In light of our town rejecting the forsyth-warren tavern as a historic site we offer you now a mostly complete history of the property commonly known as the Forsyth Tavern. Click READ MORE to read its amazing history!
John Forsyth was born to Irish parents in New Jersey in 1781. His parents were loyalists and fled towards Canada. They were captured near present day Rochester by Native Americans and held prisoner for some time until released by a British Raid. John’s father opened and operated a tavern on the Portage Road in present day Niagara Falls, Ontario. John engaged in a smuggling business and after spending some time in jail, he removed himself to the American village of Black Rock.
Mary Ganson was born in 1782 to Captain John Ganson of the Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War who was wounded in the battle of Bunker Hill. Her father moved to LeRoy, New York after the death of his wife and opened a tavern there. He was a known patron of local Native Americans and friend of Red Jacket. The place where they settled became known as the Ganson Settlement.
John Forsyth showed up there in 1801 according to census records and married Mary Ganson around that time as well. It is notable that he came from a family of loyalists and she from a family that gained high honor fighting for George Washington in the American Revolution. In 1802 they gave birth to their first child who unfortunately did not survive long past its first year.
The Holland Land Company, a group of wealthy businessmen in Amsterdam purchased 3.3 million acres west of the Genesee River from the successful land developer Robert Morris. Morris had purchased 1.5 million acres from Massachusetts for 1.5 shillings per acre and quickly sold the vast land holdings in the then Western Frontier only after buying out the various native nations that inhabited it.
In 1798 Surveying of the land began under the direction of a series of land agents. In Batavia Joseph Ellicot was appointed by general agent Paul Busti. Surveying was done by the transit method which required line-of-sight measurements and used 150 men to clear and gage the vast frontier lands between March 1798 and October of 1800. They divided the tract into 6 mile square townships, those divided into 320 acre lots and the lots into 120 acre tracts measured in metes and bounds that were marked by inscribed stones or natural features of the landscape.
In 1801 the first parcels were offered up for sale. The survey teams had cut some paths through forests and established camps along the way however most the roads then were Indian trails and where no Indian trails were found, pioneers had to make their own paths. In 1801 land was selling for $2.75 an acre and purchasers were required to place at least ten percent down to their local land office. Often incentives were given to those first purchasers. These varied from being allowed to put less down to perhaps working off their debt by building a road or opening a sawmill to aid in further development.
John Forsyth purchased lots 23 and 24 on November 28th 1804 along the East and West Indian Trail. This trail was originally formed from a leftover line of gravel and sand trail deposited by the recession of Lake Ontario to the North. It was used by the Algonquian and Iroquois nations and at the time of John and Mary’s travels along it, was only fifteen inches wide. This trail was later widened and would become known as Ridge Road and later Route 104.
Mary was pregnant when she and John left for their new land. She drove a covered wagon pulled by oxen. Tied to one side was a plow and on the other a coop with six chickens. The family cow was tied to the back of the cart. Following them was John on horseback leading three or four sheep and the same number of hogs. The trip took them five or six days.
Upon arriving at their lots John and Mary constructed a temporary structure to call home which was followed by a log cabin come fall. For the first few years John sustained a small farm by cutting swail grass from the marshland that surrounded his lands.
The Niagara-Batavia trail soon became the primary cross through the territory. It led a fairly straight path from the land office in Batavia to the American Fort Niagara. As settlers progressed inward the path was cleared and widened into what would become Ridge Road.
In the spring of 1806 John and Mary opened their log home as a Tavern.
John and Mary soon after constructed a larger frame home. Mary dated this “move” as being in 1807 in her published recollections. In 1808 a large addition was completed abutting this frame home which would contain John and Mary’s new Tavern. In this same year the town of Cambria was established. At that time Cambria was all of the land between Tonawanda Creek and Lake Ontario.
Originally the nearest neighbor to the Forsyth Tavern was Samuel Moorhouse who kept a tavern where the town of Heartland is presently. The space between them later became known as the Eleven Mile Woods. The area north of the Forsyth land was primarily marshland from which they drew swail grass for their farm stock. The area was rich with rattlesnakes, wolves and bear that posed a constant threat to John, his family and their livestock.
The current center barn was presumably erected prior to its 1808 build date however in 1808 an enclosed lean-to was added to its south side over a primitive and early ventilation window cut from the barn siding and held in place with a rope and pulley.
The same year marked the first burial on the knoll a few rods south and west of the Tavern when a woman came to the Tavern door and promptly dropped dead at Mary Forsyth’s feet. The Town of Cambria Historical Society records that this woman was heading to Fort Niagara where she was due to be wed.
In 1809 a log cabin made of hewed oak logs, two stories high 24x30 feet and covered with oak tile was added to the property for and by John Haner. It was turned into a horse barn in 1853 and demolished in 1893 with its oak logs reused to construct a fence on the property. Some of these logs remain part of the current fence.
In 1812 John died, reportedly of paralysis; which at that time likely could have been from a rattlesnake bite or some other form of swamp born illness. He became the second person to be burred in the Tavern’s cemetery. At the time their family had grown by two more children. At his death the farm was 190 acres less 4 acres that were not paid for at the time of his death.
June 19th of 1812 which is believed to have been only a few days after John Forsyth’s death, the United States declared war with England.
October 13th of the same year American troops crossed the Niagara River from Fort Niagara which was at the terminus of the road on which the Tavern stood and began what would become known as the Battle of Queenston Heights.
December 19th 1813, the British retaliated for the burning of York and Newark by invading Niagara County. British and Native troops attacked Fort Niagara and burned the villages of Youngstown and then Lewiston. The village inhabitants fled the oncoming invasion and those left behind were killed and burned in their homes and businesses. Those that fled were chased along the Ridge Road towards the Forsyth Tavern. They pleaded Mary Forsyth to join them with her children as they fled East. Mary sent her two oldest boys to her family in LeRoy and with her two youngest children, remained at the Tavern. Luckily for her the advancing army preceded no farther than Howell’s Tavern where they were turned back by Tuscarora Indians. The remainder of Niagara County was abandoned and many of its residents would never again return.
Captain John Ganson, father of Mary, left his tavern and Mary’s former home in LeRoy, to fight in the war. He died in 1814 and was buried initially in Albany, New York before later being exhumed and reburied closer to Rochester.
Captain Ezra Warren of Vermont came to the Forsyth Tavern with the Vermont Cavalry. He came from a prominent Vermont family who descended from Richard Warren of the Mayflower. He and two other soldiers were stationed at the Forsyth Tavern as messengers as well as to intercept stragglers and deserters from the main army stationed closer to Fort Niagara. Mary and the Forsyth Tavern where also used for a time to supply meals to the barracks at Hardscrapple. The barracks were burned by the British July 5, 1813. That same month Ezra and Mary were married.
After the war General Dearborn was granted funds to construct a log, dirt and brush causeway from Wright’s Corners to Forsyth Corners to transport artillery and other military supplies. This made the path in front of the Forsyth Tavern the best road for stages and wagons in the Niagara Frontier.
In 1816 a school was built a few hundred feet east of the Tavern along the ridge road. It was built by subscription on land donated by Ezra Warren. It is believed by the town to be one of the first with writing desks arranged around the sides with benches made of slabs with wooden pegs for legs that made them moveable. The front of the building had a bell tower and the rear had a small fireplace. In all, the building was eighteen feet wide by twenty-four feet long. In 1836 it was decommissioned and removed from the property to be used as a dwelling further east.
After this, Forsyth’s Corners began to go by a new name: Warren’s Corners.
Also in 1816, twelve regular stagecoach schedules were established and the post office at the Forsyth Tavern became increasingly prominent. Sarah Forsyth even married a young stagecoach driver in 1827 after years of being courted by him during his brief passes through the tavern.
In 1819 Isaac Warren, cousin to Ezra Warren, purchased land a mile east of Forsyth Corners and opened an Inn and Tailor Shop.
At some point a grocery store was constructed across the road from the schoolhouse. The date of this in unknown but in 1914 the store became Warren’s Grange Lodge which boasted a 300 member population before it was closed and torn down in the 1950s.
In addition to staffing the Tavern, Post Office and Stores, Ezra also employed a number of hired hands to aid him in running the farm. The farm during Ezra’s time consisted primarily of wheat. He had at any time twenty to thirty acres of wheat. This would be cut by sickle until brining a grain cradle to the property in 1820. In 1830, the area’s first portable thrashing machine was brought to the farm, using four horses and four sweeps to thrash one hundred and fifty bushels of wheat in a single day. This was improved over the years until ten horses were thrashing five hundred bushels per day.
One of Ezra’s most infamous employees was Eli Bruce who worked for Ezra for room and board after arriving at Warren’s Corners without a place to stay. Eli Bruce would later become the town’s first sheriff and was later arrested and charged in the disappearance of Freemason turncoat William Morgan.
In 1823 Company “A” of the Niagara County military regiment was established with Captain Edmund Forsyth as its lead and with nearly 100 men, company drills were staged in the Warren Farm the first of every September until 1849.
In 1825 a circuit preacher gave a sermon from atop a tree stump in Warren’s Corners. Ezra was so moved by what he had hear that he donated land and one hundred dollars just east of the schoolhouse to the Methodist Society and on it was constructed a small wooden church. This church was moved across the road and a brick replacement was constructed in 1860. The stained glass in the new church was provided in memory of the Warren family and the arched glass above the door is inscribed with Ezra’s name.
The day after Ezra had heard the preacher, he said that a dream in the night had told him to change his ways. He promptly the next morning rolled the tavern’s whiskey cordial kegs out the basement rear door and broke them on the hillside. The neighborhood pigs then came and drank from the spills, ate the cherries and passed out drunk. Ezra went around and notified all of his neighbors to come and pick up their pigs and was so disgusted at the situation that he closed the Forsyth Tavern forever. Soon after he modified the tavern into a home, reportedly “rounding off” the building to appear more homely. He then moved on to become a layman, traveling to perform baptisms, marriages and memorial services in churches, homes and fields around the county.
Following this change, several things rapidly altered the landscape at Warren’s Corners. A new post office was constructed beside the Warren Grocery store. John Forsyth’s two sons filled for rights to part of the land and were
given large parcels to the east. Ezra’s son Asa later became quite successful in the barrel making business and operated just west of the old Forsyth Tavern while another son, Henry took over operation of Ezra’s farm.
In 1832 the brother of the late John Forsyth built a house in Fort Erie, Canada that promptly became a major safehouse for the Underground Railroad. Both John and his brother William were known smugglers in Canada. Mary and her then Methodist Preacher husband Ezra are said to also have cooperated on the Underground Railroad using a hidden room inside of their home. This is presumably the room located directly above the former post office room and otherwise not connected to the remainder of the building. To add further precedence for this, Charles and Martha Brown, known fugitives who traveled on and aided in the Underground Railroad resided in Warren’s Corners in 1854.
Mary and Ezra had eight children. Mary had twelve children between John and Ezra, ten of whom survived until adulthood. Mary died in 1857 at seventy-five and Ezra in 1879 at eighty-nine.
After Ezra Warren’s death the old Forsyth Tavern remained in operation as a farm by his son, Henry Warren. Following the death of Henry in 1890, Henry’s son Charles inherited the farm. Charles’ ink crate stamp is proudly imprinted on the inside wall of the family barn.
The Town of Cambria received electricity in January of 1905 and the Tavern was electrified shortly thereafter.
After Charles’ death in 1930, his wife Jennie took over ownership of the farm. Their son Elmer inherited it next. His ink barrel stamp is imprinted beside his father’s.
The 1940 census records Elmer, his wife Maude, Elmer’s mother Jennie and a farm hand named Floyd Yousey lived in the Tavern. After Elmer’s death in 1947, his wife, Maude, sold the farm out of the Warren family to Floyd Yousey who then was recorded as being the farm steward. At the time it was listed as consisting of 50 acres of land, 6 acres of cherries, peaches and apples with dairy cows and chickens.
In May 1964 the Cambria Water District was established and public water lines began to be installed. For the Tavern this meant that the long standing row of Pine trees that lined the Ridge Road in Warren’s Corners was removed in front of the Tavern and the Yousey family ceased using the three spring-fed wells on the property to supply water to the house but continued to use the barn well to supply water to their dairy.
On January 16 1971 a fire engulfed the 1896 addition to the Forsyth barn. The news headlines listed it as a two-alarm fire that resulted in a total loss of the priceless historical landmark however the Youseys were able to repair the barn with a new roof and new metal siding around the 1896 addition. The interior, though blackened in the 1896 portion and along the roof of the 1808 section remained structurally sound.
Farming continued on the property until Floyd Yousey’s death in 1999. At this point the property was deeded to Virginia and Phyllis Yousey. The Forsyth Tavern as well as the neighboring home to the west remained in their names until 2003 when the property was divided into a 5 acre parcel containing the Tavern, Barn, Garage, Chicken Coop, Corn Crib and Sheds. This was sold to Harry Morton. The farmland and orchard across the Ridge Road was sold to the McCollum Farm Partnership in 2013.
Then in 2007 the Tavern property was foreclosed upon and was abandoned. In this time all of the structures suffered from the effects of poor roofs and vandalism. It was purchased in 2017 and restoration efforts began.
The Forsyth-Warren tavern predates the establishment of Niagara and Erie counties and was pivotal to the development of Western New York during its time as a frontier Tavern. It was established in the early nineteenth century. Built from local resources in a scarcely populated area, the Tavern and its outbuildings are inherently unique even though their construction is of a primitive post and beam style completed between 1805 and 1808. After its period of social importance the Tavern has remained a historic landmark recognized as one of the oldest buildings in Western New York with many resounding tales of local history from John Forsyth’s troubles with Canada to Mary Ganson’s brave stance as a frontier woman during the war of 1812 and her romance with Sargent Ezra Warren. Mr. Warren is lovingly remembered as one of Cambria’s founding fathers with strong ties to the Methodist Church and the temperance movement. Their family’s continuing success and prominence allowed for the survival of their family’s historic Tavern.