When Genesee was Young
By Mrs. Grace Downer
Two hundred years after the birth of our nation in 1776, you can
travel on many rural improved roads through the beautiful countryside of Potter County and
pass through many small villages. If you travel north on Route 449, you will approach a
village with the following sign, "Genesee, named for Gensesee River, founded
The community was first known as Genesee Forks, well named for a spot located on the Genesee River where the West Branch joins from Ellisburg, Cryder Creek from Whitesville and Maundy Creek from the Bigham Area.
The Indians were the first settlers, who had probably no trouble in traveling the gushing streams in a canoe. Records reveal that Indians came here from Salamanca and buffalo by following the rivers and finally down the Genesee River. After camping here they continued on to Leadville to dig for lead. In the vicinity of the old depot, ""Old Fields" is believed to have been an Indian ground.
At the turn of the 19th century men began to file in to this area to seek new source of lumbering because the forests in Vermont and New York were fast becoming depleted. Samuel Hurd (1791-1850) was the earliest known of his family to come to Pennsylvania with his wife, Cahrity and sons, Graham and Harry, in mid 1800's.
He made a clearing and built a cabin on top of the hill at the rear of the Henry Hurd home. The Bingham agent offered Mr. Hurd a deed to 100 acres for chopping out a road from Gensesee Fork to Harmontown. He and his sons made clearing for farms and their homes on the Gold road.
Lumbering was the first industry here. In the 1880's there was a big mill on School Street at the rear of Frank Hurd's home with a large dam to furnish power and a mill pond where young people could skate in winter. Rim of this dam is still visible along the river.
In the early 1900's a saw mill was located along the river below the Park and run by William Eaton. Again the river was dammed to furnish power. He erected many building in Genesee. Mark Fitzstephens also operated a saw mill about this time on the back road at the rear of the Palmatier house. Others were at Hickox and Shongo.
Genesee Forks about 1830, earliest date of records, had a store and a log school house at the top of the hill located on the Charles Downer property. Isaac Annis ran the store and built his home on the Clyde Grover property in 1840. About the same time there was a building at the foot of the hill (former Dr. Hart home) used as a store by Steven Hurd. The rest of the area was covered with woods.
Genesee Forks prospered until 1907 which might have been the peak of its growth, judging from the list of Genesee resources published in the September 18, 1907, issue of the Genesee Times: Genesee Banking Co.; two physicians, Dr. Henry Hart and Dr. Miles Reed; Magnetic Healer, Dr. J. E. Mulford; two railroads, Buffalo & Susquehanna and New York & Pennsylvania; two Blacksmith Shops, Frazier's and Borden's; two Hotels, Genesee House and Beagle House; three Dry Goods Stores, W. B. Daily's, L.L. Richmond's and guy Chapman's; two Hardware's, McGinnis & Reed and Ferris Hardware; Variety Store; Meat Market; four dressmakers;two Furniture and Undertaking Parlors; Laundry; Patterson's Drug store; two Barber Shops; two Produce Buyers; two Livery's; two Churches; six Fraternal Societies and a Sand, Lime and Brick Plant.
Business men furnished enough capital for a Brick Plant and ground was broken in 1899 on the Sherman farm (Clyde Burrell) on the flatland on the new road to Shongo. Clay was brought from the Cryder by railroad and about 20,000 brick made per day at the peak. These brick were used in several town buildings. The plant burned about 1905.
The Lime, Sand and Brick Company was located on the back road on the NYP Railroad. Sand was taken from the bank by tramway, poled to dry, taken by elevator for mixing with lime and pressed into bricks. Forms were taken from the press on small cars and dried for 10 to 15 hours. About 18,000 gray brick were made daily. The plant was in operation only about two years.
Borden & company was located on the NYP Railroad near the present Welding School. Beginning in 1906, they made the wooden part of carpenters' levels of cherry for high grade levels and other lumber for cheaper grades. They were sent to Stanley and Rule Company, New Haven, Conn., for finishing. About 30,000 pieces was an average output.
On the road from Genesee to Ellisburg (across from Mike Furman's Home) was the Genesee Mineral Water Co. You can still see pipe protruding above ground, sometimes water spouting from it. It was started by V. M. Allen about 1903 but he soon sold it. In Sept. 1907, the Genesee Times said: "Industry outside of Genesee is the Jenny-See Water Co. This plant is now running full force under the management of Lewis Graves."
The Genesee Chemical Plant was across the road from Junior Baker's home. It was organized by men from Bradford, the plant was built in 1911. Products were charcoal, wood alcohol, acetate of lime and wood tar, manufactured from hardwoods. The Plant was destroyed by fire in 1933.
A railroad from Wellsville to Genesee existed as early as 1880. Ten years later it was extended to meet the Coudersport & Pine Creek and by 1895 to Galeton. This railroad later became the famous Buffalo & Susquehanna.
The Station was a railroad car on Main Street by the river where William Curtis was agent from 1901 to 1936. With the end of lumbering, discontinuance of the tannery at Oswayo and the glass plants at Shinglehouse, the railroad was abandoned in 1936.
Your education would not have been neglected her for early schools in Potter County during the period 1816 to 1830 were private undertakings, since on school taxes were levied. I already mentioned the log schoolhouse at Genesee Forks in the 1830's that was located on the hill. William Atherton was the first teacher. The next school was built before 1867 where the Chemical Plant stood. Due to increased registration a new school building, 26x40 feet, was constructed on the same site by Orville Leach under contract of $560.00. However, only $250.00 had been paid him by the school board when the building burned on Dec. 9, 1876. Many thought the fire was incendiary because of a controversy over location of the building. Insurance was $400. Classes then were held in different town buildings.
Another school was built around 1878 South of the present Herbert Cooper Plant and used from 1878 to1896. In 1896 a two story wooden building was erected by William Eaton on the site of the present school. It was an elementary school, later a two year high school. The school burned in 1924 which necessitated classes being held in the local church hall and McGinnis Block. The red brick building was constructed in 1925-1926 and the gymnasium-auditorium added in 1936. It became a four-year high school in 1926. Since 1956 grades 7 through12 have been transported to Northern Potter at Ulysses and grades 1 through 6 meet in the Genesee School.
Postal service has been in Genesee for nearly 125 years. The first post office was in Isaac Annis's store on the hill in 1849. It may come as a surprise to many that Genesee had a newspaper, first issue published May 12, 1899, by Victor Allen, for one dollar per year, in rooms over Downer Hardware and later at other locations. I had the good fortune to obtain some copies from Esther Raymond and the first issue was among them.
Because all buildings were wood and built so close together in the business section and because the only means of fighting fire was by bucket brigade, the original building on Main Street have all burned. In 1894 a Heading Factory on the hill was destroyed by fire. At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 everybody in Genesee Forks was celebrating. Dynamite was shot off until after midnight. At 2:30 a.m., there was another explosion but people were misled by thinking it was more celebration. Screaming "Fire" up and down the street, people quickly responded and formed the usual bucket brigades.
Fire had started in the E. C. Gale Hardware, spread rapidly to a large livery barn and in the opposite direction to level Ben Patterson's Drug Store, J. A. McGinnis's Harness Shop and Raymond's General Store, the three family house of Bryan McGinnis and the John Carpenter store across the street.
On February 11, 1903, another destructive fire originated in L. L. Richmond's store on the site of Palmatier's Garage. It spread rapidly northward to Frazier's Blacksmith Shop, William Kelly's Harness Shop, Methodist Church, a home and Cusic's General Store. An old wooden house occupied by Alphonso Hurd, was saved by the bucket brigade. Next morning, Mr. Hurd was astonished to walk out of his house and find the street burned. He had slept through it all.
Business men were greatly concerned and a volunteer fire company was organized in November 1913 with William Kelly as fire Chief. A hand drawn cart with hose was their only equipment. Thus it was until 1945, when the Genesee Township Fire Company was organized.
The Postal Telegraph was built through Genesee before 1888 caring the news between New York and Chicago. The Genesee office served as a test station and handled messages. W. F. Lane had the office about 1900 in the former Edwin Close home and Max reed ran the office in his home from 1922 to 1930 when it was discontinued.
The first gas well was located on the John O'Donnell farm around 1895 and gas was piped into Genesee. Street gas lights were available about 1900, replacing the old oil lamps and were used as long as gas was free. Electric lights were installed in 1956. Electricity for homes and commercial use came about in 1930, gas having been used previously.
Between 1900-1910 several telephone lines were built by local people.