Niagara County

Town of Somerset

History of Somerset

First Settler

Jacob Fitts, the first white settler in the Town of Somerset came with his family from Mansfield, NY, about 1810 and settled near the banks of Lake Ontario, on a farm which has been in the Fitts family until about three years ago. From until Olcott (Kempsville) he was guided to Somerset by Burgoyne Kemp over a trail he had cleared. In 1811, the first white child, Delilah Fitts was born in the Town.

During the next two years, before the War of 1812, several families settled in the Barker area, among them Archibald Whitton, Philip Fitts, brother of Jacob; Truman and David Mudgett, Zachariah Patterson, John Adam Pease, Samuel and Asa Coleman, Ezra C. and Capt. Ezra Mead, Maston and John Sherwood, Herman Pratt, Francis Albright, Peter Hess, Humphrey Sharpsteen, Silas Mead, Jacob Haight, and Henry W. Denton, names that are familiar in the Town to this day.

Churches Built Early

After the war of 1812, James E. Mathew, Samuel Palmer, David Barker and others cleared land and established homes in the northern part of the town. The first religious organization was formed by the Methodists in 1817, when meetings were held at the log cabin home of Silas Mead. Afterwards meetings were held in the log schoolhouse on the Mead farm.

In 1820, th Baptist group was formed at James Sephen's home and a church was erected east of what is now Somerset Corners in 1832.

The Society of Friends was formed in 1821 and in 1836 a red brick meeting house was built on land donated by Jacob Haight, who came to the town about 1815, and a cemetery was laid out at the side of the church.

In 1824, the Presbyterians organized at the home of Stephen Palmer and in 1840 a frame church was erected south of the village of Somerset which served the Presbyterian congregation until 1915, when the Methodist and Presbyterian congregations united and the Presbyterian church building was sold as a hall for the Somerset Grange, which had been organized in 1908, with Elwyn Fox as its first Master.

Maston Sherwood was the first school teacher inthe town, teaching in a log schoolhouse on the Silas Mead farm. Records show that later a Jane Ann Williams, a member of another pioneer family, taught school there for $1.50 a week.

First Store, Post Office

James Mathews opened the first store in the hamlet of Somerset in 1820 and in 1825 he was appointed postmaster, the mail being brought by horseback from stations on what is now the Ridge Road. In 1825 Mr. Mathews built the first frame house to be erected in the Town of Somerset. Another group of Baptists met in 1845 and organized a church at West Somerset and the brick church, which still stands and serves the congregation, was built in 1850.

Other post offices were established at South Somerset, (the Denton farm on the Hartland Road); Lake Road, ( Pettit farm on West Lake Road); at West Somerset, (at the home of Peter Hess); and at County Line Corners just over the Town Line.

A red brick tavern was built on the northeast corner at Somerset on the Samuel Palmer property, and several years later it burned and a frame building was put up which housed a store, a harness shop and a dwelling.

Grist mills were built on several creeks in the Town and stores were opened at one time, the hamlet of Somerset having five stores.

Many temperance organizations flourished during this period. Somerset Lodge, No. 639, F & AM was organized in 1866 and shortly thereafter a brick temple was built at the southeast corner in the village of Somerset which was in use until 1902, when the present Masonic temple, a three-storied brick building, was erected. About the time of the organization of the Masonic Lodge, a Town Hall was constructed which served for town meetings, shows and entertainments of all kinds, being taken over later as a garage by Frost Bros. and now in use to house the Town Road working equipment.

In 1875, the federal government built a lighthouse at 30-Mile Point, which is still operating, though now with electric power instead of the big kerosene lantern which was installed at first.

Railroad Changes Picture

The coming of the Railroad to the Town in 1875 changed the picture entirely for the thriving little Hamlet of Somerset. David Barker, "...[who] came to the area in 1815 from Vermont and purchased 100 acres of land just east of what is now Quaker Road... donated part of his land to the railroad company with the understanding that it would construct tracks through his farm. The railroad was built in 1876 and its original station now serves as Barker Village Hall and library......Barker lived in a log house until 1854, when he and his wife built a brick house. The house still stands on Quaker Road, just south of "Main Street." Barker lived until the age of 92 and is buried in the Quaker Cemetery on Haight Road.2"

At first the depot was called Somerset Station, but it was soon renamed Barker after Mr. Barker, as was the post office which was established there. From that time on, Somerset was doomed as the business center of the town, all businesses gravitating to Barker with its railroad, which continued to grow and thrive until in 1895 a fire wiped out almost the entire business section of the village. It was soon rebuilt, however.

In 1892 a Methodist Church was formed in Barker and a church building was erected in 1894.

St. Patrick's R. C. Church was organized in 1856 in the Town of Hartland, close to the Somerset Town Line and served both towns until about 1920, when a beautiful new church was built in the Village of Barker.

School History

In 1911, three school districts, Barker, Somerset and "Gardner" districts, united to form the Somerset Union Free School and a yellow brick building was erected at the corner of the Quaker and Haight Roads. In 1936-37 24 school districts of Somerset and neighboring towns formed the Barker Central School District and a beautiful new school was built, connecting with the original school. This school now operates a 170 acre farm, a machine shop, and a boarding school for out-of-area students. It was and still is one of the few schools in Western New York to establish a licensed air field.

In 1915, seven years after it became incorporated as a village, Barker built a modern water system, with a pumping station at the Lake and standpipe in the village. Additions and improvements have been made to this system from time to time to make it one of the most up-to-date in the area.

A volunteer fire company was formed by Barker and the Town of Somerset, the members being from both the Village and Town.

Soon after WWI, an American Legion Post was formed which has remained active through the years and which recently purchased a building in the Village of Somerset, which is being remodeled into a meeting hall. An Auxilliary to the Post was formed some time ago.

Other Organizations

Another active orgainzation in the town is a Lions Club, which was formed in 1951.

The Town also boasts an Eastern Star Chapter, IOOF and Rebekah Lodge, Boy and Girl Scout troops and many church organizations.

Another unique organization of the Town is the Sunset Memorial Vespers Association, a non-sectarian group which was formed in 1931 as a memorial to Milton Blood by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albert F. Blood. The association erected a tabernacle on the shore of Lake Ontario, north Somerset, and since then a dining and recreation hall, sports field and playground have been added. Meetings held here during the summer months attract crowds from many miles around.

NB--This article is dated 1954 and some of the "present attributes" may be antiquainted now.

1 Clarence O. Lewis, "Barker's Prominence Dates From Railroad's Arrival Which Shifted Business Activity From Somerset," Niagara Falls Gazette, 17 May 1954, Niagara Falls Gazette's Special 100th Year Edition, Sec. B, p. 18, cols. 1-6.

2 Amy L. Strauss, "Somerset gearing up for 175th anniversary celebration," Lockport Union Sun & Journal, 23 January 1998, Daily edition, p. 3, cols. 5-6.

Source: Written by Niagara County Historian, 1954, Clarence O. Lewis

Design by Templates in Time

This page was last updated 04/08/2024