local history

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.

Gaines Basin cobblestone school hosts first public event since interior remodeled

Posted 2 August 2021 at 8:54 am

Historian shares about Caroline Phipps, who started a school for women in Albion

Photos courtesy of Melissa Ierlan: Dee Robinson, retired Town of Gaines historian, gave a presentation on Sunday evening about one of the teachers at the schoolhouse, Caroline Phipps, who would start the Phipps Union Female Seminary in Albion.

Courtesy of Melissa Ierlan

GAINES – The first public event held at the Gaines Basin cobblestone school since the interior was remodeled was held on Sunday evening was completed.

Dee Robinson was the speaker and gave a presentation about Caroline Phipps Achilles and the Phipps Union Seminary. The lecture was part of a series by the Orleans County Historical Association each Sunday at 6 p.m. during August.

Dee Robinson moved to Childs in the 1970s. She joined the Cobblestone Society and organized its resource center. She became the deputy historian of Gaines, then the historian. She served in the position for over 30 years. Robinson currently works at the Hoag Library in the local history room.

Her focus during Sunday’s lecture was Caroline Phipps and the Phipps Union Female Seminary. Phipps was born in 1812. By age 14 she was teaching school in a log shanty in Gaines Basin for $1 a week. The log shanty was 14’ x 16’ with a stone chimney and a crude fireplace. She worked each day from 7 a.m. until noon then from 1 p.m. until 6 or 7 p.m. Seats were made of slab logs; tables were pinned against the walls. Every square inch of space was occupied.

By 1832 the cobblestone school house was built. At this point Caroline left teaching for more education. After she returned, she desired to establish a women’s school. Phipps Female Women’s Seminary was founded in 1837. By 1851 a wing was added on to the building to serve as housing for 100 students.

The Gaines Basin schoolhouse, which has undergone major interior upgrades in recent years, hosted its first public event on Sunday.

Girls who attended the Phipps seminary came from many different states including Michigan, Vermont, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and even from Canada. Each student was required to have a Bible and attend a church every week that their parents had chosen.

Dee made several connections during her research into Caroline Phipps and the seminary. She spoke of a phone call from a relative of a woman who had attended the seminary and graduated in 1861. She offered to send the certificate from her graduation. The woman’s name was Miss Gertrude Ward. Dee discovered in the library’s collection, a program from the same year Ward graduated.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s father wrote a ballad in 1847 for the Phipps Union Seminary. Lillian Achilles was the first librarian of the Swan Library and was the great niece of Caroline Phipps.

The school had two fires in 1874 and 1875. The second fire destroyed the building and the school ceased operating. The county bought the parcel upon which the County Clerk’s Office was constructed and still remains.

Dee Robinson and some of the attendees look over artifacts at the school.

Historian’s column: Grassbed fishing was short-lived phenomenon on Lake Ontario

Photo by Tom Rivers: A boat is on Lake Ontario during sunset on Aug. 4, 2019 near Barker.

Posted 29 July 2021 at 11:47 am

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 18

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Summer bonfire conversations by the lake are apt to spark memories and stories.

On a recent occasion, a senior family member referenced, “Mom and my aunts going out fishing on the grassbeds,” a statement which generated much discussion since the concept of “grassbeds” on Lake Ontario was new to this generation.

It appears that, in terms of lake history, this was a short-lived phenomenon and occurred between the 1900s and 1940s. Grassbeds were patches of aquatic vegetation which looked like underwater meadows with some plants that appeared to be floating on the surface. They were found near or directly offshore of some creeks, and were sometimes tricky to locate. On calm, clear days, people would row out to these areas and fish for perch, which, when pan-fried, provided a tasty supper.

Lysbeth Hoffman, the late Town of Carlton historian, referenced this topic in the Orleans County Historical Association Chronicle, 1987. She mentioned that in 1985, the Biology/Sea Grant Department of SUNY Brockport researched the demise of the grassbeds and concluded that the decline of these aquatic meadows was caused by powerful lake storms, or changes in phosphate levels, or the construction of sewage treatment facilities.

The results of changes in the lake’s ecology are often evident onshore. People recall the thousands of dead whitefish or “shiners” washed up on the beach during the 1980s. Even the weather can cause shoreline woes: layers of green algae commonly form following the combination of a warm winter, an early spring and then a scorching drought. Of course, the water levels, whether lower or higher cause dramatic shoreline changes.

We can but hope that future generations gathered at lakeside bonfires will recall the washed-up fish, the smelly crusty algae, the high waters, rocks being piled up on the shoreline as these memories, similar to the now almost forgotten grassbeds, become part of lake folklore and enrich our local history.

Historic Childs: Recreation, Part 1

Posted 18 July 2021 at 5:15 am

From the “Atlas of Niagara & Orleans Counties NY,” 1875

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director — Vol. 2 No. 28

Every generation has enjoyed moments, even briefly, when more pressing tasks were accomplished, and a time of relaxation, albeit short, could be enjoyed with family and friends. Such was certainly the case for those living in the Hamlet of Childs and the surrounding countryside in the Town of Gaines.

One such diversion occurred on or about 1835. Historians in 1879 recalled with affection a certain horse race that took place in Gaines on the James Mather farm, southwest of the village on an elevated piece of land east of what was then the Albion Road(Route 279). Mather was an “old-order” farmer that arrived as reports say, “with money,” and paid cash for his land in 1810.

Horses from the neighboring Coloney Farm, Town of Gaines Centennial, 1909. Courtesy Gerald Coloney Monagan

The grandstand for the horserace and starter’s stand were located at the east part of the field. Five or six horses contended for the prize stakes. The race is further described by unnamed eye witnesses, as follows:

“The horses were not started as is the custom now, but they were ranged in line across the track and started off at the tap of a drum. It was a running race and was attended with a good deal of excitement. There was a great crowd in attendance, and many came from distant places. The road leading to the race ground was filled with booths and hucksters’ wagons, and the village streets were filled with teams and horses hitched to fence posts and trees. One of the features of the race was the great number of gamblers who came upon the race ground with their roulette tables, dice tables, and other instruments of their profession, and tempting little piles of gold and silver coin were displayed upon the tables. This race was the first and last of its kind, we believe, ever held in Gaines.”

Five Mile House, circa 1909. Only the back wing remains today.

“Following this race, much attention was paid to the improvement of speed in horses, and for years the favorite ground for trying their speed and training trotting horses was the stretch of hard road on the Ridge east from Proctor’s Corners, and the straight mile stretch from East Gaines to the Five Mile House. Election days generally brought the horses out in full force. There were running races, trotting under the saddle, and trotting before light wagons; and although there was no recognized organization to direct the conduct of the races, as they were wholly impromptu, yet order was observed, and there was quite as keen an interest in the result as though all the machinery of the race course as now understood had directed the contest.”

Other regional recreational activities described in the “Historical Album of Orleans County,” written in 1879, included shooting matches, fox-chases, wrestling matches and hunts. In those days, great hunts were of frequent occurrence. These shooting contests usually involved choosing “sides,” as two or more teams competed for the honor of shooting the most live game. Fair play dictated that equal numbers of hunters must be entered on each side. After a full days hunt, the teams would meet at the tavern and count their spoils. The side with the least good fortune, suffered the expense of supper and copious libation for the opposing team. It was said that the “frolic” was fondly remembered for the full year between hunts. One member of the hunting party offered his remembrance:

“There is a tradition of a big hunt that took place about 1840, embracing a line of hunters extending across the entire Town of Gaines from Ridgeway to Murray along the Ridge Road, who struck north in the woods with the object of driving the game towards the lake and bringing the line of hunters in a concentric circle around the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek. The prime object was to exterminate the wolves that infested the forest and killed the farmers’ sheep. It was spoken of as a very successful undertaking; great quantities of large and small game were shot; the sport was very exciting, and as the focus of the hunt was approached it became somewhat dangerous to the hunters on account of close quarters and rapid shooting. The result of the hunt was said to be satisfactory and for a number of years it was a topic of never failing interest among the participants.”

Photo courtesy Enfield Historical, c.1920

Another pastime enjoyed by both youths and adults, alike, featured the arrival of the circus. E. Earl Harding (1895-1980) grew up with his parents at their home at Five Corners. He reminisced about the annual event that often took place in a field just south of his home near the present day bowling alley on Oak Orchard Road. His remarks follow:

“When the circus came to town it was a really big deal for us kids. It generally came by rail road and set up in a field north of Albion, that being very close to my home. All of us kids would get up early in the morning and go up to watch them unload, and help where we could. We would watch the elephants walk down, and watch them set up tents. If you could get a job carrying water or something, maybe you could get a pass into the circus. That night after the circus, they would load, and be on their way the next morning. The next morning we would get up early and go up to the circus grounds and snoop around. We were quite apt to find a few coins on the ground that people had lost out of their pockets. You just went to look around and see what you could find. It kind of prolonged the excitement of the circus.”

Earl Harding talked about church life, which loomed large in the life of nearly all pioneer families. In addition to the spiritual aspects of attending church service every Sunday without fail, he also had fond memories of the Sunday School picnics held at the lake. His remembrance follows:

“When it came time for the Sunday School picnic down at Lake Ontario, Dad would load up the surrey and all of us kids with our lunches and we’d go down to the lake for the Sunday School picnic. Well we wouldn’t get there an awful lot before it was time to eat. After eating, we’d get a swim and a little time to play, and then it was time to start for home again. You didn’t go very quickly. Dad had a team on the surrey and that pulled us along a pretty good clip. It took about an hour and a half to get from our farm to Point Breeze and the same going back. It was a big day! We went to the Oak Orchard side of the Point. At that time there was a big hotel on the west side. Along the front of the hotel was a row of bath houses where you could change your clothes. It was a huge hotel with a big veranda around it, both an upstairs and a downstairs veranda.”

Historian recalls Muggs, a beloved Murray dog that attended parades in costume

Muggs and friend, as photographed by William A. Monacelli.

Posted 16 July 2021 at 10:42 am

Main outfit included Legion cap, sweater and corn cob pipe

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 17

Mugs is shown in his parade attire.

MURRAY – Muggs, the celebrated Murray mascot has been the subject of columns in the past but what better time to remember him than “the dog days of summer”?

This term originated with the ancient Romans who observed that the hottest days of summer, July and August, coincided with the position of Sirius in the heavens. Since Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), rises and sets with the summer sun, the Romans thought that it added heat to the sun and caused higher temperatures.

In actual fact, it is the tilt of the Earth which causes the sun’s light to hit the Northern Hemisphere at a more direct angle and for a longer period which results in longer, hotter days.

Muggs, a 97-pound boxer with sad eyes and droopy jowls who was born in Medina in 1953, lived in Fancher with Thomas De Palma, Town of Murray Supervisor. A character canine, Muggs led a busy life as a mascot for several causes.

Sporting his signature Legion cap and sweater and holding a corn cob pipe between his teeth, he marched in firemen’s parades and attended Legion conventions with Mr. De Palma, a former state Legion vice-commander. Muggs also visited schools and hospitals and never failed to elicit a smile.

The Medina Journal and the Democrat & Chronicle both reported on the death of Muggs, May 26, 1963. He is buried at the pet cemetery in Hornell, NY.

Historical Association plans 5 programs on Sundays in August

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 July 2021 at 9:44 am

Schedule includes cemetery tours, lectures and a book talk

Photos by Tom Rivers: Bill Lattin speaks during Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Orleans County Historical Association at the Gaines Basin Schoolhouse. The association worked to save the 1832 building in recent years. The schoolhouse will host three of the five programs coordinated by the association on Sundays in August.

GAINES – The Orleans County Historical Association has planned five programs on Sundays in August, including cemetery tours, lectures and a book talk.

Three of the programs will be held at the Gaines Basin Schoolhouse, a structure that was on the verge of being knocked down.

The association, led by its former president Al Capurso, worked to save the building in an extensive overhaul of the site. The school was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the area. It was last used as a school in 1944.

Volunteers have it looking like a school again, with a teacher’s desk, students’ desks, chalkboards and other classroom ambiance.

There will also be a celebration of the life of Al Capurso at 1 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the schoolhouse and the dedication of a plaque in his name on the building. Mr. Capurso passed away at age 68 on Feb. 17.

Capurso led a team that put on a new roof, replaced windows and cleaned out junk and debris from the site. They put in new electric, a new subfloor, restored the trim and repaired the facade. He added a historic marker and flag pole. The building has been given new life as a meeting house and display of schoolhouse artifacts for the Orleans County Historical Association, which Capurso led as president.

A plaque on the schoolhouse will be dedicated for Al Capurso, who led the efforts to save the site from being torn down and repurposed as a meeting space and display for the Orleans County Historical Association.

The Historical Association has planned the five programs in August. They will all begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday. The schedule includes:

  • Aug. 1: Dee Robinson, retired Gaines historian, presents a program about Caroline Phipps Achilles and the Phipps Union Seminary at the Gaines Basin School, 3286 Gaines Basin Rd.
  • Aug. 8: Catherine Cooper, Orleans County historian, conducts a tour at Knowlesville Cemetery off Knowlesville Road behind Ridgeway Fire Station No. 2.
  • Aug. 15: Catherine Cooper presents “Church, State and School: A Different Perspective” at the Gaines Basin School, 3286 Gaines Basin Rd.
  • Aug. 22: Melissa Ierlan, Clarendon town historian, conducts a 1-hour tour of Hillside Cemetery in Clarendon/Holley. That tour will be preceded by organist Scott Schmidt playing old and familiar tunes in the Hillside chapel at Route 237.
  • Aug. 29: Bill Lattin, retired Orleans County historian, presents “Telling Tales Out of School” from his book, “Trivial Tales.” This program will be at the Gaines Basin School, 3286 Gaines Basin Rd.

All programs are free but offerings will be gratefully accepted.


The Orleans Hub on Thursday presented one of its “Outstanding Citizen” awards for 2020 to Rick Ebbs. He led the relocation of a 90-year-old log cabin from an Albion backyard to behind the Gaines Basin Schoolhouse.

Ebbs is continuing to working on strengthening the cabin, which will have its stone fireplace reconstructed at its new location. The 10-by-14-foot cabin was built by local Boy Scouts with help from Fred Benton, father of one of the scouts, Faris Benton.

The Orleans Hub usually has an awards program with all the honorees together but the larger meeting rooms were all off limits at local libraries earlier this year. Ebbs was presented with his award in front of some of the members of the Historical Association on Thursday evening.

Telephone books from yesteryear offer trove of information

Posted 24 June 2021 at 3:13 pm

This is an early phone book, a simple alphabetical listing, with advertising only on the covers. Courtesy Medina Historical Society.

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 16

We took them for granted. We used them as coasters. We used the covers as notepads. We even used them as flyswatters on occasion. Yes, we also used them for their intended purpose: to locate telephone numbers, addresses and businesses.

Now, we miss them, their comforting bulk, the reassuring feeling that all of the accurate local contact information we would need was contained therein. We save the last phone book issued to us because it still contains relevant information.

But, we have cut the land lines and “gone digital.” Our new technology is sleek, but only scammers can find phone numbers, it seems.

However, over time, the humble telephone books have become valuable research tools since they directly chronicle societal and economic trends at the local level.

The Orleans County Dept. of History collection includes several early local telephone books. This 1915 Bell Telephone Directory covered a wide area as indicated on the cover. A “Classified Index to Advertisers” lists the businesses featured.

Indicative of the transition from horse-power to automobiles, the Index includes listings for one Blacksmith, two Carriages Makers, one Harness Maker and two Livery providers, while there are six Auto Repair providers and six Auto Suppliers.

The 1945 Albion Telephone Directory features a split page presentation, with residential listings on the top and business listings underneath. The 1953-54 Directory is the first with the familiar Yellow Pages layout.

The disappearance of the “corner grocery store” is frequently lamented. That trajectory is reflected in the telephone books, as seen from these listings from 1953 to 2012. The independent grocers of 1953 were superseded by the corporate “Supermarkets.”

Listing of Grocers, Albion Telephone Directory 1953-54 is at left with the listing of Grocers, Albion Telephone Directory, 1974 at right.

The category changed to “Supermarkets” in the 1995 NYNEX Yellow Pages for Albion and vicinity at left. The listing for “Supermarkets” in the Verizon SuperPages, Albion area, 2012 is at right.

This is but one of the many sociological observations one can make from perusing telephone books. As you “Spring clean” or prepare for estate sales, please set aside any telephone books you may find. They will make a welcome addition to the local history treasure trove at the Orleans County Dept. of History.

‘Good old days’ weren’t so good with sanitation

Posted 17 June 2021 at 11:24 am

Privies could be conduits for spreading infectious diseases

This is a ticket for a “complaint of nuisance in Medina more than a century ago. With these tickets the investigating officer would note observations on the reverse of the complaint docket. Typical observations might include: “found complaint justified” or “has connected with sewer”

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 1, No. 12

The recent article on the collection of outhouses at the Cobblestone Museum prompted us to consider the matter further.

While farm outhouses had the advantage of space and could be relocated if necessary, conditions were more crowded in villages and cities. Municipal sanitation control was a significant issue as reflected in village ordinances.

Initially, the disposal of household wastes was the responsibility of the homeowner. Typically a nearby vacant lot or body of water would be used.

The earliest drains were installed primarily to accommodate rain storms and melting snow but also carried sewage. Odors were the main concern as the prevailing belief was that odors transmitted germs. The connection between contaminated water and diseases was not recognized until 1854 when John Snow, an English physician, carefully mapped cholera cases in London and narrowed the cause down to a contaminated well pump. In Buffalo, for example, outbreaks of typhoid and cholera persisted until discharges were routed south of the city’s water intakes.

Privies with vaults and leaching cesspools were an advancement, but they still had to be cleared periodically. The following references are to the Village of Medina, but the same patterns of development prevailed throughout the county.

The Board of Health Ordinance published the following in the Medina Tribune on July 2, 1874:

“No person shall have any privy upon any lot or premises within said corporation limits, without a vault under it at least four feet deep, and such vault shall be properly cleansed by using lime or other disinfecting substance therein.”

“No person shall be allowed to drain from any privy, vault, sink or cesspool in any street, alley or lane shall be properly secured by stone or other substantial covering.”

By 1893, these regulations were much stricter:

“No privy cesspool or reservoir into which any privy, stable or water-closets, sink or other receptacle of refuge or sewage is drained shall be constructed or maintained in any situation or in any manner whereby, through leakage or overflow of its contents, it may cause pollution of the soil near or about habitations, or of any well, spring or other source of water used for drinking or culinary purposes; nor shall the overflow from any such receptacle be permitted to discharge into any public place whereby danger to health may be caused.”

Furthermore, it was specified that receptacles of refuse or sewage were to be built of stone, the sides and bottom were to be tightly sealed with cement. A penalty of ten dollars a day ($267 currently, according to the Inflation Calculator) per day would be imposed for any violation.

The Board of Health was appointed annually by the Board of Trustees. According to the 1901 Charter and Ordinances of the Village of Medina, it was comprised of three members, with a “competent physician” as Health Officer. Practicing physicians were required to report any occurrences or pestilential or infectious diseases. The Board of Health had the power to publish ordinances. In addition, the Board had the power to regulate the height of water to be maintained in any race, stream, artificial water-course or feeder within the Village during the months of July, August and September and also to prescribe penalties for any violations of such.

The 1901 village Charter clearly outlined resident’s responsibilities with regard to

 “Depositing putrid matter in the waterway” (five dollar fine for each offense), 

“Throwing putrid matter upon sidewalk” (three dollar fine)

“Providing a convenient privy, at least three feet deep”

A comprehensive sewer system in the village was completed in 1893. Indoor plumbing was adopted gradually. There was some resistance to indoor plumbing at first, as the fear of sewer gases persisted, but plumbing improvements eliminated that problem. By 1908 the rates for household water charges included water-closets:

• Private house, 5 rooms: $5

• Each two additional rooms: .50c

• Bath tub in house: $2

• Water closet with house use: $4

• (Meter rates 50c per M gallons)

But, while domestic sanitation improved, the overall disposal system remained problematic as most municipal systems continued to discharge into local waterways for many years. The development of primary and secondary wastewater treatment plants took some time.

Return to the “Good Old Days”? No thanks!

Historic Childs: John Cunneen, an Irish immigrant, ascended ranks to be NYS attorney general

Posted 13 June 2021 at 8:37 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director, Vol. 2 No. 23

The life and times of former NYS Attorney General John Cunneen is intrinsically tied to the Hamlet of Childs through his presence here as a teacher in the one-room cobblestone schoolhouse, Town of Gaines District #5 in 1873.  From there his path was directed to the County government where he served as Clerk, and once admitted to the NYS Bar, he rose to the highest New York State legal office, State Attorney General.

Charlotte Cunneen Hackett

John Cunneen was born in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, on May 18, 1848. (Late 1800s image shown above.) He was the oldest of seven sons whose parents, in good Catholic tradition, named all of their sons after the Apostles. The family was very poor, residing in a baked mud hut with thatched roof.

From a very young age, John worked several jobs and saved a portion of his meager wages with a goal to book passage on a sailing ship to the United States. One of his early jobs in Ireland was to collect eggs on his family farm, then walk five miles to sell them to a general store in Ennis.

John’s daughter, Charlotte Cunneen Hackett, shown at left, also an attorney, provided commentary on her father’s life through his diary that dates to his journey across the ocean in 1860 at the age of 12.

In 1966 she wrote, “Coming across the ocean on a sailing vessel, he was cold, hungry and seasick.  He spent most of the voyage huddled against the mast or a smokestack for warmth.

Reaching Albany by railroad he made the trip to Albion by packet boat where he was met by a cousin named Scanlan and lived with them for a period of time in the 1836 Brick House now owned by the Cobblestone Museum (shown above).  Shoes and socks were a big problem. During the next three years he worked on a farm for his room and board while attending school. No clothes were furnished.

His jobs were many and varied while he managed to get an education, study law, and was finally admitted to the bar. But he always said he found the trades he had learned to be of the utmost value in questioning laborers and workmen in accident cases because he knew what they were talking about. His ability soon marked him as one of the best trial lawyers in Western New York.”

While teaching in Childs, John Cunneen studied law in Albion under the direction of Chief Justice Sanford E. Church, shown above.  (Current Orleans County Judge Sanford A. Church is a direct lineal descendant of Sanford E. Church.)

Cunneen’s repeat trek, by foot, from Albion to Fair Haven (Childs) each day, involved a six-mile round trip. He remarked in his diary that, “Now and then someone came along with a team and gave me a lift.”

Another entry stated, “School went very well today. Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Bass and Miss Elizabeth Bass visited the school today, which pleased me.”

I believe he was “very pleased” with Elizabeth, because the two became husband and wife in 1876. Elizabeth’s photo is shown above.

John Cunneen established a newspaper in Albion known as the Weekly News. In 1891 the publication was sold to Arthur M. Eddy, shown here in 1905 at the corner of Bank and Platt Streets. Cunneen was also instrumental in organizing the Orleans County Bar Association serving as their first Secretary.

Many Albion locals told him his decision to represent an Albion youth who was alleged to have murdered his father was ill advised. However, the case actually served to increase his prominence and his law business flourished. Shortly thereafter, Cunneen started his own law practice and eventually hired several other attorneys.

In another landmark case, Cunneen argued against seven corporate lawyers in a case that became known as The Franchise Tax case. The day that the case was decided in Cunneen’s favor, President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, sent Cunneen, an Irish Democrat, a congratulatory telegram. His daughter later stated, “It was an odd coincidence that some 40 years before, John Cunneen had come to America as a lonely boy of twelve years with all his worldly possessions tied up in a bandanna handkerchief slung over his shoulder from a stick poked through the knot.”

Cunneen served as a member of his local school board and secretary of the Orleans County Board of Supervisors, a precursor to the county legislature, for seven years. Cunneen became the only Democrat to win a statewide election in 1902 in his successful bid to serve as New York State Attorney General, a post he held from 1903-1904. Being an Irish immigrant and Catholic created a huge uphill climb for Cunneen, as he dealt with discrimination in both camps throughout his political career.

National Prohibition Party Convention, 1892, Cincinnati, Ohio

In the end, political pundits say that it was Cunneen’s cross-registration with the Prohibition Party that provided enough votes for him to win the statewide election for Attorney General.

Just a few short years later, John Cunneen’s obituary in 1907 stated, “A Bright Life Cut Short.” His daughter commented, “In February 1907 my father developed a severe cold and died of pneumonia ten days later. He was scheduled to deliver an important Washington’s Birthday address. He was 58 years old.  We buried him in the Catholic Cemetery in Albion.”

The original burial took place in what we know today as the Old St Joseph’s Cemetery on Brown Road.  The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Western New York accompanied Cunneen’s body on the funeral train from Buffalo to Albion in 1907 with many other mourners.

Later, circa 1920, Monsignor Francis Sullivan approached the families of those interred in the old cemetery, seeking permission to move the bodies to the new St. Joseph’s Cemetery on East Avenue, west of Mount Albion Cemetery in the village. Rev. Sullivan scored an early “coup” in his attempt to move the cemetery when an agreement was reached with the Cunneen family to have John’s body moved to a prominent location in the new cemetery, shown above.

Once that commitment was in place, many other families agreed to have their loved ones moved to the new St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, too. In another strange quirk of circumstances. John Cunneen’s wife, Elizabeth (Bass) Cunneen, died in 1917 but was never allowed to be buried alongside her husband. Elizabeth was a Protestant and as such, was not allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery. Cunneen’s daughter later reflected, “Since the days when Father taught school at the Cobblestone Schoolhouse we have cherished our friendship with the Church family. His life proves that America is indeed the land of opportunity.”

To honor Cunneen’s accomplishments, a NYS Historic Marker was erected at 27 Platt Street, late in the 1900s, in front of what was known then as Cunneen Hall.  The building was owned at that time by Orleans County and served as the County Sheriff’s Office. Later, the building was sold and serves now as a counseling facility.

In closing, John Cunneen’s eulogist, Judge W. C. Ramsdale, offered remarks that can help inform our thoughts today, “Cunneen was a self-made man. Whatever success he attained in life is due to his own industry, perseverance, ability and character. A poor boy, he became what he was at the time of his death, a good man, a firm and steadfast friend, and influential and respected citizen and an imminent lawyer. Attorney General John Cunneen, the Irish immigrant, in his rise to fame, remained a true friend.”

Albion Federal Savings & Loan served community for nearly 70 years

Posted 11 June 2021 at 9:58 am

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 15

ALBION – Weather temperatures have been higher than “normal” of late, but not quite on par with the 119 degrees registered on the Albion Federal Savings and Loan Association sign in this undated photo from the William A. Monacelli photograph collection at the Orleans County Department of History.

The Albion Federal Savings and Loan Association was formed by local businessmen Hon. Sanford T. Church and Freeman E. McNall in 1934, following the closing of the Citizens National Bank in 1932.

On the occasion of the Association’s 25th anniversary, Sanford B. Church attributed the success of the Association in large part to its enthusiastic board of directors and hard-working and conscientious staff. From the beginning, the Association paid as large a dividend as was possible, beginning with 3 percent per annum in 1935. During World War II, the rate fell to 1 ¼ per cent in December 1945, but climbed steadily afterwards.

In support of Albion’s Downtown Restoration Program and the National Bicentennial in 1976, the Association undertook the restoration of the former home of Lorenzo Burrows at 48 North Main Street for use as its expanded headquarters. Albion Federal opened a Brockport office in 1997. Both were acquired by First Niagara in March 2000. First Niagara in turn was acquired by KeyBank in 2016. The pace of change in the banking industry has been as dizzying as the temperature in our photograph, though the interest rates are distinctly chillier.