BeeLines - August 15, 2018
By Marybelle Beigh, Westfield Town & Village Historian
Those Pioneer Leaders, Businessmen, and Doctors who Led Our Early Village
As noted and illustrated in the most recent BeeLines about the origination of the “Mayor’s “Rogue” Photo Gallery,” there are official records to be found that detail the actual incorporation of the Village of Westfield NY in 1833. And in that same original record book, there are listed the very first officers elected, and business transacted at the very first meetings of the President (AKA Mayor) of the village and the board of trustees.
CORRECTION: Please note that a portion of a sentence was missing from the recent BeeLines regarding the “Rogue’s” Gallery currently displayed in the Eason Hall – the photos are of Presidents and Mayors only from 1900 through the present (2018).
Following are short biographical sketches of the first two elected mayor-presidents of the Village of Westfield – James McClurg (8-1833 – 5-1834), and Stephen Rumsey (5-1834 – 5-1835), and photos or portraits if located. Faithful readers are invited to please share further information, images, and any other ephemera related to these early years. Thanks!
Native Westfield folks will know that James McClurg’s story has been thoroughly documented in multiple histories of Chautauqua County, and that his former home is now the home of the Chautauqua County Historical Society and McClurg Museum, in the middle of Westfield’s Village Green or Commons AKA Moore Park. That being the case, this biographical sketch contains only a few short notes regarding McClurg, essentially regarding his short time as the first leading officer of the Village of Westfield. Also, an image of a photo or portrait of James McClurg was located for this BeeLines.
James McClurg (1785-1872) came from Ireland to America in 1798, first living in Philadelphia PA, and later Pittsburgh PA where James and his father developed a foundry and furnaces for the iron business. James McClurg first came to Westfield NY in 1807, and opened a small store, remaining until the War of 1812. He returned to Pittsburgh and used the iron foundry to make cannon for the war. In 1814, McClurg came back to Westfield, reopened his store at the corner of commons (now Moore Park) at SE Corner of Main and Portage Streets, constructing what was said to be the first frame building in Westfield. In 1818, he built the first known brick house constructed between Buffalo and Erie for his home. With Judge Campbell and George Hall, he built the Westfield Mill in the Village. By 1829 he had also built the Westfield House (Hotel/Inn/Stage Stop) at the NW corner of Main and Portage, as well as what was known as the McClurg Block, a series of brick buildings for businesses and dwellings along the west side of South Portage at the Main Street intersection. (These buildings were said to be a “wind break” for the McClurg brick mansion from the strong westerly winds and storms that blew into the Village from across Lake Erie).
Andrew Young, in his History of Chautauqua County, quoted an obituary notice for McClurg: “Business was his ruling ambition… He took a lively interest in public affairs… and he was as exact in his observance of the sabbath as he was methodical in his business transactions.” Given his “interest in public affairs,” it is no surprise that when the Town of Westfield was formed in 1829, the first town meeting was held at McClurg’s Westfield House, and that James McClurg was elected Pound-master at that meeting. And as this BeeLines concerns the first president-mayors of the Village of Westfield, it is quite appropriate that McClurg was elected the first president of the village.
According to the minutes of various meetings of the board of trustees during McClurg’s short term as president, a few highlights may be noted: At the September 5, 1833 meeting, a Resolution was passed that a Fire Company be organized, and 16 members were chosen, with Lewis Macomber being appointed Captain. (This was to conform to the Articles of Incorporation). At the November 9, 1833 meeting, George Hall and Lyman Redington were authorized to procure from the [Highway] Commissioners of the Town of Westfield, money that the Town had appropriated for a Bridge across Chautauqua Creek.
Stephen Rumsey (1785-1873) was born in Connecticut, and removed to Vermont. In 1827, he moved to Washington County, NY, and then to Westfield in 1831. Stephen owned a tannery with brothers Calvin and Aaron. According to Andrew Young’s history, Stephen purchased a tract of land from his brother Calvin who had earlier purchased it from the Holland Land Company when the area was the Town of Portland in 1815. Young emphasizes Rumsey’s religious observances from age 15 throughout his life.
A search of family trees on Ancestry.com provided a thumbnail sketch of Stephen Rumsey’s family connections to Westfield. He was married in 1813, and had at least four children with Rachel. His father and several siblings, as well as his children are buried in Westfield Cemetery. Although there are a couple photos of Stephen Rumsey’s father, David Rumsey, in the Ancestry materials, no images were found for Stephen.
At the Annual Meeting of May 4, 1834, to elect the new officers for the Village of Westfield, a business meeting was transacted before the election at which a Resolution was passed “That the sum of One hundred dollars be raised for the purpose of excavating and stoning a publick well with conveniences for drawing the water – and that the surplus money if there shall be any shall be applied for a pound.” Stephen Rumsey was elected President of the Village, and the entire Statute of Corporation, Bylaws, and Minutes of the previous year’s meetings were read. The well and the bridge across Chautauqua Creek activities were continued during Rumsey’s presidency, but were not completed until later.