Wayne County is a county located in the U.S. state of New York. It is part of the Rochester area and lies on the south shore of Lake Ontario, forming part of the northern border of the United States with Canada. The name honors General Anthony Wayne, an American Revolutionary War hero and American . The county seat is Lyons. As of the 2010 Census, the estimated population was 93,772.
Its location during the early westward expansion of the United States, on an international border and in a fertile farming region, has contributed to a rich cultural and economic history. Two world religions sprung from within its borders, and its inhabitants played important roles in Abolitionism in the years leading up to the Civil War. Nineteenth century War of 1812 skirmishes, Great Lakes sailing ship commerce and Erie Canal barge traffic have since yielded to contemporary recognition as one of the world's most productive fruit growing regions. Wayne County ranks as the top apple producing county in New York.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the land Wayne County encompasses was originally part of the Iroquois Confederacy, which had existed from around August 31, 1142. When counties were established in New York State in 1683, it became part of Albany County. This was an enormous county, including the northern part of New York State and all of the present State of Vermont, extending (in theory) westward to the Pacific Ocean. In 1804, after numerous acts of subdividing, Seneca County was formed by the splitting of Cayuga County, which, in turn, was reduced in size by combining portions of Seneca and the remainder of Cayuga County to form Tompkins County in 1817.
On April 11, 1823, Wayne County was formed by combining portions of Seneca and Ontario Counties.
The first settlers of European extraction came to the region located along the Ganargua River, just west of present-day Palmyra. In 1788 the area became part of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, a tract of land sold to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sir William Pulteney, a British baronet and English land speculator, along with his partners in the Pulteney Association, purchased a of the former Phelps and Gorham Purchase in 1790.
The first westward road was one coming from near Utica to Geneva, and, with the building of the Cayuga Bridge in 1800, was the road chosen by nearly all of the westward travelers. This highway left the future Wayne County region somewhat isolated and settlers desiring to locate there came by way of streams and lakes lying to the north of the road. It was only a few years after that the "new road" came west, passing through the county, opening up the fertile Ganargua lands to easier settlement.
The first permanent settlement was started by John Swift and Col. John Jenkins in March 1789, about two miles (3 km) from Palmyra. In May of that year a small colony made up of the Stansell and Featherly families located at the junction of Ganargwa and the Canandaigua Outlet, calling the place Lyons, from a "fancied likeness of that city's location on the Rhone".
While Phelps and Gorham sold some land to settlers, they were unable to make payments on their land and much of the land in the Phelps Gorham purchase either reverted to Massachusetts and was resold or conveyed directly to Robert Morris, a major financier of the Revolutionary War and signer of The Declaration of Independence. In 1792, he in turn sold approximately to The Pulteney Association owned by Sir William Pulteney and two other minor partners. The Pulteney Purchase, or the Genesee Tract as it was also known, comprised all of the present-day counties of Ontario, Steuben and Yates, as well as portions of Allegheny, Livingston, Monroe, Schuyler and Wayne. After Pulteney's death in 1805 the land was known as the Pulteney Estate.
Sir William Pulteney selected Charles Williamson as land agent to develop the purchased . In 1792, Williamson, a Scotsman, came to the unsettled wilderness in upstate New York to develop the land by building roads, selecting sites for towns, dividing land into lots, and building gristmills, taverns, stores and houses. Williamson selected Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario as the point for a future commercial center, with the idea that the lake and the Saint Lawrence River would be the outlet for the products of the region. In 1794 he had roads built from Palmyra to Phelpstown (present-day Phelps). Sodus was surveyed by Joseph Colt in lots of a quarter acre (1,000 m²), a hotel was built, and $20,000 was expended in the first two years in improvements. Sodus quickly passed from having an uncertain future to the head of the towns of the region.
War of 1812
Two small skirmishes were fought in the county during the War of 1812: one in Sodus in June 1813, and the other in Williamson a year later. In May 1814, British troops under the command of Sir James Yeo landed in the Williamson hamlet of Pultneyville. Yeo's fleet had already successfully raided Oswego to the east and unsuccessfully attacked Rochester to the west before attempting to obtain stores from Pultneyville. An agreement with the hamlet's residents was made, permitting the invaders to seize supplies without resistance. A dispute broke out, however, and weapons fire began on both sides, including cannon bombardment from Lake Ontario. A few citizens were killed or wounded and two were taken prisoner as the British fled.
Great Lakes commerce
Until the opening of the Erie Canal in 1823, Pultneyville, New York, at the mouth of Salmon Creek, was Wayne County's only port. From about 1811 through the 1890s (when the customs office closed), shipping in this small hamlet extended to the Atlantic Ocean and the world via the Saint Lawrence River. During the early years of the 19th century, activity in Pultneyville focused on agricultural commerce from the surrounding region (as far south as Canandaigua) and the maritime trade on the Great Lakes. In 1865, it was home to nearly 30 lake captains, and many sailors from both Pultneyville and Sodus Bay crewed on whalers around the world. In 1874 the first railroad appeared when the Lake Shore Railroad line opened and the center of trade moved three miles (5 km) south to Williamson and Pultneyville's significance as a commerce center sharply declined.
Religion: Wayne County and the Second Great Awakening
Wayne County played host to key events in the development of significant American religions during the country's Second Great Awakening period of the early 19th century. The Fox Sisters heard rappings from a dead peddler in Hydesville and spawned a movement that eventually garnered a million followers at its peak.
Wayne county is the birthplace of the Latter Day Saint movement and Mormonism. Founder Joseph Smith, Jr., whose family lived on a farm that straddled the line between Palmyra and Manchester, claimed to have been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, an event known as the First Vision. In 1830 the Book of Mormon was first published in the village of Palmyra by E.B. Grandin, in the present Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.
Spiritualism and the Fox sisters
Spiritualists often set March 31, 1848 as the beginning of their movement. On that date, Kate and Margaret Fox, of Hydesville, reported that they had made contact with the spirit of a murdered peddler. What made this an extraordinary event was that the spirit communicated through audible rapping noises, rather than simply appearing to a person in a trance. The evidence of the senses appealed to practical Americans, and the Fox sisters became a sensation. Demonstrations of mediumship (seances and automatic writing, for example) proved to be a profitable business, and soon became popular forms of entertainment and spiritual catharsis. The Foxes earned a living this way, as did many others.
Civil War and Underground Railroad
During the American Civil War Wayne County inhabitants were active in support of the Underground Railroad due to the area's proximity to slavery-free Canada. Wayne County also raised companies for multiple volunteer Union regiments, including the 33rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the 98th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the 111th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and the 9th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment.
During the Civil War, men from Wayne served in the 111th New York Infantry, under Colonel Clinton D. MacDougall.
The 111th New York was present at, among others, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Cold Harbor and the Appomattox Campaign. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the 111th took the second highest casualties as a regiment of the entire battle.
The Erie Canal transits the southern edge of the county. The villages of Lyons, Newark, and Palmyra all became homes to canal locks when the Albany to Rochester section of the canal opened on September 10, 1823. On that day these communities became part of a direct water-link between the eastern seaboard metropolises of New York City and Baltimore and America's expanding western frontier.
Wayne County high school seniors are offered the opportunity to win a scholarship by The Augustus L. and Jennie D. Hoffman Foundation Scholarship Essay Program. Established in 1954 to encourage the study of local history, students research and write essays on some aspect of Wayne County history or civic affairs. Between its inception and 2007 over 600 essays have been submitted.
The Ginna plant was the site of a minor nuclear accident when, on January 25, 1982, a small amount of radioactive steam leaked into the air after a steam-generator tube ruptured. The leak which lasted 93 minutes led to the declaration of a site emergency. The rupture was caused by a small pie-pan-shaped object left in the steam generator during an outage. This was not the first time a tube rupture had occurred at an American reactor but following on so closely behind the Three Mile Island accident caused considerable attention to be focused on the incident at the Ginna plant. In total, 485.3 curies of noble gas and 1.15 millicuries of iodine-131 were released to the environment .
In addition to the county historical society, there are a number of other historical preservation organizations. Most of these are town or village based.