FOUNDING OF THE TOWN OF GATES
By John Robortella
Former Editor, Gates-Chili News
The earliest documentation of the government of the town of Gates in the possession of the town historian is a handwritten book of minutes, finance reports, and school district and road surveys dating from 1809 to 1837. The text begins on Page 35 of this historic book and concludes on Page 142 with a listing of owners’ marks and brands for farm animals in the town.
Among these records are the original surveys for Pixley Road, Spencerport Road, and Wegman Road in Gates.
The founding of the Town of Gates evolved from an early transaction in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase with the sale of Town No. 1 in the Short Range of the purchase on November 8, 1790, to a group of investors from Northampton and Springfield, Mass. The town that they purchased became known as Northampton and included present-day Gates, N.Y.
The first official Northampton town meeting was held on April 4, 1797, at the home of Peter Sheffer, near Scottsville, N.Y.
In 1802, the State Legislature subdivided Ontario County and created Genesee County, which included four towns: Northampton, Southampton, Leicester and Batavia.
By 1808, three new towns were founded and separated from Northampton: Murray, Parma and Riga. Settlers in the last remaining remnant of Northampton then had to reorganize their town and begin thinking of a new name.
Hugh McDearmid (spelled McDermaid in Landmarks of Monroe County, N.Y., 1895) was elected town clerk at the Northampton reorganization meeting on April 4, 1809, and probably began keeping the minutes on loose-leafed pages. John Williams served as town clerk in 1810 and 1811. Frederic Harford and Francis Brown succeeded him in 1812 and 1813, respectively, and the minutes and written records of the town were passed on to each clerk in succession.
Town officers soon realized that a formal minutes and records book was needed. At the 1811 town meeting, they voted to transfer five dollars from the poor fund to enable Town Clerk John Williams to make the purchase: “Voted that the Poor Master send to John Williams five dol. to buy a Town Book.”
It is believed that the book now in the town historian’s archive is the minutes book purchased by Mr. Williams in 1811. The pages are 8 inches wide by 12¾ inches deep, and are lined and pre-numbered by the manufacturer.
The text begins on Page 35. It is assumed that Mr. Williams or a succeeding clerk started to record the minutes on Page 1, possibly recopying the records of the first three meetings at the beginning of the book.
At some point, one of the succeeding clerks ripped out the first 34 pages of the book and recopied everything, perhaps to have all the early town records available in one book. There is little doubt that the entire minutes book has been written by the same person. The writing is clear, the pages are well preserved, and the records are remarkably easy to read.
The book concludes on page 142 and the last dated entry is from 1837 (although that entry appears on page 140 of the book).
The book ultimately passed to Franklin Hinchey, the son of pioneer William S. Hinchey who settled in Gates around 1810. The family owned several hundred acres in the town and became active in public service issues. For example, on June 9, 1829, William Hinchey hosted a town meeting in his home, which is documented on page 135 of the minutes book. In the 1870’s,
William’s son, Franklin, built the homestead that still stands today and is the only site in the town on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Hincheys were leading citizens of Gates and were active in community and church activities. It is not surprising that one of the later town officials entrusted the minutes book to Franklin for safekeeping, especially since the annual town meetings and town clerk records were held and kept in private homes until the 1940’s when the first Gates Town Hall was opened in the former Lee’s Tavern on Buffalo Road.
For at least 100 years, then, the book remained within the Hinchey Homestead. It resurfaced in 1999 when Wolcott Hinchey was preparing to sell the property to the Gates Historical Society. He presented the book to Town Historian Jack C. Hart on December 11, 1999. In a letter to Mr. Hinchey, Mr. Hart wrote, “please be assured- that I will protect and preserve this book as one of the treasures of the town historian’s files.”
The book remains in the historian’s vault. A transcription of the handwritten text was made and published by the Gates Historical Society in a work entitled The Settlement of Western New York State With a Review of Early Records of the Town of Gates, N.Y. 1809–1837 (Gates Historical Society, September 2010, Library of Congress Control Number 2010902533).