April 1992

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Truth and Trivia


Betty F. Smalley

The Town of Torrey was formed from parts of Benton and Milo on the 14th of November, 1851, and named for the chairman of the Board of Supervisors at that time. It was the last of the nine townships to be erected in Yates County, but the first to be settled.

In September of 1779, Sullivan's troops scoured the east side of Seneca Lake destroying Indian crops and villages. Sullivan sent a detachment of 400 men to the west side to destroy a settlement at Gothescuquean, now Kashong. This is the nearest the Revolutionary War came to Torrey.

Soldiers in Sullivan's Army found the country beautiful and productive, one officer reported, "150 acres of the best corn I ever saw (some of the stalks grew 16 feet high), besides great quantities of beans, potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, squashes and watermelons." The soldiers returned to their homes eager to come here to settle.

In 1786, some sources say 1787, Richard Smith, Thomas Hathaway, and Abraham Dayton were sent out by the followers of Jemima Wilkinson to search for a place for their group to establish a new Jerusalem. They found a couple of French traders, DeBartsch and Poudre, living at the site of the old Indian village, now Kashong.

These men gave the scouts good reports of the area, and they, after investigating the country around, returned to Jemima to recommend the west side of Seneca as a location for their settlement.

In 1788 a committee of Thomas Hathaway, James Parker, William Potter, and Benedict Robinson, "men of means and prominence," were sent to purchase land. They chose 14,000 acres; Long Point was about the center of the tract. The State of New York sold these lands to them by patent for the Congregation of the Universal Friends.

In August of 1788 a party of 25 of Jemima's followers came by way of Albany in boats. Exploring the stream that is the outlet of Keuka Lake they came to a waterfall and decided to settle there, about one mile south of the present village of Dresden. They explored the locale and cleared enough forest to plant 12 acres of wheat, the first in the county.

That winter they nearly starved; some lived on boiled potatoes and milk, some had only nettles and Bohea tea to sustain them. Jonathan Davis brought flour from two bushels of wheat on his back 45 miles. He carried it from Athens, Pennsylvania, to Seneca and rowed 20 miles up Seneca Lake to the settlement. The next year, 1789, a mill was built, powered by the falls.

Other settlers sought homes in this region and more of the Universal Friends arrived. Jemima Wilkinson came the next year and lived first in a log house. The Friends soon built her a frame house at a site they called City Hill a little south of the mill stream. The census of 1790 showed 80 families, 260 people, in the Friend's settlement. At that time it was the largest group in the whole Genesee Country.

A trading post was set up, near the present village of Dresden, where they traded grain and fruit with the Indians. Red Jacket, Corn Planter and their party encamped at Norris Landing in 1791 en route to Canandaigua for the the treaty meeting with Pickering. Eliphalet Norris purchased furs from the Indians with clothes and whiskey at his store in 1792.

On September 16, 1792, Benedict Robinson and Susannah Brown became the first couple to be married in the area that is now Torrey. Elizabeth Holmes, wife of Jedediah, had been the first person to die in the new settlement. That was in the terrible winter of 1788-1789.

Charles Williamson had the 40 ton sloop Alexander built. It was launched in 1796 and was the only boat carrying pioneer goods and passengers between the south end of the lake and Geneva until 1813 when the Robert Throop joined it in lake transportation service. Seneca Lake once ranked with the Hudson River for importance as a north-south waterway in New York State. Sloops, tow boats, and passenger steamers carried ever greater numbers of settlers to the west and farm produce to the east. Hundreds of travelers went by water between Watkins and Geneva every day.

A new center, called Hopeton, was established by Charles Williamson. It was close to the present junction of 14 and 54, and was on the north south road to Geneva that had been an old Indian trail. A plank road ran through Hopeton from the lake toward Penn Yan.

John Nicholas erected several mills along the outlet stream known as Hopeton Mills, but they were outside the limits of Hopeton Village. These were later owned by Abraham Dox, a son-in-law of Nicholas, until they were destroyed by fire. An article in the Geneva Gazette of July 19, 1829, reads as follows: "The valuable Hopeton Mill property of Abraham Dox, Esquire, was destroyed by fire 12 May, 1829. The loss is heavy, the mill contained between 3,000 - 4,000 bushels of wheat and 1,000 barrels of flour. The loss is probably $8,000 which is the amount of the insurance. This was one of the finest mills in the western country and had recently been put in perfect order."

Twenty some years after Hopeton had been established, two brothers, Isaac and Harmon Bogert of Albany, related to the Van Rensselaer famly, and wealthy, bought most of the land where Dresden now stands. Their tract of 106 acres of virgin land on the lake shore, lay on both sides of the outlet stream from Crooked Lake. The Bogerts built a flouring mill on Seneca Street in 1831 which ran by the stone process. It was bought by Henry Birkett in 1855. At his death, his sons, William and Clarence, ran it until Clarence went to Penn Yan where he and Calvin Russell built the Birkett Mills. Clarence Ferenbaugh bought the Dresden Mill, remodeled it into a roller-process mill, and ran it about 14 years.William Birkett bought it in 1912 and ran it until 1925 when the dam went out, and New York Electric and Gas bought the mill.

Isaac Bogert also built a store on Seneca Street near the lake and opposite his house which was built early in the 1800's. Isaac died the 24th of September, 1832, at 55 years, and his wife Maria died May 24th, 1853, at 71 years of age.

Harmon Bogert was a lawyer and lived in Geneva, but soon began to make improvements and lay out streets for a village, naming some of them for his daughters. The Bogerts gave three public squares on Main Street for parks, but put too high a price on their property to bring the county seat to Dresden. Dr. Charles Bogert, son of Harmon, died November 29, 1894, at 80 years and is buried in the Hopeton cemetery.

Meanwhile Hopeton gradually faded away. Some of the houses were skidded to Dresden. When the canal was built in 1833, mills, warehouses, boatyards and dry docks sprang up at Dresden with the canal-traffic prosperity.

The post office had moved to Dresden in 1829. Actually the name of the post office was West Dresden because there was another Dresden in Washington County, New York. That post office was discontinued in 1890 and "West" was dropped from the name of the post office to become simply Dresden, as the village was known. Letters had often been mis-sent to West Dryden, a post office in Tomkins County.

Flourishing Dresden was the grain market for the surrounding country, it had stores, a saw mill, a carriage shop, a plaster mill, two hotels, a brewery, and even a distillery in the late 1850s with two large cooper shops to make whiskey barrels for the distillery.

Dresden was a regular landing place for canal boats and steamers for the Seneca Lake Navigation Company. It had a boatyard where many boats were built, and a drydock. The steamer Duncan S. Magee was built at the Dresden boat yard and launched there in the early 1860s.

The Crooked Lake Canal was in operation from 1833 until 1877. The New York Central built the Fall Brook Rail Road through Torrey in 1876 and 1877. A few years later after the canal was abandoned, some business men in Penn Yan organized the Penn Yan and New York Railway Company to build a rail line along the unused canal. An arrangement was made for the Fall Brook Coal Company to build and equip the road. Immediately after construction all rights, title, and interest in the line were turned over to the Fall Brook Co. The first train passed over the so-called "Corkscrew Rail Road" the third of August, 1884.

Even with the railroad, Dresden failed to expand. When disaster came by fire, many business places were never rebuilt.

1992, Betty F. Smalley
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