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Happy 100th birthday, Elba muck!

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – This historical marker on Route 98 notes the Elba Mucklands, which started in 1915 when the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda swamps were drained. The muck continues to be highly productive agriculture soil.

ELBA – It was 100 years ago when the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda swamps were drained to create the Elba Mucklands. I didn’t realize we were in the centennial year of the muck’s creation.

I was driving on Route 98 on Saturday and had a feeling I should stop and look at the historical marker by a big drainage ditch for the muck, just south of the Barre town line. The marker notes the mucklands were created in 1915.

I didn’t know some of the area’s finest farmland emerged 100 years ago. The muck has been more than good agriculture land for growing onions, lettuce, potatoes, carrots and other crops.

This panoramic view shows the mucklands off Route 98 north of Elba and in the southern part of Orleans County in the early 1930s. The photo, from the Orleans County History Department, shows men harvesting lettuce and putting it into crates.

The work needed to tame the swamp brought hundreds of hard-working Italian and Polish immigrants to the community. They cleared the land, removing trees and boulders, and set up 90 miles of drainage in the 7,000-acre muck. It is an impressive feat.

The muck includes the towns of Clarendon and Barre in Orleans County, and Elba and Byron in Genesee County. Most of the remaining deeper muck is in Orleans County.

The muck continues today as valuable farmland, and still is responsible for many jobs in the community. Farmers have stepped up efforts in recent years to battle erosion to help preserve the fertile soil in the mucklands.

File photo by Tom Rivers – Ditches help keep the muck drained. This picture was taken in August 2013.

I would like to see the muck’s legacy celebrated in the community. I like the idea of bronze statues to honor the immigrants who helped shape our communities.

It would be awesome to have a statue of a quarryman in Orleans County as a memorial for the thousands of immigrants who worked in the sandstone quarries.

In Elba, a statue of a farmworker could highlight the muck’s heritage, spotlighting the immigrants who cleared the land and the farmworkers who continue to plant and harvest crops today.

It would be a nice addition on Route 98 as a gateway into the Village of Elba. Orleans and Genesee residents and agricultural organizations could make it a reality. That project could be part of a bigger heritage trail that would connect museums and historical sites on Route 98.

That trail would be a bigger attraction with a site in Elba celebrating the muck farmers and a spot in Albion in honor of the quarrymen who worked in the many quarries throughout Orleans County.

In my dreams, I’d also put a bronze statue near Batavia Downs for the horsemen and a statue at Point Breeze of a fisherman.