Skip to main content

Pittsford Got Its Name

How Northfield became Pittsford

Although the land lay northwest of the seven-year old settlement at Canandaigua, the term North "field" was a misnomer. The heavy forest of hardwoods and pine growing close to the lakeshore was almost unbroken. Any trail into this heavily forested region had to be hewn by many broadaxes or they followed the Native American footpaths along waterways.

Settlers were flocking into the whole Phelps and Gorham Purchase as the 19th century dawned. The Purchase was a two million acre tract bought and developed when settlement finally became safe after the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Buffalo Creek. The tract reached from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario with its eastern border Seneca Lake and the western border was the Genesee River. In 1789, Israel and Simon Stone from Salem, Washington County, and NY had acquired the land that would become Pittsford. It was known as Northfield and included the present towns of Pittsford, Perinton, Penfield, Brighton, Webster, Irondequoit, and Henrietta.

Simon and Israel Stone were cousins who had served in the Revolutionary War. When the War was over and Phelps and Gorham were selling land, the cousins were able to purchase about 13,000 acres of heavily forested, but extremely fertile land. After clearing some of the trees, Israel constructed a rough log cabin near The Big Spring which had been a camping ground for the Native Americans. Simon erected his cabin a little ways to the south. When that chore was completed, the men began their trek back to Salem to persuade family and friends to leave their farms and homes and venture into this new, unsettled wilderness. They must have been most persuasive because they came back to the area with their own families and about eight more. Farms and homes were established south of what is today the Village, and that settlement was known as "Stonetown".

By 1796, there were enough settlers in this wide area to justify the creation of a town government. The first Northfield town meeting was held April 5, 1796 at the home of Paul Richardson in Pittsford. Dr. John Ray, Northfield's pioneer doctor and town clerk, kept the town records. Through the years, this area has grown and prospered and become part of the sprawling Rochester megalopolis. (Rochester was just a cluster of huts in 1796 and did not grow until the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, when it became the country's first boomtown.

In 1789, a 19 year old man named Caleb Hopkins came to this part of New York State and settled originally in what would become Penfield. His family had been in America for 169 years – his great-great-great grandfather having been a passenger on the Mayflower. Caleb's first home in this Genesee Area was a log cabin near Indian Landing on Irondequoit Bay. There he married Dorethea Mabee, daughter of longtime friend, Jacobus Mabee.

By the turn of the century, Caleb and his wife moved to an area just south of the town then called Northfield. He was an ambitious man and began making a career for himself in the army. In 1804, Hopkins was commissioned a lieutenant of militia by Governor Clinton, and in 1807 Governor Morgan Lewis made him a major.

His hometown was "gaining ground" too and in 1803, the town known as Northfield changed its name to Boyle, ostensibly due to too many towns and communities in New York by the name of Northfield. Major Caleb Hopkins was appointed Supervisor of the town of Boyle in 1808 to fill an unexpired term. In 1809, he was elected to the position and also appointed by President Madison as the United States Inspector of Customs and Collector of the Port on the Genesee River. He was bridge commissioner when the first bridge was built across the Genesee near Avon.

Just like Caleb grew his military career, so his hometown continued to grow. An area of land was separated from the huge town of Boyle in 1810, and became known as Penfield. The town of Perinton was formed from another section of Boyle in 1812, and after these divisions, the remaining community was called Smallwood. This coincided with Caleb being commissioned a lieutenant colonel.

On April 13, 1813, Caleb Hopkins was appointed Colonel of the 52nd Regiment of Militia of the State of New York by Governor Tompkins. He had served at the Niagara Frontier under General William Wadsworth. Hopkins fought in several battles and skirmishes, receiving shoulder wounds. His officers and men regarded him as one of the bravest men in the army, the hero of his hometown and its leading citizen.

Through his military career and his service in the town government, Caleb Hopkins became well known to his fellow townspeople. On March 21, 1814, they honored him by letting him choose a name for their town. Thus Northfield, which became Boyle, which became Smallwood, was divided one last time into two towns. One section became Brighton and the honor of naming the remaining land was given to Colonel Caleb Hopkins. He chose the name Pittsford after his childhood home of Pittsford, Vermont.

The year after the town of Pittsford was renamed, Caleb was honored again. This time, for his gallant service defending the Port of Charlotte against the British during the War of 1812; he was made a Brigadier General. Shortly thereafter, when peace with Great Britain was assured, Hopkins resigned his commission and purchased a farm at 3151 Clover Street. This homestead and farm has remained in the family to this day and is diligently farmed by Caleb's descendants.

Caleb Hopkins died in 1818 at the age of 47. Both he and his wife, Dorothea, are buried in the Pioneer Burying Ground on South Main Street. Despite his short lifetime, he left a lasting memorial. A portrait of Colonel Hopkins hangs in the homestead and a photograph of it has been made available to be hung in a prominent place in the Pittsford Town Hall.

Beginning as Northfield ending as Pittsford

Northfield, parent of seven present Monroe County towns, was set off as a unit of Ontario County, NY. In 1788 the land was made available after the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Buffalo Creek. Land developers and entrepreneurs, named Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, had purchased approximately two million acres, which was divided into Ranges and Townships. The tract reached from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario, with its eastern boundary line passing through Seneca Lake and the western boundary was the Genesee River.

It has long been assumed that two cousins by the name of Simon and Israel Stone came to what is now Pittsford and purchased over 13000 acres of land from the developers Phelps and Gorham. These two young men were veterans of the Revolutionary War and had perhaps seen this fertile area when accompanying Sullivan on his march through this area. These Stone cousins had come from Salem NY in Washington County near the Vermont border. The area was called Northfield.

The cousins cleared dense forest, built two log houses – one near the Big Spring – at the approximate site of 38 State Street. After establishing the small settlement, they returned to Salem where there was a large contingent of family, many named Stone, some named Nye, Dunn, and Dodge. By summer of 1789, parts of those lands had been resold and the land lying at the strategic Indian Landing on Irondequoit Creek was sold to John Lusk, whose family came from Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

John Lusk purchased land at the bay but did not remain to develop the parcels. He returned to Massachusetts and left his son, Stephen, who later moved to Pittsford where he farmed and followed his trade as a tanner. At approximately the same time, where the present village of Pittsford stands, a tiny settlement was growing up at the junction of a road leading from Bloomfield and Lima to join the trail leading to the Landing. The residents there at "Stonetown" were almost all "kissing cousins".

Caleb Hopkins had arrived in 1791 and in the decade from 1790 to 1800, there were several other men who also came to Pittsford. By 1796, there were enough settlers in this wide area to justify the creation of a town government. The first Northfield town meeting was held April 5, 1796, at the home of Paul Richardson in what is now called Pittsford Village. The records of this early pioneer settlement are gleaned from the diligent writings of the town clerk, Dr. John Ray. His old, hand-written record book is carefully preserved in the office of the Town Historian.

Now, what about Simon and Israel Stone? They had returned to Salem and had persuaded many relatives and friends to join them in this fertile valley of inexpensive land, just ripe for establishing large farms. I am sure the two men made a tidy profit on reselling much of the acreage. Simon stayed, married Hannah Nye and together they had five children. Their homestead was on East Street and at one time Simon sold his neighbors a small plot of land which was to become a cemetery. It is there that Simon is buried. Someday there will be a marker from the Sons of the American Revolution marking his grave. We will talk more about Simon in another article.

Israel married Lucy Root and there were no children from this union. Israel died at the early age of 35 and there is no record of a burying place. Stone did travel frequently between Northfiield and Salem and it is conjectured that he might have died on one of his trips. So far, I have not been able to find a final resting place for Israel nor for his wife, Lucy, who married three more times before her death. It is said that she spent much of her life trying to collect the monies due her husband from the sale of land from his early purchase.

Northfield became Boyle in 1803; when Penfield and Perinton had been established and separated. In 1813 the name was changed to Smallwood and when Brighton was separated from the town, it was renamed Pittsford by Caleb Hopkins after his hometown of Pittsford, Vermont. Pittsford was divided again when Henrietta was established in 1818. Brighton was divided in 1839 when Irondequoit was formed and in 1840, Penfield and Webster were formed as two separate towns.