The Bricks of Brighton

Part I: Oliver Culver

Pub: June 22, 2005 by Brighton Pittsford Post

THE BRICKS OF BRIGHTON- Part I

The “BRICKS OF BRIGHTON” refers to the seventeen still-existing brick structures within the Town of Brighton that were built with bricks made by one of the many companies that made up Brighton’s biggest industry in the nineteenth century. The earliest brick company was owned by Gideon Cobb. His yard operated on what is now Monroe Avenue from 1818 -1853. The last brickyard, the German Brick & Tile Company, closed its doors in about 1920. Several other brick manufacturing companies existed in our town’s early years, mainly located along Monroe Avenue. The extensive clay and sand beds left by the glaciers, as they retreated over 12,000 years ago, established Brighton as the region’s main brick-producer.
Four of the “Bricks of Brighton” to be featured over the next several weeks were actually the homes of the owners of brickmaking companies: Abner, Leonard and Amos Buckland and Isaac Moore.

Many of these structures have been designated by the Brighton Preservation Commission as historic landmarks. We will explore the architecture of each of the seventeen and learn about the people who built them.

Part I – The Early Years, 1778-1805

Oliver Culver was one of the most interesting early pioneers of Monroe County, contributing to its development and leaving a permanent mark on this community.  He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1778 and lived part of his childhood in Vermont and later in Ticonderoga, New York.

As a lad of 18, Oliver started west from Connecticut on foot with his friend, Sam Spafford and Sam’s father, Amos, to take a surveying job in Cleveland, Ohio.  When his plans to take a boat west on Lake Ontario were delayed a month, the impatient youth hiked as far as Irondequoit Bay, arriving at the Indian Landing of Irondequoit Creek in 1796.  He hunted and fished to sustain himself and eventually made it to Cleveland. He and a group of about 60 others spent the summer surveying and clearing the land.  He would return to Connecticut and repeat the journey to Cleveland for two more years.

Culver often told the story of an event that occurred in Cleveland. Sam Spafford’s father, Amos, had the first contract to deliver mail in Cleveland.  One winter day, the mail carrier was ill, so Oliver  hoisted the 20 pound bags on his back and delivered the mail on ice skates, covering 40 miles in four hours.  By 1798, Culver had cleared and planted six acres of corn on the present site of downtown Cleveland. He also worked on cutting a road from Cleveland to the Pennsylvania border.

Culver returned to the Indian Landing by 1800 and found that a city had been established there by Judge John Tryon.  Called the City of Tryon, it consisted of the Tryon & Adams store, a tavern, a tannery, a blacksmith shop, an ashery and a shoemaker’s shop. Culver and the Hatch Brothers built the first sawmill in 1802 on nearby Allyn’s Creek.  The ambitious Culver ran the sawmill, John Tryon’s store and the ashery.  He also cleared land hunted and trapped.  On one occasion, Culver and Sam Spafford were inspecting their traps near the mouth of the Genesee River at Lake Ontario. Three Indians were attempting to steal their traps.  The fight that ensued nearly killed Culver.  For the remainder of his life, he proudly showed the deep scar on his head resulting from the severe blow of a tomahawk.

Another story that Oliver Culver loved to tell was about a bear that he and Spafford spotted swimming in Irondequoit Bay.  Thinking that “the skin would fetch a good price, they pursued the bear in a boat, armed only with their hunting knives.”  The bear was 400 pounds and not eager to be caught.  The violent struggle nearly capsized the boat, but they did manage to kill the bear and they did get a good price for its skin.

For some time, Culver boarded at Orringh Stone’s tavern (now the Stone-Tolan House Museum owned by the Landmark Society) and by 1800, Culver had saved enough money to purchase 105 acres of land about 2 miles west of Stone’s tavern for $3 an acre. Originally part of Brighton, his land was bounded on what is now East Avenue and Culver Road west to Barrington Street and from Culver Road east to Hawthorne Street and north to Atlantic Avenue. He cleared some of that land and planted wheat near what is now Culver Road.

At this time there was dense forest and a narrow Indian trail from Stone tavern west. Colonel Nathanial Rochester persuaded the Northfield town council (Brighton and Pittsford were once known as Northfield)to clear a road from Stone’s tavern to the Genesee falls.  In 1805, $50 was appropriated by the town for this task  and they hired Oliver Culver to do the job. He worked with Orringh Stone, Sam Spafford and others to clear the land and construct a log road (popularly called a “corduroy road’). It took about one hour to haul a wagon over the logs the four miles from Stone’s tavern to the Falls.  This road was first known as the road to Pittsford, or Pittsford Road, later Main Street, and finally, East Avenue.

Oliver Culver, though exceedingly clever,  had no formal education.  He saw the need for a school in his community, so he helped build a log schoolhouse near the Indian Landing.  At age 24 he became a student in that school and studied with the children.

Around 1804, Culver began a partnership with John Tryon in trading commodities such as furs, salt, rum, brandy, produce fish, cattle and oxen.  Their travels extended as far west as Detroit. At this time he bought a very large bark canoe fitted with two sails and filled it with two tons of furs and sailed the Great Lakes, trading and selling his wares.  He returned to Tryon 15 months later.

Written by Arlene Wright Vanderlinde and Warren Kling