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.
History says Colonel James McMahan and General John McMahan – two brothers – were destined to play a key role in the early settlement of Westfield. James McMahan first visited the region in 1795. In 1801 he returned and contacted his brother, John, who then purchased a large track of land from the Holland Land Company. It contained over 22,000 acres of unsurveyed lands in what are today the towns of Westfield and parts of Chautauqua. James also bought for himself more than 4,000 acres in the present town of Ripley.
In 1802 James built his home near the old “Crossroads,” or crossing of the trail between Buffalo and Erie by the old Portage road that ran from Lake Erie to Chautauqua Lake. James would go on to survey the first road of the county in 1805, establish the county’s first post office in 1806 and serve as postmaster. Meanwhile in 1804, John built a gristmill and a sawmill on Chautauqua Creek near the present settlement of Barcelona. In 1805 the first meeting of the Town of Chautauqua took place and John McMahan was elected the first supervisor. He also served as a Justice of the Peace.