The Town of Ontario is located in the northwest corner of Wayne County along the shores of Lake Ontario. The first settler was Freeman Hopkins, a Quaker, who arrived from New England in 1806 and built a log cabin on the lakeshore when this area was still a part of the town of Williamson. In 1807 the town separated from Williamson under the name of Freetown and the following year changed its name to Ontario. Other early settlers were Peter Thatcher (the first blacksmith), Noah Fuller, Daniel Inman and Zebedee Hodges.
Although the land and climate were ideal for agriculture, especially fruit farming, the land was heavily forested. The early pioneers cleared the land. However, industries such as saw mills, potash, salt, charcoal and brick making, and blacksmithing at first took precedence over farming. By the1850s however, fruit, dairy, and grain farming were flourishing. This led to the canning and freezing industries which came to Ontario in the 20th century.
Iron ore was discovered in 1811 by Mr. Knickerbocker while he was digging a well to water his cattle. A few years later, the manufacture of iron was begun and continued until about 1918 progressing from the crude shovel and wheelbarrow days to the steam shovel era in the 1880s. In the early days, the ore was hauled by horse and wagon to Bear Creek Harbor on Lake Ontario and loaded on barges bound for the blast furnace in Charlotte. The roads along this route gradually turned red from the iron ore; and neighboring villagers could always identify a person from Ontario because of the red dust on his boots, wagon wheels, and even his mustache. In 1870 the Ontario Iron Company – and later the Furnaceville Iron Company – built their own blast furnace on Bear Creek about two miles south of the lake for the manufacture of pig iron. At its peak, the mines and blast furnace employed over 200 people at a time including many Irish, Dutch, Belgian, and Italian immigrants.
There were 13 one-room schoolhouses in Ontario. The earliest one was built of logs in 1816 on Lake Road near Knickerbocker. The first high school was built in 1895 across the street from the present-day Wayne Elementary School on Ridge Road. The school district was consolidated 1949.
The first church was formed in 1812 when the Methodist followers met in the Zebedee Hodges' home located where the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant now stands on Lake Road near Ontario Center Road. Their ministry is carried on today in the North Ontario United Methodist Church ("Brick Church") located at the corner of Brick Church and Ontario Center Roads.
The Lake Ontario Shore Railroad ran through the town and was opened for travel in 1874. By 1900, the trolley came to Ontario. It made its way down Ridge Road from Rochester to Sodus Point. In the spring, because of the many orchards along its route, its ride was advertised as "40 miles of blossoms."
Ontario is home to twelve beautiful cobblestone houses. This type of cobblestone construction is unique to Western New York. Over 90 percent of cobblestone houses are located within sixty-miles of Rochester, New York. These cobblestone homes were built between 1825 and 1860.
Today's focus of history is at Heritage Square at the Brick Church Corners located on Ontario Center Road one mile south of the Lake Ontario. These corners were recognized as a mid-nineteenth century crossroads community and were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. This area consists of the Brick Church, the Pease Homestead and Heritage Square Museum. This museum is lovingly cared for by the Town of Ontario Historical and Landmark Preservation Society and is open to the public from 1:30 to 4:00pm, Saturdays and Sundays from June through October.
For more information, please read Ontario's History 1807-1993 as Preserved at Heritage Square available at the Ontario Public Library. Or contact Liz Albright, Ontario Town Historian,
315-524-2942, ext. 703 or; email@example.com.