Captain James Dunn – Bicentennial Biography No. 10

Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit or contact your local historical society.

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The first settler in the town of Portland was Capt. James Dunn, who came from near Meadville, Pa., in 1804, and located about 1,100 acres near the center of the town, not yet surveyed into lots. In 1805 he built a log cabin on lot 31, town five, and moved in with his wife and six children, and in 1808 opened a tavern, the first in Portland, on the road surveyed by James McMahan.

It is said that Dunn was well fitted for an innkeeper and provided substantial, if not luxurious, fare for those who stopped by.  Mrs. Dunn was well skilled in the culinary art of the times. To the weary traveler “Dunn’s Tavern” was considered an acceptable “lodge in some vast wilderness.” Dunn also opened the first school in the town was opened in the spring of 1810 – in a small log building near his home. At first only his children attended.

The first religious service in Portland was at the home of Dunn, in 1810, Rev. John Spencer the preacher. Dunn also played a role in starting what would become a rich history of agriculture in Portland. In 1807, he brought a small bundle of young apple trees from his Pennsylvania home to his new home in New York and it’s said the later orchard was one of the best in all of Chautauqua County.

Ref: Young’s History of Chautauqua County

– J. Sample

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