(Editor’s note: This article originally ran as a “Looking Back” column in August 2019)
History has it that the area now known as Wayne County has been inhabited by humans for more than 12,000 years. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the land Wayne County encompasses was originally part of the Iroquois Confederacy, which had existed from around 1142.
Of The Six Nations — the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora — Wayne County was evidently the joint home of the Senecas and Cayugas, who used it more for their hunting and fishing grounds than for settlement.
When counties were established in New York state on Nov. 1, 1683, Wayne was part of Albany County. On April 11, 1823, Wayne County was formed by combining portions of Seneca and Ontario counties. The county was named after General Anthony Wayne, “Mad Anthony Wayne,” who was a very decorated American in the Revolutionary War.
The first settlers were arriving here in 1789 by use of the Clyde River. Those that settled south of Lyons were the families of Nicholas and William Stansell and John Featherly. The town of Lyons was created from the town of Sodus on March 1, 1811. Those that settled in Palmyra were the families of John Swift and Col. John Jenkins. Swift built the first grist mill in the Palmyra, held the first militia training, organized and donated land for the first church, the first schoolhouse and the first burial ground.
The town of Macedon was created from the town of Palmyra on Jan. 29, 1823. Macedon’s first settlers, Webb and Hannah Harwood, arrived in what is now Macedon in the late spring of 1789, after a 46-day journey from Adams, Mass. in an uncovered wagon drawn by a team of oxen.
In 1825, the town of Arcadia was formed from the town of Lyons. It contained the village of Newark and Lockville. The village of Newark was first called Miller’s Basin in honor of Capt. Joseph Miller who contracted to build a section of the Erie Canal through this region. In 1803 a settlement began in Butler when Capt. Peter Mills and his family located in the town. Mills was a Revolutionary soldier and was granted a bounty of 500 acres in the new Military Tract for his services. His wife, Sarah Mills, died Nov. 26, 1809, aged 65. Hers was the first death and burial in the town of Butler.
The town of Butler was formed from the town of Wolcott on Feb. 26, 1826. On April 11, 1823, Galen became part of Wayne County. In November 1824, Savannah was set off. The first settler in Galen was Laomi Beadle, who settled in the hamlet of Marengo in 1800. Here he built the first log house, planted the first orchard and built the first sawmill.
The town of Ontario was formed from Williamson on March 27, 1807, and included the present-day town of Walworth. It was originally known as Freetown until Feb. 12, 1808, when its name officially became Ontario. In 1806, the first settler, Freeman Hopkins, came to Ontario from Rhode Island. As he was a Quaker, he and his family returned to Rhode Island at the outbreak of the War of 1812 to avoid the hostilities because of their close proximity to Lake Ontario. However, in 1818, the family returned to Ontario.
Originally called Winchester, the town of Marion was created from the town of Williamson on April 18, 1825. The first settler, Henry Lovell, came to Marion in 1795. History acknowledges that Lovell was a great hunter and that in one day he killed 30 deer. A child was born to the Lovells soon after their arrival. Having lived only a few weeks, their child became both the first birth and first death in Marion.
The town of Sodus was formed in January of 1789. It comprises the northeast corner of the old “District of Sodus.” The District of Sodus was made up of what are now the towns of Sodus, Lyons, Arcadia, Marion, Walworth, Ontario and Williamson. The first documented settlement in the town of Sodus was in 1794 at Sodus Point. Capt. Charles Williamson, agent for the Pultney Estates, arrived there with a group of laborers, surveyors and builders to create a settlement. Several houses, a tavern, a gristmill and a sawmill were built. The first settler in what is now the village of Sodus was John Holcomb, who built a home there in 1809. The present village of Sodus was first used as a location for a town meeting in 1815 and has remained the center of the town since.
The town of Williamson was formed from the town of Sodus on Feb. 20, 1802. It was named for Capt. Charles Williamson, the first land agent for the Pultney Estates. The first settler in Williamson was Daniel Russell, who built a log cabin near Pultneyville in the spring of 1794. He is believed to be the only settler at that time in the region north of Palmyra.
The old town of Wolcott was created in 1807 and included what are now the towns of Huron, Rose, Butler and Wolcott. In 1806, one of Wolcott’s first settlers, Jonathan Melvin, purchased 500 acres in what would eventually become the village of Wolcott. Melvin built a gristmill and sawmill.
The first settler in the town of Huron, Capt. William Helms, arrived in 1796 from Virginia. Among the household of Capt. Helms to make the long journey north were 70 slaves, who were used to clear the land. The town of Huron was created from the town of Wolcott on Feb. 25, 1826. The town, originally called Port Bay, consists of a little more than 21,800 acres.
The town of Savannah was created from the town of Galen on Nov. 24, 1824, and comprised nearly 21,000 acres. Savannah was a part of Lot 27 of the Military Tract, land given to officers and men who served in the Revolutionary Army from the State of New York. It is bounded on the north by Butler, on the east by Cayuga County, on the south by Seneca County and on the west by Galen. The highest point of land in Savannah is Fort Hill, site of a Jesuit mission established by the Rev. Rene Menard as early as 1657.
The town of Rose was created from the town of Wolcott on Feb. 5, 1826. Caleb Melvin, Alpheus Harmon and Lott Stewart were the first settlers in the town, arriving in 1805. Melvin settled about one mile south of Rose Valley and is credited with building the first log cabin, and, later, the first frame house in the town.
The town of Walworth was created April 20, 1829, from the town of Ontario. The Millet brothers — Andrew, John, Samuel and Daniel — were the first settlers in Walworth. They came from Connecticut in 1799 and settled near what is now the hamlet of Walworth.