Incidents of the Early Settlement of
J. W. Prentiss
From the Hammondsport Herald, April 26, 1876
ED. HERALD.—As incidents and scraps of history of the early settlement of the town of Pulteney, as well as family remembrances have beeen collected by a friend of mine, and taking advantage of your invitation for similar topics, I avail myself of the opportunity to communicate through the ever clean faced HERALD to a much cherished friend who holds a warm place in my esteem. Hoping others will pass lightly over imperfections, while I relate what I remember of the early settlement of the town without expecting to be historically correct in every particular, shall endeavor to "keep to the line," as seen through the spectacles then worn would allow; and to the writer who less than ten years of age, as might be expected, the glasses, if nothing more, might have been tinted with green.
While these recollections are commenced with no small degree of hesitancy, and doubt of making them sufficiently interesting, and were it not for the sake of putting on record some of the hardships incident to our settlement in Pulteney, I should shrink from the undertaking.
To Mrs. E.M.P.—DEAR MADAM:—
Without further introduction to you and the readers of the HERALD, allow me to say the town of Pulteney was organized in 1808, but will only ask you to go back with me in imagination 63 years, the present month of April, for it was in the spring of 1813 when there arrived a family of ten persons, eight children, four girls and four boys. This family had been so far reared in the town of Lancaster, Worcester Co., Mass., in the latitude of Boston, due west thirty miles. The father of this family had been for many years in the mercantile business and of course the family had seen few hardships, the older ones some advantages. These circumstances are mentioned to show the contrast from the comforts, not to say luxuries, of an old town of cultivated inhabitants to our vast and nearly uninhabited wilderness; for at that day there was scarcely a wagon road in town; at best there were but sled paths winding their way round gullies from points where settlers had raised their log cabins. Along the shore of Crooked Lake were the remains of the Indian wigwam, and in two places, on what was called Miller's and Brigg's Points were families of their respective names. The former of these points is now known as Roff's Landing, while the other has since been known as Wagner's, Centreport, Gulick's, and now Boyd's Landing.
When this family from "down east" arrived, there were many obstructions to their ingress in the shape of swamps, with logs, brush, &c., thrown in to keep wagons from going through; trees had to be cut and moved that had fallen across the roads, if a trail through the woods could be called a road; saplings and brush to fill up mud-holes, repair log causeways, &c. This family with two wagons, one with bent hoops covered with what was called India muslin, then worth 75 cts. per yard, now 8 cts.; under this protection the ladies, for there were two girls somewhere between sixteen and twenty years with their mother, found shelter. The direction of this cortege was from Lancaster to Albany, up the Mohawk to Utica, through now Syracuse, Geneva and Penn Yan, or what there was of Penn Yan, for it was then a mud hole at the now head of the street. Down street was then only a sled road through the woods, with here and there a shanty to the mill on the outlet of Crooked Lake. From Penn Yan there was no wagon road through now Branchport, and our direction was from the head of the street, Penn Yan, over the hill, now poor house road, to Larzeleer's Hollow, two miles north of Branchport. After leaving Larzaleer's Hollow and rising the hill west far enough to get above the ravines that run down to the lake, our course was southerly. The last camping ground was at the then Daniel Brown farm, before descending the hill into Larzaleer's Hollow. From the Brown farm to our destination, a distance of some twelve miles, and it occupied the entire day from early morn to ten o'clock at night to get to our "westward" home—and such a home—imagination utterly fails to picture the desolate, wild, and at that time terrific approach to or near the place that must be called home. The terrific way in part may be understood when informed that from what has since been called Sodom, there was only a path scarcely sufficient for an ox sled to pass; and after leaving the road near now R. R. Fargo's going west, the wagons soon had to be left, and the family journeyed on, part on foot and part on sled. In those days it was common for the hunters to set fires in the woods to burn over the ground in spring, and such was the fact then; at least half the way for two miles it was literally passing through fire and smoke. The darkness of the night in the woods, the fire sometimes in tall trees and on every side,—truly it was dismal if not horrid. But there was one comfort to the women, for they were told there was no danger from wolves while passing through fire. The wagons had to be left until a road could be cleared the next day. It might not occur to the reader, but the terror of that night has never passed from the mind of the writer. The darkness of night, the awful glare of fire, the lonely condition of women and children can scarcely be imagined. Well, the end of that sled track was found at last and through joy that the "westward" was found, yet sorrow at the gloomy surroundings,—from the trials of that day, [they] were truly anxious craving rest. Then closed the day of our first introductions into Pulteney.