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NSG Visit September 23, 2000

Preserving the Past in Pultneyville


Donovan A. Shilling

Society member David Minor made arrangements for our group to visit the Pultneyville Historical Society on Saturday, September 23, 2000. As members arrived that morning, Perry and Dottie Howland, Margaret Feindel, and Williamson Town Historian Chester Peters welcomed us to the Society's new home at 4130 Mill Street. After introductions and admiring glances at handsome exhibits, Mr. Peters presented us an overview of Pultneyville's history with many interesting remarks about incidents and outstanding people in its past.

Pultneyville is situated where Salmon Creek flows into Lake Ontario. In the 1600s, Indians came down the stream carrying furs to trade with Frenchmen voyaging along the shoreline of the lake. Sailors often found shelter for their vessels from lake storms in the creek inlet. They knew the site as "Apple Boom," presumably because of the many overhanging apple tree boughs. Pultneyville became the place name when a post office was established in 1806.

Admiral Yeo's fleet raided the village in May 1814 during the War of 1812. A house still retains a British calling card in the form of a granite cannon ball.

Many of the people who settled the village were from the New England seacoast and a number of them regularly sailed on long voyages. Captain Thomas Wells Roys (Royce) is recognized as the "Father of Modern Whaling." He devised a gun that could fire a harpoon and line from the deck of a ship, eliminating the need to pursue whales in open rowboats with hand-hurled spears.

Captain Samuel Throop (pronounced troop) had been on a sealing voyage around the Horn in 1799-1800. He became commander of the Farmer, the first sailing vessel out of Pultneyville. Shipbuilding as well as shipping was an early enterprise. Samuel built a 45-ton schooner in 1816 and sailed the Nancy until he and his boat went down in a gale off Sodus Bay in 1827. Samuel and Mary Throop's son, Horatio Nelson Throop, was the first person born in Pultneyville.

The Army Corps of Engineers constructed breakwaters to shelter the harbor in the 1820s and from about that time until 1892 Pultneyville had a customs officer because of its across-the-lake commerce. The Sailors' Monument lists 24 sailing vessels that were home berthed at Pultneyville between 1810 and 1881.

In the years prior to the Civil War, Pultneyville was the last stop before freedom in Canada for many runaway slaves. Captain H. N. Throop actively transported fugitives across the lake. Griffith Cooper had built a house in 1808 with compartments for hiding people escaping from slavery. Samuel Cuyler who was a local farmer, orator, and a senator for the district, was involved in the abolitionist movement and became an ardent temperance advocate.

A group of local people organized the Union Church of Pultneyville in December, 1825. Six trustees, two Methodists, two Presbyterians, and two unaffiliated persons, "goats," were selected to administer the Church. Jacob Hallet gave the site and Andrew and Ansel Cornwall constructed a two-story, Federal-style building in 1826. People contributed labor, lumber, shingles, nails, grain and cider. The congregations called themselves the "United Society" and used the building for religious services and social and educational activities. Lectures were given on the evils of alcohol and slavery, the merits of women's rights, and on phrenology and spiritualism. The Fox Sisters from Hydesville created a lot of local interest in spiritualism.

After the founding denominations built their own churches and the last services were held in 1875, the hall deteriorated though still used for play performances. In 1893, community citizens refurbished and enlarged the building, adding a basement and an extension for a stage. They renamed it Gates Hall to honor Miss Mary Gates for her $1000 gift to the building fund.

A hundred years of theater productions beginning with a Pultneyville Lyceum staging in 1867 brought a Library of Congress designation of Gates Hall in 1967 as the second-oldest little theater in the United States. The Pultneyville Civic Light Opera Company was organized in 1961. This year they celebrated 40 years of Gilbert and Sullivan by presenting in Gates Hall a composite production that featured favorite numbers from all of the operettas.

In the 1990s the Gates Hall Association and the Pultneyville Civic Association were absorbed into the Pultneyville Landmark Society to carry on the maintenance of the hall and Centennial Park. In December, 1999, the Landmark Society membership agreed to merge with the Pultneyville Historical Society.

Following Mr. Peters informative review of Pultneyville's history, we had time to examine Sylvia Farrer-Bornarth's expertly executed exhibits all through the house. In the permanent Throop display are pictures and actual models made by Captain Throop of hull designs and water and wind propulsion devices. These models were preserved by Carol Doty, John Ashbery, and Judge H. A. Hennessy, and given by them to the Society. Members have done a tremendous job completing these displays, and in restoring the landmark dwelling, they bought in 1996 for the Society's home, toward what it must have looked like about 1858 when it was built for Harvey Auchampaugh. Its builder Russell Cole built a number of houses in the area, all of them in the Greek style. Auchampaugh was a harness maker, drug store owner, and postmaster.

Pultneyville was in mid-19th-century a bustling lake port and shipbuilding place. At one time there were 9 mills along Salmon Creek. It had a foundry that turned out 20 tons of pig iron a year from local ore. Those are gone now, but it still has, according to Chester Peters, two highly unique features. One is its distinctive porch pillars seen on a number of local houses. The other is Salmon Creek's "seiche." Every seven minutes the direction of flow in the estuary reverses like a tide with a very short period. What causes the timed fluctuation of the water level? It remains a mystery.

© 2000, Donovan A. Shilling
The Pultneyville Historical Society was formed in 1964 to preserve the history of Pultneyville and the Town of Williamson. The Society sponsors an annual Homecoming on the third weekend in July with parade, arts & craft show, walking tour of Pultneyville, a Sunday band concert, and a Gilbert and Sullivan production by the Pultneyville Civic Light Opera Company.
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