Updated 07/31/2009 09:21 PM
The story of how Big Flats and Horseheads were named
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CHEMUNG COUNTY, N.Y. -- When Indians first came to the Town of Big Flats, they called it Atsingnetsing, which means praise the scenic beauty and fertility of the soil, but when the white settlers came in, they had something a little more basic in mind.
"We have hundreds of acres of flat land and the river ran along the base of the hills, but there were huge flats and as they were coming down the river which many of them traveled by, they could look over all along the flats and it was all flat land until the next hills started," said Pam Farr, a member of the Big Flats Historical Society Board of Directors.
And that flat land and fertile soil was perfect for farming, so settlers stayed in what they first called Great Flatts to make their livelihood off of what they could grow, but one product in particular was "king" and really put the town on the map.
"Three thousand acres of tobacco and the tobacco was all cigar tobacco, not cigarette tobacco and we had five different tobacco warehouses here that prepared cigars," said Farr.
Big Flats isn't the only uniquely named municipality in Chemung County. Just miles away is the Village of Horseheads.
"It goes way back to General Sullivan when he went through this area and his official job was to clean the Indians out of the area," said Lewis VanDuzer, the historian of the Horseheads Historical Society.
Sullivan and his men traveled back and forth between Horseheads and Seneca Lake. In September of 1779, they were trying to make it to Fort Erie, but their horses were beat and couldn't make the trip. Many of the horses died and some were killed. The soldiers used pretty much all of their remains for supplies, everything but their skulls.
"The Indians found the skulls there. They did take them and put them along the trail and it was the Valley of the Horses' Heads and then even the early settlers started calling it Horses' Heads," said VanDuzer.
The name did change a few times. First to Fairport and then to North Elmira, but neither had the same effect as the original, so it was changed back in 1886.
"Anybody that's ever heard of it never forgets it," said VanDuzer.
For more information, visit horseheadshistorical.org and www.bigflatsny.gov/index.php?n=History.Origins.