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Albion man was critical to helping George Pullman become railroad mogul

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 11 February 2017 at 8:37 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 7

The records of Orleans County history are quite definitive concerning the role in which George M. Pullman played in the development of his famed sleeping cars. What appears to be left for interpretation is the specific role in which local politician Benjamin Collins Field played in that venture. It is clear that without the aid of Mr. Field that Pullman’s vision for the palace car may never have come to fruition.

Born June 12, 1816 at Dorset, Vermont, Ben was brought to Albion around 1828. His father Spafford was a marble dealer and operated a business out of the Lockport area for a number of years in conjunction with his son Norman. As a young man, Ben read law with Alexis Ward of Albion before his admittance to the bar. He worked with his father’s business, engaging in headstone lettering and marble cutting before determining that politics was of interest.

Although he never practiced law, Field dealt largely with contracts and worked with Tousley, Lee & Co. in constructing several railroads in the Midwest. During the 1850s, he was elected as a New York State Senator from the 28th District for the 77th and 78th New York Legislature (1854 and 1855). He would later serve as a representative to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1867 from the 29th District, along with Sanford E. Church of Albion.

The discrepancies in Field’s involvement with Pullman’s interest start in 1857 when records show that he developed a partnership with George Pullman, a fellow resident of Albion and close friend. As accounts from Pullman show, Field facilitated the contract with the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad that called for the construction of the first sleeper cars. It was shortly after that Field traded his interests in the business for future loans as he was more concerned with political ventures than entrepreneurship.

Accounts of the Field family genealogy suggest that Ben Field was responsible for the concept of the sleeper car, that Pullman traveled with Field from Chicago to Western New York when the idea for improved sleeping quarters on railcars was hatched. It is recorded in these accounts that Field provided Pullman not only the idea but the funds to finance his operation, which Pullman later bought Field out of in the early portion of the 1860s. This humble take on the partnership makes sense considering Field was regarded as a hardworking, fair-minded, honorable man who frequently assisted friends and family with business ventures through funding.

Field was a Whig, early on, and aligned himself with the Republican Party upon its formation. During the 1872 election, he aligned himself with Horace Greeley and “transitioned to liberalism” to which he remained an ardent supporter of until his death in 1876. Regardless of the specifics regarding his involvement with the Pullman Car Company and the development of the sleeper car, his influence through support and funding was essential to the establishment of George Pullman as a railroad mogul.

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More than a century ago, Kendall store suffered multiple fires

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 4 February 2017 at 8:28 am

 “Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 6

This photograph shows the interior of James Trivit Lacey’s store located on east side of Kendall Road near the intersection of Kenmore Road.

Born at Tunstead, Norfolk, England in 1859, Lacey arrived in the United States at the age of 25 in 1884 and lived in the Yates/Carlton area for several years before relocating to Kendall. It was at this location that he would operate a shoe shop, confectionary store, and billiards parlor.

On May 6, 1901, Lacey closed up shop for the day and departed the business for his home located up the street. All was quiet until a fire was discovered in his storefront by a passerby, who alerted nearby residents. The church bells tolled to call community members to the town square and the process of extinguishing the fire began. Despite their best efforts, Mother Nature had other plans and a swift northeasterly wind pushed the flames to nearby buildings.

With Lacey’s store fully engulfed, the fire jumped to the drug store of Charles Spring to the south and the hardware store of Ephraim Fuller to the north. The fire continued to spread, setting the meat market of Otto Seigel and a nearby residence ablaze. As the wind continued to blow, the flames crossed the street and set fire to the stores of Sherrill Sanford and Nelson Stevens.

Firefighters labored through the night with little hope of extinguishing the blaze, which as Ray Tuttle recalled in the 1950s caused “folks [to] believe the world was coming to an end because the good book had stated that someday it would all be destroyed by fire.”

Kendall’s business district was nearly a total loss from a fire causing over $40,000 in damage. When all was quiet yet again, Lacey had suffered a loss of $500 with no insurance to cover his merchandise. Nelson Stevens, who had just opened his business the same year, suffered damages topping $2,000 with no insurance to cover the loss.

Lacey reopened his business in the office space owned by Seth Jones in Kendall and while the town wished him well in his new venture following this devastating fire, he would yet again suffer from a similar catastrophe nearly 12 years later. On September 16, 1913 Lacey’s store yet again burned as a result of a fire starting in the hardware store of Payne & Wright. The building in which Lacey was leasing was a total loss, resulting in over $25,000 in damages. Unfortunately, in addition to the loss of his business, Lacey lost his beloved hunting dog in the fire.

It is likely that this image, with James Lacey standing behind the counter, was taken prior to the 1901 fire that destroyed the store. The back counter is filled with materials used for making harnesses and shoes and the glass display cases are filled with cigars. The most noticeable feature in the building are the billiards tables located in the back room. Although the cause of the fire was never definitively known, the oil lamps hanging from the ceiling could be a good indicator of a possible cause.

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‘Out of the Past’ looks at highlights in February from years ago

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 1 February 2017 at 10:38 am

Editor’s Note: County Historian Matthew Ballard has a new monthly column, “Out of the Past,” that lists interesting events happenings from various milestone years (50 years ago, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, and 200).

50 Years Ago – 1967

February 2nd

Holley officials begin planning for the centennial celebration of the incorporation of their village.

February 19th

Otis Bartlett of Riches Corners died at Lakeside Hospital after a brief illness. He was injured in a fall while hunting nearly 20 years earlier, spending the remainder of his life in a wheel chair. Following this accident he crafted a small tractor, giving him the ability to continue the sport of hunting every year.

February 23rd

Clayton Root dies in a tragic accident after he is trapped inside his burning trailer home which had been overturned by high winds. Root was a horse trainer by trade.

75 Years Ago – 1942

February 12th

Half back Tommy Colella of Albion – the Albion Antelope – the 1941 Canisius College captain signs a contract to play professional football with the Detroit Lions of the National League. – During his career, Colella would also play for the Cleveland Rams, Cleveland Browns, and one season with the Buffalo Bills in 1949 before retiring from football.

The 1946 Cleveland Browns – Tommy Colella #92, front row

February 19th

Photographers send images of four buildings in Orleans County to the Fine Arts Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The archived photographs would provide a record for restoring the buildings in the event of war damage; those buildings included the Lanson House, the Whipple House, the Hunn House, and the T. V. Saunders House (cobblestone homes).

1942 photograph of the Whipple House, sent to the Library of Congress. This unique cobblestone building showcases the “herringbone” pattern where flat, rounded stones are set at an angle. The home is located on the south side of Ridge Road, east of Kenyonville Road in Gaines.

February 26th

Francis H. Blake is elected as Mayor of Albion to succeed Jacob Landauer, winning a victory with a voter turnout of 129, the smallest in recent memory.

February 26th

Eugene E. Barnum, Jr. of Albion is among six WNY men who completed basic flight training at the Army’s West Point of the Air, Randolph Field, Texas. He would continue on to an advanced training base for instruction that would result in his 2nd lieutenants’ bars and wings. – Barnum died in action on December 2, 1944 less than five months after his younger brother, Lt. William J. Barnum, was killed in the breakout at St. Lo in France; it was one of the most devastating losses for an Orleans County family during WWII.

“Gene” Barnum (center) recaps a recent mission with several other pilots from his unit.

100 Years Ago – 1917

February 6th

The McMann Hotel at Albion experienced a fire in the 2nd floor stock room. The building filled with smoke, but George Foster, Fred Chapman and his wife, all employees of the hotel were able to escape from the third floor barely clothed. The thermometer registered two degrees below zero.

February 14th

Michael Cleary, a NYCRR conductor, was killed at Holley when he fell off a freight car and was run over. He died while being taken to a Rochester hospital. He leaves a wife and three children.

February 15th

Charles Stielow

The most important case to come before grand jury this month is the special investigation ordered by Gov. Whitman into the case of Charles Stielow of West Shelby – George Bond of Syracuse is set to be the special prosecutor.

The German immigrant, Charles Stielow, is wrongfully convicted of a double murder in 1915 at West Shelby. Escaping the electric chair on several occasions, Gov. Whitman finally agreed to reopen the case after Erwin King confessed to committing the crime.

February 15th

Local stories surface of a wild pack of wolves running around Orleans County. It is determined that an old pet wolf and her litter of puppies got away from their owner.

February 21st

The Orleans Republican notes that the NYS Legislature is to appropriate $25,000 to investigate the case of Charles Stielow of West Shelby. “While we are glad that there is an attempt being made to shift the financial burden off from Orleans County attendant upon this investigation, yet we feel that there is no good excuse for saddling $25,000 on the State of New York or anybody else in connection with this matter…” Apparently the wrongful conviction of Stielow and near execution by electric chair on multiple occasions was not a good enough cause for the Orleans Republican…

125 Years Ago – 1892

February 2nd

James Gotts of Medina committed suicide at his home north of the English settlement by hanging from a halter suspended from a timber. As a prosperous and respected citizen, there was no explanation for the rash act which left the widow Gotts and a daughter, Mrs. William Wheeler. Gotts’ brother John committed suicide nearly 10 years prior at Shelby Basin by drowning himself in the Canal.

February 11th

Orleans County Grand Jury returns and indictment against Philo Burch of Albion on a charge of bigamy. Burch married Lucinda Field, a widow at Albion, in 1866. After leaving his wife and children, he returned and married Nancy Beach of Medina.

February 18th

The Medina Tribune reports that coroner’s inquests cost the county $578.57 for the previous year, the most expensive case involving a Medina girl who strangled her illegitimate child, that case costing $161.27.

150 Years Ago – 1867

February 2nd

Rev. Joel Lindsley of Shelby, on trial at Albion for whipping his child to death, is found guilty of manslaughter in the second degree. Lindsley received a four year sentence at Auburn Prison.

February 21st

W. K. Townsend, Esq. represented George W. Root, a farmer from Holley, in an action for slander against A. B. Dauchy. Root alleged that Dauchy called him a “whore-master” while Dauchy denied ever making the statement; he was held on $300 bail.

February 28th

Elmore, son of Edward Wheeler at Kendall Mills, was kicked in the face by a horse. The boy’s right eye was severely injured and required that Dr. Carpenter remove all of the broken bones from the face. It was expected that the boy would recover.

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Furniture stores served multiple roles a century ago

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 28 January 2017 at 8:56 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 5

KENDALL – This image shows the interior of Stevens’ Furniture Store located in Kendall, taken sometime in the early 1900s. The man standing in this photograph is likely Marhlon Stevens, the owner of the business.

Marhlon was the son of Nelson Stevens, a Herkimer County native who worked as a farmer, bookkeeper, and schoolmaster before testing out the furniture and undertaking business in Kendall.

Nelson Stevens brought his family to Orleans County in 1901 and operated this business for several years before he unexpectedly died of pneumonia in 1908. At that point in time, his son took over the operations of the outfit, which advertised itself as the “House of Quality.”

In the days prior to embalming and before funeral parlors were established, furniture dealers often doubled as undertakers who assisted families in preparing the home for wakes.

In this image we see a number of mattresses and rocking chairs in the center of the room. Along the right wall we see a roll-top desk, folding chair, and a “low-boy” dresser. Throughout the entire showroom are dishes and crockery, popular merchandise for these types of stores. The walls are adorned with various portraits, landscape paintings, and mirrors; one noticeable image is that of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper hanging on the back wall. It also appears that Stevens was selling boots and shoes as a number of them are on display in the rear of the showroom.

With many furniture businesses, the first floor provided space to showcase current and featured merchandise, while the upper floor offered space for crafting and repairing furniture. In a smaller outfit such as this, the upper floor likely provided additional storage space for extra furniture.

Marhlon Stevens operated this store for a couple of decades and was associated for a period of time with McNall & McNall Funeral Home. Marhlon passed away in 1951 and was interred at a cemetery in Palmyra, the location where his family lived prior to arriving in Kendall.

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Statuesque, New York: Frederick Douglass monument in Rochester first in U.S. to memorialize African American

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 January 2017 at 12:01 am

ROCHESTER – Highland Park in Rochester is home to an 8-foot-tall bronze statue of famed orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

When it was unveiled in 1899 in front of New York Central Train Station, it was the first statue dedicated to an African American in the country.

The dedication ceremony for the Douglass memorial was attended by 10,00 people, including Theodore Roosevelt, who was then New York’s governor.

The statue was moved to Highland Park in 1941. Rochester officials didn’t think the spot by the train station at the corner of St. Paul Street and Central Avenue was a fitting location for one of the city’s most respected residents. That site was noisy and grimy.

Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. He escaped the South at age 21 and moved to Rochester in 1847. He stayed for 25 years.

The human rights advocate was a prominent speaker, editor and author, taking on many causes, including women’s suffrage.

(He attended the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, the only African American male present, and delivered a speech that helped sway support for the suffrage resolution.)

“At any rate, seeing that the male government of the world have failed, it can do no harm to try the experiment of a government by man and woman united…” Douglass said then.
The monument at Highland Park includes excerpts from other famous Douglass speeches:

“The best defense of free American institution is the hearts of the American people themselves.”

“One with God is a majority.”

“I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.”

“Men do not live by bread alone; so with nations, they are not saved by art, but by honesty, not by gilded splendors of wealth but by the hidden treasure of manly virtue, not by the multitudinous gratification of the flesh, but by the celestial guidance of the spirit.”

“I know of no soil better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil. I know of no country where the conditions for effecting great changes in the settled order of things, for the development of right ideas of liberty and humanity are more favorable than here in these United States.”

The Douglass statue overlooks the Highland Bowl in Rochester.

Douglass, as a crusader, made Rochester a focal point of the abolitionist movement.

He published the North Star newspaper in Rochester and coordinated Underground Railroad efforts in the area.

Douglass lived in the city until an unexplained fire at his home. He then moved to Washington where he worked for the Garfield and Harrison administrations.

He died in 1895 and Rochester moved to honor him with the bronze statue. It was created by sculptor Stanley Edwards, who used Douglass’s son Charles as a model.

The statue has now been greeting visitors to Highland Park patrons for 76 years. It is located about 300 yards from the site of his South Avenue home. That site is now School No. 12.

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Platt Street named for man who ran packet boat business, operated hotel in Albion

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 21 January 2017 at 7:25 am

012117_PlattElizur“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 3, Issue 4

We often wonder how streets received their names throughout Orleans County, so it is important to recall those stories that we know to be true concerning those origins. Platt Street in Albion was named for Elizur Platt, a native of New Haven, Connecticut.

Born to John and Abiah Foote Platt around 1803, Elizur came to Clarendon in the late 1820s. Having married his wife, Lydia Merriman of Bristol, Connecticut in 1825, the couple ventured west to start a new life in the wilderness that was Western New York.

Following Elizur were his sisters, Henrietta, Eunice (who married Asahel Merriman), and Melissa (who married William Bates) who all settled in the Clarendon area, all succumbing to the rigors of pioneer life shortly after their arrival. Henrietta was the first to pass in 1838, then Melissa in 1846, and Eunice in 1849.

While living in Clarendon, Elizur engaged in the mercantile business, operating a store for several years before David Sturges bought out his inventory. For a very short period starting in 1837, he operated a hotel in Clarendon before selling that interest and relocating to Albion.

Upon his arrival in Albion, Platt purchased the Mansion House located along the north side of the Erie Canal on Main Street; he operated that business until the building burned. While engaging in this venture he operated the Red Line Packet Company, running packet boats between Troy and Lockport, with each trip providing passengers with meals and lodging. Shortly after the family’s relocation, he constructed a beautiful Greek Revival home on Canal Street which still stands today.

Platt had built quite the reputation for himself and relocated his business to the corner of Canal and Market Streets (now Platt and Bank Streets) where he constructed a new hotel, which he would call the Platt House. With livery stables located around the corner, Platt managed a stagecoach line that transported passengers between Albion and Rochester; one of the few of its kind in the area at that time. A respected resident of the village, Platt became a trustee of the Albion Baptist Church and was one of the founding directors of the Bank of Orleans when it was incorporated in 1834.

Selling his business in 1859, Platt relocated to Wheaton, Illinois where he operated a hotel livery stable, also called the Platt House, until his death in 1875. Elizur Platt was active in Democratic politics and was a participant in state conventions during the 1840s.

Although his marriage brought four sons and one daughter into the world, only two of his sons and his daughter survived childhood. Following the death of his mother and sisters, he erected a monument in the Maplewood Cemetery to their memory; a testament to his loving nature and connection to family. His niece, Adeline Bates, was nine years old when her mother died; he cared for her until she reached adulthood.

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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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