NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Orange Mansfield, 1792-1879

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTERFrom the 1875 Niagara County atlas showing Orange Mansfield’s property next to the church in Rapids.

In the 19th century when people were moving into this area, it was not uncommon for them to buy property in more than one town or county. That was case with a man named Orange Mansfield. He was born in Herkimer County, N.Y., in 1792 and served in the War of 1812 from that area. Following the end of that war, Mansfield came to the town of Clarence in what was then still part of Niagara County. He established a farm in the northeast section of the town at the intersection of Salt and Lapp roads that became known as Mansfield’s Corners. All of his children, except his oldest son, Orange Jr., were born in Erie County.

Mansfield took an active interest in his community and in civic affairs. In 1822, he was promoted to the rank of colonel in the New York State Militia; he was appointed a postmaster in 1837, and ran for the New York State Assembly on the Loco Foco ticket in 1845 (the Loco Focos were anti-Tammany Democrats) but he lost to the Whig candidate. In 1841, he indirectly lent his name to the endorsement of a patent medicine product, C. C. Bristol’s Sarsaparilla, when he certified that testimony about the product was true

In his personal life, Mansfield was married twice, first to Marian, and after her death in 1831, to Mary. He fathered seven children with his two wives.

By the 1840s, Mansfield was looking northward toward Niagara County. In 1848, Alonzo J. Mansfield, Orange’s younger son, moved from Clarence just across Tonawanda Creek to the town of Lockport where he established a farm on Wisterman Road just north of the hamlet of Rapids. A year later, Orange and Alonzo built a saw mill on the creek in Rapids.

In order to facilitate access to the mill from both sides of the creek, Orange Mansfield embarked on constructing a plank road from Mansfield Corners in Clarence, through Rapids, and up to the village of Lockport. The “Lockport and Mansfield Plank Road” would incorporate parts of Salt and Tonawanda Creek roads in Clarence, and Rapids, Raymond Hill and Beattie roads in Lockport.

Right from the start, the road faced many obstacles to success ranging from loose planks to drainage problems. Mansfield sold the road to another company in 1854 and they subsequently abandoned it in 1858.

Although he is still listed in the 1850 U.S. census as residing in Clarence, in 1849, Mansfield built a house in Rapids and for the next 25 years used that as his primary residence while retaining the property in Clarence. Seven years later, he donated the lot next to his house for the building of Rapids Community Church.

Sometime before 1858, Orange Mansfield was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the New York State Militia.

With the start of the Civil War in 1861, and the 50th anniversary of the War of 1812 approaching, Mansfield and other local veterans of that conflict gathered at the American Hotel in Lockport to form a new organization, the “Soldiers of the War of 1812.” Gen. Mansfield was unanimously elected commander of the group. He continued to reside in Rapids with his second wife until the early 1870s when he returned to his original home in Clarence.

During those years, he had lost a daughter, Alvira, his son, Orange Jr., and a grandson, also his namesake, who had drowned. These deaths, and his failing health, may have contributed to an investigation, led by Lockport’s Sullivan Caverno, into Mansfield’s alleged lunacy beginning in 1876. Still, he lived another almost four years, before dying on Dec. 28, 1879, at his daughter Abigail’s home in Clarence at the age of 87. He was buried in Hunt’s Cemetery in Clarence. Both of his wives, Marian and Mary, are buried there as well.

NEXT WEEK: Alonzo J. Mansfield and the Lockport Glass Company.

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