Brenda Eddy, Historian
PO Box 188
Conesus, NY 14435
History of the Town of Conesus
The Town of Conesus is a small, rural town situated on the eastern border of Livingston County, New York with a current population of around 2500. It is located between two “Finger Lakes” – on the west by Conesus Lake and east by Hemlock Lake. The hamlet of Conesus is located on NYS Route 15, south of Livonia and north of Webster Crossing and Springwater.
There are several variations of Seneca Indian names for the area, but most commonly used is “Ga-ne’-a-sos” meaning “always beautiful” referring to the Consus Lake area where the Senecas had a sizable village at the southern inlet. The “Ga-ne’-a-sos History Keepers” maintain exhibits in an original log cabin at the Ricky Greene Memorial Park. A marker at “Foote’s Corners” notes the route of General Sullivan’s Army, which was ordered to drive the Senecas from the area in 1779.
Records show many US Military servicemen from Conesus who served our country from as early as the Revolutionary War. Captain Daniel Shays (1747-1825), leader of the famous “Shay’s Rebellion” or the “Farmer’s Rebellion” (1786-1787) is buried in the Union Cemetery on Router 256 (West Swamp “Road). The other three cemeteries are Alger Cemetery on Rowland Road, the Gardener Arnold Cemetery on Elm Street and the McMillan Cemetery on Router 15 in the hamlet.
The earliest white settlers first came here around 1793, clearing land to build their log homes and raise families, crops and animals. Some of these early residents included James Henderson, Hector McKay, Jacob Durham, Jacob Collar, James McNinch and Mrs. Lucy Patterson. In the following years, many more settlers came to the area staking out their homesteads and opening businesses such as hotels, harness & carriage shops, feed mills, sawmills and general stores.
The town, which was then know as “Freeport” was originally with Ontario County. In 1819 it was formed by parts of the towns of Groveland and Livonia. On April 4, 1820 the first legal town meeting was held at which time several officials were elected. Davenport Alger was the first Town Supervisor and Samuel Chapin was the Town Clerk. Other positions filled were Assessor, Overseer of the Poor, Commissioner of Highways, Constables, Commissioners of Schools, Inspectors of Schools, Path masters and Collector. In 1821 the NYS Legislature designated Freeport as being in the newly-formed Livingston County. On March 26, 1825 the Legislature responded to a petition from residents and changed the names to “Bowersville”, but after another petition by residents opposing the legality, the Legislature officially changed the name of the town of Conesus on April 15, 1825.
Another notable resident was John Young (1802-1852) who received his education in Conesus. He went on to study law, was admitted to the New York Bar in 1829, served in many government positions and was elected New York State Governor in 1846. He is buried in Temple Hill Cemetery in Geneseo, NY.
The town at one time had 15 school hours which were later merged into 9 school districts, which were small, one-room or two-room school houses. When the school system was centralized students were sent to Livonia or Wayland Central School buildings – many traveled by train!
Passengers on the Erie Railroad were familiar with the delicious tarts available for purchase at the Conesus Center Depot, know as the “Round Pie Station.” Also of special mention is the former St. Michael’s Catholic Mission and O-neh-da Winery and vineyard, established in the 1870s by the Most Reverend Bernard J. McQuaid, the first Bishop of Rochester. Both buildings are under new ownership: the mission is now a privately-owned bed and breakfast and the winery still produced O-neh-da sacramental wines, as well as table wines under the “Eagle Crest Vineyards” label.
Steamboats and resort inns drew large crowds to Conesus Lake in the past and today there are many lakeside activities, including the annual Lake of Fire each July 3rd.
Conesus is known as “Home of Turtlestones,” which are unusual mineral-filled rock formations resembling turtle shells. These oddities are found around the globe, but are sometimes called “Conesus Stones” as they’re thought to be first recognized here. Annual “Turtlestone Festivals” were held at the Ricky Green Memorial Park on Router 15 for ten years (1994-2004).
The Conesus Amusement Hall (currently the Town Hall), the Kellerman Log Cabin (relocated to the Ricky Greene Park), the Payne Cobblestone House (on Federal Road) and the Sliker Cobblestone House (on Sliker Hill Road) are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although Conesus continues to grow steadily, attracting more residents and businesses, everyone here continues to enjoy the beautiful hillsides and valleys and the quiet, peaceful life that is rural surroundings provide.