Early Settlers of St. Helena, New York

In 1826, Mr. and Mrs. Parker Nichols emigrated from Vermont and settled in St. Helena, where on September 25, 1827, a daughter, Fanny, was born to them. She could remember seeing Mary Jemison at St. Helena.

An abundance of timber and water power for their mills drew the early settlers to the valley. During the early 1800’s, an English surveyor, Stewart by name, laid out the plan for the village. Divided into three sections, residential, business, and manufacturing, the little town began to grow. In 1832, Asa Willey Gifford purchased land there. Asa was born in Vermont in 1798, son of Gideon and Betsy Willey Gifford, and for many years owned land in the valley.

In 1836, the Torrey family occupied the “Granny” Barnes house on the west hillside, just above the valley. One evening at dusk, their sixteen-year-old daughter, Laura, was sent to St. Helena on an errand. On her way, she met a tall, savage-looking Indian. He greeted her with the usual “How!” but her reply was not audible, because she was frightened almost to death. However, she recovered and lived to be ninety-three years old.

In 1845, the family of Josiah Stocking came to St. Helena. They settled on the east side of the river. Also, a David Hill built a house there to live in while cutting timber, stayed there one winter and moved away. The Stocking family had four children when they moved to St. Helena and four were born there. Three of the children died, two of them from measles, during a January thaw. The river was so high that the coffins had to be strapped to boards and drawn up over the bank opposite Wolf Creek. Watchers at night feared their home would be swept away. The children, Helen, six years old, and Dennis, three years old, were buried in the little cemetery on the west hill at St. Helena. Later, a daughter Sally, eighteen years old, who was married to Richard Emmett, died and was buried in the same cemetery. Her husband was a famous stone-cutter and made the beautiful large monument which was moved to the Castile cemetery from St. Helena in 1952.

The river, so dangerous when high, was the main means of transportation of lumber, much of it being rafted and floated downstream to markets. Transportation from St. Helena by roadway, east or west, was up a steep hill. Toward Castile the roads followed two directions and the one near Wolf Creek was known as the Creek Road. Toward Nunda was a long steep hill. About 1840 the Genesee Valley Canal was opened for use and passed through Nunda. That made another means of transporting the valley produce to markets.

On October 4, 1844, Mr. J. Russell Slade of Castile, on his first visit to Mt. Morris, made the river trip from St. Helena, and at that time dined with a large company on their way to the great political mass meeting in Rochester in honor of Henry Clay, the Whig candidate for President. Daniel Webster was one of the orators.

In August, 1852, the Erie Railroad, then the Buffalo and New York City Railroad, opened a branch line through Castile, which made another line of transportation.

One of the very earliest settlers, on the east side of the river at St. Helena, was believed to be William Wallace. He served in the War of 1812. He passed through Mt. Morris and settled in the densely timbered area of St. Helena soon after the war. He died in 1872, at the age of ninety-six years. A sword carried during the war is one of the cherished possessions of the heirs of his grandson, Arthur Chase, who lived in Big Bend until his death in 1912.

By 1850, the families of J. D. Tallman, Lafayette Wisner, Charles Foote, Roswell Gould, D. Weed, J. Purdy, E. Kendrick, F. Gleason, A. Eastwood, F. M. Allen, N. K. Barton, and Mrs. “Granny” Barnes were living at St. Helena. These were followed in 1853 by Baltus Van Kleeck, in 1855 by Milton Burnap, Sr., who owned property there in 1852, and in 1855 to 1865 by Jake Decker, Sherman Streeter, John Gifford, James Piper (1861), J. Dixon, H. Dixon, J. Weir, Fred Marsh, Sr. ( 1857), Mrs. Larkham, H. McDuffie, G. Dixon, E. Crowley, E. L. Edwards, and George Yeckley. Mrs. George Washington Wood and her three children came from North Java in 1858. John Piper settled there in 1867.

A map of 1853 shows a sawmill owned by Eastwood, F. Gleason’s sawmill, a sash-and-blind mill owned by Frace & Allen, and a turning mill along the old Mill Race which had been constructed to furnish power. These were all along Water Street, close by the river. Water Street, running north, formed the road to Gardeau Flats and Smokey Hollow. Main Street ran east and west and connected with the Wolf Creek Road and West Hill Road. Another street was laid out running south from Main and connecting with Water Street as it followed the Mill Race to the fording place at the south end of the valley. No one seems to know how “Maiden Lane” got its name.

Source: Anderson, Mildred L. H, and Marian P. Willey. St. Helena, Ghost Town of the Genesee, 1797-1954. Castile, N.Y, 1954. Print.

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