LeRoy Township, Genesee County GenWeb - Early Inns and Taverns of New York State

Inns of New York State

Along the old Indian trail following the shore of Lake Erie, later the stage road, and now almost the same route popular with automobilists, one will hardly find any surviving old ins. This was frontier country. A hundred years ago, when a New Englander came west to look over some lands in this section in which he was interested, he traveled almost entirely by sleigh. Arrived at Niagara Falls, where he had friends, they insisted that his wife and child remain, although they had thus far borne the trip, whiles he pushed on into the wilderness.

Following the Niagara River, about half-way between Buffalo and Lewiston, at North Tonawanda there still stands an old log cabin which was probably used as a tavern. This road was originally an old Indian trail, and between Lewiston and Queenston there was an early ferry used by travelers going westward through Canada.

Lewiston had two old taverns, both of which disappeared many years ago; one kept by Thomas Hustler and his wife, Betsy, at which James Fenimore Cooper boarded, darwing his characters of Sergeant Hollister and Betsy Flannigan, in The Spy, from his landlord and landlady. At the other, the Kelsey, Lafayette stayed on his visit to Lewiston in 1825. The Frontier House claims him, but as this was not open until 1826, although begun a year earlier, the claim seems debatable. It has, however, entertained such celebrities as Jenny Lind, Henry Clay, and Washington Irving. The attractive centenarian is still open, with broad, deep veranda, and a signboard hanging near the street quite as it may have hung when the house was opened.

As early as 1794, the Genesee Road extended from old Fort Schuyler westward to the Genesee River, and in 1798 was extended to the State line. But before this there had been travelers over the old trail, although after the Erie Canal was built this was long the popular route for travel. Even after the railroad came, little stretches of it were owned by different companies, so train connections between these were poor, and for a time the canal still prospered.

The old Iroquois Trail ran from the Hudson to Niagara Falls, through Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Avon, Le Roy, near Batavia to Lewiston, and the first stretch of the Mohawk Trail, consisting of sixteen miles from Albany to Schenectady, was built in 1797 by two young engineers. So, in coming east from Buffalo, one follows, at least in part, these old roads.

Batavia, county seat of Genesee County, was not "set off" as a town from Northampton until 1802. Three years later, Timothy Bigelow, in his Tour to Niagara Falls, mentions here a "nearly finished building which is to contain a court house, a jail and a hotel under the same roof." He stayed at Russell's Tavern, whose proprietor insisted that his sheets were clean, for they had been slept in only a few times since they were washed. Luke's Tavern also stood here at the time.

The earliest tavern between Buffalo and Avon was about a mile east of the present town of Le Roy. Charles Wilbur came here in 1797, and opened a tavern in a log cabin. A year later, he sold this to Captain John Ganson, who was in the Revolutionary Army and fought at Bunker Hill. In the earliest days of this tavern, Indians frequented a spring near the house, and the nearest neighbors were "the desperate characters at Big Springs, " and a few at Avon, where Captain Ganson had first located. Early travelers frequently mention Ganson's. John Maude, in his Visit to the Falls of Niagara in 1800, says: "Proceeded on my journey 297 miles (from Albany) Ganson's Tavern. When my friend L. passed this place last year, Ganson's was a solitary house in the wilderness, but it is now in the midst of a flourishing town in which twenty-one families are already settled. A new tavern and a number of dwelling houses are building."

Five years later, Timothy Bigelow was not complimentary:
"July 22nd, 1805. Gansen's is a miserable log house. We made out to obtain an ordinary dinner. Our landlord was drunk, the house was crowded with a dozen workmen, reeking with rain and sweat... We hastened our departure before the rain had ceased."

When the new roads were opened, many immigrants flocked to this section, the Ganson log cabin was replaced by a larger frame house, and when the first landlord died in 1813 and was succeeded by his son, John, it became one of the best known houses between Albany and Buffalo.

On the site of what was long the eagle Hotel in Le Roy, - the village received this name in 1813, - was an early tavern known as Auntie Wemple's. A frame house followed this, kept by Richard Stoddard, and the brick building, part of which is now the Post Office, the rest a lodginghouse, was built by James Ganson, another son of the first tavern-keeper, and continued as a hotel until 1920.

Before 1810, Richard Stoddard built a frame house on the site of the Wiss House. This was first used as a store, later as a tavern, kept by Rufus Robertson. Enlarged, it became the Globe and Eagle Hotel, with a brazen sign of the bird surmounting a globe. Many years ago it was given the name under which it is still open, after an early landlord, Wiss.

Half a mile west, on the main road to Buffalo, Captain John Lent opened a tavern in 1813 which later became a private residence, and is now an exclusive lodginghouse. The first frame house in Le Roy was Captain John Austin's Tavern, and survives as the wing of a private residence. Still another tavern in the village was opened by Hinds Chamberlain, and continued at least until 1810, later becoming a dwelling.

In this period, Le Roy was an important place. The largest town between Buffalo and Canandaigua, ten stage-coaches passed through it daily, besides many emigrant wagons going west and south. Many of the houses along the road were regularly licensed taverns, while others kept travelers over night, or furnished them with meals, which were sometimes scanty, as the following anecdote told by Mr. Sampson in an account of old timer in Le Roy, published in a local paper, will show.

"A weary and hungry traveler on a jaded horse, rode up to the door of one [tavern] not a hundred miles hence, and asked for entertainment for the night. The landlady from within having assented, the following colloquy ensued:
"Traveler: 'Can you furnish provender for my horse?'
"Landlady: 'No, we have none.'
"Traveler: 'Can you furnish me with supper?'
"Landlady: 'We have no bread. My husband started for the mill this morning and will return to-morrow.'
"Traveler: 'Can you furnish me with a glass of whiskey?'
" Landlady: 'We have none. My husband took his gallon bottle, and will bring some when he returns.'
"Traveler: 'Madam, can yu tell me what you do keep for the entertainment of travelers?'
"Landlady: 'We keep a tavern, sir.'"

At Fort Hill, east of the town, a tavern stood at the top of the hill, as the grandson of its proprietor, the former now a man of eighty or thereabouts, recalls. A three-story brick building in Pavilion was a stage-coach hotel; and one of stone Caledonia, now the Post Office and Masonic Temple, was another. Almost every four corners then had its stage-coach inns, many of which are still standing as private residences.

Continuing eastward, a few years before the first tavern was opened in Le Roy, two Englishmen, Moffett and Kane, the "desperate characters" mentioned, had established one at Big Springs (Caledonia). Suspected of robbery and murder, they were driven away by Avon settlers, and were succeeded by Peterson and Fuller.

In Avon, Gilbert Berry built a log house in 1789, traded with the Indians, finally opening a ferry, entertaining in his cabin such travelers as passed along the old trail.

There is more but it doesn't pertain to Genesee County.

E-mail Vikki Gray, LeRoy Township, Genesee County, New York Coordinator.

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