A reference such as the 1867 Atlas of Chautauqua County can be most helpful to the genealogist, especially when detail on maps is such that a person’s actual home can be located, either in rural areas, or even in some of the communities within the county. This particular Atlas also shows the occupation of many persons listed in the various community Business Directories. Sad to say, with most entries the first name is not given, only the initial.
With over ten thousand names in the Atlas it is a laborious chore to try to locate a specific person, hence an every-name Index. The user of the Index may find the divisions of the county somewhat confusing. To clarify, a much abbreviated history of its formation may be helpful.
In the latter part of the final decade of the 1700’s, a consortium of Dutch investors contracted to buy a vast portion of Western New York, actually over 3 million acres. The consortium was known as the Holland Land Company. One often sees the statement that their purchase extended from the Genesee River in the east to the Niagara River, Lake Erie and the Pennsylvania border in the west. In reality the eastern border of the tract was plus or minus a very little of 78 degrees West Longitude. The north-south extremities were the New York- Pennsylvania border in the south, or 42 degrees North Latitude, to the shore of Lake Ontario in the north. A young man named Joseph Ellicott was hired to survey the tract, a task which he and a crew of 140 men tackled late in the year 1797. Because of many unforeseen difficulties the survey was not completed until the year 1800.
Ellicott’s survey laid out the tract in six-mile square blocks. Starting at the eastern limit of the tract, and at the Pennsylvania border, each westward move of six miles formed what was called a Range . Moving northward, each increment of six miles produced a square and formed what was called a Township. In all, there were 15 Ranges, with a maximum of 16 Townships within each Range. Because of the angle of the Lake Erie shore line, the number of possible Townships diminishes in the western end of the tract.
Upon completion of the survey, Ellicott’s employers were so impressed with his abilities and his integrity that he was offered the position of Resident Agent for the Purchase. He set up his office in Batavia, New York in 1801, and for 21 years served in that capacity. Ellicott was a man of considerable vision, a careful planner, and most certainly a man of action. He was responsible for the construction of many roads throughout the Holland Purchase and played a major role in the development of waterways throughout western New York.
In 1800 all of western New York, including the Holland Purchase was known as Genesee County. Realizing that the area of the Holland Purchase was too vast to administer as a single political unit, Ellicott was instrumental in convincing the State Legislature to divide the tract into smaller counties. Thus, in 1808, Chautauqua County came into existence. Shortly thereafter, a sub-agency was established in Mayville. William Peacock, a fellow surveyor and close friend of Joseph Ellicott, was made Sub-Agent. As the request for lands developed, Peacock surveyed each Township dividing it into 64 Lots, each Lot .56 square miles, or 360 acres. The Lots were numbered starting at the lower right hand corner with Lot 1, going north to Lot 8, then back to the lower border for Lot 9 northward to Lot 16, and so on to a total of 64 Lots in each Township.
With the arrival of settlers, old Township borders began to be changed. The term Town rather than Township was used when divisions of the county were made into political entities. Bits and pieces of old Townships were either added to or taken away to make new Towns. In most cases these changes were the direct result of public petition. A set of maps developed by Norwood Barris, and used by permission, shows the evolution of Towns within the county (see Appendix I). These maps cover the period from the beginning of the county to the time of the publication of the Atlas. (But one other change was ever made – in 1918 the Town of Harmony was divided into Harmony and North Harmony). It is important to note that as changes were made, old Lot numbers stayed constant and moved with the change. Thus in a Town such as Chautauqua, which is made up of four old Townships, it is possible to have several Lots with the same number.
By 1867 there were 26 Towns within Chautauqua County (listed below). Eleven Towns (shown with an asterisk) followed the old Township layout of six square miles, with 64 Lots.
Arkwright* Charlotte* Clymer* Ellicott Gerry* Kiantone Pomfret Sheridan Villenova*
Busti Chautauqua Dunkirk Ellington* Hanover Mina Portland Sherman* Westfield
Carroll Cherry Creek* Ellery French Creek* Harmony Poland* Ripley Stockton
The Towns of Carroll, Dunkirk and Sheridan though irregular in shape and size, offer no problem in locating Lot numbers. Of the remaining Towns, three must be singled out for special attention – Chautauqua, Hanover and Ripley.
A glance at the map of the town of Chautauqua shows a peculiar layout of Lots leading from the village of Mayville in a northwesterly direction toward Lake Erie. On a visit to Chautauqua county in 1809, Joseph Ellicott1 saw the advisability of creating a trade route from Pittsburg the Allegany River, to the Chautauqua outlet (now known as Chadakoin Creek), to Chautauqua Lake, and then via what was called the Portage Road, to Portland (Barcelona, as it is known today). This would form a direct route for the shipment of articles manufactured in Pittsburg and western Pennsylvania – window glass, iron, nails, linens and liquors – for market both in western New York and to a lake port for shipment elsewhere. Ellicott directed that the village of Mayville be extended along the Portage Road for about 4 miles in a northwesterly direction, and that Lots be laid out fronting on both sides of the road, approximately 660 feet wide and 8000 feet deep. It was his expectation that the Lots would be quickly settled, and that those residing on the road would have it in their interest to assist in keeping the road in good condition. A total of 81 Lots were laid out according to Ellicott’s directive. All but six of the Lots were to remain in the Town of Chautauqua. The other six are found in the Town of Westfield. The odd shape is the result of following the two branches of Chautauqua Creek as they lead toward the village of Westfield.
Ellicott was also instrumental in developing villages and towns in what he deemed as ideal, and sometimes practical locations. He made rather lengthy and detailed annual reports to the home office of the Holland Land Company in Philadelphia. In his 1805 report, Ellicott wrote to his superior, Paul Busti:2
“I have also caused the Lands adjoining and contiguous to the Junction of Cattaraugus Creek with Lake Erie to be surveyed and laid out into a Village and out Lots, and caused the Intervale on the Creek also to be laid out into out Lots; but as yet there are but two Settlers who have established themselves there.?
Ellicott named the community Cattaraugus Village, and accordingly the area was surveyed and laid out into Lots as per his instructions. Cattaraugus Village was later to become the village of Irving. The reader may also notice on the Hanover map six extra Lots. They are on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, and in spite of considerable searching, no explanation of their existence has been forthcoming.
The very peculiar lay out of Lots in the northern sector of Range 15, Township 3 (what is now the Town of Ripley) is perhaps the strangest deviation from the normal. The original expectation of the investors in the Holland Land Company was that large parcels of land would be sold quickly to smaller investors, who in turn would sell off their parcels to individual settlers. The Holland Land Company would thus recoup their investment in short order. Smaller investors did not materialize in any significant number. There were two would-be entrepreneurs who contracted to purchase sizeable tracts in what is now Chautauqua County. One was John McMahan who contracted for Township 4, Range 14, or most of what we know today as the Town of Westfield. The other was his brother, James McMahan, who with a partner named George Dull contracted with Joseph Ellicott to purchase 9000 acres in Township 3, Range 15. Against his better judgment, Ellicott was convinced by McMahan to sell a parcel which extended from the eastern to the western border of Range 15, and to be two and one half miles deep from the shore of Lake Erie inland. Ellicott felt justified in the contract, because McMahan’s partner George Dull was from the Pennsylvania Dutch country and would interest many rich Dutch farmers to resettle in New York. McMahan was a sometime surveyor, and in a letter dated July 25, 1803, 3 Ellicott spelled out in very explicit terms exactly how McMahan was to survey the 9000 acres. No mention is made, however, of how the lotting of the tract was to be done, or by whom it was to be done. It is probably safe to assume that James McMahan did the original lotting. A dividing line was drawn from Lake Erie southward to the end of the property, cutting the tract into two parts. The eastern part was smaller than the western part, and lotting was done in three strips parallel to the Lake Erie shoreline. Lots of very irregular size were laid out, numbers 1-7 in the eastern sector, and numbers 8-27 in the western half. McMahan and Dull managed to sell to quite a few settlers in the western half. Unfortunately, they were not very good business men, they fell behind in payments to the Holland Land Company, and finally in 1811, Ellicott cancelled their contract. It is interesting to note that in 1811 there were but two holders of properties in the eastern sector of the McMahan tract and when the contract was cancelled, that sector of about 3000 acres minus two small sections, was deeded to none other than Joseph Ellicott. 4
There was a rather serious mistake made in page orientation in the 1867 Atlas. The names shown on pages 29 in list form appear to belong to the city of Jamestown. In reality, they are residents of the city of Dunkirk.
Most original copies of the atlas extant today show serious signs of wear and tear. Some of the colors have faded, the paper has turned rather yellow and has become quite brittle. After scanning the maps, colors and the yellow of the pages were removed. Following the color scheme of the original, new colors were then added. If the user finds a difference in quality of those maps in red, it would appear that the original red coloring medium caused a slight blurring of the print. The entire atlas had to be repaginated, ergo, page numbers will not agree with the original.
The undersigned wishes to thank Christine Derby-Coudrado, curator of the Barker Museum, for permission to scan the Museum copy of the 1867 Atlas.
1Joseph Ellicott to Paul Busti, in Vol. 23, pgs. 18-20, Holland Land Company’s Papers, Reports of Joseph Ellicott. Pub. The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, 1937.
2 Joseph Ellicott to Paul Busti, in Vol. 22, pg. 270, Holland Land Company’s Papers, Reports of Joseph Ellicott. Pub. The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, 1937.
3 Holland Land Company Joseph Ellicott Correspondence. Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, microfilm reel 12
4 Records of deeds, Liber I, pgs. 55-56. County Court House, Mayville, NY.
……..Richard F. Sheil
……..Chautauqua County Genealogical Society