NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: The Marsh Settlement

The unnamed teacher at East Wilson District #4 school is surrounded by her pupils in this 1893 photograph in the History Center of Niagara collection.

 

In the photo collection at the History Center there is a very clear and well-preserved image of the students attending the District #4 School in East Wilson on June 16, 1893. The image shows at least 10 boys, eight girls and a few children that are difficult to identify as boys or girls. The teacher, at the center of picture, does not look much older than her eldest female students. Some of the boys are in short pants and bare feet but everyone is wearing a long sleeve shirt or dress.

This schoolhouse is still standing on the west side of Beebe Road north of Chestnut Road. Another schoolhouse, District #7, also in East Wilson, is still extant on the south side of Chestnut Road just west of North Road. More about the schools later in this article. For consistency, Chestnut Road will be used even though that road was known as Marsh Settlement Road until 1870 and Chestnut Street until 1986.

East Wilson, when it was first settled in the early 1820s, was known as the Marsh Settlement as well as Beebe’s Corners. Not much is known about its founder, Joseph Marsh. He is on the 1820 U.S. census for Wilson, N.Y. At that time, only the head of the household’s name was listed along with age brackets for several demographic groups. For Marsh’s entry there is one free white male between 26 and 44 (presumably Joseph), one free white female between 16 and 25 (wife, daughter?) and one free white male between 10 and 15 (son?). Marsh is “engaged in agriculture.”

A Niagara Falls Gazette article from 1954 by an unnamed author states that Marsh settled on lot 65 in the town of Wilson. That would have been on the south side of Chestnut Road between Maple and Irish roads. Another source said he was at the corner of Chestnut and Beebe roads. There are no Marshes in the 1830 census for Wilson so he may have moved on or died, but he was there long enough to lend his name to the settlement. There were still references to East Wilson as the Marsh Settlement well into the 20th century.

Ironically, the area between Chestnut Road and Ridge Road, on both sides of Beebe Road, was wet and marshy and at one time cranberries were grown there, so “Marsh Settlement” could have had a double meaning.

In the years after Marsh no longer lived in the settlement named for him, more families moved into that area. This meant their children needed to be educated, and in 1843, District #7 school on Chestnut Road was opened. It has not been determined when District #4 was established but it was probably about the same time since it is on the 1852 Niagara County, although at that time it was District #14.

In the “Wilson Sketchbook” (Vol.1), the late Wilson historian Don Croop wrote that traditionally schoolhouses were painted red and this was true of District #7. He also explained that each district had its own board of trustees which hired teachers and distributed the funds to operate the school. Teachers’ supplies were limited to little more than chalk, erasers and a pointer. Students had to bring their own slates and chalk and later paper and a writing implement. When the one-room schoolhouses in Wilson were closed in 1942, the teachers were making less than $1,000 a year, about half the average worker's salary for that year. When these schools were closed, many of them were bought by local residents who remodeled them into homes or used them for other purposes.

In 1854, Marsh Settlement/East Wilson had enough residents to warrant its own post office. Seventeen years later, in July 1871, the post office was discontinued and people had to go to South Wilson to get their mail. There must have been an outcry because, only a month later, the East Wilson post office was reopened and operated until Rural Free Delivery was established in November 1901.

By 1875, this hamlet in southeast Wilson had a steam saw mill, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, three cooperages, two schools and a church. In 1871, the Chestnut Street Methodist Episcopal Society built a church across from the District #7 schoolhouse. As is often the case, the church became the center of community life. Several groups sponsored by the church met there including the Ladies’ Aid Society, the Youth Fellowship and the Boys Scouts. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) used the building for their meetings as did the South Lockport Fire Company until their hall was completed. By the early 1960s, attendance at the church began to decrease and in 1964, the congregation merged with the North Ridge Methodist Church. Just as with the old schoolhouses, the building was sold and is a private home today.

After 200 years, this area is still known as East Wilson but is no longer identified as the Marsh Settlement.

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

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