Search Results for: gaines basin school

Gaines Basin cobblestone school hosts first public event since interior remodeled

Posted 2 August 2021 at 8:54 am

Historian shares about Caroline Phipps, who started a school for women in Albion

Photos courtesy of Melissa Ierlan: Dee Robinson, retired Town of Gaines historian, gave a presentation on Sunday evening about one of the teachers at the schoolhouse, Caroline Phipps, who would start the Phipps Union Female Seminary in Albion.

Courtesy of Melissa Ierlan

GAINES – The first public event held at the Gaines Basin cobblestone school since the interior was remodeled was held on Sunday evening was completed.

Dee Robinson was the speaker and gave a presentation about Caroline Phipps Achilles and the Phipps Union Seminary. The lecture was part of a series by the Orleans County Historical Association each Sunday at 6 p.m. during August.

Dee Robinson moved to Childs in the 1970s. She joined the Cobblestone Society and organized its resource center. She became the deputy historian of Gaines, then the historian. She served in the position for over 30 years. Robinson currently works at the Hoag Library in the local history room.

Her focus during Sunday’s lecture was Caroline Phipps and the Phipps Union Female Seminary. Phipps was born in 1812. By age 14 she was teaching school in a log shanty in Gaines Basin for $1 a week. The log shanty was 14’ x 16’ with a stone chimney and a crude fireplace. She worked each day from 7 a.m. until noon then from 1 p.m. until 6 or 7 p.m. Seats were made of slab logs; tables were pinned against the walls. Every square inch of space was occupied.

By 1832 the cobblestone school house was built. At this point Caroline left teaching for more education. After she returned, she desired to establish a women’s school. Phipps Female Women’s Seminary was founded in 1837. By 1851 a wing was added on to the building to serve as housing for 100 students.

The Gaines Basin schoolhouse, which has undergone major interior upgrades in recent years, hosted its first public event on Sunday.

Girls who attended the Phipps seminary came from many different states including Michigan, Vermont, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and even from Canada. Each student was required to have a Bible and attend a church every week that their parents had chosen.

Dee made several connections during her research into Caroline Phipps and the seminary. She spoke of a phone call from a relative of a woman who had attended the seminary and graduated in 1861. She offered to send the certificate from her graduation. The woman’s name was Miss Gertrude Ward. Dee discovered in the library’s collection, a program from the same year Ward graduated.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s father wrote a ballad in 1847 for the Phipps Union Seminary. Lillian Achilles was the first librarian of the Swan Library and was the great niece of Caroline Phipps.

The school had two fires in 1874 and 1875. The second fire destroyed the building and the school ceased operating. The county bought the parcel upon which the County Clerk’s Office was constructed and still remains.

Dee Robinson and some of the attendees look over artifacts at the school.

Work continues on historic cobblestone school on Gaines Basin Road

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 September 2019 at 9:34 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

GAINES – Neal Muscarella of Albion works on putting new plaster inside the former Cobblestone Schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road in Gaines.

Volunteers and contractors have been working on the building the past five years. It is now owned by the Orleans County Historical Association, which wants to use the building as a meeting place and also to display some historic artifacts from schools.

The building has accordion laths, which are thin, sawn boards that are partially split with a hatchet or axe. The splits are spread apart to form gaps for the plaster to key into. These early laths had an irregular board that expanded like an accordion.

The schoolhouse was built in 1832, making it the oldest documented cobblestone building in the region, said Bill Lattin, a retired county historian and former director of the Cobblestone Museum.

The schoolhouse is just north of the Erie Canal. The schoolhouse has added a flagpole, bench and historic marker. This summer two Medina Sandstone fence posts were installed on the property by Richard Nenni and Rick Ebbs. Ebbs also put a new floor inside the school.

The building has sagged in spots which made replacing windows tricky. Lattin praised Fred Miller, owner of Family Hardware in Albion, for cutting windows to fit the odd shapes.

“With that building you throw away the level and go with the flow,” Lattin said. “They aren’t perfect rectangles.”

The Historical Association also removed a tree next to the building, and had the roof reconstructed while replacing half of the rafters.

The tree was on the north side of the building and caused a lot of damage, particualy to the wall, Lattin said.

Neal Muscarella usually focuses on masonry work, but he also does plastering. He said he learned the skill from Adolf Genter of Albion. Muscarella is pleased to see the progress in keeping the 913-square-foot building.

“If they hadn’t stepped up this would be a pile of stones,” Muscarella said. “We’re trying to bring it back to the original.”

An outhouse in back of the schoolhouse was moved to the site in 2017. The privy was donated by Irene Roth and her daughters, Chris Sartwell, Marge Page and Arlene Rafter.

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Cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road welcomed to National Register

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 September 2017 at 12:22 pm

GAINES – Gaines Town Supervisor Carol Culhane welcomes about 50 people to a celebration on Saturday for a former cobblestone schoolhouse being included on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Orleans County Historical Association organized the celebration, which included dedicating a bench and flagpole in honor of the late Woody Baker. He was president of the Orleans County Historical Association, which pushed to save the schoolhouse that was built in 1832 on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal.

Erin Anheier, Bill Lattin and former cobblestone schoolhouse pupil Ted Sweircznski unveil the plaque. Anheier wrote the application to have the building placed on the National Register. Latin, the retired county historian, put in numerous hours of work on the building, painting, fixing windows, installing the front door, installing the privy, roofing the privy, and keeping an eye on the building.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Here is how the schoolhouse looked about two years ago before a series of improvements. The building was donated to the Historical Association by Jim Panek of Panek Farms.

The plaque was installed by Brigden Memorial at no charge.

Gaines Town Historian Al Capurso served as master of ceremonies for the event. He has spearheaded saving the schoolhouse. The 913-square-foot building hasn’t been used much since it was closed as a school in 1944. Nor had there been much upkeep of the building until two years ago. The Historical Association will use the site for meetings and to display historical artifacts.

Eagle Scout candidate Rick Flanagan of Albion Troop 164 helped build the bench. He is pictured with Capurso and other Scouts.

Members of Woody Baker’s family are pictured with the bench and flagpole dedicated in his honor.

The privy behind the schoolhouse was donated by Irene Roth and her daughters, Chris Sartwell, Marge Page and Arlene Rafter.

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Gaines Basin cobblestone schoolhouse goes from verge of extinction to historic designation

File photos by Tom Rivers: Volunteers worked to save a former Cobblestone Schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road in Gaines, just north of the Erie Canal. The school was built in 1832, and may be the oldest cobblestone building in the county.

Staff Reports Posted 10 May 2017 at 6:46 am

Governor approves site for State and National Register of Historic Places

GAINES – A cobblestone building constructed in 1832 and used as a schoolhouse until 1944 was on the verge of falling down, until a a group of volunteers put on a new roof and stabilized the building.

The Orleans County Historical Association has given it new life as a meeting place.

This week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the schoolhouse was headed for the State and National Register of Historic Places. It is one of 20 sites around the state headed for the lofty status.

“The history of the Empire State is the history of this nation,” Governor Cuomo said. “These designations will help ensure the storied sites and places that dot every corner of this state, will be preserved for future generations of New Yorkers.”

Volunteers in 2015 cleared most of debris from the inside of the former school. Gaines Town Historian Al Capurso said many pioneer children in Orleans County were taught at the school, which was also used for countless town meetings.

The State and National Registers are the official lists of buildings, structures, districts, landscapes, objects and sites significant in the history, architecture, archeology and culture of New York State and the nation. There are more than 120,000 historic buildings, structures and sites throughout the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places, individually or as components of historic districts. Property owners, municipalities and organizations from communities throughout the state sponsored the nominations.

Once the recommendations are approved by the state historic preservation officer, the properties are listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places and then nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, where they are reviewed and, once approved, entered on the National Register.

State and National Registers listing can assist property owners in revitalizing buildings, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

For the past two years, the Orleans County Historical Association has worked to save and stabilize the building at 3302 Gaines Basin Rd., just north of the Erie Canal.

The 913-square-foot building hasn’t been used much since it was closed as a school in 1944. Nor had there been much upkeep of the building until 2015.

Al Capurso, the Gaines town historian, pushed to save the building from collapse. The site received a new historical marker in October 2015.

He thanked Erin Anheier of Clarendon for writing the nomination for the schoolhouse.

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Albion, Gaines set Aug. 6 for public vote for joint fire district

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Albion ladder truck drives in the Strawberry Festival parade on Saturday. The truck is 27 years old. A new one could top $2 million.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 June 2024 at 9:12 pm

ALBION – A public will decide whether Albion and Gaines form a joint fire district. The town boards in Albion and Gaines this evening set Aug. 6 for a public referendum on the issue, with voting from noon to 8 p.m. at Hoag Library.

Each town will have its own room for voting on that day in the library. Eligible Village of Albion residents will vote in whichever town they live in.

This is how the proposition will be listed on the ballot:

“Shall the resolution authorizing the Board of Trustees for the Village of Albion, the Town Board of the Town of Albion and the Town Board of the Town of Gaines, Orleans County, New York, dated April 30, 2024, to establish a Joint Fire District to be known as the Albion Joint Fire District, which fire district will encompass the Village of Albion, the Town of Albion and the Town of Gaines be approved?”

The two town boards set the date for the referendum after petitions were turned in to force the public vote.

The petitions were filed on May 30. Today was the last day for the two towns to set the referendum, Albion town attorney Jim Bell said during the Albion Town Board meeting.

Bell was joined by Albion Town Clerk Sarah Basinait and Gaines Town Clerk Janet Cheverie in a meeting today with the Orleans County Board of Elections.

Elections officials advised that the referendum can be held in one location – Hoag Library at 134 South Main St.

Each town will have four election inspectors, and there will also be one floater for both towns.

Albion and Gaines will send a postcard to all households, advising of the vote, and the referendum will be posted as a legal notice in The Daily News of Batavia, and also will be advertised in the Orleans Hub.

The deadline to receive absentee ballots will be 5 p.m. on Aug. 6.

There are about 3,600 registered voters in Albion. Bell said the ballots cost about 50 cents each. He expects a brisk turnout for the vote. He and Basinait suggested about 3,000 ballots be printed for Albion. Bell said it is better to have too many rather than not enough.

The Gaines and Albion town boards, and the Albion Village Board voted on April 30 to create the joint fire district, which was subject to a permissive referendum.

Residents had until May 30 to turn in petitions signed by at least 5 percent of the registered voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election. That standard was met, with the fire district going to a public vote.

Petitions were turned in to the Gaines town clerk signed by 107 people, to the Albion town clerk signed by 95 people and to the Albion village clerk signed by 259 people.

The new district would move the fire department out of the village budget and into its own taxing jurisdiction with elected commissioners.

The two towns currently pay a fire contract to the village for fire protection. With the current budget of about $350,000 the village pays $113,456 (32 percent), the Town of Gaines contributes $120,422 (35 percent) and the Town of Albion pays $116,122 (33 percent).

Some community members have sought more information about the fire district, including a budget breakdown. During a public hearing on April 24 at the Albion High School LGI, residents were told the fire district budget would likely be $750,000 to $850,000 a year, well above the current $350,000 for the fire department. That $350,000 has left the fire department without a reserve fund for a new ladder truck at an estimated $2.2 million and another fire engine at about $1.1 million.

Deputy Chief John Papponetti provided a breakdown of a budget outline for the fire district during a meeting at the library from 6 to 8 p.m. Those numbers will be detailed in a story expected on Tuesday in the Orleans Hub.

Papponetti said five fire commissioners will ultimately set the budget, but he said the current budget leaves the fire department with no reserves for apparatus and equipment. More money will be needed to keep the fire department “on track,” Papponetti said.

Historic Childs: In 1959, Gaines celebrated Sesquicentennial

Posted 25 December 2021 at 6:00 am

Albion Advertiser, August 1959. Photo Courtesy Orleans County Historian

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director – Vol 2. No. 46

GAINES – In 1959, the Hamlet of Childs joined forces with a handful of other hamlets in the Town of Gaines to celebrate the town’s Sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of its first settler in 1809. Leading up to the festivities, a Sesquicentennial Committee had been hard at work preparing a written history, as well as organizing several community events and celebrations to take place throughout the year.

The Sesquicentennial Committee was comprised of Supervisor Lester Canham, Honorary Chairman; J. Howard Pratt and Cary Lattin, Co-Chairmen; Mrs. Gerald (Janice) Thaine, Executive Secretary; Dean Sprague, Treasurer; Curtis Lyman, Program; Rev. John Minott, Donald Miles and Edwin Weeks, Program; Mrs. Harry Wilder, Hon. Bernard Ryan, and Thomas Heard, Jr., Advisors; and Miss Katharine Hutchinson, Promotion and Publicity. Sixty other town residents worked on various tasks including Antique Cars, Historical Booklet, Gaines Landmarks, Dance Committee, Auction, Parade and Floats, Midway Entertainment, and much more.

Gaines Sesquicentennial Publication, cover sketch by Mrs. Walter E. Mack

The Historical Booklet Committee presented the following dedication to their 32 page Sesquicentennial Publication:

“We wish to dedicate this booklet to your pioneer fathers and mothers who came into the Town of Gaines when it was a trackless wilderness and carved from that wilderness, our roads, our schools, our churches, our farms, our civilization – a righteous heritage of which we should be justly proud.”

Harriet Fitts Ryan, wife of Bernard Ryan, Chief Judge of the NYS Court of Claims, was called upon to write the sesquicentennial book’s Foreword.  (The Ryan family is shown above in the 1930s with Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt who made occasional trips to Gaines to visit the Ryan family.) Mrs. Ryan, originally from Mobile, Alabama, served the Sesquicentennial Committee as Hospitality Chair. Her Foreword to the publication follows:

“On a hot Fourth of July in 1921, I first set foot in the town of Gaines. I had thought my new home was in Albion, New York. But I was told in no uncertain terms, ‘You live in the Town of Gaines.” It was some time before I began to understand that the Town of Gaines was a township and to realize the miles encompassed therein. Gaines Village, Childs or Fairhaven, East Gaines, West Gaines, Gaines Basin, Five Corners, Eagle Harbor – it was some time before I realized that all of these constituted the Town of Gaines. However, in short time I realized the beauty of the homes and roads and by-ways of Gaines and the fine character of her citizens; and I felt proud to be an adopted daughter.

The beauty of the homes and the roads of Gaines is a direct inheritance from those who made the long trek over hill and stream from Massachusetts and Connecticut and settled these parts. They were the ones who planted the trees that were to grow into stately beauty and make travel on the Ridge the delight it is. God made the Ridge – mere man could have never given us the Ridge – but it was the early settlers who had the vision to set out the trees that would give shade and comfort to their descendants.  They were the ones, also, who gathered stones from fields and lake and, with their own hands, erected the cobblestone houses of Gaines.

These cobblestone buildings, the fame of which has spread from coast to coast, are the pride of every resident of this vicinity, the envy of every passing traveler.  Men and women of strength and determination were those pioneers – strong enough to journey by oxcart into a far country, determined enough to settle that country and make it a fair land. Men and women of vision and courage – vision enough to look to the future, courage enough to face the present. I, who can claim no descent from those sturdy men and women, am proud of what they did in those far-away days, am proud of the Town of Gaines. I am proud that my husband has lived all of his life in Gaines and that my sons are her native-born.

This sesqui-centennial is a tribute to the men and women who dared all and braved all, who left to us a goodly heritage. Now, let us who have come after them be worthy. Let us strive to leave behind us a community fair to behold, rich in tradition, in which our descendants will rejoice and be exceeding glad, a community that will inspire right living and the development of fine character. We have an obligation to the past and to the future. Noblesse oblige! There is more to it than two words. Let us fulfill that obligation.”

Courtesy Orleans County Historian

In those days, no historical celebration was complete without a beard growing contest. Over forty men participated in this face-lifting project and were photographed together for the August 13th issue of the Albion Advertiser.

Taking part included: (Front row) William Woolston, Theodore Schoonover, Thomas Manning, Glen Woolston, Ralph Appleton, Maynard Bannon, Gerald Thaine, David Sanford, and Everett Hobbs.  (Middle row)  Richard Appleton, Herbert Morrison, Paul Chappius, Richard Peruzzini, Harold Peruzzini, Peter Ricci, Wesley Bennett, James Kerridge, Colonel Ball, Dominic Martillotta, Sortman Jordan, Clure Appleton and Howard Pratt.  (Back row) Jesse Downey, Carl Huthsteiner, Donald Bennett, Andrew Butz, Albert Neal, Jr., William Schuler, Terry Neal, Kenneth Drew, David Youngs, Wilbur Scroger, Royce Freeman, Wayne Rath, Gordon Miller, Arthur Gould, Richard Hill, David Vagg, Rev. John Minott, Whitney Howes and Clifford Allen.

Even registering for the beard growing contest involved some tongue-in-check humor. (Photo Courtesy Orleans County Historian)

On the day of the celebration, a gala parade took place from Childs to Gaines with floats, bands, horses, carriages and old cars.  There was a historical exhibit, a horse show, church smorgasbord, Grange Square Dance and Carolyn Reed was chosen as Sesquicentennial Queen.

Albion 7th-graders complete book about Charles Howard and his famous Santa School

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 December 2021 at 9:52 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Maddison Button, a seventh grade student at Albion, is dressed in an outfit from Santa Claus Suit & Equipment Company, which was one of the enterprises run by the late Charles Howard. He also ran a Santa Claus School in Albion from 1937 to 1966, and opened Christmas Park at Albion.

Copies of the book sold for $5 and were quickly sold out on Friday.

Maddison and her classmates in Tim Archer’s service learning class put together a 44-page book about Howard’s life. The book and artifacts from the Santa School and Christmas Park were featured in a program on Friday at Hoag Library.

The first 100 copies quickly sold out at $5 and another printing is expected.

Howard’s Santa suits were known nationwide for their high quality and unique features. Elizabeth Babcock of Albion eventually took over the suit business.

“The vivid scarlet red suits were made of the finest wool,” Maddison said. “They were trimmed with French white rabbit fur, and included an eight-point buckle and a hair and beard set of Tibetan yak hair.”

Eight students spoke about Howard’s life during Friday’s presentation, which also included comments from past employees at Christmas Park, Howard’s grandchildren Jane Holland and Charles Bergeman, and a Santa School graduate.

Lorelei Gailie, a seventh-grader, shared how Howard started building toys and doll furniture at age 7 with a coping saw he received from an aunt.

He then created sets and designed costumes for local productions. He wrote, produced and directed plays, and acted and sang in them.

He graduated from Albion High School in 1916. Two years later, after his father’s death, Howard bought a 400-acre farm at the corner of Phipps Road and Gaines Basin Road.

Nicholas Luft told a crowd of about 75 people how Howard was a church-going and civic-minded man. He attended the local United Methodist Church and was a charter member of the Albion Lions Club. He was active in the Orleans County Farm and Home Bureau, Orleans County 4-H and built displays and floats at the State Fair.

Olivia Andrews then shared how Howard portrayed Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1948 through 1965, which put him in the national spotlight.

Ava Woolston highlighted the Santa Claus School which Howard started in 1937 at age 41. People thought Howard was crazy to start such a school, and it got off to a slow start with only three students the first year, including a neighbor and a close friend. Only one paid the $15 tuition, a welder named Frederick Wise.

The school brochure advertised its purpose: “dedicated to the training and equipping of men to play the important role of Santa Claus.” Howard’s goal was to produce a “ruddy cheeked, ample-bellied” Santa that was “clean, jolly and considerate.”

Friday’s presentation included memorabilia from Christmas Park. Howard designed the signage in a distinctive style in red and green letters.

Brooke Doty shared Howard shut down the family farm and established Christmas Park, which opened on Sept. 22, 1956. Tens of thousands visited it annually to enjoy games and rides and visit with Santa. “A hallmark of the park was a mighty stone fireplace, wth a permanent evergreen wreath hanging above it,” she said. “The fireplace still remains – the last vestige of the Park.”

This beanie hat is from Christmas Park in Albion

Adam Burgio highlighted famous quotes from Charles Howard including:

“He errs who thinks Santa enter through the chimney. He enters through the heart.”

“To be Santa Claus is a privilege, not a job.”

“Santa should be lively and quick, not slow and dumpy.”

“Santa is not just toys, not just tinsel. He stands for love.”

“It’s so real to me sometimes that I can feel the reindeer breathing on my cheek.”

Grace Nesbitt shared Howard’s goodbye. He died at age 69 on May 1, 1966 in Newfane. Albion businesses closed down for his funeral between 2:45 and 3:45 p.m. at the request of Mayor William Monacelli.

Congressman William Fitts Ryan addressed the U.S. Congress sin Washington, DC that day, saying, “Mr. Speaker, I know of no one who brought more joy to the hearts of children of America, than our nation’s No. 1 Santa Claus.”

Charles Howard’s grandchildren thanked the community for its continued interest in their grandfather. Charles Bergeman of Lewiston, left, said his grandfather “dedicated his life to bringing joy to others.”

Jane Holland of Williamsville said Howard was a devoted family man who left a large impact on the Albion community and beyond.

“We appreciate all of your interest in keeping his memory alive,” she said.

Holland said she grew up visiting a man who took pride in being a grandpa. He was humble and delighted in designing and building the extravagant sets for Christmas Park while not having indoor plumbing in his own home. He kept a three-seat outhouse instead.

Tim Archer, teacher of the class, said the students admire the man who developed the Santa School which continues in Howard’s name in Midland, Mich.

“He was without a doubt an ambassador of goodwill,” Archer said.

Archer said the community should feel proud of Howard, whose school was world famous and featured in Life magazine and other national publications as “The Harvard of Santa Claus Schools.”

Archer noted signs went up on Route 31 in Albion last year declaring that section of the road the Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway.

And Archer commended the Albion Betterment Committee for working to have a bronze statue of Santa Claus in downtown Albion in honor of Howard.

Tim Archer goes through photos about Howard, including this one in the 1961 Life magazine about the Santa Claus School. That article on the school raised Howard’s profile nationwide.

Jack Miles, a retired Albion highway superintendent, worked at Christmas Park as a teen-ager. He said Howard would often waive the 25-cent admission fee for families with many children. He also tended to let kids go on rides if they didn’t meet the height requirement.

Miles also shared how Howard let him be on the float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which remains a thrill and unforgettable moment for Miles more than a half century later.

Ken McPherson of Medina displays artifacts from the Santa School and Christmas Park, including a Santa suit. McPherson, in back speaking, has graduated from the Santa School several times. He said he is proud to have “a bachelor’s degree in Santa Claus.”

McPherson said Albion remains a special place for those who portray Santa Claus because of Howard and the school.

“Albion has bragging rights,” McPherson said. “It should be kept in the limelight.”

Historic Childs: The Erie Canal in the Town of Gaines, Part 1

Posted 11 November 2021 at 10:00 am

Gaines has northernmost point of canal, a private bridge, turn basin and lift bridge

Gaines Basin, 1860 map

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

GAINES – Today, a quick blink is all it would take to completely miss the Hamlet of Gaines Basin located just a few miles southwest of Childs.  Other than its 1832 Cobblestone School, the current Gaines Basin ghost town nestled on the towpath of the Erie Canal no longer gives a hint of the bustling canal commerce that took place there once the canal was completed.

Gaines Basin Road that bisects the hamlet, was actually the shortest distance between the Ridge Road and the Erie Canal, a fact that obviously added to the strategic commercial value of the small community that grew up on the banks of the canal. Even the name “Gaines Basin,” is attributed to the hamlet’s early ties to the Erie Canal.

At one time, after the construction of the canal, Gaines Basin could boast almost a dozen residences and at least two thriving businesses.  While most of the residences were associated with farm owners, the businesses included a blacksmith shop and grain warehouse.

The blacksmith shop, present in the 1830s, was gone by the 1870s.  In that time, it served the local farmers from Gaines Basin. One item produced in the blacksmith shop that remains today is an artifact called a “peel,” shown above. For those unaccustomed to the term, as I was, a peel is a shovel-like tool that is used to slide out embers from a brick bake oven. This particular peel, produced in the blacksmith shop in Gaines Basin in 1823, is part of the collection of retired Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin.

Another Gaines Basin business that came and left without a trace was a grain warehouse, also located on the north bank of the canal. It’s location on the canal made it an ideal spot to load and unload grain from a canal boat into the grain bins. While the buildings themselves may be gone, the stories of what went on there still persist.

Bill Lattin explains that his great-grandfather, Bartlett Lattin, sold grain to the owner of the warehouse around 1870. Unfortunately, he never received payment. When Lattin approached the grain warehouse owner, he said he couldn’t pay him, but offered Lattin a percussion muzzleloader flintlock rifle as a substitute for cash.

Bartlett took the gun as payment, and Bill Lattin, through inheritance, now has this artifact in his personal collection. The rifle reaches nearly 6-1/2 feet in length. Bill recalls a childhood story he was told that the early colonists often traded with the Native Americans, offering rifles in exchange for fur belts.  The colonists would set the rifle on the ground and the Native Americans would stack fur pelts next to it until the pile reached the top of the gun barrel.  As time went on, it was said the colonists tricked the Native Peoples by increasing the length of the barrel to garner more fur belts in exchange for a single rifle.

Barge Canal route, Gaines Basin & Eagle Harbor, 1913 map

The Erie Canal, even though it doesn’t occupy much real estate in the Town of Gaines, has been a big part of the community’s history. The canal stretches just a few miles from Gaines Basin to Eagle Harbor, which is another community that owes its name and existence to the construction of the Erie Canal.

It is said that an eagle’s nest was spotted in the area in 1815 at the time of the initial canal survey – hence the name Eagle Harbor. The portion of the Erie Canal situated in Gaines seems an anomaly today as we consider the canal route. Why would canal planners deviate from their southern route and move northward into Gaines? The canal, most likely, would not have passed through Gaines without a decision to put a bend in the proposed canal and move its course substantially northward into Gaines. This can be seen by looking at the map above map and noticing that the canal makes what looks like a northward detour from its course further south, to reach into a small sliver of the Town of Gaines along the town’s southern boundary.

Profile Map of the original Erie Canal, 1825, Long Level highlighted

Looking for an answer to this paradox we have to consider the lack of engineering skills in the 1800s when the canal was constructed. (There wasn’t even a single engineering school in NYS at that time.)  The course of the canal from Lockport east to Rochester is part of what was originally called the “long level.”

This roughly 60-mile stretch was the longest section of the canal that contained no locks to handle changes in elevation related to topography.  The reason for that was in the 1800s when the canal commissioners laid out the eventual path for the canal, they discovered that there was no suitable body of water between Lockport and Rochester from which additional water could be added to the canal.

That fact meant that the water in the canal had to flow completely by gravity through the 60-mile long level from its Lake Erie headwater at Lockport to the Genesee River at Rochester where more water could be added. We all know that water doesn’t flow uphill. The bend in the canal into the Town of Gaines was created by a need to bypass higher ground further south that would have prevented the free flow of water without moving an exorbitant amount of earth.

Northernmost point on the Erie Canal, Cobblestone District #2 Schoolhouse in background

This northern route gave Gaines the distinction of containing the northernmost point along the entire route of the 363-mile Erie Canal. A state marker on the canal marks the spot, now.

Another anomaly regarding the Erie Canal in the Town of Gaines is the presence of a turn basin, shown on the map above, about half way between Gaines Basin and Eagle Harbor on the south side of the canal.  The original Erie Canal was carved into the countryside with a depth of only 4 feet and a width of 40 feet.

To save construction cost, the canal was built with a single towpath servicing mules and horses pulling both eastbound and westbound boats.  This fact created a dilemma when oncoming boats would meet in any spot along the canal and pass each other without tangling lines. One boat would move to the far side of the canal as its mules halted on the outside of the towpath.

The towline which was 100 to 150 feet long would go slack and sink to the bottom of the canal so the overtaking or oncoming boat could pass over it freely. When this simple method didn’t work out, the mule tenders or “hoggees” would carry the lines over the other mule team. Crew members on deck would do the same with the towrope passing over the idled boat.

Canal Turn Basin, Town of Gaines, 2021, Canal partially drained

To facilitate this process, a small number of turn basins or “wide-waters” were cut into the side of the canal to provide a safe harbor for boats that needed to “pull over,” to make repairs or get out of the way of oncoming traffic. It also served to provide a location with sufficient width where boats could be turned in the opposite direction if needed.

If a boat moved into a turn basin, it could sit there for an extended period of time, out of the way of two-way traffic moving on the canal. Also, over time, boats became larger trying to squeeze as much precious cargo on deck as possible. This scenario would create plenty of bottlenecks without an occasional turn basin to assist.

Another part of our shared Erie Canal history concerns canal bridges. From our childhood, we probably recall singing “Low bridge, everybody down. Low bridge, for we’re comin’ to a town.”

Bridges were a real sore point for canal planners. They knew that a 363-mile ribbon of water would necessitate dividing a lot of farms and property. Farmers still needed a way to access their fields on the other side of the canal. In 1817, after canal construction began, literally hundreds of bridges were needed across the state in very short order.

A workforce of state officials quickly approached every property owner along the proposed route of the canal and worked to find a solution that would allow the state to acquire the necessary land from the property owners to construct the canal. Often times, it came down to an offer to build a bridge for a farmer who may need it to reach their barn or farm land on the opposite side of “Clinton’s Ditch.”

The cost of all of these bridges was another major concern.  NYS had allocated $5 million for the canal project and they needed to try to contain their costs, so the bridges needed to be as low-cost as possible. (Canal costs eventually spiked to $7 million at the time of its completion.) Saving money usually meant sticking with a very low bridge built right from ground level, instead of raising the bridge up by building abutments or other superstructures.

Lattin Bridge today

Town of Gaines property owners along the canal were “given” bridges in exchange for their signature on easements or deeds.  One case in point was the farm of Lansing Bailey. In the 1820s during canal construction, a bridge was created to accommodate his farm house in the Town of Albion and farm land in the Town of Gaines. In 1837 the farm and bridge passed into the possession of Joseph Lattin.  The “Lattin Bridge” as it became known, was built ostensibly to service one farm. In the late 1880s, the bridge began to service traffic going to and from the Albion Waterworks nearby.

A similar situation existed on the Starkweather farm, near Eagle Harbor.  At the time of the canal expansion in the late 1800s, both Starkweathers and Lattins were offered a choice of keeping the private bridge or accepting $1,000 from NYS to give up their bridge claim.  Starkweathers accepted the latter, Lattins did not. And, today, the Lattin Bridge is the only canal bridge in the state still serving private property.

Eagle Harbor lift bridge, 2007

Eventually, during the construction of the 1862 Enlarged Erie Canal, and again in the 1900s for the Barge Canal, low bridges were eliminated and replaced with tall stationary bridges or hydraulic lift bridges.

In all, 17 lift bridges were built across NYS to carry vehicular traffic over the canal. Orleans County can lay claim to seven of those lift bridges: Prospect Avenue (Route 63) in Medina, Knowlesville Road, Eagle Harbor Road, North Main Street Albion, Ingersoll Street in Albion, Hulberton Road in Murray and East Avenue in Holley. The small sliver of canal crossing through the Town of Gaines is serviced by a lift bridge in Eagle Harbor and a tall stationary bridge at Gaines Basin Road.

Eagle Harbor Lift Bridge, 2021

In Part 2 of this article, we will look at the historic canal breach that occurred in the Town of Gaines.

Plaque unveiled at cobblestone schoolhouse in honor of Al Capurso

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 August 2021 at 9:19 am

Photos courtesy of Melissa Ierlan

GAINES – Chris Capurso, center in back, is shown with family members on Sunday afternoon, when a plaque was unveiled in honor of her late husband Al Capurso at the Gaines Basin cobblestone schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse on Sunday also a celebration of the life for Mr. Capurso, who spearheaded saving the schoolhouse from ruin. Mr. Capurso passed away at age 68 on Feb. 17.

Doug Farley, director of the Cobblestone Museum, speaks about Capurso’s support for local history projects. The cobblestone school on Gaines Basin Road is owned by the Orleans County Historical Association, which Capurso led as president.

The building has been repurposed to serve as a meeting space and display for the Orleans County Historical Association.

The plaque notes Capurso was instrumental in saving the 1832 cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, the oldest documented cobblestone building in the county.

Capurso led a team that put on a new roof, replaced windows and cleaned out junk and debris from the site. They put in new electric, a new subfloor, restored the trim and repaired the facade. He added a historic marker and flag pole. The building has been given new life as a meeting house and display of schoolhouse artifacts for the Orleans County Historical Association, which Capurso led as president.

These painting by Judy Collins shows Capurso playing his guitar. He performed at many community events, often singing songs he wrote about pioneers.

Historic Childs: The Albion Rotary Club, nearing 100th anniversary, has long been part of Gaines hamlet

Posted 13 July 2021 at 8:34 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director – Vol. 2 No. 27

GAINES – The Albion Rotary Club is a civic organization about to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022, and has been meeting in the Hamlet of Childs at Tillman’s Village Inn for over a quarter of a century.

Twenty one businessmen were originally present and voted in as Charter Members of the Albion Rotary Club on April 20, 1922 at the Lone Star Inn in Albion, located on Gaines Basin Road near the New York Central Railroad tracks. The Lockport Rotary Club served as organizers and the Constitution of the International Rotary Association was adopted.

Albion Rotary members could not have asked for a more elegant meeting headquarters at that time than the Lone Star Inn, one of the finest restaurants in Orleans County in the 1920s. It was created out of the Thurston Farm and had a seating capacity of 450 guests. It was owned and operated by Lewis E. Sands of Albion and for a time, was also operated by Art Case who used to manage the old Lakeside Hotel in Lakeside Park.

It was said that the Inn had such a large following that often three cash registers were needed to handle all of the guests present. Live music was frequently provided by some of the best bands in the area. A large porch was used as an additional dining area in nice weather, where many a lobster, fillet mignon, broiled shrimp and other house specialties were served with vistas of the beautiful flower gardens around the lawn.

The Rotary Club continued to meet there for several years, until a disastrous fire destroyed the Lone Star Inn on Friday, November 28, 1930.  After that time, the property was sold to New York State and served as a Prison Farm.  (Needless to say, no longer a suitable locale for Rotary meetings!)

The Rotary Club assembled for this photo in the 1930s in front of Four Chimneys Restaurant at Eagle Harbor.  It can be noted that the ladies present would have been guests of the Rotarians as it was a men’s organization at that time.  (Rotary Club International changed its policies in the 1980s to begin allowing women to become Rotary members.)

Ladies: L_R: —–, —-, —-, Marjorie Garnett Weller Pauley, Enid Strassner Hakes, —-, —-, —-, and Albertine Garrison.

Gentlemen seated L-R: William Karns, Monuments; Eugene Wilcox, Hardware; Herman Neuremburg, Clothing; Charles Dean, Produce; and Nelson Barrus, Dry Cleaning.

Second Row: Earl Sullivan, Carpenter; John Mansfield, Farmer; Clayton Anderson, Beans; James Lonergan, Journalist;  John Kane, Vinegar; Dr. Cramer, Dentist; Amos Beedon,  Dry Goods; Dr. Ralph Brodie, M.D.; John VanStone, Car Dealer; and Kirk Cole, Lumberman.

Third Row: William Luttenton (guest), Carl Bergerson, School Superintendent;  Henry Anderson,Albion Brass Works; James Craffey, Insurance; Stanley Woods, Feed; Edward Archbald, Fruit Farmer; Burt McNall, Furniture & Embalming;  Sidney Eddy, Printing; Dart Porter, Insurance; and Howard Woods, Miller.

This picture taken of the Albion Rotary Club taken in Rotary Year 1959-60 is a veritable “Who’s-Who” of local businessmen at that time.

Row 1 (L-R) Bill Monacelli, teacher & Mayor; Don Nesbitt, Farmer; Charles Martina, theater owner; Burr Trumble, travel agent; —-Unidentified—, Harlan Harvey, Wells Harrison, car dealer; Jacob Schanels, Hunt Canning Factory; Dr. Bob Raemsch, veterinarian; Guido Monacelli, grocery store; Dr. Thomas Orlando, dentist; George Brunelle, insurance.

Row 2: Hon. Charles Signor, County Judge; Charles Byrne, Birdseye Laboratory; Franklin Cropsey, Attorney; Stanley Landauer, dry goods; Richard Fenton, Bemis Bag Co.; Bill Snowen, Firestone Tire Store; Sidney Eddy, Printing; Dr. James Parke, M.D.; Bob Babbitt, hardware; Ed Archbald, farmer.

Row 3: Brad Shelp, car agency; Neal Beach, Winson Hatch, Dept. of Labor; Thomas Heard, Jr., Marine Bank; R.E. Greenlee, Hunts plant; Carl Bergerson, School Superintendent; Roland Kast, service station; Dr. John Ellis, M.D.; Dr. John Jackson, dentist.

Row 4. Bob Root, insurance; Thomas McNall, Furniture/Funeral Director; Arthur (Dick) Eddy, printing; Richard Hollenbeck, Skip Landauer, dry goods; George Lamont, farmer; Richard Bloom, insurance; Bill Host, School administrator; Albert Raymond, insurance; Francis Blake Jr., Cold Storage.

Row 5: Len Morneau, Lipton’s Company; Lee Maine, Lumber Co.; Leonard Depzinski, sign painter; Daniel Marquart, appliances store; Homer Marple, furniture; Ray Severns, auto sales; Sam Shelp, auto agency.

Row 6: Roy Merrill, Funeral Home; Gordon Gardner, pharmacist; Walter Martin, James Lonergan, journalist; Henry Keeler, construction; Carlton Wilkinson, electrical store; John Merrill, Funeral Director; Harold Farnsworth, Rev. Earle Hamlin, Frank Sachali, produce; Rev. Jack Hillary Smith.

Inset: Homer Luttenton who was absent from the group photo.

In the same decade, The Albion Rotary Club members participated in an annual Variety Show for many years.  One of the “acts” is seen here with (left) Homer Marple, Tom McNall, Winton Hatch and Bob Raemsch.

It was all good natured fun and even the ladies got into the spirit of entertainment: (left) Norma Marquart, Ray Severns, Marilyn Brunelle and Sue Eddy.

The Albion Rotary Club observed its 50th Anniversary with a special Golden Anniversary celebration on May 25,, 1972 at the Fireman’s Recreation Hall in Albion.  Taking part in the evening’s program were (Front) Rotary District Governor Dan Mitchell and Mrs. Mitchell of Amherst, District Governor and Mrs. Bob Reader of Auckland, New Zealand, (back row) Roy Merrill, Albion Rotary Past President and his son, John Merrill, Club President in the Anniversary Year, and Sidney Eddy, Charter Member from 1922.  The Merrill’s were one of several father-son presidents in the Club’s history.

In 1979, the Rotarians gathered for this Club photo outside the Albion Courthouse.

Front Row:  Conrad Cropsey, Rollie Kast, Wells Harrison, Bob Temple, Frenchy Downey, Dick Pilon (Club President 1979), Jim Nesbitt, Pete Dragon.

Second Row: Winton Hatch, Ashley Ward, Dick Eddy, Don Shawver, Bob Remley, Brad Shelp, John Stable, John Koval, Steve Heard.

Third Row: John Merrill, Don Nesbitt, Sam Shelp, Bruce Smith, Leonard Rice, Carlton Wilkinson, Roy Merrill, Erling Maine, Norm Phillips, Merritt London.

Fourth Row:  Harlan Harvey, George Wolfe, Curtis Lyman, Jeff Rheinwald, Bob Babbitt, Tom Heard, Lee Maine, Franklin Cropsey, Al Raymond, Jarvis Swartz, Sid Eddy, Carl Bergerson, Joe Sadler.

Dick Pilon, a 55 year Albion Rotary Club member this June, offered his reflections on meeting venues during his tenure. “The first place we met when I started was the Presbyterian Church in Albion, then Marti’s Restaurant for a short time, then we went to the Methodist Church for 20 years, then Albanese Restaurant for a couple of years and finally to the Village Inn in the 1980s.”

Another milestone was reached in the Rotary year 1986-87 when Diane Arsenault was the first woman admitted as a member of the Albion Rotary Club.  Today, there is about equal representation with men and women.

Rotary members gathered for this group photo in 1994 at Tillman’s Village Inn.  Those attending are:

(Seated L-R) John Greene, Chris Haines, John Stable, Ed Archbald, Al Raymond, Rollie Kast, Jim Nesbitt

Row 2: Bruce Landis, Tom Anderson, Brad Shelp, Dick Eddy, Nathan Lyman, Paul Miles, Lynn Phillips, Ashely Ward, Don Nesbit

Row 3: Mark Reed, Ron Sodoma, Don Butts, Dick Pilon, Darlene Benton, Frenchy Downey, Fred Nesbitt Stan Allen

Row 4: Ed Fancher, Jim Neilans, Mike Pilon, Ed Guthrie, Jeff Hanes, Dan Marquart, Don Bishop.

The Rotary Club assembled wearing red for a meeting in February 2015 to promote heart health. Those assembled included: (Seated L-R) Fred Nesbitt, Don Bishop, Bruce Landis, Marlee Diehl and Mary Anne Braunbach. (Standing) Dick Remley, Bonnie Malakie, Marsha Rivers, Tammy Yaskulski, President Bill Diehl, Ron LaGamba, Brad Shelp and Maynard Lowry from Lockport Rotary. Rotarian Brad Shelp is the Albion Club’s most tenured member. He started with Rotary in 1958 and will have 63 years of perfect attendance this August. Marlee Diehl represented the Albion club as District Governor in 2016-17, with a theme that year of “Serving Humanity.”

Beginning in 1975, the Albion Rotary Club presented its first Paul Harris Award, a tradition that continues through today that honors individuals, both members and non-members, who have made outstanding contributions to their communities. The first recipient in 1975 was charter member Sidney Eddy.  Since that time, the Albion Rotary Club has recognized 75 individuals as Paul Harris Fellows, the highest honor bestowed by Rotary International. Those so recognized are (in alphabetical order):

Ahmad Abdallah, Marian M. Adrian, Stanley Allen, Edward B Archbald, Timothy Archer, Diane L Arsenault, Carl Bergerson, Donald W. Bishop, Harriett Bishop, Richard C Bloom, Michael J. Bonafede, Michael Bonnewell, Donald Butts, Sanford A. Church, Sanford L. Church, Conrad Cropsey, Grace E. Denniston, Marlene Marlee Diehl, William F. Diehl, Kevin Doherty, Everett G. Downey, William F. Downey, Arthur B. Eddy, Sidney M. Eddy, Edward Fancher, Mildred Gavenda, Ada Grabowski, George P Guthrie, Christopher P. Haines, R Wells Harrison, Harlan E. Harvey, Winton P Hatch, Thomas E. Heard, Jr., Scott Hess, Rebekah Karls, Rolland W. Kast, Teresa M. Kelly, Kelly Melinda Kiebala, Alexandra R. Krebs, Bruce Landis, Cary W. Lattin, Leo La Croix, Raymond M. Lissow, Kathleen R. Ludwick, Curtis L Lyman, Evelyn L. Lyman, Erling W. Maine, F. Leland Maine, Bonnie B. Malakie, John B Merrill, Rho B. Mitchell, Sharon  Narburgh, James R. Neilans, Charles H. Nesbitt, Fred W. Nesbitt, Jerome Pawlak, Margaret A. Pearson, Cindy Perry, Michael R. Pilon, Richard Pilon, Charles Pulley, Albert C. Raymond, Francis Richard Remley, Thomas Rivers, Gary A. Saunders, Patricia M Shelp, Bradley J. Shelp, Walter A Shelp, Gary Simboli, David G. Spierdowis, Susan A. Starkweather, Ashley R. Ward, William Morrell Washington, Jr., Patricia J Wood, Tammy Yaskulski.

Editor’s Note: Since this article was initially posted, more Paul Harris award winners were identified, including Cary W. (Bill) Lattin, Karen Sawicz, Jim Parke, Paul Miles, Don Nesbitt, Ron Sodoma, Gordy Gardner, Nathan Lyman, Gail Lyman and Bill Tillman.

In 2019, the Albion Rotary Club named Becky Karls, center, as a Paul Harris Fellow. Karls is congratulated at a club meeting at the Village Inn by Rotarians Cindy Perry, left, and Don Bishop, Rotary Foundation Chairperson; right. Bishop called Karls “the secret ingredient of the Albion Rotary Club.” She is instrumental each year in many of the club’s fundraisers, including the St. Patrick’s Ham Dinner, the Turtle Race at the Strawberry Festival, the golf tournament and the fishing derby. Karls also is active with many other community efforts, including organizing the car show at Bullard Park as a fundraiser for Hospice of Orleans County (now known as Supportive Care of Orleans County).

The Albion Rotary Club has been a sponsor of the Albion Strawberry Festival since 1986. The success of this annual event depends on the many Rotary members, as well as community members, who oversee the event each year.  Thousands of visitors flock to the two-day event that plays out across downtown Albion.

The poster above shows the logo for the 2020 festival which had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 health restrictions.  The Rotary Club is hopeful that the event will return in full swing for 2022.  The Club maintains several other community events each year such as the Rotary Fishing Derby, St. Patrick’s Day Ham Dinner, and the Rotary Golf Tournament.

The Club also sponsors Interact, a group of Albion High School students led by advisor Tim Archer. In 2017, Albion Rotary Interact members spent the day at Foodlink in Rochester. Pictured from left: McKenna Boyer, Alanna Holman, Emily Mergler, Noah Wadhams, Cody Wilson, Aubrey Boyer and Annalise Steier. Over the years, the Albion Rotary Club has also been very active in sending and receiving students and adults for overseas foreign exchange opportunities.

Over the years, Albion Rotary has been a sponsor for many youth sports teams, providing uniforms, leadership and much more. Perhaps you can lay claim to one of these “sluggers” from 1988.

Albion Rotary’s two newest members, Robert Batt, Executive Director of Orleans County Cooperative Extension and Laura Olinger, President of Bentley Brothers, are welcomed to the Club on June 10, 2021.

Incoming Albion Rotary Club President for 2021, Jessica Capurso, accepts the gavel from outgoing President Alexandra Krebs.  The Club held their Installation Service outdoors at the Cobblestone Museum in Childs at a potluck luncheon meeting on Thursday, June 24.  Many thanks to Kendall Lions Club who provided the tent.

Historic Childs: Early Education, a feature on 12 public schools in the Town of Gaines

Posted 4 July 2021 at 8:13 am

6 of the schools were built of cobblestone, and 11 of 12 are still standing

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director – Vol. 2 No. 26

This article is in memory of Janice Barnum Thaine (1927-2013) and Ruth Thaine Applegate (1914-1984) who spent many years retelling the old stories and providing much of the information on this subject.

As families began to settle in the Town of Gaines, the need to educate their children was close to the top of the list of things “to-do.” By 1813, a decision was reached to organize a school. It was further agreed that Orrin Gleason would teach the children in a 12’ log building on the Gates property near the corner of Eagle Harbor Road and the Ridge.

A short while later, another school was opened at the Belmont property between Gaines and Childs to accommodate the children living in that area.  More and more people moved into the town and an ongoing concern was to provide schools to accommodate the children who arrived with their parents. A rule of thumb was a student shouldn’t have to walk more than a mile each way, to and from school. The schools were at first, very simple, sometimes just log cabins, some without such “niceties” as an outhouse. The schools used a slightly different system than used today to raise funds to pay the teacher and provide fuel for heating, a tax was placed on the families whose children used the schools.

By the mid-19th century these early crude buildings had been replaced by more substantial structures, some of which are still in existence today. Eventually 12 school districts were established in the Town of Gaines. The northern portion of Gaines was serviced by school districts in the Town of Carlton including Districts 12, 13, 15 and 17.  In total, six of the 12 schools in Gaines were built with cobblestone, a statistic that appears to be unmatched by any other township. Five of the original six cobblestone schools are still in existence today.

In the early 20th century, New York State had by then established the standards that pertained to all schools in the state. Local residents lost much of their self-determination as to what was taught or how funds would be raised, with the burden of taxation now spread out over all property owners in a district, not just the families of students attending the schools.

Beginning in the 1920s, the twelve small school districts in the town were closed, one by one as “centralization” took place.  By 1953, the Albion Central School District was complete and the small districts were eliminated.  A few of the old school buildings remained active as part of the larger Albion Central District. The last of the “hangers-on” was the former Eagle Harbor #7, shown above in 1953, which closed in 1963.

The fond memories of thousands of former country school students like Janice Barnum Thaine, left, or teachers like Ruth Thaine Applegate, shown right, can never be completely retold. Everyone has their own special set of recollections and friendships made.

Janice Thaine recalled: “I remember the school picnics, the field trips that really were trips to a field, the entertainments provided to parents and the community at each holiday, and especially Christmas. I enjoyed the baseball games, the state tests that came twice a year from Albany and we had to pass in order to be promoted. I remember the teacher asking us to behave whenever the District Superintendent appeared at the door.

“I like sharing my school lunches, making May flower baskets, tipping over neighborhood outhouses on Halloween, riding our bikes, roller skating or walking to and from school each day or hanging around outside the school while our parents attended the Annual School Meeting, hoping to find out if the present teacher might be replaced next year. We also tried to get everyone to write in our autograph book, working in the school newspaper and of course, above all, doing our assigned lessons! All of this was done under the watchful eye and loving care of the one room schoolhouse teacher.”

Photo courtesy Orleans County Historian

If you were to take a tour today and look for all twelve school houses in the Town of Gaines you could still find eleven. Some have stood the test of time very well, and some are just shadows of bygone glory. Only one is completely gone. District #1 School is a cobblestone building, located next to Frenchy’s Appliance store at 13592 Ridge Road.  The class photo for 1924-25 is shown.

Front Row: Lilian Lacey, Louis Hollenbeck, Augustus (Gus) Watts, Harold Rush, Linwood Watts, Pauline Hollenbeck, Luther Rush and John Lacey.

Back Row: Morris Hollenbeck, LaVerne Morrison, Gordon Wakefield, Frieda Hollenbeck (Hobbs), Helen Rush (Brust), Clara Hall (Rorick), Mary Watts (teacher) and Grace Neal (Draper).

Jacqueline and Bill Bixler recently acquired the District #1 Cobblestone School and have been busy restoring it for use as a residence.

District #2 Cobblestone School on Gaines Basin Road was used as a one room schoolhouse from 1832 until 1942. This picture was taken in 2015 just prior to complete restoration.

A sparkling gem today, Gaines Basin District #2 school, built in 1832 has become a huge preservation/restoration success story. This Cobblestone Schoolhouse just north of the Erie Canal stands as a memorial to recently deceased historian, Al Capurso, who spearheaded the acquisition of this property, and to the history conscious men and women of the Orleans County Historical Association who restored it to become a State and National Register historic showcase. Special thanks, as well, to Jim Panek, who donated this school-turned-farm storage building to the Association. It is the oldest documented cobblestone building in our region.

The interior of District #2 is equally impressive as the outside. OCHA has plans to use the space for meetings, history programs and small social gatherings.

District #3 Schoolhouse is located next to the West Gaines Cemetery, on the south side of Ridge Road. The current owner is restoring the building.  The adjoining cemetery has been inactive for nearly a century.

Students and teachers are shown at the Gaines District #4 Cobblestone School at the corner of Routes 104 and 279 around 1905.  The Trustee of this school assumed the title to the property on July 9, 1844 for the sum of $65.

A more recent view of the District #4 Cobblestone schoolhouse is shown here as a motorcycle clubhouse.

The Childs District #5 Cobblestone Schoolhouse as it appeared on April 21, 1942.  The school continued for another decade and is a National Historic Landmark today.

The Cobblestone Museum conducts tours in the District #5 schoolhouse which is preserved and looks just like it did when the students last attended in 1952. Docent Sandy Heise speaks to a group of students inside the school in this 2019 photo.

An unusual feature of the District #5 structure is that it is actually a wood plank building with a veneer of cobblestones.

District #6 School is the only one of the original 12 district schools in Gaines that is completely gone today. It was located on the north side of the Ridge Road west of Kent Road.  The structure was later used for farm storage and then was removed in more recent times.

District #7 in Eagle Harbor had at least three structures that were used as schools over the years. The first school was a simple log cabin, followed by a cobblestone building (shown to right of photo) and then a wooden structure (front) under construction here in 1900, which in later years served as a Post Office and Community Center. The cobblestone building was torn down once the new wooden building was complete.

This photo of District #7 in Eagle Harbor was taken in 1931.

Left Row, Front to Back: Victor Whiting, Ruth Emery, Robert Webber, Cleon Whiting, Avery Brooks (or Dean), Adeline Bielicki and Harry Whiting.

Right Row: Robert Brooks, Nicholas Condoluci, Leona Licht, Caryl Hill, Jean Sullivan, Louise Cooper and Alice Briggs.

Standing: J. Howard Pratt, Teacher.

Today, District #7 Schoolhouse is a private residence.

This 1934 photo shows the Rudd’s Corners District #8 school in the early 1900s.

District #8 Rudd’s Corners School at the intersection of Crandall and Zig Zag Roads, has received several additions and is used today as the Shiloh Baptist Church. The section shown above with the higher roof was the actual original schoolhouse.

District #9 on the northwest corner of the intersection of Transit and Transit Church Roads is a private home today.

Students of District #10 in East Gaines pose with their teacher, Kate Smith on May 3, 1887. We are not sure the students posed by the schoolhouse but rather some other building.

District #10 located at the crossroads of W. Transit Church and Densmore Roads is found today at the Kast Farm and is used for farm purposes.

District #11 Cobblestone School at Five Corners is a private residence today. Note the date stone in the cobblestone gable reads 1846.

This schoolhouse, Eagle Harbor District #12, was located west of Eagle Harbor near the corner of Knowlesville and Kenyonville Roads. Students are shown with their teacher, Helen Seivert (Mrs. Louis Basinait).

Completing the tour we find District #12 on the north side of Eagle Harbor-Knowlesville Road, just east of Kenyonville Road, which has also become a home today.

Historic Childs: Electricity came to Gaines hamlet in 1926, with many embracing a more modern life

Posted 13 November 2020 at 10:28 pm

Not everyone was quick to hook up to new system – ‘You don’t miss what you never had’

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

GAINES – Burning candles or kerosene were two ways the school, the church, homes and businesses in the Hamlet of Childs would have provided lighting in the 1800s as seen here in this kerosene lamp fixture in the Universalist Church at Childs.

Note the glass “smoke bells” above the lamps that were designed to protect the ceiling by capturing the soot that was released when burning kerosene. Kerosene lighting was augmented with a product called “manufactured gas.”

The Albion Gasworks manufactured gas from 1858-1927. They did this by heating coal in a “retort” which produced a gas vapor that was stored under pressure to provide lighting for their customers. The byproduct produced from the process was known as “coke,” and was burned to provide heat in many early homes.

The next generation of lighting followed in 1888 when The Albion Electric Light & Power Company began generating power below the steel arch bridge from their hydroelectric station at Waterport. They distributed power using transmission lines that ran south along what we know as NYS Route 279.

Photo courtesy Orleans County Historian

One of the first major usages of Albion Power electricity was for electric arc street lights in the Village of Albion beginning April 1890.  Here we see a community effort to raise a power pole in Albion.

Even though electricity was available at that time, there was a certain reticence to hook into the line. For instance, the Pullman Church always had power when it was built in 1894, but the nearby St. Joseph’s Church waited until 1913, and the Episcopal Church didn’t electrify until 1914. There is an adage that says, “You don’t miss what you never had.” That was the case for many homeowners, too.

Former Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin remembers his father, Cary Lattin, telling him that he had electric wiring installed in his house on Gaines Basin Road when it was built in 1932, even though electricity was not yet available on the road.

Lattin lobbied his neighbors to try to drum up enough interest to entice the electric company to send power up Gaines Basin Road. But, Lattin had little success talking his neighbors into spending the money to add electricity to their homes in the era of the Great Depression.

Lattin finally succeeded in his quest when he convinced his fellow taxpayers of the Gaines Basin School that they should have electric lights in their schoolhouse. The neighbors’ favorable decision was responsible for power being distributed on the road. Lattin hooked up right away, but many neighbors waited awhile to follow suit.

Electricity finally reached the Hamlet of Childs circa 1926. Other parts of the county weren’t fully electrified until after World War II. This is a birds-eye view of Childs in the early 1950s.

In the early days, those who wanted electricity in their homes would install “knob & tube” wiring on their interior walls. The two wires were plainly visible to the homes occupants and were held away from touching the wall using porcelain insulators.

Ceramic insulators were also used for switches to help protect from stray electrical shocks.   Here we see an early turn-button switch that was commonly used.

Other switches used push-buttons. Another oddity of that era was that fuse boxes were sometimes installed in a home’s attic instead of the basement. The electric lines entered the home through the attic, so it made sense at the time to place the fuse box there, too, albeit a little inconvenient to change a fuse.  In later days, wiring was recessed behind walls, like we know it today.

Editor’s Note: This is the 14th article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.

The next article will take a look at the proliferation of labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric home of the Roaring ’20s. 

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90-year-old log cabin gets prepped for move behind cobblestone schoolhouse

Photos by Tom Rivers: Rick Ebbs puts plywood sheets inside a 10-by-14-foot log cabin that will be moved from Linwood Avenue to behind a cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 September 2020 at 1:25 pm

There are plaques with the initials of the scouts who built the cabin, including Faris Benton.

ALBION – A log cabin built by Boy Scouts nearly a century ago is getting prepped for a move from a backyard to behind a historic cobblestone schoolhouse.

Rick Ebbs, a local carpenter, is volunteering to get the cabin ready for the move. He is put plywood sheets inside the cabin and will put in cross-bracing to help keep the cabin together for the journey, which will be about 4 miles from Linwood Avenue, down Route 98, to Bacon Road and then behind the cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, north of the Erie Canal.

Ebbs said the cabin could be on the move later this month. He is lining up volunteers and equipment for the task. He expects to use two forklifts to get the cabin up on a loader and then to set it behind the schoolhouse in Gaines.

Patricia and Ralph Moorhouse donated the structure to the Orleans County Historical Society. Mrs. Moorhouse’s father, Faris Benton, was one of the scouts who built the cabin with help from his father, Fred Benton. The scouts dragged logs from the nearby woods.

They built a fireplace on the inside and outside. That fireplace has deteriorated but will be reset and repaired in its new location.

Rick Ebbs said the log cabin has deteriorated and has some rot, but has held up remarkably well for nearly a century. He is getting the structure ready to be moved to its new home.

Mrs. Moorhouse said the cabin has provided three generations of fun for her father, when she was a kid and for her children. It is in her backyard.

“There have been many happy times in there,” she said this morning. “I played in it and so did my kids.”

Her father and his friends had bunks in the cabin, which has proven durable. They likely built it in 1930, when her dad was 14.

The only major improvements since then was a new roof about 40 years ago. Moorhouse said she feels sentimental about the cabin but is grateful the Orleans County Historical Society is willing to display it and give it an extended life.

The cabin will be moved to this spot behind the Gaines Basin No. 2 cobblestone school on Gaines Basin Road. That schoolhouse, built in 1832, has been rescued from decline in recent years by the Orleans County Historical Society. Bill Lattin, retired Orleans County historian and director of the Cobblestone Society Museum, and Al Capurso who spearheaded the effort to relocate the cabin with lots of work by Ebbs.

The cabin had an impressive stone chimney, which was knocked down by a fallen limb. The scouts used an oil tank to keep the fire going. The chimney and fire place will be moved to the new location and reset.

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Santa school started in 1937 with only 1 student, but then would gain a following

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 14 December 2019 at 7:35 am

Charles Howard works with a student at Howard’s Santa Claus school in Albion.

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 5, Issue 46

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.

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 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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Cobblestone Museum, businesses would like speed limit reduced in Gaines hamlet

Photos by Tom Rivers: Grace Denniston, a trustee with the Cobblestone Museum, walks on the edge of Route 104 near the Cobblestone Museum during an Oct. 19 Ghost Walk at the museum.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 December 2019 at 12:03 pm

‘Five to Revive’ designation could help bring resources to historic district

GAINES – The recent “Five to Revive” designation by the Landmark Society of Western New York should bring attention to the historic district in Gaines, where there are cobblestone and brick buildings from before 1850.

The Cobblestone Museum is hopeful the designation will galvanize local and state officials to look for ways to make the district more pedestrian friendly, while also promoting the area as a tourism destination.

The routes 98 and 104 intersection is a busy spot in Orleans County. Not only are there several businesses and a museum in the hamlet, but motorists pass through on their way to other destinations.

The museum would like to see sidewalks in the district, better signage, historic-looking street lights and a reduced speed limit.

“This area has so much history,” said Doug Farley, the museum director. “The (Five to Revive) will do nothing but help us if we promote it right.”

Mark Tillman, owner of Tillman’s Village Inn, would like to see a reduced speed limit, and more ambitious marketing plan for the historic cobblestone district. The businesses and museum do a lot of their own marketing, and would benefit from a bigger collective push about the historic district, he said.

The district is highlighted by three cobblestone buildings – a church, a residence and a schoolhouse – that were designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1993. This is the only site in Orleans County ranked as a National Historic Landmark.

This ranking means the sites have national importance, including such nearby sites as the George Eastman House and Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia, and the Darwin R. Martin House and U.S.S. The Sullivans in Buffalo.

Farley said the historic district is at a main crossroads in the county, with routes 98 and 104. The museum is exploring having a visitor’s site at the district and would welcome the county as a partner in the project, Farley told county legislators last month.

The Five to Revive has been critical in bringing attention and funding to the former Holley High School (being renovated for $17 million into apartments and the village offices) and the chapel at Hillside Cemetery.

Farley said the historic district is not well marked with signs and he is concerned about the 45 mile per hour speed limit.

“The cars travel past us at a very high clip,” Farley told the county legislators.

There isn’t much parking in the hamlet for larger tractor trailers and trucks. Many park on the edge of Route 104 near the Crosby’s convenience store.

The museum will often bring out traffic cones and have road marshals during events to make it safer for pedestrians.

Carol Culhane, the former town supervisor, manages Fairhaven Treasures at a brick building owned by Ray Burke at the routes 98 and 104 intersection. She said a reduced speed limit should be a top priority.

The speed limit drops to 40 mph near the Gaines Town Hall to past the intersection with Gaines Basin Road. Culhane would like the speed limit to go down to 35 in the historic district. But she said it isn’t an easy process to petition the state Department of Transportation and get DOT approval for a reduction in speed.

“To lower the speed limit would be wonderful,” she said. “But the state is very particular. It is a very long, arduous journey to get them to change that.”

The museum buildings are spread out on Route 104, with several buildings also on Route 98, south of Ridge Road. The museum could use more parking, and the sidewalks would make it safer for the visitors on foot, Culhane said.

Farley urged the local elected officials to work with the museum, businesses and residents in the district to develop a plan to better promote the district, and make it safer for pedestrians.

“We certainly have a wonderful historic product here that we can be proud of,” he said. “The sky is really the limit if we put on our thinking cap with the resources we have.”

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