A Brief History of Hamlin
By Mary E. Smith, Hamlin Town Historian Emeritus
The town of Hamlin occupies the northwest corner of Monroe County. It is bounded on the west by the town of Kendall, Orleans County, on the north by Lake Ontario, on the east by Parma, and on the south by its parent, Clarkson. It is the county's second largest town with a land area of 44.4 square miles (26.387 acres). Although it contains no incorporated villages, six active hamlets are part of its history: two bisected by the county line: Morton and Kendall Mills; three straddling Lake Road in the center of town: North Hamlin (Thomasville), Hamlin Station, and Hamlin Center; and Walker, in the town's eastern section.
Land that is now Hamlin was initially a part of the town of Northampton. In 1807 this large town was divided and what would become Clarkson and Hamlin were then included in Murray. Clarkson (including the future Hamlin) separated from Murray in 1819 and remained unchanged until December 14, 1852. At that time Clarkson's southern election district became a separate town retaining the name of Clarkson. The northern election district became a new town named Union. In 1861 it was renamed Hamlin, in honor of Hannibal Hamlin, President Lincoln's first Vice-President.
Hamlin's settlement dates from 1806, when the Aretas Hascall family established residence near Hamlin Center, becoming Hamlin's first permanent white settlers. Other pioneers from New England, Oneida County and the eastern counties of New York State followed, but emigration to the town, particularly before and during the War of 1812, was slow and difficult. No major transportation routes existed. The vast swamps induced unhealthy conditions, the thickly forested Black North was practically impenetrable, and the area was remote from commercial markets. As a result, Hamlin was the last of Monroe County's towns to be permanently settled and organized.
Gradually areas of the town were cleared of trees and drainage to the lake was established. Once the swampy areas were made tillable, the soil of the town was found to be unusually fertile. This, combined with a mild climate due to its proximity to Lake Ontario, assured Hamlin's development as a prime agricultural area. The lack of transportation facilities, however, remained a serious detriment to prosperity. The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, provided some relief, although roads to the canal were few and difficult to travel.
Initially the early settlers built primitive log homes, not only because trees were abundant and cabins could be erected at little cost,. but also because they were many miles distant from existing saw mills. There was no saw mill in town until 1813, when Joshua Green built a saw mill on Sandy Creek near its intersection with Church Road. It would remain the town's only saw mill for many years.
From 1820 through the 1840s, Hamlin was a mill town, with saw mills and grist mills spaced a mile apart along the length of Sandy Creek. In 1844, three of the mills and 1600 acres of land at the mouth of Sandy Creek were purchased by members of the “Clarkson Phalanx,” an experiment in group-living following the teachings of a Frenchman, Charles Fourier. The east fork of Lake Road at that time was lined with rows of temporary plank dwellings which housed 420 members at the commune's peak, all of whom ate in a common dining hall. The secular organization failed within two years and its members scattered throughout the county.
The Brockport-Clarkson-Hamlin Plank Road, constructed in 1848 along Lake Road, from the mouth of Sandy Creek south to the Sweden-Clarkson town line, improved north-south transportation through the three towns, linking Lake Ontario, the Erie Canal, and after 1850, the railroad through Brockport. The toll road lasted for twenty-two years before its planks were removed, victims of progressive deterioration.
Within a few years construction was begun on the Lake Ontario Branch of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad (later the New York Central) from Oswego to Suspension Bridge, through the towns along Lake Ontario's southern shore. Completed in 1876, it provided passenger service and a vital shipping link to commercial markets for Hamlin’s agricultural products.
Throughout its history, Hamlin has been an agricultural community, moving from the subsistence farming practiced by early settlers to commercial agriculture in later years. The transition was accelerated by the coming of what would be nicknamed the 'Hojack Railroad.' Soon after its completion, dry houses. cooper shops, granaries and other businesses sprang up in the area of the depots, creating three hamlets. At that time; grain raising was a major occupation, but fruit growing, particularly peaches and apples, was emerging as an important industry. Soon Hamlin would be able to boast of having the largest Twenty-Ounce apple orchard in the world, located just north of North Hamlin Road west of Hamlin-Parma Town Line Road. Today Hamlin farms yield more fruit, especially apples, cabbage, grains, including corn, and dairy products, than any other town in Monroe County. Since the demise of the Hojack railroad and the Duffy Mott Co. apple processing plant in 1977, produce has been trucked to processing plants and storage facilities. Although farming and farm-related businesses have continued to be the major economic activities within the town. currently many of the town's residents are employed in and commute to nearby metropolitan Rochester employment centers.
During the first century of its existence (1852-1952) Hamlin's population remained fairly constant, averaging 2500 people. Prior to 1852 it was populated primarily by second and third generation descendants of the pioneers, who were joined by many families from Rensselaer County during the 1840s. By mid-century, when the West opened up, many left the town seeking new opportunities. They were replaced by newcomers from Ireland and Canada, and later by a large number of immigrants from Northern Germany (arriving 1865-1880). Like other Monroe County towns, Hamlin's population after World War II climbed ever upward. By 1960, 2755 people lived in Hamlin. By 1970 that number jumped to 4167, which nearly doubled during the following decade to 7675. Today Hamlin is populated by 9203 individuals, including the largest number of young people under the age of 18 years of any county town.
Its growth was stimulated in part by the completion of the Lake Ontario State Parkway in 1950, giving easy access to major highways as well as its lakefront communities and Hamlin Beach State Park. The subsequent connection of Route I-390 North with the Parkway further linked the metropolitan area with the town.
Hamlin's approximately ten miles of lake shore and the mouth of Sandy Creek have lured visitors since its earliest days. Prior to the Civil War, picnickers flocked from many miles distant to the grove at Troutburg, on the county line, its hotel and pier, from which they embarked on steamboat excursions to Coburg and Toronto, Canada. Later in the century hotels and picnic sites sprouted all along the shore, especially during the 'Gay Nineties.' The construction of private summer cottages was inaugurated at that time.
As demand increased for public access to the waterfront, acreage was purchased in 1928 by Monroe County and partially developed for use as a park. Its development was furthered by the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which constructed a camp on park property in 1935. During the six depression era years of its existence. young men of the CCC, constructed buildings, roads, stone culverts and drinking fountains, and planted and trimmed trees. After the camp was closed in August 1941, it remained vacant for a year, but was then utilized during the harvest seasons to house Bahamian and Jamaican workers, and subsequently Italian and German Prisoners of War who worked on local farms and in area food processing plants during the World War II manpower shortage. The camp was razed following the war, but its entrance road east of the State Park Police building on Moscow Road is still visible. Hamlin Beach Park, which became a state park in 1938, has been further developed and expanded to approximately 1400 acres. Several town parks are also in frequent use, especially by young people.
The mouth of Sandy Creek provides additional water related recreational opportunities, particularly for anglers and sailors. Marinas have replaced the turn-of-the-century hotels on the creek's west bank, providing docking space for recreational and fishing boats, while the Brockport Yacht Club continues to serve the needs and desires of sailors. Private residences and the New York State Public Boat Launch line the east bank of one of the best salmon and bass spawning streams on Ontario's southern shore.
Like Gaul of Caesar's day, all of Hamlin is divided into three parts: East, Central and West. Development of each section began along the three main north-south roads through the Triangle Tract, provided by the tract developers, and the tract boundaries. The town's first churches were erected along those early roads. When the railroad was constructed, a depot was located in the eastern section (Walker), a second in the central portion (Hamlin Station), and a third on the western border (Morton), further reinforcing the concept of three locales. When phone service began, Hilton Telephone Company's lines extended to eastern Hamlin, the Hamlin Rural Telephone Co. located in the central portion, and a small private phone company served Morton residents.
Today residents of Eastern Hamlin receive mail from the Hilton Post Office, attend Hilton Central Schools, and are included in the Walker and Hilton Fire Districts. The people of Central Hamlin have a Hamlin address, attend Brockport or Hilton schools, and are protected by the Hamlin Fire Department. Western Hamlin is served by Morton, Kendall and Holley post offices, Kendall Central Schools, and the Morton Fire Department. The Hamlin Volunteer Ambulance Corps, initiated by Hamlin VFW Post 16703, provides emergency service for all three areas, however.
Shopping habits, which traditionally have followed the same pattern. have been altered somewhat in recent years by the erection of a small shopping plaza in south-central Hamlin.
Before centralization, Hamlin young people attended one of 15 neighborhood schools. One of these at North Hamlin which closed in 1956, was the last one-room school in Monroe County. Another, the former North Star School, serves today as the North Star History Center, the town's only public education facility, but most have been converted to private dwellings. St. John's Lutheran School, serving grades K-8, is the only school within the town's boundaries.
Hamlin residents benefit from a concerned town government which has maintained a remarkably stable town tax rate. Most homeowners would agree that the observation made by Historian William F. Peck in 1895 is still applicable a century later: “Hamlin is as clean and wholesome a town, socially, morally, or otherwise as can be found in Monroe County.”