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Log cabin from 1930 makes a delicate and successful journey

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 October 2020 at 8:13 pm

Historical Association moves cabin from Albion backyard to behind Gaines Basin cobblestone schoolhouse

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – A log cabin, built by Boy Scouts and one of their dads in 1930, was moved about 4 miles today from a backyard in Albion to behind the historic Gaines Basin No. 2 cobblestone school on Gaines Basin Road.

Keeler Construction volunteered to take the cabin on this flatbed trailer. It is shown in the top photo headed down Route 98 in Albion near Oak Orchard Lanes.

“I’m very relieved,” said Rick Ebbs, who braced the cabin, wrapped it in plastic and coordinated the move. “I was worried it would fall apart.”

Keeler employee Chad Plummer and three highway workers from the Town of Gaines – Seth Dumrese, Jeff Page and Brian Burke –  showed up at about 8 this morning in Ralph and Patricia Moorhouse’s backyard on Linwood Avenue. They donated the cabin to the Orleans County Historical Society.

Mrs. Moorhouse’s father, Faris Benton, was one of the scouts who built the cabin with help from his father, Fred Benton. The scouts dragged logs from the nearby woods. They built a fireplace on the inside and outside. That fireplace has deteriorated but will be reset and repaired in its new location.

Mrs. Moorhouse said three generations of the family and many neighborhood kids enjoyed the cabin. Her husband put a new roof on about 40 years ago and that helped preserve the cabin.

Mike Gillette takes a photo of the site where he often hung up with friends as a kid. He is joined by his dog, Cooper. The fireplace will be moved and reset at the new spot for the cabin on Gaines Basin Road.

Gillette, 57, took a day off from work to see the cabin’s move.

“We spent a lot of time in the cabin as kids,” he said. “It was the neighborhood fort.”

After trick-or-treating on Halloween, Gillette said he and his friends would gather in the cabin to check out their candy and trade. They had cider and doughnuts.

The 10-by-14-foot log cabin had withered in recent years, partly due to woodchucks. They damaged the concrete floor causing it to heave.

“It was pretty feeble,” he said about the cabin. “I am impressed with the job they did bracing it to get ready for the move.”

Keeler starts the trip down Linwood Avenue. It took the cabin down Main Street (Route 98) before turning left on Bacon Road. From there it turned left to Gaines Basin Road, stopping at the school just north of the Erie Canal.

Pat Moorhouse said it was difficult to watch the cabin be moved today.

“It’s a lot of memories for our family,” she said. “It’s so sad to see it go. But knowing it will be preserved, it just makes sense.”

That schoolhouse, built in 1832, has been the focus of an intense preservation effort in recent years by the Orleans County Historical Association. It is the oldest documented cobblestone building in the area.

The Historical Association thought the log cabin, which was built by children, was a good fit next to a school.

The Town of Gaines Highway Department brought a payloader and backhoe to help lift the cabin onto Keeler trailer and then take it off. Brian Burke is at left and Seth Dumrese is at right.

Rick Ebbs watches to see how the cabin is lining up on a concrete pad and a new base. Ebbs prepped the cabin for the move and also built the new base for the cabin.

The Gaines highway workers set the cabin in place. The entire process took about 2 hours this morning.

Bill Lattin, the retired county historian, thanked the Moorhouse family for donating the cabin.

“It’s a unique building,” he said. “It’s a facet of local history involving scouts. It shows the ingenuity the scouts took in creating such a structure.”

Al Capurso, one of the leaders of the Historical Association, talked a few years ago about building a new log cabin at the Cobblestone Museum. Lattin was aware of the log cabin in the Moorhouse backyard. He thought it would be better to preserve the cabin rather than try to build a new one. Capurso supported that effort.

The Moorhouses were receptive, and even donated $1,000 to help with the relocation effort.

Lattin sees the cabin being used again by scouts once the chimney and fireplace are reset and the cabin strengthened. The scouts have plenty of space to camp with tents and do cookouts.

“Once this is done it will be a very good camp site for scouts,” Lattin said.

He marveled at the cabin which has endured nearly a century. The scouts in 1930 dragged logs from nearby woods. They did all the notching, so the logs would fit tight.

“It was all hard hand work,” Lattin said. “It’s the only one like it in the world.”

Anyone interested in donating to the cabin, chimney and fireplace restoration is welcome to a send a check to the Orleans County Historical Association, PO Box 125, Albion NY 14411.

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Historic Childs: The Cobblestone Universalist Church continues as focal point of museum

Posted 26 September 2020 at 10:45 am

Provided photos courtesy of Cobblestone Museum: The Cobblestone Universalist Church was erected in 1834 on Ridge Road, just east of Route 98. It is the oldest cobblestone church building in North America.

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

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Society & Museum Director

In 1833, the First Universalist Society was organized at Fairhaven (now Childs) and a building committee consisting of John Proctor, Joseph Billings, and William W. Ruggles was selected.  The First Universalist Church just east of the four corners in Childs was built by John Proctor in 1834 and given to the congregation.

Built in the Federal style, the Universalist Church represents the oldest cobblestone church in North America. Bricks were used for lintels and the sills were fashioned from wood. Masons used the depressed hexagonal or “Gaines Pattern” of mortar embellishment.

The inscription on the front of the church reads, “ERECTED BY THE FIRST UNIVERSALIST SOCIETY: AD 1834. GOD IS LOVE.”

In 1960, the State Board of the Universalist Church declared the Childs church abandoned and had considered selling it. Church services were no longer held there, and in fact, the church had been converted into a cabbage storage facility.

To avoid potential demolition by commercial interests, the Cobblestone Society Museum was formed and purchased the building. It was during this time, in the 1960s, that the museum carefully repaired and restored the interior and exterior.

In July of 1964, thanks to a generous donation from John Brush, the church’s tower was reconstructed and installed in the same location as the original tower.

The interior of the church is arranged to look as it would have in the 1880s and is included in public tours offered at the Cobblestone Museum.   Here, “Elderberry Jam,” a local fiddlers group, entertains a full house crowd in 2019.

Weddings continue to be held in the church, just like they would have in the earliest days in Childs.

In 1993, the Cobblestone Church, parsonage and District School #5 were designated the Cobblestone National Historic Landmark District, the highest distinction recognized by the National Department of the Interior.  The latter two sites will be presented in future articles.

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

Posted 19 September 2020 at 10:20 am

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

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

By Doug Farley, Cobblestone Museum Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from the collection of Kathy Staines

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

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

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

Photo from the collection of Kathy Staines

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

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

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Historic Childs: Gaines community embraced temperance, fought alcohol consumption

Posted 12 September 2020 at 9:11 am

By Freeman Lattin, Cobblestone Museum intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grant allows Cobblestone Museum to double donations

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 11 September 2020 at 7:54 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Rachel Lockhart of Rochester portrayed a teacher in the Cobblestone School during a Ghost Walk at the museum last October. The museum has had to cancel most in-person events and fundraisers this year due to Covid-19.

CHILDS – After receiving notification the Cobblestone Museum is one of 21 history-related organizations selected to participate in a matching grant program from the Pomeroy Foundation, Museum director Doug Farley has issued a plea for donations to meet the two-for-one goal.

The grant program is geared toward raising funds to support safely reopening under New York state guidelines. Up to $50,000 in matching grants in total will be awarded.

Farley learned about the grant through the Museum Association of New York, a group of about 650 museums and historical societies in New York that work together for the betterment of New York state museums.

“The Cobblestone didn’t qualify to apply for the first grant due to the size of our budget,” Farley said. “The first grant was intended for very small museums only. The second and third rounds opened up to museums with slightly larger budgets, so we were able to apply. I felt we had a compelling grant proposal, but I knew there were more than 1,000 museums and historical societies in the state that could also apply, so the numbers game always troubled me.”

During the application process, Farley asked himself how the museum would handle the matching fund requirement, because they had recently conducted a very successful fundraiser for their 60th anniversary, that they called “Sixty for Sixty,” in which they asked supporters to donate $60 in honor of the museum’s 60th year.

“We had more than 100 individuals lend a hand with that effort which was very gratifying,” Farley added. “So when approached the Pomeroy Challenge Grant, I was a little worried about how the same people would react to a second request so quickly on the heels of the first campaign. In the end, we decided to hem the Pomeroy event around our annual campaign, which we usually conduct in November. We moved the timing of that request up to August/September to coincide with the Pomeroy Fund’s timeline and reminded our donors this will be the final fundraising campaign for 2020.”

The Pomeroy grant is a 2:1 match, meaning they will match $1 for every $2 the museum raises, to a limit of $6,000. Sept. 30 is the deadline to make a donation. Checks can be made payable to Cobblestone Society and mailed to P.O. Box 363, Albion, 14411. Donors may also use the online giving tab at cobblestonemuseum.org. Membership renewals made during this time will also apply to the matching grant.

“I hope the challenge is well accepted, and folks realize their donations can go a lot further to provide us with needed support, because of the Pomeroy Fund’s 2:1 match,” Farley said.

In spite of this being a challenging year, Farley said the Cobblestone Society is continuing to explore the Visitors’ Center concept.

“We feel it would be a win/win for us and for Orleans County tourism in general,” he said. “We would all benefit by having a long-term partnership with Orleans County to provide the traveling public with much needed information about tourism options in the county, including sport fishing, cobblestone architecture, the Medina Railroad Museum and much more. The Cobblestone Museum would be an ideal location to catch the ‘wave’ of travelers moving across the state to reach other tourist destinations, like Niagara Falls or New York City.”

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Cobblestone Museum asks congressman to help with visitor’s center

Photos by Tom Rivers: U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs and Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman walk together on the grounds at the Cobblestone Museum on Route 104 in Gaines on Friday. Jacobs, who was sworn into office on July 21, made his first visit to the museum, which is a National Historic Landmark.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 September 2020 at 11:07 am

GAINES – Leaders of the Cobblestone Museum met with Congressman Chris Jacobs for an hour on Friday and asked him to pursue federal assistance for a visitor’s center in the historic Childs hamlet and also to help make the area safer for pedestrians.

Jacobs, who was sworn into office on July 21, made his first visit to the museum, which is a National Historic Landmark, the top historic recognition given by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Congressman Chris Jacobs said he has experience with historic properties in Buffalo’s Theater District. He said federal tax incentives are critical for projects at historic sites.

“History is the best thing Orleans County has to sell to visitors,” Erin Anheier, the museum president, told Jacobs.

She thinks the county has many historic sites that could be promoted as part of heritage tourism. The museum could be the center of those efforts, working with other partners in the county, Anheier said.

The museum has expanded its programming, drawing more visitors and members in recent years. (The Covid-19 pandemic has limited the museum to tours by appointment in 2020, but the museum has a full calendar of activities planned for next year, said Doug Farley, the executive director.)

The museum will soon acquire the home next to the blacksmith shop at the southwest corner of routes 98 and 104. It will be decorated in a 1920s style and offers more space for exhibits, Anheier said.

The museum would like to work with other local agencies – perhaps the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce and Orleans County Tourism Department – to develop a visitors’ center in the historic Childs hamlet. The site could be used promote many attractions in the county, including sportsfishing, Farley told Jacobs.

The hamlet in October 2019 was named one of “Five to Revive” by the Western New York Landmark Society. That designation brings awareness to important sites in the region that are in need of protection and investment.

Congressman Chris Jacobs, right, hears from Cobblestone Museum President Erin Anheier about concerns over traffic and available parking near the museum on Route 104.

The hamlet is unusual in WNY, with so many cobblestone buildings and other historic sites on a busy road that is largely devoid of chain store commercialism, said Larry Francer, associate director of preservation for the Landmark Society of WNY.

She praised the museum and other Gaines residents for their work to preserve so many sites from the 1800s.

“This is great example for the rest of our region,” Francer said about the Childs hamlet.

The hamlet would benefit from sidewalks along the stretch of cobblestone buildings that are part of the museum (from the Cobblestone Universalist Church to the former one-room schoolhouse), and historic-looking street lights, said Richard Remley, the museum’s vice president.

Cobblestone Museum Executive Director Doug Farley, left, speaks in the lower level of the Cobblestone Universalist Church, a building constructed in 1834. Farley said the museum maintains three important cobblestone structures, as well as other important buildings near the routes 104 and 98 intersection. Others in the photo include, U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs, Cobblestone Museum President Erin Anheier, Cobblestone Museum VP Richard Remley and Larry Francer, associate director of preservation for the Landmark Society of WNY.

Farley said the museum needs more parking. It would like to upgrade its bathrooms for the public, and have meeting space for up to 100 people with a kitchen facility.

It could pursue a new structure for a visitor’s center, but Farley and museum leaders believe a brick house from 1834 across the street from the church offers a lot of potential as a visitor’s center. The 3,000-square-foot site is owned by Ray and Linda Burke and is for sale.

Museum leaders asked Jacobs to help pursue funding for the visitor’s center and the pedestrian improvements in the district.

Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, said the county would benefit from a welcome center. She said the Legislature values the museum and has recently contributed $3,000 in annual funding for the organization.

The Legislature also ended a hiring freeze on Aug. 27 and appointed a new county historian, Catherine Cooper of Medina. She recently retired as the director of the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina.

Jacobs said he knows the value of well-maintained historic sites. As a real estate developer, he worked on several historic rehabs in Buffalo’s Theater District. He said maintaining state and federal tax incentives for those projects is critical for developers.

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

Posted 5 September 2020 at 8:05 am

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

By Erin Anheier, President, Cobblestone Society

Nellie Vagg

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

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

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

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

Nellie Vagg taught many classes for the Home Bureau.

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

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

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

The white ribbon of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 29 August 2020 at 8:45 am

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

By Erin Anheier, President of Cobblestone Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Historic Childs: Inn has been mainstay at busy intersection for nearly 2 centuries

Posted 22 August 2020 at 9:20 am

(Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series about the historic Hamlet of 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.)

By Erin Anheier, President of Cobblestone Society

GAINES – When stagecoaches were the preferred form of transportation, the town of Gaines welcomed visitors with 10 public houses.

The photo above shows the Village Inn in 1898.  It was built in 1824 as a “tavern stand” by Samuel Percival in the heart of the hamlet of Childs.

Today, as Tillman’s Village Inn, it is the only remaining stagecoach stop on Ridge Road still serving the public with food and lodging, having been in near continuous operation since 1824.  For the last seven decades, the Tillman family has preserved and cherished this heritage.  Third generation proprietor Mark Tillman greets guests and will happily share his love of history.

The old hand water pump still stands along Ridge Road. This is where the horses were watered and where male guests were asked to wash themselves. Female guests were invited inside to freshen up.

The second floor held rooms available for the night, along with a ballroom. Today, comfortable lodging is available in two adjacent buildings.

The original inn has been enlarged by incorporating two historic barn structures that previously serviced the horses and carriages of early visitors. This large dining room showcases the original timber frame construction of the carriage barn with antiques and historic photos proudly displayed.

Over the years the Tillmans have served over 1,850 tons of their famous prime rib!

A great place to enjoy a refreshing beverage while soaking up the historic ambience, the Village Inn has been serving thirsty visitors at this bar for almost 200 years. Local lore has it that even during prohibition, clientele were seen stumbling out on a daily basis, much to the dismay of the local Temperance groups.

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Grube resigns as Gaines town supervisor due to demands with full-time job

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 August 2020 at 10:51 am

Joe Grube takes the oath of office on Jan. 2, 2018, when he started as Gaines town supervisor.

GAINES – Joe Grube has resigned as Gaines town supervisor after almost three years as the town’s top elected official.

Grube submitted his resignation at the end of the Gaines Town Board meeting on Monday. He was promoted in February as Northeast regional manager for 911 solutions for Motorola. That job keeps him very busy.

“My new duties just don’t leave me enough time to do justice as town supervisor,” Grube said this morning. “I’m the type of person if I can’t put in a hundred percent I don’t want to do it.”

Tyler Allport, a town councilman, was appointed by the board to step in a town supervisor. The position will be up for election in November 2021. Allport works as the Hazard Insurance Manager at KeyBank.

Allport vacated councilman’s position was filled by Kenny Rush, who works on a farm with his father, Gregg Rush.

Grube was first elected town supervisor in November 2017, defeating Carol Culhane, for a two-year position. He didn’t face opposition when he was re-elected last November.

Grube said the town was able to update its zoning in his tenure and was able to bring back its Plannign Board. The Planning Board had been abolished with its duties shifted to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Now the town has a ZBA and Planning Board like most other municipalities.

The Grube-led Town Board formed a Zoning Advisory Committee to review the zoning. That committee worked with LaBella Associates on the project.

The new zoning regulations and map include an expanded commercial district on Route 104, from the Cobblestone Museum going east to Brown Road. That allows for more options for development on Ridge Road that aren’t in a historic district.

The town also eliminated a commercial zoning district in the Eagle Harbor hamlet, while keeping the commercial district at the 5 Corners and expanding the district at the routes 279 and 104 intersection.

The project updated a comprehensive plan for land use, that Grube said was originally adopted in 1983.

The revisions include more detail on development in the commercial districts, especially with signage, and includes samples in the zoning code for signs that fit the historic district.

Other highlights include:

  • Established regulations for R-1 Residential District and Planned Development District as floating zones. They are not specified on the zoning map, but can be added to rezoned land if the Town Board deems either district appropriate.
  • Established new regulations for the Commercial Historic District, including standards for building design, building placement, parking and landscaping, with a goal to prevent incompatible development with the historic district.
  • Added provisions for farm labor and agricultural packing and processing facilities.

“The end change is very good,” Grube said about the zoning regulations. “We solved issues with historic district. We have the Planning Board back. The Zoning Board of Appeals is fully functional with processes more in line with other towns.”

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Historic Childs: John Proctor was instrumental in shaping hamlet

Posted 15 August 2020 at 9:19 am

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

By Freeman Lattin, intern at Cobblestone Museum

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

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

This is the only known photograph of John Proctor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Independence Day from Gaines!

Posted 4 July 2020 at 8:00 am

By Adrienne Kirby, Gaines Town Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballard praised for ‘superb job’ as county historian

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

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

Photos by Tom Rivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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