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Chapter 1 

The Amherst Area Prior to 1772 


    The earliest known history of life in Amherst NY was written, over 300,000,000 years ago, during the Age of Invertebrates in the Silurian periods. 

    Fossils found in sedimentary rocks of Western New York give evidence that Crinoids, commonly called “Sea Lilies”  (still living in the Indian Ocean) and “Eurypterus” (which are closely related to scorpions and sometimes grew to six feet in length) lived in the warm shallow seas covering the area at the time. 

    Evidence in the Amherst area was exposed in the 19th century as quarries were developed to supply limestone for the construction of mills, homes, bridges and for ballast for railroads and canals.

     In 1893, two perfectly matching imprints of the “Eurypterus” about a foot long. And numerous imprints of the Crinoids were found in the limestone of the Miller Quarry between Spring Street and Glen Avenue. 

    For more than a hundred years, pure limestone was quarried in abundance from a ledge that extends from east to west throughout the southern part of the town on a line just north of the present Main Street.  (It is interesting to note that practically every street, running north from Main Street throughout Amherst today, runs downhill from this ledge.)  Beneath this ledge, a larger layer of hydraulic limestone was also discovered, extensively quarried and burned for “water lime,” as cement was then called. 

    Much of this cement was to find its way to the breakwater in Buffalo Harbor and to the first locks in the Erie Canal at Lockport. 


    When discovered, what is now the areas of Erie and Niagara Counties was the home of peaceful Algonquin Indians including tribes of the Hurons, Oneidas and Onandagas.  In the early 17th century they fled northward before the ferocious Iroquois, including the Cayugas, Senecas, Neuters and Eries.

     The Neuters and Eries refused to join the great Iroquois Confederacy and both were annihilated in 1654-50.  For more than 200 years the fierce Iroquois occupied the area and their hunting grounds extended to the Hudson River on the east and from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania on the south.

 The main east-west trail, starting at Cold Springs at Buffalo Creek passed through what is now Amherst, Clarence and Akron to the Genesee River at Avon.  Cayuga Road was one of the main trails leading to the villages of the south, while other trails through the Amherst area led north to Fort Niagara.

     Main Street was known as the Great Iroquois Trail.  In Indian Language, Ellicott Creek  was “Level Heavens,” Williamsville was “Many Falls”; Buffalo-”The Place of the Basswoods”; Cayuga Road, “Through the Oak Opening” and Tonawanda Creek evolved from “Tonewanta.”

     An Archeological survey, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute in 1940 uncovered a line of earthworks along a limestone ledge just east of Amherst and a “bone pit” containing nearly four hundred skeletons, fragments of pottery, flint clippings and arrows northeast of Williamsville. 

    Two Indian skeletons were found on the Lloyd Bissell property at 80 Cayuga Rd when excavation was made for an addition tot eh home.  Discovered with bent knees, in the traditional Indian burial custom, the skeletons have been preserved by the Buffalo Historical Museum.

     Many arrowheads made from the lasting flint have been found in excavations and gardens of the town.  The Joseph A. Smith collection, found on the ledge and in the quarries on Youngs Road near the Country Club of Buffalo, includes stone implements used for chipping and smoothing.

     While there is no evidence of Indian villages in Amherst, folklore tells of Indians passing the homes of white men on Beach Road and seeking shelter for the night at a house opposite the Catholic church in Williamsville, and of Indians selling blankets in the northern part of Amherst.  This of course, was many years after the Iroquois expressed their resentment by tomahawk, stake and torture of the white man’s encroachment upon lands which had been Iroquois for many generations- even after the despicable white leaders Brant, Butler and Johnson, with their marauding bands of Senecas were guilty of unspeakable cruelties to any white man who fell into their bloody hands.

     Ironically, a Seneca Indian Chief, because of his knowledge of trails in the area, was to play an important role in the peaceful development of commerce in Amherst before the year of 1800.

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Village Hall 1949 A picture of 5583 Main St Village Hall pictured in 1949 was originally built with limestone mined from the Young's limestone quarry which occupied what is now The Country Club of Buffalo. click here to see a bigger picture.
Main St West 1950 A picture of Main St looking West taken in 1950. The Ronecker building on the right is now home to Marty's formal wear. Picture courtesy of Dan Crapsi. click here to see a bigger picture.
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