Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Marriage Woes


—John Babcock with several aliases, a few weeks ago married a girl named Katie Kane at Port Byron. A few days ago it was discovered that he had another wife and a warrant was issued for his arrest, which the officer proceeded to serve. Babcock took a dose of strychnine, but not enough to produce the desired effect. He then took another dose, but the second time overdid the matter and took too much. He threw up the poison and will recover.

Chess Game Played by Telegraph

Here is an interesting newspaper brief that I think many will enjoy:

The Daily Courier, Syracuse, NY, Monday February 4, 1878:

"A game of chess was recently played between a Weedsport and a Port Byron man by means of telegraph. The Port Byron player was victorious."

If anyone has ever heard any oral histories about this chess game, please contact me, I'd love to know who these guys were. Since this game took place in 1878 by telegraph, it was bound to be big news for its day.

Perhaps this is a village or town record?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Historian Update

Starting this December, it will be my pleasure to also serve as your historian for the Town of Mentz. Former historian Mike Riley has communicated with me that he intends to dedicate his interests with the growing needs at Lock 52 Historical Society. Mike also is active with the New York State Canal Society. We thank him for his many years of service as Mentz Historian and wish him well with his future endeavors.

Lock 52 Historical Society

Thursday, December 3, 2009

American Baritone Richard Bonelli

The legendary baritone opera star Richard Bonelli was born George Richard Bunn at Port Byron, NY on Feb. 2, 1889, son of Martin & Ida Bunn. The family would later move to Syracuse, NY where George would soon prefer to be called Richard. The following biography mentions the late Penny Helzer, my predecessor as historian for the village of Port Byron. Here is a wonderful biography of Richard:

Biography of Richard Bonelli by Charles A Hooey

Prior to entering into a singing career, Bonelli was a close friend of David Abbot Jenkins, the father of salt racing:

David Abbot Jenkin & Bonelli

Richard Bonelli received an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Music from Syracuse University in 1937. In 1965 he received the American Guild of Musical Artists Merit Award(AGMA).

He also was a movie actor, having a supporting role in the 1935 film "Enter Madame" staring Elissa Landi and Cary Grant:

Enter Madame 1935

He appeared as himself in the 1941 film "There's Magic in Music" staring Allan Jones and Margaret Lindsay:

There's Magic in Music 1941

Richard was twice married, 1st to Pauline Cornelys and 2nd to Mona Chapman Wood. Through the union with his second wife, Richard was the Uncle of actor Robert Stack, star of the television series "The Untouchables" and Host of "Unsolved Mysteries":

Robert Stack Biography

Obituary of Mona Chapman Wood Bonelli

Guide to the Richard Bonelli Collection

Richard Bonelli debuted in Italy as Riccardo Bonelli, making him an international star. He holds two other significant records, being amoung the performances on the day that Opera was first broadcasted by radio on January 13, 1910 and performed on the first TV broadcast of Opera on 3/10/1940:

Radio Broadcast History-1910

First TV Opera Performance 1940

Richard Bonelli died at Los Angeles, California on June 7, 1980. His cremated remains were placed in Niche 32072, Columbarium of Victory, Freedom Mausoleum, in Forest Lawn Glendale, in Los Angeles County, his wife's cremated remains were placed on March 20, 1998.

His parents are buried at Port Byron, NY.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Titanic Artifact Exhibit at Rochester

Titanic-The Artifact Exhibit will be at the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) until January 18, 2010.

The RMS Titanic was not only a luxury liner for the wealthy, it also served as a "Royal Mail Service" vessel, indicated by its name RMS Titanic.

Many passengers on board had connections to Upstate, NY. Rev. Sidney Clarence Stewart Collett was in route to Port Byron to visit his father Rev. Mawbey Collett of the Port Byron Baptist Church. He was one of the lucky survivors, crediting his fate to two female passengers in his care. When the life boats boarded his companions, he was instructed to leave with them to ensure their safety.

PUT ON THE KETTLE; Rescued Minister Sends Word to Port Byron

The museum is located at 657 East Avenue, at the corner of Goodman Street in Rochester.

Exhibit Hours:

The RMSC will be open from 9am to 9pm Wednesdays and Thursdays while Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is on exhibit, except on some holidays as listed below.

Columbus Day: Monday, October 12 9am–5pm
Veterans Day: Wednesday, November 11 9am–9pm
Thanksgiving: Thursday, November 26 CLOSED
Day after Thanksgiving: Friday, November 27 9am–5pm
Christmas Eve: Thursday, December 24 9am–3pm
Christmas Day: Friday, December 25 CLOSED
New Year's Eve: Thursday, December 31 9am–5pm
New Year's Day: Friday, January 1, 2010 11am–5pm
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Monday, January 18, 2010 9am–5pm

Ticket Prices and Additional Information

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Capt. Joseph Harker

Another Revolutionary War Soldier Discovered at Port Byron

Capt. Joseph Harker was born 9/28/1743 in Morris County, NJ. He served in Capt. Abraham Lyon's Company, 4th NJ Regiment commanded by Col. Ephraim Martin. His wife was Mary Walling. Joseph died in September of 1815.

After the war the Harker family moved to Stillwater, NY in Saratoga County. This is the same area where Seth Higley and Philip King lived before they came to Port Byron. I was very surprised to find this soldier in the Harker-Higley genealogy as he has never appeared on our soldier list. The book describes his burial place in Port Byron as the old cemetery near the Erie canal. It also reports that a brick wall was constructed by Joseph's son James Harker before he moved to Illinois in 1829. This certainly fits the description of our Old Port Byron Cemetery, today known as King Cemetery.

The book indicates that their headstones were in poor condition, so today I walked the cemetery to see if I could find any remains of their headstones. I am sad to report that their head stones have not survived the fate of time. However, thanks to this book, I will now be able to order a military marker for him. King Cemetery is a tremendous challenge because there are no burial records or maps. The only record that exists are previous headstone inventories and the Harker name has not appeared on our lists.

Reading the history of this family was fascinating. As I mentioned, our soldier had a son named James. James was married twice. His first wife was Mary McColom. His second wife was Puella Higley, a widow of Josiah Partridge and daughter of Seth Higley. Puella was born at Half Moon in Saratoga County, NY. They moved to Peoria County, Illinois in 1829. Their settlement would be named "Harker's Corner" after their namesake.

The family genealogy is important because without it, we would have never known that Capt. Joseph Harker was buried here. You can read more about this family by visiting:

Harker-Higley Ancestry by Margaret P Brown

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Italian Artifacts of Port Byron

Seeking artifacts from Port Byron Italian farmers for display at the New York State Museum

The New York State Museum with the assistance of the Association of Public Historian's of New York State (APHNYS) would like to know if anyone from the Port Byron Italian families have any artifacts that could be loaned to the State Museum for their exhibit on New York's ethnic and cultural history.

Anyone that has old photos of your Italian ancestors, old farm tools, household items or anything that you are able to share, please contact me. Many may have purchased property once owned by these immigrants, so any artifacts you have that can be loaned would be appreciated.

It would be wonderful to see Port Byron in this wonderful exhibit.

I forwarded the publication about the Port Byron immigration study to our State Historian Mr. Robert Weible, and there is much interest to have our community featured in the exhibit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Italian Bees

Here is a comment by Harvey Ware, where he describes in detail having an Italian Drone of bees:

Gleamings in Bee Culture 1882 page 459

Gleamings in Bee Culture 1882 page 554

The Old Italian Neighborhood

Recently I had an inquiry regarding the old Italian neighborhood of Port Byron.

I found this interesting book about the contributions of the Port Byron Italians to the local muck lands. Eight Italian farms were selected for a study and the data is an interesting read and an interesting glimpse into the past.

I was surprised to read that all willow grown on the Italian farms were sold at Liverpool, NY.

Reports of the Immigration Commission Vol. 21

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Port Byron - A Name of Inspiration

Did you know that Port Byron, NY is credited for inspiring the name of Byron, Minnesota?

In searching the web, I found Byron, Minnesota's name was suggested by George W. Van Dusen after his home town of Port Byron, NY.

Pocket Guide of Minnesota Names published 2002

A Guide to the greatest bike rides in Minnesota

The same information was in the book Exploring America's Highways: Minnesota Trip Trivia by Michael Heim, published in 2004 on page 300.

G.W. Van Dusen was a millionaire who earned his fortunes by developing grain elevators for distribution of grain. His 12,000 sq ft mansion is on the list of landmarks:

Van Dusen Mansion

History of the Van Dusen Mansion

With Port Byron transporting the principal grain market for New York State during the canal period, the occupation of G.W. Van Dusen is fascinating.

I would be interested in finding Mr. Van Dusen in a Federal or State census at Port Byron. This surname in the Ancestry.com indexes has many spelling variations. I have contacted the Van Dusen Center for more information so that we may confirm this historic link. Hopefully he lived here long enough to be recorded in our census, otherwise it may require a look at tax assessment records or land deeds.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hayden Bros Woolen Mills

Readers may be interested in seeing an advertisement for Hayden Bros. They also had a store in Syracuse.

Hayden Bros. Woolen Mills Advertisement

(For those that may need assistance, to find the exact section, once loaded, select from your browser the edit tab and then select "find on this page" and type Hayden in the search box)

It is reported that Horace Greeley's white coat was stolen.

Location of Hayden Bros by Richard T King

The mill was located on the Port Byron-Auburn Road. The woolen mill moved into the building previously used to manufacture wooden pails, where a young Brigham Young was once employed.

1853 Map of Mentz

See Military Lot # 84, to the left is wool fact and across the street shows the office Wm Hayden, heading toward but before the township of Throop, NY, being Lot #84 in Mentz.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Can you believe Ralph Waldo Emerson was invited to speak at Port Byron in 1858?

It's true!

A published book of Emerson's pocket diary shows that Horace V Howland and Finlay M King attempted to bring Emerson to Port Byron. The biographer suggests that Port Byron was unable to pay Emerson's fee, so the engagement never took place.

The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Horace Greeley's White coat manufactured by Hayden's

I continue to be amazed at all the wonderful connections that the Port Byron area has. I was not aware that the cloth used for Horace Greeley's famous white coat was made at Hayden's factory in the Town of Mentz, just outside the village of Port Byron!

.Cloth for Horace Greeley's White Coat crafted in the Town of Mentz

Horace Greeley was the famous founder of the New York Tribune. The Foreman of the Tribune composition room was Thomas N Rooker, who is related to all of the Port Byron Rooker families.

Horace Greeley

Greeley was famous for his quote "Go West Young Man", was a founder of the Liberal Republican Party and ran for President with an unsuccessful run against Ulysses S Grant.

Other newspaper articles indicate that the Hayden Brothers presented the coat to Greeley.

Dr. James Jenkins and the William Kemmler Execution

Google Books provides a more detailed list of those that were present when William Kemmler, the first legalized electrocution case was performed at Auburn Prison at Auburn, NY.

Witness List

Dr. J. M. Jenkins of Auburn was in deed present.

Dr. James Morris Jenkins and his wife Dr. Nettie Jenkins were early physicians at Port Byron. They may be the earliest husband and wife team to provide medical services to our community. They only practiced at Port Byron for about 3 years. Thanks to Kim Nolan for sharing that some of their descendants continued to live at Port Byron, where Nettie may also be our first woman doctor.

Dr. James Jenkins was also a permanent member of the State Board of Examiners:

Jenkins elected to State Board of Examiners

I also found a wonderful family history on Dr. Jenkins:

Dr Jenkins, a descendant of John Boution, a native of France

Readers are welcome to start discussions regarding Port Byron history by visiting my Facebook Page called Port Byron History.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dr.'s James and Nettie Jenkins

Thank you Kim Nolan for sharing your comment on Dr's James and Nettie Jenkins.

(See Pioneer Physicians Posted 4/2/2009)

It is always nice to learn that part of this family remained in our community. Your question about the Jenkins being involved in the first electric chair execution in America at the Auburn Prison is very interesting.

Newspaper accounts indicate that a Dr. William Jenkins of New York was one of the physicians who performed the autopsy on William Kemmler, the inmate that was executed:

Autopsy of William Kemmler

History of the electric chair

It is difficult to determine the exact role of your Dr. James Morris Jenkins from newspaper accounts. It does appear that he was a witness:

Dr. James Jenkins listed as a witness

There is another article that mentions a Dr. Morris M Jenkins which may be James Morris Jenkins:

Dr. Morris M Jenkins interview

Friday, October 16, 2009

Municipal Historians of New York State

For readers that are from other areas of the Country, New York State is blessed with incorporating local historians into the laws of New York State. Historians are governed by Section 57.13 of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law. You can read more about the history of New York's Historian Law by visiting the following website:

Historian's Law of New York State

This site also contains a searchable list of all historians for the entire State of New York.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Annual of Scientific Discoveries

Did you know that Port Byron appeared in the 1850 Annual of Scientific Discovery for analysis of our wheat flour?

Chemical analysis of our flour was listed as:

13.60% Water
12.00% Gluten
67.60% Starch
06.80% Glucose, dextrine

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lieut. Peter Elsworth

Here's another ground breaking law suit involving Port Byron. This case involved a Revolutionary War soldier who was awarded bounty land for his service. The soldier never occupied the land but willed the land to his father. The father in turn willed the land to his son Theophilus Elsworth who was the first to settle on part of the soldiers lot. The law suit was over the rights of deceased soldiers:

Law Suit over land grant at Port Byron

Peter Elsworth had a lengthy period of service during the war. He served in the 4th NY Regiment commanded by Lt. Col. Frederick Weissenfels, Lt. Mayor's Company. He was stationed at West Point, Fort Schuyler as well as Camp Steenrapie. His muster cards are plentiful being 65 cards in all. He also was assigned to Henry B Livingston, Esq. and spent some time at the Manor of Livingston in the Nine Month Levies. He held the rank of Captain with Livingston's assignment. He was also a Regimental Adjutant.

Friday, September 25, 2009

American Sculptor Byron M Pickett

Newspaper articles reflect that sculptor Byron M Pickett was born at Port Byron, NY the son of John Welcher and Lucy Pickett. Other articles suggest he was a native of Jordan. We can confirm that the Pickett family did live at Port Byron as early as 1840 per the Federal census.

John served as Mentz Town Clerk and is buried with his son David Pickett at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Port Byron.

Byron M Pickett completed several important sculptures:

"Patriotism" located at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, NY. According to their website, they are the 6th oldest Reformed Church in America. This sculpture is also known as the "Daughter of the 120th Regiment".

History of the Old Dutch Church at Kingston

"Samuel Finley Breese Morse" at Central Park.
Morse Statue at Central Park

"62nd NY Infantry" Gettysburg. This regiment was also known as Anderson's Zouaves.

Photo of 62nd NY Inf Statue

"Anderson Zouaves" - Living History & Research Group

1879 Bio of Byron M Pickett

If anyone knows of the burial location for Byron M Pickett, please contact me. He has relatives trying to find his grave, somewhere in the Manhatten area.

Lincoln's Inaugural Bible vs Amos King Bible

Most people when they hear the phrase "Lincoln Bible" they think of the inaugural bible. The President had several bibles. To my knowledge, there was his family bible, the inaugural bible and also the bible gifted by Amos S King from Port Byron, NY. The King Bible is not the same bible as the inaugural bible. While they do share some similarities, you may enjoy knowing more about each bible:

The Lincoln Inaugural Bible

President Lincoln took his oath as President on an Oxford Bible. Lincoln intended to use his family bible but it was not delivered in time for the ceremony. The clerk of the Supreme Court, William Thomas Carroll, provided the bible since the family bible was delayed. This was an 1853 Oxford Bible with velvet covering. The bible remained in the Lincoln family but was later donated to the Library of Congress after the death of Robert Todd Lincoln by his widow.

Photos of the 1861 Lincoln Inaugural Bible

USA Today report on Obama's use of Lincoln's Inaugural Bible

The Amos S King Bible

After reading the Farewell Address that President Elect Abraham Lincoln gave at Springfield, IL, Amos King of Port Byron was so moved that he sent the President a bible as a gift.

Lincoln's Farewell Address

Image of the Farewell Address

The Amos King bible is a Cambridge bible and has a genuine leather cover. The bible would also pass to Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the President, where it was placed in the library at his summer home called Hildene, located at Manchester, VT.

Amos sent the bible at or near inauguration day, as his letter that accompanied the bible was dated on inauguration day.

The King bible does show evidence of wear, an indication that the bible was enjoyed as a personal bible, having been used by the Lincoln family on a private basis.

What is similar about these two bibles?

1) Both bibles were printed in England.

2) Both bibles are associated with Lincoln's inauguration of 1861.

3) Both bibles were passed down to the family of Robert Todd Lincoln.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The Amos S King Bible from Port Byron, NY is now a featured item in a new Lincoln Exhibit.

Paula Maynard Press Release:
"Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home announces the opening of its new Abraham Lincoln exhibit, “The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural” on Saturday, September 5.

Set within the context of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, which harkens back to the then radical beliefs first enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, visitors will learn how the Civil War and President Lincoln helped bring life and meaning to the promise of the American Ideal of equality, justice and opportunity for all.

The exhibit thoughtfully uses text from the speech, considered to be the president’s greatest, and artifacts from the collections of Hildene and Brown University’s John Hay Library, one of the five great Lincoln collections. The two institutions recently formalized their partnership with a Memorandum of Understanding and the formation of the Hildene-Brown Collaborative.

Among the artifacts included in the exhibit are; one of only three of Lincoln’s iconic stovepipe hats in existence, one of his bibles, a cast of the president’s hands, a life mask and a scrapbook that belonged to a supporting actress who appeared in the production of “Our American Cousin,” the play the President was watching on the evening of the assassination. The scrapbook contains a swatch of wallpaper from his Fords Theater box. Also in the exhibit is a playbill from this final performance. A bust of Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, is on loan from the Jefferson Legacy Foundation.

The Lincoln Family Home at Hildene is open daily from 9:30 to 4:30. Admission, which includes the exhibit, is $12.50 for adults, $5 for youth 6-14, children under 6, Hildene members and volunteers are free. For more information on Hildene, visit www.hildene.org, call 802.362.1788 or email info@hildene.org."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nyram & Nelson Armstrong

To complete the history of the Armstrong Brothers, Nelson W Armstrong from an on-line biography was educated at Auburn. When the news of gold at Pike’s Peak surfaced, he headed west in search of his fortunes. By 1859 he had reached Salt Lake City. The following summer he did some mining in Nevada. In 1862 it was reported that he enlisted in the Civil War, serving 5th California Vol. Infantry in Co. H. In 1865 he returned home to Port Byron where he engaged in the business with his brothers. The business was very profitable as the bio says they also owned and operated their own boats for the coal and grain side of the business. It also says that they sold horses as well. Nelson would later move to South Dakota where he married Kitty Brink. There he would once again engage in the grain business as well as raise hogs. He served as Post Master in his community and his bio says there was later a cheese factory on his land for which he was a stockowner of that business.

Nyram J. Armstrong married Sarah Williams. He was listed as a boatman in the local census and is buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Port Byron, his headstone engraved as N. J. Armstrong (1835-1918). His wife Sarah died at Cobleskill at the home of her son Professor Charles W Armstrong. Her son was employed at the Cobleskill High School. The obit goes on to say that Nyram and Sarah were intending to go to New York City to visit other children when she took ill. Their son William A Armstrong was President of the Knickerbocker Paper Company in New York.

There is another Nelson Armstrong buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. In researching for our family, I stumbled across this Nelson and will include the info as he has an interesting background that effected local law:

This other Nelson Armstrong was a tallow chandler by trade, which is candle making from animal fats. He received several citations for raising pigs within the Auburn city limits. In 1897, he was involved in an incident with Michael Kennedy of Montezuma. Kennedy owned a steam yacht and his boiler being in need of repair had ventured to Auburn. On the journey his wagon found Nelson Armstrong on the same route with materials for his candle making. The newspaper reports that due to the smell, he didn’t want to stop or yield to Armstrong and the passing wagons collided, resulting in minor damages to Armstrong’s wagon. Kennedy left the scene and Armstrong followed in hot pursuit. Even a local express man joined in the chase.

Kennedy turned the chase back to Auburn where he overturned his wagon on the corners of York and State Street, the boiler destroying the bed of his wagon. Kennedy then fled on the horse with a companion back to Montezuma. Bicycle riders had congregated at the scene and due to the odor on Armstrong’s wagon, he was asked to move on. He vowed he would take the matter to police headquarters.

He must have because another landmark lawsuit was the result. This time it was over the jurisdiction of the justice in Auburn as to if he could legally serve Kennedy at Montezuma:

.Armstrong Vs. Kennedy

The Auburn Nelson Armstrong died in 1917 and is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery with his wife Delia. His relationship, if any, to the Port Byron Armstrongs is not known.

Armstrong History

There is no doubt that the Armstrong family made valuable contributions to the history of Port Byron. They were a spirited family with allot of passion and with that they were sometimes in the center of excitement.

The eldest Abner Armstrong was born about 1782 and was the son of Asahel Armstrong and Elizabeth Nelson of New York City. He married Nancy Curtiss, daughter of Josiah Curtis and Ann Ford of Danbury, CT. Much of what is known about this couple comes from the Genealogy of the Curtiss-Curtis Family of Stratford, CT.

According to the Curtiss genealogy, Asahel and Elizabeth Armstrong lived at Poughkeepsie, and Newburg, NY followed by the City of New York. It says that in 1829 Seth & Sarah Couch of Kingston, NY sold to Abner Armstrong of New York for $4,860.00 land at Port Byron, being 3 parcels near land sold to Peter Roosa, Philip King and Jacobus Cole with one quarter acre being reserved for a cemetery. Abner died in 1841 and is buried at King Cemetery.

Abner & Elizabeth had several children, one of which was Abner A Armstrong (Jr) b. 1806 at Newburgh, NY who married Mary Jane Stevens. Abner Jr. was a major player in the temperance movement at Port Byron. He also erected the coal & grain warehouse on Main Street. Abner Jr. died in 1889 at his home on Nauvoo Road and is buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. His sister Hannah Armstrong was a school teacher in Port Byron.

Around 1863 or 1865, Abner Jr. deeded the warehouse to his three sons Nyram, Nelson and Abner who operated the business under the name of Armstrong Brothers. It is likely that the trespass suit with Dr. Hiram Eldridge involved his father, as Abner III would only have been 16 years old in 1859. However, I suspect that the cherry tree lawsuit in 1864 was Abner III who was born in 1843. Much excitement would come to the village with Abner III and his sister.

When the telephone company was first established and raising poles to connect the service, Charles Weston, President of the phone company and Claude Taylor, Superintendent of Construction, had trouble completing the work near the home of Josephine White, wife of James V White and sister of Abner Armstrong III. She attempted to stop the installation of the pole but when unsuccessful, after the hole was dug climbed into it and ordered her hired hand to fill it back in. This proved difficult with Mrs. White standing in the hole, so he helped her out and the work continued.

Her brother Abner then came to her defense with an ax and was prepared to cut down the pole. President Weston then called his attorney Arthur E Blauvelt who came to the scene with a written notice to Mrs. White to not interfere with the phone company’s property and ordered the linemen to string the phone lines. This not being pleasing to Abner, he set after Blauvelt with the ax!

However, Blauvelt used his horsewhip to keep Abner at bay, creating enough distance to leave. That didn’t stop Abner, as he later chopped down the pole anyway and a lawsuit followed. Mrs. White claimed that she was acting under the direction of her attorney from Elmira when her brother chopped down the pole. Surveyors were employed and the pole was not within ten feet of her property line. The line was later completed with no alterations to the route.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Abner Armstrong

My post about the lawsuit over Dr. Hoffman's cherry tree made me do some additional research on his neighbor Abner Armstrong.

Abner was no stranger to litigation. He was involved in a trespass suit with Dr. Hiram D Eldridge in 1859. This I found to be a bit strange as both cases involved local doctors. What are the odds?

Then I happened to notice that in 1859, Dr. Eldridge just happened to own the same parcel of land that Dr. Hoffman did in 1864, so both physicians owned property that was adjacent to the Armstrong Brother's place of business along the Erie Canal Route in the village.

The 1859 map shows the Armstrong's building as a Grocery but by 1875 the building is listed as being used for coal and grain.

Richard Warren's Civil War Website

New Addition: Under the military category you will find a nice link to a website that features Richard Warren of Port Byron. He was an officer in the 111th. This unit served at Gettsburg and many other major campaings.

Port Byron's Lockwood Post G.A.R. was named after John Lockwood of Port Byron who served in this same regiment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Famous Cherry Tree

Hoffman Vs. Armstrong

Who would think that a cherry pie made at Port Byron, NY during the Civil War would result in a landmark lawsuit for New York State?

It’s true; the lawsuit was even mentioned in the American Forests Magazine. To recap the report, one summer day in 1864 Sarah Hoffman of Port Byron decided to bake a cherry pie. Times being what they were, she did not go to a store for the pie filling. Instead, she simply went to the yard where her brother Dr. William Hoffman had a glorious cherry tree. According to the report, the neighbors house occupied the site where Warren's Coal office once stood. Dr. Hoffman's home was next door and the tree was located between both properties.

The tree had already had a good picking leaving little fruit available from Dr. Hoffman’s favorite tree, so she decided to pick the cherries from the branches that had sprawled and were overhanging their neighbor Abner Armstrong’s property. Sarah used the division fence as a ladder to reach the fruit when the neighbor appeared insisting that she stop what she was doing. Abner felt that any fruit that happened to hang over the fence on his side was rightfully his.

Sarah refused and kept on picking when Abner took matters into his own hands. He began to violently shake the fence causing Sarah to fall. She sustained cuts and sprains. Of course her brother the Doctor filed the lawsuit for restitution for his sister’s pain and suffering. Abner felt he was simply removing a trespasser so he refused to pay a dime.

The case went from the Cayuga County Court System all the way to the Court of Appeals at Albany. New York State had no prior case in which to decide who was the legal owner of the branches that grew over the division fence, so cases from England as well as CT were reviewed. It was decided that the CT law made good sense for the Empire State and was applied to the case. This was the first case of its kind in New York State.

It was decided that the title to the fruit of the tree runs with the title of its trunk, no matter how far the roots and limbs spread. Therefore, Dr. Huffman was determined to be the rightful owner of the fruit on all branches of that tree.

I have no doubt that it was also the most expensive pie ever made in the history of New York State. Many sitcoms and movies have portrayed a similar scene so the lesson learned is to always keep your branches trimmed to avoid them infringing on the property of your neighbor.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Henry Hudson 400th Anniversary

Henry Hudson was the first European to explore what is today known as the Hudson River. He liked to call it "The River of Mountains".

Sailing for the Dutch East India Co. on the ship "Half Moon" he and his crew left Amsterdam in 1609. The Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) along with many historical societies and schools are paying tribute to the achievements of Henry Hudson.

APHNYS Tribute to Henry Hudson

See a replica of the ship Half Moon

The Hudson River played a major role in navigation of future residents of Port Byron for those that were part of the Palatine Migration of 1709/1710. The Hudson divided East Camp and West Camp, which served as their first place of residence in America. In later years, descendants of these Palatines would make their way to Port Byron, Weedsport and other places in Upstate, NY.

100th Anniversary of the Lincoln Penny

2009 Marks the 100th anniversary of the minting of the American penny that proudly displays Abraham Lincoln.

Did you know that the Lincoln penny is more than just currency?

It has taken on another unusual purpose. It can often be found on top of a fallen civil war soldier's headstone.

Why do people place a penny on a soldier’s monument?

The purpose is symbolic. The first Lincoln penny was issued in 1909. Union soldiers and their families started placing them on headstones to honor their connection to Abraham Lincoln.

You may even find a penny on monuments of others that provided support to the war effort such as war nurses. Even Harriet Tubman's stone has been known to accumulate them.

This month’s issue of the Bugle Call, the official newsletter of the Grand Army of the Republic, offers a wonderful explanation on the significance of this ritual.

It is believed that the penny brings peace to the soldier as he serves under Lincoln in death as he did in life. In turn, Lincoln would be looking up at the stars as his spirit continues to serve a country that he lived and died for.

Next time you pass a monument with a penny placed on top it, may you be reminded of the person’s sacrifice. May it also bring awareness to all of the progress that we have made as a unified country .

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Graduation 2009

June is such an exciting time for the many graduates from schools around the country. This year, Dana L West Sr High closed with history in the making.

William Rice had the honors to read to his fellow classmates a personal greeting from Secretary of State and former U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in honor of our historic year.

Commencement not only focused on the achievement of the students, it also showed appreciation to all the family, friends, faculty and community members that made their success possible. The heart of every community is the people.

Over 50 different scholarships were awarded, some issued to multiple students. The class was 105 students strong.

Go Panthers and best of luck to you!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Lost Radeau

The Oldest Intact Warship in North America is found at the Depths of Lake George in New York State

Recently PBS broad casted a wonderful documentary made about the Land Tortoise radeau warship, which was part of the "The Sunken Fleet of 1758" during the French and Indian War.

To read more about the documentary:

Archaeological study of the 1758 Land Tortoise "Radeau" warship

Monday, June 1, 2009

Last Survivor of Titanic

Mellvina Dean, the last survivor on the legendary Titanic has died at the age of 97. She was only a child on that fateful night in 1912 when so many perished.

Mellvina Dean 1912-2009

Many may ask what does this have to do with a small Erie canal village in Upstate, NY?

Surprisingly many upstate families had ties to passengers on the Titanic. Port Byron was no exception. A man named Sidney Clarence Stuart Collett was a Titanic passenger and in route to Port Byron, NY when the ship floundered.

Here is Collett's entry on the Carpathia's ship passenger logs of people rescued from Titanic (see middle entry where it shows Port Byron, NY):

His parents were living here in 1912 where his father was serving as a minister at the Baptist Church.

Read more about Sidney Clarence Stuart Collett

The passing of Mellvina Dean brings the end of the survivors aboard the Titanic. Rest in peace Miss Mellvina.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

John Cool Post #257

Today my family visited Fort Hill Cemetery to see the burial site of Pvt. Andrew J Bulkley. Thanks to the wonderful maps provided by the cemetery we had no difficulty in finding his burial site. However, he did not have a flag to mark his status as a veteran.

I extend a thank you to the Commander at the John Cool American Legion Post #257 of Port Byron, for donating a flag holder and flag for Pvt Bulkley's grave at Fort Hill. As a Korean War veteran, my father was proud do the honor of placing the flag on his grave. This was also the first time he had visited Fort Hill so we enjoyed a tour on our way home.

We had a pleasant visit with the folks at John Cool Post 257. They are very proud to be the sponsors of the Port Byron Marching Band. I was so pleased to learn that they are behind our Marching Panthers!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Honoring Our Soldiers

Memorial Day certainly is a day of reflection. Port Byron has always been a town to serve our country proudly, both past and present. The many freedoms we enjoy today have been protected by their effort, often at the sacrifice of their own safety.

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I would compile some information on Port Byron's Lockwood Post Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Many of the surnames listed still remain active in our community.

The old boys in blue are but a small portion of the brave soldiers from Port Byron.

Partial member list Lockwood Post #175 G.A.R.

The last 3 surviving members of Port Byron's Lockwood Post #175 were Nathan Elliott Jr., August Sweet and Sylvester McChesney:

Read the biographies of the last 3 members

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Section 7 Canal Assignments

I thought readers may enjoy seeing more of the names of locals that were appointed by L.H. King of Port Byron for Section 7 on the Erie Canal.

Newspapers did not always separate workers by title, so did the best I could with the changing format from one year to another. Also, some newspaper dates were very difficult to read. However, it is fun to see the regulars that were appointed.

Section 7 Canal Assignments

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Erie Canal Boatmen Update!

For those that are following canal history or perhaps the history of the Traver family, I just found an interesting tidbit:

In the 1890's by the appointment of Superintendent L. H. King:

State Scow
CAPTAIN: Daniel Baldwin
TEAMSTER: James Blauvelt
LABORERS: Theo. Filkins, James Traver, Abram Coppernoll, Jas. D Dixon, John Richmond, Patrick Campbell, Edward Moll.
COOK: Mrs. James Traver

Now we know that James Traver and his wife were on the canal by appointment on a State Scow, with Captain Daniel Baldwin.

Hopefully a listing can be found from 1880 that would tell us the same for A. Eugene Wilson.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Oregon Trail Links

For readers who are interested in the materials on the Oregon Trail story, you can see a map of the ranch owners from 1864 by visiting the following book:

Massacre along the Medicine Road

You can read the actual 1865 Diary by visiting:

1865 Diary

This is solid proof that even unrelated families can help one another.

Building of a Webb

To continue the story of the Webb family who was featured in my May 10, 2009 story about the Oregon Trail, they are an old Colonial family. Zachariah Lewis Webb descends from Richard Webb who was born in England and appeared at Stamford, CT in 1651 when he purchased a house near the mill that he would later operate.

There continues to be controversy over the origins of Richard Webb of Stamford. The 1916 Genealogical Record of the Saint Nicholas Society suggests that Richard was the son of Richard Webb of Norwalk, CT, making him a possible brother of Christopher of Braintree, MA. This connection would link the Stamford Webb's to the Royal descent of Sir Henry Webb. However, George Creighton Webb was a member of this society and he listed that Richard Webb of Stamford was the son of Thomas Webb and Margaret Howard (page 58). There is currently a DNA Test group trying to prove if this connection is true or false.

The earliest land deeds in Upstate New York are found about 1799, making the Webbs early settlers of what is today known as Cayuga County, NY. They would reside in the townships of Locke and Genoa. The deeds clearly show that when Stephen Webb purchased his land here in NY, he was a resident of Stamford, CT.

Zachariah was born at Scipio, NY per census analysis as his parents are recorded at Scipio in 1800 as well as 1810. He was baptized at Genoa in 1805 at the church where his maternal grandfather, Caleb Lyon Jr., served as one of the first elders.

In the 1830’s Zachariah was for a short time an Agent at the Auburn Prison. He also had a business venture with George Curtis Williams, who married his wife’s sister. George was a son of Ezekiel Williams who was a trustee and inspector at Auburn Prison. Zachariah and George held a contract at Auburn Prison for Shoe Making, with 41 men employed. Their contract expired May 1, 1835. The same year he married Polly Hoffman, a daughter of Matthias & Eve Huffman. Matthias was likely born in the State of Pennsylvania and lived many years at Aurelius before the family settled at Auburn. The Huffman descendants would marry into Auburn’s most prominent families, such as the Nye, Stewart, Williams and Metcalf families.

The Webb’s then moved to Moravia where Zachariah was a merchant. His store Z.L. Webb & Co. was a recognized Agent for the sale of Vegetable Healing Balsam. By 1850 the family was living at Marshall, Michigan where Zachariah was elected as Grand Scribe for Michigan’s Royal Arch Masons. He was back in New York by 1854 where he was elected King of Royal Arch Masons at Addison, NY. In 1860 he was listed at Corning, NY as a Justice of the Peace. He was also a founding member of the Church of the Redeemer at Addison, NY where he was the first Junior Warden of that church.

Zachariah would father only a single son, who gave his life defending our Country. Lewis Hoffman Webb was in the Civil War, serving NY’s 3rd Light Artillery, Company Batty I. He died of yellow fever at Newburn, NC.

His remaining children would be girls and following them was a journey. To my knowledge, his daughter Catherine, who is my ancestor, is the only one of his children buried at Port Byron. Catherine married John Dunham who served the 3rd Reg. Co. H, NY Cavalry and shot while on picket duty at Newburn, NC. He survived a horrendous surgery to remove the conical ball, resulting in his left arm being shortened by 3 inches. Another daughter Ellen married Dr. Frederick Nash Dick, a Confederate Officer with North Carolina’s 44th Infantry, Co. G. I often thought how awkward it would have been if the families ever came back to visit Auburn, with having son in-laws one defending the Union and another defending the Confederacy.

Another daughter married William Star Pensiton as mentioned in the Citizen article. Both Anna and Ellen would make their way to North Platte, NE. Dr. Dick was North Platte’s first Doctor. He was appointed surgeon for the Union Pacific Railway in 1870, for the division from North Platte to Ogden, Utah, and east to Omaha. He was also a County Physician and Coroner and owned the Drugstore F. N. Dick Company.
Mr. Peniston was appointed United States Commissioner and afterwards was a representative in the territorial legislature of Nebraska. He also served as County Judge, County Treasurer, and Justice of the Peace. His ranch along the Oregon Trail was part of the Pony Express Service for that territory. Both families are among the notables buried at North Platte City Cemetery. An interesting tidbit involves the cemetery association, where they purchased land from Mrs. William F. Cody, wife of Wild Buffalo Bill.

Zachariah’s wife Polly died in 1865 and is buried at Soule Cemetery. He later married Mrs. Caroline, widow of Stephen Snook. They would have two more daughters named Nettie and Mattie Webb. Their last known residence was Troy, NY, so if there are any descendants of Nettie & Mattie out there, I would love to hear from you.

Zachariah died in 1878 at Auburn. He must have been prominent enough in the City of Auburn as the Historical Society announced his passing at their annual meeting. Zachariah was buried at North Street Cemetery with Masonic Honors, being one of the oldest Knights Templar connected with Salem Town Commandery. To date, I have been unable to confirm his exact burial location from the caretakers of North Street Cemetery. It appears he now rests in an unmarked grave.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Alexander Millener Myths

To continue the April 2009 story of Alexander Millener, in searching his history I ran into some possible myths. Many have reported that Alexander Millener was the inspiration behind the old man featured in the famous painting "Spirit of 76".

The history of this famous painting is on file with the library of Congress. The artist was Archibald Willard, who first called the painting "Yankee Doodle", having featured his creation at the first Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. The painting would later be renamed Spirit of '76, being an 8 x 10 mural.

According to the Library of Congress, Willard's mural began in the upstairs bedroom of his home in 1875, which is 10 years after Alexander Millener's death. The file reports that the studio was moved and after relocating to Cleveland, Ohio, inspired by his father's death, Willard used his father Samuel as the model for the old drummer.
Click here to see the Library of Congress information on the Spirit of '76

Archibald Willard would go on to do several different versions of the Spirit of '76 in much larger sizes. According to the Herrick Library, the fifer was based on Hugh Moser, and the young drummer boy was Harry Deveraux.

Click here to see the Herrick Library detail on the Spirit of '76. Be sure to click on the upper right hand corner, to see all 3 images full size, it is a good example of the several variations made on the original mural.

If anyone has any information on the painting that is supposed to be based on Alexander Millener, please contact me.

However, not all is lost. American Folk Painter Sheldon Peck did in fact do a painting of Alexander's daughter in-law Fannie Root Millener, wife of his son George W Millener of Port Byron. She was painted with her young daughter Francis Millener, who would as an adult be the wife of Gamaliel Thomas. Sheldon Peck once lived at Jordan, NY and must have struck a friendship with the Port Byron Millener family.

This painting had survived in the family of Nellie King Waterman and donated to the Cayuga Museum in Auburn, NY. The painting was later sold at Auction in 2003.

The location of the Fannie Root Millener painting with her child Francis is not known. It is not know if the painting is housed in another museum collection or if it is in the hands of a private collector. Lets hope the painting has found a wider audience and continues to be well cared for.

It is wonderful that some of the artifacts of such a prominent family can be found, such as Alexander Millener's Drumstick that is part of the collections at the Rochester Museum & Science Center:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

1918 Influenza Epidemic

In response to the anonymous posting to Calling 967 :

Statistics for infectious diseases are maintained by the Department of Health. However, local newspapers often can provide traces of when such epidemics are prevalent in our region. You can often find notices in the social columns that announce entire families having been ill with Typhoid and other infectious diseases like Influenza.

I was able to find an article in 1937, when New York State’s population dropped by 1200 people due to high outbreaks of influenza, combined with low birth rates for the same period. At that time, the report indicated that prior to 1937 there were only 4 other times in New York’s history when the population had similar drops. The report indicates that this happened in October 1918, November 1918, February 1920 and January 1928.

In particular to our readers question, 1918 was a wide spread epidemic that impacted all communities in our region. Spanish Influenza was a big concern at this time. Many towns canceled public events in attempts to slow down the spreading. Even the church in Emerson canceled church services due to influenza.

Among the hardest hit with the 1918 epidemic was the City of Auburn. Many of the nurses at the hospital contracted the influenza while caring for their patients. The outbreak was so severe, if the cause of death was from influenza, public burials were forbidden.

Here is a good article about the 1918 influenza outbreak that provides some insight.

Thank you for your question.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Calling 967

Remember the plastic telephone covers?

This one dates back to 1964 when Port Byron's phone numbers started with 967. This was before the days of cable television. We have missed these companies from years past, such as Blake's Pharmacy, Port Byron Lumber, and especially our local trained electronic technician John B Carpenter.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Class History 1944

Here is another class history for your enjoyment. This time we highlight the Class of '44.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cyrenus F Horton-Civil War Musician

I am truly amazed at the unusual connections that can be found from searching the residents of Port Byron. On the list of conscripted men who enlisted into the Civil War from Mentz, there is a man named Cyrenus F Horton. Interestingly he would not serve from the State of New York. He served the Union from the State of Indiana.

My first impression was that he was from the South and later moved to Port Byron. That assumption would prove false. Cyrenus was already a resident of Port Byron and his autobiography found after his death inside his shoe shop on Church Street tells his story. It was written to the Lockwood Post of Port Byron.

The autobiography indicates that he left Port Byron in July of 1859 for Petersburg, Pike County, Indiana. His travels would then take him to Memphis, TN but unable to get work there, he ended up at LaGrang, just West of Memphis. There he worked on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad until 1860. He would return to Petersburg where he would join a cornet band. In 1861 the 12 member band would be sworn into service and be assigned to the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Additional members from the Indianapolis area would be added, making them an official full regimental band.

The autobiography is a little hard to read but I will include it here anyways, as many will enjoy reading his experience as a Civil War Musician.

Cyrenus Horton and his wife are buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Port Byron.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Port Byron Fife & Drum

In the history of Port Byron, there has only been one Fife & Drum.

The group was founded by former music director Jon Bowen. The group was not part of the school music program. As such, the members were responsible to arrange their own transportation. Thanks to the devotion of the parents, the group flourished and traveled all over Central NY as well as Canada.

The group was so small that they marched with out a parade banner. That would turn out to be the key to their success! When the school's marching band was not performing, Port Byron's Fire Department would hire the Port Byron Fife & Drum.

It wasn't long before they were also marching with Weedsport's Fire Department. They were a group of very creative kids. When push came to shove, they always found a way to get to the parade, even if it meant that the firetruck from Weedsport had to come pick them up in our school parking lot! The group tagged rides a good many times with both of the fire departments. The lack of a marching banner made them a draw to both townships.

I'll never forget the time riding with Mr & Mrs Murray. He had a scanner in his car and that made him confident that we could make up lost time, so away we went. He no more than said "if there is a smokey in the area, I'll hear it on the scanner long before he can see us". Well, here we were pulled over on the side of the road with lights a flashing when our second driver zoomed by us. Only then did the alert come over the scanner! We had a chuckle over that one. I think that may have also been the same parade when we arrived late and the parade had already started. Thankfully we were on the correct side of town as we had to run through the street with our instruments to find the PB Firemen! We made it long before the judging stand so not all was lost.

Even though we were never officially a school music group, the Board of Education extended their support by allowing us to use the school drums. We were not able to use the school uniforms, so the group adopted a uniform that was patriotic, being colors of red, white and blue. All members wore blue jeans, white shirts with a red bandanna, as seen in the above photo.

One year the school budget didn't pass and even the Marching Panthers adopted casual wear, marching in jeans and t-shirts. Once again the parents answered the call to transport the students. I send a heart felt thank you to all of our boosters and drivers that donated their time and their generosity to provide the transportation when needed. We have such a wonderful community and much to be thankful for.

The Port Byron Fife & Drum marched from 1975 until 1982. Members have included founder Jon Bowen-bass drum, Fifers included Jon's wife Kathy Bowen, Maggie Fraher, Cindy Ellinwood, Dough Smith, Theresa Burke, Dawn Roe-snare, Todd Murray-bass drum, and one member, Jim Keenly, marched with us even before he learned to play the fife. One year we only had 2 fifes and the 2 drums, so he marched in the middle and looked like he was playing enough that we continued to receive prize money from the judges. It was a fun group to travel with. Today both Jim Keenly and Maggie Fraher are music teachers.

If I've missed any of the members, please email me so I can add you to the list of the Port Byron Fife & Drum!

I'll be adding a full list of members since they have not been featured in our school yearbooks.

In the groups last couple of years, a Port Byron Sr. would assume all responsibility to direct and organize the group. They disbanded in 1982. The above photo shows the last four members with the final award received by the group at Gananoque, Canada.

Music in our schools

Mentz Historian Mike Riley has complimented the bands improvement several times. Credit must be given to the wisdom of Principal Arthur A Gates for starting the music programs at Port Byron. His strong support of the arts is not surprising, considering his wife Regina was not only a well known painter and artist, she was also an accomplished musician. She was frequently a guest performer in our concerts.

Right out of the starting gate, music at Port Byron began with great achievements under the first musical director Mr. Elvin L Freeman. Freeman's award winning secret was to play simple music extremely well.

This also would be the beginning of a long legacy of students participating in the solo festivals. Freeman would also serve as President of the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), the agency that regulates the adjudication process and the ultimate ranking to group festival selections, such as All-County, Area All-State and All-State.

Music is graded in levels of difficulty, with 1 being the easiest and 6 being the most difficult. In Freeman's day, making the group festivals did not require a student to play at the highest level. They simply had to play well. This is always one of the biggest challenges for NYSSMA, to select the best students at various stages of proficiency and group them together to perform within a level that the entire group can sustain. That is one of the reasons that being selected for these groups is such an honor. It is an opportunity for the students to perform in a large body with other students in our region, often at a much higher level than the school where they may reside. In the Freeman years, many public school music programs in Cayuga County were in their infancy, so today students who make the select groups are generally performing grade level 4 or higher.

However, the most select group, All-State, today requires all musicians play at a grade level 6 before they can be considered. To my knowledge Port Byron has sent several vocalists to All-State but only 2 instrumentalist have ever represented our home town at this level, both being percussionists.

Music in our schools has always had peaks and valleys. It takes a combination of a dedicated music director, support from the local Board of Education and most of all participation from the student body. One teacher who always understood the importance of keeping students motivated with music was Kathy Wilt. Our music programs benefited from her long years of dedication and the stability she offered budding musicians.

Appropriation of funding is another challenge for any school board in a small community. However, don't forget that every school concert consumes electricity, staffing of teachers, custodians and then there is transportation. These are all ways in which our school board supports the music programs at Port Byron.

Even in years past, self supporting fund raising was needed and the band and band boosters filled this gap. In fact, that is how the band was able to accept the 1977 trip to march down Main Street USA in Disneyland Florida. We couldn't have done it with out the band boosters.

Who knows, if you chat with some of your teachers, you may find out that many of them were active in band when they went to school. Music develops a strong sense of self worth, a network with students around the County and also improves communication skills. Port Byron has produced several music educators over the years.

Most important, no matter what level of music you play, have fun.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Erie Canal Boatman

In my previous post I mentioned having some mutual interest in the Erie Canal. I thought it might be beneficial to readers who may not be familiar with Port Byron to share more of the details.

Aaron Wilson and his brother Caleb both had long careers as coopers or barrel makers. This was a specialty field related to transport of cargo on the canal. Many products could be stored and transported with the use of these barrels. However, this alone does not indicate that one traveled the canal system. However, Aaron’s son Aaron Eugene, who went by the name of Gene, was employed as a boatman early in his marriage to Frances Traver. She was the daughter of James Nicholas Traver and Elizabeth Spears.

James N. Traver would also work for a time as a boatman per the 1875 census. Living in his household was a man named Stewart Kendrick who was a silversmith. At this time James and his family lived at the intersection of First Street and Harnden Street, one of the side streets off of King Street. By 1880, his daughter Frances had married Gene Wilson and was residing with the Travers, both employed as boatman. Even his wife worked for a short time as a cook on the scow, so this may indicate that they worked on passenger boats on the canal. Gene and his family would later own and occupy the home where Henry Wells once lived (Henry Wells was a founder of the Wells Fargo Express, American Express and Wells College).

James would later leave the canal and become a respected painter in the area. He was awarded many large contracts for painting area schools and churches. His son in law Gene Wilson would eventually work for Richard Warren & Sons, the local coal dealer. However, the Traver’s service to the Erie does not stop there.

James had a brother John A Traver who would settle at Weedsport. His family had long careers on the canal. John was a Captain on the Erie, spending much of his time on the Hudson, the canal and inland lakes of New York State. He purchased what was known as "Poor Jake's Crocery " from Joshua Ketchum and would later purchase Ketchum’s farm.

John’s daughter Sarah Frances Traver married into another canal family, having married John Rosa. They traveled the canal for 10 years after their marriage at Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. He operated a fleet of grain barges and was captain of the "Lizzy Petrie" and the "Alice A. Savage”. John’s son John Traver Jr., better known as Jack Traver, worked as an Engineer on the Erie. He would later take up farming at Weedsport. Many people will recall Jack Traver as one of the leading members of the Weedsport Cornet Band.

The Traver brothers did not become employed on the canal by chance. Their father John Joshua Traver was also employed on the canal. The family lived in various places including Hurley, Ulster Co., Lyons, Wayne County, as well as the Albany area.

It is not known what boats James N Traver and his son in law Gene Wilson traveled during their time on the canal. I'm not aware of any oral history passed down of them having their own boats. They were likely employed for other local canalers or perhaps even worked on his brother’s boat from Weedsport.

This is only one of the families that worked on the canal. Soon I will add the Kilmer’s involvement with the Erie Canal, so stay tuned….

Philo Hamilton - Builder of Steamers

It really is a small world!

For several years idle conversations with a co-worker in Syracuse would commonly turn into short chats about the Erie Canal. The conversations would usually end with mutual admiration that both of our families worked on the canal. Then one day Carol Kruger mentioned that she thought someone in her family was born at Port Byron. That prompted me to take a closer look. It turned out that her family did in deed have a connection. That connection would involve the Tanner Dry Dock.

Her ancestor Philo Hamilton was born in 1832 at Chemung County, NY, son of James Hamilton and Sophrona Durham. The family would live in Seneca County before moving to Cayuga County. Philo married Sarah Garling and became a well known builder of steamboats.

Philo designed Syracuse’s "The William B Kirk", a steamboat built for the picnic season and capable of transporting over 100 passengers. Cayuga County Historian Sheila Tucker wrote several articles in the 1970’s that included information on the Hamiltons. One such article was about the steamer "The Lady of the Lake", which was unveiled with great fanfare, having been christened by General William H. Seward Jr., which had a 23 year run on the Owasco Lake.

Philo’s son Joseph married Orpha Crofut and he also followed his father’s footsteps. Joseph owned the steamers “Ada” and “Agnes”. He also built a tugboat at nearby Ludlowville. Father and son appeared in another article that focused on their boat being docked at Tanner's Dry Dock at Port Byron. It was very surreal to find a photo of her ancestors in my hometown knowing all these years have passed and today we work together.

Joseph’s son Gilbert Everson Hamilton is buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Gilbert married Emma Louise Blaisdell, a daughter of Delazon Blaisdell and Mary Kern. Port Byron had become home for part of this family.

Many locals worked at Tanner’s dry dock, performing a variety of tasks such as caulking, painting, and repairing the many boats that traveled the canal. This photo of the Hamilton’s at Tanners Dry Dock is just a reminder that many families have ties to our town and village.

Photo of the Hamilton's at Tanner's Dry Dock

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Last Men of the Revolution

Did you know that Port Byron has a connection to one of the last six surviving soldiers of the Revolutionary War?

Photo of Alexander Millener

The fifth oldest survivor was Alexander Millener, a drummer boy in the Revolution and some of his children moved to Port Byron where they were boat builders.

Alexander Millener was born in 1761 at Quebec, Canada. His mother had married a second time to Florence Maroney, a Sergeant in the Life Guard of General Philip Schyuler. It was claimed that Alexander was to young to serve in the troops, so his stepfather enlisted him under the name Maroney as a drummer boy. There was also a claim that Alexander was of a young age when discharged because his discharge was issued to his stepfather Florence Maroney.

The only muster rolls I could find was for Alexander’s service with the 1st NY Continental Line. However, his pension says that he served about 3 ½ years in Capt. Grahm’s, Col. Peter Gavensvort’s NY Regiment. He then transferred into the 1st NY Continental Line in Capt. Cornelius Johnson, Col. Goose Van Schaick’s Regiment. When looking closely at these muster rolls, it is clear that Alexander served several Captains within Van Schaick’s Regiment. During the period of August to December 1780 he served in both Capt. Nicholas Van Renssalaer and Capt. Benjamin Hick’s Companies and was discharged in 1781. However, he had witness testimony that he served as late as 1783.

Alexander is on record describing his time at Valley Forge, having met General George Washington as well as “Lady Washington”. Valley Forge served as Washington’s Headquarters during his winter encampment from Dec 1777 to June 1778. The website valleyforgemusterroll.org has an Alexander Milliner stationed there for the entire winter encampment period, serving from the State of PA. However, the 1st NY Cont Line served in the Second Division, 1st PA Brigade at Valley Forge, having arrived in June 1778. This Alexander Milliner was a drummer, so this is likely the service record of the same soldier.

I can add from my own ancestor that many soldiers of Col. Goose Van Schaick’s Regiment served at Valley Forge. Joseph Rooker was in Capt. John Copp’s company and his muster roll shows he was in the Hospital at Valley Forge, having recently been promoted to Fife. It would be a romantic notion to think that perhaps these two soldiers met while stationed at Valley Forge, but we may never know, but chances are good that the musicians knew one another.

One interesting thing to note is that Alexander’s step father also collected Alexander’s wages during the time he served with Van Schaick, which by 1780, he would have been 19 years of age. Why his stepfather was collecting his military pay is not known but it is unlikely because of Alexander’s age as other soldiers of that age received their wages directly. It is obvious that Alexander had a long period of service as a drummer in the Revolutionary War.

In 1855 Alexander applied for bounty land while a resident of Homer in Cortland County, NY. At that time he was listed as being 94 years of age, giving him a consistent birth year of 1761. He was awarded 160 acres in Cayuga County. His son James Millener provided testimony. Another unexpected name in the file was Porter Wethey of Port Byron.

You can read more about Alexander’s history from the following articles:

Last Surviving Soldiers of the Revolutionary War

Alexander's Obituary

Alexander is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY

Story to be continued....

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Genealogy and DNA

The field of genealogy is reaching new heights. The quest to search and find your roots is reported by some magazines as the second most popular hobby in the United States, just behind gardening. Many people who follow the hobby will be the first to tell you that it is addictive. There is so much to discover and learn. Eventually most families will find events in their background that coincide with National History. However, for many the trail grows cold and can often be an undertaking to make the link from one generation to another. Many are turning to DNA testing in the hopes of unlocking their past.

I was leery of the idea when I first learned that DNA was being used for this purpose. I already have a pretty good handle on my origins, granted there are always branches to be researched as every generation introduces a new set of surnames and each of them had parents. Thus the addiction, the job is never done but it is a very enjoyable pastime.

Even with years of experience as a genealogist, I questioned if DNA would have anything significant to offer someone like myself, considering the number of years I had already been researching. Little did I realize that I would have the shock of my life ahead of me!

Eventually I took the plunge and found a reputable lab to proceed. The results were astonishing, revealing my deep maternal ancestry. The test revealed that my maternal ancestor was a genetic cousin to Oetzi the Iceman. Oetzi, his name representing the mountain range where he was found, was determined to be about 5000 years old. When he died, he was frozen in time providing a glimpse into the past. What is unique about Oetzi is that he was found in the same state in which he died, having never been buried. He was simply frozen in time. He is the oldest complete mummy to be preserved by ice.

With him were remains of his clothing as well as several of his tools. Of the items found, his copper axe was a surprise. Considering that his age was confirmed using carbon dating, this indicated to scientists that the copper age started much earlier than previously thought. He also had arsenic in his hair follicles, a direct by-product of smelting copper.

The DNA test utilized on Oetzi was a study of the genes that he inherited from his mother, known as Mitochondral DNA, abbreviated mtDNA. This is a series of genes that every human inherits from their mother but only the females pass it on to the next generation.

What the testing does NOT tell you is HOW you are related to your deep ancestor. Therefore, at some point in my distant past, it could have been 500 years ago or 3000 years ago, I had a female grandparent from Italy, who was a relative to Oetzi. Maternal DNA does not change but slight mutations are found and can be traced backwards. Considering that Oetzi is in the neighborhood of 5000 years old, no modern human has an exact DNA match to him as slight mutations have occurred over time.

I will not be devoting much to this site on genetic genealogy but considering family history is one of the most common requests received as a Historian, many may find the story interesting. It is amazing that Central NY has genetic cousins of this ancient and famous mummy. Katie Couric of NBC News is another genetic cousin of Oetzi’s.
National Geographic info on Oetzi

Don Hitchcock's Photo Archive of Oetzi

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Student Humor

The Port Byron library has a wonderful Year Book collection in their history room. It is always fun to look back at our school and the many people that would walk our halls. One thing I quickly noticed was that the school colors were not always Maroon & White. In the early years they were Orange and Black. They also did not have an official mascot in the early years. They used the standard education torch as their logo.

In turning the pages, I stumbled across a class history that was so cleverly written, rather than transcribe it; I thought I would post it exactly as it appeared in the yearbook. This is simply a sign that humor has always been alive and well in our students.


(For enlarged view, click image below)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pioneer Physicians

In the pioneer days, it would be unusual to find a husband and wife team who both provided medical services in the same community. Port Byron was once home to such a couple, being Drs. James M Jenkins and his wife Dr. Nettie E Jenkins.

She may be the first female physician at Port Byron. I certainly will be keeping my eyes open to see if I can find anyone prior to her. Nettie’s maiden name was Tripp and she came from a family of physicians, as her brother was Dr. John D Tripp.

Nettie graduated from Syracuse University in 1877 and soon after her graduation, married Dr. James Morris Jenkins. Her husband graduated from Syracuse University in 1875. The Jenkins would stay at Port Byron for three years before moving to Auburn.

Each had impressive careers. Dr. James served as President of the Cayuga County Medical Society and was a member of the Auburn Academy of Medicine, as well as the State Medical Association. He holds one additional record, as newspapers reported that he purchased the first of the earliest automobiles to be delivered within the city of Auburn in 1901. He didn’t keep the auto for more than a few months. The vehicle is described as having one seat, wire wheels and was powered by steam that was generated from kerosene burners. The same article reports that Dr. G. W. Whitney was a close second but the first to drive his automobile for any length of time.

Dr. Nettie Jenkins was also a member of the Auburn Academy of Medicine, the Cayuga County Medical Society, as well as the Society of Medicine of Central New York. She worked side by side with her husband, treating the injured during Auburn's 1905 Columbian Rope Fire.

The Jenkins are buried at Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, NY.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Washington Monument

Did you know Port Byron has connections to the Washington Monument?

The Washington Monument was a broad effort of many people. It was a joy to discover that Finlay M King and his wife Frances were involved in raising funds for its construction.

Finlay was born at Port Byron in 1821. His connection to Philip King (1761-1854), the first white settler of Mentz, took some digging.

After careful research, it was proven that Finlay was the son of Jeremiah B. King (1792-1836) and a grandson of Philip mentioned above. Jeremiah was listed in local papers as an Esquire and several of his sons would follow his profession. His son Chauncey P King would become a member of the bar from the state of Wisconsin. Augustus E King was a Counsellor of Law in New York City. Finlay once had a law practice with General Hugh and even ran a law office from Port Byron under the name of King & Gillipsie.

Finlay was appointed a Notary of the Republic by Gov. John Alsop King, a son of Rufus King, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution. To date, it appears these two King families are not related. If they are, it would have to be in a much earlier generation.

Before I get to Finlay's connection to the Washington Monument, I do want to pay tribute to some of his local contributions. Finlay was one of the original board of trustees of the Free School and Academy at Port Byron which operated from 1858 until it was lost to fire in 1898. He later moved to Syracuse where he would become a member of the Bar and was also President of the Franklin Institute Library. His daughter Annie Kathleen King was a manager of the morning musical shows at Syracuse. She was also a member of the Salon Musicale and Morning Musicals Inc, and was manager of the Wieting Opera House in Syracuse.

Many people can associate Finlay to the Eastern Star Chapter of Port Byron, which was named after him. He became very involved in writing masonic laws and published a mason publication from Port Byron. However, few know that he and his wife were involved with the Washington Monument. Their involvement with the monument was due to their high ranking connections with the Masons, where Finlay was a Grand Master for New York State.

In 1859, at the Richmond House in Chicago, a National convention of masons was held where Mrs. Finley M King of Port Byron, NY was elected President of the Woman’s Washington National Monument Society. Finley was on the Mason's building committee and his name is also mounted on a plaque at the Washington Monument in Washington, DC.

To see an image of the plaque:

To read more on the history of the plaque:

Finlay and members of his family are buried in the historic Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse, which the cemetery is listed on the register of historic places.