In 1806, while visiting his parents on upper Chautauqua Lake, James Prendergast first envisioned the future for the extensive pine forests covering the Southern Chautauqua Region. Recognizing the potential for water power at the lake’s outlet, Prendergast returned in 1811 and cleared an area for his family settlement. By the end of that year, Prendergast had built and was operating the region’s first dam and sawmill in the area of the present BPU Light Plant Facility.
Within two years, other settlers had been attracted to the area in search of opportunities afforded by the new frontier. In 1812, a blacksmith shop began operation and a year later Phineas Palmiter founded a small wood furniture operation, the forerunner of Jamestown’s world-renowned furniture industry.
During the clearing of the land for agricultural and small industrial purposes, the abundant forests were utilized virtually as a “cash crop” employer. Hardwood too heavy to float downstream and too expensive to transport overland to market was burned and the ash leeched to obtain lye and “pearlash,” an important component in the manufacture of glass products. By the mid-1820s, the area became one of the largest centers in North America for the production of pearl ash.
In 1815, the Hamlet was named Jamestown in honor of its first settler, James Prendergast, and by 1827 was officially incorporated as a village. Within a decade, industry was flourishing in the production of various lumber and wood products. New crafts and skills were brought to the region in the mid-century years by an influx of Swedish settlers and the village continued to prosper and diversify with contributions from immigrants of predominantly Italian, Irish and English backgrounds. Around the late 1870s, Jamestown began to be called the “Pearl City” by its summer visitors, who came to stay along Chautauqua Lake and enjoy steamboat rides in and out of the boat landing, which soon quickly caught on by its own local residents. Dr. Gilbert W. Hazeltine, a descendant of one of the early families to settle the area, which was previously also known as The Rapids, often referred to Jamestown as the “Pearl City of Western New York.” In 1886, with a population around 15,000, Jamestown received its charter as a city by the State of New York.
Today, the City of Jamestown is an economically sound and vibrant community serving as the industrial, commercial, financial, and recreational hub of Southwestern New York. As the center of a metropolitan area of more than 70,000 residents and a market area of nearly 175,000 people, Jamestown supports a broad diversity of industry, modern commercial establishments, and financial institutions, and provides a myriad of cultural and recreation opportunities for its residents. Jamestown’s “balanced community living” reflects the commitment of both public and private sector forces to provide the highest quality of life possible.