Albion Native was University of Rochester’s First African American Student

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

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

House of Refuge was Center of Social Reform for Delinquent Women

Volume 3, Issue 48

This photography, taken prior to 1915, shows the main office located within the administration building of the Western House of Refuge (now the Albion Correctional Facility). Miss Alice E. Curtin, the superintendent, stands in the center of the room shaking the hand of a young woman who is preparing to depart the facility on parole. Standing near the door is Miss Katherine Capitola Grinnell, the institution’s parole officer, who is prepared to escort the young woman to the railroad depot.

Miss Curtin ran a conservative operation at the House of Refuge as the institution was intended to rehabilitate young women who failed or refused to adhere to the strict gender norms of the time. The 1914 annual report for the Western House of Refuge shows that the inmate population totaled 238 women at the conclusion of the fiscal year with an annual average of 229 inmates; the facility’s capacity was rated at 215.… More

Orleans County’s Elite Led Temperance Reform Efforts

Volume 3, Issue 47

Following the passing of New York’s amendment that extended voting rights to women in 1917, the subsequent election involving the question of whether Albion would remain a “wet” or “dry” town was decided by the female vote. Although the vote was later deemed invalid, the local temperance organizations mobilized a sufficient number of new voters to end the sale of alcohol in Orleans County, even if only for a brief moment.

This Thomas Nast cartoon appeared in Harper’s Weekly on March 21, 1874 and depicted the debaucheries commonly associated with the saloon. A man of the middle-class accepts a drink of rum from the bartender who is depicted as death. The man’s young daughter pleads for her father to come home while his son looks on with concern and a man lays to the right, passed out in the corner of the room. In the distance is the man’s home and his wife, dressed in black, weeps behind her children.… 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

“Raising Bees” Served as Community Building Activity

Volume 3, Issue 45

No building served a more important function to society on the frontier of Western New York than the barn. This structure was essential to the operation of infant communities across the United States and we find numerous examples throughout local history of the significance of the barn. In Barre, the First Congregational Church (later the First Presbyterian Church of Albion) was organized in the barn of Joseph Hart and the barn of Ezra Spicer at Kendall was the focal point of Methodist revivals during the Second Great Awakening. The first town meeting for Murray was held in the barn of Johnson Bedell outside of Brockport and the small village of Hulberton utilized a barn south of the Erie Canal for a school until a framed building could be constructed in 1828.

Barn raising, or “raising bee,” was an important piece of rural life in the 18th century.… More

Department of History Holds Collection of 1893 World’s Fair Tickets

Volume 3, Issue 40

The collections within the Department of History contain newspaper clippings, genealogies, published histories, and photographs, but a number of interesting artifacts and ephemera items serve as a window into Orleans County’s material culture. This photograph shows a collection of souvenir tickets from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. The collection once belonged to Dr. Frank Haak Lattin, a dealer in natural specimens, a physician, and Assemblyman from New York.

Nearly 125 years ago, the United States prepared to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the new world in 1492. In order to host this massive event, 200 new but temporary buildings were constructed upon 600 acres of land using neoclassical architecture. A large central pool represented the long cross-Atlantic voyage of Columbus four centuries prior, a true symbol of American exceptionalism. Dedicated on October 21, 1892, the fair officially opened to the public on May 1, 1893 and ran through October 30, 1893.… More