Find us on Facebook

local history

Historian shares about Holley native who was nurse in WWI

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 March 2019 at 9:14 am

Photo by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Dee Robinson, a reference librarian at the Hoag Library, was the featured speaker on Tuesday during the monthly Take a Bite Out of History talk at the library.

Robinson focused her lecture on Sara Shaw, a Holley native who was a nurse during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Robinson wrote about Shaw in 2000, when Robinson’s book, Historical Amnesia, was published. That book highlighted local women whose contributions and accomplishments were often overlooked.

Robinson found more information about Shaw after the book was published. Robinson said Shaw was well respected as a nurse. She was born in Holley and graduated from the Bellevue School of Nurses in 1896. Two years later she became a Red Cross nurse.

She was sent to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War.

She worked for the Bellevue Hospital nursing staff from 1909 to 1941, taking a leave of absence during World War I. She was a supervising nurse in Italy, in charge of 37 nurses.

After the war, she returned to Bellevue and worked several years as the head nurse of the tuberculosis division of Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

She died at age 76 on Feb. 5, 1948 in New York City and is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Holley.

Return to top

Hoag Library may sell historic flag from Civil War worth an estimated $20K

Photos by Tom Rivers: This flag for an African-American unit that fought in the Civil War has 35 stars. That’s how many stars were on the flag for two years from 1863 to 1865.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 March 2019 at 8:47 pm

Unknown how flag for regiment of ‘Colored Troops’ came into library’s possession

(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the possible connection with the regiment’s officer from Barre.)

ALBION – For many decades a flag from the Civil War was up in the attic of the Swan Library in Albion, unbeknownst to the community and library staff.

That flag was used by an African-American regiment from New York – the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops.

Betty Sue Miller, director of Hoag Library, holds the American flag for the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops. She believes the flag was put in the frame to help preserve it in the 1950s. The flag was discovered in the attic of the former Swan Library.

“It spent many years in the attic of the Swan Library,” Betty Sue Miller, library director, said about the flag. “There were things there that hadn’t been looked at for years.”

The Hoag Library opened in July 2012. The old library also was mostly cleared out around that time. That building was the library’s home since 1900. When library staff were going through the items in the attic they found the old flag, which was in a frame.

The flag was moved to Hoag and put in a room with other community relics, mostly old books of local interest and history. There is a photograph by Matthew Brady, the famed Civil War photographer, and some other interesting local items, including signs from the Orleans County 4-H Fair.

Some library users knew about the flag and suggested that it be displayed or sold to someone who would appreciate it, perhaps a museum about African-American history.

The library reached out to Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas. The company estimated the flag is worth $20,000. Heritage wants to handle a sale for the flag and would promote it as a signature piece for an upcoming auction about Americana, Miller said. Heritage agreed to sell the flag for a 5 percent commission, well below its normal rate.

The library’s board of trustees are expected to vote on the issue at its 7 p.m. meeting on March 13. Miller said the board is inclined to sell the flag because there isn’t a positive connection to the county. Hoag Library also isn’t a museum and preserving and displaying the flag isn’t part of the library mission, Miller said.

The impeachment parchment, given as a gift by a former governor

Photo by Bruce Landis (Photos by Bruce) – As governor of Georgia, Albion native Rufus Bullock was presented this list, showing the original signatures of members of Congress who voted to impeach Andrew Johnson on Feb. 24, 1968. Bullock donated the 17-inch-by-23-inch notice, written on parchment, to Swan Library in 1903, four years before he died.

The library has wrestled with a similar issue before. It was a decade ago when the former Swan Library considered selling a document from the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.

Rufus Bullock, a former Albion resident, was governor of Georgia when Johnson was impeached. Johnson as governor was given an impeachment notice signed by the 126 members of House of Representatives who voted Feb. 24, 1868, to impeach Johnson for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Forty-seven House members opposed the ousting.

Bullock moved back to Albion in his later years and gave the impeachment notice to Swan Library in 1903. The library had only been open for three years at that point. Bullock died at age 73 on April 27, 1907, and is buried near the tower at Mount Albion Cemetery.

For a century that document sat in the attic at Swan Library. Librarians were aware of that piece of history and kept it safe.

But when the community was looking to build a library, Swan leaders thought the impeachment notice might fetch a big dollar and could help get the new building built. Some speculated the document might be worth a million dollars or more.

Library leaders at the time sent a photo of the impeachment parchment and a description to Sotheby’s, the famous international auction house. Its assessment of the document: about $15,000 to $25,000 – a nice sum but library leaders decided it wasn’t a difference maker for the library.

Miller, speaking today, also said that document had a known community connection, given by a native son who loved the new library, the first in the Albion community. That’s why the library decided to keep it.

The Bullock gift occasionally comes out of storage for a display or as part of a historical discussion.

No certain provenance for flag

With antiques, the story behind the items – their provenance – is very important. There is a lot of missing information with the Civil War flag, including critical facts such as who gave it to the library and why.

Miller supports selling the flag and using the proceeds to benefit local history efforts at the Hoag. She would like to see old newspapers from the community be scanned and entered into an on-line database, for one project.

Some facts are known about the United States Colored Troops. There were three regiments of black troops from New York – 4,125 soldiers altogether – that served in the Civil War.

The Union had 178,895 soldiers in the Colored Troops from about 175 regiments during the last two years of the war. Their service bolstered the Union war effort at a critical time.

Miller believes the flag should be treasured and she wants to see it go to a place where it would be prominently displayed, diligently preserved and deeply appreciated.

Historian: Barre man led the regiment and likely brought flag back to the Albion community

The county historian believes the flag likely was in possession of a Barre man, who was a commissioned officer with the 26th USCT.

Charles H. Mattison of Barre was a 1st Lt. and adjutant for the regiment. He enlisted with the 151st NY Infantry to start, but turned down a commission with the 151st and then took a commission in 1864 with the 26th USCT, said Matt Ballard, the county historian.

Those regiments were led by officers who were white.

“It would make sense that a commissioned officer and adjutant would have a regimental flag,” Ballard said.

Mattison is buried at Mt. Albion and his wife died in 1910. Ballard thinks Mattison likely had the flag and his wife left it to the library, which was becoming “a defacto repository for local historical artifacts.”

Return to top

Pullman’s reputation was tarnished due to tough conditions for his workers

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 2 March 2019 at 7:54 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 9

“The Condition of the Laboring Man at Pullman” – Political Cartoon, circa 1894.

March 3rd marks the 188th birthday of George Mortimer Pullman, born in 1831 to James Lewis and Emily Caroline Minton Pullman. In 1845, George had reached the age of 14 and received a sufficient level of education in the common schools to enter the workforce. It was around this time that James Pullman brought his family to Albion, “where he became widely known as a useful and upright citizen,” according to W. B. Cook.

The untimely death of James in 1853 forced George to care for his mother and younger siblings. Working as a cabinetmaker, Pullman was best known locally for building furniture in a business that would eventually transition through the hands of George Ough, to the partnership of Reynolds & Flintham, to J. B. Merrill, and eventually transition to the business formerly known as Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Home.

It was during an 1853 construction project along the Erie Canal that Pullman developed a reputation for himself as a master contractor. Using a tool developed by his father, Pullman was able to move several large buildings to make way for the widening of the canal prism. Two years later he and Charles H. Moore traveled to Chicago where they performed similar work, raising buildings to prevent flooding.

In the late 1850s, Pullman entered into a partnership with Ben Field, who became one of the primary financiers of the sleeper car experiment. Field would eventually sell out his interests to Pullman in order to pursue politics and, of course, the latter “made out like a bandit.”

The story of George Pullman is often romanticized, telling the story of a great inventor with a brilliant mind for business. Instead, we should view Pullman’s career in a critical light. One defined by the treatment of his employees.

This political cartoon, entitled “The Condition of the Laboring Man at Pullman,” provides insight into the public’s perception of Pullman. In this cartoon, an employee is pressed between the weights of high rent and low wages; the upper press reads, “Capitalism, Monopoly, Plutocracy, Wage Slavery.” A hefty George Pullman is operating the t-screw on the press, his weight indicative of an exorbitant lifestyle fueled by wealth and greed.

In 1880, Pullman purchased 4,000 acres of land at Lake Calumet and employed Solon Spencer Beman to design a factory for manufacturing sleeper cars. It was Pullman’s idea to construct a company town for his employees, equipped with housing, stores, churches, and entertainment venues. The utopian-like community was void of vices that Pullman perceived to damage society, including saloons, in an effort to increase worker loyalty.

Unfortunately for Pullman’s employees, he ruled like an autocrat, prohibiting the publication of independent newspapers, town meetings, and open discussion. He was known to inspect the homes of workers for cleanliness, terminating leases on 10-days’ notice if conditions did not match his standards. Richard Ely, in an 1885 edition of Harper’s Weekly, wrote “The power of [Otto von] Bismarck in Germany is utterly insignificant when compared with the power of the ruling authority of the Pullman Palace Car Company…”

Ely later wrote, “It should be constantly borne in mind that all investments and outlays in Pullman are intended to yield financial returns satisfactory from a purely business point of view.” This was validated during the Panic of 1893 when Pullman cut wages in the face of decreasing demand for sleeper cars. His failure to adjust rent accordingly led to one of the largest strikes in the history of the United States.

Joining with the American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, Pullman workers refused to work, blocked rail tracks, and threatened strike breakers. A spike in national attention led to an injunction ordering the strikers back to work, which Debs ignored. As a result, President Grover Cleveland dispatched 12,000 federal troops to end the strike leading to the deaths of 30 workers. Pullman’s reputation was tarnished as a result and his company town labeled “un-American.” Public opinion supported the use of federal troops to end the strike while the national media labeled strikers as foreigners and anarchists.

Pullman suffered a heart attack in 1897. His family was paranoid that railroad laborers would desecrate his body and went to extreme lengths to protect his final resting place. Placed in a lead-lined coffin, he was sealed in a block of concrete and then lowered into the ground. The grave was then covered with asphalt and tar paper, covered with a layer of concrete, surrounded by steel rails, and once again covered with concrete; the entire process took two days.

Return to top

Medina native was member of famed 54th Massachusetts

The Battle of Olustee, Chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 16 February 2019 at 8:14 am

Soldier endured gruesome conditions at Andersonville, POW camp

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 7

Isaac Hawkins represents a significant tale in the progression of the involvement of black soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War. The son of Richard and Caroline Hawkins, Isaac was born at Medina in 1843. As indicated by early census records, Richard was a grocer who was enumerated immediately before John Ryan, the pioneer stone mason who opened the first commercial sandstone quarry in Medina.

An 1842 deed shows that Hawkins purchased a parcel of land from David Evans for the sum of $200 at the point where West Street crossed over the Erie Canal (lot 41). This lot would have sat near the current intersection of Glenwood and Ryan streets.

It is likely that Isaac was born on this site, working for his father as a young man before the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1863, the 20-year-old Hawkins enlisted at Medina and was placed with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the unit once under the command of Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was killed at Ft. Wagner on July 18, 1863, months before Hawkins enlisted with the Union Army. However, Isaac was with the regiment for approximately two months when the unit engaged Confederate troops in Baker County, Florida at the Battle of Olustee on February 20, 1864 (the only major battle fought in Florida).

Isaac survived the battle, which claimed the lives of over 200 Union troops, but was captured and sent to Andersonville as a prisoner. The camp became infamous for its poor and inhumane treatment of white prisoners, who were given bread made from ground corn cobs, maggot-filled meat, and rotten vegetables. Blankets were scarce, tents were often non-existent, and men were forced to defecate in areas that contaminated drinking water.

One can imagine that the treatment of African American prisoners was far worse. In his pension documents, Hawkins noted that he received 250 lashes for forging a pass; he was stripped naked, forced to lie across a log, and whipped from head to foot. He was shackled and returned to work in the graveyard, where he was threatened with similar treatment if he stopped working for even a few moments. Following the war, this particular event was referenced by two witnesses in the trial of Henry Wirz. This testimony and the testimony of other prisoners resulted in Wirz’s sentence to death by hanging.

In addition to the whipping he received while at Andersonville, it was recorded that he had suffered a sabre wound to his arm and a gunshot wound to his arm and foot; the latter injury mangled his foot and required the use of a cane for the remainder of his life. His brother, Charles R. Hawkins, also enlisted in the Union Army in November of 1864 at the age of sixteen and removed to New Jersey following the war where he worked as a barber. His brother Walter relocated to Pennsylvania and worked the same profession. As for Isaac, he later removed to Washington, D.C. where he died on August 25, 1902; he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Return to top

Participants sought for 4th annual Heritage Festival

Photos by Tom Rivers: The 2017 Heritage Festival included commemorative buttons with the themes of the Erie Canal, the military, cobblestone & sandstone, and “Legends and Lore, Spirits and Supernatural.” There won’t be buttons this year, but organizers are hoping for more events and participation from the community.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 February 2019 at 2:55 pm

The Orleans County Heritage Festival will return on Sept. 6-15 with some changes.

The festival in its first three years was led by Genesee Community College. GCC won’t be leading the charge this time, but may be involved with an event.

It’s still early in the planning process. Organizers welcome participation from the community, including churches, businesses, civic organization and residents who would be willing to host a tour or historical display. A business or organization celebrating a milestone anniversary this year might want to showcase its facility, said Doug Farley, director of the Cobblestone Museum. He is one of the coordinators of the Heritage Festival along with Erin Anheier of the Clarendon Historical Society, Dawn Borchet and Lynne Menz of the Orleans County Tourism Department, and Matt Ballard of the Orleans County Municipal Historians Association.

“This is a chance for the entire to work together on a history-related project,” Farley said. “We see the value of the heritage Festival. It’s something we shouldn’t give up on.

GCC hosted a Civil War Encampment in Medina for three years before hosting some of the events for the Orleans County Heritage Festival. This photo shows re-enactors mounting a charge during a mock battle in April 2015 outside the Medina campus center. Some re-enactors returned for the Heritage Festival in 2016.

Farley said the county has many historic sites and heritage-minded residents and organizations, as well as other interesting sites.

He and the organizers want to feature an activity at least daily during the 10-day festival.

“We are hoping that the festival will be a way to highlight many individual events under one banner,” he said.

Businesses, organizations and churches could participate simply by creating a display in their foyer, offering a tour of their facilities, or hosting an organ or historic instrument demonstration. Historian are welcome to put together an exhibit in their town hall.

People and organizations interested in participating can send information to Farley at He would like a brief description of the event by March 1.

This year’s event won’t include printed brochures, commemorative buttons, and a big kickoff celebration.

“Our goal is to keep it simple and attract as many willing participants as we can from Orleans County,” Farley said. “Really, the possibility is endless.”

There is no fee to submit an event, and each organization is completely in charge of their own event.

“We ask that they work together with us to try to fill up the festival with different events throughout the period,” Farley said.

Return to top

Many doors closed to abolitionist who toured Orleans County in 1849 with anti-slavery message

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 9 February 2019 at 9:04 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 4

Frederick Douglass

As we celebrate Black History Month in February, I was researching local African American families in Orleans County and attempting to assemble an understanding of this particular topic in local history. Without a doubt, it is an area that requires deeper research and is indicative of larger gaps in our understanding of how history was traditionally recorded; ideas of power and disparity. I thought it pertinent to recall some early pieces of abolitionist history in our area.

In 2015, the Orleans Renaissance Group erected a historic marker in Medina to commemorate the site of an address delivered by Frederick Douglass entitled “We Are Not Yet Quite Free,” on August 3, 1869. As the marker notes, a large crowd traveled from across New York to hear the renowned abolitionist speak; the engagement was focused on celebrating the 30th anniversary of emancipation in the British West Indies.

This particular event was not the first time that Douglass spoke in Orleans County. Four years earlier on October 2, 1865, Douglass spoke at Bent’s Hall on the subject of Lincoln’s assassination and its lessons. As Douglass so eloquently spoke, “Some of our friends seem to think our emancipation complete and our claims upon them at an end. A greater mistake could hardly be made. The colored people of the United States are still the victims of special and peculiar hardships, abuses and oppressions, and we still need time, labor and favorable events to work out our perfect deliverance.”

Combing through issues of The North Star, published by Douglass in Rochester, we find that men and women traveled throughout the area lecturing on the antislavery cause. John S. Jacobs, the brother of abolitionist lecturer, reformer, and escaped slave Harriet Jacobs, visited Orleans County in March and April of 1849. Upon the completion of his lecture circuit, he addressed a lengthy letter to Frederick Douglass which appeared in The North Star on April 20, 1849. The words expressed by Jacobs reflect poorly on our area’s willingness to lend an ear to the abolitionist cause.

On March 19, 1849, Jacobs arrived at Clarendon and spoke to a small audience at the Universalist Church, followed by a visit the next day at “Southbarr,” or South Barre as we would call it. While attending a religious meeting held in the local school house, Jacobs asked the Rev. Albert H. Gaston of the Presbyterian Church if he could speak to the congregation at Barre Center. Gaston noted that a revival was taking place and that the “introduction of the subject of Slavery, Peace, Temperance, or anything calculated to draw off their minds from the importance of getting religion,” was unacceptable. Jacobs notes that a man referred to as Mr. O. T. Burns agreed with Gaston, stating that he “knew that we (abolitionists) said some hard things of slaveholders that they did not deserve; he said they were kind and hospitable.”

Trips to Pine Hill, Oakfield, and Barre followed before a visit to Albion on March 24th. Jacobs notes that no effort was made to arrange a meeting and that the Court House was “the only public building that is not barred against the cause of the oppressed,” a building which was “newly painted.” A deacon in the Presbyterian Church attempted to arrange for use of the building for a lecture, but the Rev. William McHarg objected. The deacon in turn referred Jacobs to Eagle Harbor where he “would find friends and an antislavery church.” He spoke to a small group that had assembled for morning worship – muddy streets made it impossible to travel by foot.

This trip was followed by a stop at West Gaines and then Johnson’s Creek, where Jacobs was required to pay fifty cents to the local church for the privilege of opening the building for a lecture. Other lectures followed at Ridgeway Corners, Lyndonville, and Medina, the latter having a large gathering of pro-Zachary Taylor Whigs, much to the chagrin of the visitor. After attempts to gather a crowd at Gaines and Albion, he returned to the Methodist Church at Eagle Harbor on April 7th where he spoke to a large, disorderly crowd made up of canal boatmen “whose highest idea of manliness seemed to be disturbance.” His final stop at Holley on the 8th of April was met by a Presbyterian minister who kindly waived an evening meeting so that Jacobs would have the benefit of a full house.

He concluded the letter by writing, “At no time during my laboring in the cause as a lecturer, have I found so few friends, as on the present occasion. In some of these towns, it has been more than a year since the slaves of this land have had anyone to tell of their wrongs.”

Over the coming years, multiple visits by William J. Watkins, Charles Lenox Remond, and Frederick Douglass to communities throughout Orleans County gave rise to changing mentalities on the disease of slavery.

Return to top

This week’s bad weather no match for the Blizzard of ’77

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 2 February 2019 at 7:23 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 5

This photograph, taken by Peter Fleckenstein, shows a Hough 100 Loader removing snow on East Shelby Road on February 3, 1977. Fleckenstein was a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for clearing a large portion of roads in Orleans County after the blizzard.

A couple feet of snow, sub-zero temperatures, and 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts makes for an unbearable week of Western New York weather. Although for many long-time residents of Orleans County, these winter storms are dwarfed by the fierce Blizzard of ’77.

Growing up in Western New York, the “Great Blizzard” as I will call it, is the stuff of legend. Over eight feet of snow accumulation in some areas, peak wind gusts topping out at 69 miles per hour, and snow drifts reaching 30 or 40 feet in height; it is likely that no winter storm will ever challenge the Blizzard of ’77.

The brutal winter weather system hit Western New York on the morning of January 28th and continued into Tuesday, February 1st. Frigid temps reaching -70 degrees Fahrenheit and excessive winds packed snow so tightly that road travel was impossible. Drivers found themselves stranded in cars along the road, snowdrifts blocked some families from leaving their homes, and others remained snowed in at work.

The best stories about the Blizzard of ’77 are told by those that lived through it. Those events still exist within recent memory and without question, each person who lived in Orleans County during that terrible storm has a story to share. In 1997, the Medina Journal-Register printed some of those stories:

Don White, Orleans County Sheriff, recalled camping out in his office during the storm while deputies worked overtime to respond to the hundreds of phone calls from residents asking for help. “The ones that were in, were in. The ones that were out, were out,” he said, referring to those deputies who could were unable to travel to work. Some men accumulated over 100 hours of overtime over the course of five days.

Dennis Drought recalled returning to Albion with his wife along Rt. 31 when the road visibility dropped to zero. “We got as far as Dr. Glidden’s home which was just west of Mount Albion Cemetery on the south side of the road…we were the first of what ended up being about 86 people to seek shelter in the Glidden home.” He went on to write, “I got our toboggan out and went to several of our neighbors getting lists of what they needed from the store. I then went to what was then Super Duper…for supplies. Dick Pilon saw what I was doing and told me I could get all I needed for the people and if I needed credit to open an account. I ended up with a bill of about $500 which most of the neighbors helped pay.”

Glenn Hill wrote about his trip to pick up a load of hay north of Rt. 18 before the storm started. “Returning home the sun disappeared and the sky was becoming black…As I approached the canal bridge on Bates Road things started to tear loose. The wind picked up to a gale force and the truck started to rock. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and at one time I could feel the truck being lifted.” Delivering the load to his barn, he “decided that anyone who would get a load of baled hay in a blizzard had to have been ‘a brick short of a load’ or been left out in the sun too long.”

In one final story, Dorinne Prest recalled her efforts to get home from her shift at Lipton’s in Albion. “…At our two o’clock break the weather was awful. You couldn’t even see across the street…I called home and told my husband Ken I might not make it home. He said not to worry that he would come and get me.” Her husband borrowed a neighbor’s snowmobile and trekked to Albion to pick her up.

“We headed out and got as far as the Old Folks Home and our snowmobile quit…My husband said grab the machine and we will toss it up in a snow bank so the plow won’t run it over. Just then two young fellows pulled up and said get in the truck and we will take you back to town. To this day I don’t know who they are but by god they saved our lives.” The couple stayed at Lipton’s overnight and started out the next morning. “We drove over cars and trucks…When we got to Knowlesville Agway we stopped on top of this huge snow pile. It was so high I could have touched the top of the telephone pole…Ken said hold on, we’re going over. When we got to the other side of the pile there were two ten wheelers and a pay loader trying to dig through it.”

Return to top

Albion dentist patented improvement for false teeth

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 26 January 2019 at 8:28 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 4

ALBION – On January 26, 1875, the first electric drill was patented by George Green of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although the device revolutionized dentistry, it fails to negate the fact that so many of us dislike our regular visits to the dentist.

This advertisement, taken from the 1869 Orleans County Directory, shows an advertisement for Doolittle & Straight in Albion. The two dentists, located on the second floor of the Granite Block on the southwest corner of North Main and West Bank streets, operated this business during the 1860s and 1870s.

Horace Doolittle, at the time of his death, was believed to be the oldest practicing dentist in New York State at the age of 86. Born and raised in Malta, New York, Doolittle relocated to Rochester at the age of 18 to study dentistry in the office of Dr. Ansel Morgan for a period of two years.

In 1850, he moved to Albion and opened a practice with Dr. Stanton Briggs and continued that partnership for 14 years before Briggs retired. Continuing his practice alone, Doolittle finally entered into business with Dr. John A. Straight who was clearly just as much interested in patenting new creations as he was with practicing dentistry.

On November 23, 1869, Straight patented a “Plate for Artificial Teeth” which utilized a soft, rubber material to hold false teeth in place. According to the patent, the rubber could be cut and trimmed to create a better fit in the patient’s mouth.  Interestingly enough, an article in a Lowell, Massachusetts newspaper from 1870 called attention to this new method of setting teeth as patented by John A. Straight of Albion. The advertisement, paid for by a dentist in that location, noted that this particular office was given special permission from Dr. Straight to perform dental work using this patented process.

Horace Doolittle and John Straight were pioneers in the dental profession, not only because of their early arrival in Albion, but because the majority of advancements in dentistry occurred in the 1850s and 1860s. This was an era of experimentation, when dentists attempted to use tree resin and molten metal to fill teeth while ultimately settling on gold foil. Early dental offices relied on spittoons for collecting blood and spit from procedures, which were then cleaned by hand. The first receptacle specifically designed for dental use came in 1867 with the “Whitcomb Fountain Spittoon” patent, utilizing a constant stream of running water to assist with sanitation.

In the earliest years of dentistry in the United States, dentists used animal teeth, bones, and occasionally human teeth from cadavers (although rare) to fashion false teeth for patients. The 1850s marked a period of refinement in the creation of dentures, including Straight’s 1869 patent. Of course the most significant development came with the use of anesthesia in dental procedures.

This particular advertisement calls attention to the use of chloroform, ether, and narcotic spray to alleviate tooth pain and aid with extractions. Other advertisements from dentists in the area, including Northrop & Shearer who operated out of the second floor of the Empire Block on the northeast corner of North Main and East Bank streets, mention the use of “Pure Nitrous Oxy’d Gas” to extract teeth without pain. Doolittle & Straight offered several options for patients, including the less-popular sulfuric ether which caused vomiting and left patients feeling nauseated. Other dentists relied on rhigolene spray to freeze the gums to extract teeth and relieve the pain associated with dental abscesses.

After Straight retired from the practice due to illness, he relocated to Hartford, Connecticut and eventually to Chicago, where he died on November 24, 1893. According to his obituary, he invented a type-setting machine that “made him a large fortune.” Doolittle continued his practice until his son, George P. Doolittle, completed school and entered into the family business. Horace Doolittle died October 20, 1915.

Return to top

Historical marker headed to Holley for home on Underground Railroad

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 January 2019 at 11:57 am

HOLLEY – A new historical marker will be erected this spring on South Main Street in Holley at the former home of Chauncey Robinson, who was an abolitionist who opened his home to hide escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

The county, Orleans County Historical Association and two local donors are sharing the cost for the marker at 35 South Main, west of Geddes Street.

Local historians have long suspected there were houses in Orleans County on the Underground Railroad, which was a secret network of trails and homes. But there wasn’t documentation to back it up, until Clarendon Historian Melissa Ierlan found a letter from Robinson’s grandson.

In the lengthy letter, the grandson details visiting his grandfather, who took him up to the second floor of the back side of the house. The grandfather pulled back a curtain, and there was a group of escaped slaves on beds.

“It’s pretty unusual to find descriptions like that,” said Matt Ballard, the county historian and president of the Orleans County Historical Association.

More research showed that Robinson was in fact an outspoken abolitionist,.

The Orleans County Historical Association considered other sites for a marker, but decided on Robinson and his work with the Underground Railroad. Ballard said this will be the second historical marker in Orleans County about African-American history. Medina in April 2015 unveiled a marker on Main Street in recognition of two speeches delivered in the community by Frederick Douglass, a leading abolitionist. Ballard likes how the Holley marker highlights a local resident advocating for escaped slaves.

“This is more a man who lived in the community who was well respected and was participating in the Underground Railroad,” Ballard said today. “There has been a lot of speculation and rumor with the Underground Railroad, but no written documentation.”

Ballard wants to see markers recognize underrepresented groups in the county’s history, and also bring attention to overlooked and unappreciated sites.

The Holley marker will be two-sided with one side highlighting Robinson and the Underground Railroad, and the other side noted the work of Ezra Brainerd, who built Robinson’s home and oversaw construction of the canal embankment over Sandy Creek, “which was a major undertaking,” Ballard said.

The Historical Association is considering other spots for historical markers in the future, including:

• The childhood home of Henry A. Spencer on Chamberlain Street in Albion. Spencer was the first African-American student at University of Rochester, a pall bearer for Frederick Douglass’s funeral, a member of Frederick Douglass Memorial Committee, and secretary for the NYS Assembly.

• Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church on Brown Street in Albion, the first Polish rural mission church outside of Buffalo, and center of Albion’s Polonia.

• George Pullman’s home on East State Street in the Village of Albion

• Silas Mainville Burroughs’ home at State Street Park in Medina. S.M. Burroughs Sr. was a NYS Assemblyman and a congressman. S.M. Burroughs Jr. was founder of Burroughs Wellcome & Co., now GlaxoSmithKline.

• Carlyon Calamity in the Town of Carlton on Yates-Carlton Townline, This is the site of a railroad accident on R.W.&O. Railroad, causing deaths of 17 passengers.

• Stangeland property on Norway Road in Kendall, the site of Andreas Stangeland home. Stangeland traveled with Cleng Peerson in 1824 to select land for Sloopers, and remained with Norwegians as Peerson traveled westward.

• Bidelman’s Tannery on Ridge Road near Rt. 279 in Gaines, which was originally Mather’s Tannery. Masons allegedly stopped at site while transporting the kidnapped William Morgan to Lewiston.

• Brady’s Quarry on Butts Road near the canal in Albion. The site allegedly provided sandstone for the Capitol Building in Albany. (Historians need to confirm location.)

• Sgt. Isaac Hawkins home near Glenwood & Ryan streets in Medina. Hawkins, an African-American, was a member of 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He was captured at Battle of Olustee, a prisoner at Andersonville, and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

• Lake Alice in Carlton, a man-made lake that was constructed by Western New York Utilities Co. in 1917. The company purchased over 50 parcels of property and relocated buildings to create reservoir.

• Wilson Hanging at Courthouse Square in Albion, the site of only public execution in Orleans County.

Ballard welcomes suggestions from the community for other markers. To contact him, send an email to

Return to top

Rochester unveils many statues of Frederick Douglass in honor of his 200th birthday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2019 at 5:30 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ROCHESTER – The City of Rochester last year unveiled 13 statues in honor of Frederick Douglass during the 200th anniversary of his birth.

These photos of one of the Douglass statues were taken on Jan. 8. This is at 300 Alexander St., which is near the site of Douglass’s first home in Rochester at 297 Alexander St.

File photo by Tom Rivers: The original bronze statue at Highland Park was created by Stanley Edwards and is up high on a pedestal.

These statues are very similar to the one at Highland Park in Rochester. That statue, unveiled in 1899, was the first statue erected in the country in honor of an African-American.

Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. He escaped the South at age 21 and moved to Rochester in 1847. He stayed for 25 years.

The human rights advocate was a prominent speaker, editor and author, taking on many causes, including women’s suffrage. (He attended the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, the only African American male present, and delivered a speech that helped sway support for the suffrage resolution.)

“At any rate, seeing that the male government of the world have failed, it can do no harm to try the experiment of a government by man and woman united…” Douglass said then.

The monument at Highland Park includes excerpts from other famous Douglass speeches:

• “The best defense of free American institution is the hearts of the American people themselves.”

• “One with God is a majority.”

• “I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.”

• “Men do not live by bread alone; so with nations, they are not saved by art, but by honesty, not by gilded splendors of wealth but by the hidden treasure of manly virtue, not by the multitudinous gratification of the flesh, but by the celestial guidance of the spirit.”

• “I know of no soil better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil. I know of no country where the conditions for effecting great changes in the settled order of things, for the development of right ideas of liberty and humanity are more favorable than here in these United States.”

The new statues of Douglass were created by Rochester sculptor Olivia Kim. The statues are placed at sites around the city that are significant in Douglass’s life and his work as an abolitionist.

Douglass, as a crusader, made Rochester a focal point of the abolitionist movement. He published the North Star newspaper in Rochester and coordinated Underground Railroad efforts in the area.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most famous Americans during the 19th Century.

Douglass lived in the city until an unexplained fire at his home. He then moved to Washington where he worked for the Garfield and Harrison administrations.

He died in 1895 and Rochester moved to honor him with the bronze statue. It was created by sculptor Stanley Edwards, who used Douglass’s son Charles as a model.

When it was unveiled in 1899 in front of New York Central Train Station, it was the first statue dedicated to a black man. The dedication ceremony for the Douglass memorial was attended by 10,000 people, including Theodore Roosevelt, who was then New York’s governor.

The statue was moved to Highland Park in 1941. Rochester officials didn’t think the spot by the train station at the corner of St. Paul Street and Central Avenue was a fitting location for one of the city’s most respected residents. That site was noisy and grimy.

The new statues were part of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration. The project aimed to better connect Douglass to the community, to bring him down to the ground where more people could interact with the statues.

Kim, the artist who created the new sculptures, softened Douglass’s stern look and tried to present him in a more relaxed pose.

Kim used the hands of Kenneth B. Morris Jr., the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, as a model for the new Douglass statues.

This new Douglass statue is at 300 Alexander St.

You can see new Douglass statues at:

• 25 East Main St., where Douglass published The North Star

• 42 Favor St., the former site of the AME Zion Church which is the original site where Douglass published his newspaper and also a stop on the Underground Railroad

A historical marker was erected last year across from 300 Alexander St., where there is a new Frederick Douglass statue.

• 999 South Ave., the site of the Douglass family farm (now a school)

• 50 Plymouth Avenue North, formerly the Central Presbyterian Church and now Hochstein School of Music and Dance, where mourners gathered for Douglass’s funeral

• The intersection of Central Avenue and St. Paul Street, where the original statue from 1899 was located before moving to Highland Park

• Corinthian Street, where Douglass delivered his renown Fourth of July speech

• 300 Alexander Street, near the site of Douglass’s first home in Rochester at 297 Alexander St.

• Intersection of Alexander Street and Tracy Street, which was the site of the Seward School attended by Douglass’s children.

• Kelsey’s Landing in Maplewood Park – Underground Railroad departure point

• 1133 Mount Hope Ave. at Mt. Hope Cemetery, burial site for Douglass and his family membes

• Washington Square Park which is the site of the Civil War “Soldiers and Sailors” monument

• University of Rochester Rush Rhees Library, which commemorates Douglass’s work in Rochester

• SUNY Rochester Educational Opportunity Center for The College at Brockport on Chestnut Street, which celebrates Douglass’s commitment to education

Medina unveiled a historical marker for Douglass on Main Street in April 2015.

The Orleans Renaissance Group and Village of Medina on April 25, 2015 unveiled a historical marker in honor of Douglass on Main Street, in front of the Knights of Columbus.

The historical marker unveiled today on Main Street in Medina highlights two speeches he gave in Medina.

In 1849, Douglass delivered a speech in Medina at the former Methodist Episcopal Church on Main Street (the current Fuller block, home of Main Street Appliance). He also visited Medina in 1869 and gave a celebratory address for Emancipation entitled “We are not yet quite free.” That event on Aug. 3 was attended by African-Americans from throughout the state.

During the marker’s unveiling on April 25, 2015, Chris Busch, the ORG chairman, addressed the group with these closing comments:

“Let these words here, cast in iron, now and for all time, give us pause to remember our intrepid and beloved countryman, Frederick Douglass, and our forebears who stood with him in the cause of freedom and emancipation, in dark and dangerous times, when few had the courage to do so. Let us with this marker never forget their courage, and solemnly pledge to preserve their legacy for all generations.”

Return to top