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Coopers, who were skilled in making barrels, played essential role in local agriculture

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 19 May 2018 at 7:24 am

Cooperage of Charles Bennett at Eagle Harbor c. 1880

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 20

When reflecting upon the various skills and trades that once existed in this area, it is amazing to see how much society has changed. We no longer rely upon the chair caner, the cobbler, or the blacksmith to produce the items we so easily purchase from the nearby department store. Yet a series of articles in 2015 indicated that the resurging bourbon industry could potentially lead to a barrel shortage and the need for coopers to produce the casks required for storing alcohol, so perhaps not all of these “ancient” trades have disappeared.

The production of barrels was significant to the establishment of Orleans County, not as a direct result of barrel construction but as a byproduct of the need for staves. Arad Thomas mentions the production and shipment of staves on several occasions in his book Pioneer History of Orleans County, New York. His most detailed account relates to James Mather of Gaines, who exchanged needed resources and tools with settlers for staves. The staves were then sent to the mouth of the Oak Orchard or Genesee River and shipped to Montreal where tools and resources were sent in return. Isaac Signor notes the significance of stave production to the development of numerous areas throughout Orleans County, calling attention to a sizable stave manufacturing operation established by Charles Simmonds on Church Street in Medina around 1859.

This particular picture shows a cooperage operated by Charles Bennett sometime around 1880 at Eagle Harbor. Based on information recorded on the reverse of the image, the outfit stood on the south side of the Erie Canal near the bridge. An 1875 map of Eagle Harbor shows a building labeled as C. Bennett & Co. near the south edge of the Canal just east of Eagle Harbor Road, but we also see a cooper shop marked at the end of Midway Road on the north side of the Canal. Standing on the far left is Henry Fountain, with C. Bennett sitting in the left window and Charles Bennett standing fourth from left with what appears to be a book in hand. This would indicate that Charles was in charge of this particular operation as the other men are standing with tools in hand.

One particular point worth drawing attention to is the span of ages present in the photograph. Older men appear alongside boys as an indication of how the trade was carried on over the years. Young men started their work as apprentices and learned the nuances of the profession from the journeymen and master coopers who, for some, had practiced the trade for decades. I often think back to the stories of my Great Grandfather, George Henry Ballard, who worked for Duffy Mott in Hamlin, NY as a barrel cooper. As a young man, he learned the trade by working with his father, Charles Ballard, who in turn had learned the trade from his step-father, Mortimer Clark. For some of the men, the profession was one filled with uncertainty as the ebb and flow of growing seasons could create a dearth of work at times.

Much can be said about the complexities of what seems like a fairly straightforward process, yet the trade of the cooper was one marked by precision and attention to detail. A cooper was not simply a cooper, as some specialized as “white coopers” or those who manufactured churns and pails, others specialized as “slack coopers” who manufactured barrels for dry goods such as grain and flour, and others specialized as “tight coopers” who produced barrels for storing oil, molasses, and alcohol. Each specialty required a familiarity with particular types of wood and processes for preparing the staves for assembly. As an example, the wet cooper produced barrels using staves cut from straight grain green wood, which would bend far easier and was resistant to rotting.

The men at this cooperage were slack coopers, preparing barrels for the shipment of agricultural products such as apples and grains. Perhaps one of the best features of this image is that it showcases the various stages of barrel making, though I would venture a guess and say that was not the intention. First the staves were cut with a drawknife and axe, and then allowed to dry to prevent shrinking after the barrel was assembled. Although some coopers performed this work, many farmers chose to produce staves and sell them to the cooper as a means for reducing the costs associated with purchasing barrels.

The cooper then used a shingle horse or shaving horse to carefully shave appropriate tapers and bevels to each stave. A young man sits near the center on a shaving horse and appears to be working with a stave. A stave with a larger taper resulted in a barrel with a larger bulge in the center, which was far stronger and fit for storing wet goods. The staves were set in a truss hoop at the bottom, as seen by the young boy standing five in from the right, and placed over a blazing fire to allow the staves to bend. The barrel staves were then drawn together using a cooper’s windlass and hoops were hammered into place using a hoop driver. Barrels for storing dry goods were manufactured using birch or cedar hoops as opposed to metal hoops.

After the hoops were set, the cooper trimmed the staves to equal length with a hand adze, the tool that looks like a hammer with a curved end, and the man standing in the center holds a sun plane that was used to smooth out the ends of the staves. A croze was used to cut a groove around the top and bottom of the barrel so that the barrel head could be installed.

The production of barrels was a time consuming process, one that required hours of physical labor and a well-trained eye. The piles of wood shavings strewn across the ground in this image show how much preparation was required before assembly of the barrels. The tattered leather aprons demonstrate the ongoing use of fire to bend and craft the curves within each barrel and the extensive number of men standing in front of the cooperage shows the significance of the barrel to agriculture in Orleans County.

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Debut progressive organ concert and dinner was a sellout

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 May 2018 at 10:17 am

Cobblestone Museum has busy calendar of events

Photos by Tom Rivers: Gary Simboli plays the organ at the First Baptist Church in Albion on Saturday night, the final stop in a progressive organ concert that was also a progressive dinner.

The Cobblestone Society & Museum organized the first time event it was a sellout with 80 participants.

Maarit Vaga, the event organizer, wanted to showcase three historic churches and their pipe organs. Besides the First Baptist Church, the event included stops at Christ Church and the Cobblestone Universalist Church.

The event featured three very different historic pipe organs. Simboli played a 1925 Moller Pipe Organ. The instrument features two separate pipe chambers and pressure driven pneumatic action. Simboli is an award-winning instrumental music teacher at Albion High School.

Simboli was joined by guest soloist, the Reverend Aleka Schmidt who is pastor of the First Baptist Church. She is also a classically trained soprano.

Dessert was served following Simboli’s recital.

Christ Church was the second stop on the progressive event. After the concert, Doug Farley, director of the Cobblestone Museum, gives instructions to the crowd about dinner, which was served in the church’s fellowship hall.

Darryl Smith performed on the 1877 Steer & Turner Pipe Organ at Christ Church. This instrument is unique in that it maintains its original mechanical linkage, known as tracker action, between the keyboard and pipes. Smith is the principal organist at Christ Church.

Maarit Vaga prepared a beef bourguignon dinner.

The event started at the Cobblestone Universalist Church, which was built in 1834, making it North America’s oldest cobblestone church. The first stop on the progressive concert included appetizers and wine.

Andrew Meier of Medina played the 1904 Estey Reed Organ. This unusual instrument was built for church performance in Brattleboro, Vermont, and features two full keyboards and a pedal board. Meier is the principal organist at Trinity Lutheran Church in Medina.

The Cobblestone Museum has an expanded schedule of events this year. Next up is Friday at 6 p.m. with a tour of eight outhouses at the museum.

For more on the museum, click here.

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Albion boy attended execution of Lincoln assassination cospirators

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 12 May 2018 at 7:17 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 19

John Chamberlain Collins is believed to be the young boy standing, observing bodies of conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination; image dated July 7, 1865.

Last week’s article featured the story of William Collins of Albion who claimed that he was present with the detachment of cavalrymen from the 16th New York Cavalry responsible for the capture of John Wilkes Booth. Occasionally I receive feedback from readers that pushes me in a particular direction and this week just happens to be one of those occasions. Steven Miller of Illinois, an expert on Boston Corbett, contacted me about John Chamberlain Collins and encouraged me to explore his story. So I thought it would be of interest to share more about the life of John C. Collins.

John Collins was born September 19, 1850 at Albion to Michael and Susan Collins; one of nine children born to the couple. He was raised Roman Catholic, presumably attending St. Joseph’s Church after its establishment, and attended the local schools in the village. At the outbreak of the Civil War, his brother William enlisted with the 28th New York Infantry raised under the command of David Hardie. John was eleven years old and simply too young to even lie about his age to enter the service.

Based on the recollections of John Collins, his brother was home on furlough likely around the time of his father’s death in 1864. It was at this time that John, with some gentle coaxing, traveled to Washington, D.C. to stay with William for a short period of time. A series of unfortunate events involving William, including a battle wound, three-month recovery, and eventual capture by Confederate soldiers, extended John’s stay with the 16th New York Cavalry.

The men of the unit adopted the fourteen-year-old Collins as a sort of “regimental boy” or mascot for the group, cutting a small uniform for him and providing him with a pony that was too small for regular service. Mr. Miller sent me an article that appeared in The Sunday Star, a Washington, D.C. newspaper, on April 12, 1914. In the article, John Collins recalls his presence with the unit, noting that they were stationed just outside of Washington when Lincoln was assassinated. After news reached the regiment, detachments were sent out in search of Booth and Herold, although he is careful to make no mention of his brother William in this particular piece.

The focus of the particular article is his brief relationship with Boston Corbett, the man credited with killing Booth. Collins recalled that Corbett was an eccentric man whose tent was positioned across the street from his in the company town. As a devout Christian, Corbett wore his hair parted in the center because “Jesus did so,” and frequently claimed that he was divinely selected to avenge the death of the “great-hearted President.”

Perhaps the most interesting anecdote pertaining to John Collins relates to the trial and execution of those accused of conspiring to kill Abraham Lincoln with John Wilkes Booth. When Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt were set to be executed on July 7, 1865 for their connection to the assassination plot, Collins recalled this particular story about the events:

“Shortly before 2 o’clock the doors leading into the courtyard from the old penitentiary were opened and the procession slowly made its way to the scaffold and up the thirteen steps to seats on the platform. Mrs. Surratt came first, assisted by a guard. Others following were Payne (sic), Herold, and Atzerodt, in the order named, each attended by a guard. Mrs. Surratt moved very slowly and with great difficulty. She seemed to be on the point of collapse…Then all at once they were all standing upon the trap door and the nooses at the ends of the dangling ropes were placed carefully around their necks. Gov. J. F. Hartranft, governor of military prisons, clapped his hands twice and instantly four human beings dropped through the opening…”

Collins could recall this story in such detail because he was present to witness the executions. As he described, he pressed his way through the lines of soldiers until reaching the front. His presence was likely permitted due to his uniform and was believed to be the youngest witness to the execution. This photograph shows the aftermath of the event, two soldiers stand on the front left corner of the gallows with rifles over their shoulders. One man appears to be looking to his left towards the young boy standing with a forage cap atop his head and sack strung over his shoulder. He appears to gaze with interest at the bodies hanging from the ropes, those individuals accused of conspiring to assassinate the President of the United States.

Steven Miller believes that this young man was, in fact, John C. Collins. As noted by Barry Cauchon, at least one researcher believes this to be a boy around the age of 8-10, meaning it is not Collins. Cauchon notes that Alfred Gibson, Gov. Hartranft’s 16-year-old assistant, was also present for the execution. One might ask how a 16-year-old might look more like an 8-10 year old than a 14-year old. The point is that the list of known boys present at the execution contains two names; Collins and Gibson.

After the war, John Collins attended Brockport Normal School (now SUNY Brockport) and eventually graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1875. After the conclusion of his studies, he enrolled in Yale’s School of Religion and graduated in 1878 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. More remarkable than his presence at the execution of Surratt, Herold, Powell, and Atzerodt was his life after the war. He took an interest in Christian social work and assumed leadership of the New Haven, Connecticut Boys’ Club in 1884, growing the membership of the organization considerably over a three-year period. By 1891, his work was responsible for growing the organization’s oversight to more than 13,000 boys. Although he was not responsible for establishing the organization, the Rev. John C. Collins expanded the reach of what we now know as the Boys & Girls Club of America.

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Debut progressive organ concert and dinner nearly sold out

Staff Reports Posted 8 May 2018 at 12:03 pm

Cobblestone Museum coordinating event at 3 historic churches

Photos by Tom Rivers: Andrew Meier on Saturday will perform on the 1904 Estey Reed Organ at the former Childs Universalist Church, which is now part of the Cobblestone Museum. That stop on the progressive concert includes appetizers and wine.

ALBION – A new Cobblestone Society & Museum event on Saturday combines a progressive dinner with a progressive organ concert.

The event features three very different historic pipe organs. Local musicians will play the organs, with the event also highlighting churches that are federally recognized historic sites. The event has already nearly sold out, with 65 of the 80 tickets taken.

“It comes back to this magnificent place that we have here in Orleans County with this great heritage which includes these churches,” said Maarit Vaga, the event organizer. “We’re trying in many different ways to highlight the heritage we have in this community.”

The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. with the first stop at the former Childs Universalist Church, which was built in 1834, making it North America’s oldest cobblestone church. Andrew Meier of Medina will play the 1904 Estey Reed Organ.  This unusual instrument was built for church performance in Brattleboro, Vermont, and features two full keyboards and a pedal board.

Meier, principal organist at Trinity Lutheran Church in Medina, will perform selections designed to highlight church music from the early 1900s and will demonstrate the full melodic function of the instrument. Born and raised in Medina, Meier graduated from Medina High School in 1997, and graduated magna cum laude in political science from the University of Rochester in 2001 and cum laude from the Syracuse University College of Law in 2004. Appetizers and wine will be served at this stop.

Darryl Smith will perform on the 1877 Steer & Turner Pipe Organ at Christ Church, where a beef bourguignon dinner will follow the concert.

The second stop in the recital will be at Christ Episcopal Church on Main Street in Albion, where organist Darryl Smith will demonstrate the 1877 Steer & Turner Pipe Organ. This instrument is unique in that it maintains its original mechanical linkage, known as tracker action, between the keyboard and pipes.

Darryl Smith is the principal organist at Christ Church. A life-long resident of Albion, Smith graduated from Houghton College with a Bachelor of Science in Church Ministries. She currently serves as the Administrative Secretary to the President of Roberts Wesleyan College. The entrée for the progressive meal, a beef bourguignon dinner, will be served following the concert demonstration.

The final stop for the “Progressive Organ Concert” will be at the First Baptist Church where Gary Simboli will demonstrate the 1925 Moller Pipe Organ. The instrument features two separate pipe chambers and pressure driven pneumatic action. Simboli is a graduate of State University College at Geneseo and is the award winning instrumental music teacher at Albion High School.  Dessert will be served following Mr. Simboli’s recital.

Smboli will be joined by guest soloist, the Reverend Aleka Schmidt who is pastor of the First Baptist Church. She is also a classically trained soprano.

Bill Lattin, retired Orleans County historian, will also share stories and architectural highlights about the church buildings and some information about the organs.

For more information about tickets, call the Cobblestone Museum at (585) 589-9013 or check the museum’s website at

This project is made possible with funds from the state’s Decentralization Program through the New York State Council on the Arts.

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Albion native was present at capture of John Wilkes Booth

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 5 May 2018 at 8:14 am

William Collins, image from “A Brief History of the Twenty-Eight Regiment New York State Volunteers”

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 18

As I prepared last week’s article about Asa Hill of the 28th New York Infantry and his beautiful monument situated at Millville Cemetery on East Shelby Road, I stumbled upon an image of another soldier from the same unit. Several years ago I encountered the story of William Collins but was unable to locate an image of him. As the 153rd anniversary of the capture and death of John Wilkes Booth passed on April 26th, I thought perhaps it would be worthwhile to recall this particular story.

William Collins was born September 28, 1843 to Michael and Susan Collins of Albion. His father was an Irish immigrant who worked as a day laborer in the village, raising a rather large family in the vicinity. Little is known about William’s early life, but shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in April of 1861, the 17 year old enlisted and as was mustered into service on May 22, 1861 with Company G of the 28th New York Infantry, one of the first units raised in Orleans County.

Collins quickly progressed through the ranks, receiving a promotion to corporal on February 22, 1862 before his capture at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862 – the same engagement that resulted in the amputation of Asa Hill’s right leg. He was paroled, promoted to sergeant on December 7, 1862, and according to several accounts, was once again captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863 before being mustered out on June 2, 1863.

Falling into enemy hands on two separate occasions within a period of nine months might suggest that Collins was far from a lucky man. Yet this did not prevent him from reenlisting on June 20, 1863, this time with Company K of the 16th New York Cavalry. While serving with his unit at Leesburg on April 20, 1864, he was one of two enlisted men wounded. To add to his misfortune, just two months later on June 24, 1864, he was captured at Centreville, Virginia and sent to Andersonville Prison where he spent approximately seven months before his parole.

His obituary notice, following his death on March 17, 1904, notes an interesting tidbit of information surrounding the end of his service in the Union army. After he was paroled from Andersonville, he returned home to Orleans County where he spent several months with a severe illness. The terrible conditions experienced by Union prisoners of war in Georgia would have proved detrimental to the healthiest of soldiers and it is presumed that these conditions were the cause of his extended sickness. Upon his recovery, he was sent to Washington, D.C. where he rejoined the 16th N.Y. Cavalry. In the weeks following his return, the assassination of President Lincoln on April 14th/15th created quite the commotion, initiating a manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and David Herold.

Although there appears to be little evidence to confirm his participation, William Collins was said to have been one of 25 men who volunteered as part of a detachment of the 16th N.Y. Cavalry to pursue Lincoln’s assassin. On April 26, 1865, the unit surrounded a barn on the Garrett farm south of Port Royal, Virginia where Booth and Herold were believed to be hiding. When Booth refused to surrender, the barn was set ablaze by lighting straw with a match in an effort to coax the killer out. Sgt. Boston Corbett claimed that Booth raised his carbine, prompting him to shoot Booth in the back of the head with his Colt revolver; the assassin was dead two hours later.

In the years following the war, local papers noted that Collins received $1,500 (nearly $25,000 today) for his participation with the detachment that captured Booth. Starting in the late 1880s, he assembled a lecture on his exploits with the 16th N.Y. Cavalry, highlighting his participation in the pursuit and capture of Lincoln’s killer. He spent the remainder of his life in Albion, building a house on McClelland Street in 1893 and working as a pension agent. In 1904 he suffered a stroke and was sent to the Orleans County Alms House to recover. As his condition worsened, he was transferred to the Soldiers’ Home at Bath, NY before spending the remainder of his life at the Willard Insane Asylum. His body was returned to Albion for internment at Mount Albion Cemetery.

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Millville Cemetery monument stands as a remarkable local landmark

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 28 April 2018 at 8:08 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 17

Gravesite of Asa C. Hill – Millville Cemetery, Shelby, NY

SHELBY – Our rural communities are filled with strikingly beautiful landscapes and recognizable landmarks scattered throughout the region. As I passed through Millville this week, I thought about one of my favorite “little” landmarks in Shelby, a cemetery marker that has always grabbed my attention since I first visited Millville Cemetery.

The stone is rather remarkable, aside from its overwhelming appearance, towering over the seemingly smaller stones placed around it. Rarely does an attractive statue such as this adorn the burial site of an individual and perhaps its location in a rural cemetery makes it all the more unique. Yet the story of Asa Hill, the man memorialized by the granite obelisk and stoic soldier standing guard, adds a degree of mystery to the stone itself.

A native of Shelby, Asa Cummings Hill was born August 19, 1837 to William and Clarissa Miller Hill. When the South seceded from the Union in April of 1861, Asa found himself drawn to military service like so many other local men as indicated by his enlistment on November 14, 1861. Over a month later on December 22nd, he was mustered into service as a private with Company D of the 28th New York Volunteer Infantry along with a number of other men from Medina.

Of the four shields that adorn the base of Hill’s monument, the southern face notes his service, stating that he was wounded in action on August 9, 1862, captured, and sent to Libby Prison before his eventual exchange and discharge from service on January 13, 1863. A detailed description of an enlisted man’s service carved upon his headstone surely indicates a closer connection to his service than might appear on the surface. With that curiosity, I thought it worthwhile to peruse the pages of C. W. Boyce’s A Brief History of the Twenty-Eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers, which highlights the unit’s service and what transpired on August 9, 1862.

On that date, Union and Confederate forces converged upon a location known as Cedar Mountain, often called Cedar Run by the Confederates and occasionally referred to as Slaughter’s Mountain after a nearby landowner. This particular morning was exceptionally hot, as Sgt. William Lewis recalled, upwards of “100° to 109° in the shade,” and Union forces were told to hold their position in the face of oncoming artillery fire and light skirmishing. Following an impromptu conference between commanding officers, it was decided that the available units should advance upon the Confederate battery in an effort to capture it. As Union artillery was poised to direct fire upon a section of woods occupied by the enemy in advance of the attack, Gen. Nathaniel Banks prematurely commenced movement of his troops.

Asa C. Hill, Standing Atop Cemetery Monument at Millville Cemetery

Sgt. Lewis, the color-bearer for the 28th New York, led the charge with fixed bayonets at double quick and immediately after the advance commenced, “the entire line was met with a murderous fire from the front and also from the right flank…” The men of the 28th New York had encountered the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Virginia Infantry under the command of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson. It was during this advance that men encountered “…a most desperate hand to hand conflict,”  suffering the loss of 17 of the 18 officers and 196 of the 339 enlisted men, either killed, wounded, or captured. It was during this engagement that Col. Edwin F. Bowen of Medina was shot in the arm, the bone shattering to pieces and requiring amputation.

In the months following the engagement, a report appeared in the New York World on October 21, 1862, listing casualties from conflicts in the previous months. It was noted in this report that Pvt. Asa Hill suffered an amputated right leg as the result of wounds sustained during the engagement at Cedar Mountain. It is difficult to discern exactly when the procedure was undertaken to remove Hill’s leg.

A single man who relied upon his physical strength to conduct business on his farm, Hill returned to his family’s home on Sanderson Road in Shelby with an overwhelming injury that he would never recover from. With Asa’s father William passing in 1868, the family relied upon hired men to assist in caring for the farm including William Mull, Joseph Schindelmyer and Asa’s nephew, William Hill. As a disabled veteran he was entitled to a pension, which he applied for in 1866, and the eligible bachelor eventually married Catherine Bodine in 1878. The couple welcomed a son, Asa Bodine Hill on January 15, 1879, and Asa passed two years later on April 25, 1881 at the age of 43.

In the years following Asa’s passing, newspapers reported on the beautification that was taking place at Millville Cemetery, drawing attention to the “…soldiers monument to Asa Hill.” It was noted in a subsequent correction that Hill’s monument was paid for by his widow, Kate, after his passing without any assistance. What is unique about the statue that adorns the peak of this monument is the form of the soldier. Although many monuments to area soldiers are crafted as a “stock” representation of a man, the soldier atop Hill’s monument is carved in his likeness – there is no monument like it anywhere else.

Hill stands atop this granite obelisk, wearing a great coat and topped with a forage cap. It is possible that a portion of the musket barrel broke off as the musket’s length would have extended to the shoulder of a soldier of average height. Packed under his right elbow is his cartridge box, he stands with a rifled musket grasped firmly in his hands and appears to gaze off in the distance as if to watch over the family’s farm.

The statue is carved with exquisite detail as the lock plate, hammer, trigger, and sling are clearly visible. Perhaps most interesting about this representation is that the statue shows no sign of his physical disability as a result of the war, indicating that the representation depicts Hill before the Battle of Cedar Mountain. He rests the weight of his body on his left leg, the right leg slightly flexed. It is likely coincidental that it was his right leg that was amputated and not an effort by the artist to symbolize his eventual injury.

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Orleans County has deep connections to Titanic sinking

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 21 April 2018 at 8:04 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 16

Although Lillian Bentham remains one of the more detailed accounts from a local survivor of the Titanic sinking (click here), Orleans County has several other connections to the tragic disaster. On May 2, 1885, a baby girl was born to William and Martha Howard at North Walsham in Norfolk, England. May Elizabeth Howard was one of eight children born to the English couple, the father working as an agricultural laborer.

May Howard

At the time the Titanic was set to sail on her maiden voyage, the 27-year-old Howard planned on visiting her brother in Toronto before traveling to Albion to stay with her sister, Jane Hewitt. Her intention was to move in with the family of County Sheriff William Kenyon to work as a nanny. May secured a ticket on a smaller vessel that was set to sail in the days leading up to the Titanic voyage, but a coal strike forced her to travel aboard the unsinkable ship. She shared a room with Emily Goldsmith and her son Frank for the duration of the journey.

As May recalled her experiences on that frightful evening, she had not yet retired for the night when the ship collided with the iceberg. The ringing of bells coming from below deck piqued her curiosity and she ventured out to investigate along with countless other third-class passengers who wandered the corridors. Crewmembers explained that there was no cause for concern and encouraged the passengers to return to their room. Shortly afterwards, a “doctor” came to May’s room and encouraged her to secure her lifebelt but reassured her that everything was okay.

After panic set in, any effort to venture on deck was met with frustration as throngs of passengers rushed the stairwells. On her first attempt to reach the upper deck she tumbled down the stairs because of the impatient passengers but eventually emerged topside where crowds of strangers wandering about greeted her. Officers quickly grabbed her and shoved her to the side of the boat where crewmembers loaded the lifeboats with women and children. After the Goldsmiths and May were loaded into the tiny vessel, crewmembers launched the boat into the water.

She later recalled that there was room for at least 15 more passengers, but many believed that the on-deck rush to launch the lifeboats was simply a precaution; that passengers would return to the ship in a matter of a few hours after repairs. Emily’s husband remained on deck to make room for other women and children and was never heard from again. J. Bruce Ismay, the director of the White Star Line, was allegedly in May’s lifeboat, an action that he was heavily criticized for in the years following the catastrophe. In the final moments of the sinking, May recalled watching the ship point upwards into the sky before submerging below the frigid water without a ripple; the ocean was unbelievably calm.

Another survivor, a man destined for Albion, had a harrowing escape from death while floating in the freezing water. Joseph Duquemin was born November 24, 1887 on the Isle of Guernsey. The young man purchased a third-class ticket for 7 pounds and 11 shillings and boarded the ship with two friends, Howard Hugh Williams and Albert Denbuoy. In the story of Lillian Bentham, Albert Denbuoy is mentioned as a possible member of the 11-person party that traveled to Guernsey and it is very likely that Duquemin and Bentham were acquainted.

In the panic that ensued on deck, various accounts claim that Duquemin was on deck assisting women and children into boats, even taking off his overcoat and wrapping it around a shivering seven-year-old girl named Eva Hart. He remained on the ship, waist-deep in water, when he finally turned to Williams to tell him that he was jumping overboard. As he swam towards a nearby lifeboat, Williams was pulled under from the suction and never seen again. As Duquemin neared collapsible lifeboat D he was denied entry by the passengers who feared that he might capsize the vessel. He eventually convinced the occupants that he could handle an oar and was permitted to enter the boat. In the years following the sinking, Duquemin would suffer terrible from complications associated with the frigid water and eventually had his legs amputated.

One other man destined for Albion was not as fortunate as Joseph Duquemin. William Alexander, a native of Norfolk, England was traveling to Albion to live with his sister, Gertrude Jex, and his brothers Albert and Reginald Alexander. Although little is known about Alexander and his experiences on the voyage, his ticket was paid for by his siblings although he did not survive the sinking. Gertrude Jex lived at 23 Hamilton Street in Albion for several years before relocating to Lockport, NY. Unfortunately, the family’s suffering did not end with William’s tragic passing as two younger siblings died while fighting in France with the British Army.

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Holley woman survived Titanic disaster, 106 years ago

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 14 April 2018 at 8:14 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 15

April 14th marks the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic and although I share a common surname, I can assure you that Dr. Robert Ballard is no direct relative of mine (that I am aware of). On that fateful day in 1912, the exquisitely decorated vessel struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. and was fully submerged within a matter of three hours. Of the 2,224 passengers, over 1,500 perished in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean nearly 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, making it one of the most devastating maritime disasters in modern history.

Over the years, newspapers have recounted the stories of survivors while paying tribute to the victims as each landmark anniversary passes. Of the most notable local residents connected to the catastrophe, the story of Lillian Bentham of Holley is most frequently recalled. Of course, the story of May Howard (buried in Boxwood Cemetery) is also shared. So, I thought it best to thoroughly recount some of these recollections over the course of several articles starting with the story of Lillian Bentham.

On July 23, 1892 a baby girl was born to Henry and Mary Jane Bentham of Holley, New York. The Benthams were natives of Guernsey in the Channel Islands where Henry learned the trade of stone cutting and stone dressing before immigrating to the United States. Given the number of other immigrants from the same region of the British Isles, it is likely that Mr. Bentham was aware of job opportunities in the booming sandstone quarries scattered throughout Orleans County. When Lillian was born, Henry asked fellow quarryman William Douton to be his daughter’s godfather. Both men were active in Holley’s I.O.O.F. Lodge No. 42 and presumably good friends.

Henry and Mary Jane Bentham suffered the loss of their daughter Daisy in early March of 1903 as the result of a year-long illness. Her obituary read, “As a young girl, Daisy was an exceptionally beautiful and charming child, with winning and attractive ways that made her a general favorite with all who knew her.” This eloquent eulogy is reflected through the broken daisy that appears on the young girl’s headstone in Hillside Cemetery. Eight years after the passing of Daisy, the family mourned the loss of Henry on October 24, 1911 following a two-year long battle with tuberculosis. He was remembered as a “…man of very social, genial nature, generous, kindly, and sympathetic.”

It is possible that this tragic event was a reason for 19-year-old Lillian to travel to Guernsey to visit family, likely her older sister Annie who was living overseas at the time. Bentham and two others, including William Douton and fellow quarryman Peter McKane, returned to Guernsey where many of the men had started their careers as stone dressers. During their time away, Mary Jane Bentham and her son Walter relocated to Rochester. On the return trip, Lillian and the party she was travelling with were set to return aboard the R.M.S. Titanic. She had purchased a second class ticket, number 28404, for 13 pounds while Douton and McKane shared a joint ticket, number 38403, which cost 26 pounds.

It was well known by passengers that the Titanic’s crew was pushing the ship’s limits in order to break record timing on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic. On the evening of April 14, 1912, Lillian retired to her quarters and prepared for bed when she was suddenly jarred by the ship’s collision with the iceberg. The elderly woman sharing her berth was sleeping peacefully when the accident occurred and the impact caused the woman to fall out of bed. A crew member passed the cabin and calmly told the two women that the ship had struck a fishing boat, encouraging both to return to sleep. Lillian fell asleep for a period of 20 or 30 minutes before the sounds of screaming men and women woke her.

She quickly threw on her clothes and made her way up on deck. Lillian reported the following scene to the Holley Standard which was printed on April 25, 1912, “The women and children were crowded together on both sides of the ship and were being put over the sides into the lifeboats. There were some men among them, mostly helping the women along, bidding them a good-bye and cheering them up. The rest of the men were crowded together, some kneeling down and praying, others standing like statues.” As more people crowded onto the deck a number of men, many being immigrants, attempted to jump into the lifeboats; they were shot and killed by crewmen.

Photo by Tom Rivers: This gravestone for Lillian Bentham was installed on Oct. 1, 2015 at Hillside Cemetery in Holley/Clarendon. Brigden Memorials of Albion donated the stone. Bentham lived to be 85, and remained in the Holley and Rochester region until her death on Dec. 15, 1977. Bentham was buried in Hillside Cemetery next to her sister, Daisy Bentham, who died at age 16 in 1904. Lillian never had a headstone until Brigden donated one about four decades after her death.

Lillian was placed in Lifeboat 12, the third boat lowered on the port side and was allegedly within an earshot of the Captain Edward Smith as he shouted, “Now, every man for himself, she’s going down.” The band played sacred music for the duration of the ensuing commotion, playing “Nearer My God to Thee” as their final piece. Bentham recalled everyone praying on their knees as the ship’s deck dipped below water. As the vessel submerged the boilers exploded, scalding and killing many on deck and those locked below deck. She watched as the ship broke in two before disappearing below the waterline.

As the lifeboats bobbed atop the water, men and women were occasionally plucked from the water while others were struck over the head with oars to prevent panicked survivors from capsizing the tiny boats. Lillian recalled a tragic scene that remained with her for the rest of her life; an infant with its hands either crushed or cut off was thrown overboard to “put it out of its misery. It was very weak and would have died soon anyway.” The dead were thrown overboard to make way for those survivors floating in the freezing waters. Many died from shock, the result of exposure to extreme cold. Those in the lifeboats huddled together, most in their nightgowns, unprepared for the frigid temperatures of the cold Atlantic night.

When the R.M.S. Carpathia arrived at New York City, Mrs. Emily Douton was present and ready to welcome Lillian and her husband. Word was sent early of the survivors of the disaster, but Emily’s first question to Lillian was “Where’s William?” In the months following the disaster, the Holley Lodge I.O.O.F. purchased a cemetery monument for fellow members Douton and McKane, whose bodies were never recovered. The stone was dedicated in June of 1912 and reads “Erected in Memory of Wm. Doughton & Peter MacKain lost at sea with S.S. Titanic April 14, 1912 by Holley Lodge 42 IOOF.” Emily Douton remarried twice before her death on June 30, 1923 from stomach cancer.

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2018 Orleans County Heritage Heroes worked to promote local history

Posted 10 April 2018 at 3:55 pm

File photo: Arthur Barnes is pictured next to a 10-foot-long mural he painted and installed in January 2014 at the corner of Presbyterian and Knowlesville roads on a former fire station. The mural highlights the nearby Widewaters section of the canal. Barnes has four Erie Canal-themed murals in Orleans County.

Press Release, Genesee Community College

The Orleans County Heritage Heroes Awards recognize the work and dedication of those who give their time and resources to preserve and protect the history of Orleans County for future generations.

A new group of Heritage Hero honorees will be recognized at a special ceremony on April 27 at 7 p.m. at Genesee Community College’s Albion Campus Center. The awards are co-sponsored by SUNY GCC and the Orleans Hub. The entire community is invited to come and help honor these important individuals.

“The Heritage Heroes Awards serve not only to honor deserving community members and thank them for their invaluable efforts, but to remind us all that the responsibility of preserving our heritage is incumbent upon the living generations,” says Derek Maxfield, associate professor of history at GCC and member of the Heritage Heroes executive committee. “It is an important undertaking that we all should share in.”

The 2018 Orleans County Heritage Heroes include:

Aaron Grabowski

Organist and director of Music at St. Mary’s Church in Medina, Aaron Grabowski has always had a passion for making music. However, Grabowski is more than a musician, he also builds organs. Prior to moving to Medina, he acquired a circa 1890s Barkhoff pipe organ, which was originally installed in Annunciation RC Church in Buffalo, built just a few years before St. Mary’s. When he joined St. Mary’s Church, it was evident to him that the church’s ailing electronic organ needed to be replaced. Although the original pipe organ was removed from the balcony many years ago, the organ facade (consisting of exposed pipes and oak millwork) remained intact. Upon inspection of the organ loft, Grabowski knew a proper pipe organ, befitting of the church’s history and space could be installed. Grabowski and several other interested parishioners worked together and decided he would install his Barkhoff organ in at St. Mary’s, and do the work himself! The Barkhoff was a perfect fit, given its age (built within a decade of St. Mary’s), classical voicing and having been designed by the same architect, Albert A Post. Grabowski’s dedication and hard work will fill the nave of St. Mary’s for generations to come.

Diane Palmer

Diane Palmer has always been a historian at heart and has long lent her talents and dedicated her time serving the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Cobblestone Society & Museum. Currently a member of the Board of Trustees at the Cobblestone Society & Museum, Palmer recently coordinated two very successful historic tours – one of Cobblestone homes and the other a holiday tour of prominent local homes and churches. The December 2017 Holiday Tour included eight historical sites in Orleans County: the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church, the Orleans Chapter DAR House and six residences entailing architecture ranging from Greek and Gothic Revival to Cobblestone.

Arthur Barnes

Noted local artist for over 30 years and constant advocate for the community, Arthur Barnes uses his artwork to celebrate Orleans County and its rich history. Barnes created a series of four large-scale murals depicting the Erie Canal which can be enjoyed in Medina, Knowlesville, Albion and Holley. Both a photographer and artist, Barnes highlights local tourism landmarks, such as the County Courthouse, the Culvert in Ridgeway and Mount Albion Tower. However, most of his work pays homage to the houses, barns and beautiful rural landscape of the area. These pieces serve to document Orleans County history as several of the houses and barns in his paintings are no longer standing. In 2000, Barnes bought a cobblestone building in Millville originally built as a Quaker meeting house in 1841. Barnes has repaired the roof and spent countless hours on additional improvements to spare what would have been an inevitable collapse of the building.

Roy Bubb

Teacher and historian, Roy Bubb added author to his resume when he penned Memories of Manning Corners: History of the Bubb Family and its Neighborhood 1931-1942, which is a retrospective on growing up in Orleans County. In 1986, Bubb retired from The SUNY College of Brockport after 25 years of service providing the best possible learning environment to future educators. In the late ’60s, Bubb co-created a simulation program that received recognition from the National College Association. Since then, Bubb has published nearly a half dozen books including his 2017 work, The Family Scrapbook, An Era in Clarendon and Holley-Murray’s History. Proceeds from Bubb’s many works benefit both the Madison Historical Society in Madison, NH, and the Clarendon Historical Society in Clarendon, NY.

Receiving the Bill Lattin Municipal Historian Award – Lysbeth “Betsy” Hoffman

Since 1980, Lysbeth “Betsy” Hoffman has served her community researching information, collecting names and dates, archiving and cataloging, and writing as the Town of Carlton Historian. Former Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin knew Hoffman as an invaluable resource, one who would always have the answer. For many years Hoffman was a regular columnist for the Medina Journal-Register reporting the “goings on” in Lakeside. She developed special displays in the Carlton Town Hall and was an avid collector of archival material that continues to aid and educate future generations.

Receiving the Bob Waters Lifetime Achievement Award – Marsha DeFillips

One of the longest servicing municipal historians in Orleans County, Marsha DeFillips has been the Holley-Murray Town historian for over 40 years. Very active in the Holley-Murray Historical Society, DeFillips was influential in establishing the Murray-Holley Historical Society Museum in the old train depot and has led multiple talks and workshops and helped many residents trace their own familial roots. Recently DeFillips teamed with Melissa Ierlan to present “Digging up your ancestors online” which is a public workshop designed to encourage and guide individuals down their own genealogy path. One of the signature accomplishments during her term as town historian has been her creation of an Index of personal names in Landmarks of Orleans County. To do this, DeFillips spent many months combing through and extracting every name mentioned in Isaac Signor’s 1894 publication, developing a permanent record of history.

The award ceremony on April 27 will be at GCC’s Albion Campus Center located at 456 West Ave. The event is free to attend and 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 or Prof. Derek Maxfield at or by calling the Albion Campus Center at 585-589-4936.

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List of 7 endangered sites in NY includes historic opera houses

Staff Reports Posted 9 April 2018 at 6:18 pm

2 opera houses in Orleans have both been spared the wrecking ball

Walter Jakubowski took this photo about five years of the interior of the Pratt Opera House on the third floor of a building in downtown Albion.

ALBANY – The Preservation League of New York State has announced its annual list of “Seven to Save” and this year’s group includes historic opera houses around the state.

Orleans County is home to opera houses and both sites have been spared the wrecking ball. But other communities aren’t so fortunate.

In Albion, Michael Bonafede and his wife Judith Koehler worked to save the Pratt Opera House at 118 North Main St. They have put on a new roof and made a series of other interior and exterior improvements to the building, which has several tenants on the first and second floors.

In Medina, the Orleans Renaissance Group acquired the Bent’s Opera House in 2008 from the Bank of America for free. The ORG has since sold the site to Talis Equity, with is led by CEO and founder Roger Hungerford.

Bent’s Opera House, which was built in 1864, will be brought back to its original luster with the third floor restored faithfully into one of the most unique wedding and event venues in New York State, Hungerford has said. The first and second floors will experience a dramatic redesign into a restaurant and modern boutique hotel space.

The Preservation League included historic opera houses to the Seven to Save and said this about the buildings:

“Opera houses are a ubiquitous building type across upstate New York, found in rural towns and villages, regional commercial centers and major cities,” according to the Preservation League. “The opera house was not only a venue for cultural activities, but also the heart of the community and a place to relax, socialize, and be entertained and enlightened. The buildings are characterized by lower floor public space with an upstairs auditorium and often anchor main streets.

File photo: Talis Equity, which is led by Roger Hungerford, is working on a restoration project at the former Bent’s Opera House in Medina. This photo from 2014 shows work to stabilize the front corner of the building when it was owned by the Orleans Renaissance Group.

“But times changed, and upstate opera houses went dark. While many were lost to demolition or insensitive alterations, the survivors require creative solutions to meet building code requirements and once again welcome the public. The Preservation League will work to promote best practices for reopening these charming performance spaces by publicizing successful efforts, and provide technical assistance for advocates who wish to follow suit.”

The Preservation League of NYS’s 2018-19 “Seven to Save” Endangered Properties List draws attention to the loss of historic fabric in National Register-listed Historic Districts; development pressures; and reuse challenges. These seven valued historic resources are in danger of disappearing because of vacancy, disinvestment, and lack of public awareness.

“Since 1999, Seven to Save has mobilized community leaders and decision-makers to take action when historic resources are threatened,” said Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League. “A Seven to Save designation from the League delivers invaluable technical assistance, fosters increased media coverage and public awareness, and opens the door to grant assistance for endangered properties.”

Other “Seven to Save” designees include:

• South End-Groesbeckville National Register Historic District – Albany, Albany County

In the mid-nineteenth century, this neighborhood was densely populated with German and Irish immigrants who worked in Albany’s nearby port and socialized and worshiped within walking distance of their homes. By the mid-twentieth century, many of these families had left the neighborhood, leaving behind widespread abandonment and soaring vacancy rates. In 2015, New York State adopted the International Fire Code which identifies vacant structures with potentially hazardous conditions with a large red “X” placard. This neighborhood exemplifies the challenges that municipalities face in addressing issues of vacancy and deterioration in historic districts while protecting the safety of first responders. The League will work with stakeholders to discuss strategies for stimulating investment in the South End.

• Watervliet Shaker National Register Historic District – Colonie, Albany County

Just north of Albany is the location of the first Shaker settlement in the United States, founded by Ann Lee in the late 18th century. The Shakers were highly regarded for their architecture, inventions, and domestic arts. The district includes three clusters or “families” of buildings: the Church Family, the South Family, and the West Family in a mix of classic Shaker-style architecture. Bordered by the Albany International Airport and two major highways, the site is threatened by encroaching development which could lead to loss of context or outright demolition. The League will work with advocates and local municipalities to highlight the significance of this site.

• Haglund Building/Jamestown Arcade – Jamestown, Chautauqua County

Jamestown, the largest city in Chautauqua County, boasts a National Register-listed downtown commercial historic district and many historic neighborhoods. The Richardsonian Romanesque Jamestown Arcade once housed retail, theaters, clubs, and studios and retains many intact interior features, including molding, metalwork, tin ceilings, decorative woodwork, and fixtures. Over the years, a series of owners made plans to stabilize and save the Arcade Building, but none have succeeded. The Preservation League will work with city officials, preservationists, developers, local advocates and the arts community to create a plan for stabilization and rehabilitation which takes advantage of Federal and NYS Historic Tax Credits.

• Wells Barns – Various Municipalities, Monroe/Livingston Counties

John Talcott Wells, Sr. developed an ingenious truss system that addressed the shortcomings of typical post-and-beam barn construction by strengthening interior framing while simultaneously creating open space in the upper sections of the structure. In 1889 he received a patent for his “Wells Truss System for Buildings or Bridges.” Only found in a small section of Western New York, Wells Barns are difficult to identify from the exterior, but they usually feature gambrel roofs and a double window with a decorative lintel underneath the gable, and are sometimes called “Country Cathedrals.” The League will work with the Wells Barn Legacy Project to preserve the heritage of this unique barn type in the face of a shifting agricultural landscape.

• Enlarged Erie Canal Schoharie Aqueduct – Fort Hunter, Montgomery County

A National Historic Landmark and part of the New York State Barge Canal Historic District, the Schoharie Aqueduct carried the Erie Canal over the Schoharie Creek. Construction of the aqueduct began in 1839 and it was placed into service in 1845, with additional alterations in 1855 and 1873. As the canal was rerouted, the Schoharie Aqueduct was no longer needed and fell into disrepair. Despite a stabilization and restoration plan completed by New York State, large portions of the aqueduct have collapsed and the remainder has not been stabilized. The League will work with Friends of Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site to advocate for its preservation and maintenance as New York launches the adjacent Empire State Trail.

• Lehigh Valley Railroad Roundhouse and Related Structures – Manchester, Ontario County

This railroad roundhouse once served the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which primarily hauled coal from Pennsylvania west through the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes to Buffalo, and east through New Jersey to New York City. At the Manchester Roundhouse, workers fixed trains, refueled, exchanged freight and switched cars. In its heyday, it was one of the largest freight transfer centers in New York State. Now vacant for more than 30 years, the site’s brownfield status presents additional challenges to plans for rehabilitation. The League will help the town of Manchester and Ontario County follow environmental protocols, historic preservation and sensitive rehabilitation measures as they boost awareness of transportation history in Western New York.

Additional information about each of the designees is are available on the Leagues’ website at

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