Hornell is located at a northern latitude of 42.32 degrees. That means that it was covered by glaciers in each of the numerous epochal
ice ages. The last glacier receded at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, some 10,000 years ago. The local geology is reflective of
Succeeding onslaughts of glaciers have chiseled the area smooth, save for the gently rolling hills, and the ditches and
gouges that filled with water. The dense forests and abundant lakes and rivers were heavily populated with wildlife. The soil was
rich and fertile. When the climate warmed, this became very attractive land for the ambitious wanderer from afar.
The most recent evidence suggests there were three distinct waves of settlers in the Americas. The first and oldest migration was
by boat along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. These were not seagoing vessels so they presumably followed ancient coastlines from
Europe to North America via Iceland and Greenland. Archaelogical evidence at least 18,000 years old has been found along the eastern
seaboard of the U.S. The second migration was also by boat, but these adventurers traveled from Sibera down along the western coast
of the Americas, all the way to the southern tip of South America. Human remains approximately 14,000 years old have been found there.
One of the earliest cultures indigenous to this area was the Eastern Woodlands culture. These early people, although fairly primitive,
achieved an agricultural expertise vastly improved over their predecessors. Their greatly expanded food gathering capabilities resulted
in the cultivation of more grains and plants than ever. They created ornaments, blades, and other items from copper and minerals.
They built large trading networks. These people constructed large earthen burial mounds, many of which still exist. Then, as it is
with most archaic cultures, they entered a period of decline. Probably due to a cooling of the climate.
By 1000 AD a new culture had taken root in the area. The Mississippian culture developed in the Midwest, as an evolutionary descendent
of the earlier woodlands culture, and spread eastward to this area. These folks were also prolific mound builders, with some of these
mounds topped by elaborate wooden temples. (See Cahokia Mounds State Park in Illinois.) The Native Americans of western New York are
the descendents of both these cultures.
Both of these migrations took place with the continental ice pack still in place. The most recent migration was via a land route that
had opened up by melting of the ice pack. This migration is probably linked to the Clovis people whose artifacts are approximately
10,000 years old.
The Iroquois Nation ruled this part of the country up until the white man assimilated them. The League of Six Nations was established
in the 16th century and included the Iroquois tribes: Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Tuscaroras. The progressive political
system established by the Iroquois is a model even today. They were a power to be reckoned with when the Europeans descended upon
The earliest European visitors were probably trappers, arriving as early as 1000 AD. The main wave didn't arrive until much later,
starting in the mid 1600's. Fortunately for these new arrivals, their welcoming committee was a lot less savage and xenophobic than
their western counterparts, and folks generally got along. The Iroquois saved their war skills for tribal fighting. The Seneca had
long been at odds with the Erie nation of the land to their south, and so in 1654 they started a tribal war to the death. The Seneca
were victorious, virtually exterminating the Erie nation. It is very likely, that if there were Indians encamped in the Canisteo Valley
during this time, they would have been Erie. So, perhaps, the Seneca are responsible for the extermination of Hornell's first residents.
The Erie namesake would live on however, as the Erie Railroad.
Red Jacket, chief of the Senecas, is a well-known historical figure of significance. He was famous for his oratory, his wit, and his
colonial political shrewdness. He was the intellectual equal of any white man, and therefore became a noted curiosity, disproving
any notion that the native savages were lesser beings. Red Jacket, or more accurately Sagoyewatha, is also famous for his retort to
the Christian missionary who tried to convert him. You can view it at: "A Native American Skeptic"
Most of the Iroquois sided with the British during the French and Indian War. So it was no surprise when they elected to support the
British in the Revolution also. They chose poorly. They redeemed themselves however by supporting the Americans in the War of 1812.
The Indians were decimated by the diseases the Europeans brought with them, and were generally taken advantage of by settlers and
land speculators, until finally they ceded most of the land of western New York in 1768.
There were 22 million Native Americans, comprising 500 tribes in North America when the Europeans invaded. Today, there are 2 million
Native Americans reported on the census. By the mid 1800's, Indians and revolution were not the news. It was the railroad.
George Hornell, Entrepreneur
At about the same time the Indians were giving up their land claims, European settlers were moving into the Canisteo Valley. In 1790
a man by the name of Benjamin Crosby cleared the land that would be the site of St. James Mercy Hospital, making him the first permanent
European settler in what is present day Hornell. Crosby Creek, and Crosby Road bear his name. The original settlement that took root
here was named Upper Canisteo by its residents. What is now Canisteo was called Lower Canisteo and was reportedly inhabited by renegades
In 1794 an Indian trader and entrepreneur by the name of George Hornell arrived in the valley with big things on his mind. Sensing
promise in what he saw, he purchased more than 2000 acres of prime land that same year. The City of Hornell sits on a portion of this
property. George Hornell was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1768. His father was Nils Hornell, a native of Hör, Sweden. George married
Martha Stevens, daughter of Uriah Stephens, Sr, one of the original twelve settlers in the Hornell area.
George and Martha had five
daughters and four sons. Son William drowned while attending Williams College. George Hornell, Jr. became a lawyer. Daughter Emily
married Ira Davenport, another prominent local settler. Daughter Martha married Major Thomas J. Reynolds, daughter Betsy married Augustus
Newell, and daughter Anne married a General Hartshorn. Sons John and Vincent, and daughter Patience died before age 25.
In 1796, George was appointed Associate Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Steuben County, and in 1808, represented the Hornellsville
area in the 1808 state legislature, as a Member of the Assembly. Judge Hornell was by all accounts, a kind and generous soul, even-handed
with the indians and never failing to help the poor and unfortunate. Since he owned virtually everything in town, the settlement's
name was soon changed to Hornellsville. George died in 1813 and was buried in Hope Cemetery. His widow, Martha (Stephens) continued
George's charitable works until she died some thirty years later. She was buried alongside her husband in Hope Cemetery.
Hornellsville remained a small town involved in lumber, fur and agriculture until the Erie Railroad arrived.
George Hornell, being of strong Scandinavian stock quickly established himself as a mover and shaker of the area, building a profitable sawmill, gristmill, general store, inn, and a home near the west end of what is now Main Street. George also takes credit as Hornell's first postmaster.