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History of the NW corner of Main and Portage Streets - Part I

April 9, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh , Westfield Republican

editorial@westfieldrepublican.com

Did you know that Main and Portage streets have not always been located where they are now, in 2015? According to a paper that was presented at a meeting of the Patterson Chapter D.A.R., and published soon after in the January 2 and 9, 1924 Westfield Republican newspaper issues, the original Crossroads (the first name for Westfield), was at the intersection of the "old Portage road" and Buffalo-Erie road which are now where Gale Street crosses West Main Street.

From the D.A.R. paper: "The first attempt at a 'Main Road' [Buffalo-Erie road] was merely a trail through almost an impenetrable forest. It was made in 1802 and was built from Buffalo to Chautauqua Creek thence a little later on to the state line. From the top of The Westfield Hill the descent was south of the present road in the rear of the 'Marble Shop' and Pulley Works thence past the Westfield Mills crossing the creek on a log bridge a short distance above the mill taking direction to the northwest, reaching the Main Road near where Chestnut now meets it."

Article Photos

Submitted Photo
An 1880 photo of Main and Portage showing the Westfield House hotel on the right and the McClurg Block on the left.

Westfield Hill is the name for the embankment of Chautauqua Creek starting about where the steps descend on the south side of the viaduct next to the Welch Building. The "Marble Shop" building is still there just down behind the Welch building, but the Pulley Works is long gone - burned in the early 1900s. Of course the Marble Shop was not built until later in the early 1800, as was the Westfield Mill, the remains of which are mostly gone, along the creek, south of the viaduct. The log bridge was later replaced by a wooden covered bridge, and was probably the forerunner of the later iron Rorig Bridge that crossed the creek about where West Second Street and Water Street now intersect.

The "old Portage road" is described by the D.A.R. paper: "how on October 30th 1753 when the French and Indian War was going on a force of 1000 Frenchmen landed at the mouth of our Chautauqua Creek. Within four days 200 of these men built a road between Erie and Chautauqua Lakes [following an old Indian trail] which the early settlers found still useful for carrying salt and merchandise between the lakes This old Portage road began on the west side of Chautauqua creek within a few rods of the lake, from whence it took a southerly direction or a half mile following the creek, then diverging somewhat to the west, crossed the now main road at the monument stone" [located at the NE corner of Gale and West Main Streets]. Although there is still controversy as to exactly where the road crossed the Chautauqua Creek Gulf, tradition locates it about where South Gale Street bridge is now located.

The D.A.R. paper notes: "In 1805 Col McMahon surveyed the 'new Portage Road' which crossed the creek about one-fourth of a mile from the lake and after a short distance to the southeast covered the ground we now call North and South Portage streets." Probably it followed what is now North Gale Street up to where it connects with Hawley, and then followed what is now Hawley Street to where it connects North Portage. Soon after, Barcelona was becoming an important shipping port, so the section between Barcelona and Hawley was completed.

Early accounts of the history of Westfield, used as sources for the D.A.R. paper, were written by Judge Warren, A.W. Young, and Dr. H.C. Taylor, as well as diaries and letters shared by locals whose ancestors were among the early settlers, or some of those settlers "who had themselves come when our town was forest through its extent with here and there a clearing."

The location of taverns and post offices in Westfield gives some clues as to when buildings began to be located on the east side of Chautauqua Creek, and in particular, the NW corner of Main and Portage. According to several sources, the first post office in Westfield was located at the Crossroads on the west side, and McMahon was postmaster. The post office moved to the east side in 1818. It is not certain where the first tavern was located, but according to the D.A.R. paper, Thomas McClintock built a log house on the NE corner of Main and Portage (about where the Spencer Block that includes Exec II Barbershop and Parkview Caf). "In 1911 Mr. McClintock retired from the log house at the corner of Main and Portage, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Cass taking the tavern."

James McClurg came to Westfield about 1810, purchasing much of the land that now surrounds the intersection of Main and Portage streets. He built a small store at the SE corner of Main and Portage, what is now the village park. In addition to the McClurg Mansion in the Park, he also built the McClurg block on the SW corner of Main and Portage, as a "windbreak" for his mansion because of the strong westerly winds. This is where the Welch Office building now stands. And in 1829, he built the Westfield House hotel at the NW corner of that intersection. A grand opening ball was held there in 1829, and the Town of Westfield held its organizational meeting there that same year. The Westfield House became a famous stage stop on the Buffalo Erie Road between 1829 and 1884 when that entire block as well as part of the McClurg block burned in one of the most disastrous fires in Westfield's history.

 
 
 

 

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