local history

Historic Childs: Electricity powered many labor-saving devices in homes (Part 3)

Posted 28 November 2020 at 10:46 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

CHILDS – In the past two weeks, we have looked at how electricity first came to the Hamlet of Childs and the dramatic effect it had on changing how people lived their lives.

It was said, “Electricity is the only servant you will ever need!” Times had changed. In the early-1800s, if you were fortunate enough to have rugs in your home, the homemaker would probably clean them by hanging them over a line outdoors and then swatting them with a carpet beater.

Fast forward 50 years or more and the Victorian home might have the Eureka Pneumatic Cleaner as seen above in the Ward House in the Hamlet of Childs.

Actual operation of this vacuum was cumbersome at best. It was a heavy, two-person endeavor that required someone to pump the handle to create suction and someone else to direct the wand to the area to be cleaned.

Moving forward to the decade known as the Roaring ’20s, we find a much improved cleaner called the Airway as seen here at the Vagg House in Childs.  This upright electric vacuum cleaner was produced by the Air-Way Sanitizor Company beginning in 1920. Company advertising stated this revolutionary machine “could be found in modern homes the world over!”

Housewives throughout time have probably shared a distain for laundry day. Certain chores have been worse than others, but most folks would agree that ironing is a chore they don’t enjoy. Electricity changed that, at least to some degree.

Prior to installing electricity in the home, homemakers would have removed wrinkles from their family’s clothes and linens using a heavy iron made of cast-iron. The iron would need to be heated on a wood or coal stove before it was used. Controlling the temperature of the “appliance” was iffy at best. Certainly many a shirt was scorched in the process.

Electricity added a new level of convenience to the chore. Not only were the new electric irons lighter, they had switches to control the temperature of the iron. An early electric iron is shown above.  This model had another benefit in that the iron itself was cordless. The base unit held the electric cord and when used, it would heat up the iron to a suitable temperature.

If we move forward another 20 years to World War II, we start to see another appliance added to the home to help with ironing clothes, the electric mangle. Relatively speaking, this was a pretty large appliance compared to the simple iron. It consisted of a cloth covered roller inside a freestanding white enamel cabinet that heated up and pressed clothes by applying pressure between the roller and a metal plate. The model shown here was owned and used by Hamlet of Child’s resident, Nellie Vagg, wife of blacksmith Joseph Vagg.

Today, with modern blended fabrics and de-wrinkle settings on clothes dryers, we don’t pay a lot of attention to pressing clothes.  This was not the case during the Baby Boom years when an assortment of electrical appliances were created to help with the task. In the above photo we see two such devices, an electric tie presser and pants creaser.

The last item we will look at today, shown above, is an appliance you probably have not seen very often, if at all.  See if you can guess what it’s used for.  It was usually found in the kitchen, but could have been located in other rooms, too.

If you guessed a DE-FLY-ER Model 1600 by DE-BUG-ER INC., you win the Kewpie Doll!  This appliance was designed to rid your household of flying and crawling insects using invisible vapors. (Don’t breathe too deeply though, the device used benzene hexachloride, a known carcinogen, today!)  The patent date shown here is 1950, and at that date, electricity had finally become available in all of Orleans County.

Our next article of Electricity Comes to Childs (Part 4) will take a look at even more labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric kitchen after World War II.

Historic Childs: Electricity comes to the hamlet, revolutionizing homes (Part 2)

Posted 21 November 2020 at 8:59 am

Electric appliances doomed other industries, including ice harvesting

(Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series about the historic Childs hamlet. This article is part 2 of when electricity came to Childs in the late 1920s. Part three will be next week.)

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

Electric appliance companies, such as Edison General Electric, had an interesting marketing pitch in the 1920s to help sell their newfangled electrical devices, “Electricity is the only servant you will ever need!”

Such was the case in the Hamlet of Childs after electric power became readily available after 1926. Perhaps the most successful of all of the G.E. appliances was the monitor top refrigerator (pictured above), first introduced in 1927.

This success of the refrigerator sounded the beginning of a death knoll for another industry, ice harvesting.  The “Iceman” was a frequent visitor to homes in the Hamlet of Childs before the arrival of electricity.  It’s probably safe to say there was an icebox in every home in the 1800s and early 1900s as demonstrated by this ice sign found in window at the Ward House in Childs.

Homeowners used signs like this to let the iceman know how much ice they needed for their delivery.  The number showing at the top of the sign signaled the iceman to bring the corresponding number of pounds of ice into the home.

With monitor top refrigerators replacing ice boxes, a new dilemma surfaced for housewives, namely how to defrost their refrigerator without spoiling all the food inside.

Today with frost-free refrigeration, we’ve lost track of the need to manually defrost the appliance to remove the ice that would build up on the refrigerator’s freezer compartment. Electricity came to the rescue with a new gadget designed to quickly and safely melt the accumulated ice.

If monitor-top refrigerators were one of the largest electrical appliances, perhaps the smallest would have been the electric sifter.  Even such mundane tasks as sifting flour became fair game for electrification in the new electric household.

When electricity was new, it was originally installed in a home for lighting.  As manufacturers began to produce more and more electrical appliances homeowners didn’t have enough outlets installed in their homes.

Necessity became the mother of invention and it was not unusual to see a power cord dangling from an overhead light fixture, because that was the only power source to be found. This is demonstrated at the Vagg House in Childs where a Royal Rochester waffle iron is plugged into an overhead light fixture.

This connection was made possible by removing an incandescent lightbulb from a light fixture and screwing in a lampholder plug to provide an outlet in the room.  In the early days it was not uncommon to use a light fixture to power your vacuum cleaner, space heater, flat iron, radio and many other appliances.

Another problem with early electrical appliances was found with the plug at the end of the cord. Appliance manufactures each chose their own design for the arrangement of the prongs.

Even if you were fortunate enough to have an electrical wall socket in your home, it might not have the needed configuration to match the pins on your appliance.

This socket and plug dilemma didn’t get resolved until the mid-20th century when groups like Underwriters Laboratories came up with their “Seal of Approval” to designate standardized, safe appliances. You can see a portion of the familiar red and gold seal on this apartment-sized electric clothes washer manufactured by the Cinderella Company and on display at the Vagg House in Childs.

Washday doldrums were a routine occurrence prior to the arrival of electricity.  Every piece of laundry required hand scrubbing, rinsing, and wringing dry, followed up by hanging laundry outdoors to air dry. Here we see a 1900 mechanical clothes washer manufactured by Boss of Cincinnati.

It required hand cranking to scrub the clothes and then using the mechanical wringer shown here. This washing system is in place at the Ward House in Childs and represents the way clothes were cleaned in the Victorian era.

Moving forward a generation to the 1920s, electricity changed the washday routine offering “modern” homemakers a little more leisure time. Here we see an early electric clothes washer manufactured by the Easy Washing Machine Company (1877-1963) with headquarters in Syracuse, NY.

This model featured a spin dryer, which was an improvement over their wringer model. This system is found in the Vagg House in Childs.

With all of the new labor saving electrical devices, homemakers now had some new found leisure time. Families could turn their attention to enjoying some music, news, or drama on the console radio in their living room. Early radios were often large pieces of furniture that made a statement that this household has arrived in the 20th century.

Our next article (Part 3) will take a look at even more labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric home of the Roaring ’20s, including the Air-Way Sanitizing System (vacuum cleaner), Hamilton Beach Mixer with Juicerizer, ceramic hotplate, electric iron, mangle, tie presser, pants creaser, drip-o-lator, and more.

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Historic Childs: Electricity came to Gaines hamlet in 1926, with many embracing a more modern life

Posted 13 November 2020 at 10:28 pm

Not everyone was quick to hook up to new system – ‘You don’t miss what you never had’

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

GAINES – Burning candles or kerosene were two ways the school, the church, homes and businesses in the Hamlet of Childs would have provided lighting in the 1800s as seen here in this kerosene lamp fixture in the Universalist Church at Childs.

Note the glass “smoke bells” above the lamps that were designed to protect the ceiling by capturing the soot that was released when burning kerosene. Kerosene lighting was augmented with a product called “manufactured gas.”

The Albion Gasworks manufactured gas from 1858-1927. They did this by heating coal in a “retort” which produced a gas vapor that was stored under pressure to provide lighting for their customers. The byproduct produced from the process was known as “coke,” and was burned to provide heat in many early homes.

The next generation of lighting followed in 1888 when The Albion Electric Light & Power Company began generating power below the steel arch bridge from their hydroelectric station at Waterport. They distributed power using transmission lines that ran south along what we know as NYS Route 279.

Photo courtesy Orleans County Historian

One of the first major usages of Albion Power electricity was for electric arc street lights in the Village of Albion beginning April 1890.  Here we see a community effort to raise a power pole in Albion.

Even though electricity was available at that time, there was a certain reticence to hook into the line. For instance, the Pullman Church always had power when it was built in 1894, but the nearby St. Joseph’s Church waited until 1913, and the Episcopal Church didn’t electrify until 1914. There is an adage that says, “You don’t miss what you never had.” That was the case for many homeowners, too.

Former Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin remembers his father, Cary Lattin, telling him that he had electric wiring installed in his house on Gaines Basin Road when it was built in 1932, even though electricity was not yet available on the road.

Lattin lobbied his neighbors to try to drum up enough interest to entice the electric company to send power up Gaines Basin Road. But, Lattin had little success talking his neighbors into spending the money to add electricity to their homes in the era of the Great Depression.

Lattin finally succeeded in his quest when he convinced his fellow taxpayers of the Gaines Basin School that they should have electric lights in their schoolhouse. The neighbors’ favorable decision was responsible for power being distributed on the road. Lattin hooked up right away, but many neighbors waited awhile to follow suit.

Electricity finally reached the Hamlet of Childs circa 1926. Other parts of the county weren’t fully electrified until after World War II. This is a birds-eye view of Childs in the early 1950s.

In the early days, those who wanted electricity in their homes would install “knob & tube” wiring on their interior walls. The two wires were plainly visible to the homes occupants and were held away from touching the wall using porcelain insulators.

Ceramic insulators were also used for switches to help protect from stray electrical shocks.   Here we see an early turn-button switch that was commonly used.

Other switches used push-buttons. Another oddity of that era was that fuse boxes were sometimes installed in a home’s attic instead of the basement. The electric lines entered the home through the attic, so it made sense at the time to place the fuse box there, too, albeit a little inconvenient to change a fuse.  In later days, wiring was recessed behind walls, like we know it today.

Editor’s Note: This is the 14th article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.

The next article will take a look at the proliferation of labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric home of the Roaring ’20s. 

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Central Hall in Albion previously Legion home named for Sheret brothers who died in WWI

Posted 11 November 2020 at 8:06 am

Sgt. James Sheret and his brother Pvt. Egbert Sheret were both killed in action on Sept. 29, 1918

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian 

Illuminating Orleans, No. 1

Photo courtesy of Catherine Cooper: The Mack Flag Pole is located on the front lawn of Central Hall (East Park and Platt Streets, Albion). The memorial was dedicated in 1977 to the memory of Frank Joseph Mack Sr., a past commander of Sheret Post #35 American Legion and a medical corpsman who served on the island of Guam with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during WWII.

ALBION – This first column of Illuminating Orleans appropriately enough focuses on Central Hall, East Park Street in Albion, as its varied incarnations over the years dovetail with Veterans Day.

This solid red-brick building was the Central School from 1882-1934. Purchased by Orleans County in 1980, it has since accommodated the Treasurer’s Dept., the Probation Dept. and the Historian’s Office.

Having outgrown its quarters, the Historian’s Office and Orleans County History Dept. will soon be moved to the second floor, recently vacated by Probation.

From 1935-1980 the building was home to Sheret Post #35 American Legion which was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Sheret whom General Pershing considered “one of the hundred heroes of WW1”. A member of Co. F. 108th Reg., NY Volunteer Infantry, Sgt. Sheret was killed in action on September 29, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the bravery of his actions during the attack on the Hindenburg Line.

Sept. 29, 1918 was a dark day indeed for the Sheret family, as their son Pvt. Egbert Sheret, a machine gunner was also killed in action on that same day. Yet another son, Andrew, was wounded at that battle, but survived. A fourth son, John G. served in the Navy and mercifully survived the war as well.

The Sheret brothers were the sons of John Galashan Sheret Sr. who immigrated from Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1886. He married Anna Wickizer of South Ausman, Susquehanna County, Pa. in 1891. Described as a block breaker by profession in the 1915 NY Census, John Sheret Sr. became secretary of the International Union of Paving Cutters. John and Anna had ten children: James, Egbert, John Jr., Andrew, Elsie, Marion, Virginia, Donald and Bernard, with quite a range in age as James was born in 1892 and Bernard in 1916.

John Sheret Sr. maintained his ties with Scotland and visited family in 1911, sailing on the ship Caledonia, according to Ellis Island records. Naturally, the Scottish branch of the family was also saddened by the loss of the two young men. The Aberdeen Evening Express of November 26, 1918 carried a notice of James and Egbert’s deaths:

“Two brothers, James and Egbert Sheret, of the U.S.A. Infantry, were killed in action on 29th September last. They were the eldest and second sons of Mr. John Sheret, late of Bucksburn, and grandsons of Mrs. Sheret, Kirkvale, Ashgrove Road, Aberdeen. A third brother was wounded on the same day, and a fourth brother is in training.”

The Sheret brothers of Albion are also included in the Aberdeen and District Roll of Honour which is housed at the National Library of Scotland:

This family who sacrificed so much is buried in the Fairview section of Mount Albion Cemetery. Their memory is honored in the buildings and organizations named for them. Their story is part of the collection maintained by the History Dept. at Central Hall.

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Historic Childs: Harness Shop, relocated to Cobblestone Museum, showcases skilled trade from another era

Posted 31 October 2020 at 7:48 am

Photos courtesy of the Cobblestone Museum: The Harness Shop was moved to the Cobblestone Museum grounds on Route 98 in 1987. Several structures have been relocated and preserved at the museum.

(Editor’s Note: This is the 12th article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.)

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

In the 1800s, before the advent of the horseless carriage, it was very common to find one or more harness shops in every community as shown above in the list of harness businesses in Orleans County.

The typical harness maker could reproduce over 50 different leather goods used to make a horse’s harness, any of which could break down due to heavy use and weathering.

The typical harness shop also carried metal fasteners for harnesses, currycombs, lap robes, harness oil, gloves, whips, ointments and much more.

Harness maker P. Henry Peters is shown here at the entrance of his harness store in Albion.  A sampling of the numerous types of leather goods he produced is seen in the store windows and also on the life-sized horse mannequin he moved outdoors in fair weather.

The Hamlet of Childs is now home to the J. G. Peters Harness Shop, a building which was built by Starr Chester in 1838 in the Town of Gaines. It originally was used as a shoe store until Chester’s death in 1880. The next owner, Gates Knickerbocker, purchased the building for $30 and moved it to another location in Gaines where it served as a jewelry and clock repair business until his death in 1914.

The photo above depicts the Knickerbocker clock repair store in the late 1800s. A series of owners used the building for other purposes including a gun repair shop, paint shop, cycle depot and as a rental property in the mid-1900s.

The little shop passed to the Cobblestone Society in 1987 when owner Rose Welles, notified Cobblestone Museum director C. W. Lattin that she would donate the building to the Cobblestone Museum complex. Shown above (left) is Delia Robinson, Town of Gaines Historian; C. W. Bill Lattin, Rose Welles, and Janice Thaine, Gaines Deputy Historian.

In more recent years, the little shop had been used as living quarters in connection with the Chatterbox Restaurant located next door. Here we see the building in 1987 as it is being prepared to be moved to the Hamlet of Childs.

The building was moved intact, one mile down Ridge Road, to the Cobblestone Museum campus on August 28, 1987 through courtesies performed by Rice Homes of Barre Center, the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department and the Town of Gaines.

The Cobblestone Museum accepted the donation of the building with a plan to relocate its own collection of harness making equipment from the lower level of its Cobblestone Church where it was displayed.  The leatherworking tools had been gifted to the museum in 1963 from the estate of John G. Peters.

Peters was born on July 4, 1877 and served a three-year apprenticeship under Reuben Pridmore, harness maker, in Albion. In 1909, Peters opened a harness shop of his own in Lyndonville. In 1918, Mr. Peters “saw the handwriting on the wall,” and knew tractors were taking over for horses.

He decided to take up shoe repair to earn his livelihood when the harness business became a thing of the past. Following Peters’ death, his family donated his entire collection of artifacts associated with his business to the Cobblestone Museum.

On July 9, 1989 the building was dedicated on the Cobblestone Museum campus as the J. G. Peters Harness Shop. The building was fully restored to house the Peters Collection. Over 50 members of the Peters family attended the celebration with a full family reunion, including a group photo in front of the restored harness shop.

There were innumerable men such as John Peters who manufactured and repaired harnesses around the turn of the 20th century. The J.G. Peters Harness shop serves today as a memorial not just to one man, but to an entire trade. Peters represents the countless craftsmen who plied their trade for hundreds of years, providing needed and valuable services to their communities.

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Historic Childs: Kendall Town Hall was reconstructed as Farmers Hall at Cobblestone Museum

Posted 24 October 2020 at 9:16 am

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum: The Farmers Hall is on Route 98, just south of the Route 104 intersection. The building was originally a church in Kendall and then the Kendall Town Hall.

(Editor’s Note: This is the 11th article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.)

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

CHILDS – The Cobblestone Museum maintains several wooden structures in the Hamlet of Childs in addition to its National Historic Landmark cobblestone buildings. The large wooden Greek Revival building that is located on the southern end of the campus is known today as Farmers Hall.  It has a truly unique and storied history since it was first built in the Town of Kendall in 1855.

Originally the Universalist Church of Kendall, this Greek Revival structure served its congregation in Kendal until the early 1880s when a German Lutheran congregation used the church for another two decades.  Following that, the building became the Kendall Town Hall, a status that lasted until a new Town Hall was built in the 1970s.

The next intended use for the old building in Kendall would have been a preservation nightmare. Kendall officials had planned to use the old church turned Town Hall for fire practice. That tragedy was narrowly averted when Cobblestone Museum officials received permission to move the two-story building to their campus to display their growing collection of farm tools from the 19th and early 20th century.

The biggest obstacle to this decision for the Cobblestone Museum board was they had run out of land on which to put the building. That dilemma was solved when Mrs. Neva Murray made an offer of land adjacent to the museum property. In May 1978, Museum Director Bill Lattin, Kendall Town Historian Mrs. Delores Sedore and four CETA workers (a Nixon-era job training program) began the monumental task of disassembling the building, board by board, and numbering all of the components for later reassembly at the museum’s artisan campus on Route 98.

Almost miraculously, the building was reassembled by November of the same year. Bill Lattin has recently lamented, “If I knew then what I know now, I never would have started that project!”

Joe Ward, Eddie Drisdom & Ronnie Tower are shown outside their job site at Farmers Hall following its reconstruction. The next year work progressed on the building’s interior, followed by pulling together the Museum’s farm tool collection from the disparate corners of the county where donated objects lacking display space had been stored for many years.

Once accomplished, June 1, 1980 was selected to be the day of celebration for the completion of the Herculean task.

Dignitaries from around the state came to speak at Farmers Hall Dedication. Shown here are (from left) Marcia Hart, Kendall Supervisor Mike Paduchak, NYS Senator John Daly and Rev. Richard Hood from the Pullman Memorial Unitarian Church.

Over 2,000 spectators assembled that day to enjoy the 70-unit Farmers Parade on Route 104.

Five generations of Kirby Farms were celebrated in one of many farm floats.

Everyone was a farmer for at least one day. The parade route stretched from the 104 Country Shop in Gaines to Zambito Produce in Childs.  Coach Ed Stackwick served as Parade Marshall and a reviewing podium was set up in front of the Cobblestone Universalist Church.

A timeless message proclaimed using antique farm equipment.

A square dance followed the parade in the parking lot of Radzinski’s H&A Superette and adjoining liquor store.

Farmers Hall has continuously served as an educational site since it was dedicated right up to today. Here we see the first school tour in Farmers Hall in 1979 when teacher Mr. Gary Kent (back row center) brought his Social Studies class from Kendall School.

Georgia Thomas demonstrates butter churning outside of Farmers Hall at a Cobblestone Museum event in 2018.

Hundreds and hundreds of school tours later, C. W. “Bill” Lattin ended his official tenure as Cobblestone Museum Director in 2010 after 40 years of dedicated service to the museum community.  At that time Farmers Hall was officially dedicated in his honor. Bill worked tirelessly to create a facility that would be both educational and interesting, all while preserving so much of our storied past for future generations.

In 2017, after almost 40 years of school tours and more, Farmers Hall was beginning to exhibit some bowing walls and sagging floors, and needed some preservation work once again. The Cobblestone Museum secured grants from Rochester Area Foundation, Orleans Foundation (Curtis Fund), and Genesee Country Antiques Dealers Association that provided funds to shore up the foundation pillars and added rafter ties to “tighten” the building, bringing it back to its original shape. Matching cedar siding was also added to the rear of the hall and other important work was accomplished as well.

It is hoped that the building is now ready to face the next 150 years of its life as a centerpiece in the Historic Hamlet of Childs.

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Historic Childs: Print shop took lots of time and skill

Posted 18 October 2020 at 8:27 am

Photo by Bruce and Associates: Skilled artisan David Damico demonstrates his skill on a late 19th century mechanical printing press at the Cobblestone Museum.

(Editor’s Note: This is the tenth article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.)

By Fred Dean, Cobblestone Museum Docent

GAINES – Let’s go back in time over a hundred years ago! What would you do if you needed to print a flyer for an upcoming event or business cards for your networking needs?

Would you open up Google Docs or Microsoft Word? What if you found that you needed a program for your music performance? Today, you tap your fingers and with a quick highlight for an edit you’ll find that you’re in business.

Yes, seems pretty simple, but you will still need to pick out a font. If you had to do this a hundred years ago, this process would take a day, or two, depending on how many people were helping you, not to mention you would need a printing press and the knowhow to put your program together.

This is where a printer came in. You would need a printer that would be right for the job, such as Herbert C. Hill of Knowlesville.

The equipment from Hill’s Print Shop is now part of the Cobblestone Museum in Childs.  Hill was known as a “Job Printer” which meant he would print small jobs like invitations and letterhead for individual customers. These customers would come back and pick up their own orders.  A “book printer” would work on larger orders like books and magazines.  Those orders were usually shipped to the customers in another city.

Hill and other printers would take moveable type and form it to create the document you want to print. He would go to his typesetter who would pick out a font for you to use. As your new ideas came together, you would need to pick out a letter and stamp. To ensure proper punctuation you would need to get capital letters from the literal “upper case” and small letters from the “lower case.”

The need to cut the printing paper down to size by “cutting to the chase” lends us a phrase that has had its original meaning changed. It helped indicate the job of working with the chase (metal or wood frame to hold the type) to select the right type to make up the information you were printing. This process would help you know what paper you needed.

Once your order was in place, you could arrange to pick it up by telephone, another “modern” piece of technology used in the 1900s print shop. This “Bell Telephone” shown is typical of the late 1800s models. The bell in this case is clearly visible at the top of the phone, but also indicates a technology patented and perfected by Alexander Graham Bell.

Another phrase we borrow from printing today during more challenging moments takes place when we find ourselves “out of sorts.” When the printer was using fewer pieces of type due to higher costs, they may run out of lesser-used letters such as z’s and q’s during the middle of a job.

Another phrase we use today is “mind your ‘p’s’ and q’s” because the two letters were hard to distinguish when viewed in mirror-image used on typeset.

The print shop is still in working order at the museum.

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Historic Childs: Schoolhouse shows different era for educating children

Provides photos: The cobblestone schoolhouse on Route 104 was built in 1849. It has been largely unchanged from when it was last used as a public school in the 1950s.

Posted 10 October 2020 at 9:32 am

(Editor’s Note: This is the ninth article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.)

By Douglas Farley, Director, Cobblestone Society & Museum

Glass plate image of school from 1901

The parcel of land on which the cobblestone schoolhouse sits was purchased by John Proctor in 1847 for $50. Completed in 1849, the schoolhouse is a wood-framed structure with a lake-washed cobblestone veneer.

The walls are approximately 10″ thick, which is roughly a full foot thinner than most traditional cobblestone buildings.  The use of cobblestone veneer instead of full cobblestone construction was very rare.

The school’s bell was purchased for $20 and donated by the district’s first superintendent, William Babbitt.  Babbitt’s legacy includes much more than his philanthropy. Following the War of 1812, Babbitt moved his family to what would become Gaines. He became the area’s first blacksmith and established the first brickyard.

Babbitt was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1815, and worked to get the Ridge Road designated as “The Post Road” by NYS, and served as the first postmaster of Gaines. He pushed hard to get the Town of Gaines to be set apart from Ridgeway and recommended naming the town after War of 1812 hero General Edmund Pendleton Gaines. In 1831, Babbitt became the Town of Gaines Supervisor and then served the district in the NYS Assembly.

The one-room schoolhouse was originally used to teach grades 1-8, and later served grades K-6. The class picture shown here is from 1915.

After more than a century of use, the school’s bell fell into disrepair.  Recently, the Cobblestone Museum and the Orleans County Historical Association completely restored the bell carriage and supporting structures.

The bell was rung again after several years of silence for a re-dedication ceremony held at the school in August 2017. Several descendants of William Babbitt attended the gathering, as well as many former students from the District #5 School.

The cobblestone schoolhouse served District No. 5 for 103 years before it was closed in 1952 as part of the centralization of Albion’s school district.  In 1961, the old schoolhouse was sold to the Cobblestone Society Museum for $129.

Many Museum visitors today have remarked that the one-room schoolhouse is a time capsule of early education in the region.

Visitors will notice the presence of two doors on the front of the school; atypical of most one-room schoolhouses: the west door for boys, and the east door for girls. Inside each door was a separate cloakroom. Here we see a recent recreation of children arriving for school in the late 1800s.

In the 20th century, all pupils entered through the west door and the east coatroom was converted into a teacher’s office and library. The building was originally heated by a central stove, but was later replaced by a basement furnace.

Boys and Girls outhouses were used on the property for the first 70 years. Indoor chemical toilets were briefly tried during the 1920s, but although the manufacture promised their operation would be odor free, the actual results were a malodorous disappointment.

Luckily, the outhouses were still present and provided an acceptable substitute for the final years the school was in use.  The schoolhouse was home to several special features. The floor itself was unusual in that it sloped from front to rear with the back of the room being 8” higher to help students see over the heads of those sitting in the front of the class.

The ceiling also had a unique feature: an overhead door was built into the ceiling that could be opening with a pull string in the summer to provide extra ventilation and closed in the winter to conserve heat.

Harkening back to a bygone era, visitors who once attended the school are asked to sign their name on the blackboard with chalk. This photo shows Gail Johnson. She attended kindergarten at the school in 1950-51

The school is the Cobblestone Museum’s “youngest” of three cobblestone buildings, the District #5 Schoolhouse, along with the Universalist Church and Ward House, comprise a district with the distinction of being named Orleans County’s only National Historic Landmark.

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Historic Childs: Ward House gives chance to step back in time

Posted 3 October 2020 at 9:20 am

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum: The Ward House on Ridge Road in Gaines, is next door to the Cobblestone Universalist Church. The Ward House, the church and a cobblestone schoolhouse are listed as a National Historic Landmark.

(Editor’s Note: This is the eighth article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.)

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Society & Museum Director

GAINES – John Proctor pushed the development of his pioneer village that he called Fair Haven (present day Hamlet of Childs.)  Proctor owned the land next to his Cobblestone Church from 1811 until he sold it for the first time in 1861.

The building is now part of the Cobblestone Museum and is known today as the Ward House in honor and memory of Inez Ward, the last resident. The cobblestone house is believed to have been built by John Simmons in about 1836 as a parsonage for the church. The Medina sandstone carriage block and hitching posts shown above were moved here from the Bacon Homestead in Albion.

The original cobblestone house was a small 18′ x 24′ “cottage” built of fieldstones set in the Gaines Pattern; the quoins were cut locally from Medina sandstone.  The original kitchen and two bedrooms were located in the basement.

Horace Greeley

The Ward House is included in the Cobblestone National Historic Landmark District created in 1993.

Following John Proctor’s ownership, the cobblestone house was sold to Benjamin and Mary Ann Dwinnell. Mary Ann was the aunt of New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who held the mortgage on the property until 1863.

Financial misfortunes caused the Dwinnells to default on their mortgage. Greeley was forced to sell the home at auction while visiting Albion in the mid-1860s.

Greeley is perhaps best known for his Gold Rush era admonition, “Go west young man, go west!”  He later waged an unsuccessful bid for President of the United States in 1872. Incumbent U. S. Grant won the election in a landslide.

The political portrait of Greeley is part of the Cobblestone Museum collection and is displayed in the Ward House.

The small cobblestone house was enlarged in 1929 when a wooden extension was added to the north side of the house. It was sided with vertical tongue and groove, and featured a porch with lathed column and spindles.

The kitchen, originally located in the basement, was moved to the wooden wing when the addition was completed. A wood stove was used for cooking.

The front door in the Italianate style with frosted etched glass windows is not original to the house. This door was added in the 1880s.

Just prior to World War II, a thick blanket of ivy covered the front of the home as shown here in 1941.

The cobblestone home functioned as a private residence until 1975, when the property was purchased by the Museum from Mrs. Inez Martyn Ward, shown above standing on the steps to the Cobblestone Church in the mid-1900s prior to its restoration.

Today, the interior of the home is decorated to reflect the 1880s. Here the Victorian dining room table is set with Wildflower American Pattern Glass, c.1885, bone dishes, celery vase, butter dish with hanging cover, and pickle castor with fork.

Seasonal tours are conducted by the Cobblestone Museum throughout the summer and fall.

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Historic Childs: More than cobblestones in the hamlet with many brick buildings

Posted 19 September 2020 at 10:20 am

Provided photos: A brick building from 1836 was built next to the Cobblestone Universalist Church, which was erected in 1834. They remain next to each other on Rpute 104, just east of the intersection with Route 98.

(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction.)

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

When we think of buildings in the historic Hamlet of Childs, the mind is quickly drawn to the amazing cobblestone structures that are located there.  But, perhaps equally interesting are the red brick structures that were built in the hamlet.  Brick construction in Childs actually predates the advent of cobblestone masonry by almost a decade.  There are brick homes here that date back to the 1820s, and the first cobblestone building was the Gaines-Basin schoolhouse built in 1832.

We know of three brickyards that operated in the vicinity of Childs including the Laffler brickyard at the site of the current Brick Pond on Route 98 near Route 104, and another at the intersection of Routes 279 & 104 and a third owned by William Babbitt at Route 104 & Crandall Road which was actually the first brickyard in the area established about 1820.

The Laffler Brick Yard had a storied history that included some game-changing technology for the time. Laffler built and patented an Iron Clad Brick Machine that changed brickmaking from a hand pressing process to mechanical.  His invention was said to produce 2,000 to 3,000 bricks per hour.  Enough bricks to build the average house could be made in a few hours instead of several days. Laffler’s machine took the first place award at the New York State Fair in the 1860s for several years running.  A photo of his workplace is shown.

The Laffler Brick Yard also has an interesting connection to the Cobblestone Museum. When the Cobblestone Universalist Church was built in 1834, it originally had a set of high wooden steps that were attached to the front of the building.  In 1870s a stone and brick terrace was built to replace the treacherous wooden stairs.  The height of the terrace was designed to accommodate easier entrance and egress from horse drawn carriages.  The flat surface of the terrace was constructed of red bricks from the Laffler Brick Yard as seen in the photo above.

Another amazing brick building in Childs was home to none other than founding father, John Proctor. Also known as “Paul Revere of Ridge Road,” Proctor is remembered for his heroic horseback ride to alert settlers of the advance of the British along the Ridge Road during the War of 1812. Proctor’s patriotism is venerated on a plaque in the front yard of his former home in Childs as shown.

The Cobblestone Museum is also a proud red brick building owner, with the residence they have dubbed, “The Brick House.”  Now currently serving as the Museum’s administrative office and Resource Center, the beautiful red brick home was built in 1836 as part of John Proctor’s prototype community, later dubbed Proctor’s Corners. A close up of the modern entrance is shown.

Photo from the collection of Kathy Staines

After the Proctor’s Corners years, the same brick building was enlarged with another brick wing, and later, a concrete block building was added at the front-west side. From the final addition, the Radzinski family operated a wine and spirits store for many years.  In 1998 the property was nearly destroyed when a prospective buyer thought the building should be razed to make more room for his planned convenience store on the corner. Shortsighted individuals remarked, “No one famous slept there, so tear it down!”

Fortunately, a groundswell of community support for the 1836 brick structure saved it from the wrecking ball to be preserved for historical purposes.  The Cobblestone Museum’s Research Center is located on the ground floor and the second floor is used as an art gallery and exhibition space.

Another interesting red brick home in the Hamlet of Childs is at least very rare, if not unique to the hamlet. This hybrid structure was built with cobblestones for the first story, and the second story is red brick.

Photo from the collection of Kathy Staines

The same brick/cobblestone house is shown here as it looked painted white in the mid-1900s. An interesting fact here is how the small structure played a role in entertaining America in the 1930s and beyond. A chance encounter with the home owner in the 1930s led Ferrin and Beatrice Fraser to rent the home for $10 a month.  Fate, being fickle, called the couple away to NYC to continue their careers in music and radio.  But whenever they could, they returned to their little home in Childs and worked there on the script for the radio series, “Little Orphan Annie.”  The couple wrote four children’s books with a musical theme. Ferrin Fraser authored over 500 short stories for many leading magazines and Beatrice served as a local organist and formed several hand bell choirs.

One more red brick building in the Hamlet of Childs stands as proud today as it was in 1834 when built by the Everett family. It sits masterfully overlooking the scene of what was once Proctor’s Corners and the Cobblestone Church.  This stately red brick home shown features two parlors and a grand foyer.  It is beautifully embellished with crown molding and six fireplaces.  Open hearth cooking tools are still present in the kitchen.

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Historic Childs: Gaines community embraced temperance, fought alcohol consumption

Posted 12 September 2020 at 9:11 am

By Freeman Lattin, Cobblestone Museum intern

Joseph and Nellie Vagg are pictured here on their 45th wedding anniversary in 1948. The Vaggs were lifelong residents of Childs and pillars of the community.

(Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction. The NYS Barge Canal was later declared a National Historic Landmark in 2017.)

GAINES – Although Childs today maintains much of its small hamlet charm, it has never been immune to the economic, technological, or social changes of America. The country, the county, and Childs itself have changed immensely since John Proctor first settled here.

One thread of American history that Childs (or Fair Haven) was wrapped up in was the temperance movement. Beginning in the 1870s and peaking in popularity around the time of Prohibition, the second wave temperance movement in America was an attempt to reform society by doing away with the supposedly corrupting influence of alcohol.

Nellie Vagg would have been a member of the Gaines chapter of the WCTU. This banner hangs in the Ward House at the Cobblestone Museum in Childs.

The crowning achievement of the temperance movement was undoubtedly the 18th amendment, or Prohibition, which was ratified in 1919. Of course, even though the government had made the sale of alcohol illegal, it was definitely still consumed in Childs and in speakeasies across the country.

It was said that during the prohibition years, just as many customers stumbled out of the Village Inn as they had before. This was much to the chagrin of Mrs. Nellie Vagg, a staunch temperance advocate who lived on the corner of routes 104 and 98.

As a lifelong member of the Gaines chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, Nellie had a deep aversion to the consumption and sale of alcohol. The WCTU was an organization formed in 1874 with the goal of creating a “sober and pure world.” Although the group pushed for other reforms such as the abolition of tobacco and labor protections, its chief goal was the prohibition of alcohol.

This ribbon is from the I.O.G.T. hall at Fair Haven (now Childs).

Nellie was deeply devoted to the cause of temperance, and she always wore the WCTU’s signature white ribbon which was a symbol of purity and abstinence from alcohol. Mrs. Vagg is a great example of how staunch many temperance advocates were in that era. As Erin Anheier, Cobblestone Museum president, mentioned in last week’s article on the Vaggs, Nellie was very prominent in the local temperance movement and even served as a delegate to the statewide WCTU convention.

The other pillar of the temperance movement in Childs were the Good Templars. The International Order of Good Templars was a fraternal group founded in 1851 to promote temperance and total abstinence from alcohol and drug use.

In contrast with the WCTU, the Good Templars were a traditional fraternal organization based on Freemasonry, so they had a greater focus on rituals, ceremonies, and regalia. Their building was located across from the Village Inn, two houses away from the Vagg property.

Being situated across from the main watering hole in Childs, the Good Templars took it upon themselves to put on small “home talent” plays to provide the community with wholesome entertainment and an alternative to the boozing that took place across the road.

Today in Childs, you can still buy a drink at the Village Inn or a six pack at Crosby’s, so it’s obvious that booze has outlasted its most vocal detractors. The temperance movement in Childs, like the rest of the country, fizzled out with the repeal of prohibition and never regained its former prominence.

Pictured here is Norris Vagg, the son of Joseph and Nellie, and the Good Templars’ meeting hall in the background. Unfortunately this is the only known picture of the building.

This advertisement is an example of the wholesome home spun entertainment the Good Templars put on in Childs. Admission to this play cost 10 cents, or 15 cents for reserved seats.

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Historic Childs: Nellie Vagg, wife of blacksmith, was active leader in temperance movement

Posted 5 September 2020 at 8:05 am

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the first site in Orleans County with that distinction. The NYS Barge Canal was later declared a National Historic Landmark in 2017.)

By Erin Anheier, President, Cobblestone Society

Nellie Vagg

GAINES – In our last installment we learned about Joseph Vagg, the last practicing blacksmith on the Ridge.  This time let’s focus on his wife, Nellie.

You already know that Nellie was civic minded as she donated Joseph’s blacksmith shop to the Cobblestone Museum after his death. She wanted to assure that his legacy was preserved and that future generations learned about the importance of the village blacksmith.

Today we might call Nellie a citizen activist, as she tirelessly worked to improve the lives of her neighbors.

Nellie not only maintained the home, raised two children and frequently assisted Joseph in the blacksmith shop, she was active in the church and community. She was a member of the Home Bureau and Extension Service since its inception.

Nellie Vagg taught many classes for the Home Bureau.

Similar to the Farm Bureau, the Home Bureau sought to bring scientific information to the rural communities in curriculum formulated by Cornell University. Classes for local women which she hosted at her home included Elementary Meal Planning, The Study of Meat, A Place for Everything, General Mending, Nutrition, The Amount of Food Required, Salad Making and Whole Wheat.

She herself conducted classes at other locations including What Makes A Good Day for the Homemaker, Family Fun and Morale in War Time, and Hazards to Our Youth in Our Present World.

Nellie was a long-term member of the Orleans County Women’s Christian Temperance Union rising to the position of delegate to area and state conventions. Her commitment to the Temperance Movement was strong; a local resident recalls that when the corner store across the intersection from her home began to sell beer, she told the proprietor that she would “no longer be able to trade with him.”

The white ribbon of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union

Local residents recall she wore the white ribbon of the WCTU, a symbol of purity, until her death in 1975.

Ironically, she maintained this stance from her home located directly across the road from the tavern that is now Tillman’s Village Inn.

As the Cobblestone Museum uses the story of Joseph and his blacksmith shop to educate visitors about the past, next year they plan to include Nellie’s story.

The Vagg home is being purchased by the museum and will become a new exhibit. The interior of the home maintains the decorative style of the 1920-30’s and will help illustrate rural life in the early 20th century as well as Nellie’s role in the community.

The Cobblestone Museum is acquiring the Vagg home at the southwest intersection of routes 104 and 98.

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Historic Childs: Blacksmith shop was a vital business in Gaines hamlet

Posted 29 August 2020 at 8:45 am

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series about historic Childs in the Town of Gaines. The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list. In 1993, the federal U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Cobblestone Museum in Childs a National Historic Landmark, the only site in Orleans County with that distinction. The NYS Barge Canal was later declared a National Historic Landmark in 2017.)

By Erin Anheier, President of Cobblestone Society

Two cherished and respected former residents of Childs were Joseph and Nellie Vagg. They lived in the house on the southwest corner of the intersection of routes 104 and 98.

Joseph was the last blacksmith plying his trade on Ridge Road.

The Vaggs moved to Childs in 1909 and lived there the rest of their lives.  When they purchased their home, it included the brick blacksmith shop that sat just south of the house.

The blacksmith shop is pictured here in the background of a photo taken at the Gaines Centennial parade.  Joseph had worked as a blacksmith with Nellie’s brother in Elba and built a successful business here.  However, tragedy struck as the brick building was destroyed by fire in 1921.

Vagg’s blacksmith shop was so vital to the community that the local farmers left their own work to help build a new shop.  This included hauling stones for the foundation and rerouting part of Proctor’s Brook to make room for the new structure.  Today the 1922 shop is a major exhibit at the Cobblestone Museum, graciously donated by Nellie after Joseph’s death.

The forge was salvaged from the fire and installed in the new shop. Joseph worked here until 1956. The forge is still in use today when the Cobblestone Museum holds living history demonstrations, here presented by Henry Ott.

As the automotive age was dawning, horses were fewer and there was reduced need for a blacksmith, so a wood working shop was included in the new building. It was powered by a 1920 International Model 650 hit or miss engine and a complicated series of leather belts overhead.

These belts delivered power to saws, planers, lathe and drill press which are still in the building.  There are no safety guards on any of the equipment.

While the shop has been part of the museum, the Vagg’s house continued life as a private residence, but that is soon to change.

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Lockport bronze statues pay tribute to lock tenders

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 August 2020 at 12:00 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

LOCKPORT – Lockport last month installed three bronze statues that are a tribute to lock tenders. The three are the first of a 14-piece monument based off a photograph from 1897. That image depicts a dozen lock tenders, a young girl and a photographer.

The bronze statues recognize the following lock tenders: Michael Hennessey, in back, who worked as a lock tender for 16 years. He and his wife, Caroline, had eight children and lived at Ontario Street; Edward “Tom” O’Hara, front left, who had three children with his wife, Camille. They lived on West Avenue; Martin Noonan, of North Adam Street, who did not marry. His brother, Michael Noonan, became a priest and was pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Lockport.

The Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp. commissioned Susan Geissler, a sculptor from Youngstown, to create the bronze figures. She has been commissioned to do five more with a goal of them being installed next spring.

David Kinyon, president of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., was given tours of the site on Saturday. He said the statues have helped people make a personal connection with the lock tenders who were so vital in operating the locks in Lockport. He sees many people getting their photographs taken with the statues. Children are encouraged to interact with the bronze figures.

The five new statues coming next spring will include the photographer, Frank B. Clench, and four more of the tenders.

The group is pushing to have the entire 14-piece monument by 2025, which will be the bicentennial of the Erie Canal’s opening.

These 12 Lockport Lock Tenders plus a young girl were photographed in 1897 by Frank B. Clench. The tenders were part of a 20-person workforce at the locks in 1897.

The lock tenders were picked in the 1890s from the eight wards in the City of Lockport. The ones in the photo are local residents who worked in the same spot on the steps where the bronze figures are located.

“It was difficult backbreaking work, with very few making it a career,” according to an interpretive panel at the site. “Those that did were tough as nails indeed.”

The lock tenders worked 12-hour days and were responsible for opening and closing the locks so boats could pass through safely. They also worked on maintenance at the site.

The Erie Traveler is a replica of a 19th century Erie Canal cargo boat. It was launched in Lockport in 2017. The Erie Traveler is 42 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was built by staff and volunteers of the Buffalo Maritime Center. The Locks Heritage District Corporation using the veseel for demonstrations at the canal in Lockport.

The Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp. also is working to complete the Flight of Five restoration project. The three middle locks – Locks 68, 69 and 70 – have been rehabilitated with work needed to have make the two end ones functional.

Kinyon said the projects are part of an effort to make Lockport an attraction of national significance.

For more on the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., click here.

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Historic Childs: John Proctor was instrumental in shaping hamlet

Posted 15 August 2020 at 9:19 am

Pioneer resident known as ‘Paul Revere of Ridge Road’ for warning of British attack in 1813

By Freeman Lattin, intern at Cobblestone Museum

(Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series about the historic Hamlet of Childs in the Town of Gaines.)

GAINES – The hamlet of Childs lies just north of Albion at the intersection of Routes 104 and 98. In 2019, Childs was selected to be on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s “Five to Revive” list.

This is the only known photograph of John Proctor.

The Five to Revive draws attention to significant historic aspects of our built environment where redevelopment can become catalytic projects for the communities that surround them.

Tom Castelein, chair of the Five to Revive committee, explained that “the ultimate goal is to return these important historic resources to places of prominence in their respective communities, as economic and social assets that spark even more investment and revitalization.” (Click here for more information on that designation.)

While working with the Landmark staff, we found ourselves enjoying both the history and present-day ambience of Childs and decided to share some of this with a greater audience. It seems appropriate to start this series on the hamlet of Childs at the beginning, with a biography of its founder, John Proctor.

Born to a wealthy family in Massachusetts, John Proctor first came to this area in 1810 at the age of 23 after purchasing several large parcels of land from the Holland Land Office. It’s hard to imagine how wild and unpopulated this area was 200 years ago, but in “Pioneer History,” Proctor says he had to travel seven miles to get bread baked, and the nearest established village was Batavia, about 20 miles away.

He built a cabin in what is now Childs and lived modestly for his first few years in the area, surviving on a few acres of corn, wheat, and potatoes. In 1812 he returned to Massachusetts on foot to marry his first wife, Polly.

Perhaps John Proctor’s most famous accomplishment is his role as the “Paul Revere of Ridge Road.” In December of 1813, Proctor’s nearest neighbor (who lived four miles to the west) woke him in the middle of the night bringing word that the British were invading from Canada and had already burned the village of Lewiston.

Proctor owned the only horse in the area, and so he rode 15 miles from Childs to Clarkson to warn other settlers that the British were coming. Afterwards, Proctor joined the local militia that had been raised and headed west to defend Lewiston. He recounts that he was grazed by several bullets in skirmishes and that he assisted in the capture of a group of redcoats and natives who were caught unarmed and very drunk at a tavern.

Located in front of John Proctor’s home on Ridge Road in Childs, this plaque commemorates his participation in the war of 1812 as well as Governor Dewitt Clinton’s visit to Childs in 1818.

By this point, John Proctor had begun to make a name for himself. He was an active Mason and a prolific public servant, serving as the first collector for the town of Ridgeway as well as an overseer of the poor for the town of Gaines.

Proctor had a vision for the hamlet and began to sell and rent his land to settlers, businesses, and churches that were starting to spring up in and around what is now Childs. In 1834 he paid for the construction of a cobblestone church for the Universalist Society of Gaines, and later sold a house of worship to the Free Congregationalist Church, an abolitionist congregation. Proctor was such a notable figure that before he named the hamlet Fair Haven, it was colloquially referred to as “Proctor’s Corners.”

The Proctor family obelisk, located at Mount Albion Cemetery. The other sides of the monument memorialize Proctor’s wives and children, several of whom died in a typhoid breakout in 1828.

Although he was an outstanding member of the community, Proctor’s personal life was marked by tragedy. John was married four times and had to bury three of his wives, and while he had six children, only two of them survived to adulthood.

Proctor alludes to these troubles in his short autobiography in “Pioneer History of Orleans County,” where he recounts getting out of jury duty in Batavia due to the “situation of [his] family.” I think it’s interesting that he dedicates an entire paragraph to recount a story of him shooting a deer but doesn’t write about three of his wives or any of his children. One can imagine how this might have been a sensitive subject for him.

John Proctor died on January 28, 1868. A Masonic memorial in the Orleans American described him as “an example of energy, frugality, [and] moral excellence.” I think it speaks to his character that his name isn’t plastered all over Childs today.

He owned hundreds of acres around the hamlet and could have named it “Proctorville,” but he chose to call it Fair Haven. There is no Proctor Road, and the brook named after him was only discovered to be named so over a hundred years after Proctor’s death.

In a 1988 pamphlet from the dedication of Proctor’s Brook, Dee Robinson refers to him as a “pioneer entrepreneur,” which seems to me like a fitting title for a man who did so much for his community and put Childs on the map.

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