Emily Radigan, Pulteney Town Historian Emeritus
In The Beginning
Pulteney is considered to be one of the nicest towns in Steuben County. Situated in the northeast corner of the County, east by Keuka Lake and scenic Bluff Point, bounded on the north by Jerusalem in Yates county, south by Urbana, and west by a portion of Urbana and Prattsburgh It is a small town only about 33.2 miles. At the outset it was much larger, however in 1813, a large portion of Pulteney was taken away to help form the town of Prattsburgh, and in 1843, another portion was taken away to form the town of Urbana.
The area was first surveyed in 1793, by William Bull when the town of Bath was being laid out by Charles Williamson agent for a group of English investors headed by Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, know as the “Pulteney Association”. The group purchased from Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution, a portion of the newly opened Indian Country known as the Genesee Lands (Phelps and Gorham Purchase) in 1790.
Pulteney was an unsettled wilderness during the American Revolution. Settlement did not begin in Pulteney until about ten or fifteen years after the war ended. It was after Major General John Sullivan’s campaign into the Genesee Lands against the Indians, that the settlers were attracted to the region. Many of Sullivan’s soldiers who found their way to Pulteney were veterans of his army. Soldiers who participated in the war were given at least 600 acres of land each, depending on their rank by Congress and the State of New York. These allotments were known as Military Tracts. Some of the soldiers sold their allotments for cash, others came to settle and work the land.
The pioneers came to Pulteney for various reasons; some for religious freedom, others to achieve conquest, but the compelling reason behind the migration was land. The first settlement was made in what is now known as Bully Hill in 1797 by John Van Camp and David Thompson, it is one of the most beautiful locations in the area. Standing on top of that hill on a clear day you can see a most spectacular panoramic view for miles around.
Bully Hill is an unusual name, people have often wondered how it got it’s name. Charles Minnerly, a senior resident of Pulteney explains:
“As a young boy I often sat around the country store just to listen to the old folks tell their stories about the olden days. The place acquired the name Bully Hill, when Pulteney was still a frontier town. During pioneering days some very rough people settled there and every Saturday night they would go down to Hammondsport to do up the town. After a few drinks they would get rowdy and pick fights with the towns people. This did not sit well with the folks, hence they referred to the visitors as “Bullies on the Hill.” And the name became legendary.”
Some of the pioneer settlers who came to Pulteney, when it was still a wilderness, and contributed to its early development were:
Samuel Miller, G. F. Fitzsimmons, John Black, James and George Simms, Henry Hoffman., Abraham Bennett, Shadrock Norris, Samuel and Nathaniel Wallis, John Ellis, William White, James Daily, and Erastus Glass. Harmon Emmons and Seth Pierce arrived in 1806, and in 1808 Elios and John Hopkins, Cornelius Launsbury, George Raymond, Thomas Hyatt and so many others too numerous to mention.
The settlers continued to arrive in Pulteney at a fast pace, by the year 1800 the population had grown to one hundred and thirty two residents. Little settlements were formed throughout the hamlet and each settlement had its own name, often after the first settler or his former town. Some settlements had a church, post office, store and often a mill.
Some of the names were:
Sodom – Harmonyville – Pulteney – Catawba – Gibson’s Landing – Guliksville – Boyds Point – Gloads Corners – South Pulteney – Bluff Port – Scuttsville – Elbois – Pine Grove
Because of the large influx of settlers it became necessary to form a separate division. The hamlet broke from Bath, and was officially formed on March 1, 1808, and named Pulteney, in honor of Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, who died three years earlier in 1805.
In its early days Pulteney had three names Sodom, Harmonyville and Pulteney.
The pioneers named the center of town Sodom, and used the name extensively. The town was not officially named because the area still belonged to Bath. Old Newspaper articles and diaries referred to the town as Sodom.
Sodom became a very busy settlement, merchants of every description sold their wares. It has been said that whatever you needed could be had in Sodom, without leaving the town. The town began to prosper and people seemed content.
When some affluent settlers began to arrive in the area, they found the name Sodom offensive and lost no time in having the name changed. At some point they organized a town meeting and had the name changed from Sodom to Harmonyville. The resolution passed but it caused an uproar because many of the towns people objected to the change. They continued to call their town Sodom, even after Pulteney broke from Bath and was officially formed in 1808, and given the name Pulteney. Sodom was still used as late as 1891.
Following are some of the other names used in early Pulteney:
South Pulteney was also known as Bluff Port, it had its own little settlements and a hotel. It was a very active and intellectual little community. One of the settlements was called Scuttsville, in honor of a well to do settler and his family, who were instrumental in starting a mill there. The community had their own Church, School, Store, Post Office, Mill, and later a Cheese Factory. In time a family named Covell, took exception to the name Scuttsville, thinking that it was not high class enough. Their daughter, a school teacher named Lilly Covell, petitioned the proper authorities and had the name changed to “Elmbois” a French word meaning Elm Trees. She chose the name because at the time there were a lot of beautiful Elm Trees in the area.
Pine Grove, was also a very popular little community, and the home of the first Church built in South Pulteney, “The First Baptist Church.” It was a very popular and active church. The church was a wooden structure that burned to the ground three times, it was rebuilt each time at the same location
Gulicksville, was located along the shoreline of Keuka Lake. This settlement began in 1802, and had eight homes. Years later the area became known as Boyd’s Landing. In 1855, a large grain warehouse was erected on the landing, and people came from the surrounding areas with grain to be sold. In many instances the settlers would start out the night before, because distances were long and the roads were poor. Very often they did not arrive at the landing until the afternoon of the following day to unload the grain
Catawba had a Post Office and a Wells Fargo Station. When steamboats came on the scene it became known as Gibson’s Landing named after George Gibson. Gibson’s Landing was one of the busiest locations in the area. George Gibson was also the owner of the famous Gibson House a gracious guest house, and was also involved in viticulture. He was one of the original members of the Lake Keuka Wine Co., later known as “White Top” on West Lake Road. He built the winery himself, he gathered the stones at Keuka Park, and had the stones shipped via the steamboat to the sight of the winery were they were unloaded.
When the Town of Pulteney was officially formed in 1808, and given the name Pulteney, the name was spelled with one “e” Pultney. At some point the town father’s discovered that the name was misspelled, and they quickly made a move to correct it. In 1875, the residents voted to have it changed to correspond with Sir William Pulteney’s name using two e’s. In 1881 the government issued 16,000 circulars to all the Post Offices in the country, advising the corrected change to be “Pulteney.”
The first town meeting was held at the home of Jessie Waldo on the first day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eight. Present Robert Porter ESQ. Moderator meeting opened according to law:
Uriel Chapin, Supervisor
Aaron Bull, Town Clerk
Aaron Cook, Elias Hopkins & Nathaniel Wallis Assessors
Illiam P. Curtis, Collector
Salsbury Button & Daniel Bennett Overseers of the Poor
Samuel Hays, John Hopkins & Shadrock Norris Commissioners of Roads
Harmon Emmons & W. P. Curtis Constables
John Ellis, Mamaliel Loomis, George Raymond, Cornnelius Lounsbury,
and Josiah and Allis – Fence Viewers.
Soon after the organization of Pulteney began, improvements were made in every direction. School districts were formed, roads were surveyed and opened. Roads were called beats and each landowner was responsible for certain portions of the road. For instance when the snows came it was up to the settlers to see that the snow was cleared. The late Bernice Stanhope, a former resident and schoolteacher in Pulteney explains:
“It all had to be done with a shovel. Several men would get up on a sleigh with shovel’s and all helped to clear off the snow. Sometime, if the snow was soft enough, a log was attached behind the sleigh which acted as a plow.”
The settlers had no time or materials to erect fences, so the cattle roamed freely throughout the community. Pounds were erected to contain the stray animals and were held, until they were claimed by their rightful owners. In 1819 the town started a marking system. Lambs, sheep, hogs, horses, and cattle were marked for easy identification. There were 70 different markings registered in Pulteney. An owner might make a square crop on the right ear of his hog, or a short slit on the left ear. A book was kept with a list of names and opposite each name a description of a mark that the pioneer was requested to make upon his animals for identification. Some of the descriptions were called: swallow tail, holes, half pennies, crops, slits, fore gods, hind gods, brands, square crops and forks. Other marks were added as new settlers came into town.
Herds for shipments were often driven along the road heading for the steam boat landings. When Glenview Cemetery was laid out, an iron fence was erected to keep the cattle from trampling on the consecrated grounds. The original fence still remains today.
In the Town Minutes of March 4, 1817, it was voted ”that there be a fine of two dollars to impose on all persons who shall suffer their rams at large between the 1st day of September and the 10th of November.” Presumably this rule was to prevent rams from roaming when school was in session. They still roamed freely as late a 1863 and 1875.
October, 1863 School District #7
“Move that no person shall be allowed to pasture the School House yard.”
It is difficult for us today to visualize what it was like when Pulteney was in its primitive state, and even more difficult to comprehend how the pioneers managed to survive. Their fears and apprehensions must have been mind boggling. Wild animals roamed the land and were a constant threat, they made frequent raids on sheep folds. Wolves were hunted without mercy and bounties were offered for their scalps. In 1809 the town offered a $5.00 bounty on wolves and panthers. Two years later the bounty was raised to $ 10.00. Also in 1842 a bounty of fifty cents was paid for every crow that was killed, a desperate attempt to save the crops. This bounty was repealed after two years.
To acquaint the reader further, what life was like in early Pulteney, following is a story related to me by Howard Tyler of Elmboise, in 1980:
“In order to clear the lands, my great grandfather Isaac Tyler, had to windrow the big pines, one on top of the other then set fire to them, but many large stumps still remained some four feet in diameter. That first year my great grandfather planted potatoes amongst the stumps, the ground was so fertile that it only took something like five or six hills to get a bushel full. Some of those stumps can still be seen today (1980). The winter months were extremely cold then. My great grandfather built his log house and was living alone. One night it was so cold he set his feather tick on the floor next to the fire place and fell asleep. Late into the night the tick caught fire, nothing happened to him but the house burned to the ground. But that didn’t discourage him, he just built himself another house on the same spot just like the first one.”
Many of the early settlers who found their way to Pulteney were people of means and well educated. But town records also reveal that, there were a good share of poor people with large families. In 1810 a special meeting was called to raise money for the support of the poor, they collected $100.00, a large sum for the times. Also it often happened that families with a lot of children found they could not provide for them. The children in some instances boarded out with a family with less children, or with families who had no children, and had the means to rear the children, in exchange for their services. In some instances people were paid for keeping the children.
From Pulteney Town Records:
“In 1812, Asa Cooper was paid $8.00 for keeping John Murray’s child.”
“Polly Flecher at age of eight years and three months and nine days was made an apprentice of Nathan and Elizabeth Taylor. They entered into a covenant with the overseer of the poor to take Polly Fletcher into their home where she will learn to be a housekeeper. They agreed to instruct her to read and write as far as possible and to cipher as far as the rule of three. She was to be allowed sufficient meat and drink, washing, lodging and apparel for working and holy days. When she reached the age of 18 years, she was free. She was to have one good suit of holy day clothing to the value at least $8.00, plus two suits of every day wear, a good bible, a good bed and bedding. Polly on her part agreed to serve her master and mistress well and faithfully, according to her power and ability and be honest in all things. She was to behave herself toward her said master and mistress, and the rest of the family and she too did so covenant with the overseer of the poor. The covenant also stated that Polly shall never in any way or matter be a charge to the town of Pulteney or its people.” Remember the child was only eight years old.
Another child in 1824, an eleven year old girl, was much the same way apprenticed. Only she fared a little better. She was to receive upon reaching age of 18, a cow not over five years old, and five sheep.
The custom of boarding out children prevailed not only in Pulteney, but also throughout the entire country in the early stages of its development. Ellen Tomer a great granddaughter to early settler John Tomer, reveals in her diary that during the winter months she was sent to the Baldwin family in Elmira , to do the sewing for the entire family’s wardrobe in exchange for board and piano lessons. Her diary reveals how lonesome she was for her family and counted the days when she could return home.