Willy Stower’s depiction of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, based solely on reported accounts of the disaster
Vol. 4, No. 15
April 14th marks the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic and although I share a common surname, I can assure you that Dr. Robert Ballard is no direct relative of mine (that I am aware of). On that fateful day in 1912, the exquisitely decorated vessel struck an iceberg at 11:40pm and was fully submerged within a matter of three hours. Of the 2,224 passengers, over 1,500 perished in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean nearly 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, making it one of the most devastating maritime disasters in modern history.
Over the years, newspapers have recounted the stories of survivors while paying tribute to the victims as each landmark anniversary passes. Of the most notable local residents connected to the catastrophe, the story of Lillian Bentham of Holley is most frequently recalled.… More
Evangeline Brewster Johnson
Vol. 4, No. 14
After a three-year stay in Medina, Frances Folsom became one of the area’s most beloved young women after her marriage to President Grover Cleveland. Yet I was hoping that March would provide me with six Saturdays to write about notable women from Orleans County, but I suppose that I should not feel limited to writing about such subjects to a single month!
The only lasting local memory of Evangeline Brewster Armstrong exists within a stained glass window at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Holley. The window reads, “Presented by Mrs. Evangeline A. Johnson A.D. 1894” featuring an image of St. Paul “posed in this window holding a book and pointing upward to heaven as though he were giving a benediction,” as described by C.W. Lattin. Evangeline was born in 1865 at Rochester, New York to Edwin Rutherford Armstrong and Martha Gifford, who were married on August 13, 1857.… More
Frances Folsom Cleveland
Vol. 4, No. 13
“I am waiting for my wife to grow up.” – Grover Cleveland
As a young bachelor in Buffalo, Cleveland was said to have muttered these very words to his sisters who frequently asked him about his intentions to marry. His statement, although witty, held a certain degree of truth and it is with that truth that the story of Frances Folsom is told. In 1996 an historic roadside marker was installed at the corner of Main and Eagle Streets in Medina, denoting the structure that Folsom called home for a brief moment in her life during the 1870s. The marker reads:
“Frances Folsom lived here in the mid-1870s with her grandmother and attended Medina High School. In 1886 at age 21 she wed Pres. Grover Cleveland.”
The daughter of Oscar and Emma Harmon Folsom, Frances was born July 21, 1864 at Buffalo, New York where her father practiced law with Grover Cleveland in a firm known as Lanning, Cleveland and Folsom.… More
Vol. 4, No. 12
While cataloging the Department of History’s collection of rare books, I came across a small booklet entitled From Serfdom to Culture written by “a white-haired Rochester confectioner” named Alfred F. Little in 1939. Interestingly enough, my discovery of this item happened in the same way in which C. W. Lattin encountered this story back in 1996.
Presented with two volumes from a blind Chinese woman named Jessie Gutzlaff, Little felt encouraged to record a few brief memories regarding the life of a remarkable woman. As he wrote nearly 80 years ago, “few persons, if any, now living in Albion, ever heard of Miss Gutzlaff, or knew of her connection with the village…” Those two volumes, authored by Samuel Smiles, were donated to the Swan Library in 1910.
The story of Jessie Gutzlaff dates back to 1842 when, as a young girl, she arrived in New York City with two other Chinese girls named Fanny and Eliza, all three accompanied by Mary Gutzlaff.… More
Vol. 4, No. 11
Over 200 years ago, Caroline Phipps was born near Rome, New York on March 2, 1812 to Joseph and Mary Eames Phipps. Arad Thomas writes in the Pioneer History of Orleans County that her “early education was superintended by her father with more than ordinary care at home, though she had the advantages of the best private schools and of the district schools in the vicinity.” After her father relocated the family to Barre, Caroline attended school at Eagle Harbor before starting her career in teaching at the young age of 14 in a one-room schoolhouse at Gaines Basin. It is presumed, based on available information, that Phipps was the school teacher while Charles Anderson Dana was attending the log schoolhouse (Overlooked Orleans: v.1, no.13).
A passionate educator even at a young age, Phipps enrolled in the Gaines Academy at the age of 20 and eventually attended the Nichols Ladies’ School at Whitesboro, New York.… More
The Pioneer Homestead – Historical Album of Orleans County, New York
Vol. 4, No. 10
A question recently surfaced following my last article about Elizabeth Denio, one pertaining to the life of the pioneer settler Elizabeth Gilbert of Gaines. The question made me think about how women have appeared in the earliest recollections of our area’s history, if they make an appearance at all. I was reading through Carol Kammen’s On Doing Local History and focused in on a common pitfall of local historians; trusting the published local historical narrative. What Kammen means by this is that we often fail to revise “what is held as truth.”
Much of our understanding of local history in Orleans County comes from the pages of Arad Thomas’ Pioneer History of Orleans County and Isaac Signor’s Landmarks of Orleans County, the second publication drawing from the chapters of Thomas’ publication. In these pages, the pioneer woman rarely makes an appearance and when she does her name is obscured by the significance of her husband.… More
Vol. 4, No. 9
The month of March is Women’s History Month, a designation dating back to 1987. The question of why this particular designation is needed surfaces frequently and the simplest explanation is that the presence of women in the national historical narrative went unnoted in schools for centuries. Today, historians focus attention on previously marginalized groups in history to provide a more thorough and balanced image of the past. The narratives of local history are often filled with the stories of white men who made their mark on early settlements and only infrequently do we hear the stories of women such as Elizabeth Gilbert and Polly Burgess who braved the virgin forests of Western New York.
Elizabeth Harriet Denio was born to John and Celinda Weatherwax Denio on August 3, 1842 at the family’s farm in Albion, now part of the Correctional Facility. A printer by trade, John Denio became a respected citizen of Albion due in part to his time as publisher of the Orleans American.… More
Vol. 4, No. 8
As I perused the pages of a death ledger from the Orleans County Home, covering the years 1873 to 1902, the phrase “inmate” appears quite regularly. Today we associate that term with people who are involuntarily held at a jail, prison, or psychiatric facility; a rather focused description which has evolved over the last few centuries. In its earliest meaning, dating back to the 1500s, inmate was used to describe someone who shared a residence such as a visitor at a hotel, a boarding house, or a college student living on or around campus.
The Poor House was a common place for “inmates” to gather, not because they were confined to a cell as we have come to accept the word, but because they shared a common residence. In many cases, the confinement of one to a county poor house was, in fact, involuntary. A wife whose husband skipped town may not be capable of financially supporting herself or her children.… More
Vol. 4, No. 5
The history of Orleans County’s African American population in the earliest decades of our area is scarce and unknown in many aspects. Some residents may be familiar with the story of Richard Gordineer who, as an infant, was sold by his father to Joseph Grant; Grant eventually settled in the Shelby/Medina area. After New York abolished slavery in 1827, Gordineer became a free man and a well-respected citizen of Medina. Other stories involve families, like those of Henry Spencer and Jacob Carter, who came to Western New York with local Union army officers at the conclusion of the Civil War.
Spencer came to Orleans County with Lt. Hiram Sickels of the 17th New York Light Independent Artillery sometime around 1866. After earning enough money working for George Sickels, he brought his wife and children to this area. One of Spencer’s sons, Henry Austin, spent the majority of his teenage years working for Asa and William Howard as an errand boy until he reached adulthood.… More
Volume 4, Issue 4
As we near Black History Month in February, I was researching local African American families in Orleans County and attempting to assemble an understanding of this particular topic in local history. Without a doubt, it is an area that requires deeper research and is indicative of larger gaps in our understanding of how history was traditionally recorded; ideas of power and disparity. I am assembling a small display of local historical photographs pertaining to African American communities in Orleans County from the 1820s through the 1920s, which will be on display at the Hoag Library in February, but I thought it pertinent to recall some early pieces of abolitionist history in our area.
In 2015, the Orleans Renaissance Group erected a historic marker in Medina to commemorate the site of an address delivered by Frederick Douglass entitled “We Are Not Yet Quite Free,” on August 3, 1869.… More