Welcome to Wormley! That’s right, Wormley!
You might wonder what the school mascot is. Perhaps, you expect something out of the novel Dune: gargantuan spice worms bursting up through the ground to swallow the other team (bus and all).
You won’t find the town of Wormley on any New York State map. Not these days, at least.
But it seems back on March 28th, 1839 an act was passed to create a new town named Wormley. A year and six days later, “the town name was changed to Caton in memory of Richard Caton, one of the original land proprietors. The name, Wormley, had been an ‘allusion to Samuel Wormley, first innkeeper and first postmaster . . ."
According to Pioneer History & Atlas of Steuben County, NY, the small community just outside of present-day Corning that started out as Wormley, “has the honor of sending more men to the Civil War than any other town in Steuben County.”
In Caton, today, you'll find Bluebird Trail Farm which was created with the intention of offering people an opportunity to be more connected to where their food comes from and how it grows. They are focused on conservation and organic practices, offer a nature class in the garden, as well as tours.
We don’t always think about the names of places, unless they’re different enough to make us pause and wonder. Or similar enough to other places that we associate them to some degree without even realizing it sometimes.
Some of the names, it seems, were inspired by land owners and early settlers, others by military folks (including some who never even set foot in the county, like Baron von Steuben after whom the county was named), while some have Native American beginnings.
Steuben County, which these days is larger than the state of Rhode Island, was even larger back when it was first formed in 1796. Originally, the county was comprised of six towns, two of which have undergone name changes since, one of which has seemingly disappeared. Well, not exactly.
Over the years, those six original communities have turned into nearly 60 (including hamlets, villages, towns) while a segment of one of those early provinces, known then as Frederickstown, has become what we now call Wayne and Bradford, while a majority of it eventually became part of neighboring Schuyler County.
While there is always a reason behind the name of a community, not all seem as noteworthy today as they may have been once upon a time.
Some, like Corning (which is arguably one of the more famous of the small towns in Steuben County thanks to its remarkable history of glass innovations), didn’t technically exist back when the county was first formed.
We thought it might be fun to take a look at a few of the more unusual and interesting stories behind some of the names that make up Steuben. For, in their own way, town names play a role in a place’s identity. In how it is perceived by the rest of the world and how it’s seen by its own residents as well.
Steuben County’s Original Big Six:
- Painted Post
Even though Bath, Canisteo and Dansville still exist today in name, they’ve changed quite a bit over the years.
Canisteo, for example, is a relatively small town these days of roughly 2,000 or so residents, but the original footprint of the community encompassed what is now Hornellsville, Hartsville, Greenwood, West Union, as well as about half of current Troupsburg, Jasper, and Canisteo.
Canisteo, one of those original six communities in Steuben County, gets its name from Native American history, as the Senecas had a major village called “Kah-ni-sti-oh.”
Although accounts seem somewhat varied (there appear to be various legends), that history is a rather long and rich one. As a matter of fact, one article alludes to the presence of "Canisteo Castle" dating back to around 1642. The "castle" wasn't made of stone like Medieval fortresses, but seems to have been a "Delaware and Seneca Indian settlement featuring about 60 longhouse structures, as well as a system of fortresses and stockade fences" (from Evening Tribune article).
Another article alludes to Canisteo Castle as an “Outlaw Fort.” That's right! It appears that in the mid 1600s, Canisteo was a refuge of sorts for soldiers who deserted (British and French), as well as outcast Native Americans and runaway slaves.
“The site,” writes David D. Robinson, “has attracted many different people. Traces of a village inhabited around 800 A.D. have been found there, and of a later one dating from 1400 A.D., and another that existed in the early 1600s. Archaeologists maintain that there were crude fishing huts prior to 1642 at the location of ‘Canisteo Castle.’ The choice of the site, for the purpose of an outlaw encampment, was wise. The site was just within Delaware Indian territory, and was immediately south of Seneca Indian territory. So it would seem to be in a sort of No Man's Land.”
Apparently in 1690 there was a failed French raid on the castle. “The Seneca warriors at Ganosgago thought the outlaws ‘strange and uncouth’ and [French Canadian military officer Sieur de Villiers] “thought them a ‘disreputable crowd of individuals…’
According to the article, de Villiers wrote:
"A more worthless lot of renegades and villains who had no hope of heaven or fear of hell, we never saw.’ De Villiers found ‘Indians of many different tribes, footpads and highwaymen from most of the coast colonies, runaway slaves from Maryland, Yankees who fled from Connecticut leaving the gallows behind them, renegade Frenchmen . . .’ He makes no mention of deserters from the armies of that period, although other accounts did specify deserters. Nor did de Villiers mention indigenous Indians.”
For some interesting (albeit incomplete) history about the Delaware, Seneca, and Susquehanna tribes related to Canisteo Castle check out this article which suggests “in 1660 the village at Canisteo, was probably primarily Susquehanna, the 1760 villages primarily Delaware.”
Today you'll find the world's largest living sign in Canisteo, as well as New York State's most awarded farm cidery, Cider Creek Hard Cider, as well as a charming town with a handful of shops and eateries. Each June there's also a wonderful Civil War Reenactment of the Battle of Lain's Mills.
While dairy farming and cheese production seem to have been popular occupations, lumber was one of the earliest and most common industries in the area. After all, at one point in time, this was the frontier and the forests were first growth.
The town of Erwin was named for Colonel Arthur Erwin of Erwina, Bucks County, Pennsylvania (an officer during the Revolutionary War who purchased the township in 1789). “Lumber was extensively pursued” (Pioneer History p56).
Today folks visit the Erwin Management Wildlife Area for hiking, fishing, and mountain bike opportunities, among others. And in nearby Addison, you can enjoy a round of golf on Indian Hills golf Course.
One mile west of Painted Post, at Gang Mills was a saw, shingle and planing mill "which gave employment to seventy-five men and turned out eight million to eleven million feet of lumber per year." At its height in 1870, it was said to have "the largest daily capacity of any mill in the U.S. Its capacity was 100,000 feet of white pine daily.”
Speaking of Painted Post, one of those original six communities, accounts seem to differ with regards to several significant details including whether or not the original post was indeed painted. But it seems the story behind the name is the stuff of legend.
An account found in History of Corning Painted Post Area: 200 Years in Painted Post Country claims while it can't be disputed that “the place was once marked by a painted post . . . What the post signified . . .we do not know.”
Dimitroff and Janes go on to allude to folklore surrounding the post.
“In April, 1780, during the Revolutionary Warm Joseph Brant led a group of captives . . . on the old Andaste Trail toward Fort Niagara. Among the captives was General Freegift Pachen who left a description of the post . . . a weathered, hewn tree, with twenty-eight figures in red., signifying captives, and thirty headless figure symbolizing dead men. . . . It might have been a French and Indian War Sskirmish, an incident in the 1764 expedition led by John Johnson against Kanisteo, a Revolutionary battle, or perhaps a forest confrontation between two Indian tribes. No one knows.”
Later, the story continues, a folk tale grew that the post marked the burial place of an important Native American around 1779 who being wounded, died nearby and was buried by the river.
“Historically this is impossible,” writes Dimitroff and Janes, “because John Montour, although he was wounded, lived until 1830 and is buried at Big Tree . . .” (History of Corning and Painted Post, p3).
There are various stories about the original post. One of which claims that at one point in the early 1800s, the original post “disappeared after an especially energetic brawl.” Another story says it rotted and was carried away by the river, and another says that a new post was erected in 1803, but was destroyed by the elements and by “souvenir seekers who whittled it away.”
Over the years since, various commemorative sculptures have been erected.
Hornby (which is adjacent to Corning) was named after John Hornby, an English landholder to a large extent.
“Hornby was a wild region and inhabited by wild animals of many kinds. Hogs fattened on beechnuts in the woods. Indians were never troublesome or numerous.” Lumber was the main industry until 1838, when folks began to plow the land for "winter wheat and sometimes spring wheat and oats.”
Eventually the lumber industry waned in the county, though there are a few smaller logging companies still here. Farming because one of the primary businesses and remains an integral part of the county today. Of course, glass in Corning and aviation and wine in Hammondsport also played significant roles in the development of the county. Wine continues to be one of the largest draws to the region.
With about 60 communities these days (some perhaps better known than others), there are so many names to learn about, so much history to explore. That's why we split this post into two.
In this post, you can learn about more interesting names, like Blood and Orange, as well as about some of the industries from the past (like cheese-making, which you'll also discover still going on today).