Editorial: Al Capurso embraced role as citizen

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 February 2021 at 6:49 pm

Gaines resident spoke out, ran for public office and led many local preservation efforts

Photos by Tom Rivers: Al Capurso delighted in sharing and preserving local history. In this photo from the June 2018 Strawberry Festival parade, he represented a pioneer with a replica log cabin in a float for the Orleans County Historical Association.

ALBION – Orleans County lost a very dedicated citizen with the death of Al Capurso last week at age 68.

Mr. Capurso, a retired social worker and the former owner of the Bait Barn and Tackle shop, took on many projects in retirement that highlighted and preserved local history. He was a very engaged local citizen, running for the county Legislature, speaking out at public hearings and writing numerous letters to the editor.

He was instrumental in saving an 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.

Al Capurso is shown on Oct. 17, 2015 after a new historical marker was dedicated for the Gaines Basin Cobblestone Schoolhouse. The one-room schoolhouse was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the area. It was last used as a school in 1944.

“He spearheaded the preservation of the Gaines Basin Schoolhouse,” said Bill Lattin, retired county historian. “If it hadn’t been for Al that landmark wouldn’t have been saved.”

The Historical Association recently was able to finish another project pushed by Capurso: the relocation of a log cabin built by Boy Scouts in 1930. The cabin was moved from a backyard in Linwood Avenue in Albion to behind the old schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road.

“There aren’t too many citizens that take the interest that Al did in local history,” Lattin said.

In one monumental effort, Capurso was able to convince the federal government to name a creek that stretches from near Brown Road in Albion and goes 6.5 miles northeast to Marsh Creek in Carlton.

The stream didn’t have a name. Capurso lined up local, state and federal support to have it named “Gilbert Creek” in honor of a woman from more than 200 years ago, the first settler on Ridge Road in Orleans County.

Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband built their cabin in 1807. Mr. Gilbert died soon after they settled, and his wife was left to raise a family and make a life in the wilderness of the Niagara frontier. The federal Bureau of Geographic Names formally approved “Gilbert Creek” on April 10, 2014. A new sign for the creek was unveiled on May 24, 2014. (Capurso made the wooden sign to match the others in historic Childs hamlet.)

Al Capurso and his son Dan perform during a wine-tasting on March 21, 2015 at the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church. Capurso performed at many local events often singing songs he wrote.

The Orleans Hub named Capurso an “Outstanding Citizen” for his efforts to give the creek a name that was recognized by the many government agencies. He became the only two-time “Outstanding Citizen” honoree from the Orleans Hub in 2015 with his efforts to save the old cobblestone school. In 2016, he was named a “Heritage Hero” by GCC and the Orleans Hub for his local preservation efforts.

The Pullman Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Albion honored Capurso in 2018 with the humanitarian of the year award. Darrell Dyke, a member of the board of trustees for the Pullman church, said Capurso stood out for his “gentle kindness.”

The church cited his 30 years with the county working in social services and with at-risk youth. He also owned the Bait Barn for about 25 years, selling fishing supplies for many years.

Capurso took citizen engagement to a very high level in Orleans County.

He was a long-time environmentalist who embraced green energy. He was active with Stop Polluting Orleans County (SPOC), which opposed a new landfill in Albion. He also spoke out against a new quarry in Shelby near the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Capurso frequently wore a T-shirt that said “EARTH”.

Capurso was active in the Cobblestone Museum, serving on the board of directors, as a guide and portrayed people from the past in the annual ghost walk. Capurso its shown here as John Proctor, a prominent settler in Gaines. He also portrayed Rev. Stephen Smith who gave the dedicatory address at the opening of the Cobblestone Universalist Church in 1834.

Capurso also ran for Orleans County legislator in 2017 as a Democrat. He lost in a heavily Republican county. He wasn’t deterred and didn’t shy away from issues.

He was very vocal in opposing the Legislature’s decision to sell the county-owned nursing home to a private entity. He also railed against a Dollar General store in the historic Childs hamlet, fought the quarry near the refuge and wrote in favor of the SAFE Act, even displaying a “Keep SAFE” sign in his front yard, which was a stark contrast from the many other yard signs opposing the SAFE Act and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Capurso took on projects, big and small. In his role with the Historical Association, Capurso and the group donated $500 towards two headstones at Mount Albion Cemetery for children who died in the bridge collapse on the Erie Canal on Sept. 28, 1859, one of the worst tragedies in the community’s history.

Capurso for nearly two decades also was the caretaker of a 13-foot-long fish, a monstrous Chinook salmon. It was used in the 1980s to promote the Orleans County Trout and Salmon Derby. Capurso bought it in 1990 and displayed it outside the Bait Barn on Route 279. He donated the fish back to the County Tourism Department in 2014 and the fish has since appeared in several local parades.

He led efforts to repair the bell tower on another cobblestone schoolhouse on Ridge Road. He had a veterans’ marker made for a War of 1812 veteran. Lansing Bailey, who is buried at Mount Albion Cemetery, fought in the War of 1812. He also was among the first to settle in Albion, arriving in 1811 with his younger brother Joel. Capurso wanted Bailey’s service to be noted at his grave at Mount Albion.

A life-long resident of Orleans County, Capurso and his wife, the former Chris Rodden, raised four grown children. They should feel pride for Mr. Capurso.

He will be missed for the zest and love he brought to the community, for taking unpopular public stands and for his ability to rally people together to do good.