With Wayne County’s bicentennial celebration fast approaching on April 11, county residents are preparing to honor the men and women who envisioned the creation of Wayne County 200 years ago — and those who have contributed to Wayne County’s growth, leadership and vision since then , as well as the outlook for decades and centuries to come.
Becoming a county was not a simple task of naming and setting boundaries. There were reasons for the division between Seneca and Ontario counties. There was opposition to the partition from at least one of the affected counties, a small rebellion by some towns and counties, and some internal bickering. When all was said and done, Wayne County was finally created on April 11, 1823 by an act of the New York State Legislature.
Let’s go back to some of the drama.
prologue: To set the stage for some of the behind-the-scenes commotion behind the founding of Wayne County, first some often-left-out historical information. In April 1823, there were only eight towns in the soon-to-be 54th District of New York State. Sodus, Palmyra, Williamson, Lyons, Ontario and Macedon were within the boundaries of Ontario County. Galen and Wolcott were part of Seneca County. Towns not yet incorporated were Arcadia, Marion, Walworth, Savannah, Butler, Huron and Rose.
Most of the historical writings are from the point of view of Ontario County, which is ready to be born. The biggest divisive issue in the 1800s seemed to be travel. The Ontario County Courthouse was located in Canandaigua. Traveling to Canandaigua for court appearances, especially from more distant Sodus or Ontario, even Lyons, could be difficult in the 1820s when travel was by stage or horse. It would make sense that establishing a local court is the perfect solution to reduce travel time, costs and inconvenience.
Seneca County historian Walt Gable recently wrote (The Times, February 12, 2023) about the controversy involving the towns of Wolcott and Galen moving from Seneca County. As you read the following, remember: Galen then included Savannah, and Wolcott included Butler, Huron, and Rose.
“On January 13, 1823, a meeting of local residents at Quartus Knight’s Hotel approved a resolution opposing the proposed division of Seneca County. On April 2, the Waterloo Republican newspaper noted that the state Senate had postponed consideration of a bill to create a new district from parts of Ontario and Seneca counties. The newspaper editor said he was “credibly informed” that at numerous meetings in the town of Galena, 156 of the 170 residents voted against the proposed division of Seneca County. He went on to report that Wolcott was staunchly opposed to the measure and that the same feeling of opposition existed in the four Ontario County towns directly affected by the formation of the new Wayne County.”
Mary Smart, in “History of the Wayne County Courthouse” writes:
“At the eleventh hour, when the bill forming the new county was before the state legislature awaiting a vote, the Lyons partisans learned that Wolcott had held a town meeting at which ‘objections’ had been signed – protesting Wolcott’s incorporation of Wayne – and expedited on his way to Albany. It was almost sunset… before news of this devastating move reached Lyon. ‘Soon a horse and grumpy were equipped’ … and Joseph Cole (son of Lyons’s famous early settler the Reverend John Cole …) ‘ran through the mud and hemlocks towards Wolcott, arriving there before sunrise… The People of Wolcott they assembled their men in the early hours, and a counter-petition was signed, which, before sunset, started for Albany. Since this was the last petition to be read before the legislature, our local Paul Revere had the satisfaction of knowing that his night drive had tipped the scales.”
What could have been
How different would Wayne County be if those two night riders hadn’t set out on their journeys. Think Wayne County with a mouthful of the northeast corner — eliminating Rose, Huron, Butler and Wolcott. Consider another scenario, in which everything east of the Pre-Emption line would still be part of Seneca County. History would certainly have played out very differently. Wayne County’s Bicentennial would be a very different beast without the six towns on the east side of the county.
Wayne County Founders Bicentennial Day on April 11 is an important celebration for everyone throughout the county, as well as our good neighbors and parents, Ontario and Seneca Counties. It’s a day to celebrate achievements across the county and how far we’ve come in 200 years. It is a day of unification, a continued commitment to support each other, to honor our history and to move forward into the future, instilling pride in all the achievements of the greater community.
It’s an opportunity for everyone in Wayne County to remember that we are a hardworking, strong and creative community – the whole is stronger with all its parts. On this upcoming Founders Day, let’s all commit to continuing to honor Wayne County by doing what our Founders intended us to do – lead productive, useful and successful lives – and seek to better understand the past for the sake of a rich future.
Oh yes, and to be thankful for those night riders of April 1823!
200th Anniversary Events April 11: Founder’s Day Ceremony at the Former Lyons Courthouse, 10:50 a.m. Public Program at the Lyons Community Center, 1:30 p.m. May 13: Gala Ball at The Ballroom at Carey Lake, 5:30 pm (reservations required) August 14-18: Bicentennial torch relay August 19: Wayne County Fair Family Fun Day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m More information at www.waynecounty200.com