Homes and Places of Business in St. Helena

West of the store building in St. Helena was the home of Henry Dixon, head miller for Mr. Parshall for many years. Next, west of Mr. Dixon’s one-half acre lot, was a cross street running south from Main Street past the farm home of Mr. Parshall. This was the street called “Maiden Lane.” On this street at one time were six or seven houses, At the west corner of Maiden Lane and Main Street, J. D. Tallman owned and conducted a hotel business for accommodation of both man and beast. This property was later owned by Mr. Foote. South of the hotel, N. K. Barton had a blacksmith shop. Mr. Barton moved to Castile in 1888, after about thirty years’ residence in St. Helena. The Barton lot and the hotel lot were later owned by Mr. Orsburn, and George Hovey lived in the hotel building.

Farther to the west was the place where P. L. Merithew lived. It was sold to John Gifford in 1863, and here Mr. Gifford died on Christmas day, 1866. This place was later owned by G. E. Piper. Next was the farm home of Perses P. Preston, who sold to Mr. Wisner about the time he purchased the mill property in 1852 or 185 3. This property changed ownership many times but was the home of Asa Gifford who died in 1885. Later it was owned and occupied by John Streeter, son of Sherman Streeter. Next was the new schoolhouse, completed in 1856, a large building where many happy children attended school. Milton Burnap, in his memoirs, said he attended school for six or seven winters there and had known as many as seventy pupils on the rolls.

West of the schoolhouse was the house where William Morse once lived. Mr. Morse died in 1851. The earliest date found on a marker, when the cemetery was removed in 1952, was that of an infant son of Wm. and E. Morse, July 8, 1841. John Piper purchased this property in 1867 and it was occupied by members of the family until 1938, when his younger brother, Herman, left the valley.

Along the west side of the valley, downstream from the bridge, the floods of the Genesee caused much damage. The farm owned by Milton Burnap, Sr., was badly ravaged by floods. The house was moved about twenty rods to the west, the orchard was swept away as well as about one third of the best land. E. E. Johnson, Frank Lucas, and George Teeple owned the farm at different times.

The land along the east side of the river, which lay in Livingston County, was also considered a part of St. Helena, and here the family of John Orsburn located about 1882 or earlier. It is thought the family of Gideon Phelps (father of Norman and Phyletus Phelps of Castile) located here also about 1880.

Among the prominent families who lived at St. Helena in the early days were Mr. and Mrs. Edward E. Johnson and their three daughters, Belle, Eva E., and Stella. All of the girls were born at St. Helena and Stella died there in Infancy, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson came to St. Helena from Chenango County in the spring of 1871. Mrs. Johnson’s father, Enos Alcott, of that place, had visited his sister, Mrs. Asa Gifford, at St. Helena a short time before and had been so impressed by the early spring seasons and verdant green of the valley that he sold the Johnsons the idea of buying a farm there from Fred Marsh, Sr., sight unseen.

In true pioneer style, the Johnsons’ earthly possessions were shipped by the Erie Canal to Rochester, thence they were transferred to the Genesee Valley Canal and taken to Messenger’s Hollow (now Oakland, near Nunda) and then drawn by horses and wagon to the new farm home in St. Helena.

Mrs. Johnson and her father came by train to Castile on the Buffalo and New York City Branch of the Erie Railroad which had been in operation since August 25, 1852. Mr. Johnson and his brother-in-law drove from Chenango with their team of horses, the trip taking three days. Mr. Johnson confessed later that he was a bit homesick for his former home on pretty Chenango Lake when he first looked into the Genesee River Valley from the steep eastern hill, but he grew fond of his little farm and spent many happy years on it. Mr. Johnson also became a “keeper of bees.” Many new orchards were growing in the valley and the blossoms of the fruit trees, together with the sweet clover and buckwheat blooms, proved abundant feeding for the bees. One year the Johnsons harvested four tons of honey.

Miss Eva Johnson, who lives in Castile, recalled recently how she and her sister enjoyed the visits of their favorite traveling peddler, Morris Rosenbloom. He came several times a year to the village and usually spent the night with friends. He carried a huge assortment of household wares wrapped in a tent-shaped piece of cloth, which he folded and carried on his back as he journeyed about the countryside. In later years, Mr. Rosenbloom used a horse and cart to convey his “store” about, and became a prosperous man.

About thirty years ago, Miss Johnson met Mr. Rosenbloom in Rochester, where he had become the city’s largest diamond importer. He recalled the many trips he had made to the valley and the kindness shown him by the Johnson family.

Among the first friends of the Johnson family at St. Helena were Mr. and Mrs. John W. Piper, who came to St. Helena in 1867. Always fast friends, the Pipers followed the Johnsons, who moved to Castile in 1889, and lived in the south half of the Johnson house on North Main Street in 1896.

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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