Oliver Phelps was a former solider, then Deputy Commissary of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Once the war ended, Phelps became an entrepreneur and real estate developer. Phelps and his partner, Nathaniel Gorham, purchased a large tract of land in 1788, roughly 2,600,000 acres, from local Indians with the intent of selling and developing. Originally, the City of Geneva was chosen to be the official county seat. Due to ownership questions that resulted from inaccurate surveying, Phelps looked west to establish the seat for the new Ontario County. Canandaigua, which is derived from the Iroquois word “Kanandarque”, meaning chosen spot, was chosen as this location.
Detail from stereopticon slide showing three statues and pedestals on the Court House Lawn
Due to a default in payment, Phelps’s unsold land was sold to Robert Morris and a new survey was undertaken. Phelps remained in a position of power however and was appointed the first county judge. To enhance his newly mined principal town in Canandaigua, Phelps deeded a large public square in 1800 to the county for the eventual erection of a court house and jail. Now divided by Main Street, West Avenue, and Ontario Street, the square has changed in its geography but remains an important part of Canandaigua’s history.
Old postcard image of treaty rock as it looked when it was first installed in 1902
Treaty of Canandaigua monument- Placed by Native Americans and the Treaty Committee
Along with the land in front of the Court House, both Atwater Park and Canandaigua Inn Park are remnants of the original Public Square. Please see the respective pages for those two parks for additional information.