1800s Love Triangle Highlight Of Fenton Lecture

Michelle Henry, Chautauqua County historian, discussed the interesting events that have happened at Prospect Station in Portland. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

“Three’s a Crowd” apparently wasn’t a problem for a few early settlers of Prospect Station in the town of Portland.

On Wednesday, Michelle Henry, Chautauqua County historian, was the guest speaker at Fenton History Center’s Brown Bag Lecture Series who gave a presentation titled “Prospect Station: A Love Triangle and a Train Wreck.”

The “love triangle” part of the presentation focused on early settlers of Portland in the early 1800s named Hiram Fish, James Barnes and Amanda Noble. Apparently the three lived together in a mutual relationship in the area now known as Prospect Station for 50 years. Henry said the story became nationally publicized in 1879 when a Mayville resident, who was a correspondent for a newspaper in Philadelphia, wrote an article about the unique union.

The story goes that Fish had fell in love with Noble while they both lived in Rome, N.Y. Fish traveled west to find land for his future family, finding a location in Portland. After finding the land and on his way back home, Fish was taken prisoner by Native Americans who were fighting along side the British during the War of 1812 and was taken to Canada where he was held a prisoner for the next four years.

After being released, Fish made his way back to Rome to be with his true love, but instead found that he had arrived the same day as Noble’s marriage to Barnes. Following the wedding, the three made their way to Portland to establish the Fish-Barnes Settlement. Henry said today where Prospect Station is located in the town, the road to the west is titled Fish and the highway to the east is known as Barnes.

Amanda Noble, who was now known as Barnes, had four children. James Barnes died in 1864, Fish in 1876 and, after moving to Corry, Pa., Amanda Barnes died in 1884.

Another story Henry told that links to the love triangle is the story of George Arnold. Arnold is supposedly a ghost who has haunted the courthouse in Mayville since his death in 1907. Arnold supposedly fell to his death through the hole of the dome ceiling at the courthouse when it was being constructed. Henry said in 2006, when there was renovation work done to the courthouse, two workers refused to work alone because they had seen a ghost of an old man watching them work in the dome area.

Before becoming the ghost of the Mayville courthouse, Arnold married Roxy Barnes, one of Amanda Barnes children.

As far as the train wreck portion of the presentation, Henry talked about “Duff Brown’s Fiery Ride or the Race with Flaming Death.”

Taken from Brown’s own account of the incident, who was the engineer, the fiery ride happened Aug. 17, 1869, when he was hauling six oil cars. After taking off from Prospect Station, Brown noticed one of the oil cars was on fire. He called to his crew to unhook the two passenger cars first from the train. Then late down the track, he called for the oil cars to be unhooked too, with the thought that the brakes would have been set to prevent the oil cars from moving.

However, Brown, to his surprise, saw the fiery oil cars chasing him down the tracks at a great speed. The route between Prospect Station and Brocton had a steep grade, which sent the oil cars after the box car and locomotive.

As the cars on fire chased the engineer, Brown called for more coal in the fire to increase the speed of the train. He estimated the train must have been traveling at times between 50 to 80 miles per hour. To make things worse for Brown and his crew, the route also included severe curves, which almost flipped the train off the tracks because of the high speeds.

As the train approached Brocton, Brown hoped the switchman would be able to make a track transition for the locomotive and box car that would separate it from the path of the oil cars. Also, as the train approached Brocton, Brown noticed another train coming from the opposite direction that needed to stop to avoid creating an even larger disaster.

Luckily, the engineer on the other train and the switchman made the necessary moves to save Brown and his train. Shortly after the train tracks flatten and the fiery oil cars finally stopped. Brown said the fire burned for three hours before it expired.

Henry also told the story of the “Disaster Christmas Eve 1872,” which involved train cars falling off the tracks over a ravine. A passenger car was still attached while teetering over the ravine. Because the passenger car had a wood burning stove inside for warmth during the winter months, the car caught fire. Train crews had difficulty getting inside the passenger car and could hear people screaming as they were being burned alive. Henry said there were 38 passengers on the train and 19 of them died in the disaster.