History of Parma, NY

While legislation creating a new town named after Parma, Italy was passed on April 8, 1808, its wording called for its organization at the next board meeting. Since boards at that time had so little business to conduct, government officials met only once a year.

When the first meeting convened in 1809, therefore, the only order of business was to elect officers and vote to build a pound to hold stray animals. Thus animal control was the first need identified in that era when the loss of a horse or cow was a serious financial loss. The pound was duly built at Parma Corners next to the wood block tavern house kept by Hope and Elisha Davis. A fire station now occupies the corner where the tavern stood and a car dealership can be found on the old-time site of the pound.

In the beginning, the Ridge Road leading from Rochester, 13 miles away to the Niagara Falls area, was the most heavily traveled roadway. At Parma Corners it intersected what is now Route 259, then known as the Canawaugus Road. That old Indian trail proceeded from Lake Ontario to sulfur springs near Caledonia, now at the site of the New York State Fish Hatchery, but then the site of the Native American village of Canawaugus. The word has been translated as meaning: "Stinking Waters", an apt nomenclature because of the odor of rotten eggs that is given off by sulfur water.

Ridge Road in Parma 1909
Taken from the book "Parma, NY - The Hub of the Universe"
by Shirley Cox Husted

Since settlement began along the Ridge and proceeded slowly north, the lakeside lands were the last to be settled. Today the same pattern can be seen economically, with the majority of new businesses locating along the Ridge.

Route 104 is known as "the Ridge" because it is the ridge of the high Niagara Escarpment which runs across western New York, ending at the Niagara River where it becomes Niagara Falls. Once, it was part of the shoreline of old Lake Iroquois which extended from that ridge northwards in the time when almost all of Parma was underwater. It was created by a strong Labradorean glacier from Canada. As the climate grew warmer, the ice melted, and receded to become Lake Ontario, an Indian name meaning: "beautiful waters."

Silt from the huge black lake gradually settled beneath it, producing a highly fertile glacial till soil. The protected climate near the lake, warmed several degrees warmer by the heat given off from lake waters, proved highly supportive to fruit growing.

Wheat was the first universal crop. Before the Civil War, Parma was considered part of the nation's breadbasket. Then apples, peaches, cherries and small fruits were planted and flourished until 1934 when a freeze destroyed more than half of the orchards. After World War II, poultry and dairy farms began to disappear. Fruit and vegetable processing no longer provides seasonal employment here and today's main cash crop; corn, is primarily used in cereal and corn chips.

Parma Corners was the first community of importance, followed by Parma Center, but the coming of a railroad along the lake shore in 1876 resulted in the growth of North Parma, as the village was then called.

Today, Hilton's centralized school has become the area's largest employer, where children's bodies and brains are cultivated instead of foodstuffs. Those living in the south portion of the town, however, are part of the Spencerport Central system. Parts of Peck Road form the dividing line between the two districts.

Perhaps the most unique architecture in Parma is the Octagon Cottage on Bogus Point at Lighthouse Beach. Built by a local artist, B. Aylesworth Haines, it is the only octagon cottage on the south shore of Lake Ontario. (One other stands on the North shore.) A historic 97 foot high red brick lighthouse occupied the point called "bogus", so called because rumor held that counterfeit (bogus) money was smuggled back and forth from Canada, hidden away in a secret cave in a nearby barn. An attempt to recreate the light tower has radically changed its statuesque appearance of 1895 when Inspector Charles Gridley approved it for use as the brightest light on Lake Ontario.

Captain Gridley became a famous American hero in 1898 when he obeyed Commodore George Dewey's order to fire a canon shot from the USS Olympia, Dewey's lead ship, that launched the battle of Manila Bay, the first battle of the Spanish American War. Gridley later died as a result of his wounds. Does his ghost still haunt the lighthouse? Perhaps. Perhaps the coastline is haunted also by the happy memories of escaping slaves who passed through Parma on their way to freedom across the lake in Canada from 1830-1860. When they departed from the area that later became Hilton Beach, en route to freedom in a humble fishing boat piloted by a black conductor, Walter Vond, they must have felt thankful, apprehensive, and blessed beyond expression.

The strip of sandy beach along Rose Marsh at Lighthouse Beach, so named because surveyors found wild roses growing there in the early 1800s, will become a bird sanctuary and public observation area when developed by the County of Monroe, utilizing a recent federal grant. It was once owned by Julius Fredericks, called "Daddy Sunshine" because of his benevolence towards orphan children. He built the long pier there and planned further development, but died before his dream of a summer sunshine camp became a reality.

Parma's most valuable asset, Lake Ontario's coastline here will undoubtedly continue to attract nature lovers, children, sportsmen and sportswomen, fishers, cottagers, boaters and full time residents. The lake's power is awesome and sometimes dangerous, yet it is a constant blessing, for it is a water supply for every form of life: animals, wildlife, bird life and all aquatic and land creatures. Its sunsets are unforgettable, its beauty undeniable.

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