Town of Gaines marks 200 years of mail

Posted 18 June 2016 at 12:00 am

By Al Capurso
Town of Gaines Historian

Volume 2, Issue 25

When you pick up your mail in the next few days, you might want to remember that it was 200 years ago this July 1st that a pioneer settler on the Ridge Road in Gaines became the first postmaster in Orleans County. William Jenks Babbitt ran that post office out of his log cabin home starting in 1816.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island on September 15, 1786, he learned the trade of blacksmith in his father’s shop. In 1810, Babbitt came to the unbroken wilderness of “the Genesee Country” and began clearing land and building his log cabin near the corner of Crandall Road and Route 104.

After the dangers of the War of 1812 subsided, he moved his wife and children to what was to become Gaines and became the area’s first blacksmith. He also established the first brickyard in the town, supplying the bricks for many early buildings we still see standing today. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1815 and served in this capacity for 23 years. His “Marriage Day Book” with its first entry of June 2, 1815 is in the possession of the Town of Gaines Historian. It can be seen in the display case at the town hall next to his original daguerreotype portrait you see here.

In 1816, Wm. Babbitt was successful in getting the Ridge Road declared “The Post Road” by New York State, and his application as first postmaster of Gaines was granted; an office he held for five years. Babbitt was also working hard to get the town of Gaines organized. It was his suggestion that General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, hero of the War of 1812, be honored with its naming.

His 1816 Valentines Day gift to his wife Eunice was the announcement that Gaines was set off from Ridgeway and contained most of the present day Carlton and Barre. In 1831 he became Town of Gaines Supervisor and soon after represented this area in the New York State Assembly.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of William Babbitt was the construction of Gaines District #5 Cobblestone Schoolhouse on the Ridge Road just east of Childs. It was built in 1849 and the work was superintended by Babbitt. It is most unusual in that it has a sloping floor and its facade of lake washed cobblestones are set on a hewn wooden framework, rather than a rubble stone wall.

Further, Mr. Babbitt gave the school district a gift of the bell pictured above, costing $20 in 1849. The building was used as a schoolhouse until 1952. Currently, plans are underway to restore the bell to working order, so once again visitors to the Cobblestone Museum in Childs, Town of Gaines, will be delighted by the chiming of Babbitt’s bell.

One last note about the photo of Mr. Babbitt with a stern look on his face: The story handed down is that his wife had arranged for this sitting, but Mr. Babbitt was upset since he was still in his work clothes. The photographer painted in the suit and collar we see here. Mr. Babbitt was a remarkable man and those of us in Gaines and Orleans County are indebted to his industry and vision.

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