Many readers have likely enjoyed the beautiful Wiscoy Falls nestled in the Genesee River Valley between Fillmore and Portageville. Whether hiking, swimming, or fishing on the Wiscoy, the scenery is lovely. I have fond memories of fishing and wading in the creek as a youngster and visiting family who farmed above the hamlet. Although Wiscoy is residential and has been for many years, it was once a thriving little business haven. It was also known as Mixville at one time, reflecting the name of the land agent in Batavia who owned acreage there. Later on, in 1850, residents decided on Wiscoy, as the Senecas called the creek. According to John Minard, celebrated Allegany County Historian, “Wis” was the numeral five in Seneca, and “coy” or “koy” means stream. Over the passage of time, two of the waterfalls have eroded away, leaving three today.
When the Holland Land Company began selling lots in the area, Roger Mills of Canajoharie, New York, traveled to Allegany County in 1806. As he explored the Wiscoy Creek area, he knew he’d found the ideal location for a series of mills to aid in settlement of the region. Water power was necessary for any village, and he quickly purchased Lots 36 and 37, which included the waterfalls. In 1807, after putting up a rough log cabin, Mills built a dam across the upper part of the Wiscoy Creek and constructed the first sawmill, which was critical to settlers. He added a gristmill in 1808, which was also necessary for the hardy pioneers who had started to trickle in. The labor to undertake the construction of the gristmill came from the Senecas and white settlers from the Geneseo area. The millstones, wooden cogwheels, and other parts to complete the structure were brought from Albany during that winter using sleds.
With the establishment of the gristmill, business was brisk, bringing both settlers and Senecas to have grain and corn ground. The Senecas who lived in a village near the Genesee River below Rossburg and on the Caneadea Reservation brought piles of furs to trade for the mill’s services. Roger Mills transported the furs to Philadelphia each year to get the best prices. Word spread quickly about the gristmill. Residents from Short Tract, Angelica, Mt. Morris, and even from the Cattaraugus County area traveled to Wiscoy to have their grain ground into flour. Some were required to wait a day in the queue, which meant an overnight stay. The accommodating Roger Mills allowed customers to sleep inside the mill on grain bags, becoming the first “inn” at Wiscoy. Elisha Mills brought in goods from Albany to supply the pioneers setting up the first store in his home and the mill by 1809. The first blacksmith on the scene was Thomas Pyre, whose services were essential for horseshoes and manufacturing parts for farm equipment, wagons, and even household goods.
Roger Mills returned to Canajoharie in 1811 and was replaced by his son, Roger Jr., who brought his family with him. More of the Mills family came to the Wiscoy area, and Stanley Mills capitalized on the abundant grain harvest by building a distillery at Mills’ Mill located in 1817-1818. Two more distilleries quickly followed one at Grove Place and the third between Wiscoy and Mills’ Mill.
The first school was established in 1812 and was taught by Caroline Russell. Luther Couch became the teacher in 1814, leaving the classroom after a couple of years for farming which proved a successful venture for him. By 1815 there were about 20 families in the growing village when George Mills opened a log-house tavern. Roger Mills erected a carding mill at Mills’ Mill in 1816, which was the first one in the region. Mills’ Mills was located approximately two miles west from Wiscoy Falls. He later produced fabric there, and grateful pioneers quickly purchased his products. George Mills opened an inn around 1816, adding another business to the small community.
The mail came from Geneseo by stagecoach-the Genesee Valley Express in those early days, then from Warsaw, and finally Perry before a post office was established in Hume in 1826. Settlers often shared subscriptions to newspapers, which were read aloud at the general store first before being passed from home to home. About 1816, the first church services were held in the community by Elder Lindsley, a Presbyterian minister who was connected with the denomination’s missionary effort in the Holland Land Purchase area. However, most church-going people in Wiscoy were Methodists, and a church was completed and dedicated in 1841 with a Rev. Walker as the pastor.
Duel in Wiscoy
John Minard, Allegany County Historian, recorded a humorous story that allegedly occurred in 1840. While dueling was a thing in earlier decades, it had fortunately lost favor as time went on in the 19th century. However, it was revived after an argument between two men at one of the stores in Wiscoy. This happened during the construction of the Genesee Valley Canal, and Wiscoy was a hub for the corps of engineers in charge of the project. One of these men was Leander Mix, an engineer, and the other was Sam Fraser. Mix, whose father was the reason for the name Mixville was a dandy with a fine wardrobe, and he loved stirring up excitement. Unfortunately, Fraser wasn’t known for mental quickness, and Mix decided to have a bit of fun at Sam’s expense. When Sam Fraser called Mix a liar and wouldn’t take it back, the engineer challenged him to a duel at sunrise, which was accepted. As the group gathered at the appointed place, Sam sought out his spiritual advisor, the local pastor, who took the man aside and told him that the guns were loaded with wads of cotton. Mix planned to fall to the ground in agony when Sam shot and then jump up when Sam ran to check on him. The pastor then handed Sam a large syringe filled with blue dye, instructing him to squirt it all over Leander Mix while he was on the ground, ruining his famous ruffled shirt. Sam hid the syringe in his coat until the right time and surprised the perpetrator. The tables were turned on the jokester, and Sam was the hero of the day.
The Mixville Association
New philosophies sprang up during this time with transcendentalism, utopian idealists, socialism, and others. One that proved enticing to the residents of Mixville was Fourierism, attributed to Charles Fourier, a Frenchman whose philosophy of bringing harmony, unity, and productive work became popular with many of the rich and famous of the day including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Horace Greeley. Fourier touted the reorganization of society through cooperative communities, which was communal living and a type of socialism wrapped up in the Christian religion. There were a few dozen experimental Fourierism communities in the United States during the mid-1800s. These ideals resonated with a small group in Mixville around 1844 or 1845, who sold entire properties to put the cash into the Mixville Association. Unfortunately, it quickly ended with the bankruptcies of several men who were financially ruined by the venture. All of the other Fourier-based communities were failures as well, dissolving within a few months or a few years.
Business is Booming
Water-powered businesses continued to grow with the addition of a foundry, cabinetry factory, and machine shop in the 1840s. Businesses benefited from another waterway when the Genesee Valley Canal was constructed. The Mixville Landing on the canal provided a much more convenient way to receive materials and send Mixville’s goods to larger markets. A feeder was dug from the Wiscoy to the canal, and an influx of Irish families increased the population during canal construction. These families took up farming and stayed in the area.
Cannons were manufactured for the Union Army during the Civil War as Wiscoy did its bit to support the war effort. By 1869, in addition to the mills and foundry, there were two hotels, three grocery and dry goods stores, a doctor, and a shoe manufacturer by the name of Sanford Granger, who was my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather. Mills’ Mill still had the carding mill, cabinetry shop, gristmill, and the proprietor of the stage line from Portage to Caneadea lived there at that time.
After the demise of the Genesee Valley Canal in 1878, the railroad followed, providing faster and better transportation. The railroad had its own problems with flooding and the tracks washing out from time to time. Despite advancements, Wiscoy remained a tiny community, but by the turn of the 20th century, Wiscoy was excited about a boost to its contracting economy. The Signa Chemical Company, a pharmaceutical company from Niagara Falls, proposed building a plant in Wiscoy to produce two medications developed by the president of the company, Dr. J.S. Dorian. The plant was to be constructed in 1902, and they expected to hire at least 75 employees from the area.
Turn of the Century
Signa Chemical’s presence was short-lived, never following through with its plan. The Taggert family which owned the water rights and property along the creek sold it to another party the following year. After several changes of ownership, it finally became the property of the Fillmore Electric Company in 1920, which was later merged with Rochester Gas & Electric. A dam was erected and the company installed a hydroelectric plant below the dam. A large wooden pipeline was built, 1,600 feet in length, which accommodated the challenging terrain of the creek. It was replaced in the 1970s with wood again since engineers determined it was still the best material for the task.
After the mills and other businesses disappeared, recreational uses brought people from all over for some of the finest trout fishing to be found. Stocking the creek with trout began in earnest in the 1930s, and Wiscoy hosted regular fishing contests. There were many tussles with the state about how many trout were designated to Wiscoy, and some of the experimental stocking were failures—one reason being the significant number of water snakes who feasted on the small trout.
As with so many villages and hamlets in the Genesee Valley, industry quickly disappeared from these communities in the 20th century. Once quite self-sufficient, Wiscoy and Mills’ Mills are no longer in business but part of picturesque Sunday drives along the Genesee.
History of Allegany County by John S. Minard, 1896
History of Allegany County with Illustrations, F. W. Beers, 1879
American Communities and Co-operative Colonies by William Alfred Hinds, PhD. 1908
The Bolivar Breeze, October 14, 1909, An Allegany Duel by J.S. Minard
Avon Herald News 1979 RG & E Construction Project Restores Vintage Pipeline