Holley Woman Survived Titanic Disaster, 106 Years Ago

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

Holley Native Became Johnson & Johnson Matriarch

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

Brief Recollections of Medina’s Beloved “First Lady”


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

The Pioneer Woman

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

Denio Became University of Rochester’s First Female Faculty Member

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

Early Calls for Abolitionist Lectures Fell on Deaf Ears in Orleans County

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

Free Methodist Denomination Started in Albion

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

During Great Depression, Kids Didn’t Have Lengthy Wish List for Santa

Volume 3, Issue 52

Another year has passed, and another volume of Overlooked Orleans has concluded. To write another article about Charlie Howard and his Santa Claus School is perhaps cliché for the Christmas season. Those years of perfecting the spirit of Santa, dating back to his childhood days when as “a short fat boy” his mother sewed a suit for him to play the role, brought about a more meaningful understanding to the holiday season. A man whose passions rested with the children, who anticipated the abundance of gifts and dolefully observed the quick passing of this festive time of year.

While perusing old issues of the Orleans Republican, I was drawn to a column which appeared during the month of December in which the newspaper accepted letters to Santa Claus for publication. The short notes written to Kris Kringle during the Great Depression reflect a gentle consciousness of the hardships associated with the time.… More

Recalling Howard’s Beloved Christmas Park

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

Orleans County Defeated Suffrage Amendment in 1917

Volume 3, Issue 46

On November 6, 1917, half way across the world, the October Uprising was in full swing as the Bolsheviks led a revolution against the Tsarist government of Russia. In the United States, New York voters decided that it was time to extend suffrage to women.

Orleans County was at the center of suffragist activity and notes pertaining to Susan B. Anthony’s visits to the area can be found within the local papers. As early as October of 1859, Anthony attended a local women’s rights convention along with Frances Dana Barker Gage and Hannah Tracy Cutler, noted abolitionists and movers in the women’s suffrage movement. In a later visit on January 22, 1894, Anthony spoke at the Court House, along with Mary Seymour Howell and Mary G. Hay, on the subject of extending suffrage to women by amending law at the constitutional convention. The event led with a symposium on the subject of equal suffrage and involved a number of notable suffragists.… More