Catastrophic Canal Break put Eagle Harbor Under Water

Volume 3, Issue 30

The success of the Erie Canal was not without trials and tribulations over its 200-year history. These photographs, taken in August of 1927, show the damage sustained during an extensive break in the canal wall near Eagle Harbor.

On August 3, 1927, local farmers observed a slight leak in the south wall of the canal near the Otter Creek gully. L. E. Bennett reported seeing a three-foot square hole open up, spilling thousands of gallons of water out of the waterway in a matter of minutes; the initial opening formed approximately 100 feet west of the Otter Creek culvert. Within a relatively short period of time, the flooring of the canal gave way and the south wall broke free, creating a hole that spanned 50 feet in length and 7 feet in height.

Newspapers reported that over 1,000,000,000 gallons of water had spilled into the neighboring fields surrounding Eagle Harbor, creating a large lake that reached 20-60 feet in depth in certain areas.… More

Steamboat Celina Provided Efficient Shipping by way of Canal

Volume 3, Issue 29

Western New York and Orleans County owe its success and growth of the 19th century to the Erie Canal. Breaking through the wilderness of our region, the Canal opened the Niagara Frontier to the world, distributing raw materials and importing necessities. This image shows the steamboat Celina docked at the canal terminal at Medina. The White Hotel is likely the most recognizable landmark in this photograph.

Part of the Buffalo & Rochester Transit Company’s Steamboat Express line, the Celina was regarded as one of the earlier freight steamers in this area. The vessel was operated by James Chamberlain and Judson Webster, father-in-law of Charlie Howard. The company operated eight boats in total, including the John Owens, C.H. Francis, William B. Kirk, C.H. Johnson, Frankie Reynolds, Tacoma, Deland, Consort, and Celina. Ruth Webster Howard recalled riding on this boat, stopping at Medina for dinner at the stately White Hotel.… More

Grain Barge Rammed Bates Road Guard Gate in 1925

Volume 3, Issue 28

Taken on August 19, 1925 by the New York Department of State Engineers, Western Division, this image shows Guard Gate 15 located at Bates Road in Medina. This gate was referred to locally as “Hastings Guard Gate” and provided workers with the ability to isolate sections of the Erie Canal during wall breaks, accidents, and high water levels. Orleans County has three guard gates; Gate 15 at Medina, Gate 14 at Albion, and Gate 13 at Holley.

This photograph raises an interesting question; what happens when the guard gate is involved in an accident? In August of 1925, a fleet of six barges from the “Green Fleet” under the charge of Captain Hickey were travelling westward. The vessels were pulled behind a tugboat, two abreast, when the southern barge rammed the center pier of the guard gate. The force of the impact jarred the gate loose from its hinges, dropping it onto the deck of the northern barge.… More

July 4th Marks Bicentennial of Erie Canal Construction

Volume 3, Issue 27

The Erie Canal has a long and illustrious history spanning over two hundred years starting on July 4, 2017. As we hit the bicentennial of the construction of the Canal, I thought it would be fitting to write a series of articles about some of the more interesting Canal images within the Department of History’s collections. I suspect that the passing of the July 4th anniversary will go without fanfare locally, but the eight years between the start of construction and official opening will provide many opportunities to celebrate the iconic waterway.

Dating back to 1699, the concept of constructing a waterway that would open the wilderness of New York to the rest of the world was first suggested by a French engineer named Sebastien Vauban. The radical idea remained in the minds of entrepreneurs and politicians throughout the 18th century, surfacing again after the establishment of the United States.… More

Route for early immigrants was not easy, nor legal

Volume 3, Issue 26

Dating back to the earliest years of the United States, immigration was a welcomed occurrence; the arrival of new European immigrants was believed to bring desirable traits that would strengthen American stock. Despite this early stance on a process that was of little concern to most Americans, groups surfaced with the intention of restricting or ending waves of immigration.

The emergence of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s brings forth a “Gangs of New York” image to the minds of many. The exact level of activity of such groups in Orleans County is uncertain, but we do know that men such as John Hull White of Albion and Elisha Whalen of Medina were aligned with these political ideas. White, a Conservative Democrat in the years when Republicans considered themselves the “Party of Lincoln,” found it impossible to win an election in our Republican-dominated county.

An influx of Irish and German immigrants established an unfounded fear of the Catholic Church, while many of these immigrants flooded into the emerging sandstone quarries of our region, bringing with them a willingness to toil amidst dynamite and heavy stone.… More

Photograph Showcases Orleans County’s Earliest Settlers

Volume 3, Issue 25

On June 25, 1859, the pioneer inhabitants of Orleans County converged upon Court House Square in Albion with the purpose of establishing an historic association. The Pioneer Association, as it was known, was formulated upon a motion made by the Almanzor Hutchinson of Gaines, which set forth the permanent appointment of officers for the organization. Robert Anderson of Gaines was selected as president, vice presidents representing the nine townships were elected including Lansing Bailey of Barre, Alexander Coon of Shelby, Jeremiah Brown of Ridgeway, Gardner Gould of Carlton, Samuel Tappan of Yates, Shubael Lewis of Clarendon, Robert Clark of Kendall, Walter Fairfield of Gaines, and Aretus Pierce of Murray, as well as Asa Sanford as secretary, and Dr. Orson Nichoson as treasurer.

Residency was a requirement for membership within the Pioneer Association; only those who resided in Western New York prior to January 1, 1826, were eligible for admittance.… More

Historical Hijinks – April Fools!

November 1, 1894:
Democrats gathered at Albion’s train station in the pouring rain awaiting the arrival of Gov. Roswell Flower to pass through on a special train. As the train slowly sputtered into the station, a gentleman arouses the attention of onlookers by passing word around to give three cheers for Gov. Flower. A man emerged from the train, greeted by three hearty cheers for Flower; he tips his hat, bows, and addresses the crowd, telling them to vote next Tuesday for Levi Morton, the Republican nominee. The man stepped back onto the train and departed – the special train arrived shortly after.

March 12, 1903:
At midnight, the streetlight wire crossed the incandescent lighting circuit at Medina near the home of Watson Barry. The steel ceiling in Barry’s home became charged and made a brilliant display!

October 31, 1932:
Kids at Medina reportedly exchanged the front steps of Mayor Grinnell’s home with those of another and someone advertised the Presbyterian Church as for sale.… More

Alms House Hospital Wing Dedicated in 1905

Volume 2, Issue 33

This image taken in 1905 shows a gathering of local officials and community members at the opening of the hospital wing at the Orleans County Alms House. The estimated $20,000 extension of the Poor House was designed by architect Fred Harvey Loverin of Buffalo and completed with much anticipation from local officials.

The main building, pictured right, consisted of an administration building, a men’s ward, and a women’s ward all constructed in 1878 by Frank Downing. The building replaced the badly deteriorated County House, which was deemed obsolete by a committee consisting of John Hull White, Burton Keys, and Julius Harris. The committee reported that “…the roof leaks badly…” and that “…the walls appear to be infested with vermin, and there is no way to exterminate them except by building the walls anew.” It is shown in the papers of Frederick Law Olmstead that he was consulted in the planning of the new Alms House building.… More

C. Royce Sawyer

Volume 2, Issue 32

This image taken by Francis Burnette of Albion shows a young Charles Royce Sawyer, probably around 1890. The son of George Sawyer and Elizabeth Royce, Charles was one of two children born to the prominent Albion couple; unfortunately, his younger sister Lucilla died just over a month after birth. Sawyer received his early education at Albion and eventually entered employment with the Citizen’s National Bank as an assistant cashier.

Charles was prominent in local political, social, and business affairs and was said to have a “genial hearty manner that made him friends with everyone.” After joining the fire department in Albion he progressed through the organization, first as treasurer for the Dye Hose Company and then serving as Chief Engineer. It was the goal of his tenure as Chief to mechanize the entire department and it was his work that secured the first mechanized fire truck in New York outside of New York City.… More