Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 23, 2013

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES:

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The first roads in Niagara County, as in most areas, started out as Native American trails traversing the county north to south, east to west, and diagonally from one corner to the other. Worn footpaths only a few feet wide served the first settlers who ventured into the area prior to 1808 when this area was still part of Genesee County. 

The War of 1812 caused a temporary interruption in the development of settlements but by 1817, when it was announced where the Erie Canal would be passing through, settlers from the east began pouring in. With more people, the poor road conditions needed to be addressed. The New York Legislature passed laws to fund road building and maintenance across the state. Roads were widened and improved, inns and taverns sprang up at crossroads, and citizens were asked to assist with maintaining the roads in their vicinity. Roads became essential for transporting products to the newly opened Erie Canal.

One of the oldest and most traveled roads in Niagara County was Ridge Road, present day Route 104. Beginning in the central part of the state, Ridge Road traveled west along the sand ridge shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois (larger predecessor of Lake Ontario) to Lewiston. Although used as a woodland path for years, this route was officially declared a road in 1816. 

For most of the way, Ridge Road parallels the Niagara Escarpment, which lies to the south. This road was popular with travelers and soon wagons and stagecoaches were trundling along. Where Ridge Road intersected with north/south roads, ambitious entrepreneurs set up establishments to accommodate locals and guests. 

Every few miles you could find a place of respite along Ridge Road. Some of the more well-known establishments were located at “corners.” Some of these early taverns still survive including Warren’s, Howell’s and Dickerson’s. Some have now been turned into private homes. Others were lost to fire, neglect or new development. The following is a list of some of the junctions along Ridge Road that were once bustling stops on the overland route to the west.

• Johnson Creek — Ridge Road and Johnson Creek Road, Hartland

• Hartland Corners (Morehouse’s Corners) — Ridge Road and Hartland Road, Hartland

• Ridge Road (now Ridgewood) — Ridge Road and Hess Road, Newfane

• Wright’s Corners — Ridge Road and Lake Road, Lockport

• Warren’s Corners — Ridge Road and Town Line Road, Cambria

• Molyneux’s Corners — Ridge Road and North Ridge Road, Cambria

• Streeter’s Corners — Ridge Road and Cambria-Wilson Road, Cambria

• Howell’s Tavern — Ridge Road and Twelvemile Creek, Cambria

• Dickerson’s — Ridge Road and Dickersonville Road, Lewiston

Throughout the 19th century, the main means of travel along the roads was either by foot or by horse. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights and carriage makers were in great demand throughout the county. Ira Bronson and Son Carriage Works of Lockport, a major manufacturer, turned out many styles of carriages, wagons and sleighs between 1851 and 1916. Their carriages were sought after outside of the county as well.

By 1914, Ridge Road and many of the other main routes in the county were paved to accommodate automobile traffic. Taverns and inns gave way to restaurants and motels, which themselves are now becoming obsolete along these rural roads. Although luxury homes and housing developments have replaced many of the old farms, driving the Ridge Road today you can still catch glimpses of its colorful past and historical significance in Niagara County.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.