Of Rappings and of Roses
NEWARK is one of the most pleasant and flourishing villages upon the Erie Canal. It … is a place of manufacturing enterprise, has a population of 1,700 and commands the trade of a wealthy agricultural community.
Turner wrote those words in 1852 in his History of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. Change the population figures to 9,646, underscore the word "flourishing" and the description holds good today.
Newark was the most populous, busiest, most virile village I encountered in my 1945 prowl along the old Towpath. Although officially it's a village, it really is a dynamic little city—and is laid out like one.
When I visited Palmyra, the stately 156-year-old neighbor that I like to call the Grand Dame because of her wealth of tradition, a well bred voice of the old regime there dismissed upstart Newark with:
"Busy, yes, but then Newark is a new town."
Newark's answer to that would be a shrug of strong and shapely shoulders and a blithe "I should worry." At that she is not so new. She is the exact age of the Clinton Ditch that has flowed through her heart for 123 years and that nourished her in the formative years.
Traditions of bygone glory don't count much in the Newark scheme of things. She is pretty busy, thank you, minding her own business. And she has such a lot of business to mind, so many things to make and grow and sell, so much new business to go after. Buoyant Miss Newark is frankly "on the make." Her eyes ever on the future, she will march sure-footedly through the new Atomic Age.
Even as in 1852. Newark today "is a place of manufacturing enterprise." She produces, among other things, canned goods, paper containers, furniture, shrubs and nursery plants. Her mail order business is stupendous. Newark's Post Office handles annually a volume of mail equal to that of a city of 50,000.
And let it be remembered that Newark is America's "Rose Capital," boasting the largest field of growing roses in the world.
Newark annually exports whole forests of trees and enough flowers to fill the gardens of eight states. Evergreens, shade trees, shrubs, fruit trees are shipped by the thousands to all points of the compass. Every day is Arbor Day in Newark, N. Y.
Today, as in 1852, Newark "commands the trade of a wealthy agricultural community." That has always been the keystone of her commercial arch. She is in the heart of one of America's most fecund countrysides, abounding in rich mucklands and orchards, as well as nurseries. Not for nothing did the pioneers name this township Arcadia.
Newark is a trading center for 52,000 people and the hum of her busy marketplace almost drowns out the voices of the past.
I say almost—for still heard around the world are voices, not of this earth, strange rappings on the walls of a little house on Newark's outskirts that first were heard in 1848. Those supernatural knockings gave birth to the great Spiritualist Church, twenty years after the equally fantastic beginnings of Mormonism on a Palmyra hillside.
You think it strange that in such a practical, earthy town the voices "from beyond the grave were first heard. Remember that Newark lies in the shadow of the drumlins, in the Mystical land of the 'isms.
Despite her concentration on trade and material matters, she is no ugly, grimy factory town. Newark is neat and orderly and her streets are wide and shady. Although her population is of many bloods, she has no slums. She has few pretentious mansions but many homelike homes.
All in all, she's a smiling, wholesome sort of lass, this sprightly Mistress Newark, with her market basket o'er her arm and rosebuds in her hair.
* * * *
It was no idyllic Arcadian land the first settlers cleared in 1791, but a tangle of woods and fever-laden swamp along the Ganargua River. In 1806 the three Lusk brothers bought a mile-square tract that included the present site of Newark. Neighbors were few and far between and the wolves howled in the dark forests. But the settlers planted seeds, cleared the marshes, hacked down the trees and waited for a better day.
That day dawned with the coming of the Grand Canal. The father of Newark was Joseph Miller, a shrewd Vermonter, who had the contract for digging 1 1/4 miles of the Ditch in the area. He bought 100 acres in 1819 from the Lusks, began laying out village streets and a public park and selling lots. He erected the low white house that still stands at 107 West Miller Street. He built boats in the canal basin near the present busy intersection of Union and Main streets and the booming settlement there became known as Miller's Basin.
The present Newark is a consolidation of Miller's Basin and Lockville to the east. It was named in 1838 and the origin of the name is obscure. Probably it was called after the older town in New Jersey. The Western New York Newark has always labored under the handicap of having the same name as a much larger and better known city. Besides, the situation has caused some confusion in postal circles.
Another version has the village named in honor of the English Viscount Newark, who in the early days was co-proprietor of the site under royal grant—and never saw his backwoods holdings.
From the beginning Newark was a center of trade and shipping. Produce-laden wagons from points as far distant as Sodus lined up at the busy canal docks. In pre-railroad days stages ran to Geneva. Newark's growth through the years has been steady and unspectacular. Her commercial supremacy was long challenged by the older towns of Palmyra and Lyons, but years ago they gave up the race.
* * * *
"Here, Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do."
It was a girlish voice that called out those fateful words on a March night in 1848, in a humble home at Hydesville, a cross-roads hamlet, 1½ miles north of Newark.
The girl, Katherine Fox, then only, 12 years old, and her sister, Margaret, 14, daughters of the village blacksmith, had been hearing mysterious rappings on the walls. These goings on bothered John Fox and his wife for the region was rife with rumors that the house into which they had recently moved from Rochester, was haunted—by the ghost of a peddler who had been murdered there and buried in the cellar.
Katy Fox decided to try to converse with the invisible one. When the rappings came, she snapped her fingers a certain number of times and bade "Mr. Splitfoot" reply. The ghostly tappings answered like an echo. After that she and her sister "talked" often with the wraith. A neighbor figured out a code and from the knockings gathered the information that the spirit was that of Charles B. Rosna, the slain peddler.
Then the girls reported sounds like a heavy body being dragged down into the cellar and of feeling a clammy, icy hand. The startling news spread through the countryside. The cellar was dug up but no corpus delecti found. The roads leading to Hydesville became choked with buggies, wagons and pedestrians, bound for the scene of the uncanny rappings. As many as 500 people flocked to the Fox home in a day.
Then the family decided to flee the haunted house and return to Rochester. A married sister, Leah Fish, took the two younger girls to the city on a canal packet. All along the way passengers kept hearing the weird tappings.
The rest of the tale is an oft-told one; how the Foy sisters gave seances and public demonstrations in Rochester's old Corinthian Hall, once to the accompaniment of mob threats; how the learned men of science debated the mystery. Most of them were skeptical but the Fox Sisters and "The Rochester Rappings" became headline news.
It was news that stirred the world and in many hearts was kindled the belief that the riddle of the ages had been solved, that at long last the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Thousands eagerly embraced the new faith called Spiritualism that was born in a humble blacksmith's home in a drumlin-fringed valley.
In 1915 the weatherbeaten little house was moved to Lily Dale, the shrine colony of the sect. Now a plain stone marker, nearly hidden by the tall waving golden rod, beside a fallen tree at the quiet crossroads, alone marks the birthplace of modern Spiritualism.
On the stone are carved words that ring like a trumpet blast:
"There is no death! There are no dead!"
Roses, as well as rappings, have spread afar the fame of Newark, N. Y.
The story of the roses began in 1873 when C. W. Stuart and his father-in-law, Albert E. Jackson, switched from their modest berry patches and sale of vegetable plants in the neighborhood to the growing of rose bushes. One of their first greenhouses was built from second hand windows obtained from a local church during a rebuilding program.
Today the Jackson-Perkins nurseries sprawl over the southwestern end of the village along Madison Street. There are two acres of experimental gardens, some 12,000 plants, 400 varieties of many hues, a riot of colorful beauty that has been viewed by thousands. The industry employs some 400 hands and maintains a herd of 300 cattle, largely for fertilizer.
Each June a two-day Festival of Roses is held in the "Rose Capital." There are parades, crowning of a Rose Queen, a grand "Moonlight and Roses" Ball and usually a visit by a celebrity.
You will find roses from Newark all over the earth. Dorothy Perkins blooms clamber over the walls of the garden of England's King at Windsor Castle.
Many of the varieties were developed by French-born Jean H. Nicolas for 10 years head of research at Newark. He died in 1937 and his ashes rest in the gardens he loved and where he worked. In peacetime the firm sends scouts all over the world, seeking new varieties. In 1939, two weeks before Hitler blitzed into Poland, Eugene Bohrer, Nicolas' successor, sailed from Europe with several rare species.
Charles H. Perkins, president of the company, told me he had learned a bitter lesson in the naming of roses. "Political names are out," he said. "We tried the Herbert Hoover, the Neville Chamberlain, the Al Smith and the Eleanor Roosevelt. We found out there's too much political feeling."
This year's featured bloom, a rose-pink hybrid tea rose, is called the Ernie Pyle. There will he no political discord over that name.
The Jackson-Perkins shipments, combined with the huge volume of nursery goods and cosmetics that emanate from that beehive of trade on Union Street called the Commercial Building, account in a large part for Newark's tremendous post-office business. Newark's C. W. Stuart Co. is said to be the largest retail nursery firm in America.
* * * *
For 80 of his 95 years, A. Eugene Williams has lived in Newark, 72 years in the same house in High Street. When I called upon him, the old gentleman was splitting wood in the basement. Newark's oldest male resident is a broad-shouldered, rugged man who has been an elder of the Presbyterian Church for 62 years, who boasts he never drank or smoked.
Williams is a story teller of rare talent. He thunders, then lowers his voice, he pauses, he gestures, for all the world like of Shakespearean actor. Here are some of the things he told me:
"When I came to Newark from Oneida County in 1865, there were no sidewalks, no street lights. From 1870 to 1877 I worked in my father's store along the canal where the gasoline station now stands at Main and Union. Later on I ran the store. I learned something about the canal and about canallers.
"Those 1870s were rough times and because there had been an epidemic of burglaries, I slept in the store nights—on guard, revolver by my side.
"One night I awoke to hear what I thought was the rasp of a hacksaw severing the iron bars on a basement window facing the canal. I grabbed the gun, stole down on all fours, my heart pounding. I crouched behind a post, prepared to shoot it out. Then I heard the same rasping noise in a different direction and spotted the intruder. It was a big gray rat."
I wish you could have heard the old gentleman tell the story.
Williams recalled the old line barns on the Towpath where horses and mules not stabled on the boats were quartered for the night; how the mules would roll when stripped of harness and how some captains had tan-bark strips for them to roll on.
"The mule, "Williams declared, "when properly taken care of, is the healthiest, hardest-working, most faithful of all draft animals."
He talked about the locks, how the boats ganged up there. Once a captain, held up by the congestion at the locks, ordered a sizeable bill of goods for immediate delivery. Williams put up the goods, tossed them into a democrat wagon, drove rapidly down the Towpath and delivered the order seconds before the customer's boat was locked through.
Few living men have had canal boats named after them. Williams is one. A friend of his father, a Newark captain, christened one of his craft, the A. E. Williams. "As was the custom, my father presented a set of lines to the captain. It cost him a pretty penny. No, I never knew what finally became of the A. E. Williams," said the nonagenarian, a little sadly.
* * * *
Miss Clara Prescott lives in the charming white colonial house on East Miller Street in which she was born 89 years ago. She is the granddaughter of Dr. Joel Prescott, who in Canandaigua in 1792 was enjoined by law from inoculating patients against smallpox. When her father, John Prescott, built the house, now in the heart of the town, friends chided him for "going so far out."
Miss Prescott has many memories of bygone days—of riding the packets as a girl, of taking visitors to the locks to see the boats go through, of seeing tobacco growing along Coulson Avenue in the 1880's. She has kept a scrap book for years. Through its pages old Newark marches in review through many decades. One name appeared in so many accounts of the business and social life of the town, drillmaster at carnivals, active in the Opera Club. That was C. P. H. Vary, still a part of the Newark scene, a hale old gentleman.
* * * *
Any institution that employs 80 people is important to any community. That's the normal roster of employes at the State School for Mental Defectives that is perched on Asylum Hill in East Newark.
It began as a Baptist school with a single building and four acres of ground. In 1873 the German Lutherans started a collegiate institute there. After three years, it was sold to private interests and in 1890 became an adjunct to what a less considerate age called the Syracuse Idiot Asylum for Girls. The school, now admitting both sexes, has been greatly expanded in recent years. Modern buildings spread over the hill which commands a noble view of the countryside. There are some 2,600 inmates.
* * * *
Other sidelights of Newark: German prisoners of war housed in the old high school on the park … Memories of the great blaze that swept East Newark in 1893 and of the Sherman Opera House fire of 1898 … the Warren murder of 17 years ago when a husband, wife and young son met mysterious death in their home which had been set afire, a crime never officially solved …
The old Bartle house built in West Miller Street in 1836 by James P. Bartle, pioneer merchant and boat owner, and torn down five years ago to make way for the new junior-senior high school. At its razing a legend that the tall hollow Corinthian columns housed relics of anti-Masonic days was exploded. Nothing was found in them but old newspapers. In the days of the anti-Masonic agitation Newark's lodge met there in secret. Some members wanted to turn in the charter but 16 remained steadfast and today the lodge is one of the oldest in continuous existence in the state.
Seeing the name Edgett on a cannery building recalled that Ezra A. Edgett in 1865 opened the pioneer cannery in the region. Eight years before at Camden he had canned the first green corn ever put up west of the Hudson. His "plant" was a row of cauldron kettles strung on poles … Newark also has the Comstock Cannery, second largest in the Empire State.
Another landmark is the Thomas homestead, a charming example of New England architecture, of brick with wooden wing and enclosed porch, which was built prior to 1831. Its present owner, Mrs. Martha Thomas Comstock, was born in that house which has been in her family for 90 years.
Seeing the many names beginning With Van and De, which told that the influx of Hollanders that peopled the Williamson-Marion region spilled over into Arcadia long ago … The name, Van Horne, on a sign recalled the blue-eyed, flaxen-haired girl from Newark who used to be University of Rochester correspondent for The Democrat and Chronicle and who went to New York and became a radio columnist. Only recently Harriet Van Horne was acclaimed as the outstanding woman Columnist of the metropolis.
The eight mile Newark and Marion Railroad, one of the shortest lines still in operation of the state. It once ran passenger trains but now only operates freights "on call" to link Newark with thriving Marion, in the heart of America's greatest celery-growing region. …
* * * *
In 1823 when Wayne County was set apart from Ontario, "the Mother of the Counties." the Grand Canal was in process of construction.
Canandaigua, the capital of the frontier, was not on the waterway and she foresaw the rise of pushing new rivals on the route of the Canal. So when the new county was formed, crafty Canandaigua saw to it that the boundary lines were drawn so that Ontario County would have a port just within her borders. Look at a map today and note the jog that places Port Gibson in Ontario County and not in Wayne.
So Port Gibson, Canandaigua's link with the Clinton Ditch, came into being, three miles west of Newark. Canandaiguans bought the village site from the pioneer, Stephen (Squire) Allen. The port was named after a prominent Canandaiguan, Henry B. Gibson, one of the purchasers, and her streets honor men of the Finger Lakes city: Atwater, Granger, Greig, Field. And of course, there's a Canandaigua Street. For many years Port Gibson was a leading shipping point on the canal. Wagons rumbled over the hills 18 miles from Canandaigua, from Holcomb and other Ontario County communities.
Port Gibson had two malthouses, a big warehouse, two canal groceries, one on either side of the Ditch; line barns, a planing mill and barrel factory, a hotel, a creamery. Once this port was quite a town, It's mighty quiet now.
When the Barge Canal was built, considerably to the northward, it created a picturesque widewaters but left Canandaigua's port stranded on her hilltop above the old waterway. Now two-thirds of the Barge Canal there is in Ontario and the other third in Wayne County. Once it was all in Ontario. Canandaigua saw to that in 1823.
The state highway route has been changed, too. It was carried to the north, following the old Erie towpath. The road builders gouged and filled and changed the face of the landscape considerably around Port Gibson, Now the main road bypasses the old village and about all the traveler sees is the tall church spire.
Mrs. William Garlock, whose ancestors settled in the port in 1832 has a fund of village lore. She spoke of the days when her kinsmen, the Terrys, and the Stacys, the Blossoms and the Schutts owned and ran boats on the canal. Fayette Terry was the skipper of the Annie Laurie, well remembered by old timers.
Probably you've seen the name, B. T. Babbitt, on packages and on billboards. A former canal boatman, Benjamin T. Babbitt, made his first kettle of soap on a farm west of Port Gibson, just over the Wayne County line. He peddled his product around the neighborhood, then went to New York and became a Soap King.
Port Gibson calls to mind many boyhood memories for William G. Fluker, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, now a resident of Rochester. In the early 1890's he lived as a boy in the Port Gibson Hotel which burned down a few years ago. The proprietor was a widow, Elizabeth Mott, a well known character on the canal and throughout the countryside.
Fluker recalls when there were two canal basins in the town, teeming with fish. Rochester fishermen would drive down there Sundays in horses and buggies after bullheads. Veteran anglers of the locality were Crill Cobb and "Sam Hen" Salpaugh, who in their nineties still fished on, through the ice in winter. And there was Giles Brown, who fashioned custom made boots and leather pocketbooks in the shape of a sunflower 50 years ago.
* * * *
There is no finer view along the Towpath than the one I saw from Port Gibson's peaceful, sun-kissed hilltop—a panorama of rolling hills, with here and there a drumlin born of the glacial drift; shining Erie water, lined with cottages, and stretching as far as the eye could see to the eastward—toward Arcadia.
"Once Upon a Time"
THE tall man in the blue military cloak and the powdered wig reined in his horse and the little cavalcade came to a halt.
All that sunny day of 1794, Capt. Charles Williamson, agent for British interests that owned a wilderness empire, had been following the sylvan stream that flows northward from Canandaigua Lake. Now he and his men had to come to the junction with another rippling stream, the river called by the Indians Ganargua.
The bright blue eyes of the land agent glistened as they swept the landscape. Tall elms and drooping willows hung over the waters. A huddle of log cabins, reared by the first settlers five years before bordered the place where the waters met. All about stretched the marshy meadows, the woodland with the sunlit openings, the periphery of rounded hills.
Williamson turned to Charles Cameron, his fellow Scot and his right arm in all his frontier undertakings, saying:
"This is in miniature the union of the Rivers Rhone and Saone in France and so I shall call the town I build here Lyons."
So it came about that a yet unborn village in the American wilds at the confluence of the Canandaigua Outlet and the Ganargua was given the name of an Old World city at the meeting place of two greater rivers.
* * * *
The town that Williamson laid out so long ago became a place of consequence and the commercial, political and cultural hub of a rich countryside.
In the beginning the river brought her settlers and was the principal avenue of travel. Then the Clinton Ditch came and soon the village sprawled far along the Erie water and over the steep hills.
Lyons has been the shire town since Wayne County was created in 1823 and the dome of her old Courthouse has gleamed among the trees like a beacon through the years, marking the seat of government and the political throne.
In the later years fortune has not always been kind to the old town. The industrial jackpot has eluded her. Her population, now under 4,000, once was well over 5,000. But about Lyons clings an air of consequence and distinction no parvenu town can attain. She will always have her traditions and her proud memories of the great days.
Around her quiet streets, voices seem to murmur the refrain, "once upon a time."
Once upon a time, men who moulded the destinies of the frontier lived in the pillared brick colonial houses on the hills above the town. Later on, in Lyons' commercial heyday, other powerful men built the more ornate Victorian mansions under the stately trees.
There, once upon a time, flowered an old regime, a gracious way of life, a social elegance and a cultural interest that was distinctively Lyons.
From the mansions—and from humbler homes, as well—went out boys and girls who became distinguished in many fields, captains of industry, admirals, musicians, poets, soldiers, artists among them.
The aristocratic tradition is only one facet of the Lyons personality. The pioneer strain of New England and the South has been mixed with the blood of German, Irish and Italian emigrants, to give the town warmth and color.
Lyons is like a tine old race horse, a thoroughbred, full of years and glorious memories, waiting, a little wistfully, for the Grand Circuit days to come once more.
* * * *
Lyons was born at the union of the waters that Williamson later so admired. In May of 1789 the first settlers came, 11 of them, in flat boats from Albany over the tortuous water route. They were the Stansell brothers, William and Nicholas, and their brother-in-law, John Featherly, their wives and five children.
They built a log cabin where the Outlet pours into the Ganargua to form the Clyde River, near the giant elm that became known as the Council Tree because there the settlers smoked the peace pipe with the Senecas in the nearby Indian village.
When Williamson came, there were a half dozen cabins at what the pioneers called "The Forks."
They were squatters in a sort of No Man's Land called the Gore, the strip between the first and erroneous Pre-emption Line and the second and correct one, marking the division between the lands claimed by New York and by Massachusetts. When Phelps and Gorham bought most of what is now Western New York, they caused the second survey which moved the Pre-emption Line to the east.
Then the holdings were sold to a British syndicate headed by Sir William Pultney, whose agent, the dashing Williamson, came in 1794 to claim the Gore as part of the Pultney purchase—and to found the village he christened Lyons.
Williamson made an amicable financial settlement with the colony at the Forks and then began laying out the village, with straight, wide streets centering around a public square, just as he plotted Bath, Geneva, and Sodus Point. He sold lots, built warehouses, taverns, stores along the river. He built large flour mills at Alloway, three miles south of Lyons and put Henry Towar in charge of them. In 1804 they burned. The coming of the canal sealed Alloway's fate.
In the 1830's, after Williamson was dead and Robert Troup was land agent in his stead, settlers on the Pultney lands waged a bloodless revolt against their British landlords because of usurous interest rates. They held mass meetings and prepared to resist any attempts to evict them. But with the adoption of laws mitigating the abuses and the gradual passing of lands from British hands, the trouble blew over.
* * * *
In 1797 Daniel Dorsey, a Maryland planter, came with 40 slaves to dwell on 1,600 acres he had purchased from Williamson. He built a mansion at the end of a long lane, lined with slave cabins, off the Geneva Turnpike and became a leader in the new community. Soon he liberated his Negroes. Slave holding was unprofitable and unpopular in the Northern clime.
The other day I visited the historic Dorsey acres. The present owner of much of the tract is James Smart, who lives on land his great-grandfather, James Dunn, bought from Dorsey nearly 120 years ago. Dunn, bound for Ohio, to take up land, stepped off a canal packet at Lyons to look around, liked the country so well that he settled there instead. In 1834 he built the three-story brick house south of the railroad tracks.
Jim Smart, who has a sentimental regard for his historic heritage, showed me where the Dorsey mansion had stood and the site of the Dorsey barn where in 1810 was held the first Genesee Conference of the Methodist Church, presided over by the famous Francis Asbury. One hundred years later, notables of Methodism came to Lyons to mark the centennial of the Conference.
Smart pointed out the pasture that he believes was the site of the old Indian village because so many arrowheads have been picked up there. He showed where only a few years ago, when a raceway that once led from the Outlet to the Dorsey mills was being filled in, a skeleton was found. It was that of a young male Negro, probably one of Judge Dorsey's Maryland slaves.
Smart's grandfather once grew tobacco on the land, in the southern tradition. There is a story that the blood of the Dorseys flows in the veins of a Maryland girl, so beloved by a British king that he gave up his throne to marry her. She, of course, is Wallis Warfield Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.
In 1812 Lyons had sixty families and was an established center in the sparsely settled frontier. The Grand Canal made it a boom town in 1822.
Men of influence such as Myron Holley, one of the fathers of the Canal, and Judge Ambrose Spencer, came to live in Lyons. Streets bear their names today. The Joppa Land Company was formed and the eastern end of village was developed. Williamson had concentrated at the western edge along the river.
The Albany Argus in 1526, describing Wayne County canal towns, said:
"Palmyra is a wealthy and popular town."
"Arcadia is a wealthy and respectable town."
But about Lyons it waxed more eloquent: "Lyons is densely populated. It is built on handsome dry ground rising to gentle acclivity to the west and north from the canal and is flanked by a romantic ridge."
The canal pumped commercial lifeblood into Lyons. The first ditch ran through the heart of the village. Canal Street marks its lath. The enlargement of the waterway changed the route and Erie water sloshed against the backs of the stores in William Street.
But the Barge Canal utilized the Clyde River, considerably to the southward, and left gaping holes in the village, where the older ditch had run, marring the regular pattern of streets the founding fathers had mapped so carefully.
* * * *
Lyons' industrial record is an imposing one but again that "Once upon a time" refrain intrudes.
For many years she was a world center of the peppermint and essential oil business and H. G. Hotchkiss of Lyons was the "peppermint king." As early as 1830 farmers were growing mint in the region. In 1841 Hotchkiss began putting up the oils in the gray building that still stands in Water Street.
The industry grew until in 1868, nearly 300 acres were under cultivation, and nearly every farmer in the area was growing mint for Hotchkiss. The product was shipped all over the globe, notably to England. The Lyons plants in 1877 were the largest of their kind in the world. But like so many other Lyons industries, this one had to bow to new trends, although today another H. G. Hotchkiss, the third of his line, is still shipping essential oils from the same old depot. But the mint beds no longer dot the hills and vales of Wayne.
Once upon a time there were potteries along the old canal which brought in the clay and carried away the finished products, jugs of exquisite workmanship among them. The red brick buildings that once housed the industry are now apartments.
Lyons had an important silver plate industry, at its zenith in the 1890's. Up to about 1910 she had the largest sugar beet refinery in the East. She had big malthouses, glove factories, tanneries, brickyards, besides foundries in "Dutchtown" on the east side.
Among the shire town's oldtime industries was the Deuchler carriage shop which flourished for two generations and died with the advent of the motor vehicle. The shop made top notch carriages and sleighs and for many years had the contract for heavy bobs for Standard Oil. Everything was hand made.
Lyons today has a dehydrating plant, an apple brandy distillery, a fruit packing plant, a powdered egg industry. She is in the heart of the rich Wayne County fruit and vegetable belt and from the beginning has been a produce shipping center.
The great Newark nursery industry is not confined to the town of Arcadia. The Jackson-Perkins Company, on a large tract called. Perkinsville southeast of Lyons, has a bed of 100,000 roses and an orchard of nearly half a million young peach trees.
Thousands have known Lyons as a railroad transfer point, with three lines of the New York Central converging there. Once upon a time, the big car shops of the Central gave employment to 200 to 250 men. When the shops pulled up stakes in 1923, it was a sad day for Lyons.
* * * *
In 1874 a son was born to William Taylor, a prosperous Lyons tanner of pioneer stock. He was named Myron Charles but everybody in the village called him Charley. He went to the village school, got good marks, was not particularly athletic, played the guitar and sang in the Presbyterian choir. He was a good mixer and everyone liked him.
After graduating from Cornell, he came back home to practice law. Oldtimers remember times when business was slack in the law office, Charley would help haul tan bark to his father's tannery. He was a gregarious chap who would quaff an occasional glass of cider with a farmer client.
Taylor's father engaged in the manufacture of mail pouches and Uncle Sam was his leading customer. Myron went out on the road to buy materials, and formed contacts with important financial figures. He went to New York and became a titan of industry, the steelmaster who electrified the business world by making peace with John L. Lewis when other magnates were for battle to the death with the miners' chieftain. As everybody knows, the late President Roosevelt made Lyons-born Myron Charles Taylor his personal envoy to the Vatican.
This millionaire has not forgotten his home town. He gave the site of the old Taylor tannery to the village for a park. The dignified gray brick house with green blinds in the heart of town is now a community center through his generosity and children romp on the lawns and in the old stables. He has given liberally to churches and to other local causes, often insisting that the benefactions be kept secret.
* * * *
There are other glittering names on the roster of native sons and daughters: William M. Stewart, promoter of the fabulous Comstock Lode and once senator from Nevada; Admiral Bradley A. Fiske, who fought with Dewey at Manila Bay and invented many electrical devices for use on warships; another admiral, Willard Bronson, at one time head of the United States Naval Academy.
There were the artists: De Witt Parshall, painter of Western scenes; Birgetta Moran Farmer, Claire Sherwood, Emma Rudd and Sarah Veeder among them.
A Lyons girl today is winning fame in an unusual held—the painting of race horses. She is Ann Collins, who has numbered among her clients, Col. E. R. Bradley, Bing Crosby and other turf notables. Her painting of Baron Jack hangs in New York's Club 21. As this is written, Miss Collins is back home, completing a painting of Bobinet. Race track followers will recognize the name.
In the field of music there was William Sherwood, pupil of the great pianist Liszt. He was the son of the Rev. Lyman Sherwood whose Lyons Music Academy in its day made the shire town such an artistic center. Pupils came from as far distant as Florida.
And there was Frank (Fay) Darling, for 15 years musical director for Flo Ziegfeld. At 9 he was playing a church organ in Lyons; at 18 he was a musical director in New York. On retirement he came back to live in Lyons where he died in 1935. His widow lives near the big high school and her home is filled with autographed pictures and other mementoes of the stars with whom her husband was associated: Anna Held, who was his pupil, Will Rogers, whom he knew in the Follies; Raymond Hitchcock, Bert Williams and many more.
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Mary Ashley Van Voorhis Townsend spent most of her mature life in New Orleans but she was born in a farm house west of Lyons of old Dutch stock. After she had attained considerable renown as a poetess in the South, her thoughts kept straying back to the scenes of her girlhood. So in 1877 there appeared in the New York Post a nostalgic poem which began:
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For decades bald, mustached Charles H. Betts of Lyons was boss of Wayne County and a power in the state councils of the Grand Old Party. The publisher of the Lyons Republican (founded in 1821 was a stalwart of the Old Guard, lining up with Barnes of Albany, the Wadsworths of Geneseo and Aldridge of Rochester in their battles against Teddy Roosevelt and Charles F. Hughes.
George K. Shuler, World War I hero, Democratic state treasurer In 1922-24, was another Lyons native. He came out of the war, a captain of Marines, his breast covered with decorations for gallantry in action. He is the same handsome captain of Marines who figured, through no fault of his own, in the Teapot Dome tempest of the larding era. Acting under orders, he led a company of Marines to a Wyoming oil field to dispossess the occupants so that the property might pass to a great oil company involved in the conspiracy.
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The old canal figured in the political picture, especially in the spring, when the ditch was due for its annual cleaning. The purging lasted two or three weeks and involved considerable patronage. Valuable to the party in power. A ramp of saw horses and planks led from the Towpath to the canal bottom. As one veteran observer put it: "Coming at village election time, the cleaning of the canal bed also helped clean the opposition political party. Shovels were distributed instead of dollars."
There are so many memories of old Lyons and the old Canal, so many landmarks, there is the Clover house, built by Williamson as a storehouse along the river in 1796. It now stands in Jackson Street, a private residence with a marker on its front. It was Lyons' first meeting house; housed the first school and the first court.
Perched on a steep kill among the old colonial houses is a dignified yellow building that would pass for another mansion. It's the Wayne County Jail.
There are memories of Lyon's cultural heyday, when there were delightful musicales in the old houses on the "romantic ridge;" when Joe Jefferson and De Wolff Hopper and other stars played in the Parshall Memorial Opera House and special trains ran from Geneva.
Around a brick house at 100 Broad Street linger memories of a tall man in a stove pipe hat who spent a night here in 1863 after a torchlight parade through the streets of Lyons. The guest was Abraham Lincoln and his host was Maj. Alexander B. Williams, then paymaster of the Union Army.
There are sad memories of Lyons' greatest catastrophe, the fire which destroyed the high school in 1920 and cost the lives of two young girl pupils. It was two days before Christmas and they were trapped on the third floor where they had been decorating a stage.
And there are pleasant memories in gray heads of winter nights when the band played and the lights were bright and boys and girls skated on the frozen Eric water at ice festivals of long ago.
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For former Police Judge Edward D. Bourne, a fine figure of a man at 80, there are memories of his boyhood when he hitched rides on log rafts going through town; of the old double locks at the foot of Broad Street; when there were three Lyons-owned boats on the Ditch and the docks were piled with goods and produce.
He repeated a tale he had heard from his father: How 110 years ago the elder Bourne had seen a packet boat of German settlers, bound for Ohio, halted at Lyons; how they visited the hotel operated at Montezuma and Church Streets by Philip Dorsheimer and were so impressed by the innkeeper's "sales talk" in their native tongue that they left the packet, set up their kettles on a tripod in the park and stayed in Lyons, to found families well known in the village.
Miss Anna Avery, who was born on a farm along the Ditch and who has delved deeply into early canal history, remembers her father telling her about seeing the lighted packets gliding by in the night. She told of Pilgrimport, a Holy Rollerish colony that pitched its tents along the waterway during the rise of the "Isms."
Lyons' halycon sporting days were recalled by William R. Courneen, veteran newspaper correspondent. Once Lyons had a team in the old State League; such stars at Pat Moran and Billy Gilbert wore Lyons uniforms and Mike Sweeney, the Rochester contractor, managed the home team. The diamond was on the old County Fair grounds, now bisected by the Barge Canal.
From his window in the County Clerk's office where he has served for more than 30 years, Charles A. Noble looked across the shady park to the old court-house with the massive pillars, where so much Wayne County history has been written, and talked of other days. Noble has lived all his 77 years in Lyons. He once was joint owner of a hardware store along the old canal at the foot of Broad Street, and has many recollections of colorful towpath days.
Noble's political mentor was Charles Betts and on the publisher's death he took the mantle of Republican leadership. Only recently he turned over the county chairmanship to Mrs. Mildred Taylor, the first woman in the state to hold the office.
Noble glanced across the park to the Court House, his kindly blue eyes alight with memories, and said: "There have been some famous trials there—the Kelly gang that murdered the Sodas night watchman and Oliver Curtis Perry. …"
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Curtis Perry—the name conjures up an incongruous picture of a soft spoken, mild mannered youth, dressed in sober black, who on Feb. 22, 1892, wrote into Western New York's criminal history its most bizarre chapter. He was the "man who stole a train."
Perry, then only 27 but with a price on his head for train robbery, secreted himself on a ten car all-express train as it left Syracuse. In the money car was the prize he sought, nearly a quarter of a million dollars, guarded by a lone messenger, Daniel T. McInerney of Rochester.
At Jordan he entered the money car after lowering himself from the roof by means of an ingenious rope ladder with hooks that fitted over its side, and smashed the window with the butt of one of his two revolvers. There ensued a fierce gun duel. The messenger, thrice wounded, crumpled to the floor, but before he lost consciousness, he gave a feeble pull at the bell cord, plunged the car into blackness by kicking over the lamp and sat on the money packages.
Perry was thwarted. The conductor, Emil Laas of Rochester, heard the pull at the cord and raced back to the money car, only to look into the bandit's guns. At Port Byron, Laas succeeded in stopping the train. The crew found the wounded messenger, the treasure intact but no bandit. They concluded Perry had slunk off the train.
At Lyons he was spotted in the gathering crowd and as railroad men made for him, the bandit commandeered a standing freight engine and opening the throttle wide, headed east. Perry knew how to run a locomotive for he had worked in railroad shops before he took up banditry. The railroaders, aimed with a shotgun, gave pursuit on a parallel track in the express engine.
It was a fantastic chase. When the bandit saw the pursuing engine, he reversed, raking the other cab with bullets as it flashed by. When the express engine reversed, Perry went forward, to the accompaniment of gunfire. This procedure was repeated until finally the railroaders gave up the chase.
Perry abandoned his locomotive at the "Blue Cut" west of Lyons, and fled across fields. In his flight he commandeered, first a farmer's horse which he rode, and later a horse and cutter. He got on a dead end road and crouched behind a stone fence to await developments.
There a sheriff's posse, led by the late colorful Jerry Collins, then a deputy, found him and captured him through a ruse.
While he was in the Lyons jail, awaiting trial, the two-gun desperado hatched two vain escape plots. His trial packed the Courthouse and wound up with this sentence:
"Forty-nine years and three months in state's prison."
Perry spent 39 bizarre years behind the bars. He blinded himself in his cell, he went on hunger strikes, he refused to wear prison garb, he wrote appeals to the governor, asking a pardon.
Before he died in Dannemora's madhouse, Oliver Curtis Perry boasted:
"Nobody ever stole a train just the way I did."
I reckon nobody ever did.
"…a r'oamin' in the gloamin"
On the bonnie bank of Clyde."
IT was years ago that I heard Harry Lauder sing the old song but I can close my eyes and see the title gray minstrel in his plaids and kilties, prancing out on the stage of Rochester's old Lyceum, and hear again the delightful Scotch burr rolling out the refrain like the skirl of bagpipes in "the Heelands."
And now in 1945, I was roaming the bonnie banks of the York State Clyde and it was "in the gloaming," the twilight of my Towpath jaunt.
For in the braw old town of Clyde my "Canal Zone" ends.
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Clyde's background is heterogeneous.
Named by a Scot, she was settled by Yankees, her streets were laid out by a one-time commander of Hessian mercenaries and today her citizens of Italian origin outnumber any other foreign stock.
Her roots go deeper back into recorded history than any other canal town in the area. In 1722 when New York was a province of the British crown, the site of Clyde was a fortified outpost guarding the route of the British fur trade. In the beginning her name was Blockhouse.
Clyde is in the Military Tract which was set aside for veterans of the Revolutionary War. She is the first canal town east of the Pre-emption Line. At her eastern border stretches the great Montezuma swamp, the miry monster before whom all the canal diggers quailed, all save the men from the bogs of Erin. The pioneers shunned the swamp as worthless but a later generation has transformed it into rich mucklands.
Clyde (Population 2,356), is not a spectacular town, not given much to pomp. She is, however, a substantial and a busy one and through the years has sailed along on a pretty even keel. She has a harmonious racial blend of Yankee, Dutch, Irish and Italian stocks. In rock-ribbed. Republican Wayne County, she is the town most likely to kick over the GOP apple cart.
When the "Direct Line," the Rochester & Syracuse Rail road, was built over 90 years ago the route was so direct that it skirted the villages of Macedon, Palmyra, Newark and Lyons. But it ran directly into the heart of Clyde. So did the late lamented Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern trolley line. Today the Main Line of the Central, the West Shore and the Clyde River, now a part of the Barge Canal, roll side by side under a great bridge near the center of the village.
Practical minded Clyde has her traditions. She has had her dreams of glory. Once she hoped the mineral spring in her park would make her a famous spa. A persistent vision, born in the 1830's and revived in the 20th Century, was that of a canal linking Great Sodus Bay with the Erie Canal at Clyde.
Over the broad river valley, the drumlins keep eternal brooding vigil. Some of the hill formations might well have been shaped by a fanciful child playing with wet earth. Some are as fantastic as a cubist sketch. Others are merely rounded hills rising at irregular intervals from the plain.
No gallery houses a more striking picture than the one I saw near Clyde, a big, black farm horse, silhouetted on the apex of a pear-shaped drumlin, against a flaming sunset.
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About Clyde's early name of Blockhouse hangs many a colorful tale.
In 1722, William Burnet, provincial governor of New York, seeking to clinch the frontier fur trade for the crown, sent a small detachment under Capt. Peter Schuyler, Jr., to protect the Great Lakes routes by building trading gusts and forts. At the site of Clyde a blockhouse was built, commanding the river and guarding the trail to Lake Ontario.
It soon was abandoned. Its later career was a checkered one. Nomadic bands of whites and Indians used it during the French and Indian wars. After the Revolution, it was a base for marauding British Redcoats and smugglers. It became such a nuisance that in 1800 the government sent troops to burn it down.
So when the first permanent settlers came to the locality, they found only the charred ruins of the old blockhouse. But the name stuck to the site for years.
In 1820 a rumor spread that a large sum of money had been hidden near the historic spot and moonlight nights saw much feverish digging for buried treasure—that never was uncovered.
The Clyde region from time immemorial was a mecca for hunters and trappers but there was no permanent settlement in the town with 1800 when Laomi Beedle came to Marengo, three miles south of the present Clyde. The next year two boatloads of Kings, Gregorys and Millses settled in the same locality,
By 1810 there were a half dozen families living on the south bank of the river and the place was called Lauraville in honor of Henrietta Laura, Countess of Bath, the daughter of Sir William Pultney, head of the great British land syndicate.
Two years later the township of Galen was formed. It was named after the Greek physician and this part of the Military Tract was intended for surgeons of the Revolution. But there is no record of any influx of army medicos into Galen Town.
In 1815 the "Father of Clyde" entered the picture in the person of Maj. Frederick Augustus De Zeng, son of a baron of Saxony. He came to America at the head of a company of Hessians in the Revolution. Stationed in New York, he never was called upon to fight the colonists. Infatuated with the new country, he foreswore his Old World title and allegiance and became a citizen of the United States.
After promoting the pioneer canal project at Little Falls where he also founded glass works, De Zeng bought a tract from the Pultney interests on the north side of the river then known as the Ganargua or Mud Creek. He started laying out a village site. His son, William S., completed the work and established the glass factory that for nearly a century was an important Clyde industry.
In 1818 Andrew McNab began selling village lots on the north bank of the river which, because he fancied it resembled another stream he had known as a boy in his native Scotland, he renamed the Clyde. He called the village by the same name and to carry out the Scottish motif, christened the principal thoroughfare Glasgow Street, a name it bears today.
About that time there was considerable excitement at Lauraville across the river over the discovery of a salt spring. Its operation did not prove profitable.
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Then in 1822 the Grand Canal was dug through the valley of the Clyde and it was the old familiar story. The tiny settlement sprang into vigorous life. That year the Griswolds, Aaron and Simeon, launched the Gold Hunter, the first Clyde-owned canal boat.
Lock Berlin, in the maple forest to the west, became a canal port, and in the early days, it was a wild and wooly one. The hamlet is peaceful enough today. In utilizing the river, the Barge Canal by-passed Lock Berlin. The Clinton Ditch ended the supremacy of Marengo on the Genesee Turnpike, the stage coach route, and it lapsed into somnolence.
Taverns clustered around the packet dock and the locks at Clyde, among them one with the picturesque name of the Indian Queen. Logging flourished on the river and when the Clyde went on spring rampages, the logs sometimes floated right into the business district.
In 1835 Lauraville was merged with Clyde and the village was incorporated in W. S. Stow's little law office which today is a part of the gasoline station at the head of the village park.
This park, which contains the famous mineral spring, was at first a common where cattle grazed. When in the 1856's, a high board fence was put around it and cattle fairs were held there, the villagers, deprived of their free pasturage, raised such a rumpus that the fence came down in a short tine.
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Clyde has always been an industrial and trading center. It had iron works as early as 1820. In 1850 the father of Charles T. Saxton, one of the village's most distinguished sons and a onetime lieutenant governor of New York, was making coach lace. J. M. Jones, who later made printing presses at Palmyra, in 1852 was manufacturing a crude pioneer typewriter at Clyde.
Once the village had nine malt-houses. The glass works, which lasted until 1912, was the birthplace of the Mason type of fruit jar. At the turn of the century, glass blowers were receiving $8 a day, an unheard of wage in those times.
Clyde's industry today is centered around a large cannery and the Acme plant which had important contracts for electrical apparatus during the war and which recently became part of the big General Electric system. The industrial skies are bright over the bonnie banks.
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In St. John's Episcopal Church is a pipe organ that goes back to the reign of Queen Anne. Said to have been the first of its kind in the state, it once belonged to historic Trinity Church in New York and from there found its way, first to Trinity Church in Geneva, and, a century ago, to Clyde.
In 1836 a village ordinance was adopted providing, that "any person or persons who shall hereafter suffer or permit any playing with cards or dice or any gaming table or shuffleboard or shall permit any gaming by lot or chance within his or her house, outhouse, yard or garden within the Vi11age of Clyde, shall for every offense forfeit or pay into the village treasury the sum of $10." I was told the law has never been formally repealed.
Incidentally, Clyde is one of the sportiest towns on the Towpath.
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The Irish came with the Clinton Ditch and the first railroad. The building of the West Shore more than half a century ago brought the Italians. About the only one of the original Italian settlers still living is the venerable Santo Salerno. A monument in the village park, erected by the Sons of Italy to the memory of George Washington, attests to the community spirit of this racial group.
Clyde is not without her Old Family traditions. In other days there were the Saxtons, politically potent; the Elys who ran the glass works and lived in the pillared mansion in West Genesee Street, now a noble ruin; the Briggses who ran the bank—and many others.
And there were the Vandenbergs, among them John, the lawyer, and Aaron, who operated a harness shop. The Aaron Vandenbergs moved to Michigan some 70 years ago and there a son was born to them who was named Arthur H. This son went to work on a Grand Rapids newspaper as a reporter. In a few years he owned the paper. Then he went to the United States Senate where he became the most authoritative voice on the Republican side. This year he was appointed by the late President Roosevelt as a member of the United States delegation to the San Francisco World Security Conference.
Some old timers in Clyde thought that Senator Vandenberg had lived in the village as a boy others were sure he never did. To clear the matter up, I wrote to the Senator and received a prompt and informative answer. He wrote:
"I was not born in Clyde although both my father and mother came from Clyde. I was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., after my parents had moved west about 1875. My mother belonged to one of the most distinguished old Clyde families. She was the daughter of Dr. Aaron T. Hendrick. … My father ran a harness shop in Clyde. I believe he was deputy postmaster under President Grant. One of my uncles was Samuel H. Briggs of the Briggs Bank at Clyde. As a small child I returned with my mother to Clyde on several occasions; but I am sorry to say it has not been possible for me to get back to the old town for many long years."
Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg, one of the most influential figures of contemporary politics, has not forgotten the old town in York State that the knew as a child and where his father once ran a harness shop and sold buggy whips.
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Barney Willson is a walking encyclopedia of Clyde lore. He was christened Bion but everybody calls him Barney. He's in his 88th year but spry as a grasshopper. Summers he works his garden back of his rickety old house on the south bank of the river. Popcorn is his chief crop and for years he has sold it in the village. Winters he does some trapping. Barney's wiry and witty and does not attribute his longevity to total abstinence.
Here are some of Barney's memory gems:
"In 1880 when I was 22, I drove two green horses hauling the lumber scow John McKeown from Clyde to Troy. I was 40 days on the Towpath for which I got $1 a day. I had $16 when I started. When I left, after I had collected my pay, I had $1. I was green as my horses, a sucker for them old canallers. Besides, one of the horses tugged so hard I wore the soles off my shoes and the other one nearly fell into the ditch. No more Towpath for me after that.
"I remember when there were wood-burning engines on the railroad through Clyde; when the tracks crossed at grade and there was only a little swing bridge across the river; when I worked at the mason's trade For 25 cents a day; and butter was 11 cents a pound; pork $3 per hundred pounds; eggs 6 cents a dozen and whisky 25 cents a gallon. Then I worked in harvest, they used to serve corn liquor to us by the dipperful every three hours."
Barney remembers when the now towering elms and maples were set out in the village park, then enclosed by a low rail fence; when the mineral water from the spring there was bottled by Lawyer Baker and shipped from Clyde; and, in the days before the use of coal, when the men in the glass factory would go out into the woods and cut huge logs for fires to melt the glass.
Barney's father, Henry P. Willson, helped put the logs in the old corduroy road. "They're still there under Glasgow Street," remarked Barney as he scampered off across the long bridge to tend his popcorn patch.
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Before the Barge Canal came, the Erie ditch ran through the heart of the village and it is easy to trace the old route back of the stores, south of the present waterway. There were memories of old Towpath days when Canal Street was lined with grog shops; when Bill (Muley) McDougall of Clyde, "as broad as he was tall," could lick anybody on the canal; when youngsters, now Clyde business men, used to hurl ribald rhymes and an occasional stone at "the hoggies!"
In Lyons I called on Miss Etta Fee, a retired school teacher, who spent her early years on her father's farm along the Erie water at the now extinct port of Lockpit, also called Meadville, east of Clyde.
From her I first heard of the "bum boats." They were rowboats in which farmers would go out, with fresh vegetables and fruit, to meet the canal boats, hitching to their sides and passing up the produce to the canallers as they crept along. Then the "bum boats" would hitch a ride back home, hence the name.
Miss Fee, who as a girt occasionally accompanied her brothers on these "bum boat" expeditions, recalled how eager the canal wives were to get fresh produce, and what "happy people the canal folk were, forever singing to the accompaniment of violin or accordion."
She called to mind winters when sleighs traveled to and from town on the frozen canal and how, when the water was let out of the ditch, men and boys in hip boots would take bushels of bullheads out of the soft mud. The fish went down into the Mud instead of going out with the water.
* * * *
And here beside the bonnie banks of the Clyde, I must say farewell to the Towpath. I was loath to quit the trail of memories where phantom voices still sang out across the years:
"Low bridge, everybody down."
My Towpath ramble had begun with a tugboat ride to the Orleans blossom country when all the land was green with spring. It was ending in the hills of Wayne with the smoky tang of autumn in the air.
It began amid a world at war. Since, victory and peace—and the atomic bomb—had come to streak across the world horizon the dazzling dawn of a portentous new day.
But calmly the Erie water rolls on, across the state it had made great, through the busy towns it had mothered—unheeding the clash of changing moods.
It, too, in its time had shaped the course of history.
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