Yates County in 1855
The ninth and final town was added to Yates County in 1851, being the
town of Torrey, organized at that time in hopes that Dresden, at the eastern
terminus of the Crooked Lake Canal, would continue to grow. The map shows
the boundaries of the nine towns as they are today.
1855 the county also included two incorporated villages: Penn Yan, the
county seat, formed from parts of the towns of Benton and Milo in 1833
at the Canal's western end near the foot of Keuka Lake; and Dundee, wholly
within the town of Starkey at the edge of the town of Barrington, site
of a Big Stream milling industry, incorporated in 1848.
The county's population in 1855 was the same as it is now, about 23,000
persons. It was squarely in the middle of what was then America's breadbasket,
the wheat-growing region that boomed with the opening of the Erie Canal
and turned Rochester into the Flour City. The county grew more wheat per
acre than any other in the United States.
This would all change within a few years, with the depression of 1857,
new insect and disease pests wiping out the wheat crop, changes in agricultural
practive that depopulated the countryside in favor of cities, and the holocaust
of the Civil War. "Little Yates" would not recover its population numbers
until the 1970s, more than a century after its early peak; a silver lining
not discernible at the time, since its farms remain still, the lakes and
the air are unpolluted, the roads are uncrowded and the views from the
long hills unmarred.