Williamsville - Table of Contents

A Brief History of Williamsville, NY


A Brief History of the Town of Amherst

Pub. by  Amherst Museum in 1997

Over 400 million years ago, Eurypterus Remipes, an extinct relative of the modern King crab, lived in the shallow sea that extended across New York State, roughly along the route of the Thruway. Fossils found in limestone quarried in Amherst are evidence of this former inland sea. E. Remipes is now New York State's official fossil.

Glaciers were responsible for shaping the landscape of Western New York. About 13,000 years ago, after the last ice age, there was a huge glacial lake, called Lake Tonawanda, covered much of what would become Amherst. When this lake dried up, the land in Amherst, north of Williamsville, was left a swampy, wetland area.

Shortly after the final retreat of the last ice sheet the first people came to this area. These Native Americans fished in the creeks and hunted game in the woods. The last Native Americans to control this area were the Seneca Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Holland Land Company

In 1798 the Holland Land Company acquired most of the land in Western New York. Benjamin Ellicott and John Thompson, agents for the Holland Land Company, purchased all of what would become Amherst for $2.00 per acre. In 1801, Joseph Ellicott, who worked for this company, was sent to survey the land so an accurate map could be used to sell the land to settlers.

Ellicott also began planning roads in Western New York. Before this time the roads were mostly narrow Indian trails like the "Great Iroquois Trail" which crossed New York State from Albany to Lake Erie. Ellicott hired men to improve this trail between Batavia and Buffalo so settlers could travel to Western New York more easily. This improved road was first called the Buffalo Road. It is now called Main Street. Another major road that Ellicott surveyed was Transit Road. It is named for the instrument used by the surveyors that helped make the road so straight. Ellicott hired a Seneca Indian, "White Chief" (also called "White Seneca") to blaze through the forests a straighter trail on higher ground from south of Orchard Park to Lake Ontario, paying him $10 for this work.

Sometimes when roads passed over swampy areas, logs were laid close together to make a corduroy road. In Amherst, part of Hopkins Road, where it crossed the Great Baehre Swamp, was originally a corduroy road. The building of roads was slow because no one wanted to pay for them. Some early roads were made by laying down planks of wood to make a better road surface. This kind of road was called a plank road. To help pay for the improvements to the Buffalo Road (Main Street), a toll booth was built on Main Street near Getzville Road in the 1830s and operated until 1899.

The Holland Land Company offered several lots, about ten miles apart along the road to Buffalo, to "any proper man who would build and keep open taverns" which could serve as inns and stopping points for the settlers who had to travel slowly overland with loaded wagons and ox-carts. Most of the earliest settlers came from New England or eastern New York State.

In 1799, John Thompson built a small log house at Main Street and Oakgrove Drive. This house, later known as the Scott-Evans House, is believed to be the first house in Erie County, and served as a tavern and inn as well as the local Holland Land Company office. It was also the site of the first recorded marriage in Erie County when Timothy S. Hopkins married Nancy Ann Kerr on April 28, 1804.


Williamsville was the first and largest settlement in the Town of Amherst. The village was settled first because of its location on the main road to Buffalo and because it was next to Ellicott Creek (first known as Eleven Mile Creek). The waterfalls on Ellicott Creek were used to power mills for sawing wood into lumber, wheat into flour and corn into cornmeal. These mills were very important to the early settlers.

Williamsville derived its name from one of the first settlers, Jonas Williams, who came in 1805 and who owned two mills on opposite banks of Ellicott Creek. The settlement was called Williams Mills until after the War of 1812. In 1811, Jonas Williams purchased the mill on Spring Street which today is known as the Williamsville Water Mill.

During the War of 1812, American troops were stationed in Williamsville in the area between Garrison Road and Ellicott Creek. American soldiers and British prisoners were treated in a field hospital and log barracks that lined Garrison Road. A small cemetery, located on Aero Drive between Wehrle and Youngs Road, was used to bury the men who did not survive their wounds or illnesses. General Winfield Scott used the Evans House as his headquarters in the Spring of 1813 when his entire army of 5,000-6,000 men were stationed in Williamsville. In 1813, when the British burned Buffalo, people fled to the safety of Williamsville and nearby Harris Hill.

On April 10, 1818, the Town of Amherst was officially created by an Act of the Senate of the State of New York. This new town was named for Sir Jeffrey Amherst, an English lord who was Commander-in-Chief of the British troops in America in 1758-1763, before the American Revolution. King George III rewarded Lord Amherst by giving him 20,000 acres in New York, but Lord Amherst never visited his new lands.

The Mennonites were a German speaking religious group. In Amherst, many Mennonites lived very simply on farms and worshipped in a limestone building in the Village of Williamsville. Built in 1834 with limestone from the nearby Fogelsonger quarry, this Mennonite Meeting House is still standing today on Main Street at North Forest Road. If you look closely you can see fossils in the stone.

By the 1850s, Amherst was a prosperous farming community. Williamsville was the center of commercial activity since Ellicott Creek furnished fine water power. Along Ellicott Creek there were seven grist mills, several saw mills, a tannery and boot and shoe factory, carding works, bedstead factory and two forges. There were also blacksmith and harness shops, lime kilns, a tailor shop with thirteen employees, a broom factory, paper mill, breweries, cabinet makers, a slaughter house, taverns and plenty of saloons, schools and churches.

The first telephone lines, linking Williamsville with Buffalo, were also installed in 1879.

The first public conveyances were stagecoaches which began operating on a regular schedule around 1830, carrying passengers between Batavia and Buffalo, and occasionally as far east as Albany. As roads slowly became improved with macadam surfaces, transportation became easier.

Page created by Chuck LaChiusa in 2017
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