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Lime Lake: A Narrative History

Author Jeffery Miller

It is believed that Lime Lake's first white settlers arrived in 1819. Of course, the lake as it appears today bears little resemblance to its appearance of that time. It's difficult to visualize Lime Lake's shoreline profuse with trees and foliage after viewing the over-abundance of cottages and homes that encircle it today. In fact, the lake's water level may be as much as ten feet higher today than it was in 1819.

It is not certain who was the first actual settler, but one of the earliest, if not the first, was Daniel Potter (lot 1, sixth township). Potter came from Rensselaer County, NY, in either 1819 or 1820, bringing his wife, Lydia, and their children.

"During the years of 1819 and 1820, emigrants from various portions of the east came in," reads the History of Cattaraugus County (Everts, 1879). "Mills were erected at the foot of Lime Lake. Log houses sprang up in a day in each little opening, and the resounding strokes of the pioneer's axe were heard on every side."

Lime Lake was called Limestone Lake then, receiving its name from the shell lime deposits found on its bottom. According to legend, the Seneca Nation, who traversed this area prior to the Holland Land Purchase of the 1790s, called the lake Odosagih, which meant "clear, living waters."

A tiny hamlet was forged at the foot (north end) of the lake as land was cleared and more settlers arrived. Andrew McBuzzell came in 1819 or '20, settling near Limestone Creek (Lime Lake Outlet). In 1820, he erected the first saw mill in the area.

Willard Jefferson came from New England in 1820 to settle on the 200-acre farm on the lake's western shore that later became the "County Farm" (the Cattaraugus County Almshouse and Insane Asylum). Alva Jefferson, Willard's brother, located on land at the foot of the lake.

The men had to be strong, resourceful, and stout-hearted to bear the hardships facing the pioneers of this region. These qualities are reflected in the following account, excerpted from the family history written by Cassandana Potter Parks, a granddaughter of Daniel Potter.

"The men would start out in the latter part of June to get into the Genesee country to help in harvesting and the grain was cut with sickles. It was long before machines were thought of, and they could not have used machines had there been any, too many stumps.

"Grandfather and all the family were hard workers--they had to be, to clear the heavy clay soil of trees, stumps, roots and stones. In logging, Grandfather got one of his legs broken below his knee, and had not been long recovered when a log rolled against the same leg and crushed it so badly that about six inches of the bone was lost, and ever after he wore a thimble on that leg to stiffen it so he could get about."

In 1823, Potter erected the area's first grist mill, located at the outlet. The mill served to reduce wheat and corn to meal without bolting. It was a small operation, supplied with just one run of stone. A dam was constructed to harness water-power for the mill. The dam caused the lake's water level to rise by six to ten feet.

Alva Jefferson, in a joint business venture with Howard Peck, opened the first store in the settlement in 1822. Peck also operated a distillery and an ashery. The ashery served a very important purpose, according to Cassandana Potter Parks: "There was a point of land extending into Lime Lake a little south of the dam, on which was built an ashery, a place where ashes were made into some sort of potash. Timber in those days was largely a nuisance, and was cut, logged and burned as rapidly as possible. The ashes were used as a sort of currency and about the only thing the early settlers had that would bring money."

This tiny settlement increased in size and importance throughout the 1820s. A widow named Freeman ran the first inn, at the south end of the lake. Nathan Follett came from Pittstown in Rensselaer County in 1823, settling at the north end. Eliphas Lafferty settled just northeast of the lake (lot 1, sixth township) in 1825.

On April 16, 1827, the Town of Machias, including Lime Lake and much of its namesake hamlet, was formed from the Town of Yorkshire. (Certain properties considered part of the Lime Lake hamlet remained on the Yorkshire side of the town boundary line. These properties would be annexed and become part of the town of Machias in 1847.) Howard Peck, one of the Lime Lake's first merchants, was elected the town's first supervisor.

In 1835, Willard Jefferson sold his 200-acre farm for $2,300 to Cattaraugus County, which used the site to establish the County Almshouse. (Jefferson moved to Ohio, where he spent the last 49 years of his life.) That same year, Nathan Follett and Bela Colgrove opened the area's only woolen mill on the site of Daniel Potter's operation, which had been swept away by a freshet three years earlier. The woolen mill operated night and day, with customers coming in from distant places and camping out while waiting to have their orders filled.

A major endeavor of the late 1820s and early 1830s would have brought major change to the area, had it proceeded as planned. A proposed canal linking the Erie Canal and Olean would have been dug southward along Cattaraugus Creek and other valleys, then up Lime Lake Outlet, across the lake, down Ischua Creek, and on to Olean.

The canal was instead re-routed through the more populated Genesee Valley, and became known as the Genesee Valley Canal. A later proposal to divert the northerly flowing waters of Lime Lake Outlet southward to feed the canal was also negated.

Lime Lake remained a small, out-of-the-way settlement throughout the late 1830s and 1840s. About the only activity of note was occurring at the County Almshouse and Insane Asylum, which housed the county's indigent and infirmed citizens, and the woolen mill of Follett and Colgrove.

The Town of Machias was enlarged in 1847 when another tier of lots were annexed from Yorkshire. These lots encompass much of what is today considered Lime Lake hamlet.

On November 23, 1850, Lambert Babcock broke through the frozen surface of Lime Lake and drowned. This is the first of many recorded drownings in Lime Lake.

It was about this time that the Lime Lake Hotel was gaining some noteriety throughout the county. Though no record of its construction exists, it is believed to have been built some time in the 1840s. At this time owned by John R. Pollard, the hotel would be sold in 1857 to Moses Houghtaling, who would expand the reputation and fame of the place to all corners of Western New York.

In or about the year 1853, Daniel S. Tilden opened a store at the foot of the lake, near where Bruce’s Lake House stands today.

Contributed by Jeffery Miller