local history

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

Posted 3 October 2020 at 9:20 am

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

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

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Society & Museum Director

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

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

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

Horace Greeley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 19 September 2020 at 10:20 am

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

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

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from the collection of Kathy Staines

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

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

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

Photo from the collection of Kathy Staines

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

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

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Historic Childs: Gaines community embraced temperance, fought alcohol consumption

Posted 12 September 2020 at 9:11 am

By Freeman Lattin, Cobblestone Museum intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 5 September 2020 at 8:05 am

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

By Erin Anheier, President, Cobblestone Society

Nellie Vagg

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

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

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

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

Nellie Vagg taught many classes for the Home Bureau.

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

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

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

The white ribbon of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 29 August 2020 at 8:45 am

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

By Erin Anheier, President of Cobblestone Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lockport bronze statues pay tribute to lock tenders

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

Photos by Tom Rivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Historic Childs: John Proctor was instrumental in shaping hamlet

Posted 15 August 2020 at 9:19 am

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

By Freeman Lattin, intern at Cobblestone Museum

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

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

This is the only known photograph of John Proctor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unveiling of painting of grand cobblestone home will kick off museum reopening

Photos by Ginny Kropf: This cobblestone house at 8856 Ridge Rd., Gasport, was restored by Victor Monter and his wife Julie Scanio, who have recently sold it and donated a painting of the home to the Cobblestone Museum at Childs. The historic home was built in 1834-36 as a Quaker meeting house.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 13 July 2020 at 10:45 am

Cobblehurst is a landmark on Ridge Road in Gasport

The Cobblestone Museum’s planned reopening July 15 will be a welcome event, according to Museum director Doug Farley.

In light of the coronavirus, new safety precautions will be observed. Traditional cobblestone tours will still be offered this summer, but by appointment only at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Each tour will be limited to four people from the same household or group. Guests and docents will be required to wear a mask. Reservations and payments should be made in advance on the museum’s website or by phone.

A highlight of the reopening will be the unveiling of a painting of Cobblehurst, a historic cobblestone home at 8856 Ridge Rd. in Gasport. That artwork has been donated by owners Victor Monter and Julie Scanio.

The couple, who have just sold the home, have done a fantastic job of preserving the structure for the benefit of everyone, including future generations, Farley said.

“We are so happy to celebrate their achievement by displaying the painting,” he said.

Farley said Cobblehurst has always been a building that has garnered a lot of interest from folks, and the Cobblestone Society was very pleased when the owners allowed them to include the building on their 2019 Cobblestone Tour of Homes.

Victor Monter and his wife Julie Scanio pose by the massive stone fireplace in the great room of Cobblehurst, a historic cobblestone house on Ridge Road, Gasport.

“Based on attendance reported after the event, Cobblehurst was the most visited site on the nine-building tour,” Farley said.

According to information provided by the current owners, Cobblehurst was originally built in 1834-36 as a Quaker church. The Quakers buried their dead in an adjacent cemetery during this period.

A history of the house, compiled by Darrell Mantei in July 2000, says the Quakers moved to new quarters in Gasport in 1905. The building sat vacant until 1917 until it was purchased by a Mrs. Pratt from Albion in 1917. Mantei writes that Pratt remodeled the house with exquisite taste and much money.

She toured Europe for ideas and brought back the iron fireplace utensils. She had a cellar hand dug under the building, with 5-foot thick walls to support the foundation; added a second story with the construction of six dormers; built a cobblestone wall on the north and west sides of the property; added a pantry room, porches, patio, garage with apartments for servants and a toolshed; all of which remain in good repair today.

Inside, the house was done in Mission style, with the liberal use of oak in the stairway, baseboards, cupboards and built-in drawers and leaded glass wall cases. Pratt appointed the house with several stained glass windows (which the current owners said are Tiffany), the iron fireplace utensils from Scotland and three hanging five-bulb bronze light fixtures from the Roycroft Guild in East Aurora. All remain in good shape and working order today.

Mantei lived in the home with his wife Barbara and raised their children there after purchasing Cobblehurst from the William Webster family in 1967.

Monter and Scanio also provided a column written by former Orleans County historian and longtime director of the Cobblestone Museum C.W. “Bill” Lattin, called “Bethinking of Old Orleans,” in which he writes about Emma Reed Nelson Webster, a one-time owner of Cobblehurst.

Lattin had no recollection or information on the owner identified as “Mrs. Pratt.” However, in a notebook which Monter shared, there is a lengthy, hand-written letter by a man who was hired to help build the house and he speaks about Mrs. Nelson having a nephew in Kenmore named Pratt.

Lattin also shared in his column that Emma Reed Nelson Webster was a philanthropist who endowed the Orleans County community with both physical and financial gifts. Her first husband was Dr. Edwin J. Nelson, a dentist in Utica who also had an interest in a knitting mill. After his death, Emma married Frank D. Webster, a former resident of Barre who later ran a truck farm on Long Island.

It says Emma never forgot her native home or relations and often visited Albion for family reunions. She also purchased and donated the brick home on North Main and Linwood Avenue in Albion for the home of Daughters of the American Revolution. Emma and her husband eventually purchased the former Quaker cobblestone meeting house on Ridge Road and remodeled it into a residence called “Cobbleshurst.” (According to this information, it was the Websters who named the residence Cobblehurst.) Lattin said it was Emma who laid out the elaborate gardens, stone walls and garden pond and built the sun porch on the north side. Owners in the 1950s and 60s added the pool, he said.

As Lattin also wrote that Emma died in 1931, it is reasonable to assume that William Webster, from whom the Manteis  purchased Cobblehurst, was a descendent of Emma and Frank D. Webster. Mantei’s writeup states that after Mrs. Pratt died, the house was used as a bed and breakfast in the 1920s. He said five or six families called Cobblehurst home during the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. He said some raised gladioli, one raised chickens and it was a restaurant briefly. There is no information on the date when the Websters purchased the property.

Monter and Scanio have the guest book from the 1920s when the home was a bed and breakfast. It is full of compliments on the hospitality and the cuisine.

Mantei also wrote that Cobblehurst was the site for the broadcast of a morning breakfast show at one time.

Cobblehurst had again been abandoned and sat empty for seven years when Monter and Scanio purchased it.

The young couple met on a blind date. Scanio grew up in Tonawanda, and Manter in the Southern Tier. He attended Jamestown Community College, and then transferred to Buffalo State and the University of Buffalo to study mechanical engineering. He worked in Buffalo for 15 years, having a very successful career in his profession. Seven years ago, just before he met Scanio, he bought his first house in Lockport – an 1860s home, which he renovated.

Soon after meeting Scanio, Monter bought another property – a large commercial building in Lockport. Scanio had an antique store on the first floor and there were apartments upstairs. By now, Monter had the “bug,” and they purchased several others to renovate and rent.

After the couple married and had their son, Bradley, who is now 4, Monter decided to change his career. He was working as director of business development for a plastics company in Niagara Falls, a position he gave up to become a landlord.

“I was gone all day and getting home late at night,” Monter said. “I never saw my son, so I decided to leave my career.”

Monter said they buy the worst houses and renovate them into buildings which totally amaze people.

“I’m a one-man band,” he said. “I have several who help when I need it, but I do 98 percent of the work myself. Being an engineer, I can also do the blueprints.”

He is currently doing two major renovations in Gasport, one which has been sitting for years and the other an 1850s building with the foundation collapsing and the roof caving in.

They were expecting Bradley when they decided they needed a bigger place.

“I wanted an older house, and Julie was adamant about having a pool,” Monter said.

Cobblehurst fit both their wishes.

“We looked at it, and it was in such bad shape,” Monter said. “It had been empty for eight years and the roof leaked. The hardwood floors in the Great Room were all warped, in some places raised six to eight inches. Plaster was cracked on the walls and hanging from the ceilings.”

This is a view of Cobblehurst from the driveway, showing the front sunporch, which houses a swimming pool.

But the house had an enclosed sun porch on the front with a pool.

They closed on the property July 3 five years ago.

Not only did Monter take up every piece of flooring, sand it and trim it to fit, but replastered all the walls and ceilings, installed new electrical service and converted one of the five bedrooms upstairs into a walk-in closet. Outside they removed five dump truck loads of leaves.

“We got a ton of history with this house,” Monter said of the 5,200 square-foot home.

He explained it was built on a sand bar in a dried up lake bed under the house. The home sits on 2 1/2 acres. If they had stayed there, Monter was planning to clean out and rebuild a pond in the west yard. He said none of the materials used in the house are native to the area. Mrs. Pratt had everything (except the cobblestones) imported from Europe. Cobblehurst was one of the first homes on Ridge Road with electricity and running water, he added.

The last year it was a bed and breakfast, more than 400 people visited from all over the world, he said.

In addition to the giant fireplace in the Great Room, there is another in the master bedroom upstairs.

The couple made the decision over a year ago to live in Gasport five months of the year and set up permanent residence in Florida, where they plan to buy in a retirement community. They put Cobblehurst up for sale, and when there were no prospective buyers, they decided to stay and have a winery there. A small room overlooking the west lawn was converted into a tasting room and they applied for all the necessary permits.

“We had only five days left in our realtor’s contract and we weren’t going to relist it,” Monter said. “The same day I got my permit in the mail, we got an offer on the house.”

They are in the process of moving into an apartment in the building he is renovating in Gasport. They currently own more than a dozen rentals in the Lockport area, and Monter is looking at another “fixer-upper” on Route 31.

Monter said he first talked to Farley several years ago and asked him if he had any history on Cobblehurst. When Farley asked Monter and Scanio if they would participate in the tour of homes, they said, “Let’s do it.”

“We expected a dozen or so people, but two tour buses pulled up in front, followed with cars by the dozens,” Monter said.

The new owners, who will be moving in shortly, are a couple from the United Kingdom, Monter said.

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Happy Independence Day from Gaines!

Posted 4 July 2020 at 8:00 am

By Adrienne Kirby, Gaines Town Historian

The above photograph of an unidentified boy, most likely taken in Gaines, comes from a small photo album that belonged to Virginia Lattin Morrison.

The second image is a photo of Virginia found in that same album. She was a longtime resident of Gaines.

Coincidentally, Virginia was born on July 4, 1906. In 1919, she turned 13. To celebrate her birthday that year, Virginia could have gone to the recently opened ice cream parlor above Mr. Spaulding’s grocery in the rebuilt White’s Hall.

White’s Hall, located on the southwest corner of 104 and 279, was a social hub. Prior to a devastating fire in 1910, it housed a grocery store, post office, grange hall and was the headquarters for town meetings, among other social activities.

She would have been too young to attend the box party that evening with the Swarts Orchestra at the Grange Hall, which had moved across the street in 1915 to what used to be Thurber’s Hotel. Admission to attend the party was $1.00, plus 10 cents war tax.

A box party was essentially a dating game. Women would make a meal for two and put it in a cardboard box they had decorated. Then men would bid on boxes, not knowing what was inside or who the creator was with whom they would share the meal.

Dances and social events like this were common fund raisers for the Grange.

Ballard praised for ‘superb job’ as county historian

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 June 2020 at 1:19 pm

‘He brought out crowds of people. What historian is able to do that?’

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Bill Lattin (left), the retired Orleans County historian, presents a card to Matt Ballard, who followed Lattin as historian and served in the role for more than five years. They are shown Monday evening inside the cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road.

Ballard has resigned as county historian. He is leaving Orleans County in about two weeks to take a position at a college in North Carolina. He will be assistant director of Collection Strategies at Davidson College.

Lattin said Ballard put in tremendous effort in a part-time position, while also finishing up a master’s degree and working full-time at Roberts Wesleyan College in North Chili as director of library services.

Matt Ballard, center, is pictured with members of the Orleans County Historical Association on Monday evening. They are next to a cobblestone schoolhouse that the association took on as a project the past five years. They were able to save the building and will use it for their meetings. Ballard served as the group’s president the past 18 months. He credited Al Capurso for leading the effort to preserve the school. Pictured from left include: Frank Berger, Tina Inzana, Jean Sherwin, Adrienne Kirby, Bill Lattin, Jonathan Doherty, Sue Baker, Rick Ebbs, Sandy Freeman and Betsy Kennedy.

Ballard did an in-depth column each week on local history that was featured in the Orleans Hub and The Daily News in Batavia. He also led many historical tours at cemeteries and a very popular tour of downtown Albion that attracted several hundred people.

“This is a real loss for the community,” Lattin said about Ballard’s resignation and his impending move to North Carolina. “It’s going to be a big loss for local history to see him move away. It’s really a shame. He’s done a superb job.”

Lattin teamed up with Ballard in some of the cemetery tours. Lattin watched Ballard grow in the role, especially in the presentations, sharing details of lives from more than a century ago. Ballard would sometimes dress in period costumes for the tours.

“He had a good spiel for each tour,” Lattin said. “He is a wonderful presenter, and he did as a one-man act. He brought out crowds of people. What historian is able to do that?”

Matt Ballard looks at some of the school desks inside the cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. Those desks were donated by the Cobblestone Museum, which also has a schoolhouse on Ridge Road.

Bill Lattin served as historian for 35 years before being succeeded by Ballard in February 2015. Lattin said Ballard did wonders organizing the Orleans County Department of History records, including creating an online database.

“He deserves all kind of accolades,” Lattin said. “It’s going to be big shoes to fill, not only for county historian but as the president of historical association, which is a position no one wants to do.”

Monday’s meeting also was the first chance for the Historical Association to see several recent improvements at the schoolhouse.

It has a new hardwood floor, which was installed by member Rick Ebbs. The inside walls have been painted by Jerome Ebbs.

The building from 1832 was used as a schoolhouse until 1944 was on the verge of falling down, until a group of volunteers put on a new roof and stabilized the building.

Volunteers from the Historical Association in 2015 cleared most of debris from the inside of the former school. Many pioneer children in Orleans County were taught at the school, which also was used for countless town meetings.

The building also was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2017, and a historical marker was added in front to denote its significance. Lattin believes it is the oldest cobblestone building in the county.

The 913-square-foot building hadn’t been used much since it was closed as a school in 1944. Nor had there been much upkeep of the building until 2015.

Later this summer a log cabin will be relocated behind the schoolhouse at this spot. The privy behind the schoolhouse was recently donated by Irene Roth and her daughters, Chris Sartwell, Marge Page and Arlene Rafter.

The log cabin will be moved from the home of Pat and Ralph Moorhouse on Linwood Avenue in Albion. The cabin was built in 1930 by Boy Scouts.

The cabin is 10 feet by 14 feet and about six feet tall at the peak.

Rick Ebbs, a local contractor who has been working on restoration work at the schoolhouse, will lead the effort to move the log cabin.

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