This Page is part of the Allegany County, New York GenWeb site.

The Town of Belfast

History of Allegany Co., New York, pub. 1879, edited by F. W. Beers, pp 210-212

Belfast is one of the twelve towns of Allegany county which originally formed a portion of the Holland Purchase.

The following statistics will not prove uninteresting as showing the wealth and population of the town, and the rapidity with which it has advanced to the present status:

Assessed valuation of real estate $405,755.00
Assessd valuation of personal property $14,975.00
Aggregate equalized valuation $519,020.00
Amount of county tax $1,582.00
Town Tax $656.81
State Tax $1,181.53

The population at differnt periods is exhibited by the following figures:


The following interesting dairy statistics are extracted from the report of the census of the State of New York of 1875:

Average number of milch cows kept in the town1,2231,285
number of cows whose milk was sesnt to factory711802
butter made in families74,667 pounds-
milk sold in market4,250 gallons-

In noting the advancement of any community it is always interesting to consider the means which have been employed to further the work of civilization, and these means are always dependent upon the natural advantages of the locality, or upon outside influences which have brought it into connection or competition with other localities.  The elements of the prosperity of Belfast have been of both the classes mentioned.

The primitive beginnings in the woods were of necessity slow, and gave little promise to the early settlers of anything further than a homely livelihood and means to pay for their lands. One of the most effective means employed in the early days to procure money to such articles as the pioneers were unable to raise or manufacture was the manufacture and sale of “black-salts.” The process is too familiar to require especial attention in this connection.  This trade afforded an opportunity to some of the settlers to make payments on their land-contracts for the first few years. Later, lumber began to be an article of merchandise, and most who had land had timber on it which could be removed to a double advantage, inasmuch as its removal would bring the pioneer money and enlarge the area of his tillable land.  The first saw-mill was erected on the river, near the village, in 1809, by David Sanford.  Other mills were built in various parts of the town at different periods, as there was a demand for them, and there was a time in the history of Belfast when the people depended largely on the lumber trade for a subsistence.  The largest mill ever erected in the town (Thurston & Company's) was built in 1867.  Gradually the ax and the torch of the land clearer made encroachments on the forest, and the plow and the seed of the sower followed until, almost imperceptibly, the men of the town had changed from a community of lumberman to a community of farmers.  The products of their lands grew more plentiful every year, as there was a demand for them in the markets furnished by the Genesee Valley Canal, which crosses the northwest part of the town, in the valley of Block creek, and the Erie Railway, which has always been accessible to residents of Belfast by means of roads communicating with its stations in adjoining towns.  As the superior adaptation of the soil of the town to grazing purposes began to be apparent, much of the land that had previously been given to the cultivation of grain was transformed into pasture, and in time the manufacture of butter and cheese became so extensive that the introduction of factories with superior facilities became both necessary and profitable.  The first man in the town to turn his attention to the manufacture of cheese in quantities was Justus H. Neely, who had been in the business in Herkimer county from boyhood, and who came into Belfast in 1844.  His present establishment is known as the “White Creek Cheese Factory,” and was erected by Mr. Neely, in 1872.  Another large factory is that known as the “Belfast Cheese Factory,” which was erected three years earlier by Messrs.  Kinney & Gunn. It is a building one hundred and fifty-six feet long and thirty-two feet wide.  Each of these establishments does a business amounting to thousand of dollars annually.  There are several other cheese factories in the town, all of which do a good business.

About a mile above the mouth of White creek is quarry from which large quantities of stone are taken annually.

In former years a grindstone quarry was worked with some success in the vicinity of Rockville.  In the early days and perhaps at a later date, the residents of the town frequently selected stone from the quarry and with the aid of the chisel fashioned them into rude but effective grindstones for the home use.

Early Settlment and Settlers

According to Turner's History of the Holland Purchase, the first contracts for land in Belfast were issued in 1804 to Benjamin Chamberlain, Calvin T. Chamberlain, Jedediah Nobles, Elisha Chamberlain, William Pinkerton, Marvin Harding, Isaac Sanford and Abraham D. Hendern.  It is probable that some of these men made their advent in the town at an earlier date, as it is stated in French's Gazetteer of the State of New York that “the first settlement was made on Genesee river, in 1803, by Benjamin, Elisha, Calvin and David Chamberlain, brothers, from Pennsylvania.”  It is not likely that all those mentioned above as having taken contracts for land in 1804 remained in the town for the protracted period; but some of them were residents during the remainder of their lives, and their children and grandchildren are in the enjoyment of the fruits of their toil.  Among these are the descendants of some of the Chamberlains.  Elisha Chamberlain had a son named Henry who married Hannah Reynolds the daughter of another early settler.

Henry Chamberlain, jr., who now lives on the farm his grandfather cleared, was an issue of that marriage.  He was born in the town of 1818.  Nobles was from Newtown, (now Elmira) and William Littleton, from the same place, came in 1805.  Nobles located on the river and Littleton on Wigwam creek, in the northeast part of the town.

John Crawford, from near Skinner's Eddy, on the Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania, became the first settler on the creek which has since borne his name, in the northwest corner of the town.  His family are well known in the vicinity.  His sons were Benjamin, Lyndes, Harry and John. They had three sisters.  Harry M. Crawford relates many incidents of the pioneer experiences of his family, not the least interesting which is an account of the manner in which they came into the Susquehanna country.  The Crawfords were originally from Vermont, but moving west made a halt for a time in the Susquehanna valley before locating in Belfast. At the time they made the first removal, the family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, (John Crawford's father and mother), and three children, of whom John was one.  They brought with them a cow and an old horse, the latter serving as a means of conveyance for the children, the two smaller of whom were suspended one in either end of a stout straw tick which hung across the animal's back like an old-fashioned grist, while the eldest rode in the usual manner and, likely, served as a weight to keep the tick in place; the father and mother walking, and dividing their attention between the horse and the cow.  The early home of the family, on Crawford creek was probably a log cabin of the most primitive architecture, as th roof was fastened on with poles and withes.

It is altogether probable that Crawford erected the apparatus in the town for the purpose of breaking or crushing corn into coarse samp-- at least there is no evidence that nay of those who preceded him resorted to a similar device, which he undoubtedly first saw in Pennsylvania.  A mortar was made by burning out a hollow in the top of a stump which had been chopped off flat.  The fire was blown to give it the proper direction and cause the cavity to burn evenly.  When a coating of coal was formed the fire was extinguished and the burned wood scraped out, and then the process was repeated until a hollow of the requisite depth and form that had been made.  A spring-pole to which a heavy wooden pestle was suspended was attached, and the machine was complete. Similar devices must have been in use among the settlers for several years, as Harry Crawfordremembers having heard his father tell about pounding corn in the mortar described on the day of the “great eclipse,” at which time fowls went to roost and it was so dark during its continuance as to practically turn day into night.  It is likely these contrivances disappeared soon after the erection of the first grist-mill on the river, near the village, by David Sanford, in 1809.  One of the Crawford family once chopped four days for a bushel of salt, and then walked a distance of six miles through the woods for it and brought it home on his back.  There was much game, such as dear, bears and wolves, and many Indians were in the town at an early day.  An incident is related of a Mrs. Stone, who upon returning to her cabin after a brief absence found her child in danger of death from a bear which had it almost within its paws.  She diverted the brute's attention and rescued the baby at the peril of her own life, the bear, it is said, having pursued her into the house.

The Mapesand Jenkins were early settlers. Henry Mapes was the head of the first named family.  His son, J. G. Mapes, now of Willing, was born in Belfast, in March, 1811, and continued a resident of the town till 1831.  George Jenkins was born on lot number 10, on the east side of the Genesee river, in 1808, and remained there till the age of sixteen, when he removed with his father's family to lot number 48, on White creek, upon which street they were the first settlers.

In February, 1812, Rockwell Hopper came from Chemung county, where he was born in 1792, and settled on lot number 10, where his son, Edward C. Hopper, now lives.   The next year Simon C. Moore, a native of Oxford, Worcester county, Mass., where he was born in 1791, walked from the place to Belfast, where he arrived April 13th.  It is said that he rode only while crossing the Hudson river.  He spent a year in school teaching and then entered the store of Alexander D'Autremont, at Angelica, as clerk. Three years later he removed to Cuba.  harry Byrnes, a native of Oneida county, moved with his father from Scio, where they had located the previous year, to the northern part of the town, west of the river, in 1813.  His father erected a framed house, which was painted before 1829, at which date there was not another painted house in the town.

Joseph T. Ford and his wife came from Connecticut and settled in the northeast part of the town.  His brother Lewis H. Ford came the next year.  They bought eighty acres of land in partnership near where John Sellon lives, on lot number 8, where they lived eight years.  Joseph T. Ford has lived on his present farm, a part of lot number 14 for the past forty seven years.  The Fords were both carpenters and did much work in various parts of the town, besides doing occasional jobs elsewhere.  A settlement was made in 1820, on the section line of lot number 55, by Mrs. Ezra Tibbets, Charles Drew and Matthew Lounsbury in different localities, Mrs. Tibbets locating on the George Ramsey place, on lot number 11; Drew on lot number 9, and Lounsbury on lot number 1. Mrs. Tibbets was a native of Connecticut, Drew of Orange county, N. Y., and Lounsburry came into Allegany county from Steuben the year before his settlement in Belfast, driving an ox team and cutting a road in advance.  He purchased one hundred and twenty-three acres of the Holland Land Company at two dollars and a half an acre, and, aided by his brother Samuel, built a log shanty and covered it with a bark roof.  Wolves and other wild beasts were so numerous and so bold that it is said he literally “slept on his arms” three weeks to defend himself against them.  He brought apple seeds when he came, from which he raised young trees and set out an orchard. Elliott Emery came in from Seneca county in 1824 and settled on Crawford's creek, where his widow now lives.  He was killed by a falling tree in 1874. Starkey Gleason and his father's family also from Seneca county, came the next year.  The name of the elder Gleason was Jonathan.  He cleared and improved one hundred and eighteen acres, where his son William now lives, and died in 1854.  Starkey Gleason removed to New Hudson in 1842.  Samuel C. Wilson, afterwards surrogate of Allegany county, came from his native place, Montrose, Pa., in 1826.

Among those who settled in the town in 1828 was Stephen Howell, who was accompanied by his son George W. Howell and other members of his family.  he came from Yates county, to which locality he had emigrated from Lycoming county, Pa., thirteen years before.  In 1830 Mrs. Lucinda Crawford also came from Yates county.  She settled on Gleason hill. The foregoing are the names of most of the earlier settlers in Belfast.  Of those who came later, the following may be mentioned:  1837, John A. Sellon, a native of Tompkins county; 1839, Stephen Wilson, a native of Susquehanna county, Pa., from West Almond, and William Pasco, a native of Washington county, N. Y., near the Friendship line; 1841, Silas Angel, from Otsego county; 1844, Justus H. Neely, from Herkimer county; 1849, Homer Murdaugh; 1850, William D. Burlingame.

The first birth in the town was probably that of Deborah Reynolds, in August, 1805.

John Sanford and Mary Collar were the first couple married.  Their nuptials were celebrated in 1806.

Elijah Reynolds taught the first school in 1807.

The first saw-mill and grist-mill have been referred to.  Samuel King and Martin Butts kept the first store, on lot number 12, near the J. H. Chamberlain place, in 1824.   The first tavern was kept near the village, three years earlier, by Joseph S. Raymond.

According to French's Gazetteer of the State of New York, Rev. Ephraim Sanford, a Baptist, conducted the first religious services, at the house of Nathaniel Reynolds, in 1806, and formed the first church in 1807 or 1808.  From a sketch of the Baptist church of Belfast, published in the minutes of the Allegany Baptist Association, it would seem that the society was not organized until 1808 or 1809.

The first framed house in the town is supposed to have been the residence of David Sanford, where the village now is.

Tornado of 1838

From the Town Records

The town of Belfast was erected from a portion of the old town of Caneadea, March 24th, 1824, as “Orrinsburgh.”  On the 25th of the following April the present name was adopted. A portion of Caneadea was annexed in 1831.  The following are the names of the first town officers:

David Hitchcocksupervisor
Elijah Reynoldstown clerk
Elisha Chamberlain, jr.constable and collector
Solomon Benjamin
John McIntosh
John McKeen
Packard Bruce
Nathaniel Reynolds
Joseph Benjamin
commissioners of highways
Josepsh T. Ford
Samuel Wilkinson
John McKeen
commissioners of common schools
D. D. Hardy
Hiram Gray
F. S. Wilson
James Jenningsoverseer of the poor

The first annual town meeting, at which the above named officials were chosen, was held April 6th, 1824.

Since the above date the following named persons have served the town as supervisors:

1825, 1826William Bennett
1827-30, 1836, 1841Lyman Tibbets
1831, 1832Selah BAcon
1833, 1834John McKeen
1835Robert Renwick
1837, 1840Stephen Wilson, jr.
1842, 1843William A. Kirkpatrick
1844, 1846Isaac Miles
1845, 1847, 1848Jacob Searl
1849Joab B. Hughes
1850Joseph D. Beard
1851Samuel C. Wilson
1852, 1853Hazen Hughes
1854, 1855D. A. Knapp
1856Sidney Stowe
1857, 1858, 1865John W. Eldridge
1859O. W. Story
1860Robert Snow
1861Charles M. Crandall
1862-64Christopher Jennings
1866-68, 1877, 1878C. W. Saunders
1869, 1870Thomas Miller
1871Benjamin Willis
1872J. H. Saunders
1873, 1874James M. Davis
1875, 1876Eaton Kinney

The successive town clerks have been as follows:

1825, 1826Elijah Reynolds
1829, 1830Joseph Winters
1827, 1828, 1831-35, 1837-39, 1842Packard Bruce
1836Stephen Wilson, jr.
1840, 1841William A. Kirkpatrick
1843Lewis H. Ford
1844Rensselaer Histed
1845-48Edward Histed
1849Hnery M. Graves
1850, 1851A. R. Hopper
1852-54James King
1855, 1856Jonathan Warford
1857, 1858Seth Burkick
1859-61James M. Wood
1862S. C. Barnes
1863, 1865W. B. Renwick
1864D. B. Vorhees
1866-68H. M. Hunn
1869Charles A. Hopper
1870M. F. Robeson
1871, 1875James A. Lewis
1872Eaton Kinney
1873, 1874Dawring D. Nye
1876Almond Emery
1877, 1878V. I. Cook

Town officers for 1879 were:


Back to Belfast

Allegany County, New York GenWeb

Last updated on July 20, 2006
© copyright 1999, Vivian Karen Bush
This page is part of the Allegany County, New York GenWeb Site and is not affiliated with any other society or organization.