DOT forces removal of historic carriage step, hitching post

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 August 2013 at 12:00 am

‘We were very hurt about it. We still are.’ – Grace Conlon

Photos by Tom Rivers – The state Department of Transportation forced Dave and Grace Conlon to remove this carriage step and hitching post, which survived for more than a century at the corner of North Main Street and Linwood Avenue in Albion. The community has many hitching posts and carriage steps on village side streets, but the Conlons had two of the few on a public right-of-way on a state road in Albion. This photo was taken late last year.

Dave Conlon sits on a carriage step that he had to remove from near Main Street last Wednesday. Conlon and his son used a tractor to move the historic step back by a tree in his front yard.

ALBION – For 45 years, Dave and Grace Conlon enjoyed looking out their window facing Main Street and watching children sit or stand on a carriage step by the road.

The Conlons planted flowers by it. They carefully mowed the grass around a companion hitching post.

“They were a showpiece for our property,” said Mr. Conlon, 84.

Last year the Conlons received a letter from the state Department of Transportation, telling them the carriage step and hitching post were a hazard to motorists. The historical artifacts from the horse-and-buggy era would need to be moved off the public right of way, the DOT advised.

The Conlons called the DOT. They didn’t understand why they had to move it, given that the public right of way on North Main Street is lined with trees and telephone poles – other “hazards.”

“This doesn’t make any sense,” said Conlon, a Kodak retiree who still works part-time as a custodian for Five Star Bank.

The Conlons received the first letter in the spring 2012. Another letter followed, advising them that the DOT could remove the pieces for a fee.

The Conlons fretted the DOT might show up one day and remove the carriage step and hitching post, and haul them away. Two weeks ago the DOT called, again pressing the issue.

On Wednesday, Conlon and his son Randy dug up the hitching post and used a tractor to haul it back by the house. They put it near a garden. It’s not very visible from the road, but the Conlons can see it looking out of their kitchen window.

The carriage step was a bear to move. Conlon cracked sidewalk panels leading to his house from the weight of the tractor. He tore up part of his lawn, but he was able to move it by a maple tree in his front yard.

The Conlons are angry and sad about the whole situation.

Dave and Grace Conlon also had to move this hitching post, which stood by Main Street for about a century. They put it back in their garden.

A mounting block sits by the side of the road on West Center Street in Medina. Hopefully its days aren’t numbered.

“We were very hurt about it,” Mrs. Conlon said. “We still are.”

I think it’s crummy that the DOT has launched an attack on the few hitching posts, carriage steps and mounting blocks that remain in the public right of way on state roads. Medina and Le Roy residents also have been sent warning letters from the DOT, advising the historical pieces need to be moved.

There are a lot of these artifacts in old quarrying towns, where residents had access to great building materials – sandstone in Orleans County and limestone in Le Roy.

They few that have endured – a century after horse-and-buggies were replaced by the automobile – should be considered treasures, part of the historical fabric of the community.

I have counted about 40 of the hitching posts in Albion and Gaines, which may be more survivors than anywhere in the world. (Until proven wrong, I’ll make the claim that 14411 is the historic hitching post capitol of the world.)

There are a lot of hitching posts but only a few carriage steps around. Most of these artifacts are on side streets. They were stripped from along the state roads long ago.

In Albion, the Albion Main Street Alliance has been working with the village to put four hitching posts back on Main Street in the downtown. They would be set back far enough to be off the state right of way, although we are asking the DOT to let us put one back in a downtown sidewalk. We hope to have these installed in the next month.

Some of us see the hitching posts and carriage steps as an attraction. We wanted to make a map of them. Most of them are in front of the finest historic homes in the community.

I think it’s shabby that the DOT pressured the Conlons to move their artifacts. They clearly valued and cared for the pieces.

It also hurts the Albion effort to promote these as part of the historical character of the community. We want some on Main Street, where they are more prominent. We’d like they to be by the road so they are more historically accurate, rather than moved back as lawn ornaments.

Our state legislators – Steve Hawley and George Maziarz – should intervene and make the DOT call off the dogs on the old hitching posts. These historic structures have survived every possible threat – from Mother nature, development pressure to wayward motorists. Can they now survive a government bureaucrat?