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Volunteers are happy to show off Cobblestone Museum

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Newcomers and veterans will take your questions

Photos by Tom Rivers Ilene Benfer debuted today as a docent at the Cobblestone Society Museum. She is pictured inside the blacksmith shop.

GAINES – For many years Ilene Benfer brought her fourth-grade class from Kendall to the Cobblestone Society Museum. Her students most enjoyed the one-room schoolhouse, a structure from 1849 with cobblestone masonry.

“They are amazed that every grade could fit in there,” Benfer said. “This was long before Smart Boards and computers.”

Benfer now teachers Kendall third-graders. She recommends teachers bring their students to the museum.

“The children need to see, hear and touch history,” said Benfer, a Waterport resident.

Today was opening day for the museum, and also the first day Benfer was an official volunteer for the site, which is a National Historic Landmark. Benfer was in the blacksmith shop. She likes the old tools, and marvels at ingenuity of Joseph Vagg, the blacksmith who worked there. He had to fashion parts to fit carriage wheels, farm equipment and other community needs.

A carriage and other artifacts are displayed inside the blacksmith shop on Route 98, just south of Route 104.

Benfer took volunteer training last Saturday. She is serving as a docent, giving tours of the museum, which includes eight historic structures.

“I get to live in the past for a few hours,” she said.

She would like to see more schools bring students to the museum to learn about the past.

Some of the tools of the blacksmith trade are on display as well as an old manure spreader.

While today was Benfer’s first day as an official volunteer, Paul Letiecq has been a steady presence at the museum for 20 years. He was back at his favorite spot this afternoon at the entrance of the Cobblestone Universalist Church. The building was constructed in 1834. It’s the oldest cobblestone church in North America.

“I think this is a real asset to our community that we have the historic complex that we have here,” Letiecq said about the museum. “It tells a story of our heritage.”

Paul Letiecq enjoys talking about the Cobblestone Universalist Church, which was built in 1834.

Letiecq, 80, is retired as a full-time minister. He served the Presbyterian Church in Holley for 10 years.

In his retirement, he has been a supply minister for the Universalist congregation in Middleport. That group meets in a cobblestone church built in 1841.

Letiecq enjoys talking about the history of the Cobblestone Universalist Church in Gaines, as well as some of the social movements of that era as universalism spread as New Englanders moved across New York.

The cobblestone church once required pew rentals for the people to sit in the first floor seats. If the people didn’t pay or were visitors, they had to sit upstairs.

The Cobblestone Unversalist Church still holds church services at least twice a year and also is used for weddings.

One church, the Free Methodist Church, started in Albion and has spread to more than 1,000 in the world after it opposed the pew rentals in the early 1860s. Letiecq likes to share that story.

“Charging for pews was quite controversial,” Letiecq said.