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

“Inmate” Was Term Used to Describe Poor House Residents

Vol. 4, No. 8

As I perused the pages of a death ledger from the Orleans County Home, covering the years 1873 to 1902, the phrase “inmate” appears quite regularly. Today we associate that term with people who are involuntarily held at a jail, prison, or psychiatric facility; a rather focused description which has evolved over the last few centuries. In its earliest meaning, dating back to the 1500s, inmate was used to describe someone who shared a residence such as a visitor at a hotel, a boarding house, or a college student living on or around campus.

The Poor House was a common place for “inmates” to gather, not because they were confined to a cell as we have come to accept the word, but because they shared a common residence. In many cases, the confinement of one to a county poor house was, in fact, involuntary. A wife whose husband skipped town may not be capable of financially supporting herself or her children.… More

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