Search Results for: gaines basin 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.

Return to top

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.

Return to top

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.

Return to top

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. 

Return to top

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.

Return to top

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.

Return to top

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.”

Return to top

Log cabin will be moved from Albion next to historic cobblestone schoolhouse in Gaines

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Bill Lattin, left, and local contractor Rick Ebbs check the dimensions of a log cabin at the home of Pat and Ralph Moorhouse, who have offered to donate the structure to the Orleans County Historical Society. Ebbs thinks he can stabilize the building so it can be moved.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 17 September 2019 at 11:19 am

10-by-14 cabin was built by Boy Scouts in 1930

GAINES – If efforts are successful, visitors to the historic Gaines Basin No. 2 cobblestone school on Gaines basin Road will have another attraction to look at.

The Orleans County Historical Society, which is restoring the schoolhouse, has been given a log cabin, which they hope to move behind the school.

The idea was born about a year ago when Bill Lattin, retired as both the Orleans County historian and director of the Cobblestone Society Museum, was talking with Al Capurso at a Cobblestone board meeting.

Bill Lattin looks at the crumbling stones and oil tank from the chimney of a log cabin which has been donated to the Orleans County Historical Society. The cabin was built in 1930 by Boy Scouts and sits in back of the home of Pat and Ralph Moorhouse on Linwood Avenue. Pat’s father was one of the Scouts and her grandfather supervised the work. A limb fell off a nearby tree, knocking the chimney down.

“Al made the suggestion that it would be nice to build a replica of a log cabin on the Cobblestone Museum grounds,” Lattin said. “I could see by the look on the board members’ faces, that wasn’t going to fly.”

Lattin commented it was the mission of the Cobblestone Society to preserve historic buildings, and asked why they didn’t consider preserving a log cabin, instead of building one.

Capurso asked where they would find one.

“I said, ‘On Linwood Avenue in Albion,’ and his jaw dropped,” Lattin said.

Lattin knew the property owners, Pat and Ralph Moorhouse, and when they were contacted, they agreed to donate the deteriorating log cabin if it could be moved.

The Cobblestone Building and Grounds Committee felt they had enough on their plate without taking on another project, so Capurso presented the idea to the Orleans County Historical Association, which agreed to allow the cabin to be moved behind the Gaines Basin cobblestone schoolhouse – if Lattin and Capurso could raise the $6,000 needed to get it in shape to move.

The log cabin was built by Boy Scouts in 1930 as a place to camp out, which makes it kind of unique, Lattin said.

“It’s one of a kind,” he said.

It is 10 feet by 14 feet and barely six feet tall at the peak. The Scouts also constructed a cot of sorts inside and a fireplace. On the outside in back is a tank, which held oil and was rigged so a drop of oil would fall periodically on the fire, keeping it burning.

What makes the log cabin so special is that Pat Moorhouse’s grandfather supervised building the cabin, and her father Ferris Benton was one of the Scouts.

The log cabin is already beginning to deteriorate badly and the front has sunk at least a foot into the ground.

“If it is not preserved now, it will soon rot out,” Lattin said.

Rick Ebbs, a local contractor who has been working on restoration work at the schoolhouse, agreed to tackle the project. He expects to line the interior and exterior with plywood to brace it so it can be lifted with a fork lift. He hopes to be able to move the fireplace intact as well.

“If we have to rebuild it stone by stone, it will spoil its integrity,” Lattin said.

Lattin hopes to interest some Scout troops in helping with restoration of the cabin.

“This would be a wonderful Eagle Scout project,” he said.

Lattin said they have already received about $1,000 in donations toward the project. Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation or donate services in kind can contact the Orleans County Historical Association at P.O. Box 181, Albion. Latin said anyone who donates $50 or more will receive a copy of Irene Gibson’s book, Historic Sites in Orleans County.

Bill Lattin, retired Orleans County historian, points to the spot behind the Gaines Basin cobblestone schoolhouse where a nearly 100-year-old log cabin will be situated. The cabin sits in back of Pat and Ralph Moorhouse’s home on Linwood Avenue, and they have agreed to donate it to the Orleans County Historical Association.

Lattin said the timing is perfect, as they just learned a drivable lane has been completed up to the towpath on the east side of the Gaines Basin Road canal bridge.  The northernmost point of the Erie Canal is just 900 feet west of the canal bridge.

“This was one of the only roads in the county which crossed the canal and didn’t have access to the towpath,” Lattin said. “We hope to have a kiosk and sign which tells people they can stop and see an authentic log cabin and one-room schoolhouse.”

The schoolhouse was built in 1832 and is the oldest documented cobblestone building in the region. It was used until 1944, when the district centralized. Constructed of local fieldstone, it also shows early use of Medina sandstone for quoins.

It is the last remaining structure of the pioneer-era Erie Canal hamlet known as Gaines Basin. It was falling into ruin until the Orleans County Historical Association took interest in it several years ago and Jim Panek, who owns the land, agreed to donate the building and surrounding lot to the Historical Association.

When restoration is complete, the schoolhouse will serve as a small museum and meeting place.

Return to top

Historical marker for Santa School gets a new look

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 October 2017 at 10:37 am

Photo courtesy of Melissa Ierlan

ALBION – Melissa Ierlan of Clarendon reinstalled the historical marker this morning for the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School site in Albion, at the corner of Phipps Road and Route 31.

Ierlan has repainted many of the historical markers around the county in recent years that had flaked off paint. She typically would repaint them in blue with yellow letters. For the Santa School, she decided to give it a red border, with green letters that are prominent in a white background.

Howard ran the school in Albion from 1937 until his death in 1966. Howard also established Christmas Park at the site.

Ierlan also dropped off three other repainted historical markers this morning. The Canal Corp. will reinstall them. One is for the bridge collapse where 15 people died on Sept. 28, 1859 in Albion. Another marker is near Gaines Basin Road and notes a spot that is the northernmost point on the canal. Another sign by the canal in Albion talks about the Erie Canal’s impact on the area after the waterway opened in 1825.

Return to top

Capurso thanked for leading effort to save cobblestone schoolhouse

Posted 11 May 2017 at 8:57 am


Kudos to Al Capurso and the Orleans County Historical Association for saving the Gaines Basin cobblestone schoolhouse. Al took on a project with the same diligence he has shown throughout his life. Slowly and with focused determination he worked to reclaim this schoolhouse to its rightful stature in this county.

Yes, others helped with this project, but let’s give Al a 95 percent on this project which has now been recognized by the governor to be placed on the State and National Registry of Historic Places.

Al, Congratulations from this entire community. No one else could have done it!

Karen and Chris Watt


New sign put at former Santa School site in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 September 2016 at 4:17 pm


Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – The former Santa Claus School site in Albion, at the corner of Route 31 and Gaines Basin Road, has a new sign. Bill Downey of Downey Signs installed a replica of the sign for the school, which was run by the late Charles Howard from 1937 until his death in 1966.

Gary Kent (left), a director for the Albion Betterment Committee, and Bill Downey are pictured by the new sign that Downey installed about two weeks ago at the former Santa Claus School site in Albion.

Gary Kent (left), a director for the Albion Betterment Committee, and Bill Downey are pictured by the new sign that Downey installed about two weeks ago at the former Santa Claus School site in Albion.

The school property is now owned by Robin and Jill Stinson.

The Albion Betterment Committee paid for the new sign. The Betterment Committee last year also put a welcome sign on Route 98, noting Albion as home of Charles Howard and the original Santa Claus School.

The school has since moved to Midland, Mich. It continues to be named in honor of Howard, who developed many standards for how Santas should act and dress.

Downey said he had to hand-draw the letters to match the font used by Howard in the sign. Gary Kent, a director with the Albion Betterment Committee, said the Santa Claus School site remains a beloved memory for many in Albion and beyond.

He sees promoting Albion’s ties to the school and Charles Howard as a way to promote pride in the community. The Betterment Committee is also working on raising money for a bronze statue of Santa and perhaps Charles Howard in plain clothes in downtown Albion.

“This is one of the assets we have,” Kent said about the community’s ties to Santa and the school. “It can be a way of bringing back the community.”

Return to top

Gaines officially turns 200 on Feb. 14

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 February 2016 at 12:00 am

GAINES – The Town of Gaines has long marked the year 1809 as the birth of the town. That’s when several pioneer settlers started to arrive, making a new home in what was then a wilderness.

The town marked its centennial in 1909, its 150th anniversary in 1959 and a bicentennial in 2009.

However, Town Historian Al Capurso said the town didn’t officially exist until Feb. 14, 1816. That’s when the State Legislature recognized the Town of Gaines.

The first official Town Board meeting was soon after the state’s move to recognize Gaines. Capurso shared the tidbits with the Town Board on Tuesday. He noted that this Valentine’s Day will mark the town’s 200th official birthday.

Capurso shared other news with the Town Board. He is part of a committee working on the new Orleans County Heritage Festival the second weekend in September. Capurso said the event, which includes assistance from Genesee Community College, will highlight transportation, architecture, historic gems and historic cemeteries in the county.

He would like the Gaines Cemetery on Ridge Road, behind the Gaines Congregational Church, to be included on the cemetery tour. Capurso said that is the first cemetery in the county and includes two Revolutionary War soldiers.

At least one new historical marker will go up in Orleans County this year, with the Orleans County Department of History and the Orleans County Historical Association splitting the estimated $1,200 cost, Capurso said. He expects historians will vie for sites for the marker around the county. He would like one on Route 279, just south of Route 104 in honor of James Mather, one of the early Gaines settlers.

Capurso also has been leading the effort to preserve a former cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal. Capurso said a variance has been approved to allow the site as a meeting house for the Historical Association. Attorneys are working on getting the title for the property for the Historical Association.

In other action at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting:

The board discussed options for water accessibility for employees in the building. The Town Hall only has sinks in the two bathrooms. There isn’t a utility sink.

Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said that makes it difficult to fill a coffee pot or wash a dish.

“I think it’s unreasonable that we have something like this,” Culhane said. “We wash a dish in the bathroom sink because there is no sink.”

She thought water from the Culligan company, which would include 5-gallon jugs of water and a water cooler, would solve the problem temporarily. Culligan would charge $6.25 a month for the cooler, plus $7.99 per jug.

Town Councilman Richard DeCarlo wants to explore running a waterline in the building and creating a utility sink.

The board will look at options for either bottled water, Culligan or a waterline.

Ultimately the Town Hall needs some renovations for security and handicapped accessibility. Those changes could include a sink for the employees, Culhane said.

“But that’s down the road,” she said.

The board approved spending $2,709 to Star Electric of Pavilion to add phones and upgrade the phone system for the Town Hall, where the phones haven’t been updated in more than a decade.

Planners approve old cobblestone school as meeting house

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 December 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers  – Volunteers have worked to save a former Cobblestone Schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road in Albion. The school was built in 1832, and may be the oldest cobblestone building in the county.

ALBION – A cobblestone building from 1832 that was used as a schoolhouse until 1944 will find new use as meeting place for the Orleans County Historical Association.

The group has worked the past year to put on a new roof 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 this year.

Al Capurso, the Gaines town historian, pushed to save the building from collapse. The site received a new historical marker in October, and the Historical Association is trying to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On Thursday, the Orleans County Planning Board approved the site plan and recommended the Town of Gaines approve variances and give a permit for the Historical Association to use the building for a public/semi-public community facility.

The association needs 200 feet of frontage but the property only has 125 feet. It also needs a minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet, but only has 22,500. Planners backed the frontage variance of 75 feet, and a 17,500 square foot variance for minimum lot size.

The Historical Association didn’t create the hardships for the variances, planners said. The group should be commended “for restoring a vital piece of Orleans County history back to an active use.”

The site shouldn’t draw too much traffic. There is parking available in the back on a hard-pack surface for about 20 vehicles.

Capurso told planners on Thursday the site will be used for meetings and could be home to donated artifacts.

The Historical Association in 2016 plans to repair the floor, have the building rewired and ceiling and walls plastered. Some missing sections of cobblestones will be replaced with appropriate soft lime mortar.

In 2017, Capurso said he expects the site will receive donations for a piano, school desks, teachers desk, wood stove, tables, chairs and wall hangings.

Old cobblestone schoolhouse has new purpose and historical marker

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 October 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

GAINES – Al Capurso is pictured with a new historical marker that was unveiled today by the former one-room schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal. The schoolhouse was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the area.

It has been largely abandoned since decentralization in 1944. The marker also notes that Caroline Phipps taught at the school. She went on to be a distinguished educator and ran the Phipps Union Seminary in Albion from 1837 to 1875. That spot later became the County Clerks Building.

A swing is pictured next to the former schoolhouse.

The restoration project has been backed by the Orleans County Historical Association and includes a new roof on the building and new windows, as well as the historical marker.

Here is how the building looked last winter.

Here is how the historical site looks today.

Gary Kent led the efforts to trim some of the branches that were hanging across the building. Those branches needed to be removed for the roof work, which was completed by Young Enterprises. Mike Tower fixed the rafters.

Bill Lattin worked on the window sashes, Bob Albanese helped clean up the grounds, and many volunteers pitched in to remove junk from inside the building.

Bob Barrett of Clarendon restored the teacher’s desk and chair that remained inside the school. He even reconstructed the drawers in the desk.

Capurso, who is now the Gaines town historian, would like the site to become a meeting house and museum.

He said that Gaines once had 12 one-room schoolhouses. They were roughly located 1.5 miles apart to make access easier by the students in attendance.

The windows used to be boarded up, but now plenty of light can get inside the old schoolhouse.

Next year, Capurso said he would like to see work on the ceiling, walls and floor. He is pleased with the progress so far, and thanked the community for its support.

Today’s program included remarks from Capurso; Bill Lattin, who is retired as county historian; Matt Ballard, the current county historian; Dee Robinson, former Gaines town historian for more than 30 years; Town Supervisor Carol Culhane; and Ted Swiercznski, who attended the school and has been active in local politics for several decades. Another former student of the school, Angelina Daniels, also attended today’s celebration.

Volunteers are breathing life into former cobblestone school in Gaines

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 August 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

GAINES – Bill Lattin, the retired Orleans County historian, was busy on Friday at the former cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, painting the front windows.

The schoolhouse for District No. 2 was built in 1832 and served as a school until 1944. It fell into disrepair and has been targeted for improvements by the Orleans County Historical Association.

The building has settled over the years and window frames are a little crooked. That made it tricky for Lattin to fix the windows. Fred Miller at Family Hardware in Albion cut new glass for the windows, accommodating the leaning frames.

“You have to go with the flow with these old things,” Lattin said.

The inside of the building has been largely cleared of debris and the floor swept.

Lattin said other buildings in worse shape have been saved in the county.

Gaines resident Al Capurso has been leading the reclamation effort at the former schoolhouse.

Capurso says many pioneer children in Orleans County were taught at the school, which was also used for countless town meetings.

Volunteers will be working to replace windows, repair holes in the flooring and plastering.

Capurso and the Historical Association also will erect a historical marker, highlighting the building’s use as a school from 1832 to 1944.

Capurso has photos of other cobblestone schools in the community that were torn down, including one at the corner of Riches Corner and Holley roads.

“We have lost some cobblestone school houses and we are determined not to lose this one,” he said.

Part of the front wall includes cobblestone masonry that has endured for nearly two centuries.

Capurso and the volunteers would like to have new storm windows on the building before winter, as well as a new roof and the historical marker.

Capurso would like to have the building up to code with a solid floor and electricity so it could again be used for community gatherings.

Bill Lattin points to his father’s initials, which Cary Lattin put in plaster in 1939.

Lattin said many of his relatives attended school in the building.

“My ancestors went here,” Lattin said. “I’m helping out of sentimentality.”

For more information on the project, and how to help, call Capurso at (585) 590-0763.