The history of Fredonia

The current village of Fredonia has origins stretching back to more than two hundred years ago when the Western New York area was surveyed by the Holland Land Company in 1798. All of New York State west of the Genessee River, including Fredonia, was designated as Genesee County in 1802. This county was further divided into four towns, one of which, Batavia, included most of the land now in Niagara, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties. Six years later, Genesse County was further divided into four smaller counties, Chautauqua among them. At the same time, the town of Pomfret was created.

Originally called Canadaway, the area was first named for one of its prominent geographical features, the Canadaway Creek. The name "Canadaway" refers not to the close proximity of the area to Canada, but instead to a Native American word (pronounced "Ga-na-da-wa-o") meaning "among the hemlocks." The name of the settlement was changed to Fredonia around 1820. Though the reasons behind the name change remain somewhat unclear, it seems that some of the early settlers felt that Canadaway was not an "aristocratic" enough name for the emerging community. In any case, by 1830 Fredonia had been officially declared a village by the state legislature.

The following years saw a number of important events take place in the village. The first post office, the fountains in Barker Commons, the Barker Library, and the first natural gas well in the U.S. were all established during the nineteenth century. Many of the churches located around Barker Commons also had their origins in this time period. The Fredonia Academy (later the Fredonia Normal School), one of the only institutions of higher learning in the western US, opened in 1826 in what is now village hall. Several other elementary schools were operating as well. Two other important "firsts" also occurred during this century: the first Grange in the nation was erected during the 1860's, and the first meeting of the Women's Christian Temperance Union was held at the Fredonia Baptist Church in 1873.

The twentieth century continued to be full of high points for Fredonia and the surrounding areas. The Fredonia Chamber of Commerce was organized in the early part of the century. Around the same time, the Fredonia Normal School changed its name first to the Fredonia State Teacher's College and then to the State University College at Fredonia and moved to its present-day location between Central Avenue and Temple Avenue. Industry began to expand, while the production of agriculture (particularly grapes and dairy products) continued to be one of the specialties of the area. Many of the current organizations in Fredonia (such as the American Legion, Rotary Club, Boy and Girl Scouts, and the Lions Club) had their beginnings in the 1900's. In 1979, Fredonia celebrated its 150th birthday, and as we enter the twenty first century, we are all looking forward to the many events that will doubtless take place in our village in both the near and distant future.

Source:

Crocker, Elizabeth L (Editor). Fredonia New York Sesquicentennial Souvenir Historical Book 1829-1979. Fredonia: Pioneer Press, 1979.

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