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.

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.