Vol. 4, No. 16
Although Lillian Bentham remains one of the more detailed accounts from a local survivor of the Titanic sinking, Orleans County has several other connections to the tragic disaster. On May 2, 1885, a baby girl was born to William and Martha Howard at North Walsham in Norfolk, England. May Elizabeth Howard was one of eight children born to the English couple, the father working as an agricultural laborer.
At the time the Titanic was set to sail on her maiden voyage, the 27-year-old Howard planned on visiting her brother in Toronto before traveling to Albion to stay with her sister, Jane Hewitt. Her intention was to move in with the family of County Sheriff William Kenyon to work as a nanny. May secured a ticket on a smaller vessel that was set to sail in the days leading up to the Titanic voyage, but a coal strike forced her to travel aboard the unsinkable ship.… 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
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. 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
Volume 4, Issue 2
Nearly thirty years ago, an historic marker was installed on the corner of East State and Platt Streets in Albion to mark the location of the first Free Methodist Church. Installed in 1990 by the County Department of History to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the establishment of the church, the marker reads:
“The first Free Methodist Church in the denomination. Rev. Loren Stiles founded the congregation in 1859, Norman Revival in style it was dedicated May 18, 1860.”
The history of this particular congregation dates back to the pastorate of Rev. Benjamin Titus Roberts, who was appointed to the Methodist Episcopal Church at Albion in 1855. Upon his arrival, the congregation was the second-largest in the Genesee Conference with a membership of 285. After the completion of his second year at the pulpit, the numerical growth of the congregation was stagnant.
In August of 1857, a two-part article written by Roberts entitled “New School Methodism” appeared in the pages of the newly established Northern Independent.… More
Volume 3, Issue 53
During the holiday season, I often think back to the years I spent as a young boy, enjoying Christmas with family and friends; simpler times. The memory that remains fresh in my mind is Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mary’s Assumption on Brown Street in Albion. We would walk down the street to church and visit with parishioners, young and old, before walking to my grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner. I always remember being enamored with the beautiful artwork that adorned the ceiling of the nave, but at that time I had no idea of the significance of the paintings, who completed the work, or what the paintings depicted. I am sure the question of how an artist managed to paint on such a high ceiling was the predominant thought circling in my head.
Starting in the 1930s and continuing through the 1940s, the Polish Catholics in Albion realized as they neared their golden jubilee that the interior of the church was in need of considerable improvements.… More
Volume 3, Issue 51
Around this time last year, I authored a piece about Charles Howard and the founding of the Santa Claus School (v.2, no.52). As Christmas approaches, I thought it appropriate to once again recall the life of an influential and beloved man who left a lasting impression on many Orleans County residents.
Starting in the mid-1950s, Howard started the process of converting his farm and barns to a Christmas Park. On Saturday, September 22, 1956, this “entertainment, education, gift, and amusement center,” opened for a short, 13-week season. Mrs. Henry Greene of Medina provided “Christmas Village,” a collection of 20 small houses, schools, churches, and other structures, fully furnished and lighted – an endeavor that required 25 years of collecting to complete. Also included was “Toy Lane,” a collection of 23 window scenes aimed at simulating store fronts. Children had opportunities to visit with Santa Claus, see reindeer in the stables, and visit Mrs.… More