A Brief History of the Town of Gaines
Nestled in the heart of Orleans County, the Town of Gaines has largely retained its agricultural character over the course of its 200 year history. In the years after the first settlers arrived in 1809, life was hard. Sometimes crops failed, and if they were abundant, there were few markets close by to sell to. Despite these challenges, the communities of Gaines Village, East Gaines, West Gaines and Proctor’s Corners (now Childs), were established on Ridge Road before the Erie Canal came through in 1825. Once the canal was completed, Gaines Basin and Eagle Harbor grew as a result of the commercial traffic. With a means of selling their crops to markets across the state at higher prices, Gaines became a little less rustic.
Confident that their town would become the county seat for the newly formed Orleans County in 1824, the citizens of Gaines were eager to prove its worth. Prior to the incorporation of the county, Gaines could boast its own newspaper, and over twenty businesses, including several factories. In an effort to make itself a more likely location for county seat, a Masonic lodge was established and a meeting house built. Although Gaines lost its bid to become the political center of the county, the plans made for a court house were refurbished to become an institution of learning, the Gaines Academy. Until 1850, the population and businesses of Gaines continued to grow.
Like many rural communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, social life in Gaines revolved around one of the six churches, the Grange, one of the two temperance groups or at a tavern, depending on one’s sensibilities. The latest news could always be discussed at one of the general stores. There were fires that devastated several of these meeting places, and there were community efforts to rebuild them.
Despite the changes that have occurred over two hundred years, Gaines has always had farmers. In the early days, farming was a necessity to survival. Later, farmers sent their commodity crops of wheat and beans along the canal to distant markets. In the 20th century, farmers grew tomatoes for the Hunts factory in Albion. Orchards have long been a part of the landscape, from the days when Gaines boasted the largest apple orchard in the world, to today where they can be found spread throughout the area.
by Adrienne Kirby, Town Historian