Cattaraugus County was erected by an Act of the Legislature on March 11, 1808 and we all became the Town of Olean. Our first settlers, Simeon Bunce and Silas Nash came in the fall of 1810 in what is now known as Cottage. Then on June 16, 1812 we became the Town of Ischua. The Town of Perry was formed on April 13, 1814, during this time more settlers arrived and by 1833 there were 69 owners of property. By February 7,1835, the Legislature again passed an Act “to divide Perrysburg and all that part lying in the fifth Town and 9th Range of the Holland Land Company’s Survey, shall be a separate Town by the name of Dayton.” The first Town meeting was held in March, 1835 at the school, which was where Bridenbaker’s now live. It comprises 23,137 acres and is bounded on the east by Persia, on the south by Leon, on the west by Villenova, Chautauqua County, and on the north by Perrysburg.
The western and southern portions are generally level and the southern portion is swampy which drains through the Conewango Creek and the now the Dredge. The northern and eastern portions are hilly. The flat land is clay and loam, while the highlands are loam mixed with gravel. Along the streams, the land was covered with pine and hemlock, there is still some along Jolls Road, and on the highlands beech and maple. Lumbering was and still is an important industry of the Town.
Dairy farming is still the leading industry, however, due to the high cost of doing business, we have fewer dairy farms but they are larger operations than the mom and pop farms of yesteryear. Today we have some farms that are raising goats, in the past we had ostrich operations. We had a milk plant, which closed a few years ago and also a canning factory to which vegetable farmers took their produce. In its heyday it put up peas, beans, and tomatos, it also closed.
In the northeast corner of Town there is a watershed, the small streams on the north run into the Cattaraugus Creek and on to the St. Lawrence and on the south to the Conewango Creek, the Ohio, the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico. One known dividing line is on Edwards Corners Road near the water works for the Village of Perrysburg formerly belonging to J.N. Adam TB Hospital.
The Erie Railroad came through Dayton in 1851 with a grand excursion on October 23rd, President Millard Fillmore, Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, Governor Washington Hunt, and other State and Railroad Officials aboard. Between October, 1874 and July, 1875 the Buffalo and Southwestern Railroad opened a line from Gowanda to Markham and by October, 1875 the first passenger train went to Jamestown. As a result of the railroad the hamlet of Dayton and later the hamlet of South Dayton became bustling locals with manufacturing, businesses and mercantile businesses as well as shipping facilities to all points. They gave the entrepreneurs a market for their products and shape to the industrial energies. Today, as the railroads have discontinued service, the New York and Lake Erie Railroad owned by the Cattaraugus County IDA and leased to the operator of the train, takes freight to the feed mills in South Dayton and Cherry Creek and metal filings to Conewango Valley. They recently reopened the line to Cattaraugus to serve Setterstix in Cattaraugus.
The religious and educational institutions grew with the Town and her needs. In the 1900's there were 10 churches and 10 schools. In 1835, there were 365 students and received $121.50 from the County, by 1892 there were 530 students at a cost of $4,504.05. The Town had a population of 1,740 by 1892, the population now is 1945,and 662 in the Village. Today there are 5 churches and in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the 10 schools were consolidated and now the Town’s children go to Pine Valley, Gowanda or Cattaraugus Schools.
“The history of Dayton is the story of a thrifty, progressive, and an upright people. The departed ones have left records of endurance and perseverance which are fitting examples to the coming generations”-C. Shults.
Some of these early settlers still have descendants living in the area—some of the names are—Johnson, Blaisdell, Merrill, Shaw, Howard, Wood, Strickland, Hubbard, Parsell, Newcomb, Winship, Milks, Pratt, Darbee, Allen, Volk, Smith, some of whom have become famous and held high positions of honor and trust and have ever exemplified those attributes which mark the best American citizen.
PINE VALLEY--In 1816, Leman H. and James P. Pitcher settled in what is now South Dayton on Main Street, after the railroad came to Pine Valley the population moved closer to the railroad. The Pitcher’s sold to M.C. Nickerson, who possibly built the first apartment building in the area. It was 30’x50’x3 stories high and had 9 apartments. Mr. Nickerson became a Mormon and Joseph Smith visited the area occasionally and held services here. This building stood on Main Street where the Nagle’s now live. When the Mormon’s went west, all in the apartment house left, the property was sold and eventually the building was torn down by Homer Wheelock, whose descendants became doctor’s in Fredonia, New York, and a house built.
Today, South Dayton is still a hub of activity with various business, band concerts, the school has been made into apartments, which is now undergoing renovation, there are two insurance agencies, a mercantile, bank, Post Office, grocery store which also has a pharmacy and gasoline, feed mill, woodcraft plant, that makes plaques, etc., three restaurants, and a grocery and lunch counter, a park, which was given to the Village by John Wickham along with 6 ½ acres of land for the railroad and the depot, which is in the process of being stabilized, and is the only testament left to the important part the railroad played in the development of the Town.
On December 29, 1914 an election was held at Rowe's Hall in South Dayton for the purpose of determining upon the incorporation of the territory described as the Village of South Dayton located in the Town of Dayton. There were 175 ballots cast, 102 for and 73 against, Verne Seeber was the Town Supervisor and Charles Shults the Town Clerk.
An appeal was taken to Cattaraugus County Court and on February 25, 1915 it was dismissed, saying "that the result of said election in favor of the incorporation of said Village of South Dayton, be, and the same hereby is, in all things sustained". It was then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Fourth Judicial Department of the State of New York. On May 26, 1915 the Appellate Division affirmed the said order of the County Court. It was filed in the Town Clerk's office on June 11, 1915 and in the County Clerk's Office on June 12, 1915 and thus the territory of South Dayton became the Village of South Dayton. The population was 629 persons.
On September 2, 1983 after some spiffing up of the depot and the Village, Robert Redford and Robert DuVall and Company came to South Dayton and filmed “The Natural” in various places in Town, with Mr. Redford telling one of the background artists that “it’s a great Town and the people are great”. Five years later, February 26, 1987, the Dayton area was again scouted for a new movie by Paramount Pictures, on March 10, 1987 after the Village was renamed Stubbville, Kansas, filming began with Steve Martin and John Candy starting on Cottage and Bentley Roads in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. The film crew wanted snow, South Dayton didn’t have any so it was trucked in from other places that had snow and made by snow machine. For a few years South Dayton was referred to as the movie capitol of Cattaraugus County.
FAIR PLAIN—was the last settlement in the Town. In 1855, Charles Keppel and Henry Astry made their way into an almost unbroken wilderness. Many German immigrants started out here, some stayed and had prosperous farms. They built a church and started a cemetery, which the Town now maintains.
Today Daniel Gernatt owns several of those farms and has a mining operation which provides sand and gravel to area residents, surrounding Towns and the State for various projects. Part of this operation has recently been turned over to the State and now provides a fishing spot for area residents.
DAYTON—is perched on the top of the water shed. The Main Road was at "Dayton Summit" now County Road 58, after the railroad came the settlement moved to where it is today. Many of the early settlers were Irish who came to work on the railroad and it was one, Michael McFarland, who was instrumental in getting the Catholic Church started here.
There were two hotels, 3 grocery stores, a dry goods store, hardware, meat market, wagon and carriage shop, grist mill, creamery, cheese factory, evaporator, and blacksmith, today all businesses and stores are closed, only the Post Office remains and the Catholic Church is now the home of the Dayton Historical Society and Museum, which houses memorabilia from the early days of the Town and also has some family records, census indexes, and history books for people interested in research.
The former Grange Hall here was an ice house. The ice was cut from a pond behind it in the winter and stored in this building under sawdust and during the summer was used to keep the milk cool. It was slid down a chute to the milk plant which was below Bridge Street where the Byrk's now own.
Dayton also had a turntable, just off Rt. 62 next to the former Johnson property, it was used to turn the engines around, so the train could go in the opposite direction. Dayton was also the site of a couple tragedies in the Town, on May 15, 1851 at the opening of the railroad while awaiting the first train with the government officials aboard, a cannon was to be fired, it discharged prematurely, severely injuring one and resulted in the death of the other person in charge of the cannon.
On August 30, 1982, the New York State Police were called to a residence on Dayton Hill for a domestic incident, Trooper Gary Kubasiak was called because he knew the subject from his school days and it was thought that he could reason with the subject. He arrived at the scene with his dog Donivan, he went to the kitchen door and identified himself and was shot three times, his partner investigator Timothy Howard was also shot at and he returned fire and shot the subject, all were taken to Tri-County Hospital, where Trooper Kubasiak was pronounced dead on arrival and the subject was treated and arraigned for 1st degree murder. When he recovered a trial was set to take place, which was delayed for a time due to a jail break, but was finally resumed and the subject was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years to life on November 13, 1984, this conviction was appealed and overturned by the Appellate Court. After another trial, the subject was sentenced on August 29, 1988 to 42 years to life for 1st degree murder, 15 years to life for attempted murder, 2 to 6 years for attempted manslaughter, to run consecutive and 2 – 5 to 15 year sentences for criminal use of a firearm to run concurrent, at this date this subject is still in the State Corrections System, but has left many scars on the community that was closest to the situation.
MARKHAM—originally Markham's Corners, was named for the family who settled in the area. There was a Post Office, depot, hotel, store, school, church, cheese factory, and saw mills. The hotel, school and cheese factory have been made into residences, the depot is gone but Markham is now home to the Town of Dayton government and Highway Department and also home to the Cattaraugus County Highway garage, between these two entities and the State the roads are kept in repair and plowed in the winter.
At one time the Town offices were in Dayton and later in South Dayton until 1981 when they built a new building and combined the Town offices and highway into one building at Markham. In the early 1900's, the Town's Vital Records were sent to a book binder in Buffalo to be bound, the bindery caught fire and burned, all the Town's record were lost, however, the present Registrar is trying to find these records in other places in an effort to recover some of these lost records.
Darius Markham owned the farms that are now owned by Ray Troutman and Daniel Gabel, when some one in the family died they had no place to bury them, so he gave the lower end of his farm to be used as a cemetery, it is known as the Markham Cemetery on Route 62, it has its own association and has acquired more property over the years and in the older part you will find a great number of Markham's buried with their extended families. Markham also had another cemetery which the Town takes care of, it is the German Lutheran Cemetery and is behind the former Markham School on School Street and at one time next to the school house was the German Lutheran Church which has long since disappeared. In this cemetery, the smallest Postmaster in the world is buried, his name-Louis Weigand, he was Postmaster of the Markham Post Office and was also in the Lilliputian Opera Company and traveled the country. He eventually married Laura Wood Greiner, her daughter, Carrie Greiner, was Town Clerk for the Town of Collins for many years.
COTTAGE—originally known as West Dayton, is the oldest hamlet in the Town and this was the location of one of the principal highways in Town. It had a saw mill, stores, shops, two churches, a grange, cheese factory, Post Office, tavern, and school. Today, all that remains is one church and the Grange, both of which are struggling. The Grange used to be the social center of the community; however, with the extracurricular activities at school and the 24 hour working schedules of both parents working away from home, their social activities have changed. This Grange was organized in 1897 and the building was built in 1898 and the first meeting was held in it on October 7, 1898 and is the only Grange building built for this purpose in Cattaraugus County.
WESLEY-originally known as Sociality, Howard's Corners and East Dayton was the second settlement in the Town, which was formed at the junction of the Jamestown Road and several cross roads. They had a cheese factory, blacksmith shop, school, church and was a stop on the underground railroad. All that remains is the church, and it also has a cemetery known as Park Lawn and here you will find the pioneers of this settlement.
In recent years gas and oil have been drilled for. In 1982 during a drilling operation on the Van Etten farm a fire started and halted drilling operations for a time. Over the years, fires have destroyed the business districts in Dayton and South Dayton, but the industrious residents rebuilt and went on with life.
Wesley, Cottage, Dayton and the Townline near East Leon each has a cemetery, Markham has two. The Town maintains two of them the rest have their own associations.
We have had some prominent residents:
Norman Allen—was Town Clerk, Superintendent of Schools, Superintendent of the Poor, Mail Agent under President Lincoln, Paymaster of the Army, Chief Clerk and Deputy Provost Marshall of this Congressional District, State Senator, State Assessor, Town Supervisor, lawyer and he lost his bid for President by one vote. He saw the brother of an ex-senator assassinated, and an impeachment trial. Honorable Allen's daughter married.
Winfield Scott Thrasher, who was Judge of Cattaraugus County, John J. Volk was Town Supervisor, James Bixby was an attorney, and was the husband of Honorable W.S. Thrasher's daughter, H. Burt Inman was Assessor, Tax Collector, and Highway Commissioner
In the world of being the first woman to hold a public office in the Town was in 1927, Goldie Brown was Tax Collector, 1980-Marilyn Turnbull, Town Clerk, Oct., 1987-Crystal Abers, Councilman, 1981-Betty Allen, Assessor, 1992-Barbara Johnston, Town Justice. Crystal Abers went on to be Cattaraugus County Legislator and in 2006 was elected by her peers to be the first woman Chairman of the County Legislature.
In the early formation of our Town, times were difficult, money was scarce, and at times today, our residents find themselves in difficult times, but today, we have government programs to provide a safety net, years ago they had to save for those rainy days.
They had parades, politicians, and picnics for the 4th of July, Town picnics, and band concerts as social events. The hamlet of Dayton still has a community picnic once a month during the summer, South Dayton has band concerts and the various organizations have various dinners for fund raisers that the community supports.
I wonder if these early settlers were to come back today, for a week, what their advise to us would be and if they would be pleased with the changes that had happened over the years. We have gone from walking to save train fare, to horse or horse and buggy, to automobiles, to air travel, to space travel, from going to town for supplies to shopping on line, from cooking from scratch over and open fire or on a wood stove to fast food and the microwave, what a change in the course of 200 years.
We can only encourage our elected officials to maintain the standards of those who have gone before us and encourage and support those who are trying to maintain a way of life or start a new business in our Town.
To quote Charles Shults "She has sent out many sons who have made their mark in the world. She has enjoyed prosperity with moderation and has borne disaster with fortitude.
She has honored domestic and social virtue and discharged with fidelity every domestic duty. In peace her record has been admirable and in war it has been glorious. Her people have ever exemplified those sterling and forceful attributes which mark the best American citizen.
And what is writ is writ, sorry that it is not better".
Written by Ruth Bennett
Town of Dayton Historian -8/29/2007
Sources: Town of Dayton History-1900, Charles Shults
Town of Dayton History-1985, Dayton Historical Society
Marie Colburn, former Town Historian
1906 South Dayton News-Anniversary Issue
1893 Historical Gazetter of Cattaraugus County