this show was hauled in a covered wagon from Maine to Michigan. This extensive collection is now one of the main features at the Valentown Museum.
Another stopover guest at the Squire's house was Susan B. Anthony, who was seeking public support for her upcoming Canandaigua trial for voting illegally in the presidential election of 1872. The Squire's widow, Helen Jane Fisher, said in a letter to her sister that "Susan talked good sense."
Although Squire Fisher died in 1872, his son, William Fisher, was for a number of years host to John Burroughs, the great naturalist and author, who was botanizing in the area with his party.
The planners for Fishers Fire Department met there in 1916, but their plan was set aside in favor of organizing the Fishers Home Defense Reserve, Company F for 1917 - 19, a part of the Ontario County Battalion with my father Captain Almon Preston Fisher, as the commander and using the homestead as the official headquarters. This writer is the sole surviving member of the seventy men who served in Company F.
The years 1930, 1931, and 1932 were busy years at the homestead when several hundred people attended the Fishers School reunions on the spacious front lawn.
In 1933 the lawn was the setting for a "Pioneer Day" pageant to depict the history of Fishers, written and directed by this author. One hundred and fifty people were in the cast.
I also wrote and directed a pageant, presented on June 30, 1953, showing Dr. Hartwell Carver's part in projecting the Transcontinental Railroad. A few of the vice-presidents of the railroads even got involved by playing some of the characters in the pageant. Five generations have used Squire Fisher's house as a center for community activities.
© 1987, J. Sheldon Fisher
The Groaning Tree and The Fish Horn Alarm are available at local bookstores.