Mother of Monroe
PITTSFORD, tidy, tranquil "white village" at Rochester's eastern portal, is a different sort of canal town.
Pittsford is no child of the Erie Canal. She was born in the 18th Century in the wake of the Revolution, when the Ditch was but a dream. She was a thriving settlement when Rochester was a miasmic mudhole.
She is the mother town of all Monroe County. She had the first school, the first library, the first lawyer, the first physician in what is now the County of Monroe.
A casual visitor today might dismiss Pittsford as just part of the city. Once all the present city east of the Genesee River was a part of Pittsford, when the village was the center of the mother township variously known as Northfield, Boyle and Smallwood.
To be sure, the digging of the Ditch made the village an important produce shipping port and spurred her growth. Yet Pittsford, of her own choosing, has remained a smallish residential village. Today she has no industries save a pickle factory and a flour mill. She wants no clouds of factory smoke, no babel of foreign tongues. Her population of 1,544 (1940 census) is a blend of city folk, many of them people of means, and of natives, many of them descendants of the New England settlers.
Only eight miles to the west roars an industrial city of a third of a million. Yet "The Mother of Monroe" has remained unsullied, immaculate and herself.
I like to think of Pittsford as "The White Village." She is like a white lily, lifting her stately head proudly amid newer, bigger, showier blooms in the garden of villages.
Ghosts walk "The White Village."
Over the old Seneca trail, Denonville's French and Indian legions march again as they did that July day of 1687, to encamp at the Big Spring on their way to battle the Keepers of the Western Door.
We see, too, the tribesmen stopping by the spring on their way from Irondequoit Bay to their villages in the hinterland in the days when all this domain was theirs.
The year is 1789 and the Stone cousins, Simon and Israel, Revolutionary veterans, build the first white man's habitation near that same Big Spring in State Street.
To later generations the site was known as Plumb's Pond and church baptismal rites were conducted there. Then the Barge Canal came and spring and pond went into its maw.
But when the canal is drained in the off-season, the Big Spring can still be seen bubbling out of its depths.
In 1790 other Revolutionary veterans followed the Stones, among them Capt. Henry Gale, sentenced to hang for his part in Shay's Massachusetts Rebellion and later pardoned. He was the great-great-grandfather of Zona Gale, the novelist, and in her lifetime the Wisconsin writer saw to it that the captain's grave in Pittsford cemetery was well tended.
The first physician, Dr. John Ray, arrives in 1792 and we see him riding the rough trails on horseback. Two years later the first schoolhouse is built south of the village. Some of the settlers own slaves and Negro youngsters sit with the white children in the little classroom.
In 1803 a library is established in the old house that still stands at the foot of Tobey Hill. The next year Simon Stone, the first lawyer, hangs out his shingle.
Then, in 1807, a pretentious three-story hotel with wide porches and a spring ballroom on its top floor rises at the Four Corners. It is called the Phoenix and stage coaches roll up to its doors. It's still there after 138 years, the ballroom is bone, so are the porches and it's known now as the Pittsford Inn.
What famous ghosts haunt that old tavern. There's De Witt Clinton, stopping there while exploring the route for his Ditch: then after the canal is done, there's Lafayette on his tour of 1825. The aging hero of the Revolution leaves the waterway at Rochester and is taken by carriage to Canandaigua. Rochester has no equipage fine enough, so it is the carriage of James K. Guernsey of Pittsford that bears the famous visitor southward. A few years later the silver-tongued Daniel Webster rides in the same coach and stays at the same inn. A night in 1826 sees another carriage pull up, men push a huddled figure into the dining room, eat hastily and depart. The mysterious guest is William Morgan, the Anti-Mason, abducted from Canandaigua Jail and soon to disappear at Fort Niagara.
A young pedestrian, Edward Payson Weston, stays at the inn in. 1867, without fanfare. Fifty years later the same moan, a world famous hiker at 84, returns, to the cheers of a crowd.
Gay dances in the old ball room, political rallies, florid oratory, fugitive slaves hidden in the cellar—few buildings hereabouts have the glamorous history of Pittsford's 138-year old inn.
When I visited Pittsford, workmen were completing the razing of the three-story building that once was known as the White Tavern and was built in 1818, beside the first Clinton Ditch.
The stately red brick house with the broad lawns at 52 South Main Street, now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore C. Briggs, was erected in 1812. Augustus Elliott, the distiller, built it for his bride-to-be, a daughter of the house of Penfield. She jilted him and Elliott never lived in the mansion. It has had several owners but it is best known as the Hargous house. When the family of that name lived there in pre-Civil War days, the spacious cellar hid many a fugitive Negro, bound for Canada and freedom.
In this village there are many mansions, few of them gaudy. There are many tasteful white Colonial homes and there are white picket fences in the New England manner.
Is not this village named after a town in old Vermont whence came many of her settlers?
* * * *
The first Ditch followed the line of the present South Street. Several houses on that thoroughfare stand squarely over the old bed. The enlarged Erie and the Barge Canal were built some distance to the east.
At the southeast corner of South and State Streets is a brick dwelling that was a canal grocery. The cellar door that was once at the level of the first Ditch is now bricked up.
Frank W. Pugsley, lean, kindly mayor of Pittsford, is also town and village historian. This former metallurgical engineer for the Hiram Sibley western mining interests, and before that a hand on his uncle's ranch in the Indian Territory, is a native son, a veritable mine of lore of the village and of the canal.
He is an "old canaller" himself. In his youth he briefly tended old Lock 62 which was just west of the village and one summer he was a flagman on the Exchange Street bridge in Rochester. His father, James Pugsley, tended a lock on the old Erie east of Pittsford.
From his father Frank Pugsley heard many a strange story of Erie water. The most fantastic is the tale of the fighting lice. Two canal men met in a Pittsford grog shop. Each had a pet louse which he had trained to fight. Each slapped his warrior down on the bar. The drinks were on the loser. A crowd watched the battle. Finally one tiny fighter emerged the victor. The proud owner fondly restored the champion to his person, ready for the next fray.
There were other canallers who on moonlight nights would tie up near a farmer's field, dig row after row of potatoes and flee with their booty. Others who, when farmers' ducks swam near their boats, would bait a line with, corn and haul in the birds.
The mayor told of an entirely different sort of canal character, a boat captain who would never run on Sundays, who attended church every Sabbath with his wife wherever his craft was tied up; who would tolerate neither profanity nor drinking in his crew.
Pugsley spoke of the painting done by the British artist, George Harvey, in 1837 which hangs in the State Historical Society's Museum in Cooperstown. It depicts a packet boat, drawn by trotting horses, rounding King's Bend, near Sutherland's woods, west of Pittsford. Historian Pugsley identified the scene for the state society when a New York art dealer listed the painting for sale.
* * * *
There's an oldtime canaller living in Pittsford, in the white house on Monroe Avenue next to the Village Building. His name is Tom Heaver.
For nearly a decade, during the closing days of the Erie, he was a captain and licensed pilot on the steam freight packets. There are few of those pilots left. Heaver served on the J. M. Wiltsie, owned and launched in Pittsford; on the C. H. Francis, the Lewis M. Lawrence and the O. B. Tanner. They plied mostly between Buffalo and Syracuse.
The broad-shouldered, good humored captain has many memories of the old canal days; of the time the Wiltsie nearly broke in two at its launching through a workman's mistake as it slid down the ways; of the grain boat built in Pittsford that swelled and burst years ago; of seeing dead mules and horses floating in the Ditch, tossed there when their shoulder galls were too severe to pass the inspection of the canal veterinaries; of crafty owners who put blankets on their animals to hide the sores, claiming the covering was to keep off flies; of fights on the Towpath, mostly caused by green horses or mules crowding.
Tom Heaver cherishes recollections of the last banquet of the Society of the Erie Canal, in Albion in 1939. Some 200 people were there but Tom and the late Dr. Frank Lattin of Gaines were the only bona fide canallers in the crowd.
The Society of the Erie Canal was conceived in a spirit of fun as a purely social organization. It was a "take off" on the august and dignified Society of the Genesee which before the war used to hold elaborate annual banquets in New York, with a dazzling array of white starched shirt front.
Membership in the Society of the Erie Canal is limited to those who worked on the waterway or lived on its banks or swam, fished or skated on its waters.
Let's hope that with the advent of peace the society will be revived. I propose Capt. Tom Heaver of Pittsford for honorary chief engineer.
By the way, I wonder if, by virtue of my tugboat ride, I am not eligible to membership?
* * * *
There's a Pittsford tale in which Heaver figures and which has naught to do with the Erie Canal.
Some 50 years ago when Tom and Dr. Irving Crump, the dentist, were young men, they were hired to dig a well in Locust Street near South. After getting through the Pittsford shale, a geological formation peculiar to the locality, they encountered thick rock which they blasted. Some 50 feet down they uncovered a natural cavern. A man could walk through it. The well diggers explored it with a lantern as far as the Four Corners, where it branched off. Then they quit. Nobody knows its extent. So this intriguing village has a secret labyrinth, too.
A notable native son was the late Admiral William F. Fullam, born in Pittsford in 1855. He served in the Spanish-American War and first World War. In the war of 1918 he was a member of the potent Navy Board and a pioneer exponent of the use of air power in naval warfare. He died in Washington in 1926.
In the 1830s, young Dr. Hartwell Carver began the practice of medicine in the village. He was no ordinary country doctor. He was a man with a dream—that of a transcontinental railroad. He bombarded Congress and men of influence with letters and personal pleas for thirty years. Finally in 1869 he saw his dream come true when the Union Pacific was completed. An imposing monument stands in fount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, erected by the grateful state of California to the "Father of the Pacific Railroad."
* * * *
In the sunshine of a perfect August afternoon—on a day when the Rising Sun of pagan empire was setting in the Pacific—Mayor Pugsley and I walked from Pittsford to Bushnell's Basin and return. We went by way of what once was the Heelpath and took the Towpath trail back.
We detoured a bit to visit the ghost port of Cartersville, a mile and a quarter from Pittsford. The Barge Canal bypassed Cartersville and only some farm buildings remain where once was an important canal and railroad shipping port. Gone are the warehouse, the docks, the basin, the big distillery with its tramway over the highway to the tracks of the Auburn Road. Gone are the pens beside the distillery where bulls were fed the surplus mash, fattened and sold.
Frank Pugsley recalled a night in 1878 when he was a young lad and from his home on Pugsley Hill, south of Pittsford, saw smoke billowing up from Cartersville. His father saddled a horse and was off for the fire. He came back with a tale of volunteer fire-men rolling out 200 of the 250 barrels of prime Genesee Valley whisky in the distillery, emptying some of their on the spot, until many a firefighter collapsed and not from smoke. Whisky was taken away in every kind of container. Meanwhile, the distillery, burned to the ground.
J. Sheldon Fisher of Fisher's, an inveterate collector of regional lore, who now lives in Pittsford, told me that the first locomotive for the Auburn and Rochester Railroad came to Cartersville by canal boat in 1842.
* * * *
Fast of Pittsford and north of the canal is the succession of low, humpy hills known to geologists as the Pittsford esker. The range, nearly a half mile long, is rich in deposits of pure gravel and has yielded many tons.
* * * *
West of Bushnell's Basin for about a mile stands what was called in the olden times "The Great Embankment." It is a magnificent monument to the men who built the canal.
Doubting Thomases said the canal could never be carried across the Irondequoit Valley. But in this first survey in 1808 James Geddes found the natural route and the canal, in its various evolutions, has never departed from it.
Gaze up at the great bank, 70 feet high, from the highway paralleling the canal on the north side, consider it was built by wheelbarrows, picks and shovels and you take off your hat to the men who made the Clinton Ditch.
In 1818 the stupendous four-year task was begun. The dirt for the great fill was taken from the nearby hills and fields—in wheelbarrows. Each barrow crew was led by a "pacer" and every man had to keep up with him. Residents of the neighborhood turned out to help the Irish and the other diggers and some of the region's wealthiest farmers in later years were heard to boast that they once worked on the Erie Canal for 75 cents a day.
Pugsley told how one Yankee contractor took the job at 10 cents a yard; sublet the contract for five cents and pocketed a small fortune without turning a hand.
At first the trough of the embankment was floored with heavy square timbers resting on piles driven into the soft earth. Historians differ on how long that lumber lasted. Later the aqueduct was lined with stone and when the Barge Canal was built, the trough was made of solid concrete, at tremendous cost.
The great fill has seen many breaks. The soil in the bank is, sandy; sometimes muskrats made the holes that sent the Erie waters rushing over the farmlands.
The most costly break came on the morning of Sept. 3, 1912 while the transition to the Barge Canal was under way. It was the scene of a similar washout a year before.
The old culvert which carried Irondequoit Creek under the canal suddenly gave way. A score of workmen had a close call. One was caught in the avalanche of earth and water but was lugged to safety by his comrades. Thousands of tons of water poured out on the farm lands, between the new steel guard gate at Cartersville and the old one at Bushnell's Basin.
Damage to machinery was heavy. Huge slabs of concrete were strewn along the line of the break. The washout came at the height of grain shipping on the waterway. State officials rushed to the. scene. The break was repaired in five weeks. It cost the state some $250,000.
Now at either side of the canal at the scene of that washout of 1912 is a manhole that leads down about 50 feet to a tunnel along the bank where the canal employes may check the Great Embankment for breaks.
* * * *
The Irondequoit Valley is picturesque as seen from the canal bank. The creek sings demurely at the base of the great fill; once it hummed with saw and grist mills. Only the mill house of Jaeschke, the last miller, remains along the route. The mill was razed when the Barge was built.
At the end of the Great Embankment, in the pleasant valley, lies Bushnell's Basin, once a teeming port, now a quiet hamlet.
It has a bit of summer colony air. City people have built modern cottages amid the century-old buildings. Youngsters in bathing suits were playing along the canal.
Turn back the clock a century and you see farmers' wagons lined up for half a mile waiting to unload their potatoes, grain and other produce at the docks. Bushnell's Basin, named after a pioneer merchant, was one of the busiest shipping points in the area. Wagons, laden with gunpowder, rumbled down from the Powder Mills, now a county park. They took back willow lumber slipped in for the Mills, for willow charcoal was a necessary ingredient for making blasting powder.
Two landmarks remain to tell of the Basin's heydey. One is a cobblestone warehouse, now a part of a vinegar works. It goes back to the first Ditch which once swashed against its back. The Barge takes a more northerly course.
The other landmark is the yellow and white, 2 1/2-story tavern building with the pillared porches across its front and the tall chimneys. Built in the first days of the Clinton Ditch, it was a famous canal hotel with a spring dance floor that swayed to tripping feet. Once it is said, the swell caused by a fast moving canal boat would send the Erie water surging into its taproom. Solomon Brodt kept the hotel in early days and in later years John Cossow. William Cogswell, founder of a prominent Rochester family, was born there in 1821.
A dozen years ago a nudist group rented the historic place and held forth there. But not for long. An aroused neighborhood, bred in the New England tradition, drove the nudists out. Now the old hotel, a charming relic of the past, is a private residence.
* * * *
It had been a memorable hike, the six miles from Pittsford to Buslhneil's Basin, and return.
Pugsley was as fresh as a daisy. The tired member of the pedestrian duo at journey's end was not the sinewy mayor of Pittsford.
It was yours truly, twenty years his Junior.
The Fair Port
ONE hundred and twenty years ago, the pioneers, for perfectly obvious reasons, named their canal spawiled village Fairport.
It is a fair port in it green land, this industrial-residential town that is 10 miles from Rochester by highway and 17 by canal.
It is a sort of milepost in our Towpath ramble. For one thing, it is the first village on the Main Line—pierced by the steel ribbons of the main line of the imperial New York Central, ancient rival of the Ditch.
At Fairport the contour of the land changes. The Towpath lies now in the shadow of picturesque hills, on the threshold of the mystical land of the drumlins. To me, a congenital hillbilly, the quiet ruggedness of the hills was a welcome relief after so many miles of flat country.
In this canal town, industrial history has been written through the years. Fairport might well he called an industrial laboratory. No atoms have been smashed, but a remarkable variety of products, some of them revolutionary in their time, have originated and been manufactured there. Packages bearing the label, "made in Fairport, N. Y." have found their way to far places.
Men of Fairport, skilled with their hands, venturesome, clogged, practical dreamers, wrought in little shops. They experimented through "long days of labor and nights devoid of ease." They invented and manufactured things and shipped them, in the beginning on the canal. Sometimes the little shops became huge plants and princely fortunes were made. Sometimes they yielded to changing times and vanished.
Some of the products that in other years made Fairport famous are no longer made there but the Main Line-canal town is still an important manufacturing center. And her industries still sprawl besides the tideless Erie water that made the town.
* * * *
This industrial village is also a community of neat homes and thrifty home owners. Fairport is a substantial sort of town, proud of its self-supporting municipal water and electric light systems. It has a sound civic spirit.
Many Rochesterians, among them junior and industrial executives, have recently bought homes in the village and are taking; an active interest in its affairs. Others, renters, merely work in Rochester and sleep in Fairport. The community has a considerable Italian-American population. There also are many descendants of early settlers in the town.
* * * *
Shunning the marshy lowlands where now the village stands, the first settlers of the Town of Perinton took to the southern foothills.
The earliest, Glover Perrin, after whom the township was named, settled in 1789 on the Wapping (Ayrauit) Road. More pioneers, mainly of the New England stock, braved the rigors of the frontier and a little community called Egypt was born in the hills.
In a lean year the settlers there had the only corn in the region and supplied other pioneers from near and far. So, knowing their Bible, they called the place Egypt.
In the loftiest hills, in the early days, there lived a band of squatters, so lawless and wild that they were called the Turks. Finally their more substantial neighbors ended this squatter sovereignty and the Turks departed. But there's still a Turk Hill in the Perinton range. Baker Hill, said to be the highest in the county, towers above it. Thirty years ago Bausch & Lomb of Rochester had an observatory there. Keck's Hill is the familiar scene of motorcycle hill climbs.
The peaceful grandeur of the Perinton Hills has been extolled by Thomas Thackeray Swinburne, the poet of the Genesee, in this verse:
* * * *
But we must away from the purple hills and back to the lowlands and the Clinton Ditch and the 1820's.
Before the canal came, what is now a village of some 4,700 souls was a scattering of seven log houses, a frame house and a block-house. In 1822 the packet Myron Holley threaded its way through the narrow Ditch and tied up at Bushnell's Basin. And Fairport was born.
It was the familiar story. The growth of Egypt in the hills was abruptly arrested and stores, houses, mills, warehouses, docks sprang up around the four canal bridges in the lowlands.
To the west of Fairport was Fullam's Basin, later called Fullamtown. It challenged the supremacy of Fairport for a decade and had the first postoffice. But soon the settlement around the present Main Street bridge absorbed Fullam's, as it did the eastern rival, Peters' Bridge or Landing, later known as Cobb's. Farther to the east was Lyndon's (Knapp's) Bridge, once a busy place.
A footpath between the cabins of the Sperbeck brothers, John, on the site of the present Town Hall, and Martin, on the South Main Street hill, became the village's Main Street. Fairport men began building boats and operating them. As if touched by a magic wand, a bustling settlement blossomed beside the waterway.
In 1827 the whole community turned out for a three-day celeration incident to the raising of the Prichard Tavern. Walter Edmonds in his novel, Chad Hanna, has his hero spending part of his honeymoon at this inn. Later it was renamed the Fairport Hotel. The building, no longer a hostelry and remodeled into the Millstone Block, still stands on Main Street, a link with pioneer days.
* * * *
Perinton has an active historical society which has unearthed much lore of the town. Among its leaders are Mrs. Marjorie Snow Merriman, who lives opposite the historic site of Perrin's first cabin; Albert B. Hupp, civic-minded, retired business man; Miss Adelaide Clark and Town Clerk Charlotte Clapp. Thanks to the society's. researches, we catch these echoes of the olden time:
The east-bound canal boats sounding their horns at Fullam's Basin, the number of blasts denoting the number of fresh horses needed at the boat barns of Fairport—the first Hannan, James, settling in 1810 at what is still Hannan's Corners—The days when Perinton was the leading potato growing town in America—The district school on the Palmyra Road that one winter when the boats were "frozen in" was attended by canallers, who were so unruly a husky male teacher was hired—the Curtis Pond on the Macedon Center Road where baptismal services were held and the Sunday in 1850 when the wooden railing around the pond gave way, sending many into the water for an involuntary baptism—the entry in the 1835 account book of Tomlinson & Peters, early canal shippers, to wit: "For services while painting boat at Rochester, 6 days, $6; board while painting boat, 6 days, $3."
* * * *
The Historical Society collection of old documents includes a pamphlet dated 1828 and captioned in bold letters, "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it Holy." Signed by some 30 influential Western New Yorkers and adopted at a Rochester meeting of "Friends of the Fourth Commandment," the manifesto resolves that "we are of one heart and one mind on this subject and will use our best exertions to prevent the violation of the Lord's Day on the Erie Canal" and pledges that "we will give our business and patronage to such lines of boats as do not travel on the Lord's Day."
But still the horn of the boatmen continued to challenge the peal of the church bells on the Sabbath mornings of 1828.
Fairport's first industry, other than the inevitable saw and grist mills, was an unusual and short lived one. It was a mulberry grove at Main and Church streets for raising silk worms, with an adjacent silk factory.
In 1852 a former canal boat captain, Daniel B. De Land, established a saleratus plant on the banks of the canal. The next year the railroad that later became the New York Central was built. Both events were significant.
For many years the De Land plant was the village's principal industry and the De Lands the influential family. Cap-Sheaf soda was shipped all over the world and in the heyday of the industry, 200 then were employed by De Land's.
The business had a humble beginning. At first D. B. De Land drove a horse and wagon from house to house collecting the wood ashes that were ground by manual labor into baking soda. Meinbers of the family helped fill the packages.
After Daniel came Henry A. and later Levi J. De Land, to carry on the business. Henry, a leader in church and political affairs, built the $40,000 mansion that is now the Green Lantern Inn, Later it was the residence of Victor Holmes, who called it Villa Rosenberg, after a castle he knew in Denmark.
Henry De Land left Fairport to found De Land, Fla., and to help establish Stetson University there. In 1893 a disastrous fire swept the saleratus works. The industry declined but baking soda was manufactured in Fairport up to 1928 when Dudley & Co. made the last package of the Napoleon brand, closed its doors and wrote finis to one chapter of the town's industrial story.
Since 1865 proprietary medicines have been made in a three-story building beside the railroad tracks in Main Street. Once George C. Taylor shipped his bottles all over the world. Buffalo Bill Cody ordered Taylor's Oil of Life sent to him in Manchester, England.
Dr. Weare made condition powders for domestic animals and the Fairport Crystal Rock Water Co. briefly shipped out mineral water, procured from the Peddie Spring in the 1880's. Verily Fairport's products have been varied and unusual.
* * * *
The canal town had its day as a canning center, too. The Edgetts, pioneer canners, began the industry in Fairport in 1872 but it was the Cobbs, the "canning clan," Amos H. and his four sons, particularly George W., that developed it at Cobb's Bridge and along with it the food container business.
In the 1880's the making of cans was a laborious process, mostly hand labor, with tinsmith's shears, soldering irons and foot presses. A press cut a hole in the top of the can, the fruit or vegetable was pushed through the hole, the cap soldered on and the filled can immersed in boiling water. If the cans did not swell and burst, they were ready for the consumer's table. If they did—the canal was handy.
The Cobbs were not satisfied with this crude process. They pioneered in the use of the solderless, double seamed can and out of their faith and perseverance there evolved the Sanitary Can Company, which was sold to the American Can combine in 1908. The huge can plant sprawls along the north side of the canal today, a major Fairport industry. But the old Cobb plant by the eastern bridge, a cradle of the cunning industry, is only a storehouse.
* * * *
When Robert Douglas was a boy in Scotland, working in his father's marmalade shop, he began experiments in extracting the natural pectin from fruit to save labor and expense in making jams and jellies. A Frenchman discovered the process but it was Douglas who later perfected and patented it.
In time Douglas came to America and in 1907 to Fairport, where he bought the abandoned De Land saleratus works and established a vinegar plant. This plant at one time shipped one-seventh of the world's vinegar. But all the time Douglas was working with apples to perfect the pectin process.
In 1912 Lowell Cuthbert, who is still in the laboratories of the company, now Certo, Inc., a division of the gigantic General Foods Corporation, poured the first bottle of pectin. "It was murky, it was gooey, but it worked," he recalls.
It was in the old De Land office, the frame building that faces Main Street and looks like a dwelling. In the 1890s it had been the meeting place for the Fairport Band, of which Levi De Land was the chief sponsor. The leader at one time was Robert Wagnalls Sr., who as a member of the Marine Band of England, had played at the wedding of Edward VII to Princess Alexandria.
After victory crowned the Douglas experiment, the pectin was shipped out in barrels and large tins for the wholesale trade, largely to the jam-loving British.
A half million dollar fire swept the plant in Setpember, 1921. As one fireman recalls, vinegar was running over the firemen's boots." Most of the plant was destroyed, but the old office-laborarory was spared. Undaunted, Douglas and his associates rebuilt and began putting their product up in small bottles for the retail trade. In '1928 the business was sold to General Foods—for a matter of twenty-nine million dollars!
To his days of early struggle, Robert Douglas lived in Fairport. Later on, he removed to Rochester. His will left stock with a value of $8,000 to found the village's fine new library which was erected in 1937. A feature of the library is a striking mural depicting the town's history, done by Carl Peters, a local artist.
* * * *
Many one-tine mansions of the wealthy now serve the community.
The rambling Potter homestead with wide lawns, on West Church Street, built from early telegraph company investments, has been given to the village as a community house.
The former L. J. De Land residence on the north side of town is now the central building of the Monroe County Baptist Horne where elderly folk spend the twilight of their lives amid pleasant surroundings.
* * * *
After the Ditch crosses the Irondequoit Valley on the Great Embankment, it makes a sweeping swing to the north. The curve has been known from time immemorial as the Ox-Bow. The Barge Canal made it a vvidewaters and today, amid the cattails, clusters a colony of some 50 year-round homes on land leased from the state. In other days, Fairporters skated, swam, fished and picnicked there.
On April 28, 1871, a 510-foot-section of the canal bank gave ways at the Ox-Bow, because of a burrowing muskrat. The waters spilled over acres of land, carrying away bridges—and the canal. barge, Bonnie Bird. The boat was deposited against a tree, a mile from the canal. Neither the skipper, his wife, his steersman, nor a team of horses aboard was injured. The wreck stood in a field for many a year.
The washout drained the canal level between the Pittsford and Macedon locks and boats were tied up for miles along the waterway.
Workmen were rushed in to repair the break. They were a rough, hard drinking lot. When their demand for pay in advance of the designated day was denied, they rebelled, pushed horses into the canal, raised Cain generally. The 54th Regiment was called out from Rochester to put down the insurrection. The sight of the uniforms and the guns ended the trouble. The militia stood guard for several days until the break was repaired and their stay at the Ox-Bow was enlivened by the visits of the young women of Fairport who brought them cakes and lemonade.
* * * *
Frank Scribner, 79-year-old retired shoeworker, now living in Rochester, paints a graphic word picture of the Fairport he knew in his boyhood, in the late 1870's. He was born on the canal boat of his father, Oliver Scribner, in Hoboken. When Frank was three years old, his father moved to Fairport and opened a canal grocery at the Parker Street bridge. Here are some of Frank 5cribner's indelible memories of old Fairport:
The night barns his father ran opposite the grocery, barns that housed ten teams in the days before the canal boats were equipped with stables for extra horses or mules and when they had to tie up every night—the mules, the minute they were unhitched and wherever they were, rolling over and over, often into the canal—sometimes his father sold a horse to replace a drowned mule and oddly matched teams hauled boats out of Fairport—the winter that saw 17 canal boats "frozen in" and the spoon-bowed ice breakers that made a path so they could tie up to the horse bridge—the sad day when two young girls and a boy from one of the boats went skating on the thin ice of Clark's mill pond and were drowned—the Chadwick warehouse bulging with produce—sometimes 15 boats loading at the docks—the cooperage shops, the wagon factories, the great tiers of apple barrels, the potatoes shipped loose in the barges, lined with lath and packed in straw—the New York buyers arriving in the fall—the old Osburn House between the tracks, the leading hostelry of its day and the farmers leaving their horses in its barn while they took the train to the city—that was Fairport in the 1870's.
* * * *
Old timers will remember Marion S. (Cap) Kelsey, for fifty years a canal boatman, and the owner of steam freight packets and excursion boats. He resides in Rochester now but during his canal days lived in Fairport, one of the six Kelsey brothers. Marion and S. Roy followed the canal.
Among the Kelsey boats were the Whipple, the M. P. Brown, the Ruth and the William B. Kirk. They carried many an excursion in the halycon 90's before the motor age. Their names evoke memories of moonlight excursions and of young voices blending in old refrains; of sedate Sunday-school picnics to Ayrault's Woods, east of Fairport, where the spring water was so cool; of noisier parties where no water was drunk; of the Fairport ball team and firemen visiting Palmyra and the other canal towns by boat—while the band played on.
There were the other boats owned by Fairporters—the Jessie, captained by Ed Hurlbert and later by Henry Van Wagenen; D. O. Worden's speedy Wanderer; H. H. Buckley's Dora; the Rambler, that transported cannery employes to Fairport from other canal towns in the busy season; the private yachts of the De Lands and the Cobbs. Now they are all gone; sunk, burned, rotted and rusted away and there remain as "Cap" Kelsey sadly put it, "only the memories of the good old days."
* * * *
Charles Joseph (Joe) Bieler is probably the world's oldest trapper. Little Joe will tell you he is 96 years old and that this winter, as he has for 80 years, lie will run his line of traps again to Shortsville, 20 miles away. Joe works in his garden from dawn to dusk in the summertime and boasts "There ain't a weed in it." Joe has served as constable and because he bought cherries once for a cannery, he has been called "The Cherry King."
A few years ago he was run down by a car and people thought Joe would never recover. He was back in his garden in a few months. A Fairport artist, Mrs. Carmen Peck, has painted Joe Bieler, coming down the road with his hoe over his shoulder, a wisp-like but indomitable figure.
* * * *
Probably Fairport's most exciting time was the night of Oct. 20, 1920. The affray has been mistakenly called "The Fairport Riot." It was no riot. It was a village defending itself against armed invasion.
The Saturday night before there had been a fight over a girl between visiting Rochesterians and local youths at a dance in the Town Hall. The city gang vowed revenge. Five nights later, six auto loads invaded the peaceful village. Each wore a handkerchief on his wrist for identification. They were armed with clubs, ice picks, bottles and ax handles. They were known to city police as "The Central Avenue gang."
The villagers, warned of the invasion, halted the cavalcade on the main street, gave battle and routed the Rochesterians. Fairporters grabbed guns and every other kind of weapon. East Rochester and Pittsford men poured in to join the battle. A riot call went out and police cars sped to the scene.
The unwelcome visitors returned. Gun fire crackled in the crowded street, and a Negro youth, one of the invading party, was killed, Soon Fairport had routed the second invasion. Sixteen Roclhesterians were rounded up and arrested. There was an exciting trial and a half dozen men served time in the "Pen." The incident is well remembered, after 25 years, both in the city and the village.
Before I left Fairport, I took another look at the lift bridge that straddles the canal at Main Street. It probably is the most unusual one along the Ditch. It is not only built on a slant but also "cut on the bias," so that when it is up, it shuts off traffic on two streets, Main and West Avenue.
I spotted a little state tug, tied up east of the bridge. It is used in dredging operations up around Wayneport. I glanced at the name on its side. It was THE DE WITT CLINTON.
I had a chat with the captain, corpulent, good humored Austin "Snub" Huftill of Waterford. He's been on the canal for 64 years, ever since he was a boy of two. He puffed away on his pipe and talked of other, livelier times.
"There's too much talk about fights and rough times on the canal," he observed. "Those stories are exaggerated. I'd rather raise children on a canal boat than in a town."
The captain was mighty convincing. But I still think there may have been a fight or two on the old Towpath.
"Snub" Huftill knows every canal towm from Buffalo to Albany.
"Fairport? A good town. Just the sane as it always was."
And that's a canaller's accolade!
The Erie's Last Stand
WHO said the old Erie Canal is only a memory, and gone forever From the scene?
I'm afraid I did—much earlier in these pages. But that was before I had been to Macedon.
There "Erie water' is not merely a romantic phrase. At Macedon there's water in the old Erie and the ditch is still navigable—for small craft. I saw a pleasure boat, a "putt-putter," moored on the shore of the authentic Erie water in the canal town that hears the name of an ancient Grecian state.
The sepia-colored current rolls for some three miles through the channel that was dug a century ago. To the north is the broader, newer Barge Canal. To the south linger traces of the first Clinton Ditch. Macedonians speak of the 'three as is it they were separate waterways.
Erie water flows through the Erie ditch. Ghosts trudge along the old Towpath, shades of the blasphemous "hoggies" and the patient mules they drove. And out of the past coarse the booming voices of the captains, as their boats near the locks of Macedon:
Phantom craft ride the narrow current. There are log rafts, steam packets, excursion boats, the Green Fleet with its rich cargo of Western grain, the ale boat out of Syracuse.
The Towpath, following a trail of memory, winds through a mystical countryside. In this county, named after "Mad Anthony" Wayne, strange shadows fall, shadows of the drumlins, those knobby hillocks, some of them fantastic in shape, that are relics of the Glacial Age when the great ice sheet covered the land.
It is the realm of the "isms," too. Here among the drumlins, mystical new cults took strong root in frontier soil. Two of them lived to spread their doctrines throughout the world. But that is another story to be told in other chapters.
Maybe it is because the Erie water has lingered longest at Macedon that memories of the old canal are so vivid there. Maybe it is because Macedon was a "two-lock" town and smaller than her neighboring ports, and as a consequence the old ditch was of greater significance in her community life that the canal tradition is so enduring there.
And of course there are the tangible remnants, possessed by few other ports, the murky waters still flowing in the Erie; the masonry of the old locks east of the village, still sturdy, still defying the years and the elements.
* * * *
The Clinton Ditch made Macedon. In 1823, two years before the waterway was completed across the state, the township was set apart from Palmyra and that same year saw Wayne County created and named in honor of the "blood and guts" general of the Revolution.
The first settlement in the town was as early as 1789. The dawn of the 19th Century found a little colony at the crossroads at the present western limits of the village. It was called "The Huddle."
To the north was Macedon Center, with its Quaker pioneers. The old academy founded by the Society of Friends and the second Quaker meeting house still stand in the hamlet that the railroads and the canal skipped.
When the canal was dug, settlement gravitated to the two locks, only a mile apart, and "The Huddle" moved eastward. For years the village was called Macedon Locks. The 17-mile lockless level that began at Pittsford ended there. Now Macedon is a one-lock town with modern No. 30 on the Barge Canal not far from the old hand-operated western Erie locks.
* * * *
For years travelers on New York Central limiteds have gazed out at the great, gaunt trestles and tanks at Wayneport and wondered why so important a train was stopping in "the wilderness."
For years Wayneport was THE coaling and water station on the Main Line, and proud trains that flashed by far bigger places all halted there. Nowadays water is caught "on the fly" and the Diesel powered locomotives that haul such trains as the Century no longer need to stop at Wayneport. But the freights do.
The Barge Canal attains noble proportions there, resembling a mighty river. There are a few cottages along the banks. From a bridge at the tiny village one can see the Erie ditch flowing quietly beside its more pretentious successor. The Erie water that begins there rejoins the Barge east of Macedon.
In the little cemetery north of Wayneport rest the bones of 26 laborers who died of the smallpox while they were building the Clinton Ditch.
And it was to Wayneport that in 1825 40 yoke of oxen hauled the canal boat that Sutherland Pattison had built beside his Red Mill at Farmington, the Quaker village three miles to the southward. Only this year flames devoured the 132-year-old mill, on the property of historically-minded Lewis F. Allen, whose grandfather came there by canal packet in 1848.
* * * *
The first Macedonians were from New England. But with the canal and the railroads came the Irish and many of them stayed to found families in the village. Macedon is in the center of a fertile farm belt. Swamps have been transformed into rich mucklands. Dairying is carried on extensively on the farms among the drumlins.
Once Macedon had an industry that for nearly 60 years was its commercial backbone. In 1849 Bickford & Huffman, who had started business in a smithy at the "Huddle," began making by hand the first successful grain drill in America. Earlier ones were clumsy affairs, releasing an uneven flow of seed. The Macedon product, known the world over as "The Farmer's Favorite," had fertilizer and grass seed attachments and was a boon to farmers everywhere.
Before the Civil War, the South was the best customer. The war ended that, but the drill plant flourished and shipped its products to such far places as New Zealand and Australia. The Macedon Agricultural Works trade mark was two sheaves of wheat, with the Biblical slogan: "As ye sow, so also shall ye reap."
It was a bitter day for Macedon when the drill company was sold in 1905 to a big combination and moved to Springfield, Ohio. Its importance to the canal town may be gauged by the fact that in its heyday it employed nearly 300 hands and that the present population of Macedon, according to the federal nose count of 1940, was 557.
One of the old factory buildings still stands on the main street. Macedon's principal industry today is the Grange League Federation food plant at the eastern rim of the village. It stands squarely over the first lock of the Clinton Ditch.
* * * *
I had a friend in Rochester who was born and spent his boyhood in Macedon. Clute Noxon, for years connected with a city brokerage firm, all his life cherished a sentimental attachment for his home town.
He was an able writer, particularly expert in yachting matters. In his later years, as a hobby, he was writing his recollections of his boyhood in the "two-lock town". One day last spring, he pressed a manuscript into my hand, saying, "Some things I remember about the old canal." Three days later my friend was dead, struck down by as truck in downtown Rochester.
I am going to share with you some of Clute's entertaining lore Of the old Erie. He wrote about how in pre-game law days the spring brought out the anglers with their nets to the waterway. "The nets were big enough to reach across the canal and when hauled in, they contained about every specimen of piscatorial life known to fresh water."
Clute Noxon recalled those lively long-gone winters when dozen canal boats were "frozen in" at Macedon. Locks and the canal folk made up a colony, called the Erie Social Club, which held many parties in which the villagers joined. There always was an entente cordiale between the canal folk and the Macedonians, stronger than in other ports. But the term, canal folk, did not include "hoggies."
Sundays in the 1880's the Macedonians would saunter to the locks to see the boats go through, just as in railroad towns the populace would turn out en masse for the 5:45. Sometimes they would help the locktenders pull the heavy gates. As for the boys, "we would run around like Huck Finns all week but come Sunday we were little Lord Fauntleroys to the last curl and buckle. So when we presented ourselves to the boat captains, we stood a better chance of getting a ride between the locks on that day."
And there were the canal groceries, redolent of herring and with horse collars hanging from the ceiling. "The one at the upper lock had a huge vat sunk deep into the earth into which was piped cold, clear water from a hillside spring. Boatmen, always on the lookout for good drinking water, came to know this Pierian port well."
There was one unscrupulous grocer who weighed the meat hook with the salt pork and whose counter was overlaid with oil cloth. "About midway in the oil cloth he cut a slit, so ingeniously that it was invisible. When a boatman laid out a ten spot to pay for some $4 worth of goods the grocer always managed to have plenty of silver among his change.
"Then counting it out slowly and carefully but taking care to lay it down on his side of the slit, he would say with a flourish as he shoved the pile across the counter: 'There you are, sir. Have a cigar and thank you.' The captain, elated with the cigar, would scoop up the change and go aboard, not knowing that anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50 reposed in the little cotton upholstered till.
"One captain had been victimized several times, finally detected the fraud and changed the name of his boat, substituting the grocer's name. For a middle initial he had painted the fattest hog that space would permit. This traveling advertisement was too much for the crooked merchant and he soon left for parts unknown."
Clute recalled that "outside of fires, elections and rounding up of hoboes, the most thrilling episodes in the town's life were when the timber craft put in an appearance at the locks. They were the bane of the locktender's existence and anathema to the other boat men.
"From 100 to 200 feet long, they crawled along under mule power. At a lock the tow had to be broken into sections and after being dropped to the lower level, reassembled. As there were five or six sections, locktenders would be on the jump for hour and traffic tied up either way. When the log rafts came, seven up and stud poker: ended in the shanties at the locks.
"As fast as the tenders could get the contraption through, by way of farewell and good riddance, they would throw the paddles wide open, producing a current that would scatter the sections and leave them drifting far apart. The raftmen would pole around trying to collect their disjointed craft, yelling imprecations while the other boaters howled in unholy glee.
"It was a great show while it lasted and the villagers, whenever they heard a raft was going through, made a bee line for the locks."
I have quoted liberally from Clute Noxon's manuscript because I think he has preserved a rare bit of Americana and if I may be pardoned a little personal sentiment, because I want to pay my humble tribute to the memory of a fine gentleman and my good friend.
* * * *
In Macedon I sought out Carl Gates, the watchmaker, who has spent most of his 80 years in the village. Physical infirmities keep him confined to his horse nowadays but his memory roves far back into Towpath days.
He recalled lively times when the boats were tied up at Macedon by breaks in the canal banks and the "hoggies," roamed at large, doing a bit of pillaging, while the other more substantial boatmen got temporary jobs in the town. Carl Gates told of the old groceries at the locks, John McCann's and Henry Ripley's among them; of the red Breese warehouse that still squats on the Erie bank and which held such huge stores of apples and potatoes in bygone autumns.
The old gentleman called to mind boyhood days when three blasts of a steam packet's whistle brought youngsters on a run to the locks, maybe to catch it glimpse of, and may be it ride on, such fascinating vessels as the Annie Laurie, the Advance or the ale boat from Syracuse.
* * * *
Down at Palmyra I chatted with big, 73-year-old William H. Cator, a life long resident of Macedon until his recent removal to the larger eastern village. For many years he ran the Macedon Hotel that burned down some years ago. His father was a lock tender on the old ditch and Will Cator briefly served as a deckhand on a scow that transported corn from Macedon to the Cobb cannery at Fairport.
"We had to pump her out all the time to keep her afloat. Later that old scow sank," and Cator chuckled as he said it.
In Macedon near Erie water lives John Cook, who has Indian blood in his veins and who is a helper around Lock 30 and keeps the grounds so spick and span. He showed me where the circus boats used to dock and where they pitched their tents. Oaken snubbing posts are still visible along the ditch. Cook remembered when Governor Theodore Roosevelt, then the youngish hero of San Juan Hill, came through by canal boat on an inspection trip in 1899.
Tall, silver-haired Mark Harrington and his blue mariner's cap are inseparable. His father once drove mules on the old Towpath. Mark and his wife, the daughter of John Hamilton, a boatman, have many memories of the horse and mule days, of the excursion boats, of riding bicycles on the Towpath. Mrs. Harrington told of going out in a rowboat to sell produce to the canallers who sometimes tossed back the pay, stuck in a potato.
For 51 years Dr. Cyrus P. Jennings has practiced medicine in the canal town and with a keen and kindly eye watched the changing scene. He is still in harness. Among his thousands of patients through the years have been occasional canallers. A few years a middle-aged woman came to his door, announcing that he had brought her into the world in 1896—on a canal boat. The doctor recalled the incident and the neat home-like cabin of the boat.
Macedon well remembers another physician, Dr. Edwin M. Rodenherger, who died a year ago after practising for 55 years in the village. On July 3, 1936 Macedon was the scene of a gala christening, when the 38 foot cabin cruiser that the doctor had spent seven years in building, slid down into Erie water. The doctor was then 76 and had put all his leisure time in the building of his boat, sided by his daughter, Beth. For many happy Summers he sailed We canal and Great Lake waters.
* * * *
I think the typical "Canal Town" is Macedon, the old "two-lock town," in the shadow of the drumlins, by the River Ganargua chat some call Mud Creek, beside the eternal Erie water.
The Grand Dame
DOWN Macedon way, I heard Palmyra referred to as "Pal." It seemed almost sacrilege, like calling Plymouth Rock "Plym" or Bunker Hill "Bunk."
No diminutive fits so stately, so distinctive a village as 156-year-old Palmyra, the Grand Dame of the Towpath.
Samuel Hopkins Adams made the Wayne County village the symbolic "Canal Town" of his novel of that name. But Palmyra is much more than just "Canal Town." The canal is only an incident in her compelling history.
It was the spring-fed Ganargua River and no man-made ditch that brought the first settlers to the drumlin land. De Witt Clinton's name is not on her certificate of birth. He was an unknown stripling of 20 when the town was horn. Palmyra was an up and coming frontier settlement long before the Clinton Ditch was dug. A decade before the canal came, her broad main street was the drill ground for the militia in the War of 1812.
Palmyra, named after a city in ancient Syria, is drenched in history and glitters with the glamor of great names.
It was there that an obscure and unlettered farm youth named Joseph Smith dreamed a wondrous dream of golden plates hidden in a drumlin's breast. Out of that vision sprang a powerful church.
Today a towering white shaft on the Sacred Hill Cumorah marks a world shrine for thousands of the Mormon faith.
The blood of Palmyra pioneers throbs in the stout heart of Winston Churchill, that grand old warrior who rallied England in her darkest hour—when she stood alone and the fate of civilization trembled in the balance.
On a side street under the brow of Prospect Hill stands the buff and brown house where 105 years ago William T. Sampson was born. That Palmyra boy became the famous admiral of the War with Spain and today a huge naval center on Seneca Lake that trained tens of thousands of Bluejackets for World War II bears his name.
Years ago another youth began his career in Palmyra carrying parcels in a paper bag, on foot. His name was Henry Wells and he became the co-founder of the Wells-Fargo Express Company that carried tons of parcels to the ends of the earth.
Do you think a town with such traditions should be called "Pal"?
* * * *
Palmyra is a breath from the long ago. More than 100 of her buildings are at least a century old. Historic inns, stone warehouses and gray old buildings along the Towpath, tasteful, substantial, mellow brick residences, Colonial homes with pillars, fan windows, old fashioned blinds and classical doorways tell even the casual visitor that this is no "Johnny Come Lately" town.
Palmyra has a Canandaigua-like air, a flavor of New England, with a touch of the Hudson Valley and a dash of the Old South, too. The mixture is altogether charming and spells an antiquarian's paradise.
But despite her stateliness and her aura of great age, Palmyra is a factory town—with none of the usual attributes. She is a one-factory town and the Garlock plant, largest manufacturer of steam packing, in the world, stretches along the railroad track, a respectful distance from the historic homes.
The industry draws its labor from all over the region. For Palmyra's official population is 2,709 and the Garlock plant has 1,600 employes. Incidentally, Palmyra's population is nearly 100 per cent native American.
* * * *
Ganargua means "where the village sprang up" in the Indian tongue. And it was beside the narrow river (also known as known Mud Creek) that Palmyra had its beginnings.
The Ganargua undergoes several transitions in its journey from the Bristol Hills to Three Rivers, where it joins the Oswego River. Around Palmyra it now is a part of the Barge Canal, thereby eliminating an oldtime flood hazard. At Lyons where it unites with the outlet of Canandaigua Lake, it becomes the Clyde River and later, the Seneca.
The surveyors, John Swift and John Jenkins, came from Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley to the region in March of 1789. They reared a shanty, the first habitation of white man in the neighborhood. The next year Swift returned and built the first covered log house along the Ganargua at the eastern edge of the present village.
The tall, soldierly figure of John Swift dominated the pioneer scene. He was the first citizen in every sense of the word, influential in business, in politics and in war. He built mills at what is now Main and Canal Streets and the settlement was first known as Swift's Landing or Swift Town. Later for a brief time it was called Tolland.
When the war clouds darkened the frontier in 1812, Swift, a veteran of the Revolution, drilled the raw militia on the main street. He became a general and fell at the battle of Queenstown Heights in Canada, treacherously shot down by a British prisoner of war.
He sleeps, with other pioneers, in the old burying ground on an eminence that overlooks the canal. The American Legion post keeps the historic cemetery in shape.
* * * *
After Swift, other settlers came in boats up the Ganargua, to dwell on the creek bottoms east of the present village. A colony of Rhode Islanders arrived in 1791 and ten families of Long Islanders the next year. Among the Rhode Islanders were the Durfees, who planted the first apple seeds and Weaver Osband who developed the Osband pear. Another was David Wilcox, the great grandfather of Winston Churchill.
Some of the pioneers, following a trail of fresh horse prints, came upon a cabin in the thick woods. Its occupant, probably the first white man in those parts, was clad in rough clothes. But he was a man of obvious breeding. Skins about the place told his occupation. He had hunted and trapped there for nine years with no near neighbors save the Indians.
"William Fleming is my name," he said in a cultivated Eng1 isle voice. Then to the amazement of the settlers, he began quotes verse:
Shortly William Fleming vanished. The country was becoming too settled for him. Doubtless he sought some new "strange and savage land."
The pioneers erected a blockhouse in 1794 on Wintergreen Hill when fears of an Indian uprising alerted the thinly populated frontier. Wayne's victory in Ohio ended that threat.
The Durfees entertained a royal visitor in 1796 when Louis Philippe, later a king of France, stopped on his tour of the backwoods.
The next year the name of the town was changed to Palmyra because, so the story goes, Daniel Sawyer wanted to impress his schoolteacher sweetheart with his knowledge of ancient history.
* * * *
By 1812 Palmyra was a considerable settlement with a tavern, a church, a distillery, several stores, mills and shops. It also had two schools, one for children of Federalists, the other for the Republicans, so bitter was the political feeling of the time.
Then the canal came and things began to hum. The pioneer packet boat, the Myron Holley, was built at Palmyra. So was the Twin Brothers, named after its owners, John and Levi Thayer.
But tides of history other than the backwash of Erie water were surging across the land of the drumlins.
* * * *
Palmyra is widely known as the birthplace of Mormonism although the hill of its nativity is just over the line in Manchester, Ontario County.
In 1816 Joseph Smith Sr. came to Palmyra from Royalton, Vt. with his wife, six sons and three daughters. The third son, a towhead, was Joseph Jr. Early Wayne County historians were not kind to the Smiths. "Shifty and shiftless" are among the milder adjectives applied to them.
For two and one-half years the family lived in the village where the father peddled gingerbread and root beer in a hand cart. In 1818 they moved to a farm south of Palmyra. There Joseph had his vision. Today that farm is owned by the Mormon Church.
The rest is familiar history; the "discovery" of the golden plates with their revelations in 1827 and the printing of the Mormon Bible in Palmyra three years later. That same year saw the hegira of the faithful westward under Smith; first to Kirtland, Ohio, and then to Nauvoo, Ill., where the leader was killed by a mob. Brigham Young, the bearded former Mendon glazier and stone mason, took over the command and led his people across the desert and the mountains to found a virtual empire beside the Great Salt Lake.
Of the Mormon host that followed Smith westward, only thirty came from the Palmyra locality and once when Sidney Rigdon, the Mormon preacher, sought recruits at a rally in the village, his audience was small and unsympathetic.
Is there not an old adage about a prophet and his own country?
Despite Joseph Smith's background and obvious faults, this farm lad who founded a mighty church must have possessed qualities of leadership and magnetism.
* * * *
Now the magic hill of his dreams is a shrine of the church and each summer a pageant of impressive beauty is held at the towering monument. And the old Canandaigua road is clogged with automobiles, many bearing Utah license plates.
During Pliny T. Sexton's lifetime, he would not sell the Mormon Hill property to the sect although he allowed the Mormons to visit their sacred ground at will. On Sexton's death, the property was sold to the church with the proviso that the Latter Day Saints buy also the former Grange Hall in Cuyler Street, Palmyra. It still is their church and services are held there regularly.
For nearly 40 years now the Mormons have maintained a colony of some 75 to 100 members at the Sacred Hill and the Smith Farm. They are a carefully selected group, mainly train the mother church, and each serves about five years. Among them are missionaries. The Mormon children attend the village schools. Some of them are outstanding athletes and students. Elder Willard Beam, who headed the first contingent and who remained as leader in the area for 25 years, won a high place in the esteem of tolerant Palmyra and at one time was president of the village Lions Club.
* * * *
Remember one David Wilcox among the Rhode Islanders who came to the green valley in 1791? He had a comely daughter, Clarissa. One day around 1820 she went to the door to give a drink of water to a thirsty hunter from Massachusetts named Ambrose Hall. It was love at first sight. Hall came back the next year, to stay and to marry Clarissa Wilcox. For years they lived in the village on the approximate site of the bandstand in the park.
They had six daughters. One of them, Clarissa, married Leonard Jerome. Another, Caroline, married Leonard's brother, Lawrence. The Jeromes were prosperous young farmers who had come from Pompey in Onondaga County to live on a farm north west of Marion. They were dashing, handsome chaps with a liking for goad horseflesh. The old Jerome place is still standing.
The Jerome brothers did not stay long at farming. They moved to Rochester, then to New York, where they amassed wealth. Leonard became a publisher, a patron of the arts, a race track owner, a diplomat and a world traveler. One of his four daughters was Jenny Jerome, a dark-haired beauty. Jenny met a titled Englishman, Lord Randolph Churchill, at a ball on the moonlight-bathed deck of a British man of war. He danced with her again and again. They fell deeply in love and married despite some parental objections.
To the son of the Duke of Marlborough and the granddaughter of Ambrose Hall, the thirsty backwoods hunter, a son was born, whom they named Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill.
The Lawrence Jeromes, by the way, had a son who was much in the headlines around the turn of the century. William Travers Jerome, the colorful district attorney of New York.
The little office in Palmyra's Market Street, where Lady Churchill's uncle, Hiram K. Jerome, practiced law, has only recently been torn down and old timers remember hearing their fathers and mothers tell of visits Jenny Jerome as a girl paid to her Palmyra kin.
Winston Churchill has one trait that is decidedly un-English—a streak of audacity. Perhaps that is a heritage from his ancestors who were pioneers in Wayne County. New York, and from the American grandfather who was wont to take bold chances in the stock market and at the race track.
* * * *
It was more than a century ago that Henry Wells began carrying parcels around Palmyra on foot. Soon he made enough to buy a horse and wagon. Then he married a Palmyra lass, Sally Daggett. In 1845 he formed the express agency of Wells and Company and later joined forces with Henry Fargo. Again the rest of the Horatio Alger tale is history.
* * * *
In 1840 William Thomas Sampson was born in the old house at Vienna and Johnson Streets of sturdy Scotch Presbyterian stock. A slim, shy, industrious boy, he trudged to the little stone schoolhouse on Throop Street, did odd jobs, helped his father in the garden, was an ordinary village lad of his time and circumstances. When he was 17 he won appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Right after his graduation, the Civil War broke out and Wi11 Sampson became a midshipman on a frigate. Thereafter his climb up the ladder was steady and sure. He became a recognized authority on tactics and technical problems so that when Uncle Sam declared war on Spain, Sampson was given command of the North Atlantic Squadron with the title of rear admiral.
When the fleets joined battle in Santiago Harbor, Sampson chanced to be eight miles away on his flagship, bound for a conference with General Shafter. Winfield S. Schley took charge in Sampson's absence. The American fleet scored a smashing victory and there ensued a long controversy as to whether the credit belonged to Sampson or to Schley. In the end it was conceded that the battle followed the carefully laid plans of Sampson even if he were not present to direct it.
In 1899, bearded, aging Will Sampson returned for a visit to the town where he had been born, spent his boyhood and courted his first wife, Margaret Aldrich. Palmyra gave him a hero's welcome, with an arch over Main Street, flags, music, parades and oratory.
The admiral died in Washington in 1902. The following year the Navy Department sent to Palmyra the 14 centimeter gun that Sampson's fleet had captured from a Spanish man of war. It stands silent sentinel in the village park today.
It is recalled that the gun came to town on a flat car and was hauled from the railroad station, a mile away, to the village, by a threshing machine.
* * * *
A distinguished Palmyran, who stayed in Palmyra, was the late Pliny T. Sexton, son of a sturdy Quaker father who in 1827 built the old brick house on Main Street. A blue marker there tells that it once was a station of the Underground Railway. Pliny, the younger, became a lawyer, a banker, a chancellor of the state Regents, and the village's benefactor.
He gave Palmyra Sexton Park, the twenty-acre wooded picnic spot on the hill south of town. He also gave the Union Club, still a center of communal activities, and the adjacent park on Main Street. Sexton believed all civic groups should be merged into a Union Club. He provided the meeting place and when the rooms were outgrown, motion pictures were shown twice a week in winter in the old Opera House and in summers, crowds in the park watched the screen on the brick wall of the Union Club.
* * * *
Palmyra owes much industrially to Olin J. Garlock, who in the early 1880's, cut up a piece of fire hose to stop the leak in the stuffing box of the steam engine he was tending in a little saw mill at Port Gibson. He made rings of the hose, then after soaking them in oil, put them in the box. They stopped the leak and needed no replacing for many days.
The first packing for commercial use was cooked in a kettle and was made of duck and rubber belting. Out of that grew the great steam packing industry.
Palmyra has had other industries among them two plants that made printing presses and rival packing factories.
There also was a rope- factory, called a "rope walk," which in the 1850's, when the New York Central was built, made a giant rope 2,000 feet long to haul the engines up hill in Albany.
* * * *
State Senator Henry W. Griffith, whose father, Frederick W., also was a senator and a member of the triumvirate that built the Garlock industry, took me on a tour of Palmyra with an eye to canal lore.
We saw the "cross-over bridge" that once carried the Towpath from one side of the Ditch to the other and that now spans the Ganargua, west of the village. It has a circular rail on one side so that the tow rope would slide over it without catching.
We visited the old "Aqueduct," where the modern locks now stand and where the stocky, chain-smoking, likeable senator said he learned to swim. He called to mind the night of July 3. 1929, when heavy rains undermined the power house there and left it tilted at a crazy angle. The boys of the village, celebrating the eve of the Fourth, had been tipping over sundry outbuildings that night and when the superintendent of maintenance saw the power house upset, he exclaimed: "What will those young hellions do next?"
Senator Griffith showed me the remnants of the locks of the first Clinton Ditch, in a pasture east of town. One can see evidence there of the three canals, side by side. To reach the spot, we had to crawl through a barbed wire fence. The Senator did it much more gracefully than I, despite our almost equal age and my early training in such matters.
* * * *
Dominating the Main Street scene is a steel pole that is 150 feet high. It is a Republican pole and it rose in 1892 during the second Cleveland-Harrison campaign. The Democrats raised a wooden pole that same year. They won the election but their pole did not last. The GOP pole raising was a great occasion. Marching, clubs and bands came from nearby communities.
I don't think any village has a higher pole and few have so wide a main street, Canandaigua and Newark excepted.
"Believe It or Not" Ripley has taken due cognizance of the four churches, one at each corner of the intersection of Main, Church and Canandaigua Streets. It is said there's no four corners like it in the nation.
* * * *
Lanky, jovial 82-year-old Edward W. Tappenden, a resident of Palmyra since he was 10 days old, has many a title of Towpath days. "Tapp" spoke of Franklin Lakey's warehouse where some 70 years ago everything was sold "from a rat pelt to a yoke of oxen," Lakey also Operated a tannery, a silk factory and a distillery. Whisky was $1 a gallon in those days. He also dealt in cattle, sheep and hogs and Irishmen tended them in the barns along the canal. Sheep hides once were worth more than mutton and half a sheep could he purchased for 25 cents.
"Tapp" recalled the lurid days when there were 32 saloons in the village, most of them on Market and Canal Streets, and the old tall house, only recently razed, was a busy place.
* * * *
There is the tale of the inebriate, a well known villager of the time, who, in his cups, visited a livery stable and ordered a special equipage to take him home. He demanded and obtained a team of splendid black horses hitched to a hearse with nodding black plumes. Thus he rode in state up Main Street to his home—stretched out luxuriously in the carriage of his desire.
* * * *
Other landmarks of Palmyra: The fair which just closed its 90th annual showing with Governor Dewey a guest of honor. A genuine country fair, it has entertained generations of Western New Yorkers, surviving wars, rationing and the changing customs that killed off so many others. And mind you, it is not the Wayne County Fair. It is and always has been the Palmyra Fair … Cannon Hill on the west side where the guns boomed out the tidings that the Grand Canal was open in 1825 … the 111-year-old hotel beside the tall steel pole. It has been variously known as the Eagle Tavern, the Nottingham, the Powers and the Palmyra. Once the massive pillars extended down to the street level and once some poker classics were staged there. The old yellow brick inn to the east, now known as Sellen's and once also called the Eagle, also is of great antiquity … There's the square, lemon-colored Carleton Rogers mansion on Cuyler Street, housing the rare documents and volumes of the Historical Society, presided over by Mrs. C. J. Ziegler. It was there that Samuel Hopkins Adams obtained much of the historical background for his "Canal Town." On the wide lawn are many unusual trees, including a "Tree of Heaven" from the Orient.
* * * *
Palmyra carries her many years with grace and with the dignity befitting a Grand Dame. She is pardonably proud of her heritage of tradition. Few villages have so rich a background.
She is not haughty. At heart she is downright friendly. In Palmyra villagers, youngsters among them, speak cordially to the stranger on their streets, the stranger they have never seen before.
I think it is a gracious custom and worthy of emulation.
So maybe it's all right, after all, to call the Grand Dame "Pal" —if you say it with affection and a note of reverence.
To Chapter Listing
To Next chapter
To On-line Books Page
To GenWeb of Monroe Co. page.