Holley’s origin is much like many small towns. Originally, covered with a forest of hemlock trees, it was once a place where wild animals roamed through the thick underbrush of shrubs and plants. In fact, back in 1802, travelers reported the trees were so thick that even with the brightest sunshine above, you stood in wooded darkness! Then one day, New York State made a decision to construct a canal spanning from Albany to Buffalo. From that moment onward, everything changed!. Myron Holley, the Commissioner of the Erie Canal (and with whom our village was named) was instrumental in the canal’s construction, along with DeWitt Clinton.
Cheap, fertile land available for purchase further enticed early settlers to venture beyond their comfort zones and into this vast wilderness. By clearing many trees to make room for the settlers, much light shined on an area once filled with darkness.
Two of Holley’s earliest settlers in 1812 were William Rice and Stephen Lewis. Entrepreneurs, they envisioned moneymaking opportunities and began making plans for this future canal town. One such man was John Reed, who in 1814, discovered a “salt lick” and began boiling salt – a necessity back then to preserve food.
The next pioneer in Holley was Aerovester Hamlin – a man who had big dreams for the village. A visionary, Mr. Hamlin saw Holley’s great potential even when others didn’t and purchased 100 acres of land. In 1822, he had the land surveyed and laid out, with streets radiating from the central square. Soon after Mr. Hamlin erected a warehouse and created a post office. Unfortunately, he overextended his finances and in 1828, Mr. Hamlin sold his holdings, with Hiram Frisbie and James Seymour purchasing most land and improvements known then and now as the Public Square.
Once construction of the Erie Canal began, many workers selected Holley – a new and growing settlement as their permanent home upon the canal’s completion in 1825. Soon Holley began to attract many settlers and businesses; its rich soil planted with vegetable crops and orchards and its abundant harvest shipped on the Erie Canal. It’s one of many remarkable story about one small town’s transformation from wooded darkness to the light of a new and growing settlement. Learning from our past, Holley’s story continues…
Want to know more about the history of Holley and Orleans County? Check out the following books….
A LEGACY FOR HOLLEY by Winifred M. Bentley, pub. 1997, soft cover, 98 pages. This booklet is a history of the Community Free Library (1947-1997) in Holley, NY on its 50th anniversary.
PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE SQUARE—HOLLEY, NEW YORK by Marsha DeFillipps, Raymond Santoro; pub. 1991, pamphlet soft cover, 28 pages. A visual history of Holley, NY with early photos, postcards, maps.
HISTORICAL AMNESIA by Delia A. Robinson, pub. 2000, 53 pages, available hard and soft cover. Describes 19th century Orleans County women, ordinary and extraordinary, who helped Orleans County to grow. Several illustrations.
HISTORICAL MARKERS IN ORLEANS COUNTY NEW YORK compiled by C. W. Lattin and Neil Johnson; pub. 2001, soft cover, 38 pages. Contains listing of all 78 Orleans County historical markers erected during the 20th century within the county. Many illustrations. Available through the Cobblestone Society.
HISTORICAL ALBUM OF ORLEANS COUNTY, NY pub. 1879, hard cover, (large book) 320 pages. History of towns and villages, biographical sketches, many fine illustrations of private residences and public buildings, Civil War information with lists of veterans from each town, some Indian history.
OCHA CHRONICLES compiled by Orleans Co. Hist. Assn. from articles written by members and local historians; pub. 1987, hard cover, 12 articles, 32 pages; description of municipal historians’ activities, office of Orleans Co. historian, grassbed fishing, small museum fashion shows, discovering man’s past, Holley’s gold seekers, events of 1887 a century ago, Orleans Co, government changes, OCHA history for 10 years. Available new, $7 from O.C.H.A., P.O. Box 181, Albion, NY 14411.
THE VETERANS’ BIOGRAPHY WORLD WAR II by Tom Page, no pub. Date in book but circa 1950, hard cover, 81 pages with ads. Features veterans from Albion and Holley area and has their photos and brief WWII biographical history-gives military service history, rank, awards, discharge date.
LANDMARKS OF ORLEANS COUNTY NEW YORK by Issac Signor, pub. 1894, hard cover, 960+ pages. Lengthy historical, and biographical record to the county with some illustrations of prominent citizens, and index. An important and significant book about this county.
PIONEER HISTORY OF ORLEANS COUNTY by Arad Thomas, pub. 1871, hard cover with 463 pages. Contains brief biographical sketches of the early settlers, early county history, histories of each town and village in the county and appendix with lists of county officers, organizations, partial name index, subject index.
HISTORY OF ST. PAUL’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH by Winifred M. Bentley, soft cover, 167 pages, published in 1995 by the Episcopal Church in Holley, NY. A history of this church from 1894-1994.
MEMORIES OF MANNING CORNERS by Roy Bubb. Soft cover with color cover, 79 pages pub. 2002 by the Clarendon Historical Society. Book is a history of the Bubb family and the Manning, NY neighborhood from the 1931 -1942 period when the author was growing up there. Included are chapters on his family’s move to Clarendon, pre-school years, Manning Corners, his school years, life on the farm, St. Mary’s church i nearby Holley, NY and the early World War II years. Many illustrations, photos and family tree.
My Three Years in World War II by Irene M. Gibson, published in 1987 by the Orleans County Historical Association, soft cover, 28 pages. Booklet is an account of a young Holley, NY woman’s experiences as an officer in WWII and her efforts to help America’s war effort.
Microfilms of all Orleans County newspapers are available at the Swan Library in Albion, NY covering from early 1800s to present. Most of these microfilms are also available at the Drake Memorial Library on the SUNY campus at Brockport, NY.
NOTE—Most books listed above are not currently in print. Books out of print may be available from rare book dealers in this area or possibly through Internet rare book dealers (such as www.amazon.com and www.abebooks.com) or even on eBay. Orleans County libraries have many of these books on file; however many of them are not circulated or allowed to be removed from the library due to rarity and value. Some books have been reprinted