The Burning Springs & Early Bristol

Beth Hall Thomas

Town Historian for Bristol & South Bristol

When the Seneca tribe first roamed these hills and valleys, they walked through dense growth of maple and elm on the valley floor and oak, chestnut, pine, beech, hemlock, ash, hickory, butternut and wild cherry on the hills.  Wolves, bears, and cougars were competition for the Native Americans who stalked deer.  The smaller wildlife, bobcats, fishers, raccoons, squirrels, and turkeys were also plentiful and came to drink from Mud Creek.


History records that the first white men to visit Bristol were the French explorer, Robert LaSalle, and the Jesuit missionary, Galinee in August of 1669. While waiting for an Iroquois escort to take them to Ohio, the explorers were shown “Burning Springs.”  Galinee recorded, “In order to pass away the time, I went with M. de LaSalle, under the escort of two Indians, about four leagues (10 miles) to the south of the village (Victor) where we were staying  (Ganondagan), to see the very extraordinary spring.   Issuing from a moderately high rock, it forms a small brook. The water is very clear, but it has a bad odor, like that of the mineral marshes of Paris, when the mud is stirred with the foot. I applied a torch and the water immediately took fire and burned like brandy, and was not extinguished until it rained. The flame is among the Indians a sign of abundance or fertility, according as it exhibits the contrary qualities. There is no appearance of sulphur, or any other combustible material.  The water has not even any taste and I can neither offer or imagine any better explanation than it acquires this combustible property by passing over some aluminous land.”

None realized that it was natural gas coming from underground and bubbling through the water that caused the water to burn. Probably set afire by lightning when the Native Americans found it for the first time, the flame was several feet high and burned until extinguished by heavy rains or high winds. More than a hundred years passed before it was discovered that the gas could be used for heat and light.

When Walter Case owned the “Burning Springs”  farm (Case Rd.), he and his wife cooked over the flame which at that time rose to a height of eighteen inches. The drilling of gas wells in the area has caused the flame to become smaller.

On September 11, 1779 General Sullivan’s troops marched through Bristol on what is now Vincent Hill Rd., crossed Mud Creek and followed the Indian trail to Honeoye. They burned the village near Flatiron Road, just as they had destroyed the Indian village at the top of “Arsenal Hill” in Canandaigua.

An amusing story told by Helen Herendeen, former Bristol Historian: “About a hundred years after Sullivan’s march, some young lads in Bristol had the idea from their reading of history that Sullivan’s army had buried some treasure along the trail near mud creek on my grandfather’s farm, so they came to ask his permission to dig.  He gave them permission on condition that they fill in the holes when they were through digging.  They spent the summer hopefully digging for treasure, but they finally tired of this unrewarding occupation and abandoned their efforts.  When it came time for fall plowing Grandfather had to mount his saddle horse and make a number of house calls to remind the young men to return and keep their part of the bargain by shoveling back the dirt.  It is also said that Sullivan buried cannons up on West Hill when the horses became exhausted hauling the heavy loads up the steep hillside, so they decided to bury the cannons before they had to bury the horses.  I believe that someone is now trying to locate a cannon with a metal detector. If he should locate one, we would indeed have a memento of the American Revolution.”

One of the soldiers who received a land grant for service in the Revolutionary War was William Gooding, who with younger brothers, James and Elnathan, walked to Bristol from Dighton, Massachusetts (Bristol County) in the spring of 1788.  They drove before them a flock of sheep, a herd of young cattle, and a cow for milk.  Their claim established Lot no. 1, in the northeast section of the town near Vincent Hill.  They cleared a few acres, sowed wheat and planted turnips, and built a rude log cabin for themselves, and a shelter for the animals.  William and James returned to Dighton for the winter, leaving seventeen year old Elnathan to care for the animals.  Elnathan was the first white man to winter in Bristol.

This story was told by Elnathan’s great, great, granddaughter, Ada Fisher Bliss: “One evening, not long after his brothers had left him alone, Elnathan was cooking his supper outside over a campfire, when the llong shadow of a tall Indian fell across the fire.  Elnathan did not panic, but ladled out a bowl of his stew and handed it back over his shoulder to the Indian who happened to be a hungry, young man. This act was the beginning of a long friendship between the two. Someone gave the Indian the name of Jack Kelly.”Ada said it was not unusual to come into the kitchen in the early morning and find a number of Indians sleeping on the floor around the fireplace.  The Goodings and the Fishers always made them welcome. William and James Gooding returned with their families in the early spring of 1789 and soon built a larger and more substantial house and blacksmith shop.  William was always kept busy shoeing oxen or horses, and repairing and making tools for other pioneers.  His anvil was kept in steady use as Bristol continued to grow.


 Deacon George Codding and his son George, traveled over the Susquehanna route from Dighton to Bristol in 1788-89. He was soon followed by his sons, John, Faunce, Burt, and William.  The Coddings had drawn lot no. 3 in the lottery in Massachusetts.The Town of Bristol was formed by the Court of Sessions, January 27, 1789. Many of the first settlers were from Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts and they named their town for that county. The first meeting to organie the town was held April 4, 1797, Gamaliel Wilder and George Codding presided. The following officers were elected: Supervisor, William Gooding; Town Clerk, John Codding; Assessors, Faunce Codding, Nathan Allen, and Nathaniel Fisher; Commissioners of Highways, James Gooding, Jabez Hicks,    -and Moses Porter Constables, Amos Barber, Nathan Allen, and Alden Sears, Jr.; Overseers of Highays (pathmasters) Eleazer Hills, Peter Ganyard, Theophilus Allen, Elnathan Gooding, John Simmons, and Amos Barberr; School Commissioners, Aaron Rice, Ephraim Wilder, and Nathaniel Fisher; Collectors, Amos Barber and Nathan Hatch.