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A LOOK BACK: East Ashford

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The view of Riceville or East Ashford about 1910, taken from the junction of Route 240 and Gooseneck Road.  From left to right: The Sharp house, which still stands in disrepair, The Miner Hedges house, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the store and post office.  The sawmill was behind the photographer.  In 1891, Miner Hedges bought and operated the sawmill.

By Derek M. Otto

In October, I wrote about the different route you would have to take to get to Ellicottville from Springville.  Since that time, several photos and discussions have come up. Curious minds want to know about the little hamlets that existed on the pre-1956 Route 219. I would like to start with East Ashford, better known as Riceville.

If you have ever travelled through western New York, you may have noticed signs that said “hamlet of” or a sign of “town name” and there is no town, but maybe a house.  Many hamlets developed in western New York as a result of transportation.  Due to the soil and climate of western New York, the most ideal agricultural pursuit was dairy farming.   In the days before refrigeration or canning of milk, milk had to be made into cheese.  So about every three to three and half miles, in most towns, you would have a small hamlet built up around the cheese factories.   

Ashford was no different and East Ashford was one of those little hamlets.   Ashford was believed to be first settled in 1824 by Henry Frank, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, with other settlements in Ashford Hollow and mills built by 1826.  By 1832, East Ashford had been established with its cheese factory, schoolhouse, store and post office.  By 1879, East Ashford contained a blacksmith shop and a sawmill, too.   

In 1832, East Ashford had two churches being established. The settlers who followed the teachings of the Methodists had begun meeting in the schoolhouse.  Also, eight of those settlers with Presbyterian beliefs began to meet in the same schoolhouse. It is noted that the small Presbyterian Congregation had grown to 14 members; however, sustained preaching could not be maintained and the congregation was dissolved.   

The Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church of East Ashford grew at a fast rate and by 1855, had 60 members.  In 1856, they built their church edifice on Gooseneck Road at a cost of $1,000.  The first pastor was CB Clark.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, several members left the ME Church to form a congregation of the Wesleyan Church in opposition to slavery.   The church was in operation for many years until 1968 when the United Methodist Church was formed.  The Methodist Church and the Evangelical Brethren Church merged.   The East Ashford, or Riceville, Church merged with the Brethren Church in West Valley to form St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.   The Church building stood for over 140 years, but in the late 1990s, collapsed due to neglect.

For those in the hamlet of East Ashford who were not of the Methodist faith, a dilemma was solved at a meeting at the schoolhouse in February 1954. The group formed the Congregationalist Church.   In 1855, the Baptist Society that met in East Ashford and the Methodist dissidents, the Wesleyans, built a church at the corner of Riley and Gooseneck Roads.  They spent $1,500 on their church.   The church would be known as the Union Church.   The Rev. CB Lord was the first pastor and remained for two years.   The congregation is still operating today and has been reorganized as the Riceville Community church that currently has services on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. with Rev. Bevington of the old Springville Baptist Church preaching.   The 1855 church building still stands today and is a private residence at the corner of Riley and Gooseneck.

The schoolhouse in Riceville was an active place, central to the community in the establishment of the churches, but it was the primary center for learning. A 1901 photo of the Arbor Day pageant shows 37 students from grades one through eight.  There was only one teacher. The schoolhouse would operate until the mid-1900s, when students in the area would go to the West Valley Central Schools.

The post office was established earlier than 1839.  We know this because West Valley established their post in 1839 and it was written in an early history that, “Riceville had a mail service from Cattaraugus Station quite a number of years before West Valley.”  More interesting is that “the mailman carried mail twice a week on horseback from Springville.”

The post office in the 1800s is very interesting in that whoever was postmaster could name the post office and hence the hamlet.   The Rice family were large landowners and operated the saw mill; Riceville is named after them.

East Ashford would remain the name until about World War I.  A Rand McNally map from 1932 lists the hamlet as Riceville. The post office building still stands; it remained a post office and store up until the 1990s. Residents now have to go to West Valley for their mail.

If you find yourself traveling down the old 219 or 240, remember that Riceville was a bustling little hamlet in the 1800s!

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