Village of
Wilson
History

War of 1812 Historical Trading Card available in all National Parks
Artwork by George Banagis

History

The Wilson Story:

In 1810, when Reuben Wilson settled in what is now the Town of Wilson, all Niagara County, (as we know it today) was then the Town of Cambria.  The Town of Porter was formed from Cambria in 1812,  and included all the present Town of Wilson which was carved out of Porter on April 10, 1818.

 

The Village of Wilson was incorporated by an act of the State Legislature on May 11, 1858.  Named for its founder, the little settlement was ideally located where the Tuscarora River, (Twelve Mile Creek) joins Lake Ontario, twelve miles east of Old Fort Niagara.

 

The distinction of being the first settler in the vicinity we now know as Wilson, is attributed to a man by the name of Henry Lockwood, who came from Canada and arrived in the year 1808.  He purchased 100 acres of land in the northeast portion of the town from the Holland Land Company, and built his home near the mouth of the creek which later was named for him.  Later in the year 1808, Robert Waterhouse arrived from Connecticut and settled in the south part of the town.  A year later, Stephen Sheldon from Jefferson County arrived and purchased 720 acres and claimed a grant sold to him from the Holland Land Company located on the west bank of the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek.

 

In more rapid progression, the year 1810 saw the larger group of settlers arriving.  Reuben Wilson, Gilbert Purdy, and John Eastman left Toronto, Canada in the month of April and proceeded to Wilson.  This little band of settlers arrived near the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek early in July, after a hard and laborious journey.  The actual experiences of the Pioneers and their emigration can be appreciated by quoting the description given by Reuben Wilson himself.

     "When I came in, there was scarcely an acre of land cleared in Wilson.  There was no road up and down the lake.  In the Fall of 1811 there was a road opened from Fort Niagara to Somerset; it was generally along the lakeshore though deviating at the streams; at its termination a foot path continued on to Johnson's Creek on Ridge Road......The first year I came in, I had my provisions to procure from Canada; the second year I raised my own; at the end of two years I had fifteen acres of improvements." 

     "When I first begain to raise grain I had to cross to Port Hope and Hamilton for the grinding.  Even after mills were built upon the purchase, it was easier to go across the lake than to travel upon the new roads.  Previous to the war, myself and neighbors did our trading at Niagara.  Dr. Alvord and Dr. Smith of Lewiston, were our first physicians.  We had no meetings or schools previous to the war; after it and up to 1820, we had but occasional preaching in the neighborhood by missionaries.  We organized a school in 1815; built a log schoolhouse; Dr. Warner was our first teacher.  He was both teacher and physician.  Our school commenced with only ten or fifteen scholars.  A saw mill was built in 1815 at the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek by Daniel Shelden and Joshua Williams.  I purchased property in 1816 and built a grist mill."

 

It can truly be said and rightfully so, that although two or three others preceded him in settling here, Reuben Wilson was the most outstanding of the pioneer settlers and for forty years was prominently associated with, and closely identified with the political, agricultural, business, cultural and religious activities of the community, which now proudly bears his name.

 

The War of 1812 and the events which took place at Fort Niagara, together with the burning of Newark, now Niagara On The Lake, fanned the sparks of hatred into fire and the British, together with their Indian allies, were ruthless as they marched eastward.

 

The forthright courage of George Ash, who warned the settlers of the approaching enemy, saved his neighbors from much destruction of life and property.  There were about twenty-five head of cattle in the vicinity and Luther Wilson, 15 years of age, was successful in driving the herd eastward, stuffing the cowbells with dried leaves so they could not be detected.  He remained until it was safe to return after the invaders had left.

 

Reuben Wilson, was taken prisioner at Fort Niagara but was released after ten days.  Many of the homes were burned.  Mrs. Wilson had been forewarned, and while several members of the family were in hiding, she was a gracious hostess and provided food and lodging for the British officers, thus giving protection for the home which they spared.  They proceeded to Van Horns, now Burt, burning and destroying as they went, the grist mill being their objective. 

 

Development of the Town of Wilson can be more fully appreciated when one considers that in 1821, the year the Erie Canal was started through Niagara County, most of the area was an unbroken wilderness.  The Ridge Road (Rt. 104) attracted the early settlers because it presented a natural path through the forests high above the swamps on either side.  Settlements like Wilson were mostly reached by water  from ports like Oswego or villages along the Canadian Shore.

 

Fortunately, the gradual descent of 155 feet from the Ridge to the lake level made it possible to drain and open up the fertile lands for agriculture.  The Wilson township was especially suited for fruits such as apples, pears, grapes and peaches, but the clay soil in the northwest section of town was good for raising wheat.  The eastern and central parts of town had a diversity of soils ranging from gravel to sandy, and was good for general crops such as corn and cabbage.  The arable gravel and sand in the southwest section of the township was especially fine for raising peaches and grapes. 

 

Historical Facts:

Reuben Wilson, the Village's namesake, came ashore from Canada in 1810.  While not the first to arrive, that distinction goes to one Henry Lockwood in 1808, Mr. Wilson deserves much credit for the taming of this portion of the Niagara frontier.   The presiding officer over the inaugural town meeting in 1818, Justice Reuben Wilson also welcomed home the first true native of the area.  Orrin Wilson, born in 1811.

 

The early to middle 1800's witnessed the proliferation of churches, mills, schools, and various other amenities culminating with the incorporation of the Village of Wilson by an act of the state legislature on May 11, 1858. 

 

In the second half of the the 19th century, the Village of Wilson became known as a booming resort town favored for its fine hotels, boating, fishing and other recreational activities.

 

The Wilson Collegiate Institute, built in 1845, added yet another facet to the village's local renown.  As an official port of entry from 1851 to 1907 the village continued to be an important asset to the growth and development of the county.  Right up to the present day the village is recognized by the historical image it projects providing a rare opportunity for people to absorb the essence of the early American experience in western New York.

Links:
Wilson Centennial Booklet 1858-1958
A booklet produced in 1958 to celebrate 100 years of Wilson history
Documents:
as prepared by Charles Horton November 2015
as prepared by Historian Francis Gallagher November 2014