Ontario's Blossom Country
by ARCH MERRILL
To earlier chapters
The Roots Are Deep
TWILIGHT was creeping over the gloomy woods, over the old Indian trail beside the lake. The officers in the blue uniforms were weary. It was a long ride on horseback from Oswego to Fort Niagara.
Other shadows were darkening that frontier in 1812 — the clouds of war. For the second time in a quarter of a century the young republic was defying the power of a British king.
The men on horseback had come to a clearing, a cluster of houses, a saw mill beside a rivulet that raced into Lake Ontario. Their leader dismounted at one of the houses and rapped smartly. Robert Woodhull opened his door to gaze upon a magnificent figure.
His visitor, sartorially elegant despite his hard ride, wore the uniform of a lieutenant colonel of United States artillery. He was six feet, five inches tall and he was as stalwart and majestic as any forest oak.
Courteously the officer requested lodging for the night. Ruefully the settler shook his head.
"Hardly room here as it is for my wife and me and all the Young 'uns," he said. "But Deacon Foster over there has a bigger house and no doubt he can take you in."
Thus it came about that Winfield Scott, then only 26 years old, and at the dawn of one of the most brilliant military careers in American history, spent an uncomfortable night in a frame house that still stands near Nine Mile Point—in a bed several sizes too small for his giant frame.
The fate of his staff is not recorded.
* * *
When I visited Webster 132 years later, the first persons I met were Ralph Woodhull Witmer and Dr. James B. Foster. It was in the Town Hall. Witmer is welfare officer and Dr. Foster is health officer. They are cousins. Ralph Witmer is the great grand-son of Robert Woodhull. Dr. Foster is the grandson of Abram Foster, Winfield Scott's host in 1812.
Webster is like that. So many of her people are related to each other and so many of them are descendants of the first settlers. Once a family's roots are sunk in Webster earth, they stay there—even unto the fourth generation.
But this prosperous progressive village does not spend its days dreaming of the past or tending family trees. Webster is too busy, too democratic, too practical for that.
It must have cost Robert Woodhull, the pioneer, many a pang when he had to turn the big colonel away from his door. For Webster's predominant trait is her genuine friendliness to the stranger her gates.
Maybe that is one reason why the town's slogan: "Webster, where life is worth living," is not just another Chamber of Commerce boast.
* * *
The bluff on the lake called Nine Mile Point caught the fancy of Caleb Lyon, an agent for the Puitney Estate, in 1805. He built a grist mill and a saw mill in the valley north of the Lake Road, beside Four Mile Creek, then a swiftly flowing stream.
The next year Deacon Foster came and built the house where Winfield Scott sought a night's rest. In 1807 Robert Woodhull joined the colony. Others followed, mainly New Englanders. Less rugged stock would have quailed at the task of clearing those dark forests, of draining those mosquito-infested marshes.
In 1812, the year that the Ridge Road became a highway-of-sorts—settlement began at the present site of Webster village. It was first called "The Gravel," because of the deposits of gravel in the bed of the old Lake Iroquois.
There was another village on the Ridge, at the site of the present West Webster. There a band of Missisaugus Indians, remnants of the conquered Algonkians, lived for a half century until they departed for Canada in 1840.
That same year saw the creation of Webster as a township and its separation from Penfield. The region had been called North Penfield. The new town, youngest in Monroe County, took the name of Daniel Webster, the silver tongued Whig statesman, then at the height of his fame.
The first supervisor was Byron Woodhull. The present supervisor is his grandson, G. Robert Witmer. Witmer was supervisor when the town celebrated its centennial in 1940. The Webster tradition again.
In 1850 the first Germans came, seeking refuge from the tyranny and intolerance of the Fatherland. In five years there were more than 100 of these thrifty emigrants in the town. They cut up the big, unwieldly farms into smaller tracts and began the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, with marked success. They bore names that have long been identified with the progress of Webster, names like Bonenblust, Hallauer, Klem, Hosenfeld and many others.
They helped develop the community, side by side with those of the Yankee blood, the Burnetts, the Wrights, the Fosters, the Woodhulls, the Pierces, the Cornings and the rest.
Webster became a center of the evaporated fruit industry. The apples that farmers had hung in their kitchens to dry went to the evaporators. That industry gradually declined and moved, for the most part, to the state of Washington. Some of the Webster operators moved with it.
A road in the township is called Basket Road, because residents there once made baskets by hand. Baskets are essential in a fruit country. As early as 1888 Lewis and Bancroft had a small basket factory in West Webster. In 1893 the Kittelbergers began making baskets in a small shed along the tracks. Today that is the site of one of the largest basket factories in the world. Its president is Gotleib Kittelberger, one of those who started the industry in a shed. The factory employs some 350 men at the peak of production. Logs are trucked in, some from a great distance. The factory yards are full of them. The finished product is shipped all over the country, besides supplying the neighboring orchard belt.
* * *
Webster also has the largest Grange in the world!
Ralph Witmer said that if I wanted to know about the Grange "to see Uncle Rob Woodhull and Aunt Lib." Robert Woodhull, grandson of the first Robert, is Witmer's uncle. His wife is "Aunt Lib" to the whole community.
I learned the Woodhull farm was on Phillips Road, a couple of miles from the Town Hall. "Got a car?" Witmer asked. Told I was traveling by bus, he said: "My wife will run you out there." So Mrs. Ralph Witmer graciously dropped her duties at the store to drive me out to see Uncle Rob and Aunt Lib.
See what I mean by Webster's inherent friendliness?
It was delightful to sit in the big Woodhull kitchen and talk about the Grange—the while eating Aunt Lib's freshly baked cookies, like the ones my own grandmother used to make in my bucolic boyhood.
Mrs. Woodhull is a slight woman, sparkling, sprightly. Her big husband is quiet, kindly, deliberate of speech. The Grange is pretty much their life. They have been members for more than 50 years.
Grangers all over the nation know the Woodhulls of Webster. They have attended some 35 national conventions, in such scattered points as Portland, Ore.; Madison, Wis., and Winston-Salem, N. C. Sometimes they were delegates. Finally it became a habit with them, when the farm work slackened in the fall, to pack their bags, board the convention special and have a few glorious days, meeting their old friends from Dixie to Puget Sound. The war has interrupted those autumnal pilgrimages.
The National Grange convention of 1930 in Rochester was a highlight in their lives. During that conclave, all the bigwigs came out to Webster for a meeting of the world's largest Grange.
The modest Woodhulls were insistent that "when you write up the Webster Grange, don't make too much of us. We are just two members. There are many others who have done just as much."
There are some 1,400 other members, besides nearly 90 in the Juvenile Grange which "Aunt Lib" organized.
Webster's Grange began in 1880. It has always striven for community betterment. It obtained the first rural free delivery route and the first community health nurse. It sponsored the teaching of agriculture in the schools. And ever since its hall was built in 1900, when it had only 250 members, the social life of the village has pretty much revolved about it. Its membership includes the business men of the village, as well as farmers.
* * *
Around Webster, as elsewhere along the Ridge and the lake-shore are many fine specimens of cobblestone architecture.
There is the little district school in Schlegel Road, built in 1846. There is the former Universalist Church in the village, a noble structure just a century old, that is now a garage.
And there is the First Baptist Church, with its shining dome flanked by eight Corinthian pillars. This edifice since 1938 has housed a $100,000 pipe organ. For 20 years this instrument graced the William W. Chapin home at South Fitzhugh and Troup Streets in Rochester's "Ruffled Shirt" (Third) Ward. After the death of Mrs. Chapin and the purchase of the mansion by the Greek Church, the organ was given to the Webster church. Moving the 6,200 pipes and 15 tons of other equipment and installing them was a colossal job.
* * *
The wave-built Ridge cuts through the heart of Webster town. And the waters of Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay wash its borders.
The lakeside, all the way from Charlotte to Pultneyville, is virtually one elongated summer colony interspersed with a few farms. For 60 years Rochester people have been building summer homes beside the blue waters.
There are pretentious places, hidden away among great trees, like Charleswood, the estate of the late banker, Charles H. Palmer, whose father built there, lured by the splendid black bass fishing at Nine Mile Point. The Hale family of Rochester came to the lakeside some 40 years ago and still owns vast acreage there. The former estate of the late J. Warren Cutler is now a Boy Scout camp.
And there is Forest Lawn, for 56 years a summer haven for Rochesterians.
In 1850 Samuel Pierce began tilling a 200-acre farm along the lake. Thirty-eight years afterward, his son, Horace G., began selling lots for summer homes on the tract. That was the birth of the Forest Lawn community.
Prominent Rochesterians, most of them attorneys, became members of the Forest Lawn Club, which built a clubhouse there. Around this club, whose last building burned some 30 years ago, the social life of the colony was centered.
In the beginning, the tract had two divisions, the Forest and the Lawn. One of the first to build a cottage in "the Forest" was Attorney Henry W. Martens. Pioneers on "the Lawn" included George D. Forsyth, John J. Snell and E. Darwin Smith.
They first put up cottages, then more elaborate homes. Many of the present residents of the colony are the sons and daughters of those who first found this summer haven by the lake. That is in the Webster tradition.
When the R. W. & O. Railroad was built, a stop there was called Pierce. Later on it was renamed Forest Lawn. Louis S. Pierce, Rochester lawyer and a grandson of the pioneer, Samuel, recalls in the ante-motor days, prior to 1912, three or four passenger trains a day stopped there.
To the west lies Oklahoma, on "The Sandbar." There the summer homes are much humbler and the scene is rather bleak. The huge ice house that once dominated the landscape burned in 1939. Across the tracks is an old hotel, known for years as Billy Cottrell's. Once it was a rendezvous for fishermen.
* * *
In the town is the 63-acre, county-owned, lakeside Webster Beach Park, since 1937 a summer mecca for picnickers and bathers.
In 1811 John F. Whiting built a log cabin at Lake and Holt Roads. Later he established a mill on the stream that to this day is called Sawmill Creek. In 1839 he built the big house on the hill that today is part of the park pavilion.
Some 90 years ago, smugglers, with a boat load of Canadian brandy aboard, were unable to negotiate the Sawmill Creek entrance. They borrowed a span of oxen from the Whiting pasture to haul the load up the creek. The next morning Whiting found a five gallon demijohn of brandy in his oat bin.
The present foreman of Webster Park is Everett Bowman, a great grandson of John Whiting. That again is in the Webster tradition.
* * *
Webster has a Salt Road and a Gravel Road. The origin of their names is obvious. There also is a Hard Road—but it is named after a pioneer named Hard. And a Holt Road named after Constant Holt who settled there in 1812.
In the Holt homestead, a boy was born in 1855, the grandson of Constant Holt. He was named Luther Emmett and with his brother, Curtice, and his sister, Eliza, he attended the little district school at Holt and Klem Roads. As a boy he had a flair for dialect songs and amateur theatricals. He went to Webster Academy and graduated from the University of Rochester in 1875. After a year at the University of Buffalo, he "read medicine" for eight months in the office of Dr. J. V. Whitbeck in Rochester.
With $27 in his pocket he left for New York to join the staff of the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled, established for treatment of children from 6 to 14 years. Emmett Holt became a nationally known teacher, author and physician, an authority on child health.
For years Dr. Holt's "Care and Feeding of Children" has had a place beside the family Bible on many a shelf. This erstwhile Webster farm lad, who ascended to the heights in his profession, died in China in 1924.
* * *
Webster (pop. 1,680 in 1940 census) is growing. More and more Rochester people are moving out "where life is worth living."
But I don't think that Webster will ever become a mere satellite of the city to the westward. Her roots go down too deep into the soil her fathers cleared.
Like the rugged New Englander for whom she is named, Webster will always retain her individuality—and her traditions.
And the greatest of these is neighborliness.
Bay of Memories
I - R - O - N - D - E - Q - U - O - I - T B - A - Y.
Roll the old Indian name slowly off the tongue. The words have a sonorous ring like a deep-voiced old bell booming across the years.
To hundreds of aging men and women, Irondequoit is "The Bay of Memories."
To the poetic Senecas, who loved it well, it was "where the waters gasp and die" or "where the lake turns aside."
There also The Ridge is turned aside. For 40 miles the wave-built highroad marches steadily along Lake Ontario's shore. Suddenly the waters of the Irondequoit divide and conquer it. There is a chasm that man has never bridged"and then The Ridge, with shaken aplomb, resumes its westward march to the Niagara.
For 300 years history has been written around Irondequoit's five miles of winding bay, on its sands and verdant hillsides.
In that distant day when the Keepers of the Western Door ruled all this domain, the bay was the great port of the Senecas, the gateway to the Indian Country. From the bay all the trails of the Nation led.
In the early 17th Century when Western New York was an uncharted wilderness, two centuries before there was a Rochester, Irondequoit Bay, under various spellings, was spotted on the world maps. It was an outpost in the long struggle that France and Britain waged for the wealth of furs and the trade routes of this new frontier.
* * *
In the bay's Album of Memory there are many pictures.
Of painted, whooping Indians swarming into their war canoes; of braves peacefully fishing its waters, hunting on its slopes.
Of the coming of the French, the first White Men, of the black-robed Jesuits, of the bold La Salle, of the traders who exchanged "blew cloths and red and shiny trinkets and brandie for peltrie," that the ladies of the Bourbon courts might be swathed in furs; of the plumed and bearded soldiers landing on Irondequoit beaches to war upon the tribes.
Of the wily Sir William Johnson and his troops under the English flag, who finally won domination of this frontier and hauled down the fleur de lis.
Of Tryon Town, the "lost city" that rose at the mouth of Irondequoit Creek, where now the wild bushes grow, and the commercial glory of Indian Landing, where the 30-ton schooners docked; of the clearing of the forests and the yielding of the fertile hills and valleys to the plow.
Of the coming of the railroads and the steamboats and the trolleys and the gay excursion days when the resorts boomed all along the bay, days that are green in many a memory.
The Motor Age has silenced the drone of the trolleys, the whirring paddle wheels of the steamboats. Fire has licked up many of the old hotels where dad and mother dined and danced in the days of shirt waists and button shoes, but many a landmark remains.
And the natural beauty that is the bay's birthright is eternal, defying the years and changing customs.
At each resort, the scene is almost identical—the steep, winding road down to the bayside, the old inn under the willows, the ball diamond, the waves lapping at the boats tethered at the dock, the green-clad shores, white sails on azure waters, the patient fishermen—and the tender grace of a day that is dead."
In the spring of 1687 at his headquarters in Montreal, the Marquis Denonville and his staff pored over maps, even as Dwight Eisenhower and his staff in 1944.
The Marquis jabbed a forefinger at a place on a map. "There," he said, "is O-nyui-da-on-da-gwat, the bay of the Senecas, the gate-way to their empire. There we shall invade."
Other Frenchmen had visited that beach, La Salle, the explorer, and Galinee, Dallion, Chaumont and other brave priests who carried the Cross to the filthy wilderness villages of the Senecas.
The rulers of New France coveted the empire of furs, the short water route to the Western trading posts that the Indians guarded so jealously. Denonville sought to crush the Seneca power for all time and extend France's "sphere of influence."
So he mapped the grand strategy of D-Day in 1687. From Montreal an armada of 1,500 Frenchmen and 500 Indian allies was to set out in 200 bateaux and canoes. Another band of 1,000 Indians under Tonti was to leave from the Western lakes. On a certain hour of a certain day, the two forces were to join at Irondequoit Bay, establish a beachhead, then push into the interior and lay waste the Indian country.
In 1687 there was no radio, no way by which the two converging armies could communicate with each other. Yet on a July afternoon, one fleet swept by Nine Mile Point just as the other flotilla neared the mouth of the Genesee. The two armies met at Irondequoit Bay at precisely the appointed hour. It was a masterpiece of timing, worthy of an Eisenhower.
The expedition landed without opposition although Seneca scouts watched from the woods and spread the alarm. Denonville encamped at the bay, built a palisaded fort, then marched into the Genesee Country—and into bloody ambush near Victor. The French won the day and went on to devastate the Seneca villages and crops. The Marquis returned to Irondequoit Bay, flushed with victory, and sailed west to build a fort at Niagara.
The next year the bay was alive with Indian war canoes. The Senecas had rebuilt their villages, planted new crops and mobilized a mighty army, fired with revenge. They repaid the Marquis' visit with interest, burned and ravaged the French settlements in Canada. Denonville's invasion proved an inglorious failure.
But his D-Day timing had been superb!
At Sea Breeze, where Culver Road ends, is an historical marker. It tells the site of Fort Des Sables, "fort of the sands," that the French built in 1718.
In Ellison Park, just off the Landing Road and on a hill over-looking Irondequoit Creek is a log "trading post" erected a few years ago by patriotic and civic groups, under the leadership of A. Emerson Babcock, longtime supervisor of Brighton, and later used by Boy Scouts. It is on the site of Fort Schuyler, built by the English in 1721 to offset the menace of the French fortress. It commanded all the trails and the waterway. Ten soldiers under Capt. Peter Schuyler, Jr., of Albany, manned it for a year. Then it was abandoned. What a lonely year it must have been for that little garrison.
These forts were significant. They indicate the importance the warring empires attached to the position of Irondequoit Bay in this wild land that each sought to win.
* * *
In 1759 another army encamped at the bay for the night. This time the flag of England waved over the sands. The expedition, made up of British regulars, provincial troops and Indian allies, under Prideaux and Sir William Johnson, was on its way by lake to storm Fort Niagara.
Nine years later, another British army, 1,200 strong, stopped at the bay, bound for Detroit and battle with the French again. In its ranks was a young Connecticut officer named Israel Putnam. Soon the Redcoats were to regret the military training they gave that patriot.
After Sullivan's Yankee army had devastated the Seneca country in 1779, a score of Tory renegades hid in a thicket near the present Naval Militia headquarters at Summerville until a British boat picked them up and took them to Niagara.
The first white settler in what is now the town of Irondequoit was William Walker, a former Tory Ranger, who squatted at the mouth of the Genesee. The second was a mulatto named Dunbar.
Then came John Lusk and Oliver Culver and many more substantial settlers.
Beside sluggish Irondequoit Creek in the shadow of old Fort Schuyler is a boulder. It was dedicated with considerable ceremony in 1938. Since then few have visited it. It marks the site of Indian Landing.
The inscription on the marker tells the story of Indian Landing succinctly and well.
The most important place in the early history of the Genesee Country, all of whose trails led to Irondequoit Bay.
"A gateway of the Iroquois Confederacy. Here were scenes of adventure and romance for more than 300 years, involving Indian wars, the struggle for empire between the French and English and the Revolutionary and pioneer period. Religion, commerce and war made this territory a famous battleground, bringing here many noted traders, priests and soldiers."
I made a pilgrimage to that historic spot—the hard way—by bus to Winton Road and Browncroft Boulevard, then afoot down the tree-lined dugway hill to North Landing Road.
There on a hill at the edge of Ellison Park stands another blue marker. Park workmen had just finished cutting away the brush around it.
It was hard to realize that here in this spot, as quiet as a churchyard, once stood a thriving town, "the lost City of Tryon." It began in 1797 and Salmon Tryon was its father. He sold the site to John Tryon, who cut it up into town lots. Soon there rose a store, a five-story warehouse, a $15,000 flour mill, a customs house, a tavern, a distillery, an ashery, a huddle of houses and even a form of self government called a "lynch court."
Irondequoit Creek in those days was wide and swift and devoid of sandbars. At Indian Landing, 30-ton schooners docked to transport the produce of the frontier. Tryon town was the only settlement along the lake between Oswego and Lewiston. The rest was dismal forest. The nearest center was Canandaigua. Settlers came to trade at Tryon Town, on horseback and by boat. Indians stalked in over their old trails to barter. It was a busy place and its promoters dreamed of a great city there.
By 1826 when the Erie Canal had been cut across the state, Tryon Town was all but deserted. It fell as swiftly as it had risen. Now there is only the blue sign amid the brambles to tell of the "lost city" on the banks of the Irondequoit.
* * *
After that, the bay sank into commercial insignificance until in 1839, Rochester's first historian, Henry O'Reilly, was to write that:
"Irondequoit Bay, well known in the early history of the country, is now wholly unfitted for navigation, owing to the sand bar formed at its junction with Lake Ontario. It is now much frequented by parties from Rochester for gunning, fishing, etc."
So even 105 years ago, the bay was a Rochester playground.
Through the years there have been sporadic attempts to restore the historic port to its old time prestige. The government has been repeatedly importuned to dredge the bay and outlet and build a real harbor at the bay. In 1934 after a survey by an engineering expert the county planning board proposed a $18,0000,000 harbor plan, tying in with the St. Lawrence waterway project. Uncle Sam's engineers turned thumbs down on the scheme, principally on the grounds that Irondequoit Bay was too near the established port of Charlotte.
There have been attempts, also to bridge the bay at various points.
Irondequoit is a bay of dreams, as well as a port of memories.
* * *
On the sunny slopes south of Newport in 1830, Joseph Vinton planted the first vineyard in Western New York and built the first winery. It lasted 100 years. Now the world-famed Ward's Museum of National Science is housed in the old buildings, at the brink of the chasm that divides The Ridge
On the Ridge Road near Portland Avenue for years was another landmark, the cobblestone Dubelbeiss wine cellars.
Irondequoit has always been a garden spot. I doubt if there is a suburb in all America with richer soil. Up to 1900 the town was a nursery center. Her peaches and melons are famous. All along The Ridge and the bay and the lake, stretch the truck gardens and orchards, surrounded by the homes of folk who work in the city and live where the breezes are cool and sweet.
The younger generation won't remember the steamboats on the bay, that churned its waters for nearly half a century, from the building of the S.S. Jennings at Drake's Landing (Glen Edith) in the early 1870's up to the night the last of the long line, the F. C. Woodworth, burned at Newport—and ended an era.
Let's call the roll of the steamboats. After Alf Jennings built the side wheeler that bore his name but later was rechristened the Webster, he put into service the Katydid that plied between Sea Breeze and Float Bridge. In 1877 the N. H. Galusha, a double decker, slid down the ways at Newport. It later was called the Glen Haven and its career ended in flames. There were the Island Queen, owned by Ed Snyder of Snyder's Island; the Lookout, the Bay View, renamed the W. H. Brewer; the J. S. Graham, the Zella and lastly, the Woodworth.
Some of J. D. Scott's boats, identified so long with Charlotte, and lake and river excursions, also ran on the bay. There was the Eleanor, with its huge glass-enclosed cabin and black hull, which caused it to be dubbed "The Black Maria." Another Scott vessel was the Damascus, a flat-bottomed, stern wheeler adapted to Mississippi River navigation. On an early trip, after leaving the Glen Haven dock for Sea Breeze, it was overturned in a flag marsh by a gust of wind. Nearby boatmen took off her passengers safely. This same unwieldy craft later slid up on the shore at Point Pleasant and narrowly missed crashing against the hotel.
In 1900 the first gasoline launches, predecessors of a large fleet of such boats, were commissioned. They were the Newport 1 and 2. In 1904 two electric launches were brought from the St. Louis World's Fair for use on the bay.
Among the gas boats during the first two decades of the century were the three Newports, two Point Pleasants, Sea Breeze, Glen Haven, Swan, Bay View, Glen Edith and two Woodworths. Boating clubs also had their own craft, among them the pioneer, the Otetiani of the Unique Social Club.
The power boats stopped at all points on the bay. On Sundays they were jammed. Customs men were on hand to prevent over-crowding. In 1909 the Irondequoit Navigation Company bought most of the launches and pooled the rest. After the World War the popularity of the far-ranging automobile trip cut down the Sunday crowds at the bay. So the launches went the way of the steamboats. Now there are smaller, speedier craft for hire on the bay. The Excursion Era is history.
* * *
But the Excursion Era lives in the memory of many a man an woman no longer young. Moonlight on the bay and on the willows; clear young voices singing "After the Ball" and "In the Good Old Summertime;" the hoarse toot of an old side wheeler; homeward-bound crowds jamming the open trolley cars that swayed and rattled over the old Glen Haven Line—those are echoes from the Irondequoit Bay that used to be.
Now, in dwelling upon this phase of the bay's history, don't think I am singing a requiem for a forsaken playground. Hundreds still flock to the bayside, despite wartime restrictions. Two yachting clubs, the Newport, at Birds and Worms and the Algonquin, at Point Pleasant, have brought new life to the old bay, especially on Sundays, when the white sails spread out on its bosom like blossom petals on a greensward. The war and its attendant priorities halted a steady growth in bayside cottage colonies.
Who knows, but what in the 1960's, someone will be writing about the halcyon days of Irondequoit Bay in the 1940's after the second World War?
* * *
All aboard for Inspiration Point, Held's Island, Glen Edith, Float Bridge, Glen Haven, Bay View, Newport, Birds and Worms, Point Pleasant and Sea Breeze.
The SS Yesteryear is about to weigh anchor for a cruise around Irondequoit Bay.
She is a ghost ship. Her paddle wheels are of the gossamer fabric of dreams. She sails the sea of memory.
She will make a stop at every old port of call on the bay. But the stops must be brief for there's a war on and newsprint is scarce.
At the outset of this opus, I quoted a prosaic gent named Hannibal, who called the bay, "all cattails and green scum." I fear he has seen it only from Empire Boulevard and the Lake Road. It is unfortunate that these heavily traveled roads skirt only the frowsy "backyards" of the bay, where the water is stagnant and smelly and the cattails are thick.
Hannibal should visit Inspiration Point. Then he'd change his tune.
Words cannot do justice to the magnificent panorama that unfolds from that lordly headland on the east side of the bay, in the Town of Webster. Only the brush of a great landscape artist can record that breath-taking vista of water and earth and sky, the finest view in all Monroe County, most gorgeous when the bayside dons the flamboyant, many-colored robes of autumn.
The origin of the name, Inspiration Point? Is not that obvious?
* * *
Out in the bay opposite Newport is a little green isle. It is Held's Island and the nearby cove is Held's Cove, named for the man who more than 60 years ago built an eight-sided hotel with stained glass windows on the island, whose cramped space would allow no other type of structure. Long ago the hotel burned down and the steamboats stopped calling there and now only the wild birds nest on Held's Island.
Nearby is a little island, which is at times a peninsula, depending on the height of the bay waters. It is Fish Island and is on the farm of the late David Hames. Nowhere on the bay are shores greener than those around Fish Island.
Glen Edith is the gem of the bayside. There the blue-green waters run high and clear against emerald shores.
Its birth as a resort was about 74 years ago when John Drake, who owned vast acres around Glen Edith, built the present hotel, with a barn that stabled 125 horses, cut a road down the hill and set out the willows by the water. As Drake's Landing, it became a popular resort in steamboat-horse and buggy days. A later owner, Joshias Jones, renamed the spot Glen Edith.
It always was a rather sedate place, a mecca for Sunday school picnics, even in the bay's liveliest days. It is every bit as charming as its name.
* * *
Float Bridge really floated once!
In 1836 when it was built to link the growing towns of Carthage and Rochester with the bayside, it was a floating span, anchored at either side by chains. The traveler approaching it could only hope that the bridge happened to be coming his way. When the plank road was built in 1849, its promoters spent $700 dumping earth at the approaches to make the bridge stationary.
In the old days, hunters, fishermen and trappers squatted in huts among the reeds. Game wardens watched Float Bridge for fish poachers, particularly users of illegal fike nets.
Once there were several hotels at Float Bridge. The Walton House burned a few years ago. Now only the 75-year-old Flagg Hotel, once known as the Spies House, is left. Why the extra "g" at the end of the name of this venerable relic among the bay flags?
Those flags or reeds or cattails have a utilitarian value. They are cut and shipped away each year, the stronger ones to cooperages for sealing beer barrels, the slighter ones for chair bottoms. For years the De Lorms, a numerous tribe, have been leveling the swaying fields of reeds with sharp butt knives, hauling them to shore in boats in fall, in sleighs on the ice in winter.
* * *
It is a summer Sunday in 1904 and the Shrine Carnival at Glen Haven is in full swing. Every trolley leaving the barns at Main and Chamberlain Streets in the city is packed until 25,000 have passed through the turnstiles at the gate under the ornate Oriental dome. "The Mystic Chute," the merry-go-rounds, the open air theater all are crowded. The balloon ascension is a huge success.
The roomy porches of the Glen Haven House, most palatial hotel on the bay, are crowded, too. In the big dining room, tall, smiling Henry Reuther, the proprietor, and his prince of head waiters, Fritz Wals, who once served Queen Victoria in another dining room across the sea, greet the guests. Theodore Dossenbach waves his baton and his orchestra swings into an old and haunting tune.
Then as night falls, an illuminated fleet of decorated boats appears on the bay. Fireworks add to the spectacle and the powerful searchlight atop the hotel plays on the gala scene.
Such was Glen Haven in its days of glory.
Those days began in when local men built the hotel and the three and one-half mile narrow gauge steam railroad from Rochester to the bay, across what was then mostly open country. The first year the Rochester and Glen Haven road carried more than 115,000 passengers.
But neither the railroad nor the resort was ever a financial success. In the road was electrified and reorganized. Trolleys ran every 20 minutes in the daytime. In 1901 the line became part of the new Rochester and Sodus Bay Company, which double tracked the road. Eventually it was taken over by the New York State Railways.
After the advent of the automobile, Glen Haven fell into a decline and the utility concentrated on Sea Breeze as an amusement resort, although the trolleys still ran to the bay until the Sodus Bay line was junked in 1929.
On the morning after the election of 1928, the Glen Haven House was destroyed by fire. It had been vacant for some time.
Henry Reuther, who ran the old hotel from 1896 to 1916, is now 87 years old but straight and cheery as of yore. He and Mrs. Reuther live at 385 Andrews Street. His dark eyes kindled as he talked of old days at Glen Haven, of the gay and busy summers, of the fox and coon hunts in the fall, of the sleighing parties in the winters.
Now quiet has descended on Glen Haven. There are still traces of the old roadbed of the trolleys. The waiting room, the riding devices, all the park accoutrements are gone. But Harold Hebing carries on a tradition at Glen Haven, for he is the third of his line to keep hotel there. Hebing's Hotel, nearly 70 years old, was operated first by his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand Griebel, and was known far and wide as Griebel's. After Griebel, Harold's father, Louis Hebing, now retired, became proprietor.
The visitor to Glen Haven hears a cheery "Hello there" from a hot stand near the hotel. There the Greek-born George Boosall, for 40 years a fixture at Glen Haven, still presides. In the old days he made candy kisses to sell to the excursion crowds. Now he sells hots and candy other men have made. But every winter he reverts to his trade, that of candy maker, working in the factories at Duluth, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland—a sort of grand tour.
In 1877 Franz Snyder built a hotel on Snyder's Island and linked it with the Glen Haven mainland with a bridge. His son, Ed, later operated the place. Snyder's went into eclipse with Glen Haven.
Once there were three club-houses at Glen Haven. Not only the Unique Social Club is extant. Its ranks are thinning but the survivors hold a reunion every September. One of them is Charles W. Peiffer of Irondequoit, to whose flair for local history and voluminous scrapbooks I am indebted for much lore of the bay.
* * *
Hard by Glen Haven to the north is Bay View, an older resort, without so colorful a history. It was first called Shingle Landing because of the shingle mill there. Before the railroads were built to the bay, Bay View could be reached only by horse and buggy or carryall. Carryall parties were popular in their day and the most famous operator was Louis Kambach, whose rig would seat 24 persons. After the Bay Road came to Sea Breeze, excursionists visited Bay View by steamboat from the Breeze.
The Bay View Hotel, second oldest on the bay, has been there nearly a century. Its neighbor, the White House, burned some years ago. The resort was noted for its ball games, its double decker dancing pavilion and dining hall, now cut in half and moved back of the hotel, and for its picnics. For years the clothing cutters of Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo held their outings there.
In 1904 during the Shrine Carnival, on the barren hill back of Bay View, Army and Naval Militia re-enacted the Battle of San Juan Hills—sans Teddy Roosevelt.
* * *
And now Newport of the weeping willows, the aristocrat of the bay.
It is the day of the Supervisors picnic, the red letter day of the political calendar. For hours the politicos have been assembling. A tense air hangs over the bayside. The crowd awaits the coming of The Big Fellow, George Washington Aldridge, the acknowledged ruler of the political destines of city and county—who that day will hand down the Republican ticket from under a certain willow tree, in accordance with long established tradition. Only The Big Fellow and one or two trusted advisors know the names on that slate.
Dust rises from the winding hill and a limousine comes into view. It is the chariot of P. V. Crittenden, Aldridge's crony. In it, with Crittenden and Aldridge, is James L. Hotchkiss, titular chairman and Aldridge's Man Friday. Mayor Hi Edgerton, who lives at Newport in summers, is there to greet his chief. The High Command wears long linen dusters and panama hats.
The orator of the day, usually Judge Willis K. Gillette, perennial president of the Supervisors' Association, makes a speech from under a willow. Nobody pays much attention. Everyone is waiting for the Boss to speak. On his words hang political life and death for many a hopeful one.
From under his particular willow, the Leader hands out the plums like an Oriental potentate distributing largess.
Twenty-two summers have gone by since George Aldridge has stood under that willow, monarch of all he surveyed. The tree itself has been rent asunder and shorn of its top by a bolt of lightning. The Supervisors' picnic, no longer an affair of consequence, is held elsewhere.
The King is dead but the willows of Newport whisper of an old regime.
The vine-covered Newport House is the oldest hotel on the bay. In 1840 Joseph Vinton converted his saw mill into an inn. In all the 104 years since, it has had but five owners. Vinton, Peter Walzer, Henry Walzer, William H. Sours, and the present owner, George W. Henner, who took over in 1940.
The former summer home of Mayor Edgerton nearby is now the home of the Rochester Canoe Club, last of the many such organizations that once flourished on the bay. It was formed in 1882 and is still going, although its members sail dinghies, instead of paddling their own canoes. The Irondequoit Canoe Club had its home across the bay. On the lawn of the Newport House was a gong that arriving members would ring. Its clang would resound across the bay like a fire alarm and a craft would put out from the club to pick up the newcomers.
Around those old clubs linger many a memory of the great war canoe manned by 30 oarsmen, of Charles Moody and his amazing aquatic stunts, of regattas and banquets and the "good song ringing clear."
On the Ridge at Culver Road stands the Forest House. When the Bay Road ran past its door, it was "a franchise stop." Shrewd Camille Forest, in granting a right of way, obtained a proviso that every train must stop at his Forest House five minutes "for refreshment." Many persons, bound for Newport, would get off there and walk down to the bay. It's quite a hike. I know. I tried it in July of 1944.
It was in the Forest House that the sage Judge Isaac Buyck held court and handed down the Solomonic decisions that added to the spice of life in the 1920-30s.
* * *
Where else in America, is there a place with so picturesque a name as Birds and Worms?
That name originated some 75 years ago when a group of young Rochester men used to get up at 4 o'clock on summer mornings for a game of ball. After one of the players remarked that the early bird catches the worm," sides were chosen and a match played with the understanding that the winners were to be called "The Early Birds" and the losers, "The Unfortunate Worms".
This led to the formation of a social and sportsmen's organization, composed of some of the city's most prominent men and known as the Early Birds and Unfortunate Worms Club, which in 1872 built a clubhouse near the foot of the present Seneca Road.
It was seven years before the railroad and Birds and Worms was accessible only by horse and buggy. Then a hotel was built. It is still there, now the home of the Newport Yacht Club. Until recently it was the base for Rochester Sea Scouts. The old Birds and Worms clubhouse has been torn down and only the old name remains.
And I hear there is a movement afoot to change that to "Seneca Point.
* * *
Just north of Birds and Worms is Woodchuck Point. Only they call it Point Pleasant now.
Leon C. Allyn has known the point since when he first camped there as a boy. He remembers the grouse hunting, the fine fishing, the succulent blueberries that grew wild on the slopes. He recalls when the hotel was built. To publicize the opening of the resort, blasting of the hill was advertised. Crowds came, heard a faint puff, saw some dirt fly and that was all. The dynamiting stunt was a "dud" and the hill is still there. Allyn recalls launching his ice yacht, the 42-foot Whiff, biggest on the bay, and the ice boat races of yesteryear.
He told how when the dock was built in Point Pleasant in 1884, the lumber was brought up from Newport by horse-drawn sleighs on brittle ice. Once Englert and Weible moved their hotel from Birds and Worms to Point Pleasant on the ice—and moved it back again the next winter. The Ragna-Rock Club moved its clubhouse down from Newport another winter the same way.
* * *
Oldtimers invariably call it "The Sea Breeze." There, where the lake and bay join has been Rochester's playground for generations. Today it is Rochester's Coney Island.
The place began to boom with the corning of the R. W. & O. Railroad in 1874. After the Iron Horse invaded the shore, the three-storied Sea Breeze Hotel with many verandas rose beside the tracks.
In 1879 enterprising Rochesterians built a standard gauge steam railroad, first called the Rochester & Lake Ontario and later the Bay Railroad, from the city to Sea Breeze. The Rochester terminal was on Portland Avenue near Bay Street, the site of the recently dismantled trolley barns. The route was Portland (then North Avenue) to Ridge Road to Culver and the bay.
Two dummy engines were installed. Each had a cowcatcher at either end and "The Dummy Train" became one of the delights of young Rochesterians. It still is a pleasant memory in many a gray head. Open cars were run in summer. Low running boards ran the whole length along either side. On these the conductor walked as he rang up fares. When the cars were crowded, wooden bars were lowered on each side to keep passengers from falling out. When it rained, awning-like curtains were pulled down.
J. D. Scott, the "excursion king," began his career as a conductor on the "Dummy Train." Later on he sold tickets in a tent at the Four Corners for combination train and boat rides. His steamers once ran from the old Glen House in the shadow of the Lower Falls down the river to Sea Breeze, later from Charlotte to "the Breeze". Thousands will recall the bent little gray mariner who wound up his career running the scow ferry between Charlotte and Summerville.
In 1899 tragedy rode "The Dummy Line." Bearing a capacity load of passengers on a return trip from Sea Breeze, the cars overturned while rounding the curve at Portland and the Ridge. One man was killed outright and 50 persons were seriously injured. After that people shunned the line and the next year it was electrified.
Dr. Clint W. La Salle, Rochester dentist, has nostalgic recollections of the old Sea Breeze, before it became a Coney Island of roller coasters, dance halls, Jack Rabbits, bingo games and hot stands. He told of early days when it was a quiet summer colony, of the old hotels, all save one gone from the scene; of the Railroad Dock Hotel, of Louis Giesler's Pier Hotel, of the Pavilion, of the Lake Shore. They came to bear other names, with changing owners. Dr. La Salle recalled how Gus Hammerschmidt made a creditable xylophone out of a row of bottles and a spoon at the old Lake Shore, which later became the Gables and recently was razed by fire.
The doctor told of the hotel keeper, Louie Giesler, who was once the world's champion bag puncher; of Major Lawton and his Tuscarora Indians who staged sham battles and played lacrosse on the grounds of the Pavilion Hotel on the bluff; of the old bicycle side paths, of picnics in the grove that is still there; of the first circle swing at Sea Breeze, a marvel of the time and predecessor of the later thrill producing rides.
It was after Charlotte became a city beach and Glen Haven sank into decline that Sea Breeze took on its Coney Island mantle. Around this amusement park in the last quarter of a century a considerable community of year-around dwellers has grown up. Sea Breeze awakens at night when the crowds come down from the city. In daytime its streets are mighty quiet.
The big park, where so many thousands have found relaxation, has always been owned by the transit company. Twice in recent years flames have raced through it, with heavy property loss. Many will remember the terror a stray python caused some 15 years ago before the huge reptile was found hiding under a stand and slain.
One of the old hotels is left and that is at the outlet. For 36 years it has been Marty Rebholz's. Before that it was the Outlet House, operated by Christ Heilbron, a Civil War veteran. It was a rendezvous for the Boys in Blue.
Sea Breeze, where history has been made and generations have played, is not the most beautiful spot on the bay. But it is the most vivid.
Here endeth the cruise of the SS Yesteryear. The ghost ship glides into her berth in the Port of Memory and is no more.
But the Bay of the Senecas it has sailed is eternal.
Echoes from the Shore
FOR 122 years a stone lighthouse has stood watch beside the Genesee at Old Charlotte. It was abandoned long ago. Now it is only a gray ghost of the past.
Time was when woods lay between the lake and the bank on which it stands. It was so that summer of 1791 when the two William Hinchers, the soldier of the Revolution and his 11-year-old son, built on the site a crude log hut, roofed with the wild grass they had cut from the shores of Long Pond.
That hut was the first habitation reared by White Men in the black belt of forest along Lake Ontario between the Genesee and Niagara rivers.
The woods no longer creep up to that historic site. A modern city park and beach stretch between it and the lake.
Today the whole lake line is an almost unbroken row of summer colonies, ringed by a rich fruit and farm belt. Today thousands live and work and play where in 1791 the Hinchers faced the wilderness alone—save for their only white neighbor, Walker, the Ranger, in his solitary cabin across the river; save for the wolves and the wildcats and the surly and suspicious British-incited Indians that prowled the woods; save for the rattlesnakes that sunned themselves on the river rocks and the mosquitoes that spread the deadly fever germs from their swamp lairs.
And today William Hincher's descendants dwell in the country-side he was the first to clear. Some of them live on Hincher Road in the Town of Greece.
* * *
From Sea Breeze to Point Breeze, a score of pleasant summer colonies line the shores of the inland sea that the French called Lake Frontenac and the Indians named Ontario, "the beautiful."
There are Rock Beach, Windsor Beach, White City, Summerville, Ontario Beach, Island Cottage, Crescent Beach, Grand View, Manitou, Payne Beach, Lighthouse Beach, Hilton Beach, Wautoma Beach, Shore Acres, Sandy Harbor, Hamlin Beach, The Devil's Nose, Troutburg, Point Breeze, Oak Orchard Harbor.
Each has its special place in the hearts and memories of thousands who, through many "a good old summertime," have found peace and joy on those shores.
* * *
Let's follow the Trail of Time along the sands.
First there is Rock Beach, probably the swankiest of all the shore colonies. For 54 years wealthy Rochesterians have maintained fine summer residences there. Rock Beach gets its name from the huge granite blocks the railroad brought in to protect its embankment from encroaching waters.
Windsor Beach—and across the years come echoes of gay music and merry voices and the shuffling of dancing feet. Generations have danced there, first in the ornate pavilion that was known as "The House of Glass," which was built in 1882 and ended in flames in 1895, and then in its successor, the Windsor, which met a like fate one night in 1941.
Oldtimers will recall the fire of 1908 amid a 60-mile gale that leveled 40 cottages at Windsor Beach and brought Rochester firemen and apparatus down to the lake on a flatcar.
Some may recall the tented colony that began in the early 1890's to give White City its picturesque name. And around Summerville, with its nautical background as home of the Coast Guard and the Naval Militia, cling memories of the old toll gate and the popular rendezvous that was known as "The Round House" because of its shape.
Across the river is Charlotte—variously a lake port, a suburban village, a "Coney Island," a city park and bathing beach—and for years The Playground of the People.
Were it not for the falls of the Genesee eight miles to the southward, which powered the mills of the Flour City, Charlotte, and not Rochester, undoubtedly would have been the metropolis of the Genesee Country. And now the city has swallowed up the lakeside village.
The origin of its name is in dispute. One version has it named after Lady Charlotte Johnstone, wife of the heir to the Pultney Estate; the other that it honors Charlotte, daughter of Robert Troup, the Pultney land agent. At any rate it always has been mispronounced. Mark Twain once said that "Rochester is noted for having a neighboring village CHARlotte, that the natives insist on calling ShaLOT."
"The Battle of Charlotte" at this distance seems a comic-opera sort of affair, but it was very real to the settlers on the frontier in 1814. Yeo's British fleet, which also raided Pultneyville and Sodus Point, made its appearance off the harbor one day in May. Thirty-three men from Rochesterville, all that could be mustered immediately, marched and counter-marched among the trees to create the illusion of strength. Yeo was impressed. The Americans gained time to gather a considerable force from all over the frontier, so that after much parleying under flags of truce and a harmless exchange of cannonades, the royal fleet sailed away, outbluffed and outmaneuvered.
There are many pictures in Charlotte's album of yesterdays—an early lake port with a roaring waterfront along River Street; Western New York's Coney Island, mecca of the excursion trains, a babel of shows and barkers and crowded midway, with big hotels and dance halls; then a city picnic ground and beach, where the city's rank and file frolics in the shadow of the mansions the elite built long ago along tree-shaded Beach Avenue.
And always there is the gray old lighthouse keeping vigil beside the Genesee.
* * *
The trail winds over familiar ground—past Paddy Hill, where the cross atop Our Mother of Sorrows Church, first raised in the wilds, sheltered by lofty pines, is outlined against the sky—past Bogus Point, center of a recent controversy over the city's water supply and so named because a century ago a band of counterfeiters was rounded up there—along the chain of ponds.
There are five of these ponds dotting the flatlands. The names of four are obvious: Round, Buck, Cranberry and Long. The fifth and largest, Braddock's Bay, is richest in history.
It was there in 1759 that the British expedition, led by General Prideaux and Sir William Johnson, encamped on its way to storm Fort Niagara. After that it was called Prideaux Bay. But, so the story goes, the Yankee settlers could not master the foreign sounding name and corrupted it into Braddock, perhaps in honor of the British general. There also is a legend that a Capt. Braddock, a deep sea pirate, fled to the bay and buried his treasure there. For years credulous pioneers dug around its shores, but unearthed no treasure.
Settlement at Braddock's began as early as 1793. From the bay to the Genesee near Scottsville ran the first highway in Monroe County. Charles Williamson, the land agent, visioned a great port at the bay and had surveys made for a town site. But it was only another dream city.
Manitou used to be Braddock Point, but after the electric rail-way was built along the lake, promoters of the line renamed it after the Indian god.
The coming of the trolleys also signaled the rise of the present populous summer settlements along the lake. For 33 years, from 1892 to 1925, the railway, the second electric line built in the county, ran from Charlotte to Manitou. At first it was called the Grand View Beach Railway and later the Rochester and Manitou.
The superintendent who built the road is Thomas M. Lynn, brother of the late Judges John D. and William F. Lynn. Now 86, he lives with his son on the Ridge in Greece and the other day he regaled me with many a tale of the building of the Manitou Line.
The contract for its construction provided that by a certain day passengers must have been carried over the entire route. When the day came the road was not quite ready. But that difficulty was overcome. Thomas Lynn, his brother John, attorney for the railway, and J. Miller Kelly, one of the promoters, manned a hand car and pumped it over the line. John Lynn and Kelly paid their fares and the contract clause was met. The first regular train ran a fortnight later.
Tom Lynn told of the old Skinner Inn at Manitou, predecessor of the later larger hotels there; of the dances at the Dann House, now the Grand View; of his six husky Canadian woodsmen who to the consternation of the villagers, chopped down in the dead of night seven tall trees in Charlotte that blocked the path of the railway; of the tremendous task in cutting through Rigney's Bluff and cribbing the roadbed with stone; of the excursions that started at the old Cottage Hotel at Charlotte; of the 62 picnics that Lynn, as passenger agent, booked the second season of operation.
In 1925 the Manitou Line went the way of all interurbans. Part of the old road bed now serves as a highway for cottagers; remains of the trestles are still standing and even a few poles are left.
For years the Colony Club of Pittsburgh spent its summers at Manitou, whose approach is lined by towering poplars and which bears the name of the Indians' god.
At the end of Beaty Road and at the western edge of Buck Pond is probably the only log cabin left in Monroe County. It was built by Thomas Curry, a son of Erin, in 1842. His daughter, Mrs. Mina S. Beaty, who now resides at 470 Janes Road, lived in it as a girl. It serves as a summer cottage today; a new roof has been added and other improvements made, but the mud-chinked logs are still there, reminders of a pioneer day.
Most unusual building along the lake is the eight-sided frame house that Aylesworth B. Haines, elderly Hilton artist, built with his own hands in 1937. Everything about it is octagonal—the fireplace, the chimney, the roof with eight cornices, between which are eight flower boxes.
For 47 years, another house, a 97-foot high brick structure, has dominated the landscape like a cathedral on a plain. It is a government lighthouse. For 30 years Frank Coleman daily climbed the 105 steps to light the oil burning lamp in the tower. In 1928 the present electric beacon of 20,000 candle power, throwing its rays 19 miles out into the lake, was installed.
It is called Braddock's Light. Originally the government intended to build it at Braddock's Point (Manitou) three miles to the eastward. Uncle Sam changed the location but not the name. The present keeper of the light is Claude Jaycox, a veteran of the lighthouse service, now under the Coast Guard. He and his wife and Sonny Boy live in the snug, neat quarters attached to the lighthouse.
Sonny Boy is a kingly thoroughbred white and gold collie, a kinsman of Laddie Boy of White House fame during the Harding reign. Sonny Boy is the unofficial color guard at Braddock's Light. Every morning he carries the Stars and Stripes out on his back and stands proudly by as his master hoists the flag to the lake breezes. At night the procedure is repeated in reverse. Sonny Boy was the most aristocratic resident I met along the lake.
Hilton, prosperous village in the heart of the Apple Country, is neither on the Ridge nor on the lake. It is just between. The village, first christened Unionville, got its present name from a Freewill Baptist minister, the Rev. Charles A. Hilton. The Collamer Brothers in their vast Hilton orchards originated the Twenty Ounce variety of apple.
Quiet prevails of nights now at Payne and Hilton beaches. In prohibition days, cottagers heard strange noises in the darkness—boats scraping on the beaches, the roll of trucks, occasional gunfire as the customs men came to grips with the lake rum runners.
Hamlin Beach, now a state park, was a popular picnic and bathing spot before gasoline rationing. This year Nazi prisoners of war, brought to the lakeside to help harvest the crops, lived in the barracks occupied before the war by Civilian Conservation Corps youths. Hamlin Town, in the far corner of Monroe County, gets its name from Lincoln's running mate in 1860, Hannibal Hamlin.
The trail leads to the Devil's Nose, a wild and shaggy head-land, with treacherous reefs extending out three-quarters of a mile. On them many a good ship has come to grief. But in the shadow of the Devil's Nose nestles a charming little summer colony.
* * *
Troutburg is a ghost resort.
The Story House, once familiar to many Rochesterians as a popular dining place, is only a heap of rubble. It burned down two years ago. The dance hall under the willows is being dismantled. Dingy streamers, once gay, hang down from its rafters. The high water has eaten away the piers, grass covers the cement walks along the shore.
Across the way the three-story Cady House, the temperance hotel, is closed and quiet prevades the grove where once Methodist camp meetings held forth. But religious gatherings are in prospect there again for recently the Assemblies of God announced purchase of the hotel and grounds.
To the west along the shore, joyous young voices have rung out for the past four summers. In the three-story, 16-room, stucco, pillared mansion that the late Col. Adrien Grief, the sugar magnate, built 35 years ago at a cost of $100,000, live 35 underprivileged children from Rochester's industrial section, guests of the Salvation Army. Many of them are children of soldier fathers and mothers who work in war plants.
Brig. John H. Brunner and his motherly wife are in charge of the camp where youngsters from 5 to 14 years gather for two-week periods during the vacation season. The parlor of the mansion is a Sunday-school room; the former quarters of Grief's Puerto Rican servants now house the older children; the stables are being converted into an auditorium.
This erstwhile mansion, with its commanding view of Lake Ontario, set among 43 acres of orchards, is being put to good use these summers.
* * *
In the northern part of the Town of Kendall, Orleans County, is a highway called the Norwegian Road. It's the only official recognition given the first Norwegian colony in the New World.
In 1821, Clang Pearson came to America, seeking a haven for a group of Norwegian Quakers who were in revolt against the state church.
It came to pass that in July, 1825, the sloop, Restoration, sailed from Stavenger with 52 Norwegian pilgrims aboard. There were 53 when they landed in America for a baby girl had been born at sea. Pearson led the party to Albany, then by the new canal to Rochester, where some of them stayed. The rest continued on to Kendall, where they established their historic settlement. It was shortlived as most of the Norwegians in a few years joined the great movement of Scandinavian settlers to the Northwest.
But some descendants of the Norsemen still live around Kendall. One of them is Ole N. Orsland, chairman of the Orleans County Board of Supervisors.
* * *
Picturesque, as well as historic, is the meeting place of the waters of the Oak Orchard and Lake Ontario. That natural harbor was once a busy one. Now it is as useless and idle as the once important port of Pultneyville.
When in 1798 Aaron Burr obtained from the Holland Land Company a tract along the lake, the harbor was known as Tonawanda Bay. The magnificent trees that bordered the stream gave the creek and the harbor its later name of Oak Orchard. The country was generally so isolated and forbidding and unhealthy in the early days that pioneers called it "The Black North."
Around 1805 a lake sailor gave a red apple to a red cheeked lass of the Town of Carlton named Rachel Lovewell. Legend says she planted the seeds and that was the beginning of the great orchards that now flourish in the once desolate "Black North."
A "bachelor settlement" once sprang up on the banks of the Oak Orchard. In 1810 eight young men of Stockbridge, Mass., all of them unmarried, formed the Union Company, a joint enterprise and established their colony which no woman was to invade. Within a year there were deserters and soon most of the Union Company had taken wives.
Many ships were built at Oak Orchard Harbor in the 1840's and 50's. The first was the flat bottomed schooner, the New World. The port became an important one. A lighthouse was built after several craft had been driven ashore and wrecked in lake storms. By 1879 there was only one vessel operating out of the harbor. The competition of the railroads and the growing sand bars had triumphed.
But for years a considerable resort has centered there. On the east bank is Point Breeze, still an Orleans County playground. But on a wartime Sunday in 1944, I found only a few fishermen and picnickers there. Across the creek is Oak Orchard, now deserted. Once a big hotel and other attractions made it a rival of Point Breeze.
The traveler approaching Waterport for the first time is amazed by the noble proportions of the Oak Orchard as it sweeps through the village. The reason—the booster station and power dam of the Niagara Hudson Company nearby. A few miles and the Oak Orchard is a creek again—but a picturesque one flowing through pleasant country.
Stage Coach Trail
WE HAVE been riding phantom steamboats, ghostly trolleys and long vanished excursion trains.
How about a stagecoach trip?
Fantasy must take the reins, for nearly 100 years have gone since the last stagecoach rumbled down the West Ridge.
Our ticket is dated 1825 and our ride will be a dusty and a bumpy one. But all along the way are the inns, offering rest and refreshment for jaded traveler and weary beast. Some of those inns still stand, although their jovial proprietors and hostlers have long been dust.
Our route is an old one—along a highway built eons ago by the waves of a glacial sea. It leads from Hanford's Landing on the west bank of the Genesee, to Lewiston, on the east bank of the Niagara.
It is a narrow road and the drovers curse the stagecoaches that scatter the herds of cattle, swine and sheep amid the dust clouds.
It is a busy road and the burden of traffic is toward the setting sun. There are many Conestoga wagons, laden with household goods. Children's faces peep out from under the canvas. They are the children of pioneers leaving the security of Eastern settlements for the unknown perils of the West.
The cumbersome freight wagons clatter along, hauled by six sturdy animals with a wagoner astride the wheel horse. They are piled high with barrels of salt and flour and potash, with carcasses slung along the sides. They are the forerunners of the trucks that roar so swiftly along the Ridge today.
There are carriages and chaises bearing beruffled gentry. There are solitary horsemen with saddle bags. There are silent Red Men walking with velvet tread the trail their fathers knew.
And in the inns, the newly built inns with the pillared porches, mills a cross section of frontier humanity. Tourists, bound for Niagara Falls; politicos in tall hats, arguing the relative merits of John Quincy Adams and Andy Jackson; drovers, soldiers, hunters, emigrants, settlers, gamblers, fancy women. In the flickering light of the tall candles and of the flames leaping up in the great fireplaces, they talk and sing and drink and gorge on venison and pigeon pot pie.
The stage we boarded at dawn at Hanford's Landing near the lower falls of the Genesee has come from Canandaigua the day before. It is a clumsy vehicle, its eliptical box-like body resting on longitudinal leather springs. It has four interior seats, holding twelve passengers. But as many more roost on the top, using the baggage for seats. The drivers pull the six prancing horses up before each inn with a flourish of reins and a blast of the horn. It is a signal for the villagers to gather. The coming of the coach is an event. For it brings the mail, the news of the outside world and sometimes famous passengers.
That year of 1825 saw the flood tide of the Stagecoach Era on the Ridge, although it was to linger for another quarter of a century. But slowly the prestige of the highroad was to wane as the boats multiplied on the Grand Canal and the glory that was Clarkson and the grandeur that was Gaines yielded to the challenge of the new boom canal towns, Albion and Brockport.
The West Ridge itself, despite its antiquity, was not "discovered" by White Men until 1798 when Indians told the pioneer land holder, Augustus Porter, of the natural gravelly highway along the lake. Eli Granger surveyed it for a thoroughfare, but it was too narrow, rough and unbridged for extensive use until the War of 1812, when it became a military highway, albeit an unsatisfactory one.
In 1816 by virtue of a state appropriation of $5,000, it was made a passable wagon road. Then began the mighty surge of western migration and gradually, through the years, the road was improved. In 1901 it was rebuilt as part of the Good Roads movement although it was not resurfaced its entire length until 1926.
Before it was paved, young bucks, homeward bound after dances in the taverns, would race each other in the dawn, raising huge clouds of dust and causing householders to stir uneasily on their pillows as they heard the thud of the horses' hooves in the soft roadway.
It is only in Monroe County that you hear about "The Big Ridge." There Ridgeway Avenue and its extensions follow an embankment that towers above the West Ridge. There is still a Big Ridge Road on county maps. The city directory of 1900 had the temerity to designate the historic highway running west from Lake Avenue as the "LITTLE" Ridge Road. Then, until 10 years ago that section of the present Ridge Road West within the city limits was Lewiston Avenue, because it led to the town of that name at the western end of the wave built way.
Our stage coach ticket says 1825, but let's examine the film of history along the Ridge in the years that preceded and followed.
Today Hanford's Landing, once famed as the head of navigation on the Genesee, is only a name in history. Nearby, the Ridge today marches across the river over a magnificent, $4,000,000, seven-arched span of white granite, built in the lush year of 1931 as a memorial to Rochester's veterans of the first World War. Years ago, a half-mile west of the Veterans Memorial Bridge, was a toll gate. Now that site is part of the mighty industry with its acres of factories and miles of railroad tracks that the world knows as Kodak Park.
As I write this, from my window I can see the towering twin chimneys that are symbols of the industrial colossus that stretches for more than a mile along the West Ridge. They are symbolic, too, of the American saga. For Rochester's greatest industry started with chemical experiments a young bank clerk named Eastman made in the kitchen sink of his widowed mother's home!
The West Ridge has seen many changes since the stagecoaches rolled past the farm land that is now the site of Kodak Park and a thickly populated suburban development.
From oldtimers come many a tale of those other days. T. William Davies, born on the Ridge and now a resident of Maiden Lane, Greece, told of the plank road that followed the Ridge from Lake Avenue to the Long Pond Road; of the construction of Mitchell Road in a wide curve to circumvent the toll gate at that Ridge Road intersection; of the four-foot high, one-quarter mile long board fence, painted red, that Abner Shearman built some 70 years ago along either side of the Ridge in Greece.
Near the Manitou Road intersection is a gentle incline known as "Hoosic Hill." It got its name because years ago an old lady who lived there possessed an insatiable curiosity about her neighbors and whenever she saw the doctor passing by, would dash out with the invariable question: "Who's sick?"
At that intersection, Abram Babcock, a veteran of the war with Spain, has maintained a blacksmith shop for 28 years, but his work is all motor repair now. It is three years since he has shod a horse. Times have changed along the Ridge.
Babcock related how 30 years ago the century-old West Greece Hotel across the road was literally blown in two by the explosion of a carbide lighting tank. In those days it was the Manchester House. Had the blast occurred two hours later, the loss of life might have been heavy, because a Rochester sleigh-ride party was booked there that night. As it was, the proprietor escaped with a broken leg and a woman, although blown through a window, suffered only bruises. Afterward, the severed parts of the tavern were pulled together again.
* * *
The Stagecoach Route takes us to Parma Corners, named after an old Italian city. The Monroe County Parma was settled in 1805, largely by New Englanders that the eloquence of Land Agent James Wadsworth at many a town meeting induced to the Genesee Country.
Between Parma and Garland is a stately memento of the stage-coach days. It is the Houston Tavern, now a private home, built in 1825 with white pillars supporting the two-storied porch that stretches across its yellow front.
* * *
Clarkson dozes under her old trees today, like a dowager, dreaming of her bright youth. That village was a place of consequence before the Erie Canal came and Brockport boomed, a mile to the southward. Clarkson's time-mellowed brick and frame and cobblestone houses testify to the good taste of the gentlefolk who built them so long ago.
A bit of old New England is the 128-year-old white Congregational Church with its thin spire reaching skyward, vieing with the lordly maples on its lawn.
The village, named after a land-holding general, Matthew Clarkson, began in 1804 as Murray Corners. During the War of 1812, it was a general depot for troops and munitions. Down the Ridge, bound for Niagara, marched an American army under Winfield Scott, to swing off at Clarkson Four Corners for the Batavia Road.
A blue historical sign marks the rambling brick house where George B. Selden, "father of the automobile," was born. In that house lived his father, Henry R. Selden, who became lieutenant governor and judge of the state Court of Appeals. Clarkson also was the home of an equally distinguished brother, Samuel Lee Selden; of Simeon Jewett, onetime United States marshal; of Philip Boss, the painter; of other notable men who dwelt in her historic houses.
Henry Selden's daughter, Mrs. William D. Ellwanger of East Avenue, maintains her father was "the first Rochester commuter." For years he drove his ponies, Polly and Dolly, the 16 miles between his Clarkson residence and his Rochester law office twice a day.
In the brick house adjoining the Selden homestead is the original landscaped wallpaper put on more than a century ago. That house was built by Mrs. Eliwanger's grandfather, Abel Baldwin. When William Morgan, the Anti-Mason, was kidnaped and taken to his doom down the Ridge in 1826, Baldwin, an ardent Free Mason, unhooked his team from the plow that it might draw the carriage containing the prisoner on to Gaines.
All through that sultry September 13th of 1826, the carriage with the drawn curtains rolled down the West Ridge. In it, guarded by stern-faced men, lay a 50-year-old bricklayer, a Virginia-born veteran of the Revolution, a man of medium height with balding head and shifty eyes, in a blue frock coat. He did not know it then but William Morgan was never again to see his young wife and his two babies in Batavia.
Stung by a snub from a Masonic lodge to which he had belonged, Morgan had written and was about to publish an expose of the secrets of Free Masonry. The Masons of Western New York banded together to silence William Morgan.
He had been delivered into their keeping from the Canandaigua jail where he had been thrown on a trumped up charge. In the moonlight the carriage plodded down the road to Rochester. At dawn from the inn at Hanford's Landing the grim journey down the Ridge began. There were fresh horses ready all along the line—at Clarkson, at Gaines, at Ridgeway, at Molyneaux, until at last the captive was behind the walls of Fort Niagara. After that William Morgan vanished from the face of the earth. Mystery shrouds his fate to this day.
His kidnaping and disappearance threw the land into wild political turmoil and gave birth to the Anti-Masonic Party, which nominated a candidate for the presidency in 1830 and then dropped from sight.
There were many inns between Clarkson and Gaines in the olden time. At Murray was the Mattison Tavern where De Witt Clinton stopped on his historic horseback ride, exploring the frontier in 1810.
Most of the taverns are gone but the porticoed Five Mile House built by John Huff in 1816, and the 124-year-old Fair Haven House near Childs are still there.
At Childs is a 110-year-old cobblestone church of the Universalist faith. It is opened for services one Sunday every year—and only then—in accordance with the provisions of an old deed.
Once the smithies were as thick along the Ridge as the inns. But that was in horse and buggy days and now at Childs, Joseph Vagg, last of the Ridge Road blacksmiths, holds the fort. For 36 years he has been shoeing horses there. And his patrons come from all over the countryside.
* * *
Gaines now is just another hamlet that the traveler hardly notices as he whizzes by. But once she was "The Queen of the Ridge."
All the stagecoaches stopped there, for Gaines had ten taverns and was the most important town between Rochester and Lewiston.
There the first house of worship, still standing, and the first academy between the Genesee and Niagara rivers were built. Gaines had the first newspaper in Orleans County, the first attorney, the first circus, the first burying ground.
And it had the Mansion House, the most pretentious hotel on the Ridge, a three-story structure with tall Grecian columns. It was built in 1816 and burned in 1843. Henry Clay, "Harry of the West," while stumping the frontier for votes, once held a reception in its parlor.
This village, named after a general, has its martial traditions, too.
In the War of 1812 the men of Gaines formed a militia company and had a drill ground. And when in 1813 after the British had burned Lewiston and word came that the enemy was marching eastward down the Ridge, the men of Gaines, led by Eleazer McCarty, shouldered arms and went out to meet the Redcoats and the Redskins. They surprised the enemy in an inn at Molyneaux Corners, killed a few Indians and one British soldier, took the rest of the party prisoner and marched back home in triumph.
During the Canadian Patriot War of 1838 many along the Ridge sympathized with the rebels and gave them aid. "Hunters' Lodges" were formed for that purpose. The one at Gaines met in a tannery. The situation became so serious that General Scott was sent to the frontier with a detachment of troops to preserve order and neutrality.
* * *
When in 1824, it was decided to form a new county on the old Holland Land Purchase along the lake and the Ridge, a violent dispute arose over the name it was to bear. The Whigs wanted Adams; the Democrats held out for Jackson. Orleans was a compromise choice.
Even more bitter was the fight over the county seat. The rivals were Gaines and Albion, a pushing new canal town.
A state commission was named to make the choice. The commissioners received a dignified reception at the established town of Gaines. Meanwhile Albion hatched a crafty plot. It was summer, the stream that ran through the village was dry and the saw mills on its banks were idle. That picture would not impress the commissioners.
So Albion rebuilt the dam, closed its gates to store all available water, hauled logs to the mill yards, stationed workmen at points where the commissioners would see them, set the saws to whining. The commissioners came, were lavishly wined and dined and saw a busy "industrial" scene. They promptly awarded the county seat to Albion.
And as the embittered men of Gaines watched the new Court-house rise in the rival village, only a mile away, they could only mutter, "Perfidious Albion."
In the 1830's during a financial panic, another war flared between the two villages. It was called the "War of the Red Backs" and it was a financial conflict. Under the terms of a state banking act, authorizing local banks to issue notes secured by real estate mortgages, the Farmers' Bank of Gaines was organized. A cashier was imported from New York, business was set up in a frame dwelling that still stands and Gaines prepared to do battle with the Bank of Orleans at Albion. The Gaines Bank invested in state bonds of Indiana.
Because the new bank notes were printed in red on the reverse side, they were called "Red Backs," according to County Historian Joseph B. Achilles.
Each bank sought to force a run on the other by buying up notes and presenting them for payment. Old line banks rallied to the Albion institution and shipped in boxes of silver dollars, $1,000 in a box, daily. This silver came by coach to Gaines. The bankers there thus could count the number of boxes, and determine their goal as they prepared to raid the silver hoard at Albion and drive their rival to the wall.
But after the state of Indiana defaulted on her bonds, the Gaines bank was forced to close its doors and give up the battle. Again "Perfidious Albion" had won.
* * *
The Ridge might also be called "The Road of the Cobblestone Houses."
For there are more such buildings in the 25 miles of Ridge Road between Rochester. and Gaines than on any highway in America. This style of architecture, which flourished from about 1825 to the Civil War, is centered within a radius of 50 miles from Rochester. There are a few cobblestone buildings in Ontario, Canada; in Michigan, Ohio and around Albany. But a competent authority, Carl F. Schmidt, Rochester architect, who has written an informative little book called "Cobblestone Architecture," believes that they were inspired by the cobblestone work in this region.
And where could the stones be gathered more easily than in the bed of the glacial Lake Iroquois, between the Ridge and Lake Ontario? The settlers, men, women and children, collected them painstakingly. Sometimes three years were spent in obtaining enough for a house.
At first they picked up field stones of varying sizes, hit and miss. Later the builders laid them in more even rows and finally when the work became an art, only lake-washed stones of even shape and color were used. The stones were graded as to size by passing them through an iron ring or through holes cut in a board. Sometimes there were "bees" when a whole community would join in this pastime.
Most of the cobblestone masons came to this region with the building of the Erie Canal. They guarded their formula jealously; some of them even refused to let anyone watch them at work and when they died, the secret of cobblestone masonry died with them.
It is apparent that many of the houses are the work of one builder. Such a man was John Wetherill, who came to Gaines in the early days, built many cobblestone places along the Ridge and is said to have originated the herringbone pattern, in which only long, flat stones were employed. He also is credited with many of the distinctive, classic entrances that grace the old homes.
The builders would board in a neighborhood and work on two or more jobs at one time, laying a row at one building and while it was drying, proceeding to the next one. Sometimes it took from two to three years to build a cobblestone house.
The stagecoaches are gone. So are most of the inns. But all along the quiet Ridge, in the pleasant orchard country, the cobblestone buildings endure—houses, schools, churches, barns, standing four square against the storms of a hundred years.
And the year 1825 that we chose for our fanciful stagecoach ride along the West Ridge, that was the year the pioneers first began rearing these buildings, so distinctive to the region; first began laying the glacial stones so carefully, row on row.
* * *
Back in 1812, Seymour Murdock, a pioneer of Ridgeway, had a manpower problem.
He had the timbers all cut and ready for his new barn. But nearly all the able bodied men had gone to war. Many of them were in General Izzard's army guarding the frontier against British invasion.
Murdock appealed to the general for help in completing his barn. He did not appeal in vain. So troops under a commanding general erected a building for private use, an act without precedent in American history.
That barn the soldiers built 132 years ago still stands beside the West Ridge.
Ridgeway on the Stage Coach Route is just another hamlet on Route 104 today. In the 1830's it was a sporty place with a famous race course and a log tavern as the gathering place for the gaming gentry of the rising towns of Rochester, Buffalo and Batavia.
Our coach rolls through little Jeddo, a name, which given in jest by a schoolboy in town meeting, has stuck through the years, and across the county line, into a land of peach orchards and vine-yards and truck gardens, proclaimed by roadside billboards as the "famed Niagara County Fruit Belt."
Johnson's Creek, Wright's Corners, Warren Corners, Molyneaux Corners—once they were stage coach stops, each with its tavern.
The tempo of the Ridge quickens as it marches westward. Wide and busy highways swing off toward Lockport, Buffalo, Niagara Falls. Across the hitherto placid countryside falls the shadow of the roaring cities of the Niagara Frontier and in fancy one hears the far thunder of the great cataract and the hum of the war plants that it powers.
What has been flat orchard country takes on more rugged contours. At points the Ridge rears high above the fertile plain that stretches northward toward Lake Ontario. The Ridge in turn is overshadowed by the Niagara escarpment that towers above it to the south.
On the mountain plateau, just east of Lewiston, 450 Tuscarora Indians live on the 6,300-acre reservation given their forefathers after the Revolution. The remnants of the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy till their farms there or work in the war plants of nearby cities. They have their church and community house, their own traditions. "The Wearers of the Shirt" are, in the main, a law-abiding and self contained people.
North of the Ridge is Model City, twice a boom town. A dream that failed, the building of a ship canal linking the Niagara and the Erie Canal, gave it being in the 1890's. It awoke from somnolence after Pearl Harbor when the government bought hundreds of acres and erected a huge powder plant there. Within a year the enterprise was virtually abandoned and now Model City has sunk into wonted slumber again.
A truck with the name, Tugwell, on its side evoked the remembrance that nearby Wilson on the lake is the boyhood home of Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the original Brain Trusters of the New Deal and that his kin still live in the neighborhood.
The shadows lengthen across the old trail. The six coach horses quicken their pace. They sense that their race is nearly run and that oats and rest await them in the mile-square town, in Lewiston, where the tavern lights are bright and cheery, where the Ridge ends on the bank of the broad Niagara.
Drums along the Niagara
LEWISTON is the Grand Dame of the Ridge.
She is a gracious old lady on whose shoulders many years rest lightly. In the lavender and old lace of her tranquil old age, she never forgets the linsey woolsey of her dangerous youth. She is the delight of the antiquarian, one of the most unspoiled villages in all the land. Bigger, newer, more bumptious towns may surround her. She is serene in the knowledge her place in history is secure.
Rochesterians, who in pre-war days, traveled the Ridge, bound for Canada, know Lewiston as the town on the international border. They will remember the long bridge in the shadow of the cliffs, flanked by the customs men of two nations; the tall Brock Monument gazing down from the old battle heights of Queenston on Dominion soil.
For me Lewiston will always summon memories of white colonial houses with green blinds and shining picket fences; of a history-haunted graystone inn; of a pioneer graveyard beside an ancient church; of a neat New Englandish village whose every corner murmurs of the past, where always one can catch, faint and far away, the beat of the war drums.
* * *
Before I visited Lewiston, I had read something of her past. J. B. Scovell dramatized it for me.
For an hour I sat in his office, one flight up, in one of Lewiston's quaint old buildings, and heard this slight, silver-haired lawyer unfold in vivid sentences the story of his native village.
He pictured the struggle for empire that for two centuries swirled around the river's banks. For the Niagara Portage was a key to domination of the trade routes of the New World and France and Britain contested long and fiercely for a strip of shore.
The French came first. In 1615, five years before Plymouth Rock, a Frenchman, Etienne Brule, was trading with the Indians on the site of Lewiston. As early as 1632, the place, as St. Louis, appeared on maps of New France. La Salle and Joncaire and others came to build forts and trading posts, to keep the fleur de lis floating over the frontier.
That flag came down in 1759 when the English won the portage and the fort at the river's mouth, only to lose them when they lost the Revolution to the colonists.
After the British finally turned over Fort Niagara to the young republic in 1798, Lewiston, named after Governor Morgan Lewis, was born as an American settlement. Because of its strategic location, it became an important frontier town.
In 1813 the heavy hand of war fell cruelly on the village. In bleak December, British and Indian allies landed from Canada, forced the outnumbered American defenders to retreat and burned every building in Lewiston—save one.
The Redskins scalped and butchered and the Redcoats burned and pillaged. Soon the Ridge Road was choked with homeless fugitives, a scene to be repeated, on a far larger scale, in 1940 on the roads of France.
Grim days dawned for the pioneers. In 1814 there were no crops to harvest. In 1816 the "black frost" spread ruin. Yet, somehow, within a few years after war's end, Lewiston and the other despoiled settlements had been rebuilt and had started life anew.
Then the stage coaches came and the railroad and the steam-boats on the river. Lewiston never became a big city, but through the years, she never lost her charm and dignity in a rapidly changing world. She was always the Grand Dame of Ridge and River.
And that in barest outline is the story of the mile-square town. But there are many sidelights.
* * *
An historical marker near the bridge between the nations tells where in 1764 was built "the first railway in America." It was an inclined tramway, constructed by the British for transporting supplies down the steep cliff. Indians supplied the motive power for its cars and were paid off in rum and tobacco.
Lewiston is one of three communities whose lots were laid out and sold by the State of New York. The others are Oswego and Watervliet. The state reserved as a village site a mile-square tract on the Niagara at the foot of the escarpment. Purchasers paid 25 per cent down and gave bond for the balance. Certificates of ownership were given only when the entire sum had been paid. To this day there remain three pieces of property in Lewiston on which this indebtedness has never been cleared. For a century and a half the state has been collecting its interest.
* * *
The one building the British invaders spared in 1813 was an inn operated by Thomas Hustler, and his buxom, ribald and jocular wife, Katherine. She was a prime favorite with the British officers because of her skill in mixing delectable drinks. In the cup she passed around was stuck the tail feather of a rooster.
Thus in a Lewiston tavern originated the term, "cocktail," as applied to a mixed drink.
A guest at the Hustler Tavern in its heyday was a young American midshipman who served on the Great Lakes prior to the War of 1812. Later he was to write a book that made him famous. In that book Kate Hustler appears as Betsy Flanagan and her husband as Sergeant Hollister. That book was "The Spy" and the erstwhile midshipman who wrote it was James Fenimore Cooper.
The Hustlers sleep in the old burying ground along with the great and the small of Lewiston. Some of the old headstones are tilted and many names have been nearly obliterated by the hand of time. Nearby is the stone Presbyterian Church, with four massive pillars, built in 1817.
There are scores of other historic buildings in the town. The war boom has brought Buffalo and Falls industrialists to live in some old colonial homes. In others dwell many descendants of the men who founded Lewiston.
* * *
The three-story stone Frontier Hotel, 120 years old, is redolent of history. There Lafayette stopped on his triumphal tour in 1826. There William Morgan is reputed to have spent some of his last hours on earth. From its front balcony boomed the oratorical thunder of Daniel Webster.
The Frontier Hotel should never, never change its name.
Lewiston has an international flavor. There are Canadian soldiers, money, license plates and dialect. After all, from almost any spot in town, the shores of Canada are visible.
* * *
Seven miles down river is Fort Niagara, over whose battlements have floated the flags of three nations, the old gray bastion that has changed hands five times in half a dozen wars.
La Salle built the first French fort, Conti, there in 1678. It vas rebuilt in 1723, renamed Niagara and enlarged in 1756. Three years later the English captured it, lost it after the Revolution, won it back in the War of 1812 and then turned it back to the United States.
A busy army post has been built around the old fortress, but the stone relic, unchanged, still faces the river and the lake. Furthermore it has been restored, just as it was in the days of New France. Its restoration was completed in 1934, with the cost jointly borne by the Federal Government, Erie County and the Old Fort Niagara Association. The colonial archives of France were combed that everything might be reproduced in authentic detail.
I had anticipated some difficulty in getting into the old fort, which is closed to the public during war time. I had no credentials other than my press card. The MP at the gate turned out to be a former Zanesville, Ohio, reporter; he said the right things over the telephone to the officer at headquarters and I soon found myself being escorted by a smart young sergeant through every corner of old Fort Niagara.
I saw the old drawbridge, hoisted with the weight of four great stones; the massive blockhouse, the underground passages of arched masonry, lighted with lanterns; the castle that was built by the French in 1725 in the guise of a manor house to deceive the Indians, with oaken doors, four-foot thick, yet so delicately adjusted that a child can open them.
I saw the great hall with its council room where Sir William Johnson signed the treaty with the tribes in 1764 and where during the Revolution, the table was heaped with American scalps the Tory war lords bought from the savages. I saw the old French bake shop, kitchen and chapel; the guard room and trading post, the prison where men slept on a sloping rack like those housing vegetables on a roadside stand today.
It is a treasure trove of history. After the war is over and the old bastion again is opened to public view, I earnestly recommend a trip down the Ridge to Fort Niagara. It is good for the soul to commune with the past.
On the drill ground where in their time marched the French, British and American fighting men, where on gala days, the old battle flags of the three powers are unfurled, I saw in July of 1944, some soldiers of another power. They were the "Super-men" of the Third Reich and across the backs of their dingy prisoner uniforms was stamped "PW."
Hitler's warriors of "The Master Race" were cleaning up trash!
* * *
This story must end, not at Fort Niagara,, but at Lewiston, where Center Street stops at the Niagara's shore, where the Ridge ends.
There the waters run deep and smooth and calm, the same waters that a little while before had tumbled over a great precipice in stupendous sound and fury.
Tall grass grows along the river where once the steamers docked at the port of Lewiston. There my red cocker spaniel was romping as merrily as she had around the lotus bed of Sodus Bay, at the other end of the Ridge, where my journey had begun. The old dog had not been with me all the way in touring the land of bays and blossoms, but she was there at the end, as at the beginning of the Ridge.
The little dog with the cabbage leaf ears and the big pleading eyes—and the most loyal heart in all the world—found both extremities entrancing.
You think it is frivolous and irrelevant to bring a little dog into this story of the Ridge?
Well, if the President of the United States in a major campaign speech, can talk about his Fala, why cannot I write about my Patty?
After all, she—like her master—is a year-around resident of the Ridge—five blocks removed.
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