Chemung County NY
History of Tompkins, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga 1879
Chapter 48
Chapter XLVIII  - Ashland
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Ashland Biographical Sketches
Charles Coffey Richard C. Lockwood &
Susan Fischler
Oliver Comfort & 
Myrtilla Coleman


The territory that now constitutes the town of Ashland was originally included in the old town of Chemung, subsequently in Elmira (as Newtown), and then in Southport from parts of which towns it was formed by act of the Legislature in 1867. It lies upon the south border of the county, on both sides of Chemung River. The soil in the valleys is a fine quality of gravelly loam, while upon the hills it is of a slaty nature, well adapted to the cultivation of tobacco. The streams are Seely, Goldsmith, South, and Bently Creeks, which are all tributaries of the Chemung River.

The town is made historically famous as having been the scene of the battle between General Sullivan and the Indians, during the memorable campaign of 1779. The locality of this engagement is an irregular elevation called "Hog Back", now included in the farms of Messers James Carpenter and William Loman. Tradition has it that the Indians escaped up the river with slight loss and were not persued. On a recent map the location is erroneously marked "battle-ground of 1812," but as the nearest approach of the British to this point was Buffalo the error is apparent.


of the town as now constituted was commenced in 1788, by Green Bently, who was immediately followed by the Wellses, Ebenezer Green, and others, mentioned in the history of Wellsburg farther on. Isaac Baldwin and Henry, his brother, the farmer, who settled on the present site of Lowmanville came in at about the same time as Bently, sufficiently authenticated to make it historically definite. Abner Kelsey arrived in 1789, and about two years afterwards received a patent for 460 acres of land, upon which Thomas Decker, Charles E. Coffey, and others now reside. This instrument bears date March 2, 1791.

About the year 1800, Jacob Comfort came in, and soon thereafter, David Burt.

In 1804, Jesse Carpenter, father of James Carpenter, came in from Orange Co., N.Y., and settled on the farm now owned by Jacob Lowman, a short distance from the present residence of James. The children of Jesse Carpenter now residents of this county, besides James, are George E., wholesale dry-goods and notions merchant of Elmira; Edward S. and William S., and respected citizens of Big Flats.

James Mitchell, father of Jacob W. Mitchell [who was born in the old homestead in 1809], came in about 1800. Others who came about the same time, or soon afterwards were Samuel Middaugh,

----- Gardner, Judge Caleb Baker, the pioneer school-teacher, who taught school at Wellsburg but was a resident of the town of Southport. Below Wellsburg, on the south side of the river, settled James McKean, uncle of Hon. Samuel McKean, some years since United States Senator from Bradford Co., Pa., Elias Middaugh, Elder Roswell Goff, the pioneer preacher and first pastor of the Baptist Church at Wellsburg, in 1790, Deacon Thomas Keeney, and others.

About opposite Wellsburg were the Baldwins, before mentioned, John Hillman, Wilkes Jenkins, who settled there in 1790, and in 1799 removed to the town of Elmira, and permanently settled on the place on which his son Archibald still lives.

Colonel Solomon L. Smith, father of Jud Smith, was a soldier of the war of 1812 and a pioneer of this county. Jud Smith is a farmer, stock raiser, and lumberman, and owns about six hundred acres of land. Solomon L. was supervisor for twelve successive years, and afterwards several years in Southport. Jud was supervisor of Ashland in all six years. C. M. Stringer, son of John H. Stringer, was born in Chemung County in 1828, and is therefore one of the old settlers. Ferdinand Coffey, father of Charles E. Coffey, came in at a later date and settled where the latter now resides. The Mathews family were among the very early settlers. Several members of this family have been prominent citizens, and some are still residents of the town and county.

The first house erected within the present limits of the town was by Green Bently, on the banks of the creek that now bears his name, near the village of Wellsburg, in the spring of 1789.

The first birth was that of Eunice, daughter of Abner Kelsey, who was born march 16, 1789. She married Jacob Decker, and raised a family of three sons and three daughters, of whom all but one survive. She died March 21, 1864, aged seventy five years eleven months and five days, and her remains are interred in the old Baptist churchyard at Wellsburg.

The first death is said to have been that of Stephen Kent, but the date is not given, nor could the most diligent inquiry ascertain the fact.

The first tavern was kept by William Baldwin in a primitive log house, which stood on the opposite side of the river from Wellsburg. This was as early as 1798.

The first saw mill was built by Isaac Baldwin, on the site of the mill now operated by C. B. Goodwin, at Lowmanville. The date of this is fixed by the best authorities at about the year 1800.

The first school was taught by Caleb Baker, in a primitive log house that stood on the site of the present Baptist grave-yard about the year 1803-4.

The first church edifice was that erected by the Baptist society in 1812. It is a wooden building, and has lost its original identity by the rebuilding and repairing it received in 1860. Its peculiar architecture attests the venerable antiquity it enjoys.

The first burying-ground was the one referred to above as the Baptist grave-yard, which was purchased by the Baptist Society of Henry Wells, for the sum of fifty cents, January 4, 1812. It originally contained " 3 rods and 5 poles." It has since been added to, and is now known as the "Wellsburg Cemetery." In it repose the ashes of many of the old pioneers, notable those of Judge Henry Wells , the donor of the lot, and his wife; Nathan Roberts and wife, interred in 1813 and 1818 respectively’ Joanna Parshall, aunt of Asa Parshall, of Chemung; Richard Comfort and Charity, his wife; James Roberts and Mary, his wife; David Bush and Hannah, his wife ; Mary A., daughter of Keziah Bently, and many others.

"Alphens Gillett, a soldier of the Revolution, died 20th June 1841, aged 81, 5, 9, " is an inscription upon one of the old stones. "May they rest in peace!"


Ashland was legally constituted a town April 25, 1867, and was the last town organized in the county. The town meeting was held May 14, 1867, at the Wellsburg Exchange, at which the following gentlemen were elected to the offices placed opposite to their names respectively: Supervisor, Richard C. Lockwood; Town Clerk, William E. Halstead; Justices of the Peace, Lyman L. Lowman and Hiram Roushey; Commissioners of Highways, Alfred Searles and George Rogers; Collector, William Hammer; Assessors, James Carpenter and Israel O. Scudder; Constables, William Hammer, Roswell R. Moss, William Woodhouse, Michael Roushey, and Lawrence Mathews. The only two gentlemen who have occupied the position of Supervisor have been R. C. Lockwood and Jud Smith,---the former the first four, the tenth, and the twelfth years. and the latter from the fifth to the ninth inclusive and this eleventh years. The town clerks have been William C. Halstead the first nine years, and William S. Sprague the last three years.

Justices of the Peace, David Sweet, Lyman L. Lowman (vacancy), Reuben E. Moss, Lyman L. Lowman, Wm. C. Halstead (vacancy), Elisha Knapp, Lafayette Harrington, Reuben E. Moss, Michael B. Roushey, Edmund Griswold, James Carpenter, John L. Myers, and E. W. Howell (vacancy).

The town officers for the year 1878 are: Supervisor, R. C. Lockwood; Town Clerk, James S. Sprague; Commissioners of Highways Alfred Searles, George W. Rogers, and William Hanmer; Assessors, James Carpenter, Israel O. Scudder, and O.T.Comfort; Overseers of the Poor, Joseph S. Wilcox; Constables, Joseph S. Wilcox, Samuel Mitchell, I. H. Johnson, and A. B. Marriam; Auditors, Wm. Lowman, R.B. Coleman, and S. D. Herman; Excise Commissioner, Daniel H. Gillett.


is a thriving incorporated village situated in the northeast part of the town, on the south bank of the Chemung River, and on the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad. Its site is among the earliest settled spots in the county, the first pioneer, Green Bentley, having located thereon in the year 1788. He was immediately followed by Ebenezer Green, and the following year by Abner Wells and sons,--Abner, Henry, and Benjamin, --who came from Orange Co., N.Y. Henry became the most prominent representative of the Wells family, having been elected sheriff of the county, and also one of its judges.

Several members of the family in the third generation are still residents of the town and county. Cotemporary with the Wells’ came Abijah Batterson, Samuel Westbrook, Abraham Bennett, Asa Burnham, Abiel Fry, and Thomas Keeney, all of whom settled at or near the present village. Following these came Stephen H. Brown, father of Horace Brown, from Orange Co., N.Y., in 1806; Jacob Smith in 1807; Aaron Brown, father of T. T. Brown, from Morris Co., N.J. in 1816; George Fishler came in 1835. After the settlers had got fairly located improvements were commenced.

The first store was opened by Abner and Henry Wells, probably about the year 1792. They kept a small general store, primitive both in style and stock. A store was soon afterwards opened on the opposite side of the river by Isaac Baldwin.

The first tavern in the village was opened by one of the Baldwins, but the first regular hotel was kept by Henry C. Wells.

The first saw-mill was erected by David Brewer, about 1830. It stood about twelve rods south of the bridge on Bently Creek. The first grist-mill was built by Calvin and James West. And Miles Roberts, as given elsewhere.

The first church society was the Baptist, which was regularly organized in 1790. They also erected the first place of public worship, which was raised on the 12th of June 1812.

The first school-house was a small log structure, built about 1803.

As soon as these moral material improvements were fairly under way, the village increased in general prosperity. In the old Gazetteer of New York, published in 1842, we find that "Wellsburg is a village in the town of Southport, in Chemung county; is an agricultural settlement; contains one Baptist church, one store, one tavern, and fifteen or twenty dwellings." On the building of the Erie Railroad through the place in 1819-50, the village received an impetus which was very beneficial. The manufacturing interests of the village are few, but of an excellent quality. Subjoined we give a brief description of them.


was erected by David & C. S. Decker in 1859, and continued under that firm for about one year, when the last named gentleman retired, leaving David Decker in sole possession of the establishment, as at present. The tannery operated by steam; has all the modern improved machinery; employs 17 hands, and is capable of tanning 14,000 city-slaughtered hides per annum.


was erected by R. C. Lockwood in 1859. It has remained in his possession from that time to the present. Its capacity is 500,000 feet a year, and gives employment to six men. Its proprietor is one of the most enterprising men of the village.


were erected by Calvin and James West and Miles Roberts in 1864-65. The grist-mill has four runs of stone, and manufactures 3500 barrels of merchant work and 30,000 bushels of custom per annum. The present proprietor is James P. O’Bryan, who purchased the property in 1870.


ranks among the best hotels in Chemung county. Its proprietor, J. V. Fishler, first erected a hotel on the present site in 1850, which stood there until destroyed by fire in 1857. The present house was built in 1866, and is in every sense a first-class house. Most of the time, until April last, Mr. Fishler rented the premises, but has recently refitted and refurnished the house, so that it is now an ornament to the village, a pleasure to the traveling public, and a credit to himself.


On the 28th of August, 1872, an election was held at the Wellsburg Exchange, to vote on the question of incorporating the village under the special act of the Legislature, passed for such purposes. The vote resulted in a majority for incorporation. At the first election the following gentlemen were chosen to fill the offices placed after their names: James P. O’Bryan, President; William Hanmer, William C. Halstead, Matthew Fincher, Inspectors of Election. The presidents of the village from 1873 to 1878, inclusive, have been James P. O’Bryan, 1873-74; William C. Halstead, 1875; Uri Smith, 1876; Benjamin Herman. 1878; James P. O’Bryan, 1878.

The present village officiary consists of the following: Abraham Boyce, James Bradway, Isaac Bennett, and Abner Watson, Trustees; A.I. Decker, Clerk; James P. Hapeman, Treasurer; George Hanmer, Collector; Elijah Knapp, Police Justice.

The village now contains three dry-goods stores, three groceries, one drug-store, one hardware-store, one harness shop, one millinery establishment, two hotels,--the "Fishler House" and the "Exchange,"-

one livery-stable, three blacksmithies, one wagon-shop, one extensive tannery, a grist-mill, a saw-mill, planing-factory, three churches, -- one each of the Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, and Protestant Episcopal* denominations, -- a public and a select school, the latter kept by Miss Sarah Jewel. There is also a railroad depot, telegraph and express offices; two physicians, and four resident ministers of the gospel. The population of the village is fairly estimated at 650.

The post-office was established here at an early day, and afterwards removed two and a half miles west of the village to the residence of James T. Strong, where it remained until 1843, when it was again restored to the village, since which time the following gentlemen have held appointments as postmasters, namely: Messrs, Abner Wells, R.C.Lockwood, Mark Burt, Elias Wickoff, Colonel Salisbury, and H. W. Young, the present incumbent.


is a hamlet, pleasantly situated on Goldsmith Creek, about one and a half miles northeast of Wellsburg. The post-office is called Lowman, and was named after the Lowman family, which is quite numerous in the vicinity. Among the early settlers here were the Lowmans, Carpenters, John Brown, Isaac Baldwin, and others.

The first store was built by George Lowman, and kept by John Brown, in 1853. It was subsequently converted into a dwelling-house, and afterwards, in 1870, re-opened as a store by the present proprietor, Lafayette Harrington.

The first saw-mill was erected here as early as the year 1800, by Isaac Baldwin. It stood until, time-worn and decayed, it was removed to give place to a larger mill, which was built by Almon Cook, about 1838. The property finally fell into the possession of Jacob Lowman, by whom it was rebuilt and enlarged, and furnished with new machinery, in 1870. It is operated by steam and water and is now rented by C. B. Goodwin, who is a practical miller.

The post-office was established at the present residence of George Lowman, over the Chemung line, where it was kept by John Goodwin. In 1845 it was removed to its present location, though kept in a building that is no more. For a number of years they received but a tri-weekly mail,--they now get it daily. The present postmaster is Lafayette Harrington.

Besides the mill, store and post-office, there are a wagon shop and a blacksmithy here, and a few houses.


The pioneers were generally people of strong religious sentiments; hence public worship, and organization of religious societies, received their attention at an early day. We find a regularly-organized Baptist church at Wellsburg in 1789, or less than three years after the first settlement in this part of the Chemung Valley. As this was the pioneer church in all this section of country (antedating by a half-decade the old Tioga and Barton Baptist Church), it is deserving of more than a passing notice at our hands.


known at different times by the names of Chemung, Elmira and Chemung, Southport and Chemung, and Wellsburg, was organized on the 2ndday of September, 1789. The few hardy pioneers in the then town of Chemung constituted themselves a gospel church, adopting a covenant and regulations as expressed by themselves in the following language: "Whereas, We, a number of members belonging to different Baptist churches, having our lot cast in this wilderness land, in the town of Chemung, do find ourselves bound under the obligation of the gospel of Christ, being far distant from the privileges of any gospel church, we give up ourselves to the watch and care of each other, and covenant to walk together in the rules of the gospel; and agree to meet on the first Tuesday of every week for conference, and on the first day of every week for the public worship of God, according to the doctrines of the gospel of Christ."

Their place of meeting at this time is not definitely known, but it was most probably in the neighborhood of the Chemung Mills, perhaps a school-house across the river. A record was first commenced on the 3rd of February, 1791, at which time Elder Roswell Goff was recommended by the Baptist Church of Christ at Pittstown (evidently Pittston, Pa), as "one having a dispensation of the gospel committed to him; and we, having had opportunity with him, do give him the right hand of fellowship therein." He was ordained as pastor of the church, which then consisted of 21 members, of whom eight were received from the Pittstown Church, dismissed for this purpose; seven by evidence of baptism, certificates of administrators, and otherwise; and six by letter from Warwick Church. In 1794 William Buck, T. Bennett, and T. Keeney were ordained to the office of deacons. In 1797 there was a great revival, the number of baptisms for that year having been 61, and the church membership 91. In 1812, Elder Goff closed his pastorate with the church, although he continued to supply them at times until his death, in 1825.

He was a man eminently fitted, both by his piety and manly virtues, to be pastor of a pioneer church. He was very generally beloved by the old settlers of all religious denominations, and passed to his rest greatly lamented; but verily, "his works do follow him." During the same year of Elder Goff’s withdrawal from the pastorate a subscription of $500 was secured for the purpose of erecting a church edifice, and on the 12th of June of that year, the frame of the building was raised on the present site. The first trustees were Abner Wells, Stephen Brown, Jesse Moore, Henry Wells, Jacob Comfort, and David Burt. The old building stood as originally raised until 1860, when it was enlarged and remodeled, and subsequently painted, and having also been supplied with a cabinet-organ and appropriate furniture, it is now quite a comfortable building and an honor tot he members of the first church in the Chemung Valley.

The present pastor is Elder P. S. Everett; Trustees, Asa Parshall, Job Robbins, Horace Brown, Joel Morehouse, Daniel A. Gillett, and Isaac Bennett; Deacons, Asa Parshall and Job Robbins; membership, 55; number of teachers and scholars in Sabbath-school, 68; Superintendent, Ira R. Collins.


at Wellsburg was organized as a class in 1839, under the leadership of Henry Watson. The meetings were held in the old school-house, alternately with those of other denominations. The original members were Henry Watson and Clarissa his wife, Jerusha Comfort, Elizabeth Brown, Losey Brown, Betsy Brown, Silas Simpkins, Elizabeth Simpkins, Jesse Simpkins and wife. Of those but one now remains with the church namely, Mrs. Clarissa Watson, the others having united with the church triumphant, some of them long since, others more recently. The first pastor of the church was Rev. Charles Davis. The church was organized into a society during the ministration of Rev. John Caine, in 1847. The first church building was erected while Rev. D. Leisening was pastor, in 1849, the Revs. Moses Crow and W. H. Goodwin conducting the dedicatory services. The old building served the congregation until 1874, when it was removed to give place to the present commodious and handsome edifice, the corner-stone of which was laid with appropriate ceremonies on the 1st of September of that year, by the Revs. I. Alabaster and A. C. George of Elmira. During the thirteen months’ interval between the demolition of the old and the entry onto the new building, services were held in the hall of H. W. Young. The new church cost $7500, which, with the lot, makes the value of the property $8500. It will comfortably seat 375 persons. Present pastor, Rev. E. W. Smith; Trustees, I. P. Griswold, H. B. Lindsley, A. I. Decker, and R. C. Lockwood; present membership of the church 110; number of teachers and scholars in Sunday school, 139; Superintendent, A.I. Decker.


at Wellsburg was organized in 1869, during the rectorship of Rev. William T. Hitchcock. He was succeeded by Rev. Dr. Parct, and he by Rev. F. D. Hoskins (then and now rector of Grace Church, Elmira), who served the parish from 1869 to 1875. The next rector was the Rev. John Scott, who remained until January, 1877, when he was succeeded by the present incumbent, Rev. George W. G. Vanwinkle. The church edifice was erected in 1869; corner-stone was laid June 29 of the same year; building occupied in July, 1870, and consecrated in November following. A bell weighing 1000 pounds was added in 1876. The present value of the church property is $5000; communicants, 43; number of teachers and scholars in Sunday school 56; Superintendent of Sunday-school, Rev. G. W. G. Vanwinkle; Church Wardens, E. H. Goodwin and George W. Griswold; Vestrymen, M. A. Sherman, Samuel Mitchell, John V. Fishler, and James M. Hapman; Church clerk, Frank Hammond. Episcopal services were held at Wellsburg as early as the winter of 1866, and a society was formed the following year, out of which grow the present prosperous parish.


As stated on a previous page of this work, educational matters received the attention of the old settlers immediately subsequent to their arrival here. As nearly as can no be ascertained, the first school attended by the youth of what is now Ashland was located in the town of Chemung as at present constituted. But as early as the year 1803 a school was taught by Caleb Baker (afterwards county judge).

The building, a primitive log structure, stood on the elevation now occupied by the Baptist church. As the settlements increased more substantial buildings, were erected, and the germ from which sprung our excellent common-school system was planted by the pioneers, many of whom lived to hail its grand fruition.

The present number of schools in the town is 4; number of children of school age, 301; number of weeks taught, 125; teachers, 4 males and 9 females; number of children attending school, 196; number of volumes in library, 253; value, $90.; number of school-houses, 4; value, with sites, $6150, Receipts: State appropriation, $702; raised by tax, $1190; Payments: Teachers’ wages, $1527; all other expenses, $350.

The population of the town as given in the last State census for the lustrum ending in 1870, was 1016; for that of 1875, 1080; showing an increase of 64 for the five years.


The cultivation of tobacco was first introduced into Ashland less than twenty years ago, and has since developed into quite an extensive business. From those best qualified to judge, we learn that during the year 1877 from 50,000 to 60,000 pounds were grown and prepared for market from within the present limits of Ashland. Among the principal and largest growers are William Lowman, Hammond Matthews, James Carpenter, R. C. Lockwood, and Lyman Fincher.

An interesting feature about the town is the pretty names given to the homesteads, such as Sunrise, Sundown, Pleasant Hill, Fruit Homestead, Mt. Vernon, Pleasant Corner, Pleasant View, Pleasant Grove, and similar appropriate names, -- for many of the places are really beautiful.

The data from which the above history of the town of Ashland was prepared has been furnished by the following persons and authorities to whom and which we acknowledge ourselves indebted: Horace Brown, William Lowman, James Carpenter, Thomas Decker, Jud Smith, Jacob Lowman and his brother, George Lowman, of Chemung; Mrs. Brewer, widow of David Brewer; Mrs. Orpha Decker; R. C. Lockwood, Supervisor; James S. Sprague and A. I. Decker, Town and Corporation Clerks; J. V. Hishler, and other pioneers. To Disturnell’s, French’s, and Dr. Hough’s Gazetteers of the State; Hamilton Child’s and Galatian’s Historical Directories, and to a series of articles in the Athens Gleaner of 1871-72, furnished us by Asa Parshall, Esq., of Chemung.

This turn of the century postcard shows the Tobacco Fields in the Chemung Valley as described in this chapter.



Ferdinand Coffey, father of the subject of this sketch, was a native of Orange Co., N.Y.-born in the town of Cornwall in 1814. He moved into Chemung County in 1856, and purchased a farm in what is now the town of Ashland, which is now occupied by his son. Charles is the eldest of eight children, of whom seven are living. He was born in Cornwall, N.Y. in the year 1834. He went into the employ of the New York and Erie Railroad as a fireman, in 1851, and the following year as an engineer. He has been continuously in the service of the Erie road ever since, with the exception of four years (from October , 1856, to September, 1860) spent in the employ of the Chicago, Alton and St. Louis Railroad. He has spent what might be considered an ordinary lifetime upon the "iron-horse," and in the twenty-seven years upon the "rail" he has run a locomotive about 900,000 miles! He superintends his farm, which he makes his home, -a property of which he is justly proud, as being entirely paid for out of his earnings as an engineer, the result of his persevering industry and economy.

A fine view of his home may be seen on another page, in connection with the history of this town. In 1857 he married Miss Malinda A. Conner, a resident and native of Mount Hope, N.Y. The result of this marriage is one daughter, who is living at home with her parents.

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