A Look Back (Part I): An Early (1841) View Of A New Village

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Here’s an annoying problem I discovered while researching for the book Hamburger Dreams: there’s a lot of people and places that come up when you search the words “hamburger” or “hamburg” that have nothing to do with the delicious sandwich that spawned a trillion-dollar industry.

This required me to be both creative and patient as I sifted through hundreds of century old newspaper articles. It eventually worked, but it took a lot of time. In the end, it proved worthy.

The same thing is happening now as I complete my research on the Masonic Temple/Wilcox Hotel/Wilcox House/Falls Hotel (yes, that one building has gone by several names during its nearly 200-year existence). It turns out there’s a lot of references to “Mendon” that have nothing to do with the fair town in our area.

We all know our “Mendon” derives from the Massachusetts “Mendon” from whence our town’s earliest settlers arrived from. Did you know, however, there’s also a “Mendon” in England? And there are some other references that have to do with France and some wars in the 1800s.

Anyway, there’s a fix for this. I search under “Honeoye Falls.” There’s not much outside our territory where “Honeoye Falls” doesn’t ultimately come back to the village within our town of Mendon. In fact, in all my searches, I’ve seen nothing.

It’s not a total fix. Honeoye Falls wasn’t incorporated until 1838 whereas Daniel Gibson built his brick “Falls Hotel” in the mid-1820s. Searching “Honeoye Falls” only takes you back so far.

We all know Honeoye Falls began when Zebulon Norton came to the Creek and decided to build a couple of mills.

Actually, more than a couple of mills.

The first one burned down, so he built another one. Then that one burned down so he built another.

Seems like a lot of things burning down for being so close to a huge volume of rushing water.

Back then, the area was called “Norton’s Mills” because, well, that’s where Norton built his mills. Doing a search on “Norton’s Mills” doesn’t turn up much. It was really more of a nickname than an official name. The official name remained “Mendon,” and we already know what problems that causes.

When the post office arrived in what is now “Honeoye Falls,” it was dubbed “West Mendon.”

That didn’t help for the purposes of my search.

In either case, I found some interesting articles regarding the very early years of the new village of Honeoye Falls. Here’s one from the page 2 of the Wednesday, August 5, 1841 edition of The Neapolitan out of Naples, N.Y.” (typos left in, except I added paragraph breaks to make it more readable):

“Our Journeyings”

“Our route to and from the city of Rochester led us through the towns of East and West Mendon. The former contains a small village of the same name, with but two stores and one tavern, a church or two and a grist mill upon the head waters of a small stream over which, if we are not mistaken, the Erie Canal passes near Pittsford, called the Irondequoit.”

“The village of West Mendon, or Honeoye Falls, as its corporate body is termed, numbers over 1,200 inhabitants, and is situated on other side of the Honeoye Creek, immediately below the Great Falls. This creek affords a constant and an abundant supply of water for machinery of various descriptions, being the outlet of Hemlock, Canadice and Honeoye Lakes, which, after passing through the towns of Richmond, West Bloomfield, Mendon, Rush and Henrietta, unite with the waters of the Genesee.”

“The beauties of the place and the advantages possessed by the citizens of Honeoye Falls, are comparatively little known to travelers, from the circumstance that the great thoroughfares passing east and west, north and south, are a few miles distant from the village on each of the above named points of compass.”

“Yet still the village is admirably situated for all the ordinary purposes of the inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhood, having excellent roads connecting with other important places.”

“The distance of this village from Rochester in a south easterly direction is 16 miles, passing through the towns of Henrietta and Rush, as fine a farming country as man ever beheld—where heavy laden wheat fields and bending orchards will abundantly, repay the husbandman for his labor in subduing the heavy forest.”

“On the south west lies first the village of Lima, a distance of four miles; of Avon Springs some 12 miles and of Geneseo about 20 miles. On the south lies the village of West Bloomfield, a distance of four miles.”

“On the south east, Canandaigua, at the distance of 18 miles, while Palmyra is situated about the same distance at the north past.”

“In the village of Honeoye Falls there are two extensive flouring mills, built, of stone, a woolen factory, an edge tool factory and various other machine shops whose machinery is propelled by water power. There are seven Dry Goods stores, one drug store, two Law-offices and lots of tailors, besides tradesmen of various kinds.”

“There are three splendid religious edifices, two of stone, one belonging to the ‘Christian’ denomination, the other.to the Presbyterians, while the Methodists occupy the one built of wood, is well finished, which contains also the village bell.”

“About one mile south of Honeoye Falls is the village of North Bloomfield, situate upon the same creek, with extensive rapids but less abrupt falls, upon which there are erected two grain mills, a woolen factory, saw mills, furnace, &c. &c. This village contains two stores, one tavern, various mechanic shops and a large stone meeting house owned by the Universalist denomination; a clergyman by the name of Smith, their stated pastor.”

“There is probably no portion of Western New York which combine greater advantages to the farmer, the mechanic, the manufacturer and the merchant, than does this favored section of country, being well watered, possessing an exhuberant soil, well adapted to the various productions of this climate—of easy access to the city of Rochester and of the Erie Canal in the town of Pittsford, yet remote enough to exempt the rising generation from the demoralizing effects of that great and important thoroughfare…”

Next Week: A Pre-Civil War view of a Village on the rebound.

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