Hidden Hero - George Howland


When entering Union Springs from the north, one's eyes are drawn to the lovely pond and the historical marker proclaiming the old stone structure as Spring Mills erected in 1839-1840 by George Howland. As you venture further south, you see a street sign for Howland Street. If you have visited the Frontenac Museum, formerly the First Presbyterian Church of Springport, you may have noted the marker in the main room indicating the land on which the church was built was the gift of George Howland. Further down the street, yet another historical marker recognizes Howland College. It quickly becomes clear that George Howland played a prominent role in the earliest days of this village.


Howland (1781-1852) made his fortune as the major owner of a New Bedford, MA whaling fleet. Between 1830 and 1860, due to the high demand for oil to light the lamps of America, New Bedford became one of America's richest cities. It is believed that Howland visited this area but with certainty, we know that he never lived here. His shrewd business sense recognized the potential this area held. Rich land was inexpensive and plentiful. And there was that lovely North Pond which, to this day, never freezes in the winter. A man of vision and great business aptitude, it is believed Howland sought to invest in this area to diversify his whaling empire as protection against possible decline.

Howland sent his two sons, Charles and Robert, to develop successful businesses in Union Springs. At the North Pond, they built, what was at that time, the largest mill in Cayuga County. As this water source never froze, the mill had an edge over other area mills as it operated year round. A saw mill, cooper shop, (the remains of which are visible today) and other necessary service industries were built along a canal connected to the lake. The original mill still stands today as testimony to Howland's insight and wisdom.


Impressive homes were built for his sons, one of which was eventually occupied by his daughter Elizabeth Howland Chase and her husband, William Henry Chase, who also participated in the management of George Howland's local business interests.




In a section of an 1853 map of Union Springs (shown below), you will see many businesses and structures marked as belong to Howland or his son-in-law who is notated as WHC.


Those who are history and genealogy buffs look to their ancestors to learn about themselves. If we look to George Howland's family history, we can quickly surmise why he had the grit and determination to be so successful. You see, he is directly descended from John Howland of Mayflower fame. John arrived in the New World as an indentured servant and later became the executive assistant and personal secretary to the first governor of the Plymouth Colony, John Carver.


As every school child knows, the Mayflower encountered strong storms during its passage, causing the ship's timbers to be damaged and taking on sea water. These conditions , combined with a lack of food and unsanitary conditions for several months, contributed to sickness and the death of two onboard. Upon arriving in the New World, almost half the passengers perished in the harsh and unfamiliar New England winter. John Howland, however, survived these conditions and thrived. During one of the turbulent storms which occurred during the crossing, Howland fell overboard. Exercising his great grit and determination, John Howland managed to grab a topsail halyard (rope) that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely. If not for John, we would be living in a very different community! Thanks be to John!