The History of Lawtons
By Isabelle C. Warner May 1942
This hamlet, in the township of North Collins, was established in the year 1873, by Henry Lawton, father of Florence Lawton Taylor, when the Erie Railroad, which was to run to Jamestown, first went through. It is believed that Mr. Lawton made some advantageous agreement with the railroad authorities so that the station would be located at Lawton’s, rather than farther down the line. His sons, Clarence and Will, acted as station agents and clerksin the store adjoining.
The present Seneca Street was at that time Henry Lawton’s cow lane, and he owned all the land leading westward to the Reservation. Later Mr. Lawton built a larger store at the end of what is now Seneca Street. This burned, and he built another store on the same site, and used a smaller store to be rented out as a family cottage. Willis Lawton lived there for a while; then this building was moved to where the Post Office now stands (on Seneca Street in 1942). It was still used as a dwelling and the Post Office was put in the larger store.
Elijah Tucker owned the land south of Seneca Street at the time of the railroad enterprise. Reuben Sherman had control of this land, but he refused to lease the land for fear a saloon might be set up there. Since Mr. Sherman would not cooperate, Mr. Lawton opened the land for settlement. He proceeded to build, so that a regular village would result. The first building to be erected was a small store right next to the station.
One of the first families to come to Lawton’s was the Warner family-Joseph and his sons. They ran a blacksmith shop,which incidentally, would bring trade to the store owned by Mr. Lawton. Then Warner’s built a carriage shop next to the blacksmith shop. This is now the Velzey store and repair shop. About 1850, the Harknesses came from North Adams, Massachusetts, to settle in Lawton’s. Mr. George Harkness still has some school registers of early days.
After the Lawton’s family relinquished the station positions, George Burgott took charge, and being proficient in telegraphy, he held the position until his death. Other names associated with the station are: John R. Taft, Otto Eublacker, Pat Curtin, and Jay Warner.
Taylor Family and Quaker Settlements
Jacob Taylor came to the Lawton’s vicinity about 1809. He was the head of a family of Quakers or Friends, sent from Philadelphia to teach the Indians. This family consisted of people who were not related. The word “family” here is simply a religious term. He was granted a certain number of acres by the Holland Land Company. This was the first white settlement, and might well deserve a New York State marker.
Jacob Taylor, in 1814, had a sawmill, gristmill, and tavern where the stagecoach stopped. Much of the lumber for thehomes of those days came from this mill. In 1873, the mill was bought by Anton Setter, who made wooden blocks for printing purposes.
Chief Red Jacket, the most influential Indian Chief, always maintained friendship for the Quakers, but he was suspicious of other whites.
The Town of Collins should have been named after Jacob Taylor; but he fell into disfavor. Hence, the honor fell to Mr. Aldrich, the first white settler in Gowanda. He, however, turned the honor over to his wife, whose maiden name was Collins. Jacob Taylor had fallen into disfavor because some evil rumors were circulated about him. Some say that those rumors were merely a form of revenge for the decisions which he, as judge, had rendered. Mr. Taylor was such a huge man that when he died, the door casings had to be removed in order to get the casket out.
At one time, there were seven mills-grist and saw mills on the North Clear Creek which starts at Langford. Each road that crosses the Creek had its mill. Historic records show that wolf, deer, and bear were plentiful.
Taylor Hollow was originally part of Erie County, then part of Niagara County, later restored to Erie County. Its Post Office, in 1820, served North Collins, Collins, Concord, and Angola.
The first store in Taylor Hollow was established by John Hamford, evidently of the Quaker family in 1814. In 1916,this store was run by Joseph Taylor. Then Frank Willett tore down these building and sold the site to Harmon Taylor. The state marker which the North Collins Historical Club seeks to have erected would be on Harmon Taylor’s property.
George Taylor, grandfather of Harmon Taylor, was traditionally hospitable. It is said that he kept a spare bed especially for tramps. Some of these were rather dangerous. In fact, Mrs. Taylor had to rope off that particular room so that the vagrants could not wander about and leave before dawn.
The Harmon Taylor farm now includes 120 acres, and the old homestead, is now inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. Harmon Taylor and their daughters Joyce and Elaine. The chief activities on the farm include maple syrup production, dairy farming, and maintaining cottages for tourists.
Clayton Taylor and Cattle Raising
The name of Taylor is very prominent in Lawton’s history. Taylor Brothers owned the land which is now Gowanda State Farm. It was considered the best farm land in western New York. At present, Clayton Taylor occupies what was formerly the Henry Lawton homestead, and deals in prize stock.
In 1887 the Taylor’s sold the land to the State Farm and C. C. Taylor in 1890, bought the first Guernsey cattle. He exhibited at Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, 1901, and at World’s Fair, St. Louis, 1904. In both cases, prizes were won. This was remarkable in that Mr. Taylor had to compete with millionaires. Mr. Taylor was noted for his expert care of cattle. He felt that they were kept too confined. To get exercise and fresh air for them, he built covered sheds with windows always open. Cattle were kept here except at milking time and at feeding time. He was one of the first to build a silo (1896). This square silo is still in use.
C. C. Taylor, Sr. discontinued his cattle business because of lack of competent help. In 1920, C. C. Taylor, Jr. entered the business, changing to beef cattle, because less labor was involved. The dairy herd required 150 hours of care to 25 hours for beef cattle. The first beef cattle were secured from Ohio and the next from Massachusetts.
In 1940 at the State Fair at Syracuse, NY, Mr. Taylor won the badge “Premier Breeder, Aberdeen Angus Cattle.”This means that he won the most money on cattle bred by him.
In 1941, he won more money than any other breeder, but some of it was won on cattle bought from someone else. His greatest honor came in 1940, Senior and Grand Championship on a 3-year old bull called “Repeater of Wheatland, 9th.” This herd comes from Kansas.
Mr. Taylor was really a pioneer in the cattle business. In 1920, there were only five herds in New York State; in 1942, there are over 150 herds. There is a very complimentary write-up about him in a book entitled “History of Aberdeen Angus” published in 1928.
The original school building at Lawton’s was located on the main road across from the farm of Reuben Sherman. His daughter, Lucy Sherman, taught there for years.
In 1888, this structure was declared unfit for use and the district voted to erect a new school. A heated controversy ensued as to whether the building should be placed on the old site, or near the village. They decided on what is now Clayton Taylor’s farm. This argument took place while Ann Taylor was trustee, and Sylvia Willett, Collector. The people in the north refused to pay taxes. Cattle had to be levied on; for revenge, the Constable tried to serve a summons on the Collector. Finally the dissatisfied citizens had to pay taxes.
In 1916, this building burned while Ethel Highmay was employed as teacher. Parents had complained about the cold building. Apparently, in trying to meet this complaint, the teacher or janitor left an overheated stove which caused the fire.
The present modern building was erected in 1916. While waiting for the new building, teacher and pupils assembled in a building owned by Wm. Lawton-a building which had served as a storehouse, near the railroad tracks. Mr. Howard Butler of North Collins helped to plan the new structure. The planning group encountered some difficulty. They had all the plans made, and then had to change them to meet state specifications. The names of the following teachers will always be remembered by Lawton’s people: Florence Taylor, May Stancliff, Lucy Kerr, Charles Ide, Unice Palmerton, Cynthia Bowers, Addis Barr was also associated with the school.
At the present time, the children of Lawton’s are being taught in an excellent manner by Mrs. Mabel Stearns of North Collins.
Grange Hall was built originally for a store which was run by Al. Warner and later by Mr. Mulkins. The Macabees used this as a meeting place.
In the spring of 1909, Grange was started and for a time the organization met in rented quarters. About 1910, the Grange purchased the hall. The first master was Willis Lawton. Later ones were: George Pickens, Jesse Pratt, Edwin Lawton, Howard Lawton, Harmon Taylor, Clayton Taylor, Stephen Lawton, Elmer Stearns. The present master is Jack Lawton. This is a very progressive organization. The lecturer attends meeting at designated places and brings back valuable information for farm groups.
In the course of interviews with Lawton’s citizens I hear mentioned the following business places as having been apart of Lawton’s at various times:
Sawmill operated by Nick Scheu Grist and Cider mill owned by Lawrence Geiger Blacksmith shop and Carriage shop run by Joseph Warner Bicycle factory fun by Glenn Knight, Lynn Southwick Steam Sawmill in 1892 – operated until it burned Gristmill run by John Lawton, located where Jennings Pickens now lives. This section was then called Lawton’s Hollow. The Post Office at Lawton’s is in charge of Jennings Pickens The G.L.F. plant is now run by Mr. Britting The Wightman mill formerly owned by Mr. Geiger has been more than doubled in capacity since L.A.Wightman took it over 26 years ago. Improvements include platform scales, feed mixer, porte-cocheres, elevators, and conveyors. Garages in Lawton’s at the present time are those run by Harlem Velzy, Fred Mackmer, and Bert and Merrill Lawton.
The franchise for the local gas plant was secured by Allen B. Warner in 1922. At the time, there was one well; now there are five. Since the death of A.B. Warner in 1940, the wells are being taken care of by his son Malen R. Warner. Before this time most people used kerosene for lighting purposes, a few homes having their own supply of acetylene gas. This company has to file reports with the Public Service Commission at Albany, NY just as larger companies do.
Lawtons Garden Club
In this connection I interviewed some of the members, and I was privileged to read the minutes of their meetings. These minutes reflect the interest, energy and talent of the members.
The club began in March 1933. Some of the office holders have been: Mary Bell Wightman, Mrs. Millard Avery,Mrs. May Willett, Mrs. Lucy Pickens, Mrs. Olney Harkness, Mrs. Ledra Sucher. The present officers are: President Mrs. John Peters, Vice President Mrs. Ledra Sucher, Secretary Mrs. Ivan Congdon, Treasurer Mrs. Harry Minikime.
This Garden and Study club has an intellectual and benevolent side as well as a horticultural side. Part of each meeting is devoted to reports on some valuable topic. The members arrange literary, musical and patriotic programs. They invite and accept invitations from other clubs such as those of Silver Creek and East Aurora. They have listened to outstanding speakers such as the one from Cornell University and the one who had traveled in Australia. Roll call is responded to in terms of flowers, books, and seasons. They plan flower shows every year, the first one being held in Mary Belle Wightman’s kitchen. Later ones were held in Grange Hall, Lawtons, and Masonic Temple, North Collins.
The hotel at Lawton’s was built by Joseph Warner. Al Warner and his wife were the first proprietors. It is now run by Victor Kubasiak.
Queen City Milk Co.
Howard Butler, who was at that time supervisor, was instrumental in persuading the dairy to locate there. The company bought the land from Lucy Sherman Bebee.
The Water Company which was incorporated in 1912 by Wm. S. Lawton, Henry Thiel, Leon Andres, Jacob Burgott, George Burgott, Clarence Lawton, and Allen B. Warner agreed to supply water to the milk plant free for 20 years to induce the Queen City Dairy to operate there. Their business was to bottle milk to be sent to Buffalo. About 1930, this plant was sold to the Dairymen’s League. At present, this building is an incorporated canning company operated by farmers from Brant.
Leon Andres is now President of the Water Company. The water is considered the best in western New York, the Grairty System being used. Lawton’s does not have water meters-the flat rate for average homes is $13 per year.The same group who started the water company also started the sewer system.
Lawton’s Home Bureau began in 1914. Lavina Pratt was the first chairman. Others have been Lucy Pickens, Eva Rogers, May Willett, Evaleen Hussey, Libbie Bartholomew, Mary Belle Wightman. The present chairman is Grace Taylor Butler.
This organization is affiliated with the College of Agriculture at Cornell University. Cornell trains leaders and local leaders train members. They engage in such projects as refinishing furniture, redecorating, nutrition, sewing. Their current project is setting up a blackout room. One is on exhibition at the home of Mrs. C. C. Taylor, Lawton’s and of Mrs. Chapman, North Collins.
I believe that this paper shows that Lawtons has been the scene of much constructive activity and I am most grateful to those who assisted me in compiling the information set forth in it.
Town of North Collins Historian