Town of West Union

Founded in 1845

Located in Steuben County, the Town of West Union is on the NY/PA border. Since its founding in 1845, small-town country living has thrived in West Union, New York. 

     Quiet country roads, small churches, friendly neighbors, and some of the best deer hunting in New York State, make living in West Union highly desirable. Nearby sport fishing, rich wildlife, and lush scenery only add to this small part of Western New York.

History of West Union

WEST UNION. - On the 25th day of April, 1845, the State Legislature divided the town of Greenwood, and taking substantially township one, of range six, erected it into a separate jurisdiction under the name of West Union. Then, and now, the new creation contained 23,900 acres of land, being nearly as large as the mother township from which it was formed. It was the design of the promoters of the new town scheme to adopt the name Green, in allusion to the mother town, but as Chenango county had a town named Greene the petition was changed and the name of Union adopted. This also was found to be in conflict with the name of an existing town in Broome county, therefore West Union was accepted as the designation of the new formation.

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     The town occupies a position in the extreme southwest corner of the county, Pennsylvania line being its south boundary with the Allegany county line on the west. Rexville, the only village of any note in the town, is distant thirty miles from Bath and nineteen miles from Hornellsville. The land surface is hilly and broken, the highest summits being about 2,500 feet above tidewater. Bennett's Creek is the principal stream. The soil is a heavy, slatey loam.


     The pioneer settlement of the town of West Union, then, however, known as Troupsburg, was begun about the year 1821, when Abraham V. Olmstead came from Delaware county and made a clearing on the site of the present village of Rexville. Later on Mr. Olmstead erected the first tavern in the town, and his son Walter B. was born November 4, 1823. also the first event of its kind in the town. About the same time, probably in 1821, came Jonathan and John Mattison and David Davis, and located in the east part. The other pioneers were William Burger, also from Delaware county, Frederick Hauber from Pennsylvania, Uriah and B. Ingley, Vencent Compton and his sons William and Vincent, Adam Young, William Bray, John Wiley, William Fisher, Benjamin Wilkes, William and Ephraim Young, Henry Young, Daniel Hamilton, David Baker, Stephen Boyd and others whose names are now forgotten. Henry Young settled at West Union Corners. John Wiley settled near where the hamlet of Wileysville was afterward built up.
   

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     In the north part of West Union there settled about the year 1840 a number of hardworking Irishmen, from whose coming there eventually grew a strong settlement. Among the first of them were John Sheehan, Dennis Malone, Luke Fox and others. Some of the later settlers in the town at large were Philip Failing, Mr. Bigelow, Abel Mattison, David Sherman (the pioneer dairyman of West Union, and also first supervisor of the town) Alvin Chapin, Alexander Keenan, Daniel Hamilton, Charles and Daniel Rexford and others now forgotten.
   

     It is a well known fact that settlement in this particular locality was materially delayed, a large share of the land being owned in England and by heirs who were under age, The settlers in this township in 1830 were somewhat affected by the distress prevailing among the occupants of the Pulteney and Hornby estates, but at that time this territory formed a part of Troupsburg, and the settlers in that town were the most active in all local proceedings. The delegates to the Bath convention were Samuel Cady, Samuel Griggs, Joshua Slayter, Jesse Wilden and Nathan S. Hayes.
   

     Referring briefly to the first events of town history we may mention that Walter B. Olmstead was the first white child born; Abram Olmstead kept the first tavern in a log house on the village site; the first marriage was that of John Hauber and Jane K. Hauber, May 18, 1832; Uriah Stephens taught the first school, about 1830; Jesse Jones and Dr. Cyrus Knight were about the first storekeepers; John Wiley built the first saw and grist mill in 1849-50.

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     The erection and organization of a new town in the southwestern part of Steuben county was an absolute necessity. In the old town of Greenwood, the center of population and business lay in the northern part of that jurisdiction, and nearly all the principal officers chosen for the town also lived in the same locality. The result was the inhabitants of what is now West Union were denied privileges and improvements to which they were justly entitled. This being the case, the residents in the neglected locality petitioned for the erection of a new town, and West Union was the result of that action. The first election of town officers was held at the house of John Hauber on May 6, 1845. The officers elected were David Sherman, supervisor; Moses Forbes, town clerk; Jeremiah B. Millard, Cornelius Rosa and William H. Olmstead, justices of the peace; David Collins, Peter A. McLean and Marcina Cummings, assessors; Jeremiah B. Millard, Jeremiah Ingley and Alvin Chapin, commissioners of highway; Thomas F. Hubbard and Henry B. Baker, overseers of the poor; Walter B. Olmstead, collector.

     David Sherman held the office of supervisor twelve years, and Moses Forbes was town clerk for six years. A succession of the several town officers would be interesting in this connection, but unfortunately in 1881, at the time the cheese factory was burned, the town records were also destroyed.
     

     The officers for the year 1895 are as follows: W. P. Cary, supervisor; U. E. Vanfleet, town clerk; A. W. Barney, George Dennison and Andrew Boucher, justices of the peace; Palmer Warfield, Norman Haseltine and Josiah Sanders, assessors; Hiram Barney, collector; Philip R. Sanders, overseer of the poor; Archie McAllister, highway commissioner; David Smith, John Lewis and William Anderson, commissioners of excise.
   

     West Union had a population of 1,150 in 1892. When organized in 1845 the inhabitants numbered 539. Five years later the number was 950, and in 1860 had increased to 1,392, the greatest population in the town's history. In 1870 the number was reduced to 1,264, and in 1880 was 1,271. The population in 1890 was 1,167.
     

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     Among the civil divisions of Steuben county, this town has not occupied a position of special prominence, nor have her inhabitants ever sought to establish a condition of things other than for their own general welfare and for the benefit of their descendants. Still, the region is the comfortable abiding place of a hardy, thrifty and persevering class of people, whose chief pursuits in life is agriculture, while lumbering for many years has also engaged the attention of a strong contingent of the local population. In fact, in this part of the county settlement was much delayed and not until within a comparatively recent period have the lands been generally cleared; and even now there still remains considerable areas of excellent timber lands. In farm crops the land yields well in return to proper cultivation, while the dairy products of West Union are recognized as standard throughout the county. But notwithstanding the disadvantages of location and the many other obstacles which the inhabitants of West Union have had to contend against, they have ever shown themselves to be a loyal and patriotic people. During the period of the war of the Rebellion the loyalty of the people displayed itself, and we find that the town sent to the service a total of sixty men. They were divided among several regiments, principally the 86th, the 107th and the 141st.

     During the period of its history, there has been built up in the town one small yet progressive village, known as Rexville, and two other settlements of less note, and known respectively as West Union and Wileyville. West Union is but a post office station in the northwest corner of the town, postmaster, Alvin C. Barney. Wileyville is in the southwest corner of the town, the postmaster, also merchant, being Frederick Stebbins, The village of Rexville, and also its churches, will be mentioned in another department of this work.

THE VILLAGE OF REXVILLE (from a later chapter of Hakes' book). -

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     In 1849 Charles and Daniel Rexford came into the valley of Bennett's Creek and built a saw mill on the site of the village named for them. They also erected the first frame building in the town and opened a tavern which was called the " Eagle." These enterprising brothers were also instrumental in bringing about many improvements in the settlement and were in all respects useful and progressive citizens. However, they sold the tavern to James McCormick and soon afterward left the village. In 1855 Jesse Jones and Dr. Cyrus B. Knight opened a store in the village, and soon afterward a mail route was established through this part of the valley. Thus the village settlement became a fact, and although never having more than 200 population it is a business center of some importance. The public buildings are the Methodist Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches and the district school. The merchants are Failing & Co., Mrs. Sarah P. Harden, Joseph McKeon, Bernard Harrigan and John McCormick. Postmaster, John P. Harden. The manufacturing industries of the village are the combined saw and grist mill, built in 1872 and 1876, owned by Mortimer Richey; the cheese factory owned by O. Snyder and operated by Edwin Carpenter, and a few other small shops. 

Pioneer History &Atlas of Steuben County, NY, by W.B.Thrall, 1942

West Union was formed from Greenwood April 25, 1845.  It is the southwest corner town of the county.  Its surface is broken and hilly upland, the highest summits being 2000 to 2400 feet above tide.  A large part of the town in 1855 was covered with forest.  Bennett Creek is the principal stream.  The soil is a heavy slatey loam.  Lumbering was extensively pursued in 1859.

In 1855 Rexville and Wileyville were hamlets.  West Union was a post office. The first settler was Abraham V. Olmstead, who located in Rexville in 1822, in the valley on land now occupied by a part of the village of Rexville.  Frederick Hauber in 1823 came over the hills from Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, opening the road as he traveled.  He located in the valley near the other settlers.  Jonathan and John Mattison and David Davis entered the town from the south and settled in West Union about a quarter of a mile west of the Troupsburg town line. The town tax roll shows them to have been there as early as 1821.  

The whole country was a maze of woods and hills with deep gorges in which it was easy to get lost. The timber was mostly beech, maple, birch, cherry, elm and basswood.  Large quantities of maple sugar were manufactured.  It was one of the principal sources of revenue for the early settlers.  

The highest point of land in the county is near the central part of the town.

The late settlement of this town was owing to the fact that a large share of this land was owned in England by heirs under age.

Among the first settlers were Frederick Hauber, William Berger and William Bray from Delaware County who came in 1823 and located near Rexville. John Wiley, William Fisher and Benjamin Wilkes settled at Wileyville in 1849.  Uriah Stevens taught the first school.  Charles Rexford kept the first inn, and Walter B. Olmstead the first store in Rexville.  John Wiley built the first saw and grist mills in 1849 and 1850.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was formed at Rexville in 1831.  The meetings were held in the house of Abraham V. Olmstead.  The Catholic families came together and resolved to build a church where they could worship God in a more suitable temple. Up to this time their wants were served by priests who came on horseback from Rochester. A church was built some 200 feet long and there were over 200 families in the parish at the time.  

The prosperity of the town dates from the building of the Erie R.R. When that railroad was being built from Hornell to Salamanca a riot occurred at Bakers Bridge (Now Alfred Station) because the contractor could not raise the money to pay the employees.  A large number of the employees were hard-working Irishmen from the north of Ireland.   Many of these Irishmen with their families took up land in the surrounding towns, -Greenwood, West Union, Troupsburg and Hartsville, Steuben County where many of their countrymen has preceded them.  

This was a wonderful opportunity to have a home and land, and was vastly different from the place they called home in the land of their birth.  There they were tenants on large landed estates.  They were not farmers but soon learned to be. The idea of taking up 100 acres of land without paying one cent down, was staggering to them.  

David Sherman who came from Herkimer County and had earlier settled in the town and become well established, sold them land without a down payment and helped them to get a start.  It is told that those who did not have the money, he helped with stock, hay, etc. until they could pay him back. 

In 1860 Patrick Harden settled in Rexville and was an early storekeeper there.  He did a large business and for years handled all the output f the Wileyville lumber and grist mills.  This required many teams and wagons for transportation to the railroad.

At the outlet of the swamp on the Kyder Creek stood the “Pine Sapling”, a single pine tree of gigantic proportions, standing by itself in the open valley below the swamp and since the early settlement, a prominent landmark.  The tree which was cut down in 1877 measured 9 feet across the stump.  It grew in a straight stem for 20 feet, where it divided into seven different trunks, rising to a height of 190 feet from the ground. Seven thousand feet of lumber and 40,000 shingles were made from its trunk.  

Trading was all barter and exchange, except for money for taxes.

David Sherman may safely be considered the pioneer dairyman in West Union. He opened the first commercial cheese factory in 1842.  

In 1849 Charles and Daniel Rexford erected a sawmill in Rexville.  The mill consisted of a single saw working in an upright frame, but still was a good mill for those days.  

In 1849 there was also a mill and post office in Wileyville. The principal men interested in that place were John Wiley, William Fisher and Benjamin Wilkes.  Myers and Davison built a sawmill on South creek in 1855 near the heaviest stand of pine timber in the town.  They transported this lumber by wagons to Dansville for a couple of years. 

There is an old oil field, “The Marsh Pool”, situated in this town.

Storekeepers in the townshipwere Jesse Jones, Dr. Cyrus Knight,Patrick Hayden and others.

Father McMullen in 1869 transferred the parochial jurisdiction from Greenwood to Rexville.  In Rexville, the new St. Mary's Church was finished and dedicated September 8, 1875, better suited to the needs of Catholics in the towns of Greenwood, West Union and Troupsburg.  This splendid church burned in February, 1877.  Within a year a new church was dedicated September 14, 1877.  This is one of the finest Catholic churches in the county.  

From Painted Hills Geneology:

Town of West Union is situated in the southwest corner of the county. It was formed from Greenwood, April 25, 1845. The petition that was circulated for the erection of this town, petitioned for the formation of a town to be called Green: but it was referred back to the petitioners with the information that there was already a township of that name in this state, in Chenango county. They then changed it to Union, which was also objectionable for the same reason, there being a town of that name in Broome county. The word West was then prefixed, and the bill was passed. The surface of the town of West Union is a broken and hilly upland, and its highest summits are from two thousand to two thousand, four hundred feet above tide-water. Bennett's creek is the principal stream, which flows north through the town near its centre. The election for the first officers in this town was held at the house of John Hauber, on the present site of Rexville village, May 6, 1845. The first ballot box was a sugar bucket with a slot cut in the cover. This is now in the possession of Sherman Hauver. David Sherman was elected supervisor, and Moses Forbes town clerk. The population of West Union in 1890 was 1,159. 

History of West Union, NY from Landmarks of Steuben County, New York, Edited by Hon. Harlo Hakes, D. Mason & Co., Syracuse, NY 1895

Readers are encouraged to send other historical accounts to Town Historian Terry Smith at tjsmith49@yahoo.com.