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Historian says Holley isn’t only place with original section of Erie Canal west of Rochester

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 January 2020 at 3:27 pm

Small section of first canal also can be seen in Lockport

Provided: Craig Bacon, deputy historian for Niagara County, sent the Orleans Hub this section of a survey from 1868 showing where this is a small section of the original Erie Canal remaining in Lockport. This survey shows the then-current path of the canal as well as the outlines of the original canal.

Orleans Hub received an email today from Craig Bacon, the deputy Historian for Niagara County.

Bacon read the report last week in the Orleans Hub about the efforts to clear about 2,000 feet of the original Erie Canal loop in Holley. (Click here to see “Excavators put to work in clearing out old canal loop in Holley.) That section is clogged with trees and heavy brush.

Holley has a historical marker proclaiming this as the last remaining original loop of the Erie Canal. The original canal, completed in 1825, was later enlarged several times, with the last expansion from 1905 to 1918.

In Holley, the canal used to veer sharply to near the Public Square.  The canal would later be straightened near Bennetts Corners Road. However, some of the original section would remain and wasn’t filled in.

Turns out, this isn’t the only original piece of the canal, according to Bacon.

“I have seen this claim many times, and wondered about it,” Bacon wrote in an email. “I can tell you, with near absolute certainty, that this claim is incorrect.”

Provided photo: Craig Bacon also sent in this photo showing what looks like a farm lane next to the Synder family farm in Lockport. This is actually part of the original Erie Canal at the intersection of Harrington Road and North Canal Road.

There is another original part of the Erie Canal in the Town of Lockport, at the intersection of Harrington Road and North Canal Road, very near the border with the Town of Royalton.

“What is seemingly a ditch along a farm lane next to the Snyder Family Farm is actually part of the 1825 canal,” Bacon said.

He has studied maps of land records to verify this claim. He sent the Orleans Hub a recent picture of the area as well as an 1868 survey of the Enlarged Canal.

“From this map, it is very obvious that this ditch is actually the old canal,” he said. “The red dot shows approximately from where the new photo was taken, with the arrow showing the direction.”

Bacon said he is “an Erie Canal aficionado” and appreciates canal’s importance to the state and county.

“I find these hidden gems so fascinating,” he said about the original pieces in Holley and Lockport. “It is very amazing that these almost forgotten pieces of the canal are finally getting the respect they deserve. After all, the Erie Canal transformed New York into the Empire State.”

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Architecture Destroyed: Holley house that burned once owned by leading sheep shipper, banker

Photo courtesy of Tom Rivers, Orleans Hub: The Stoddard-Downs House at 1 S. Main St. in Holley was destroyed in a fire the night of Jan. 5.

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 18 January 2020 at 8:45 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 6, No. 3

HOLLEY – In November of 1984, County Historian and Cobblestone Museum Director C. W. Lattin published a book entitled Architecture Destroyed in Orleans County, New York. The focus of this work was to call attention to the numerous homes, civic buildings, and houses of worship lost to “progress” throughout the history of our county.

Over the 35 years since that book was published, our community has lost countless other structures due to accidents, neglect, or other reasons beyond our control. After the recent unfortunate loss of a beautiful Italianate house on South Main Street in Holley, I thought it would be fitting to highlight the history of past owners of the home while calling attention to a very important role of local historians; the role of documenting current events.

The origins of the home date back to Moses N. Stoddard, whose personal biographical information is drawn from his obituary appearing in the Holley Standard on June 3, 1886. Born in Connecticut, Stoddard worked in a woolen mill as a young man ultimately earning the position of superintendent of the mill. He ventured westward to New York and purchased a parcel of land from the State of Connecticut as part of the 100,000 Acre Tract in the Town of Murray.

Although he expected to remain in the area, he was coaxed back to Connecticut to resume oversight of the same mill he had left earlier. After spending nearly two years in Connecticut he once again returned to Murray where he purchased a parcel of 100 acres.

An 1860 map of Orleans and Niagara counties shows the Village of Holley and a house situated on Main Street in vicinity of the present St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. The house, labeled as “M. N. Stoddard,” no longer exists and the parcel of land on the southwest corner of Main and Albion streets sat vacant. A later map, published in 1875, shows the large stately house situated on the corner, which indicates that the house was likely constructed in the mid to late 1860s.

The house remained in the Stoddard family until the death of Moses in 1886. Although Moses relocated to Walden, NY to live with his son after the death of his wife Sarah in 1881, the house was leased to several local families including Alfred Millard and Burton Keyes in 1882 and later to John Downs in March of 1885. In early September of 1886, John Downs purchased all the property owned by Moses Stoddard located within the boundaries of Holley. This included interest in the Stoddard & Hurd Block on the east side of Public Square, a small house on Albion Street, and the mansion on Main Street, all for the sum of $12,000.

John Downs was born in Clarendon on January 22, 1846 to Irish immigrants. His father, William Downs, was a livestock dealer in Clarendon. Educated in the district schools of Clarendon, John learned the necessary skills associated with the livestock and wool businesses, engaging with markets on the east coast, and expanding his local operations until he became one of the premier shippers of sheep in New York.

In 1875, Downs entered the partnership of Hallwell & Willis, dealers of wool in Rochester, where he remained for approximately eight years. According to his biography recorded within Landmarks of Orleans County by Isaac Signor, Downs relocated to Walden, NY where he organized a private banking business. It is likely no coincidence that Moses Stoddard’s son, George Wells Stoddard, engaged in the same business venture at the same location.

After severing ties with the Walden National Bank, John Downs returned to Holley and purchased an interest in the bank of George Bowman and Luther Hurd. Established in 1868, the bank was first operated by C. W. Gibson and Bowman until George W. Stoddard bought out Gibson’s interest.

At the time of Downs’ purchase in 1882, the bank was operated by Orange Eddy and George Bowman. When the bank was incorporated as the State Exchange Bank, Downs was elected as president until his death in 1901, at which point Michael Kennedy assumed control. After John’s untimely passing, his widow, Eva Glidden Downs, remarried to Edward Vincent. Her son, John, remained in the house for a number of years after as he continued to work as a bookkeeper and assistant cashier in the Exchange Bank.

The tragic and unfortunate loss of this stately home is a reminder of the important role historians play in documenting the physical landmarks in our area.

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Early newspapers in Orleans County directly served political interests

Masthead of the Orleans American (Vol. 2, No. 17) published by Timothy Clapp Strong in Albion, January 1, 1834.

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 11 January 2020 at 8:43 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 6, No. 2

Although society laments the apparent death of objective journalism, bias in the media is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, the concept of nonpartisan news is just over a century old as journalism developed as a profession at the turn of the 20th century. Newspapers of the early 19th century provided political parties with official “organs” that disseminated platform-based editorials and spewed vitriol about rival candidates.

The history of newspapers in Orleans County is a lengthy one, but a story that originates in the early 1820s. Attributed as the first published newspaper in Orleans County, Batavia-native Seymour Tracy produced the short-lived Gazette in Gaines. Tracy, known locally as “One-Legged Tracy,” was recognized throughout Batavia for his intemperate habits leading fellow printers to attribute that behavior to the sudden failure of his paper. John Fisk, who worked with Tracy, picked up the loose ends and continued the newspaper as the Orleans Whig in 1827.

Other evidence suggests that Tracy published his first issue of The Gazette around 1824, which would make it the second paper published in Orleans County. The first, then, is attributed to Benjamin Franklin Cowdery who established the Newport Patriot in 1823. Born on May 26, 1790 at New Marlborough, Massachusetts, fellow printers regarded Cowdery as an “itinerant printer” due to his frequent movements across the wilderness of Western New York. His earliest newspaper publications included the Hamilton Recorder at Olean in 1819 and the Angelica Republican in 1820. According to published histories regarding the printing industry in Western New York, Cowdery was responsible for publishing at least eight different newspapers prior to 1830. This, in the mind of fellow printers, suggested that Cowdery was ill-equipped to speak on behalf of the profession.

Instead, Cowdery’s rapid establishment and sale of printing enterprises represents the volatility of newspaper publication on the frontier. As Cowdery learned in Olean, the number of paid subscribers was insufficient to support the ongoing operation of the paper. It is likely that he faced a similar realization in Albion leading to the sale of the Newport Patriot to Timothy Clapp Strong in February of 1825. The subsequent change of the paper’s name to The Orleans Advocate provided Strong with a fresh start for the newspaper in the burgeoning Canal town.

The disappearance of William Morgan in 1826 gave Strong, a long-standing Freemason, the opportunity to disavow the organization and rename his newspaper The Orleans Advocate & Anti-Masonic Telegraph in early 1828. The name was quickly shortened to The Orleans Anti-Masonic Telegraph in February of that year and by July 4, 1828, Strong’s name appears as a signer of the “Declaration of Independence” signed at the Convention of Seceding Masons held at LeRoy. The name change provides the first direct insight into the political leanings of the publication, but local pressure against the paper’s name must have been immense as Strong once again changed the name to The Orleans Telegraph in late 1828. The Republican leanings of the Telegraph led then Village of Albion president, Alexis Ward, to seek out Cephas McConnell to publish a Democratic-leaning paper.

The newspaper changed names to The American Standard and eventually became The Orleans American in 1833. Strong sold out to John Denio and moved to Geneva in order to attempt the establishment of another newspaper. In 1839, a newspaper article from the Wayne Sentinel highlighted Strong’s new venture. The article opened by referencing Strong’s unofficial title of “Iscariot, from whence obtained we do not know,” continuing, “We predict he will not meet with better success there, than in other places in which he has figured as a champion of anti-masonry…Timothy will find but few that will follow him as a political guide.” The nickname, derived from Judas Iscariot, is likely attributed to his betrayal of the Freemasons. By the mid-1830s, anti-masonry had melded into the Whig Party and the publication of such papers was viewed as obsolete.

This masthead, from the Orleans American, reveals the limited amount of advertising matter in local papers during the early nineteenth century. The two largest advertisements relate to the dry goods business of Roswell and Lorenzo Burrows. Aside from legal announcements and advertisements, there are no articles concerning local matters in this early issue. The majority of the content consists of serialized literature, poetry, and state or national news. Printers often avoided publishing content that subscribers could get by word of mouth.

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Local historians have served communities for over 100 years

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 4 January 2020 at 8:41 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 6, No. 1

Now that 2019 has concluded, the centennial celebration of the legislation requiring each municipality in New York to appoint a local historian has also passed. Signed into law by Gov. Al Smith on April 11, 1919, New York became the first and only state to mandate the appointment of municipal historians.

Gubernatorial portrait of Al Smith of New York, by Douglas Volk

This legislation resulted from efforts to preserve the histories of New York servicemen and the impact of the First World War on local communities. Under the direction of James Sullivan and Alexander Flick, local government historians gathered service information from their respective communities and sent those reports to the State Historian.

The language requiring each municipality to appoint an historian is found within Section 57.07 of the NYS Arts and Cultural Affairs Law. Local Government Historian Law stipulates that each city, town, or village shall appoint an historian, except for any city with a population of over one million in which case an historian shall be appointed for each borough.

In the case of counties, the Board of Supervisors is permitted to appoint a county historian tasked largely with supporting the work of city, village, and town historians within their boundaries. Although the law provided municipalities with the authority to appropriate funds to support the work of local historians, it does not require that the appointed historian be compensated for their work.

Each historian is tasked with one overarching responsibility, to preserve government records with “enduring value for historical and other research” while assisting with coordinated efforts to develop collections of non-government records. Ultimately, the goal of local historians is to encourage the use of these collections for research that creates an understanding and appreciation of their community’s history.

This language is relatively broad, but the State further defined the responsibilities of municipal historians as categorized in four major areas; research and writing, education and programming, historic preservation, and organization, advocacy, and tourism. Since its inception, the interpretation of the law and the duties outlined within it have changed to reflect new methods of engaging with communities, including the use of technology to preserve information in an increasingly digital world.

Over the last 100 years, villages and towns in Orleans County have filled their posts with highly proficient and passionate historians. Yet for many municipalities, identifying residents willing to fill the vacancies for nominal stipends, or no remuneration at all, has proved challenging.

In 1929, the Village of Albion appointed Lillian Achilles to serve as its first historian, nearly ten years after the passing of the Local Government Historian Law. At the county level, it was not until 1944 when Joseph Achilles was appointed as historian that the position was made salaried at $900 per year.

As for those early records of service during World War One, the NYS Archives has digitized these collections and made them available for free to residents of New York. Of those in Orleans County, four town historians submitted information including H. Clure White of Gaines, Mary Bamber of Carlton, Fred T. Potter of Clarendon, and Charles Burt of Kendall.

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Local mills proved essential for growth of communities

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 28 December 2019 at 8:49 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 48

ALBION – This image, taken in the early 1920s, shows the Woods & Sprague Mill located on East State Street in Albion. The mill relied largely on water from the West Branch of Sandy Creek, which passes under the Erie Canal at this location. Looking east, the Brown Street Canal Bridge is visible in the distance and the image is part of a series that shows leakage from the Canal into the foundation of the mill.

The history of this mill dates back 1819 when William Bradner purchased 266.5 acres of land from the Holland Land Company for the sum of $1,159.00. According to Arad Thomas, Bradner relocated from Palmyra and purchased several lots of land including Lot 35 from William McAllister. Aside from the construction of an early sawmill, Bradner’s grist mill included mill stones which he personally cut by hand in Palmyra.

Grist mills provided an essential service to local farmers, particularly in the years preceding the construction of the Erie Canal. According to Gaines pioneer John Proctor, the closest grist mill to his property was Black Creek, nearly 25 miles away. However, the path to that mill was so difficult to traverse that the 30-mile trek to Rochester was much faster.

Arad Thomas noted in the Pioneer History of Orleans County that “the people of Kendall took their grain to Rochester, or to Farwell’s mill in Clarendon, to be ground. Farwell’s mill was much nearest, but the road to it was almost impassable with a load, and the little mill had not capacity to do all the work in that part of the country.” In response, residents constructed grist mills within their community; Ose Webster constructed a mill at Kendall Mills around 1819 which resolved the travel constraints highlighted by Thomas.

In colonial New England, the grist mill provided its owner with a symbol of status in the community. Millwrights possessed skills that bridged across the talents of carpenters, smiths, and masons, making their work far more valuable and desirable than blacksmiths. As bread represented a dietary staple, millwrights and millers were often viewed as life-givers in their communities.

The same held true for early mill owners in Orleans County. Needing flour to sustain their families, local grist mills provided farmers with the ability to grind wheat into flour and corn into meal. With little means of transporting surplus crops to market, many mills operated in conjunction with distilleries until the Erie Canal opened in 1825.

A land deed from 1834 shows a transfer of ownership from Freeman Clarke to Joshua Rathbun for the sum of $10,000 – quite the increase in value from Bradner’s 1819 purchase price. Rathbun would eventually share “mill privilege” with Roswell Clark in an 1844 deed transfer for the sum of $10.00 at which point the records reference Bradner’s “old grist mill.” That same year, the property was sold at public auction to Alexis Ward for the sum of $2,000.

An 1849 advertisement in the Rochester Daily Democrat advertised the sale of the building, noting the mill was “propelled by water and steam, or either…it has four runs of 4.5 ft stone. Custom and Merchant Bolts mostly new and everything in good running order. A large and commodious warehouse has been recently added, and a storehouse for barrels.”

The mill lot was sold to Orson Tousley from Wilson & Ward in 1853 for $12,200 and John B. Lee was brought in as a partner in 1855 when he purchased half-interest for $6,000. Tousley & Lee sold out to Jerome Lee, John Lee’s nephew, in 1858 and the property once again sold to Hannah Smith in 1879. George Sprague purchased the lot from Smith in 1886, thus starting the line of ownership that would lead to the Woods & Sprague partnership.

Once located behind the present-day Community Action building on East State Street, an August 23, 1934 article in the Medina Tribune highlights the last legs of this historic structure. “A modern structure having supplanted it, the more than century-old Woods and Sprague grist mill in Clarendon Street between the Barge Canal and East State Street, which marks the birthplace of milling in Albion, is being torn down.”

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Santa School founder built beloved Christmas Park

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 21 December 2019 at 8:07 am

80,000 people visited the Albion attraction in 1960

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 47

ALBION – Starting in the mid-1950s, Charles Howard started the process of converting his farm and barns to a Christmas-themed amusement park. On Saturday, September 22, 1956, this “entertainment, education, gift, and amusement center,” opened for a short, 13-week season.

Mrs. Henry Greene of Medina provided “Christmas Village,” a collection of 20 small houses, schools, churches, and other structures, fully furnished and lighted – an endeavor that required 25 years of collecting to complete. Also included was “Toy Lane,” a collection of 23 window scenes aimed at simulating store fronts. Children had opportunities to visit with Santa Claus, see reindeer in the stables, and visit Mrs. Santa’s Kitchen for a bite to eat.

Charlie Howard, left, was hands on in running Christmas Park in Albion.

In the files of the Department of History is a five-page Director’s Report prepared by Charles Howard for Christmas Park’s Board of Directors in February of 1960. Howard noted that extensive efforts were underway to rebuild the south end of the big barn, as the timbers were rotting away – they gutted the section and a steel beam was installed.

To prepare the miniature train for visitors, the cars were touched up and the engine sent to Buffalo where it would be examined, putting it “up in first class condition.” The business was in full swing and seeing considerable success after four years of operation. Howard noted that he sold the most merchandise in the history of the business during the current season, shipping out nearly 150 wigs and beards for cleaning and selling a large quantity of new merchandise.

The question of opening day was directed to the board members, noting that previous suggestions included opening the Saturday before Decoration Day (Memorial Day) all the way through the end of June. Howard mentioned the importance of shortening hours after Labor Day, but proposed extended hours over the summer, despite the need for added labor to do so. The biggest issue brought forth was the question of admission rates. He writes that 1959 was the first year since the Park opened in 1956 that complaints about the ticket prices were minimal; $.75 for adults and $.10 for children.

The surprising success of the Park was attributed to word-of-mouth advertising, but Howard recognized the importance of advertising outside of Orleans County to attract visitors. In a detailed breakdown of marketing ideas, he suggested that 24 sheet billboards be leased at $40 per month in Rochester and $50 per month in Buffalo. Should they want to light those billboards up at night, each would cost an additional $10 per month; he placed considerable emphasis on the point that this effort “must be done now.”

Road signs were also proposed for a more local approach. In 1960, the business had approximately 10 signs along Rt. 98 through to Batavia and Howard suggested adding a minimum of 40 more at $40 per sign. The previous year, Christmas Park handed out 41,600 brochures, a little more than half of the total visitors to the park, and a minimum of 70,000 was the proposed number for 1960. That year the Park attracted over 80,000 visitors.

After several years of operating Christmas Park as Executive Director, the operation grew to a point where he could no longer oversee it alone and resigned his position to a corporation of businessmen. On June 25, 1964, Howard wrote a letter asking for his name to be removed from all printed material and the sign at the entrance to the park.

The Buffalo Courier Express published a short article about the impending financial troubles of Santa Claus School, Inc., quoting Howard as saying, “They put in merry-go-rounds and ferris wheels. I have nothing against these things, but in Christmas Park a ferris wheel should be in the form of a Christmas wreath, and a merry-go-round should have reindeer to ride on.” He also claimed that the directors “lost the spirit of Christmas,” which resulted in financial losses.

In 1965, the operation filed for bankruptcy with debts totaling $95,324.00 ($748,836.81 today). Two months later the operation, consisting of Christmas Park and Santa School Inc., was sold at public auction and purchased by Vincent Cardone for the sum of $31,000. Elizabeth Babcock, who was acting as caretaker for the park and school after closing, acquired the Santa suit and equipment portion of the operation for $2,000. Newspapers reported an attendance of over 100 bidders at the auction, some coming from as far as Florida.

Unfortunately, the world lost one of its most beloved men the following year on May 1, 1966. Howard suffered a fatal heart attack, and as Bill Lattin so eloquently wrote, “guided his sleigh into the limitless great beyond.”

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Santa school started in 1937 with only 1 student, but then would gain a following

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 14 December 2019 at 7:35 am

Charles Howard works with a student at Howard’s Santa Claus school in Albion.

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 5, Issue 46

ALBION – There is no better way to reflect upon the holiday season than to recall the story behind the foundation of the world’s first Santa Claus school established in Albion. Thankfully, the history of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School was recorded in 1966 in Charlie Howard’s own words before his passing on May 1st of that year.

As a young child, Howard enjoyed crafting toy furniture and wagons from wood, which friends and neighbors adored so much that they often gifted them to loved ones. His mother sewed a suit for him as a boy to play the role of Santa Claus as he was “a short fat boy.” Wearing a “false face,” his blue eyes were filled with joy but he felt the mask was “more frightening to children than his own.”

He always admired the store Santa, but was never able to work up the courage to do it himself. One year he visited the Merrill & Son Furniture Store at Albion and suggested that they hire him to play the role of Santa while making toys in the front window; he was quickly hired and paid $15 per week.

Eventually he wrote to a store in Rochester seeking a similar position and was asked to visit for an interview. After traveling 35 miles outside of Albion, Howard arrived at the store dressed in his suit. The store owner took one look at him and asked “when can you start work?”; no questions asked.

Charlie was so terrified on his first day that he refused to exit the dressing room. When the store staff eventually forced him out, the smiling faces of hundreds of children melted those fears away and the day passed quickly. The journey from Albion to Rochester was a lengthy one, but convenient by way of the Falls Branch of the New York Central Railroad. He would awake at 4 a.m., complete his morning farm chores with the aid of a hired man, and his wife would drive him to Albion in time to catch the train.

It was after one particular interaction with a child that he fully realized the significance of Santa Claus. On that occasion, a little girl asked, “Santa, will you promise me something?” “What is it you want me to promise?” Howard responded. The child creeped in closer and whispered, “Will you promise me you will never shave?” At that point he understood that Santa meant a great deal to children, an interaction that led to a heightened curiosity about Santa Claus. He began to study, reading about his origins, and about who he was – he quickly realized that there was more to Santa than he had ever imagined.

It was in 1937 that he started the school, an event that made headline news. His first class consisted of one student, Frederick Wise, a welder from New Jersey who paid $15.00 for his tuition. The lack of response was disheartening at first but he was encouraged to raise tuition in an effort to increase the perceived value of the program. Gradually increasing the rate to $25.00, then $40.00, and finally $50.00, he witnessed an increase in enrollment each time.

“Santa originated in the home. It was best to keep him there,” was Howard’s reflection upon the establishment of the school. With no official schoolhouse or classroom, classes were held inside the family home located at the intersection of Gaines Basin Road and Route 31.

As interest in the program increased, he enlisted the help of experts in various areas. Charlie Hood of Medina was respected as a great showman and so his assistance was helpful in that aspect of portraying Santa. Ed Butters of Coldwater, Michigan was an expert in reindeer, so he was brought in to assist with one of the most important aspects of the Santa experience.

During World War Two the shortage of men led to women attempting the role, but as Howard recalled this only worked if the woman had a “deep voice.” One woman had such a voice and was a huge hit until store patrons complained about Santa visiting the ladies’ room! Howard went as far as to try a mail order course, which failed miserably; the spirit instilled by Charlie was the most important part of the school experience.

He told store owners, “to have what it takes to be a good Santa, one must have it in his head and in his heart rather than under his belt…they could take care of that without effort.” From a young age, he realized that teaching the role of Santa was a great task and always viewed that task as a privilege. So important was this role, that Howard remarked, “Show me a store’s Santa or a community Santa and I’ll tell you exactly the kind of store or community it is.”

It is no surprise that Orleans County had the best Santa of all; the original.

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During Great Depression, kids didn’t have lengthy wish list for Santa

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 7 December 2019 at 8:14 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 45

Another year has passed, and another volume of Overlooked Orleans has concluded. To write another article about Charlie Howard and his Santa Claus School is perhaps cliché for the Christmas season.

Those years of perfecting the spirit of Santa, dating back to his childhood days when as “a short fat boy” his mother sewed a suit for him to play the role, brought about a more meaningful understanding to the holiday season. A man whose passions rested with the children, who anticipated the abundance of gifts and dolefully observed the quick passing of this festive time of year.

While perusing old issues of the Orleans Republican, I was drawn to a column which appeared during the month of December in which the newspaper accepted letters to Santa Claus for publication. The short notes written to Kris Kringle during the Great Depression reflect a gentle consciousness of the hardships associated with the time. Amidst the friendly but firm requests for the latest toy or the nicest doll came appeals for family support and gifts for siblings. I thought it might be worth sharing some of those stories this year.

“Dear Santa Claus, I am a little girl 2 ½ years old. I have long curls and blue eyes. Dear Santa, please bring me a big doll, a doll buggy and a choo choo train and some aggets. Thank you very much. Don’t forget my brother Junior, my cousins Bobby and Richard DeCarlo. Your pal, DeLois Marie DeCarlo, 63 West Ave.” (1936).

“Dear Santa Claus, I am writing my letter to you for Christmas. I bet you are very busy and some of your little elves…I am going to ask for a nice little type writter and a real one too. And I want a sled. That is all I want because you have other children that want and need them…My name is Eleanor Louise Brooks and my age is 11 years old.” (1936)

“Dear Santa Claus, My name is Leona Marcks I am 11 years old. I have been a good girl and help my mother. I want shoes rubber gloves, my sister Frances is 8 years old. She want shoes rubber gloves, my brother Edward is 10 years old he want a hat, gloves. Peter is 5 years old he want a suit and stocking. Stanley is 4 years old and want suit and stocking. My baby brother Valentine is 1 ½ years old and want shoes and a suit and he want an orange. Thank you very much. Yours truly, Leona Marcks.” (1931)

“Dear Santa, We always rite you at Xmas but we wonder why you don’t bring us what we ask for, so this year I’m going to ask you again if you can find a doll buggy will you bring one for my little sister Marjorie she wants a buggy real bad also some shoes and rubbers size 12 shoes…please Santa try and think of us if you possibly can because Daddy has been sick so he can’t work and he don’t have enough money to buy us things at all now. We like oranges and candy too if you have some to spare…With love from Evelyn Durrant” (1933)

One can only imagine little Evelyn’s frustrations that her requests for gifts appeared to go unnoticed; thankfully she did not realize the impact of her father’s illness and work situation on the family’s Christmas plans. This is a season for being thankful for everything we have!

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Albionite fled community after speculating bank’s wealth on Wall Street

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 30 November 2019 at 7:26 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 44

ALBION – One of the most infamous stories to occupy the annals of Orleans County history is that of Albion resident Albert S. Warner. Regarded as one of the most “flamboyant” citizens in the area, Warner was a prominent and respected member of local society who participated heavily in Democratic politics, serving as County Treasurer in 1869 and president of the Albion Board of Education in 1881.

Orleans County Department of History: Albert S. Warner

In 1863, Roswell and Lorenzo Burrows reorganized the Bank of Albion into the First National Bank of Albion, placing Roswell at the helm of the institution as bank president. An extremely wealthy man, Burrows invested heavily in mid-west real estate, coal mining in Virginia, railroad bonds, stock in the Suspension Bridge Company at Niagara Falls, and countless other securities. One day, the young Albert Warner ventured into the bank in search of a job; Burrows took a liking to “Allie” and hired him immediately.

Burrows died in 1879, leaving a short line of successors to the bank presidency and his $6,000,000 estate. The next logical president was William Burrows, the son of Roswell, but his habitual drunkenness removed him from contention. Next in line was Alexander Stewart, the son-in-law of Roswell, who took control of the bank until his sudden and unexpected death in 1881. Waiting patiently was Warner who stepped into the position as bank president and assumed control of the Burrows estate.

Three years later, suspicion arose regarding Warner’s handling of the wealth left behind by Burrows and Warner was served with a court order requiring him to file an inventory of the estate on August 18, 1884. In hindsight, perhaps, it is no surprise that when the 18th of August arrived, Warner was nowhere to be found and no written inventory of the estate was provided to Judge Signor. Nearly two days passed before the trustees of the bank disposed of Warner as president.

The trustees of the First National Bank of Albion then faced one overwhelming issue; Warner was missing, yet he was the only person with the combination to the bank vault. An expert was summoned to break into the vault and upon opening the door, the trustees were appalled to find an empty room; no depositors’ bonds, no securities, and no cash. Local authorities supposed that Warner had speculated the bank’s wealth, well over $40,000, on Wall Street.

Fleeing to Canada, Warner left his wife Jennie in Albion to sustain herself by boarding people at their home. The Orleans Republican wrote that the handsome young man would not be able to disguise himself, as it was a known fact that Warner was incapable of growing a mustache or beard.

It is this piece of information that local lore is centered upon. When Lewis Warner passed away in 1887, the fugitive Warner purportedly returned to Albion disguised as a woman to say one last goodbye to his beloved father.

New York City newspapers published countless stories about Warner’s numerous visits to the city, one waiter remarking, “He never spent a cent for anything that he did not get full value for if  he could help it…he was constantly growling about the manner in which his meats were cooked and the time required to prepare his meals, until, finally, it became such a disagreeable duty to wait upon him that he might have sat at a table all day before one of us would willingly take his order…”

Fact or fiction, the story remains a staple anecdote that always solicits a chuckle from a heeding crowd.

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Photo from late 1800s shows a bustling downtown Albion

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 16 November 2019 at 8:12 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 43

ALBION – This photograph, taken some time in the late 1880s or early 1890s, shows Main Street in Albion looking north from Bank Street. Comparing this image to a current view of the village, readers will notice very few changes in the cityscape of downtown Albion.

The only marking on the obverse side of the photo is the photographer, Francis J. Burnett. The approximate date of 1886-1893 is deduced by the appearance of a large wooden sign that reads “Western New York Hedge Company.” Organized in 1886 by Dwight Beckwith, the WNY Hedge Company encouraged local farmers to plant hedgerows between fields rather than using wooden fences. The short-lived company failed soon after around 1893.

Two village directories, one from 1887 and the other from 1894, provide a detailed look into life in Albion nearing the turn of the 20th century. The most notable feature of this image is the wide unpaved street. Sidewalks and curbing are all cut from locally quarried Medina sandstone and paving blocks run across the street at various locations to prevent pedestrians from soiling their shoes. Horses and buggies, the predominant method of transportation, are visible along the street. The attentive observer will notice the presence of hitching posts lining the sidewalks and the abundance of “road apples” scattered throughout the street, both indicative of equine transportation.

Businesses lined the streets of late-19th century Albion, providing residents with ample opportunities to purchase a variety of goods at specialty shops. On the left side of this image, awnings are pulled down over the storefronts of George W. Barrell’s Central Drug Store and James Bailey & Son’s Grocery Store. The mortar and pestle atop a four-sided post near the intersection of Main and Bank streets draws attention to the drug store. A small sign adjacent to Bailey’s Grocery Store reads “Law Office,” directing visitors to attorneys with offices on the upper floors of the Swan Block. The 1887 and 1894 village directories indicate that John Cunneen, Dean Currie, John G. Sawyer, and George Bullard all had offices in the upper floor of that building. Slightly visible lettering on the windows of the second floor advertise Oscar Eddy’s Insurance Agency as well.

Traveling north along the west side of the street, the image shows G. H. Sickels & Co. dry goods store with the awning retracted, followed by Franklin Clarke’s drug store, Landauer & Strouse’s dry goods, the Rochester Cash Store, and Lyman Root’s grocery store. Signs projecting from the upper floors of these blocks advertise the meeting rooms for the Ancient Order of United Workmen (labeled as Select Knights No. 3, Orleans Legion), the Grand Army of the Republic, and a millinery business operated by Lizzie Griswold. The Pratt Block, occupied by Lyman Root on the first floor, was occupied by his wife Emma Root’s millinery shop. The third floor, of course, was occupied by the Opera House. Further up the street is a sign that reads “Bakery” situated outside of Ben Franklin’s confectionary and bakery business followed by Henry Onderdonk’s furniture store and Guy Merrill’s hardware store.

Turning our attention to the east side of the street, several men have gathered around the large pocket watch advertisement in front of the Empire Block. Although difficult to read, the name H. W. Preston appears on the watch face. Hiram Preston’s jewelry store is just out of sight, although the store’s white awning is visible in the image. Another sign calls attention to Charles H. Eddy’s harness shop. Located in the “Grover Block,” Eddy shared space with John Kane, a boot and shoe salesman and Jay Sweet, who operated a drug store. The next stretch of buildings included a liquor store and brandy distillery operated by Palmer & Briggs, and George Waterman’s hardware store, which operated out of Andrew Wall’s Gothic Hall. This particular building stands out due to the presence of its gabled roof facing the street.

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