‘Old Chautauqua Road’
ELLERY — The Bemus Point Historical Society recently erected its 10th New York state Historical Roadside Marker at the site of the former Red Bird Tavern at the intersection of Pickard Street and Route 380 in the town of Ellery.
Following the surveying of much of western New York by Joseph Ellicott, the Holland Land Company began selling lots in 1801, in what would eventually become Chautauqua County.
To facilitate settlement, the land company contracted with local settlers to build a route known as the “Old Chautauqua Road” along a proposed route from Bath, New York to the company’s office in Mayville.
The crew members were paid $10 per mile to clear and grade the roadbed sufficient to accommodate a team and wagon. Work on the road commenced in 1808. By 1811, the route was opened from Mayville to the Conewango Creek and connected with the “Olean Road Section” constructed between Geneseo and the Allegany River, in 1813.
After three years the road was completed, extending from the Genesee River near Bath to the Holland Land Company’s sub office in Mayville. Settlers used the road as the primary east/west route for many years until the advent of rail service.
One of the route’s earliest westward travelers was William Barrows. He was born in 1788 in New Bedford, Mass., and was orphaned early in life.
In 1809, at age 22, he traveled alone to Chautauqua where he purchased 348 acres at the corner of Pickard Street and Route 380 in what would become the town of Ellery.
Like many of the county’s settlers, Barrows spent the first four months of his solitary life here in a bark covered lean-to near the banks of what he called the “Casondongen River” (Cassadaga Creek). His nearest neighbors lived almost 9 miles away. Eventually, he was joined by his maternal grandparents, who took up residence with their grandson. Barrows built a block house known as “Red Bird” on the site in 1810.
In 1812, knowing intimately the difficulty of his own pioneer journey across New York, Barrows opened his home as Red Bird Tavern — a welcome safe haven for westward travelers on what many settlers called “the great highway.”
The following year, Barrows married Sally Sinclear, the eldest daughter of Major Samuel Sinclear, founder of Sinclairville, New York, who bore him five children. The pioneer moved to Lake County, Ohio, in 1834, and finally to Warren, Illinois, in 1862. He died in 1869, having contributed greatly to the pioneer history of Chautauqua County.
Other New York state Historical Roadside Markers erected by the Bemus Point Historical Society include: Bemus Point Fish Hatchery on South Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point, Bemus Point-Stow Ferry, Lakeside Drive Hotels at the Lenhart Hotel, Bemus Point Trolley Station on Center Street in Bemus Point, the first Bemus Point Library located on Center Street in Bemus Point, William Bemus Tavern located on the north side of Westman Road, First Church in Ellery on the west side of Lewis Road half way between Walker-Hale Road and Weaver Road, Flower Fields at the town of Ellery Town Park at the park entrance near the United States Military Memorial, and Hotel Whitside on Whiteside Circle at the End of Summit Avenue in Maple Springs. Funding for the markers is provided jointly by the Town of Ellery and the Bemus Point Historical Society.
The Bemus Point Historical Society is located on Alburtus Street in Bemus Point. The society’s museum is open to the public on Saturdays in June, July, and August from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., during events sponsored by the Bemus Point Business Association, and also by appointment.
The society also hosts free historic presentations at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month September through June for which there is no charge.