19th century pie-in-the-sky hopes
“I’ve got high hopes, pie in the sky hopes.”
This columnist has been reading “Cloudsplitter” by Russell Banks, a semi-fictional account of John Brown and his high hopes for ending slavery. Supposedly these are the memories of his surviving son, Owen. His recollections were those many years after his father was captured and executed at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
From New England to the Genesee Valley, even to the west coast “Pie-in-the-Sky” dreams lived on.
Miraculous fortunes might come to small communities if only a canal or railroad was built. For every boomtown, as Buffalo and Rochester in the 1830’s and 1840’s, there were ten times as many disappointments, places to be known as the ghost town of “anywhere.”
Avon Historian Maureen Kingston sponsored a program on one such failed dream, that of the South Avon hamlet.
County Historian Amie Alden suggested that the seventy-five plus attendees at the South Avon marker dedication (photo in July 1 “News”) perhaps were a larger number than those original South Avonites ever congregating in one place. We won’t count on the hamlet’s cemetery with over 135 graves, a cemetery with simple stones for infants and unmarked burial lots for unfamlied farm workers.
Ms. Kingston authored an interesting historical summary of South Avon from its forested pioneer days of 1809 when Maria Hubbard Fridd was born in a small log house. S.A.’s high hopes were based on rich farmland and the availability of water power, resources shared with most of the Genesee Valley. Neither a regular stop at the hamlet by the Avon, Geneseo, Mount Morris Railroad or the Chadwick Hotel of 1830 helped with growth.
Nearby Littleville and South Avon were too close to bustling, mineral springs Avon with its Genesee River bridge and soon-to-be railroad hub.
Tavern-keeper Josiah Chadwick must have kept his sense of humor. His double-sided sign along the Geneseo-Avon Road pictured a rider on the north side- “going to court in Geneseo.” On the south side coming home from the County court seat, the same gentleman was pictured as disheveled and ragged- “coming from court.”
Sincere thanks to Maureen Kingston for this material and her efforts in honoring South Avon.
South Avonites no doubt were hard-working, patient folk with high hopes for the future.
Twenty years before and ten miles to the south, Capt. Charles Williamson believed in “building and they will come.” Perhaps a cultured settlement of Southern gentle people could be attracted, enticing plantation life to the Genesee.
South Avon might be a place where pioneer ghosts lurk.
Two centuries later Williamsville still reigns as The Livingston County’s ghost town.
Pulteney land agent Williamson dreamed a large dream in 1793. Advised of the impossibility of building a road from Pennsylvania to Genesee County, he succeeded by August 1793.
Then Williamson began planning and building “Richmond on the Genesee.” Some believed it was named for investor a Sir William Pulteney, others honoring the historic town in Virginia.
“The country of peace, plenty and every luxury.”
This was the “Albany Gazette” ad. Three years after the Wadsworth brothers bought family-subsidized land for eight cents and acre. The captain offered thousands of acres at a dollar an acre.
The story of the disconcerted German workers recently was told, immigrants fleeing to Upper Canada within three years. They prospered away from Williamsburg.
The captain was ever optimistic. He sponsored the first Williamsburg Fair and Genesee races in 1793. Horse trading was featured. Prospective settlers came for hundreds of miles. Few stayed.
By 1807 Williamsburg was abandoned and the Captain had resigned, leaving large debts.
Many of his ghost-town artifacts are preserved at the County Museum. They represent pie-in-the-sky historic symbols.