The town of Ontario was formed from Williamson on March 27, 1807, and included the present day town of Walworth. It was originally known as Freetown until February 12, 1808, when its name officially became Ontario. Ontario is located in the northwest corner of Wayne County, with Lake Ontario forming its northern border. The town consists of slightly over 19,100 acres of mostly level surface, with a slight inclination toward the lake. The southern part of the town contains the famous ridge, thought to be the southern shore of Lake Ontario in the far distant past.
In 1806, the first settler, Freeman Hopkins, came to Ontario from Rhode Island. As he was a Quaker, he and his family returned to Rhode Island at the outbreak of the War of 1812 to avoid the hostilities because of their close proximity to Lake Ontario. However, in 1818, the family returned to Ontario.
Freeman Hopkins built the first sawmill in the town, and his daughter, Melissa’s birth on May 7, 1806, was the first in Ontario. Sadly, Freeman Hopkins came to an unfortunate end. After becoming blind in his later years, he drowned himself in his cistern.
Ontario was one of the two locations of the iron industry in Wayne County. Iron was discovered in Ontario by a Mr. Knickerbocker in 1811, but little attention was paid at first. Four or five years later, Samuel Smith built a forge and began the making of iron. By steady work, Mr. Smith was able to produce 400 pounds daily. Smith’s forge was followed by two others. In 1835, the first furnace was built with a capacity of three or four tons daily. Another furnace with larger capacity, equal to six or seven tons daily, was built by Clinton Iron Company in 1840. An extensive business was carried on by the company until its destruction by fire in 1867.
In 1870, the Ontario Iron Company erected a furnace which was forced to suspend operations after a few years. The real boom in the making of iron was in 1880 when the Furnaceville Iron Company constructed a $200,000 furnace in Furnaceville. For the next 17 years, Ontario became a mining town, and the product was sold for mill and foundry iron. It took 2 1/4 tons of the ore to produce one ton of iron. The little hamlet of Furnaceville was so named because of the location of the furnace there. The glow of its blast furnaces lighted up the evening skies, workers made their homes there, houses sprang up and the population increased. It was said that a man from Ontario could be readily identified by the red dust on his carriage wheels, on his boots and on his mustache.
Eventually, the competition from the mines of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota made the process of mining iron ore in Wayne County impractical and expensive. The Minnesota mines had superior ore in greater quantity, better transportation and accessibility to coal fields. So, the beds in Wayne County became idle.
Today, the town has a population of over 8,500 residents with the best of both worlds — a rural community with the advantage of being only 30 minutes from the metropolitan area of Rochester.
* Heritage Square, 7147 Ontario Center Road
– Acquired by the Town of Ontario Historical and Landmark Society in the early 1970s, Heritage Square includes an 1800s Log Cabin, 1-Room Schoolhouse, Baptist Meeting Hall, Iron Ore Miner’s House, the Warner Farmhouse and the town Jail. Over the past decade, it has been restored as a living museum to reflect life as it was in the early days of Ontario. Open May – September, Saturday & Sunday 1:30 – 4:00 PM or by appointment. (315) 524-2340
First Presbyterian Church, 1638 Ridge Road, Ontario
– The Church was organized in 1832 with seven members. The current house of worship was completed in 1842 and dedicated the same year
(* Listed on New York State and National Registers of Historical Places)