Town Historian

Earl Roth
Town Historian

Phone: (585) 757-3027

Visit Town History Website


Following the American Revolution, Western New York was a vast wilderness that was all but uninhabited, except for the Seneca Indians. Various charters from English Kings in the 1600’s granted the area to both Massachusetts and New York, but the Treaty of Hartford in 1786 gave New York sovereignty, allowing Massachusetts to retain monetary title to the land, subject to Indian rights. These rights were subsequently relinquished with the Big Tree Treaty at Geneseo in 1797, where the Indians were paid $100,000 to give up their claims.

In 1791, Robert Morris spent $333,333.33 to purchase a four million acre tract of land from Massachusetts. This purchase included what would eventually become the eight counties known as Western New York. Two years later, Mr. Morris sold three and a half million acres of his purchase to Dutch financiers eager to invest their fortunes in America. Thus, the area became known as the Holland Purchase and the Dutch financiers became the Holland Land Company.

In 1798, Joseph Ellicott came into the area with men and equipment to survey the vast tract of land and lay it out into townships for the Holland Land Company. He was named resident agent of the Purchase in 1800 and as such, was responsible for the sale of the land he surveyed. He was responsible for the road from Batavia north to Pine Hill or “The Pinery”, as it was called in 1802. The Indians referred to it as Te-ca-so-a-a, which meant “Pine Lying Up.” Soon after, regional advantages such as the rich soil, moderate climate and dense forest which could supply plenty of building material lured many enthusiastic settlers.


The Town of Batavia gave birth to Elba on March 14, 1820, which at that time included the land now known as Oakfield, covering an area of some 38,000 acres. Over twenty-two years later, on April 11, 1842, Oakfield was separated from Elba, leaving it to it present size of 22,631 acres.

The village of Pine Hill developed at the four corners where the lands of early settlers Asa Babcock, Charles Woodworth, John Wyllis and Thomas Davis met. It seemed a likely spot, with the crossroads and the traffic passing through to the lake in the north and Batavia to the south.


On Saturday, August 14, 1937, almost 5000 people crowded the village streets to attend the first Elba Volunteer Fire Department Field Day. It was the largest celebration the village had seen in years and attracted just about everybody within the township. Originally held at the four corners (Main, Chapel and Mechanic Streets), organizations entered floats while kids decorated bicycles and entered their pets into the parade. Open-air dancing was held in the evening. Games such as speed races for the boys and girls, bicycle races, soap box derbies, tire rolling, rolling pin throwing, hanging clothes, pie eating contests, tug-o-war contests and water fights kept young and old entertained.

In 1938, a new tradition began; an automobile was offered as a prize. During the war years, Field Day underwent some changes. In 1943 and 1945, with gas rationing prevalent, horses and buggies were utilized instead of motorized automobiles, and a $1000 war bond, instead of the car, was award as the grand prize. In 1944, Field Days was called off altogether as the threat of infantile paralysis epidemic swept the area. Through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s the Firemen raffled a brand new Cadillac. Now you’ll find different makes and models and for 2003 you even had a choice from 3 different models.

Another change in 1947 prompted the first ever “Onion Queen” competition. All interested single girls between the ages of 17-22 residing in the Village or Town of Elba could apply. Voting to select the five final candidates was done by mail, and the Queen was selected after the parade. She was awarded $50 and the four runners-up received $15. Miss Leanna Gateson holds the honor of being the first-ever Elba Onion Queen. This program evolved over the years and for many of them neighboring towns were allowed to compete. It has switched back to an all Elba program in 2003 and includes Juniors instead of Seniors.

Though Field Days has seen many a change through the years, the one thing remains constant: Elba pours out its community pride and spirit for this two-day event. Field Days has been so entrenched in the lives of Elba citizens, that vacations and reunions are routinely scheduled around it. For many, it is a time to renew friendships, see fellow classmates and former teachers, or return home for a family gathering.


1801 – The first settlement was reported to have been made at Daws Corners by Samuel and Amos Ranger from Vermont. Samuel Clark and his son, Samuel, of Massachusetts also settled here in 1802.

1802 – Betsey White, daughter of Aaron White, was the town’s first birth.

1803 – The first deed ever issued by the Holland Land Company occurred on July 22, to John Young of Rockingham County, Virginia. He and his wife Peggy purchased 102 acres on the Oak Orchard Road for $202. There he opened a tavern in a little log house he had built.

1804 – The first death was that of a Revolutionary soldier, David Kingsley, who, with his wife Patience (Woods) and brother Phineas, had come from Becket, Massachusetts. The first physician in town was Dr. Daniel Woodward.

1810 – Horace Gibbs erected the first sawmill on a branch of Spring Creek in the eastern part of town.

1811 – The first school was “Gifford Hill” at the house of J.W. Gardner. Mason Turner was the first teacher.

1815 – Comfort Smith erected the first gristmill. Stephen Harmon established the area’s first inn.

1819 – Samuel Laing was credited with being the first storekeeper at Pine Hill as well as the town’s first blacksmith.

1820 – Town of Elba formed.

1824 – Elba’s first shoe and boot making business opened at Daws Corners.

1884 – Village of Elba was incorporated.

1896 – First free Rural Mail Delivery in New York state started in Elba.

1903 – Elba Telephone Company was incorporated.

1915 – Elba mucklands opened with the draining of the swamp.

1916 – Bank of Elba was incorporated.