NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Taking a peek at Pekin

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTERThis map is from the 1875 atlas of Niagara County.

 

In the past, Niagara Discoveries has looked in on various people and events associated with the hamlet known as Pekin but has not examined its origins. This village is located at the intersection of Upper Mountain and Town Line roads, atop the Niagara Escarpment. The west half is located in the town of Lewiston and the east half in the town of Cambria.

The first person to purchase land in what is now Pekin was a man whose last name was Carney. Some sources cite John Carney and others cite Samuel Carney as the first to purchase lots from the Holland Land Company in 1812. The settlement was originally called “Mountain Ridge,” which aptly described its location. The village not only encompasses both sides of Upper Mountain Road but also the Town Line Road as well. Before the “Pekin Cut” connected the two parts of Town Line Road, you could access that road by Pekin Hill Road and Grove Street, as you still can today.

By the 1820s, Mountain Ridge could boast a tavern, a post office and several businesses. In 1831, the name was changed to “Pekin.” The origin of the name is uncertain. At least two theories have emerged; one, that it was named for the Chinese capital, and the other, that someone was caught “peeking” in the window of the schoolhouse when the residents were discussing names for the community. Whatever the reason for the name, it stuck.

A major change came to Pekin in 1837 when the first railroad was built through the village. The Lockport and Niagara Falls Strap Railroad Company operated between those two villages making two runs daily. This railroad used the famous “DeWitt Clinton” steam engine, which was originally the first train to travel between Albany and Schenectady. The railroad put Pekin on the map in Niagara County. A small station was built just south of Upper Mountain Road near Grove Street on the Lewiston side of Town Line Road. The building is still standing and is now a private residence.

For the next 14 years, the little village prospered. Then in 1851, the Lockport and Niagara Falls Strap Railroad Company was sold to the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad Company, which redirected the tracks north through Sanborn. Pekin’s “glory days” were over although it continued as a quiet farming and business community.

One of the dominant landmarks in Pekin is the large stone Methodist Church. The congregation was formed in 1819 and they built their first meeting house in 1825. The present stone church was constructed in 1856-57. The Congregational Church was established in 1827 and built their church in 1845. That church disbanded in 1856 and a Presbyterian Society used their building for a few years. In 1860 there was schism in the Methodist Church with a number of the congregants leaving to form the “First Free Methodist Church of Pekin.” This congregation first met in the old wooden Methodist meetinghouse and later moved into the Congregational Church after the Presbyterian Society disbanded. The Free Methodists disbanded in 1873 and the church burned down in 1880. Another church, the Church of Christ (Disciples) was established in Pekin in 1888.

One of Pekin’s most prominent residents was Sparrow Smith Sage. He was the son of early Lewiston settlers, Asahel and Ann Page Sage. Sparrow S. Sage moved to “Mountain Ridge” in 1829 to teach school there. One of his students was Catherine DeVoe (or DeFoe), whom he later married sometime in the 1830s. They had at least four children: Mary Ann, Helen, Isabel and Clinton. They lived in a stone house on the north side of Upper Mountain Road on the Cambria side of Pekin near the road that leads down the hill to Town Line Road.

In the 1869 Niagara County Directory, there is an “S.S. Sage” listed as “lawyer and farmer” with 42 acres of land in Cambria. A Sage family source also listed him as a judge. He died in 1876 at the age of 70. Catherine lived on in the house until 1906 when she died at 96.

In 2009, the Sage house collapsed and was torn down. Among the debris was found a 6-by-1-foot sign that reads “S. S. Sage” that was donated to the History Center.

There are many other interesting and historic homes and structures in Pekin along with panoramic views of the Lake Ontario plain from the Niagara escarpment and the Mount View Cemetery, final resting place of many of Niagara County’s earliest pioneers.

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