History of Alton prepared by Nona McDowell for Sodus Bay Historical Society Annual Dinner at the Alton Hotel on 8/11/79- Some is folklore-Some is History
Henry Ford once remarked “History is the Bunk”, when taken from outside of the official and other reliable records.” There is some truth in that remark. Historians must depend to some extent on the memories of the oldest inhabitants which sometimes are faulty.
Alton is a small village, that is part of the town of Sodus. Alton received its name at a public meeting called for the purpose of naming it. It was suggested by Mr. Gates in memory of his own native place in Connecticut. The first town meeting that mentioned Alton was held at the home of Daniel Arms in Wallington in 1811. The township includes 6 towns in the district- Sodus Center, Sodus Point, South Sodus, Wallington, Joy and Alton. The population of Alton varies from 400 plus. We do have a new section “Birchwood Knolls”.
No section of the State of N.Y. at the present time has a more varied and at the same times more delightful climate than Wayne County. Alton is located about half way between Rochester and Syracuse and borders on PreEmption line.
I was reading some of the early newspapers (The Record and Wayne County Alliance)
1744 – Charles Terry b. 11/11/1744-was fatally wounded in the war of 1812, he was from South Sodus and is buried in the Alton Cemetery. The records tell that he fell and he was carried into the tavern and a little later he was put into his Wagon and taken home. He was attended by several Doctors, all of whom said he would recover, after lying in bed for 2 weeks, he got out of bed and walked to the open door, where he took a severe cold and died one month after the conflict.
1794 -Peter VanAntwerp – in War of 1812 died March 31,1887-93 yr old., is also buried in Alton Cemetery. ‘
1811- Orin B. Seymour, Farmer, Wayne C. Post 0ffice. Alton, N.Y.
1812 – Mr. Barnard made the first clearing and built house
1812 – Rudolphus Field served in war of 1812, cut the first tree on the site of Alton Village and he died Oct. 11,1880
1815- soon after 1815 the 0’Bryan saw-mill was built, as was one by Lummis and one at Alton
1818 -Jacob Reynolds, b. Wayne Co. P.0. Add. A1ton, N.Y.
1822- William Gatchell, Farmer and Produce, b. Wayne Co. N.Y. P.O. Alton, N.Y.
1833- H. H. Ostrum. Physician & Surgeon b. Herkimer Co. Add. Alton Buried in Alton Cemetery
Benjamin Cole lived in Phelps and great Valley for a time- finally settling in Alton, there he died in 1881 – He worked as postmaster and peace justice in Wayne County for over twenty years. He had one daughter and three sons. The youngest son, was Seth Cole, Jr., the artist. Born in Great Valley, Oct 20,1829, as a boy in the wilderness of Cattaragus County the young Master Cole taught himself how to draw with pieces of charcoal that he could find in the fireplace. It was his supreme delight to have paper and pencils for his use, purchased at the village store and many sketches of high order were made by him, before the age of 7. A pencil sketch of two birds done by him at the age of 10 is dated 1839 by the artist himself. He most always titled. signed and dated his drawings, with the exception of some of his early drawings and a few scattered drawings done later in life.
He practiced in Buffalo and Syracuse. He had a much more adventurous side to him as described by Thomas Farmington Hicks, Sr. ” I can recall my grandmother Cole (the artist’s wife) telling how he shipped on board a whaling vessel, traveling to south America in this manner. Ran away from home (at) 19 years old. Shipped and boarded a whaler at New Bedford, Mass- around Cape Horn and Chile for two years- He made picturesque sea and landscapes of S.A. mostly done on colored scrapes of paper- Mr. & Mrs. Kemper (antique dealers of Lyons, .N.Y) own two sketches of Bay of Conception drawn 1849-. He sketched Fort Ontario in Oswego – He married twice-First-Maria Elizabeth Shipman 1855-She died 14 years later. They had two daughters-Rosamond Lenora and Maude Elizabeth. In 1872 Seth Cole Jr. married 20 year old Katherine Espenscheid- a native of Alton, a son and two daughters were born. Their names—John Pernando, Augusta Caroline and Lilly Fernando. Augusta and Lilly died in infancy. Sketches of Polly and Grant C. Palmer are property of Wayne County Museum. Mrs. Rexford Furber’s father was a brother of Katherine Espenscheid. Mrs. Furber has at the present time oil paintings of four seascapes depicting the rough trip. One shows a whale huge in comparison with the whaling outfit in the background. A picture of Hope, as in the Bible. Mr. Cole is buried in Brick Church Cemetery.
This was in the Alton Section of the Lyons Papers – 1836 – I read about a Gamaliel Case, who taught at Alton for three successive winters. Mr. Case said “Here, I had some lively experiences with some widewake boys. One had fought a summer teacher and tore off her apron, others had had a battle with Bethel Reed the winter before. For such chaps I was in my element.” One day a young man dashed out of the school house (then south of the corners) against orders of the teachers. Mr. Case had on slippers and was in good running condition. He chased him around the corners past taverns, captured him and with a crowd looking on took him back to the school house and made a good boy of him. Mr. Case was famous for this physical ability. but he was nevertheless successful in the higher and nobler-work of actual introductions of higher learning. There are so many interesting stories about him in the different articles in papers.
He was 6’4″ – giant in statue,(and weighed) 225#. Champion Cradler of Wayne County and one of the best wrestlers in Sodus.
In 1839 a two horse stage carried mail from Lyons to Sodus Point via Alton. At Alton on the south side of second creek where it turns abruptly and flows eastward across the Alton-Sodus Point highway. Isaac Laurence, ancestor of Prof. Harry Laurence of Pultneyville, built a sawmill in the 1820’s and that or successive sawmills were on the same spot for nearly 100 years. In 1901 it was owned by George E. Burns followed by his brother Samuel T. Burns, who owned it until it was torn down in about 1915 – (Great Sodus Bay by Walter Henry Green.
There is a railroad track that goes through the southern part of town, but the train only goes through a few times a year now. It was originally the Lake Ontario Shore and its terminal was Oswego and Lewiston, but now part of it has been torn up and Penn Central owns it after many other changes. The company for its construction organized in Oswego March 17, 1868 and Gerritt Smith (the famous abolitionist) was elected president. Work began at Red Creek Aug. 23, 1871 – amid firing of cannon and cheers of multitude of people. The road was finished in 1876. It finally passed under the control of Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg R.R. Company and was absorbed by NYC and later by Penn Central, the Railroad station was rented. At one time Charles Burns and then Ed Burns owned it. Date Pitcher used to operate the telegraph and was the station master for many years. A passenger and freight train used to come in every morning and evening and many of the younger boys and girls used to go and watch how many people would get off and on. A railroad does help a town progress. Many cars of lumber were loaded and shipped out of town as well as produce canned goods and many a car load of coal and spray material, fertilizer, etc. were put on the Siding to be unloaded, empty cans were shipped to the canning factory and unloaded from the car to the plant. Many years ago people had furniture shipped to Alton as well as horses and cattle. There have been so many businesses in Alton. Sawmill, Grocery, Stores – Hardware’s , Harness Shop – Carpenters -Masons, Coal Company, Farmers, – Feed Mill-Blacksmith Furniture-Undertaker-Bicycles & Supplies-Dray Houses Manufacturer of Fruit Crates, Dealers in livestock, poultry and Wool – Physicians – Thrasher—dressmakers-barber. You name it and Alton has had it some time, as most all of the small villages did.
Arch Merrill- wrote in the ”Ridge” – Alton – distinguished for the religious characteristic of its people who have built a tabernacle on a hill and for a busy Canning factory that employs nearly 200 hands in season.
Churches of Alton
The Christian Church of Alton was organized in 1843 – in 1851 they built a stone meeting house east of the village. The Protestant Methodist became active in Sodus over 75 years ago and who effected an organization in 1847, now use this building. The Adventists organized in Alton about 1870. They met in the stone church at Alton and in Bell school west of Sodus. The Advent Christian Church now existing at Alton, was started in 1914 and their house of worship erected in 1916. The Free Methodist Church of Alton was first recognized as part of the Rose Circuit 11/11/l861 – Wm Cooley was first preacher; Wm. Burns Class leader for Alton. In 1868 the society erected a neat chapel at the cost of $1,000.00 and dedicated in that fall. Society had 55 members and 88 members in Sunday School. George E. Burns was Supt. Alton Gospel Church was built in 1931 and has had many additions since that time.
United Society of Believers of Christ’s second appearing, popularly known as Shakers, and flourished several years ago at Nicholas Point, coming to Sodus from New Lebanon about 1823. They purchased of Judge Nicholas 1450 acres of land on which they erected large buildings- about 10-15 years later they removed, selling their property to Adams, Duncan & Co. promoters of Sodus Canal for $100 an acre. They sold it to Fourierite Associates, but after a brief existence they disbanded and it fell back into possession of the Canal men. The society removed to the Genesee Flats in Livingston County and established themselves on land which they purchased at $60.00 an acre. Their old meeting house is now occupied as a dwelling. The villagers never refer to the estate of Alvah Griffin Strong on the south shore of the bay as Alasa Farms. To them it is still “The Shaker Tract”. Taken from Arch Merrill’s Book ( The Sodus Librarian, Mrs.Sterling told me to say, part of it is folklore) that is what she has been told. Unbelievers called them the Shaking Quakers or the Shakers because of the twitching of their bodies under the religious spell. They built first a meeting house, then a central residence or manor house, barns and a cluster of other buildings, a few of which are still there. They cultivated the rolling acres, set out orchards, brought in a fine dairy herd. In 1836 a ship canal was projected to connect Sodus Bay with Erie Canal near Montezuma. Its route lay squarely across the Shaker land. So the sect sold its property at a profit and moved to Sonyea. The canal scheme, like many a similar one of that era withered on the vine after a few shovelfuls of earth had been dug. Then came another cult to occupy the broad acres. Around 1843 a “phalanx” of the Fourierists, a socialistic utopian society, established itself there. Dissension disrupted the Sodus colony in two years. They sold (it) back to the canal men.
An interesting story was told to me by Mr. Mangan. The Shakers were forced to leave the farm, as the canal was going to go through the middle of it. they sold to Adams, Duncan & Co. and they moved everything that they could. such as furniture, small fruit trees and even exhumed the graves of their elders. The cemetery that people mention, where some pieces of headstones have been found, is east of the big barn. The meeting house was south of the main house. My husband remembers playing in the meeting house with others boys, one was Walter Grosz of Sodus Point, who used to live on the Farm.
One fact that was interesting is that Mr. Strong bought a herd of Short Horn Milk cows and that is what the Shakers also had. History repeats itself. Griff Mangan, the present manager and grandson of Alvah G. Strong was very hospitable to me and told about the many people that stop and talk to him about the Shakers and some are writing books on Shakers etc. Mr. Mangan enjoys visiting about the history of the farm and of the Shakers, It is his dream or hope some day to rebuild a replica of the Grist Mill, that was built by Judge Nicholas in 1794 before the Shakers came. It was recently burned down by young boys. He has a picture of it and if that isn’t possible, that maybe a waterwheel could be built on the original site. He gave me a book named “A Day at Alasa Farms“ written by his grandfather in 1927 and said that I could give it to the Historical Society. I was very happy sitting on the pleasant veranda overlooking the farm and buildings and a view of the Bay and imagining that the Shakers were still there. It was a very exciting afternoon for me as I am old enough to remember the Alasa Farm in 1927 and what a wonderful place it was.
THE ALTON HOTEL
I wish that I could find out more about it, as I am sure it has a very colorful history. It has had lots of Community Spirit through the years- Big Auctions used to be held here by Wat Wood and during the World War several meetings for the Red Cross. They have had hundreds of beautiful wedding receptions. They used to hold dances many years ago. A story is told by a friend that the town drunk would come to the hotel and get so he couldn’t walk so the proprietor would put him in his horse and buggy and the horse knew the route better than the occupant to return home. This performance was repeated many times. Can you imagine what would happen today, the car certainly wouldn’t get him home. Some of the previous proprietors of the hotel are; Mr. Glimpse, Fred Bridger, Mr. & Mrs. Ted Faatz, Jack Sheehan, Cha Gallery, Joe Bloothall and Wat Wood. I brought some pictures of the Hotel 1908, but the date the pictures were taken was actually 1915, because you can read 1 license plate year on cars. It was taken on Booster Day, which Alton was noted for having a good time. Early each spring people came in town from the surrounding countryside, It shows the grocery store (E. Philo) and five of the automobiles, also a picture of the meat market and Anson Gatchel’s hardware and four or the houses on main street and the dirt roads.
In one car it shows a picture of Ben Tyndall and his bride to be. The story is that Mr. Gatchell would give a new cook stove to any couple that would be married in the store window on Booster day. Years later, Mr. Tyndall went to Rochester on business and stayed all night in a hotel and was not familiar with how gas lights worked, so when he retired he blew out the light and that was the end of Mr. Tyndall. He is buried in the Alton Cemetery.
Telephones were put in 1905; few people could afford it- Electric lights about 1910-1911.
I have been over to Wayne County Museum lately reading the books and papers and records. It listed owners of summer cottages. George Burns, Alton–S.T. Burns Alton, A.C. Warren Point Look out — E.J. Catchell – Alton-—Albert Harris ,A1ton,N.Y. Morris Philo – Alton- James Barnes and James Catchell – Winter Green Point, Can you imagine the names of all the cottage people now? It would fill up a few pages.
Charles Burns And George E. Burns were in the Furniture and Undertaking business and Ed Burns was telling about how apprehensive he was, when he had to drive a team of horses with a big hearse with Willie Cahoon. down the steep hill in the Alton Cemetery to the Graveside at funerals. It could have easily tipped over. Ed Burns also showed me a record book of wages paid in 1905 – $1.25 per day for men and $.75 per day for women. I sure would like to hire a few of those people at that price and get a lot of work done around our home.
He also recalled that there were two ice houses in Alton. One was back of the present Post Office and one back of Seth’s T.V. place.
The Alton Canning as I know it, has been growing from a small business, into a large corporation in my lifetime. It Started out as C.F. Burns & Co., a warehouse on south side of railroad track in Alton. They sold dried apples, berries, beans and many other produce. They kept growing and the son, Ed Burns went into business with his father and they went into canning business and frozen foods later and just kept expanding. They had big years and lean years and they bought many smaller plants and the last big step was to merge with Curtice Bros. of Rochester and today, it is one of the largest processing organizations in the Eastern United States. It was due to the wonderful management and leadership of Charles F. Burns and Ed Burns. They were both very fine men to work for and certainly have put Alton on the map, as their canned goods were shipped all over as were their dried apples, even to Europe. They both have done a lot of good for Alton. Built two beautiful homes and have helped in many community projects.
The Alton Community has had many acres of apples and cherries. The first grafted apples brought to Wayne County were brought by Wm. Bond from Long Island and were termed ‘The Long Island Greening‘ and the Bill Pond. Many migrants have moved into the area to help harvest the fruit and a few remained the year around, but now a lot of the harvesting is done by machinery. It is hard to stop talking; as there is so much that I haven’t even touched on. I would like to mention the three cobblestone buildings we have in Alton. The United Methodist Church, a house next to Bonds Hardware and Morris Espenscheid’s residence on Shaker street. Thank all of you for listening to me and especially to Ed Burns for his help and Griff Mangan and Jane Sterling and Marjorie Perez. It has been fun.