Chapter 01 - Geography of the Town of Elma



WHAT is History?

History is the record of important events so arranged as to show the changes that have taken place, and to consider the causes that have operated to produce these results.

In the town of Elma, State of New York, and the United States, its territory, matters of government, political influence, agriculture, arts, manufactures, commerce, wealth, etc., etc. - have these always been as we see them today? If not, then there have been changes, and these have been produced by certain causes. A record of these general and local incidents is our history.

The town of Elma is in the centre of the county of Erie, in the State of New York, in the United States of North America. A history of the town of Elma is therefore a history of a part of the County of Erie, and of a part of the State of New York, and also a history of a part of the United States.

As a corollary - the history of the United States is, in part, a history of the town of Elma.

The history of any region, nation, or locality, properly begins with its original inhabitants, with mention of the earliest events and incidents, which later on work out results which bring that particular region into prominence. Then follows the life work in detail. So the history of the United States usually begins with an account of the earliest discoveries of the American Continent, and the claims to territory by Spain, France, England and Holland, with their efforts to plant colonies; and thus by possession, to hold the territory they each claimed.

More than four hundred years have passed since Christopher Columbus made his first voyage of discovery.

It took the nations of Europe one hundred and thirty years to plant four colonies as permanent settlements in what is now the United States.


The infant period of this country was begun by these early settlements; and the Pilgrims, on November 11th, 1620, before leaving the May Flower gave in their Constitution the key note or outbreathing of a spirit that was to grow and increase, until all the colonies should be permeated with its principles.

No magic wand was at that time passed over this land to suddenly transform the wilderness into the rich and prosperous country as we now see it. Instead, these changes came through years of toil, hardship, privations, suffering, massacres, oppression, wars and long waiting. The difficulties with which the colonies had to contend - wars with the French and Indians; troubles with Great Britain which culminated in the Revolutionary war; the trials, dangers and doubts which attended the Confederacy; and later, the formation of a government by the adoption of the Constitution of United States in 1787, required all the wisdom and sagacity of the best statesmen the world ever knew to save the country from total wreck. This constituted the infant period of one hundred and seventy years of this nation. Then Brother Jonathan, or Uncle Sam, had reached the stature of a full grown man, ready to do business, and the United States became, in fact, one of the nations of the earth. The young man has been doing a prosperous business for more than one hundred years.

As patriotic citizens, we all love our country and have admiration and respect almost to reverence for all those persons who took such active parts in the early period of our history; and we take a great interest in all the events that have, to this date, worked together during these two hundred and eighty years, which has brought us from a wilderness inhabited by roving tribes of savages, into the possession of a continent extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the great lakes and Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, with more than seventy-six millions of people, and with all the vast resources and possibilities which have made us a great and prosperous and influential nation; the wonder and admiration of statesmen everywhere, and the leader among the nations of the earth.

We have in the well written histories of our country a full narrative of all these events and incidents with causes and results in minute detail; and as the history of the United States in general, is, in part, a history of the town of Elma, it is not necessary in writing a history of this town to mention these separate incidents only so far as they have a direct relation to this particular locality.

The name, Elma, was given to this town in December, 1856, when the town was formed from Lancaster and Aurora. The early history commenced man}^ years before that date, and it may be well to here state that the name, "Town of Elma," and the local names as now known will be applied to any event affecting this locality, whether it has reference to a time before or after the actual organization of the town.


The town of Elma lies a little northeast of the centre of the County of Erie, in the State of New York and is bounded on the north by Lancaster, east by Marilla, south by Aurora, and west by East Hamburg and West Seneca, and is six miles in extent, east and west, about five and two-thirds miles north and south and contains twenty-one thousand three hundred and ninety acres of land for assessment of taxes, and is known on deeds and legal papers as a part of the Buffalo Creek Reservation, and also as Town 10, Range 6 of the Holland Land Company Surveys.


No causes are known, or are supposed to have existed since the "Glacial Period, that would produce any general or local changes in the face of the country in this locality. We may therefore conclude that the hills, the plains and the valleys are today practically as they have been for hundreds, and possibly thousands of years.


The principal streams in the town are the Little Buffalo, the Big Buffalo, the Cazenove Creeks and Pond Brook.

The Little Buffalo Creek enters the town from Marilla about one and one-half miles south from the northeast corner of Elma, in a channel about twenty feet wide and three to five feet deep in a valley sixty to eighty rods wide; has a general northwest course and passes into Lancaster about seven-eighths of a mile west from the northeast corner of Elma. The valley through which this stream flows is sixty to eighty feet below the general level of the country, with steep bluffy sides or banks.

The Big Buffalo Creek crosses the town line from Marilla about three-fourths of a mile north from the southeast corner of Elma in a channel eight}'- to one hundred and twenty feet wide and six to ten feet deep. This is a very crooked stream, its general, tortuous course being northwest for about one mile, thence northerly through East Elma, and on for about three and one-half miles, thence westerly four and one-half miles passing through Elma village, thence north-westerly one and one-fourth miles through Blossom, into West Seneca about one-third of a mile south from the northwest corner of the town of Elma. The valley of this stream is sixty to one hundred rods wide with steep banks, generally perpendicular walls of shale on one or the other side. The bed of the stream is thirty to eighty feet below the surrounding country.

The Cazenove Creek, named for Theophilus Cazenove, agent for the Holland Land Company, crosses the Aurora town line about one mile east from the southwest corner of Elma, in a channel eighty to one hundred feet wide, and six to ten feet deep, takes a general north course for two and one-half miles to Spring Brook, thence westerly one mile crossing into West Seneca about two and one-half miles north from the southwest corner of Elma. The valley of this stream is sixty to one hundred rods wide, with generally steep banks sixty to one hundred feet high and perpendicular walls of shale on one or the other side.

Pond Brook has its name from large ponds at its head, which are in the town of Aurora just across the Elma town line and about one and one-half miles west from the northeast corner of Aurora. The general course of this brook is west of north for five miles, when it enters the Big Buffalo Creek at Elma village. Its channel is eight to twenty feet wide and two to four feet deep in a valley six to twenty rods wide, with banks eight to forty feet high.


The lowest rocks are the Hamilton Shales succeeded by Tully limestone and Genesee slate.

The Hamilton Shales form the bed and banks of the Big Buffalo Creek from the west line of the town to where the Bullis Mills were located; the bed of Pond Brook, from the Big Buffalo Creek to where the William Standart saw mill was built, just north from the Bullis Road, and the bed and walls of the Cazenove Creek from the west line of the town to the Northrup Mills at Spring Brook.

The Tully limestone, so called because it is found near the top of the hills in the town of Tully in the south part of Onondaga County, is also called encrinal limestone because of the great number of fossil remains of Encrinites, the joints and stems of which are small calcareous disks, sometimes called fossil button moulds. This Limestone crobs out in the Cazenove Creek at the Northrup mills, and in Pond Brook just north of the Bullis Road, and again in the Big Buffalo Creek just north or below the Bullis Bridge.

The Genesee slate, lying immediately above the Tully limestone, forms the bed and walls of the Big Buffalo and Cazenove Creeks above the points named to the south and east parts of the town and frequently crops out on the hillsides in those places.

A ridge or elevation ten to twenty feet high extends in a northeast and southwest direction across the town a little north of the centre. That portion of the town lying north of this ridge is the same nearly level portion of the county that extends east and north from Buffalo, and in Elma is broken only by the valley of the Big Buffalo Creek and the gullies caused by its small branches. The soil is a clayey loam, resting on the Hamilton shales. South of this ridge the surface becomes more rolling; the highest hills in the southeast part of the town being one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet above the beds of the streams. The soil in this hilly part of the town is a drift formation of gravel and loose boulders. The soil in the valleys of the stream is alluvium.


This town was probably for many centuries, and to a time within the remembrance of many persons now living, a dense forest or wilderness with a very heavy growth of timber and was the home of wild animals and the wilder tribes of savages called Indians.


The principal varieties of timber may be given as white and yellow pine, hemlock, white, red and black oak, white and black ash, sugar, rock, and white or soft maple, black walnut, butternut, shell bark hickory, basswood, whitewood, cucumber, bitternut, black cherry, iron wood and birch.

Pine and oak were found principally in the eastern, southern and central parts of the town. The other varieties were common everywhere.

It is only within the last few years that a white man has lived within the limits of the town.


About thirty families of Indians were the only residents. These had their homes on the fiats of the Big Buffalo and Cazenove Creeks or on the high banks near these streams. It was on these flats that they had small clearings of three or four acres on which they raised corn, beans, and gourds. The balance of their living they obtained by hunting and fishing and from the whites in the adjoining towns.

These Indians have a history; and as they were the original owners and occupants of the lands, it is proper that we take them in review and in the next chapter give them a little notice as to their traditions, their history as we know it, their living here and finally, their selling out and moving away, giving place to the present residents of the town of Elma.

SOURCE:  History of The Town of Elma Erie County, N. Y. 1620 To 1901; Warren Jackman; Buffalo; G. M. Hausauer & Son; 1902