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Historical marker headed to Holley for home on Underground Railroad

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 January 2019 at 11:57 am

HOLLEY – A new historical marker will be erected this spring on South Main Street in Holley at the former home of Chauncey Robinson, who was an abolitionist who opened his home to hide escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

The county, Orleans County Historical Association and two local donors are sharing the cost for the marker at 35 South Main, west of Geddes Street.

Local historians have long suspected there were houses in Orleans County on the Underground Railroad, which was a secret network of trails and homes. But there wasn’t documentation to back it up, until Clarendon Historian Melissa Ierlan found a letter from Robinson’s grandson.

In the lengthy letter, the grandson details visiting his grandfather, who took him up to the second floor of the back side of the house. The grandfather pulled back a curtain, and there was a group of escaped slaves on beds.

“It’s pretty unusual to find descriptions like that,” said Matt Ballard, the county historian and president of the Orleans County Historical Association.

More research showed that Robinson was in fact an outspoken abolitionist,.

The Orleans County Historical Association considered other sites for a marker, but decided on Robinson and his work with the Underground Railroad. Ballard said this will be the second historical marker in Orleans County about African-American history. Medina in April 2015 unveiled a marker on Main Street in recognition of two speeches delivered in the community by Frederick Douglass, a leading abolitionist. Ballard likes how the Holley marker highlights a local resident advocating for escaped slaves.

“This is more a man who lived in the community who was well respected and was participating in the Underground Railroad,” Ballard said today. “There has been a lot of speculation and rumor with the Underground Railroad, but no written documentation.”

Ballard wants to see markers recognize underrepresented groups in the county’s history, and also bring attention to overlooked and unappreciated sites.

The Holley marker will be two-sided with one side highlighting Robinson and the Underground Railroad, and the other side noted the work of Ezra Brainerd, who built Robinson’s home and oversaw construction of the canal embankment over Sandy Creek, “which was a major undertaking,” Ballard said.

The Historical Association is considering other spots for historical markers in the future, including:

• The childhood home of Henry A. Spencer on Chamberlain Street in Albion. Spencer was the first African-American student at University of Rochester, a pall bearer for Frederick Douglass’s funeral, a member of Frederick Douglass Memorial Committee, and secretary for the NYS Assembly.

• Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church on Brown Street in Albion, the first Polish rural mission church outside of Buffalo, and center of Albion’s Polonia.

• George Pullman’s home on East State Street in the Village of Albion

• Silas Mainville Burroughs’ home at State Street Park in Medina. S.M. Burroughs Sr. was a NYS Assemblyman and a congressman. S.M. Burroughs Jr. was founder of Burroughs Wellcome & Co., now GlaxoSmithKline.

• Carlyon Calamity in the Town of Carlton on Yates-Carlton Townline, This is the site of a railroad accident on R.W.&O. Railroad, causing deaths of 17 passengers.

• Stangeland property on Norway Road in Kendall, the site of Andreas Stangeland home. Stangeland traveled with Cleng Peerson in 1824 to select land for Sloopers, and remained with Norwegians as Peerson traveled westward.

• Bidelman’s Tannery on Ridge Road near Rt. 279 in Gaines, which was originally Mather’s Tannery. Masons allegedly stopped at site while transporting the kidnapped William Morgan to Lewiston.

• Brady’s Quarry on Butts Road near the canal in Albion. The site allegedly provided sandstone for the Capitol Building in Albany. (Historians need to confirm location.)

• Sgt. Isaac Hawkins home near Glenwood & Ryan streets in Medina. Hawkins, an African-American, was a member of 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He was captured at Battle of Olustee, a prisoner at Andersonville, and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

• Lake Alice in Carlton, a man-made lake that was constructed by Western New York Utilities Co. in 1917. The company purchased over 50 parcels of property and relocated buildings to create reservoir.

• Wilson Hanging at Courthouse Square in Albion, the site of only public execution in Orleans County.

Ballard welcomes suggestions from the community for other markers. To contact him, send an email to

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Rochester unveils many statues of Frederick Douglass in honor of his 200th birthday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2019 at 5:30 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ROCHESTER – The City of Rochester last year unveiled 13 statues in honor of Frederick Douglass during the 200th anniversary of his birth.

These photos of one of the Douglass statues were taken on Jan. 8. This is at 300 Alexander St., which is near the site of Douglass’s first home in Rochester at 297 Alexander St.

File photo by Tom Rivers: The original bronze statue at Highland Park was created by Stanley Edwards and is up high on a pedestal.

These statues are very similar to the one at Highland Park in Rochester. That statue, unveiled in 1899, was the first statue erected in the country in honor of an African-American.

Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. He escaped the South at age 21 and moved to Rochester in 1847. He stayed for 25 years.

The human rights advocate was a prominent speaker, editor and author, taking on many causes, including women’s suffrage. (He attended the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, the only African American male present, and delivered a speech that helped sway support for the suffrage resolution.)

“At any rate, seeing that the male government of the world have failed, it can do no harm to try the experiment of a government by man and woman united…” Douglass said then.

The monument at Highland Park includes excerpts from other famous Douglass speeches:

• “The best defense of free American institution is the hearts of the American people themselves.”

• “One with God is a majority.”

• “I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.”

• “Men do not live by bread alone; so with nations, they are not saved by art, but by honesty, not by gilded splendors of wealth but by the hidden treasure of manly virtue, not by the multitudinous gratification of the flesh, but by the celestial guidance of the spirit.”

• “I know of no soil better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil. I know of no country where the conditions for effecting great changes in the settled order of things, for the development of right ideas of liberty and humanity are more favorable than here in these United States.”

The new statues of Douglass were created by Rochester sculptor Olivia Kim. The statues are placed at sites around the city that are significant in Douglass’s life and his work as an abolitionist.

Douglass, as a crusader, made Rochester a focal point of the abolitionist movement. He published the North Star newspaper in Rochester and coordinated Underground Railroad efforts in the area.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most famous Americans during the 19th Century.

Douglass lived in the city until an unexplained fire at his home. He then moved to Washington where he worked for the Garfield and Harrison administrations.

He died in 1895 and Rochester moved to honor him with the bronze statue. It was created by sculptor Stanley Edwards, who used Douglass’s son Charles as a model.

When it was unveiled in 1899 in front of New York Central Train Station, it was the first statue dedicated to a black man. The dedication ceremony for the Douglass memorial was attended by 10,000 people, including Theodore Roosevelt, who was then New York’s governor.

The statue was moved to Highland Park in 1941. Rochester officials didn’t think the spot by the train station at the corner of St. Paul Street and Central Avenue was a fitting location for one of the city’s most respected residents. That site was noisy and grimy.

The new statues were part of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration. The project aimed to better connect Douglass to the community, to bring him down to the ground where more people could interact with the statues.

Kim, the artist who created the new sculptures, softened Douglass’s stern look and tried to present him in a more relaxed pose.

Kim used the hands of Kenneth B. Morris Jr., the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, as a model for the new Douglass statues.

This new Douglass statue is at 300 Alexander St.

You can see new Douglass statues at:

• 25 East Main St., where Douglass published The North Star

• 42 Favor St., the former site of the AME Zion Church which is the original site where Douglass published his newspaper and also a stop on the Underground Railroad

A historical marker was erected last year across from 300 Alexander St., where there is a new Frederick Douglass statue.

• 999 South Ave., the site of the Douglass family farm (now a school)

• 50 Plymouth Avenue North, formerly the Central Presbyterian Church and now Hochstein School of Music and Dance, where mourners gathered for Douglass’s funeral

• The intersection of Central Avenue and St. Paul Street, where the original statue from 1899 was located before moving to Highland Park

• Corinthian Street, where Douglass delivered his renown Fourth of July speech

• 300 Alexander Street, near the site of Douglass’s first home in Rochester at 297 Alexander St.

• Intersection of Alexander Street and Tracy Street, which was the site of the Seward School attended by Douglass’s children.

• Kelsey’s Landing in Maplewood Park – Underground Railroad departure point

• 1133 Mount Hope Ave. at Mt. Hope Cemetery, burial site for Douglass and his family membes

• Washington Square Park which is the site of the Civil War “Soldiers and Sailors” monument

• University of Rochester Rush Rhees Library, which commemorates Douglass’s work in Rochester

• SUNY Rochester Educational Opportunity Center for The College at Brockport on Chestnut Street, which celebrates Douglass’s commitment to education

Medina unveiled a historical marker for Douglass on Main Street in April 2015.

The Orleans Renaissance Group and Village of Medina on April 25, 2015 unveiled a historical marker in honor of Douglass on Main Street, in front of the Knights of Columbus.

The historical marker unveiled today on Main Street in Medina highlights two speeches he gave in Medina.

In 1849, Douglass delivered a speech in Medina at the former Methodist Episcopal Church on Main Street (the current Fuller block, home of Main Street Appliance). He also visited Medina in 1869 and gave a celebratory address for Emancipation entitled “We are not yet quite free.” That event on Aug. 3 was attended by African-Americans from throughout the state.

During the marker’s unveiling on April 25, 2015, Chris Busch, the ORG chairman, addressed the group with these closing comments:

“Let these words here, cast in iron, now and for all time, give us pause to remember our intrepid and beloved countryman, Frederick Douglass, and our forebears who stood with him in the cause of freedom and emancipation, in dark and dangerous times, when few had the courage to do so. Let us with this marker never forget their courage, and solemnly pledge to preserve their legacy for all generations.”

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Hollywood prize fighter had roots in Albion

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 19 January 2019 at 8:53 am

A scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights,” showing Tony Stabenau (back left), a Buffalo boxer with roots in Albion.

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 3

ALBION – The pages of the sacramental register at St. Mary’s Assumption Church in Albion contain an entry for the marriage of Antoni Stabenau of Buffalo to Marianna Gminska of Albion. The couple was married by Ks. Piotr Basinski on January 24, 1899 and removed to Buffalo soon after. Marianna’s father, Simon Gminski, remained in Albion where he worked as a quarry laborer until his death in 1920.

On July 23, 1901, Marianna gave birth to her first son, Anthony, in Buffalo. The young Stabenau’s early life remains somewhat of a mystery until May 14, 1923, when he made his debut as a boxer. That evening, Stabenau started his amateur heavyweight career facing Dixie Kid at the Broadway Auditorium in Buffalo. Although his first match ended in a draw, he went on to win eight straight fights; some newspaper articles claimed his win-streak extended to 17 with 15 knockouts.

His first major fight came on January 7, 1924 against the Senegalese-born Amadou M’Barick Fall, known professionally as Battling Siki. Stabenau later recalled that he was “scared silly,” telling the Buffalo Courier-Express that “I was only 21 years old with a string of knockouts. There had been so much in the papers about this wild Senegelease [sic]…that when I climbed into the ring my knees were knocking so loud I could hear them…Because I was so tense, the rabbit punches he clubbed me with on the back of the neck paralyzed me, and I was stiffened.”

“Three-Ton Tony,” as he was known in these parts, experienced his most notable fight on March 2, 1925, at Elmwood Music Hall in Buffalo against Homer Smith, a nationally ranked heavyweight fighter. In a later interview with the Buffalo Courier-Express, Stabenau recalled this hard-fought battle. The reporter wrote, “Smith belabored Stabenau soundly in the early rounds, and it appeared as though the local lad wouldn’t last, as he made several trips to the canvas.” As Smith prepared to finish the fight, “Tony lashed out with a wild right, and it connected with Smith’s chin. Down he went!” Stabenau claimed he won the fight, but it appears as though he took a whooping at the hands of Smith, who took the fight by a slim margin.

Although Stabenau’s boxing career is rather interesting, it was his professional pursuits after leaving Buffalo that raises eyebrows. Based on his fighting record, he appears to have left Western New York sometime in 1928, boxing in Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco, before facing several fighters at Legion Stadium in Hollywood. Stabenau was living with his family, including his mother, in Los Angeles, California; he listed his occupation as a boxer in motion pictures and prize fights.

In 1930, Tony was asked by Georges Carpentier to take a role in the Warner Brothers film entitled “Hold Everything,” an early motion picture shot in Technicolor. That same year, he played a boxer in the black and white silent film entitled “The Big Fight.” It was the following year that he would play his most notable, yet uncredited role in motion pictures.

Released in 1931, Stabenau played the role of a victorious boxer in Charlie Chaplin’s film “City Lights.” The rather unique film was shot as a silent production despite the availability of sound recordings and is regarded as one of Chaplin’s best films. This photograph shows Stabenau standing in the background lacing up his gloves while Chaplin sits on a table, front and center.

After his short stint as an actor, Stabenau became a detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, visiting Western New York regularly. Buffalo writer Frank Wakefield interviewed Stabenau in 1956, writing “A ponderous 6-foot-3-inch man in horn-rim glasses who resembled an elderly heavyweight wrestler, laboriously plodded up the four flights of stairs leading to Jack Singer’s gymnasium,” where Stabenau trained as a young fighter. An athlete later asked him to jump in the ring to work out, to which Stabenau responded “Are you kidding? I weighed 190 in my prime. Now I’m around 260…I’m eligible for a retirement pension now and I want to enjoy it.”

Stabenau died February 14, 1983, and is buried in San Jacinto, California.

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Albion native married innovative coach who was influential in football’s popularity

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 12 January 2019 at 8:44 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 2

University of Chicago Photographic Archive: Amos Alonzo Stagg and Stella Robertson Stagg are pictured as newlyweds, c. 1894.

Medina claims Frances Folsom Cleveland, an official First Lady of the United States of America, as her own and in 1952 apparently tried to claim the First Lady of American Football as well.

Henry Clune wrote in a September 16th edition of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that he “…expressed the opinion that the wife of the former famous University of Chicago coach, [Alonzo Stagg], had come from Medina.” Fred Tanner of Albion quickly pointed out that Clune was incorrect.

Another football season has passed and there is no playoff football for fans of the Buffalo Bills. Instead, I received a rather interesting message earlier this week highlighting an old newspaper clipping authored by County Historian Arden McAllister in the early 1970s. In this article, McAllister notes that he held in his possession “a picture of the Class of 1891 of Albion High School which includes a young woman he says may be perhaps the only unofficial woman football coach in history.” So instead of watching the Bills push for the Lombardi Trophy, a quick read about Orleans County’s connection to one of the greatest football pioneers will fill that void.

The story begins with Stella Robertson, the daughter of Peter and Mary Chester Robertson, born August 7, 1875 in Gaines. As an astute young woman, she was well regarded among members of her class, was selected as the vice president of her senior class and graduated from the Albion High School in 1891. She soon enrolled at the University of Chicago where she would meet Professor Amos Stagg.

Born on August 16, 1862, Stagg attended Yale College as a divinity student, earning quite the reputation as a pitcher for the Bulldogs’ baseball team and playing for the college’s 1888 undefeated football team. His career as a collegiate athlete earned him a dual appointment as “Associate Professor and Director of the Department of Physical Culture and Athletics with full tenure…a double precedent in the history of American higher education,” according to Robin Lester. Stagg became the first physical department head appointed with tenure and the first tenured appointment for an intercollegiate coach at any institution.

Compared to his elder colleagues, Stagg was strikingly young and perhaps less distinguished visually, but his career as an athlete earned him a degree of unprecedented respect. He quickly became the most eligible bachelor on campus and developed an open courtship with the young Stella Robertson of Albion. Faced with criticism from colleagues about his relationship with Robertson, Stagg contemplated a change of profession but remained in his position with the encouragement and support of his soon-to-be fiancée.

Arden McAllister wrote that “…[Stagg] once pedaled his bicycle all of the 30 miles to Gaines to keep a date with [Stella]” and that “He often played golf on a course that once existed at Eagle Harbor and walked across the farms in short pants and knee socks.” The couple’s wedding was performed by Rev. Osburn of the Baptist Church on September 10, 1894 at the Robertson home in Albion. Stella was nearly two years away from completing her studies at Chicago and the couple quickly returned to Illinois after the nuptials.

Alonzo Stagg, “The Grand Old Man of Football,” remained at the University of Chicago until 1932 when then university president Robert Hutchins forced the 70-year-old coach to retire. The couple relocated to Stockton, California where Stagg coached for the College of the Pacific until 1946. His lengthy coaching tenure ended at Stockton College after acting as the institution’s kicking coach; he was 96 when he retired.

Although the length of time Stagg spent coaching is quite impressive, it is his legacy that is the most remarkable. Knute Rockne, the legendary football coach of Notre Dame, once said, “All football comes from Stagg.” Rockne was later asked where he developed such innovative plays, to which he responded, “I took them from Stagg, and Stagg took them from God.” Such statements appear to be true, as Stagg is often credited with inventing the tackling dummy and developing the huddle, the reverse and man in motion plays, and lateral passes. He pioneered the forward pass, the place kick and initiated the use of uniform numbers as well as the awarding of varsity letters. His impact on sports extended beyond football, inventing the batting cage for baseball and promoting basketball as the 5-on-5 matchup played today.

Perhaps most important to Stagg’s innovative success was the role that his wife played in his career. A 1943 newspaper article notes that “Mrs. Stagg serves as scout, statistician, historian, typist and advisor, as well as a one-woman consolation committee whenever things are breaking tough.” McAllister also reaffirmed this by writing, “They say that Stella often helped her husband plot gridiron strategy.”

So, to conclude this article, the American Football Coaches Association presents the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award annually to the “individual, group, or institution whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football.” Marv Levy, the winningest coach in Buffalo Bills’ history, is set to receive the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award in 2019.

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In 1926, express train collided with locomotive in Holley, killing 1

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 5 January 2019 at 8:58 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 1

HOLLEY – This photograph, taken September 25, 1926, shows the aftermath of a locomotive collision at Holley. Looking south on South Main Street, the Holley Electric building is pictured on the left. A few individuals are in the vicinity, including a young girl standing between the tall white fence and truck along the left side of the road. Upon closer inspection, a bicycle is lying on the curb near the railroad overpass, possibly left there by the girl.

At 3:33 p.m. on September 24, 1926, an express train, Engine 3373, pulling 28 cars and two coaches departed the Fancher station on the New York Central Railroad. Meanwhile, Engine 485 operating at a local quarry just east of Holley was pulling two cars along a segment of track. According to reports following the accident, Engine 485 was switching cars near the Holley station located immediately west of the railroad overpass as the express train approached.

Travelling westbound against current traffic, the engineer in charge of Engine 485 observed the approaching express train, warned his fireman of the impending danger, and both quickly jumped to safety. A similar scenario unfolded aboard Engine 3373 and the two locomotives collided travelling at approximately 20-25 mph. While the engineer of Engine 3373 was able to safely jump from the express train, his fireman Frank Maloney was not as fortunate.

Both trains derailed, mangling the tracks and piling up cars behind them. Engine 3373 rolled onto its left side, striking the railroad station on the north side of the tracks while Engine 485 rolled in the opposite direction, striking the freight house. A large portion of the station was damaged and freight house knocked from its foundation. Maloney, who was unable to jump from the engine, was pinned under the wreckage and severely scalded; he died shortly after the collision.

This photograph shows the scene the following morning when a wrecking crew arrived on scene to clean up the debris. By the time this image was taken, Engine 3373 was turned upright, but the mangle pieces of Engine 485 are visible to the east of the overpass. A local brakeman was found at fault for failing to warn the oncoming express train.

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KKK meeting in Albion in 1925 included parade with 900 Klansmen

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 29 December 2018 at 8:40 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 51

ALBION – This photograph, taken September 7, 1925, shows the Western New York Province 8 Klonverse held at the Orleans County Fairgrounds on the western end of the Village of Albion. The term klonverse is likely foreign to most readers, as it should be, since the term was used to describe a convention of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Pulled from a collection of negatives within the Department of History, the photograph shows a number of robed men intermingled with common folk at the conclusion of a parade through Albion. Papers throughout Western New York published news of the impending gathering, the Buffalo Evening News noting that this particular meeting was the first of its kind in Orleans County.

Chester Harding, president of the Orleans County Agricultural Society, rented the fairgrounds to the Klan for $100 “…and considerable criticism [was] heard of the action,” and Hiram Wesley Evans, Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from Atlanta, Georgia, was scheduled to headline the festivities. Local members of the Klan applied for the parade permit and village officials barred any Klansmen from marching with their faces covered; state police and local officers were present to keep the peace.

The parade of approximately 900 members commenced at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and a modest crowd of 500 gathered to watch the procession. Three bands and two floats escorted Klan members, all adorned in their white robes, as they processed through the streets. Residents who lined the streets to observe the spectacle did so out of curiosity, either never seeing a Klan parade before or hoping to catch a glimpse of the unmasked participants. As the parade reached the fairgrounds, only members and those with cards given to them by members were permitted to enter the event; a $.25 entry fee was charged. National and state organization leaders spoke to members in the evening, preceded by the burning of a massive cross and induction of new members into the Klan.

Aside from the shocking nature of such a meeting, a Buffalo resident by the name of Julius Grass stirred up extra commotion at the conclusion of the parade. Losing control of his automobile, Grass struck Nelson Spears of Middleport and 68-year-old Melvin Waterbury of Lyndonville. Perhaps more interesting than the accident itself was the mention in the paper that both victims were Klansmen, the only mention of any local member of the organization by name. Waterbury suffered a concussion and Spears a broken leg.

Bill Lattin wrote an article about this same event in Bethinking of Old Orleans (v. 14, no. 35, 1992) and concluded his story by writing, “very little is known of the organization locally.” Such statement appears to be true, but a relatively limited history of the Ku Klux Klan is discernable from local papers despite the secret nature of the organization.

On May 15, 1924, the Medina Tribune noted the intent of men in Lyndonville to organize a Klan in that area (the word Klan was used to describe a local “chapter”). Nearly three months later, a large KKK float participated in a festival parade in Lyndonville organized by local Masons. Members mounted the float with placards on which the objectives of the organization were printed. The Medina Daily Journal noted that “this [was] the first public appearance of the Klan in connection with a community celebration in this section of the state.”

Early Klan activity was limited to residents traveling to Genesee County, where they participated with activities in those areas. Evidence does suggest that the Klan was active enough in certain townships to support political candidates. Several months after the Klonverse, local papers printed the results of local elections in which Ross Hollenbeck defeated Fred H. Rhodey for Sheriff of Orleans County. The Buffalo Evening News ran this story with the headline, “Klan Candidate for Sheriff Assured of Election by 3200 Votes.” Klansmen in several towns offered their support to Hollenbeck in the months leading up to the election, suggesting that this particular gathering in September may have increased local activity.

Many will be surprised to read that the Ku Klux Klan was active in Orleans County, although the exact extent of that activity is unknown. Focused on upholding Prohibition and fighting moral wrongs, a series of events impacting the Klan in other states contributed to a sharp decline in membership and thus local activity would die out by the 1930s.

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Historian shares his Christmas wish: historic preservation

Photo by Matthew Ballard: A historic marker in Clarendon stands on the property where there used to be a Universalist Church.

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 22 December 2018 at 9:26 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 50

The Christmas season is upon us and it is customary to write a piece about Charlie Howard, his Santa Claus School, or Christmas Park. If I had the privilege of sitting on Howard’s lap, what would I ask for? Simple answer: historic preservation.

Unfortunately, our history is marred by poor decisions even though we make some of those decisions with the best intentions. The protection of our historic treasurers is perhaps the best representation of this. Material culture serves a valuable purpose in the process of interpreting the past. Void of any physical representation of past cultures, we would lose all ability to understand the lives of those who lived without a voice.

Historic preservation is one of the four basic functions of the municipal historian; preservation of documents, records, diaries, ephemera, and photographs, but also the preservation of structures deemed important to the history of our communities. Past historians have carried the burden of this cross for decades, some experiencing success and others failure.

Take for instance the once beautiful limestone Universalist Church in Clarendon. A focal point in the community for over 150 years, its life cut short after a painful battle against the ages. In 1967, the family of Earle Smith attempted to prevent the destruction of the building by petitioning the New York State Convention of Universalists to deed the property over to a newly formed private corporation. At some point, the Clarendon assessor realized the property was taxable and placed it back on the rolls.

The result of such undue burden forced the corporation to offer the property to the Orleans County Historical Association and Town of Clarendon with both entities refusing. The property was sold at auction on August 21, 1980, slowly creeping into an irreversible state of disrepair. Community officials met in 2005 to discuss the future of the structure. Some residents felt that taxpayer dollars should not support such a project and one taxpayer remarked, “a farmer never feeds a dead horse, and this building is a dead horse.” The property was sold May 6, 2006 and demolished soon after leading one historian to write, “the people of Orleans County absolutely had an architectural jewel in the historic Clarendon Universalist Church…and no one was smart enough to preserve it, what a shame!”

A rather shabby house stood near the intersection of Platt and East State streets in the Village of Albion, adjacent to the Free Methodist Church. Once the home of Dr. Orson Nichoson, a pioneer physician and the first county clerk, the brick home and attached framed wings constituted one of Albion’s earliest homes. County Historian Bill Lattin estimated the house was constructed prior to 1835 and possibly as early as the 1820s, perhaps several years before the incorporation of the village. That home was later razed to make way for a parking lot.

Charles Howard sent a letter of support in favor of the newly formed Cobblestone Society in 1960.

Another other example included the sudden disappearance of the old Buffalo, Lockport, & Rochester Railway power station, a large cast cement block structure that sat on the far east end of East State Street near Butts Road. Yet another, perhaps without any inherent value on the surface, was a once stately home that sat at 106 South Clinton Street. The property was a frequent meeting place for local suffragists who labored to organize suffrage schools and local conventions.

Architecture Destroyed in Orleans County, a wonderfully thorough account of historic structures that vanished over the lengthy history of our area, calls attention to dozens of valuable assets lost. Of course, the short volume is in need of an update as the above-mentioned examples have occurred during my lifetime, after the book’s publication. Although the examples of material culture lost to progress over the last decades are numerous, there are plenty of examples that demonstrate the rewards that come with persistence and hard work.

Home Leasing LLC’s recent undertaking of renovation work at the former Holley High School, the Town of Clarendon’s purchase of the Old Stone Store as a records storage site and office for the historian, and the Orleans County Historical Association’s ongoing work on the Gaines District No. 2 Cobblestone Schoolhouse all represent huge wins for the preservation community. Such efforts are supported by thousands of volunteer hours and community leaders who lobby for funding.

A letter written by Charlie Howard to Cary Lattin on October 19, 1960, regarding early efforts to establish the Cobblestone Society says a great deal about Howard’s community-centered mindset. He wrote, in part, “Your letter regarding the Cobblestone buildings at Childs at hand and I am in hearty accord with any plan to restore and retain these landmarks. It will mean a great deal of work and planning to get the interest that is necessary but believe it can be done…You can count me in on what ever you do as being in favor.”

I can rest assured that if I had asked Santa for historic preservation, he would have delivered!

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Smaller schools, beginning in 1840s, preceded Holley High which was built in 1930

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 15 December 2018 at 6:04 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 49

HOLLEY – After years of diligent work by the residents of Holley, the long-term preservation of the old Holley High School is finally secure. Historians commend those who undertake such noble work as communities so often set aside the difficult task of investing in historic treasures, instead investing in new construction as a symbol of “progress.”

The history of this particular structure dates back to 1930, but the story of the particular lot upon which it rests dates back to the 1840s. In 1847, the community selected Hiram Frisbee, Augustus Southworth, and William Hatch as members of a committee tasked with gathering subscriptions to establish an academy. This industrious team procured the necessary resources – money, lumber, millwork, timber, lime, brick, building stone, plows, boots and shoes, teaming (horses), and labor – so that a two-story brick building could be constructed on a $300 lot of land donated by Frisbee.

The school operated for nearly three years as a private academy until its formal incorporation by the Board of Regents as the Holley Academy in 1850. At this time, the institution’s assets totaled $3,021.25 including the building, library, academic apparatus, and land; Augustus Southworth was selected as the first president of the organization’s Board of Trustees. According to Isaac Signor, “For eighteen years this institution did most excellent work, but like many other academies was not financially a success.”

The apparent financial woes of the academy, combined with the increasing population of students in Holley, forced the community to explore alternate accommodations. The resulting decision established a Union Free district, combining this newly formed entity with the Holley Academy to form the Holley Union School and Academy.

A Union Free district typically involved the combination of two or more common schools within a particular geographic area to form a district with boundaries that matched the limits of a village or city. The Board of Trustees for the Union School and Academy included George Pierce, Jeffrey Harwood, Dr. Edwin R. Armstrong, James Farnsworth, Nelson Hatch (son of William Hatch), and D. H. Parsons; Col. John Berry, Augustus Southworth, and Horatio Keys were selected as honorary members.

Dr. Armstrong wrote the following concerning the academic coursework offered at the institution:

“Young men who desire a collegiate course can here go through the preparatory studies for admission to any College in the land. Those who are not able or desirous to enter College but with a thorough Academic education that will fit them for most any vocation in life can obtain it here. Young ladies who aim to secure a good knowledge of science and literature that will fit them for most any position which woman is permitted to occupy, need not go abroad to obtain it as we have a school here affording all the facilities for intellectual culture that may be found elsewhere.”

Praising the institution and calling the community to support the school Armstrong wrote:

“Good schools like good churches are paying institutions in any community, not only morally and intellectually, but even financially, for they enhance the value of real estate far more than the amount required to support them…If God has seen fit to give you money, and your poor neighbor children, contribute your money to educate your neighbor’s children that they may thereby become intelligent citizens.”

In 1882, the school constructed an addition at a cost of $4,500 in order to support an increase in attendance; seven years later the school purchased the Coy House and lot on the corner of Wright and Main streets, converting two rooms for use as classrooms. According to Signor, the school employed eight teachers to instruct 350 students in 1894. A remodeling project was undertaken in 1896 and two years later, the institution formally changed its name to the Holley High School.

Recognizing the growing population of the community and the failure of the aging building, now four times its original size, to meet the needs of a larger student body, residents made the decision to construct a new school by passing a $260,000 capital budget project. Designed by the Rochester architect Carl C. Ade, the new building would accommodate approximately 750-800 students, more than double the number attending the institution in 1894.

M. Iupa & Maggio Company of Rochester was selected as the general contractor, bidding $191,496 to complete the project. William C. Barber of Rochester was selected to complete the heating and ventilation work ($35,527), the Reinagel Lighting Company of Buffalo was selected to complete the electric ($12,020), and John Corcoran of Holley bid $9,814 to complete the plumbing work. Overall, the project came in well under budget, costing taxpayers approximately $.28 per square foot.

During this massive project, all grades below seven were relocated to three buildings on Geddes Street while all other grades remained in the old building; the old academy building was eventually razed in 1930.

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Local man who rose to prominence in Wisconsin was murdered at public event in 1884

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 8 December 2018 at 9:03 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 48

Courtesy of the La Crosse Public Library Archives: This photograph of Frank A. Burton is from a composite of the Rescue Hose Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Occasionally, an interesting story with local ties surfaces while researching an unrelated subject. The story of Frank A. Burton would fall into that category; a man with local ties, but not necessarily a local man himself. Although unknown in Orleans County, Burton’s story represents one of the most heinous crimes in the history of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The tale of Frank Burton begins with his grandparents, Joshua B. and Clarissa Adams, who arrived in Western New York prior to 1818. The young couple established themselves in the wilderness of the Genesee Country as one of the pioneer families and founders of the Town of Sweden. Available resources reveal that the couple reared at least two children in Monroe County, two daughters named Clarissa and Charlotte. Clarissa, the older of the two and named in honor of her mother, married Albion attorney Hiram Slade Goff and remained in Albion for duration of her life. The other daughter, Charlotte, met William Nathaniel Burton and married at Cuyahoga, Ohio on December 7, 1840. Burton was an insurance agent for mariners across the Great Lakes and the family traveled between Western New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Wisconsin.

Some records suggest that William and Charlotte’s son Frank was born in Chicago while others suggest New York, but by 1860 the family had settled in Kenosha City, Wisconsin where William was employed as an insurance agent. At some point in time, Frank returned to Albion and enrolled in the Albion Academy, likely living with his aunt and uncle in the village. Upon the completion of his studies, he returned to Wisconsin, settling in La Crosse and finding work as a telegraph operator. Burton eventually became a grain broker and ascended the social ranks, becoming a premier businessman in La Crosse and assuming prominent roles in local civic and political activities. One of those positions, president of the local Republican Party, would lead to his demise.

While preparing to celebrate James G. Blaine’s presidential campaign on October 16, 1884, Burton was set to lead a parade through the streets of La Crosse. Taking place at 8 o’clock in the evening, the torchlight parade included speeches, fireworks, and other festivities as thousands of people lined the streets. As he assisted with the arrangement of parade units, a man named Nathaniel “Scotty” Mitchell observed Burton’s movements from across the street.

Waiting for an opportunity, Mitchell emerged from the crowed and meandered across the street in Burton’s direction. As he slowly approached from behind, Mitchell slipped a revolver from his pocket and fired into Burton’s back. Four bullets left the barrel, one striking him in the head, another in the neck. Mitchell threw the empty revolver at Burton’s head, drew a second pistol and fired five shots into his victim before kicking the lifeless body and shouting, “Damn you, you SOB, now I’ve got you!”

Bystanders were unaware of the events that had just transpired, assuming the pops of the pistols were firecrackers. A nearby man standing beside Burton grabbed Mitchell and held him until two police officers rushed over and seized him. As they shuffled the criminal towards the local jail, throngs of crowds began shouting, “Lynch him! Lynch him!” Understanding the gravity of his dastardly deed, Mitchell begged his guards to get him to the jail posthaste. Meanwhile, Burton’s young wife was escorted to a nearby pharmacy where her husband’s body was examined and officially pronounced dead.

A crowd swelled around the jail, shouting at the sheriff to release the prisoner so justice could be served. After hours of refusing, the unruly mob busted through the doors, broke open Mitchell’s jail cell, and dragged him into the street. Procuring a rope, the crowd strung him up by his neck with such fury the noose broke. They secured a second rope, hauled the killer into the tree and thus the deed was done. The tree used to lynch Mitchell for the assassination of Frank Burton was dubbed “The Lynching Tree” until it was cut down shortly after.

Newspapers across Western New York printed their condolences to Mr. Goff for the loss of his nephew in this senseless crime. The motive remained unknown.

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GCC professors use theatrics to tell Civil War history

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 December 2018 at 9:17 am

Photos courtesy of GCC: Derek Maxfield, left, is General Ulysses S. Grant and Tracy Ford is General William Tecumseh Sherman in a 45-minute theatrical “conversation” between the two Civil War generals for the Union. They will present “Now we stand by each other always”  at 7 p.m. today at GCC in Batavia.

BATAVIA – Two Genesee Community College professors will portray Civil War generals this evening, sharing a conversation between the two leaders of the Union Army near the end of the Civil War.

Derek Maxfield will portray General Ulysses S. Grant and Tracy Ford will be the more charismatic General William Tecumseh Sherman. They will perform at 7 p.m. at GCC in Batavia in room T102 of the Conable Technology Building. The event is free and open to the public.

Maxfield has worked as a history professor the past 10 years at GCC. He wrote the script in the 45-minute presentation.

“We are both looking for new ways to reach out and educate,” Maxfield said.

Ford, an Albion resident, is in his 19th year of teaching English at GCC. Maxfield and Ford have both been part of living history events at GCC, portraying famous people from the past.

The presentation as the two generals is based on historic resources and references. Together, they recount the important meeting and conversation held at City Point, Va. in March 1865 when the two Union generals discuss the campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas and consider how to close out the Civil War.

“It’s really an experiment and a new way of teaching,” Maxfield said about the event.

Grant is a calm and reserved personality, while Sherman is the opposite.

“It really is the Tracy Ford show in many ways,” Maxfield said.

He reached out to his colleague about portraying Sherman because Maxfield said Ford resembles the general and has an engaging personality.

Ford said one biographer has compared Sherman to Daffy Duck. Ford welcomed the chance to bring out Sherman’s character.

Derek Maxfield, left, and Tracy Ford said they are looking for ways to engage students in understanding history.

“You read about a character in a book and it’s a very two-dimensional thing,” Ford said. “Sherman is quite vigorous, chain smoking cigars and pounding bourbon. It gives you a human face.”

Ford will have an unlit cigar during the presentation and a liter of unsweetened tea.

The two professors debuted the show at the Clarendon museum during the Orleans County Heritage Festival in September. They also performed in Hornell at a historical society. They have upcoming performances in Brockport in early 2019.

In 2020, they will be in Lancaster, Ohio for the 200th anniversary celebration of William Tecumseh Sherman. He was born on February 8, 1820.

Ford praised Maxfield for creating the script and pushing for the production.

“He is the brains and I’m the frenetic energy,” Ford said. “It has been a lot of fun. This is another way to do it and spread it out into the community.”

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