Wales is one of the earliest of the towns of Erie County. It was formed from Willink by State Law on April 15, 1818, while Erie
County was still a part of Niagara County. As time went on, this huge town was divided into several smaller townships until Willink was left with only approximately 100 square miles. This now comprises the towns of Wales, Aurora, and Holland.
In 1818, one of the towns so separated was our own Town of Wales. The area, so named because its hills and green fields seemed to resemble the Wales of Britain, was an agricultural and dairying area.
Wales is situated in the eastern part of Erie County, with its boundaries being Aurora on the west, Holland on the south, and Marilla on the north. Originally, it also adjoined a part of the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation. Like all Erie County towns, Wales was at one time a part of the huge Holland Land Company survey, being in township 9, range 5.
In 1791, Robert Morris (financier of the American Revolution) bought 3,000,000 acres of land in Western New York. Morris, who had large investments in Europe, was pressed by debts. So in 1793, he sold most of his holdings to a group of merchants in Holland.
Although five banking houses in Holland were involved, their interests were so closely related that they picked a single agent to manage their lands. This group became known as the Holland Land Company, with headquarters in Philadelphia.
Before the Holland Land Company could begin to resell their land, the Indian title to it had to be transferred to them. A council was held at Big Tree in the summer of 1797, attended by the Iroquois sachems and their tribes. Morris, James Wadworth representing the Federal Government, and Joseph Ellicott on behalf of the Holland Land Company were also present. The Seneca Chief, Red Jackett, was difficult to deal with. It was necessary to give presents to the influential women of the tribe, as well as to make generous gifts to several chiefs, in order to persuade the Indians to grant their land rights to the Holland Land Company. About 200,000 acres were set aside for Indian Reservations.
In 1835, the Holland Land Company sold its remaining acres and debts in this vast tract to several groups of investors. One of the investors was the Farmers Loan and Trust Co. of New York City, which controlled the Erie County holdings of the old Holland Land Company. Family traditions in Wales support the story that several Wales farmers were active in the Lock Incident in Varysburg where Land Office employees evicted Mr. Lock from his farm in 1836. Neighbors aided Lock in regaining possession of his property. This led to the attack on the Batavia office of the Holland Land Company. The dispute was settled when more lenient contracts were made with farmers who had purchased land in the area.
Plans were made, and in 1797 the Holland Land Company hired Joseph Ellicott, a surveyor, to layout the purchase in an orderly way. This he did, going into the woods in 1798. The entire tract was laid out in ranges with dividing town lines. Straight roads were built through the forests. Eventually, the ranges were further divided into huge lots, each ¾ of a mile square and containing 360 acres.
The first settlers to stay came into Wales in 1804. They were descendants of Ethan Allen, a Revolutionary War hero. The next year, Jacob Turner, from Sheldon, settled nearby. Each year after this a few more pioneers braved the wilderness and made homes for their families in the town.
These first few pioneers lived a rugged life. Most of their homes were log cabins. There were few conveniences, poor roads, and almost no communications beyond that of nearby neighbors. But they stayed and prospered. Of such pioneers was America formed!
Elections were held regularly on the Holland Purchase. The first one was in what now is Wales, was held in 1807 in Jacob Turner’s log cabin-just north of the present Wales Center. With very little means of transportation in those days, those in charge of an election rode around a territory on horseback and collected the ballots from the settlers. This might take two or three days. Today, there are two election districts in the town: No.1 – north of Centerline Road to the Marilla town line; and No.2 – south of Centerline Road to the Holland town line. The Town of Wales has no incorporated villages – just communities.
Robert Wood settled in the town about 1812, and for a time, the small center that formed around his home was called Wood’s Hollow. This was later named Wales Hollow. James Wood, his son, was a merchant for many years, and a member of the State Assembly in 1846. From 1848 to 1851 he was the Town Supervisor. Later he was also Postmaster in the Town of Wales.
In 1810, Jacob Turner built a frame house to replace his log cabin. This was the first such structure in the town. This was just the beginning; others soon followed Turner in erecting frame buildings.
After the town’s inauguration in 1818, a Town Board meeting was held in the home of Daniel Rowley. John Cole was elected as the first supervisor. He held this office for only one year, and was succeeded by Ebenezer Holmes, who held the position until 1826. William A. Burt was the first Town Clerk.
*A MESSAGE FROM OUR TOWN HISTORIAN-
The Town of Wales is rapidly approaching its 200th year. In preparation of the milestone, with the aid of the people of the Town of Wales, I am planning to present a history book chronicling the community churches, schools, businesses, people and events that have shaped our wonderful Town since 1818.
If you have photos, scrapbooks, and even personal stories that you would like recorded for history’s sake, I would love to hear from you. I am specifically looking for information on the formation of the churches, fire companies, schools, farms and businesses and special people that have evolved in Wales throughout our 200 years. If you have anything you would like to share, please feel free to bring it to the Historian’s office so I may make copies, or an appointment can be arranged to meet with you at your residence.
The Town of Wales has been blessed with many “colorful characters” over the years. I know there are more stories out there, and with your help, I would like to publish them on behalf of our Town for future generations.
Thank you, in advance, for your help in this effort.
Dee Zeigel, Historian, Town of Wales
(716)652-6776 (home), (717)982-8362(cell)