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.
Thomas Bemus was born May 19, 1786 in Pittstown, New York. The second of nine children born to William and Mary Prendergast Bemus, Thomas was 19 years old by the time he and his extended Prendergast family made their way to Chautauqua County in 1806.
Thomas built a cabin in the area that is now Stow upon land purchased by his father. This effectively made him the first settler of the land that would eventually become the Town of Harmony and later North Harmony. His parents, along with younger sibling, opted to live across the narrows of Chautauqua Lake in what is now Bemus Point. To stay in contact with his family, Thomas would use a rowboat to get across the water. He married Jane Atkins in 1809, and the couple eventually had 7 daughters and 2 sons.
In 1811, Thomas applied for a license to operate a flat bottom raft. The license was granted on July 11 of that year at the Court of Common Pleas in Mayville. Since then the ferry, known today as the “Bemus Point-Stow Ferry” has carried passengers, vehicles, and other items from one side of the narrows to the other.
In the spring of 1815, Thomas made the first survey of village lots for a new community at the outlet of Chautauqua Lake, which was being established by his uncle, James Prendergast.
Thomas Bemus passed away on June 23, 1829 at the age of 43.
– J. Sample