History of Aurora
The American Revolution caused a serious rift in the Confederacy. Only the Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the Americans; the Seneca, Mohawk, and Onondaga nations remained allied to the British. Although the Cayuga nation did not formally ally with either side, some Cayuga warriors joined the Seneca in British military actions on the American frontier. In 1779, in the midst of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Gen. George Washington sent Gen. John Sullivan on a scorched-earth campaign through Central New York, with the main action against the Seneca and Cayuga as well as Loyalists in the region. The villages destroyed included Chonodote, with its orchard of 1500 peach trees, and the Cayuga fled to Fort Niagara. Although the Cayuga were allotted a reservation on their historic lands (including part of Aurora) following the war, this dispersal led to fairly rapid sale under treaties that remain disputed.
Euro-American settlement of Aurora began in 1789, and increased dramatically with the apportionment of land to veterans of the Revolution. Those who settled in Lot 34 of the Military Tract - today’s Aurora - were from New England and Pennsylvania. The unique climate afforded by Aurora’s bay built rapid wealth from the land; lake shipping thrived. Known first as Scipio, the village was named Aurora in 1795 and incorporated under that name in 1837. It was the first county seat and the site of the first county court as well as a distinguished school, Cayuga Academy (later Cayuga Lake Academy) founded in 1799. An early (1819) and intact example of Masonic construction and iconography remains in Scipio Lodge #110. The completion of the Erie Canal made Aurora a bustling transport site for wool, grain, fruit, and pigs from the village and its environs to the Erie Canal, and thence to national and world markets; the Aurora Inn (1833) and former Morgan Office Building (1834; today The Fargo) represent this era.
This rapid growth offered opportunity in the 1840s and 1850s. African-Americans freedom-seekers joined freedmen and women who were already a significant part of the local community; skilled Irish stonemasons and carpenters were in great demand. Henry Wells, of the Wells Fargo Express Company, came to Aurora in 1852 and founded Wells College for women in 1868. These developments remain visible in Aurora’s built environment, from the Dutch-framed Patrick Tavern (1793, oldest building in Aurora and probably in Cayuga County) and early Federal homes to elegant Italianate and Queen Anne houses, as well as more modest nineteenth-century homes reflecting Aurora’s working heritage. Three brick and stone churches (two remaining active in their original buildings) designed by the same architect, Samuel D. Mandell, in three different styles (Romanesque, English, and Gothic) were built 1860-1874.
Beginning in 1973, for the nation’s Bicentennial, Aurora residents worked hard to achieve national recognition for the Village and its history. In 1976 the entire village was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and several buildings were given national landmark status. The dual Village of Aurora/Wells College National Historic District remains a significant draw to tourists and, for its residents, a prized example of now-rare village life. This page reflects the village’s ongoing commitment not only to preserve the past but to understand it.
The Aurora Historical Society and Village History Center
The Aurora Historical Society is located behind the Aurora Arts and Design Center, 371 Main St., on the courtyard with Vintage Lighting; it is fully accessible by the walkway along the white wooden fence.
SPRING/SUMMER HOURS AT THE AURORA HISTORICAL SOCIETY/VILLAGE HISTORY CENTER
Tuesday evenings, 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
At your convenience: to reach a Docent-on-Call, call/text to (315)-246-1130.
The Smithsonian’s “Water/Ways” Comes to Aurora
Water Ways invite All are welcome to attend the reception at Long Library, Wells College on August 24 from 2-4.
This summer, the magic of the Smithsonian is coming to Aurora. The Louis Jefferson Long Library at Wells College, the Aurora Masonic Center, and the Aurora Historical Society are partnering to bring Water/Ways to the area for six weeks, from August 17th through September 29th, 2019.
Water/Ways, part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, is the first such exhibit to come to New York, and this year will travel to six different sites in the state and seven more around the nation. Aurora will be the second of these sites.
The Water/Ways traveling exhibit focuses on cultural, environmental, and historical roles of water. It will be located in the Long Library at Wells College, and will be open to the public during the library’s open hours. Over the same six weeks, the Aurora Historical Society will host events associated with its related display, “How Cayuga Lake Shaped Aurora: Legends and Lore,” and the Aurora Masonic Center will celebrate the bicentennial of Scipio Lodge with a grand ceremonial and related history tours.
See the AHS Facebook page for more information on upcoming events.
Dr. Linda Schwab is the Village Historian, serving the public by answering queries, working with the Village Archives, assisting with preservation issues, and presenting local history in a variety of ways. She can be contacted directly at 315-246-1130 or through the Village Clerk (315-364-7293).
The Village of Aurora Historical Society, housed on the rear courtyard of the former District School #6 at 371 Main St., is open on a weekly schedule and also through its Docent-on-Call system. To see more about current displays and programs, please visit the “Village of Aurora Historical Society” Facebook page. Admission and programs are always free, and the small museum is accessible to all. The clickable links below connect to past projects on a wide variety of subjects.
A congenial atmosphere-1 chicken and cake Hands that built Aurora Pop Up Museum Parker, Morgan and Grand Order