The Portville Historical and Preservation Society
17 Maple Avenue
Portville, NY 14770
Glimpses of Fifty Years (Page Two)
Harry C. Holcomb  

(Continued from Page One)

I wonder how many remember the Johnstown flood of 1889.  Many do, of course, but people who
were not here smile when told of floods that summer, when water was about twenty inches deep in
the stores on Main Street and boats were rowed up Temple Street to the steps of Rowe and Pearson
store, then to the Hotton store.  Again in 1894, we had another experience with high water when it was
about the same height marks on the plaster walls of the store showed about two inches difference.  
The entire country for miles up and down the valley was a sea of rushing water.  A current down Main
Street was very strong and it took good muscles to row a boat against it.

As I remember the first telephone pay station was established in the grocery store of E. E. Alderman
and continued there for some time.  Later it was moved into the drug store of A. D. Rice and Son.  
The switch board was in the front corner where Caneen now has his soda fountain.  Fred McGraw
was the clerk at the soda fountain and operator at the switchboard.  Very few had telephones at that
time so the operator was not overworked.

"Charlie" McGraw was one of the telegraph operators at the railroad station in the early 80s and was
regarded as one of the most efficient on the line.  Later he went to Rochester and was connected with
one of the daily papers there as a receiving operator for the Associated Press, where he remained until
failing health sent him back to Portville, where he died a few years ago.

Archie Schofield, a nephew of George Archibald, grew up in Portville and when a young man, went to
Rochester and entered the employ of Eastman Kodak company.  He died a few years ago, but will be
remembered by many of those who were his mates forty years ago.

The Darius Wheeler family was another early settler in Portville.  Darius Wheeler was the maternal
grandfather of Mrs. Smith Parish and owned the farm of South Main Street now occupied by Frank
Ryan.  The Wheelers had three sons, Samuel, Frank, and Augustus.  Samuel enlisted in the Northern
army for Civil War services and after his discharge, settled in what is now the middle west.  Many
years of his life were spent in Nebraska.  Later he moved to Missouri and died there a few years ago.

The first time I ever saw J. H. Warden was at the bench in his shop he occupied as a harness shop on
the east side of the Warden building on Temple Street.  Mr. Warden was a harness maker by trade and
for many years supplied the harness needs of the vicinity.  Harnesses in those days being hand made.

D. E. Page, one of our oldest citizens, followed Mr. Warden in the harness business, occupying the old
Dusenbury store building, which had been moved onto the lot opposite the Methodist Church, where
the Standard Oil Company filling station now is.  This building was later moved back and transformed
into the kitchen of the Delaware Hotel.

Mr. Page afterward erected the building now occupied by the Market Basket and used it as a grocery

The oldest business place in town is the Rowe and Pearson store which is owned by Mark Comstock.  
Another old building is the Maxson apartment house on Temple Street, which was built by A. T.
Warden and J. H. Warden, who for many years occupied one side as a harness shop and later as Post
Office.  The other side, being used as a furniture store.  This building was erected in 1875.

I saw the Fire Company start out with the motor truck on a fire call and it reminded me of the old fire
company, which had to drag the hose cart and go on foot, sometimes through deep mud.  A run of a
quarter of a mile took some hard work, but the boys managed to get there and did some good work.

Portville, so far as I know, never had but one lawyer.  He only stayed a few months and had one court
case.  Deciding that Portville was not adopted to his profession, he moved to other parts.  Even his
name is lost.

Doctors T. S. and C. P. Jackson and Wallace Sibley were in practice here when I first knew the
place.  The Jacksons owned a drug store on the lot now occupied by H. S. Orr in a building destroyed
by fire in 1885.  Many will remember this building, containing the stores of F. S. Persing and Company
hardware, the Jackson (later the Hewig) drug store, Michael Mohan, general merchandise, and H. J.
Crandall, dry goods, clothing, and shoes.  This block was built in 1875 and destroyed by fire in 1885,
when the brick block on the corner containing the stores of Smith Parish and H. S. Orr were erected.

Portville now has five churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Swedish and A. M. E. Colored.

The Methodist Church is the oldest as well as the largest in numbers, having been established more
than eighty years ago.  When I came to Portville, the Rev. William Bradley was serving as minister.  
Since then, many good men have come and gone.  We remember especially Rev. Chamberlyn, Rev.
Hugh Boyd, and Rev. L.A. Wright.  Some have retired to end their days quietly in homes of their own,
among the latter being Mr. Boyd, now living in Olean, and Rev. Mr. Wright now a resident of Livonia,
enjoying well earned rest from their labors.  Rev. A. Partington is now serving this church very

The Presbyterian Church was organized in the early 50s.  When I first knew of it in 18881, Rev. J. E.
Tinker had recently closed a long pastorate.  He was followed by Rev. William Fisher for several
years.  About 1886 or 87, Rev. T. S. Clark came to the Church and served about seventeen years.  
Then came Dr. C. T. Edwards for about three years, followed by Rev. Mr. Graham, a young man who
served about three years.  Then Rev. H. D. Bacon was called and served the Church abuot fourteen
years.  Rev. E. V. Grenzebach was here for three years when he was succeeded by the present pastor,
Rev. G. F. Loehr.

Early Elders of this Church were Wm. F. Wheeler, Henry Dusenbury, Charles K. Wright, E. G.
Dusenbury, William Holden, and Wm. E. Wheeler, all now gone to their long rest.  "They rest from
their labors and their works do follow them."

The Catholic Church of which Rev J. V. Growney is the present pastor was organized in 1888 as a
branch of Saint Mary's Church in Olean, later transferred to Saint John's Parish and later still was
made part of Bolivar Parish.  The first resident priest was the Rev. M. J. Colligan, a man much loved
by his people and honored by the entire community and now located in Salamanca.

The Lutheran Church came several years later and filled a community need, tho it has never had a
resident minister.

The Church of the Redeemer (Colored) is more recent formation, having been organized but a few

All these have met the needs and added to the good and growth of the community.

Meeting Supervisor Shaffer recently set me to thinking of those men who, in the past, have served the
town in an official capacity.  Among them was Col. L. D. Warner, who served ten years as Supervisor
during the early 60s and 70s.  He resigned as Supervisor to enter the Union Army in the early days of
the Civil War, serving until about the close and was discharged as Commander of the 154th Regiment
of the New York Volunteer Infantry. Later in life, he served as Assessor for a number of years.

Another early Supervisor was John E. Dusenbury, who also served at various times, in all, ten years.

My first personal knowledge of Supervisor was Martin Link, who was in office when I came to
Portville in 1880.  On his removal from town, William E. Wheeler was chosen to fill the office and
served for six years and later represented the County in the Assembly for three years.  Frank Tyler
was elected Supervisor for two terms and later, Mr. Tyler was elected Justice of the Peace and served
four years.

W. B. Mersereau followed Mr. Wheeler and served ten years before he moved to Portland in 1900.

H. C. Holcomb succeeded Mr. Mersereau and served for six years.  Then Nelson S. Holcomb was
elected and served for ten years.  John T. James succeeded Mr. Holcomb for about seven years, dying
while in office, when Mr. Shaffer was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Mr. James.

Henry J. Crandall, the merchant mentioned previously, served the township for 21 years as town clerk
and was also a member of the local Board of Education for about thirty years.  Associated with him at
different times were W. E. Wheeler and J. E. Dusenbury, each serving more than twenty years.  Dr.
Winterstein was another member for many years.  J. H. Fairchild, W. B. Mersereau, Smith Parish,
Nicholas Hotton, and Bruce Fairchild, each were connected with the Board for many years.

Guy T. Lowery holds the record for long time public service, having held the office of Justice of the
Peace for more than fifty years.  Oliver B. Langworthy and John T. James held this office for more
than twenty years each.

Frank D. Caneen was elected town clerk to succeed J. H. Warden and filled the office until his death,
when his son Edgar was appointed and still holds the office.

Philip Hosely of the Upper Haskell was a member of the town board as Justice of the Peace, as was
Fred O. Langworthy of Main Settlement.  Others have filled this office for one or more terms, among
them, Riley F. Main, now living in Wellsville.

Others of long service in public office were Russell A. Crandall, E. L. Fairbanks, William Simmons, A.
G. Packard, and W. B. Holcomb as Assessors; John G. Parish, George Archibald, and Addison
Shaffer, as Superintendent of Highways.  All now gone over the great Divide.

Dusenbury and Wheeler got most of the timber from Dodge Creek Valley and it was cut into
merchantable lumber at the old Mayville Mills.  Dodges Creek, Deer Creek, and the Wolf Creek valleys
gradually changed from lumbering to the peaceful pursuit of farming.  Among the men who were
active in the change and contributed much to the improvement were Joseph Deming, Caleb Lewis, I.
T. Lewis, George Irish, Palmer Hewitt, The Chamberlins and James M. Kellor.  Across the valley, on
what was known as the Hookertown road, William and Philander Hooker located near neighbors of
Palmer Hewitt.  On the Wolf Creek road was the sawmill and farm of William Ryder.  This farm is
now occupied by Fred Ryder, a son of William.  Archie, another son, is now a prosperous farmer of
the Deer Creek valley.  Will, a third son, went west and was for a number of years an instructor and
superintendent of Government farming on one of the great Western reservations.  Retiring from the
government service, he located at Casa Grande, Ariz., and now lives there.  George Ryder, an older
brother, has had a varied career in business and now lives in Olean.

Myron Irish, a son of George, now occupies the Irish homestead of Dodge Creek and not far away
Ernest Deming owns and operates the farm his father, Joseph Deming, helped to make a real beauty
spot.  These fine farms are today monuments to the courage and strength of the men and women now
long since sleeping the last long sleep.

The Lillibridge road was settled by C. B. Keller, Abel Ames, Aaron Blakeslee, and others now all gone
and nearly forgotten.

Another old timer who lived just around the bend of Lillibridge Valley road was Addison Scutt, the
father of A. W. Scutt, now living on the Olean road.  Mr. Scutt was crippled, having a wooden leg.  
He went through the Civil War without a scratch, but after his discharge from the army, he got tangled
up with some machinery and lost his leg.  He was, for some years, collector of taxes and was an
honored, faithful official.

Other useful, honored citizens were Alfred Wright, who lived where Smith Parish now lives, and
Hiram Wright, who owned the house now owned by Mayor C. E. Chaffee.  Both these gentlemen were
of the old school, genial honest, hard-working citizens.  Alfred Wright had a team of horses driven by
a man named Robbins, the father of Mrs. Lucinda Roulo, Mrs. Lydia Clark, Mary Pilon, and a son,
Hiram Robbins.  These are all gone except Mrs. Clark, now nearly ninety years of age.

The old Delaware Hotel has been mentioned in these notes, but before that was built, Portville had two
hotels.  The oldest was conducted  by a Harry Wright and known as the Portville House.  Probably
few now living will remember Mr. Wright but he owned the building on the Temple Street now owned
by Harry Thorn and which a few years ago was made into a very desirable apartment house, Mr.
Wright conducted this hotel for many years successfully.

The other hotel was owned and managed by A. F. Holcomb in the building now owned and occupied
by H. F. Gardiner.  Mr. Holcomb conducted this place for many years.  It was known as the Farmers
Hotel and it was a very pleasant home-like place.  The late Nelson S. Holcomb was the only son of
A.F. Holcomb and was well known as a successful merchant and a faithful, conscientious public

Passing the fine up-to-date school building recently, I was reminded of the old wood school house that
preceded and was in use in the beginning, a four room building with a corridor running through the
building with a covered stairway on the rear, leading to the second story.  When I first saw this
building in 1875, there were three teachers employed.  If I remember rightly, a Miss Crandall of Little
Genesee was the principal.  In 1880, this had increased to five teachers, C. W. Wasson of Friendship
being the principal in charge.  Others since who have had charge of the school and contributed to the
growth of the school were a Prof. Place, who was not here very long, and Professor McLennon, who
came and stayed several years.  He later studied medicine and located in Syracuse.  His wife was Miss
Edith Leavens who was a teacher in the school here for many years.  A little later, W. H. Smith took
charge of the school  and remained here for ten years, having to go into the school publishing business
in Buffalo, where he later died, but the business which he founded still exists.

Other successful teachers, who have since had charge of this school were Professor Darling, now
Superintendent of Schools in Dunkirk, Professor Mabon, and a number of others each doing his part in
bringing the school to its present state of efficiency under Professor R. J. Thomas.  It is interesting to
look back over the years and note the changes that have taken place.  The constant improvement and
growth from three teacher school, with its poor equipment, to the splendid school with ample
buildings, splendidly equipped rooms, its seventeen teachers, and high standing as a place of learning.

Among the unique and interesting men of the old day, we find Nathan Southworth, who worked for
the "Company" and lived at Mayville in a house about where one of D. C. Dusenbury cottages now
stand, where he died.  His wife survived him for several years and died in the old house where they
lived so many years.

Daniel Shine, another old resident, who I have been told came from Ireland, lived on the small farm
now owned by Mrs. Laura Williams.  He had several children but all are gone or quite forgotten.  In
fact, very few now living in Portville will remember him at all.  John Mann lived on the farm now
owned by Patsy Kayes and was a kindly, industrious man and the grandfather of John L. Wagner.  
Richard Barrett, who lived on the place now owned by the Kearn Brothers, was another old settler.  
Everyone knew Dick.  He always had a cheery greeting for everyone.  For several years in his later
life, he was the mail messenger between the Post Office and the railroad station and was a faithful
servant of Uncle Sam.

Mrs. Ella Burke was Mr. Barrett's only daughter and still lives in Portville.  Her son, Francis, is at
present city clerk and treasurer.

One might go on to tiresome lengths in these memories of the many men and women who had part in
the early development of Portville.  They were useful, each in his own way.  None were rich in
anything but neighborly kindness.  They had little but appreciated the little and went to their long rest
with respect and sincere regret of their co-workers.

Previous mention has been made of the "Star," which was the first newspaper published in Portville
and which died of what the doctors would call "malnutrition" in a child.  Later, Fred Tarbell published
the Portville Autograph for several years.  He employed two young ladies as compositors and I think
the work was all done by hand.  one of these girls was Caroline Keysaw, now Mrs. E. W. Johnson.

J. W. ("Jimmie") Fairchild afterward purchased the paper and continued it until his death.  Will T.
Keller later took over the paper and changed the name to the Portville Review.  Later, a young man
named Cranston of Little Genesee bought and managed the paper for a time.  Later, Morrison Brothers
became the owners and continued the publication until they disposed of it to J. G. Casner and Mr.
Casner later sold to Lowe and King, who carried on the business until about three years ago when they
sold it to the present owners.

Portville has no bank but it has been the home of many bankers for many years.  Olean has three good
banks that have met the need of Portville and the surrounding country.

The First National, the oldest National Bank in Cattaraugus County, was organized about 1872 with
Portville men as principal stockholders and officers.  Hon. William F. Wheeler was the president for
many years.  After his death, J. E. Dusenbury was chosen president and served until death came and
relieved him.  Hon. William E. Wheeler was vice president under Mr. Dusenbury.  After the death of J.
E. Dusenbury, his brother, Edgar G. Dusenbury, was elected president and a few years ago, William
A. Dusenbury, a nephew of the two who had preceeded him, was chosen president and still holds that
position.  This bank has constantly been under the active management of Portville men from its
organization, growing as it met the growing needs of its patrons until it is now recognized as one of the
strong financial institutions of this section.  While it is located in the city of Olean, it is in large degree
the product of Portville enterprise and, as such, Portville has a large interest in its prosperity.

Olean has two other strong banks deserving of the confidence and support of the people but we have a
closer relationship and keener interest in the First National because of the personal association through
the years of our neighbors who gave it being.

Continue to Page Three

Back to Page One
History of Portville, NY
Portville, New York