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local history

Catastrophic canal break put Eagle Harbor under water in 1927

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 22 July 2017 at 8:43 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 30

The success of the Erie Canal was not without trials and tribulations over its 200-year history. These photographs, taken in August of 1927, show the damage sustained during an extensive break in the canal wall near Eagle Harbor.

On August 3, 1927, local farmers observed a slight leak in the south wall of the canal near the Otter Creek gully. L. E. Bennett reported seeing a three-foot square hole open up, spilling thousands of gallons of water out of the waterway in a matter of minutes; the initial opening formed approximately 100 feet west of the Otter Creek culvert. Within a relatively short period of time, the flooring of the canal gave way and the south wall broke free, creating a hole that spanned 50 feet in length and 7 feet in height.

Newspapers reported that over 1 billion gallons of water had spilled into the neighboring fields surrounding Eagle Harbor, creating a large lake that reached 20-60 feet in depth in certain areas. Canal employees contributed the ongoing issue of water backup to the damming of the Otter Creek culvert by debris and a leaking guard gate at Bates Road in Medina.

Canal Commissioner Thomas Farrell rushed to Albion shortly after the break was discovered to direct efforts to rebuild the collapsed wall. It was his impression that the repairs would be completed within ten days; however his more pessimistic colleagues anticipated a minimum of three weeks to finish the work. Albion officials pleaded with the State to keep the waterway open from the Lattin’s Bridge Guard Gate (now Bowman’s Bridge) through the eastern section of Orleans County.

Although this ensured open traffic through Albion, it did little to remedy the disruption to major shipping traffic coming from Buffalo. It was reported that 1-2 million bushels of grain were stopped at Buffalo due to the break. The catastrophic rupture occurred during the peak shipping period, delaying grain, sugar, and metal shipments from points across the Great Lakes region. Panicked farmers urged canal workers to expedite the repairs to alleviate extensive flooding on their lands, which threatened to destroy crops and orchards.

One of the photographs shows the submerged home of John Porter, who reported that his 1 acre crop of potatoes was submerged by 10 feet of water. Other farmers anticipated that their orchards would see the effects of long-term submersion over the next several years. Local potato, cabbage, tomato, cucumber, and grain crops were threatened by the extended flooding, but most feared that the potential for warmer weather would finish off any crops that managed to survive.

The break became a spectacle, drawing thousands of motorists to the area. Professional and amateur photographs alike flocked to the site, snapping images of the damage. The influx of spectators forced State Police officer to guard the location, preventing access by curious onlookers.

Over 250 men were hired to work night and day in an effort to expedite the repairs. Over 20 trucks, 6 steam shovels, and other pieces of power equipment were utilized to hasten the project. Within two weeks the majority of work was complete, resulting in the laying off of 150 workers who were employed with the carpentry gang.

Newspapers reported that state truck drivers were raising concerns about the use of unlicensed trucks and drivers to haul stone and materials on and off the job site. After all work was completed, the total damage was estimated at $250,000 ($3.5 million today) and residents impacted by the flooding were expected to bring lawsuits against the State for damages.

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Steamboat provided efficient shipping along Erie Canal

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 15 July 2017 at 7:51 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 29

Western New York and Orleans County owe its success and growth of the 19th century to the Erie Canal. Breaking through the wilderness of our region, the Canal opened the Niagara Frontier to the world, distributing raw materials and importing necessities. This image shows the steamboat Celina docked at the canal terminal at Medina. The White Hotel is likely the most recognizable landmark in this photograph.

Part of the Buffalo & Rochester Transit Company’s Steamboat Express line, the Celina was regarded as one of the earlier freight steamers in this area. The vessel was operated by James Chamberlain and Judson Webster, father-in-law of Charlie Howard. The company operated eight boats in total, including the John Owens, C.H. Francis, William B. Kirk, C.H. Johnson, Frankie Reynolds, Tacoma, Deland, Consort, and Celina.

Ruth Webster Howard recalled riding on this boat, stopping at Medina for dinner at the stately White Hotel. In 1902, the company was purchased by a group of wealthy investors in Rochester and merged with the Rochester & Syracuse Steamboat Company. Judson Webster had sold his interest in the business in 1901 to Isaac Radford, a real estate dealer in Buffalo.

Hazel Oderkirk Arnett, another resident of Orleans County, recalled life on the Erie Canal at the turn of the century. Before the years of steamboats, bullheads, lakers, and scows were the common vessels operated on the waterway. Pulled by teams of mules, the boats travelled approximately 3 miles per hour and a trip from Buffalo to Troy was 7-10 days.

Mules were stabled in the hull of the scow and Hazel recalled, “The bridge which led up from the stables in the hole to the bank was narrow, steep and often slippery. Mules were ordinarily surefooted but sometimes they didn’t negotiate the trip. There was no way to save them once they were in the canal. I remember that the sight of dead mules floating in the canal was not too rare a sight.”

To a young child, the trips were uneventful and lacking in excitement. The trip was broken up by the occasional visit to canal stores located along the canal path, where boaters could stock up on supplies to feed the crew and family onboard. Upon reaching Albany, boats were grouped together and pulled to New York City by steam vessels. Today, the canal is emptied in November and filled in May; a typical operating season in the 19th century ran April 1st through December 1st and boats were dry-docked for the winter.

According to Cary Lattin, shipping goods such as wheat cost farmers approximately $.25 per bushel before the Erie Canal was completed. After 1825, the price dropped to $5.00 per ton, allowing Western New York to become the “bread basket of the world.”

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Historic marker repainted by cobblestone school

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 July 2017 at 7:11 am

Provided photos

GAINES – The historic marker for the cobblestone school on Route 104 has a fresh coat of paint. Melissa Ierlan of Clarendon put the marker back on Friday with the new paint.

Ierlan has repainted many of the markers in recent years in Orleans County.

The school is part of the Cobbletone Museum, and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The building was completed in 1849 in the Greek Revivial style. The District No. 5 Schoolhouse is a wood-framed structure with a lake-washed stone veneer, and includes a cupula that holds the school’s bell, according to the museum.

The cobblestone schoolhouse served District No. 5 for 103 years before it was closed in 1952 after the centralization of Albion’s school district. In 1961, it was sold to the Cobblestone Society Museum for $129.

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Grain barge rammed a canal guard gate in Medina in 1925

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 8 July 2017 at 9:12 am

‘Overlooked Orleans’ – Volume 3, Issue 28

MEDINA – Taken on August 19, 1925 by the New York Department of State Engineers, Western Division, this image shows Guard Gate 15 located at Bates Road in Medina.

This gate was referred to locally as “Hastings Guard Gate” and provided workers with the ability to isolate sections of the Erie Canal during wall breaks, accidents, and high water levels. Orleans County has three guard gates; Gate 15 at Medina, Gate 14 at Albion, and Gate 13 at Holley.

This photograph raises an interesting question; what happens when the guard gate is involved in an accident? In August of 1925, a fleet of six barges from the “Green Fleet” under the charge of Captain Hickey were travelling westward. The vessels were pulled behind a tugboat, two abreast, when the southern barge rammed the center pier of the guard gate. The force of the impact jarred the gate loose from its hinges, dropping it onto the deck of the northern barge. A crowd of onlookers and workers gathered along the northern towpath of the canal, assembling near the tugboat.

The “Green Fleet” was a flotilla of approximately 72 barges built by the War Department during World War One for the emergency transportation of supplies. In 1921, the New York Canal and Great Lakes Corporation purchased the vessels for transporting goods by way of the Erie Canal. The name “Green Fleet” was derived from the green color of the barges.

According to local papers, this was the second time that the gate was involved in a collision since it was widened starting in 1914. The Maryland Dredging & Contracting Company of Baltimore was hired to complete work on Contract No. 65, which involved widening the sill of the Hastings Guard Gate.

This wasn’t the last accident experienced at the Bates Road Bridge. Nearly four years later, on August 7, 1929, Barge No. 40 of the Grain Transit Corporation Line was travelling eastbound when it struck the center pier. Carrying 30,400 bushels of wheat, the barge sank in five feet of water in a relatively short period of time. A small portion of the wheat was destroyed by water, but thankfully the accident did not block traffic.

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6 outhouses focus of tour at Cobblestone Museum this evening

File photo by Tom Rivers: This outhouse is one of six that will be included on a tour of privies today at 6 p.m. at the Cobblestone Museum.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 July 2017 at 8:12 am

Privies include one that was owned by governor from Albion

GAINES – The Cobblestone Museum often has a “First Friday” art show at the beginning of the month. This evening the museum will showcase its impressive collection of outhouses, including a five-seater by the Farmer’s Hall on Route 98, just south of Route 104.

The cobblestone structures get a lot of the attention – as they should – but the museum also includes six outhouses, including the one used by Rufus Bullock and his family. Bullock is the former Georgia governor from Albion. His outhouse is located behind the Ward House next to the Cobblestone Church.

Bullock grew up in Albion and went on to be the governor of Georgia during Reconstruction after the Civil War. He gained prestige as president of the Macon and Augusta Railroad in 1867. He was elected governor and served from 1868 to 1871. Bullock was an abolitionist and successfully fought accusations of corruption while he was governor in Georgia.

He returned to live out his life in Albion and is buried at Mount Albion Cemetery. His house still stands at the northwest corner of West Park and Liberty streets.

Bill Lattin, the retired museum director, will lead a tour of outhouses today at 6 p.m. “Privies: From Primitive to Pretentious-An Outhouse and In-House Tour” will be a fun and entertaining trip around the Cobblestone National Historic Landmark District.

This photo shows the inside of the five-seater outhouse.

The “potty tour” includes each of the Cobblestone Museum’s historic outhouses, indoor commodes and much more.

• The oldest building on the Cobblestone Museum property is actually an outhouse. Built in the Federal Style in 1830, it was originally used at the first bank built in Orleans County, located at corner of NYS Routes 279 & 104.

• The Farmers Hall has a Greek Revival Outhouse that seats five. It’s really remarkable with plastered walls and wallpaper.

• The outhouse at the Museum’s Print Shop is in the East Lake Style with interior paneling.

• The water closet in the 1834 Universalist Church lobby was for men only and the adjacent Cobblestone parsonage has an assortment of chamber pots.

• There are separate boy’s and girl’s outhouses at the Cobblestone School.

•  Those on the tour should wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and be sure to bring a sense of humor, said Doug Farley, the museum director.

“Being new to the job, I have been learning the history of the major buildings located at the museum,” said Farley, who started as the museum director in March. “In the process, I also discovered that some of the structures that aren’t usually mentioned in tours have a pretty remarkable history of their own. For instance, the oldest building on the museum’s campus is actually an outhouse that was originally located at the first bank in Orleans County.  Also, when I came upon the ‘five-seater’ outhouse, I thought to myself, ‘What would that have looked like for a family? Did they all go out to the outhouse together?’ I had more questions than I had answers. I also realized that my generation still has some recollection of using outhouses. However, subsequent generations are most likely uninformed of the intricacies of outhouses. I think in order to appreciate the comfort of our modern sanitary facilities, we have to take a look at what came first.”

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200 years ago today, construction started on the Erie Canal

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 July 2017 at 10:03 am

File photos by Tom Rivers

This photo from Sept. 23, 2015 shows a canal boat named Canandaigua out cruising on the Erie Canal along Presbyterian Road at the widewaters section in Gaines.

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the Erie Canal’s construction. Construction started in Rome. It would take about eight years to complete the project, going 363 miles across the state.

“200 years ago, on this very day, ground was broken for the construction of America’s most iconic and enduring man-made waterway – the Erie Canal. Happy Bicentennial!” – NYS Canal Corporation tweeted today

Rome will recreate the ceremonial groundbreaking on July 22.

The tugboat Syracuse carries inspectors and officials from the State Canal Corp. on the Erie Canal in Albion on Sept. 14, 2016. The inspectors headed east after passing under the Ingersoll Street lift bridge in Albion. They were doing the annual inspection of lift bridges, locks, navigational aids, embankments and some other canal infrastructure.

A small sign on a tree in a ditch in Holley notes that this was part of the original Erie Canal loop that meandered to the Public Square area of Holley. This is a rare section of the original canal loop. The canal was widened several times after the original construction was completed in 1825.

The state veered the canal from a relatively straight line in Holley in 1823 due to the high banks and engineering challenge in dealing with Sandy Creek. The Erie Canal used to loop about 2,000 feet towards the Public Square.

There was an unusually deep ravine formed by the east branch of Sandy Creek, which presented a difficult engineering problem for builders of the original Erie Canal in the early 1820s, according to display on the north side of the canal by the Holley lift bridge. The State Canal Corp. put up that display about “The Holley Loop.”

This historical marker is next to the railroad depot used by the Murray-Holley Historical Society near the former Save-A-Lot. The original canal went near the depot and Public Square and some stone and remnants are still visible in the community.

Rather than try to build the canal on the ravine, engineers opted to take a sharp turn near the current lift bridge and cross over a relatively narrow section of the creek.

“The sharp curve required boaters to slow down, which made a promising location for canal-oriented busiensses,” according to the state display. “The Village of Holley grew at this bend in the canal.”

The canal was widened throughout the 363-mile-long system from 1905 to 1918 and much of the original canal was replaced by the wider and deeper canal.

But in Holley, some of the original remained because it wasn’t touched as part of the Barge Canal widening in the early 1900s.

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Historic Cobblestone church holds annual patriotic service

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 July 2017 at 3:27 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

CHILDS – Two congregations teamed for their annual patriotic service this morning at the Cobblestone Universalist Church. This photo shows Darrel Dyke, one of the leaders at the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, giving a reading at the pulpit at the Cobblestone Universalist Church. Dyke read from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The Cobblestone Universalist Church holds church services twice a year. Today’s service had a patriotic theme and included members of the Gaines Congregational United Church of Christ.

Jim Gardner, pastor of the Gaines Congregational United Church of Christ, shared the homily today. “Choose life and love,” he said. “Choose happy not mad. Choose to honor those who have gone on before us.”

Doug Farley, front left, serves as director of the Cobblestone Museum. He also is a long-time member of the Lock City Glee Club based in Lockport. The group performed several patriotic songs including, “The Battle Hymn of the RePublic.” The Lock City Glee Club is in its 51st year.

Darrel Dyke addresses the group inside the church, which was built in 1834.

The church is on Ridge Road, just east of Route 98. It is the focal point of a museum that is a National Historic Landmark.

Drew Burke (with beard) is director of the Lock City Glee Club’s men’s chorus. The Glee Club usually has 35 to 50 singers but during the summer performs in a smaller group of summer ambassadors.

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OC Heritage Fest expands to 2 weekends in September

Photos by Tom Rivers: John and Joe Dady perform by the canal in Albion with a boathouse in the background in this photo from June 2015. The brothers played bluegrass, Irish and folk music between the lift bridges on Main and Ingersoll streets. They will be in Medina on Sept. 14 as part of the Heartland Passage Tour, featuring a concert, stories and a showing of the Erie Canal Film, “Boom and Bust”.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 July 2017 at 9:14 am

ALBION – A team of volunteers has been busy working on the second annual Orleans County Heritage Festival.

The event debuted over a weekend last September, and will be expanded to two weekends this time, running from Sept. 8-17.

“There are so many historic assets in Orleans County that it is hard to see them all in one weekend,” Derek Maxfield, a GCC history professor and festival organizer, told county legislators on Wednesday.

David Kreutz, an Abraham Lincoln presenter from Depew, was at last year’s debut Orleans County Heritage Festival with his “Penny Car,” which includes a vinyl wrap of Lincoln. Kreutz’s license plate reads “HNST ABE.” He has travelled 150,000 miles in his Lincoln car, attending events all over the country. Kreutz said the car functions as “a roving schoolhouse.” He is expected to be back at this year’s Heritage Festival along with a Thomas Jefferson impressionist.

The Heritage Festival starts on Sept. 8 with an opening celebration at Forrestel Farms in Medina. The historic farmstead includes the carriage step for John Ryan, who opened the first Medina Sandstone quarry in 1837, helping to establish a dominant industry in the county for a century.

The event at Forrestel at 4536 Soth Gravel Rd. includes a performance by City Fiddle, refreshments and a tour of farm.

Last year’s county-wide celebration of historically and culturally significant locations involved 29 sites including special programming at GCC’s Albion and Medina campus centers. Maxfield said about 500 people attended, and they received a collectible button and ribbon.

Another collectible button will be included in this year’s festival.

GCC’s Albion campus will host events the first weekend on “Ancestors, Legends & Lore” with will include presentations on Victorian Spiritualism.

The action shifts to the Medina campus the second weekend for a timeline festival. The timeline festival will include re-enactors, impressionists and artisans.

Local historic sites will be highlighted during the weekdays with an afternoon and evening event, Maxfield said.

Last year the debut festival highlighted historic cemeteries, farms, homes and other historic gems.

The new themes for this year include the following:

• Erie Canal – locations associated with the historic canal to celebrate the bicentennial of this extraordinary 19th century transportation system;

• Military – locations associated with the military history of Orleans County ranging from the French and Indian Wars through 20th Century Wars with special emphasis on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I;

• Cobblestone & Sandstone – locations associated with the substantial use of cobblestone and/or sandstone in the historic architecture;

• Legends and Lore, Spirits and Supernatural – locations associated with a history of spirits, supernatural and/or ghost activities.

Mayfield provided an update on the festival to county legislators on Wednesday. He was joined by Lynne Menz, the Orleans County Tourism coordinator.

“Hopefully we can continue it for years to come and build on it,” she said.

Other events during the festival include:

• WWII Victory Garden on Sept. 9 at Cornell Cooperative Ext./4H Fairgrounds. Join Master Gardeners for WWII Victory Garden tour and display.

• Cobblestone Museum, open both weekends with guided tours, scavenger hunts, hands-on arts & crafts, kids free.

• Medina Historical Society, open both Saturdays with unique local heritage items, WWI display.

• Daughters of the American Revolution, open both Saturdays in Albion for guided tours of Patriots House, displays of historic memorabilia.

• Hoag Library, open on Sept. 10 for display and lecture on WWI veterans who served from Orleans County.

• Hart House Hotel in Medina, open on Sept. 12 for guided Ghost Tours of Hart House Hotel and the former Newell Shirt Factory.

• Maplewood Cemetery in Clarendon, guided tours on Sept. 13.

• Hurd Orchards Luncheon & Tour on Sept. 14 – Experience Canal Boat kitchen cuisine and tour an historic canal siphon.

•  Heartland Passage Tour on Sept. 14 – Erie Canal Basin in Medina for songs and stories with The Dady Brothers, Dave Ruch, and the Erie Canal Film, “Boom and Bust”.

• WWI Era Music Concert on Sept. 15 at Lyndonville school district. Concert of WWI era music by 5th & 6th grade students of Orleans County.

• Genealogy Workshops on Sept. 9 at GCC in Albion and Sept. 16 at GCC in Medina – Search your ancestry with Orleans County Genealogical Society experts.

• Sandstone Society Hall of Fame, open on Sept. 16 at Medina City Hall. Guided tours of the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame and visit inductees in Orleans County (self guided).

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July 4th marks bicentennial of Erie Canal construction

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 1 July 2017 at 9:00 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 27

The Erie Canal has a long and illustrious history spanning over two hundred years starting on July 4, 2017. As we hit the bicentennial of the construction of the Canal, I thought it would be fitting to write a series of articles about some of the more interesting Canal images within the Department of History’s collections.

I suspect that the passing of the July 4th anniversary will go without fanfare locally, but the eight years between the start of construction and official opening will provide many opportunities to celebrate the iconic waterway.

Dating back to 1699, the concept of constructing a waterway that would open the wilderness of New York to the rest of the world was first suggested by a French engineer named Sebastien Vauban. The radical idea remained in the minds of entrepreneurs and politicians throughout the 18th century, surfacing again after the establishment of the United States. It was not until the early 1800s that the idea became a reality under the governorship of DeWitt Clinton.

The canal, opening on October 25, 1825, represented a feat of engineering that only few could have ever imagined. Without the aid of steam equipment, men relied on hand tools and animal power to excavate the 40-foot-wide, 4-foot-deep ditch that spanned over 360 miles.

According to Cary Lattin, shipping rates for wheat dropped from $.25 per bushel to $5.00 per ton, earning Western New York the title of “The Break Basket of the World.” The old Niagara Frontier went on to produce much of the wheat consumed by the United States up until the start of the Civil War.

The massive drop in shipping costs resulted in the expansion of the canal system starting in 1835. Over the following decades, the waterway was widened to seventy feet and deepened to seven feet; entire sections were rebuilt, new locks constructed, aqueducts erected, and some sections rerouted. The newly expanded canal allowed for businessmen to operate larger packet boats, which in turn carried more tonnage from Lake Erie to the Hudson River.

This image was taken during the second expansion, which officially started in 1903 when the New York State Legislature introduced a plan to form the New York State Barge Canal. The photographer directed his camera westward looking towards Church Street in Medina. In the distance, you can see the Church Street Bridge that spanned the original canal; a packet boat is visible travelling eastbound towards Albion. Also visible are buildings that lined the “heel path,” or southern towpath of the canal, providing valuable goods and services to passing boats.

I find this image to be an outstanding reflection of the extensive knowledge of engineering required to complete the massive expansion in Orleans County during the 1910s. Guy derricks were constructed to raise stone and cement to the top of the large wooden frames assembled to form the enormous retaining walls seen along Medina’s towpath. The relative size of the workers gathered near the base of the retaining wall gives perspective to the size of the work being completed.

Although we see the presence of a steam locomotive to the left, used to draw raw materials to the job site, a team of horses is visible pulling a piece of equipment up the tracks to the right. The gentleman standing atop the embankment wearing a suit and hat appears to be a supervisor, observing the work of the men below. A thorough observation of the photograph reveals men standing at various points on the framework of the retaining wall and one man standing upon the wall’s concrete foundation, directing the guy derrick operator to move the scoop to the south. One of the workers appears to have caught the photographer out of the corner of his eye and stopped to watch him take the photograph.

The expansion, which was completed in Orleans County approximately between 1912 and 1918, widened the canal to 120 feet from 70 feet and deepened it from 7 feet to 12 feet.

The second photograph shows men working on a portion of the retaining wall closer to the terminal in Medina. The Church Street Bridge approach is visible to the left and the White Hotel is likely the most prominent and recognizable structure in the photograph.

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Immigrant ancestors showed incredible resilience building new lives in America

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 24 June 2017 at 12:09 pm

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 26

Dating back to the earliest years of the United States, immigration was a welcomed occurrence; the arrival of new European immigrants was believed to bring desirable traits that would strengthen American stock. Despite this early stance on a process that was of little concern to most Americans, groups surfaced with the intention of restricting or ending waves of immigration.

The emergence of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s brings forth a “Gangs of New York” image to the minds of many. The exact level of activity of such groups in Orleans County is uncertain, but we do know that men such as John Hull White of Albion and Elisha Whalen of Medina were aligned with these political ideas. White, a Conservative Democrat in the years when Republicans considered themselves the “Party of Lincoln,” found it impossible to win an election in our Republican-dominated county.

An influx of Irish and German immigrants established an unfounded fear of the Catholic Church, while many of these immigrants flooded into the emerging sandstone quarries of our region, bringing with them a willingness to toil amidst dynamite and heavy stone. Shortly after came the laborers from the Norfolk region of southern England, who with pickaxe and shovel, filed into the ranks with the Irish and Germans. Minimal legislation meant no visas, no limitations, no need for connections to family already in the United States, nor guarantee of work.

The mass of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe starting in the 1860s and 1870s raised questions about the ongoing solvency of unrestricted immigration. With the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the federal government established a solid stance on the limitation of specific immigrants, prohibiting any immigration of individuals from China. Additional laws passed over the following decades created the conditions experienced at places like Ellis Island, the conditions that so many genealogists read about.

Immigrants were no longer desirable, their genetic traits more likely to diminish the hearty stock of American citizens than strengthen. These new immigrants were viewed as unwilling to assimilate, preferring to gather in ethnic communities while retaining their cultural and religious practices. Their presence developed unfounded fears of disease, leading the federal government to limit access to those “likely to become a public charge,” polygamists, sexual deviants, anarchists, radicals, and the disabled.

Agents at ports of entry would observe immigrants for physical defects, limps, poor posture, feeble natures, weakness, and abnormal body shape, many feeling as though they could learn more about an immigrant’s physical condition from a few moments of unnoticed observation than they could through detailed medical examinations. These laws created the concept of the illegal immigrant, who concealed illness and disability, or lied about political beliefs to try their luck at a better life in a country determined to keep them out; until this point, there was no illegal immigration.

I found myself reflecting on this image of my great grandparents, taken on the day of their wedding in 1919, as I prepare to travel to their hometown of Wabcz, Kujawsko-Pomorskie in Poland. I often think of the hardships they endured. Frank Kaniecki, seated upon the table, was three years old when he arrived at Ellis Island with his parents and younger brother Paul. His mother, eight months pregnant, gave birth to a baby girl during the journey across the Atlantic, the baby dying several days later. One can imagine Frank’s father, Antoni, leading his grieving wife with two toddlers in tow through the lines of immigrants while agents observed their every move. Rose Romanski, standing with her hand on Frank’s shoulder, was only one year old when her parents brought her to America.

At the time this photograph was taken, both were celebrating their second marriage. Each lost their spouses to consumption, a condition that often ravaged the immigrant populations that labored in the quarries. Their marriage, one of necessity, ensured that the children from their previous marriages were cared for, eight in total. These families, arriving amidst the influx of new immigrants out of German-controlled Poland, found themselves fleeing ongoing pressure to destabilize the Catholic Church and suppress the Polish culture. Generally accepted within the community of Albion, Frank changed his last name from Kaniecki to Crane in the 1930s in the hopes of attracting more American customers to his grocery store in Albion’s Polonia.

As few of our ancestors would qualify for legal entry into the United States under the laws of today, we should be forever grateful that they were afforded the opportunity to start a new life in America. The resilience of our immigrant ancestors is an amazing thing.

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