How Northfield became Pittsford

When settlement finally became safe after the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Buffalo Creek, land developers and entrepreneurs, Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, purchased approximately two million acres for speculation. The land reached from the Pennsylvania border North to Lake Ontario. Its eastern border was Seneca Lake and the western border was the Genesee River. The tract was divided into Ranges and Townships. Settlers were soon flocking into the whole Phelps and Gorham Purchase as the 19th century dawned.

In 1788, Northfield, (the parent of seven present-day Monroe County towns: Pittsford, Perinton, Penfield, Brighton, Webster, Irondequoit, and Henrietta) was set off as a unit of Ontario County, NY. Although the land lay northwest of the seven-year old settlement of Canandaigua, the term North“field” was a misnomer. The dense forests of hardwood and pine growing close to the lakeshore was almost unbroken. Any trail into this heavily wooded region had to be hewn by many broadaxes or the trek was often conducted on the Native American footpaths along the waterways.

In 1789, a 19-year-old man named Caleb Hopkins came to this part of New York State and settled originally in what would become Penfield. His family had been in America for 169 years - his great-great-great grandfather having been a passenger on the Mayflower. Caleb's first home in this Genesee Area was a log cabin near Indian Landing on Irondequoit Bay. There he married Dorethea Mabee, daughter of long time friend, Jacobus Mabee.

By 1796, there were enough settlers in this wide area to justify the creation of a town government. The first Northfield town meeting was held April 5, 1796, at the home of Paul Richardson in what is now called Pittsford Village. The records of this early pioneer settlement are gleaned from the diligent writings of the town clerk and pioneer doctor, Dr. John Ray. His old, hand-written record book is carefully preserved in the office of the Town Historian.

In 1803 the large, expansive town known as Northfield changed its name to Boyle; ostensibly due to too many towns and communities in New York by the name of Northfield. In 1808, Major Caleb Hopkins was appointed Supervisor of Boyle to fill an unexpired term. In 1809, he was elected to the position and also appointed by President Madison as the United States Inspector of Customs and Collector of the Port on the Genesee River. He was bridge commissioner when the first bridge was built across the Genesee near Avon.

Increasing numbers of settlers came to live in Boyle and an area of land was separated from the huge town in 1810, which became known as Penfield. In 1812, the town of Perinton was formed from another section of Boyle. After these divisions, the remaining community was renamed Smallwood.

On April 13, 1813, Governor Tompkins appointed Caleb Hopkins Colonel of the 52nd Regiment of Militia of the State of New York. Hopkins had served at the Niagara Frontier under General William Wadsworth. He fought in several battles and skirmishes, receiving shoulder wounds. His officers and men regarded him as one of the bravest men in the army, the hero of his hometown and its leading citizen.

With the influx of so many settlers, by 1814 Smallwood had again become an unwieldy size and it was decided to divide it once more. One section became Brighton and the honor of naming the remaining land was given to Colonel Caleb Hopkins. On March 21, 1814, Caleb chose the name Pittsford after his childhood home of Pittsford, Vermont. Thus Northfield, which became Boyle, which became Smallwood, finally became Pittsford, NY. Through the years, the Pittsford area has grown and prospered much as it did in the 19th century and has become part of the sprawling Rochester megalopolis.