Ripley's first settler to purchase land was Alexander Cochran. He arrived from Ireland in 1802, and made his land purchase official two years later. His fifth generation descendant, A. James Cochrane (whose grandfather added the "e"), still owns some of the original acreage.
In 1816 the largest concentration of population in this area was established as a town and named Quincy. By 1873 it was known as Ripley, named for Gen. Eleazar Wheelock Ripley, active in the War of 1812. The township grew slowly until the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and it became more accessible. One famous visitor about that time was the Marquis de Lafayette, on his way from Erie, PA, to Portland, NY. Many other nameless visitors came as the Underground Railway conductors brought escaping slaves to Ripley's shoreline, just 25 miles from Canada.
In 1852 the first railroad line, called the Buffalo & State Line, was placed through the township. Another line, the Nickel Plate Road, rolled into town in 1881 and ran just south and parallel to the first. Today, after many mergers, both of these lines are known as CSX. The most famous person ever to ride this line through Ripley was Abraham Lincoln, on his way to his inauguration in 1861. Four years later his funeral train retraced the route back to Springfield, Illinois. Another famous traveler was William Jennings Bryan who campaigned in Ripley during his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1902.
Trolleys, too, transected the township, running parallel with Route 20. The trolleys were part of the Buffalo & Erie Interurban Line, which began operation in 1905 and offered inexpensive, convenient travel opportunities to residents all along the route. In the early days of automobile travel, traffic ceased during bad weather due to road conditions. Until 1917 a horse and wagon was a more practical way, and certainly a more dependable way to get about. That year Route 20 was paved from Silver Creek to the state line.
Ripley fostered a weekly newspaper for many years, beginning in 1882 and ending in the early 1970s. Called the Ripley Review, it had many editors during its 90+ years of publication and served the township well. During its heyday it recorded many events including the growing importance of the fruit industry.
Today grapes are the largest and most important enterprise, with dairy cattle and other crops being second in the southern part of the township. The first vineyards were established in the mid 1800s and grapes today are sold to several regional grape processors including the National Grape Co-op for use in fruit juices, jams, jellies and wines. There are now several wineries located in Ripley. During the early 1900s until the Depression, two basket mills were located in the town near the railroad depots. They supplied the baskets that held the tons of grapes that were harvested and shipped out each day.
Two of Ripley's sons became well known a century apart. One, Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, born in Ripley in 1841, founded the first rubber manufacturing company and named it Goodrich. More recently, the entire world applauded the bravery of Captain John L. Testrake during a 17 day ordeal in June 1985 when TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome, a Boeing 727 piloted by Testrake, was skyjacked to Beirut, Lebanon. During their hijacker forced odyssey around the Mediterranean, the TWA Crew navigated with a Rand-McNally road atlas as they had no navigational aids for that area. At the Mediterranean airfields, the aircraft was unwelcome as the locals wanted no part of the hijackers demands. A young Navy Seabee, Robert Stetham, was murdered in the cockpit as the hijackers enforced their demand for the aircraft be refueled. The passengers release in Beirut was arranged by the Lebanese government. Passengers and crew were given a hero's welcome at Washington D.C. by President Ronald Reagan.
Because a waiting period was not required in New York State to marry, Ripley was the scene of many, many marriages from the 1880's to 1945 making it known as the "Marriage Capital of the World". The Town Justice was on call day or night to perform wedding ceremonies. Although requirements have changed somewhat, marriage licenses, along with hunting and fishing licenses are still big business in the Town Clerk's office in this first community heading east into New York State. The Town Justices still perform many wedding ceremonies.
Calling itself the Gateway to New York State brings certain responsibilities to the citizens of Ripley and they have risen to the occasion every time. A November snowstorm in 1956 stopped traffic on Route 20 and those unexpected guests were well housed and fed in the local school facilities. The scene was repeated in 1983 when nearly 1,000 holiday travelers were stranded on the New York State Thruway from December 24 - 26. McCall's Magazine carried the story the following December with the title, "Ripley's Miracle," citing just about everyone in the township for helping. Even Ripley's children shared their toys with others.
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