Dansville History

Castle on the Hill
Castle on the Hill

Dansville By Decade
Clara Barton in Dansville
Historic Dansville: An Unofficial Tour
Dansville's "Castle on the Hill"
Veterans Memorial Project 2000
Dansville Area Obituaries
History of Dansville Airport
Livingston County Genealogy
Existing Railroad Stations in New York State

Local Historical Resources

Dansville Area Historical Society

Dansville Area Historical Society Museum
Open First and Third Saturdays, 10 AM to 2 PM
 14 Church Street
 (585) 335-8090
Clara Barton Chapter No. 1
American Red Cross
 57 Elizabeth Street
 (585) 335-3500
Livingston County Historical Museum
Open May-October, 2-5 PM, Sunday and Thursday.
 Other Hours by appointment.
 30 Center Street
 (585) 243-9147
National Warplane Museum
Big Tree Lane
 (585) 243-0690
Livonia Area Preservation and Historical Society Maurice F. Sweeney Museum
 Open year-round, Fridays and Saturdays 10 AM to 2 PM.
 10 Commercial Street
 Livonia, 14487
 (585) 346-4579
General William Mills Mansion
 Open June 1-September 1, 12 to 4 PM, 
 Friday to Sunday by appointment.
 14 Main Street
 Mt Morris
 (585) 658-4220
Genesee Country Village and Museum
Flint Hill Road, Mumford
 (585) 538-6822

Dansville by Decade

Compiled by David Gilbert of the Dansville Area Historical Society

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The 1790's--Valley first settled by Cornelius McCoy and family. Others followed, including Faulkners, Hammonds, Perines. Village named for Captain Dan Faulkner, storekeeper and militia leader. "Breakout Creek" bursts forth from East Hill.

The 1800's--Sawmills and flour mills spring up around local creeks. Colonel Nathaniel Rochester moves to Dansville, will build first Dansville paper mill.

The 1810's--Locals fight in War of 1812. Rufus Stone founds Stone's Falls. A young Millard Fillmore lives in Dansville area for six months. First local Masonic lodge organized. James Faulkner takes up medicine in Dansville.

The 1820's--Livingston County created; Dansville annexed into town of Sparta. Joshua Shepard builds Main Street homestead. First church built by German Lutherans. Bradley paper mill founded.

The 1830's--First newspaper, Village Chronicle, is short-lived. First fire company formed. Warren Commins establishes a foundry in Comminsville. Bank of Dansville begun by Bradner family.

The 1840's--Dansville branch of Genesee Valley Canal completed, causes village population to double. George Hyland's gang wins "battle" to connect Main Street basin to canal. Town of North Dansville formed. Village of Dansville incorporated. The "Stone" mill on Quay Street is built by Elihu Stanley. Greenmount Cemetery laid out. First National Bank established by Faulkners.

The 1850's--D. M. Pierson and Olney Maxwell start local nursery industry. The Dansville Herald (later the Express) is first published. Half of business district destroyed in 1854 fire. "Our Home On The Hillside" water-cure founded by Dr. James Caleb Jackson.

The 1860's--Dozens of local men fight in Civil War. Grape-growing on East Hill begun by Dr. F. M. Perine. Seminary building erected. Dansville Advertiser published by A. O. Bunnell.

The 1870's--Dansville's first railroad completed, goes to Mt. Morris. First water system completed. Hyland House, Maxwell Block built; the latter houses first library. Clara Barton comes to Dansville, lives here for ten years. Canal closed.

The 1880's--Lackawanna railroad built across East Hill. Jackson Water Cure destroyed in fire, replaced by brick Sanatorium. Chaper No. 1, American Red Cross founded in Dansville. Both banks fail. Blum Shoe Manufacturing Company begun. Union Free School built.

The 1890's--Kelly Brothers Nurseries founded. F. A. Owen begins publishing Normal Instructor magazine. Holy Cross Cemetery dedicated. First reservoir completed. First hospital set up by Dr. F. R. Driesbach in old Seminary building.

The 1900's--Brae Burn golf course laid out. Pell Foster founds Power Specialty Co. Soldiers Monument dedicated. Klink Motor Car Co. set up by John Klink. Board of Trade established.

The 1910's--Main Street paved. Local doughboys fight in WWI. Spanish flu strikes Dansville. Daniel Goho post, American Legion established. King's Daughter's Home opens. Lloyd Shay begins trucking farmers' produce.

The 1920's--Dansville General Hospital opens. Rotary Club organized. Foster Wheeler created from Power Specialty merger. Stony Brook Glen becomes a state park. New high school built. Bernarr MacFadden takes over health resort. Dansville Airport dedicated. Library moves to Shepard house.

The 1930's--Thomas P. Reilly invents Ra-Pid-Gro plant food. Post Office building dedicated. Depression hits hard; Transient Camp set up in Stony Brook State park.

The 1940's--22 local lives lost in WWII. School nickname "Mustangs" chosen. Lions Club organized. Williams Park deeded to village by Pell W. Foster. Red Cross gets Noyes family residence.

The 1950's--TV comes to Dansville. Last local paper mill closes. New Town Hall, Elementary School built. Dansville Chamber of Commerce created.

The 1960's--Lackawanna Railroad discontinued. Senior High and Primary Schools built. Dansville Area Historical Society formed. First annual Dogwood Festival. Dansville-Wayland Expressway segment completed. Forbes Products opens a Dansville plant.

The 1970's--Castle-on-the-Hill closes. Noyes Memorial Hospital built. Shopping plazas and fast food restaurants spring up near I-390 exit. WDNY goes on the air. Inaugural Oktoberfest held.

The 1980's--Thomas P. Reilly Memorial Medical Arts Building dedicated. Labor Day balloon rallies take off. Industrial park proposed. New prison at Sonyea. Foster Wheeler hit hard by recession, but recovers. Faulkner Apartments open.

The 1990's--Forbes Products expands. Downtown revitalization projects bloom. Wilcox Press closes; building gutted by fire. Dansville celebrates its Bicentennial.

Dansville's "Castle on the Hill"

by David Gilbert, Dansville Area Historical Society

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Around the year 1798, when the village of Dansville was still in its infancy, the pioneer settlers were startled to hear a loud, booming sound which emanated halfway up East Hill. They discovered that pent-up geologic forces had given way, and a new spring had burst forth from beneath the surface.

For over half a century, "Breakout Creek" remained little more than a local curiosity. Then, in 1851, a businessman from Rochester, Nathaniel Bingham, learned about the mineral-rich spring water, and decided that Dansville would be an ideal location for a water cure facility.

The water cure, or hydropathy, was a popular mid-19th-century alternative medicine. Originating in Germany, it was based on the belief that pure water was the key to good health and long life. Those who partook of the water cure would undergo a variety of bathings and showers, wet sheet wrappings, and douches, and, of course, drinking a copious quantity of water. In time, over 200 water cures were in operation across the United States.

The Dansville Water Cure opened for business in 1854, but the sickly Bingham would soon bow out of the endeavor. Several times, the facility changed hands, with no one able to make a go of it. At last, in October 1858, came someone who knew how to make the water cure successful, and did.

Dr. James Caleb Jackson was born in Onondaga County in 1811. Early in his life he worked as a lecturer and publisher of abolitionist newspapers; but he was hampered by extremely poor health. In fact, he was at death's door when he visited a water cure; and his near-miraculous recovery made Jackson a life-long advocate of hydropathy. He obtained a medical degree, and operated a water cure in Cortland County before relocating to Dansville.

Our Home on the Hillside, ca. 1870
Under Jackson's supervision, the Dansville institute became known as Our Home on the Hillside, and attained a national reputation. Assisting him at the water cure was his adopted daughter, Dr. Harriet Austin, a fellow hydropathist, who also advocated women's dress reform. She was the inventor of the "American Costume", which dispensed with unwieldy floor-length dresses in favor of a mid-length skirt worn over trousers. It was more practical, but never gained wide popularity.

In addition to the water treatments, Dr. Jackson also encouraged his patients to eat properly. No red meat, sugar, coffee, tea, alcohol, or tobacco were permitted at Our Home on the Hillside; instead, the emphasis was on fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grain. Jackson is credited with the invention of the first cold breakfast cereal, a graham-flour-derived recipe he named Granula. For several decades the manufacture and sale of Granula was a lucrative sideline.

Our Home on the Hillside was a popular site on the lecture circuit; Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Horace Greeley all spoke in Dansville. Topping the list was Clara Barton, who returned to Dansville in 1876, physically exhausted from years of non-stop travel and work, to recuperate at Our Home. She kept a residence in Dansville for the next ten years; and, when she founded the American Red Cross in 1881, she assisted in the establishment of a local chapter in Dansville, the first local Red Cross chapter in the nation.

By the end of the 1870's, the aging James Caleb Jackson (who died in 1895) had turned over his duties at Our Home on the Hillside to his son and daughter-in-law; Drs. James H. and Kate J. Jackson, who had also obtained medical degrees. But in June 1882, a fire completely destroyed the main building of Our Home, causing much fear that Dansville's water cure was history. However, in October 1883 the Jacksons opened their new, larger, fireproof brick facility, the Jackson Sanatorium.

The water cure thrived for several more decades, as James and Kate were, in turn, succeeded by their son, Dr. J. Arthur Jackson. But the success would not last; advances in medical science and pharmacology spelled doom to the water cure philosophy. The Jackson Health Resort declared bankruptcy in 1914. For a short time after World War I, the Army used the building as a psychiatric hospital for veterans, after which a number of largely unsuccessful attempts were made to re-establish the health resort. Not until the spring of 1929 did the facility gain a new lease on life, with its purchase by health faddist Bernarr Macfadden.

Born in Missouri in 1868, Macfadden, a one-time professional wrestler, was an early advocate of body building, whose magazine Physical Culture was the cornerstone of a publishing empire. He was 61 when he purchased the Sanatorium, but he showed no signs of slowing down, and he wasted no effort in promoting his new acquisition. Renaming it the Physical Culture Hotel, he sponsored such publicity stunts as his annual "Cracked Wheat Derbies", marathon group hikes to Dansville from as far away as New York City or Philadelphia, so named for the cracked wheat cereal upon which the participants subsisted. He also made himself the center of attention on several occasions, such as the parachute jump he undertook on his 81st birthday, as a means of demonstrating the advantages of physical fitness.

Under Macfadden's ownership, the Physical Culture Hotel regained much of its former renown. No longer a water cure, instead it offered a wide range of exercise opportunities: tennis, swimming, hiking, golf, as well as various therapeutic treatments. It was also somewhat of a haven for the famous, and there would be frequent, usually unconfirmed, rumors of this or that celebrity coming to the "P.C." to "get away from it all".

After Macfadden's death in 1955, the hotel was acquired by New York City hotelier William Fromcheck, and operated as "Bernarr Macfadden's Castle on the Hill". But once again, a decline in popularity set in, and this time it was irreversible. The end came in 1971, when the doors of the health spa closed for the last time. A few subsequent efforts to make use of the building all met with quick failure; and today, the brick edifice rests empty and broken upon East Hill, a mute reminder of glory days gradually fading from living memory.

NOTE: The property known as Castle on the Hill is currently privately owned. The building has been secured, and the property is posted and patrolled. Trespassers will be prosecuted.

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Last Modified: August 23, 2012