Heritage Heroes recognized for important preservation efforts

Posted 18 April 2016 at 12:00 am

File photos by Tom Rivers  – Dee Robinson, a historian, shares a lecture in February 2015 at the Hoag Library on early black history in Orleans County. The program was part of a Black History Month celebration. Robinson is being recognized for lifetime achievement in her role as historian.

Press Release, GCC

Now in its third year, the Orleans County Heritage Heroes Awards were created in 2014 as a way to recognize the efforts of those who give their time, hard work, and often money to preserve and protect local heritage. Often unnoticed, the efforts of those honored help to ensure that the history of Orleans County will be passed to the next generation.

The 2016 class of Heritage Heroes will be recognized in a ceremony at Genesee Community College in Albion on Friday, April 29, at 7 p.m. Jim Simon, associate dean of Orleans County Campus Centers, expressed his wish that many from the community would attend the ceremony to help celebrate.

“Those chosen as Heritage Heroes are special people,” according to Simon. “They give freely of their time and work tirelessly to preserve the many historic assets of Orleans County. We hope that their neighbors and friends will turn out for the ceremony to show their appreciation for all that these honorees have done.”

This year’s Heritage Heroes are:

Tim Archer – A distinguished teacher at Albion Middle School, Archer was the 2009-2010 “Educator of the Year.” Working with retired Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin, Archer and his students took on the task of revitalizing the long neglected County Alms House Cemetery in Albion. After cleaning up the cemetery and resetting toppled and buried stones, students researched the names of nearly 160 residents buried there.

Provided photo

This photo from May 2015 shows Albion seventh grade service learning students helping to clear brush at the old CCC/POW Camp at Hamlin Beach State Park. WWII prisoners of war were housed here in the 1940s. Pictured, from left, are Kolin Vangorder, Conner Hollenbeck, camp expert Ed Evans, Patrick Ricker, teacher Tim Archer, Cody Wilson, and Brooklynn Reed. It’s one of many service learning projects led by Archer that highlight local history.

More recently, Archer and his students sought to honor the only known resident of Orleans County to be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Buried in Hillside Cemetery in Holley, Charles Herbert Taylor fought for the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry. Believing that Taylor’s resting place should be highlighted, Archer applied to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for a grant to erect a historic marker.

Margaret Wiley – During a violent storm in 1916, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was destroyed. But thanks to the dedication and perseverance of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Committee, led by Peg Wiley, the historic structure has been rebuilt and once again stands as a beacon over the Ontario shore.

This photo of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was taken in May 2015. Construction of the lighthouse was completed in 2010. It is a replica of one from 1876. That lighthouse toppled over in a windstorm in 1916.

The Oak Orchard Lighthouse is one of the landmarks at Point Breeze. Completed in 2010 – almost a hundred years after its demise – the Lighthouse features a museum and a recently added Children’s Peace Garden. As the impetus behind this amazing effort, Peg helped to raise over $300,000 to make her dream a reality.

Since its opening, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse museum has become one of the jewels in the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, welcoming visitors by tens of thousands from all over the world and all fifty states.

Al Capurso – Presently the Town of Gaines historian, Al is being honored for his many contributions prior to the appointment. One such effort was the naming of a small creek after pioneer Elizabeth Gilbert.

In early 2013, Al and his son Kenny noticed a creek along Brown Road in Gaines. They followed its path across Ridge Road to Carlton. It flows 6.5 miles northeast and connects with Marsh Creek about 2.4 miles south of Lake Ontario. After research showed that the stream was unnamed, Al lobbied to name it after a plucky early pioneer who was the first to settle on Ridge Road in Orleans County in 1807. After approval from the Federal Bureau of Geographic Names, Al hosted a dedication ceremony and even made the sign marking Gilbert Creek.

Al Capurso is pictured with a new historical marker that was unveiled Oct. 17 by a 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.

More recently, Al has led a determined effort to save the cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. The schoolhouse for District No. 2 was built in 1832 and served as a school until 1944.

It fell into disrepair and had long faded from public memory until Al took a hand in the matter and gathered a sympathetic crew who have cleaned, painted and repaired the centuries old structure. To ensure that the building is not forgotten again, Al worked to erect a historic marker on the site.

In addition to the three Heritage Heroes to be honored on April 29th, two special awards will be bestowed:

The Robert E. Waters Award for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to retired Town of Gaines historian Delia Robinson. An authority on cobblestone construction, Robinson is the author of Cobblestone Buildings of Orleans County and served as the resource librarian at the Cobblestone Society and Museum.

She is also author of Historical Amnesia, highlighting the contributions of many women in shaping Orleans County and was instrumental in having many historical markers put up in Orleans County that note contributions from women. She continues to give monthly historical lectures at Hoag Library called “Tea with Dee.”

Over the years, Dee has generously given of her time to speak to local groups, advocate for historic projects, and provide research support for others seeking to know more about their family tree.

The award in named for late Robert Waters, long-time publisher of the The Journal-Register in Medina. He was a champion of many local projects, including the saving of the Medina Armory. He was influential in the Medina Sandstone Society and was a Heritage Hero in 2014.

The C.W. “Bill” Lattin Award for Excellence in Municipal History will be awarded to Melissa Ierlan, Town of Clarendon Historian and President of the Clarendon Historical Society.

Melissa Ierlan, the Clarendon town historian and president of the Historical Society, unveils a historical marker on Sept. 21, 2014 for Hillside Cemetery, which in 2013 was named to National Register of Historic Places.

A historian not afraid to get her hands dirty, Melissa has put in many hours and lots of elbow grease to restore faded historical markers from throughout the area. Dismounting the signs, she has stripped them and meticulously repainted the signs the iconic blue and gold before replacing them.

Ierlan has also been instrumental in the effort to restore the beautiful red sandstone, gothic revival chapel at Hillside Cemetery in Holley. Designed by Rochester architect Addison Forbes, the Medina sandstone chapel was built in 1894. Due in part to her efforts, a grant of $126,210 was recently secured from New York State for the restoration fund.

Those selected as Heritage Heroes could be of any age but had to be living residents of Orleans County. No Posthumous nominations were accepted. History professionals and GCC employees were also not eligible for the award, nor were those serving on the award selection committees. The selection committees were made up of staff and students of Genesee Community College, community members and history professionals.

The award ceremony on April 29th at GCC in Albion is open to the public, but seating is limited. A reception will follow the ceremony featuring light refreshments. For more information on the awards or the ceremony, contact Jim Simon at jsimon@genesee.edu or Prof. Derek Maxfield at ddmaxfield@genesee.edu or by calling the Albion Campus Center at 585-589-4936.