There were once five dams and five water-powered mills on Cascadilla Creek between Ringwood and Turkey Hill Roads. A sash and blind factory was operated near the Horton Hunt property (now 529 Ellis Hollow Creek Road). The saws were apparently powered by a huge water wheel, which used to stand in the creek behind the residence at 541 Ellis Hollow Creek Road.
Orrin Middaugh, one of the early residents, had a lumber business, which was eventually run by his son Fred. The mill was given power by a pond connected to Cascadilla Creek. The Middaugh homestead is now 493 Ellis Hollow Creek Road. It is believed that the house might have been a stop on the underground railroad before the Civil War period.
Peter Genung and his son operated a gristmill, located at 182 Ellis Hollow Creek Road, farther down the Hollow on Cascadilla Creek, for many years. Myron Cornelius had a shingle mill on his farm, and Horton Ogden once had a cider mill on his place.
A cheese and butter factory existed in the early days of the Hollow directly across the road from the church. The factory, which flourished from 1867-1872, was owned by a group of stockholders, most of whom were residents from the Hollow. Over 25 men bought stock in the factory. The price of one share of stock was $50. The largest stockholders were Daniel F. Rice, $300; John J. Ellis, $250; Harrison Middaugh, $200; and Chauncy Goodspeed, $200; most of the others purchased 1 to 3 shares of stock. Joseph A. Genung kept the account register. Janet Nash, who is a descendant of the Genungs, has preserved many of the old records and has offered them for viewing (2002) on the internet at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~nytompki/scrap/cheese.htm. In 1977, the original foundation was still visible across the road from the church, but it has since been covered over. The barn that housed the factory was moved behind the John J. Ellis house. The more than a century-old barn is of board and batten construction.
The Village of Ellis
The little village of Ellis was a thriving community in the late 1800's. The town was at the bend of Ellis Hollow Road and Ellis Hollow Creek Road. There was a school, a church, a post office and general store, a barbershop and a blacksmith shop.
Before 1880, all Ellis Hollow mail was put in one box in the Ithaca Post Office and any Ellis Hollow resident who went to town would bring the mail to the John J. Ellis home, where each person would then sort out his own mail. In 1880 or 1881, a post office was established in William and Luthera Bennet's home (now 1780 Ellis Hollow Road). The mail was brought back and forth from Brookton (now called Brooktondale), sometimes on horseback. The Ellis Hollow Post Office was discontinued in 1903 when Rural Free Deliver (R.F.D.) began. John Ellis gave a lot near his house for a school building. It was turned into a house after School District 10 voted to send their children to Ithaca Schools in 1945.
William Bennett also had a country store in his home. The store was a gathering place for the local residents who traded butter, eggs, etc. for flour and other staples they couldn't make or grow themselves. Some years later Bennett took in a partner, Emmons Ogden Sr., and they ran a horse-drawn grocery wagon around Ellis Hollow and the surrounding area.
Eugene Banfield had a blacksmith shop across the road from the country store. In the 1890's Leon Willsey, an Ellis Hollow native, built a small building in his yard and opened a barbershop. During the political campaigns, the Democrats gathered at the barbershop, while the Republican pole was raised in front of the John J. Ellis house. John and Jerri Behler (562 Ellis Hollow Creek Road) now own the house. The barbershop is still standing (barely).
Most of the mills were closed by the turn of the century. Emmons Ogden, the grandson of Emmons Ogden Sr., said the general closed about 1908. Emmons, who has lived in Ellis Hollow all his life, said the Hollow began changing from a farming to a residential community after World War I. Because the land was poor, it was hard to make a good living by farming. People moved to town to work, and did not move back until roads and automobiles improved enough to make commuting practical.
After World War II, many more houses were built in Ellis Hollow and there were little woods left. Ithaca was expanding, and Ellis Hollow had become less of a town-like community. Most of the John Ellis farm (not including the house) has become the Ellis Highlands Development.
In her book Ellis Hollow Lore, Zelle Pritchard said that a history of Ellis Hollow just would not be complete without tales of "Spooky Hollow". The stories about "Spooky Hollow" (see map), center around an old farmhouse which burned down many years ago.
According to legend, an old peddler who had always stayed at the farmhouse when he came to Ellis Hollow was murdered there. Some farmers who were pulling stumps in the swamp discovered human bones under one of them. Years later, just before he died, one of the men who murdered the peddler confessed to the crime and told about burying a pot of gold under a stump in the swamp below the house. However, he had lost the markings of the stump and could never find it again.
People searched for the pot of gold for years. According to Zelle Pritchard, a man who lived on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, and whose pasture ran into the swamp, thought the men might have buried it on his land. He dug up about ten acres by hand looking for the gold. He went insane and died in Willard Asylum. Stories have been told of a headless horseman who rode through "Spooky Hollow" at night, and of a skull rolling down the road in the advance of anyone traveling the road after dark.