Clarence: Oldest Town in Erie County

During the past 200 years, Clarence has progressed from an isolated, heavily forested wilderness inhabited by a few sturdy pioneers to the thriving suburb of Buffalo we live in today.

Named for the house of Clarence - an English dukedom in London - Clarence was established as the first township in Erie County on March 11, 1808, with Jonas Williams elected as the first supervisor. At the time, its area covered the entire northern portion of Erie County, including, in addition to its present area, the towns of Amherst, Lancaster, Newstead, Alden and the City of Buffalo.

Once inhabited by Native Americans, the town as we know it was called "Ta-Num-No-Ga-O," meaning "place full of hickory bark." It went through a series of names, Ransomville, Pine Grove, Ransom's Grove and Clarence Hollow among them, before it was just called Clarence.

In 1799, even before the town had be established, Joseph Ellicott offered lots on the old Buffalo Road to "any proper man who would build and operate taverns upon them." Ellicott was an agent for the Holland Land Company.

These lots, 10 miles apart, were sold at the company's lowest price, $2 per acre without interest, on long terms. The first settler to take advantage of this offer was Asa Ransom, a young silversmith from Geneva. He was the town's first resident, having obtained legal title to the land.

Ransom erected a spacious, two-story log house and tavern where he opened the Holland Land Company's Land office back in 1801. That spring he erected a sawmill on the banks of the creek that winds through Clarence Hollow and bears his name. In 1803, he expanded his operations and built a grist mill.

In 1807, Asa Harris, a Revolutionary War colonel, constructed a tavern along the Buffalo Road on a barely discernible rise today known as Harris Hill.

During the War of 1812, the able-bodied men and boys of Clarence marched off to join the American militia assembling on the Niagara Frontier. That year, homes were filled with refugees from the battle area. Just before Buffalo burned, Smith and Hezekiah Salisbury, publishers of the Buffalo Gazette, escaped with their printing equipment to the Harris Tavern. They printed their first issue there on Jan. 14, 1814. Several other Buffalo businessmen followed suit. The Salisbury Brothers eventually returned to Buffalo.

Two years after the town had been established, the Town of Buffalo had been defined and divided out of Clarence by the State Legislature. In 1823, Clarence was again divided, this time creating Alden and Newstead. In 1833, the final division took place, forming Lancaster.

Bavarian and French immigrants began settling in the Swormville area during the late 1830s following a heavy migration of German people and the subsequent separation of Alden and Newstead. The Rev. John Neumann, a Catholic missionary, founded the "Parish of the Transit," now known as St. Mary's. He used to walk to Swormville from his headquarters in Williamsville.

Shortly after Adam Schworm built a store on the Clarence side of Transit Road, the community was dubbed, "Schwormville." The town's industrial history began with the manufacture of potash. Then came brick factories using the clay form the banks of Ransom Creek. Rock quarrying operations provided sand and gravel for a number of industries. With the discovery of a relatively large deposit of the mineral gypsum, the National Gypsum Company began operating in earnest, eventually expanding across the country and into Canada.

Prosperity returned after the Civil War. New churches, schools and sawmills sprang up. The first church erected was the Mennonites Good Church in 1829. Agriculture remained the chief source of income.

By the mid-1950s, although the town was still primarily agricultural, the population had doubled. Today, Clarence is a suburban-residential community but remains largely undeveloped.