‘Groupies’ honor historians

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 April 2013 at 12:00 am

Albion trio recognized for years of research, programs

Local historians

Photo by Tom Rivers – Hoag Library in Albion on Friday honored three local historians for leading programs at the library for many years. The group includes, from left, Gaines historian Dee Robinson, Albion historian Neil Johnson and Bill Lattin, the Orleans County historian.

ALBION – Neil Johnson, Dee Robinson and Bill Lattin have spent decades unearthing the stories of long-forgotten residents from Albion and Orleans County.

The trio of local historians has each published books on local history. They regularly lead programs in the community, sharing stories about residents who shaped the community often from two centuries ago.

Carole Patterson and five of her friends attend nearly every lecture. Johnson has dubbed them “The Groupies.” Patterson, a member of the Hoag Library board of trustees, said the community is lucky to have three hard-working and dedicated historians.

“They do such a fabulous job with the programs,” Patterson said on Friday when she organized a reception for the trio. “They do such a good job for Albion that we thought it was time to do some honoring. What a treasure they are for the library.”

Johnson has worked as the village historian since 1982. The Michigan native ran an archaeology firm for many years from his home office in Albion. He wrote 1,314 weekly columns for the Albion Advertiser.

He shares a program – “Take a Bite out of History” – every third Wednesday at Hoag from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. He often speaks about a local connection to the Civil War.

Robinson, a reference librarian at Hoag, leads a “Tea with Dee” program the first Tuesday each month at noon. Robinson, a past president of a state association of historians, speaks about trail-blazing women in the community from more than a century ago. That includes Jennie Curtis of Albion, the first woman spy for the Union during the Civil War.

Robinson has researched women who worked as lawyers, doctors and nurses in the community in the 1800s. She has compiled many of those stories in a book, “Historical Amnesia,” about women’s role in local history.

“Women’s history hasn’t been publicized as much as men’s history with the public,” she said.

Lattin was a senior in high school when he researched the architecture and construction dates for the buildings at Courthouse Square. He then led his first tour. He hasn’t stopped in the 50 years since.

He served as Cobblestone Society Museum director for 40 years. A former Gaines town councilman and town supervisor, Lattin remains active as county historian. He has written a weekly column since January 1979. He is working on a couple books, and continues to share about local history with frequent talks in the community.

He said the community enjoys local history, and many residents have spearheaded their own projects. He noted how Albion drama students every fall portray famous Albion residents in Mount Albion Cemetery, a “Ghost Walk” that attracts about 500 people.

Albion seventh-graders two years ago also led the effort to clean up the burial grounds on West Countyhouse Road at the former poor house. Students researched residents, and worked with Lattin and county officials to put up a marker and rededicated the cemetery.

“It’s great when it comes from the citizenry,” Lattin said about history projects.

Local history remains popular at the library, and Hoag has a room devoted to local research, said Susan Rudnicky, library director. She praised the historians for providing so much written information for residents to learn about the community.

“It’s unusual to have three active historians,” Rudnicky said. “They are a great resource because there’s tremendous interest in local history.”