BIG FLATS, NEW YORK
1822 – 1972
A TRIBUTE OF A PROUD PAST
Published by the Big Flats Historical Society
Pamela M. Farr Editor
By Big Flats Historical Society
Printed by Painted Post Press, Painted Post, N.Y.
It is hoped that this book will pay proud tribute to the Town of Big Flats in its One Hundred Fiftieth year. The history just scratches the surface of what there is to learn about Big Flats. It is the aim of the Big Flats Historical Society to continue to concentrate on all that can possibly be learned about our home town and in turn, enrich the life of every person who lives here and shall live here.
This tribute represents months of preparation, interviews, research and discussions, and the financial support by a multitude of businesses, people and organizations who have contributed together in the interest of their community.
We have attempted to give an account of what Big Flatt was like from the time of its conception April 16, 1822 and have tried to tie it in to the Big Flats of 1972.
Our main objective is that you will like what we have done here and that you will help the Big Flats Historical Society collect all that is needed to preserve the color and flavor of Big Flats in years past for the generations to follow. May this beginning generate such interest, that someone will, in the years to come, write a more complete history of Big Flats, New York.
Taken from an article by Albert S. Eggleston
Big Flats has long been noted for its Indian History, scenic beauty, and soil fertility. The very earliest written references to the area which we now know as Big Flats, and the Indians called Atsingnetsing, praise the scenic beauty and the fertility of the soil. "Great Flatts" it was often called by the early white settlers, referring to the broadening of the Chemung Valley where the Chemung River near the present hamlet of Big Flats turns rather sharply to the southeast on its way to Chesapeake Bay. Atsingnetsing quickly became Sing Sing to the early white men – today the specific designation of a good trout stream which empties into the Chemung River a mile or so from the hamlet.
One of the earliest complimentary reference to this section is in the interesting Day Journal of Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary, who traveling through Big Flats on May 23, 1760 worte: "when we came to this place (Atsingnetsing) we found it to be true that between this place and Diaogo (Tioga Point) is the best land on the Susquehanna."
And Capt. Henry Montour writing to his superior Sir William Johnson on April 4, 1764, on the success of his expedition to destroy Indian villages around Big Flats writes of it " as the most beautiful country we have ever seen for land and pretty improvements for Indian settlements." And as Montour was very familiar with the fertile soils of the Mohawk Valley this was quite a compliment to the richness or our soils.
This beauty and fertility was not lost on the soldiers of the Sullivan Expedition when they visited Big Flats area in 1779 to destroy the Indian village of Runonvea there. Six years after the expedition many of them returned to make their homes here at Chemung, Newton, Big Flats, and Painted Post, and as many of these soldiers were originally from the stony pastures of New England, the flat, fertile soils around Big Flats must have seemed an agricultural, paradise indeed.
Geologist have an interesting theory to explain the origin of these rich, alluvial soils. It is thought that ages ago a "finger lake" nestled in the Big Flats section of the Chemung Valley. Drift brought from the north during the ice age filled the valley basin, forcing streams to cut new channels. Eventually it caused the Chemung River to change its course at Big Flats, leaving its old course to the north past Horseheads and thence northward to Lake Ontario, and cutting an entirely new channel to the southward, through the narrows at present Route 17E, completely draining the wide lake area around Big Flats and leaving a top dressing of rich, alluvial soil.
In a few short years, relatively speaking, the Big Flats area has witnessed the ending of a Stone Age civilization, and the beginning of our present Jet Age. One of the oldest Indian Village sites in New York State is at Big Flats. Runonvea village, where hammer stones, axes, and flint arrowheads have been found and identified as belonging to a very early Algonkin Indian period, while not far from the same site is the Chemung Valley Airport.
A Pathway for Indians
Although long known and used by the Indians, the Chemung Valley and Big Flats area remained practically unknown to the white man long after the Hudson River and Mohawk Valleys had been settled. To the Indians, and later to the settlers, when they discovered it, the Chemung Valley was a natural pathway to the south from Niagara and the Great Lakes. The Genesee and Chemung valleys were but ten miles apart by Canaseraga Creek (a tributary of the Genesee River) and the Canisteo River, thus offering river transport for canoe or flatboat on the Genesee to the Chemung and thence down the Susquehanna to Chesapeake Bay.
Sir William Johnson, Superintend to Indian Affairs for His Majesty’s Government, knew New York as well as any an of his time (he owned a quarter million acres of it before the Revolution) issued a map in 1771 to Gov. Tyron of New York, showing central, northern and eastern New York as accurately, but the Chemung Valley was left blank except for a doubtful reverence to "Singsink", in this general area.
Brule Here in 1615
References to the white man in pre-Revolutionary days in the Big Flats area are few. Record we have, however, of Brule, the earliest, a Frenchman, who in 1615 with 12 Huron warriors followed the river through Big Flats to Carantouan, now known as Spanish Hill, at Waverly, N.Y. There is record of fur trading Swedes from the Delaware in 1682, and very early in the 18th century Germans and Moravians such as Conrad Weiser, Zeisberger and others. We know representatives of the landowning Penns visited the area, and also Sir William Johnson’s expedition in 1764, to be followed by our own entry on the scene in the official reports of the Sullivan Expedition in 1779. Indians still lived around Big Flats in 1786, and the last did not leave until 1791 when the Indian title to the territory was extinguished by a treaty held with the Indians on July 4, 1791 by Col. Timothy Pickering, at present Marker and Madison streets in Elmira.
In Marcy, 1783, the State of New York passed an act exceedingly favorable to actual settlers in the valley and to those holding military warrants for land. The allotments were to be not less than 200 or more than 1,000 acres and provided that the lands were to be settled within three months (subsequently extended to one year) after the State had acquired the Indian title. The settlers paid 18 pence per acre, and lands were rapidly taken up and worked after 1791.
Tiny Cemetery Near Narrows Road Contains Graves of Hardy Pioneers
Time and the elements have gone afar toward effacing a hallowed burial spot beside the Narrows Road at Big Flats.
There lie the bodies of the first settlers of the Town of Big Flats – Christian Myneer and his wife.
For one reason, at least, it is perhaps as well the brambles and weeds almost hide the fenced burial place. Close by are many summer cottages and during the warm months many Elmirans enjoy a rest along the north bank of the Chemung. Yet they have only to visit the cemetery plot, peer through boards of the fence and read on a tombstone this inscription:
"Behold, dear friends, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me."
Uncomfortable reading, perhaps, for those who come to cottages here to forget the cares of the city!
The little cemetery is located on land now owned by Dr. J. Bernard Toomey of 82 Durland Ave. There 17 years ago the Elmira dentist build a summer cottage. When he first went there, the cemetery was in worse condition than today, but Dr. Toomey has greatly improved the plot by providing a neat fence about it.
This is "Forsaken Cemetery," so listed on records of Chemung Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.
It was in the spring of 1787 that Christian Myneer and his wife, Christianna, came up the Chemung River, accompanied by their seven children. They landed on the north side of the river. Today, on the opposite side of the concrete highway, a State Education Department road sign reads: "FIRST SETTLER" Christian Myneer built first log cabin 1787 and first frame house and planted first orchard in Town of Big Flats
Towner’s history of Chemung County records that in Marcy, 1791, Myneer received a certificate of Lot 117 in the then Town of Chemung. The history further states that "He died in 1831 and side by side, on the farm where he first settled, rest his ashes and those of his faithful wife."
Tombstones of Christian Myneer and his wife have disappeared from the plot, how, when and where no one seems to know.
Four stones remain standing. One bears the words "Henry Minier, died Dec. 12, 1828, aged 51 years." Beside it is a stone with this inscription, "Sarah, wife of Henry Minier, died Apr. 17, 1848, aged 81." A third stone bears the virse listed, under Mr. Minier’s name.
A fourth stone in the plot bears the words, "In Memory of Father, Mother, Brother, Sister of N. W. Simons." Referred to is Noah W. Simons (sometimes spelled Symonds) who lived on the former Minier farm in 1875. He was well known in Elmira politically and at one time operated a stone quarry on East Hill.
Christian Myneer was 91 when he died; his wife 87 at her death in 1826. Their son Henry was born in 1877 and his wife in 1788.
Henry Minier had a brother, Abraham, who lived from 1782 to 1827 when he was killed by a falling tree. Abraham Minier and kin are buried in an old cemetery on the Sing Sing Rd. Abraham, killed by a falling tree in 1827, had married a Hannah Hooper and of this union Chester E. Howell of Elmira is a descendant. Mrs. Howell says that only in recent years did he larn that he was a descendant of the Minier family.
(Sunday Telegram, Jan. 1939)
There were many certificates of location and of survey that were granted prior to the final settlement of the Watkins and Flint Purchase; some of them in that Tract, and the remaining in Chemung township, which was laid out in 1788 by James Clinton, John Hathorn, and John Cantine and contained 205 lots.
Christian Minier (Myneer)(Mynegar) and (Menier) the first settler of Big Flats was born September 30, 1747, married in 1772. and arrived in Big Flats in 1787. His land (lot 117) was patented on March 23, 1791. There were 320 acres on the steep hillside and included part of the flats bordering on the northward side. At age 74 Christian sold this lot #117 of Big Flats Tioga County to David Van Deren. The terms of the mortgage were not met so he assigned it to his son Abraham (killed in 1827) who in turn assigned it to his brother Henry (John Henrich) who died in 1828.
Henry had a son John who was born in 1808. Henry’s interest went to his only son John and in 1835 John sold the original lot #117 to Erastur Maltby and bought the land and Tavern known as the Big Flats Hotel. John died in 1891 leaving seven children, one son Samuel Arbour is the grandfather of the present day Minier Brothers.
Samuel Arbour Minier was born in 1849, married Clara Carpenter, and died in 1932 leaving 5 children. One of his sons, Henry Beard Minier 1879-1949) with his brother continued the Minier’s Store founded in 1873 and left three children.
His two sons, Henry Beard and Samuel Arbour have carried on the family store and are active residents of Big Flats today.
Abraham Minier, son of Christian was 5 or 6 years old when his parents came to Big Flats. He and his older brother Henry went to Canisteo (Steuben County) in 1808 and both returned about 1820. Abraham was killed by a falling tree at age 45. He and his wife Hannah are buried in an old cemetery on Sing Sing Road. They had eight children one of whom, Samuel, was born in 1804 and died in Big Flats in 1876. Samuel married Telina Bennitt and had ten children. He was a Big Flats farmer who before 1850 had a General Store in the village. In 1860 Samuel was listed as a Contractor. His son was A. B. Minier.
Tennis Dolson was issued lot #118 on Nov. 1, 1788 and he and his family settled next to Myneer on 390 acres. The island in the river opposite his land was called Donson’s Island. Tennis Donson was the first adult to die in the settlement.
Caleb Garner and Captain Gardner, his son and Henry Starrett came from Pennsylvania in 1788 and settled above Myneer. Caleb Gardner built a long hose between Mr. Miner’s and the river.
Henry, William and John Starrett were issued lot #121, 2917 acres on Oct. 27, 1788. Henry settled on the lot, a portion of which is still known today as Starrett’s Hollow.
Capt. George Gardner
Captain George Gardner settled on the same lot with his father, but nearer the village and in 1807 built a frame tavern on what is now Main Street (later the John Minier home). The first Masonic Lodge was organized in 1810 and they held meetings in the attic of Capt. George Gardner’s Tavern.
Clark Winans came in 1788 and built a long house on the bank of Sing Sang Creek, not Sing Sing Creek that ran through his farm. He built the first brick house in Big Flatt in 1812, from brick made on the spot, from clay dug near Sing Sang Creek. (Today this is the red brick home across from Harris Hill Road.
Joel Rowley came from Pennsylvania in 1790 and settled next to Capt. George Gradner. He owned most of the land on which the Village of Big Flats now stands.
William and Robert Miller
William and Robert Miller, Cornelius Lowe, John Emmons and David Van Gorder came between 1794-95. William Miller built the first sawmill before 1800, on Sing Sing Creek, a short distance above where the gristmill of S.S. Stephens stood. In 1794, 7 years after the first settler, Robert Miller came to Big Flats. To him is given the credit for donating the first school site and the first Cemetery. He was the first Postmaster in 1809 of the first Post Office in the town. He was Justice of the Peace for many years. He was on the committee for the Presbyterian Church organized in 1825 and before the church was built Robert Miller donated the use of his barn across the highway from the school for Church and Sunday School. His wife Isabelle died July 14, 1809 and was the second person buried in the Big Flats Cemetery which he had donated.
On Feb. 29, 1792 Obadiah Gore, Matthias Hollenbach, William Buck and Avery Gore were issued 3850 acres in Big Flats. At this time, no one from outside New York State could obtain more than 1000 acres so they all went together to get this many acres. Much of this acreage was later owned by Stephen Owen, Lewis Fitch, James Tarr and M. H. Wells (Mathias Hollenbach Wells) and families.
Stephen T. Owen
Stephen Owen was the son of Eleazor and Margaret (Buck) Owen, daughter of William Buck. Eleazor settled on his farm in 1805. The farm was 226 acres and here Stephen was born in 1820. (Eleazor was one of the eight men who built the Big Flats Presbyterian Church.) Stephen married and bought out the other brothers and lived in the old Homestead. A Republican, he was, unknown to himself, nominated Supervisor at one time and elected to office unopposed.
The original homestead burned and presently the Paul Schweizer home is built on its site. The Owen farm was adjacent to the Wells farm and George M. Wells was the administrator of the Stephen Owen estate.
Mary and Margaret Owen were daughters of Albert Owen, another son of
Eleazor, and they lived on the hill opposite the Owen Homestead. This home
is presently owned by the Edward Cramer family.
In 1704 a Newton store owner, Cornelius Lowe settled on a tract of land near Lowe’s Pond. He purchased the land from Obadiah and Avery Gore. A fur trader, Cornelius Lowe built a small dwell which was later the site of the Lowe Farm property. (This was purchased by Chemung County to protect the Airport in 1968 and the buildings, homestead and barns were burned by the three Big Flats Fire Companies.) Joseph Lowe, the son of Cornelius, married Ann Roberts and took over the farm. At this time, a Baptist meeting place was built near the homestead. It was known as the "Baptist Tavern". The meeting house, on the Lowe property, was built in 1827 only five years after the founding of Big Flatt.
Joseph Lowe’s daughter Cynthia married J. R. Lowe, of no relation to the Lowes of Big Flats, in 1858 and they lived at the Lowe farm home. J. R. Lowe’s daughter, Mary, later became Mrs. Oscar Kahler.
Frank N. Shriver
Frank N. Shriver was the third generation to settle and farm in Big Flats. His paternal grandfather, George Shriver, settled on a farm within a mile of the Frank Shriver property. His son, Judah Shriver, Frank’s father (1826-1897) was a farmer and thresher. Judah was the owner of the first steam thresher in Chemung County. A staunch Republican, he was once a Supervisor of the Town. Frank was one of his three children and in 1879 married Maria L. Bowers. For some years he worked a farm on shares and finally his father gave him 40 acres of land. He was engaged in large scale farming and raised Holstein cattle. Frank and his wife had three children; Raymond, Harry J. and Carrie of which Carrie married Maynard Smith.
|Reuben M. and Nicholas S. Mundy
Reuben M. Mundy was a veteran of the war of 1812. He was born in 1793
in New Jersey and married to Hannah Mundy of Barton, Tioga Co., N. Y. in
1818. They moved to Big Flats about 1820 and settled on a 225 acre farm
that he purchased of Jonathan Roberts. His son Nicholas S. later owned
this farm and added nearly 300 acres more. Reuben was a very successful
farmer before his death in 1862 and his son Nicholas lived in the homestead
and was also a most successful and wealthy tiller of the soil.
Nicholas had a brother Simeon L. who died by casualty in 1853 at age 28 and two sisters Catherine, wife of Alfred Hughson, and Mary Louisa, wife of George Owen of Elmira.
The four Mundy Farms are divided today into the two on which the Big
Flats Materials Center is located, the old Mizio place, and the original
homestead plot on which the Atlantic Storage Station is located. The Nathan
Mundy buildings were torn down for the Atlantic Plant and one of the barns
was moved to behind the Plants Materials Office.
Jeremiah Rhodes was the great great grandfather of Marion Rhodes our present Town of Big Flats Historian. Jeremiah had eleven children. One of his sons, John settled off the Harris Hill Road. Thirteen years later they sent for their mother and father, Jeremiah and Annis and brother Benjamin. Another son Thomas, born in 1823 had also come to settle in Big Flats. (Marion’s great grandfather) Thomas had two boys, Jeremiah and Frank. (Jeremiah was Marion’s grandfather). Jeremiah Rhodes had ten children. One son, Edwin, in 1900 moved to the farm on the hill of Lowe Road that his father Jeremiah had purchased from Palmers in 1886. This is the present home of Marion Rhodes.
One daughter, Fanny, married Lars Peterson. One of their children, LeRoy Peterson lives on Main St., Big Flats today.
Another son, Walter Rhodes ran the meat market located where Dr. Lederer’s is today.
Yet another son, Thomas, was the father of Frank Rhodes who lives today in the original homestead of the Rhodes family. Harris Hill is located on a part of this homestead.
A daughter Louise married August Bottcher and she and her son William run Bottcher Gardens on the Bottcher Farm.
Another son was Jerry Rhodes who lives in the Rhodes home at the corner of Carpenter Road and Route 352.
Another son, Charles, lived on a farm on Route 352, next to a part of the Reformatory Farm. His widow Viola now resides on Main St. in the village.
Other names recorded in the pages of time are John Winters and his son Wilson Winters. They settled on what was to become the Martin Hammond Farm. (Farm on south of Main St.)
Nathan Reynolds built two brick houses on what is now Route 352. One of these was torn down in 1878 and some of the materials were used to construct the Smithhome Farm homestead. The Smith home was build by James Smith, father of William T. Smith, Sr., grandfather of Maynard Smith, and great grandfather of Senator William T. Smith II of Big Flats.
Charles Frey lived on a farm two miles north of the village that was finally owned by the Livesays who built the homestead known as the Wheaton hyome. This property later was developed as Maple Shade Acres and the original home is lived in by the James Hicks family.
Amos Rowley came from Connecticut to Big Flats and settled on one hundred acres of land which is now part of the village. His son, another Amos, father of Ezra, was brought up on the original homestead which was very hevily timbered and had to be cleared and developed. Ezra was born in 1828 in the log cabin built by his grandfather Amos. The log cabin stood where the grist mill once stood on Main St. near what is known as Gardner Greek. Soon after his birth, his parents moved to Addison, N.Y. but Ezra at eight years old returned to Big Flats to live with Joel Rowley, the brother of his grandfather. He fell heir to 25 acres of Joel Rowley’s and later increased it to 50 acres which was in the village proper.
Ezra Rowley married his cousin Rosinda Rowley. Their daughter Jennie, married Mr. Griffin and they had a daughter Anna L. who was well known to many in the community as Anna (Griffin) Manning.
James M. Breed
Paul Whitcomb and Betsey Breed came to Big Flats, Chemung County, in 1845, settling on a tract of some four hundred acres in the section known as Breed Hollow. His sons, James Monroe and Cephas worked the farm which later grew to five hundred acres. The original tract was very heavily timbered and the sawmills of Breed’s Hollow were noted to the town. James M. and his older brother Cephas became joint owners of the land and partners in the farming and lumbering operations.
James M. Breed married Hannah Minier, daughter of Samuel Minier of Big Flats in 1857.
The Breeds had a large apple orchard, all the equipment to churn and make butter which they sold in quantity, they had pure bred Jersey cows which was one of the finest herds in the area and they had a sawmill, gristmill and a cider mill all run by water power. The Elmer Eastons now live in the original Breed house.
Henry Farr, born 1792, died 1877, moved to Big flats in 1826. He fathered six sons and five daughters.
One son, Valentine, born May 15, 1818, later had a son William, who is the father of the present Henry Farr of Big Flats. Their homestead is on the south side of the old Corning Road on the knoll, just west of the Kahler Road intersection. The Farr school house is across the road.
Another son, James E. Farr, born April 15, 1833, bought the red brick home built of bricks made on the homestead by Clark Winens about 1812 and located at the foot of Harris Hill. James E. had three children, Jane Farr Capron, Elizabeth Farr O’Hanlon and a bachelor son Fred Farr. Fred was a lawyer, a Past Master of the Big Flats Masonic Lodge and he lived on the farm with his father.
The land of the James E. Farr farm was worked on shares by Rowland W. Farr, Sr. who lived on the farm across and to the east of the brick homestead.
The Red Brick Home is now owned by Elizabeth Farr O’Hanlon’s daughter, Mrs. Thor Anderson.
Edward J. Rhinehart
In 1856 at the age of 17, Edward J. Rhinehart with his parents Peter and Elizabeth (Z.) Rhinehart settled in Big Flats. Edward at 21 leased land of his father and later purchased 98 acres just above the village. At the end of four years, he sold this land and purchased more nearby, consisting of 84 acres. One year later, he purchased the farm of his father-in-law Mr. Goff. His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of John and Amelia (Wilmot) Goff. Edward J. and Elizabeth had two children, Elvira and Ida Belle. Ida Belle married William T. Smith. Ida and William had five children; Maynard, Sarah, Marie, Martha and James. Maynard Smith would later marry Carrie Shriver and their son William T. Smith II is our present new York State Senator from Big Flats.