Historic Childs: Norris Vagg served Rochester as prominent newspaper executive

Posted 7 June 2021 at 11:44 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

Norris Wilbur Vagg, born on October 25, 1903, grew up in the Hamlet of Childs, the son of Joseph and Nellie Vagg who owned and operated the blacksmith shop at Childs during the first half of the 20th century.

Norris’ sister, Melva (Warner) Vagg rounded out the family of four who lived in the house next to the blacksmith shop at the south west corner of the intersection in the Hamlet. The story of Norris Vagg’s life may have had an inauspicious beginning to be sure, but an early appreciation for the subtleties of spelling and the English language would propel him on a lifelong career that would take him to one of the highest offices of the region’s foremost newspaper.

Like all children in the Hamlet of Childs in the early 1900s, Norris attended the Cobblestone District No. 5 School just up the road from his home.  His written reflection on a one-room schoolhouse education follows:

“It had no swimming pool, no gymnasium, not even inside plumbing, but the old cobblestone District No. 5 one-room schoolhouse was a place of learning. We didn’t start French or Spanish in third grade, but we did learn to read, write and spell English. We had Christmas and Easter vacations and sometimes took time to plant a tree on Arbor Day, but the rest of the time we LEARNED. 

We learned to concentrate while other classes recited. Our work done, we learned by osmosis and eavesdropping when those other reciting grades were more advanced than ours. I learned you could make money writing by winning a countywide Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) essay contest, and I learned you could lose it by missing one word of 500 in a similar spelling contest.

No gymnasium? The entire outdoors (for a 15 minutes recess) was there for baseball, wrestling, foot-racing, and acrobatics on the ledge halfway up the cobblestone walls or a bicycle rodeo for the admiring girls.  Teachers didn’t interfere nor referee unless blood-letting started.

Teaching was tutoring, because each of us had individual attention I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for the mad rush of buses, hurrying through crowed corridors, cafeteria rowdyism and the impersonality of 25-in-a-centralized-one-grade schoolroom today. But then, like District 5, perhaps I’m old beyond my time.”

Winning spelling and essay contests in grade school were certainly a harbinger of big things to come in the life of this local boy.  After completing his early education and graduating from Albion High School, he matriculated at the University of Rochester in 1922.

Norris Vagg, family photo 1920s

Norris Vagg’s enjoyment of countless baseball games played during recess at the cobblestone schoolhouse and later at Albion High School, actually earned him the Varsity Shortstop position on the U of R team.

While living in Rochester, Norris started work as a “copyboy” at the Democrat & Chronical in that city, a job that typically involved carrying “copy” or typed story articles, from one room in the newspaper building to another, along with general errands and “gopher” responsibilities.

Norris, called “Red” by his friends and associates, soon advanced to the Assistant to the Western New York Editor.  From the Vicinity Desk he moved to the City Desk as a Staff Reporter. Later, he was Assistant to the Financial Editor, a Copyreader and Makeup Editor.

In 1934, Vagg was named Day City Editor. Three years later he took over the Night City Editor desk. In 1942, Vagg became head of the Copy Desk and a year later News Editor, also serving as Sunday Editor.  He was named Assisting Managing Editor in 1949.  In 1960 at the age of 56, thirty-eight years after starting work at the Democrat & Chronicle, Norris Vagg became the paper’s Managing Editor, a positon he held until his retirement in 1968.

Throughout his many years at the newspaper, Norris wrote and supervised the writing of thousands of articles.  It has been said he looked for a little humor in every situation, as demonstrated in the following article in 1966 that described a parent’s dilemma with Modern Math.

Henry Ott demonstrates the forge at the Vagg Blacksmith Shop in 2018

Even though Rochester became his home, Norris Vagg maintained his strong feelings for the Hamlet of Childs and the little blacksmith shop that had formed the basis for much of his early life. His Father, Joseph, operated the community’s blacksmith shop until his death in 1956. The author, Arch Merrill, described Joseph Vagg as “the last of the blacksmiths along the Ridge.” Norris reflected on life as a blacksmith’s son, and the tragic fire that disrupted the pace of the Hamlet in 1921.

“Still half asleep, I jumped from bed as ‘red Daylight’ filled my second floor bedroom, reflection of raging flames consuming Dad’s original blacksmith shop at Childs, about 20 feet from our house.

Sleep was brief that fall night as my sister Melva and I had attended a dance at Co. F Armey in Medina, fighting fog coming home on my first effort at night driving without adult support. Rest of that night was spent watching firemen protect the house and sitting alongside the shop ruins with Dad until nearly daylight.

Other crowding recollection include help farmers gave Dad in rebuilding; Mother helping in the shop until I developed muscled enough for some assistance; hot, rainy muggy days when farmers couldn’t work outside but could overfill the shop with horses and give themselves a holiday gabfest, and how Dad could disperse conversationalists crowding too close with a well-directed shower of sparks as he welded calks to shoes.

And most valuable, perhaps, was the lesson in clear, succinct communication administered by Dad after I had trained at the anvil and proudly showed off my educated observations in sizing horseshoes as he worked the floor by asking: ‘5s or 6s, Dad?’ His invariable answer: ‘Yes’. ”

Joseph & Nellie Vagg, 45th Anniversary Celebration, 1948

Norris’ mother, Nellie, made arrangements to give the blacksmith shop to the Cobblestone Museum in the event of her death so that people for all times could see sparks fly out of the open door, and hear the sound of the anvil, and feel the heat of the forge.  That transfer of ownership took place following Nellies death in 1975, and the Cobblestone Museum held a Dedication Service on May 28, 1978.  Norris and several Vagg family members attended the dedication.  At that service, Norris’ sister, Melva, remarked:

“My fondest memory of the blacksmith shop was watching the sparks fly as my Dad shaped the red hot irons on the anvil. The only work I remember doing was bolting the steel tires to the buggy wheel rims. We often worked by lantern light in to the late evening. My brother and I didn’t realize we were being supervised. We thought we were helping and I guess we were. The work I remember best was washing the dishes in the house so my Mother could give Dad some real help. Those were the days of happy memories.”

Norris Vagg, a favored son of the Hamlet of Childs, died on December 30, 1985 at the age of 82, in Henrietta, NY, after losing a 12 year battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. At the time of his death, his fellow journalists at the Democrat & Chronicle described him as, “One of the finest people I know in the newspaper business.”

Another spoke of his 46 year newspaper career, “He worked his way up from copyboy to managing editor, and held every job in-between.” His daughter-in-law, perhaps summed it up best. “The newspaper was his life!”

Historic Childs: Pioneer women were critical in settling hamlet

Posted 29 May 2021 at 8:23 pm

“The Pioneer Clearing,” – Emery A. Philleo, 1888, courtesy Niagara County History Center

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

Volume 2, No. 21

Authors note: In preparation for a prior article written to highlight the story of Delia Robinson in the Hamlet of Childs, I was fortunate to have been drawn to her book, “Historical Amnesia,” wherein she describes a few of the amazing stories of women in the pioneer settlement of the community.  With Dee’s help, as well as a few others, I present this article on Pioneer Women in the Hamlet of Childs.

It’s seldom been mentioned, but common sense tells us that roughly 50% of our pioneer settlers were women. The majority of settlers in this county were immigrating from New England or from eastern New York settlements. These men and women brought with them strong moral and religious convictions, along with an amazing appreciation for the value of hard work.

The everyday activities for both men and women centered on securing food, clothing and shelter. To quote a phrase that has grown out of fashion, “women’s work” meant preparing the food, sewing clothes, assisting with the crops, and helping build and then maintain the early log, brick or cobblestone home. It has been said, “A man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”  But, perhaps Dee Robinson said it best, “Women’s skills were a necessity, not a nicety.”

Mary Jane P. Danolds, unsigned, c1855, The Cobblestone Society & Museum

After setting up the initial settlement, two other emerging priorities were always schools and churches. In the Hamlet of Childs, women were front and center in the development of the religious society through their efforts in the formation of the Universalist Church, and also through serving as teachers for the District #5 Schoolhouse.  In these endeavors, pioneer settler Mary Jane Danolds, shown above, is credited by historians with proposing the first name for the church, “The Church of the Good Shepherd.”  In like manner, for the hamlet’s school, in its 103 years of service to the district, over 30 different women served as teachers, outnumbering men two to one.

Women’s work in the hamlet was arduous and time consuming.  Starting with taking care of the log house, it included the everyday chore of sweeping the ever-present dirt floor and tending to the wood burning fireplace with its constant infusion of soot and dust into the home. Cooking three square meals daily over an open fire seems tough enough, but add to that the preservation of meat and vegetables for winter use through smoking and canning, all without running water, and one begins to appreciate the monumental task presented in just feeding one’s family.

Now add making soap, candles, thread, spinning, weaving, bearing and raising children, planting and harvesting crops, chopping wood, washing, mending, and the list goes on. Years ago, people used to say of a local couple where the husband was rather sedentary, “Hubby holds the lantern while Grace chops the wood.”

Courtesy Holland Land Office Museum

Every community is proud of its list of “firsts,” be it first church, first doctor, first store, first stone mason and more. But few, like Childs, can document that their first pioneer settler was a woman. In the records of the Holland Land Office in Batavia, one can see the first recorded “article” of land in what we now know as the Hamlet of Childs, was taken by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Her land, a little over 123 acres, located on the Ridge near today’s Brown Street Road, was assigned to Mrs. Elizabeth Gilbert for the payment of $1.

Those requesting an article of land, then had ten years to pay the remainder of the purchase price, usually about $2.50 per acre, at which time the deed would be given to the settler.  Elizabeth arrived in the region in the early 1800s with her husband, but no known record exists that lists her husband’s name.  Two years later, in 1809, Mr. Gilbert died.  Elizabeth and her niece and two children remained on the article of land and continued to make the payments. During that time, Mrs. Gilbert tended to all of the normal “women’s work,” and assumed with panache all of the hunting, fishing, plowing, sewing seed, tending animals, building barns, harvesting crops, felling trees, handling the ox team, and many more duties that would normally have fallen upon her husband.

Historians record that Elizabeth Gilbert not only attended to her own farm and household, she was present when her neighbors, Noah and Polly Burgess, arrived to their wilderness “article.” Not unlike Elizabeth’s own husband, Noah Burgess fell sick shortly after his arrival, and the difficult work of cutting trees, dragging them to the building site with a team of oxen, and building a log cabin was attended to by Polly Burgess and her neighbor, Elizabeth Gilbert.

The work of the farm wife, while often times unnoticed by historians, in some instances, when the household chores fell upon the male in the family, a record of the disturbance was made. One such record can be found in 1825 when an early settler wrote, “I can get no girl to work and I was obliged to take care of my sick wife and do all my work indoors and outdoors. I (also) had to milk, churn, work butter, wash and iron clothes, mix and bake bread, and in fact do all that had to be done. I finally found a woman to work until my wife got able to be about.”

The death of a pioneer husband many times forced young families to pick up stakes and head back east to the security offered by other family members. But, alternatively, many fatherless families decided to stick it out and stay with their articles of land, doing the chores and doing what was necessary to pay the Holland Land Office for their properties.

If a husband died intestate (without will), Surrogate Law said a widow had use of 1/3 of her husband’s estate during her lifetime, a provision that was called a dower.  This included 1/3 of the acreage as well as the dwelling. In several instances, this provision was applied with exacting detail.  One case reads, “The widow has use of the south part of the lower room of the dwelling house, divided by a line running from the south side of the bedroom door to the center of the fireplace, including the room south of the chimney. Also, the south part of the chamber as it is portioned off with the privilege of a passage in the north door and entryway and stairs into the chamber. Also, all the scaffold over the stable and barn floor, the south bin of the granary and the west stall in the stable, with the right to go in and out at the door, together with the land on which the above described parts of said buildings stand.”  Fifteen women from 1828-1855 claimed their right of dower in Orleans County.

Cynthia Lee Proctor

It is rare to find an early history of the hamlet written by a woman. A few exceptions exist and their written point of view brings clarity to the lives of the “silent half” of the local citizenry. The following commentary was penned by Cynthia Lee Proctor, fourth wife of John Proctor of Childs. It was written in 1870 at the request of the Pioneer Association of Orleans County which formed in 1859.

“Having often been solicited to give a history of my pioneer life, I have excused myself by thinking that no event of my life has had been of sufficient import to record it. But as the interest of our society depends upon individual experience, such as it is, I give it to you.  I was born in the town of Wardsboro, state of Vermont, in the year 1803. My father and mother, John and Sara Lee, were natives of Massachusetts and moved to Vermont shortly after they were married, where they remained until 1804 when they moved to New York. My mother had 12 children, ten of whom survived her. In the spring of 1816, my father and eldest brother Charles Lee, came to this far west county to look for land. They made a purchase on what was then the Town of Gaines, County of Genesee. (Note: Orleans County not formed until 1824.)

In a short time, two of my brothers and a hired man started on foot, one hundred and fifty miles, to commence the new and strange enterprise. They cleared the land, got in five acres of wheat, built a log cabin and chopped down 7 acres of timber, preparatory for clearing off and putting in spring crops.  On the last day of February 1817, our family, 12 in number, arrived at our new home, in which was a young man and his wife who had taken shelter until they could build a log cabin. I was the youngest of four unmarried sisters. The oldest went east that summer to teach school, as there was not a schoolhouse, I think, south of the Ridge Rd.

The Pioneer Homestead – courtesy Orleans County Historian

Our floor was split logs and the doors were blankets, as yet no doors could be obtained.  It was not long before we had board for chamber (bedroom) floors, doors, windows, also a chimney and oven.  They made bedsteads of round poles called Genesee bedsteads, but they answered every purpose and most happy were we when we had a chamber to put them in, although the way to reach it was by a ladder.

“The Opening of the Erie Canal-October 26, 1825,” Raphael Beck, 1928, Courtesy Niagara County History Center

It was not long before our spinning wheels were got in order and the hum of four wheels indoors and as many axes outdoors was the only instruments of music. But not infrequently did our voices rise above the continual din and echo on the surrounding woods.

We walked twice during the first summer to Maple Ridge to attend meeting, which was held in Mr. Wyman’s barn. I think Elder Gregory preached.  (The author notes these were more than likely Methodists.)

Late in the fall of that year, my father got his horses home, which had been pastured in Ontario County. Cattle could get their living in the woods, the only trouble was the flavor of the milk and butter, and hunting for the cows. The boys would start after them, taking a tin horn so it they lost their way or got belated, they would blow the horn, and then we would do the same from the house, and they could then follow the sound.  That was a dismal sound when we heard the horn in the evening and frequently the howl of wolves at the same time. On one occasion every one of the family was awakened from sleep by the noise of the wolves not more than fifteen rods from the house. They had attached a flock of sheep and killed five and most likely would have killed them all if they had not got fighting among themselves and aroused the family.

After we got horses, my sister and I took a ride of 13 or 14 miles to visit a friend in the Town of Yates or North Woods as we used to call that section of country north of Ridge Road. After we got to the Ridge, the ride was delightful. We went about three miles north of the Ridge, but what a road, if road it could be called. The mud and water would frequently come up to our feet in the stirrups. I had no desire to visit the place again, and did not in some 20 years, when I could hardly realize it was the same place.

I think as the youth listen to stories of pioneers, they are apt to get the impression was one of hardship, privation and toil, but such was not my experience. We had our social pleasures just as much, then as now, but less time to argue about styles, conventionalities or grades of society. Ture, we labored hard, but that was the fashion, and we all adopted it. An indolent man or woman was not in fashion.

Another source of joy, which none but a pioneer could appreciate, was to witness the improvement constantly going on, and our hope of better days more than realized after the first year. With what joy the (Erie) canal was received and surely it was the making of western New York at that time. By this way it was my privilege to come to Medina on the first boat that passed through to this place.

My sister, Esther, who married William C. Tanner, taught school in Eagle Harbor in 1821. A little incident took place in the school worth mentioning. All at once a little boy called out ‘a snake, a snake,’ and there in the corner of the room was a black snake crawling up the log with evident intention of getting upstairs. She had nothing to encounter so formidable a foe and sent the children for help, but he was gaining his point so fast she took the log of a bench, pulled him down and killed him.  It measured 5 feet 9 inches.  I taught in the same house the next season and I kept a good watch for snakes. I taught six months at $1 per week, the then common price.

In 1823 we buried our dear father and mother. They were surrounded by their children, not one having settled more than four miles from home.

I am thankful to my Heavenly Father that I have been permitted to live in this period, from the wilderness to behold this beautiful country; from ignorance and superstition to see the love, science and a consistent view of the character of God enlightening the minds of the rising generation and bring all souls more in harmony with His Divine Law. Love to God and Love to man.  Cynthia Lee Proctor”

Lithograph from the Cobblestone Museum Collection

Historic Childs: Hamlet named for judge who grew up in Gaines

Posted 22 May 2021 at 8:21 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

Henry Childs

Author’s note: Webster’s Dictionary defines “eponym” as a person or place that something or someone is named after. One nice benefit of writing articles on the history of the Hamlet of Childs has been that I learn a lot in the process. Such is the case when I learned the eponym for the Hamlet of Childs, namely NYS Supreme Court Justice Henry A. Childs.

Henry Augustine Childs was the eldest son of Levi and Ann (Wright) Childs, born in the town of Gaines on July 17, 1836.  After finishing his early education at the Albion Academy, he started to fulfill his childhood ambition to become an attorney, by studying law under Benjamin Bessac in Albion.

Four years later he was admitted to the bar and associated with the firm of Sickles and Graves in Medina. In 1868 Henry was elected Orleans County District Attorney, an office he held for nine years, until 1877.

It came as no real surprise to his fellow Orleans County residents that Henry’s name was placed in nomination for a Supreme Court Justice position with the Western District of New York at the Judicial Convention held in Buffalo in 1883.

He was elected by a large majority and served with distinction in that office from January 1884 until his death in May 1906. His jurisdiction covered Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

Judge Childs married Julia Freeman in 1859 and they had three children. Their family home, seen here, later known as The Maple Crest Inn, is located on the corner of W. Center Street and Prospect Avenue in the Village of Medina. Incidentally, Henry Childs’ son Milford W. Childs Sr. married Pearl Cook, daughter of S.A. Cook, a significant person in Medina history, through his furniture business, the S.A. Cook building etc. Their son, Milford II’s wife Elizabeth, died in January 2021 at the age of 99.

The Medina Tribune published a very enlightening article in 1884 regarding Child’s Supreme Court nomination. “The people…were delighted with the nomination of Mr. Childs for justice of the Supreme Court and the citizens of this county feel greatly honored at his selection as one of the candidates for the position. Mr. Childs is a gentleman in the prime of life, whose character in every respect is above reproach and of the most excellent kind, and whose knowledge and ability will make him one of the best and ablest judges. He possesses the confidence of his neighbors and fellow citizens to the fullest extent, and they are highly gratified at the honor bestowed upon him which they know to be justly merited. This nomination was not the result of any trick or political intrigue but because the convention regarded him as the strongest name to be placed on the ticket.”

Judge Childs’ local fame in the Hamlet of Childs came about in 1897 when the residents of “Fairhaven” wanted to open a U.S. Post Office in that name.  That’s most likely when the citizens learned that the name Fairhaven, was, unfortunately, already taken. Postal regulations only permit one post office in the state to use the same name, and Fair Haven was already spoken for in a small town near Oswego. That’s when the decision was made to register the name of the community as Childs, NY.

Hamlet of Childs, early 1900s

The first post office for Childs was located in George Geringer‘s General Store, located at the corner of Ridge Road and Oak Orchard Road in the Hamlet. The Postmaster of Childs in 1897 was Oris C. Knapp. The post office had a short life, closing up shop in 1902, when the mail for Childs was transferred to Albion, a situation that continues to this day.

Judge Childs was selected for the hamlet’s namesake because folks felt he personified the high ideals and integrity of the community, all the while demonstrating the axiom of “A Local Boy Who Makes Good.” It was very fitting that the community was named after Henry Childs during his lifetime. Many times, that sort of honor is done posthumously.

Henry Childs died in 1906 and was buried in Boxwood Cemetery in Medina, shown here. Boxwood Cemetery was established in 1849, and is the resting place of many early settlers. The cemetery includes approximately 5,000 marked burials in the cemetery, spanning from 1849 until the present day. It features entrance ways flanked by Medina sandstone columns and wrought-iron gates built in 1925. Also located in the cemetery is a Gothic Revival style chapel built in 1903 of rough-cut red Medina sandstone, just three years before Justice Childs’ burial.

Judge Henry Childs’ death in 1906 ended his legal career, but it’s fitting that his life still lives on in the community that bears his name.

Historic Childs: Photos from the Town of Gaines 175th Anniversary Parade in 1984

Posted 15 May 2021 at 4:13 pm

By Doug Farley, Director of Cobblestone Museum

GAINES – The expression, “Everyone Loves a Parade,” was certainly true in the Hamlet of Childs with the throng of onlookers and parade participants for the Historic Gaines Jubilee Parade in July 1984, celebrating the Town’s 175th Anniversary.

Linda Snyder and friend wave to onlookers with smiling faces all around at Harbor Crafts. The H&A Superette and Liquor store are seen in the background.

Elizabeth Vick (Church Historian), Arnold Vick, Alice & Earl Cole and Nancy Good celebrate 200 Years of Methodism.

American Legion Auxiliary, Albion

Lois Reid sets the pace for the members of the NYS Award winning Night Watch Drum and Bugle Corp. Scott Parker was the drum instructor.

More members of the Firemen’s Parade Champions, Knight Watch.

What’s a birthday celebration without cake? Gaines Congregational Church Float.  These little tikes are probably 40 years old now.

The Cobblestone Universalist Church is decorated for the patriotic observance.

Even the horses got dressed up for the occasion.

Hey somebody has to do it! With all the horses, the pooper scooper is a necessity.

Ridge Equipment is ready to give Ol’ Betsy a boost.

Legionnaires help celebrate.

Thank you for your service! We salute our Vietnam vets, Genesee Valley Chapter!

Mary Ann Pixley is riding high in this equestrian unit.

Ingrid LaMont is all smiles, and husband Roger is keeping a watchful eye.

Dig those white sidewall tires!

Queen for a day!

Uncle Sam gets a lift.

We honor and respect our firemen. Richard Tibbitts marching in line.

Where’s your pants, Pete?

Clowns and more.

Frenchy’s Appliance: Entertainment: Then and Now.  (Looks like “Now” is a little outdated today.) But, Everett “Frenchy” Downey is still going strong.

Lamont Storage, Densmore Road, Albion.

Ruth and Robert Brown riding their historic John Deere tractor.

Historic Childs: Preserving history has been labor of love for ‘Dee’ Robinson

Posted 11 May 2021 at 8:50 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director   

The Hamlet of Childs is fortunate to have a history that is one of its greatest assets. The recording of that history, as well as its preservation, has been the labor of love for many local historians, including the subject of today’s essay, Delia “Dee” Robinson, shown above center.

Dee’s roots and interest in history got started in her hometown of North East, PA. After finishing high school there, she graduated from Clarion State Teachers College in 1969. She was very fortunate to travel extensively throughout Europe, the United States and Mexico. Dee took her graduate work at Geneseo and is a certified media specialist.  She then worked as a school librarian for Wayne Central School District at Ontario Center NY from 1969-1974.

We will start Dee’s journey as local historian with her family’s arrival in the Hamlet of Childs in 1976 when she and her husband William purchased a cobblestone home in Childs, shown above at right.  It was that purchase that alerted Dee to the larger picture of cobblestone masonry construction in the region, and the organization that was formed in 1960 to preserve and safeguard this architectural resource, The Cobblestone Society and Museum.

Dee immediately became interested in the history of her own home and started checking deeds, census records and old maps for more information.  Dee said, “In order to find out about one piece of property, you have to find out about the one next door.”  This, of course, led to conversations with other residents which led to her interest in much more than just cobblestone homes, but also the storied history of Gaines, itself.

With the Cobblestone Museum in the same neighborhood, Dee found people with common likes and interests and soon became a valuable volunteer and board member.  The Museum received its Provisional Charter from the NYS Education Department in 1961, and Absolute Charter six years later.

One of the purposes listed in the chartering document was “to establish a museum and library as a headquarters for the collection and dissemination of information concerning the cobblestone art and all related aspects of regional art and history.” It was Dee Robinson that moved this goal one step closer to fruition when she approached the organization’s board of trustees to offer her services to help create a library that specialized in books, printed matter and photographs that detail the history of approximately 900 cobblestone structures built between the 1820s and the Civil War. The epicenter of this construction is located at Rochester NY, fanning out with a radius of about 60 miles.

As a result, the Cobblestone Resource Center was established in early 1982 with Dee Robinson appointed Research Director. By this time, the Cobblestone Society had been very fortunate to have already amassed an amazing collection of research materials through the efforts and generosity of three of its founding trustees, Cary Lattin (left), Robert Frasch (right) and William Shelgren (center).

The Cobblestone Board agreed with Dee and gave her permission to set up a library in a small area of the Museum’s Gift Shop located in the lower level of the Cobblestone Universalist Church. Members of the board are shown here in April 1983 assembled for the Annual Meeting at the Village Inn, including: (Left-right, First Row) Marcia Hart, Josephine Howard, Ruth Daggar, Ruth Applegate, Don Ross and Patrick Roundtree; Orleans County Planning and Development.  (Second row) Evelyn Lyman, Edgar Clark, Bill Lattin; Museum Director, Dick Cook, Harold Root, Paul Haines, Delia Robinson, Resource Director.

In 1984, having already outgrown its space, the research materials were moved into the room, seen here, a space most thought would be more than adequate for its purpose. Well, in 1991, another move to gain more space was needed, this time into what would later become known as the Danolds Room, in honor of local pioneers, Charles and Mary Jane Danolds.

The final move came about in 2002 following the Museum’s acquisition of the Brick House from the H&A Superette and Liquor Store, next door.  Moving the Resource Center, then 20 years old, was no small feat. Board member Evelyn Lyman took on the gargantuan job of designing the interior, purchasing storage units and transferring an enormous collection of books and archival materials. At the dedication, the entire ground floor was dedicated as the Robert W. Frasch Room, a space the library still occupies today.

Dee Robinson served with distinction in her role as Research Director for the Museum from 1982 to 2012, a 30-year span of time. During that time she helped acquire several hundred books on local history (a portion of the book collection is seen here in 2010) with an emphasis on cobblestone construction, and created about 900 hanging files that provide information and pictures on all known cobblestone buildings.

In that same time she wrote grants to support her efforts and to expand the collection of research materials. After submitting one grant request to the New York State Council of the Arts in the 1980s, the Museum was pleased to learn that NYSCA had not only approved the grant, but wrote back and asked Dee to request a larger amount of funding because the scope of her work was so important to this region. When Robert Frasch passed away in 1990, he, too, was very favorably impressed with Dee’s efforts. He provided a substantial endowment that he earmarked to be used to help maintain the Research Room for posterity.

Dee’s interest in local history goes far beyond just cobblestones. In 1982, during Bill Lattin’s tenure with the Town Board of Gaines, he recognized Dee’s interest in local history and requested she be appointed as Deputy Town Historian serving with J. Howard Pratt who was Town Historian. Mr. Pratt is shown above right with Stanley Vanderlaan, left.

Dee’s appointment was the first of its kind in Orleans County. Over the years, Howard Pratt, who lacked a town office of his own, had collected a large amount of material that he kept at his own home. Dee served in the Deputy Historian position until 1988 when Howard Pratt died at the age of 99. Dee Robinson became Town Historian shortly thereafter. Then, following in the precedent already established, she appointed Janice Barnum Thaine to become her Deputy Historian, a very wise choice.

In addition to her role as local historian, Dee served as President of the NYS Municipal Historians, a state wide organization of government historians representing nearly all of the cities, towns and villages across the state. She served in that role with distinction for many years.

Concurrent with her other accomplishments, in 1996, Delia accepted a position as Reference Librarian at the Swan Library local history room, a position that later transitioned and continues to today at the Hoag Library at its new headquarters building on Main Street in Albion.

Dee has also written six local history books including “Historical Gaines 1809-1984,” published for the Town of Gaines Sesquicentennial.  Seen here at a book signing are Bill Lattin (left), Dee Robinson (center), and Ronald “Butch” Radzinski, Town of Gaines Supervisor.

Other titles include, “Cobblestone Buildings in Orleans County NY,” a photo-filled book with many outstanding examples of cobblestone masonry in the county; “Details of Cobblestone Masonry,” “Historical Amnesia,” which focused on the forgotten history of Orleans County’s pioneer women, and “To Preserve and Educate (Vol I & II);” written to celebrate 25 and 50 years of Cobblestone Society history.

Copies of each of these publications are available at the Cobblestone Museum Gift Shop or online at Dee has also coauthored numerous other books and publications.  She continues to offer talks and presentations for the Hoag Library and other community organizations, and has contributed to articles in “Time Life Books.”

On the lecture circuit, Dee presented several hands-on workshops on Cobblestone Masonry in the 1980s, a series for which she received the New York State Preservation League Architectural Heritage Year Award.  Other programs Dee continues to present include: “Women’s Victorian Language,” “Local Women in History,” “Building Preservation,” and “The History of Childs;” which includes the history of the Village Inn and other enterprises.

In an effort to recognize the work of Dee Robinson and other local historians, she was given the Orleans County Heritage Heroes Award in 2016.  Shown here receiving the award at that time are (l-r) Melissa Ierlan, Dee Robinson, Peg Wiley, Al Capurso and Tim Archer.

A wise man once said, “Choose a job you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life.” Delia Robinson has built on this axiom and said, “I still love my work, and that’s why I am still working.”

Historic Childs: Outhouses in the Hamlet

Posted 1 May 2021 at 11:10 am

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum, Director

Author’s note: Sometimes it helps to take a look at the lighter side of things, and writing a story on the history of outhouses, is one of those things. I hope you enjoy the underlying humor in the whole subject.

Here you see Museum Director Doug Farley (left) and former Director Bill Lattin, “doing their duty,” while “sitting down on the job” in one of the Museum’s historic outhouses.

The history of the “necessary building” out back provides some interesting stories of bygone times and increased sensibilities.  If you are old enough to remember a visit to a grandparent’s house and seeing an outhouse, you’re probably “getting” old. If you once had an outhouse yourself, let’s face it, you’re “really” old.

Prior to the installation of indoor plumbing, I would dare say most homes in the Hamlet of Childs had outhouses to handle what some call “number one” and “number two.”  There are at least seven outhouses that remain today, and probably a few more that aren’t on the map.

In addition to its National Historic Landmark cobblestone buildings, the Cobblestone Museum has a fantastic collection of outhouses. In case you weren’t aware of that, we’re providing a little glimpse inside, outside and underneath this little discussed architectural collection.

The 1880’s Eastlake style outhouse located by the Print Shop was the first building moved onto the Museum grounds, taking place in March 1977.

The Eastlake outhouse was moved from its location at Five Corners at the former site of a foundry and furniture factory, seen here. The image shows the outhouse on the north side (left) of the brick house that sat at the intersection of Routes 98 and 279. The house was razed shortly after this picture in 1977.

The property owner at that time established a price of $250 for the historic outhouse and Museum Director Bill Lattin made an inquiry with longstanding Museum member Nettie Ferris who provided a donation that the Museum Board used to make the purchase. Nettie, an official with the Daughters of the American Revolution in Albion, recognized the significant architectural importance of the Eastlake period.

Museum volunteer Pete Roth arrived with forklift to move the Eastlake outhouse to the Museum grounds..

The outhouse made the trip up Route 98 past the Joseph Vagg Blacksmith Shop, seen here in 1977 before Museum restoration, and before the creation of the Route 98 artisan campus.

The Museum originally placed the outhouse in back of the Ward House. Former Museum Director Bill Lattin is seen here standing in the outhouse doorway with his 3-year-old daughter, Adrienne. She is holding a sign, seen at right that describes the Eastlake style of architecture. Also helping out with the move are Bob Leslie (left),  Charlie Haight (right) and Bob Krause (center), newspaper reporter.

Several years later, the Eastlake outhouse was moved to Route 98 following the acquisition of the Print Shop that matched its architectural style.

The Print Shop Eastlake outhouse is actually fairly pretentious in design, as far as outhouses of its day were concerned, sporting paneled walls, ventilator and two sliding windows

In 1979, the Museum received a donation of its next outhouse, a very early 1830 privy donated by Dee & Tom Hockenberry. The 1830 outhouse was located at their house on the corner of Routes 104 & 279. This restored “beauty” is actually the oldest structure on the Museum campus. It was originally located at the first bank in Orleans County.

It is interesting that this outhouse is probably twice as large as typical outhouses of the time.  Perhaps, it was deliberately ostentatious to embellish the success of the bank’s financial prowess. The Museum undertook a full exterior restoration of the 1830 outhouse in 2018, as seen here. This photo shows museum volunteers Bob Albanese, at left, and Ken Capurso.

Retired Director C.W. “Bill” Lattin is leading the Outhouse Tour outside the 1830 outhouse following the restoration in 2018.

The third outhouse to make the trek to the Museum campus was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund (Vernieta) Cooper. This privy was originally located at the home of Gov. Rufus Bullock in Albion. Rufus Bullock, born in 1834, moved to Albion at age six, and attended the Albion Academy. His home was diagonally across from the Baptist Church at Liberty and West Park Streets.

In 1860 Bullock moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he served as Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army, and was with Robert E. Lee as he surrendered at Appomattox. Following the war in 1868, Bullock was elected governor of Georgia during the Reconstruction Era, the first elected Republican governor in the state. He retired to Albion in 1870 and is buried in Mt. Albion Cemetery.

In 1920, E. F. Fancher bought the Bullock House and installed indoor plumbing, and the old outhouse was moved to a tenant farm on Lime Kiln Road. In 1923, the privy was moved once again to Fancher’s father in-law’s home, Nelson Welch, on the Ashwood Road in Carlton. The outhouse was later given to the museum by the Coopers. Mrs. Cooper was the daughter of Nelson Welch. Here we see Bruce Sartwell operating his forklift to raise the Bullock outhouse onto a trailer for transportation to the museum.

Once on site, neighbor, Zambito Produce, offered forklift assistance for the short hop to its current location behind the Ward House, which once served as a parsonage for the Cobblestone Universalist Church.

Gerard Morrisey and Pat Farnham are shown near the Bullock outhouse during the Ghost Walk in 2019. This outhouse has a double hung window and a box inside that holds corncobs for cleaning up after using the facility.

This beautiful Greek revival outhouse, engineered by Joe Martillotta, arrived next. One of its unique features is that it’s a five holer! There are three seats for adults and two smaller ones for children. This privy has a plastered interior and colonial restoration wallpaper. It came from a c.1838 cobblestone house once owned by the Goheen family on Culvert Road. Mary Zangerle (floral blouse), a Goheen family member, inspects the restored Greek revival outhouse on the Museum’s Route 98 campus, alongside Farmers Hall.

One may ask, “What was the reason for so many holes?”  I don’t think we know for certain, but some have conjectured that the additional holes allowed for some longevity between cleanings. Continued use of only one hole would soon create a situation where what you were depositing would came back up to visit you.

In addition to its collection of privies, the Museum also has an authentic water closet, which is really a misnomer, in that while it was a closet, it didn’t have any water. The small closet under the west staircase off the church lobby was used as such. The photo shows one of the only places in the church that clearly depicts the interior rubble wall associated with cobblestone masonry construction. The Museum has placed a commode in the closet which visitors find most fascinating.

Written in old style handwriting with pencil on the inside of the west closet door it states, “Water Closet Gents Only.” However, no such labeling exists on the similar closet on the east side of the entryway. It is assumed that the ladies had their own parlor and water closet downstairs which was off limits to men and boys.

Folks are usually surprised to learn that there was never any running water at the District #5 Schoolhouse in Childs, even as late as 1952. There are, however, boys’ and girls’ outhouses at the school house with construction dating from the 1930’s.

The boys’ outhouse even has a urinal.

In the late 1920s, few decades before the school closed, the school’s trustees agreed to install chemical toilets inside the boys’ and girls’ entranceways. A toilet “salesman” had promised, “No smells will ever be detected.”  That turned out to be an empty promise. Following the installation of the chemical toilets, they removed the old outhouses, which they felt were outdated “technology.”

It wasn’t too long until the “odor-free” chemical toilets displayed their true shortcomings by creating a malodorous nightmare. While eating crow, the trustees decided to remove the offensive toilets and rebuild new outhouses in the 1930s, which still remain today. With careful observation of the floors in the schoolhouse one can still see the holes cut in the entryway floors to accommodate the toilet incursion. The holding tanks in the basement under the toilets were removed in the 1930s.

Here is a story Janice Barnum Thaine told about herself when she was in first grade at the District #5 School in Gaines. The school is now part of the Cobblestone Society Museum and is a National Historic Landmark. One of the unique features in the schoolhouse is a sloping floor which gives eight inches of elevation in the rear of the classroom where Janice sat.

Janice remembers that the teacher had a flip-flop sign that hung on the wall behind the teacher’s desk that controlled access to the outdoor facilities. One side of the sign stated in large letters, “Out,” and the other side had a pretty picture. When the sign displayed the “picture,” a student could raise his or her hand to ask the teacher for permission to go outdoors to the restroom.

But the teacher, the arbiter of discipline, would only allow one pupil to go “Out” at one time!  If granted permission, the student would flip the flip-flop sign to read “Out,” on the way out the door. That meant that all other students should not even consider raising their hand and asking for permission to use the outhouse until the sign is flipped back to the pretty picture by the returning student.

One day, in the late fall of 1932, Janice raised her hand seeking permission to use the outhouse. The teacher looked at the sign which read “Out,” and said, “I’m sorry, someone else is out so you’ll have to wait your turn.” After a few minutes, Janice tried again, and the teacher said, “I’ve already told you, you’ll have to wait your turn.” More time passed and Janice tried a third time, in an angry tone the teacher replied, “How many times do I have to tell you!?  You’ll have to wait your turn!!”

Well more time passed and Janice, of course, couldn’t wait any longer, and had an accident. Later in life, Janice offered, “That’s the exact moment I realized that the school had a sloping floor.”

It seems a little trickle of “number one” ran right down the floor, under the students’ desks, to a hot floor register placed directly over the furnace. It sputtered, “Pssst, Pssst, Pssst,” as each drop hit the hot furnace. And, then came the unmistakable aroma which permeated the room. Everyone knew, of course, that Janice had an accident. How embarrassed she was, but not as embarrassed as her older sister, Elda, who wouldn’t even walk home with her that day after school.

When such troubles as this occurred, the teacher would send the child next door to visit the good-hearted neighbor, Lucy Janus, who was always prepared with a clean dress, undies, and trousers for someone who might need cleaning up. Sometimes a similar situation with soiled or ripped clothing would occur when the children played games outdoors, and Mrs. Janus would always come to the rescue.  You see, unlike today, there were no teachers’ aides or school nurse in the old fashioned, rural, one-room schoolhouse that would take care of such problems.

The newest addition to the Museum’s collection of outhouses is located at the Vagg House. During the planning stages for the advent to this new property for the Museum, Bill Lattin undertook the modern construction, of a replica outhouse, using all salvaged lumber, patterned after an outhouse located at the Gaines Basin Schoolhouse.

In the early 2000s, to highlight the Museum’s unique “collection” of outhouses, Georgia Thomas provided a special tour of just the privies.  Bill Lattin also provided Outhouse Tours in 2018 and 2019.  Perhaps it’s time to “drop-in” again. (Sorry, I had to offer at least one more pun!)

County planners give OK for 2 solar projects in Gaines

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 April 2021 at 10:07 am

GAINES – The Orleans County Planning Board on Thursday voted in support of two solar energy projects in Gaines.

The Planning Board recommended Gaines officials approve the site plans and give permits for both projects.

Next Era Energy Resources has proposed a 5-megawatt project with 21,580 solar panels at 2378 Gaines Waterport Road in Residential/Agriculture District. The project would be on land owned by Donald and Janelle Uderitz.

The Planning Board noted the location is in a low-density residential and rural area of Route 279, not far from the Gaines Valley Aviation Airport.

The project would utilize 35.4 acres of a 93-acre parcel. Janet Ward, a representative for the company, said the interconnection has been approved by National Grid, and the U.S. Army Corps also has signed off on the project.

There will be a 8-foot-high chain link fence around the solar arrays with emergency access gates every 300 feet. There will also be trees planted as a visual shield from the road.

The solar arrays will be on a single-axis tracker that can slowly rotate in the direction of the sun.

The project also includes storage batteries for up to 3.75 megawatts of power. Those batteries have a self-extinguishing system in case of a fire.

The company is doing a long-term lease with a decommissioning plan to turn the site back to farmland, Ward said.

The other project in Gaines has an access drive on Route 279 but the address is 14325 West Bacon Rd. The 3-megawatt project will be on about 20 acres of land owned by Brian Stendts and Mary Declerck.

This solar project is being developed by AES Solar. It doesn’t include a battery storage system.

There  will be a chain-link fence around the project, with plantings on the east and south sides as a visual buffer from the road and neighbors.

Fruit farmers fret with snow-covered orchards

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 April 2021 at 11:56 am

Buds of trees in sensitive stage after warm start to spring

Provided photos: These peach trees at Hurd Orchards are in the blossom stage and now covered in snow.

The snow-covered landscape today in Orleans County is more than an annoyance for local fruit growers, who are concerned their crop of cherries, peaches, apples and other fruit could be damaged from the cold temperatures.

Fruit growers are hopeful they will get by without significant damage, because the temperatures aren’t expected to go below 28 degrees where there can start to be damage.

These apple buds at Kast Farms are just breaking out of the tight cluster stage, where they are more vulnerable to cold temperatures.

Although the snow-covered orchards is a scary sight for fruit growers, the bigger worry is tonight with how low the temperatures will go and for how long, said Craig Kahlke, a fruit specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Ontario Fruit Program.

If it drops to 28 for about 4 hours, growers can expect a 10 percent loss in the crop. Dropping to 25 degrees in the full blossom stage could result in a 90 percent loss, according to Michigan State University which has developed a chart of critical spring temperatures during bud development.

Kahlke has worked as a local fruit specialist for 14 years. He recalled 2012 when half of the fruit crop was wiped out when freezing temperatures killed buds in early May.

He doesn’t expect the snow today and cold later tonight to do much damage. But he worries the buds still have two or three more weeks of being vulnerable to the cold.

It hit 80 on one March day and locally there have been other days in the 70s. That has the fruit trees more advanced than normal with their budding stages. Many of the apples trees broke bud in late March, Kahlke said, when there are still several weeks remaining where the weather could drop to damaging freezing levels.

Amy Machamer, co-owner of Hurd Orchards, said she is concerned for the crop, but remains hopeful. Last year, the temperatures dropped to dangerous cold in early May and on Mother’s Day. She thought the crop would be significantly diminished but Hurd Orchards had a full crop in nearly everything.

“We are hoping beyond hope that that kind of mini miracle will be the reality for 2021,” Machamer said.

If the buds aren’t damaged, Machamer said there is also the worry that the blossoms may not get properly pollinated due to the snow.

Machamer said the temperatures don’t affect the orchards and farmland uniformly.

“There are micro-micro climates,” she said.

There can be pockets with slight temperature variances, and a contrast by even a couple degrees can make a huge difference in damage.

“It’s not a one size fits all,” she said. “And there are different varieties at different stages. It’s certainly scary but hopefully it will be OK.”

Brett Kast of Kast Farms in Gaines was nervous with the snow last night, but felt better the temperature didn’t drop below 30.

“28 is the magic number (when there can be damage),” he said. “Tonight will be a cold one and that is a concern.”

He also was encouraged checking the orchards and spotted a bee out looking to pollinate despite the cold.

The snow could benefit the sensitive peach blossoms by providing some insulation with expected low temperatures tonight.

Historic Childs: Italianate mansion on Route 98 was once known as ‘The Castle’

Posted 17 April 2021 at 7:42 am

Site was well known in WNY as a speakeasy during Prohibition

Photo courtesy Orleans County Historian

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

GAINES – What was once called “The Castle,” a white Italianate, 19th century mansion in the Hamlet of Childs, has been the scene of several ups and downs over its storied lifetime.

A point of interest, which is no longer to be seen, was a “200 foot cathedral aisle of trees which serves as an approach to the house from the road.”

In the winter folks could get a glimpse of the mansion, but in the summer, “the arching limbs of the trees are heavy with foliage, offering only a dim glimpse of the home at the end of the shadowy avenue.”

An early 1900s newspaper headline, seen here, describes the property as an “Empty Mansion Dimly Seen from the Road – Intrigues Passers-by.”  The writer went on to describe the scene of “the house which sits back from the road, just south of Fairhaven, or Childs, as it is now called.”

It was said at that time, that perhaps the stone wall fronting the property is even more striking and attention-getting than the shadow of a house that was visible from the road. Close inspection of the wall at 2755 Oak Orchard Road showed its hand-carved stones, and vertical projecting stone posts which support a chain with “catenary curve.” At the time of construction, the stones were joined without mortar or cement in the wall. All of the materials were bedded using lead. Early reports state that over a ton of metal was used.

The mansion itself is credited to a certain John Dixon, who came to Albion in the mid-1800s as a wealthy man, after a successful career as a ship chandler. Once here, Dixon married a young girl from Gaines, and carried out his ideas for a house that would “surpass in luxury of construction any residence known in this part of the country.” Much of the building materials and interior furnishings of the place were imported at considerable expense. Hand-cut stone foundations formed the two foot thick cellar walls.

Each of two front rooms in the house had round arch, grey Italian marble fireplaces. A pair of central glass doors opened into a long hall with a circular staircase. The balustrade and large walnut posts were said to date to Dixon’s ship supply business.

The second floor bedrooms were similarly equipped. The third floor attic room contained a large lead lined cistern to provide rain water to the house. From there, an open stairway led to the widow’s walk and cupola on the roof, which was said to “afford an excellent view of the Canadian shore.”

A later owner imported a good deal of wrought iron work that served as trellis arch and entryway around the estate.

Dixon was described as an eccentric by his contemporaries.  After completing the house, he moved out and left it for his wife’s occupancy.  He moved next door in a smaller home and his wife lived in the mansion until her death. The two had no children.

After Dixon, the succession of ownership went first to William DeWitt Merrick and then to Frank (“Patty”), Mary and Leo Majewski in 1925. The Majewskis opened up a “speakeasy” and continued to operate a country saloon for about ten years. The place gained a colorful reputation during Prohibition and became known throughout Western New York as “The Castle.” As stated earlier, the tree lined drive and deeply wooded front lawn provided the necessary privacy and intrigue.

The next owner was Elizabeth Keeney Hart (Mrs. Elizur Kirke Hart II), who acquired the property from the Majewskis in 1935. At that point, the home had fallen into one of its periods of disrepair but still had strong “bones.” After “Bess” Hart’s death a year later, the property passed to her son, E. Kirke Hart III and his wife Marcia. Mrs. Hart offered that she believed the house was once decorated about 1894 by the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, when that firm was doing work on the new Pullman Memorial Church in Albion. Marcia and her husband Kirke proceeded to remodel the home through the 1930s.  Marcia’s reflections follow:

“The property Kirke inherited was The Castle, two large barns, outbuildings and ten acres of land. A long time employee of the Hart family, Wonderful Raduns and his wife Daisey and son Eric, moved into the house to become its caretakers. Daisey told of turning away many former customers of the speakeasy. Almost immediately, Kirke and the Raduns started the job of cleaning up the years of neglect.  They removed 68 trees from the front yard to let in more sunlight. A tall pine was stripped of its branches to become a flagpole. Behind the house overgrown bushes, grape vines and dead fruit trees were pulled out. It took several trips to the dump at Five Corners to clear away the large pile of bottles, broken glass, tin cans, etc. from outside the backdoor.

“Kirke and I decided to remodel the house to live in after our marriage. All of the floors had to be hand sanded and varnished because Albion Electric service was 25 cycles and Rochester Flooring couldn’t use their 60 cycle equipment.” 

The Harts were married in June 1938 and daughter, Marcia Elizabeth, was born in July 1939. After Mr. Hart’s death in 1953, Mrs. Hart and her daughter continued to live at the Castle. In 1955, Mrs. Hart left the home but returned frequently.

During the night of October 31, 1959 tragedy struck and the house was partially destroyed by fire. Following the fire, the second story and attic were removed by the next owner. Those who had seen the house’s splendor, reflected that the grandeur was never the same again.

A series of owners followed, including the McMurray family, Wilson family, Marty and Kathy Worth, and a more recent occupancy as “Piccolo’s Italian Bakery and Gift Shop.” Another period of neglect followed, but it’s good to see a new restoration taking place on this landmark property by the current owners, El and Susan Roberts.  This duo has ambitious plans for restoration/renovation of the main house and barns, icehouse and more.  They look forward to returning the beautiful trees, gardens and ponds once associated with the property. The five-year plan will find the couple living in the restored barn and using the Castle as an Airbnb.

Cobblestone Museum acquires barn to showcase transportation relics

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 30 March 2021 at 11:01 am

1920 peddler’s wagon, carriage steps with a buggy and a fully restored Civil War-era sleigh among the collection

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Bill Lattin, former director of the Cobblestone Society Museum, stands in the entrance of the new Transportation Barn on the Vagg property, which the museum has just acquired. Lattin stands next to a Civil War-era sleigh donated by Elba historian Earl Ross.

CHILDS – After a year of being mostly closed due the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cobblestone Society Museum is ready to move ahead with several projects.

Following the announcement of the opening by appointment only of a Currier and Ives exhibit in the Art Gallery in the brick house next to the Cobblestone Church, Cobblestone Museum director Doug Farley and former director Bill Lattin are ready to develop a Transportation Exhibit in the barn on the Vagg property, which the museum recently acquired.

“We have had several transportation-related pieces that we haven’t had room to display,” Farley said. “We are pulling it all together and moving it into the Vagg Transportation Barn.”

Several items will highlight the exhibit, including a circa 1920 peddler’s wagon, carriage steps with a buggy and a fully restored Civil War-era sleigh.

The peddler’s wagon was donated by Donna Rhodey from West Barre, whose father used the cart to deliver groceries from 1928 to 1959.

The buggy was donated by Tillman’s Village Inn when they converted their carriage house into the Carriage Room at the restaurant. The inn is the last remaining structure on Route 104 which was formerly a stage coach stop.

The sleigh was donated by Elba historian Earl Ross. He received the sleigh from a friend many years ago. He said it was in bad shape he got it. It had been stored in a barn and a ton of hay fell on it. He hired Amish craftsmen to repair it and it is in excellent condition now, he said.

The sleigh was manufactured in the 1800s by Excelsior Carriage Company in Watertown. It has a beautiful canopy and is unusual in that it has working doors on its sides.

These carriage steps are shown with a buggy which was donated by Tillman’s Village Inn across the road from the Vagg Transportation Barn. The carriage came from their carriage house when they converted it into the Carriage Room at the restaurant.

Lattin is looking forward to pulling the exhibit together. He plans to move some of the museum’s vehicles out of storage, including the peddler’s cart.

“I’ve only seen one other like it and that was at the Cooperstown Farm Museum,” Lattin said.

The cart belonged to Donna Rhodey’s father LaVerne, who ran a general store in West Barre for almost 60 years.

Two other items in the Transportation Exhibit are a pickle dish cutter and a little red wagon.

Lattin said the pickle dish cutter predates him, so it came there in the 1960s. He remembers his father, who was former Orleans County historian, calling it that, but he can’t find any other information on it.

The little red wagon is c. 1905 and once belonged to Harold Root.

Farley said the museum isn’t soliciting any added items for the Transportation Barn because they already have enough to fill the space.

For the immediate future, the museum and Vagg property will be open by appointment only by calling (585) 589-9013.

A peddler’s cart like this one was donated to the Cobblestone Museum’s Transportation Barn by Donna Rhodey, whose father used it for 45 years delivering groceries from his store in West Barre. This picture is courtesy of the Hadley Farm Museum in Hadley, Mass.

Historic Childs: 2 Cobblestone homes near Museum on the Ridge stand test of time

Posted 28 March 2021 at 9:09 pm

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Society and Museum Director

GAINES – The Historic Hamlet of Childs is home to the National Historic Landmark Cobblestone District with three cobblestone structures that comprise a portion of the buildings owned by the Cobblestone Society & Museum.

In addition, two other cobblestone buildings serve as private residences for their current owners. Those two buildings are the subject of this article.

This image depicts what the larger of the two homes looked like in the late 1800s. It was originally a two-story Greek Revival farmhouse with a one-story wing. William Cook, the minister at the Universalist Church, bought this home in 1850. He chose not to live in the church’s two bedroom cobblestone parsonage, because he had 12 family members under his care. Note the entablature, the wooden trim just under the eave of the second story.

Historic market in front of the larger cobblestone home now owned by local historian Dee Robinson.

The Robinson’s home has undergone a number of additions that have given the home a truly unique appearance today. It was substantially altered in appearance at the turn of the 20th century when a wooden second floor was added to the east portion, along with a full attic with a central bay window. Most distinctive of these alterations is that the gable was rotated 90 degrees.

The Greek Revival entablature was removed and replaced with clapboard. This gives us a peak at construction details normally hidden. Near the top of the cobblestones of the west wall, we can see the wooden blocks that were originally inserted in the stonework to allow the bottom of the entablature to be nailed. It also indicates that cobblestones were not laid behind the original entablature.

Here we can clearly see the large sandstone quoins that form the corners of the structure. Cut stone quoins were used to give cobblestone buildings watertight corners. Also shown here is the difference in the size and pattern of stones used at the front and sides of the building. The highly visible front has six rows of small water-washed cobblestones per sandstone quoin and the sides were constructed more hastily with large glaciated fieldstones, three rows to the quoin.

The smaller of the two “extra” cobblestone structures in the Cobblestone District was built by John Simmons on land purchased from community founding father, John Proctor. We know of another cobblestone building constructed by Simmons: Carlton’s Baldwin Corners District #6 schoolhouse.

Cobblestone mason John Simmons also built a brick blacksmith shop on the site of the wooden blacksmith shop on the corner of Routes 98 and 104. The original blacksmith shop burned and Joseph Vagg rebuilt the current structure at that site, now owned by the Cobblestone Museum.

New exhibit at Cobblestone Museum features prints more than a century old

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 27 March 2021 at 11:52 am

Museum welcomes visitors to see display of ‘Americana’

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Doug Farley, left, director of the Cobblestone Museum, and Bill Lattin, former director, show a giant book of Currier and Ives prints which is part of a Currier and Ives exhibit now on display at the Cobblestone Museum’s art gallery.

CHILDS – After being limited for the past year due to the Covid pandemic, the Cobblestone Society Museum has decided to resume programming with an exhibit of Currier and Ives prints in their art gallery.

Director Doug Farley said he and former director Bill Lattin were talking recently about ways to increase visitation in the off season.

“This building is heated all year, unlike the other buildings in the Cobblestone Complex, and it has a public restroom, so it made sense to use it during the fall and winter,” Farley said.

They developed a plan to keep exhibits up year-round for a couple of years, he said. After the Currier and Ives exhibit is taken down in September, local artist Tom Zangerle of Medina will have a one-man show of his paintings through next spring. He will also have things for sale, Farley said.

“It’s good to give local artists a chance to show their works,” Farley said.

Lattin said the next exhibit after Zangerle’s will likely be of a historic nature.

Of the 75 prints hanging now in the gallery, 95 percent belong to Lattin’s collection of more than 200 Currier and Ives prints, and the other five percent are the museum’s.

“Currier and Ives is certainly Americana,” Lattin said.

He explained Currier and Ives prints date from 1834 to 1907. He said Nathanial Currier established his printing business in 1834. In 1867, he took on a partner, James Merritt Ives.

While Lattin is an avid antique collector, he prefers things from the 19th century, he said. He acquired his first Currier and Ives print of President Garfield in the late 1950s as a gift. It was colored, and he explained if Currier and Ives prints are colored, they were colored by hand.

Doug Farley, director of the Cobblestone Museum, stands next to one of the most popular Currier and Ives’ prints, “Little Daisy,” which is part of an exhibit now on display at the Museum’s gallery.

Lattin also said Currier and Ives were way ahead of Henry Ford. They had long tables in their print shop and hired women to color the prints. One woman would have red watercolor and would color all the parts that should be red, then pass the print to the next woman, who might have the blue color. She would then pass it on to the next to paint the green parts. They had the original assembly line, Lattin said.

He said Currier and Ives appealed to a wide spectrum of the population.

“We normally think of Currier and Ives as pictures of bucolic countryside scenes, such as the Homestead in Winter,” Lattin said. “This collection is not what you’d expect. These prints are smaller and represent the prolific imagery they produced.”

His collection includes prints of political nature, religion, Temperance and death bed scenes which were popular in their day.

One of the most popular Currier and Ives prints was “Little Daisy,” which was given as a free gift to anyone who subscribed to Young Folks Gem Magazine, which was established in 1872. Lattin said he was at an antique mall in Salamanca a week ago the Little Daisy prints were selling from $40 to $60.

The exhibit is open by appointment only any time Monday through Saturday by calling (585) 589-9013. Evening or Sunday appointments may also be possible.

Albion will study if fire district is good fit for fire department

Photo by Tom Rivers: An Albion firefighter directs traffic on March 19 at a car accident with minor injuries on Route 98 in Gaines near the five corners.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 March 2021 at 3:03 pm

ALBION – A committee of Albion firefighters and village officials will be studying if a fire district would make more sense for the fire department, rather than having it part of the village budget.

The fire department is in the village budget, with the towns of Albion and Gaines paying the village in a fire protection contract.

In a fire district, the fire department expenses would be removed from the village budget and the fire district would be its own taxing entity.

The Holley Fire Department recently was moved out of the Holley village budget and is now part of a joint Murray Fire District with the Fancher-Hulberton-Murray Fire Company.

The Albion Village Board on Wednesday voted to research the formation of a district. Joe Grube, a former Gaines town supervisor, will lead the study. Grube is the current vice president of the Albion Fire Department. He is in line to become the president in May.

He sees the biggest benefit of a fire district is the clear breakdown of the costs of operating a fire department. Right now, the costs are blurred in the village budget. For example, a mechanic in the DPW of the village works on fire trucks while on “village time.” That cost as well as insurance and upkeep of the fire hall aren’t necessarily defined in the village budget.

Grube said the possibility of creating a fire district is “very preliminary.” One issue that needs to be resolved is whether a fire district can cover two towns. Grube said he has only seen fire districts in one town or in part of a town.

The village and fire department discussed exploring a fire district about three years ago, but the effort has been languishing. Grube wants to see the “benefits and detriments” of a district for the towns of Albion and Gaines, and the village of Albion.

“The biggest benefit will be transparency in the costs,” he said. “Right now it is very cloudy because so much of the costs are buried in village budget.”

If Albion does form a fire district, there would be elected commissioners. There would be public hearings and a public referendum for a district to be created.

If the district moves past the preliminary stage, Grube said he expects the committee would expand to include representatives from the two towns.

If there is a new fire district, there would be a separate tax from the fire district that would be part of the tax bill that comes out in January. It would also mean the village tax rate would likely go down because the fire department wouldn’t be included in the village budget. However, there would be a new tax for village residents with a fire district.

Gaines Town Court first in Orleans given approval for virtual proceedings

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 March 2021 at 10:30 am

GAINES — The Gaines Town Court is the first town court in Orleans County granted permission to conduct virtual proceedings.

The NYS Office of Court Administration approved the Gaines Town Court’s application.

There is no a timeframe yet for when the court proceedings will be available virtually, said Town Justice Bruce Schmidt.

Once the virtual calendar is in place, additional information will be posted on the Town of Gaines website and Orleans Hub for those who wish to participate.

The virtual court proceedings will be open to the public upon request by emailing Once a request is received the court will forward a link to the proceeding. There will also be an informational link on court proceedings for litigants to explore. Participants will be able to log in 15 minutes before the session begins.

“The move to virtual court is in response to the need to resolve a backlog of cases put on hold due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic,” Schmidt said in a news release.

Joe Cardone, Orleans County district attorney, would like to see more courts have the option for virtual proceedings to work through the backlog of cases. Cardone would also like to see the return of in-person court sessions, now that the state is easing restrictions on indoor dining.

“If restaurants can be open up to 75 percent capacity there is no reason why courts can’t be open,” Cardone told local elected officials during a conference call last week.

For more information on virtual court at Gaines, stop by the Town Hall at 14087 Ridge Road or call the Town Court at (585) 589-4592 ext. 11.

Historic Childs: The Upper Gallery at the Brick House showcases modern art

Posted 21 March 2021 at 10:40 am

The Cobblestone Museum and Town of Gaines celebrated the opening of the Upper Gallery at the Brick House, a building from 1836 next to the Cobblestone Universalist Chruch on Route 104. There was an official ribbon cutting ceremony on June 15, 2007. Town of Gaines Supervisor Richard DeCarlo and Cobblestone Society Board President Paul Letiecq are seen here cutting the ribbon. Looking on are: Bill Lattin, Museum Director; and Board Members Peg Letiecq, Dee Robinson, Gloria Neilans, David Heminway, Elsie Davy and Georgia Thomas.

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

GAINES – The year 2007 saw several improvements at the Cobblestone Museum campus, most notable was the addition of the “Upper Gallery” in the Brick House (1836), which created a modern art exhibition space in the Hamlet of Childs.

Beginning in January of that year, the second story of the Brick House was completely gutted and then reconstructed to house an ideal 15’x26’ exhibition space for art exhibits, along with several new storage closets that lined the sides of the room.

The curator, Bill Lattin, reported that with help of volunteer Lee Minier, the duo removed the “what-not” that had accumulated in the second floor space since the building was acquired in 1998. Bill then turned his attention to gutting the plaster walls and removing all of the debris to an awaiting dumpster. He reported at that time that he worked on the project almost every weekday for two months.

For the reconstruction, Joe Baker and David Heminway were consulted to provide help with the structural modifications. They decided that extra bracing in the roof rafters was needed, along with reinforcing scissor trusses that gave the room extra height. The team installed the framing so it was ready for wallboard.

Dave Heminway also donated plywood sheets. Dale Adomo provided a refurbished track lighting system with 20 lamps. This was a truly significant gift that helped to lower the cost of remodeling the room. Richard Cook donated the electrical work. Joe Baker came to install the wallboard and Bill Lattin finished up the trim work, installed period stairway spindles and sanded/finished the wood floor.

The Upper Gallery held an official ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, June 15, 2007. The Cobblestone Society board had previously decided that the room would be dedicated to the memory of past president and board member, George W. Zeis (1918-2002), seen here in 2000.  Mr. Zeis in addition to his years of service, had provided a legacy gift of $75,000 to the Society through his estate.

A bronze plaque was ordered and installed to commemorate the dedication.

The opening exhibit was entitled, “Victorian Angels,” which consisted of a vast array of 19th century lithograph prints, some from famous religious paintings that contained angels. This exhibit was followed up in 2008 by “Saints from Whom Their Labors Rest,” and “The Life of Jesus” in 2009.

In 2010, a multimedia exhibit entitled, “Contrasting Champions” was installed integrating modern ceramic sculpture with antique prints. Local sculptor, Heather Boyd, provided 12 modern sculptures which were matched by an equal number of Victorian religious prints.

In more recent years, former Director, Matt Ballard, created an exhibit of WWI photos and poster art. Most of the posters were received, on loan, from the Hoag Library in Albion. Mr. Ballard framed the prints using a grant from Genesee-Orleans Art Council.

“Church Benches” by Tom Zangerle

A future exhibit in the planning stages for the Upper Gallery for autumn 2021 is a one-man show of paintings by Medina artist Tom Zangerle.

The current exhibit in the Upper Gallery was created this winter and opened in March. Bill Lattin provided a loan of his Currier & Ives art prints to create a curated display of 19th century lithographs. About 75 pieces of hand colored and black & white art prints are displayed within various themes and genre. Also, a 19th century lithography stone is on display to show how studios, such as Currier & Ives, produced over 7,000 different art prints in their time period.

Little Daisy, Currier & Ives most popular print, creation date circa 1872

The Currier and Ives exhibition is currently open to the public by appointment. The exhibit is free of charge, but donations to the Museum are gladly accepted.  Call the museum at (585) 589-9013 to set up an appointment to visit The Upper Gallery.