March 1993

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History of Bath

for the First Fifty Years


Ansel J. McCall

Historical Address, June 6, 1893
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

Part III

Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey were well populated and more contiguous to his purchase than New England; he saw the necessity of opening a more direct communication to the Genesee from those States. He moved his family to Northumberland, a frontier town at the junction of the north and west branches of the Susquehanna. On the 3d of June, with a small party of surveyors and woodsmen, he set out to explore a route to the Genesee River. He proceeded with his party up the west branch to the mouth of the Lycoming, now the site of the city of Williamsport, and up that stream to the mouth of Trout Run thence up that stream to its source; then taking a northerly course, crossing Laurel Hill to the headwaters of the Tioga River, he came down that stream to its junction with the Conhocton at Painted Post. The party followed up the Conhocton to the head of Springwater Valley, about six miles south of Hemlock Lake, and thence made their way over the hills to the inlet of Conesus Lake; crossing the valley and continuing westward along the southerly base of Groveland Hill, they pursued their course down the Canaseraga to its junction with the Genesee, the point selected for a settlement, and given the name Williamsburg. Captain Williamson was satisfied that a good highway was practicable by this route—the distance being less than one hundred and seventy miles and shorter by one hundred than any other from the west branch of the Susquehanna.

The exploration of this route led him to change his plans. He discovered that the southeast portion of the tract was rough and hilly, much of it timbered with pitch-pine and scrub-oaks, and by no means to be compared with the rich bottoms of the Genesee or the smooth slopes surrounding the Lakes. It was at once apparent to him that if he put upon the market the best lands first, the poor and broken lands, would remain on his hands unsold for a long time. He also saw that this forbidding part of the country had some advantatges; it was nearer the southern settlements, more healthful and abounded in purer streams; so he resolved to make his headquarters and chief settlement in their midst, saying, "As nature has done so much for the northern plains, I will do something for the southern mountains."

As he proceeded through the valley of the Conhocton, he was struck with the beauty of the intersection made by a broad valley extending north to Lake Keuka: the Senecas had given it the name of Dona-ta-gwenda (an opening within an opening). As it was near the centre of the southern part of the tract and at the head of navigation on the Conhocton River, with its abundant water power, he determined to locate there his chief town and the headquarters for the sale of his lands. The site bore a striking resemblance to that beautiful valley in England where the Avon winds gracefully around the base of a hill and encircles a charming plateau upon which has stood for centuries the ancient city of Bath—the seat of the Pulteney family. This fact led him to adopt the name for his embryo forest city. It was, also, a delicate compliment to the chief proprietor of the territory, his patron.

Captain Williamson made application to the Governor of the State of Pennsylvania for aid in opening the part of the road in that State along the line he had surveyed: but that Commonwealth refused to grant any assistance; and he was lucky in getting even permission to build it at his own expense. The Captain was a man of action, and resolved to do it himself. He employed a corps of stout Pennsylvania woodsmen early in the fall and commenced the work with vigor. Hammond & Brown had charge of his English hands and Benjamin Patterson, of the German contingent—a band of a hundred or more scalawags picked up in the German slums by one Berezy, who had induced Patrick Colquhoun to agree to furnish them farms on the Genesee River. Instead of being a help in the work they proved an incumbrance, and in addition caused Williamson a world of trouble. Early in November, about thirty miles of it, sufficiently wide for wagons, had been opened, and by the last of December the working party had completed it to Dansville, Livingston county. By the following August it was completed to Williamsburg. It was a wonderful undertaking for a single individual, independent of State aid, to push a highway through a wilderness without an inhabitant to furnish encouragement and labor, and devoid of food and the materials of construction. It has ever since been known as the Williamson Road, and was subsequently adopted as the post route.

The great road having been finished as far as the point selected for the new town, in March, 1798, as soon as navigation was opened, Captain Williamson organized a party of thirty woodsmen, suveryors and settlers, to proceed at once to clear the ground and lay the foundations of his new town and settlement on the site previously selected by him. He placed the same in charge of his faithful henchman, Charles Cameron, who pushed out with the party in two Durham boats—which may be called the May Flower and Speedwell—laden with tools, provisions and necessaries, and made his way up the north branch to Tioga Point. These boats carry from five to eight tons, and are poled up the stream, or where there is a strong current or rift are cordelled, or "warped," up by passengers and crew by means of long ropes. From the Point the navigation was more difficult; so Mr. Cameron left there one of the boats, with much of the freight in charge of a few men, and proceeded with the other up the Chemung and Conhocton, and on April 15, made a safe landing on the banks of the latter stream at Bath, near the present location of the Delaware & Lackawanna depot, a little more than thirty rods from Pulteney Square.

Let us for a moment contemplate the scene here presented to these bold pioneers, whose mission it was to prepare homes for themselves and build a city. The broad valley was covered with a dark and dense forest of oak and pine; there was not a break in any direction, save the narrow street. The hilltops were crowned with magnificent white pines, dark and sombre, adding at least a hundred feet to their apparent elevation. The work before them would have appalled less adventurous spirits. But they were made of sterner stuff, and fell to with a will to accomplish their purpose. The resounding blows of the axemen, the crash of falling timber, and the crackling of burning brush, joined with the cries of the master builders, so frightened the denizens of the forest that they betook thermselves to South Hill; even the terrible rattlers sought their holes. When night came on and the camp-fires were blazing dimly, they tell us a pack of wolves sent up the most unearthly howls; moping owls from every tree top answered, "Whoo-Whoo!" while the ill-boding ravens from their high perches croaked dismally their disapproval of the invasion of their domain. All were unheeded and the work went on. The wolf, the raven and the owl disappeared. The forest of pines has vanished. The crowning glory of the hilltops is gone. Rich farms, cottages, villas and churches have taken their places. All is changed save the gentle slopes to the north and west present the same general contour, the grand old South Hill, now partly bald and bare, still overlooks the valley, and the same silver stream flows at its base on its winding way to the Susquehanna and the sea.

Historical Address of Ansel J. McCall, June 6, 1893,
published in The Centennial of Bath, New York 1793-1893,
reprinted by the Steuben County Historical Society 1992
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII
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