local history

Historic Childs: Reflections from a student in the one-room schoolhouse, Part 1

Posted 6 February 2021 at 9:18 am

Note from Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director: We are pleased to present this autobiographical essay written by Nancy Jane Wilson Berger (1935-2015). Nancy spent her childhood living in a cobblestone house near and attending the Cobblestone District #5 Schoolhouse in the Hamlet of Childs. We are very grateful to Nancy’s husband, Frank Berger, for sharing this wonderful retelling of Nancy’s childhood memories.

School District #5 in 1946 – Phoebe Beales, Teacher. (Front Row, from left) Nancy Covis, William Covis, Evelyn Becker, Edna Becker, Kathleen Covis and Alan Kidder. (Back Row, from left) Sandra Kidder, Marjorie Becker, Nancy Wilson, Walter Klatt, Edward Janus, Daniel Janus and Laura Klatt.

By Nancy Jane Wilson Berger

I wondered why my mother had tears in her eyes when I left for school for the first time. It was a typical fall day and one that I had been looking forward to for some time. I had reached the ripe old age of six and thought I was pretty well grown up to be able to go to school with the rest of my friends.

It was Gaines District #5, a country school located on Route 104 commonly called the Ridge Road. A one-room country school with grades 1 through 7, one teacher with a visiting music teacher, a religious education teacher, and even a very old retired physician who came once a year to give us a physical exam.

It was a typical one-room schoolhouse with rows of desks running parallel with each other. They grew in size as the children grew – thus the small ones were to the left and they got progressively larger as the rows went to the right. We could hardly wait until we were big enough to sit in the “special” desks. These were separate units with swivel seats and the tops opened up so that you could see what was inside. A student had to earn the right to claim one of these seats as their own.

The front door opened into the entry.  There was a “U” shaped coat rack supplied with plenty of hangers. To the left of that was a series of shelves which held lunchboxes, etc. On the front wall, next to the door was a shelf with a sink and a clay water-cooler. Perpendicular to that was a bench which helped in the removal of boots and which provided storage space underneath for these. To the right was the door to the basement which housed a mammoth old coal furnace, a huge coal bin and a multitude of other things that we were never brave enough to explore.

The furnace, however, was something of a monster which seemed to have a life of its own. Many a morning throughout the seven years that I attended this house of learning, we were met at the door by our teacher who told us to return home because the coal gas was so strong we surely would have been overcome. No one knew exactly why this happened, but I think that occasionally this mysterious hulk decided that it needed a day of quiet and no children’s footsteps overhead to give it a headache so it spewed forth this nauseous gas like an octopus spitting out its “ink” to scare away predators. At any rate, the opening of windows and some sort of magic performed by the teacher would usually bring this problem to its knees and we would be back to normal by noon.

Occasionally, instead of nauseous gas it decided to try smoke. Sometimes it would be so thick you couldn’t see more than three feet away. Another vacation! However, it did have its good points. Besides keeping us warm and cozy it provided an oven for baking potatoes. Teacher would place whole potatoes just inside the furnace door on a little shelf and by noon we had yummy baked potatoes for lunch. I don’t think baked potatoes have ever tasted that good since.

So, you see, we didn’t have snow-days like they do today. We had smoke and gas days! We did have a snow day sometimes, but they were few and far between. Because we provided our own transportation which was usually by foot, if we could plow through the snow we went to school. If we couldn’t, we stayed home.

At the opposite end of the front of the school was the library, which also served as a whipping room. Yes, back in those days we got a good spanking if we didn’t behave. I was lucky enough to never get one. (I was such a good little girl.) However, I did get reprimanded more than once for talking or laughing. I was usually lucky enough to blame it on my friend Ed Janus who, more than once was taken to the whipping room and got his seat tanned!

The “bathrooms” were small buildings – one for the girls and one for the boys – behind the school with privacy fences a few feet from the doors. If we needed to go visit the privy (as it was called) we had to raise our hand and when we were given permission to go, we had to put our initials on a small blackboard at the front of the room because only one person could go at a time. I have some stories about the “privies” also.

We had a boy in school whose name was Walter. Walter took it upon himself to teach the boys about the anatomy of the opposite sex. It seems that he had found some magazines called “Sunshine and Health” which was published by the nudists. In it were many pictures (uncensored) of nudists playing volley ball, tennis, and just lounging in the sun. So one day Walter decided to hang some of these pictures on the wall of the boys’ privy providing his own little art show of sorts. There seemed to be a steady stream of boys using the privy that day!

Also attending school was a small boy named Vernon. Now Vernon had a habit of stuttering when he got excited. This particular day Vernon hadn’t heard about the “d’art exhibit” in the boys’ privy and hadn’t had the call to visit it until afternoon. Vernon raised his hand and was given permission to go. He signed his initials and left. In less time than it takes to shake a stick twice, Vernon came running back into the room yelling “T-t-t-teacher! Th-th-th-there’s p-p-p-pictures of b-b-b-bare naked w-w-w-women in the p-p-p-privy!”

Our teacher, Miss McAllister, didn’t have much of a sense of humor. After she calmed Vernon down, she picked up her switch and holding it in her right hand and smacking it lightly against the palm of her left hand, she paced back and forth in silence in front of the students studying the faces of the boys. Sure enough – Walter was looking guilty as sin. She asked him if he knew anything about these pictures. He admitted he did and was taken for a short walk to the whipping room. He and the teacher returned to the classroom, one smiling, one not. Guess which was which!

Now I had another use for the privy. I was a rather timid little girl and when anything was about to transpire that I wasn’t sure about, I would ask permission to go to the privy, sign out and head for home. One such instance was the first time that good old Dr. Burbank came to examine us. He was a round roly-poly elderly man with little round glasses that didn’t quite make it to the correct spot on his nose that would make it easier to see, so he had to tip his head up to see through them or down to see over them. He had very little hair and what he had was white. He was hard of hearing and despite his glasses could not see very well either. He spoke in mumbles with a lot of “hammphs.”

Well, I had never seen a man like him before and I didn’t have a clue what a physical examination was, but I decided not to take any chances. I got permission to go to the privy, signed out and hightailed it for home and as fast as my long skinny legs could go. I arrived home yelling – my mother probably thought I had been beaten! When I explained that I didn’t want a physical ‘zamination, she laughed and assured me that I would live through it and promptly escorted me back to school. The teacher wondered why she was there because this all transpired in no longer a time than it would have taken me in the privy. Dr. Burbank thought the whole affair was quite humorous and Mom stayed while I was being ‘zamined!

Dr. Burbank was a very frugal physician. He did not want to waste tongue depressors, so decided it would not do any harm to use the same one on each child. Miss McAllister, on the other hand, did not agree with him. After a short dissertation between the two of them, they arrived at a solution. The tongue depressors were sawed in half thus satisfying both.

Each student took his\her turn going into the library stripping to the waist and donning a white gown of sorts that tied in the front. Good old Doc Burbank sat in a chair facing the class, therefore, the student being examined would have his/her back to the class – a rather clever arrangement wouldn’t you say?

Well, in our little school room was a girl by the name of Lorraine. Now that I think about her, I’m not quite sure if she was developing early or if she had missed a few grades and was older than most students. Oh well, it really doesn’t matter. Anyway, when Lorraine made her appearance before Doc, he looked at her and said, “Didn’t I examine you?” as he opened the front of her gown – and without a hesitation said “Oh no, I didn’t!” We all wondered why the teacher turned and snickered.

The year I started school was 1941. There was much unrest in the world and there was talk of war. We were too young to really understand what that was all about, but we gathered it was something we didn’t want to happen to our country. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I remember having the radio on in school the following day. The teacher turned it too low for us to hear, but she listened to it all day. At one point, she turned to the class with tears in her eyes and said we were at war. No one talked to us very much about it, but we knew it was bad news.

In the weeks and months that followed, we started collecting all kinds of metals and made a huge scrap pile in the school yard. I can’t remember for sure, but I recall that ours was the biggest one around. I also remember running out of the school every time we heard a plane, because this was something quite new to us. I also recall collecting milkweed pods for parachutes. If I remember correctly, we were paid so much a bag for them. I can’t remember what we used the money for, but because there was an ice-cream shop next to the school, I have a feeling we were all treated to ice-cream cones.

During the war years, I also remember “rationing”. There was a shortage of sugar, meat, flour, gasoline and other things. We had to have a ration book to be able to buy these items. Because of these shortages, it caused there to be shortages of everything that depended on these commodities for their production. No automobiles were manufactured, because all the factories were making planes, bombs, etc. for the war.

We had “blackouts” – this was in case the enemy decided to attack the United States they would not be able to see us at night. We would have to turn out all our lights and leave them out until the whistle blew telling us it was OK to turn them back on. My dad was an air-raid warden. When the whistle blew telling us of the warning my dad and several other volunteers would walk around the neighborhood and make sure no lights were on. As a child of seven, I rather liked the excitement of it and it was sort of an occasion.

The worst part of this whole time was when my Uncle Art was drafted.  I recall very vividly the day he left for camp. Everyone was crying and hugging. He was in the Air Force and stationed in California. I wrote letters to him every week, and once he sent me a box of sea shells that he had picked up from a beach in California. These were real treasures. After he left, I was afraid that my dad would have to go to war. I prayed every night that he wouldn’t have to go and luckily he was just over the age limit for being drafted, so he never had to go. We were all very grateful.

Captain Eugene Everett Barnum, Jr. (1917-1944)

One of my worst memories of this time, was when the word came that Bill Barnum was killed in action. They were neighbors of ours and it hit everyone very hard when this news came. Then, a few weeks later, the news came that his brother Eugene had also been killed in action. We didn’t know how one family could bear the hurt of losing both of their sons. They were both pilots and whenever we heard the song that was popular then, “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer,” we always thought of them.

‘What’s Cooking?’ – Historian receives trove of cookbooks from community groups

Posted 25 January 2021 at 2:16 pm

Besides recipes, cookbooks provide a local history resource

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian  – Volume 1, Number 5

The spiral-bound cookbooks published as fundraisers for churches and community groups are a familiar sight in our kitchens. A collection of local cookbooks was just recently donated to the Orleans County Dept. of History. With their brightly illustrated covers and domestic content, they contrast with the largely black and white documents that comprise the majority of the Department’s collection.

At first glance, they might seem an unlikely resource, but in fact, these locally specific cookbooks are treasure troves of local history. They are of interest now and their value to social historians will only increase as time goes by.

The cookbooks in this donation represent Albion, Barre, Clarendon, Gaines, Knowlesville, Lyndonville, Medina, Shelby and Waterport. Most were published in the ’70s and ’80s, though the most recent is from 2010.

Many cookbook projects were church sponsored, but there are also cookbooks from schools, hospitals, a prison, the Lake Plains YMCA and groups such as the Senior Citizens of Western Orleans and the Orleans County Historical Association. Morris Press was the primary publisher. Cookbook projects were undertaken to mark anniversaries or for specific fundraising projects.

In some cases, the cookbooks are a testament to churches or groups that now no longer exist. The now-defunct list from this donated collection includes: The Journal-Register, Medina Association of Women, Sacred Heart Church, and Arnold Gregory Memorial Hospital. Also, the local advertisements provide a record of business and services.  Some still continue, many are no longer, reflecting business and economic trends.

These advertisements are a treasure trove for local historians.

Advertisement page from “What’s Cooking”: Twig Association, Arnold Gregory Memorial Hospital, Albion, NY, 1975

Community cookbooks were almost always compiled by women. For many contributors, this may have been the first time their name was in print. This was a source of pride, an affirmation of identity, of belonging to a recognized group.

Part of the pleasure – and historical value – of looking through the cookbooks is that of seeing familiar names among the contributors, family members or neighbors, many now departed. When viewing the cookbooks with a friend, the conversation invariably turns reminiscent, as stories and connections are recalled. In years to come, these cookbooks will be treasured as heirlooms by contributors’ descendants.

Advertisements from Knowlesville United Methodist Church cookbook, 1983

The saying “An army marches on its stomach” has been attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. Women well know that families also march on their stomachs. History is as much about families as it is about armies.

The humble spiral-bound community cookbook is a succinct tactical manual to fall back on when faced with that dreaded question “What’s for supper?” Internet recipe searches can be overwhelming. The new cookbooks on the market now are either very specialized in terms of ingredients or techniques, or feature celebrities discovering the joy of cooking. Sometimes you just want a quick recipe for banana bread. The stained or dog-eared page of the trusty spiral-bound cookbook will lead the way.

The recipes are short, practical, straightforward, and thrifty. There are no “diet”, “lite” or ingredient intolerant options. If a recipe calls for milk, it is implied that the source will be a cow, not an almond. Some of the recipe titles are intriguing: The $100 Cake, Easy-Peasy Pudding, Glenda’s Pie, Elephant Stew, Crab Louis, Lovelight Icing. All of the recipes are “keepers”, having been tested and honed over time by those most merciless of critics: family members.

Some of the recipes have not aged well. We might look askance at the Fruit Salad recipe which was a fairly common submission:

1 can mandarin oranges,   6 cups miniature marshmallows,

1 can crushed pineapple,  1 cup sour cream,     1 cup coconut.

Drain cans, mix ingredients well, chill

No doubt, this recipe will remind many of their grandmothers. We should keep in mind that this recipe evolved at a time when grocery stores were not stocked all year long with the luxury of out of season fruit that we are accustomed to.

The cookbooks reflect the culinary traditions and food practices of a certain time, when households were transitioning from stay-at-home mothers to moms who worked outside the home. Family dinners were still the norm, so cooking practices adapted to simpler recipes. Convenience ingredients such as cans of mushroom soup or cans of cream of chicken soup were widely used.

We can observe major changes in food preferences and health considerations in the short time since these cookbooks flourished. Jell-O and Velveeta cheese are no longer in fashion. We have the luxury of access to a wide range of fresh food, varied sources of protein and ethnic foods. Our cooking technology has changed – rice cookers, air-fryers, Insta-Pots. Pizza and take-out proliferate and there are more options for those who have food intolerances. We take these trends for granted, but they are all part of ever changing culinary history

Cooks love to share recipes. This collection attests to the generosity of spirit of our Orleans County cooks.

Cookbooks from the Towns of Kendall and Murray would be appreciated as they are not represented. Contact Catherine.Cooper@orleanscountyny.gov.

Diary recorded daily weather, other events in Medina in 1883

Posted 3 January 2021 at 12:20 pm

Many more hot days in 2020 compared to 1883

Courtesy of Department of History: This diary offered a daily record of weather in Medina in 1883.

Illuminating Orleans, V1, No. 4      
By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

At the beginning of a new year, it is not unusual for people to resolve to keep diaries or lists. Our subject this week is an example of such, from the collection at the Medina Historical Society Museum. It is a sturdy tan note-book, with a plain cover. The first page contains the following inscription which describes its purpose:

“A Weather Record kept at Medina, Orleans County, NY, from Jan. 1st 1883 to  “

The columns of the pages of this ledger type note-book were labeled to indicate the Year, Date Temperature, Time, Wind and Weather. The temperature for each day was neatly recorded at three times every day: Sunrise, 1 p.m. and Sunset.

The prevailing wind direction was noted, as well as the general weather condition, whether Cloudy, Clear, Rain, Snow, Sleet, or Fog. There are occasional notations in tiny handwriting: “a very windy day and night” or “3 or 4 inches of snow in night”

The destructive windstorm of 1885 is noted: “1885, Jan. 26, A terrible windy night, 50 chimneys reported blown down in the village”

There are notations about fires:

“1883, Feb. 10, about 5 am, fire broke out in the pail factory of Johnson & Wigley on East Center St., the fire went into the adjoining building known as the Union Mills, owned and occupied by S. C. Hoag, both buildings nearly all burnt up, with contents.”

“1883, Nov. 1, Fire alarm at 9:45 pm, fire discovered in Mrs. Alford’s barn, in the alley between Park Ave. and Center St., burnt down, with J.C. Davis barn adjoining & Pat Horan & A.M. Barry barns on the north side. The next adjoining shed was Newell’s, which to stop the fire he ordered pulled down & the fire was stopped, thus preventing a spread of the fire, as a strong SW wind was blowing, a terrible fire would have been the result”

These descriptions highlight the destruction that could ensue from a single fire, at a time when many buildings and most barns were of wooden construction.

And how do the summer temperatures compare with ours?

In 2020, we had one 93-degree day in May, one 90-degree day in June, and in July eight consecutive days of 90 degrees or higher, as well as the hottest day in 63 years at 98 degrees.

In the summer of 1883, there was one 90-degree day, 15 days with a temperature between 80 and 84, and 3 days with a temperature between 85 and 89.

In the summer of 1885, there was no 90-degree or higher day, 21 days with a temperature between 80 and 84 and 2 days with a temperature between 85 and 89.

We are so accustomed to having detailed weather information right at hand, on our phones. Local newspapers in the 1880’s were weekly and did not include weather forecasts. But, by 1882, Pool’s Signal Service Barometer, “the Best in the World” was advertised regularly. It could be ordered “on receipt of $1, or 6 for $4” from J.A. Pool’s Oswego Thermometer Works, Oswego, NY.

The weather records in this notebook run from Jan. 1883 to August 21, 1886, the last full entry on the next to last page. We can deduce that this record keeper was methodical and precise. But what of the person’s identity?

The answer is provided at the end of the very last page of this notebook. The notation reads:

“Levan W. Merritt died at 1:15 a.m., August 23, 1886. Funeral services at 3 p.m. Aug. 26th, 1886. Burial about 4:30 p.m. under a perfectly cloudless sky.”

Born in Connecticut in 1806, Mr. Merritt came to Medina in 1833. He operated a flouring mill. In 1841, when he built his sturdy red brick home at 406 West Ave., the location was considered to be “out in the country”. He helped design the layout of Boxwood Cemetery, was a founding member of the first fire company and is credited with planting the first shade trees on the Village streets. He would, no doubt, have appreciated that “perfectly cloudless sky”.

Photos from the past of Santa spreading holiday magic in Orleans

Posted 25 December 2020 at 9:23 am

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 1, No. 3

By Catherine Cooper, County Historian

The holiday season invariably evokes memories of times past and the terrifyingly magical experience of a visit with Santa Claus is one that remains vivid.

The top image is an evocative photograph showing children at G.C. Murphy’s store on Main Street, Medina. The photo is courtesy of Medina Historical Society.

A Medinian recalls: “I remember walking to the back of Murphy’s store, Santa was seated on a throne.”

Several people recall a Santa situated at the back left corner of Newberry’s store in Albion, he gave out candy canes and coloring books. This photo is from the Orleans County Department of History file.

Photo from the Orleans County Department of History

But, the most famous Santa of all, of course, was right in Albion. Visiting Christmas Park during the year was a thrill, as was the opportunity to feed the reindeer or ride on the Christmas train.

An Albion lady recalls the ultimate Santa experience:

“I sat on Charles Howard’s lap at Christmas Park. Near his seat was a ‘fishing pond,’ where, for probably 25 cents, you’d put a pole with some sort of clothes pin on the line over the barrier – you’d feel a tug, and reel in some little toys that are probably collectibles today. I remember getting a bag with 2 comic books in it.”


Ridge Road Station image courtesy of Medina Historical Society

More recently, a generation of children (and their accompanying adults) experienced the wonder of Christmas at Ridge Road Station in Holley. This 30,000 square-foot emporium was in operation from 1992-2011. It was the largest independent toy and Christmas store in New York State.

The inventory and displays were absolutely breathtaking. Garlands and stars, ornaments of every description, a mesmerizing train layout, a wealth of imaginative toys and collectibles.

But, commerce is inextricably intertwined with Christmas. G.C. Murphy’s, Newberry’s, Christmas Park and Ridge Road Station no longer exist in the physical dimension, but they live on vividly in the memories of those who experienced them.

Historic Childs: Proctor Brook, usually a gentle stream, drew pioneers to hamlet

Posted 20 December 2020 at 4:04 pm

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director; and Bill Lattin, former Director

John Proctor

GAINES – The presence of water was an important consideration for pioneers to this region when they were looking to purchase property. Plentiful fresh water was important for livestock, crop irrigation and much more.

John Proctor would have pondered the same considerations when he acquired his land from the Holland Land Company in the early 1800s. The meandering brook that now bears his name probably played heavily in his decision to locate his prototype community of Fair Haven (now Childs) at the intersection of the Ridge Road and Oak Orchard Road.

When and how Proctor Brook got its name is not recorded, but most likely honors the community’s founding father.

Time marches on, and over time, little attention was paid to Proctor Brook, so little, that folks had pretty much forgotten its name. Town of Carlton Historian Lysbeth “Betsy” Hoffman recalls “re-discovering” the name in the 1980s when she was reviewing 1820s Town Board Minutes.

In those documents, she saw frequent references to the name Proctor Brook, which grabbed her attention and got her thinking about the probable location of this mystery waterway. Betsy contacted Mike Slack from the abstract office at the County Clerk’s Office, and he verified that Proctor Brook was indeed the historic name assigned to the little tributary that crosses the Ridge Road at Childs while winding through the towns of Gaines and Carlton.

In an effort to make sure the community didn’t forget the name of Proctor Brook again, and to commemorate John Proctor for posterity, a fitting sign was built by Cobblestone Museum volunteer George Callard and erected near the brook on the grounds of the Museum’s Route 98 campus.

Assisting in this effort was Town of Gaines Historian Dee Robinson, Town of Carlton Historian Betsy Hoffman, and Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin. A dedication ceremony for the sign took place on September 11, 1988.

Proctor Brook has its geographic beginning in a marshy area around the present day Sheret American Legion Post on Gaines Basin Road. From there it travels north and approaches the Erie Canal as shown above left.  Then it goes under the canal through a sleuth located west of the canal guard gate and exits on the north side of the canal bank as seen above right. It then meanders mainly northward, but sometimes east and west, too.

Proctor Brook enters the Hamlet of Childs alongside Route 98 near the Cobblestone Museum’s artisan buildings as seen here with the NYS DOT crew cleaning up the bank.  The brook then travels through the Museum campus and crosses Route 104 just west of the Village Inn.  From there it continues through the Town of Gaines until reaching Carlton where it joins forces with Marsh Creek and heads on to Lake Ontario.

At some point in the mid- 20th century, Proctor Brook received a boost with a new supply of water diverted through an Erie Canal syphon. As seen here, the syphon is located west of the canal guard gate.

Farmers can petition NYS to receive a permit to use that water supply for their crops or other needs. Excess water from the syphon drains into Proctor Brook. Jim Kirby utilized the syphon for his farming for many years. Former Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin recalls one year in the late 1900s when Kirby said the syphon stopped working. He investigated the situation and discovered a large turtle had been sucked into the vortex and got stuck, effectively closing off the water supply. Kirby said, “Getting that thing out of there was a nasty job.”

Proctor Brook has had some man-made adjustments made to its course, too. In 1921 the original Blacksmith Shop at the corner of Routes 104 and 98 caught fire and burned to the ground. Local farmers knew the absence of a local blacksmith shop would negatively impact their livelihood. Bill Lattin described their desperation, “The farmers, while the embers were still hot from the fire, pitched in to help blacksmith Joseph Vagg rebuild his shop.”

But, this time they decided to site the blacksmith shop a little further south to help protect Joe’s home from catching fire, too.  To do so, they needed to relocate Proctor Brook which would have gone right through the new shop.  So, the farmers and Vagg set about moving Proctor Brook about 20-25 feet south to make way for the new structure.  They did that by dropping boulders into the creek bed that effectively moved the brook, making a sharp turn to the west, and then follow its current course to the south of the shop.

Proctor Brook, usually a very gentle little stream, is known to have an annual freshet or spring flood, usually in May or June. Some have been pretty severe. Melva Vagg Warner, Joe Vagg’s daughter, recalled that during one particularly severe flood, she kept track of Proctor Brook’s high water point by placing a mark on the side of her barn that sits next to the brook.

That marking came in handy in 1977 when the Cobblestone Museum was relocating its Print Shop to the grounds on the banks of Proctor Brook, and pondered how high to elevate the shop to avoid potential flooding. Bill Lattin said that Town of Gaines Highway Superintendent Cliff Kelley used a transit and Melva Warner’s water mark to determine a presumably safe position.

That theory was tested in the 1980s when the spring thaw resulted in flooding that came to within one inch from overflowing the floor of the Print Shop.

At that point, the water rose to over 1 foot above Route 98. It was during that flood that the Cobblestone Museum’s historic wooden cattle trough, usually located in front of Farmers Hall, floated downstream and ended up at the cobblestone house on Route 104.

The high water mark for that flood is still visible inside the Eastlake outhouse located next to the Print Shop. The water line is just above the row of seats.

Historic Childs: Museum showcases artifacts from Horse and Buggy Days

Posted 14 December 2020 at 8:52 am

By Doug Farley, Director Cobblestone Museum; and Bill Lattin, Retired Director

CHILDS – The impetus for this article surrounds this historic photo circa 1905 which Bill Lattin recently purchased at an antique shop. Notice here the set of steps used for mounting and dismounting a horse, wagon or buggy.

On the back of the photo is written Miss A. D. Reidel. The name of the presumed photographer, August Christe, is also stamped on the back with a rubber stamp. Retired Cobblestone Resource Center Director Dee Robinson researched these two names and found them in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census.

Annie Reidel was 14 years of age and living on Bessell Avenue in Buffalo. Albert Augustus Christie was age 33 and lived on Fifth Street, also in Buffalo. Through this little bit of detective work, we can guess this picture may have been taken in Erie County.

Notice again in this picture of the steps how the platform overhangs the base. This was done intentionally so the hub of the wheels on the democrat wagon, shown in the picture, could roll under the platform. This arrangement reduced the gap between the wagon box and the mounting steps. There had to be innumerable wooden mounting steps and platforms in use in the area in horse and buggy days.

Using the historic photo as a guide, Bill Lattin recently built a replica set of mounting step, seen here in this modern photo, now located in front of the Vagg House in Childs.

The buggy in the photo was donated to the Cobblestone Museum by Bill, Tom and Mark Tillman in the 1980s when they renovated their old barn to become what is now the Carriage Room at the Village Inn Restaurant. The buggy is one of several historic vehicles that are planned for a new exhibit in the Vagg Carriage Barn located behind the Vagg House. Tours of the house and barn will begin in 2021.

Also typical of the era, are the horse block or carriage stone seen here in front of the Ward House at the Cobblestone Museum. The large stone blocks had the advantage of not being easily moved and did not rot.

This piece of beautiful Medina Sandstone has the local family name “Bacon” carved into it. Bill Lattin recalls this horse block was given to the Museum around 1970 by Earl Harding. It was once located in front of the brick house at Five Corners. The Bacon horse block was moved to the Ward House about 1977 along with two fine Medina Sandstone hitching posts donated by former Orleans County Historian Cary Lattin. Each hitching post has the number 74 on it. Lattin said these came from 74 West State Street in Albion.

Because carriages and wagons were high off the ground it was advantageous to have a step, especially for ladies with long skirts, to embark and disembark such conveyances. This historic photo of the Cobblestone Universalist Church at Childs shows a high terrace in front for the same purpose.

It seems originally there was only a very high flight of wooden stairs up to the front entrance. In 1874 an earth ramp, brick platform and stone steps were added to the front of the church. This was so carriages on Sunday could pull right up in front and ladies and children could disembark on the level.

The driver of the buggy could then drive around to the carriage shed behind the church for the duration of the church service. Note a small portion of the shed shows on the left side of the photo behind the evergreens.

A similar situation existed at the Fair Haven Hotel, circa 1903, now the Village Inn at Childs. Notice the steps are at the corner. The rest of the porch is high across the front so carriages could pull right up close for people to easily step off onto the porch.

When carriage blocks were not in sight, the nearest stump often served as an easy way for the horse back rider to mount or dismount his steed.

Historic Childs: Electricity comes to the hamlet in Gaines (Part 4)

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum: The Ward House, left, is a cobblestone home on Ridge Road next to the Cobblestone Universalist Church. The Vagg House is at the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 98 and Ridge Road.

Posted 5 December 2020 at 1:26 pm

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

CHILDS – The Hamlet of Childs is fortunate to have two homes from two very different time periods that are open for public tours in season. The Ward House (left) showcases life in the Victorian Period, before the advent of electricity, and the Vagg House (right) depicts the arrival of the electric age from the 1920s-1940s.

The differences in these two homes are striking. This is the fourth article about electricity coming to the Hamlet and the changes that took place. Today we take a closer look at labor saving devices usually found in the kitchen.

If the Victorian homemaker wanted to serve her family pancakes or waffles for breakfast, she would first mix up pancake batter using a hand mixer.  It was a simple mechanical device that when hand cranked, would spin its metal mixing blades to beat the lumps out of the pancake batter.

The next step would be to heat up a waffle iron or pancake griddle on the wood stove in the kitchen. In the photo above the implement on the right is a pancake maker.  The liquid batter was poured into the attached receptacle cups. Then the hot metal plate could be folded over the batter to cook both sides of the pancake at the same time.  This was actually a step up from simple “flapjacks” that required flipping the pancake from side to side.

In the photo above we see how time marched on in the kitchen. In the Vagg House, the electric household would most likely use an electric mixer to beat their pancake batter saving time and human energy. The mixer shown here is a Hamilton Beach Model C with Juicer attachment at the top.

This appliance was first made in 1910 and became fairly common around World War II. So common, in fact, that the original owner sold the Hamilton Beach Company and moved to Millionaire’s Row in Miami Beach after just a few decades in business.  Hamilton Beach Brands was originally located in Racine, Wisconsin. The company is still doing business today, but all of their appliances are now made in China.

Once the batter was prepared in the electric mixer, the homemaker would probably use an electric waffle iron or pancake cooker to complete the process.

If all you wanted was toasted bread, the process in the 19th century involved heating bread on your wood stove or in front of an open hearth fireplace. Of course, the process at the 20th century Vagg House used an electric toaster.

Over the years, many different types of electric toasters have evolved to improve upon toasted bread. The appliance on the left made one slice of toast at a time while the unit at the right prepared two slices.

If you wanted to enjoy eggs with your toast at the Vagg House, you might have used either of these two electric egg steamers from the mid-1900s.

Making coffee over the years has evolved, too. In the Ward House, making coffee involved heating water in a teapot or kettle on the wood stove.

A wide variety of coffee appliances were present in the all-electric home like the Vagg House. The appliance on the left is called a Drip-O-Lator.  The coffee maker in the center has a spigot to fill coffee cups, and the ceramic pot on the right is a percolator.

In the 1900s, electricity was even considered appropriate for children’s toys. The child’s oven shown above is probably a precursor of today’s Easy Bake Oven.  This “toy” was plugged into an actual live electrical circuit which provided 120 volts of power to heat up an electric coil inside the mini-oven which got hot enough to cook food. Let’s hope there was some parental involvement, too!

With the vast number of electrical appliances in the Vagg House, finding an open electrical outlet in 1940 must have posed a problem. So, another electrical gadget was created to solve the dilemma.  This ceramic device provided outlets for three other electric appliances.

Our next installment about Historic Childs will take us back to look at horse and buggy days in the Hamlet.

Early settlers built bridges, moved ditches

Posted 4 December 2020 at 9:39 am

Bridge building, Jeddo, 1916, Orleans County History Department collection.

By Catherine Cooper, County Historian – Vol. 1, No. 2

RIDGEWAY – Part of the fascination of local history is that it adds layers of depth to our experience of our surroundings.

The accompanying photograph is of men building a bridge at Jeddo in 1916. However, the background brings into consideration several factors: the determination of the early settlers, how a determined re-routing of water led to the formation of a vibrant settlement, and an appreciation of oral history for preserving the details that enhance the story.

On June 11, 1916, the steel bridge spanning Jeddo Creek on Ridge Road collapsed and fell into Johnson Creek. The Medina Daily Journal of June 12, 1916 reported:

“The water raised so high Saturday and Sunday that it washed out the abutments and foundation of the bridge spanning the creek.”

Town of Ridgeway officials acted quickly. Highway Superintendent Harry Waldo and Town Supervisor Burt Smith declared the bridge a “total wreck” and on June 14 at a special meeting, the Town Board called for a proposition to raise taxes by the sum of $5,000 to construct a concrete archway or bridge over Jeddo Creek at Ridge Road, this proposition to be voted on July 5.

On June 22, 1916, it was reported that a “substantial temporary bridge which could be crossed by a detour has been completed over the creek at Jeddo, consequently travel on the Ridge highway will not be interrupted while the stone arch, planned to take the place of the old bridge, is being erected.”

This bridge was completed by November.

The 1916 bridge collapse was not the first such at Jeddo. A severe flood in 1897 washed out a dam and the foundation of the mill. Yet another flood occurred in 1902. Jeddo residents may have wondered if these occurrences were the result of a stealthy re-routing of the creek by earlier settlers. This intriguing item of local lore has thankfully been preserved in an oral history interview conducted by former Historian Arden McAllister with Horace Bird in 1978.

According to Mr. Bird, the land around the Jeddo area was wet and swampy, and was referred to as “Wild Cat Swamp.” The creek then was but a stream which moved sluggishly along the south side of Ridge Road and joined the Oak Orchard River south of Ridgeway Corners.

Pioneer settler, Jeremiah Brown, took his oxen and dug a trench across Ridge Road to divert the water. Farmers on the north side were furious as their land flooded, so they filled in the trench. Jeremiah persisted with re-digging the trench and soon the volume of water draining north created a channel which joined with Johnson Creek and necessitated the construction of a bridge. The drained farmland proved very suitable for fruit orchards. The volume of water proved suitable for a mill and soon the settlement grew to include a saw mill as well as a cooperage, a blacksmith shop, a store, and for some time, a jelly factory.

Too often, we traverse historic Route 104, aware of the hamlets only as areas to reduce speed. Next time, take note of the jaunty oversize bowling pins at Jeddo Mills Antiques and salute the determination of the settlers, bridge builders, millers and merchants who lived there.

To access newspaper articles: www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org.

Transcripts of the Orleans County Oral Histories are available at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina, and Hoag Library, Albion.

County historian moves upstairs to more spacious office

Photos by Tom Rivers: Catherine Cooper checks out some of the local artifacts that are in the historian’s office. The office moved last month from the basement of the Treasurer’s Office to the top floor of that building at 34 East Park St.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 December 2020 at 3:35 pm

Big celebration on horizon: Orleans County’s bicentennial in 2025

This stack of photos has people who aren’t labelled. Cooper said she would welcome input in identifying this lady in the top photo.

ALBION – The new Orleans County historian in settling into much bigger office space. The historian was working out of the basement in the Treasurer’s Office at 34 East Park St.

Last month the office moved to the upstairs of the building. The computer services department was using the space but moved to the new addition at the County Administration Building.

That left six rooms available for new historian, Catherine Cooper. She has space to process items, organize and store them.

Cooper started in the part-time position on Sept. 14. She retired in June after 33 years at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina, including 10 years as director.

“This position is like an extension of being a librarian,” Cooper said. “You help people find things.”

One of her immediate goals is to take stock of all the photographs and printed materials in the historian’s office. There are many boxes to go through.

“I want to organize and position the collection so all of the contents are findable,” she said.

Catherine Cooper holds a photo of retired County Historian Bill Lattin. This photo was taken on May 3, 1984 by Louis Monacelli. Lattin served in the role for 35 years. He retired Dec. 31, 2014. Cooper said Monacelli left a trove of photos where people are identified and the date recorded on the photographs.

Cooper praised her predecessor Matt Ballard for his efforts in organizing parts of the collection and digitizing some important records. Ballard also wrote a weekly column of local history and gave frequent public presentations.

The new office for the historian looks out at the Orleans County Courthouse and County Clerks’ Building.

Bill Lattin, who served in the role for 35 years before retiring on Dec. 31, 2014, also was superb in the role, writing a local column for the newspaper, giving many public presentations and authoring many books on local history.

Cooper plans to write columns, too, but not at Ballard’s pace. She will work with the local town and village historians. A big anniversary is around the corner. The county’s bicentennial is in 2025. That year is also the 200thanniversary of the Erie Canal opening across the state.

Cooper would like to begin preparing for the county’s big birthday. “There will be a big gala celebration,” she said.

She also is intrigued by older local barns and would like to create a “barn census” with local barn owners sending in photos and information on those structures. Cooper regrets that many of the older wooden barns have collapsed in recent years.

She is grateful for the space in the historian’s office. She finds she can spend hours looking through the photos and records.

“The time really flies by,” she said.

Cooper has office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. She can be reached in the office at (585) 589-4174 or at Catherine.Cooper@orleanscountyny.gov.

Historic Childs: Electricity powered many labor-saving devices in homes (Part 3)

Posted 28 November 2020 at 10:46 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

CHILDS – In the past two weeks, we have looked at how electricity first came to the Hamlet of Childs and the dramatic effect it had on changing how people lived their lives.

It was said, “Electricity is the only servant you will ever need!” Times had changed. In the early-1800s, if you were fortunate enough to have rugs in your home, the homemaker would probably clean them by hanging them over a line outdoors and then swatting them with a carpet beater.

Fast forward 50 years or more and the Victorian home might have the Eureka Pneumatic Cleaner as seen above in the Ward House in the Hamlet of Childs.

Actual operation of this vacuum was cumbersome at best. It was a heavy, two-person endeavor that required someone to pump the handle to create suction and someone else to direct the wand to the area to be cleaned.

Moving forward to the decade known as the Roaring ’20s, we find a much improved cleaner called the Airway as seen here at the Vagg House in Childs.  This upright electric vacuum cleaner was produced by the Air-Way Sanitizor Company beginning in 1920. Company advertising stated this revolutionary machine “could be found in modern homes the world over!”

Housewives throughout time have probably shared a distain for laundry day. Certain chores have been worse than others, but most folks would agree that ironing is a chore they don’t enjoy. Electricity changed that, at least to some degree.

Prior to installing electricity in the home, homemakers would have removed wrinkles from their family’s clothes and linens using a heavy iron made of cast-iron. The iron would need to be heated on a wood or coal stove before it was used. Controlling the temperature of the “appliance” was iffy at best. Certainly many a shirt was scorched in the process.

Electricity added a new level of convenience to the chore. Not only were the new electric irons lighter, they had switches to control the temperature of the iron. An early electric iron is shown above.  This model had another benefit in that the iron itself was cordless. The base unit held the electric cord and when used, it would heat up the iron to a suitable temperature.

If we move forward another 20 years to World War II, we start to see another appliance added to the home to help with ironing clothes, the electric mangle. Relatively speaking, this was a pretty large appliance compared to the simple iron. It consisted of a cloth covered roller inside a freestanding white enamel cabinet that heated up and pressed clothes by applying pressure between the roller and a metal plate. The model shown here was owned and used by Hamlet of Child’s resident, Nellie Vagg, wife of blacksmith Joseph Vagg.

Today, with modern blended fabrics and de-wrinkle settings on clothes dryers, we don’t pay a lot of attention to pressing clothes.  This was not the case during the Baby Boom years when an assortment of electrical appliances were created to help with the task. In the above photo we see two such devices, an electric tie presser and pants creaser.

The last item we will look at today, shown above, is an appliance you probably have not seen very often, if at all.  See if you can guess what it’s used for.  It was usually found in the kitchen, but could have been located in other rooms, too.

If you guessed a DE-FLY-ER Model 1600 by DE-BUG-ER INC., you win the Kewpie Doll!  This appliance was designed to rid your household of flying and crawling insects using invisible vapors. (Don’t breathe too deeply though, the device used benzene hexachloride, a known carcinogen, today!)  The patent date shown here is 1950, and at that date, electricity had finally become available in all of Orleans County.

Our next article of Electricity Comes to Childs (Part 4) will take a look at even more labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric kitchen after World War II.

Historic Childs: Electricity comes to the hamlet, revolutionizing homes (Part 2)

Posted 21 November 2020 at 8:59 am

Electric appliances doomed other industries, including ice harvesting

(Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series about the historic Childs hamlet. This article is part 2 of when electricity came to Childs in the late 1920s. Part three will be next week.)

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

Electric appliance companies, such as Edison General Electric, had an interesting marketing pitch in the 1920s to help sell their newfangled electrical devices, “Electricity is the only servant you will ever need!”

Such was the case in the Hamlet of Childs after electric power became readily available after 1926. Perhaps the most successful of all of the G.E. appliances was the monitor top refrigerator (pictured above), first introduced in 1927.

This success of the refrigerator sounded the beginning of a death knoll for another industry, ice harvesting.  The “Iceman” was a frequent visitor to homes in the Hamlet of Childs before the arrival of electricity.  It’s probably safe to say there was an icebox in every home in the 1800s and early 1900s as demonstrated by this ice sign found in window at the Ward House in Childs.

Homeowners used signs like this to let the iceman know how much ice they needed for their delivery.  The number showing at the top of the sign signaled the iceman to bring the corresponding number of pounds of ice into the home.

With monitor top refrigerators replacing ice boxes, a new dilemma surfaced for housewives, namely how to defrost their refrigerator without spoiling all the food inside.

Today with frost-free refrigeration, we’ve lost track of the need to manually defrost the appliance to remove the ice that would build up on the refrigerator’s freezer compartment. Electricity came to the rescue with a new gadget designed to quickly and safely melt the accumulated ice.

If monitor-top refrigerators were one of the largest electrical appliances, perhaps the smallest would have been the electric sifter.  Even such mundane tasks as sifting flour became fair game for electrification in the new electric household.

When electricity was new, it was originally installed in a home for lighting.  As manufacturers began to produce more and more electrical appliances homeowners didn’t have enough outlets installed in their homes.

Necessity became the mother of invention and it was not unusual to see a power cord dangling from an overhead light fixture, because that was the only power source to be found. This is demonstrated at the Vagg House in Childs where a Royal Rochester waffle iron is plugged into an overhead light fixture.

This connection was made possible by removing an incandescent lightbulb from a light fixture and screwing in a lampholder plug to provide an outlet in the room.  In the early days it was not uncommon to use a light fixture to power your vacuum cleaner, space heater, flat iron, radio and many other appliances.

Another problem with early electrical appliances was found with the plug at the end of the cord. Appliance manufactures each chose their own design for the arrangement of the prongs.

Even if you were fortunate enough to have an electrical wall socket in your home, it might not have the needed configuration to match the pins on your appliance.

This socket and plug dilemma didn’t get resolved until the mid-20th century when groups like Underwriters Laboratories came up with their “Seal of Approval” to designate standardized, safe appliances. You can see a portion of the familiar red and gold seal on this apartment-sized electric clothes washer manufactured by the Cinderella Company and on display at the Vagg House in Childs.

Washday doldrums were a routine occurrence prior to the arrival of electricity.  Every piece of laundry required hand scrubbing, rinsing, and wringing dry, followed up by hanging laundry outdoors to air dry. Here we see a 1900 mechanical clothes washer manufactured by Boss of Cincinnati.

It required hand cranking to scrub the clothes and then using the mechanical wringer shown here. This washing system is in place at the Ward House in Childs and represents the way clothes were cleaned in the Victorian era.

Moving forward a generation to the 1920s, electricity changed the washday routine offering “modern” homemakers a little more leisure time. Here we see an early electric clothes washer manufactured by the Easy Washing Machine Company (1877-1963) with headquarters in Syracuse, NY.

This model featured a spin dryer, which was an improvement over their wringer model. This system is found in the Vagg House in Childs.

With all of the new labor saving electrical devices, homemakers now had some new found leisure time. Families could turn their attention to enjoying some music, news, or drama on the console radio in their living room. Early radios were often large pieces of furniture that made a statement that this household has arrived in the 20th century.

Our next article (Part 3) will take a look at even more labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric home of the Roaring ’20s, including the Air-Way Sanitizing System (vacuum cleaner), Hamilton Beach Mixer with Juicerizer, ceramic hotplate, electric iron, mangle, tie presser, pants creaser, drip-o-lator, and more.

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Historic Childs: Electricity came to Gaines hamlet in 1926, with many embracing a more modern life

Posted 13 November 2020 at 10:28 pm

Not everyone was quick to hook up to new system – ‘You don’t miss what you never had’

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

GAINES – Burning candles or kerosene were two ways the school, the church, homes and businesses in the Hamlet of Childs would have provided lighting in the 1800s as seen here in this kerosene lamp fixture in the Universalist Church at Childs.

Note the glass “smoke bells” above the lamps that were designed to protect the ceiling by capturing the soot that was released when burning kerosene. Kerosene lighting was augmented with a product called “manufactured gas.”

The Albion Gasworks manufactured gas from 1858-1927. They did this by heating coal in a “retort” which produced a gas vapor that was stored under pressure to provide lighting for their customers. The byproduct produced from the process was known as “coke,” and was burned to provide heat in many early homes.

The next generation of lighting followed in 1888 when The Albion Electric Light & Power Company began generating power below the steel arch bridge from their hydroelectric station at Waterport. They distributed power using transmission lines that ran south along what we know as NYS Route 279.

Photo courtesy Orleans County Historian

One of the first major usages of Albion Power electricity was for electric arc street lights in the Village of Albion beginning April 1890.  Here we see a community effort to raise a power pole in Albion.

Even though electricity was available at that time, there was a certain reticence to hook into the line. For instance, the Pullman Church always had power when it was built in 1894, but the nearby St. Joseph’s Church waited until 1913, and the Episcopal Church didn’t electrify until 1914. There is an adage that says, “You don’t miss what you never had.” That was the case for many homeowners, too.

Former Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin remembers his father, Cary Lattin, telling him that he had electric wiring installed in his house on Gaines Basin Road when it was built in 1932, even though electricity was not yet available on the road.

Lattin lobbied his neighbors to try to drum up enough interest to entice the electric company to send power up Gaines Basin Road. But, Lattin had little success talking his neighbors into spending the money to add electricity to their homes in the era of the Great Depression.

Lattin finally succeeded in his quest when he convinced his fellow taxpayers of the Gaines Basin School that they should have electric lights in their schoolhouse. The neighbors’ favorable decision was responsible for power being distributed on the road. Lattin hooked up right away, but many neighbors waited awhile to follow suit.

Electricity finally reached the Hamlet of Childs circa 1926. Other parts of the county weren’t fully electrified until after World War II. This is a birds-eye view of Childs in the early 1950s.

In the early days, those who wanted electricity in their homes would install “knob & tube” wiring on their interior walls. The two wires were plainly visible to the homes occupants and were held away from touching the wall using porcelain insulators.

Ceramic insulators were also used for switches to help protect from stray electrical shocks.   Here we see an early turn-button switch that was commonly used.

Other switches used push-buttons. Another oddity of that era was that fuse boxes were sometimes installed in a home’s attic instead of the basement. The electric lines entered the home through the attic, so it made sense at the time to place the fuse box there, too, albeit a little inconvenient to change a fuse.  In later days, wiring was recessed behind walls, like we know it today.

Editor’s Note: This is the 14th 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 next article will take a look at the proliferation of labor savings appliances that found prominence in the all-electric home of the Roaring ’20s. 

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Central Hall in Albion previously Legion home named for Sheret brothers who died in WWI

Posted 11 November 2020 at 8:06 am

Sgt. James Sheret and his brother Pvt. Egbert Sheret were both killed in action on Sept. 29, 1918

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian 

Illuminating Orleans, No. 1

Photo courtesy of Catherine Cooper: The Mack Flag Pole is located on the front lawn of Central Hall (East Park and Platt Streets, Albion). The memorial was dedicated in 1977 to the memory of Frank Joseph Mack Sr., a past commander of Sheret Post #35 American Legion and a medical corpsman who served on the island of Guam with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during WWII.

ALBION – This first column of Illuminating Orleans appropriately enough focuses on Central Hall, East Park Street in Albion, as its varied incarnations over the years dovetail with Veterans Day.

This solid red-brick building was the Central School from 1882-1934. Purchased by Orleans County in 1980, it has since accommodated the Treasurer’s Dept., the Probation Dept. and the Historian’s Office.

Having outgrown its quarters, the Historian’s Office and Orleans County History Dept. will soon be moved to the second floor, recently vacated by Probation.

From 1935-1980 the building was home to Sheret Post #35 American Legion which was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Sheret whom General Pershing considered “one of the hundred heroes of WW1”. A member of Co. F. 108th Reg., NY Volunteer Infantry, Sgt. Sheret was killed in action on September 29, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the bravery of his actions during the attack on the Hindenburg Line.

Sept. 29, 1918 was a dark day indeed for the Sheret family, as their son Pvt. Egbert Sheret, a machine gunner was also killed in action on that same day. Yet another son, Andrew, was wounded at that battle, but survived. A fourth son, John G. served in the Navy and mercifully survived the war as well.

The Sheret brothers were the sons of John Galashan Sheret Sr. who immigrated from Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1886. He married Anna Wickizer of South Ausman, Susquehanna County, Pa. in 1891. Described as a block breaker by profession in the 1915 NY Census, John Sheret Sr. became secretary of the International Union of Paving Cutters. John and Anna had ten children: James, Egbert, John Jr., Andrew, Elsie, Marion, Virginia, Donald and Bernard, with quite a range in age as James was born in 1892 and Bernard in 1916.

John Sheret Sr. maintained his ties with Scotland and visited family in 1911, sailing on the ship Caledonia, according to Ellis Island records. Naturally, the Scottish branch of the family was also saddened by the loss of the two young men. The Aberdeen Evening Express of November 26, 1918 carried a notice of James and Egbert’s deaths:

“Two brothers, James and Egbert Sheret, of the U.S.A. Infantry, were killed in action on 29th September last. They were the eldest and second sons of Mr. John Sheret, late of Bucksburn, and grandsons of Mrs. Sheret, Kirkvale, Ashgrove Road, Aberdeen. A third brother was wounded on the same day, and a fourth brother is in training.”

The Sheret brothers of Albion are also included in the Aberdeen and District Roll of Honour which is housed at the National Library of Scotland:

This family who sacrificed so much is buried in the Fairview section of Mount Albion Cemetery. Their memory is honored in the buildings and organizations named for them. Their story is part of the collection maintained by the History Dept. at Central Hall.

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Historic Childs: Harness Shop, relocated to Cobblestone Museum, showcases skilled trade from another era

Posted 31 October 2020 at 7:48 am

Photos courtesy of the Cobblestone Museum: The Harness Shop was moved to the Cobblestone Museum grounds on Route 98 in 1987. Several structures have been relocated and preserved at the museum.

(Editor’s Note: This is the 12th 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

In the 1800s, before the advent of the horseless carriage, it was very common to find one or more harness shops in every community as shown above in the list of harness businesses in Orleans County.

The typical harness maker could reproduce over 50 different leather goods used to make a horse’s harness, any of which could break down due to heavy use and weathering.

The typical harness shop also carried metal fasteners for harnesses, currycombs, lap robes, harness oil, gloves, whips, ointments and much more.

Harness maker P. Henry Peters is shown here at the entrance of his harness store in Albion.  A sampling of the numerous types of leather goods he produced is seen in the store windows and also on the life-sized horse mannequin he moved outdoors in fair weather.

The Hamlet of Childs is now home to the J. G. Peters Harness Shop, a building which was built by Starr Chester in 1838 in the Town of Gaines. It originally was used as a shoe store until Chester’s death in 1880. The next owner, Gates Knickerbocker, purchased the building for $30 and moved it to another location in Gaines where it served as a jewelry and clock repair business until his death in 1914.

The photo above depicts the Knickerbocker clock repair store in the late 1800s. A series of owners used the building for other purposes including a gun repair shop, paint shop, cycle depot and as a rental property in the mid-1900s.

The little shop passed to the Cobblestone Society in 1987 when owner Rose Welles, notified Cobblestone Museum director C. W. Lattin that she would donate the building to the Cobblestone Museum complex. Shown above (left) is Delia Robinson, Town of Gaines Historian; C. W. Bill Lattin, Rose Welles, and Janice Thaine, Gaines Deputy Historian.

In more recent years, the little shop had been used as living quarters in connection with the Chatterbox Restaurant located next door. Here we see the building in 1987 as it is being prepared to be moved to the Hamlet of Childs.

The building was moved intact, one mile down Ridge Road, to the Cobblestone Museum campus on August 28, 1987 through courtesies performed by Rice Homes of Barre Center, the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department and the Town of Gaines.

The Cobblestone Museum accepted the donation of the building with a plan to relocate its own collection of harness making equipment from the lower level of its Cobblestone Church where it was displayed.  The leatherworking tools had been gifted to the museum in 1963 from the estate of John G. Peters.

Peters was born on July 4, 1877 and served a three-year apprenticeship under Reuben Pridmore, harness maker, in Albion. In 1909, Peters opened a harness shop of his own in Lyndonville. In 1918, Mr. Peters “saw the handwriting on the wall,” and knew tractors were taking over for horses.

He decided to take up shoe repair to earn his livelihood when the harness business became a thing of the past. Following Peters’ death, his family donated his entire collection of artifacts associated with his business to the Cobblestone Museum.

On July 9, 1989 the building was dedicated on the Cobblestone Museum campus as the J. G. Peters Harness Shop. The building was fully restored to house the Peters Collection. Over 50 members of the Peters family attended the celebration with a full family reunion, including a group photo in front of the restored harness shop.

There were innumerable men such as John Peters who manufactured and repaired harnesses around the turn of the 20th century. The J.G. Peters Harness shop serves today as a memorial not just to one man, but to an entire trade. Peters represents the countless craftsmen who plied their trade for hundreds of years, providing needed and valuable services to their communities.

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Historic Childs: Kendall Town Hall was reconstructed as Farmers Hall at Cobblestone Museum

Posted 24 October 2020 at 9:16 am

Photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum: The Farmers Hall is on Route 98, just south of the Route 104 intersection. The building was originally a church in Kendall and then the Kendall Town Hall.

(Editor’s Note: This is the 11th 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

CHILDS – The Cobblestone Museum maintains several wooden structures in the Hamlet of Childs in addition to its National Historic Landmark cobblestone buildings. The large wooden Greek Revival building that is located on the southern end of the campus is known today as Farmers Hall.  It has a truly unique and storied history since it was first built in the Town of Kendall in 1855.

Originally the Universalist Church of Kendall, this Greek Revival structure served its congregation in Kendal until the early 1880s when a German Lutheran congregation used the church for another two decades.  Following that, the building became the Kendall Town Hall, a status that lasted until a new Town Hall was built in the 1970s.

The next intended use for the old building in Kendall would have been a preservation nightmare. Kendall officials had planned to use the old church turned Town Hall for fire practice. That tragedy was narrowly averted when Cobblestone Museum officials received permission to move the two-story building to their campus to display their growing collection of farm tools from the 19th and early 20th century.

The biggest obstacle to this decision for the Cobblestone Museum board was they had run out of land on which to put the building. That dilemma was solved when Mrs. Neva Murray made an offer of land adjacent to the museum property. In May 1978, Museum Director Bill Lattin, Kendall Town Historian Mrs. Delores Sedore and four CETA workers (a Nixon-era job training program) began the monumental task of disassembling the building, board by board, and numbering all of the components for later reassembly at the museum’s artisan campus on Route 98.

Almost miraculously, the building was reassembled by November of the same year. Bill Lattin has recently lamented, “If I knew then what I know now, I never would have started that project!”

Joe Ward, Eddie Drisdom & Ronnie Tower are shown outside their job site at Farmers Hall following its reconstruction. The next year work progressed on the building’s interior, followed by pulling together the Museum’s farm tool collection from the disparate corners of the county where donated objects lacking display space had been stored for many years.

Once accomplished, June 1, 1980 was selected to be the day of celebration for the completion of the Herculean task.

Dignitaries from around the state came to speak at Farmers Hall Dedication. Shown here are (from left) Marcia Hart, Kendall Supervisor Mike Paduchak, NYS Senator John Daly and Rev. Richard Hood from the Pullman Memorial Unitarian Church.

Over 2,000 spectators assembled that day to enjoy the 70-unit Farmers Parade on Route 104.

Five generations of Kirby Farms were celebrated in one of many farm floats.

Everyone was a farmer for at least one day. The parade route stretched from the 104 Country Shop in Gaines to Zambito Produce in Childs.  Coach Ed Stackwick served as Parade Marshall and a reviewing podium was set up in front of the Cobblestone Universalist Church.

A timeless message proclaimed using antique farm equipment.

A square dance followed the parade in the parking lot of Radzinski’s H&A Superette and adjoining liquor store.

Farmers Hall has continuously served as an educational site since it was dedicated right up to today. Here we see the first school tour in Farmers Hall in 1979 when teacher Mr. Gary Kent (back row center) brought his Social Studies class from Kendall School.

Georgia Thomas demonstrates butter churning outside of Farmers Hall at a Cobblestone Museum event in 2018.

Hundreds and hundreds of school tours later, C. W. “Bill” Lattin ended his official tenure as Cobblestone Museum Director in 2010 after 40 years of dedicated service to the museum community.  At that time Farmers Hall was officially dedicated in his honor. Bill worked tirelessly to create a facility that would be both educational and interesting, all while preserving so much of our storied past for future generations.

In 2017, after almost 40 years of school tours and more, Farmers Hall was beginning to exhibit some bowing walls and sagging floors, and needed some preservation work once again. The Cobblestone Museum secured grants from Rochester Area Foundation, Orleans Foundation (Curtis Fund), and Genesee Country Antiques Dealers Association that provided funds to shore up the foundation pillars and added rafter ties to “tighten” the building, bringing it back to its original shape. Matching cedar siding was also added to the rear of the hall and other important work was accomplished as well.

It is hoped that the building is now ready to face the next 150 years of its life as a centerpiece in the Historic Hamlet of Childs.

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