Alley Traces Name to Local Hatter

Vol. 4, No. 45

Toponymy, the study of place names, origins, meanings, and use, is an area of focus often overlooked locally. The history of Orleans County is a mixture of the ordinary and the extraordinary, so it is no surprise that the origins of place names in our area would follow a similar pattern. A recent influx of questions regarding name choices for various hamlets, towns, and streets sparked an interest in digging deeper beyond the brief notations found within the files of the Department of History. A file marked “Place Names” reveals very little about the variety of titles affixed to points of interest in our area, so I thought it would be worthwhile to delve into a few examples over several articles.

Beaver Alley is perhaps the most notable local street oddity and is likely to arouse a chuckle or two on occasion. Neil Johnson described several street name origin stories in his column “Albion, Oh Albion” (no.… More

Tenure of Training School Superintendent Marred by Controversy

Vol. 4, No. 44

This photograph, from a collection donated to the Department of History from Ruth Webster Howard, shows the rear side of the Administrative Building at the Western House of Refuge in Albion. The structure sat at the west end of the main walk and served as the residence for the superintendent, assistant superintendent, marshal, parole officer, purchasing agent, and housekeeper, and housed offices for the institution.

The Western House of Refuge opened on December 8, 1893, but did not “receive” any inmates until January of 1894. This institution represented a rather interesting period in the U.S. penal system, where women between the ages of 16 and 30 were sent for “rehabilitation.” Those guilty of crimes ranging from petit larceny to public intoxication, prostitution, or “waywardness” found themselves committed to the institution for a period of three to five years. During that time they received instruction in the domestic sciences; cooking, housekeeping, sewing, laundry, etc.… More

Story of Rev. Dykal Highlights Accomplishments of Polish Americans

Vol. 4, No. 41

October is Polish American Heritage Month, first celebrated in 1981 by the Polish American Cultural Center in Philadelphia. It is an opportunity to call attention to the accomplishments of the roughly 9.5 million self-identified Polish Americans in the United States. In Orleans County, the Poles found employment in the local sandstone quarries scattered along the Erie Canal, just as countless other immigrant groups had in prior years.

I was given this photograph of an unidentified priest several years ago and through a bit of luck was able to identify him as Rev. Leonard F. Dykal of Albion. Dressed in his cassock and wearing the liturgical biretta, the three-peaked hat common of Roman Catholic clergy prior to Vatican II, Dykal appears to be relatively young. I would presume that this image, printed on a postcard, was taken around or shortly after his ordination.

Leonard Dykał was born at Albion on April 30, 1889 to Frank and Mary Lubomska Dykał.… More

Apple Shipping at Knowlesville

Vol. 4, No. 40

October is National Apple Month! This photograph, likely taken in the latter quarter of the 19th century, shows the New York Central Railroad Depot located at Knowlesville. This particular image was taken east of the Rt. 31 Bridge that crosses over the railroad tracks; the photographer has pointed his camera to the southeast. A number of horse-drawn wagons are pulling loads of apples to be loaded into refrigerator cars positioned along the tracks.

In the earliest years of the county’s history, wheat was the primary product shipped out of the area. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 drastically cut shipping rates for grains and produce, but demands for apples increased gradually starting around 1845. That increase in demand led Isaac Signor to include the following account of apple orchards in Landmarks of Orleans County, New York published in 1894;

“The fruit has flourished exceedingly in most parts of the county, the climatic influence of the winds, which from the north, northwest, and northeast, pass over open water before striking this territory, becoming thereby tempered and raising the average of winter temperature, and at the same time serving as protection against late spring and early autumn frosts.… More

Centenary of Meuse-Argonne Offensive


Grave of Cpl. James P. Clark of Company F, 108th Infantry, 27th Division – Somme American Cemetery

Vol. 4, No. 39

Amidst the commotion of political malfeasance, the excitement of football season, and the stress of a new school year comes the centennial of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The massive campaign initiated on September 26, 1918 marked the beginning of the end for Imperial Germany. Over 1.2 million American soldiers participated in the advance that spanned the nearly 50 days leading up to the Armistice of November 11th.

Over the last three years, I have authored numerous pieces on the men of Company F who marched across the fields of the embattled French countryside. All of that research culminated with the opportunity to stand upon the hallowed ground that refused to release the bodies of so many young men. Now that 100 years have passed, a little interest has stirred up locally in an effort to commemorate this monumental anniversary.… More

Gandy Dancers Provided Maintenance Services to Local Railroads

Vol. 4, No. 33

This rather interesting photograph shows five men working as part of a section gang along the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburg Railroad. It is believed that this particular crossing was located somewhere in the town of Kendall and the photograph was taken September 11, 1897. The men appear to have stopped for dinner (the midday meal) as several metal pails appear on the car. One of the young men appears to be holding his pocket watch as if to show that it is noontime.

The Lake Ontario Shore Railroad was chartered in 1858, and like all great projects, was delayed for nearly ten years until the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad Company was formed on March 27, 1868. It would take another three years before construction commenced at Red Creek, New York and within two years the railway was operational from Ontario, Wayne County to Oswego. The rails eventually stretched to Kendall but the Panic of 1873 forced the company’s mortgage bonds to be called in early, which drove the railroad into bankruptcy.… More

Benjamin Lisk Bessac

Vol. 4, No. 32

As tours of Mt. Albion Cemetery continue every Sunday through the month of August, I noticed a particular headstone that is frequently passed over each year. Progressing up the winding hills towards the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the peak of the cemetery is a moderately-sized, dark greyish-blue stone that reads “Father – Benjamin L. Bessac, 1807 – 1871.” The stone is rather reserved in comparison to the larger, ostentatious obelisks and monuments that stand around it. Benjamin Lisk Bessac, the feature of this article, was one of the most notable attorneys in Orleans County who mentored the area’s premier lawyers.

Born on March 12, 1807 at New Baltimore, New York, Bessac’s mother died when he was just 12 days old leaving his father a widower with an infant child. Some reports differ as to who exactly cared for the child in infancy, some suggesting his grandparents while others suggest an aunt who lived in the vicinity.… More

Roy D. S. Bruner

Vol. 4, No. 31

On occasion I discover a photograph and set it aside for sorting, only to have it resurface several months later. The faces stare at me as if I know each person’s identity, their names, their characteristics, and personality. At times it becomes maddening when faces are recognized, and names not recalled; in reality, many photographs go unidentified.

This studio portrait taken by Francis Burnette shows a rather young Roy D. S. Bruner of Albion, NY. Inscribed on the reverse are dates, “Born March 12, 1873, Died Nov. 5, 1888.” The other markings, “Class of ’89, L. A. Achilles,” indicate that the photograph is part of a collection of images once belonging to Lillian Achilles of Albion. So, what can be said about this dapper young gentleman, with his brush-cut hair, rimless spectacles, and stand-up collar?

The brief story of Roy Bruner starts with his father, Henry A.… More

Communal Company Promoted Early Settlement in Carlton


A pioneer settlement as depicted in the Historical Album of Orleans County (1879)

Vol. 4, No. 30

On September 10, 1810, eight men from Stockbridge, Massachusetts signed a contract binding one another to a settlement on the Holland Land Purchase in Western New York. These men were unsure of what they would encounter in the virgin woods of the Genesee Country where land was scarcely settled, and neighbors few and far between. When gazing upon the text of this agreement, the articles read like a manifesto built upon a foundation of communism. Now this is not to say that these pioneers sought to establish any semblance of a communist society in the wilderness of Carlton, but the premise of this collective was to share the fruits of labor.

The first line of Article 1 read, “…for the purpose of our better accommodation and mutual benefit, we do and have resolved ourselves to one respective body or company…” That organization established under the name of the “Union Company,” was formed with the purpose of sharing labor while providing the freedom to purchase land without limitation by the group.… More

Demisemiseptcentennial: Mt. Albion’s 175th Anniversary

Vol. 4, No. 29

“We have met to provide a mansion for the dead. We have come out from our quiet homes and the bright sunlight and the crowded streets and all the garish show of life, to this secluded spot to set apart a last final resting place where the weary pilgrim…may come and lay down his burden forever…” – Daniel R. Cady, Esq.

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are but two certainties in life; death and taxes. For the pioneers of Albion, the question of a sacred final resting place plagued them from the earliest years of settlement. Small burial grounds existed within the village limits, but the harsh realities of life and death proved problematic for these noble citizens.

It became apparent soon after the incorporation of the village that a cemetery on East State Street would be quickly overcome with the bodies of those who succumbed to the tribulations of pioneer life.… More