Albion pioneers get due with marker

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 July 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County Legislature Chairman David Callard unveils a marker in honor of Albion’s pioneer residents.

ALBION – Long before there was a lush lawn and some of Orleans County’s most treasured buildings, the Courthouse Square was wilderness.

In 1811, William McAllister and his wife arrived in Albion and began the daunting task of settling the area. Mr. McAllister chopped down trees and cleared a spot for a log cabin where the County Clerks’ Building stands today.

His wife likely made his clothes, prepared the meals, and even concocted medicine for her husband. That was the role of the pioneer wives from two centuries ago, said Dee Robinson, town of Gaines historian.

“It was her job to keep him healthy to carry on the settlement,” Robinson said this afternoon during a dedication ceremony for a marker in honor of Mr. and Mrs. McAllister.

Many markers in other communities honor pioneer residents, listing the names of men, where they came from and what their job was locally. But Robinson said the new marker in Albion is unusual in recognizing McAllister ­- and his wife, whose first name is not known.

“When we look as pioneers, remember there was always a woman behind the man,” she said.

Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin talks about Donna Rodden and the former Albion mayor’s efforts to preserve local history. Rodden’s daughter, Chris Capurso, is second from back right.

Mr. McAllister purchased 368 acres from the Holland Land Company in 1810. That was land on the east side of the village. The couple arrived in 1811, all alone.

Mrs. McAllister would die in 1812, and her husband would then move out of the area. She was buried near where the County Clerk’s Building stands today. That building was constructed in 1882-1883.

Her skeletal remains were discovered in 1957, when the county was doing a project at that building.

When the marker was unveiled today on the lawn of the Clerk’s Building, County Legislature Chairman David Callard lifted the cover to show the new marker. It features a log cabin logo.

Callard marveled at how quickly the area changed after the first settlers arrived. The Erie Canal opened a couple blocks away in 1825. Albion became a boomtown from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, with quarrying and farming major industries.

Most of the buildings that went up in that era – the Courthouse, churches and downtown business district – remain.

“You can see what’s happened in 200 years with people working together for the common good,” Callard said during the dedication ceremony attended by about 50 people.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley presented a proclamation in honor of the McAllisters and their grit in the community’s beginning.

Al Capurso and his son Dan performed three songs as a tribute to the pioneering spirit of Mr. and Mrs. McAllister, the community’s first settlers in 1811.

The Capurso family in Albion paid for the marker and organized the dedication ceremony to honor those early settlers. Al Capurso and his son Dan performed three songs in their honor: “Whole world round,” “See the sky about to rain,” and “After the storm.”

Al’s wife Chris is daughter of the late Donna Rodden, a former Albion mayor who was influential in getting the Courthouse Square listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

“She recognized the importance of our local history and heritage and passed it on to the next generation,” said County Historian Bill Lattin.

He has worked to have many of the local historical markers placed in Albion and around the county.

“These few lines are just the tip of the ice berg,” Lattin said about the markers. “Volumes could be written about each one.”

Many of the markers note the contributions of prominent residents or provide a short vignette about a church or other significant public building. Lattin is pleased to see a marker for the first folks who chose Albion to live.

“It highlights the earliest aspect of our local history,” he said.

The Capurso family poses in front of the historical marker not long after it was unveiled this afternoon.