February 1990

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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Dundee, a village in the township of Starkey, was once a part of Ontario County that was given to Steuben County in 1796. Guy McMaster's book, History of The Settlement of Steuben County published in 1853 explains:

At the organization of the County, (Steuben) all the territory which now forms the towns of Tyrone, Wayne, Reading in Steuben County, and the Towns of Barrington and Starkey in Yates County was erected into the Town of Frederickton in honor of Frederick Bartles, a German who emigrated with his family from New Jersey in 1793, or about that time, and located himself at the outlet of Mud Lake, (Lamoka) known far and wide as Bartles' Hollow. Bartles had the patronage of the then Captain Williamson in erecting a flouring and sawmill, and became the justice of the peace.

Col. Charles Williamson was agent for an association of English capitalists headed by Sir William Pulteney for a land speculation venture. Supposedly it was Williamson's grand scheme of transforming 1.2 million acres of raw wilderness into a new world center of civilization, commerce and trade. About 1824 Frederickton was reformed into the towns as they exist today. Again from McMaster.

Mud Creek was then a navigable stream, and in 1778 Mr. Bartles rafted 100,000 feet of boards from his mills to Baltimore, Maryland. In 1800 he ran two arks from the same place with one measuring 72 feet and 15 feet wide, and one 71 feet by 15 feet wide, following Mud Creek to the Conhocton River at Savona, then the Conhocton to Painted Post, and the Susquehanna to Baltimore.

According to Don Rowland, Historian for the Town of Wayne (1988) these trips were made when the streams were at high level, usually in mid-March. To assure a flying start they dammed up Mud Creek, while below the dam rafts were prepared for the trip. When there was sufficient water in the lake, they would break the dam by hitching horses to the key supporting logs, or use gunpowder to blow the dam out. The men then would ride the rafts on the flood surge to the Conhocton, provided that no serious mishaps occurred on the way.

Prices for lumber and produce must have been good at Baltimore for it is easy to envision the thrills at the beginning, and the perils on the rest of the trip. I'm happy to be born too late for that wild ride.

Before 1853 McMaster wrote: "Mud Creek has failed since the clearing of the forests, and the area produce seeks the east by canals and railroads." An original account of these water trips was recorded by the Clerk, Henry A. Townsend, in the Steuben County Records of Deeds, Volume I.

The Naming of Dundee

Stafford C. Cleveland, in his History of Yates County, Volume II writes:

It is said to be the truth of history, that the plain wheron Dundee is located was thought by the pioneers to be too poor to be worth settling upon. Hence its obvious advantage of location was not immediately improved. Dense forests of pine which surrounded the locality were full of wolves and other wild game. The Indians came here to make salt, and the early settlers were familiar with the Indian trail which passed through that place, leading from Catherine northward to Kanadesago (or Canedesaga), now Seneca Castle.
Isaac Stark's sawmill was the first improvement and for some time the settlement was known as Stark's Mills, until it became known as Harpending Corners.

In the booklet Recollections of Early Days published by the Dundee Area Historical Society in 1976, the editors wrote:

The Village now known as Harpending's Corners had about 30 buildings scattered along four principal streets. It had a dreary and desolate appearance with rough and uneven streets filled with piles of lumber, shingles and staves and profusely decorated with stumps. There were no shade trees, no churches and no sidewalks. Every one had his own cattle and since there was a fine of 25 cents per cow for those who let theirs run at large, rail fences ran every which way in any direction. In every yard was a trough for the family hogs…wolves, bear and wildcats were common game in the dense pine forests which surrounded the area. In the 1830s Harpending's Corners began to boom, thirty new houses were built in the village, Churches were organized and Samuel Huson built a new store.

Now the village was ready to be renamed, and again we hear from Lewis Cash Aldrich.

In the summer of 1834 the changing of the name of the village was agitated. There had been an attempt to call it Plainville, which failed, there being another village of that name in the state. This probably produced more excitement than any event before or since. The number of names proposed were only limited to the number of the inhabitants, nearly every one having a pet name largely of the "ville" order. The Harpending family very naturally wanted the old name in part retained, and proposed "Harpending" or "Harpendale"…

LaGrange and Stark, or Starkville were also considered but an old fashioned singing-school teacher, James Gifford proposed Dundee in 1833, and got it accepted after some hard promotion. Dundee is the name of an old Scottish Psalter found in the hymn book Musica Sacra. In a Lutheran hymnal published in 1941 by Concordia Publishing House, I found four settings for the tune "Dundee" from a 1615 Scottish Psalter. Three of the settings, all with the same melody, were written before 1833; one each in 1774, 1819, 1824. In 1833 when Gifford worked the meeting crowd to urge their vote for "Dundee" he was supposed to have blatted out all the verses. I like to think he used the 1774 version by William Cowper titled "God Moves In A Mysterious Way." The Lyrics seem to fit the occasion.

Verse 3

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Verse 5

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower.
© 1990, Edwin N. Harris
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