Part II of the Avon-Caledonia bridge project
September 2003

   The new concrete piers set for over a month in the Genesee River banks, the steel girders are now in place to span the 2003 edition of the Avon-Caledonia river bridge.

   Weather permitting, the concrete deck will be poured in early October. The new roadways on both sides are near completion and through traffic could be using the new bridge in early November. The contractor then plans to remove the current (1933) bridge, which is a month long project, before the snow flies.

   The boat launch and a parking area will be built to access the river on the Avon side in the spring of 2004.

 

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Connecting Hartford to Southampton
Some History of the bridge area …

   Among the early settlers were Gilbert R. Berry, at the river, west of Avon Village, and Revolutionary War surgeon Timothy Hosmer at Littleville. Berry kept the first inn, and established the first ferry across the Genesee River in 1789. The first sawmill was built by Hosmer at Littleville in 1790, and the first gristmill by the Wadsworths in 1792. The first school was kept by Pedie Jonier at Avon in 1792.

   From The Historical Tour - Big Springs Historical Society

THE GENESEE RIVER

   The first bridge that was built across the Genesee River was constructed here in 1804. The ford and later the rope ferry, operated by Gilbert R. Berry before 1800, were used to cross over the river.

GILBERT BERRY'S TAVERN AND FERRY

   While it has long been known that Gilbert R. Berry was the first permanent white settler in the Avon area (first called Hartford), the location of his early tavern and ferry across the Genesee River has been a matter of conjecture. Alice Wood's intensive study of records and locations in the fall of 1965 points to the most likely correct spot. Her conclusions are reported in a publication of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences. Mrs. Wood notes;

  "Gilbert R. Berry and his wife, Maria Wemple were not strangers to the frontier. He was from Geneva and they were married and lived there briefly … They came to Avon in 1789 … A map of Avon dated September 1792 … from the Phelps and Gorham papers … was shown to me by Mrs. Marie Preston, Livingston County Historian. The map shows the Genesee river and the "Path to Canandague" with a structure labeled "Barries House" … other references indicate that Berry bought and sold property, including the ferry and landing rights on both east and west sides of the Genesee. Berry died in 1797, without a will, his wife and Timothy Hosmer were appointed administrators of the estate.

   Descriptions of lots, and the fact that the main road has changed location at least five times in the intervening years, leave little doubt that the Berry Tavern and ferry were south of the present location of the NY Route 5.

Click on maps to enlarge …

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   From Avon, Heart of the Genesee Country

EARLY TRANSPORTATION

   When Gilbert R. Berry came to Hartford (Avon) in 1789 to build a new home in the wilderness, he was not only faced with the task of clearing the forest from his land, but he must have realized that there was great need for better means of transportation. At the time he headed west from Geneva, his route followed the old main trail of the Iroquois. The trail was a narrow foot path through the woods and it was necessary to cut the trees and remove them to allow passage of the wagon loaded with the household furnishings. Streams and swampy places had to be bridged with whatever material could be found at hand. It is net a surprise then, to learn from the early records that road building was one of the first projects undertaken by the new settlers.

   In 1794 and 1795 New York State made appropriations for the improvement of the road which followed the trail from Albany to Lake Erie. On March 22, 1794, three commissioners were appointed to lay out this road from old Fort Schuyler (Utica) as nearly straight as possible to the Cayuga Ferry, then to Canandaigua and to Canawaugus on the Genesee River.

   "On the first day of November 1803, the following notice was published in relation to building a bridge over the Genesee at Canawaugus (Avon) 'Genesee bridge proposals will be received by Commissioners Asher Saxton and Benjamin Ellicott, for building a bridge over the Genesee, between the towns of Hartford (Avon) and Southampton (Caledonia) in the counties of Ontario and Genesee,' " CANANDAIGUA REPOSITORY, February 11, 1875.

   When the bridge was built in 1804, it was the first to span the Genesee River. Old records reveal that this bridge was carried away by high water in 1806 and rebuilt in 1807 as a toll bridge. The latter lasted until it also, was carried away by flood water in 1816. Following that disaster, a covered bridge was built and also operated as a toll bridge against strong opposition. In 1812 a law prohibited crossing the Genesee River within a mile of the bridge without paying toll except by boat or on the ice.

   In 1804 the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike Company extended a toll road through Hartford (Avon). Stories of this old turnpike are recalled from time to time and they form a delightful chapter in the history of our town. There are tales of Canastoga wagons headed west to new lands; inn keepers who grew rich catering to travelers; droves of livestock; stage coaches the American soldiers on the way west to the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812 and the refugees fleeing east to safety from the battle front, and the huge freight wagons loaded with produce from Western New York farms on the way to market in Albany. The old turnpike was operated as a toll road until 1847 when the State took it over and it was known for many years as the State Road. Now it is designated as New York Route 5.

   During the 1820s boats carried products of the Genesee Valley by way of the river to ports on Lake Ontario. A portage was made around the falls at Rochester. After the Erie Canal was opened in 1825, Valley products were transferred to canal boats and sent to various destinations. River navigation lasted only a few years.

   When the Genesee Valley Canal was opened from Rochester to Mt. Morris in 1840, the port of Canawaugus was only two miles west of Avon across the Genesee River. Produce from Avon farms was shipped to market on the canal until that old waterway was abandoned. After the railroad was built through Avon, farmers continued to use the canal boats for bulky shipments, such as grain.

   The building of the railroad through Avon made 1853 a memorable year for the town. During the spring and early summer months, construction workers labored steadily laying the track until July 21, the opening day for passenger service between Avon and New York.

abridgewood.jpg (66713 bytes)    The date of this photo of an Avon-Caledonia covered wooden bridge is unknown. Anyone out there remember the year?

   From the files of Mrs. A.B. Johnson, past Caledonia Historian

   A record of the replacement bridge over the Genesee River being built in 1817: "From the records of Capt. Richard Langlsow of the Honorable East India Service, (Tourist Niagara Falls). "A bridge over the Genesee River is begun to be built. The two piers of stone nearly finished, 50 yards across. Reached Caledonia at 8 o’clock; found a good Inn and fair bed; the landlord’s name is Bowen. Ferried over the Genesee River, paid toll for carriage and all, three shillings."

   This sign was mounted on the Caledonia side of the bridge in 1910 lists the bridge contractor and the Town of Caledonia officials. The Big Springs Museum is now the home of the Caledonia sign. The same sign with Avon town officials listed on it has disappeared over the years according to the Avon Town Historian.

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Thanks to Town Historian Eileen Lafave, Librarian Judy Adams and
Museum Curator Pat Garrett for their help in researching this project.

Part I of the Avon-Caledonia bridge project