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Origins of Our Name

In the early days of the 18th century, before the Revolutionary War and the arrival of General Sullivan’s men, Seneca Falls was not yet a village or a town. It was the Iroquois who knew of the beauty of the untouched land and the rapids of the Seneca River.

In 1789, ten years after he first marched through the scenic wilderness with Sullivan’s Expedition, Col. Wilhlemus Mynderse returned and would become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the settlement’s development and naming.

Historian Henry Stowell wrote in 1862, “There must have been a saw mill erected here by the proprietors of Seneca [….] This was then called ‘Seneca,’ a map of which is in my possession, with lots marked ‘sold,’ and described as being in the village of Seneca, ‘in the Town of Washington, in the County of Cayuga,’ and covered the ground of what is now known as the First Ward of the village of Seneca Falls.”

In 1795, Wilhelmus Mynderse bought a 1/5 share in the Bayard Land Company and became the firm’s on-site resident agent. In 1795-96, Mynderse erected a grist mill that became known as the Upper Red Mills. It was located on the north side of the Seneca River, about where present-day Fall Street disappears into Van Cleef Lake. These business ventures were just the beginning for Mynderse and the birth of the settlement known as “Mynderse Mills.”

Former Red Mills pictured with views of the middle and upper falls

It was in 1815, the Bayard Land Company formally established the “village of Seneca.” They hired James Geddes, a judge and surveyor from Onondaga County, who was the chief engineer of the Erie Canal, to draw up plans for a village of Seneca on the north side of the river. The plans included wide streets named Cayuga, Fall and State to be the site for large mansions for the wealthier businessmen and residents, with commercial space relegated to small lots on Lower Fall Street. Significantly, there was no provision made in the Geddes Plan for where workers and ordinary townsfolk would live.

Honorable James Geddes
An 1815 drawing of the Village of Seneca by James Geddes

The first known drawing of the village of Seneca Falls was done in 1817. It shows 28 of the estimated 34 buildings that made up the village. The largest buildings noted were the Upper Red Mills, the Mechanics Hall, and the Presbyterian Church constructed in 1817.

By 1825 the Bayard Land Co. was forced to sell out, making the land along the Seneca River available. This led to a building and population boom in the Mynderse Mills settlement which was becoming known as Seneca Falls.

Nearly 35 years after the arrival of Mynderse, on March 26, 1829, the Town of Seneca Falls was officially erected. The village was becoming prosperous as the center of industry. On April 22, 1831, the village of Seneca Falls was incorporated. As the young village developed, its village charter was amended to reflect its growth and establishment of government.

For 180 years, the village of Seneca Falls had seen a flux in business and development. In 2008, the village sought solutions to a multiple of concerns it had for the community’s future. As a result, the village board shared with residents its plan to dissolve the village and have one layer of government. The village residents voted in March 2010 to dissolve the historic village at the end of 2011 with economic growth and development the futuristic outlook as the reshaped Town of Seneca Falls.


Adapted from “Seneca Falls and the Seneca River and Canal”, Walter Gable, Seneca County Historian, 2017; Walter Gable;

New York Heritage Digital Collections, Canal Engineers,

Lives and works of civil and military engineers of America by Charles B. Stuart, New York: Van Nostrand, 1871;