About a village that once stood in Chautauqua County, NY

The Tragedy of Waterboro, New York

Throughout the United States there are stories of vanished towns and villages that once had a place in history. For most of the population of the country these stories are not common knowledge. The history of some vanished towns and villages are contained in the archives of county and local history.

The history of the United States and of the World is taught in all schools. The history of the town or county we live in is rarely addressed in schools. The community and county we live in is an achievement of past generations. They struggled and sometimes coped with dire situations to build a place that we enjoy living in today. We should not ignore the achievement of past generations in building up a legacy that our towns and counties were founded upon.

I think all schools throughout the United States should have a curriculum that covers local history. I know of only one school that covers that curriculum. I attended Bradford High School in Pennsylvania during my junior and senior years. They had a course in State and local history. I enjoyed that class. The teacher covered the material thoroughly. I wish that I had the opportunity in my first half of high school to learn local history. The school I attended then, Falconer Central School in New York did not offer such a course.

Many people may have only a slight knowledge of the local history in their area. If they visited the library and looked through books on local history, they may be surprised at what they learn.

In the southeastern portion of Chautauqua County, New York in the Township of Poland is Waterboro Hill Road. It is in rural territory about two or three miles from the Chautauqua and Cattaraugus County border. Waterboro Hill Road is also about two miles from Interstate 86. Many times I have driven up this road and wondered where the name, Waterboro came from. Five years ago, I was looking through books on the history of Chautauqua County, New York. I was surprised at what I learned; Waterboro Hill Road was named after a village that once stood in the area. I have lived in Chautauqua County for most of my life and I never knew there once was a village named Waterboro. I asked my mother who has also lived in Chautauqua County for most of her life, if she heard of Waterboro village. She was surprised also to learn that there was a village. I asked my grandparents, they also had no knowledge of Waterboro.

Only a few houses stand where the Village of Waterboro once was. On present maps of Chautauqua County the place name of Waterboro is still retained. It is barely a settlement now.

The history of Waterboro is composed of a sad story. A story that started off bright and ended in most of the populace dying or abandoning the village.

Many people in Chautauqua County are ignorant of the story of Waterboro. Some who have heard of the story deny that it took place. They claim that Waterboro was never a village; it was always a small settlement of a few houses.

The story of Waterboro can serve as an example for many towns or villages that once stood in the United States. The history of these towns and villages may have been forgotten or ignored. The history of these places is also the history of the people that once resided there. The story of people that desired a new life that sometimes ended in tragedy. The survivors from these towns and villages did not allow misfortune to prevent them from starting over someplace else. We can learn from these people. We should never abandon hope because sometimes tragedy visits our lives. That is the story of these once proud towns and villages. That is the story of Waterboro. Someday I wish to write a book about Waterboro. For now this article can serve as a starting point for that book.

Two men known by the names Mulky and Hasbrook founded Waterboro in 1792 or 1803. They brought their families from eastern Vermont and settled on Conewango Creek. A dam was built and also a sawmill. The water from the sawmill has used to run a gristmill 200 feet below the sawmill. B.R Stebbins built the first hotel on the southeast side of Conewango Creek. Mr. Bartlett built another hotel where Interstate 86 intersects today.

By 1815 Waterboro had three stores. The population at this time was 1200 people in a one-mile radius. There was a stagecoach route from Jamestown, New York that stopped in Waterboro. The route then continued on to Randolph in Cattaraugus County.

There was a road that passed over the hills to Randolph. It was built on the southeastern bank of Conewango. This road was abandoned in 1822. From the stream of Indian Ripple was another road that connected to a road from the present villages of Kennedy and Ellington.

There was a cemetery 200 yards from Conewango creek. By 1830, 400 people were buried there. The Seekins family from Connecticut was the last to be buried in the cemetery.

Around this time Mr. Kennedy built another dam and sawmill two miles below Waterboro on Conewango Creek. In Waterboro there was two sawmills, gristmill, slat mill, two hotels, post office, church, school, doctor's office and a cheese factory. By all accounts Waterboro was a very bustling village.

In 1820 during a very dry summer, the sawmill caught on fire. The fire spread rapidly and burned 400 buildings. Only four houses were left. These belonged to the Jonlian, Haight, Hasbrook and Smith families. While the people were trying to rebuild a scarlet fever epidemic broke out. It is stated that 400 people died in the epidemic. That number may be an exaggeration. Fear seized the remaining survivors and they tore out one of the dams. The reason as to why they tore out the dam is a mystery. Perhaps they were trying to flood the area. Most of the survivors moved to Kennedy.

Davis brook in the area of Waterboro shifted course years later and washed out the cemetery. The brook later shifted back to its original course. In 1931 Conewango Creek was dredged and the other streams in the area were cleaned out. The water level of Conewango Creek was lowered seven to eight feet. In the next seventy years only six new buildings were constructed in the area.

After 1820 Waterboro was no longer a village. It was only a small settlement. A post office still operated in the area from 1827-1845.

On Waterboro Hill Road is the Waterboro Hill cemetery. This cemetery was started after the tragedy of Waterboro. It is located on the Davis property. People were buried there until the early 1900's. It is now abandoned. Some of the survivors from Waterboro may have moved to Waterboro Hill Road and were later buried in this cemetery.

In 1945 Richard Shields along with his father, William H Shields bought a farm formerly known as the Rueben William's Farm. On the farm was an old cherry tree. This cherry tree was known to have originally been within the bounds of the cemetery of Waterboro. This tree measured four or five feet through its base. Two skulls and other remains were found in the ground beneath this tree. Caskets were also found protruding from the side of a bank in view of a road near this farm. The descendants of the dead in these caskets came and reburied the bones. Perhaps they transferred the bones to the Waterboro Hill cemetery.

In 1884 the Davis family purchased a farm. The Meehan family formerly owned this farm. A cemetery marker was found that might have come from the Waterboro cemetery. The marker read, In Memory of Chas S. Patch died June 27, 1837 in the 31st year of his life, Laura Ann daughter of the above died October 27, 1835 1 year 8 months. Numerous cemetery markers representing children and infants have been found in the area.

In the area where the cheese factory once stood, the foundations of the shacks were the workers lived can be seen.

The following is a list of names of people buried in the Waterboro Hill Cemetery.

Arnold, Lewis, son of Henry and Lucy (Colburn) Arnold born 22 Nov. 1833, died 20 Dec. 1905

Arnold, Effe, his wife, 1840-19_

Arnold, Armena T. 1828-1911

Arnold, Lucy Ann 1839-1919

Arnold, Henry, died 21 Nov. 1868, age 67

Arnold, Lucy his wife born 5 Aug. 1808, died 13 March 1887

Arnold, John L., son died 2 Aug. 1885, age 24

Arnold, Lorenzo, son died 23 Feb. 1842 age 6

Arnold, Lucy Ann, dau. of H. and L.A. died 28 Aug. 1838 age 2 years 8 months

Bemus, Henry, son of Horace and Lucy Bentley, no dates given

Bemus, Bethany, wife of George W, died 27 April 1888 age 83

Bemus, George W., son of Zenus and Caroline born NH, died 11 Feb. 1892 age 83

Bush, Moses, died 6 Feb. 1848, age 33

Bush, Manlius, born 8 Feb. 1808, died 20 Oct. 1891

Bush, Eliza, his wife, died 31 Oct. 1894 age 74

Bush, Horatio, their son, died 6 Sept. 1855, age 20

Bush, Anna Elizabeth, wife of Enos Bush, died May 1856, age 23

Colburn, David, died 4 Aug. 1852, age 81. His wife was Rebecca Locke

Colburn, David L, died 22 June 1885, age 67

Colburn, Ann (Walter's first wife) died 4 Sept. 1845 age 27

Colburn, Theda Mariah (Walter's second wife) born 13 June 1826, died 17 Jan. 1892

Colburn, William H. (son of Ann) died 20 June 1870, age 29 Capt. Co. E 42 Regt. NY Vol

Colburn, infant son of David and Mariah died 5 Feb. 1847 age 1 day

Colburn, Anne, dau. died 18 March 1848, age 1 month

Colburn, Anne M. dau., died 7 Feb. 1860 age 11

Colburn, Martin L son, died 1 Sept. 1862 age 3

Colburn, Martha, died 3 Sept. 1862, age 10 months 15 days

Colburn, Eddie, died 20 July 1864 age 9

Davis, Truman L. son of John and Polly Davis died 21 Aug. 1838 age 1-10

Davis, William, son of John and Polly Davis, died 25 Aug. 1838 age 10 months

Doty, Mandane, dau. of Harry and Alzina Doty died 18 May 1852, age 9 months

Goodwin, Richard, died 16 April 1858, age 74

Goodwin, Ruth P., his wife, died 16 June 1848, age 56

Goodwin, Richard, son, died 3 Aug. 1872, age 36

Griffith, Rhoda, dau. of Rev. A. Griffith, died 7 May 1857, age 18

Guest, Ervin E, son of E.R. and Lydia Guest, died 21 March 1883, age 17

Ingersoll, M.V.B (Martin son of Peter and Lois Smith Ingersoll) born 13 July 1829, died 19 Feb. 1904

Ingersoll, Mary L. his wife born 23 July 1829, died 11 Oct. 1872

Ingersoll, Laura died 23 March 1864 age 4

Ingersoll, Cora L. died 17 March 1873, age 8

Knapp, Ebenezer, died 14 Feb. 1865, age 84

Knapp, Rachel his wife died 30 Jan. 1866, age 74

Knapp, Ira, age 74 (From Weaver Gen. born 22 March 1812, died 3 April 1892)

Knapp- Lucinda Weaver, dau. of Thomas and Isabel Weaver and wife of Ira Knapp born 15 Sept. 1825, died 3 April 1892

Knapp, Ira Scott, son of Ira M. and Lucinda, died 17 April 1847 age 1

Knapp, Daniel W, died 19 Feb. 1861 age 27

Knapp, David T., died 18 Oct. 1842 age 27

Mowar, Henry W. died 21 Dec 1885, age 67, Co. G 1st Mich., Eng.

Saunders, Charles died 27 Nov. 1876 age 79

Saunders, Jerusha, his wife, died 4 June 1847

Saunders, Mariette Stone his second wife born 29 May 1797 died 27 March 1867

Stevens, Beriah, died 28 May 1843, age 83

Stevens, Clarissa his wife, died 1 Dec. 1856 age 84

Stevens, Flavaline wife of Cyrus Stevens died 1 July 1827 age 70

Stevens, Josiah, their son, died 22 July 1860 age 21

Stevens, Amanda J. their dau. died 4 Feb. 1854, age 2

Skinner, Infant dau. of Orrin and Abigail Skinner, died 26 Jan. 1845 age 2 days

Shaw, Judith Davis, wife of A.B. Shaw, died 29 April 1868 age 43

Shaw, Milla A. dau. of Arnold and Judith Shaw, died 24 Jan 1860, age 8

Smith, Avis W, wife of Deacon Timothy Smith, died 23 June 1862, age 68

Waters, Lora, born 7 Feb. 1809 died 20 May 1884

Waters, Betsey wife of Lora, born 4 March 1813 died 7 March 1895

Waters, Merton J, their son, died 30 Sept. 1853 age 29 days

Woodward, Sarah, dau. of John and Sarah Woodward died 7 Sept. 1846 age 18

Weaver, Hannah Knapp, wife of William P. Weaver died 18 Jan. 1847, age 26

Yarington, Avery, died 4 May 1849 age 50

Brown, Sylvester (born Delaware Co., NY) died 15 June 1895, age 71

There are records that name other people who once lived in Waterboro. In Forest Hill Cemetery in Fredonia, New York there is a tombstone that reads: Philena Foote born 10, February 1806 in Sherburne, died 26 July, 1829 in Waterboro, New York aged 23

There is also a tombstone for Henry B Newkirk born 19 September 1806 in Waterboro, NY died 12 May 1895 in Dunkirk, New York. There is a census record in 1860 in Dunkirk, New York for Henry B Newkirk. This is interesting because the year 1806 in which Henry Newkirk was born puts it closer to the founding of Waterboro. There is a census record for Henry B Newkirk's wife. Her name was Christina. She was forty-two years old at the time of the 1860 census. The census record also mentions their daughter Sarah Louisa; she was thirteen at the time of the census. Henry B Newkirk's occupation is listed as a carpenter.

There is also a record for Rosella Sarah Fisher (1829-1918). She was born October 21, 1829 in Wardsboro Vermont. Her parents were Simeon and Lucy Smith. At the age of three Rosella Fisher came with her mother to Western New York traveling via the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo. She then traveled with her family by wagon to Waterboro. She joined her father and other members of her family who had gone ahead to prepare a place in Waterboro. Her mother died in 1834. In 1839 the family moved to Randolph. The father was in the business of manufacturing chairs. Simeon Fisher served as the Justice of Peace in Randolph in 1841. He also served as Town Clerk from 1844-1852. Rosella Fisher had four sisters, Celinda (born 1817), Paulona (born 1822), Carmelia (born 1832) and Lucy (born 1824). She also had three brothers, Vilando (born 1820), Ebenezer (born 1826) and Lewis (born 1824).

The year of 1829 when Rosella and her family moved to Waterboro was after most of the survivors left the village. In the story of Waterboro I did not discover if any people moved to Waterboro after the tragedy. A few did remain after most of the people left, but it was not much of a settlement to attract newcomers. Perhaps the year, 1820 given for the fire and the scarlet fever epidemic is not correct. Perhaps these events took place after 1820. In my research I may have to verify or correct the time line for Waterboro.

I know some members of the Fisher family who live in the area of Conewango village today. Conewango is not far from Randolph. Rosella's father built chairs. Some of the members of the Fisher family today do carpentry work. I wonder if they are related to Rosella Fisher. They would be the first people I know of whose ancestors are linked to Waterboro. There may be many more people in Chautauqua County whose ancestors lived in Waterboro. Many people have also moved away from Chautauqua County. There may be other people who live in other parts of the country whose ancestors where from Waterboro.

There was also a Doctor Samuel C Parker who practiced in Waterboro. In the vital records of New York State, Doctor Samuel C. Parker died in Waterboro on April or June 10. 1840.

In Holland Land Company records there are land transactions in lots near the area or in the area of Waterboro. Thomas Kennedy purchased land in lots 15, 16, July 6 1801. He made another purchase on July 16, 1802 in lots 15, 16. He purchased land again in lots 15, 16 on Feb. 14, 1828. Henry Baldwin and John Reynolds purchased land on July 16, 1802 in lots 15, 16. They purchased more land on July 17, 1815 in lots 15, 16. Their last purchase for lots 15, 16 were on Sept. 17, 1822. Joseph Brinnistool purchased land in lot 7 below Waterboro in November 1806. He purchased land again in lot 7 on November 22, 1806. Samuel Foote Jr. made a transaction for subsequent receipts in lot 8 in the area of Waterboro on July 24, 1810. He settled on lot 8 in 1823.

The problem in doing research of Waterboro is that Chautauqua County was not settled extensively during that time. There were only a few settlements and villages. The population of Chautauqua County then was only a few thousand. Only a few records were kept and some of those records were lost. At this period The Holland Land Company had just opened up areas in the county for purchase of land. There were not many roads built at this time. The county consisted mainly of extensive forests full of wolves and panthers. Maps of this time period of Chautauqua County usually only show Chautauqua Lake and no settlements. The earliest time period that I found Waterboro shown on a map was 1829. This map is a Chautauqua County map from a New York State atlas published by David H. Burr . If the given time line of Waterboro is wrong then perhaps the Chautauqua County map from 1829 is the earliest map that shows Waterboro. If this is the case there are no maps that will show Waterboro before 1829. Maps of Chautauqua County in the late 1700's to early 1800's do not even show Mayville the county seat. Mayville was founded in the late 1700's.

Chautauqua County before 1820 was isolated from the rest of the state. People were concerned with their own business and coping in an uncertain land. Records of Waterboro may exist. The Fredonia Censor, the newspaper of Fredonia, New York was started in the 1790's. Perhaps this newspaper has a piece on Waterboro. In the Township of Poland's Sesquicentennial celebration of 1955, the story of Waterboro was told as part of the history of the township. During the time of Waterboro the Township of Poland was part of the Township of Ellicott.

Some of the people who deny that Waterboro was a village have no evidence to back up their claim. They are making this claim without looking into the matter. There are many clues to support the status of Waterboro as a village. Because few records have been found about Waterboro does not give people an excuse to wipe it from Chautauqua County history. More records of Waterboro can be located if more effort is expended .

The people who live in the area where Waterboro once stood believe there was a village. They have seen old foundations from buildings. I do not think over a hundred years ago the story of a village that was wiped out from a fire and an epidemic was made up. What would be the reason for this, to make for an entertaining story? The story is too tragic to be entertaining. I think some people want to forget that such a tragic happening could have taken place so early in the county's history. Perhaps back then the story of Waterboro was hushed up. Further settlement of the county would not have taken place if newcomers found out a scarlet fever epidemic had helped wipe out a village. They may have feared it could happen to them also.

I will not allow skepticism to thwart my efforts to uncover more about Waterboro. The village and the people that resided there must come alive again. Their struggles may have been in vain if people continue to deny Waterboro. Should the survivors' past existence be denied because they lived in a village with a history that is scoffed at?

There are two sides to this issue. On one side are people in Chautauqua County who have never heard of Waterboro. The other side is people who deny the story of Waterboro took place. I hope, I can uncover the entire history of Waterboro and prove beyond doubt the village once stood. Then the two sides can finally be united to understand a piece of Chautauqua County history that should never be forgotten.


A Guide to Chautauqua County, NY Cemeteries and Burial Sites by Virginia W Barder, Lois Barris and Norward J. Burris copyright 1992

The Chautauqua County Historical Society, Telling Our Stories by Virginia C Richardson copyright 2002 page 103
On page 103 is the story of Waterboro from a excerpt called Waterboro written by Mrs. Thomas P Mattison of Kennedy, NY and Richard Wright ed News Bulletin May 1958, also topic of luncheon delivered by Evelyn Crandall 1984

Poland Sesquicentennial pamphlet 1955

10,000 Vital Records of Western New York 1809-1850 by Fred Q Bowman copyright 1985
Earliest Holland Land Company Sales in Chautauqua County, New York by Virginia Washburn Barden copyright 1990

Hand typed pages within a bound folder: History of Waterboro by Mrs. Clara Wilbur Wade May 25, 1971

Chautauqua County a History by Helen G McMahon copyright 1958



Words by Amy Buchanan
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Written on 2007-05-10 at 04:45

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Zoya Zaidi
Thanks Amy for this very informative and poignant story.
I am saving it in my Bookmarks to return to it whenever I want to know more details about the Waterboro Village. I would have loved it, if you had taken a few pictures of the place, like the old cemetery...
(((Hugs for enlightening us)))
Love, Zoya
PS I also go about taking pictures sometimes of the area around where I live, and also mean to write their histories, especially of the ruins that dot the land...