The first family to settle in what is now the Village of Clifton Springs was that of John Shekell Sr. of Frederick Co., Maryland. His son Benjamin, in company with two other men, Elias Cost and Abraham Simmons visited the area in 1799 and liked what they saw. They returned to Maryland in the fall of that year and, as they traveled south, they found that each community was conducting memorial services for President George Washington, who had just passed away.

Benjamin was so taken with the area that he returned the following year (1800) and settled just to the west of the village past Rocky Run. In 1801-02, his father John Sr. came north and put up a rude log cabin on the top of what is now known as East Hill. The family followed in September of 1802 and John Senior purchased from Oliver Phelps one hundred and thirty-five acres of land for the sum of $540. The deed reserved ten acres of land (including the New Brimstone Spring) to Mr. Phelps and this was the land that in later years which Dr. Henry Foster was to purchase for the start of his Water Cure facility.

The Shekell family had been planters in Maryland and brought with them at least three slaves, Nath, Rose and Lucy. Mr. Shekell was later to free them giving them several acres of land each to begin a new life in the North. Mr. Shekell enlarged his small cabin into a tavern shortly after the arrival of the family and it was soon opened to travelers through the area. The tavern stood on the southeast lawn of the present day Episcopal Church property. In subsequent years the house was owned by the Balcolm sisters and used by them as a boarding house. When the Balcolm sisters passed away, the building fell into disrepair and the house was torn down and the land was sold to the Episcopalian congregation.

The tavern was the only stopping off point within the present village limits until 1807 when William Powell of Geneva erected on the crest of East Hill a new hotel. Within a year or so, John Shekell and his son John Jr. took over as hotelkeepers for Mr. Powell.

Mr. Shekell and his wife were Episcopalians and gave the land for the first Episcopal Church here as early as 1808. It was located up East Main Street near present day 60 East Main Street. The interior of the church was used for services but not completed by the Shekell family. The War of 1812 saw many of the members of the small church moving westward. As it was not being used, Mr. Shekell offered it to the Methodists if they would complete the interior. This they did and used it for their services until 1841 when it burned.

Mr. Shekell deeded land for the first cemetery of the Village located on the West Side of Pearl Street. In this cemetery lie some of the oldest graves of the Village and many of it's well known citizens. John Shekell lies in the front portion of the cemetery as do his sons Capt. John Jr. and Benjamin. No marker lies over his repose, as over the years the stone, which marked his grave, has been lost to time.

Richard Henry Shekell (1809-1894), son of Benjamin Shekell was active in his lifetime in Village affairs and had much to do with the building of the first Methodist Church in the heart of our business section. He moved his family outside the Village to a homestead on the Orleans-Chapin road. His son, Henry Cost Shekell (1846-1928) sold a piece of his land along Rt. 488 to the Village for it's new water works and the Village received its water from springs on that farm for many years. As time went by high levels of nitrates were found in the water and it became necessary for the Village to purchase its water supply from Canandaigua Lake via the Newark line.

Henry's son, Eugene Wilbur Shekell (1898-1977) took over management of the
farm. A fire in 1930 completely destroyed the old family home on Rt.488 together with most of the furnishings and most all of the many family heirlooms they possessed. Eugene remodeled one of the small farm buildings to the rear of the burned out homestead and the family lived there for a few years. Eventually, he moved his family into the Village proper. He, his wife, Alice Crawford Shekell, together with a nursing friend, Charlotte Griffith, opened and operated a nursing home in their home at 37 Silver Street for several years.

Your author had the pleasure of marrying the daughter of Eugene and Alice Shekell, Verna Alice Shekell. Other than Verna, no other members by the name of Shekell still reside in the village. The Shekells of Maryland are proud of their claim as one of the pioneer families to the area and especially their ownership at one time of much of the village proper.

By Frederick L. Gifford

Village Historian Emeritus


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