The development of Jamestown before the Civil War relied on two main resources, wood and water. In the early 1800s, this area was densely forested with 100,000 board feet of timber per acre. There was an abundance of white pine, hemlock, and hardwoods like maple, oak, beech, birch, chestnut, walnut, sycamore, and cherry. Jamestown’s location on the Chadakoin River made it an early center of lumbering. In 1810, John Blowers and James Prendergast established the first settlement at “The Rapids.” Prendergast built a sawmill in 1811. By 1830, Jamestown was shipping 40 million board feet of timber a year. Timber was one of the few resources that could justify the transportational costs to larger markets. Softwood was cut, made into lumber rafts, and floated down the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The hardwoods were burned and the ash leached to make black salts. The black salts were heated and turned into pearl ash, which was used to make soap, glass, and gunpowder. Early furniture companies made good use of local timber. By the 1850s the lumber and pearl ash industries depleted forests. However, the wealth made from these industries paid for the settlers’ homesteads and provided the capital for the county’s industrialization.
Chautauqua County is divided by “the ridge.” The area west of the ridge is part of the Erie-Ontario Lake Plane Region. Its creeks flow into Lake Erie. The larger part of the county, lying to the east of the ridge, is part of the Allegheny Plateau and its waters flow into the Allegheny River. Several creeks traversed the county, providing water power for manufacturing during the 1800s. The creeks did not provide a unified system of water travel, and shipping goods over the ridge was difficult. Jamestown was settled first as “The Rapids.” The Chadakoin River was the lifeblood of the community. It powered the sawmills, connected Jamestown to towns and cities to the south, and powered the machinery used in early furniture factories. The power was crude, but between it and skilled handiwork, the factories grew. By 1850, the Breed Company was selling furniture over a 100-mile radius, and many companies were shipping furniture in pieces to Pittsburgh. Most of the factories before the Civil War were located along the southeastern bend of the Chadakoin to make use of the fast-flowing water. In the early 1800s, Jamestown was connected to the outside world by foot, horse, wagon and boat. In 1860 the railroad arrived, and with it industry, people, coal, and a new era
On August 25, 1860, the first train steamed into Jamestown on the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. Before 1860, railroads reached the northern county, but had not reached Jamestown. Transportation between the north and south counties was over crude plank roads that were not sufficient for moving large amounts of industrial goods. The arrival of the railroad initiated an exciting era of growth in Jamestown’s population and industrial development. The rail links made it possible to import raw materials cheaply and export finished goods profitably to and from a greater area. The railroad transported new immigrants who played a key role in the growth and future of the furniture industry. Over the next decade, the increasing need for furniture, especialy in the post Civil War South, created a market for furniture shops and factories in Jamestown. Jamestown didn’t become a center of heavy industry like Buffalo or Pittsburgh, but the railroad gave it the momentum to grow. During the 19th Century, writers evoked the spirit of the railroad in literature, art, and poetry. In 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the essay Nature, wrote that the railroad “paves the road with iron bars, and, mounting a coach with a ship-load of men, animals, and merchandise behind him, he darts through the country, from town to town, like an eagle or a swallow through the air.” Those “iron bars” changed Jamestown forever.