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Statuesque, New York: Niagara Falls statue honors Tesla, innovator in electricity

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2017 at 9:19 am


011417_Tesla1Photos by Tom Rivers

NIAGARA FALLS – This statue of Nikola Tesla is at Goat Island at Niagara Falls on the American side. Tesla was an incredible innovator who bested Thomas Edison in figuring out how electricity could be sent far from where it was produced.

Tesla designed the first hydropower plant at Niagara Falls. It was a huge victory for Tesla’s alternating current theory over Edison’s direct current and responsible for the electrification of the world.

Tesla’s achievement sent electricity from the falls to Buffalo, fueling Buffalo’s dramatic growth in early 1900s.

This statue of Tesla was given from his home country of Yugoslavia in 1976 in honor of Tesla’s 120th birthday and also the bicentennial of the United States. Croatian sculptor Frane Krsinic created the monument of Tesla.

I saw it last April not long before Tesla was moved by the State Parks to a spot by Stedman’s Bluff at the brink of the falls.

I liked the former location. It’s the first thing you see after passing through the arch. That entrance was part of the old Niagara Falls power plant that Tesla helped build in 1895. It was the first major hydro plant in the world.

Tesla is depicted sitting in a large chair. He appears to be looking over a plan or blueprints. (There are some shiny spots on the blueprints likely caused from where tourists would sit to get their selfies and photo-ops.)

Tesla doesn’t have the fame of Thomas Edison, but Tesla has become more popular, particularly after Elon Musk named his electric cars after him.


The Tesla statue is popular with tourists.


The statue sat on a black granite base. It was a gift to the United States from Yugoslavia in honor of the bicentennial and the 120th anniversary of Tesla’s birth.


The original power plant designed by Tesla was demolished after a larger, more efficient plant was built. The main entrance was taken down and re-erected at Goat Island with the Indian Medallion in the arch also taken down and recreated here piece by piece. This plaque notes that the entrance and arch work was performed by members of the Niagara Falls Building Trades Council, who donated their time to preserve this important piece of history.


Tesla looms large at Goat Island.

When I was at Goat Island last April, many people stopped to admire the statue, to learn about Tesla and his major feat at Niagara Falls. Some people climbed up to get a photo in his lap.

There is another bronze statue on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls that was installed in 2006 within Queen Victoria Park. But the statue at Goat Island is the first in North America to honor Tesla. When he was a boy in Croatia, Tesla saw a photo of Niagara Falls and set a goal of putting a wheel under the falls to harness the power of moving water.

Tesla gave this speech on January 12, 1897, the opening of the hydroelectric power station:

“We have many a monument of past ages; we have the palaces and pyramids, the temples of the Greek and the cathedrals of Christendom. In them is exemplified the power of men, the greatness of nations, the love of art and religious devotion. But the monument at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies. It is a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace. It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering.”

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Middleport church closes and leaves gifts for 5 community organizations

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 January 2017 at 2:29 pm


Photos by Tom Rivers

MIDDLEPORT – The Middleport Universalist Church has been a landmark on Main Street in Middleport since 1841.

The church has officially dissolved. The membership dwindled to about 15 people, who voted to dissolve in January 2015. It took two years for the process of dissolution to be complete.


As part of its dissolution, the church decided proceeds from the sale would go to five different community organizations – Tri-Town Ambulance, $11,366.97; Middleport Community Chorus, $11,366.97; Cobblestone Museum, $11,366.97; Middleport Village Historian, $5,910.82; and Hartland Bible Church, $5,456.15.

Pictured from left include: Cheryl Confer, treasurer and director of operations for Tri-Town Ambulance; Christa Lutz, Middleport historian; Cliff Grant, chairman of the church board of directors; Mark Christensen, treasurer of the choir; Jim Bonafini, president of the Cobblestone Museum; and Jon Goodwin, pastor for Hartland Bible Church.

Grant said the church wanted to support Tri-Town for providing important life-saving care in the community. The historian also agreed to take the church’s records and keep them safe. The Middleport Community Choir spreads joy in the community throughout the year, often by sharing Christian music, Grant said.

The Cobblestone Museum in Gaines is a resource for cobblestone masonry and architecture, and also has a complex that includes three historic cobblestone structures, Grant said. He praised the Hartland Bible Church for running “The Hub,” a building that provides activities for teens and senior citizens.


Jim Bonafini of the Cobblestone Museum, left, thanked Cliff Grant and the Middleport Universalist Church for the donation. Bonafini said the funds would likely go to the restoration effort at the Cobblestone Church in Gaines. The museum is working to restore 27 windows, paint the bell tower and do other improvements on the church that was built in 1834. That work will cost about $30,000.


Brian Yaiser of Yaze Properties LLC bought the property and wants to develop the site into a conference center. The sale includes a parsonage and dining hall, as well as the church building.


This photo shows the sanctuary where the Universalist Church met for 176 years. The church was the first in Middleport with an organ.


The sanctuary includes many ornate stained-glass windows.



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Yates man employed with Panama Canal project

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 14 January 2017 at 8:01 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 3

On occasion I stumble across rather interesting photographs that grab my attention; either the image itself is intriguing or the inscription contains a fascinating tidbit of information. While uncovering a box of photographs and albums, I discovered an image with the inscription “F. J. Wickham Lyndonville, N.Y. this man went to Panama and helped build the Panama Canal.” So who was Mr. F. J. Wickham and how did he end up in Panama?

Born to Samuel Kenyon Wickham in Yates, Jeremiah Fernando Wickham grew up in Orleans County with his brothers George and Dewitt working the family farm and attending the district schools of the area. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 both Dewitt and Jeremiah enlisted with the 8th New York Heavy Artillery, but Jeremiah despised his first name (his grandfather’s name) and elected to enlist under his middle name. He served the duration of the war while earning the rank of corporal, his brother Dewitt rising to the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, the brothers had a falling out over a business decision which proved problematic for Fernando when applying for his pension. Using his middle name to enlist instead of his first, he was required to provide a deposition proving who he was, which he requested of his brother who then refused to do so; that is, until a special investigator showed up at his home to request it. Fernando returned to Yates where he lived on the county line, working as a carpenter by trade. His military service helped earn employment with the U.S. Government, working as an inspector of the shores of Lake Ontario up until the 1890s when he was employed as a breakwater inspector in Buffalo.

The specifics regarding his employment with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) are unknown, but in 1905 he was sent to Colón, Panama as a superintendent on the Panama Canal project. The 48-mile-wide canal started in 1881 by the French was an expansive project taken over by the U.S. in 1904 when President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the purchase of the Panama Railroad and French excavation equipment at a cost of $40 million.

Upon his arrival, Wickham wrote home to describe his trip to this foreign area. The ship departed New York City on June 21, 1905 with forty passengers on board, most traveling with the ICC. While traveling to Cuba, he recalled seeing a “nearly fifty-foot whale” and a school of porpoise that traveled with the ship for a few hundred yards. The arrival of the vessel at the Port of Colón was startling as the conditions of the town were extremely poor.

Any available space in the town was taken up by the machinery left by the French when they abandoned the project in 1894, most of it was deteriorated and unusable. Wickham remarked, “You could not conceive the amount [of equipment] unless you could see it, and then I do not think a person could.” He went on to say, “It was wonderful the amount the French laid out here to abandon, and the small results accomplished with the outlay.”

Wickham was stationed with the architectural department and charged with overseeing the repair of buildings constructed by the French during the previous two decades. It is likely that his work as a carpenter prepared him for this type of employment. Many U.S. papers published stories about the horrors of life in Panama, the terrible health conditions and poor living conditions. Wickham remarked that many men arrived with the expectation of minimal work and high pay, but arrived to find the opposite. Young men were frequently disappointed by the lack of recreational activities; the typical day consisting of work followed by sleep with no time for anything else.

He concluded his letter by writing that his health was good, but that he had already lost some weight, which he said, “I could afford to do that, for I was most too fleshy when I came away.” His wife, Anna Gray Wickham, remained in Orleans County with their daughters and upon his return, the family relocated to Pasadena, California where Fernando died in March of 1923.

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Empire Couch Company did a booming business in Medina

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 7 January 2017 at 9:00 am


“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 2

One of Medina’s most prosperous businesses during the early portion of the 20th century was the Empire Couch Company established by Earl Card and Walter Marvin in 1901.

Prior to establishing a factory in Medina, the small outfit operated out of Middleport with mild success. After the company purchased the Bignall Works facility and constructed a new building in its place, the business was sold to J. D. Smith.

With financial support from Alonzo Phillips, the company witnessed considerable growth during the following years. The original factory was a 40 foot by 140 foot building equipped with electric lighting, heat, and hot water but demand for merchandise forced the company to expand relatively soon after.

This image shows the facility after that expansion, the photograph taken on March 20, 1913 as part of New York State’s assessment of land and property leading up to the 1913-14 expansion of the Erie Canal.

The three story building was broken into four sections; the closest section consisted of lumber storage in the basement, a coating room on the first floor, and a stockroom on the second floor. The next section contained a word working shop in the basement, a staining and varnishing room on the first floor, and upholstering space on the second. The next portion contained a room for preparing shipments on the first floor and a continuation of the upholstering space on the second. The final section on the southern end was an office and cloth storage space. Several piles of lumber used for manufacturing furniture are visible in the distance.

When New York State started the process of expanding and widening the Erie Canal in 1913, the Empire Couch Company was given $13,888 for the land and buildings on this property and was forced to relocate to a new site on Orient Street near the intersection of Short Street immediately north of the railroad tracks.

The forced relocation was a welcomed one as the demand for fine furniture built in Medina was growing at an exponential rate. The area newspapers praised the high quality of furniture made by the company and its high rate of employment.

On October 14, 1930 the Medina Daily Journal published an article noting the company’s steady and prosperous growth stating, “This plant does its share to make the wheels of industry in Medina go round and there is every indication that it will continue to do so in the future.” Unfortunately, the Lockport Union Sun and Journal published an announcement the following year on November 3, 1931 stating that the Central Bank of Medina was closing due to the decline of the bond market. With the majority of the company’s funds held by that bank, the closure forced the Empire Couch Company to go bankrupt.

With the company’s liabilities totaling close to $40,000 and assets equaling about the same, a bankruptcy auction was held and the property sold to William J. Gallagher’s trucking outfit. With that auction in 1935 went a successful but short-lived Medina enterprise.

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Historian has new column of historical tidbits

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 5 January 2017 at 8:32 am

“Out of the Past” debuts looking at January news from years ago

This year I am attempting to resurrect a column started by Cary H. Lattin in the 1950s/1960s entitled “Out of the Past.” These short little blurbs always started with, “Did you know…?” and provided factoids about past events and people from Orleans County. Taking a different approach, I will put out a monthly listing of interesting events happenings from various milestone years (50 years ago, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, and 200).

75 Years Ago – 1942

January 1st – Medina Tribune

Judge William Munson takes office as State Supreme Court Justice from the 8th Judicial District, having defeated Democrat David Diamond of Buffalo.

January 1st – Medina Tribune

Frank Ritz is found dead in the Kendall Methodist Church. He was installing wiring for a new oil burner, which he largely helped finance, when he died.

January 15th – Medina Tribune

Ensign John Munson of Medina, stationed aboard the U.S.S. Kearney when it was struck by a German torpedo in October of 1941 (before the U.S. entered WWII), was cited for bravery during that attack and promoted to lieutenant junior grade.

January 29th – Medina Tribune

Police raid the Mayflower restaurant at Medina and confiscate a slot machine from the basement containing $26.50. Thomas Calafates, the co-owner of the business, was arrested in connection with the machine, stating that it was being “stored” in the basement and was never used.

100 Years Ago – 1917


January 3rd – Orleans Republican

A violent storm sweeps the Point Breeze lighthouse into Lake Ontario, taking a large portion of the western pier with it.

January 10th – Orleans Republican

Francis Van Stone, native of Albion, was found dead in his New York City office. Van Stone held a lucrative position with a large steel office furniture business.

January 18th – Medina Tribune

Albert Grinnell is appointed as an instructor of drawing at Miami University and shows promise of being appointed to study under faculty of drawing at the same institution. He is eventually appointed to an assistant faculty position in the Industrial Education program under Professor Fred Whitcomb – Grinnell is responsible for teaching industrial arts classes.

January 24th – Orleans Republican

Charles Stielow arrives at Auburn Prison after his sentence is commuted to life in prison. Stielow was found guilty for the March 1915 murders of Charles Phelps and Margaret Wolcott in Shelby. The newspaper followed the report with this statement; “People who love justice in Orleans County at least are sick of the consideration and sentiment lavished on this brutal murderer.”

January 25th – Medina Tribune

The Orleans County Farm Bureau, precursor to Cornell Cooperative Extension, is established with Lawrence Steele as the manager.

125 Years Ago – 1892

January 7th – Medina Tribune

Medina receives word that Matthew Phelan, once a resident of Medina now residing in Buffalo, was murdered during a street brawl on New Year’s Eve. When confronting a man named McGraw, whom he thought was an acquaintance, McGraw became enraged and began pummeling Phelan. A blow to the temple knocked Phelan back, causing him to hit his head on the concrete and fracturing his skull. The 35-year-old man left five children, his wife predeceased him three years earlier.

January 14th – Medina Tribune

The Creole Burlesque Company initiated a lawsuit against George Gallagher who was an agent for the company. The business was seeking $2,000 in damages.

January 14th – Medina Tribune

The newspaper published a notice that snowball throwing boys should be punished for their actions – a woman was struck in the head and nearly knocked unconscious by a hard snowball thrown by a local boy.

January 21st – Medina Tribune

Reports that Medina residents are complaining about broken windows in their homes as a result of dynamite blasting for installation of the new village sewer system.

January 28th – Medina Tribune

A team of horses owned by Henry Fletcher was parked on Main Street when a mischievous young lad threw a snowball, hitting one of the horses. The team took off down the street causing an accident and nearly killing Prosper Odirkirk.

150 Years Ago – 1867

The Holley Cemetery Association purchases approximately seven and three-fourths acres of land lying south of Holley at a cost of $1,100. The land was to be used as a burying ground as part of Hillside Cemetery. The cemetery would be dedicated in the summer of that year.

175 Years Ago – 1842


Dr. John Henry Beech of Gaines, son of pioneer physician Dr. Jesse Beech, married Mary Jane Perry of Clarkson.

200 Years Ago – 1817

Samuel Salisbury of Newport, Herkimer County, NY arrives in Ridgeway with his brother Stephen and settles upon land purchased from the Holland Land Company. Provisions were scarce and before harvest few families had bread for meals. Instead they boiled green wheat in milk, or with cream and maple sugar to make a dessert. Meat options consisted of venison, squirrel, or raccoon.

Abram Bidelman of Manheim, Montgomery County, NY arrives with his father’s family at Ridgeway. The family was poor, his father boasting a self-worth of no more than fifty dollars. The family would finally complete a log cabin in March of that year.

Laura Baker Bostwick of Fairfield, Vermont travels to Shelby, NY with her husband Samuel on a wagon drawn by three old steers. During the journey the couple was robbed of their worldly goods and was forced to sell a portion of their clothing to pay for the remainder of the trip.

Jonathan Clark arrives in Gaines from Londonderry, New Hampshire on January 1st after a 21 day trip. Upon their arrival they began keeping house with no table, chairs, or bedstead. Clark was forced to craft all of these items himself in true “pioneer style.”

The Free and Accepted Masons Lodge formed at Ridgeway, called Alluvion Lodge No. 257 initiated its 3rd new member on January 30th, Mr. Cornelius Ashton.

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Saloonkeeper had knack for being in wrong place at wrong time

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 31 December 2016 at 8:29 am
Frank Loveland

Frank Loveland

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 1

The history of Orleans County is filled with stories surrounding the smuggling of illegal liquor and contraband into the United States from Canada during the Prohibition era. Yet prior to the enactment of the 18th Amendment there was ongoing concern about travelers bringing untaxed goods into the United States, just as there is today. One local saloonkeeper had a similar run in with customs agents at the Canadian border in the late 1870s.

Frank Loveland was respected businessman, working as a clerk in the Albion House located on Clinton Street in Albion. He served with Company D of the 151st New York Infantry during the Civil War and was respected in that right throughout the community as well. Loveland was considered to be a bit of a prankster and enjoyed a good laugh, sometimes at his own expense; it is no surprise that he would have a laugh at the expense of a couple customs agents.

Loveland was returning from a trip to Canada in the spring of 1878 when he was stopped at the border by customs agents. As was the norm, Loveland and his baggage were inspected for contraband items and upon finding nothing out of the ordinary he was allowed to pass through. It was around noon so Frank stopped into a nearby restaurant for lunch. As he wrestled with the $.75 meal two men approached and asked him to step outside.

“Well, just wait till I pay for my dinner,” Loveland answered. “Oh, that’s alright,” responded one of the agents, “I’ll settle the bill.” The two men escorted Frank to a beautifully furnished room and before he could realize what was going on, one agent locked the door and “invited him to strip.” Thoroughly confused by the invitation, Loveland vehemently refused to comply and told them that if they planned to strip him that they had better “sail in.”

Annoyed by the resistance, the two agents explained the situation and informed him that they suspected he was carrying a quantity of silk under his vest and shirt. Such a suspicion would not be unwarranted for Loveland was quite the portly gentleman, but he quickly realized the situation and with great gusto popped open his vest. He patted himself contentedly and said, “Now, fellows, that’s all I’ve got.” The customs agents had fooled themselves and in doing so, provided Loveland with a free lunch.

Loveland seemed to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That same year while preparing to leave the Albion House, he stumbled upon Mrs. Mary McAdams and John Gage, a local police officer, engaging in an altercation about McAdams’ son. Gage had arrived to place the McAdams boy under arrest when Mrs. McAdams began to pummel him about the head with a parasol. With pressing business to attend to, Loveland thought it best to just avoid the situation and continue on with his personal matters.

Frank Loveland served as a Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Spaulding and worked as a clerk in the Orleans House later in his career. He died on February 20, 1892 of paralysis at the age of 48.

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In training Santas, Charles W. Howard stressed a focus on children, community

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 24 December 2016 at 7:41 am
In this photo, the Santa is believed to be George Cond, who was trained as a Santa by Charles Howard and often portrayed Santa for Howard at Christmas Park in Albion. (Cond was inducted into the Santa Claus Hall of Fame in July.)

In this photo, the Santa is believed to be George Cond, who was trained as a Santa by Charles Howard and often portrayed Santa for Howard at Christmas Park in Albion. (Cond was inducted into the Santa Claus Hall of Fame in July.)

‘Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 2, Issue 52

ALBION – There is no better way to reflect upon the holiday season than to recall the story behind the foundation of the world’s first Santa Claus school established in Albion. Thankfully, the history of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School was recorded in 1966 in Charlie Howard’s own words before his passing on May 1st of that year.

Charlie Howard was hands on in running Christmas Park in Albion.

Charlie Howard was hands on in running Christmas Park in Albion.

As a young child, Howard enjoyed crafting toy furniture and wagons from wood, which friends and neighbors adored so much that they often gifted them to loved ones. His mother sewed a suit for him as a boy to play the role of Santa Claus as he was “a short fat boy.” Wearing a “false face,” his blue eyes were filled with joy but he felt the mask was “more frightening to children than his own.”

He always admired the store Santa, but was never able to work up the courage to do it himself. One year he visited the Merrill & Son Furniture Store at Albion and suggested that they hire him to play the role of Santa while making toys in the front window; he was quickly hired and paid $15 per week. Eventually he wrote to a store in Rochester seeking a similar position and was asked to visit for an interview. After traveling 35 miles outside of Albion, Howard arrived at the store dressed in his suit. The store owner took one look at him and asked “when can you start work?”; no questions asked.

Charlie was so terrified on his first day that he refused to exit the dressing room. When the store staff eventually forced him out, the smiling faces of hundreds of children melted those fears away and the day passed quickly. The journey from Albion to Rochester was a lengthy one, but convenient by way of the Falls Branch of the New York Central Railroad. He would awake at 4:00 a.m., complete his morning farm chores with the aid of a hired man, and his wife would drive him to Albion in time to catch the train.

It was after one particular interaction with a child that he fully realized the significance of Santa Claus. On that occasion, a little girl asked, “Santa, will you promise me something?” “What is it you want me to promise?” Howard responded. The child creeped in closer and whispered, “Will you promise me you will never shave?” At that point he understood that Santa meant a great deal to children, an interaction that led to a heightened curiosity about Santa Claus. He began to study, reading about his origins, and about who he was – he quickly realized that there was more to Santa than he had ever imagined.

It was in 1937 that he started the school, an event that made headline news. His first class consisted of one student, Frederick Wise, a welder from New Jersey who paid $15.00 for his tuition. The lack of response was disheartening at first but he was encouraged to raise tuition in an effort to increase the perceived value of the program. Gradually increasing the rate to $25.00, then $40.00, and finally $50.00, he witnessed an increase in enrollment each time.

“Santa originated in the home. It was best to keep him there,” was Howard’s reflection upon the establishment of the school. With no official schoolhouse or classroom, classes were held inside the family home located at the intersection of Gaines Basin Road and Route 31. As interest in the program increased, he enlisted the help of experts in various areas. Charlie Hood of Medina was respected as a great showman and so his assistance was helpful in that aspect of portraying Santa. Ed Butters of Coldwater, Michigan was an expert in reindeer, so he was brought in to assist with one of the most important aspects of the Santa experience.

During World War Two the shortage of men led to women attempting the role, but as Howard recalled this only worked if the woman had a “deep voice.” One woman had such a voice and was a huge hit until store patrons complained about Santa visiting the ladies’ room! Howard went as far as to try a mail order course, which failed miserably; the spirit instilled by Charlie was the most important part of the school experience.

He told store owners, “to have what it takes to be a good Santa, one must have it in his head and in his heart rather than under his belt…they could take care of that without effort.” From a young age, he realized that teaching the role of Santa was a great task and always viewed that task as a privilege. So important was this role, that Howard remarked, “Show me a store’s Santa or a community Santa and I’ll tell you exactly the kind of store or community it is.”

It is no surprise that Orleans County had the best Santa of all; the original.

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Apple packing was a fine art more than a century ago

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 17 December 2016 at 8:29 am


“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 2, Issue 51

MEDINA – Taken sometime in the 1890s, this image shows a group of men preparing apples for shipment at Watson’s Farm on Route 31 outside of Medina (likely the farm of Dudley Watson).

The man standing on the rights is identified as Milton Johnson, a day laborer from Albion. Barely visible are the hindquarters of a camera-shy dog that is occupied with something behind the crates and barrels of apples. Johnson holds a hatchet in his right hand as he stands adjacent to a barrel header.

Coopers would manufacture wood barrels for shipping apples by way of the Erie Canal or by train. Each barrel was required to have six hoops (the rings which held the staves together); two bilge hoops, two quarter hoops, and two head hoops; the quarter and head hoops are placed closely together. The presence of quarter hoops allows barrels to be stacked more efficiently and prevented them from splitting during shipment.

In the center of the image is a grading table; apples were emptied from bushels and crates onto these tables for sorting based on size. The packers would first face the bottom of the barrel with one or two layers of fine quality apples to provide the illusion that the entire barrel was filled with an outstanding product (this was later remedied by U.S. packing requirement that required all faced apples to be representative of the barrel’s entire contents). The produce was then placed into the barrel by the half-bushel and “racked” by the packer after each load to ensure that the apples distributed evenly throughout the container.

As the barrels reached maximum capacity, the apples often created high spots, as seen in this image. The packers would use a “shaker” or “follower” (the wood ring hung on the barrel to the right of Johnson) to “ring tail” the barrel. This process would evenly distribute the apples, helping to decrease possible damage caused by the pressure of applying the barrel head. A novice packer was never left alone to ring tail a barrel, but an experienced packer was capable of tailing 125-150 barrels each day.

As this year comes to a conclusion, I think it is important to acknowledge a recent accomplishment in the documentation of Orleans County history as it pertains to our agricultural heritage. This past weekend, Holly Canham and her son Andrew released their new book entitled Mom and Pop Farming in Orleans County, NY. Tom Rivers, editor of the Orleans Hub, went as far as to say “this may be the most impressive local history book I’ve ever seen,” and I would concur with that proclamation.

In recent memory, I believe one would be hard-pressed to find a similar substantial work on the history of Orleans County outside of Signor’s Landmarks of Orleans County or Pioneer History of Orleans County by Arad Thomas. I am continually grateful for those who continue to commit such time and effort to ensure that our history, especially those oral histories and recollections, for generations to come.

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New book pays tribute to ‘Mom and Pop’ farms in Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 December 2016 at 10:08 am

Holly Ricci-Canham’s nearly 300-page effort includes 150 interviews, 400 photos

Photo by Tom Rivers: Holly Ricci-Canham holds a copy of “Mom & Pop Farming in Orleans County, New York – The past brought to life.” She will sign copies of the book on Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Hoag Library in Albion.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Holly Ricci-Canham holds a copy of “Mom & Pop Farming in Orleans County, New York – The past brought to life.” She will sign copies of the book on Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Hoag Library in Albion.

ALBION – Holly Ricci-Canham has a new book out that is a tribute to the “mom and pop” farms that were once commonplace in Orleans County.

The farms were part of a close-knit community with neighborhood schools and churches.

Ricci-Canham grew up on a “mom and pop” farm in Kenyonville run by her parents, Pete and “Mike” Ricci. They would relocate the fruit and vegetable farm to West Avenue in Albion. Her upbringing on the farm made her want to tell the stories of local farms.

“You see the gigantic farming tractors now, which is so different from the farming I grew up with,” she said.

Ricci-Canham, 63, interviewed more than 150 people and included more than 400 photographs for her nearly 300-page book, “Mom & Pop Farming in Orleans County, New York – The past brought to life.”

The book covers farm operations throughout county with sections about muck farmers, dairies, fruit and vegetable farms, canning companies, migrant labor camps, “ladies accounts,” technology changes as well as country schools, “kids play” and fairs and celebrations.

Many people she interviewed had strong memories of attending one-room schoolhouses and learning to drive – sometimes at age 5. They shared some hard times on the farm, and how neighbors often pitched in to help them get through it.

“Farm people are a deep, kind, loving people,” Ricci-Canham said. “They have an unconditional love of helping each other.”

Ricci-Canham’s son Andrew, vice president of student success for McLellan Community College in Waco, Texas, served as editor of the book.

John Long, a long-time farmer on Zig Zag Road in Albion, also helped edit the book and connected Ricci-Canham to many of the farm families. (Long and his wife Loretta are pictured on the front of the book with their sons, Jeff and Doug, in a photo from 1969.)

Ricci-Canham has the book in chapters, including one on dairy farmers. Rudy Kludt was among those interviewed for the section on dairy: “My Mother did a lot of work on the farm,” he says in the book. “She could milk a cow faster than anybody could milk a cow! She did all of the milking – Dad was out on the farm … we made butter. She sold eggs for groceries – sometimes traded for groceries. Today you can’t do anything like that.”

Rudy Kludt would also recall when the farm acquired its first combine in 1936. His father didn’t like the Allis Chalmers and switched to an International two years later.


This quote from Rudy Kludt is on the back cover of the book.

The book shares memories from farmers of labor-saving equipment, from tree shakers to self-propelled harvesters.

Bill Lattin, the retired Orleans County historian, wrote the forward of the book, and praised Ricci-Canham for an “invaluable” book of local history.

“These are first-hand accounts relating to a lifestyle which has all but vanished,” Lattin writes.

Fifty years ago, few farms topped more than 100 acres. Now many farms in Orleans County work thousands of acres.

“In this book, farmers tell the history of farming in their own words,” Matthew Ballard, current county historian, writes in a forward. “Little is left for interpretation by the author, providing an informative and precise examination of our agricultural heritage.”

Ricci-Canham delayed the publication of the book by several months so she could include a chapter about labor camps. She interviewed people who lived at the former Coloney Camp in Carlton. (Any from the camp attended a popular night club, The Brick Wall, where a young Chubby Checker performed. The Brick Wall is where the current Olde Dogge Inn is located.)

The camp also didn’t have running water for the residents and was often rodent infested.

Howard Ward, a vice president at Rochester Institute of Technology, grew up in the camp. He would earn a doctorate in education. He said there was a strong community at the camp, with people helping each other.

“I never minded farm work,” he told Ricci-Canham in the book. “I picked cherries, all kinds of fruits. I didn’t like picking cucumbers. The fields were 5 miles by 5 miles and the plants were prickly. They used DDT back then and your hands would be green! I say it was because of cukes that I went to college!”

The book includes many pictures of “farm kids,” including this one of Holly Ricci as a girl on a pedal tractor.

The book includes many pictures of “farm kids,” including this one of Holly Ricci as a girl on a pedal tractor.

For the sections on fairs, celebrations & entertainment, Ricci-Canham writes about the world largest apple pie created in 1929 by Charlie Howard (before he started a Santa Claus School). In 1977, the 4-H Fair set a new record for the world’s largest apple pie. In 1931, the fair was the site of the world’s largest cake, which stood 14 feet high.

In 1859, tragedy struck during a celebration in Albion. Hundreds of people gathered to watch a tight-rope walker cross the canal. The Main Street bridge collapsed, killing 14 people.

The book includes a section on the canning factories. Ricci-Canham remembers growing up with the scent of ketchup at Hunts in Albion and the chicken soup at Liptons.

“The area smelled so good back then,” she said.

Canham will sign copies of the book on Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Hoag Library in Albion. She had about 450 printed, but already is working on a second printing for January.

Ricci-Canham is a founder of Orleans County Genealogical Society. She co-wrote “Carlton and Point Breeze” with Avis Townsend in 2006, a book that is a photographic history of the community. Ricci-Canham also wrote “Legendary Locals of Orleans County” in 2012, highlighting prominent residents who excelled in civic affairs, business, agriculture, sports, politics and the arts.

The book on the farm families proved to be “the most humbling and most fulfilling experience of my life, short of having children,” Ricci-Canham writes in the conclusion.

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Pioneers needed hard work, perseverance to clear land and build a life in Orleans

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 10 December 2016 at 8:07 am


“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 2, Issue 50

This photograph is part of my personal family collection, what I believe to be an image of the Joseph B. Pierce homestead on Route 31 in the town of Murray, immediately west of Hulberton Road.

Taken in the late 1870s we see a man, presumably Joseph Pierce, standing along the roadside with a team of horses. Standing in the front yard is Emma Brown Pierce and her four daughters Edith, Fanny, Florence, and Nettie – the latter clinging to the fence.

Joseph was the grandson of Aretas Pierce, Sr. who brought his family from Vermont to Murray in 1815. Upon their arrival to the virgin wilderness of Western New York, the family lived in a log schoolhouse for two weeks while they constructed a log cabin in April of that year. The family lived on provisions brought with them from New England for their first year on the land, but the poor harvest of the following year forced them to live on purchased food including salted pork. As rations ran out, the family boiled green wheat in milk to sustain themselves through the remainder of the season.

Aretas had settled his family on approximately 100 acres of land controlled by the Pulteney Estate, land that was not available for sale until 1821. Toiling for six years, the family cleared the land of dense forest and planted orchards with trees provided to them by Daniel Sturges of Clarendon. When the property was available for purchase, the price per acre was affixed at $8.00. Pierce was left with the choice of leaving his improved land or pay the exorbitant price, choosing the second option and remaining on the property. It was rumored that the Pulteney Association waited until the path of the Erie Canal was established in order to raise property value, a maneuver that was upsetting to many pioneers in the area.

According to David Sturges Copeland’s history of Clarendon, Daniel Pierce helped raise this home in 1828 on a northwestern portion of the original family lot, eight years before Joseph’s birth in 1836. The property was effectively transferred to Joseph in 1862, after he was rejected from service with the Union Army during the Civil War. Joseph was a Republican in political interests, casting his first vote for Abraham Lincoln and never failing to vote from that point forward.

Joseph’s two brothers, George W. and John Q. Pierce, both became civil engineers and engaged on expansion projects along the Erie Canal. John was placed in charge of various projects between Gasport and Shelby Basin before traveling westward to work on several railroad projects in the Illinois area. George followed a similar path, assisting in the widening of the locks at Lockport as well as expansion projects in the Holley vicinity.

Unlike his brothers, Joseph operated a modest farm on the family lot in Murray until his death in 1924. He did gain some notoriety in 1907 when a curious looking “animal freak” was born on the farm that spring. While birthing a calf, two bodies and eight legs appeared. Joseph assumed a set of calves were to be born until the remainder of the birthing process was completed. The “calf” consisted of two bodies and eight legs, but consisted of one head, joined at the shoulder, and three ears with the third protruding from the center of the head. The oddity lived only for a short period of time but attracted attention throughout the county.

The Pierce farm was handed down to Joseph’s youngest daughter, Nettie Pierce, who married Raymond Howard Handy in 1893. Bearing no children of their own, Raymond and Nettie fostered several children including Clarence Traub of Rochester – my great grandfather. This house, now a lavender color with purple shutters, still stands on Route 31 atop the hill just west of Hulberton Road.

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