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 www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
William Bemus was born in 1762 at Bemus Heights, Saratoga County. At the start of the Revolutionary War, he moved to Pittstown in Rensselaer County. In 1782 he wed Mary Prendergast, daughter of William and Mehitable Prendergast.
Early in 1800, the Prendergasts and Bemus sold their property and made the decision to migrate to the west or to Canada. Bemus and his bro-in-law, Thomas Prendergast, traveled to Batavia where they met William Peacock, who had recently been surveying the Chautauqua Lake area. Before returning to their families they paid a visit to Chautauqua Lake and both favored the surrounding country. When the group decided against settling in Tennessee in 1805, it was the earlier trip to the Chautauqua Region that convinced them to settle there instead.
The following winter, Bemus bought a land contract for about 100 acres of land on each side of Chautauqua Lake at the narrows, the current location of Bemus Point and Stow, located in the towns of Ellery and North Harmony, respectively. There was unmistakable agricultural evidence a native American settlement had formerly existed on the Bemus Point side, and Bemus used the grass and corn to secure a crop his first year at his new settlement. Bemus later built a sawmill in 1808, the first in the town, and the first gristmill in 1811. He remained active in the early development of the area for the rest of his life, dying Jan. 2, 1830, nearly 68 years old.
– J. Sample