An Early Canisteo Cabin

[On the first white settlement in this watershed– a place that became my permanent home two centuries later… Understandably, no photo of original cabin is available.]

Image result for images of old log cabins

The American Revolution had ended. General Sullivan, acting on the orders of George Washington, marched through western New York destroying Iroquois homes and native life (sadly enough), effectively opening the land to European settlement. A scouting party from the East, having found potential farmland on the flats near present-day Canisteo, stacked huge piles of summer hay for two families who would travel up the river in late autumn. The fodder would provide for driven cattle, the first livestock in these vales and rivertop heights.

old cemetery, names and dates effaced, near Adrian, NY…

The Stephens and the Crosby families, with their cattle plus a herd belonging to several other prospective families, started for Canisteo in 1789. Their trip began near present-day Elmira. The Chemung River narrowed into the Tioga and then the Canisteo River, navigable for their seven-ton shuttle laden with provisions such as food and furniture and ammunition. Several young men and boys drove the cattle on an Indian trail along the waterway, striving to keep the herd from bogging down in marshes or scrambling off on small streams tumbling from the cliffs.

There were logs and driftwood to be cleared with axes. Cascades and shallow riffles would require everyone to line the bank and haul the boat to deeper water. Autumn woods were drab and bare except for evergreens and chalky birch trees leaning from the river bluffs. The cold November wind brought fears of animal and Indian, anxiety of an unknown wilderness alleviated only by an evening’s fire, food preparation, and sleep. Their progress was slow, discouraging, and pressed by an oncoming winter.

They passed through the future settlements of Addison, Rathbone, Cameron, and Cameron Mills, arriving at their destination through what historians would describe as “howling wilderness,” a distance easily traveled in an hour’s time today.

the backside of Addison village on the lower Canisteo…

The stacks of hay, cut months before, seemed wonderful, even as the first snow squalls of a season blew across the valley. Cattle were fed. The first large pines and hemlock trees were felled. Teams of oxen hauled the big logs into place. The outlines of a log house, 24′ x 26′, rose beside a tributary soon to be known as Bennett Creek. Flat river stones and clay were hauled for fireplaces built into each corner of the house. And the boys began to plow…

The high brown grass was cut. The deeply matted roots were ripped from the resistant earth. The bottomland was burned, and smoke filled the sky. Three acres of land were sown with wheat.

cabin site near Canisteo, 2020…

Then came months of winter isolation. Days and nights of hunting, fireside plans and stories told. In March the wild geese would pass high overhead. The Stephens and the Crosbys would be joined by friends and families from the East– their summer dreams unfolding, labors just beginning, minds and bodies always leaning toward the West.

shadbush, or Juneberry, blossoms– often appearing in May as the shad begin their spawning runs…

Canisteo River near Cameron, NY…


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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14 Responses to An Early Canisteo Cabin

  1. Nabeela says:

    Nice place….

  2. Brent says:

    Another informative historical ramble along a waterway that isn’t often featured on this blog. Wasn’t there also a small Seneca outpost in much the same area?

    • Yeah the flats at Canisteo hosted temporary camps for Seneca hunters & French outlaws & other passers-by, but the Stephens & Crosbys were the first of what could be called an endless wave of European settlers.

  3. UB says:

    We used to live in an old 1890’s-ish house. It was built by one of the founding families that formed the little ‘ville’ that it was part of. Had a funny looking two parcel tract that went deep off the street. No houses were built behind the place – just farmers field.
    So I’m hiking back my 2 acre estate one day and I notice this depression in the ground. Very square looking depression in the ground. No doubt some building’s foundation at one time. It’s very intriguing to run across something like an old building/cabin/foundation/footing and just ponder it a bit. I wonder about the people that created the artifact that I might have stumbled upon – who were they, what were they like, what did they do?
    Neat story there Mr. Riv

    • Thanks UB. As you say, it’s intriguing to discover an item like this on or near personal property. I too found one of those “squares” on the slope behind my house a short way into the field. It’s an old cement base that’s largely overtaken now by nature, and I can’t quite fathom what it’s purpose was. It’s possible that the who’s and where fore’s of the thing might have an interesting story behind it.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    These settlement tales fire the imagination, and admiration of hardy souls, as you realize the trials taken and efforts made. The bitter downside being the fate of indigenous people as Europeans swarmed across the land. Winners and losers, and a small story illustrating the bigger picture in a beautiful landscape. Thanks, Walt!

    • I, too, look for distractions to our current crisis and sometimes find that digging into subjects like local history can be rewarding. As you say, there has been a bitter downside to it all, but it’s good to be aware of the pros & cons as we try to forge along. Thanks, Adam.

  5. Bob Matuzak says:

    Timely, as usual Walt. I’m currently reading “That Dark And Bloody River” by Allan Eckert about expansion along the Ohio River in my neck of the woods, Pittsburgh & the Ohio River Valley.
    Now I’m really anxious to be “off quarantine” to check out the local historical sites!
    In those days rivers were the main means of transportation and the sites are all on the water…, so I guess I’ll just have to bring my fly rod:)

    • Wonderful, Bob. I’ll have to check out that Eckert title. That’s the beauty of many of our river systems. They drew humanity from the start– for food, travel, work, and homes. Our history is connected deeply to their forms, and so it’s great to learn about them in their beauty and even in their “dark and bloody” aspects. Yeah I hope you get out there soon, and keep that fly rod close at hand.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    Don’t know how I missed this post, but I done did. Wonderful, Walt. Keep the history comin!

  7. Geri Lawhon says:

    I love photos that are accompanied with historical facts. Thank you.

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