Ontario's Blossom Country
by ARCH MERRILL
Originally published: 1944
CHAPTER ILLUSTRATIONS BY
Address all orders and Inquiries To Creek Books, P.O. Box 9633 Rochester, New York 14604. Manufactured by Vail-Ballou Press, Inc., 187 Clinton Street, Binghamton, New York 13902.
THERE is no other road in all America like it, none like The Ridge and, it has taken Arch Merrill to make us believe it! Its bed was built by Nature and it stands as a geologic memorial to a mighty storm that lashed the waters a swollen glacial lake against the gravel and the boulders of a buried shore and then built a dyke from Sodus to Niagara.
When the lake had subsided and the glaciers were no more, there came a thudding of many feet, the feet of migrating ruminant—deer, elk, buffalo. They cut the path from the mists of the thunder water to the salt springs and the trail was deep when the red men came to pursue his quarry with arrows.
The White man came upon the scene in 1798 and found the trail good for hooves but treacherous for wagon travel. By 1813 bridges were begun and The Ridge became a military highway. The rich mucklands invited agriculture and the warm soil nourished orchards that produced fruits of unequalled flavor. Homes were built and the vogue of cobblestone architecture but served to stamp the road with its symbol of genius, pointing out its uniqueness.
It is the longest street in the State of New York and is virtually a one-street rural town 200 miles long. All this Arch Merrill has described in a manner that excites warm admiration. Like The Ridge, this book is unique as a story of one of Nature's classic creations that has come into the possession of man.
— ARTHUR C. PARKER
DIRECTOR ROCHESTER MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES.
"I sing of the Great Ridge Road;
Of a highway our children shall see,
That lies like a belt on Ontario's Shores,
Carved out of the wisdom of ages before
For the races that are yet to be."
* * *
("Song of the Genesee Bushman," as sung by Joe Perry, a frontier bard in one of the old Ridge Road inns about 1812.)
The Wave-Built Way
WHERE are you going on your vacation?"
The questioner was a friend who shall be called Hannibal. He is a fine chap but hardly the imaginativetype.
When I told him I intended to spend my vacation traveling along the Ridge Road, picking up material for a series of stories for the Sunday paper, he snorted his derision.
"Quite a trip! You'll have to walk all of five blocks down Dewey Avenue to get to the Ridge."
That is true. The business center at the Dewey Avenue intersection, probably the liveliest corner on the whole Ridge, is only a brassie shot from my home.
"But," I told Hannibal, "I'm going the whole length of the Ridge from Sodus Bay to Lewiston and I'm going to cover the bays and most of the lakeshore, too. I think it is rich in history and local color."
But Hannibal still sat in the seat ofthe scornful.
"The Ridge," quoth he, "is just another highway. It is prosaic, colorless, commonplace. Why don't you write about the West Henrietta Road? At least it is wide and straight. As to Lake Ontario, it is all right to swim in. And you can always visit your friends' summer cottages there. But really, it is nothing but a big pond with a couple of car ferries and a few sailboats on it. The bays? They are full of cattail swamps, and green scum. You'd better forget the whole thing."
I told him he was "all wet."
I still think so.
But the verdict really is up to you folks.
For I made the trip, by bus, by automobile, a little of it afoot, along the Ridge from the lotus beds of Sodus Bay to the Niagara's banks at Lewiston, as well as most of the lakeshore from Chimney Bluffs to Fort Niagara.
And here is my report:
* * *
In the first place the Ridge is not "just another highway." It is the ancient boundary of the last glacial lake in Eastern America. I quote an eminent authority on Western New York geology, the late Herman L. Fairchild of Rochester:
"Excepting gaps made by Irondequoit Bay and the Genesee and Niagara Rivers, this wave-built gravel ridge is virtually continuous from Sodus westward around Lake Ontario to Toronto and beyond. This remarkable shore construction was built by the wave work of the vast Lake Iroquois, the last of a long series of glacial waters in Western New York."
I decided to stay this side of the international border, even if the Ridge doesn't.
* * *
The Ridge has been many things—an Indian trail from which the fire signals flashed to the war canoes on the lake and in the bays; a narrow, bumpy, blazed path through the dark woods that the pioneer ox carts followed; a military highway; a stage coach route and finally the paved highway of today, humming with tourists' autos and trucks, piled high with the produce of one of America's most productive countrysides.
The Ridge has had many names. To the Indians it was the Ontario Trail. The pioneers called it the Alluvial Way. It has been called the Honeymoon Trail, because it leads westward to Niagara Falls, mecca of the newlyweds. To the map makers, it is Route 104.
But to the general run of Western New Yorkers for generations it has been just "The Ridge."
* * *
I did not find the history of the Ridge and the lakeshore "colorless."
Let's look briefly at the passing show enacted on these shores through the centuries. In the cast are painted Indians, French traders, explorers and soldiers in gold lace and plumes; black robed Jesuits; British Redcoats, pioneers in buckskin. This frontier was once a pawn of empire and two European powers contested long and bitterly for the favor of the Indians, for the rich store of furs and above all, for the trade routes of the New World.
We see great armadas of canoes and bateaux on the lake and in the bays and hear the tread of marching soldiers. Finally we see the fleur de lis come fluttering down from the flagstaff at Fort Niagara, signalling the decline of New France and the rise of British power on the frontier. We see the banner of England in turn give way to the Stars and Stripes of the young republic.
We see the Ridge Road east of Lewiston in the bitter December cold of 1813 choked with fugitives, fleeing their burning homes and the scalping knives of the Indian allies of the Redcoats. We see Charlotte besieged and Pultneyville raided and Sodus Point put to the torch.
We see the dark forest go down before the axes of the pioneers and the land cleared and the fever-breeding swamps drained. We see the orchards planted and peace and plenty descend upon the land.
We see the original settlers, the Yankees, the Yorkers, the Pennsylvanians, joined by oppressed races from across the sea; the Norwegians founding at Kendall the first colony of their people in the New World; the Hollanders settling around Williamson and the Germans in the Webster region, to leave the stamp of their thrift and enterprise indelibly upon that blossom land.
We find still dwelling along the Ridge, the earliest settlers of them all, the remnants of the Tuscarora Indian Nation on their reservation near Lewiston.
The stage coaches pull up again before the picturesque inns that lined the Ridge in the heyday of the highroad before the Grand Canal came. Stones gathered painstakingly from the old bed of the great Lake Iroquois are fashioned into the cobblestone houses with their classic doorways and fan windows, so distinctive and peculiar to the region.
On thekaleidoscope flash many figures, great names in their time, among them William Morgan, the Anti-Mason, going, a prisoner, down the West Ridge to eternity; James Fenimore Cooper, a young midshipman on the lake before he became a great novelist; Edward H. Harriman, the railroad king, beginning his career at Sodus Point.
We see again the gray-clad Shakers in their Sodus Bay retreat; the masts of the schooners thick in the port of Pultneyville; the busy iron mines and blast furnaces of Ontario; steamboats churning the waters of Irondequoit Bay; Gaines, now a sleeping hamlet, fighting to retain her place as the metropolis of the Ridge; the armies of three nations marching across the old drill ground at Fort Niagara.
But all these are shadows out of a colorful past. They are gone beyond recall.
Through all the years, one thing has endured, the real shield and buckler of this land along the wave-built Ridge and the curving shore line. That has been the goodrich earth.
The Ridge Road, in the perfumed air of spring, might well be called "125 Miles of Blossoms." The blossoms are heralds of a multi-colored harvest time spectacle when the orchards are bowed under their load of cherries and apples and peaches and other fruits and the good earth yields its amazing bounty of vegetables.
In this year when food fights for the United Nations, no region is doing more to fill the granaries of a nation at war.
No, I did not find the Ridge or the lakeshore or the bays "commonplace."
The scenery is not as spectacular as that of the Lakes Country; not so picturesque as that of the Genesee Valley. But it exudes peace and plenty. It has all the soothing grace of a long sunny Indian Summer afternoon.
You don't run across many landed gentry or find much aristocratic tradition along the Ridge. The people are of many bloods. They are to a marked degree civic minded, proud of their village fire companies and granges and clubs. They are just ordinary, hard working people, like you and me and they are mighty friendly.
I like the land of bays and blossomsvery much.
Don't I live only five blocks off the Ridge?
* * *
IT IS hard for me to write objectively about Sodus Bay. Around its South Shore cling so many personal memories. For the Merrills spent four blissful pre-war summer vacations there.
To go back, even for a few hours, was Paradise regained. We—my wife, the 10-year-old red cocker spaniel, Patty, and I—even revisited at a distance the cottages we had lived in those other summers, and Patty's fluffy tail waved like a gay plume above the swamp grass of old hunting grounds. For dogs, as well as humans, have long memories, especially for the pleasant things of life.
We saw again the well remembered panorama of smiling sky and sunlit water and green wooded islands that in the long ago made the "Bay of the Cayugas" a favorite rendezvous of the Red Men; the same scene that in 1794 impelled Charles Williamson, the land agent and founder of Sodus Point, to exclaim:
"The first view of this place strikes the eye as one of the most magnificent landscapes that human fancy can picture."
Since then thousands have echoed his observation.
* * *
Sodus, ancient of bays, has many landmarks.
Chimney Bluffs are visible for miles. They stand, gray sentinels guarding the union of the bay with the lake, whose whitecaps pound at the foot of the towering,weird formations that Nature has cut out of the headland.
There are Lake Bluff and Bonnicastle, so gay in old steamboat days and now so quiet. And the lotus bed at Resort where the Ridge begins. The high water that in recent years has caused such heavy property damage around the bay and has made an island out of old Charles Point, struck at the lotus bed, too. Last year there were no flowers and this summer again no buds on the lily pads and few prospects of any blooms. How the exotic waxy blossoms of the Nile came to these Northern waters is a mystery. They are protected by state law from careless hands.
The rolling, deceptive nine-hole golfcourse on the south shore, so busy on pre-war Sundays, was all but deserted.
Then as you go down the Alton Road, the vast bulk of the coal trestle and the towers of the old malthouse loom up and you feel you are approaching a commercial center such as Charles Williamson planned when he laid out Great Sodus 150 years ago.
But Sodus Point is just a village, a combination summer colony and a bit of New England, whence came so many of her settlers. There are the broad principal street and the public square just as Williamson laid them out and the old colonial homes under old trees. In them live a quiet, conservative people, many of them elderly folk who look a bit askance at the Coney Islandish revelry of Sand Point, with its rows of hot dog stands, shooting galleries and beer parlors at its western end, with its medley of summer people in slacks and bathing suits and shorts and of folk from the countryside in their holiday best, munching "hots," tossing rings and in pre-dance-tax days, jitterbugging at Joe's Place.
For generations, Sodus Point has been the gayest summer spot in those parts and the hand of war has not snuffed out all its color. The summer people are there in numbers and you note the license plates of many states.
But there aren't many young men on the "boardwalk," save a few in uniform, home on furlough.
The deep sands of the bathing beach are crowded; white sails dot the bay; the sea gulls line up on the long pier like so many silent fishermen; the wind sighs in the cottonwoods and the tall locusts and beauty and romance, the charm of an older day and the merriment of a new are mingled here at the Bay of the Cayugas, at Williamson's old town atthe Point.
* * *
History invests every mile of bay shore.
Sodus has been important in history because of her splendid natural harbor, the finest on Lake Ontario.
The origin of the peculiar name, Sodus, is a matter of debate. According to one version, it means "knife" in the Indian language. An old document has been unearthed, referring to a Captain Sodus in colonial times but his name appears nowhere else in history. I prefer the school of thought that holds the name is a corruption of the word Assorodus, meaning "silver waters," whichwas applied to the bay by early Jesuit writers.
Those silver waters were more than a happy hunting and fishing ground to the Cayugas for Sodus Bay was their great port whence their birch bark canoes journeyed inland, just as Irondequoit Bay was the port of the Senecas.
We find as early as 1728 an agent of the King of France recommended the building of a fort at the Bay of the Cayugas. because of its fine harbor and its strategic position, to offset the menace of the British base at Oswego and to assure French domination of the southern Ontario shore. The advice was not heeded.
So it came to pass that in 1759 a mighty flotilla under the flag of Britain and bearing a motley array of Royal regulars, provincial troops and Indian allies under Prideaux and Sir William Johnson encamped at the bay on their way to storm and seize Fort Niagara and to break forever the power of New France on this frontier.
Until after the Revolution, thebayside slept in the primeval forest. Indians came to hunt and fish and trap and so did a few roving whites.
In 1794 the beauty of the bay caught the eye of the Scottish-born promoter who was the real "Father of the Genesee Country." Charles Williamson saw also the tremendous commercial possibilities of the place. The agent for the British land syndicate headed by Sir William Pultney began building a town at the present site of Sodus Point. He dreamed of a great port there and erected mills and a $5,000 tavern. And with a typical Williamson touch, he even launched a pleasure boat on the bay.
Across the lake, Simcoe, governor general of Canada, viewed these enterprises with dismay. Although Britain had lost the Revolutionary War, she still held Oswego and through alliances with the Indians, hoped to control the south shore of Lake Ontario. So Simcoe sent an emissary with a detachment of soldiers to Sodus with an ultimatum to Williamson to desist from his operations. The land agent had been warned of an attempt to kidnap him so he went to the meeting with a sizeable guard. The British agent turned out to be a former comrade-in-arms, Lt. Roger Sheaffe, but nevertheless, when he met Williamson in a cabin on Sand Point, there was a brace of cocked pistols on the table between them. Williamson defied the British threat and when Sheaffe boarded his boat to return, empty handed, to Canada, Yankee muskets fired a volley in the air, as a further gesture of defiance to the Crown.
When four days later, "Mad Anthony" Wayne defeated the Western Indians in Ohio, the New York State redskins and the British saw the futility of their scheme to dominate the frontier. Soon after, the Jay treaty was signed with Britain and the border difficulties were settled. The fears that had beset the settlers along the lake melted away and more and more stout-hearted pioneers came to clear the woods and the swamps. The growing settlement by the silver waters came to bear the name Troupville, in honor of Williamson's successor, Robert Troup, and then to be called, as it is today, Sodus Point.
Briscoe's Cove is the wooded nook on the south shore that adjoins Alasa Farms, the 1,600-acre estate of Alvah Griffith Strong of Rochester.
In 1791 the government sent a party of surveyors to Sodus Bay to run a line that would determine the boundaries of the Cayuga and Seneca nations and the pre-emptive rights of Massachusetts. One of the surveyors died and was buried in the lonely woods at the water's edge. In 1843 the Fourierists, members of a communistic colony on the present Strong estate, needed the site of the surveyor's grave for a saw mill and moved the bones to a high bluff. There 24 years later, a rude, flat stone was found. On it were the words, "A. N. Briscoe, died May 22, 1791." Little else is known of the surveyor, laid to rest by his comrades in that lonely spot so long ago. But for 153 years the place has been called Briscoe's Cove.
There is nothing unusual today about the Catchpole farm at Port Glasgow at the head of the bay but in 1800 it was one of the few slave farms in the region. That year Capt. Thomas Helms came over the rough trails from Virginia with 70 Negro slaves. He proceeded to put them to work, clearing up 100 acres around the bay. He had a reputation for brutality. His slave farm was short lived and he soon returned to Virginia. A half century later, Sodus Point was one of the busiest stations on the Underground Railroad which sent fugitive slaves to Canada.
On the south shore's highest hill under lofty poplar trees is the Sill homestead. To that spot in 1803 came a Maryland gentleman, a former officer of Washington's staff and a slave owner of a different stripe than Helms. He was Col. Peregrine Fitzhugh, a brother of William, one of the founders of Rochester. From Geneva, where he had lived briefly, Peregrine Fitzhugh brought his 40 slaves. Before long he had freed them all. With others, they formed a colony on the Geneva Road. Some of their descendants may be still living around the Point.
The Point's business section is on a gentle hill. There are stores and hotels and in summer, a stream of cars coming and going.
It is hard to realize that it was once the scene of a battle, to recapture the events of a dark and rainy night in 1813 when the Redcoats landed and the men of Sodus stood on that hill, a thin, determined line, defending their homes.
When in 1812 the American republic again drew the sword against the mother country, Lake Ontario, separating the two nations, and her shores became a battleground, with rival fleets plying the blue waters.
The British squadron was commanded by Commodore Yeo, a master of the hit and run technic. He would descend on settlements he thought unprotected, seize stores and then take to his boats before the militia could muster in force.
On June 19, 1813, little Sodus Point felt the cruel brunt of invasion. Out on the lake a fleet of five sail was sighted and two men on horseback went out to alarm the countryside. Through "every Middlesex, village and farm" these Paul Reveres galloped, each blowing a horn and shouting, "The British are landing."
In the rainy night, some forty settlers mobilized at the public square. At that time the lake extended almost up to the Bay Street hill.
They heard the scraping of boats on the beach and saw the dim flare of lanterns. They knew the British had landed, in what force they could not tell. They watched the Redcoats march in order up the slope from the water's edge. An American shot snuffed out a British lantern and then a British voice commanded: "Fire!" Thus began the battle of Sodus Point.
Two defenders, Asher Warner and Charles Terry, fell under that first enemy volley. The Americans, all hunters and frontiersmen, answered with a deadly fire, killing at least three Redcoats and wounding several.
After the exchange of shots, both sides retreated. It was midnight. Neither could determine the strength of the other in the inky blackness. Actually the Americans were outnumbered nearly 8 to 1.
The next morning the British again landed, unopposed. They seized the stores in the warehouses although the crafty settlers had hidden much of them in a ravine near the square. The invaders set fire to every building in the village, except the Mansion House where the wounded Asher Warner was breathing his last. A British officer placed a pitcher of water near the dying man and extinguished the fires troops had kindled around the building.
From their hilltop mansion, the widow and children of Colonel Fitzhugh saw the burning village and hastily buried their family plate and jewels.
With Sodus Point in ruins, the British took to their boats, dragging three prisoners with them.
So the men of Great Sodus had to build their village all over again and Phoenix-like, it arose from its ashes.
There is a little story connected with the invasion which shows that all the pioneers were not of noble spirit. When the alarm was given, Timothy Axtell went to a neighbor's home to borrow a gun. The neighbor was absent and his wife refused to loan the weapon. Axtell took the gun down, used it in the battle and then returned it later. The owner sued him for damages before a peace justice and obtained a verdict of six and one-quarter cents!
* * *
I got my 1944 baptism of hiking on the eight miles of up hill and down dale between Sodus Point and Alasa Farms and return.
The sun scorched my ill protected pate. Feet, that had known no such heavy duty since they rambled the Genesee just a year before, protested vigorously. But I shall never regret my trek to "The Shaker Tract."
Down at the Point, where the old traditions are eternal, the villagers never refer to the estate of Alvah Griffith Strong on the south shore of the bay as Alasa Farms. To them it is still "The Shaker Tract" although 108 years have gone by since the men and women of the Society of Christian Believers worked and worshipped there.
Unbelievers called them the Shaking Quakers or the Shakers because of the twitching of their bodies under the spell of religious fervor.
The Shakers came to Sodus in 1823. They built first a meeting house, then a central residence or manor house, barns and a cluster of other buildings, a few of which are still there. They cultivated the rolling acres, set out orchards, brought in a fine dairy herd.
In 1836 a ship canal was projected to connect Sodus Bay with the Erie Canal near Montezuma. Its route lay squarely across the Shaker land. So the sect sold its property—at a profit—and moved to Sonyea. The canal scheme, like many a similar one of that era, withered on the vine after a few shovelfuls of earth had been dug.
Then came another cult to occupy the broad acres. Around 1843 a "phalanx" of the Fourierists, a socialistic, utopian society, established itself there. Dissension disrupted the Sodus colony in two years. But the mill the Fourierists built a century ago still stands beside the sylvan brook near the entrance to the estate.
The tract next passed into the hands of the Parshall and Chamberlin families of Lyons. These owners added many acres to the original Shaker holdings.
In 1924 two Rochesterians bought the property. One was Alvah G. Strong, whose grandfather had had the good judgment to back a young bank clerk named George Eastman in his first industrial venture, The other was Asa D. McBride. The name of the farms is a combination of the first names of the partners. McBride withdrew and "Griff" Strong became the sole owner of the historic 1,600 acres.
From the Alton Road one can see the huge white barns. But one must travel a quarter of mile of winding, shaded, uphill drive-way to reach the cluster of buildings, laid out after the fashion of an army post.
The rambling manor house that the Shakers built is the Strongs' summer residence. It has been kept insofar as possible as it was in that long gone day. Over the door of every room is an indention that in the time of the methodical Shakers held a number plate.
The plain, sturdy home of the farm manager and a granary in the rear of the manor house are the only other original Shaker buildings. The old meeting house burned down a decade ago.
Hugging the side of the manor house is an enormous locust tree. Strong said there was a clause in an old deed that stipulated the tree "was never to be cut down because twice it had saved the house from being struck by lightning."
When in the 1920's, Strong installed a herd of thoroughbred Shorthorns at Alasa Farms, he unwittingly was following a Shaker tradition. For later on, he found out that the first occupants of the estate a century before him had one of the first milking Shorthorn herds in America. The great barns house Guernseys now. They also shelter 65 head of pure blooded horseflesh, brood mares, stallions and colts. Visitors come from miles around to see the Strong stock. Once Griff tried breeding Canadian husky dogs on the estate.
Alasa Farms is more than a summer home. It is a considerable enterprise. It has acres of fruit trees and vast fields of other crops. From the advent of the Fourierists, lumbering has been carried on there. Strong has cut five to six million feet. Once there was a dock on the bay where the boats took on lumber and produce.
By way of contrast, Alasa Farms has a modern swimming pool and tennis court hard by the granary that the Shakers built more than a century ago.
Three wooded islands add much to the picturesqueness of Sodus Bay. Early Scotch settlers named them Butte, Islay and Arran. Now they are Le Roy, Newark and Eagle Islands.
Le Roy Island, also known as Long, is named for a onetime owner, H. C. Le Roy. When the Lake Ontario Shore (now the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg) Railroad was built in the 1870's, he cut off the timber for railroad ties. The island has many summer homes.
Newark Island derives its name from the many Newark people who have cottages there. Oldtimers recall when, around the turn of the century, Zenas F. Westervelt, of the white flowing beard, first principal of the Rochester School for the Deaf, came there every summer with 30 or 40 of his students.
Eagle Island is now a camp for senior Boy Scouts. Once it housed A. C. Warren's summer school and camp for boys. Later on, the 100-acre island was a treasured possession of Donald Woodward, Le Roy Jello millionaire. In 1924, his sister, Mrs. Helen Rivas, gave it to the Scout Council.
If you want to visit Eagle or Newark Islands, you'd better have a boat. There's no other way of reaching them. Le Roy Island is connected with the mainland by a bridge.
Every summer afternoon, after energetic Van L. De Ville, whose grandfather built boats at the Point in Civil War days, finishes carrying the mail by auto around the village, he switches to motor boat to complete his route and serve the three green islands.
The era of the steamboats brings back the most nostalgic memories. It is linked with the halcyon days before the automobile's honk drowned out the whistle of the steamboats and the rumble of the excursion trains.
Graybeards at the Point will tell you about the old steamboats: The Spencer Mead, named in honor of a railroad official and launched in 1874; Capt. W. H. Field's Ideal, that ran from 1893 to 1904; the Lizzie, the H. C. Le Roy, the Sunbeam.
In their day they carried thousands from the old Bay Shore Hotel at Sand Point and from the steamboat dock to Lake Bluff and Bonnicastle and the other resorts on the bay. Now the old hotel is hidden behind fir trees, only its peaked cupolas showing, shrinking from sight in its decrepit old age like a faded and once proud belle.
Lake Bluff, once the mecca for excursion crowds and widely publicized as a retreat for hay fever sufferers, is only a quiet cottage colony.
Bonnicastle is just another fruit farm on the east side of the bay. Once hundreds of Wayne County veterans of the Civil War held their reunions there. If today by some alchemy, one of the old steamers was again to lower its gangplank at the Bay Shore Hotel, there would be no Boys in Blue left to board her.
As late as 1919, we find the smaller boats, the Wrinkle and the XPDWG, advertising "an island ramble, passenger, express and U. S. Mail Service from the Lake Shore Station to Lake Bluff" and the Sea Bird running "moonlight and searchlight excursions to all points on the bay after the dance."
The big excursion boats that ran from Rochester to the Thousand Islands used to stop at Sodus. And in pre-horseless carriage days, the railroads ran long Sunday excursion trains to the bay from Rochester, Elmira and other points.
Those days are gone forever. But at the Point, the talk still centers around boats—gasoline launches and yachts and plain motor boats. On peacetime Sunday mornings the bay yacht races were something to watch. Now only a few answer the starting gun. Most of the men who sailed them are fighting a grimmer contest, far from Sodus Bay.
But I think there will always be white sails on those silver waters for their call is an old one and will not be denied.
For 119 years a beacon has shown out from Sodus Point through rain and fog and storm to guide the mariners on the lake. But not always from the same place.
The first lighthouse, of stone, was built in 1825. Its successor is still standing although well camouflaged by a dwelling that has been built around it. It is the home of the Coast Guardsman who is custodian of the newer light at the end of the pier. At the end of Ontario Street among tall trees, the old stone tower rises above the wooden frame of the house, with its stairway and lantern with revolving beam. The site was abandoned long ago for the present location on the pier.
The current lighthouse is only six years old. I found the severed remains of its wooden predecessor reposing ingloriously along the bay back of the Harris House.
A man whose sandy hair belies his years lives alone in an old house on Wickham Boulevard. His name is Charlie Plummer. For 25 years he was keeper of the light at Sodus Point. Before he retired, countless times he climbed the many steps to light the old kerosene beacon. Few know Ontario's moods better than Charlie Plummer, for few have watched them longer.
Directly opposite his home is a magnificent ruin.
Do you remember the book and movie, "Rebecca" and the mansion, Manderly, that burned so spectacularly in the finale? I never see the ruins of Lakestones, the Parsons mansion on the lake bluff at the Point, without somehow thinking of Manderly.
Col. E. B. Parsons, who owned the malthouse at the Point, built the mansion more than 50 years ago. Every stone in it was gathered from the lakeshore. It was a modern baronial castle with wings and turrets and huge fireplaces and a conservatory and stables and spacious grounds and a log cabin on the beach. Charlie Plummer and his father before him worked for Colonel Parsons. After the death of Parsons and his widow, the place passed into other hands.
Plummer will never forget a bleak January dawn 10 years ago when from his windows, he saw an awe-inspiring spectacle. Lakestones was in flames. Clouds of black smoke billowed out of the great chimneys, then sheets of flames shot out of the many windows; the heavy slate roof in the center went crashing in and the mansion was a gutted ruin in a few minutes.
Today what is left of it is a tourist camp.
But it still is a magnificent ruin.
When I passed by the huge gaunt coal trestle in the harbor, I felt like waving to two old friends I saw there. They were the coal boats Coalfax and Valley Camp. During all my summers at the bay, it seemed as if one or both were always there beside the trestle, taking on their cargoes of black diamonds for Canada.
Sodus never became the mighty port of Williamson's grandiose plans but for years it has been an important lake shipping center.
There were four big elevators there before the first trestle came. Sailboats brought barley from Canada for the big malthouse. Then in the 1890's America erected a high tariff wall against Canadian barley, among other things. The shipments fell off, the elevators were torn down and the malthouse closed, to be reopened again after repeal.
The present coal trestle, built in 1927, is the third at the spot. Each time a bigger one had to be built to take care of the growing stream of coal cars that came by rail from the Pennsylvania fields.
An average of from three to eight of the gray coal boats leave the port daily, a total of 675 for the last eight-month shipping season. During that period of 1943, Sodus shipped over 2,000,000 tons of coal, more than the ports of Rochester and Oswego combined. This year Rochester is threatening that supremacy. All the coal shipments out of Sodus are not to Canada. There is a heavy coastwise business to Oswego and Ogdensburg.
Sodus Bay is for four months of the year an ice-locked harbor. Dec. 3 is the deadline for ships to depart for after that the insurance rate jumps tremendously. So sometimes there is a dash to get the ships out before the deadline.
The big trestle with nearly always 6 or 12 gondolas aboard, creates some din and smoke around thequiet Point. It also provides employment for some 50 people.
* * *
The building of the railroads started things humming in the 1870's around the Point. The Ontario and Southern, 34 miles long, connected Sodus Bay with Stanley and the Northern Central branch of the Pennslyvania. The Lake Ontario Shore (R., W. and O.) followed the Ridge and carried the produce of that rich fruit belt.
Sylvanus J. Macy, member of a family later prominent in Rochester and the Genesee Valley, became interested in development of the Point and erected a brick bank building near the malthouse. It now houses the U. S. Customs house and Postoffice. The business center there became known as Macyville.
Then in 1881 a short, dynamic young man appeared on the Sodus Point scene. His name was Edward H. Harriman, a name that was to become one to conjure with in the realm of high finance.
This young former Wall Street messenger and New York stock broker, through marriage into the wealthy Averell banking and railroad family of Ogdensburg, became interested in Northern New York affairs.
His shrewd eye fell upon the Stanley-Sodus Point rail line, then in a sad state, unprofitable and badly managed. Harriman believed that, reorganized and put in shape, it might be profitably sold either to the Pennsylvania or to New York Central, for it had connections with both those major systems.
So he joined with Macy and others in getting control of the line. In 1882, it was reorganized as the Sodus Point and Southern. Then Harriman bought sole control and after improving it in every way, put it up for sale, adroitly playing the Pennsy against the Central.
He pointed out to the Pennsylvania owners the desirability of extending their Northern Central to Sodus Point, thus obtaining an outlet on Lake Ontario for the coal of the Pennsylvania fields, which might be sold in Canada. With the Vanderbilts, he used the argument that if the New York Centraldid not buy it, its hated rival, the Pennsy, would.
In the jockeying, the Pennsylvania eventually got the Sodus Point and Southern and it has been theirs even since. Harriman pocketed a neat profit in the deal, his first railroad venture. Thus at Sodus point began the career of one of America's mightiest railroad barons.
An old time Sodus Pointer, Matthew M. Farrell, a trim, kindly, gray little man in his 80th year, remembers Harriman well. Farrell came to Sodus Point in 1880 as telegraph operater for the Harriman road.
Some times he took 30 or 40 telegrams a day for the brisk young railroad man. Farrell remembers one day delivering a telegram to Harriman when the budding king of rails was playing pool in the Johnson House with his lieutenant, Ed Parrott. Harriman ripped open the envelope, read the wire, then he embraced Parrott and began dancing a jig.
"We've licked 'em!" Harriman shouted. The telegram told of a favorable court verdict that meant $25,000 in his pocket.
Mat Farrell remembers Harriman as an impetuous, quick moving, quick thinking man, making no pretense of his ambition to make a lot of money and make it fast.
The Harrimans lived for a year or two in the old yellow Lummis residence with white pillars opposite Troup Park, Sodus Point's old public square. Mrs. Harriman was a head taller than her spouse. Several years ago, she presented the house to the Episcopal Diocese. Only recently the church sold it.
Farrell, who retired in 1935 as station agent after 55 years of railroading at the Point, carries in his memory the whole changing transportation picture: Steamboats, rail excursions, interurbans.
He remembers when the long excursion trains ran down to the water's edge in the village; the glory of the Johnson House when Laughlin, the steel magnate, and railroad moguls stayed there and sailed their yachts on the bay; the old trolley station, now vanished from the scene, along with the rattling interurbans that ran from Rochester to the Point.
Seared indelibly into his memory is the wreck of September, 1901, when a south-bound Pennsylvania train was derailed near Fairville and 37 people met death.
He will never forget how frantic relatives stormed his little ticket office, clawing at the windows, demanding news of their loved ones when he had no authentic news to give them, of the hundreds of pathetic wires he pounded out—all the horror and confusion that attend a disaster.
He remembers the days when commercial fishing was a sizeable industry at the bay, when a fleet of 8 or 10 boats put out daily. Now there are only one or two except in the fall when the ciscoes are netted.
But since the days of the Cayugas, the amateurs have loved to drop their lines in the waters of the lake and bay.
* * *
The roots of Sodus Point go deeply into the past. Her people cherish the old traditions. They have named their streets after the pioneers. They know the history of every old house, of every old family.
They point out the white painted Smith house on Bay Street that is 130 years old. Miss Rose Wood's eyes glow with pride as she tells about her lovely old residence near the shady square that once housed the customs office in an upstairs room. She was born in that house and has lived there all her 76 years. People like Miss Rose Wood can't understand city dwellers who move every year or so.
There are those who predict that if the long agitated St. Lawrence waterway project goes through, this port, with the finest natural harbor on Lake Ontario, will come into its own; will at long last become the Great Sodus of Charles Williamson's dream.
"By Their Fruits---"
ONLY about seven miles separate Sodus Point on the water front and Sodus Village on the Ridge.
But in reality the two communities belong to two different worlds, two ways of life.
Sodus Point is in that relaxed, care-free, vacation world where people have come to play and to rest.
Sodus on the Ridge belongs to that other world those same people have sought to escape—the world of bustle and production and go-getting. At Sodus on the Ridge, everybody works, including father, especially in the first week of the sour cherry harvest.
For Sodus is in the heart of one of the most productive fruit and vegetable belts in America.
And the harvest, like the tide, waits not.
For is it not written in an old, old Book that "By their fruits, ye shall know them?"
So in wartime, when food is so vital and manpower so scarce, the air of almost desperate urgency that always pervades the Ridge at harvest time is accentuated.
To the north, where the orchards are deployed, like the serried ranks of a mighty army, there are thousands of bushels of cherries, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and other fruits to be picked.
To the south, there are the mammoth crops of an amazing variety of vegetables to be taken from the rich, black muck land.
To me, born and raised in the stony hills of the Southern Tier where crops are raised only to feed dairy cattle and where the scanty yield of unkempt orchards goes into cider or hog feed, this bountiful Blossom Country is a never failing source of wonderment.
When Sodus is mentioned, one thinks of cherries, bright red on the trees against the green of the leaves, of cherries in cans in neat rows in the fruit cellar, of succulent cherry pies. I was going to call Sodus the Cherry Capital but neighbor Williamson might protest.
Before I started this tour, I read several old Wayne County histories. The most recent one, published in 1894, told about large crops of apples and pears, but nary a word about cherries. I wondered when cherry raising started in the region.
So I began asking questions. Going up to Sodus from the Point on the early morning bus, I ran across an old acquaintance, who in those happy summers before the war, worked at the Bay Heights Golf Club. She is a local girl and smart. I never knew her last name. Everybody calls her "Red." When I asked her the local authority on horticultural history, she promptly said: "See B. J. Case." Miss Marks at the Sodus Record office said the same thing. So did Mrs. Margaret Merghof, the county historian.
So I saw B. J. Case.
* * *
Byron J. Case is a six footer, sinewy, straight as a Grenadier. He drives his car with the dash of a college sophomore and the sure skill of a taxi driver. Before the war he used to drive to Florida every winter alone.
B. J. Case is in his ninetieth year.
He is the descendant of Sodus pioneers. He is a pioneer himself in his own field. He is incisive in speech, well informed, at times eloquent. A former president of the independent state growers' association, now extinct, he has been a familiar and a militant figure at state horticultural conventions for 70 years.
Case took me on a tour of some of the larger fruit farms. "You don't get any idea of the extent of them from the main roads," he said. So we drove over side roads, orchard trails and occasionally over rough fields that rocked the car. But I was not afraid. I had implicit faith in B. J. Case's strong arms and the indomitable will of his generation.
First he showed me with justifiable pride, his own Case Farm on the Lake Road and the cobblestone house his grandfather built there in 1835, the same year he planted the first apple seeds. B. J. pointed out a Greening tree, still bearing, that is 91 years old, two years his senior.
He was born on that farm. Now he lives in the village but the fourth generation of his family is operating the Case Farm. B. J. took it over in 1882. He grew apples, peaches, raspberries—but no cherries.
How and when did the cherry orchards start along the Ridge?
Well, they sort of grew, like Topsy. From early times nearly every farmer had a cherry tree or two in his yard. Everyone liked to eat the fruit but all the commercial growing was in the Hudson Valley and in California.
In 1909, alive to the commercial possibilities of the crop, Case planted on the Bay View Farm, now operated by his son, James G., a former president of the State Horticultural Society, the first large cherry orchard in Wayne County—3,000 trees. Some of them are still bearing.
Two years later he made a large planting on the Case Farm. Other growers followed suit. The business grew gradually. People liked Sodus cherries. Some were shipped out by rail, largely to the North Country.
Then the canneries came and the crop became a major one. The big spurt came in 1924 with the freezing of pitted cherries for shipment in 30 pound tins. Case was a pioneer in that, too. In 1942, 5,000 tons were stored and shipped in tins from Sodus township alone.
"But don't overemphasize the cherry crop," cautioned B. J. "Apples are still a mighty important item with us."
He said Wayne County was second to a county in Washington State in production of apples and excelled only by Traverse County in Michigan in its cherry yield.
Then with a ring of pride in his voice, he added:
"We grow a lot of vegetables here, too. Wayne County this year will produce five times the tomatoes it did in 1943; ten times the string beans; four times the beets, double the potatoes."
The town of Sodus has eight packing plants. In the 1880's it was a center of the dried apple business. Nearly all the apples were shaken from the trees and nearly every farm had its own evaporator.
"We let Washington State take the business away from us," Case lamented.
We visited the Bay View Farm, then part of the 500 acres that Herman M. Cohn, the Rochester manufacturer, is developing along the lake, and the biggest of them all, the 750-acre Sodus Fruit Farm, owned by a syndicate.
I was Alice in Wonderland. I gaped at the rows of trees sometimes three quarters of a mile long, at the orchards stretching at times as far as the eye could see.
As we drove along, Case's practiced eye saw many things mine missed. A lone yellow apple was ripening in an orchard. Case stopped the car, reached out, picked the apple and cut it open. "I thought so," he said. "Ripening prematurely and rotting at the core." He had a technical name for the disease.
At 89, this Grand Old Man of the Fruit Country is looking into the future and not the past. His ambition is to develop an early red apple that will compete with the Washington product.
Wayne County fruit growers are not farmers in the ordinary sense of the term. Some of them are really plantation owners. Their's is big business. The bigger fruit farms have offices, processing plants, army-like barracks for their transient help, largely Negro, and a heavy investment in machinery and equipment.
A glimpse at the Sodus Fruit Farm's processing plant was a revelation. It is like the assembly line of a war plant. When going full blast, it can process eight tons of cherries an hour. Nearly every operation from truck to tin is mechanical—washing, pitting, sugaring. A dozen women and girls sort the fruitas it passes along on a conveyor.
A ninety minute tour with B. J. Case had given me a new conceptof the fruit growing industry on Lake Ontario's shores.
* * *
Sodus on the Ridge is younger than Sodus on the waterfront.
It began in 1809 with a log cabin John Holcomb built in the woods. Other settlers, largely New Englanders, joined him. The settlement was first called East Ridge.
Then when the highways were improved, Sodus became a stopping place for the stagecoaches that traveled the Ridge from Oswego to Lewiston and a branch route southward from the bay to Newark.
The coming of the Iron Horse in 1872 ended the stage coach era and brought new prosperity to the region, affording a new transportation outlet for the produce that hitherto had been hauled by wagon or shipped by boat.
Like the other towns along the right of way, Sodus bonded herself heavily to help finance the building of the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad from Oswego to Lewiston. In 1875 the road was sold at foreclosure proceedings on the Oswego Courthouse steps. It fell into the hands of the Lackawanna and later the New York Central, its present owner. The name was changed to the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg.
For years it was a busy line. Long trains hauled the produce of a rich area. At least two passenger trains ran each way daily. There were 70-cent Sunday excursions to Charlotte and after the harvest, gala Grange excursions to Niagara Falls. Now, with bus and truck dominant, there are no passenger trains at all and the freight business dwindles, year by year.
Remember the interurbans? All the way from Rochester to Sodus Point are mute reminders of the Rochester and Sodus Bay trolley line that followed the Ridge, crossing it at intervals and bisecting the main streets of the villages. Some of the tracks are still visible and the old road bed can be plainly traced. The Sodus line began in 1900 and gave up the ghost in 1929. And William (Yank) Gloor of Rochester was at the throttle of the last car as he had been at the first.
In the spring, there was an excursion along a route called "Forty miles of blossoms."
The shrill whistle of the rattling old interurbans has been silent these 15 years but the blossoms still scent the air every May-time.
* * *
Little Wallington, east of Sodus on the Ridge, deserves a paragraph. Once it was an important junction of the R. W. and O. and Northern Central Railroads and county political conventions were held there in pre-motoring days. It gets itsname from the old stone tavern, the Walling House.
And further east is another Ridge village, Alton, distinguished for the religious fervor of its people who have built a tabernacle on a hill and for a busy canning factory that employs nearly 200 hands in season.
* * *
About Sodus, pleasant, friendly trading center of the Blossom Country, lingers many an old tale. I will repeat a few.
There was the great pigeon roost of 1820. The birds came in such numbers they darkened the sky. Then they roosted on a line of woods a mile and one half wide. Their weight broke down branches. Hunters came from far and near. The slaughter was terrific and pigeon pie graced pioneer tables for many a day. Nothing like it ever happened before or since.
A locality in the neighborhood is called Christian Hollow, although to the pioneers it was "Christian Holler" because:
Back in 1823, early settlers there became obsessed with the idea the end of the world was at hand. They even fixed the hour. When that fateful time came, they assembled prayerfully, the men in their sober Sunday best; the women in their brightest shawls. Among them was one doubting Thomas who allowed that he "would just meander over to the Geneva Road and miss the whole thing."
He did and when the hour of doom had passed without Gabriel's trumpet, this skeptic "went back there and said 'I told you so' and you should hear the Christians holler!"
Sodus in the 1840's was the scene of a unique experiment. Mulberry trees were planted, cocooneries started and the promoters sat back, expecting the silk worms to spin them a fortune. The climate was not adapted for mulberry trees and the industry languished and died, although the census of 1849 showed that 194 pounds of cocoons were produced in Wayne County.
When in 1920, the Jackson Rice farmhouse west of the village burned, visitors were puzzled by an excavation over which a wood house had stood. It was constructed like a cistern but there was no way for water to enter it. As a matter of fact, it never held any water but it did hold many a runaway slave when Sodus was a station on the Underground Railway.
An elevation on the Sodus Fruit Farm is still called Nigger Hill. In the days of the Underground, fugitive slaves were hidden there, waiting the ships that would take them to Canada and freedom.
Eighty years later there was surrepitious traffic of another sort along the nearby lake shore, where under cover of night, the rum boats would sneak in from Canada and unload their wares.
Linked with stage coach days is the 90-year-old Sodus Hotel, three stories, white, ivy covered. A character named L. L. Whitney Sr., operated it for years.
In 1878 when the town voted dry, Whitney was full of wrath. On his property was a pump where nearly all the village came for cool, spring water. The hotel keeper put up a tight, board fence, seven feet high, around the well, announcing that "if the people would not let him sell liquor, they could not drink his water." It is recorded that Whitney relented and also that Sodus voted "wet" at the next election.
Back of the hotel was a half-mile race track, where in the 1890's was held the annual fair of the Sodus Agricultural Society.
A revolver shot in the darkness put the village in the national limelight in March, 1906. When Edward Pullman, middle aged night watchman, was making his pre-dawn rounds, he came upon three bandits about to rifle the safe of the Knapp private bank. The officer gave battle and was shot dead. The yeggs escaped—using stolen horses and cutters. The next day they were captured at their Rochester boarding house. They turned out to be notorious gangsters, Big Ed Kelly, Fred Schulz and James McCormick.
There followed the most exciting days Wayne County had known since Oliver Curtis Perry stole a train. Feeling ran high over the cold blooded slaying of a popular officer. When a hearing was held for the trio in the old Sodus Opera House, the streets were jammed and the prisoners were under heavy guard.
After a series of legal maneuvers and at least two plots to break jail, at Lyons and at Rochester, the trio was tried, convicted and given long prison terms. The ringleader, Big Ed Kelly, soon escaped from Sing Sing and never was caught.
All that was 38 years ago but they still talk about the Pullman murder in Sodus. For crimes of violence have been few on the law abiding Ridge.
* * *
Sodus again won national publicity in 1930 when the whole community turned out to celebrate the 100th birthday of Wingfield O. Bryan at a party in the high school. There were speeches and music and tables groaning with food. At one table were 43 persons over 80 years of age. The bracing air of the Ridge breeds longevity.
W. O. Bryan lived to be 103. Right up to the last he kept pounding out on his typewriter his letters to the editor. A rugged individualist, he lamented in vigorous prose the "good old days" and sounded a call for a return to the self reliance of the pioneers.
Charles Williamson, real estate salesman extraordinary with a wilderness empire as his subdivision, played a stellar role in the winning of this frontier.
He founded Bath, Sodus Point and Williamsburg, "lost city" on the Genesee. He built roads, churches, schools and mills. He launched ships and newspapers and theaters. He dreamed of a splendid future for his Genesee Country.
But with the planning of the only community in the state that bears his name he had no part. And the village they named after him is the utter antithesis of the dashing land agent.
Charles Williamson was a bold, enthusiastic, lavish dreamer and empire builder, who was fired by his British home office because his expenditures in developing the Genesee Country so far exceeded the immediate returns.
In his personal life he was a gay dog with a penchant for fair women, sparkling wine and fast horses. He was an aristocrat and sought to make this a countryside of great estates in the English manner.
But Williamson, his namesake village, is the soul of frugality, thrift and conservatism. It is deeply devout and circumspect and yearns not after the flesh pots as did Charles, the land agent. It is "Sahara on the Ridge," the only town for miles around, that except for a brief period after repeal, has for half a century voted down the sale of intoxicants within its borders.
Impecunious Yankees and later, liberty loving Dutch emigrants, were its settlers. It has no aristocratictradition, no landed gentry.
But despite his hifaluting ways, Charles Williamson had Scotch blood in him and he gloried in achievement. So today, I think, if the shade of that tall, courtly soldier in blue cloak and powdered wig were to ride the Ridge and scan the record of that village that bears his name, his bold blue eyes would glisten and he would call for a toast in the best Madeira. For he would learn that:
Williamson has more automobiles per capita than any other town in the state.
It was, and may still be, the world's greatest celery shipping point. Records were easily obtainable when all shipments were by rail. Now in this day of trucks, comparative figures are elusive.
Only a few years ago it boasted the largest coal storage space under one roof in the world.
Experts have acclaimed the village as having the first and best equipment of its kind in the world for purification of the domestic water supply.
The community has given more blood per capita to the armed forces than any other in the region.
But this prudent, prosperous village flies no banners, sounds no trumpets. It takes a quiet pride in its accomplishments and goes its way serenely down the middle of the road—a road that is lined with acres of golden orchards and rich muckland. For it is in the heart of Nature's El Dorado.
* * *
The settlement, which began around 1807 as Poppino Corners, named after a pioneer innkeeper, in the early days was over-shadowed by the commercial supremacy of Pultneyville, the lake port in the same township. Soon renamed Williamson Corners, it was on the post road between Pultneyville and Canandaigua which antedatedthe building of the Ridge Road in the 1820's.
Her first settlers were from New England, Pennsylvania, the Mohawk Valley. Many of them were soldiers of the Revolution. Then around 1840 the first Hollanders came, hard working, thrifty, God-fearing people with a sure skill in growing fruit and vegetables.
Jan Cappon came first, to settle at Pultneyville and to write back to his home town of Zadzant glowing letters about the fertility and promise of this new country.
Across the sea in the homeland of dikes and windmills and tulips, things were not so happy. The state church was oppressing non-comformist groups. Military conscription added to the restlessness in the wake of the ruinous Napoleonic wars. The old Dutch towns were crowded in contrast to the wide spaces, awaiting only the plow and seeds of the pioneer, of which Jan Cappon wrote.
So a brave little band set across the sea from Holland as had the Pilgrims before them. They came to Western New York by canal boat. The majority went to Rochester. A small group disembarked at Lyons and chose East Williamson as the site of the first colony. That village has been predominately Dutch ever since.
They sent letters—and money—back to the homeland and soon "Little Holland" along the Ridge received a stream of emigrants that reached its crest around 1845. Today the descendants of those fine, substantial pioneers make up three-quarters of the town's population. Everywhere you run across names that start with Van or De or Van Der.
The colonists brought with them their religion, that of the Reformed Church. Now there are eight churches of that denomination in a 12-mile radius. In most of them, sermons are still preached in Dutch, as well as in English.
Maybe they were not the kind of settlers Williamson, the land agent, had in mind in his colonization plans of 150 years ago.
But they were the kind that has made the swamps and darkwoods of the Ridge Country blossom like the rose.
* * *
When in the 1870's the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad, (R., W. & O.), pushed its way along the Ridge, Williamson began to boom and the star of Pultneyville, the lake port, waned. Like the other towns along the line, Williamson bonded herself to pay for the building of the railroad. Characteristically, she was the first to pay off the obligation, $60,000, no mean sum in those times.
But before the Lake Ontario Shore came, there had been another railroad, an invisible system called the Underground. A frame house on the Marion Post Road, south of the village, was a station on that line. It is called the Milhan farm today but in pre-Civil War days when fugitive slaves were being spirited across the lake to Canada, a Quaker named Griffith Cooper lived there and he sheltered many a poor, cowering black runaway.
This gentle Quaker was a fighting liberal. He was a friend of the Indians at a time when an unscrupulous land company was attempting to grab the tribal domain. Cooper carried his fight right to the White House. He was a personal friend of Martin Van Buren and when that dapper little politico said: "Griffith, the white men need those lands," the Quaker replied, in his quiet way:
"Martin, thee knows that is not so."
Cooper's fight was won in part, although the Indians were forced to give up some of their most valuable lands and had to buy back some tracts which they had lost through the chicanery of white speculators.
* * *
Near the house where Griffith Cooper lived, an American flag waves on a hill top.
It flies over the home of 150 subjects of the British Crown.
They are Jamaicans, brought here to save the crops in this crucial war year under an agreement between the United States and the colonial government.
This labor camp, a huddle of 60 unpainted cabins and a mess hall-recreation building, is in its third year. It is called the Wayne County Agricultural Camp and is operated by a co-operative grower group under the auspices of the Extension Service of Cornell University. Last year it was run by the federal government.
The camp manager, sandy haired Carl P. Fairbanks, a wise and kindly man with years of teaching and administrative experience, said the new setup works much better.
The manager, a brother of Prof. Floyd C. Fairbanks of the University of Rochester and a native of the region, showed me around the camp.
The Jamaicans, save for kitchen help who keep everything immaculate, were out in the fields. But Fairbanks told me a lot about his charges.
They range in age from 18 to 40, with the majority in the early twenties. They are generally tractable and have caused little trouble in the community. The haughty Jamaicans have nothing to do with the Southern Negroes brought to the orchard country by canneries.
The Jamaicans even have castes among themselves. Those who hail from the city of Kingston look down upon their more uncouth, unlettered brethren from the interior. Among the elite is a former Kingston reporter and linotype operator.
The group includes three Quakers, a few Methodists and Baptists, no Catholics. But mostly they belong to the Angelican Church. Music is in their blood and they love to sing, especially hymns. One Jamaican is a talented pianist who plays entirely by ear. A music teacher, employed by the government, visits the camp regularly and holds song fests in the recreation hall. He is a Southern Negro, a graduate of Fisk University.
The resident nurse is a Southern Negro woman, a Duke University graduate. The camp physician is a refugee from Nazi-ridden Vienna who has settled in Williamson.
The Williamson camp is regarded as a model one. There are others in the state, I am told, that fall far short of its standard.
* * *
In pre-war harvest times, there came to the Fruit Country an army of migrant workers, nondescript men of all ages, men with tanned faces and wise eyes. They knew equally well the wheat fields of the Dakotas, the orange groves of Florida, the waterfronts and the seamy side of the big cities. They marched with the shifting harvests, carrying their battered suit cases, dressed in dark clothes, even in the hottest weather. Rochester's Front Street knew them well. So did the "hobo jungles" along the railroad tracks.
Now you see few of these transients riding the buses or walking the roads in Wayne County. The higher wages of the war plants have lured them away from the orchards and the mucklands.
West of the village on the Ridge Road is an octagonal stucco house, one of the few of those quaint, eight-sided dwellings left in Western New York. A hundred years ago they were all the rage. This house, now occupied by Howard Sperry, is known as the Fisk homestead.
* * *
As evidence of Williamson's thrift, the village bank has five millions in assets and some bulky savings accounts. One observer of the local scene said:
"When there is a good year, a man may put a thousand or two in the bank. Come a poor year, he may not be able to put anything in the bank but it takes wild horses to pull anything out."
As evidence of its broad mindedness, Williamson each fall rolls up the most overwhelming Republican vote in the county yet her only newspaper, the weekly Sun, edited by Claude Cooper, is Democratic.
Williamson, solid, prudent village, so calmly opulent in your orchard stronghold, what irony it was to name you after one of the most flamboyant and audacious characters in pioneer history!
"Ships went to sea and ships came home from the sea,
And the slow years sailed by and ceased to be."
Sails in the Sunset--
SPRING had come late to Pultneyville that year of 1825. But now the last ice had melted from the lake and the schooners seemed to be straining at their moorings in the harbor, like race horses waiting the starter's bell.
A stone's throw away, in the ballroom of the tavern, many feet tripped to the brave music of the fiddles. It was the night of the Sailor's Farewell. In the fall there would be the dance of the Sailor's Return.
For in 1825 Pultneyville was an important lake port and nearly all her men were sailing men.
Those sailors' eyes were bright as they danced. Their thoughts were of the morrow when they would hoist the white sails again and renew their age-old battle with wind and wave.
But the eyes of the women, who danced so lightly, hid unshed tears. They were thinking of the long days ahead, the stormy days when they would go down to the water's edge and peer out into the mists for the sight of familiar sails long overdue. They were thinking of the sleepless nights to come, when the gales would beat upon the snug white houses—and women could only worry and wait and pray and hope.
For there were so many sailing men who danced in the spring that never came home to dance in the fall.
The women recalled the fate of the schooner Atlas that had sailed out of Pultneyville the fall before, with beef and pork for Kingston across the lake. The owners of the cargoes, some of the best men of the village, had gone along to sell their goods. A sudden storm and blinding snow came down the St. Lawrence, the Atlas was driven on the rocks of Mexico Bay and never a man returned.
Doubtless young Horatio Nelson Throop, named after a great sea captain, was at the sailor's farewell ball. He was only 17 but his thoughts were all of ships and sailing men. His father, Samuel, a founder of the village, had been the first of a long line of Pultneyville sailing masters. He had launched the Farmer, a schooner of "30 tons burthen," in 1810. The next year it was driven aground and lost. Samuel Throop built another ship, the Nancy. In 1819 during a storm off Sodus Point he was washed off its deck and drowned.
His son, Horatio, was then 12. At 13 he was building his own boat, a small one, with the aid of a friendly ship's carpenter. Now in 1825 he was working on a larger schooner, one he was to command two years later, the youngest captain on Lake Ontario. The ship sank on one of her first voyages. Her cargo of corn became damp and swelled, bursting a hole in her side. Three of the crew were lost and the young captain clung to a cabin door in a rough sea for four hours before he was washed ashore. His grandson, Henry Lawrence, retired University of Rochester professor who lives in one of the old Throop houses, has that cabin door today.
Horatio Throop emerged from that disaster with only the clothes on his back and some unpaid debts. Two years of hard work had been lost in a few moments. Yet, within another year, with the aid of a partner, he had built and was sailing another craft. He was to build and sail many another vessel in his lifetime and eventually to become the leading navigation man of Pultneyville. When the passenger steamboats came, he commanded the Ontario, pride of the lake, for years. After he retired he built for his own use an 82-foot steam yacht.
The cobblestone house he built in 1832 on Washington Street still stands, distinctive among its trim, white neighbors fashioned in the New England tradition.
The name of Horatio Throop is on the stone memorial at the harbor, along with the other sailing masters of Pultneyville. The names of their ships are listed, too—the Lark, the Enterprise, the Rival, the Commerce, the Challenge and many more.
Horatio Throop was only one of 24 Pultneyville lake captains. But his career epitomizes the story of the port's great days and the fortitude and invincible spirit of her sailors.
Now he sleeps with the other captains and boat builders, with his brother, Washington, with the Ledyards, the Whipples and the Todds, in the old Lake View Cemetery that overlooks the blue waters they knew so well.
* * *
In 1825 Pultneyville was in the high tide of her maritime glory. The Erie Canal was being pushed to completion across the state but the lake captains never dreamed the Big Ditch would affect their commerce. They could not foresee the advent of the steamboat and later that of the railroads to end the supremacy of the sails.
In 1825 Washington Street on the lake side was lined with warehouses, mills and stores. There was an ashery on Crescent Beach where the ashes of the trees the pioneers had felled were made into potash. The docks were piled high with the meat, grain, salt, potash and other products that the huge Pennsylvania wagons, each drawn by eight horses, had hauled down the plank road that followed the old Seneca trail to Canandaigua, capital of the frontier.
In those days the ships and the sailing masters of Pultneyville were known up and down the lakes.
They were not all freshwater sailors. Whaling ships out of this lake port ventured into the two great oceans. At one time the Royces had five whalers. A whaling voyage to Iceland was the honeymoon of Andrew Royce and his bride.
Schooners out of Pultneyville plied the Great Lakes, even to the new port of Chicago. After the Welland Canal was built, horses hauled them through that waterway. Most of the voyages were shorter ones, across Lake Ontario to the ports of Canada and in the coastwise trade.
As late as 1860, on fall days the masts of 40 vessels could be counted in Pultneyville harbor. Agents of grain companies traveled along the shore, buying the standing crop, to be delivered to the beaches where small craft would pick it up and carry it to the larger boats in the port.
But all that belongs to the long ago and far away.
When I was in Pultneyville this summer of 1944 a single white sail relieved the blue expanse of the lake. It was that of a pleasure craft. The once busy harbor is useless now; the warehouses and the mills are gone; the piers have rotted away.
There are ghosts along that waterfront. Some of them walk with a rolling gait. They are the doughty captains who built the staunch white houses and sailed the schooners out of Pultneyville. There are frailer figures, ghosts of shawled women, their eyes swollen with weeping, who go down where the breakers roll and watch for the ships that never came home.
* * *
The maritime tradition of the village goes back to the days when the Senacas paddled their canoes down Salmon Creek to exchange their furs with the French traders for beads and geegaws. The braves came there to fish, also—as have thousands since.
The summer of 1687 saw the French legions of Denonville, down from Canada to war on the Iroquois, encamped overnight at Pultneyville.
The first white settler was a nomadic backwoodsman, Yankee Bill Waters, who prior to 1806 lived in a cabin at Appleboom Point on the lake west of Salmon Creek. The point got its name from an apple tree that hung out over the water in the shape of the boom of a ship.
In 1806 Jacob W. Hallet, who had been a land agent for the Pultney estate, took up 1,000 acres along the lake. He named the settlement that grew up there after his former principal, Sir William Pultney. He gave the village the park at the west end of the L-shaped principal street and planned the business center there. But the New England settlers, who became the lake captains, had other ideas. They built nearer the harbor. They wanted to be near the tall masts and the docks.
After the railroad came to the Ridge, the once bustling port sank into quiet slumber. But even in her maritime heyday, most of Pultneyille's sailors were farmers, as well. The soil was ideal for the cultivation of fruit and the thrifty Hollanders who settled along the lake made the most of it. Today the village is ringed with orchards. But motor trucks and not sail boats or steamers, carry the rich yield to market.
* * *
After 130 years, the scars of British cannon balls remain on the foundations of two Pultneyville buildings. One is the Selby house at Jay and Washington Streets. The other is the Legasse place at the bend of the road. I am using the pioneer names of these old dwellings.
On the fog-mantled morn of May 15, 1814 in the waning days of the War of 1812, a British fleet, prowling the lake, landed six miles west of the town. The Redcoats seized three settlers and made them pilot the squadron to Pultneyville.
The militia under Gen. John Swift had been warned of a possible British landing and was drilling in the village street when the fog suddenly lifted. The Americans saw just off the harbor the royal sails silhouetted against the sky. Swift was for giving battle but was persuaded to make a truce. An agreement was reached whereby the British were to take 100 barrels of flour from the warehouse on condition they did not molest the rest of the village. The canny Yankees had removed the best flour to a hiding place in the woods, leaving only mouldy stuff for the minions of the king.
The British did not keep their word. A Redcoat was seen looting in the tavern. A Yankee sharpshooter picked him off. The militia had retired to the ravine just off Jay Street. The British grabbed four prisoners and took to their boats, with their mouldy flour. They left in such haste that instead of unloosing a rope that moored one of their landing craft, they cut it. The part left behind was used by the Throop family for years on the windlass of their well.
From the lake the invaders fired a few rounds at the town as a parting gesture. A few of the 20 buildings that then comprised the settlement were hit but there were no casualties. Years afterwards farmers picked up cannon balls in their fields.
* * *
Fred W. Cornwall who operates a large fruit farm on lake-side acres his great grandfather, Matthew Martin, first plowed in 1806, has several of these cannonballs. He showed me other relics of the past, guns of many periods, one that an ancestor used in the Pequoit War in New England in 1637; old ship lanterns, musty records on which the old fashioned writing is fading.
A gracious couple, Mr. Cornwall and his history-minded wife have done much to perpetuate Pultneyville's picturesque past. The family roots run deep into that past. For the fifth generation of the clan is now living on the land.
* * *
Steeped in tradition is the old Union Church, fronting the shady park. Now it is a community hall. It was built in 1826, a noble experiment in religious unity at a time when sectarian feuds were rampant on the frontier. It had six trustees, two named by the Methodists, two by the Presbyterians and the other two by those who belonged to neither denomination. Those unclassified ones were called "the goats."
For years the experiment worked smoothly. But in 1859 trouble broke out. Two of the societies insisted on holding their Sunday school sessions at the same hour. One met in the main part of the church, the other in the gallery. The gallery contingent, with the aid of a cornet, drowned out the singing of its rivals.
The village was split into two camps. Six young ladies, members of prominent families, were arrested, charged with disturbing a religious service. Their trial was set for the neutral village of Ontario. There the young women journeyed in a carryall, followed by virtually the entire population of Pultneyville. After a three-day trial, they were acquitted.
But feeling still ran high. The minister who had caused the girls' arrest was burned in effigy. Affairs never ran so smoothly again in the Union Church. In 1875 the Methodists built their own house of worship. The other sects languished and the unused building fell into disrepair.
In 1893 the community decided to preserve the landmark and remodeled it into the present village hall.
At the time it was reconditioned, it was noticed that one pew bore saw marks. The pews were the absolute property of the pew holders. One elderly man, a rugged individual, owned a pew opposite a west window out of which he could watch thelake and the beauties of nature if the sermon ran on too long. In 1847 the church was rearranged and some of the pews were moved. The old man's pew was shifted a foot or two ahead so that his roving eye met only blank wall. He took matters into his own hands.He sawed out his pew and moved it back to its old place beside the window.
Pultneyville had the first Masonic lodge in Wayne County. At the time of the anti-Masonic turmoil in the 1820's, the members had to meet secretly in the attic of the Selby home. The peep hole that the brothers used is in the attic door today.
Along the lake, east of the village, is Camp Forman, an estate purchased more than a decade ago by B. Forman, the Rochester merchant, as a recreation spot for his employes. Once it was the home of Samuel Cuyler, one of Pultneyville's most notable men. He was a rabid Abolitionist and his home was a terminus of the Underground Railroad. Cuyler was aided by Horatio Throop and other lake captains in spiriting the fugitive slaves to Canada.
At times the Negroes were hidden in piles of wood on the docks waiting shipment across the lake. Legend has it that in Pultneyville originated the phrase, "There's a nigger in the woodpile."
* * *
Nature gave Pultneyville an excellent harbor. The lake captains, who built the piers, also dredged the port at their own expense. The government maintained a stone lighthouse with a revolving beam. But otherwise Uncle Sam has treated this harbor like a stepchild.
Sand bars formed through the years, until now the harbor is virtually impassable. Salmon Creek is not deep enough for large craft. The people have implored the government to improve the harbor but always the answer has been "not enough commercial importance."
No one laments the present state of the harbor more than Ward Arney, last of the commercial lake fishermen. For 38 years he set his nets in the lake off Pultneyville and off Bear Creek. He remembers the days when there were five gangs of fishermen, 15 or 16 men in all, operating out of the port; when once his own 25-foot motor boat was laden with 200 pounds of ling; when the sturgeon ran off Bear Creek and there was a fishermen's weigh house there and the summer people and villagers bought the entire catch of the fishing fleet.
Five years ago Ward Arney hung up his nets, moored his motor boat for the last time. Despite his years, he vows if the harbor were made useable again, he'd return to his old trade.
* * *
Two of Rochester's leading industrialists, the late brothers Todd, George W. and Libanus M., were born in the lake-girt village. More than a century ago Bethel Todd was building lake boats there. His descendants, the present generation of the family carrying on the big industry their fathers founded in Rochester, have a deep feeling for Pultneyville and maintain summer residences there.
* * *
Crescent Beach, gouged by the high water of recent years, is deserted and desolate under its weeping willows. Its owner, F. W. Cornwall, recalls summer Sundays when 1,000 cars were parked there. In the summer of 1927, some 40,000 people visited the resort at the union of Salmon Creek and the lake.
About a quarter of a century ago, the Rochester summer colony began in the town of the lake captains. Now most of the lovely old homes are occupied by city folk and many modern ones have risen along the lake. Some of the city people are year-round dwellers.
Pultneyville is assuming quite a cultural tone. She never was a gaudy, raffish place. Today she numbers among her residents no less than five retired college professors and 14 retired school teachers.
There's a standing joke at Pultneyville that before one takes up residence there, one must show a Phi Beta Kappa key.
You can't blame the profs for flocking there after their class-room days are over. You can't blame the older residents for being sentimental about their sweet old village by the inland sea.
Even a casual visitor like myself feels her spell.
Pultneyville is a dream village, a bit of old New England's shore—without the stern and rock-bound coast—and in a fairer, greener land.
The Earth Is Red
WHEN Stanley Albright was a young manand lived north of the Ridge in Ontario township, he hitched the road mare tothe rubber-tired buggy one Sunday and drove over the rolling hills to Palmyra.
There, the proprietor of the hitch barn, who had never laid eyes on the young man, before, called this greeting:
"Well, how are things over Ontario way?"
The red mud on his buggy wheels had proclaimed his habitat as plainly as if the word Ontario had been painted in foot-high letters on the side curtains.
The other day in his office in downtown Rochester, Johnson Stanley Albright, successful lawyer and business man, chuckled over the incident as he talked about his boyhood days in Ontario, where he still has extensive interests and is president of the village bank.
Not only those tell-tale marks on his buggy wheels label him as from Ontario, for only there does the red vein run through the heart of the Blossom Country, but they also were symbolic of an industry that once flourished along the flatlands north of the Ridge, an industry that today is all but extinct.
The soil in those parts is still dull brick red but the old ore pits are full of water, all but one. It has been many a year since the glow of the blast ovens at Furnaceville lighted the evening sky; since the ore boats plied the waters of Bear Creek.
For the good earth that around Ontario yields such bumper crops of fruit and vegetables also harbors mineral wealth in the form of the red oxide known as hematite.
Once upon a time Ontario was an iron mining town.
* * *
The industry began in 1811 when a pioneer named Knickerbocker, while digging a well on his land, came across the first ore bed in the locality. Four years later, the first forge was built and the manufacture of iron began at the rate of 400 pounds a day. Later two more forges were set up, one of them at Furnaceville, north of Ontario. That place for 62 years was destined to be just what its name implies.
An industrial epoch began in 1870 when the Ontario Iron Company constructed a $200,000 furnace there, with two blast ovens and two blooming tubes. It was on the site of a smaller furnace that had been destroyed by fire three years before.
Then the railroad came and the industry boomed. A second furnace was built, north of Ontario. More open cut mines were opened until they extended along the flats all the way from Union Hill to Furnaceville. At the peak of operations, 200 men worked in the pits and 25 were employed at Furnaceville.
Few of those who dug the red ore in those days are now alive. 1 visited one of them, Richard Barrett of Ontario Center, now in his 88th year. He recalled when the ore was laboriously extracted with pick and shovel and when sweating men pushed ore-laden wheelbarrows up planks on to the barges which came up Bear Creek. A tug towed these barges, two at a time, down the creek, then along the lake to Charlotte, whose huge blast furnace is still green in many Rochester memories.
Bear Creek is so narrow, so sluggish today it is hard to picture it as a navigable stream but it was wider and deeper then. Railroad tracks also ran to the mines and to the furnace and connected with the main line at Ontario.
In his time, Richard Barrett saw powder and steam shovels and derricks replace the pick and shovel and the wheelbarrows give way to cars on inclined tracks.
The product of the Ontario mines was sold for mill and foundry iron. In the palmy days, 20 tons of ore were handled daily. It took two and one-quarter tons of red ore to produce one ton of iron.
Water was piped to Furnaceville from the lake, after a well, said at the time to be the deepest in the world, had been sunk in a vain effort to obtain a suitable supply near the furnace.
At one time Edward H. Harriman, then on the threshold of his career as railroad magnate, and his father-in-law, William Averell of Ogdensburg, were heavily interested in the Ontario properties.
In the early 1880's, the industry was at its zenith butdark clouds were on the horizon. In the Ontario iron men gave up a losing battle, razed the big furnace and closed most of the pits. They could not compete with the newer mines of the Mesabi Range. The Minnesota beds produced superior ore in far greater quantities. They had better transportation facilities and were nearer the coal fields.
So quiet descended on once throbbing Furnaceville and the water began to rise in the idle ore beds. Since the collapse of 1887, some ore has been taken out, for use as the red pigment in paint for structural iron. Only a shell remains of the dismantled paint mill along the tracks northwest of Ontario Center. Frank Vandewater is working one bed for a paint company. That is the sole mining activity in the red Ridge earth today. The rest of the pits are a chain of ponds. Residents fish in them and one of the largest supplies Ontario village with its water.
A huddle of dwellings, the crumbling stone foundations of the old furnace, a weed covered embankment where railroad tracks once ran—they are all that remain to tell of the industrial glory that was Furnaceville's.
Ontario is the only community in the state to bear the name of the great sheet of water that in the Indian language means "beautiful lake." The settlement began as Freetown in 1807 with Daniel Inman of Connecticut the first settler on the village site. The name was changed within a year.
Only a mile to the westward is the younger, smaller sister village of Ontario Center. It was settled in 1830 and the first building was a tavern on the site of the present large hotel. You can hardly tell where Ontario ends and the Center begins, so in this tale we shall consider the two as one community.
Ontario is a neighborly, genial sort of town, more frolicsome than its affluent neighbor, Williamson. Its inhabitants are of many bloods. The first settlers were chiefly New Englanders and the Yankee strain still predominates. The Hollanders came, many of them to work in the ore beds and then to turn to fruit growing and farming after the industry's decline. The Irish arrived at an early date, to add color and warmth to the strain, and their descendants are numerous in the village. Then the Belgians, and more recently, the Italians joined the racial mixture of this tolerant, good humored Ridge Road community.
Ontario always had an abundance of civic spirit and local loyalty, coupled with a fondness for competitive sports. In bygone days it boasted a race track and once its professional baseball team was famous throughout the countryside.
Today the volunteer fire department is the apple of Ontario's eye. It also is the hub of its social life. It is no ordinary department. The firemen own and operate a nine-hole golf course with a commodious club house and after the war, plan to expand it to 18 holes. The department also has two fire halls with two sets of modern apparatus and an inhalator. Its assets are estimated at $60,000—with a balance in the bank. All this has been achieved in a little over 10 years, and began with well planned field days which drew thousands to the village and netted as much as $ 5,000 in a single day.
Up at Ontario they still talk about a dramatic manhunt that spread over the woods and fields along the lake more than a decade ago.
On the afternoon of May 24, 1933, a lean, scowling youth strode into the general store of William G. Willard at Lakeside, a hamlet northwest of Ontario. Announcing "this is a stickup," he identified himself as Ross Caccamise and proceeded to bind at gun-point the 77-year-old merchant and his wife. Then he helped himself to the contents of the till and what groceries he wanted. Men in hiding generally are hungry.
Willard knew this 24-year-old Rochesterian. Five years before, Caccamise had worked on a farm in the vicinity. The storekeeper had read the headlines and knew there was a price on this bandit's head.
Six days before, middle aged Edmund Vandewater had been slain by a holdup man in his little cigar store at the Bulls Head in Rochester. Suspicion pointed to Caccamise and police all over the East were on the lookout for him.
Loren Bell, an Ontario electrician, was working in the Willard store when the bandit entered. He slipped out, unobserved, to a neighbor's house. The neighbor spread the alarm. Bell returned to the store, to encounter Caccamise who tied him up with the Willards. The aged storekeeper managed to release himself and then the others.
Meanwhile, a posse of from 50 to 75 men had mobilized. It included Wayne County deputies, state troopers and farmers, armed with all manner of weapons. Monroe County officers, led by Chief Deputy Tom Woods, came tearing up the Ridge from Rochester. The posse spread out over the wooded lakeside area.
The fugitive was spotted crossing a field along Berg Road. A farmer's shotgun fire winged him, but he crawled into a thicket, prepared to shoot it out. Intrepid men went in after him. In the gun battle, Tom Woods and Deputy Sheriff Elmer Wood (Little Woody) were wounded. The hunted man was dragged out, cowering. A police dog leaped on him. Some of the farmers favored shooting him on the spot. It was the most exciting day Ontario had known for many a year.
All the wounded recovered. Tom Woods is now Rochester's public safety commissioner. Elmer Wood is still in the Monroe sheriff's office. And Ross Caccamise atoned for his crimes in the electric chair.
While he was recuperating from his wounds and awaiting trial, he was in St. Mary's Hospital. From the window of his room he could not help but see the cigar store in Brown Street where he had murdered Vandewater.
* * *
Morris Barrett, son of the old man who worked in the ore mines, runs a general store at Ontario Center. When he got out his car to drive me to his father's home, I recognized the little building he used as a garage. It brought back memories.
In the summer of 1928, my brother-in-law, Arthur Towell, now of Cortland, was employed by the company that was building the new road from Ontario Center to Marion. I spent some time with him there. The present Barrett garage was his office. It also housed the village lockup—a wired-in enclosure like a chicken-coop in one corner, with an old fashioned hasp as a lock.
One night the town constable brought in a prisoner, a migrant fruit picker who had celebrated pay day, not wisely but too well. The next morning when Art was checking his time sheets, he got to talking with the prisoner, an amiable, harmless chap—with a terrific hangover.
When Art left, with a wink and in silence, he left the "jail" door just a little ajar.
Soon the constable came to take his prisoner before a peace justice. He was irked—and also suspicious—when he found his bird had flown, no one knew just how.
I reckon now after 16 years it is safe to reveal the secret of the great Ontario Center jail delivery.
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