Merry Widow Owns Most Rented Farm in the Town

Locating information related to old buildings in townships is very difficult.  The Fish Hill Tavern in the Town of Mansfield has held interest for many years as one of the resting stops on the Old Chautauqua Road.  This article from the viewpoint of Mr. Windsor is another tale of the area. 


The following Newspaper article found by Marilyn Siperek Eddy and is taken from the “Ellicottville Post” dated Wednesday, February 9, 1955:


 (Early history of a Fish Hill farm as recalled by Herbert H. Windsor, lifelong resident of that well known section as related to Ray Carroll, Editor of THE POST. Mr.. Windsor and his late wife celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary on June 24, 1953. They were married and always made their home on Fish Hill [located in the Town of Mansfield] in the house which was built by Nathaniel Fish and used in the old days as a Stage Coach Inn and tavern.


The Fish Tavern was a favorite resort of the early military organization of this area. Drills and meetings were held there and also the drivers from the west stopped with their droves of sheep and cattle on their way to eastern markets. The yards and gardens of the villagers down here in the valley were fenced in to protect them from these great herds.


The late Charles G. Loke, widely known civil engineer throughout Cattaraugus County, was born in the historic old house, as was Mr. Windsor. Mrs. Mildred E. Windsor, life partner of Mr. Windsor, passed away June 27, 1954, just a year after the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. And now let’s read what “Herb” has to say about Fish Hill and the “most rented farm in Western New York,” which is just beyond the old schoolhouse on the hill-the Feldman farm as of today:


“Early in 1800, Aarron Rasey purchased from the Holland Land Company, 150 acres on top of Fish Hill. Mr. Rasey was a brother-in-law of Nathaniel Fish and these two with their families settled soon after on the hill and were closely connected with the early history of Ellicottville,” began Mr. Windsor.


Mr. Rasey had a large family- four sons, Joseph, James, Alonzo and Lorenzo; also two daughters, Mrs. William Niles and Mrs. Abraham Grovendike. Later he sold his holdings on Fish Hill to Andrew Gray from Genesee County, and Mr. Rasey and family moved into the Village of Ellicottville.,


Mr. Gray was of Scottish descent, a thrifty character and a “good” farmer. He had two sons Abraham who was a carpenter of note, and who built the old Catholic Church in Ellicottville, which was destroyed by fire April 13, 1909. Abraham also was the builder of a bridge across the Allegany River which stood as a monument to his memory for many years near the mouth of the Great Valley Creek near Killbuck.


The other son George Gray, remained on the farm and soon built up a thriving and prosperous dairy business and added many acres to his farm which he inherited from his father. He married Lorsey Beardsley late in life and they operated the farm until Mr. Gray’s death. His widow continued to run the farm for a number of years, with three hired men and William Fox as the foreman.


George Gray served as Supervisor of the Town of Mansfield while he lived on his farm and both he and his father, Andrew Gray are buried in the Jefferson Street cemetery in Ellicottville.


Mrs. Gray married again, this time to Linus Foot and moved to Ellicottville in 1880. The farm was then rented to William Stockin, whose wife died on the hill and his daughter, Della Stockin continued to operate the farm for the family.


“Next tenants were two brothers-Albert and Alfred Freeman. Following Alfred’s death, Albert decided to move elsewhere and Maurice Folts became the farm renter. He and his family came from Great Valley-father, mother and four children. One daughter Lois Folts, taught in the Fish Hill schoolhouse for several years before marrying Fred Bridenbaker and she and her husband moved to Buffalo. The rest of the Folts family soon returned to Great Valley,” continues the narrator.


Mr. and Mrs. John Bonhoff and their four children rented the farm next  but only stayed one year and then moved to Little Valley.  These tenants were followed by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lounsbury and son Glenn, who  stayed for several years and then moved to Sugartown.


Following the Lounsburys, came Mr. and Mrs. Henry Stankey and several children. Two of their sons, Theodore and William, helped with the farm work, and then the family decided to move to the Frank Randall farm in Ellicottville.


“About this time in the rambling history of the old Hill, Lady Lorsey Foot became a widow again, but not for long,” says Mr. Windsor. “She married Chauncey Fox, an efficient farmer, a good manager and whose advice and counsel helped a great deal in the operation of the Fish Hill farm, which, however, remained a rented farm.”


Mr. and Mrs. Arch Munn and their four children, Harry, Iva, Lucy and Charles Munn were the next tenants. They came from the Ellicottville Village and when they left the hill they moved to a farm southeast of Ellicottville what was called at the time “Rice Woods.”


“Another chapter in the history of the most-rented farm on the hill, was written when Chauncey Fox died, and Lady Lorsey Beardsley Gray Foot Fox found herself again a widow,” continues Mr. Windsor, who adds “ but she was soon married to her Number Four husband, a Bill Beck, who operated a “Rocket Store” (5 and 10) in Ellicottville, and the old farm continued to be rented.


The old saying in those days about the popular Lady Lorsey used to run something like this: “They Beck-oned to the Gray-Footed Fox!”


“Anson Stone Sr., his wife and seven children were the next tenants. Anson Stone, Jr., is still living on the Hill today [1955], but not on the original Rasey farm we are talking about,” continued “Herb”.


After the Stones, the farm was rented by Mr. and Mrs. Vince Farner and their son. They also stayed but  one year and then moved to Five Points in the Town of Mansfield. The next family to take over the big farm was Levi Meacham, his wife and their four children-Manley, Maurice, Howard and Helen. Helen married Harry Munn and they moved to New Hampshire, where Mr. Mum still lives. [1955]


 The old farm was idle a whole year for the first time in its checker-board history, and then Mr. and Mrs. John Lounsbury rented it for “money-rent” for the next four years. John Lounsbury, Jr. was born on the hill farm. About this time Mr. Beck passed away and Lady Lorsey was a widow for the fourth time. It wasn’t too long then before she finally sold the farm to Elmer Greene, his wife Dora and three daughters who lived there for several years before ill health forced Mr. Green to sell the farm to Mr. and Mrs. William Chaffee, who also lived there for several years before selling to Mr. and Mrs. Ed Bridenbaker. Mrs. Bridenbaker is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Chaffee. The old farm house burned to the ground in 1940 and a new one was built on the old site.


The final transaction which brings the much-rented and owned farm from the period of 1818 to 1955, took place when the Bridenbakers sold the farm to Mr. and Mrs. John Feldman and son “Tony”. According to Herb, “Tony is a modern, hard-working farmer, has a fine dairy and all up to date farming and dairy equipment.”


And so we bring to a close the past history of the 137 year old farm, which Mr. Windsor has so kindly furnished us with. What do you suppose will be the history of the same old farm in the next 137 years?


Information submitted by Sue Cross, Town of Mansfield Historian

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