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Medina’s Empire Couch Company did a bustling furniture business

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 24 August 2019 at 6:38 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 5, Issue 33

MEDINA – One of Medina’s most prosperous businesses during the early portion of the 20th century was the Empire Couch Company established by Earl Card and Walter Marvin in 1901.

Prior to establishing a factory in Medina, the small outfit operated out of Middleport with mild success. After the company purchased the Bignall Works facility and constructed a new building in its place, the business was sold to J. D. Smith.

With financial support from Alonzo Phillips, the company witnessed considerable growth during the following years. The original factory was a 40-foot by 140-foot building equipped with electric lighting, heat, and hot water but demand for merchandise forced the company to expand relatively soon after. This image shows the facility after that expansion, the photograph taken on March 20, 1913 as part of New York State’s assessment of land and property leading up to the 1913-14 expansion of the Erie Canal.

The three-story building was broken into four sections; the closest section consisted of lumber storage in the basement, a coating room on the first floor, and a stockroom on the second floor. The next section contained a woodworking shop in the basement, a staining and varnishing room on the first floor, and upholstering space on the second. The next portion contained a room for preparing shipments on the first floor and a continuation of the upholstering space on the second. The final section on the southern end was an office and cloth storage space. Several piles of lumber used for manufacturing furniture are visible in the distance.

When New York State started the process of expanding and widening the Erie Canal in 1913, the Empire Couch Company was given $13,888 for the land and buildings on this property and was forced to relocate to a new site on Orient Street near the intersection of Short Street immediately north of the railroad tracks. The forced relocation was a welcomed one as the demand for fine furniture built in Medina was growing at an exponential rate. The area newspapers praised the high quality of furniture made by the company and its high rate of employment.

On October 14, 1930 the Medina Daily Journal published an article noting the company’s steady and prosperous growth stating, “This plant does its share to make the wheels of industry in Medina go round and there is every indication that it will continue to do so in the future.”

Unfortunately, the Lockport Union Sun and Journal published an announcement the following year on November 3, 1931 stating that the Central Bank of Medina was closing due to the decline of the bond market. With the majority of the company’s funds held by that bank, the closure forced the Empire Couch Company to go bankrupt.

With the company’s liabilities totaling close to $40,000 and assets equaling about the same, a bankruptcy auction was held and the property sold to William J. Gallagher’s trucking outfit. With that auction in 1935 went a successful but short-lived Medina enterprise.

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Reynolds & Flintham were Main Street entrepreneurs in Albion a century ago

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 17 August 2019 at 8:18 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 5, Issue 32

ALBION – One of Orleans County’s oldest funeral homes is likely that of Merrill-Grinnell, which dates well beyond the 1870s. This image shows two predecessors to the current business, Cassius M. C. Reynolds and William S. Flintham, standing in front of their store on North Main Street in Albion. Reynolds purchased this business from his father-in-law George W. Ough, who was a prominent businessman and president of the Albion Board of Trustees.

It is thought that the lineage of this business dates back as far as George M. Pullman, who ran a furniture making business in Albion during his tenure in Orleans County. The business later transitioned to Ough, then to Reynolds and Flintham who operated the outfit into the 1920s. Reynolds & Flintham were known locally for dealing crockery, glassware, and furniture in addition to their work as undertakers.

This image clearly showcases the stock of crockery and glassware carried by the business, visible both through the store windows and on the table standing outside. Several chairs are situated in front of the building and a number of prams are on display; from simple models to the more ornate such as the piece parked next to William Goff, which features a suspension system, ensuring a comfortable ride for the passenger.

Mr. Goff’s tenure with the business dated back to Ough’s ownership when at the age of 16 he first applied for a job. He became somewhat of a local celebrity in regards to his work as a funeral director and embalmer; his claim to fame was being the first to cover a casket in cloth for use in Orleans County. In his earliest years working with Ough, caskets were made to order, but he watched the industry develop as he worked over 40 years through the ownership of Ough, Reynolds & Flintham, and Merrill.

In 1926 the business was sold to John B. Merrill of Holley, who partnered with his son Roy to start J. B. Merrill & Son. Goff remained with Merrill for nearly 13 years before his own retirement and upon his death he was regarded as one of the oldest funeral directors and embalmers in Western New York at the age of 83.

J. B. Merrill & Son existed as Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Homes until Christopher Mitchell acquired the funeral homes in Albion and Holley in 2017. One other notable feature of this image is the reflection in the windows of the storefront. The beautiful white fence and trees were situated in front of the mansion of Lorenzo Burrows, which still stands today as the home of Key Bank.

William Flintham and his son, Stuart J. Flintham were both featured on the Aug. 11 tour of Mt. Albion Cemetery. This week’s tour of Mt. Albion Cemetery, set for Aug. 18 at 6 p.m., will include stories about notable Orleans County veterans buried in the western section.

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Albion woman served as University of Rochester’s first female faculty member

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 10 August 2019 at 9:01 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 31

Dr. Elizabeth Denio

ALBION – Last weekend’s tour of Mt. Albion Cemetery focused on notable “movers and shakers” from Orleans County, including Dr. Elizabeth Denio.

Elizabeth Harriet Denio was born to John and Celinda Weatherwax Denio on August 3, 1842 at the family’s farm in Albion, now part of the Correctional Facility. A printer by trade, John Denio became a respected citizen of Albion due in part to his time as publisher of the Orleans American. As a young girl, Elizabeth attended the local schools but as the daughter of a prominent family, she was afforded the opportunity to attend the Phipps Union Seminary. Upon the completion of her education there, she later attended and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1866, followed by a very brief term as an instructor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.

In 1876 she became a professor of German and Art History at Wellesley College until taking a leave of absence in 1883 to travel abroad. While in Germany, she commenced study at Leipzig, Berlin, and Heidelberg, focusing on German philology (language) and art history. In 1896 she was fired from Wellesley College due to her antiquated teaching style after the arrival of the institution’s new president. It was nearly two years later in 1898 that she received her Doctor of Philosophy from Heidelberg, writing her thesis entitled “The Life and Works of Nicolas Poussin.” This defining piece on the French Baroque artist was printed in 1899 by Charles Scribner and Sons of New York.

Upon her return to the United States, she was appointed to a position as a lecturer of art history at the University of Rochester in 1902. This appointment marked a significant milestone in the University’s history as Denio became the first female member of the institution’s faculty. In his 1910 report, University President Benjamin Rush Rhees noted that “Dr. Denio’s work has been elected increasingly by our students…there are few persons in the country so well equipped to do this work, and it is work which it is very advantageous for our women to take;” this also came with a promotion to the title of “Instructor in the History of Art.”

In the earliest years of her tenure at the University, a lack of funding required for a permanent position forced the institution to hire her on an annual appointment by special action. Emily Sibley Watson, the daughter of Western Union founder Hiram Sibley, was largely responsible for funding Denio’s remuneration in those early years. After her retirement in 1917, she was made an Emeritus Professor.

On December 23, 1922, Dr. Denio prepared to cross from the south curb of East Avenue at Meigs Street Rochester when she was struck by a car driven by Theodore Drescher. In an effort to avoid the elderly woman, Drescher slammed on his brakes forcing the car to spin out of control and striking Denio with the rear of the vehicle. After she was knocked to the ground, a vehicle driven by Charles Flint passed over Denio’s body. She was quickly rushed to the Homeopathic Hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries.

As noted by Bill Lattin (Bethinking of Old Orleans v. 16, no. 10), “Dr. Denio was known to be a stimulating conversationalist who had a broad spectrum of friends. Local lore conjectures that she became accustomed to men’s clothing while studying in Germany, for upon her return to this country, she was seen to appear in pants and supposedly enjoyed cigars. Denio’s lasting legacy remains in the form of the Memorial Art Gallery, an institution that she was influential in developing in 1913.”

The tour of Mt. Albion Cemetery this Sunday, Aug. 11, will feature Orleans County’s wealthiest, most famous, and eccentric residents. Gathering at the chapel, the group will depart at 6:05 p.m. for a walk through the west section of the cemetery.

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Mt. Albion replaced small municipal burial grounds in 1843

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 3 August 2019 at 8:25 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 30

“We have met to provide a mansion for the dead. We have come out from our quiet homes and the bright sunlight and the crowded streets and all the garish show of life, to this secluded spot to set apart a last final resting place where the weary pilgrim…may come and lay down his burden forever…” – Daniel R. Cady, Esq.

ALBION – Benjamin Franklin once said that there are but two certainties in life; death and taxes. For the pioneers of Albion, the question of a sacred final resting place plagued them from the earliest years of settlement. Small burial grounds existed within the village limits, but the harsh realities of life and death proved problematic for these noble citizens.

It became apparent soon after the incorporation of the village that a cemetery on East State Street would be quickly overcome with the bodies of those who succumbed to the tribulations of pioneer life. Discussions shifted to purchasing land outside of the municipal boundaries, which required an amendment to the village charter. Yet after careful consideration, the proposition to amend the charter was replaced by a full redrafting of the document under the care and attention of Arad Thomas and Lorenzo Burrows.

Upon the conclusion of this task, Alexis Ward and Lorenzo Burrows were charged with selecting an appropriate site for this new municipal cemetery. A large sandy drumlin east of the village limits provided the ideal spot for the burial of local citizens. The village purchased 25 acres from Lyman Patterson and Jacob Annis, the land containing a mixture of rolling meadows and wooded hills; $1,000 was the final price.

It is believed that upon the dedication of the cemetery on September 7, 1843, that the first lots were sold at auction. Those families who purchased graves were responsible for the initial upkeep of these final resting spots. Even after the first interment occurred in October of 1843, the care of individual lots were lacking in even the smallest of improvements. For nearly 20 years, it was the responsibility of the village trustees to oversee the management of the cemetery. With no dedicated caretaker or supervisor, the work often fell upon the village president.

The response to this problem was the appointment of Dr. Lemuel Paine, Lorenzo Burrows, and Henry Sickels as the first three commissioners of the cemetery while Michael Hanley was hired as the first caretaker. The first task of the commissioners was to construct a receiving vault and caretaker’s house on the western end of the cemetery (now the main entrance).

According to research by Marguerite Monacelli and Eleanor Wilder, a schedule of allowance for services was established:

1. Digging a grave and attendance of burial service for a child under 12: $1.00 without box, $1.50 with box.

2. Digging a grave and attendance of burial service for person over 12: $1.50 without box, $2.00 with box.

3. Depositing of remains in vault: $.50 with burial in Mt. Albion, $1.00 with burial in another cemetery.

4. Improving and ornamenting lots owned by individuals: $1.00 per day.

As families decided to relocate graves from small family burial grounds starting in the early 1860s, a fee of $3.00 was assessed per interment and added costs associated with the construction of “vaults” from stone or brick.

The history of Mt. Albion is a lengthy one and far too long to contain within the confines of one article. However, we fast-forward to 1912 when the top image was taken. At the center is the cemetery’s main entryway, surrounded by trees and beautiful flowers carefully arranged throughout the landscape. The “small” fountain is representative of other smaller fountains situated throughout the grounds. In 1914, Emma Ingersoll provided for the installation of the large fountain constructed by William Karns of Albion. The following year, Ingersoll’s will provided for a granite bench that was installed at a cost of $500.00.

In keeping with tradition, the County Historian will host tours of Mt. Albion Cemetery starting on Sunday, August 4th at 6 p.m. Tours will take place every Sunday during the month (Aug. 4, 11, 18, 25) starting at 6 p.m. from the chapel. Tours will cover the majority of the cemetery grounds over the course of four Sundays and visit a number of notable local politicians, entrepreneurs, activists, and criminals. These events are free and open to the public – please contact the Historian at Matt.Ballard@orleanscountyny.gov or 585-589-4174 with any questions.

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Summer tours planned for Mount Albion, Hillside cemeteries

Posted 28 July 2019 at 5:58 pm

Torch-lit tour of Downtown Albion set for September

Press Release, Orleans County Historian Matthew Ballard

Photo by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard stops at the Pullman family grave at Mount Albion Cemetery during a tour of the cemetery in August 2016. James Lewis Pullman, father of sleeping car magnate George Pullman, is buried at Albion’s historic cemetery.

The Orleans County Department of History in partnership with the Orleans County Historical Association will host a series of cemetery and community tours in August and September.

• August 4th at 6 p.m. – Mt. Albion Cemetery, Albion

This “Movers and Shakers” tour will explore the gravesites of notable Orleans County residents including Roswell Burrows, John Proctor, Rufus Bullock, and Elizabeth Denio. Visitors will have the opportunity to stop at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The group will assemble at the cemetery chapel and depart at 6:05 p.m. – this tour includes large hills.

• August 11th at 6 p.m. – Mt. Albion Cemetery, Albion

A “Wealthy, Famous, and Eccentric” tour will take visitors on journey through Orleans County’s most interesting residents, including E. K. Hart, Hank Porter, Charlie Howard, and Lewis Sands. The group will assemble at the cemetery chapel and depart at 6:05 p.m. – this tour route is relatively flat.

• August 18th at 6 p.m. – Mt. Albion Cemetery, Albion

Through “Courage and Honor,” visitors will tour the gravesites of local veterans including Jesse Brooks, Andrew Hall, Ross Brown, William Collins, Virginia Sheret, and Charles Harris, a local Medal of Honor recipient. The group will assemble at the cemetery chapel and depart at 6:05 p.m. – this tour route is relatively flat.

• August 25th at 6 p.m. – Mt. Albion Cemetery, Albion

This concluding tour, “Pioneers and Politicians,” will take visitors to the gravesites of Albion’s most interesting pioneer and political figures; stops will include Ben Field, George Ough, Calvin and Juliette Beach, and a stop at the grave of Joseph Van Camp, whose home was the site of Orleans County’s most gruesome murder. The group will assemble at the cemetery chapel and depart at 6:05 p.m. – this tour route includes some larger hills.

• September 8th at 6 p.m. – Hillside Cemetery, Clarendon

Orleans County Historian Matthew Ballard and Clarendon Town Historian Melissa Ierlan will lead a tour of Hillside Cemetery as part of the Orleans County Heritage Festival. The group will meet at the cemetery chapel and depart at 6:05 p.m.

• September 13th & 14th at 8 p.m. – Murder & Mayhem: Torch-lit Tour of Downtown Albion

Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian, will lead guests on a nighttime tour of downtown Albion. Come hear the stories of the disappearance of William Morgan, Nehemiah Ingersoll’s crafty plan to secure the county seat, the murder of Pierpont Dyer, Albert Warner’s theft of thousands from the First National Bank of Albion, the murder of Alice Wilson, and many more! Guests are encouraged to bring a flashlight, wear comfortable shoes, and pack an umbrella (just in case!).

The tour will meet at 34 E. Park Street in Albion (Central Hall) and will include a stop at the Downtown Browsery for free snacks. Visitors are encouraged to visit restaurants and shops downtown prior to the tour and should bring a flashlight.

All tours are free and open to the public, no advanced registration is required. Tours will take place rain or shine, so bring an umbrella or jacket in case of inclement weather. Additional information about upcoming events and notifications about changes or cancellations can be found on the Department of History’s Facebook page or the Historian’s website, www.orleansny.com/historian.

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East Bank Street was hub of Downtown Albion

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 27 July 2019 at 8:11 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 29

ALBION – Taken sometime around 1935, the focus of this particular photograph is the Allen Grill located at 38 East Bank Street in Albion (now 28 East Bank Street). Owned and operated by Franklin R. Allen, his family operated a hotel on West State Street prior to him opening this business in downtown Albion. Allen was active with numerous local civil and fraternal groups including the Elks Lodge, Knights of Columbus Council #1330, and the American Legion Sheret Post.

Several other businesses are visible in this image, including Austin Meland’s IGA store. Situated in the old Orleans Hotel block, Meland purchased the building in 1929 at a cost of approximately $20,000. Meland was known throughout the area for operating butcher shops in Medina, Albion, and Brockport.

The purchase of this building expanded his interests into the hotel and coffee businesses. To the right of the Allen Grill was the Larkin grocery store operated by Clarence Lewis. Danahy-Faxon purchased the Larkin chain two years after this photograph was taken. On the far right is a sign in the second story window that reads “Cook Signs.” Frank Depczynski operated this business as Dep’s Sign Service until Ray Cook took ownership.

Readers will notice the sandstone pavers lining East Bank Street including the nicely carved sandstone curbing pulled from local quarries. A sign is situated on the sidewalk facing the street, which reads “Park parallel to curb.” Advertisements fill the window of Meland’s IGA displaying the prices of various goods; Red “A” Coffee for 17 cents, 25 cent haddock fillets, 19 cent cans of cut corn, and pot roast for 17 cents per pound.

A large poster advertises a picture contest for kids where winners have the choice of a new bicycle, radio, or $100 cash. Hanging in the window of the Allen Grill is the business’s liquor license and neon signs for Standard and Genesee beers on tap. Aside from the stacks of canned foods in the window of the Larkin store, a Bell telephone sign lets the occasional passerby that a public telephone is available inside.

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Wesendorf Hotel served Fancher community in early 1900s

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 20 July 2019 at 8:12 am

Owner found not guilty at trial in 1913 after being accused of selling beer in ‘dry town’

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 28

FANCHER – This photograph shows the Wesendorf House that operated at Fancher. Although this photograph is not labeled, it is presumed that the image was taken in the early 1900s and one of the men standing on the porch is the proprietor, John Wesendorf, Jr.

It appears these men have stepped outside from the establishment to pose for this photo as a young boy stands with the holding what appears to be a milk can. The building functioned as a saloon and hotel for a number of years in the early half of the 19th century.

John Lewis Wesendorf, a native of Germany, immigrated to Hamlin, New York with his family in the early 1870s. The Wesendorfs were part of the large settlement of Germans at that location, many whom arrived between 1865 and 1880.

At some point in the late 1880s, the Wesendorfs relocated to the Town of Murray where John Wesendorf, Sr. took up farming. As indicated by his petition for naturalization in 1891 and confirmed by the 1892 New York Census, John Wesendorf, Jr. was employed as a stone dresser by a local quarry. The petition, filed on March 12, 1891, includes signatures from Thomas Tuite, a fellow quarry laborer, and Thomas F. Reed, the owner of a quarry at Hulberton.

The exact date Wesendorf purchased this structure is unknown, but by 1905 John Wesendorf, Jr. appears on the New York Census for that year as the proprietor of this hotel located on Fancher Road. At the time this photograph was taken, Route 31 did not contain the bend in the road now known as the “Fancher Curve.”

This hotel was situated on a parcel of land situated on the southwest corner of the Million Dollar Highway and Fancher Road, the two roads forming a right-angle intersection which still exists today. In 1926, William Gallagher of Medina was contracted to add the bend and remove the right-angle intersection. As a result, this building was relocated to the east side of the road where it remains today.

Living nearby was Deputy Sheriff Walter Tice, who in 1913 accused Wesendorf of selling he and several other customers bottles of beer. The accusation came during a time when Murray was considered a “dry town” and Wesendorf was charged with an excise law violation. Tice testified that he, John Howell, George Owens, and Roscoe Minckley purchased two bottles of beer each from Wesendorf.

The defense showed that the barroom was closed and locked on the day Tice claimed he purchased the alcohol and asserted that Wesendorf was being framed. During a cross-examination, Tice admitted that a local temperance organization offered a $50 reward for evidence leading to the conviction of excise law violations. The final nail in the coffin came when District Attorney John Knickerbocker recalled Tice to the stand, believing that Tice incorrectly stated the date in which he purchased the booze. Tice doubled down, upholding his previous testimony that he was sold the beer on July 3rd; Owens and Minckley both swore that neither were with Tice on that day. The jury deliberated for one-half hour before delivering a verdict of not guilty.

Wesendorf died January 14, 1929 and was buried at Mount Albion Cemetery. Following his death, the building closed until 1940 when Michael and Ruth Fiorito purchased the building, repaired it, and reopened it as “Hotel Fancher.”

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Lyndonville’s Vosler received Medal of Honor for courage in World War II

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 13 July 2019 at 8:39 am

Pictured include from left, in front: SSgt. William Simpkins, Jr., Sgt. George Buske, Sgt. Stanley Moody, TSgt. Forrest Vosler, Sgt. Ralph Burkart, and Sgt. Edward Ruppel. Back row: Capt. Merle Hungerford, 2Lt. Walter Ames, 2Lt. John Henderson, 2Lt. Woodrow Monkres, and 2Lt. Warren Wiggins.

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 27

LYNDONVILLE – Until David Bellavia received his Medal of Honor on June 25, 2019, John Butts was the most recent recipient of the prestigious honor. However, Forrest Lee Vosler was the last Orleans County native to receive the medal while still living.

Born on July 29, 1923 at Lyndonville to William and Lottie Vosler, Forrest graduated from Livonia High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army at Rochester on October 8, 1942. Following basic training at Atlantic City, he received training as a radio operator at Scott Field, Illinois and later completed gunnery training at Harlingen, Texas. He received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant in May of 1943 and was again promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant in October of 1943 as his unit prepared for deployment overseas.

Vosler was assigned as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed the “Jersey Bounce Jr.” with the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group stationed out of England. On Dec. 20, 1943, the Jersey Bounce Jr. departed RAF Molesworth as part of its 28th combat mission; the flight was Vosler’s fourth combat mission. Capt. Merle Hungerford of El Paso, Texas was at the controls and Clarendon native George Buske manned the tailgun as nearly 500 bombers departed England for Bremen, Germany.

Dr. Ivan Brown, a physician who treated wounded aviators with the 8th Air Force, authored an account of the Jersey Bounce Jr.’s Dec. 20 combat mission. “At 26,000 feet, the assigned bombing altitude, the air temperature was below -50 F. Heavy condensation trails left by the bomber engines spread like white clouds in which large numbers of German fighter planes could hide to launch their attacks unseen.” The flyers were unprepared for the heavy anti-aircraft fire that targeted their planes with deadly precision.

Brown continued, “Suddenly, an anti-aircraft shell burst knocked out the Jersey Bounce’s No. 1 engine. Moments later, just after the bombardier called out “bombs away,” another shell knocked out the No. 4 engine, leaving its propeller, which could not be feathered, windmilling out of control.” The plane quickly fell out of formation as it lost altitude with only two engines intact. The nose, waist, and tailgunners maintained defensive fire against the onslaught of enemy fighters, which riddled the fuselage with machine gun bullets and exploding 20-mm shells. One of these exploding shells struck Vosler in the legs and feet while Buske suffered a bullet wound to the abdomen before an exploding shell struck him in the chest.

Propelled backwards, Buske was knocked unconscious as Vosler quickly maneuvered himself into the tailgun. Another 20-mm shell hit the aircraft, sending shrapnel into Vosler’s chest, face, and eyes. He continued to deliver defensive fire upon German aircraft until the attacks subsided. Nearly out of fuel and losing altitude quickly, the crew jettisoned every piece of equipment to lighten the plane.

Vosler, severely wounded and floating in and out of consciousness, begged the crew to throw him out of the plane to reduce weight. As the aircraft plunged into the frigid waters of the North Sea, Vosler crawled out of the aircraft onto a wing as other crewmembers pulled Buske out of the craft. Realizing that the unconscious Buske would slip into the cold water, Vosler grabbed him by the waist and held him in place until inflatable dinghies were ready for use.

A passing Norwegian trawler quickly picked up the crew and transferred them to a British rescue vessel. Brown wrote, “Vosler was sent to a Northampton Hospital and later to the States for a long hospitalization. One of his eyes had to be removed, and the other required extensive surgery but partial sight was restored.”

As for Buske, “There was a large…wound of his right anterior chest, which exposed his right lung and continue through a disrupted diaphragm as a single gaping wound into the right upper abdomen.” He suffered a fractured liver, shell fragments scattered throughout his chest, abdomen, and legs, and bullets lodged in his back. In 1952, Buske had a surgical procedure to remove shell fragments from his abdomen and a coronary bypass procedure in 1988, which included the removal of a shell fragment found near his heart.

Vosler received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin Roosevelt on September 6, 1944, “For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crewmember, were outstanding.”

After the war, Vosler enrolled at Syracuse University where he struggled to earn a degree. Unable to complete his studies due to the eye injuries he sustained during the war, he was posthumously awarded a Liberal Arts degree from Syracuse as part of the Class of 2015. He died in Florida on February 17, 1992, and is buried in Section 60, Grave 4924 at Arlington National Cemetery.

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John Butts, Medal of Honor recipient from Medina, ‘performed magnificently’ while leading soldiers in World War II

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 6 July 2019 at 8:07 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 26

John Butts

MEDINA – Of the five Medal of Honor recipients from Orleans County, John E. Butts of Medina was the only county native who received the award posthumously for his heroic actions near Cape La Hague, France.

The son of Jerry and Anna Hogan Butts, John was born August 4, 1922 at Medina. As a young man, he attended the St. Mary’s parochial school, joined Boy Scout Troop 25, and played right guard for the Medina High School football team before enlisting with the New York National Guard on Oct. 12, 1939.

When Company F of the 108th Infantry was federalized, Butts was 17 years old and lied about his age in order to join. He was sent to Hawaii in the months following the attack at Pearl Harbor and later returned to the mainland in November of 1942 to enroll in the Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Butts graduated from the school, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at the age of 19; he was believed to be the youngest commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Ground Forces at that time.

His service overseas began in North Africa with the invasion of French Morocco as part of Operation Torch, where the 60th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion encountered heavy resistance from German forces at an ancient fortress called “the Kasba.” The 9th Infantry Division earned its first Presidential Unit Citation during the Battle of Sedjenane when the unit repulsed a four-pronged attack from two German infantry battalions. Butts was then sent to participate in the invasion of Sicily, landing at Palermo on August 5, 1943 and remaining on the ground there until November of 1943.

After seven months of training at Winchester, England in preparation for the Allied invasion of mainland Europe, the 60th Infantry Regiment landed at Utah Beach just five days after the D-Day landing. Butts was placed in command of four squads in Easy Company of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Division charged with driving towards St. Colombe, France. On June 12, 1944, 2nd Battalion progressed so quickly towards their objective that the remainder of 9th Division thought the 60th Infantry was lost. In fact, 2nd Battalion had pushed forward through heavy German resistance and established a bridgehead at the Douve River. Butts was wounded twice, first near Orglandes on June 14th and then at the Douve River just two days later; he refused medical treatment on both occasions in order to remain with his men.

On June 23, 1944, the 60th Infantry led the 9th Division’s advance from the Cotentin Peninsula as part of the breakout from St. Lo. While moving towards Flottemanville-Hague, Butts and his men encountered a German stronghold atop a hill, well defended with tanks, machine guns, and mortars. Butts was struck in the stomach by machine gun fire while progressing towards the objective. Pulling himself into the shelter of a nearby hedgerow, he planned a flanking maneuver with his Sergeants.

One squad was to progress up the left flank, another up the right flank, and the third was to remain in reserve. Holding one hand over his midsection and the other grasping his carbine, Butts charged the hill alone. The might of the entire German stronghold fell upon him directly, Butts falling approximately 10 yards from his objective. The distraction allowed the two flanking squads to outmaneuver the Germans while the third squad hit the hill head-on.

Awarded on July 19, 1945 by President Harry Truman, John Butts’ Medal of Honor citation references the two painful wounds he received in the days leading up to the deadly assault on June 23, 1944. His citation concluded by stating, “By his superb courage, unflinching valor and inspiring actions, 2d Lt. Butts enabled his platoon to take a formidable strong point and contributed greatly to the success of his battalion’s mission.” His brother, Charles, who visited John’s body wrote home to their parents, “John’s life reached a glorious end. It terminated exactly as John hoped it would – while performing magnificently in the face of the enemy…in an effort to relieve pressure on his men and buddies.”

The body of John Butts was interred at the U.S. Cemetery at Ste-Mere-Eglise on June 25, 1944. On April 8, 1948, his body was disinterred and sent home for burial at Medina. His body arrived in Buffalo on July 7, 1948 at the Connecticut Street Armory along with the remains of two other Medal of Honor recipients, Pfc. William Grabiarz and Pfc. Charles DeGlopper. He was buried in the family plot at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Medina.

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Shelby native received Medal of Honor for service in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 29 June 2019 at 8:12 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 25

The gravesite of Thomas W. Kates at Flushing Cemetery – Courtesy of Harvey Abbott (FindAGrave).

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, nearly 3,500 soldiers have received the Medal of Honor since its inception in 1862. Of those medals awarded, nearly half served with the Union Army during the Civil War.

Between the conclusion of the American Civil War and World War One, 765 men received the medal, the largest number serving during the Indian Campaigns (426) and the smallest number serving in the Dominican Campaign (3) during the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. Of those 756 medals, 33 were awarded to Marines serving during the Boxer Rebellion, a nearly two-year uprising led by the Yihetuan (or Boxers) against foreign imperialists in China. Thomas Wilbur Kates, a native of Orleans County, was one of those men who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during this uprising.

Born on May 7, 1865 at Shelby, Thomas was the son of English immigrants Charles and Mariah Caple Kates. Charles worked as a currier (tanner) at LeRoy in the 1850s and later relocated his family to Orleans County before the birth of their youngest son, Thomas. The family remained in the area for a short period of time before relocating to Buffalo sometime before 1870. At that time, the family was enumerated in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census in Buffalo’s Third Ward with his parents, his brothers Charles and Walter, and sister Lottie. Tom Taber’s “The Orleans Battery: A History of the 17th New York Light Artillery in the War of Rebellion” confirms that the elder Charles Kates enlisted with the Orleans Battery on August 22, 1862, at Medina, New York; he was 38 years old.

On July 21, 1899, Thomas Kates accepted enlistment with the U.S. Marine Corps at New York City. Nearly six feet tall with blue eyes, brown hair, and ruddy complexion, Pvt. Kates was stationed in the Philippine Islands from September 15, 1899 to June 17, 1900 for the initial part of his enlistment. As the result of the United States’ Open Door Policy in China combined with the ongoing influence of Christian missionaries in the region, the Boxers began to resist against imperialist and foreign influences, culminating in Empress Dowager Cixi’s declaration of war against all foreign influences.

Thomas Kates and other Marines were dispatched to China on June 18, 1900, where they remained through October 10, 1900. According to his citation, Kates was awarded the Medal of Honor “…for extraordinary heroism while serving with the 1st Regiment (Marines), in action in the presence of the enemy during the advance on Tientsin, China, 21 June 1900. Private Kates distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.”

With a little digging, more information about Kates’ meritorious conduct came to light. The Boxers believed that they were invulnerable to foreign weapons and laid siege to the “Legation Quarter” where United States, British, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian troops were stationed at Tientsin (Tianjin). The location became a refuge for foreigners and Chinese Christians amidst the threat of violence. As legation forces defended the compound with small arms fire, three machine guns, and one muzzle-loaded cannon, a contingent of U.S. Marines under the command of Major Littleton Waller marched toward Tientsin as reinforcements. With eight officers and 132 men, accompanied by 400 Russians, the group marched unopposed until 7 o’clock in the morning when the unit was hit with small arms fire from the flank. U.S. sharpshooters quickly quelled the attack.

Within minutes, 1,500 to 2,000 entrenched Boxers commenced firing from the front and flanks. As fighting continued the Russians retreated and formed a line approximately ½ mile behind the Marines, exposing the men to fire from all sides. As the Russians continued to retreat, the Marines followed suit while suffering the continued onslaught of the Boxers; the entire retreat lasted four hours. By 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the Marines had returned to bivouac having marched a total of 30 miles and suffering thirteen casualties.

Maj. Waller wrote in a letter dated July 6, 1900, that “…of the men I wish to say, while all in the engagements we participated in, behaved in such a manner as to bring forth the highest praise from the foreign officers…Cpl. Thomas W. Kates.” He continued, “…the specifically distinguished of these being Corporal Kates and Privates Campbell and Francis, with the Colt gun.” According to the Report of the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps dated September 29, 1900, these three men remained with Lt. Powell, holding a position with an M1895 Colt-Browning Machine Gun until all but Campbell and Powell were gunned down. They destroyed the gun to prevent it from entering enemy hands before they commenced their retreat. Although it does not show up on his service record, Maj. Waller noted that Kates was slightly wounded, and Pvt. Francis was wounded in the hand. All three were later awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during this advance.

Kates’ record does show that he was present for the Battle of Tientsin on July 13th and 14th of 1900, the Battle of Yangun on August 6, 1900, and the Battle of Peking on August 14th and 15th of 1900. This record indicates that Kates was wounded on July 13, 1900 but makes no mention of the slight wound received on June 21st. The record concludes with Kates’ desertion at New York City on May 19, 1903 after his return from the Philippine Islands in June of 1902. This desertion is likely why no newspaper articles mentioned this important award at the time of his death on May 6, 1931. Kates was buried at Flushing Cemetery in Queens County, New York.

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