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Township of Walworth - Its Beginnings
The year was 1799 A.D. The thirteen colonies had declared their independence from the King of England just twenty-three years earlier, and won it only 16 years before. The city of Rochester, yes, even the village of Rochesterville, did not yet exist. There was only a handful of settlers on the west bank of the Genesee River. The first settlers had come to Palmyra only ten years earlier. The nearest village of any consequence was Canandaigua. But the area we know as Walworth was uninhabited, with the possible exception of a few Seneca Indians. It was a wilderness of wooded hills and lowland swamps.
The year was 1799 AD. Four brothers named Andrew, John, Samuel, and Daniel Millet left their homes in Connecticut, traveled west and became the first settlers in what is now the hamlet of Walworth. There they built crude log cabins, the first dwellings in Walworth. Daniel soon moved on to Ohio where he died in a fatal hunting accident. Andrew became mentally deranged from his concern that the world would soon be without wood, as trees were being cut is such vast numbers, and, not wanting to live in such a place, hanged himself. The other two brothers, Samuel and John, lived on in the growing community until their death many years later.
In 1800, two other brothers, Stephen and Daniel Douglas, also from Connecticut, located in this area. Stephen Douglas built the first frame house on the southwest corner of the present four corners of the hamlet of Walworth.
Soon after, they gave their name to this growing community and for a
number of years it was know as Douglas Corners. The Douglas' were active in this pioneer village. In 1805, they built a tavern and two years later constructed the first frame barn. Stephen died in 1812 from accidental downing.
Daniel Douglas was a great hunter and surveyor. He assisted in laying out and building the road from Walworth to Ontario. His daughter, Susan, was the first white child born in Walworth in 1805. She later married James Finley and lived to be 96 years old.
Other early settlers in those first few years were Captain Gilbert Hinckley who came from Rhode Island in 1803; and in 1804, from Massachusetts, Deacon Gideon Hackett and James and Jonothan Hill, (with their families); and also, John, David and Jerry Chamberlain, and Dr. Hurlburt Crittenden, who was the first physician. The town of Walworth was officially established on April 20, 1829, being the last town in Wayne County to be formed. It was originally part of the town of Ontario and covered just over 20,000 acres. In 1786, the Treaty of Hartford awarded Massachusetts the "Preemption" right, or the right to sell the land west of a line that ran from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border. This Preemption line divided what became Wayne County in half. In 1789, Massachusetts sold six million acres of land to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham for about three cents an acre. Some of this land, in turn, was sold to Sir William Pulteney and was named Pulteney Estates. A portion of this is what is now Wayne County.
General Chancellor Reuben H. Walworth
Walworth then was formed in the central part of the western border of Wayne County and took its name from General Chancellor Reuben H. Walworth, the very popular and last chancellor of the state of New York.
Walworth, for most of its history, has been principally a farming community. Much of the terrain is hilly, with ridges (called drumlins), running mostly north and south, which were formed thousands of years ago by huge glaciers. In the lowland areas between the hills were swamplands. It was these swamplands that attracted the Dutch immigrants as they migrated westward. They saw the potential of these swamplands and with their knowledge of hydrology gained from the experience in their homeland, drained the swamplands and, from them, formed
muck land: rich black soil, which was excellent for raising such crops as potatoes, celery, lettuce, onions, carrots, beets, etc.
In the early part of the twentieth century, there were numerous muck farms along Arbor Road, Walworth-Ontario Road, Ontario Center Road, Plank Road and Atlantic Avenue. Today, many of these
muck lands have returned to their natural state of wetlands. However, the earlier existence of these
muck lands explains why there were so many Dutch settlers in Wayne County at the turn of the century.
Fruit farming also was quite extensive in Walworth, giving rise to numerous orchards, primarily apples and sour cherries. The presence of the apple orchards created a need for the many apple dry houses found throughout Walworth. However, these orchards also gradually disappeared, especially after the hard freeze of the winter of 1934 when the temperature dropped to 22 degrees below zero, killing many of the trees.
Dairying also became quite popular in Walworth, due in large part to the influence of Lucien Yeomans. More about him later.
But most of the farms at the turn of the century were general purpose. A typical farm in Walworth at the early part of the twentieth century might be about forty to eighty acres in size and would consist of several acres of orchards, some
muck land, but mostly upland. The farmer would probably have several cows which supplied the family with milk, cream for butter, and any surplus cream would be sold to the local creamery. He would raise a couple of pigs, again for his own use, which were slaughtered in the winter, the hams and bacon cured in the smoke house. He might have several hundred chickens, and of course, a team of horsesthere were no tractors then.
On the uplands, or hard land as it was sometimes called, he would grow some grain: wheat and com for the chickens, oats for the horses. Corn was also fed to the cows and pigs. There also had to be hay for the horses. He might also have some raspberries, and, of course, there had to be a woodlot to supply firewood for the stoves in winter.
These small, general purpose farms covered most of Walworth and in the nineteenth century, as well as early twentieth century, most of the inhabitants of Walworth earned their livelihood from farming. They either owned a farm, worked for a farmer, or worked in a farm
related business: apple-dry-house, creamery, gristmill, tannery, cannery, feed store, blacksmith shop or sawmill.
The town of Walworth contains three hamlets: Walworth, West Walworth and Lincoln.
This excerpt from "Walworth--From Douglas Corners to Gananda" by John Traas, © Larque Publications- 1989, was used with permission of the author, John Traas, Walworth Town Historian (2001)