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Town History

A View to Our Past


Please visit the website of the Bristol Hills Historical Society



By Helen Corser Fox, Bristol Town Historian

The history of Bristol was first recorded in 1669, when the explorer, Robert de LaSalle wrote to his homeland describing his visit to the Burning Springs, where the Seneca Indians had escorted him to see this "magical burning water." This was actually natural gas bubbling to the surface which had probably been lit by lightning.

In 1779 General Sullivan traveled through this area. His soldiers were impressed with the fertile land and many returned when Bristol County, Massachusetts purchased this land for settlement. Richmond, Bristol and South Bristol were all part of this purchase. South Bristol was organized from Bristol in 1838.

The Goodings were the first settlers, followed by many others from the Dighton township in Bristol County, Massachusetts. The Old Congregation ChurchGamaliel Wilder also brought many settlers from Connecticut. In 1789 the town was formed. Town meetings were held regularly at the old Methodist Episcopal Church in Bristol Center. Bristol was a religious center early on with seven active churches. Then the district school was centralized with Naples, Canandaigua, Bloomfield, and Honeoye. Today there is only one church, The United Church of Bristol. Bristol was an agricultural town: sheep raising with tanneries and chandleries at Muttonville, which is now Vincent, cultivation and sale of hops from 1853 to 1920 was also a successful enterprise, and orchards and lumber and grain mills dotted the town.  Many fairs, field days and festivals were held in Bristol.

The beauty and serenity of the hills and valleys has drawn many to the area. Many permanent homes now dot the hills. Tourism is the venture of the town now. We have bed and breakfast businesses, a pottery shop, antique stores, a wood specialty store, a brewery, an organ factory, and computer graphics expert,  to name a few. Levi Corser Memorial ParkThe Town Park across from the Town Hall at Bristol Center has sheltered picnic areas, sports fields, a jogging track, and a basketball court available to all town residents and anyone passing by who needs to rest a bit before going on.

Town government is still very local with meetings held at the town hall. We have preserved our various cemeteries as best as can be with the passage of time. Veteran's graves are decorated. These include veterans from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and II, Korea, and Vietnam.


Some Information to Help in Your Research: The Town of Bristol Historian has the following in the archives at the Town Hall. The list is a partial list of the holdings. This is such a tremendous resource, I hope many of you will take advantage, and submit a research request or stop in. Because the holdings are large and various, kindly be as specific with your query as possible. Names, dates, places, and specific questions will be very helpful in searching through the Archives.

Your cooperation and courtesy will be greatly appreciated. Simple requests for information may be free. Requests that involve more work may be subject to a charge. If copies are requested, copying fees and postage will apply. Otherwise, your reply will be e-mailed back to you.

Kindly submit your detailed look-up request to:
c/o Bristol Town Hall
6740 County Rd. 32
Canandaigua, NY 14424

Local Genealogy Work

Do you have a local genealogy project going? Do you have some local ancestors or relatives that you would like to access family information on? 
A local volunteer, Shirley Pridmore Simpson, who along with others has developed an amazing amount (192,019 entries) of genealogical records from sources in Naples, Bristol, and the town of Italy as well as other individual contributors and her own personal research. This large volume of work has been stored on a searchable Rootsweb World Connect Project page which can be accessed by clicking here. 

Bristol Historian Resources

Census Records 1790-1925
Deaths 1883-1969. With sources, includes parents and spouse when available.
Marriages 1883-1901
Births 1883-1969
Cemetery Records All Bristol, various Honeoye/Richmond, South Bristol, Naples, East, West and South Bloomfield, Canandaigua, Cheshire, Academy, Allen's Hill and (old) Ovid Street in Seneca Falls.
Military Records Locations of graves in local cemeteries, Civil War letters, enlistment lists from before 1865, with regiments and parents listed.
Family Histories Data of over 200 families of the area. Many of these go back to Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, where the pioneers came to settle the Dighton Purchase from Phelps and Gorham and back to the "Mayflower".
School Records School books, Academia and records from many school districts.
Churches Original Congregational Church records from early 1800's. Records from Baptist, Universalist, Methodist, Federated and United Church of Bristol.
Political History Town minutes from 1789 to present. Lists of the town officers; early highway records.
Books County and local histories, directories, ledgers, journals, diaries, family genealogies, Dr.'s records and many more too numerous to list.
Newspapers Gazetteers, Rural New Yorkers, Ontario County Repository.
Scrapbooks Over 175 scrapbooks from the 1880's to present. Contains newspaper articles, obituaries, marriages and birth announcements.
Maps 1859, 1874, 1904 and 1916. Gives residents names and homes.
Miscellaneous Many original deeds, some wills, early "ear-marks" from 1797 to 1840 and many other interesting files of data.

Genealogy Online Resources:

An Interesting Story Written by Festus Ganyard

The Ganyard family arrived in Bristol around 1799 when Festus was four years old. By 1817 the family moved on with many other Bristol pioneers to Granger, Medina County, Ohio. Ganyard Hill Road and a cemetery off South Hill Road where a tombstone of Peter Ganyard is located are all that remain of the name in Bristol. That four year old year old boy left a story of his trip to and early life in Bristol. We can not know unless we have hiked along the Appalachian Trail what a trip from New England to Bristol at that time might be like. The motto "Do not be scared before you are hurt" helped move these people on despite crossing frozen lakes with ice cracking and breaking under the bays. On the way to the Genesee country grown men were singing about their "Genny House". They traveled in late winter in order to sleigh and cross frozen streams easier and arrive in time to plant crops. On the way they joined other groups going to Bristol. When they arrived they spent the first night with John Codding's family. How well the young children played together. Next morning after an eight Mile trip they reached Grandfather Hatch's. Here they found old friends Allens, Wilders, and so on. Father bought 90 acres in East Hollow with an eight foot square log cabin less chimney. The house was as open as a barn and the March breeze and smoke were almost suffocating. Mother would sit and weep while he lay his tiny hand on her knee and say "Mama what makes you cry"? The only answer was soft tears running down her cheeks. As Winter ended and birds sang folks were busy at work and spirits rose. Family life was very happy there at the new home in the forest. He describes the cabin as follows. "The cupboard, so called, was two pins driven into the side of the house and a board laid on them. A set of tea dishes and dinner plates, knives and forks put on the boards. A set of wooden plates called trenches were for common use. A large iron kettle, dish kettle, dinner pot, spider and tea kettle, two chairs, two stools for the little boys, a high bed and bedstead, under this a trunk bed, thus I close the picture of the home." The happiness is in the mind not the place. All the neighbors lived the same simple life. Babies were born and families prospered in the new country.

History by Helen Corser Fox, Bristol Town Historian
-From the Bristol Historian Archives-


The U.S. - Mexican War

As you look through Bristol's history, you will occasionally see references to the U.S. - Mexican War. To help understand the context of these references, we have included a short article describing briefly that conflict. To access the article, click here.


Other Links to Bristol and Ontario County History Websites

Bristol Hills Historical Society
Ontario County Cemeteries
Ontario County Historical Society
Records and Archives
The American History and Genealogy Project (Bristol page)
Ontario County Genealogical Society
Welcome to the Ontario County, NY