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GCC announces first Heritage Festival in Orleans County

Posted 3 May 2016 at 12:00 am
cannons at Mount Albion Cemetery

File photo by Tom Rivers – The Civil War section at Mount Albion Cemetery is pictured last October when the leaves were changing color. A Heritage Festival planned for Sept. 9-11 will highlight some of the county’s historic assets, including cemeteries.

Press Release, GCC

ALBION – People who live in Orleans County know that it is a special place and they work hard to preserve their precious heritage. They enjoy a wealth of extraordinary assets from historic buildings with magnificent architecture to the Erie Canal that did so much to create the town and villages along its banks.

Even the stone in the ground – Medina sandstone, and the soil sustaining the farms – the muck lands, are appreciated. Beginning in September 2016, a county-wide festival will celebrate these many cherished treasures.

Organizers are proud to announce the first Orleans County Heritage Festival, Sept. 9-11: a weekend dedicated to spotlighting the many historic assets of Orleans County. For this year’s festival, four themes will be highlighted – Agriculture, Transportation, Historic Cemeteries and Historic Gems.

Now in development, a high quality brochure will highlight all the participating museums, places and organizations. A passport system will encourage participants to visit six historic sites over the course of the weekend and prizes will be awarded for those who complete the task.

In addition to the many historic sites in Orleans County, Genesee Community College will participate in the festival as headquarters for the passport system and with special events. The Medina Campus Center will host a timeline festival featuring re-enactors from various American wars – from the French and Indian War down to 20th century wars. Artisans demonstrating period crafts and special music will contribute to the sensation as visitors walk through time.

The Albion Campus Center will host a program on “Death Ways” through the years featuring talks on Victorian mourning art and the famous murders that occurred in Orleans County.

Many other exciting details of the 2016 Orleans County Heritage Festival will be shared in the coming weeks, but planners are asking everyone to mark their calendars now – September 9-11, 2016. Make plans to join the fun and explore the many historic assets Orleans County has to offer!

For more information or to be involved as a volunteer, please contact:

Derek Maxfield, associate professor of History at GCC, 585-343-0055 ext. 6288.

Jim Simon, associate dean at the Medina and Albion Campus Centers,,call 585-589-4936.

State grant shows appreciation for historic Hillside chapel

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 December 2015 at 12:00 am

File photos by Tom Rivers – The chapel at Hillside Cemetery was open for tours on Sept.21, 2014, when the Clarendon Historical Society unveiled a new historical marker for the cemetery.

HOLLEY – The announcement last Thursday that New York State would provide a $126,210 grant for work on the chapel at Hillside Cemetery should show the community that the state values historic sites in Orleans County, including the old cemetery chapels.

“I hope this opens people’s eyes that other buildings are worth saving,” said Erin Anheier, a member of the Clarendon Historical Society. “I hope it inspires people.”

Anheier wrote the grant for the state application. It was a painstaking effort. Most municipalities and organizations will hire a professional grantwriter to put together the application for state funds.

“It’s exciting because it’s such a competitive grant,” she said. “It validates what we’ve said all along that this is a valuable, important building worth preserving.”

Anheier and the Clarendon Historical Society have worked hard the past five years to raise public awareness and support for restoring the site.

The state approved a matching grant for the chapel, and the Historical Society already has about $65,000 towards the local match with $20,000 from the Rochester Community Foundation, $14,500 from the Curtis Foundation, $10,000 from an anonymous donor, and $20,000 in other local contributions.

In-kind work from the Town of Clarendon can also count towards the local share.

“We are very confident we can raise the local match,” Anheier said.

The Historical Society has identified about $250,000 in restoration work for the chapel, a Gothic Revival chapel built of Medina sandstone in 1894. (It might be the only site in Orleans County with a flying buttress.)

Amy Harris plays her flute during a reception on Sept. 21, 2014 inside the chapel at Hillside Cemetery.

The chapel is the focal point of a cemetery owned by the Town of Clarendon. The town and Historical Society want to restore the non-denominational chapel and repurpose it for new public uses. Anticipated use includes concerts, historical and art exhibits, and lectures.

Anheier said the slate roof will be replaced with slate, and some of the stained-glass windows will be repaired. The project includes painting the inside, adding lighting, refinishing the floor and adding a handrail to the outside steps.

Anheier also thinks the chapel would make sense as the eastern end of a Medina Sandstone Trail in Orleans County if municipalities can get on board with that project.

Hillside Cemetery opened in 1866 and was designed in the 19th century “Rural Cemetery Movement.” That is on the eastern side of the cemetery where the gravesides are dug into the side of the hill.

The 20th century “Lawn Style” approach is seen in the western portion. The cemetery has many beautiful gravestones that are works of art, Anheier said.

She also was instrumental in the cemetery being recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Anheier said the Historical Society welcomes more donations and support for the chapel and cemetery. Donations can be sent to Clarendon Historical Society, “Chapel Fund” at P.O. Box 124, Clarendon NY 14429.

This picture was taken looking up from the mortuary chambers to the stairs leading to the main chapel room.

Would statues, public art projects help Orleans County celebrate 200th?

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers
BUFFALO – This sculpture of a bison is displayed in downtown Buffalo. It has been there for 40 years.

It was a gift to Buffalo in 1975 from its sister city, Kanazawa, in Japan as part of the bicentennial celebration for the United States the following year.

“Bison” was created by artist Cecilia Evans Taylor.

Orleans County has a big birthday around the corner. The county will turn 200 in 2024 (or it may be 2025, depending on source). I haven’t heard any rumblings about the county’s bicentennial. I don’t think the officials have given it much thought. It’s still nearly a decade away.

This painted buffalo on Franklin Street was turned into artwork by Gustavo Glorioso as part of the “Herd About Buffalo” project, when 154 buffalo roamed Buffalo streets in 2000. The project was a benefit for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. This one was sponsored by Buffalo Optical and called “Eye Love Buffalo.”

I think a public art project would generate excitement on the county’s 200th anniversary. I think painting fiber-glass mules would make sense because the mules were iconic animals during the Erie Canal’s heyday when mule-drawn packet boats were a frequent sight.

We could try to have at least one in each town, but hopefully there could be more. Maybe the mule public art project could happen before the 200th, and proceeds from that effort could be used to fund a bigger signature site for the county’s bicentennial.

A statue of George Washington stands in front of Old County Hall, home to Erie County government on 92 Franklin St. in Buffalo.

The statue was paid for by the Erie County Masonic Foundation as a bicentennial gift on the 200th anniversary of the country’s founding. The base of the statue includes the name of the sculptor, J. Turkalj and notes it was built in 1976.

The statue includes an inscription “1776 * 1976” with the words: “Presented to the people of the County of Erie by the free and accepted Masons of forty-nine lodges in the three Erie districts and various affiliated Masonic organizations as our contribution to the bicentennial anniversary of the United States.”

I saw the statue last Saturday while in Buffalo. There are many statues and public works of art in downtown Buffalo. I think these pieces enliven the landscape, help promote the city and build community pride.

I think Orleans County would benefit with similar projects. The George Washington statue was part of a celebration of the U.S. bicentennial.

Orleans County officially formed when we split off from Genesee County. Orleans should celebrate its bicentennial with a signature project.

I’ve been promoting the idea of a statue and heritage site for the quarrymen who worked in the Medina sandstone quarries in Orleans County for nearly a century. They helped unearth and carve the stone for some of the grandest buildings in the region and state.

Their work continues to stand out more than a century later with many of our churches, chapels and finest homes.

Many descendants of the quarrymen continue to live in the county. The quarry workers did dangerous jobs in perhaps the county’s greatest industry ever. So maybe a signature site in their honor would be ideal for the 200th anniversary of the county. Personally, I’d like to see it happen before the 200th birthday in 2024 (or 2025). The site could be a draw for the county. Why wait?

The statue of Washington notes he was the first president of the United States from 1789-1797, and also served as First Master in the Alexandria Lodge No. 22, Alexandria, Virginia, from 1788-1789.

There are other bicentennial sites and statues around Buffalo.

Poland gave this statue of General Kazimerz Pulaski to the people of the United States in honor of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Pulaski stands outside the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo.

The statue declares Pulaski as “Hero of Poland and the United States of America.” Pulaski saved the life of George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Pulaski would serve as a general in the Continental Army. He died of wounds suffered in the Battle of Savannah. He is one of only seven people to be awarded honorary United States citizenship.

Sculptor Kazimierz Danilewicz created the statue of Pulaski, which shows him standing erect with his hands resting on his sword.

In Buffalo, a grand trifecta of churches made from Medina Sandstone

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 November 2015 at 10:00 am

3 sites in Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame within walking distance of each other

Photos by Tom Rivers

BUFFALO – The top of St. Louis Catholic Church in Buffalo is an open work lattice spire that reaches 245 feet high.

It is the tallest open-work spire ever built completely of stone in the United States, and it is also believed to be the only remaining open-work or pierced spire in the U.S.

St. Louis was built from 1886-1889 and is considered the “Mother Church of the Diocese of Buffalo.” It features a Gothic Revival design. The church, one of the largest ecclesiastical buildings in Buffalo, can seat nearly 2,000 people.

I heard about the St. Louis Catholic Church and wanted to see it. The church was inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame in 2014.

I got my chance to see on Saturday when I was in Buffalo.

St. Louis church entryway

Even the doors and entryway to St. Louis are awesome.

St. Louis is one of three landmark churches (one has been repurposed into an events center) made of Medina sandstone that have been part of the Buffalo skyline for more than a century. The sites are all within walking distance of each other.

I visited the sites on Saturday during some down time in a Lego robotics competition at the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School. My son is on one of the teams that competed from Orleans County.

The charter school is on Franklin Street near the Convention Center. It’s in the hub of Buffalo, near some spectacular Medina Sandstone sites.

St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by the Episcopal Church from 1849-1851. The church used stone from a quarry in Hulberton. (The 274-foot-high spire was completed in 1870.)

This church was Buffalo’s first major architectural landmark. It was designed by Richard Upjohn after he earned a national reputation for his design of the Trinity Episcopal Church in New York City.

Step inside St. Paul’s and prepare to be wowed. The columns and arches are also made of sandstone.

There are numerous large stained-glass windows, with some made by the famed Tiffany Company.

The cathedral was largely destroyed in fire in 1888. The interior was ruined, but the Medina Sandstone walls remained solid. This disaster bolstered the reputation of Medina Sandstone as a durable and fire resistant building material. Working within these solid sandstone walls the church interior was reopened in 1890.

St. Paul’s is located next to another famous structure, Louis Sullivan’s Prudential (Guaranty) Building, an early skyscraper built in 1896.

Both St. Paul’s and the Sullivan skyscraper have been declared National Historic landmarks. There are only about 30 sites with this designation in Western New York, including the Rochester region. Orleans County has one of those National Historic Landmarks: The Cobblestone Museum.

The former Asbury-Delaware Methodist Church was constructed between 1871 and 1876 and used as a Methodist church until 1980.

Other congregations occupied the building for the next 10 years, but then it sat empty, its structure deteriorating and its interior vandalized. The City of Buffalo took ownership of the building, but by 1995 stones falling from the structure caused adjacent sidewalks to be closed and the church was slated for demolition.

However an outcry from the community led to the formation of the “Citizens to Save the Asbury Church.” Legal action stopped the plans for demolition and the group began to raise funds for emergency repairs.

In 1999 musician Ani DiFranco and manager Scott Fisher negotiated a plan for purchase and restoration which began a five-year reconstruction process to create a center for music and art in Buffalo’s downtown.

The development of “Babeville” saved this beautiful, historic building and contributed to a new appreciation of Buffalo’s heritage which today plays a major role in the revitalization of the city, according to the Medina Sandstone Society.

Fall splendor at Mount Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – An annual rite of passage for Orleans County residents should include a visit to Mount Albion Cemetery, especially the Civil War Memorial tower, every fall.

I went to see the tower on Nov. 7. It was a crisp autumn day. I hadn’t been up the 68-foot-high tower in a  couple years.

I was happy to see the spiral staircase is freshly painted. Last time I climbed all of the steps, there was lots of graffiti. This was taken from the top of the tower, which was built in 1876, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the country.

I’m a little uncomfortable up high, but here is a view looking down from the tower. There are nice sandstone steps leading to the tower.

The tower provides views of scenic Albion, including the Orleans County Courthouse.

These iron gates lead into the tower, which is a memorial to about 500 Orleans County residents who died in the Civil War. Their names are etched in marble slabs inside the tower.

The cemetery on Route 31 is included on the National Register of Historic Places. There are many historic features of Mount Albion, including this hitching post that was used to tie up horses.

The cemetery, with its winding paths, is a popular spot for joggers and walkers.

St. Mary’s gets a new roof in Holley

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

HOLLEY – Contractors are working on a new roof for St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Holley. The roof hasn’t been replaced in 38 years.

Work started about two weeks ago with Century Architectural Sheet Metal in Buffalo tackling the job. The project is expected to be complete by Dec. 1, said Father Mark Noonan, parish priest.

The former brown shingles will be replaced with a gatehouse slate color. “It’s really going to make the sandstone shine,” Father Noonan said.

The church was built in 1904 and was inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame last month.

The parish last fall announced a capital campaign with a goal for $300,000. Parishioners at St. Mary’s in Holley and St. Mark’s in Kendall came through with $585,000.

That is allowing the parish to put on new roofs for St. Mary’s and St. Mark’s, and address other facility needs. Air-conditioning was added to St. Mary’s this summer.

The interior of the sanctuary will be updated over the next one to two years. The church will reach out to a consultant on those improvements.

St. Mary’s also plans to redo the driveway to add more handicapped accessible parking spaces, and wants to put in new sidewalks.

St. Marks’ has a new restroom as part of the capital projects and will be getting new steps.

This statue of Mary was recently refurbished inside St. Mary’s. The statue was white, but it was painted with many details added. The statue was originally made in 1880.

Other statues also have been refurbished at St. Mary’s, including ones of St. Rocco and St. Patrick.

The St. Mary’s Parish is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Hillside Cemetery chapel will host historical lecture

Staff Reports Posted 30 October 2015 at 12:00 am

HOLLEY – Genesee Community College history professor Derek Maxfield will bring to an end the month-long series of events on “Hillside Heritage” with a lecture on Monday at Hillside Cemetery in Holley.

Maxfield will discuss “Victorian Death and the Civil War.” The events at the cemetery, including three public lectures and a very successful ghost walk, are part of an initiative to bring more attention to the plight of the Gothic Revival chapel at the cemetery, which was completed in 1894.

Derek Maxfield

Efforts are underway to raise funds to restore the beautiful Medina sandstone building designed by Rochester architect Addison Forbes. The chapel and cemetery are included on the National Register of Historic Places.

The lecture on Monday will combine two of Maxfield’s research interests in one talk – Victorian culture and the Civil War. By 1861, Victorian culture with its many social rules dominated American society and set the standards of conduct for the ladies and gentlemen of the era.

These same social mores played an important role in bringing about the great war between the states. But the war far exceeded what the Victorians or anyone else expected bringing a cataclysm of suffering and death that would change values and culture profoundly.

The Monday lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in the chapel at Hillside Cemetery. In keeping with the season, the lecture will be delivered without the aid of any technology and the chapel will be lit with only oil lamps and candles – producing an appropriately spooky effect. While the lecture is free, donations to the chapel restoration fund will be gladly accepted.

Buffalo Armory cited as perfect example of Medina Sandstone – on a massive scale

Posted 26 October 2015 at 9:00 am
Buffalo Armory rendering

Provided images – This shows a drawing of the massive Armory in Buffalo, which last Thursday was inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame.

Press Release, New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs

BUFFALO – The New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs Connecticut Street Armory was one of four structures inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 22.

The massive 116 year-old building was recognized by the Medina Sandstone Society during a ceremony in which it’s photograph and a short history was added to the Hall of Fame located in the Medina City Hall.

Other structures honored by the group, which is dedicated to noting the importance of the local sandstone in the architectural history of the region, are St. John’s Episcopal Church in Medina; Martin Manor, a private residence in Buffalo; and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Holley.

Like most monumental 19th Century buildings in western New York and Buffalo, the Armory, which occupies 4.87 acres on Buffalo’s west side, was constructed of a specific type of sandstone which was discovered in Orleans County during the 1820s as the Erie Canal was being built.

“It was a very popular building material because of its strength and beauty,” explained Donald Colquhoun, one of the Medina Sandstone Society trustees and a member of the hall of Fame committee. “At one time there were over 30 quarries here in Orleans County.”

The Connecticut Street Armory is a perfect example of Medina sandstone construction on a massive scale, he said. The building is 280,362 square feet.

When picking nominations for its Hall of Fame, the group looks for historically and architecturally significant buildings that have weathered the period of time. It also needs to be a building that is beautifully maintained, Colquhoun said.

For these reasons, the Armory was an easy pick to make the 2015 list of outstanding Medina sandstone buildings maintained by the Sandstone Society, Colquhoun said.

The Medina sandstone is an amazing building material, said Joe Murray, the regional superintendent for the state armories in western New York. The stone in the Connecticut Street Armory looks just as good today as it did when the structure was completed in 1899, Murray said.

Buffalo Armory street view

The Armory in Buffalo is monstrous at nearly 300,000 square feet.

Taking its name from the village of Medina which was in the heart of the quarry area, the sandstone was durable, came in shades ranging from white, to red, to brown, to pink, and was fireproof.

“It last literally forever,” Colquhoun said. “In buildings that were built 150 years ago the sandstone looks the same.”

In the days prior to steel framed, concrete structures, Medina sandstone was the go-to material for large-scale construction, Colquhoun said.

The famous “Million Dollar Staircase” in the New York State Capital is constructed of Medina sandstone and blocks were shipped across the country. There is even Medina sandstone incorporated into work in Buckingham Palace in London, Colquhoun said.

So when the New York National Guard’s 74th Regiment began building its massive new home in 1897, it was only natural that the building designer, Williams Lansing, who was a captain in the 74th Regiment, decided to use sandstone from the nearby quarries around Medina.

The initial cost of the building was too high. The state was willing to pay $400,000 for the armory and the low bid was $600,000 for a Medina sandstone building.

But Lansing didn’t want to build the armory of brick, so the modified the design to get the contractor to come in under budget.

When it was finished in 1899 the Connecticut Street Armory was the largest National Guard armory in the United States. It was also empty inside.

The state had agreed to pay for the building, the interior details had to be paid for by the 74th Regiment. So from Oct. 23 to Nov. 6, 1899 the soldiers hosted a bazaar inside the armory, which included food vendors and exhibits.

Buffalo Armory under construction

This picture shows the Armory under construction during the horse-and-carriage era.

Among those exhibits, according to the book New York’s Historic Armories were a 30-foot-high replica of a medieval castle filled with period weapons and armor and a reproduction of San Juan Hill, which was stormed at regular intervals by the Guardsmen of the 74th.

One of the selling points of sandstone construction was its resistance to fire. When the massive drill hall of the armory caught fire in 1982 – 120 trucks were stored there – the Medina sandstone pretty much performed as expected, Murray said.

While the roof and interiors of the drill shed burned, the Medina sandstone walls remained mostly intact.

The sandstone walls didn’t go totally unscathed, Murray said. When DMNA rebuilt the structure some sandstone on the west end of the building had to be replaced. Doing so meant reopening the quarry the stone came from in 1898 and cutting stone to match, he said.

Murray, who is responsible for 31 armories from Gloversville to Jamestown, thinks it was worth it.

“It is a castle that is incredibly kept up by DMNA,” he said. “It is a showplace of the community, of an era when things were outstanding in the 1880s and 1890s.”

4 Medina Sandstone sites are new members of Hall of Fame

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 October 2015 at 8:00 am

MEDINA – The Medina Sandstone Society today inducted four new members into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Medina.

St. John’s is the oldest building made of sandstone in Medina. Construction started in 1832 and was completed in 1838. The stone was quarried from the banks of the Erie Canal.

Other members of the third class to be inducted in the Hall of Fame include St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Holley, Martin Manor in Buffalo, and the Connecticut Street Armory in Buffalo.

The Sandstone Society started the Hall of Fame in 2013 and now has inducted 14 sites. The plaques, all designed and donated by Takeform Architectural Graphics in Medina, have in the main meeting room at City Hall.

I’ll have more on today’s program posted either later tonight or tomorrow morning. Here are the other new inductees:

The St. Mary’s Parish in Holley dedicated its new Catholic church in 1905. The church has been meticulously kept the past 110 years. This year happens to be the 150th anniversary of the St. Mary’s Parish. The sandstone church replaced a wooden structure.

The Martin Manor residence is the first privately owned home to make the Sandstone Hall of Fame. This 8,000-square-foot mansion was built in circa 1900 at 395 Linwood Ave., Buffalo. The site fell into disrepair, but in the past 26 years has been restored by Peter Martin and his wife, Margaret Paroski. The couple raised their three children in the home.

The Connecticut Street Armory is a massive structure at 280,362 square feet. It was built from 1896 to 1899 to house the 74th Regiment of the New York National Guard. When it was built, it was the largest Armory in the United States. It continues to be used by Army and National Guard units.

Sandstone Trust has small grants available for community projects

Staff Reports Posted 12 October 2015 at 12:00 am

MEDINA – The Medina Sandstone Society is making several thousand dollars available in grants to community organizations and projects.

The grants generally range from $200 to $500 and are awarded to qualifying not-for-profit organizations and/or programs in the Medina, Ridgeway and Shelby region.

Funding is intended to help programs that clearly benefit this community and that have favorable tax and regulatory status.

The community endowment has given out nearly $20,000 over the past five years. The most recent round of grants included funding for improvements to the veterans plot at Boxwood Cemetery, to the Medina Business Association for Old-Tyme Christmas, emergency dollars to fix porch damage at the Medina Historical Museum, dollars to The Arc of Orleans toward kitchen equipment for Camp Rainbow, support for Medina’s Civil War Re-Enactment last April, stone repair from frost damage at the Armory (“Y”), and continuation of student scholarships.

To apply for a grant, organization leaders need to fill out a Sandstone Trust Application form and mail to Sandstone Trust, Post Office Box 25, Medina, by the application deadline, Nov. 14.

Application forms can be obtained as follows: In person at Medina Parts Co. (NAPA) 345 N. Main St. or Michael Zelazny, CPA 511 Main St.; By regular mail request sent to Sandstone Trust, PO Box 25, Medina, NY 14103; or online from the Sandstone Trust web page

Questions may be sent by email at or calling Michael Zelazny, CPA at 585-798-1006.