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Research: Tales From the Atlas

Yates Past - October 2006

In recent newsletters, we have run notices about our reprinting of The New Historical Atlas of Yates County New York Illustrated by Everts, Ensign & Everts which was originally published in 1876. I bought one of the reprints that was done in 1992 in connection with the Presbyterian Church in Penn Yan. Over the years, in the course of doing family history research, I have worn the booklet out and am looking forward to buying one of the new hard-covered reprints. Among the wonderful features of the old Atlas were the illustrations of people, businesses, farms, and other residences that were prominent at that time. One of my discoveries was an illustration of a farm house owned by my Great Great Grandfather Lorenzo D. Fox in what was then known as Italy Hollow (now Italy Valley). Like everyone else, he paid good money to have the drawing done and have it included in the Atlas. I had no idea at the time exactly where the farm was located, so I looked over the map of the Town of Italy in the Atlas (which shows the property owners at the time it was made) and thanks to a magnifying glass, spotted it near the Naples town line. The Atlas even showed that L.D. Fox owned 66 acres of land. I compared the Atlas to a modern-day map of Yates County and saw that the farm was located on what today is known as Clute Road, just off the Italy Valley Road. I was curious about whether the house was still there so I drove over and was pleased to see that not only is the house still there, but it looked as good as it must have in its prime.

Lorenzo Fox’s journal mentioned that the house was built by his father, John Fox Jr., in the 1820s when he bought his family into the area from southern Vermont. Yet a search of the deeds showed that the land was not actually purchased until 1862 and then it was bought from three English noblemen! A bit more research showed that they were the executors of what was left of the Pulteney Estate. The Fox family must have leased the land from them before 1862.

Five generations of the Fox family lived on that farm between 1824 and 1894. One of the memorable events to take place there was a family reunion in the summer of 1887. About 200 friends and family gathered in the shade of the large trees on the front lawn of that house and heard Lorenzo Fox’s welcoming address. In the flowery oratorical style of the time, he described the early settlers of Italy Hollow.........

”New England soil was not destined to hold all these restless spirits very long. To the west was a vast wilderness where some adventurers had gone and returned with glowing accounts of its fertility of soil and beauty of scenery. Fired with ambition and fortified with a degree of hardihood and courage that knew no fear, our fathers and grandfathers pioneered their way early in the 19th Century by the slow processes of the pedestrian or with horses and wagons to the then wilds of western New York. But, my friends, these pioneers in the path of empire-- these advance guards on the highway of civilization came not when the forests were cleared away and the fields were waving with grain ripe for the sickle. They came not when the railroad train went thundering across the country at the rate of fifty miles an hour. They came not when thought was flashed from ocean to ocean almost in a breath nor when friends far separated could talk to each other as if standing face to face. They came not when the church spire arose in every valley as a monument of religious worship nor when the facilities of intellectual culture were thickly scattered through the land. They came not when the refinements of civilization had planted beautiful homes, pleasant surroundings and high social culture on the farm, in the village and city. When James Fox in the vigor of youth decided to seek a home in the western world, the undertaking was a formidable one. At that time these hills and valleys were a dense wilderness. Danger lurked in every ravine; the wild shriek of the panther and the fierce growl of the bear echoed along the hillsides in the stillness of the night while the smoke from the Indian’s wigwam curled among the treetops. A few years earlier and only the ear of the savage had ever heard the singing birds as they caroled their morning songs among the branches. It is hard for us to realize so pleasantly situated here today, surrounded with happy homes, smiling fields, bountiful fruits, and the refinements of a high and Christian civilization that, but little more than three quarters of a century ago this whole region was a wild, desolate forest."

In future issues of the newsletter, I will describe a few more of my “Tales from the Atlas”, but I would like to ask any of you reading this to submit similar “tales”. There are many of us out there who have ties to the people who are mentioned in the Atlas or the businesses, residences, and farms which are illustrated.... even a name on a piece of property. You could tell the story of the people, the place, or even about how you used the Atlas to further your knowledge of your family history or local history in general. We could use them in our newsletter and, if we receive enough of them, combine them into a companion publication to go with the Atlas. If you feel comfortable writing the article yourself, that would be great! If not, send us the information and someone here will write it up. Send it to us by email, traditional mail, or just drop it off at the Underwood House. This is a chance for YOU to help us enhance and preserve important pieces of Yates County’s history.

by Rich MacAlpine

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