Like all bodies which the public frequent at all seasons of the year, and have from the time of the white man’s recollection down to the present, accidents, both fatal and otherwise, must of necessity happen, for where can man be placed on this sublunary sphere, and not be the victim, sooner or later, of such misfortunes.
The first fatal accident of which we are acquainted that happened since the Seneca nation held absolute sway around this lake, took place on the 29th day of March 1827.
William Bowen, who was born in Onedia County in 1795, and living at the time, and following the hard but honest trade of a blacksmith, at the village of Hemlock Lake, together with his brother John, were drawing the seine on the western shore of the lake, some three fourths of a mile from the Jaques house, or somewhere near where now stands the Lake Shore House.
They were using a boat to spread the seine.
John was doing the rowing, and William was the meanwhile was casting out the net, when unexpectedly his foot became entangled in the rope, and suddenly, without a moment’s warning he was taken to the bottom of the lake, and not being able to extricate himself, perished.
His son William, now living at the village of Hemlock Lake who was a small lad at the time is the living witness of this first fatal disaster.
On the 15th day of June, 1829, Alvin Marsh, then about 45 years of age, and living in the town of Livonia, some one and a half miles west of the foot of the lake, started on business that took him eastward past the foot, and was to return the same day. Not returning as expected, inquiries and searches were made, but were of no avail.
Some three or four days afterwards a violent thunder storm passed over the lake, and all those who have been witnesses to these commotions of nature, can fully attest that they are terrible in this vicinity. The water has been known to be considerably agitated at such times, and the old hills send back frowning and deafening echoes and reverberations that seem to come from the very bowels of the earth. Soon after, his body was found floating in the lake about one third of the way across eastwardly from the “Title” point. When he went away from home, it was known that he carried money with him, but when his body was found, neither money nor wallet was with it; no bones could be found that were broken, but a gash extending from the left eye to the ear, was plainly discernable, and his clothes were badly rent, showing beyond the possibility of a doubt, that previous to death, there had been a desperate struggle, and he evidently was the victim.
A Coroner’s Inquest was held, but nothing elicited that would in any way go to clear up the mystery, but the opinion was freely expressed, that he had been waylaid, robbed, and his body thrown into the lake.
Tanner and Waters
The next one occurred April 14th 1833. Willis Waters, aged 18, son of Jonathan Waters who came from Scheffield in the State of Massachusetts in 1814, and settled on the west part of the present farm of Andrew Brown on Ball Hill, and John Tanner, from Conesus, buy who had hired or leased the Half Way House, and had moved there-to on Saturday and intended to open it as a Tavern on Monday, started out in company, much against the advice of friends, to take a mess of fish. The wind was blowing strong, and white-caps showed themselves like maddened spirits on the surface of this, at times, unruly lake. It was considered a fool-hardy move by everyone, but it is thought they intended to cross over to the west shore pretty well towards the head of the lake where the water was less rough, but their fatal hour had arrived. When nearly two thirds of the distance towards the place of their destination, it was thought by those on shore, they attempted to change places, when their little bark capsized. One of them, supposed to be Tanner, who was a very good swimmer, was seen to mount the inverted boat several times, and was heard to call loudly for help, but no one dared go to their assistance.
Their hats or caps floated, and were afterwards picked up, and the boat was caught by some brush on the western shore, somewhere south of the cabin which Dr. Norton used to frequent in his last days. The bed of the lake was thoroughly raked, times without number, cannons were fired, and every available means were used to recover the bodies, but all in vain - they were destined to rest in a watery grave.
Months afterwards, a boot was found with the bones of the foot and leg to the knee nearly covered with sand, which was thought to be the one that belonged to Tanner. Tanner was a married man and left a wife and one child.
John Martin Jr.
It seems that fatality was to attend those who fixed their abode at the Half Way House, for in the month of June, 1842, John Martin Jr., (whose father left the “sweet land of Erin,” but one short year before, to follow the business of a drover, had bought one half the property of Porter Fowler,) together with John Wilkinson started on a errand to Lawrence Webster’s in Conesus, to obtain some turnip seed.
After they had crossed over near the cave banks on the western shore, Martin thought it was a good time to make his first attempt at swimming, so, after Wilkinson had departed on his errand, he, on that pleasant Sabbath morning, anchored his boat, disrobed himself and put his clothes in the boat, but shortly afterwards a spy-glass from the eastern shore failed to see the form of Martin anywhere.
Search was made and his body was found nearly under the boat in a little over five feet of water, and Wetmore hooked a trout hook into his under jaw and trolled the body across the lake. We are also told that Martin was alone on that fatal day, and not with Wilkinson, and also that he was drowned south of Fisher’s point, but we have given the generally accepted version of the case.
Mary J. Williams
This was truly a sad case. For one in the bloom of life, with all the happiness seemingly that mortal can ask, a pleasant home, kind and loving associates, and a genial, Christian spirit, to voluntarily so rash an act as suicide, during a temporary aberration of mind, seems ever a sad tale to tell.
Mary was born September, 19th 1839, and on the 12th day of June, 1859, when a little less than twenty years of age, while attendant school at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary at Lima, the latter date being on Sunday, she was at the morning services at the Methodist church, in the afternoon at the College Chapel, and at the prayer meeting in the evening until 9 o’clock.
She was living with her uncle, the late Prof. Bragdon and occupied the same room that her cousin Miss Bragdon did. They both retired to bed, but at 12 o’clock Miss Bragdon awoke and found Mary up reading her Bible. She requested her to come to bed, and she replied “I will in a minute.” Miss Bragdon dropped asleep and that was the last that was seen of Mary while alive. A thorough search and investigation was made, and a reward of fifty dollars was offered, but not until the next Saturday was her body found.
The late Albert Chapman, who was fishing with some other comrades from Lima, found her floating in this lake southward of the present Steam Saw Mill and some one fourth of a mile distant there from. The body was immediately taken to Lima, a Coroner’s Inquest held, and the Jury brought in a verdict of “suicide while deranged.” Mr. Chapman received the reward, but he benevolently used it in placing a fitting memorial at her grave.
It was found after her departure that she had packed all her clothes carefully in her trunk, except her poorest suit which she wore to the lake. A kind and loving letter, received that week from one to whom she was engaged to be married, containing nothing to cause her to commit so hasty an act, and from the closest investigation possible nothing has ever been elicited that should mar her happiness or character in the least. Numerous rumors were afloat at the time, but they were all void of truth, and the name of Mary Jane Williams remains to-day in the memory of her surviving schoolmates as that of a much esteemed, Christian lady.
Charles Shepard a lad of eleven years of age, son of A. G. Shepard living on Ball Hill in the town of Canadice, was sent by his father in the early morning of the 18th day of August 1867, to ask S. W. Wheaton, a neighbor, for a boat in which his father and uncle Isaac Stevenson wished to cross the Lake. The boat lay at the “Lima” house, and after he had done his errand, he crossed the lots in the direction of the lake, and was afterwards seen to cross the lake and return, in the boat. He had often been at his uncle’s (H. J. Wemett) at the Half Way House and there learned to use the boat.
Search was made for him; the boat was found containing his clothing, but not until the 20th was his body recovered. Previous to going away, his mother had spoken to him about changing his clothes, and as he had been assisting some in threshing, she suggested that he should have a good wash before putting on his clean garments, and while in bathing from some cause or other, he met his death. His body was found in some twelve feet of water, in the neighborhood of where now stands the St. James Hotel.
Michael, during his boyhood, lived with the late Ruel Blake in the town of Livonia, and after marriage kept his house. A few days previous to his being drowned, he wa at work in Blake’s hop yard on the “Maloy or Tittle” point.
On Sunday, June 5th 1870, a party of Nunda boys were camping at “Vesper cliff”, and Michael and Patrick Ryan spent a portion of the day and night following there, and at Nivergall’s. Between two and three o’clock Monday morning, they started for the point, and boat leaking, they emptied it, and when well towards Echo Rock, a voice was heard at Nivergall’s, calling “Fred”. Mrs. Nivergall and daughter repaired to the spot and found Ryan on the inverted boat, and Michael’s hat floating. Ryan said that Murphy was at the bottom of the lake. After searching the balance of the night and nearly all next day, his body was found some eighty rods north of Echo Rock. Murphy was twenty nine years of age at the time of his death.
The last one that has died from drowning in the lake, was Morey Willis, aged 16. He was living with his father in Springwater, and was drowned June, 18th, 1880. It happened on the occasion of the annual opening of the Port House, and on the opposite side of the lake, just south of the Dr. Norton cabin.
Morey, with some other youngsters, had crossed the lake for the purpose of bathing, and venturing out too far, or too near the break-off to deep water, slid down the bank, and when he arose, he was too far away for his associates to rescue him. He was the youngest son of Caleb W. Willis.
Here we shall place as an immediate link in our order, the case of Polly Austin.
An aged widow, mother of the late Nathan Austin of Hemlock Lake Village, was found dead some three fourths of a mile from the head of the lake, and a short distance away from the west shore, in the woods, in May, 1844.
She was an inmate of the Almshouse, and was often allowed to go away on furlough, and was often gone for quite a number of weeks, staying where charity would permit her so to do.
It is said by some, that she had been at Cohocton, and on her return stopped at Ebenezer Lincoln’s, and said she was on her way to Conesus, and by others, that she was on her way to Lincoln’s. This was in the month of February, three months before her body was found by some boys while fishing. As she had so often been away under similar circumstances, no search or inquiries were made in regard to her whereabouts. During the time her body had lain there in the forest, the wild animals had feasted there from, and it was in an advanced state of purification when found. From all appearances she had become weary, lost her way, and had lain down for the night, at the foot of an aged Hemlock. A pair of new shoes she had taken from her feet and placed them under her head. Her scanty supply of provisions were carefully tied up in a shawl, and she had evidently arranged herself as comfortably as she could for a rest, but there is no doubt but she perished from the cold.
A coroner was notified, and with him came her son Nathan, who said he supposed to be his mother, but he was given away so early in infancy, that all he knew in regard to it was, that she had once told him that she was his mother, but he discredited it until he learned other facts after her remains were found.
In that lonely wild, a prayer made by the Reverend A. B. Green, now of South Pultney, and her son took the body down the lake for burial.
A vast number of accidents which were not fatal to human life, might be noticed under this head, but we will mention but a few and those only where a loss of some domestic animal, has been sustained.
In 1779, Ephrim Tucker while living in Livonia, was on the ice with two yoke of oxen. The ice giving way, all were precipitated into the deep, and Ephrim was no swimmer, but still he managed to unyoke his oxen, and clinging to the back of one, came out at last, minus one ox only.
Jasper Marvin from Lima, while drawing lumber from Springwater in 1838, lost a nice span of horses through the ice, near the foot of the lake.
David Barnhart, mentioned in another place, once lost an ox here, and William H. Norton who had been to Hemlock Lake village mill with a heavy load of corn, went through the ice opposite the Rosenkrans cottage in 1860, and lost a valuable span of horses. These are all of this nature that we can recall at this time.