With the Wayne County Bicentennial celebration quickly approaching on April 11, county residents are gearing up to pay homage to the men and women who envisioned the creation of Wayne County 200 years ago — and to those who have contributed to the growth, leadership and vision of Wayne County since, as well as to the prospects for the decades and centuries to follow.
Becoming a county was not the simple task of determining a name and setting borders. There were reasons for the divide from Seneca and Ontario counties. There was opposition to the division from at least one of the affected counties, a little rebellion on the part of certain towns and counties, and some internal bickering. When all was said and done, Wayne County did finally come into existence on April 11, 1823, by an act of the New York State Legislature.
Let’s revisit some of the drama.
Prologue: To set the stage for some of the commotion behind the scenes of Wayne County’s establishment, first some often-omitted historical information. In April 1823, there were only eight towns in the soon-to-become 54th county 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 established were Arcadia, Marion, Walworth, Savannah, Butler, Huron and Rose.
Most historical writings are from the viewpoint of the Ontario County section of the ready-to-be-born county. The biggest problem in the 1800s leading to division seemed to be travel. The Ontario County Courthouse was in Canandaigua. The road trips needing to be made to Canandaigua for court appearances, especially from more distant Sodus or Ontario, even Lyons, could be difficult in the 1820s when traveling by stage or steed. It would make sense that establishing a more local court was a perfect solution for decreased travel time, expense and discomfort.
Seneca County Historian Walt Gable wrote recently (Times, Feb. 12, 2023) about the controversy involving the towns of Wolcott and Galen being set off from Seneca County. As you read the following, remember: Galen then included Savannah, and Wolcott included Butler, Huron and Rose.
“On Jan. 13, 1823, a gathering of local inhabitants at the Quartus Knight’s Hotel approved a resolution opposed to the proposed dismemberment of Seneca County. On April 2, the Waterloo Republican newspaper noted that the state Senate had postponed its consideration of the bill to create a new county from parts of Ontario and Seneca counties. The newspaper’s editor said he was ‘credibly informed’ that at numerous meetings in the town of Galen 156 of 170 residents had voted against the proposed division of Seneca County. He went on to report that Wolcott was decidedly opposed to the measure and that the same feeling of opposition existed in the four Ontario County towns directly impacted by the formation of the new Wayne County.”
Mary Smart, in the “History of the Wayne County Court House,” writes:
“In the eleventh hour, when the Act to formulate the new county was before the State Legislature awaiting the vote, Lyons partisans learned that Wolcott had held a town meeting at which a ‘remonstrance’ — protesting Wolcott’s inclusion in Wayne — had been signed and sped on its way to Albany. It was nearly sundown … before news of this devastating move reached Lyons. ‘A horse and sulky were soon furnished’ … and Joseph Cole (son of Lyons’ famous early settler Reverend John Cole …) ‘dashed off through mud and hemlocks toward Wolcott, arriving there before sunrise … The Wolcott people rallied their men at an early hour and a counter petition was signed which, before sundown, was on its way by stage to Albany. As this was the final petition to be read before the Legislature, our local Paul Revere had the satisfaction of learning that his night ride tipped the scale.’”
What might have been
How different Wayne County would look if those two night riders had not made their journeys. Imagine Wayne County with a bite out of the northeast corner — eliminating Rose, Huron, Butler and Wolcott. Imagine the other scenario, in which everything east of the Pre-Emption line would still be part of Seneca County. History sure would have played out quite differently. The Wayne County Bicentennial would be quite a different beast without the six towns on the east side of the county.
The Wayne County Bicentennial Founders Day on April 11 is an important celebration for everyone across the county, as well as for our good neighbors and parents, Ontario and Seneca counties. It is a day to celebrate achievements county-wide and how far we have come in 200 years. It is a day to unite, to make a continued commitment to support each other, to honor our history and to move forward to the future, instilling pride of all the accomplishments of the greater community.
It is an occasion for everyone in Wayne County to remember that we are an industrious, strong and creative community — the whole being stronger with all its parts. On this upcoming Founders Day, let us all pledge to continue to honor Wayne County by doing what the Founders intended us to do — lead productive, helpful and successful lives — and to seek to better understand the past for the benefit of a bountiful future.
Oh yes, and to be thankful for those April 1823 night riders!
Bicentennial events April 11: Founders Day Ceremony at the former Lyons Courthouse, 10:50 a.m. Public program at Lyons Community Center, 1:30 p.m. May 13: Gala ball at The Ballroom at Carey Lake, 5:30 p.m. (reservations required) Aug. 14-18: Bicentennial torch relay Aug. 19: Family Fun Day at the Wayne County Fair, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. More information at www.waynecounty200.com