Spring 1997

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The Mill at the Narrows

excerpted from

Irvin Near's History of Steuben County

This was the first mill where grain was ground between Cold Springs and Dansville, or Dykes settlement. It was built by William Goff, who did most of the work alone; he quarried and dressed both the upper and nether stones from the ledges on Five Mile creek and hauled them on a sled about eight miles. The irons came from a mill, below Canisteo, that burned a year or so before.

The ancestors of William Goff can be clearly traced back to the regicide, William Goffe, of South Hadley, Massachusetts, where he lived in retirement and later died in concealment. He was a general in Cromwell's army and served with distinction. After the arrest of King Charles I, of England, he was one of the judges who presided at the trial of that monarch, by which the king was found guilty, condemned to death and was by his judges sentenced to be beheaded. After the death of the Lord Protector, and the return and accession of Charles II to the throne of England, all who participated in the overthrow and death of the First Charles, were compelled to leave England and live in obscurity elsewhere. Goffe, one of the regicide judges, sought the solitude of the mountains and caves of central Massachusetts. He had a numerous progeny of whom some settled in West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and in the valley of the Hudson, New York. Many dropped the final "e" of the English spelling, except some in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

William Goff, the pioneer and benefactor of the town of Howard, was born in Clanrock, Columbia county, New York, in 1780. He married Harriet Hamilton in 1802; moved to Otsego Lake, New York; thence emigrated with two ox-teams, following the Susquehanna river to the Indian Arrow and its junction with the Tioga (now Chemung river) then up that stream to Painted Post and thence up the Conhocton to Bath. At Kennedy's Corners, now Kanona, he left his teams, family and fellow-travellers, and explored the country, north, west and south, finding land and water power on the stream since called Goff's creek that pleased him. Here was a stream of considerable size rushing rapidly through a narrow defile, where he could establish himself and build mills, his ambition. He lost no time in making purchase of the land and water power, and as soon as he had built a small house for his family he erected saw, grist, carding and fulling mills and a distillery. This was in 1812. These industries made this a noted locality, settlers came in rapidly and a postoffice was established.

From a near-by clay bank and marl pit, Mr. Goff, with his boys and hired men, put up a brick kiln, and manufactured excellent brick, with which he built (for those days) a large and commodious house, where he and his family lived. "The Old House at Home," with the singing of the machinery of the mills, and the music of falling water, made it the dearest spot on earth. In due time the children who survived, six boys and two girls, married and went to distant homes of their own, between the Atlantic and the Mississippi. All are now dead. They were respected people, occupying prominent positions among their fellow people of intelligence and enterprise. The grandchildren have, in their various avocations of usefulness, done no discredit to their worthy grandparents.

The erection of this first gristmill by William Goff, was not the only benefit derived from his determination to settle at this locality. Both his and his good wife's hospitality to the settlers, and to those who came from a long distance to this mill, was known to all the country about. From this mill thousands of pounds of flour and corn meal were distributed to the poor and needy, without the least expectation of reward or pay. During the cold summer of 1816, when all crops failed and want and hunger stared the inhabitants in the face, William Goff left his home with what means he could raise, and letters of prominent people commending his credit, honesty and ability to pay, went east, purchased wheat and corn, and on his return to his mill had it ground, distributed to a hungry people, with no recompense, except a promise to pay from the next crops, if they had a surplus after providing for wants of their families. There was much sickness caused by this shortage of crops and Mrs. Goff, during his absence, mounted her horse, after generously supplying herself with home remedies and medicines, delicacies and food for the sick, and started on her mission of mercy and healing on her wings. She was noted as an excellent nurse, well versed in the treatment of all the sickness and diseases of her locality, and such was the confidence of the people of all classes—especially the women and children—that a visit from "Aunt Harriet" was a sure remedy for any complaint. No stranger was ever denied shelter and succor at the home of William Goff. The brick house, the only one between Crooked Lake and Olean Point, was a harbor of refuge—an isle of safety. both of these good people were worthy believers in and earnest devotees of the doctrine of Universal Salvation. John Murray, Delphus Skinner, Pitt Morse and other burden bearers and heralds of this liberal sect frequently found shelter, sustenance, good cheer and warm welcome in the old brick house. It is one of the historic houses of the county, but all is now possessed by the stranger.

On an elevation to the eastward a beautiful quiet spot—"Where early birds the morn awake, and the mournful ditty of the whip-poor-will tells us toil is over"—was selected by these pioneers as a place of final rest for all, a "God's Acre" where the rude forefathers of the valley sleep.

Excerpt from Irvin Near's History of Steuben County
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