Historical Digest of Early Chili
by Jay C. Widener, Former Town Historian
Before there were any white men in what is now the Chili area, it was forest and the hunting grounds of the Seneca Indians. The game was abundant. Deer, turkey and many other animals roamed the forest. Bear and wolves were sometimes unwelcome guests.
The first land owner in what is now Chili was Peter Sheffer. He arrived in 1789 and purchased his land from Ebeneezer Allen. Though he owned land in Chili, Peter Sheffer actually lived in Wheatland.
The first recorded settlers, arriving in 1792, were Captain Joseph Morgan and his family. He was a revolutionary war veteran like many of the early pioneers. He purchased his land from Peter Sheffer in the Scottsville Road area, south of what is present day Morgan Road. Morgan was followed in 1794 by Andrew Wortman, Stephen Peabody, and Leonard Widener. Josiah Fish settled at the mouth of Black Creek in 1794 and later became the first supervisor of the old Town of Northhampton. Henry Widener and his family of 11 adult children and step-children arrived in 1796.
Stephen Peabody operated the first business, a distillery, in the Town of Chili. Another early business was the Jacob-Widener-Joseph Carey Saw and Grist Mill.
The first tavern was the Checkered Tavern. It was located at the present site of South Chili and was built by Henry Widener.
The first church was the Chili Presbyterian Church on Chili Avenue at Stottle Road. It was erected in 1832. Other businesses quickly followed which included taverns, hotels, schools, and churches.
Most of the first settlers were German and Belgian from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas. They probably heard about the Chili area and its fertile land from soldiers returning from Sullivan's expedition against the Indians in 1779. The settlers used the Williamson Road through Tioga to New Town (now Elmira) and then followed the Sullivan route from Kanadesago (now Geneva) to the Genesee River. After the war of 1812, there was a major immigration from New England.
The first road was Scottsville Road. It was laid out by Peter and Jacob Sheffer in 1792. It ran from Oatka, or Allen's Creek, to the falls of the Genesee River in present day Rochester.
The first road to the interior was the Braddocks Bay Road. It ran from Braddocks Bay to the present day Morgan Road where it turned east towards the river and Scottsville. The road is now known as Union Street.
In 1797, the first township was formed in the area. It was known as Northhampton and it ran from the Genesee River to Lake Erie. In 1808, Northhampton was divided and the Town of Riga was formed. Riga, at that point, included what is present day Chili. On February 23, 1821, the County of Monroe was formed and Riga was included in the county. On February 22, 1822 (Washington's birthday), the eastern part of Riga became the present day Town of Chili. Joseph Sibley was the first Supervisor. He operated an early mill on Black Creek. Sibley's Mill was later operated by Gertrude Hertz. The property on which the mill was located is now owned by Bea Wilcox and is on the National Register of Historic Sites.
There are two theories concerning the origin of the name of our town, "Chili". The first theory is that the town was named after Chile, South America and that the name was somehow mispronounced. Local people may have been sympathetic to Chile in its struggle for independence. Early authors when writing about this theory always qualified their statements with words such as "maybe", "perhaps", "possibly", etc.
The second theory was that the Town of Chili was named after the Chiliast or Chilian religion. This was the religion of some of the earliest settlers in the South Chili area. They came from Pennsylvania and they were of German, Dutch and Flemish origins. They believed that one thousand years of peace would be followed by the return of the lord.
The first railroad ran from Rochester to Buffalo in 1812 and the old Genesee Valley Canal was opened in 1862 connecting Rochester to the Allegheny River.
The first college was opened in North Chili in 1860 in a former tavern and stage stop on the northwest corner of Buffalo Road and Union Street. It was called Chesborough Seminary and it was operated by B.T. Roberts. Chesborough Seminary later became Roberts Wesleyan College. One of the first students was Richard P. Hubbard. The old tavern and stage stop is still there today.
Early town offices were usually located in various homes. Now there are central town offices including a library located at 3333 Chili Avenue.