Wednesday, October 12, 2005


"You discover how much you have aged when you realize that the past has become more important and interesting than the future." - Malcolm Mott

Until I see a similar quote elsewhere, I will attribute this to myself. If you know of someone else who has gotten there before me, feel free to alert me so that I can feel properly humiliated.

I forgot, in my previous entry, to credit the author of Penfield's Past; she is our late town historian and her name is Katherine Wilcox Thompson.

I'd like to reproduce a portion of what it was like for early travelers in these parts, to give you an idea of how the lay of the land, in large part, remains:

'The steep sides of the [Irondequoit] valley separated Penfield from the rest of the country to the west. Until the advent of the automobile a trip to the booming city of Rochester was a nightmarish journey in earliest days, a tedious affair by stage or wagon later, and a roundabout way by subsequent railroad or trolley routes.

'Recalling very early days, Edwin Scrantom, who was nine years of age when his family occupied the first cabin on the site of Rochester in 1812, wrote about early roads:

" ... and now I may as well speak of a far worse and more horrible locality, because much longer, secluded, dense, and intricate. The place of dread was down through the labrynthian 'dugway' going to Penfield village. The rains always gullied that skulking place of robbers and Indians, and one had to keep his eye strained to keep his horse and himself from going headlong into the deep yawning ruts on either side, and when by dint of good piloting, one got down safely on to the narrow bridge that carried him across Allen's Creek at the bottom, the flat land that he came into, studded with a young growing thicket that stood high and shaded the road on both sides the whole length of the hill beyond, was a dreary dark passage, muddy and full of holes that made one wish that every time he passed through it he might not be obliged to repeat the adventure. All around this flat passage are hills, and to the north of it are clusters of sugarloaf hills,where John Atwood and one Cobb, an old recluse of that day, and others dug for [Captain] Kidd's treasure and told lying myths about striking the chests and how they moved because some of the company in their sudden joy at finding the treasure, spoke or shouted, and thus broke the charm! I say, these surroundings with the stories that had their history here, always created a dread whenever we went over them - an apprehension of coming evil, a terror of suspicion, that though it never resulted in any disaster or circumstances confirming our fears, was, nevertheless a disturbing element in our day experiences, and our night dreams. I will mention one, and the severest one I had through this dark and dreary road. I had been dispatched on horseback by William Cobb, the first edge-tool maker and blacksmith general ... to Daniel Penfield, Esq. of Penfield, to get a package of $1000 in money. I went, and received my package, strongly bound up in the yellow post-office paper; and, as I was about leaving, Mr. Penfield, following me outside of his office, told me I must not stop anywhere, nor show it, nor tell any man I had it, nor take it out of my pocket where he had pinned it in cautiously. And he added, "You may be robbed and murdered if anyone knows you have so much money." I can distinctly recollect the trim little man now, ... his hand raised, and his index finger bent to give awful meaning to his solemn injunction to me. ... And so, impressed with the responsibility of my errand, and holding my breath, I mounted my horse and began my journey. All came out safe and well - but it was a regular 'Tan-O-Shanter'(sic) ride, with all the witches and hobgoblins that beset him, and all the dread they inspired. And when I came to a certain pine tree - just above the mouth of the Dugway - near where tradition had it that a certain pedlar had been murdered years before for his money - I put whip to my horse (and he was a good one) and shutting my eyes for the next half mile, I listened to the clatter of the feet of my flying horse as they woke the echoes of the woods and floated away into them."

Such is the undeniably horror-ridden region which we call home, and it still retains a slight flavor of those old times, at least late at night when the chill wind whistles through bare branches. The bowl of the flood plain, where the bridge over Allen's Creek exists to this day (although constructed of concrete and steel now) is still surrounded by sugarloaf sand hills, and beautiful country it is.



gdireneoe said...

One of the failings of living in a new, young community is the lack of history like good stories. ;)  C.

fitzzer said...

Thx for posting this story - I loved it. It's so interesting to hear about the people who lived there before us and what it was like back then. I'm in big trouble on the age thing. I think I'm ripening before my time, but I do like the quote! ~ Lori

sistercdr said...

That was beautiful and eerie at the same time.  Fall is the time I'm most reminded that where I live was once considered the wild frontier, literally Davy Crockett territory.  When I'm driving in the country and smell woodsmoke and can't see the chimney it's coming from, I have that echo of a sense of what it might have been like.