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“Tales of the Past” by Frank Connor

Tales of the Past

Chapter 16 - Timber, tannery, charcoal burning, coming of the railroad.

by Frank Connor


The Kinney Creek in early times was a good sized stream furnishing power to several industries. It rises on the Caleb Purdy farm at South Livonia and empties into the Hemlock outlet west of the village of Hemlock. The cutting off of the timber has dried it up until now it is practically dry during the summer months. It received its name from John Kinney who lived where Howard Jones does now. Not much use was made of it in early times till it reached the Center. Here the power and water was put to work. George Pratt’s tannery was the first to use it. Further down it was used to operate a grist mill, built in 1825 by P. B. Ripley, who operated it until sometime in the early thirties when it was sold to Irving Salsich’s father. He converted the grist mill into a saw mill, which it continues to be. The turbine wheel in this mill is the one that used to be in the old grist mill at Dixon Hollow.

Across the road from the Salsich mill stood a distillery, and east of that an ashery where lye and potash were made.

The burning of ashes during early times was an important industry, the ashes being barreled and sold to make payments on the farms and purchase the few necessities of life which the settlers could not grow or make. It is said that Oscar Woodruff, grandson of Deacon Oliver, drew ashes to Rochester, by team, to make the payments on his farm. Several farms in and about this locality were pretty much paid for in this way.

In later years charcoal pits were made and the charcoal hauled to Rochester and sold for ten cents a bushel, fifty bushels being a load. Charcoal was made from the soft woods. The tree trunks and large limbs were cut into 10 or 12 foot lengths, stood on end in a cone-shaped pile, then earth was shoveled on about 12 or 18 inches deep all around and the pile set on fire from the center and allowed to smolder until all the wood was thoroughly charred. The pit was then opened and the charcoal taken out. It meant many tedious hours of watching in burning a pit. If the fire was allowed to blaze and got beyond control all of the labor was lost; nothing but ashes remained. I am told that a pit produced from 50 to 100 bushels; a lot of labor for five or ten dollars.

Records of business at the Center during the years from 1800 to 1850 are not very plentiful, hence a complete story of it cannot be told. The Center was the business place for the township for many years, changes were constantly being made, no records made of them so it is impossible to tell much. A store stood where the Catholic Church is now located, owned and operated by a man named Parmalee. Another one stood where the present one is and burned in 1832 along with the Presbyterian Church. The stone shop at the top of the hill was built about 100 years ago as a blacksmith shop for William Thurston. Robert Thurston ran a harness shop near there. Martin Murphy had a boot and shoe shop on the lot where John Dooley lives; he employed three or four men. Simon Risdon had another boot and shoe shop near Murphy’s. The hotel or tavern was the house in which Charles Miller now lives. This was the first hotel in the township and was operated until after the Erie Railroad was built.

In 1849 the New York and Erie Railroad was brought into existence. When it was determined by the builders to put the road through the town of Livonia an effort was made by Center business men to have it come up through the Center Valley (along the Kinney Creek). They were unsuccessful. It came through the next one west, where it is now, and in 1853 trains were running into Livonia Station and the Center and Hemlock were “Out-O-Luck”.