local history

Illuminating Orleans – Local farmers, besides tending to crops, needed to build town roads

Posted 16 January 2022 at 8:54 am

‘Corduroy’ and ‘Plank’ roads, and ‘Path Setters’ were thoroughfares through community, including the swamp

This photo taken in 1898 shows the toll house which stood near the Edwin McKnight farm between Medina and Shelby. H. Justin Roberts recalled riding through this toll gate as a young boy, in a lumber wagon, with his aunt and uncle.

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans – Vol. 2, No. 3

The diary of Hosea Ballou presented in the previous two columns have led to some questions.

A reader inquires if the diarist, Hosea Ballou, was related to Major Sullivan Ballou, of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry whose poignant last letter to his wife featured prominently on The Civil War, a PBS series produced by Ken Burns. Major Ballou was killed at the Battle of Bull Run in 1861.

Sullivan and Hosea Ballou were both fifth generation descendants of James Ballou, son of Maturin Ballou (1627 – 1661), an Englishman of French descent, who was an early settler of Rhode Island. He had six children, three of whom lived to have families of their own. A family genealogy published in 1888 contains a remarkable listing of over 8,000 descendants.

In his 1851 diary, Hosea Ballou mentioned working on the roads in the Town of Carlton in the spring – this topic has also generated some discussion.

Prior to centralized government and mechanization, towns were responsible for roads. A road tax was assessed, eligible males were required provide labor or pay the tax. In addition to local labor, locally available materials: wood, stone, and later, quarried stone, were used.

H. Justin Roberts (1893-1991), a Shelby farmer, provided a very clear explanation of that system in an Oral History interview conducted by Anna Roberts Bundsuch in 1989:

“A farmer with a small farm in each town was appointed road commissioner. In addition to the road commissioner, there were path masters scattered throughout the town. Each farmer wanted to be path master because he could get the road improved past his farm. My father tried it for one year. The road past our house got a new topping.”

He explained that the road commissioner was salaried, but the path masters were not. The road commissioner would travel around the town in his horse and buggy to check the condition of the roads. Farmers would spend four or five days each year working on the roads, generally in the spring after the crops had been sown.

“There was no department – there was just the commissioner who worked with the path masters. When a road needed repair, the farmers along the road worked their highway taxes. They didn’t have anything to use but gravel. A farmer would be assessed so much money for road work. He’d take a dump wagon and haul for so many days to pay his taxes. A man who didn’t have horses would do the shoveling and use a pick. The gravel had to be shoveled onto the wagons.

Two or three big farms in a town, their assessment would be quite high, and they would put two teams and two wagons on.

The dump trucks were an ingenious affair. The bottom was made up of 4 x 4’s, there were side boards and end boards. The wagon would be filled up with gravel and then there would be a man on the road to assist in the unloading. He’d grab a crowbar and lift up the first 4 x 4; then as the wagon moved along, the gravel would fall out.

There were two gravel pits in the Town of Shelby. The town would pay the owner of the pit a little something for the gravel.”

He continued and explained the term “corduroy road”:

“I used to hear my father tell this story. In the early days, the road south of Medina was impassible through the swamp. So, they cut trees along the right of way: cut logs and laid them side by side all the way through. You bumped over each log and that is why they called it a corduroy road.”

Many of the early roads were called Plank Road, for example the Alabama Plank Road which led to the Sour Springs Hotel. Medina’s Main Street was originally referred to as Plank Road.

Mr. Roberts also described winter road work:

“In the winter, sleighs were used, but wherever snowbanks crossed the road, the snow was shoveled by hand. Mostly the farmers took care of their own roads. Farmers had 50 gallon kettles to heat water and maybe to boil beans to feed the hogs. They’d put a chain around one of those kettles and hitch it behind the bobsleigh and get a big heavy man to ride in the kettle. They’d drag that down one side of the road and the other side coming back to make a track.”

Since bone-chilling temperatures are forecast, another Oral History account from the Orleans County History Dept. Collection may be of interest. In an interview with Clifford Wise in 1969, Mrs. Minnie Allis described how one kept warm when traveling on a sleigh or cutter in winter:

“They had soap stones and these big buffalo robes to put on your lap; they had heavy underwear and top buttoned shoes and they put overshoes on and bundled your head up; fur mittens; they used to carry ear muffs to put your hands in.”

Burt Dunlap of Shelby, in a cutter, c1908. From the Scott Dunlap Collection, Medina Historical Society

Historic Childs: Popular Images of Yesteryear, Part 1

Posted 11 January 2022 at 10:06 am

This print, 13×18 inches, which has hung in the Ward House at the Cobblestone Museum for years is entitled, “Neapolitan Boy.” It is a chromo-lithograph printed on textured paper to resemble canvas. Also noted on this copy is “copyright 1881 by E.G. Rideout NY” and “Cadwell Lith. Co.”

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum director, and Bill Lattin, retired museum director

Vol. 2 No. 48

GAINES – This is the first in a series of articles about four paintings/prints in the Cobblestone Museum collection that were very popular long ago. For many years now, the print shown above has hung in the Museum’s Ward House.

This image is also known as “Neapolitan Fisher Boy.” Our black and white copy shows the original painting from which this was taken. The artist that created this was Gustav Richter who was born in Berlin in 1823. He studied painting in Berlin, Paris and Rome, making frequent trips to Italy during his career. The following quote is taken from an art book published in 1899 entitled, “The Crown Jewels of Art.”

“The sketch for this picture lay for years in the artist’s studio uncared for. When at last made into a picture and placed on exhibition, it won not only public admiration and praise but the approbation of artists and critics. The large soft eyes of the beautiful boy, which seem to possess seer-like powers in their angelic sweetness, and his half-forlorn, half-happy expression, call forth feelings of both love and sympathy.”

It is believed the painting was completed in 1870 when Richter was considered to be an outstanding portrait painter.

Gustav Richter (1823-1884) and his wife, Cornelie, Wikipedia Commons

In this black & white 1899 reproduction of the original painting through a half tone process of engraving we see an exact likeness. All other pictures in this article show slight variations.

In 1876, Richter sent this portrait for exhibition at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It immediately won great acclaim and immense popularity with the American public. Consequently, this image was wildly copied by both Sunday Painters and professionals, alike.

Print makers, likewise, seized on to this picture and thereby thousands of copies were made. It was a fad! We can only wonder in today’s world what there was about this “pretty boy” with wind swept hair, necklace and earring that so infatuated the aesthetic senses in people during the late 1870s and 1880s. (Surely no American boy of that time would have had an earring.) The public must have simply passed this off as “old-world,” a term much more frequently used in 19th century America.

A small litho card 4×5 inches which was probably a complimentary gift.

Thanks to Dee Robinson for research of facts about the artist. We are going to conclude this article with examples for the Neapolitan Fisher Boy which are in the collection of Bill Lattin. He states that in antiquing this picture occasionally appears in antique shops.

Oil painting on canvas, 14×18 inches, probably by a Sunday Painter, circa 1880

Oil painting on canvas, 13×17 inches, circa 1880. We note here the boy is facing to the right. This indicates that the artist who copied this may have worked form a print. In the printing process the image could have reversed.

Painting on porcelain in original brass frame, 5” high, circa 1885. In today’s antique market, a painting like this should retail for around $300.

Painting on porcelain in Florentine frame, 1 ½” high, circa 1885

Illuminating Orleans: 1851 diary shows hard work on farm for Carlton couple (Part 2)

This postcard shows the “old covered bridge at Two Bridges, Carlton” in the winter of 1885. The bridge was built in 1846. Hosea and Sarah Ballou would have traversed this route.

Posted 9 January 2022 at 9:12 am

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 2, No 2

CARLTON – In the year 1851, Millard Fillmore was the thirteenth President of the United States and Washington Hunt was Governor of New York.

On their Oak Orchard River Road farm in the Town of Carlton, Hosea and Sarah Ballou had experienced a snowy January (Vol 2, No.1), which had kept them close to home.

Hosea continued to record his daily activities. He did chores for neighboring farmers. He and Sarah kept cattle, sheep and a pig and he sometimes fished. He sold wheat and pork. He chopped wood and Sarah made candles to provide heat and light. He helped his brother-in-law butcher and received beef in return.

Journal of the Year 1851 continued.

(Each diary entry is of interest, however we will omit those that are similar)

February 4: Reed commenced cutting timber and I piled brush behind him.

February 20: Went to Ralph’s to help him kill a beef. Rained all day.

February 21: Went round and let the water off the wheat. Went to The Bridges. Ralph brought me home and brought my hams and some fresh beef.

February 25: Went to the PO and from there to the lake and helped draw the seine six times and got a bony sucker for my share

March 13: Went to Mrs. Porter’s and bought a sow with pig and made a pig pen.

March 15: Went to mill, carried 4 bushels wheat.

March 18: Drawed stone. Sarah went down to Uncle Miles. Sarah Miles came home with her and staid all night.

March 23: Sunday, warm. Sow had 8 pigs today.

March 29: Drawed stone, went to The Bridges. Ralph, Ashbel, Dick and myself went aspearing (sic) in the evening. Got 5 pickerel, 6 bullheads, 1 sucker, 2 bass, 1 sunfish.

In April he plowed and planted wheat. George Stillwell came to mend his boots. A surprise storm on May 2nd brought snow, “equal to any January weather.” He plowed the garden, bought garden seed and on May 26 sowed potatoes and carrots.

May 11: Fine growing time. First whippoorwill tonight.

Has anybody heard that distinctive bird song in Orleans County?

The diary provides an interesting reference to the marketing of apples the Brown family’s long involvement in apple production

May 20: Sorted apples for Ralph (Brown, Hosea’s brother-in-law)

May 21: Started for Buffalo with apples with Ralph.

May 22: On the canal in Lockport most of the forenoon, Rained.

May 23: Got in Buffalo this morning at 3 o’clock. A very hard thunder shower around 1 o’clock. Started home on the packet Niagara at 7 o’clock this afternoon. A heavy frost on the canal.

May 24: Got in Albion at 9 o’clock. Rode home with O. Scofield.

As Helen Allen observes: Ralph Brown’s home storage must have been good to have had salable apples in the latter part of May.

After a day’s rest, Hosea washed sheep on May 26, sheared the sheep on June 6 and on June 18 sold the wool to D.V. Simpson in Albion for 36 cents per pound.

Hosea also fulfilled his civic duties. He paid his school taxes, attended a town meeting and “worked on the roads” on June 24 and 25. Towns were responsible for building and maintaining roads, land owners were required to work on the roads a few days every year in place of paying a road tax.

He references attending meetings on several Sundays, at the stone schoolhouse and “down home.” Members of the Presbyterian congregation met in homes or schoolhouses prior to the construction of their church in 1855.

Survival required hard work and physical labor. Yet there seemed to be plenty of socializing. Their friends and Sarah’s sisters often came “avisiting” and stayed overnight. The entry for July 4 is brief: Went to The Lake.

A well-earned vacation day.

Diary from January 1851 details farmwork, lots of snow in Carlton

Posted 2 January 2022 at 7:41 pm

Detail from map of Carlton, NY, 1850

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 2, No. 1

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

CARLTON – Can you imagine living at a time when you would distinguish between “chopping wood at the door” and “chopping in the woods”?

Diaries written by Hosea and Sarah Ballou from 1851-1853 give an intriguing glimpse into their daily lives. Then in their mid-20s, they lived on a farm on the Oak Orchard River Road in the Town of Carlton.

Diaries are typically started with great resolve at the beginning of the year. With the passage of time, they provide a unique resource for historians as they chronicle the daily lives of ordinary people. In the 1800’s, diaries were small, and the entries brief: a listing of the day’s activities or travels, a record of purchases and sales. Early diarists had neither the time nor space for introspection.

The Ballou diaries were transcribed by Helen E. Allen, the late Town of Carlton Historian, and were published in the Albion Advertiser in 1961. We plan to share them with you over the next few months.

Journal of the Year 1851

January 1: Snow two feet, six inches deep. Snowed in the morning and blows all day. Went to the Day place to do chores and went down home. Came back and found Ralph here and went home with him to eat roast turkey. Staid (sic) all night.

(The Day place was on Kendrick Road. Hosea’s brother lived at Two Bridges. Ralph Brown was Hosea’s brother-in-law, he lived at the Brown homestead.)

January 2: Went from Ralph’s to do my chores at the Day place. Christopher brought Sarah home. Keen air.

(Christopher was another brother of Sarah’s)

January 3: Weather moderated a little. Chopped wood at the door. No one in the woods on account of the snow. Snowing quite steady.

January 4: Wind from the west and the roads drifted very bad. Snow flies all day. No work outside. George Stillwell came here in drifts up to his waist to pay me $4.50 for pork.

January 5: Weather more moderate. It began to snow at 11 a.m. Wind SW. Snow coming from the south at bedtime.

January 6: Milder, snow settles quite fast. Went to The Bridges and got an overcoat made by C.C. Wilder, costing $14.

January 7: Continued warmer and smoky with prospect of rain, depth of snow in the woods 3 feet on the level.

January 8: Warm for the season. Sold Orsenius Reed timber to the amount of twelve dollars and fifty cents.

January 9: Commenced raining and it rained till 10 o’clock. Snow settles fast, rain again at bedtime.

January 10: Colder, snow settles, freezes towards night.

January 11: Grows colder. Went to Garbutt’s sale. Paid 69 cents school tax and 72 cents letter and postage. Bid off nothing.

January 12: Warmer and thaws considerably.

January 13: Thaws fast. Snows some. Went to Waterport and from there to Lawrence’s to inquire about some hay.

January 14: Quite warm, thaws. Chopped in the woods. Mr. Thompson and wife and Mr. Littlefield and wife were here visiting this evening.

January 15: Very warm, smoky, thaws very fast. Went to Lawrence’s about some hay, then went chopping.

January 16: Staid (sic) all night down to Ralph’s.

January 17: Clear but very cold with high winds.

January 18: High winds and very cold. Got my sheep hoe from the Day place.

January 19: Cold and windy, no travel. Very dull.

January 20: Warmer with wind from the south. Chopped in the woods. Ralph brought some mackerel.

January 21: Thaws a little. Went to N.F. Simpsons after tallow but it was not ready. Make a hen coop.

January 22: Drawed (sic) some wood, sled length. Thaws fast.

January 23: Carried Sarah home to Mother’s. Carried hams to be smoked. Got 17 ¾ lbs. tallow at N.F. Simpsons, 1 ½ bushels of apples at G.C. VanRiper. Went down after Sarah, carried her to Hank Collins and got hens that I had left him.

(Tallow was used to make candles)

January 24: Went to Lawrences and got ten hundred hay and paid him five dollars.

January 25: Went to the Bridges and got some camphor. Belinda and Helen here avisiting (sic).

(Camphor was used for respiratory ailments and to ease muscle pain)

January 26: Warm and pleasant

January 27: Some colder. My birthday. Chopped a little wood at the door. Sarah went down on the flat after cattails to make candle rods.

January 28: Very cold, chopped wood at the door.

January 29: Very cold and stormy. Hardly keep warm in the house.

January 30: Very cold, stormy weather. No work out of doors.

January 31: More moderate, chopped wood at the door.

We have observed that diarists in general begin their entries with a reference to weather, which is not surprising as it so effects the tenor of the day. Weather conditions, particularly in January, would have been central to Hosea’s livelihood and indeed survival. Chopping wood was a daily necessity. We infer that he could go to the woods to chop wood when the weather was not severe, while “chopping wood at the door” indicated more inclement conditions.

We can all identify with Hosea’s January 19 entry:

Cold and windy, no travel, very dull.

Children hang stockings on Christmas Eve in vintage photo from 1955

Posted 25 December 2021 at 7:30 am

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans – Vol. 1, No. 33

ALBION – Hanging their stockings with care on Christmas Eve in this 1955 photograph from the William Monacelli collection at the Orleans County Dept. of History are from left: Barbara (9), Eileen (8), Charlotte (7) and Patricia (5), children of Mr. & Mrs. Lee Ward.

The photograph was taken at the home of their grandmother, Celestina Galluce, at 214 West Bank St. in Albion.

Patricia remembers the occasion vividly. Now Patricia Farone, she lives in Albion, as does her sister, Eileen Whiting. Charlotte Mann lives in Rochester and Barbara Haynes lives in Delaware.

Historian shares Christmas postcards from a century ago

Posted 13 December 2021 at 8:56 am

This Christmas postcard from 1925 features church steeple in an alpine setting against the background of a starry sky.

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 31

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

A collection of Christmas cards sent to Mr. & Mrs. Smith Sanborn of East Center Street in Medina between 1923 and 1927 is one the quiet treasures housed in the Medina Historical Society Museum. These simple but elegant cards reflect the artistic style of the era and contrast with the larger, louder cards we have become accustomed to.

Sources credit Sir Henry Cole for creating the idea of the Christmas card in England in 1843 and the custom of exchanging greetings soon became part of the Christmas tradition.

Many of the Christmas cards in this small collection are postcards, with the image and verse on the front, the address and space for a brief message on the reverse. Postcards could be mailed with a one-cent stamp – though this example shows a two-cent stamp.

Another interesting feature of this greeting is the Christmas seal stamp. Most of the postcards and envelopes in this collection sport this seal, and several of the envelopes have two or three seals affixed.

The double barred red cross was the logo of the National Tuberculosis Association. The 1925 design with two bright candles signifies how far a little candle can throw light, and by inference how powerful the purchase of a penny Christmas Seal stamp could be.

By 1925, sales of the penny seal stamps had garnered $25,000,000 to help build hospitals and promote prevention thorough education. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tuberculosis, commonly referred to as TB, was the leading cause of death in the United States.

The imagery is largely secular, snowy scenes, quaint houses, holly, poinsettia, skaters.

The cards in this collection are all single sided, with the image and verse on one side. The reverse is blank, there is no indication of the printer or publisher. Some of the cards are printed on pastel hues that we would not associate with Christmas today. Many have matching envelopes.

Greetings are short and spare – generally just the senders name, with brief good wishes. Only one of the envelopes includes a house number (407 East Center), the others simply list the street and village.

Since the collection spans a few years, we can see that the Smith Sanborns regularly received Christmas greetings from the same cousins in Barker, NY, Titusville, Fl, and Los Angeles, Ca.

Local businesses recognized the benefits of acknowledging their customers at Christmas time. The Boyd Coal Company and Rowley and Reynolds, also a coal company sent warm greetings, as did the Union Bank.

No doubt there are other Christmas cards from previous decades languishing in attics and closets throughout the county, just waiting to be enjoyed again. Their greetings and artwork reflect their moment in time.

The Boyd Coal Co. was located on West Ave., on the site currently occupied by Lee-Whedon Memorial Library. Rowley & Reynolds was located at 611 Main St., Medina.

Letters from WWI soldier came on letterheads from YMCA

Posted 14 November 2021 at 5:38 pm

Estimated 25,000 letters a week sent from soldiers with YMCA stationery

Letter from Fort Dix, NJ, 1917

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 29

MEDINA – While reading the World War 1 letters of Dan Burns, (Ill. Orl. V.1, No. 28) it was intriguing to note the stationery he used. Almost all his letters were written on paper provided by the YMCA. The envelopes also carried the YMCA logo. The design of the letterhead confidently aligns the YMCA with the war cause.

Formed in London in 1844 to strengthen Christian principles by developing “mind, body and spirit,” the YMCA had rapidly grown into a worldwide welfare organization. The first version of the Y’s visual identity was a circle, with multi-layered words and images.

The simpler and more striking red triangle was proposed in 1891 by a Dr. Gulick. Some of the early versions include the words “Mind, Body, Spirit” engraved on the sides of the triangle. The triangle image was so powerful that YMCA personnel were sometimes referred to as “triangle people.”

Letters from Fort Dix, NJ, 1918.

The precedent of civilian aid to wartime soldiers was established during the Civil War when the YMCA provided physical and spiritual aid through a group named the United States Christian Coalition. They distributed food, clothing, medical supplies, and books. Volunteers wrote letters for the sick and wounded and provided postage for mailing correspondence.

This service was continued during the Spanish-American War, when they also began providing stationery. In fact, early letters from Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were written on YMCA stationery.

President Wilson quickly accepted the Y’s offer of service when war was declared in 1917. The logistics of mobilizing, training, and securing essential supplies and equipment for over one million soldiers in a short time were daunting.

This letterhead from France shows that the YMCA was actively associated with the war effort abroad. Indeed, the Y’s contributions during the war were considerable:

• 26,000 YMCA staff and 35,000 volunteers served in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia.

• 1,500 canteens provided hot drinks, personal supplies

• 4,000 “huts,” the only places of respite for soldiers on the front lines

• 26 leave centers in France offered wholesome activities

• 286 YMCA personnel were injured, 6 died while serving

The morale and welfare services provided to the military by the YMCA were vital to the success of the campaign. Writing in a fundraising pamphlet in 1918, General Pershing observed that:

 “Nine men who are happy and entertained can outfight ten who are homesick and lonesome. It is the business of the “Y” to add this extra ten per cent to the fighting efficiency of our armies; to maintain that indefinable quality which wins wars – morale.”

Sometimes a hot drink, a smile, a quiet place to sit, some words of understanding, made all the difference between going on and giving up.

At that time, letters were the only form of contact between soldiers and their families. It is estimated that some 25,000 letters on YMCA stationery were written each day. One can imagine that the arrival of an envelope with the red triangle logo on an envelope was a welcome sight for worried families. No doubt, they too positively associated the “triangle people” with ministry and concern for the minds, bodies, and spirits of their loved ones.

Far better the red triangle of the YMCA than the Red Cross – or the dreaded telegram.

‘I’m all right. Don’t worry about me’ – in letters, WWI soldier details danger from combat, disease

Posted 7 November 2021 at 3:21 pm

A soldier’s letters sent home, saved since WWI

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 1, No. 28

MEDINA – He was an ordinary guy.

Born in Holley in 1887, he attended Holley schools. His family had moved to Medina by 1908. His father, who served in the Civil War and survived Libby and Andersonville prisons, owned a quarry.

Daniel F. Burns, WWI soldier

At the time of the 1915 Census, Daniel F. Burns, then aged 26, lived at home at 110 State St., with his mother, sister and niece. He was a stone contractor. He probably gave little thought to news of events a continent away which were to change his life.

On 2 April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. The Selective Service Act of May 1917 made all resident males between 21 and 30 liable for registration and draft. This was expanded to the ages of 18 and 45 in August 1918.

In 1917, Dan was enlisted in Co. I, 309th Infantry, 78th Division and was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for training. He wrote home regularly. His letters were straightforward: he would reassure the family of his well-being, refer to the weather, one or two general sentences, greetings to an aunt and niece.  He did not dwell on emotional issues, though in one letter written in early January 1918, he wrote that he was lonesome on returning from Christmas leave at home.

On several occasions, he mentioned that they had not been paid, that their pay had been delayed. His mother sent him money a few times. Later, he sent money home. He mentioned an outbreak of measles which necessitated a three-week quarantine, He worked at the Mess Hall for a short time, an advantageous position as he could secure better rations.

He described a life insurance policy which was available:

“The Government has an insurance. You pay $5.70 a month on $10,000. If anything happens to you, your people get $56 a month for twenty years.”

He mentioned meeting people that he knew:

Letter from Camp Dix, not dated, 1918:

“Met the fellow that put in bricks in the road in front of the house in Medina. (State St.)”

Letter from Camp Dix, not dated, 1918:

“Saw Dean Hinckley yesterday. Herbert Housel is in the same Co.”

Letter from Camp Dix, Nov. 26, 1917

“Stanley Pahurch (Pahura) from Holley is here.”

The troops were shipped overseas in May 1918. In an early letter from that time, he wrote:

“I met the Snyder boy from Medina yesterday. He worked at the freight house with Gert….Great many dying with flu in England. Does not seem to be as much of it in France. The fellows all want to get back before the States go dry.”

Postcards showing For Dix, New Jersey, with a capacity of almost 43,000, was one of the largest training camps in the northeast.

There are few letters from the summer of 1918. Co. I, 309th Infantry, 78th Division participated in the Battle of Saint Mihiel which took place from the 12-16 Sept. 1918 and in the Meuse-Argonne offensive which was fought from Sept. 26 – Nov. 11, 1918, when the Armistice was signed. This was the largest and deadliest campaign in US history, a series of final confrontations in the Alsace-Lorraine area of northwest France which helped end the war. Over one million American soldiers participated, 26,277 were killed and 95,786 were wounded, among them Dan Burns.

Dijon, Dec. 4 1918, a letter to his mother:

“I was shot in the arm on the 16th of October at the battle of Grandpre….about half the men I came out with are killed or wounded.

Jan. 21, 1919, a letter to his sister:

“I wrote and told you I was wounded on the 16 October. I was in the hospital about a month. I was shot in the arm. I was very lucky. They lost about 2/3 of the company. Many of the Lockport fellows were killed. I saw George Harmer when he got hit. He did not live long.”

France, May 18, 1919:

“Just a few lines to let you know I am in a hospital about two weeks. I had a lame leg and a little heart trouble.

I have been in France a year; it seems like five.”

Postcard showing soldiers boarding for trip to Europe.

Upon his return to the US in June 1919, he was hospitalized at Camp Stuart Embarkation Hospital in New Port News, Va. and later transferred to the Fort McHenry base hospital in Baltimore, Md.

He returned home to Medina and was employed by the New York State Dept. of Canals. He did not speak about his experiences. Family lore recalls that:

“He was never the same. He was always cold. He just wanted to be warm and have good food.”

Like so many of the other soldiers who returned, he suffered from the lingering effects of his harrowing wartime experiences. Depression, insomnia, nightmares were common, many returned soldiers were unable to cope, and little assistance was available. As we observe Veterans Day, we recognize those who perished as well as the physically injured and the inwardly scarred.

He died in 1956 and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Medina.

Identifying photos: a gift to posterity

Posted 1 November 2021 at 7:00 am

Photographed in Carl Munzel’s grocery store in Jeddo in 1915 are: Mr. Merchant, Mr. Singleton, Mr. Morton, Mr. Beck, Lena Grier, 3 unknown gentlemen, Mr. Tuck and Mr. Schilling.

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans – Vol. 1, No. 27

JEDDO – The group gathered around the pot-bellied stove, the cat dozing on the gentleman’s lap, the box of biscuits for the cracker barrel, the packed shelves, the tin ceiling – our photograph contains all of the standard features of a general store in rural America early in the twentieth century. It could be any store.

However, at some point in time, a wise and thoughtful person took a few moments to note the location, date and names of the people in the store, details which add immeasurably to the historic interest of the photo.

Lacking first-hand knowledge, but armed with location, date and names, we can unearth more details using resources such as the 1915 Census and cemetery records from the invaluable Orleans County GenWeb site (click here)  and digitized newspapers at www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org. The 1913 Atlas of Orleans County map of Jeddo also provides some clues.

Lena Grier: Lena is the only female in the group. According to the 1915 Census, Lena was 16, she was employed as a Clerk at the store and lived with the Munzel family: Carl (28), his wife Ella (27) and their son Colton aged 4. We learn from a 1914 Medina Daily Journal article that she was Ella Munzel’s sister. From a 1980 Journal-Register obituary, we learn that Lena married Harry Saxton and they operated a general store in Royalton for 31 years, retiring to Medina in 1960, they lived at 119 North Ave.

Josephine Tuttle, longtime Jeddo resident, recalled in a 1978 Journal-Register article that the store had been built by Albert Mietz in 1895. His nephew, Carl Munzel, who had worked with him for four years, purchased the store in 1915 and operated it for twenty-eight years. She wrote:

“In the evening, some of the gentry gathered among the barrels and nail-kegs to discuss the affairs of the day. Usually, the conversation was genial, but, on occasion, it became as heated as the pot-bellied stove around which they sat.”

Mr. Merchant: The gentleman with the cat on his lap was most likely Theodore Merchant, aged 66. He and his wife, Vinnie, lived next door to Munzel’s store, but owned a farm on the Ridge Road corner of County Line Road, just west of Jeddo. Mr. Merchant was one of the many “sunworshippers” from the North who later wintered in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Mr. Singleton: William Singleton, aged 59, was a plumber who also lived close by the store. His wife Arla was 63 and their adopted daughter Matilda aged 22 lived with them (1915 Census). William held the office of constable for several years.

Mr. Morton: A chance reference in the Journal-Register may provide the identity of Mr. Morton. Announcing that the Rev. Hugh Q. Morton would speak at the Jeddo Community Church in August 1975, it was noted that his father, also Rev, Hugh Q. Morton, was pastor of that Church from 1911 to 1915.

Mr. Beck: The map of Jeddo shows a W.W. Beck living in Jeddo. A William W. Beck is buried in West Ridgeway Cemetery. An obituary for William W. Beck in 1950 notes that he was a longtime resident of Jeddo and had worked as a painter for many years.

Mr. Tuck: Josiah Tuck was 82, and was born in England. He died in 1921 and is buried in West Ridgeway Cemetery with his wife Betsey.

Mr. Schilling: Lacking a first name, we cannot determine with certainty the identity of Mr. Schilling. An Elmer Schilling, aged 28, lived in Shelby in 1915.

The photograph was taken by W. C. Eaton, who dealt in “General and Commercial Photography, Farm Life, Buildings, Groups, Children, Stock, Post Cards, etc.” He lived in Jeddo, Mr. Singleton and Mr. Merchant were his immediate neighbors, while the Munzel store was just two doors to the west of his home.

As the evenings darken and lengthen, we suggest a photograph sorting and labeling project. It would be enjoyable, and greatly appreciated by future generations.

Former Clarendon historian worked for U.N., served with Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in WWII

Posted 23 September 2021 at 11:41 am

Irene Gibson also wrote book on early historic sites in Orleans County

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 22

Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

CLARENDON – At the recent Orleans County Historical Association Tour of Hillside Cemetery, Melissa Ierlan, Town of Clarendon Historian, referenced a remarkable lady who is buried there.

Irene Gibson

Irene Gibson (1898-1994) graduated from Holley High School in 1914. She received a Regent’s scholarship and a Cornell University competitive scholarship. She majored in foreign languages. She taught French and Spanish at Lynchburg College in Virginia from 1920-23 and then studied for a master’s degree at Denison University, Ohio. She joined the editorial staff of the Silver-Burdett Company, a textbook publisher, where she was modern languages editor and social studies editor from 1925-1941.

She enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in 1942. She instructed French cadets in navigation, instructing them in French on how to read flight charts, and draw wind-drift diagrams. She attended Officer Candidate School in 1945 and became a Second Lieutenant in July of that year. After the war, she worked for the United Nations, and by 1956 was head of the U.N. Division of Foreign Affairs which prepared printed documents for the Economic and Social Council.

She returned to Holley in 1958 to care for her mother and sister. She taught French and Spanish at Holley High School from 1960-1965. She was particularly interested in history and soon was involved with the Orleans Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and served as chairman of the Orleans County Historical Association (OCHA).

In 1979, the OCHA and the DAR published her book “Historic Sites in Orleans County, New York”, a listing and description of sites “that have historic connections with the Revolution or with the first twenty-five years of existence of Orleans County, the period before 1850.” Remarkably, there are fifty such sites. Arranged by town, they are as follows:

  • CLARENDON: Farwell’s Mills marker, Universalist Church, Lemuel Cook grave, Robinson Burying Ground, Clarendon stone store, Colonel Shubael Lewis residence
  • MURRAY: Smith-Pierce Cemetery, Murray marker, Baptist Church, Holley, Stone House, Holley, Budd-Phillips House, Hulberton, Balcom’s Mills marker, Transit Line marker
  • KENDALL: Norwegian Sloopers’ marker
  • CARLTON: Kenyonville Methodist Church, Stebbins Homestead
  • GAINES: Gaines Cemetery, First Church building in Orleans County marker, Gaines Academy marker, Cobblestone Church, Childs, School House, Childs, Bullard-Lattin House, Eagle Harbor Methodist Church
  • ALBION: Courthouse Square, Christ Episcopal Church, Swan Library, Presbyterian Chapel, Warner-Phelps House, Blott-House, Tousley-Church Home, Joseph Hart Home, Ebenezer Rogers House
  • BARRE: Barre Center Presbyterian Church, Elisha Wright House, Old Lime Kiln, Cobblestone School House, Pine Hill
  • SHELBY: Millville Academy, Quaker Meeting House, Fort Shelby, Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Cone-Dewey Cobblestone House
  • RIDGEWAY: Oldest barn in Orleans County, Servoss House, Culvert Underpass, Masten-Cardone Stone House, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Hunt-Sentiff House
  • YATES: Mudgett-Weld Homestead, Cobblestone House, Main St., Tarbox Six-sided House.

As one would expect, given her military experience and publishing background, the book is thorough and meticulous. The details, connections and stories she includes help bring the early years in Orleans County to life, as she populates it with people rather than just names and dates.

One such example is her account of the Clarendon Stone Store, a familiar but overlooked building at the corner of Routes 237, 31A and the Upper Holley Road in Clarendon. Built in 1836 by David Sturges, “a self-made man, who, had he lived would have been one of the millionaires of the country,” the lower floor housed a dry goods and grocery store and was a place for settlers to warm themselves by the fire and exchange news. An open room on the second floor was used for early church assemblies and lively political meetings. Ownership of the building passed by marriage to the Copeland family. A son, David Sturges Copeland, completed the “History of Clarendon” in 1889, having thoroughly explored its “groves and swamps…. meadows and dales.”

This book would be an ideal guide for a leisurely exploration of these sites, on a fall afternoon drive during Heritage Season perhaps? It is available from the OCHA, or the Historian’s Office for the modest sum of $10.

‘Heritage Season’ in September, October celebrates local history, cultural attractions

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 September 2021 at 4:54 pm

Provided photo: Todd Bensley, Medina’s village historian, is shown leading a dedication ceremony in September 2016 for the new historical marker at Boxwood Cemetery. The cemetery on North Gravel Road was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Bensley will lead a tour of Boxwood on Sept. 25.

There will be many local tours, programs and discussions celebrating local history and cultural attractions in September and October as part of “Heritage Season.”

The County History and Tourism departments teamed with local organizations and businesses for the lineup of lectures, luncheons, concerts, walking tours, mystery events, workshops and a French- inspired market. Click here to see the full schedule.

The programs are building off the former Orleans County Heritage Festival and has been extended over two months instead of two weekends.

“A wealth of topics will be explored: historic quilts, the 19th century kitchen, the Orphan Train children,” said Catherine Cooper, county historian. “Genealogy workshops will be held in Carlton. The Oak Orchard Lighthouse Mystery event sounds intriguing. Self-guided tours of Medina’s historic sites and architectural gems may be undertaken at your convenience. Guided tours of the Cobblestone Complex buildings will be available. The Holley-Murray Historical Society Museum will be open to visitors.”

The lineup of events started on Sunday with St. Rocco’s Italian Festival in Hulberton and with genealogy workshops led by Holly Canham at the Carlton Town Hall, 14341 Waterport-Carlton Rd. Canham will be at the Town Hall on Saturdays and Sundays, every weekend in September and October, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for genealogy and local history workshops.

Some of the programs during Heritage Season include:

Oak Orchard Lighthouse Mystery Tour Fundraiser: Sunday, Sept. 12 from noon to 3 p.m. at 14357 Ontario St., Kent. The event includes a mystery tour at four Lake Ontario lighthouses. For $35 the event includes t-shirt, box lunch and commemorative sticker. A $20 option includes a picnic at the Point with a box lunch. Visiting the four lighthouses at your leisure is $10 and includes a commemorative sticker. Click here for more information.

Cobblestone Museum programs at 14389 Ridge Rd., Albion

  • Saturday, Sept. 25 at 3 p.m. – Cobblestone Fiddlers Concert at the Cobblestone Museum
  • Saturday, Oct. 2 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Fall Open House featuring guided tours of 8 buildings, artisans at work, antiques appraisals, and a Weidner’s Chicken BBQ.
  • Thurs. Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. – “With Womanly Weapons Girt”: Women’s Volunteerism and Quilts of the Civil War. Quilt historian, Lynne Zacek will discuss the quilts and other textiles that women created to declare their patriotism and other support from the homefront. Registration required at www.cobblestonemuseum.org or call 585-589-9013.

Tour Boxwood Cemetery “Beyond the Book” on Saturday, Sept. 25, from 11 a.m. to noon at the cemetery on North Gravel Road in Medina. Interesting Stories Not in the Book hosted by Todd Bensley and Friends. Bensley has written a 314-page book, “Boxwood Cemetery: Where the Past is Present.”

Hurd Orchards Heritage Luncheons at 17260 Ridge Rd., Holley, from noon to 2 p.m. Reservations required by calling 585-638-8838. Details at www.hurdorchards.com.

  • Thursday, Sept. 23 – The 19th Century Kitchen
  • Friday, Oct. 15: A Taste of Time: Recipes from an English Threshing Barn

Hoag Library Lecture Series in the Curtis Room, 134 S. Main St., Albion. Free will offering will be accepted.

  • Sat., Sept. 4 at 12:30 p.m. – A Short Visit to Oak Orchard of Olden Days with Dick Anderson
  • Sat., Sept 11 at 12:30 p.m. – A Brief History of the Swan Family with Ian Mowatt
  • Tues., Sept 14 at noon – Tea With Dee: “The Phipps Diploma”
  • Wed., Sept 15 at 6 p.m. – Local Author Presentation & Book Signing – “Hellmira” by Derek Maxfield

Holley-Murray Historical Society Museum will be open every Saturday in September from noon to 3 p.m. at Geddes Street Ext., Holley. Visit the 1907 NY Central Depot restored to a museum including the Halloween Bell cast “1894 October 31st”. Free will offering accepted.

The Medina Historical Society presents “Abandoned: the Untold Story of the Orphan Train” with Michael Keene, Monday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Lee- Whedon Memorial Library, 520 West Ave., Medina.

Medina Railroad Museum Train Excursions on Thursday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 530 West Ave., Medina. Reserve a seat aboard the vintage rail cars and for a 2-hour round trip from the Medina Railroad Museum to Lockport along the historic Erie Canal. Enjoy relaxing music and seeing our crew dressed in period attire. Contact the Railroad Museum directly to reserve your seats at a discounted rate using the code: “Heritage.” Admissions and train fares are listed at www.medinarailroadmuseum.org.

The Market at Maison Albion at 13800 W. County House Rd., Albion. A French inspired market with over 50 local vendors in an historic mansion reimagined. $15 admission. Reserve tickets at www.maisonalbion.com/market.

  • Sat., Oct. 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Sun., Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At your leisure and self-guided tours:

  • Medina Sandstone Society Hall of Fame: Open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at City Hall on Main Street, Medina.
  • Medina Sandstone Architectural Walking Tour: Explore local architecture made of Medina Sandstone. Download the map by clicking here.
  • Medina Historical Interpretive Signs: Learn about Medina’s history around historic downtown Medina. Download by clicking here.

Man who drowned in Canal in 1888 was previously on the run for murder in Medina

Posted 1 September 2021 at 4:32 pm

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 20

There are many stories “buried” along with their protagonists in our local cemeteries. The key to one forgotten tale of passion, murder, daring escapes and an eventual karmic tragedy may be found in the following entry in the Knowlesville Cemetery listing:

Asa, aged 47, Amos, aged 3 and Sarah, aged 24, all with the same death date. What could have happened? The Medina Tribune of 28 June, 1888, provides the answer:

A Sad Drowning Accident

Asa Broughton and His Wife and Baby Drown Together

The article records that Mr. Broughton had just completed building a “handsome but rather cranky little row boat.” On that Monday evening, he took his wife and little boy, and his wife’s sister, Rosa Train, aged nine years, out on the canal for a pleasure ride.

After rowing about for some time, a canal steamboat towing another boat came along, and Broughton rowed between the two, with the evident intention of grasping the tow line and being towed a short distance up the canal. The captain of the steamer warned Broughton that he should not attempt to catch the line so near the steamer’s wheel, but he paid no attention.

As Broughton stood up in his boat to seize the line, it suddenly capsized, throwing the entire party into the water. Rosa Train, who was able to swim a little, managed to reach the overturned rowboat, clung to the side and was rescued by James Stork. Broughton desperately tried to save his wife and son, but, sadly, all three perished.

The last paragraph of the article references a more intriguing tale:

“The sad affair caused great excitement. Broughton will be remembered as the man who, on May 14, 1879, shot and killed Levant Bancroft and fled to Canada, crossing the cables of the old suspension bridge at Lewiston, in the night, hand over hand. His capture in Canada by Captain Beecher, and subsequent daring escape from the Albion jail, his trial and imprisonment, are too well known by our readers to need rehearsal here. Since his release from prison, Broughton has been a quiet, industrious man, and was a prominent worker of the Salvation Army during its stay in this place.”

And indeed, the headline of the article in the Medina Tribune May 15, 1879, reads:

MURDER! Asa Broughton shoots and kills Levant Bancroft

Apparently, jealousy was what prompted the deed. Following a quarrel over the attentions Levant Bancroft was paying to his wife, Mrs. Broughton left the house. Since she did not return in the evening, Asa Broughton sent their son to learn her whereabouts. The son returned with the information that she was at Bancroft’s, whereupon Broughton went to Bancroft’s house, and requested him to step outside. Angry words ensued, and then shots were fired. Bancroft exclaimed:

“I’m shot! Asa Broughton did it!”

He expired fifteen minutes later, “of two frightful wounds.”

A reward of $300 was offered for the apprehension of Broughton. However, he proved rather elusive. He made his way west to the home of a cousin in Hartland, where he worked for a day. But his cousin read of the crime he had committed from the Lockport paper and refused to shelter him.

Broughton then proceeded to the Niagara River, and amazingly:

“He performed the perilous feat of crossing on wires suspended upwards of a hundred feet above the river at Lewiston. (The wires referred to are those left of the old Suspension Bridge at that place, and it is said no one ever dared to cross them before).” – Medina Tribune

The Buffalo Weekly Courier of June 4, 1879, provides additional details:

“Hand over hand, suspended in the air 100 ft. above the river, he made his way to the opposite shore. The wire swayed to and fro with his weight. Several times he had to pull himself up and clasp his legs and arms round the wire to rest his hands, which were badly blistered and cut.”

Broughton then walked sixty-five miles to his sister’s home in Hagersville, Ont. where he was apprehended on May 22nd by Deputy Sheriffs Beecher and Rice who received the $300 reward. He was placed in the Albion jail but escaped from there on August 4th by cutting a hole through the wooden door above the water closet and then through the wall. A $200 reward was offered.

This time, Broughton made his way to Genesee County, and while in a drug store in Corfu, a constable came in with a copy of the printed reward which included his photo. Fearful of being recognized, Broughton set out for Oakfield, where he worked two days in a harvest field. He left there for Medina and spent three hours at the residence of his wife. He set off for Middleport and thence to Lewiston, where he again crossed to Canada on the wires of the old bridge. He wandered about, visiting relatives, but was captured by Deputy Fuller on August 17.

The murder trial commenced on October 13, 1879. The defense pleaded self-defense with partial insanity at the time of the murder. After a trial of nearly a week, the jury rendered a verdict of manslaughter in the third degree. Giving the highest penalty he could, the judge sentenced Broughton to four years hard labor in Auburn prison. Many people felt that a stronger verdict and sentence were deserved.

It is intriguing to note that the tragic drowning accident nine years later which claimed Broughton, his young wife and son, occurred two days before George Wilson was hung in Albion for the murder of his wife.

Historic Childs: Orleans County Court originally was on the Ridge in Gaines

Posted 28 August 2021 at 8:08 am

Albion beat out Gaines for County Seat in 19th century controversy

Mansion House, circa 1840, Delineation by H. C. Ruggles

By Doug Farley, DirectorVol. 2 No. 34

GAINES – Orleans County is fortunate indeed to have a beautiful courthouse as a focal point to an impressive, historic, Courthouse Square. However, the location of the current courthouse didn’t get selected without considerable 19th century controversy. In fact, at one point in early history, Gaines was the primary contender for the County Seat.

The sketch at the top shows the first County Court, which was held in the home of Selah Brown, alternatively known as the Mansion House. The stately historic stagecoach stop was a building that former Historian, Cary Lattin, once described as “one of the most imposing buildings on the Ridge Road in the 19th century.”

The Mansion House was described as a large, three-story wooden structure with high Grecian columns as seen in the above sketch. From the record books we know that the first Court of Common Pleas in the county was held in the Mansion House on June 22, 1825.

Built in 1816 by William Perry, the Mansion House was located on the northwest corner of what we know today as Ridge Road and Route 279 in Gaines, shown above. Also called the Gaines Tavern, the Mansion House can be placed in your minds-eye in the vacant lot just south of the still extant former cobblestone schoolhouse on that corner, now occupied by a motorcycle club.

(Left) Portrait of Gen. Winfield Scott painted by Robert Walter Weir in 1855. (Right) Portrait of Senator Henry Clay painted by Henry Darby, 1858.

The history of the Mansion House was unfortunately short lived. It was completely destroyed by fire in 1844. During its short tenure, however, it laid claim to such distinguished guests as General Winfield Scott (above left) and Henry Clay (above right), who entertained local gentry during stops along the Ridge.

The only known memento of the tavern that still exists is a clock that stood on the bar in 1836 before the fire. Former Historian Cary Lattin purchased the clock at Knickerbocker’s Auction in the 1920s. It was said the clock was rescued from the fire at the Mansion House. It had a wooden clock works which Lattin later replaced with an electric works in the 1950s. The clock’s manufacturer was Marshall & Adams of Seneca Falls. A handwritten note insides the clock dates it to c.1833.

History records that at least one momentous decision was made at the court session that took place at the Mansion House that still affects life today. The decision was made at the Mansion House to locate the Orleans County Seat in Albion, thus ending the building’s short reign as the County Courthouse.

The political maneuverings that went into the decision in question is also an interesting story. In 1826, Commissioners were appointed to determine whether Gaines, the more thriving community, or Albion, the approximate geographical center of Orleans County, should be chosen as the County Seat.  The machinations of the local citizenry involved in the decision was described in detail in “Pioneer History of Orleans County,” 1871, as follows:

When the Commissioners appointed to select the site for the Court House came on to fix the spot, their choice lay between Gaines and Albion. Gaines had the advantage of being the largest village, being on Ridge Road, and being well supplied with mechanics and merchants, and of having many of the institutions of old and well organized communities established there. Albion was nearest the geographical center of the county, and was intersected by the Erie Canal and Oak Orchard Road. The west branch of Sandy Creek runs through the east part of the village. Rising in some swamps in the southern part of the town, it afforded sufficient water after the melting of the snow in spring, and after rains to turn machinery a part of the year, but in summer was nearly dry. On this stream two saw mills had been built, one in the village, the other south of it.

The Commissioners came to consider the claims of the rival villages about the middle of the dry season. Mr. Nehemiah Ingersoll, Philetus Bumpus, Henry Henderson, and a few other Albion men, determined to use a little strategy to help Albion. Knowing when the Commissioners would be here the creek would be too low to move the sawmills, and foreseeing the advantage a good mill stream would give them, they patched the two dams and flumes and closed the gates to hold all the water some days before the Commissioners would arrive; sent some teams to haul logs and lumber about the saw mill and mill yard, in the village to mark the ground and give the appearance of business there.

When the Commissioners came to see Albion, having been generously dined and wined by its hospitable people, they were taken in a carriage to see the place, and in the course of the ride driven along the creek and by the sawmill, then in full operation, with men and teams at work among the lumber, with a good supply of water from the ponds thus made for the occasion. The commissioners were impressed with the importance of this fine waterpower and gave the county buildings to Albion before the ponds ran out.

Incredibly, all the buildings illustrated in this 1840 wood cut engraving have been demolished. From left to right we see the original County Court House built in 1827 and removed in the late 1850s. Seen next is an early County Jail erected in 1838 and torn down in 1902.  In the center is shown the first County Clerk’s Office built in 1836 and razed in 1884. The large building to the far right was Phipps Union Seminary demolished in 1882. The steps in the lower right corner were those of the original First Baptist Meeting House, 1832-c1892.  The retaining wall pictured (still extant) was located at the Roswell Burrows residence which became the Swan Library building.

William Morgan (1774-c1826), Unknown artist

The first Court House erected in Albion was built in 1827 in front of the current Courthouse, on land donated by Nehemiah Ingersoll. The initial court session was held there on March 26, 1827.  The courthouse was built with bricks and originally faced west, towards the main street.

It also housed the County Clerk’s Office on the first floor. Cells for housing county prisoners were built in the basement and were used until a new jail was built in 1838. In 1828, somewhat belatedly, the Legislature officially transferred the court from Gaines to Albion.

The first court case conducted in the court in Albion was “People of the State of New York vs. Avery Downer.” The murder case had a great public interest at the time, and still remains an enigma, today. Elihu Mather and Avery Downer were accused of conspiracy to kidnap and abduct William Morgan (shown at right) who had allegedly been spirited into Canada and killed because he was writing an expose of the secrets of Free Masonry. Downer, a schoolmaster, never did stand trial, but Mather did, and was finally acquitted after a ten-day trial. Morgan’s body was never found and to this day the mystery of his disappearance remains unsolved.

With the passing of time, the first Courthouse became too small for the needs of a growing county. Accordingly, in 1856, the Board of Supervisors of Orleans County adopted a resolution to consider the question of building a new Court House. A public hearing was held and as a result, the Board of Supervisors appropriated $20,000 for the building of a new Courthouse. The architect for the project was W. V. N. Barlow.

The new Courthouse was completed in November 1858 and was built facing north on Courthouse Square. The Board of Supervisors noted this accomplishment with these remarks in 1858:

A Court house has been built…which for beauty of design, strength of structure, and completeness of finish, is not excelled if equaled by any similar building of equal cost, in the State. We feel impelled to render this testimony to the thorough and economical manner in which said Commissioners have prosecuted their labors in the erection of said Court House.

Courthouse dome undergoing maintenance, 2019

The dome on the top of the Courthouse comprises the last 36 feet of the building’s overall height of 100 feet.  A trapdoor is found at the top of the dome leading to a platform from which one can see Lake Ontario some 12 miles away.

A quartet of musicians was known to play from this height during the Christmas season. For many years, the Courthouse bell in the tower was rung to mark the opening of court sessions. It was also rung on November 11, 1918 to mark Armistice Day for World War I, and again on January 19, 1959 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the building.

The Courthouse today stands in a beautifully kept square, together with the County Clerk’s building and County Jail. At least one church still stands on each corner as a reminder of the importance of faith to the county’s citizens. In 1959, local attorney, Curtis L. Lyman offered some appropriate words we can use today to close this historical review:

The people of Orleans County are proud of their Courthouse.  They have put it to good use and have taken good care of it. They know that as a result of their continuing care and maintenance the Courthouse will provide many years of useful service. They also know that by preserving this handsome reminder of the county’s past, they are building a strong future for themselves, based on a sense of history, of respect for established institutions, and of faith in the stabilizing influence of even-handed justice in American life.

These words were first given during a ceremony marking the Centennial celebration of the Court House in 1959 when the importance of the building and the institution were acknowledged by the NYS Bar Association.

Historic Childs: Stories from Church

Posted 22 August 2021 at 10:49 am

Charles Howard, the Santa Claus School founder, also visionary behind ‘World’s Largest Cake’ that was served at a wedding

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum DirectorVol. 2 No. 33

GAINES – The first church built between the Genesee and Niagara Rivers, located on the Ridge Road in the Town of Gaines, constructed in 1824, seen here circa 1920 when used by the Free Methodists. This church was remodeled in the 1870s and the second story windows were removed and replaced with the stained glass seen here. In later years, after being used as the Town of Gaines Highway Garage, it was demolished in 1991.

Churches have been present in the Town of Gaines and Hamlet of Childs since their earliest days.  The Cobblestone Universalist Church built on land donated by John Proctor and the Gaines Congregational Church are two time-tested examples. While churches have always been regarded as solemn, religious institutions, we do find some examples in history where the solemnity of pondering mortal destinies was interrupted by some good, light-hearted, humorous situations.

One such humorous tale has survived its retelling since about 1837. A certain Mrs. Dewey, whom the youngsters called Mother Dewey, was a woman of positive character and was said to rule the roost of her home.  She and her husband and daughter lived in a log cabin on the Gaines Basin Road, just south of the Ridge.

There was a berry patch that stood behind the home, a little garden around it, and a well of cold water shaded with birch trees was found near the door, and creeping over the doorway grew beautiful Morning Glories. The cold well was a temptation too strong to resist for the local boys who frequently refreshed themselves while on their berrying and nutting excursions. She enjoyed the boys’ company and was known to use the occasions to extract nuggets of gossip from the youngsters about all of the village residents.

The whole Town of Gaines knew her as a conscientious member of her church, where she was an unfailing attender, where she slept away much of her life. Locals remembered her well as she went down the road to the church. Though poor in the world’s goods, she was rotund in person and robust in health. She waddled along with head and shoulders held high and a big brown satchel slung over one arm. In church, her seat was in the back, under the overhanging gallery. There she sat and slept, with nodding head and mouth wide open, all the same whether the sermon was dull or awe inspiring.

The first Gaines Congregational Church was built in 1834 and burned on Christmas Eve, 1950.  Photo seen here circa 1915. It was also in 1834 that the First Universalist Society of Gaines erected the Cobblestone Church still present in Childs. This would suggest great religious fervor in the community at the time.

It was one summer Sunday, that Mother Dewey had taken her usual seat, had gone into her usual sleep, and the preacher had gotten well into the depth of his sermon, when two roguish boys in the gallery above discovered her head was directly under them thrown back unusually far, and a dark hole in her face where her mouth ought to be.

Like Adam and Eve, temptation got the best of them. Almost instantly, a fly-leaf from a hymnal was eschewed to pulp. It was held over her in hushed consultation and passed from hand to hand in trial. Finally it dropped! It was a plumb shot, a dead bullseye. She chocked, rolled over, coughed and spat the wad out. Her friends rushed to her side, opened the window, fanned her, propped her up and talked of apoplexy.

She said there was no apoplexy, nothing of the sort, but didn’t say what the matter was. Her dignity was fearfully insulted, and her indignation against unknown somebodies upstairs knew no bounds. In the melee, two boys made hasty tracks downstairs and out the doors, erupting in laughter heard all through the church. Visual correspondents later reported the boys were Newton Proctor and Oakley Ruggles who are said to have received sound thrashings from their angry parents.

A view of Gaines looking east on Ridge Road, the Congregational Church steeple is seen in the center of the community. Burns restaurant is at the far left, it later became known as the Chatterbox.

Several years later, an older but wiser Mr. Ruggles, provided the inspiration for several other stories that add humor to local church life. Another such example was read at the Semi-Centennial Meeting of the Gaines Congregational Church on August 26, 1874. Ruggles tells of a certain Mr. Burnham who had an unusual, somewhat irregular, connection to the church. It seems he was allowed, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to stable his cow under the church, in an area that had been left open to the elements, through a gaping hole that had developed and had been left unattended over many years.

The Hamlet of Childs as seen in 1909 for the Centennial Celebration of the Town of Gaines, note the Village Inn at left, general store, center; and Cobblestone Universalist Church in the upper right corner of the photo. The general store was actually built as a cobblestone building, covered with stucco around 1870 and torn down in 1960.

This particular story involves a protracted evening revival meeting that was held in the church. People came from far around, and filled the house. The interest was great, and much good was being done, conversations were many, and folks lived better lives as a result. On one such occasion, when the house was crammed to suffocation, and after the clergyman had preached a fervent sermon, and given out a hymn, he called on repentant sinners to come forward to the altar for prayers.

In the midst of the tear-soaked singing and deep solemnity of the hour, Mr. Burnham’s two-year-old bull calf raised his voice. He started off on a high key as if sung by a coloratura soprano, then it modulated down to a crackling tenor and finished with a monotone droning bass, which performance he repeated several times to the outright dismay of the preacher, quite upsetting the gravity of the elders, on whose faces twinkled slight grins, while the youngsters reveled in downright belly laughter. The meeting ended early, and the bull-calf was summarily ejected from his lower berth, thus closing the chapter on Mr. Burnham’s pseudo-connection to the congregation.

This photo, taken about 1890, shows a wedding in the old Gaines Congregational Church which burned on December 24, 1950.

Entrance to the fairgrounds, early 1900s

Our last “church story” brings us forward to 1931, and isn’t actually a “church” story, because it didn’t take place in a church, but did involve a wedding. Over the years, the old Orleans County Fair had become a setting for couples to “tie the knot,” in outdoor ceremonies as part of Fair week.

In celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the Orleans County Fair in that year, a decision was made to build the World’s Largest Wedding Cake.  The cake, seen here at right, was baked by the Wehle Baking Company of Rochester under the supervision of John Woggon. The cake pieces were transported by truck to Albion and assembled on site.

Herman Thorschmidt, a champion cake trimmer, did the decorating. The 14-foot tall cake was topped with a sugar eagle. The base of the cake was 8’ square and was placed in a special building erected at the fairgrounds for the occasion. The recipe included 1,600 pounds of flour, 1,140 pounds of sugar, 910 pounds of shortening, 7,272 eggs, 455 quarts of milk, 1,000 pounds of applesauce, 100 pounds of baking powder, one gallon of vanilla, one gallon of lemon juice and 56 pounds of chocolate. The icing used 500 pounds of Confectioner’s sugar. The completed cake weighed in at 7,000 pounds.

Photo courtesy Orleans County Historian

After the cake had been on display for several days, a public wedding was held next to the cake. The photo above shows the bridge and groom before their many spectators.  The sign at the base of the cake stated, “This mammoth cake will be cut by the bride at 3pm.”

After the bride cut the cake, 5,000 slices were boxed and sold for ten cents each. It earned $500 and folks remarked how tasty the cake was. The entire spectacle was an example of the creative mind of legendary local, Charles W. Howard, who was credited with this “World’s Largest Cake” plan. Howard of course went on to “Santa Claus” fame with his world-famous Santa Claus School and Christmas Park.

Fairgrounds, early 1900s

Howard’s successful “World’s Largest Cake” plan in 1931 was actually spurred on by an earlier success at the old Orleans County Fair. In 1929, the “World’s Largest Pie” was created, weighing 6,000 pounds. The dough was rolled out using the “World’s Largest Rolling Pin,” being four feet long and weighing 60 pounds.

Historic Childs: Pranks, and other diversions

Posted 17 August 2021 at 8:45 pm

‘Every outhouse in Gaines had been tipped over at one point or another.’

Jim Thurber’s store building, c. 1915, Gaines, attracted many pranksters, especially at the chicken coop.

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director – Vol. 2 No. 32

When skimming through the pages of published history material, one can occasionally come across some shenanigans that might best be described as a prank, but I’m sure to the subject of the prank, it probably seemed more like a real nuisance.

Case in point, in 1979, (William) Clure Appleton (1902-1982) reflected on his days growing up in Gaines at the corner of Routes 104 and 279.  Clure said, “When I was a kid, the boys and girls weren’t much different than they are today, except they didn’t take drugs and they didn’t drink to excess. However, they were full of mischief and I remember distinctly some of the things that happened on Halloween.”

It seems the cooper shop (barrel maker) was a frequent Halloween target. The boys took great sport in taking apart a barrel rack that was located outside of the cooperage, and removed it to be reassembled on the shop roof.  Clure offered, “It was also a common occurrence for the boys to place a buggy or sleigh on top of the schoolhouse roof.”

Outhouses, as essential as they were to everyday life, were another frequent target of pranksters. Clure remarked that he thought “every outhouse in Gaines had been tipped over at one point or another.”  It didn’t seem to matter if someone was in the shanty at the time, or not.

Any gathering of a half-dozen or more boys usually became fodder for a prank. Clure remembered that raids on local henhouses were a frequent occurrence, too.  Jim Thurber’s chicken coop was a perennial favorite amongst the jokesters. Jim ran the store in the Grange building and kept his prize chickens outside under watchful eye. He had won many awards at the Orleans County Fair for his hens and roosters.

On one night in question, Clure and the Schuler boys were enjoying a card game and realized they had become powerfully hungry. The Schuler boys went over to Jim’s chicken house, one boy going inside and one staying outside as “lookout.” The chickens, of course, started to make a ruckus which aroused the ever alert Jim Thurber from his domestic tranquility. The lookout boy saw Jim coming with a lantern and knocked on the chicken house door to alert the chicken burglar, who quickly crawled down underneath the brooder.

Jim entered the coop, held his lantern up to count his chickens, and seeing all his chickens in place, decided it must have been a rat that aroused his fowl, and went back into the house. Once the coast was clear, the Shuler boy reached up and grabbed the prize rooster and proceeded to wring his neck. The nefarious plan then led the boys to a nearby dryhouse where apples and other fruit were dehydrated over a smoldering fire.  The boys then cooked their prized chicken for the enjoyment of the card party. Of course, the next morning, when Jim Thurber discovered the loss of his prize chicken, he offered a few choice words in return, but unfortunately, had no rooster to show at that year’s fair.

Knickerbocker Dry Goods, Gaines, at left above.

Jim Thurber wasn’t the only merchant that fell victim to frequent pranks. Another local shopkeeper, Harm Knickerbocker ran a store on the northeast corner in Gaines, next to the Grange Hall.  The store was a brick building and the Knickerbockers lived up over the store. Harm didn’t run much of a store, though.

Reports are common that a typical day’s trade in the store was a meager ten or fifteen cents. Most of his stock in trade was several years old at best.  Well the local boys had a bad habit of taking advantage of Mr. Knickerbocker’s good nature and would enter the store and request a penny’s worth of product from the far end of the building. During his travels, the kids would “help him” get rid of some his stale candy or tobacco by “helping” themselves.

Clure Appleton noted that later in life, he came to his senses and had regrets for his actions, but hindsight is always 20/20. As far as smoking the aforementioned tobacco was concerned, Clure’s father told him that if he was ever going to smoke, it was not going to be behind the barn, and if he did, his father would tan his hide. Any smoking Clure did had to be out in the open, under his father’s watchful eye, which he later reported, started him on a smoking habit that lasted 65 years.

And for intoxicating beverages, Clure said he learned another valuable lesson at an early age. He asked his Sunday school teacher if it was a “sin to drink too much.” She agreed that it was. But, also offered, “Clure, it’s a sin to eat too much, work too much, or play too much.”  But her last admonition struck a note with Clure said he remembered it his whole life.  “Everything that is carried to excess is a sin.”

Back in the 19th and late 20th century, every small community had a general store, and the Hamlet of Childs was no exception. The local store of course met the mercantile needs of the local citizens, but also, it served as a center of community engagement and social center. Many a story or yarn had been sewed while sitting around the wood stove in the old country store, and Gaines was no exception.

Locals can tell you about a certain local by the name of Hodie Howes whom the others liked to pick on when he came into the store. Hodie was quoted as saying, “I’m just as smart as any of you, if I could only think of it.” One fall evening Hodie came into the store and sat down in a chair near the stove. The usual bantering began. After a while, Hodie took a huge firecracker out of his pocket. One of the men said, “Where’d you get that firecracker?” Hodie said, “Oh, I found it in a drawer the other day. I think it’s left over from 1876. It probably won’t even work.”

With that disclaimer he got up and went to the stove and opened the door.  Another man warned, “Hodie, I wouldn’t throw that in there if I were you.” Hodie said with bravado, “I don’t think it will blow up,” and with that threw it into the stove. Everyone in the store let out a collective gasp and ran towards the door. Hodie went back to his chair and let out a big belly laugh. You see, Hodie had sawn a broomstick down to size and made it look like a firecracker with a string for a fuse. Hodie enjoyed his prank and remarked, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”

The Cobblestone Church was a more recent setting for a prank, harkening back to October 1985. Those who were pranked were a newlywed couple, Jim and Cheryl Watson.  The bridal couple had scheduled their wedding in the Museum’s Cobblestone Church. On the morning of the happy event, a flatbed truck rolled up in front of the church with a new Buick LaSabre loaded on it.  There was also a lighted sign on the truck that stated, “Whipper bites the dust today at 4:00.”

Shortly before the wedding, Jim, known as Whipper by his companions, bought his fiancé, Cheryl, the Buick and surprised her by exchanging it with her old clunker in her parking spot at work.  Of course, she really loved her new car. On the night of the wedding rehearsal, Jim’s buddies absconded with the car, much to Cheryl’s dismay. Jim assured her it was just a prank and it would be okay. The next morning, Jim and his brother were driving west on Ridge Road when Jim spotted an Orleans Trucking flatbed coming his way with a car on it. He hollered, “Hey, that’s Cheryl’s car!” His brother offered words of comfort, “It’s okay, Roger loaded it.” That made Jim even more nervous because Roger had a reputation for being accident prone.

The former Apple Grove Inn, Medina, c. 1970

At any rate Jim and Cheryl got their car back from the pranksters in time for their honeymoon. However, as they left the reception which was held at the Apple Grove in Medina in haste, they neglected to make a thorough check of the car. It wasn’t until later that they discovered they had no luggage at all thanks to Jim’s buddies and their pranks.

Well, as we’ve all been told, “Turn-about is fair play.”  I think we all get to chuckle when a prank goes awry and ends up a prank on the pranksters. Such was the case in a story told by Gary Ehrenrich to LeRoy Neeper.  The Town of Ridgeway was a great place for young boys to grow up. The area around Oak Orchard was home to a number of obedient, respectful, but adventurous preteen boys. Halloween presented the perfect time to be a bit mischievous.

Clayton Fletcher, around 12 years old, Don Pritchard, Charlie Rorick and Ralph Axtel were great pals. They agreed that their prank would not be pulled on their own families, and settled on their neighbor, Mr. Gazes. The plan involved tipping over the Gazes’ outhouse, after all, neighbor kids had pulled this prank a few years before without much repercussion. The boys planned each movement and swore an oath of secrecy. Mr. Gazes got wind of the plan and decided to out-prank the pranksters.

Before nightfall on Halloween, Mr. Gazes moved his outhouse ahead about four feet, leaving a gaping cesspool exposed. Halloween was a dark night. The boys were full of excitement. They ran quickly in the dark, and in their haste fell full bore into the pit. The lads were a stinking mess and they knew the worst part would be that they were sure to be caught trying to sneak back into their homes later that night. The boys all agreed that the punishment they received from their parents was certainly worse than anything Mr. Gazes could have doled out.

Even most adults enjoy getting into the act for Halloween as seen here in this photo from 1943. This particular party was hosted by Jack and Gerry Larwood and Al and Ruth Mason, and involved a hobo theme. It was held at the Larwood Farm Implement Agency at Five Corners. Infamous Santa School creator, Charles Howard, even played a part in this elaborate Halloween party. Howard was secured to decorate the room for the “hobo” theme.

The amazing planning and execution for this party even involved laying down railroad track along West Bacon Road to add to the mystique. A railroad handcar was used on the track to transport guests into the party. The party ran for two nights with much merriment enjoyed. Bill Lattin tells the story of one prank that came out of this party, too. His father, Cary Lattin, had a devilish wit, and pulling a prank on another unsuspecting “hobo” was just too much fun to pass up. Cary’s costume for the evening involved a “putty” nose, which at the right moment, he slipped off and inserted into Agnes Wilson’s drink.  When her libation neared the bottom of the glass she reacted with horror at her discovery. Bill reported that Agnes was still talking about the prank 40 years later.

Those enjoying this 1943 party include: (Front row L-R) Standing – Cary Lattin, Seated – John Larwood, Avis Latin, Robert Brown, Katherine Church, Fred Miller, Bill Phillips and (Seated on Floor) Ward Wilson.  (Second row) Jean Jackson, Geraldine Larwood, Doris Phillips, Dorothy Miller, Agnes Wilson, Angie Brown, and Grace Phillips.  (Third row) Albert Mason, Ruth Mason, Marcus Phillips, Dr. John Jackson and Sanford B. Church, Esq,

Our last Halloween prank involves the Fletcher clan that lived in a big house on Ridge Road in the Town of Ridgeway, about a half mile east of Oak Orchard River. Beatrice and Harry Fletcher had four children: Clayton, Shirley (Mrs. Brent Manker), Florence (Mrs. Garry Ehrenrich) and Mary (Mrs. Don Hall). Halloween was an exciting time for the kids. The boys liked to play pranks, the girls liked to dress up, and they all liked the Halloween treats.

Mrs. Fletcher insisted that all of her children had to stay together. They could join with other neighborhood children, but had to stay together.  The older kids did NOT want to take the younger kids, but that was the rule. They especially did not want to take their youngest sister, Mary, fearing she would tattle on them if they pulled a prank. Knowing that there was no other way, the older siblings took Mary along with them.

Later that night, the older kids decided it was time to pull a prank, so they decided to tie Mary to a mailbox while they went off and performed the dirty deed. Luckily, nothing nefarious happened to Mary during her captivity, but like Joseph of old who was thrown into a pit by his brothers, Mary remembered the ordeal and retold the tale for years whenever Halloween pranks became the topic of conversation.