A Short History of Nunda (2022)




A Short History of Nunda (1)
Livingston Co
New York
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"A Short History ofNunda" was written in 2001 by Joan Schumaker, a life longNunda resident. It is used with permission of the author.

A Short History of Nunda
Livingston County NY

by Joan Schumaker

The Town of Nunda, a 24 by 12-mile tract ofland within the Morris Reserve, was founded in 1808 as a partof Allegany County, located in the southern tier of Western NewYork. The name is from Nunda-wa-ono, a Seneca Indian tribe thatonce lived in the beautiful hills and valleys along the Geneseeriver and Keshequa stream within the Township of Nunda. In theSeneca language, "Nunda" relates to hills and a populartranslation is "Where the valley meets the hills". Dr.Arthur C. Parker, in "History of the Genesee Country",describes this region as follows: " in all the world thereis not a place like unto it for human habitation." Nundaresidents and visitors continue to experience a thrill upon viewingthe pastoral scenery of the Nunda valley from one of the surroundinghills.

(Video) Nunda Memories - An Introduction

By 1829 the original Nunda Township had beenreduced to its present size, of approximately 6 by 6 miles, nolonger including the Genesee River with the impressive gorge andwater falls that are now part of Letchworth State Park. In 1808,only three pioneer families lived in what is now the Town of Nunda.By 1830 the population had increased to 1, 291 and by 1840 therewere 2,636 residents. The population peaked at nearly 4,000 withthe building of the Genesee Valley Canal in the 1840's, but hadfallen to less than 3,000 by the early 1880's. It is interestingto note that the 1990 census shows a population of 2,931.

The Village of Nunda Valley, later to be shortenedto Nunda, was first planned by Charles H Carroll in 1824 but wasnot incorporated until 1839. Four Seneca camps or small villageswere once located within the Village of Nunda. These Seneca villagesconsisted of log structures not unlike those of early pioneersof this region. In 1790 two small villages could be found oppositeeach other on the Chautauqua Hollow Trail which became State Street.Until 1813 a third Seneca village was along the creek behind theKeshequa High School. The fourth village was located west of Buffaloand Gibbs Streets until 1818. Nunda's village square, once a frogpond, is at the intersection of the Chautauqua Hollow Trail andthe Keshequa Trail which follows the path of the Genesee Riverwhen it flowed through this valley. Within the Village of Nundathe Keshequa Trail became East Street.

A Short History of Nunda (2)

The first post office was established in thevillage in 1831. The main business district, consisting of a villagesquare bordered by two-part commercial blocks, known as "MerchantsRow" and the "Farmers' Exchange", was built between1831 and 1834. These commercial blocks are still in use today.With completion of the Genesee Valley Canal from Rochester toMt. Morris in 1841 and good roads for transport between Mt. Morrisand Nunda, the Village quickly grew from a pioneer settlementto a community of fine houses, several churches, hotels, all kindsof commercial establishments, factories, a bank, a newspaper,an academy, and numerous social organizations such as the debatingsocieties of the Nunda Literary Institute. Due to politics andconstruction delays the canal did not reach Nunda until 1851 andwas not completed until 1861.

A Short History of Nunda (3)

The Genesee Valley Canal connected the ErieCanal in Rochester with the Allegheny River south of Olean, adistance of over 100 miles. It was 42 feet wide at the water surface,26 feet wide at the bottom and four feet deep with 7-foot banks(3 feet above the waterline). A total of 112 lift locks with anaverage lift of 10 feet were needed to traverse the nearly 1000foot elevation change from Rochester to the summit at 1488 feetabove sea level and to descend to the Allegheny River. The GVChas the highest canal elevation in the world. These locks were90 feet from gate to gate and three were located within the Village.

The remains of Lock 42 is just west of StateStreet (Route 408) at the northern entrance to the village acrossfrom Vermont Street. The canal passed behind the many businessthat lined State Street, continued at an angle to West Street,passed under a bridge at Fourth Street and through a lock beforereaching another bridge at Second Street, passed west of the Villageparking lot and under a bridge at the end of First Street wherethe third lock was located, and turned west when it reached PortageStreet (Route 436). Fifteen additional locks were required toreach Oakland, about a mile west of the village. Lock 42, a canalwarehouse, and several stately mansions built overlooking theCanal at the end of West Street are the only remaining evidenceof the canal within the Village.

"The old canal was beautiful and romantic.It had fresh green banks, clear water
and interesting locks. The white barges, most often laden withnewly sawed lumber, were
towed by mules wearing bells around their necks and red or bluetassels in their ears."
----- Reminiscences of Mrs. M. M. Wilner, 1852.
The Genesee Valley Canal operated onlyuntil 1878, but during this time, fortunes were made as it carriedaway the forests of Livingston and Allegany counties and the grainsproduced on the fertile farmlands. Cheap transportation for merchandise,groceries, and other freight from New York City, Syracuse andRochester also added to the prosperity of the village during thistime.

(Video) Nunda Memories - Village Beginnings

One of the reasons contributing to the demiseof the Genesee Valley Canal, was the introduction of railroadsinto the area in the early 1850's. Nunda Station, about threemiles south of the village, was the Nunda station for the ErieRailroad. The first train arrived in January 1852 and by 1853this branch of the Erie was open from Buffalo to Hornellsville,a distance of 91 miles. Beginning in 1874, the Rochester, Nundaand Pennsylvania Railroad, known locally as the "Swains Branch",provided service through the village for only a few years. In1882, the Village of Nunda finally obtained rail service, whenthe Genesee Valley Canal Railroad (later the Pennsylvania Railroad)was built along the line of the canal. The main rail line wasbuilt north of the village to avoid the steep grade between Nundaand Oakland and service was provided to the village on a branchline originating at Nunda Junction, about two miles northeastof the village. The depot, originally located at West Nunda, wasmoved to the corner of West and Second Streets in 1896.

Nunda Station, later known as Dalton, quicklybecame a thriving community with its own warehouses, post office,stores, blacksmith shops, mills, hotels, bank, church, school,produce merchants, livestock dealers, and medical doctors. Otherhamlets in the Nunda Township never enjoyed the growth and prosperitythat the railroad brought to Dalton. These communities were locatedat: Wilcox Corners (now known as Guy's Corners) on the old StateRoad between Nunda and Dalton; Sweetcake Hollow and Barkertownin the eastern part of the town on East Hill; and Coopersvilleoff of Creek Road northeast of the village.

A Short History of Nunda (4)

Without the canal and a major railroad, economicgrowth and prosperity for the Village of Nunda was at a standstillin the early 1880's. In spring 1882 Chauncey K. Sanders, editorof The Nunda News, and four other enterprising and forward thinkingprofessional and businessmen formed what they called the "Association"and pooled their resources to build what would become the newestand fanciest business block in Livingston County. They purchasedthe former Holmes Hall lot, a prominent site on the corner ofState and Second Streets, and hired Henry B. Gleason, a Rochesterarchitect, to design their new building. Mr. Gleason designeda highly ornamented, but most functional, two-part commercialfive-bay block building typical of the late 1800's. In April 1883,this massive commercial block was ready and the rural Villageof Nunda now possessed an architecturally unique and most sophisticatedstructure that would come to be known as The Union Block.

The Union Block soon attracted much attentionand trade from the Nunda region and continued to serve as Nunda'smain commercial building for almost 100 years. The Nunda PostOffice was located here for 66 years, a grocery store was housedhere for 90 years, and a dry goods/department store for 85. Numerousother merchants and professionals thrived in this location overthe years, making substantial contributions to all aspects oflife in this rural community. Locally the Union Block is bestknown as the home of The Nunda News, one of the longest continuouslypublished (1859 - 1982) and most successful weekly newspapersin the country. Chauncey K. Sanders, founder of the paper andone of the builders of the Union Block, started printing the paperhere in 1883. While the presses stopped in the 1970's, officesfor The Nunda News remained here until 1982, a few months shortof 100 years. Nunda residents and many former residents livingin distant places appreciated and depended upon this quality newspaperto learn about local events and provide an invaluable record ofthe history of the Nunda area.

Manufacturing in Nunda started with a cabinetfactory on South State Street built by Henry C. Jones who arrivedin about 1820. This became part of the Nunda Casket Works thatwas in continuous operation for more than a century, closing in1979. Nunda's most famous industry was the Foote ManufacturingCompany, founded in 1903 by Charles E. and Chester T. Foote. Theiroriginal 1903 plant, located on North State Street, was replacedby a large modern brick structure in 1913 and produced power concretemixers that were being shipped across the country and sold overseesby 1918. Their mixer was recognized at the San Francisco Expositionin 1913 and in 1926 The Foote Company received the American Institute'sgold medal, the first award ever made for road equipment. Continuedimprovements to their self propelled mixer-paver led to internationalrecognition during World War II when their Multi-Foote 34E mixerwas used to build runways wherever allied forces were located.The War Department recognized the Foote Company's war effortsin 1943 when the company and its employees received the firstof three "E" awards, a joint Army/Navy Production Award.The Foote Company was purchased by Blaw Knox in 1948 but the Nundaplant was closed in 1955 with the business being moved to MattoonIllinois.

The Nunda Casket Works building has been demolishedand replaced with buildings occupied by a restaurant, post office,professional offices and other businesses. The Foote Company plantwas home to a number of businesses and left vacant for a few years.The plant has undergone some renovation, including a slight reductionin size, and is currently the home of Seating, Inc. which specializesin the manufacture of chairs.

(Video) Gone But Not Forgotten, The Story of Nunda's Universalist Church

The southern portion of the Union block wasfacing demolition in 1998 but is currently undergoing renovation.In 1999 the Union Block was placed on the State and National Registerof Historic Places and is the first building in the Town of Nundato receive this recognition.

Dalton's main business district was mostlydestroyed by fire in 1943. Over the years other businesses closedand a recent fire destroyed the post office and a restaurant.The restaurant has been rebuilt and a new post office is underconstruction. Trains still pass through Dalton but they are nowpart of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad.

The historic transportation corridor whichwas once the Genesee Valley Canal and later the Pennsylvania Railroadis now being transformed by the State of New York into the GeneseeValley Greenway, a 90-mile multi-use trail. Canal boats and trainsare being replaced by hikers, bicyclists, skiers, equestriansand snowmobiles who will access the Village of Nunda by usingthe branch trail from Nunda Junction.

Numerous Genesee Valley Canal locks west ofOakland have been preserved and are now part of Letchworth StatePark. The canal and railroad history is interpreted with a seriesof beautiful signs that begin at Oakland and follow Trail #7 andthe Genesee Valley Greenway.

Sources Consulted:

Cook, Bill, Celebrating Our Past: LivingstonCounty in the Twentieth Century, Livingston County Board ofSupervisors, 2000.

(Video) Discover Historic Nunda - 200 Years of Historical Architecture

Cook, Tom, Faded Glory: Parts I & II,Talking History; Nunda Times, March 29 and April 5,1995.

Frost, Marjorie C., Early Years: Town ofNunda 1808-1983, Nunda Historical Society; Burt's PrintingService, Inc., Dalton, NY 1983.

Hand, H. Wells, Centennial History of theTown of Nunda: 1808-1908, Originally published: RochesterHearld Press, 1908; Re-published: Heart of the Lakes Publishing,Interlaken, NY, 1993.

Kipp, David L., Locking The Heights: TheRise and Demise of the Genesee Valley Canal, David L. Kipp,1999

_____ Dalton Historical Cookbook, UnitedMethodist Women, First United Methodist Church, Dalton, NY, 1982

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return tothe History Room
nundahistory.org is the official website of theNunda Historical Society.
You can address comments or questions to the NundaHistorical Society or TomCook, webmaster
All rights reserved 2002


1. History that has never been told - Part One
2. Nunda Businesses Part IV, Segment 1
(Nunda History)
3. Remembering the Flood of 72 Pt 2 Segment1
(Nunda History)
4. Segment 3 Nunda Businesses
(Nunda History)
5. Segment 2 Nunda Businesses
(Nunda History)
6. A Nunda Memory - The Vermont Street Corn Silk Fad of the 1940s
(Nunda History)

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