Great Genesee Road
As westward expansion began after the American Revolution, the only central New York pathways west of Fort Schuyler (Utica, New York) were rivers and a footpath which was a western fork of the Mohawk Trail or Iroquois Trail that went to Fort Niagara. The land companies which began developing large tracts of land for settlement started clamoring for the state to make better roads for their customers.
In 1794 the state legislature authorized the Great Genesee Road from Fort Schuyler to Canawaugus to help settlers reach the New Military Tract. This eight county tract was set aside to allow 500 acres of bounty land to pay each New York Revolutionary War veteran for his service. The new state road followed the route of a fork of the old Mohawk Trail part of the way. In 1797 a weekly stagecoach began service between Utica and Geneva on the Seneca/Ontario county line. Each leg of the round trip took three days. A state road extension to Buffalo was authorized in 1798.
However, the road construction was spotty and in places incomplete. In 1800 the legislature chartered the Seneca Road Company to charge tolls (originally six cents per mile) for improving the road. The road was macadamized to reduce pot holes. High-quality, privately-maintained, toll roads were called turnpikes. This one was completed in 1808 and was called the "Seneca Turnpike," 157 miles (253 km) from Utica to Canandaigua, longest such road in New York. In 1805 the western extension to Buffalo was changed from a public road to a private turnpike. This "Ontario and Genesee Turnpike" was completed in 1813. In 1806 the Seneca Road Company began developing a more northerly alternate route to the Seneca Turnpike (Great Genesee Road) through Syracuse. In time this became the more popular route west.
The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 reduced traffic on the turnpikes. Also, in the 1840s railroads began to compete for traffic. Reduced revenue on the turnpikes made the road companies unprofitable. By 1852 the Seneca Road Company was dissolved and the company's turnpikes became public roads again.
The counties along Great Genesee Road (east to west) were as follows:
Connecting trails. The Great Genesee Road linked to other trails at each end.
The migration pathways connected at the east end in Utica included:
The migration pathways connected at the west end in Buffalo included:
Settlers and Records
Early settlers in central New York most likely traveled there via Albany. Albany was a hub of pathways from New York City, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Quebec. Probably the largest group to settle were New Englanders, many from Vermont. But people from almost every part of the eastern seaboard and Europe also were common in the area.
No complete list of settlers who used the Great Genesee Road is known to exist. Nevertheless, local and county histories along that trail may reveal pioneer settlers who arrived 1794 to 1850, and therefore who were the most likely candidates to have traveled the Great Genesee Road or Seneca Turnpike.
For partial lists of early settlers who may have used the Great Genesee Road, see histories like:
- Elliot G. Storke, and James. H. Smith, History of Cayuga County, New York, 1789-1879 : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers (Syracuse, New York : D. Mason, 1879). WorldCat entry. FHL Book 974.768 H2s.
- H. C. Goodwin, Pioneer history, or, Cortland County and the border wars of New York : from the earliest period to the present time (Photocopy of original published: New York : A.B. Burdick, 1859). WorldCat entry. FHL Book 974.772 H2g; Film 844645; Fiche 6061857 (5 fiche).
- W. Woodford Clayton, History of Onondaga County, New York: with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of the prominent men and pioneers (Syracuse, N. Y. : D Mason, 1878). FamilySearch Books Online.
- New York State Route 5 Wikipedia route details and good history of roads in the area.
- The Great Genesee Road RootsWeb brief history and maps.
- The Way West Through Northern Seneca County good history of roads, canals, and railroads in Seneca County.
- Wikipedia contributors, "New York State Route 5" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_State_Route_5 (accessed 28 June 2011).
- "The Way West Through Northern Seneca County," http://www.co.seneca.ny.us/history/The%20Way%20West%20Through%20Northern%20Seneca%20County.pdf (accessed 29 June 2011).
- "Seneca Turnpike" in Clinton Historical Society at http://www.clintonhistory.org/A011.html (accessed 29 June 2011).
- "Great Genesee Road" in Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 849. WorldCat entry. FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
- Handybook, 847-54.