PENDLETON – Although no one has a good explanation for why it was not done long ago, a historical marker honoring the founder of the Town of Pendleton will be erected this summer.
Sylvester Pendleton Clark, hoping to cash in on the circumstances surrounding the construction of the Erie Canal, settled along Tonawanda Creek in 1821. Pendleton was his mother’s maiden name, and Clark chose the village’s name himself.
Niagara County Auditor James B. Sobczyk, son of longtime town historian Benjamin S. Sobczyk, said money has been obtained from a Syracuse foundation to pay for a cast-iron marker that is expected to be installed at what is now Uncle G’s Ice Cream at East Canal and Tonawanda Creek roads.
That’s where Clark, who had recently been evicted from Grand Island by the New York State militia, decided to build his first cabin.
Last week, the Niagara County Legislature accepted a $1,050 grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which specializes in funding historical markers, to pay for the sign.
County Legislator Anthony J. Nemi, I-Lockport, whose district includes Pendleton, said the idea for a marker originated with Ben Sobczyk in early 2013. Nemi said Sobczyk was interested to learn that the Pomeroy Foundation had funded a historical marker for Old Fort Niagara in honor of Betsy Doyle, the War of 1812 heroine whose exploits had been publicized by County Historian Catherine L. Emerson.
Nemi said that because of the foundation’s rules, the application had to go through the county. Sobczyk prepared an application, it was sent in, and nothing happened. “They couldn’t find his paperwork,” Nemi said.
Sobczyk died last year, but in the meantime, the foundation tracked down his grant request and approved it.
Sylvester Pendleton Clark seems to have been a classic American individualist with an eye for the main chance.
Born in Rhode Island about 1780, Clark was among a small number of people who settled on Grand Island in the years after the War of 1812, when it was unclear whether the island belonged to the United States or Canada.
“He was the self-proclaimed governor of Grand Island,” Nemi said.
A Buffalo doctor, Cyrenius Chapin, wrote a letter to Gov. DeWitt Clinton complaining about the 150 settlers and their practice of chopping down white oak trees for lumber and cutting them into barrel staves. Those were carried around Niagara Falls and shipped to Montreal for export to the West Indies, where they were assembled into barrels used to transport molasses and rum.
Chapin called the Grand Island squatters “a collection of the refuse of society.”
State Attorney General Martin Van Buren, the future president, recommended passage of a law ordering the Niagara County sheriff to evict everyone from Grand Island. At the time, Erie County had not been formed, and its current area was part of Niagara County.
The sheriff and 28 militiamen spent five days on the island in December 1819, burning the cabins and telling the roughly 150 settlers that they had to move to either Canada or the United States.
Everyone went to the Canadian side except Clark.
Five years later, after a boundary survey determined that Grand Island was American soil, the state divided it into lots and auctioned them off.
Meanwhile, the construction of the Erie Canal was the big news of the day. James Sobczyk said Clark built his cabin and tavern at the point where the canal was to meet Tonawanda Creek.
“They had to create a land portage for goods and people,” Sobczyk said.
Deputy County Historian Craig E. Bacon said Clark was planning to cash in on the canal’s failure.
“He was convinced the canal was never going to make it through the deep cut,” Bacon said, referring to the path through the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport, where the locks were built, and along what is now Bear Ridge Road.
Before the canal was dug, Clark was the man to feed and lodge people traveling to the construction scene. He thought it would be a permanent thing, but as everyone knows, the canal made it through the rock.
“As soon as the canal was done, (Pendleton) was just another village,” Sobczyk said.
Bacon said, “He never cashed in as big as he thought, but they did name the town after him.”
The Town of Pendleton was separated from the Town of Niagara in 1827, taking its name from the village that Sylvester Pendleton Clark had founded.
Sobczyk said a ditch behind Uncle G’s represents the path of the original canal, whose route was altered in the 1850s.
The village, now sometimes referred as Pendleton Center, still has some as its original street names, such as Monroe and Washington streets, but East Canal Road was then Congress Street, and Tonawanda Creek Road is called “Tonawanta Street” on an 1832 map.
The cast-iron sign, to be placed on a metal sign post, is to be made by Catskill Casting and should be ready for unveiling about mid-August, Sobczyk said.
“Everything’s coming together,” Sobczyk said. “It’s the focal point of the Village of Pendleton.”