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A history mystery: Who was the first Town of Westfield Supervisor?

February 18, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

A recent email posed the question, "Could you find the past Highway Superintendents and Supervisors of the Town of Westfield? I was trying to find out who has been in officeso they could be recognized on a plaque"

As BeeLines' faithful readers are aware, your Westfield Historian just loves a challenging question to research. Finding the names of past Town of Westfield Supervisors should be fairly easy as we do have an official "History of Westfield - 1802-1997." But past Highway Superintendents will require access to the documented minutes of Town Board meetings, and/or tedious perusal of microfilmed Westfield Republicans in search of election results over the years.

Besides, Westfield hasn't always been called "Westfield," so that could pose some additional challenges. Dorothy Hopkins Curtis, Westfield Town Historian in the mid 1900s, wrote the first section (1802-1952) of the History of Westfield, which provides some excellent historical background in addition to the anticipated list of Westfield Town Supervisors, and answers some frequently asked questions, such as, "How did "Cross Roads" become "Westfield?" Unfortunately, parts two and three of the History did not list all the Supervisors from 1952 to 1995, so that meant further research. Since lists of Supervisors are rather dry reading, here are a few somewhat more interesting bits of history found during research.

New York State was originally settled by the Dutch, and taken over by English about 1683. At that time, what was then called a colony was divided into 12 counties, including Albany County, which was all of the state west of Albany. Gradually, Albany County was subdivided into other counties. On March 30, 1802, Genesee County was formed, which included all of current Western New York state. At this time, Genesee County was divided into four Towns (townships) including Batavia, which was all of Holland Land Purchase area. According to "Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company" by William Chazanof, Alleghany County was formed in 1806, and in 1808, most of the remainder of Genesee County was divided into Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Niagara and Genesee counties.

Settlement of the township of Westfield area of Chautauqua County began in 1801 at the "cross roads" of the old Buffalo-Erie Indian trail and the French Portage trail from Barcelona, on west side of Chautauqua Creek to Chautauqua Lake near what is now Mayville. John and James McMahon, surveyors for Holland Land Company, purchased a total of 27,000 acres, which included most of the area along the lake shore now covered by the Towns of Ripley, Westfield, and Portland. After wintering in Pennsylvania, in 1802, James returned, cleared 10 acres and built a log cabin west of Chautauqua Creek at the "Cross Roads." Later that year he brought his family to live there. Edward McHenry also came at encouragement of McMahon in mid 1802, and built a home and tavern at Cross Roads.

The Town (township) of Chautauqua was formed from the Town of Batavia, April 11, 1804, and included almost all of what is now Chautauqua County. The first Chautauqua town meeting was held April 2, 1805 at McHenry Tavern and John McMahon was elected Supervisor at the 1805 meeting, and re-elected in 1806 and 1807. The first post office in Chautauqua County was established May 6, 1806, at Cross Roads, and called Chautauque Post Office. It was located in the McHenry Tavern building, and James McMahon was the first Postmaster.

Although Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties were delineated from Genesee County in 1808, New York state law required them to act in conjunction with Niagara County until there were 500 taxable inhabitants before they could become fully organized counties. The assessment rolls in 1810 showed Chautauqua County area to have enough taxable inhabitants, so Chautauqua became a fully organized county on Feb. 9, 1811.

Chautauqua County, which basically contained only one township, the Town of Chautauqua, where Cross Roads was located, was gradually divided into more and more smaller-area townships. In 1813, the Town of Portland was formed that included all of what are now the towns of Portland, Westfield, and Ripley. In 1817, the Town of Portland was divided to form the Town of Ripley from Chautauqua Creek west to the Pennsylvania state line. The settlement of Cross Roads had spread out along the lake plains on both sides of Chautauqua Creek, the east side of which was called the "West Field of Portland."

On June 15, 1818, the Chautauque Post Office in the McHenry Tavern of Cross Roads was discontinued and the post office was moved to the east side of Chautauqua Creek and renamed the Westfield Post Office. In 1829, the east and west settlements, plus Portland Harbor (now Barcelona) to the north along the lake shore, and several smaller "crossroad" settlements to the south (like Volusia), an area of almost 47 square miles, united to form a new township between Ripley and Portland. The new division was named the Town of Westfield, March 29, 1829.

The first Town of Westfield organizational meeting was held at Westfield House, the large stagecoach/inn at the corner of Main and North Portage Streets, April 7, 1829. Elections were held for Town Supervisor and the several other positions/offices that had been designated by those gathered at the meeting. Among them were Town Supervisor, Amos Atwater, and Commissioners of Highways - James Montgomery, William Sexton, and Seth G. Root.

A question remains to be answered, however: Should McMahon, who was elected Supervisor of the Town of Chautauqua in 1805, but at Cross Roads that eventually became Westfield, be considered the first Supervisor of the Town of Westfield, or should Amos Atwater who was elected at the first Town of Westfield organizational meeting in 1829?



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