Joseph Bennett of the Town of Evans - Table of Contents
Joseph Bennett of the Town of Evans, NY
By Kevin H. Siepel
Bennett's life story has been told in Joseph Bennett of Evans and the Growing of New York's Niagara Frontier, by Kevin H. Siepel.
The author uses Bennett's lively journal as a central thread to hold together a broader story, namely the history of the settlement and growth of western New York State.
The book is available at area bookstores, or from Spruce Tree Press
Brief excerpt from Chapter 3, "Young Man in Evans." The John Love referred to is the John Love later murdered by the Thayer brothers.
Bennett's lot, Town of Evans
Joseph Bennett, for whom Bennett Beach Park in the Town of Evans is named, arrived in western New York with his family in 1820. Born in Vermont in August 1803, the eldest of what would be a family of 10 children, he lived until 1899, keeping a journal that covered important events in his and his fellow citizens' life for most of that period.
As an 11-year-old living in Jay, New York, he heard (in September 1814) the thundering of the cannon as British and American naval forces battled near Plattsburgh, on Lake Champlain. Following a move to Union Springs on Cayuga Lake in 1816, he and his family - in the summer of 1820 - arrived in Williamsville, Town of Amherst, moving later that year to the present-day Town of Evans, where they remained.
Following two summers of canal labor at Lockport, and an abortive attempt at becoming a lake trader, young Bennett traveled with an Evans builder to Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley to begin a three-year stint in canal construction, as the Keystone State strove to keep up with its canal-building neighbor to the north. Bennett not only supervised men in Pennsylvania, but specialized in the more dangerous aspects of the job, namely blasting. While there, he met and married 19-year-old Mary Roat, of Englishtown, New Jersey.
Moving back to Evans in 1829, Bennett settled into the life of husband, farmer, and construction contractor. By the mid-1830s, when the last of the couple's five children had been born, Bennett had begun to take on greater responsibility in his town, county, and state. He had been a founder of the First Baptist Church of Evans (he would in fact serve as a lifelong deacon of that church), and would soon be elected to his first of six terms as town supervisor - in 1852 serving as chairman of the Erie County Board of Supervisors.
Bennett for years held the post of county coroner, served a term in the state legislature, and headed up the Erie County Poor Board during the Civil War. Throughout his life, his firsthand take on events normally seen by modern readers only through the prism of a history textbook is illuminating.
As Bennett moved into his twilight years, noting that the growing middle class of Buffalo and beyond was coming to see Erie County's lake shore as a desirable summering place, he gradually began to turn his farm into a summer resort, taking in campers and boarders, and increasing the breadth of his facilities virtually until his death. Guests traveled sometimes hundreds of miles to stay at the Bennett Homestead in Evans.
Bennett died on October 9, 1899. He is buried in the Forest Avenue cemetery in Angola, New York. All vestiges of his home, farm, and resort facilities have been erased from what is now Bennett Beach Park.