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Millville Cemetery monument stands as a remarkable local landmark

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

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orleans County has deep connections to Titanic sinking

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

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 16

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

May Howard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holley woman survived Titanic disaster, 106 years ago

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

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2018 Orleans County Heritage Heroes worked to promote local history

Posted 10 April 2018 at 3:55 pm

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

Press Release, Genesee Community College

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

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

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

The 2018 Orleans County Heritage Heroes include:

Aaron Grabowski

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

Diane Palmer

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

Arthur Barnes

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

Roy Bubb

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

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

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

Receiving the Bob Waters Lifetime Achievement Award – Marsha DeFillips

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

The award ceremony on April 27 will be at GCC’s Albion Campus Center located at 456 West Ave. The event is free to attend and open to the public, but seating is limited. A reception will follow the ceremony featuring light refreshments.

For more information on the awards or the ceremony, contact Jim Simon at or Prof. Derek Maxfield at or by calling the Albion Campus Center at 585-589-4936.

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List of 7 endangered sites in NY includes historic opera houses

Staff Reports Posted 9 April 2018 at 6:18 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other “Seven to Save” designees include:

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

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

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

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

• Haglund Building/Jamestown Arcade – Jamestown, Chautauqua County

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

• Wells Barns – Various Municipalities, Monroe/Livingston Counties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holley native became Johnson & Johnson matriarch

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 7 April 2018 at 8:27 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 14

After a three-year stay in Medina, Frances Folsom became one of the area’s most beloved young women after her marriage to President Grover Cleveland. Yet I was hoping that March would provide me with six Saturdays to write about notable women from Orleans County, but I suppose that I should not feel limited to writing about such subjects to a single month!

Evangeline Brewster Armstrong Johnson Dennis

The only lasting local memory of Evangeline Brewster Armstrong exists within a stained glass window at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Holley. The window reads, “Presented by Mrs. Evangeline A. Johnson A.D. 1894” featuring an image of St. Paul “posed in this window holding a book and pointing upward to heaven as though he were giving a benediction,” as described by C.W. Lattin. Evangeline was born in 1865 at Rochester, New York to Edwin Rutherford Armstrong and Martha Gifford, who were married on August 13, 1857. Edwin Armstrong was raised in Wilson, NY, later teaching school in Rochester and later becoming principal of a school in that area. From 1862 to 1863, he attended medical school at the University of Michigan and graduated from Buffalo University’s medical program in 1865. Three years later, he arrived in Holley where he would become one of the most prominent physicians in the area.

The feature of this story is not Dr. Armstrong, but his daughter Evangeline. According to Martha Armstrong’s obituary, “[Mr.] and Mrs. Armstrong were prominent factors in the social life of the village…” and Martha was a “cultivated musician” and leader in musical matters in Holley. It a general understanding that Dr. Armstrong was also well connected in medical circles throughout the country as presumed by Evangeline’s marriage to Robert Wood Johnson on June 27, 1892. Twenty years her senior, the founder and president of Johnson & Johnson took an immediate liking to the young and strikingly beautiful young woman, just 27 years of age. Some authors suggest that Evangeline’s attraction to the aging and “heavier” Johnson was strictly related to the power and wealth associated with such a relationship.

The couple’s first son was born on April 4, 1893, a little over nine months after the couple married in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains near Mayville, Tennessee. The rural girl immediately transformed into the belle of New Jersey’s urban society. Robert Johnson paid little attention to his children and Evangeline considered herself a member of the upper echelon of society, refusing to interact with those around her and becoming a recluse. At the family home in Gray Terrace, she was provided with a full staff of butlers and maids to assist her in rearing the children. July 14, 1895, the couple welcomed their second son, John Seward Johnson, into the world. The young boy suffered from childhood illnesses, allergies, and asthma, and suffered with dyslexia. Evangeline paid extra attention to her “little angel,” the pet name she gave him because of his constant suffering from illness during his childhood.

On February 7, 1910, Robert Johnson died as a result of complications associated with Bright ’s disease, leaving his 44 year old widow and three children to mourn his passing. Evangeline took her two youngest children to New York City in order to enjoy the high-style social life she always dreamed of. While living in the city, she developed a relationship with John W. Dennis, a member of the British Parliament; the two left New York for London, leaving the children behind. As noted by Jerry Oppenheimer in his book Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy in Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty, young Seward Johnson was left with a New York City socialite and friend of Evangeline who sexually abused the young man until his brother Robert rescued him.

Evangeline married Dennis, but their life together was short-lived. On September 9, 1919, she died at her country estate in Nocton, Lincolnshire. Two weeks earlier, she tripped on street curbing in London and broke her hip; a blood clot later developed as she recuperated. Lattin writes in Luminaries in the Firmament, “In any day and age no work of art is ever created at small expense. I’m sure back in 1894 this large window depicting a life-size St. Paul was considered as expensive. It is easy to understand, knowing Mrs. Johnson’s background, how she was able to afford it.”

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Medina’s ‘First Lady’ became an instant celebrity when she married President Cleveland when she was 21

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 31 March 2018 at 8:16 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 13

“I am waiting for my wife to grow up.” – Grover Cleveland

As a young bachelor in Buffalo, Cleveland was said to have muttered these very words to his sisters who frequently asked him about his intentions to marry. His statement, although witty, held a certain degree of truth and it is with that truth that the story of Frances Folsom is told.

In 1996 an historic roadside marker was installed at the corner of Main and Eagle Streets in Medina, denoting the structure that Folsom called home for a brief moment in her life during the 1870s. The marker reads:

“Frances Folsom lived here in the mid-1870s with her grandmother and attended Medina High School. In 1886 at age 21 she wed Pres. Grover Cleveland.”

The daughter of Oscar and Emma Harmon Folsom, Frances was born July 21, 1864 at Buffalo, New York where her father practiced law with Grover Cleveland in a firm known as Lanning, Cleveland and Folsom. Folsom and Cleveland became close friends after a failed run for the office of Erie County District Attorney left Cleveland with a sense of defeat. It was said that Cleveland doted on the young girl, purchasing the first baby carriage for Frances.

On July 23, 1875, Oscar Folsom was tragically killed when he was thrown from his carriage in Buffalo’s Black Rock district. Cleveland was made administrator of Folsom’s will, but sources vary on whether Cleveland was, in fact, made the legal guardian of Frances. Oscar’s widow and eleven-year-old daughter relocated to Medina to live with Ruth Harmon, the grandmother of Frances, while Cleveland settled the estate. During the approximately three years that she lived in Medina, “Frankie” as she was later known (a nickname much to her disliking), became a popular pupil among fellow students and teachers at the Medina high school. It was after Cleveland finalized his business partner’s estate that Emma and Frances returned to Buffalo.

Frances continued her studies at Central High School in Buffalo and eventually entered the sophomore class at Wells College where she was attending when Cleveland was inaugurated for his first term. Despite her best efforts to attend the prestigious event, she was not permitted to miss classes.

After her graduation in 1885, Frances was whisked off to Europe by her mother at the urging of Cleveland so that she could experience the culture of the old world. At this time it was suspected by the public that Emma was visiting Europe to purchase her wedding dress under the assumption that Cleveland was courting the elder Folsom. Upon their return to New York on May 27, 1886, an announcement was made the following day noting Cleveland’s engagement to Frances and not Emma as previously thought.

On June 2, 1886 Grover and Frances were wed in the Blue Room, the stately parlor on the first floor of the White House, becoming the only couple to celebrate their wedding in the executive mansion. Frances became an instant celebrity, the press following her every move. As a fashionable young woman, she frequently wore gowns that were edgy for the time.

Photo by Tom Rivers: There is a historic marker for Frances Folsom at the corner of Main and Eagle streets in Medina, near Hartway Motors.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was floored by her frequent wearing of gowns that revealed bare shoulders, claiming it negatively influenced young women. She quickly became a marketing tool for companies that used her likeness to sell goods. Others marketed goods on claims that she either purchased or used the goods herself, suggesting that Mrs. Cleveland was endorsing the products. Harper’s Magazine went as far as to feature her as a frequent cover subject, which undoubtedly assisted the periodical with the sale of issues.

While companies benefited from the marketability of the President’s wife, one Democratic Congressman attempted to pass a bill that would stop the widespread use of any woman’s image for commercial purposes without her written permission. Although the piece of legislation did not specifically address her by name, the bill was clearly aimed at alleviating the external pressures felt by the Clevelands at the hands of the corporate world. Suffering a heart attack at the age of 71, Grover Cleveland passed away on June 24, 1908; his widow 27 years younger than he, remained at Princeton, New Jersey where she would remarry to Thomas Preston nearly five years later. She died in her sleep on October 29, 1947 and was laid to rest next to her first husband in Princeton Cemetery.

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Blind woman from China was prolific proofreader in American Braille

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 24 March 2018 at 11:10 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 12

While cataloging the Department of History’s collection of rare books, I came across a small booklet entitled From Serfdom to Culture written by “a white-haired Rochester confectioner” named Alfred F. Little in 1939. Interestingly enough, my discovery of this item happened in the same way in which C. W. Lattin, the retired county historian, encountered this story back in 1996.

Jessie D. Gutzlaff once lived in Albion.

Presented with two volumes from a blind Chinese woman named Jessie Gutzlaff, Little felt encouraged to record a few brief memories regarding the life of a remarkable woman. As he wrote nearly 80 years ago, “few persons, if any, now living in Albion, ever heard of Miss Gutzlaff, or knew of her connection with the village…” Those two volumes, authored by Samuel Smiles, were donated to the Swan Library in 1910.

The story of Jessie Gutzlaff dates back to 1842 when, as a young girl, she arrived in New York City with two other Chinese girls named Fanny and Eliza, all three accompanied by Mary Gutzlaff. Mrs. Gutzlaff was the wife of Karl Gutzlaff, a famed missionary of the Netherlands Missionary Society. Upon their arrival to the U.S., the girls were sent to various institutions under the sponsorship of philanthropic individuals; Jessie was sent to the Institution for the Blind at Columbus, Ohio under the support of George Douglas of Long Island. On July 22, 1843, Jessie arrived at the Ohio Institute in good spirits, as the organization’s annual report notes that “these little girls…are intelligent, healthy, and very cheerful.”

After relocating to New York, the story becomes mired in confusion and uncertainty as on January 1, 1852, Jessie appears in the records of the Christ Episcopal Church in Albion as a member of the Middleton family. It is presumed that Jessie became acquainted with Jane Middleton while Middleton was working as a matron at the Institute for the Blind in Columbus. It is known that Ann and Jane Middleton operated an institution of learning at Albion where homeless or orphaned young girls were taken in and used as teachers.

Although much of Jessie’s time with the Middletons is shrouded in mystery, Miss Elizabeth Thompson of Philadelphia wrote in a short letter to William Chapin that “…it is known that Miss Middleton took the child in her home for remunerative object. She would have gathering for the benefit of Jessie, to buy a piano.” Thompson continued to write that although Middleton was “not an easy taskmaster,” no one lodged any complaint of ill treatment. Mr. Chapin, familiar with Gutzlaff during her time in Ohio, became aware of her situation thanks to an unnamed clergyman from her neighborhood.

In 1861, Jessie was “rescued” by Mr. Chapin and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind before she was admitted to the “Home” in 1869. Sarah Sterling, a librarian at the institution, wrote, “Miss Jessie began to read proof about January, 1893, soon after American Braille was introduced into this school. She read all proof except mathematics and the foreign languages. According to records she has read in American Braille (machine work) 52,679 pages, covering 426 titles…she was always a conscientious worker, and whether it was machine or handwork, she was distressed if anyone found a mistake she had overlooked.”

Fifty years after her enrollment in the Pennsylvania institution, Jessie was in Albion visiting Mary Middleton Smith, an orphan also taken in by Jane Middleton in the 1850s. The two decided to attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and it was during this stay in Orleans County that Gutzlaff became acquainted with Alfred Little. He later recalled that he and Jessie regularly corresponded by letter, Miss Jennie writing longhand and only occasionally repeating a word when interrupted.

After her sudden death on October 2, 1920 due to heart failure, Jessie Gutzlaff was buried in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery in the lot reserved for the Chapin Home for the Aged Blind. Her will left $5,000 in Pennsylvania Railroad stock, the majority of which was purchased with the modest wages she earned as a proof-reader. The total amount of her estate was bequeathed to the Episcopal Board of Missions for the purpose of supporting education in China. Of the annual interest, $100 was set aside to support the instruction of a Chinese boy at St. John’s College in Shanghai and the remaining balance was put towards the maintenance of scholarships for educating Chinese women at St. Mary’s Hall in Shanghai.

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Seminary in Albion showed commitment to higher education for women in 1800s

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 16 March 2018 at 10:37 pm

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 11

ALBION – Over 200 years ago, Caroline Phipps was born near Rome, New York on March 2, 1812 to Joseph and Mary Eames Phipps. Arad Thomas writes in the Pioneer History of Orleans County that her “early education was superintended by her father with more than ordinary care at home, though she had the advantages of the best private schools and of the district schools in the vicinity.”

After her father relocated the family to Barre, Caroline attended school at Eagle Harbor before starting her career in teaching at the young age of 14 in a one-room schoolhouse at Gaines Basin. It is presumed, based on available information, that Phipps was the school teacher while Charles Anderson Dana was attending the log schoolhouse (Overlooked Orleans: v.1, no.13).

A passionate educator even at a young age, Phipps enrolled in the Gaines Academy at the age of 20 and eventually attended the Nichols Ladies’ School at Whitesboro, New York. It was approximately a year after her enrollment at the Gaines Academy that she proposed the idea of an all-female educational institution by circulating a letter around Albion. The notice stated her intention to build a female seminary and sought support from prominent citizens to assist with the funding of the school. The proposal was met with opposition from the area’s leading residents, many who favored a school for boys and girls.

Photo by Tom Rivers: This historical marker was dedicated more than 100 years ago in May 1913. It is on the County Clerk’s Building. The alumni of the Phipps Union Seminary had the marker put on a sandstone wall next to the front steps of the building.

Caroline Phipps remained committed to the idea of an all-female institution of higher learning, as stated by Arad Thomas, “acting on a favorite theory…that it is better to teach boys and girls in separate schools…” She set forth a plan and sought support in raising the necessary funds to erect an edifice in which to house this new educational endeavor.

In Landmarks of Orleans County, Isaac Signor published a list of those who generously gave in support of the institution, the largest donors including Roswell S. Burrows, Alexis Ward, and Freeman Clarke, each committing $200 to the cause. Other donors included Elizur Hart, Orson Nichoson, and Norman Bedell, the father of Grace Bedell.

Totaling nearly $4,500, the amount was put towards the construction of a four-story brick building approximately 40 feet by 60 feet and costing a total of $14,000. The institution opened in January of 1837 with 100 boarders and 100 day scholars, according to Signor. Young women from across the country traveled to Albion to attend Phipps’ Female Union Seminary, the second institution of its kind in the United States (after the Willard Seminary in Troy, NY). In 1839, Caroline married Henry L. Achilles of Rochester (Overlooked Orleans: v.2, no.20) and the responsibility of leading the institution was passed to her younger sister, Sophronia, who remained as principal until her marriage in 1847 to Dr. J. L. Hodge of Brooklyn, New York.

The following year the seminary was sold to Rev. Frederick James, who remained the head of the institution for a very brief period. Almost immediately after the sale was finalized, the seminary’s enrollment dropped from 100 students to less than 40. The board of directors, frustrated and dismayed, pleaded for Henry and Caroline to return to Albion from Boston to retake control of the operation. With reluctance the couple agreed to take the reins of the institution and Caroline made quick work of rebuilding the seminary’s reputation. The following year was marked by a spike in enrollment, which led to the construction of a wood-frame addition on the north end of the building in 1851.

A small booklet entitled Sketches of the Village of Albion reads, “standing on the highest land in the village, the Seminary buildings, and the numerous trees around them, are among the first objects noted by the traveler on entering Albion in any direction…The course of instruction in this school comprises all branches of useful and ornamental education usually taught in the best Female Seminaries in this country. An average number of ten teachers are employed, besides the services of Mr. and Mrs. Achilles.”

Their oversight of the seminary was only temporary, as Thomas writes, “Tired and worn down by the harassing cares, anxieties and labor of superintending so large an establishment and school, so many years, in 1866 Mrs. Achilles reluctantly consented to transfer her dearly cherished Seminary again to strangers.” Rev. George A. Starkweather assumed control of the institution after purchasing it at a price of $20,000 (approx. $325,000 today).

Once again, the school suffered a similar fate as the first sale and the reputation of the institution was ruined by its new owner. The board pleaded for Henry and Caroline to retake control of the Seminary, to which Henry was fervently opposed. It was thanks to the encouragement of his wife that the seminary was yet again brought under the control of the Achilles family and provided with the opportunity to thrive. The vibrant and renowned school remained in operation until a series of fires occurred in the autumn of 1874 and the spring of 1875, which forced the Seminary to cease operation. The parcel of land was eventually purchased by the county, the original lot now occupied by the County Clerk’s Office.

Henry died on January 16, 1881 from an abscess and was interred with his first two wives at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester; Caroline was buried with her family at Mt. Albion after her death ten days later on January 26, 1881.

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Contributions of pioneer women have largely been omitted in historical record

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 10 March 2018 at 8:21 am

The Pioneer Homestead – Historical Album of Orleans County, New York

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 10

A question recently surfaced following my last article about Elizabeth Denio, one pertaining to the life of the pioneer settler Elizabeth Gilbert of Gaines. The question made me think about how women have appeared in the earliest recollections of our area’s history, if they make an appearance at all.

I was reading through Carol Kammen’s On Doing Local History and focused in on a common pitfall of local historians; trusting the published local historical narrative. What Kammen means by this is that we often fail to revise “what is held as truth.”

Much of our understanding of local history in Orleans County comes from the pages of Arad Thomas’ Pioneer History of Orleans County and Isaac Signor’s Landmarks of Orleans County, the second publication drawing from the chapters of Thomas’ publication. In these pages, the pioneer woman rarely makes an appearance and when she does her name is obscured by the significance of her husband. Elizabeth Gilbert is perhaps one of the exceptions.

On March 3, 1807, Elizabeth Gilbert purchased 123.5 acres of land approximately one mile east of Fairhaven in Gaines. It is Signor who references this land transaction, completely overlooked by Thomas over twenty years earlier which demonstrates the significance of Gilbert’s purchase of land at a time when men were more likely to conduct such business. As the story is told, Mr. Gilbert was known to suffer from fits of epilepsy and was discovered dead in “the road” in the middle of winter (the road presumed to be Ridge Road). With her niece, Amy Scott, Elizabeth cared for a yoke of oxen, cows, and young cattle over the winter before relocating to Canandaigua around 1811 or 1812.

Arad Thomas refers to Gilbert almost exclusively as “Widow Gilbert,” a woman defined by her marriage to her unnamed husband. In his description, she was a “hardy pioneer” who “cut down trees to furnish browse for a yoke of oxen and some other cattle…” When Noah Burgess and his family arrived at Stillwater in Carlton, he was unable to complete the trip across land to Gaines due to illness. It was “Widow Gilbert” who used her oxen to bring the family and their personal property to their new land along the Ridge Road. Mary “Polly” Crippen Burgess, Noah’s wife, who was described as a “strong, athletic woman,” proceeded to “chop down trees and cut logs for a log house” while “Mrs. Gilbert drew them to the spot with her oxen.” Men passing through assisted the women in raising the cabin walls.

Another notable story involves the wife of William McAllister, the first settler of what became the Village of Albion. Purchasing approximately 100 acres in 1810, McAllister constructed a log cabin in 1812 on a parcel of land where the County Clerk’s building now stands. Mrs. McAllister’s tenure in Orleans County was short as she died the same year the cabin was constructed. With no cut lumber for building a coffin and no clergyman to conduct a religious service, McAllister and other men constructed a makeshift box from roughhewn planks and wood spikes to bury the woman. To this day, Mrs. McAllister’s true identity remains a mystery.

While exploring these stories, I was drawn to one other mention of a very accomplished woman highlighted by Isaac Signor. He writes that Mr. Calvin G. Beach, the editor of the Orleans Republican, conducted his business with the assistance of his wife who, according to Signor, was “a woman of rare literary attainments, who was a contributor to many of the papers and magazines of that day.” Apparently her attainments were far from significant enough to mention her by name. Mrs. Juliette Hayward Beach was a noted poet and writer and was asked by Henry Clapp to review Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass manuscript. Literary critics have suggested that Walt Whitman wrote “Out of the Rolling Ocean, The Crowd” for Juliette, whose jealous husband prohibited her to write the poet.

As we delve deeper into the pages of local history, we must recognize that there are many more subjects and points of interest that remain untouched by the prying eyes of local historians. Sometimes, that research forces us to reconsider what we have come to hold true for so many years.

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