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“Tales of the Past” by Frank Connor

Tales of the Past

Chapter 10 - Derivation of place names, stories of early settlers and a visit by the exiled King of France.

by Frank Connor


Each township having been surveyed off into a block six miles square, the early settlers of that township went to a point very near the center and established a church and school house. You will generally find that where these were established was the first village of that township. It was from this that we get the name, “Center”, Livonia Center being the first settlement in the town of Livonia takes its name from this. Many of the villages have dropped this part of their name, especially where there was no other community near them of a like name. Conesus was originally Conesus Center; Mendon, Mendon Center; Canadice, Canadice Center.

Livonia Center being the oldest settlement in the town we will attempt to give a part of its story first.

Shortly after the arrival of Solomon G. Woodruff other settlers came in: George Pratt, 1808, who operated a tannery on the Kinney Creek in the field north of where the concrete road crosses it; he ran this tannery until 1836 when he moved it to Springwater. Eldad and Ester Gibbs, 1801. Benjamin and Rhoda Gibbs, 1812. Captain Robert Dixon, 1814. Jeremiah Riggs, Benjamin Cook, Aaron Childs, Oliver Woodruff, Selah Stedman, Thankful Persons and Andrew Anderson came in between 1800 and 1814, the exact dates being unknown. The Beechers and Coys came in about 1806 according to records.

The first grist mill for this community was on the Hemlock outlet. It was a very crude affair, but no doubt served its purpose. It was made from a large stump which had a hollow burned in the top. In this hollow a large stone was raised and dropped by means of a lever, one end of which had a bearing on a tree. By this means the grain was broken up into what must have resembled whole wheat flour. This mill was not in use long before a stone mill was erected, about 1799. In 1801 or 1802 a mill was erected at Lakeville by a man named Bosley.

History of the times tells us that grists were carried to and from the mills on the backs of the settlers. Compare this with the modern means of transportation. “We could have more troubles.” It is recorded that one settler, who had lost track of the day of the week, started out Saturday morning for Canadaigua with a grist on an ox-cart. It was an all-day journey and he arrived there late in the evening, when he was informed by the miller’s wife that no grist would be ground on a Sunday and if he wanted flour he could come back Monday. It is not recorded what the settler said, but he went home without his flour.

February 19th, 1794, the first white child was born in the town of Livonia, Phillip Woodruff, son of Solomon. The same year Solomon opened the first tavern. It was here that Louis Philippe, exiled King of France, stayed overnight while journeying through this section. It is said that he cut a cane from the large elm tree which stands (what is left of it) near the road in front of the farm house on the Josiah Short farm, that this cane was taken by him back to France and eventually found its way into the national museum at Paris. This tree was used by the Weller family, the original owners of the farm, for a smoke house, the trunk of it being hollow. It was one of the largest trees in western New York.

The first store in the township was opened in 1804 by a man named Isaac Bishop and stood near where the Catholic church now stands.

The great-grandfather of Benjamin Coy passed through the Center in the year 1806. He left and bound out to George Pratt, the bootmaker and tanner, the grand-father who was then a lad 11 year of age, proceeded to Mount Morris and bound out another son 11 years of age and went on to Michigan with the balance of his family. “Ben’s” grandfather was told by Pratt that when he could make a pair of boots he would be given cobblers’ bench. He earned the bench at 11 years of age. The bench is in existence yet.

The first frame house in the township was built by David Benton, on the farm now owned by John Morrissey which is located on Big Tree Road (known generally as the Lightfoot road). This house was built about 1801 and burned about twenty years ago. During the years just previous to the Civil War that farm was owned by Harvey Blackmer, who was a strong abolitionist. He had the courage of his convictions, his farm being one of the stations of the “Underground Railway”. Here the run-away slaves were kept hidden until a favorable opportunity presented itself to move them nearer the Niagara frontier. On his tombstone appears this epitaph, “A Friend of Humanity”.

The first school house in the town of Livonia stood just north of the house on the Buell Woodruff farm. Records of this district go back to November 19th, 1817. This school house was little more than a shack. School was not held in it long before the house owned by George Pratt was converted into a school.