February 1989

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Changing Boundaries in the Area of the Present

Town of Wayne

from 1801 to 1854

from research by Don Rowland, Wayne Town Historian


Bill Treichler

What is now the town of Wayne in the northeastern corner of Steuben County, New York, and bordering the middle section of the east side of Lake Keuka, was a part of the territory of the Seneca Indians from very early times. By the description of the royal grant of territory given to the Massachusetts Bay Company this locality became a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There had been conflicting claims to this area because of the overlapping descriptions written into the royal grants. These were reconciled by the Hartford Convention of 1786. In the settlement Massachusetts ceded its territorial claim west of the eastern boundary of New York as far as Lake Erie to New York, and New York ceded the ownership of nearly all the land west of a line running north to Lake Ontario from a point on the northern boundary of Pennsylvania 82 miles west of the Delaware River to Massachusetts. That line became known as the Pre-emption Line because Massachusetts' title to the property west of this line became superior to all other claims except those of the natives. In April 1788 Nathaniel Gorham and Oliver Phelps contracted with Massachusetts to buy about 6 million acres. They then purchased 2,600,000 acres from the Indians or all the land east of a line south from the junction of Canaseraga Creek and the Genesee River and a line running north partly along the river and partly 12 miles west from it.

Massachusetts conveyed title to Phelps and Gorham in November, 1788. By November 1790 they had sold fifty six-mile-square townships. However, they were unable to complete their contract with Massachusetts and sold all but two townships to Robert Morris of Philadelphia. He then sold the remaining one and a quarter million acres to a group of English investors headed by Sir William Pulteney.

At that time, the County of Ontario included all of the land west of the Pre-emption Line. When the Pre-emption Line was first surveyed, it was run inaccurately in a direction several degrees west of north. The surveyors cleared trees along their route to be able to make sightings. Early travellers followed the surveyors' track and it became a right-of-way that exists today as the Pre-emption Road.

The earliest settlers came into the locality of present day Wayne about 1791. On Nov. 6, 1793, Elizabeth Wixon was born. She was the first child of the new immigrants born between Waneta Lake and Keuka Lake, but then called Little Lake and Crooked Lake.

In March, 1796, Steuben County was formed from the southeastern part of Ontario County. The first six towns of the new county were established by the New York Legislature in April, 1801. They were: Bath, Canisteo, Dansville, Middletown, Painted Post and Fredericks'. Fredericks was probably named for Frederick Bartles who had lumbering operations at Bradford. On the early maps as Frederickstown it included the area of present Wayne. (See map of 1801, page 6.) The new town was bordered on the east by the true Pre-emption Line. In 1804 part of this eastern boundary was extended to Seneca Lake adding a part of Cayuga county to Steuben County. But in 1806 this part and more, back to the old Pre-emption Line, was taken away from Frederickstown to establish a new town, Reading, which still remained in Steuben County. (See maps, page 7.)

In 1808 the state legislature honored the Revolutionary War hero General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, by renaming Fredericks, Wayne.

Earlier, in 1798, another veteran of the Revolutionary War, Dr. Ben Welles, Surgeon and Brigadier General of the New York State Militia and commander of the Ontario and Steuben Militias, settled his family on a large tract along Crooked Lake close to Elms Point. In the War of 1812 he was wounded at the Niagara River Battle and died of these injuries the next spring. Nearly a complete company of men had gone from Wayne to the Niagara frontier to confront the British forces.

In February, 1813, another new town, Jersey, was formed from the southern part of Wayne, and the next year the Bluff Point area of Wayne and Pulteney was returned to Ontario County from Steuben County.

From 1810 to 1820 the census showed an increase in the population of Wayne from 1025 to 3607 even though the town lost a third of its area to Jersey and to Ontario.

Then in 1822 Wayne was reduced to only one third its remaining size when the towns of Barrington and Tyrone were formed. (See maps, again.)

The next year Yates County was formed just north of Steuben from southeastern Ontario County. The following year the northern half of the town of Reading became Starkey and, with Barrington, was transferred from Steuben to Yates.

The loss of so much area did reduce the population of Wayne in the 1830 census to 1172. These were years of development though. Hiram Gleason was operating ferry boats across Crooked Lake just south of Bluff Point. John B. Mitchell built a store in Wayne hamlet in 1828. In 1833 the Crooked Lake Canal opened to Seneca Lake. The census increased in 1840 to 1377 and then dropped back in 1850 to 1347.

Boundary changes were going on outside of Wayne. Urbana town had been formed in 1822 from the northern part of Bath. Jersey was divided into the towns of Bradford and Orange in 1836. Then in 1854 the New York Legislature formed Schuyler County. This new county included the whole towns of Tyrone, Orange and Reading and pieces of Wayne and Barrington to straighten boundary lines.

Since that time, the boundaries of Wayne town have remained the same. Wayne population fell to 944 in 1860, 891 in 1870, and to an all-time low of 827 in 1880. Following the Civil War there had been hard times all over the country. People were also moving on farther west.

The first vineyard in Wayne was set out by John Grace just east of Keuka Landing in 1863. James and Norman Sunderlin soon set out the second vineyard. By the 1870s vineyards were flourishing. A railroad company had been started but failed in the depression times. Even the canal to Seneca Lake was shut down for awhile.

By 1890 the population of Wayne had risen to 902. This was in the period of the great hotel expansion along the shores of Lake Keuka and the building of many fine private lakeshore residences. The lake steamboats, and the connecting passenger rail services in Penn Yan and Hammondsport, brought a great upsurge in tourist visits to Lake Keuka and all of its attractions. The low rates charged on the lake boats, brought on by competition, encouraged people to establish residences along the lake.

The Grove Springs Hotel, built in 1868 by J. N. Crane and J. W. Davis, was enlarged to 200 rooms in 1880. The Keuka Hotel was built by James Washburn in 1894, the same year that C. W. Drake had the beautiful "Mary Bell" built to carry passengers on the lake. The Grove Springs burned in 1915. The "Mary Bell" was renamed "Penn Yan" that same year when all the remaining steamship lines on the lake were bought by the Erie Railroad. Its final trip in 1922 ended the steamboat era on Lake Keuka. In 1973 the former Hallett mansion, the "Aisle of Pines" burned. The Keuka Hotel lasted until 1974 when it was demolished.

Eras have come and gone in Wayne but now again there is a great resurgence of building year 'round residences along the shores of Keuka lake. Older houses are being improved and restored as private homes and bed and breakfast establishments. Other new business ventures are starting and more families are be ginning new homes.

Below and on the facing page are maps that have been prepared by Don Rowland showing the times when the boundaries of original Frederickstown changed before and after it became the town of Wayne. Each of the ten maps is identified with a date and short description of the change in a caption underneath. The first map, that of Frederickstown in 1801 is below.

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