Portville As I Remember It When
by Caryl O. "Dutch" Marsh, 1965
Page 1 of 2
This new building was about half the size of the present building. It was in this building that I got into
the “big room” as I have told the kids so much about. I did not stay in the “big room” long, as I had
to go to work. I worked in the old basket factory, on E. G. Dusenbury’s White House farm, in the
kiln wood factory, and for Roulette Leather Company. I finally got a break, went to Carley Heater
Company Machine Shop and learned the machinist trade, finally becoming a shop foreman.
Mrs. Marsh went to Westbrook Academy, got a job with H. W. Marcus Dry Goods Store, and
worked in the office there until I took her home with me. So much for the story of our family.
I would like to tell of some of the industries I have seen come and go in Portville. First, and probably
oldest to me was the old tannery that was located where the Ice Cream Plant is now on upper Temple
Street. This was a large factory manufacturing some leather which was tanned with liquor made
from hemlock bark from the surrounding forest. I can remember when we could look out most any
time and see a load of bark going by on bark wagons. There were no good roads then and there was
lots of mud some parts of the year. Years before I was born, they had to haul the finished leather to
Olean to ship by Erie Railroad, but after that, the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad was
built and the leather was shipped out of Portville.
There was an office building where Vic Anderson now lives (76 Temple Street), with rows and rows
of bark piled out back. The foot swing bridge now located across from the Cemetery was, in those
days, down the creek farther in back of the tannery. This swing bridge was built so employees living
on Brooklyn Street could cross, and there were a lot of employees living there. Also, Charles Lewis
had a hair house across the creek (Dodge Creek) and the hair that came off the cow hides was saved,
washed and dried, and shipped away to make clothing. After the tannery closed, Mr. Lewis moved
his factory to the creek bank in back of his house off Temple Street, now known as Anderson Court.
After the old tannery was sold to a Trust Company and closed forever, the younger generation of
Wheeler and Dusenbury families formed a company and built a tannery on the land where the
Anderson Pattern Works is now located. This company came to be known as the Roulette Leather
Company, so named because they moved parts of a plant from Roulette, Pa., to Portville.
This plant turned out to be a great asset to the town because it employed, at times, as many as 250
people. At first, this plant used a bark liquor to tan the leather. This leather was used for the upper
part of the shoe and was much more pliable than sole leather, but the process was very slow. In the
first place, the bark which came in from the forest was cut in chunks about four feet long, piled up
and dried, and was then taken to the bark mill and ground up into small pieces a little larger than saw
dust. These ground particles were then put into large tanks full of hot water and steamed for several
days. This process was called leaching and the building used for it was called a leach house. It
contained several tanks of bark, all going on at the same time; they had to have vents in the roof to let
out the steam. After these particles of bark had cooked so long, the liquor or water was drawn off
and this was what they used to tan the leather with. The actual tanning process took even longer.
The tanning liquor was put into wooden vats about eight feet by eight feet by seven feet and set in the
ground with just the top sticking out. In larger tanneries, like Portville, there would be four or five
hundred of these vats. After the vats were filled with liquor, the hides, after the hair had been
removed, were fastened on sticks eight feet long and hung in these vats, maybe thirty-five or forty to
each vat. They would be left there for a long time and then moved over to other vats with a different
strength liquor. This lay-away process took as much as six months with the changes to various
strength bark water, but when it was finished, the leather was tanned and ready to be finished.
|The Portville Historical and Preservation Society
|17 Maple Avenue
Portville, NY 14770
Portville, New York
But I got to thinking things over and maybe the boy was right. Maybe my grandchildren would like to
know about Portville as I saw it.
First, I would like to tell about my family. I was born in the house where Mertie Keller and Lila
Eldridge live, next to the Masonic Temple, on Temple Street. My mother and my sister and brothers
were all born in the same house. My mother was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Parish. Mrs.
Parish was Sarah Holcomb before she married. John and Sarah also had another daughter, Belle, who
married Loren Brooks and took the name Belle Parish Brooks.
My father was Earl Marsh, who moved to Portville with his parents and his two sisters, Grace and
May, from Belfast, New York, at an early age. My grandfather Marsh and my father started a meat
market in the building where Van Curen’s Drug Store is now located. The building in which their
meat market was located, burned in 1885, when most every business place in Portville also did. Then
my father went to Hornellsville, New York, to start a market but did not stay long, came back and
opened a market in the building now occupied by Miss Regan’s Variety Store.
I married Isabel Page on October 21, 1912. She was the daughter of DeWitt and Hannah Page,
another old pioneer family. Mr. Page, a Civil War veteran, had a harness shop in the building where
Central Sales and Services, Bob’s Barber Shop, and the Portville Restaurant are now located.
My wife and I have two daughters, Mrs. Kenneth (Vivian) Marsh and Mrs. Robert (Ione) Fairbanks,
both of whom reside in Portville with their families. Vivian and Kenny have three children, Nora Ann
(Marsh) Peasley, Michael, and Mary Lee. Our other daughter, Ione, and son-in-law, Bob, have two
sons, Robert and Timothy.
My wife and I went through school together, starting in Kindergarten in the same building that is now
used by Mr. Duncan Dusenbury as an office, located on Maple Street. Later, we went to the old
wooden school located at the rear of the present Portville School House Motel. The front of this old
wooden school came up to the now big trees located at the rear of the Motel; it was entirely
constructed of wood and two stories high. Two little buildings were on either side of this building
with the signs BOYS on one side and GIRLS on the other. We went to school there until the new
building was built in front of the old one.
I have often told my grandchildren some of the things that happened
when I was a boy. My oldest grandson always got a kick out of it
because he was interested in history. He is now a history teacher in
Portville Central School. He said “Gramp, why don’t you write a
book about Portville?” I told him I did not have enough education to
do that, I just got into the Big Room when I was in school.
Portville's School in 1898 was located behind today's Portville Manor
Original Union High School, built in 1905
Expanded Portville High School
That brings us to the oldest industry we ever had in Portville – the lumber business, of which
Portville had a great share. Some of the largest timber and lumber interests were in the Portville
I am not old enough to remember the rafts of lumber being shipped down the Allegany River to
Pittsburg, but have heard a good many stories about it from my folks and grandparents. I would
like to tell what I know and have seen in the last seventy years.
In the first place, as I remember, there were three big saw mills: one at Gordons, below the Steam
Valley Bridge on what is now Route 17, owned by the Gordon family and operated by Frank Tyler,
Sr.; then, of course, the one we knew best, the old Mersereau mill, owned by Mr. William
Mersereau and Mr. Leaven, his father-in-law. This mill was located at the end of the now Pine
Street on the riverbank. My grandfather was superintendent of the mill for a good many years, so I
have heard many things about it.
When we think of a sawmill, all we think of is the sawing of lumber, but that is just a small part of
the business. Let us go back up into the forests, where hundreds of men have worked at their
trades to get this timber to the mill.
First, there had to be a camp set up to take care of all the woodsmen, first of which is the man in
charge and a cook. Two of the best camp men known around Portville were Pete Jones and Pete
Olson. Pete Jones, a colored gentleman who was brought here by the underground railroad when a
boy during the Civil War, spent most of his life here as a respected citizen. The other man, Pete
Olson, was a Norwegian whom everyone in town knew well. Besides these men, there were men
to make the roads, men to cut down trees, bark-peelers and trimmers. Everything was done by
hand in those days. There were also teamsters with horses to skid the logs.
The bark-peelers cut rings around the logs about four feet apart and had special spuds, chisels, to
tear off the bark so it would come off in sheets and not break up. Men with cross-cut saws would
then cut the logs into fourteen or sixteen foot lengths, teamsters would then haul the logs to
skidways, and other men would haul the logs down from the skidways to the creeks or river, where
they would be piled up to wait for high water in the spring. When the spring floods came, the logs
were dumped into the water to be floated to the mill. This floating process was all handled by
experienced rivermen whose duty it was to see that all logs got to the mill.
The water in the Oswayo Creek wasn’t too deep, so it was necessary to build a dam about one-half
mile below the Toll Gate Bridge. This backed up the water in the creek and around through a
raceway to the mill most of the year.
Of course, not all the logs belonged to the same company, so it was necessary for each to have a
mark for their logs. Down near this raceway, piles were driven in the center of the creek, big
timbers were bolted together, floated, and fastened to these piles. These were called booms. This
was for rivermen to walk on while sorting each man’s logs. The ones that belonged to Mersereau
Mill were floated down the millrace to the mill. Those going to Gordon’s and Weston’s were
allowed to go on down to the river, then to their mills.
I have seen the time when there were so many logs you could hardly see any water.
In speaking of rivermen, if there were such things as riverboys, I think such boys as Butch
Buckles, Claude Oliver, John Jameson, and Dutch Marsh should have that title, as we spent a lot of
time riding and jumping from one log to another and falling in the water. I wonder sometimes that
we are alive to tell about it.
All the logging operations I have told about were on the Oswayo Creek up to Shinglehouse and
That was only half the logging. There were also logs that came from further up the Allegany
River. Gleason Hollow, Peterson Hollow, Little Loop Hollow, and Big Loop Hollow were also
logging areas, but these had to be run to the mill by bobsled and in the winter, the back Eldred Road
was a very busy road.
Now to start sawing, the logs were hauled up into the mill by a chain conveyor from the water.
The mill and dock were set up eight or ten feet above ground on piles and the dock was very large,
it being possible to drive several horse-drawn wagons out onto it, by way of a ramp. After sawing
to sizes wanted, the lumber was loaded onto wagons and taken on plank roads out to the yards to
be piled up very neatly so it would dry. I have seen lumber piled as close together as possible along
the old Genesee Valley Canal from below Pine Street to above where Wilson’s Fruit Market now
stands, two or three rows of lumber wide, on each side of the canal.
There was a railroad switch from where Anderson Pattern Works now stands, way to the mill, so
lumber could be loaded for shipment.
Later, Mersereau Lumber bought an old locomotive and a few cars of their own to haul lumber
from mill to yard to be piled to dry. The engineer on the engine was Del Burdick. He used to let us
kids ride with him sometimes. The name of this locomotive was “Mark Hanna,” painted on the cab.
The office for the mill was in the building in back of the Mersereau house on Mersereau Place.
Afterward, it was made over into a house. Robert Fairchild was office manager. I could not begin
to name all the men who worked there, but a few old rugged lumber men I do remember well were
Lime Carr, Myron Carr, Frank Vaughn, Lime Oliver, Frank Prior, John Shephard, Chase Middaugh,
Ed Humphrey, Charles Elliott, Scooty Mapes, Al Jameson, and there were three or four Wagners,
Benny Brooks, Jack Detman, Fred Connor, Irv Hardy (saw filer). Earl Marsh worked part time.
Herm Buckles, John Buckles, and Poly Olson have all passed on now; but as a kid, I remember
A few years later, I. L. Fox started a kindling wood factory across the mill race from the mill. He
took refuse from the mill, cut it up in lengths about 5’ long, dried and bundled it and shipped it to
New York to start coal fires. This was a thriving business for a few years employing 40 or 50 men.
Later, the mill was sold to M. J. Smith & Son from Bullis Mills. They ran it for some time, but had
to quit because the forests were about cleaned out, and that was the end of the lumber business in
In my day, we had two feed mills. One was the Hotton’s Mill (now the Checker Mill), which was
owned by Nick Hotton, Sr.
Then, there was the Fairchild Mill owned by J. H. Fairchild. Later, he took his son, Bruce, as a
partner. This mill was located on Temple St. on the site of the new Baptist Church. Not only did
they grind feed, but they had a shingle mill in the rear.
Later, after Mr. Fairchild passed away, his son bought Hotton’s Mill and sold the old mill for a
broom factory. After Bruce Fairchild passed on, his son managed the business till it was sold to
John Fitchner, who rented it to Checker Mills.
Later, the Roulette Leather Company sold their interests to the Northwestern Leather Company of
Boston, Mass. They did away with the bark tanning and used Chrome tanning. This process was
much quicker, and hides could be tanned in three or four days that used to take months. The
leather was used for very fancy upper parts of shoes, all colors and shades.
Finally, in 1929, it was decided to consolidate this plant with one at Sault St. Marie, Michigan, so
that was the end of the tannery in Portville. The buildings were torn down, all but the part used as
the power house and machine shop. This is now used by the Anderson Pattern Co.
At the same time that Portville had this tannery, another small tannery started up on the property of
Whitehouse Farm, about halfway between Whitehouse Road and the present Portville Central
School beside the Pennsylvania Railroad. This was started by Henry McDonald, who was
superintendent of the other tannery at one time, and Patrick Minaham, who was also a tannery
man. This plant did not last long and finally closed.
During the time that the Northwestern Leather Company was closing its doors, I made several trips
to Sault St. Marie on company business. I had been offered a job there with the company, but after
making several trips there, I decided to remain in Portville. I did stay with the company for nearly a
year and a half until all the business was closed. I was the last man on the payroll. This had been a
very good company to work for.
Across the Pennsylvania tracks from the tannery was a basket factory where grape baskets, four,
eight, twelve, and twenty pound sizes, were made. This plant gave employment to a lot of people,
especially in the summertime when we kids would work there. Hardwood logs were brought in and
cut up in five or six feet lengths, steamed in vats, and put in a machine called a veneer lathe. This
lathe would turn out sheets of veneer any thickness and these sheets were then cut into different
sizes for baskets, put on racks out in the sun to dry. Then, they would be nailed together to make
baskets. Later, this plant was taken over by the Strong Veneer Co., makers of veneer for furniture,
and finally closed. Walter Sikes bought the building and manufactured racks for some other
The Workers at the Portville Basket Factory
Logs are Hauled Down Main Street on a Horse-Drawn Sled
Places, People, and Homes
I will tell you of the places that some of the old timers lives and some of the businesses they were
in. I will start at N. Main Street at the home of Jerry Howe (now owned by Dean Travis). Jerry
was the caretaker for Chestnut Hill Cemetery for a good many years. He was a faithful old Irishman
that everybody liked. When he died, he could not be buried in this cemetery, (he was a Catholic),
but there was a stone erected at the entrance in his memory.
Next door to Jerry’s home was the home of Guy Lowery, Justice of the Peace, in Portville for forty
or fifty years. He was the grandfather of Bea Eldridge. She lives in the house at present (1965).
Across the road was where Marsh Maxson lived. The house has since been torn down.
Up the street on the east side was the Percival Home. (Now belongs to Duffy).
Next on the same side was the Packard Home. (Now Dr. Beck’s). Across the road is the
Livingston home. Hiss Harriet Livingston, a daughter, played the organ in the Presbyterian Church
for fifty years and also gave music lessons.
Now we cross the Lillibridge Creek on the east side of Main Street to the old Henshie home. He was
at one time superintendent of the old Wheeler & Dusenbury Tannery. This now is Fred Hinman’s
Next was Dave Parish’s home. (Now Cone home). He was the grandfather of Robert, Dave, and
Then Henry Crandall (now Harold Orr’s) had a dry goods store uptown. He also had a farm up to
Main Settlement where he raised sheep. He also owned land and a barn on the property where
Pollock’s house now stands. In the fall, Mr. Crandall would drive his sheep, sometimes 100 or
more, down the road from his farm to is place on Main Street. He would have three or four
helpers. The sheep would run loose down the road but these men would keep them in line. Of
course, in those days, there were no traffic problems as there is today because there were no
automobiles. When they did meet a horse or wagon, they would stop until the sheep got by. Then,
in the spring, he would shear the sheep, sell the wool, and drive them back to the farm.
Next was the old Persing House. Miss Gibby and Joyce lived there. It is now owned by G. D.
Next was the Wheeler homestead. Grandma Wheeler and her daughter Lilla I remember well. When
I was a kid, they gave me fifty cents every Saturday to go around on the streets in town and pick up
papers scattered there so the village would look cleaner. This house now belongs to the Olean
Going back down Main Street on the west side where Paul Caldwell lives, was the Meloy Home.
Next on up is a house that Irvin Hardy built. He was a saw filer at the saw mill. I remember him as
a tall, straight, thin man. He used to sing in the Presbyterian choir. That is now the home of Mrs.
Eaton and Mrs. Loehr.
Next house is a double one and was the home of Dr. George Hackett, who later moved to Ceres. He
is the father of Dr. Lawrence Hackett of Bolivar, New York.
Then there is the Boyle Home, then the William Holden Home. (Now Buroughs). Mr. Holden was
the postmaster when I was a kid.
Next was the James Davidson home. (Now Mark Hannon’s). Jim was gardener and caretaker for
the Helen Dusenbury Home.
On up the street is the old school house I have told you about. The new (now motel) brick building
had a bad fire about 1912 and a lot of damage resulted.
Next is the Presbyterian Church. It was struck by lightning in 1895 and burned to the ground.
Portville had no fire department nor water. So after that and the time the village businesses burned in
1875 and again in 1885 (before my time), the citizens got together and incorporated the village. They
organized a fire department and water mains were laid. A long time after that, in 1912, I joined the
department. Of course, I was the youngest. Not one of the members at that time are now living.
We had the fire house in the City Building where Carl Holcomb’s office is now, with club rooms
upstairs and where the beauty parlor is. We didn’t have $25,000 fire trucks then. We had hand-
drawn hose carts with a long rope off the tung so several men could pull it. Later, we got a
chemical cart with two long tanks on it, but we had to pull it the same way. We did not motorize
our equipment until we moved to the new building in 1914.
The next building above the church was John Phillip’s home. Here, the Portville Library began
business in one room with books loaned. They were given by citizens, especially the Wheeler
Family. I think we should say the first librarian was Gertrude Phillips Greenman who had charge of
The next place was the Delaware House on the site of the Mobil gas station. It was owned by
George Fatty and his wife. It was four stories high and an old wooden building with big barn at the
rear to take care of transit trade. One of the oldest roomers at the hotel was Maurice Carroll, an old
help. He was one of the organizers of the fire department.
On up was Bedford’s store, which sold everything from clothes to groceries. The head clerk was
Fred Parish, who lived across the street in the now library house.
In the alley, now Barrett Street, near the front of Bedford’s store, Mr. Amos Fisher built a small
restaurant, which seated about ten people. I remember when peanut butter first came out. He had it
first. On paydays, Butch Buckles and myself would have a feed there on peanut butter sandwiches
and coffee. Those were the days.
R to L: The Delaware House, Bedford's Store, Fisher's "Quick Lunch," Smith Parish Hardware
Across Barrett Street, of course, was D. L. Parish and Son. It became a hardware. After D. L. sold
furniture as well. Then it was called Parish and Glover. Mr. Glover managed the furniture for a
good many years.
Also, in the hardware store, Bert Stevens had one side in front for jewelry. Later, he moved his
business to his house on Brooklyn Street.
The adjoining building, now used by Smith Parish as an annex, was H. J. Crandall’s Dry Goods
Store and also the millinery shop of Dell Ames. Later, she married Dick Crandall.
Next place was the pool and billiard room, also tobacco and cigars and a little cider and wine on the
side, which was owned by Mike Mohan. I remember he had a penny arm bandit. Every so often,
authorities would come along and give Mike a talking to. Then they would turn the machine around
so it would face the wall. That way, no one could play it. After a few days, though, it somehow
would be turned back and in operation again.
My father, Earl Marsh, had a meat market in the next store. (Regan’s store is located there now). He
also ran a meat wagon to sell meat to houses around town.
Dave Parish had a store where Chaffees were. Later, he sold to J. G. Parish, my grandfather. Then,
he sold it to Calvin Smith.
Johnnie Peckham had a pool room and tobacco store on the corner of Colwell and Main where Van
Curen’s drugstore is now. He was very active in the fire department.
Antique Shop (formerly VanCuren's Portville Pharmacy)