Molyneaux Corners: Busy Early in County's History

By Clarence O. Lewis, Niagara County Historian

Source: Niagara Falls Gazette, Thursday, July 9, 1953, page 4 - original images of text found online at www.fultonhistory.com

No spot in Niagara county east of Lewiston has a more interesting history than Molyneaux Corners.

French priests and fur traders passed through there on the old Indian trail, probably as early as 1650. After 1759 English "Red Coats" in small parties, hunting game or perhaps hunting deserters from the fort, might have been seen wending their way through the wilderness on the narrow trail which followed the ridge to Warrens Corners.

It remained for the Americans, however, to start a settlement there. The English evacuated Ft. Niagara in 1796 and the Holland Land company, which had purchased all this area from Massachusetts, began in 1798-99 to lay out range and township lines, preparatory to offering land for sale. The natural advantages of the land along this "Niagara road", the Holland Land company called the old Indian trail, caused the decision to make that area available to settlers at once. Joseph Ellicott, their agent, had the trail sufficiently widened so that settlers could more readily come into this area. He realized the desirability of having some place where prospective settlers might find shelter and refreshment over night.

Noting the advantageous location of the spot we call Molyneaux Corners, Ellicott had a plot of 74-1/2 acres surveyed there and, following his custom in other parts of the "purchase," assisted one David Klink to erect a log cabin thereon. This probably was in 1801 because the records say this was the first lot surveyed in Niagara county. It is very likely that Klink opened a tavern there at once with the blessing and assistance of the Holland Land company. He paid $261.42 for the 74-1/2 acres. We know positively that John Gould, who had been passing along that way as early as 1786 driving cattle from New Jersey to the English, became tavern keeper there in 1809. There is no record of his owning the land, however. Silas Hopkins was the next owner, as shown on the "Abstract of Title." In late 1812 or early 1813, William Molyneaux, recently from Ireland, bought the place and took over the tavern.

Family Flees Raiders

During the British and Indian raid of December 19, 1813, the Molyneaux family fled to Genesee county. The main body of raiders on that day were stopped farther west on the ridge, but later a party from the fort stopped at the Molyneaux tavern, burned the barn and destroyed some other property. They spared the tavern as had been their custom with several others along the ridge. They were having a gay time in the Molyneaux tavern with no thought of danger since nearly all the settlers had fled. The Indians were mostly on the floor in a drunken stupor and the soldiers well on the way to that stage.

At Gaines, father east on the ridge, many of the fleeing settlers had stopped, as there was a small arsenal and a company of militia stationed there. Capt. McCarthy at once led his company westward along the ridge to see what could be done to help those settlers who had remained behind. Upon arriving near Molyneaux tavern, he was told the situation there, and his militia men surrounded the tavern. The English had posted no sentries and it was a simple matter for the captain to lead his men inside and between the soldiers and their stacked guns; he thus captured the whole party. As he started back for Gaines with his prisoners, he ran into another small party of English soldiers on a foraging expedition; he captured them also.

After the war, the Molyneaux family returned, rebuilt their barn and restocked the tavern.

Very Busy After 1816

Beginning in 1816 when the place became a regular stage coach stop, Molyneaux Corners or "Cambria, " as the Postal department designated it, became quite a busy little hamlet. Some 12 stage coaches stopped there every day. A brick yard was started there by Jonathan Sabin about 1819 just west of the "Corners." His home and other brick houses along the ridge were constructed of bricks from his brick yard. They sold then for around $4 a thousand at the yard. Mr. Sabin's diary reveals that about 1821 he delivered the bricks for the first brick house in Lockport, the price being $10 a thousand.

A store and blacksmith shop also were started and by 1821, the "Corners" had become sufficiently important to contend for the county seat of the newly re-organized Niagara County. The post office was in Molyneaux's log tavern and Chipman Turner of Lockport carried mail on horseback between the two places, that being then the only place west of Morehouse Corners (Hartland) where Lockport mail could be obtained, there being no road to Wrights Corners.

On the night of September 13, 1826 there occurred an event at Molyneaux Corners, as it was now generally called, that really put it "on the map" of public interest for many years. By 11:30 o'clock on that night, the Molyneaux family had retired so that when a rather mysterious and unscheduled coach stopped there, they first made aware of it by an impatient knocking on the door. William Molyneaux, upon going to the door, was surprised to see his friend, Sheriff Eli Bruce. They went inside and Bruce asked for a team of horses to replace those on the carriage which had made the trip from Ridgeway. No one got out of the carriage as would ordinarily have happened and when the fresh team was hitched to the coach and the tired team properly stabled, and the driver given a room for the night, the carriage continued its mysterious journey to Ft. Niagara. A servant girl with natural curiosity had asked Bruce who was in the carriage but she received no answer. Some months later, every member of the family was called before the Niagara County Grand Jury in Lockport to tell every last detail of that night's events, and during the five famous Morgan trials in 1830-31, they had to testify many times. The story of that mysterious carriage is still a legend at Molyneaux Corners.

Travel was heavy on the ridge and William Molyneaux profited accordingly. It was beginning to become noticeable, however, that he slower but, more comfortable packet boats on the canal were taking more and more passengers from the stage lines. In 1827 he completed a large two-story tavern on the site of the present Perkins Antique shop. The log tavern was just east of the new hotel.

Cadets Honor James

In 1830 William Molyneaux died and his oldest son, Charles, took over the management of the new tavern. Another son, James, was at West point a few years later. He was taken seriously ill and died in 1839. He was so popular with his classmates that they erected an imposing monument to his memory in the Molyneaux cemetery. On three sides ware engraved tributes to his memory, on the fourth side the usual birth and death dates. He was 33 years old.

On December 29, 1837 during the so-called "Patriotic War," the American boat, Caroline, had been set on fire by the English and drifted over the Falls of Niagara. The bow sprit was discovered in the river at Ft. Niagara and came into the possession of Charles Molyneaux who set it up as a hitching post in front of the tavern where it remained for many years. It is now in the Buffalo Historical Society museum.

In 1864, Charles Molyneaux died and while the property remained in the possession of the heirs some years longer, a man by the name of William Barber took over the tavern, renaming it "Barber's Cambria hotel." In 1869 William Tenbrook bought the place and continued there until 1876. Succeeding owners were Marshall Martin for two years, then in 1878 the Molyneaux hotel, as it was again called, came into the possession of Arthur and Anna Ashford. During the Ashford regime, it was very popular. Gay parties were held in the large ballroom on the second floor. These were often attended by the Seven Sutherland sisters of the long hair fame. People from all over the county were attracted by the dancing parties and by the fine meals served there.

Razed by Fire in 1923

Succeeding owners were Melissa Robinson, Joseph A. Sherman, George H. Smith, Clara R. Morgan, David D. Richardson, Walter J. Richardson and Harold J. Trippensee. During the latter's occupancy in 1923, the famous old Molyneaux hotel was destroyed by fire. Old residents have told me many more tales of the old days at the hotel, of occasional fights between the local boys and Lockport boys who tried to take their girls away from them, of a boarder who went crazy and destroyed most of the furniture with an ax, of a gun fight outside and a spent bullet coming through the window and wounding one of the dancers.

The Molyneaux family was a prominent family in Niagara county. William and Charles served as supervisors in 1835-36, Charles Jr. served as police chief in Lockport from 1881 until his death in 1908. He was president of the Police Chief association f the state. He was born in the hotel.

Today, the Molyneaux family sleep peacefully in the Molyneaux cemetery a short distance west of the site of the old hotel. Around them also rest their old neighbors. The McNeils, Carlesons, Bakers, Capens, Sabins, most of whom settled there before or just after the War of 1812. The earliest burial is that of Philip Beach in 1810. He carried mail from Canandaigua to Ft. Niagara in 1798-99 and brought his family to Cambria in 1802.

I am indebted for considerable of the above data to Mrs. Penn Perkins, Mrs. William Clugston whose father, Wakefield Woods kept a grocery store in the old days near the hotel; to Miss Blanche Sabin and her sister, Mrs. Mary McNeil who still reside on the farm where their grandfather made bricks and to Orren J. Rockwood, now of the Fisk road, but born near the "Corners" in 1863 and living there until around 1910. He has a remarkable memory and has materially assisted me in writing this article.