Early History of Portville, NY
The following is the story of the earliest days in Portville's history. It is from the History of Cattaraugus County,
The town of Portville lies in the southeast corner of the county, and is bounded on the north by
Hinsdale, east by the county of Allegany, south by the state of Pennsylvania, and west by Olean.
The surface is mostly a hilly upland, especially in the southern part, the highest summits being from
500 to 600 feet above the valleys.
Its principal water-course - the Allegany River - enters the town about the centre of the south border,
and flowing in a northerly and northwesterly direction, leaves it about the centre of the west border.
It receives as tributaries Haskell Creek from the north, Dodge's Creek from the east, and Oswayo
Creek from the south, all of which enter it on the east bank. Many smaller streams unite their waters
with these, the principal of which is Wolf Run.
The soil is a sandy loam, and quite fertile, especially in the valleys. The people in the southern part are
chiefly engaged in the manufacture of lumber, shingles, and leather. In the northern part, the pursuit
of agriculture more particularly engages the attention of the people. Ultimately, as the forests
disappear, and lumbering ceases to occupy so large a share of the employed capital and labor, good
farming lands will be opened all over the township.
At the depth of about 1600 feet, petroleum has been found in the west and southwest parts, and
indications point to it as lying within that region of the Bradford district which may yet be developed
into good oil-producing territory.
The town contains a total area of 23,106 acres, of which 7000 acres are improved; and in 1875 had a
population of 2140 inhabitants, of whom 261 were foreign born.
During the year 1806, Jacob Swartz, John Young, Asahel Atherton, Rufus Atherton, Wm. Atherton,
Daniel Edwards, John Holdrich, Simeon Munson, Samuel Todd, Richard Frayer, Isaac Phelps, Ira
Higgins, Daniel Church, Daniel McKay, Reuben Clark, and James Green made contracts for land in
township 1, range 3, of the Holland Purchase.
Now, while several or all of those names in the foregoing list may have been settlers for a time, and
then, becoming discouraged with the herculean task before them, - i.e., of converting the howling
wilderness into cultivated fields during their lifetime, - had sold out their "betterments" and removed to
other more inviting localities, it seems to be a conceded fact - by those who have been in a position to
know - that the only residents in the territory now known as the town of Portville, in 1809, were the
Athertons. William Atherton seems to be the leading spirit among them. It is stated that he came in
from the Genesee River country in 1809, and settled upon the east bank of the Allegany River, just
below the mouth of the Oswayo Creek. The following year he built a saw-mill on the same creek,
about forty rods below the present site of Smith's Mills.
He was joined soon after by his brothers, Asahel and Rufus. The Athertons remained in this
vicinity until about 1819, when they removed farther west. In 1810, Gideon Haskell and Hill, his
brother-in-law, came in and settled on Haskell Creek, in the western part of the town. The same year,
they built a saw-mill on Haskell Creek, about sixty rods above where the railroad crosses, and soon
after Haskell erected the first framed house in town. This house is described as having 1 story in
height, 18 feet wide, and 50 feet long. In 1820, Haskell & Hill owned parts of lots 63, 64, 65, 73, 74,
and 75, comprising in all about 550 acres.
John Morris, in 1813 became the first settler upon the site of the village of Portville. Although still a
young man, his life had been an eventful one. A native of Rhode Island, he had been with Aaron Burr
on Blennerhasset's Island, and, during "Mad Anthony's" campaign against the Indians, served with
Gen. Shelby's command of Kentuckians. He arrived in Olean in 1811, and for some two years was
employed by Maj. Hoops.
During this time, he married the daughter of an emigrating German family, whose destination was the
Hockhocking River, Ohio, and in 1813, as before mentioned, he became a resident of Portville. Here
was born in 1814, the Rev. Dexter Morris, of State Line, whose birth is the first of which there is
any record in the township. The elder Morris, after a residence of but a short period, sold his
improvements to the Dodges, and joined his wife's people in Ohio. Returning to the Allegany River
Valley again, he opened a tavern, a for many years after, as his son states it, "kept tavern all along the
river from Olean to Pittsburgh."
The same year, 1813, the brothers Jonathan, Lynds, Alfred, and Daniel Dodge settled in the
central part of township 1, range 3. Jonathan located upon lot 27, and Lynds upon lot 28. Their
lands embraced all the territory lying within the present limits of the village of Portville, and the creek
which flows through it derives its name from this family. The Dodge brothers are described as
having been large, muscular men, peculiarly well fitted for the period in which they lived, when the
sole occupation of the people was lumbering and rafting, when brains, in comparison with brawn and
muscle, were at a discount.
Dennis Warner, from Ontario Co., N.Y., settled in Olean in 1816, and until 1819 was employed as
salesman in Judge Martin's store. The latter year he became a resident of Portville, and located at
Weston's Mills, then Rice's Mills. Mr. Warner was an active and prominent man in the town of Olean,
and as a town officer served in various capacities. He died at the age of twenty-six years.
Settlements did not increase very rapidly in this town until about 1840, for it is found by referring to
an assessment-roll of the town of Olean, for 1820, that the only resident land-owners in township 1,
range 3, at that date other than those already mentioned, viz.: Haskell, Hill, and the Dodge Brothers,
were John J. Cook, who was settled on lot 13, Jacob Downing, lot 28; Ebenezer Jones, on lot 29;
Kennard and Mead, who owned parts of lots 1, 2, and 9; William Pinkerton, who resided on lot
11, and owned parts of 2, 11, 20, and 21; Allen Rice was at Weston's Mills, and owned an extensive
saw-mill (for that time) and 1000 acres in the immediate vicinity; Luman Rice owned 137 acres of
lot 47; Elihu Fobes was on lot 17; David Fosbinder, who owned 378 acres on lots 3, 9, and 10;
John Thompson, Jr., who owned about 525 acres on lots 23, 24, 25, and 26; Ebenezer Reed, on
lot 40; and John Thompson, lot 39.
A majority of the pioneers of Portville came in from Allegany County, where they had first settled
after coming from sections in Eastern New York and the New England States.
|The Portville Historical and Preservation Society
Portville, New York