St. Helena NY Bridges and Mills

The first bridge across the river was a covered structure with wooden latticework sides, built in 183 5, and was said to be very picturesque. There were 226 feet of latticework spanning the river with fifty feet of different construction at the approaches. This linked Wyoming and Livingston counties and made it possible for the families on the east side of the river to reach the mills and stores without traveling by boat or fording the river. This bridge was in use until 1868, when it became unsafe and was replaced with a four-span bridge of truss style. This bridge, erected by Benjamin Whittman, of Castile, was in use until 1875. It gave out and was replaced by another truss-style bridge. In 1884, this bridge was swept away by the ice, leaving the public again without a means of transportation over the river.

After nearly two years of paralyzing effort and court interference, the towns of Castile and Mt. Morris decided to build a bridge of iron with durable stone piers, but this also was swept away by the ice in 1904, leaving three 112-foot spans a short distance away where they were of no use. After building the piers four feet higher, the bridge was repaired and replaced and was safe from ice and water.

Mr. Jesse Hurlburt, who was employed for many years by the highway department, said Wyoming and Livingston counties took turns, a year at a time, keeping the bridge in repair.

Amzi Parshall owned a grist and flour mill and lived where Tom Marsh lived later. This mill must have been one of the first, as it was sold in 1853 to Lafayette Wisner and Charles Foote, who rebuilt and enlarged it. In a short time, however, it was sold to Roswell Gould and Baltus Van Kleeck, the latter finally becoming sole owner and operating the mill until his death in 1861. Henry Dixon, who had previously worked for Mr. Parshall, operated the mill for a time; also, a Mr. Totten worked there for Mrs. Van Kleeck, who carried on the business after her husband’s death. As years went by, the mill was doing less and less, and in 1865 it was bought by Joseph R. Wier of New Jersey. A spring freshet that year took out the dam and the mill was run only as the water in the river was at just the right level. Milling interests dwindled and in June, 1867, the mill burned down, very mysteriously, putting an end to most of the business enterprises in St. Helena. That same year the post office in the valley was discontinued.

At one time, there was also a sash-and-blind factory along the Mill Race, where some work of repairing furniture was done. It was run by Walter Smith and a young man named Sherwood, who were drowned in the river about the year 1852. It was then operated by Morgan Allen and William Frace until sold to John Merithew. It was finally merged into a shingle mill operated by John Merithew, who was killed while at work. The building was removed and converted into a cider mill by Milton Burnap, Sr.

William Frace made wagons as well as sash and blinds. He was married in 1836 and died in the early 1900’s, when over ninety years of age. At that time, he lived in Belfast and was the oldest member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in New York State. Mrs. Emma Wyant, of Castile, who knew Mr. Frace in his later years, has given these facts concerning him.

Near the sawmill was a shop where picket fences were made. The upper sawmill was owned for some years by P. L. Merithew, but was owned by Milton Burnap, Sr., at the time of his death in 1868.

About 1852, a store was kept in the red house at Main and Water streets by Mr. Eldridge, and afterwards by Morris Allen. The building was later owned by Baltus Van Kleeck. It had a sign, painted in large back letters on a white base, that was visible from both sides of the store. Many years ago, the story was told of a lady who rode through the valley on a cold, stormy day in winter and tried to read the sign “St. Helena Store,” but through her veil and the snow, decided she had reached “Hell’s End,” and so bade her driver take her away.

From the Nunda News of November 12, 1920, comes this reprint, written by a Castile correspondent for the Perry Record:

“WHEN ST. HELENA WAS A VILLAGE — Election times were different 60 years ago from the campaign just closed. On the evening of October 29, 1860, a Republican Mass Meeting was held at St. Helena, the hamlet two miles east of this village on the Genesee River. There was no building large enough to accommodate the people, and the speakers spoke from the steps of the schoolhouse. They were Walter S. Coffin, Lawyer Gardner, Dr. B. T. Kneeland, and Charles Randall, all of Nunda. Nearly 100 Wide-awakes from Castile with a band, marched through the streets. The company wore red and blue oilcloth caps and capes and carried kerosene oil torches. Large piles of pine stumps were set on fire on the hillsides, which lighted the valley like day. Lyman C. Felch of Liberty Street, Castile, was a member of the company and a first voter. The issue of the day was ‘Non-Extension of Slavery into the New Territory,’ which elected Abraham Lincoln.

“After the speeches the company and all present marched down the river half a mile to the home of Milton Burnap, Sr., who served refreshments, consisting of crackers, cheese, cider and apples. The cannon used at that time was afterward stolen, and years later was found in the bottom of the old well in the rear of the present town and village clerk’s office in Castile.

“St. Helena at that time was one of the prosperous hamlets along the river, with a flour mill, two sawmills, shingle mill, paper mill, and two general stores, a hotel and 2 5 dwellings, with a school having 75 pupils during the winter term. Now there are only half a dozen families living on the flats.” (1920)

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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