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, October 31, 2012

The Ghost of Aunt Eliza

For the past several years, I have been contacted by ghost hunters and other paranormal agencies looking for places to evaluate for sightings in the Port Byron area.  While several books have been written about this topic, despite having long ties to the community, I have never encountered anyone who experienced anything out of the ordinary.  Even with several generations of Port Byronites in my family, nothing about ghost sightings has ever been passed down orally.

Today I was browsing for something else and stumbled onto an interesting article about Eliza Button whose spirit was terrifying the locals:

 Clyde NY Democratic Herald 1888-1890  
In checking census records there was an Eliza Button living here in 1850, in the same household as Edwin Button.  I also found a couple articles about a person of this name in 1879 moved out of town due to charges of running a disorderly house.

Auburn NY Evening Auburnian 1879

Is this article a case of sarcasm or a paranormal sighting?  That we shall leave up to the ghost hunters.

Happy Halloween Port Byron!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

54th Alumni Association Reunion 1926

Here is a wonderful treat for everyone!  The Fifty-Fourth Reunion of the Alumni Association of Port Byron High School from 1926 is now available for free download.  I have seen several little brochures for commencement services but this is the first that I have ever seen specifically for a reunion of our Alumni Association. 

Click here to view and/or download the 1926 booklet

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Unknown Blue and Gray

Here's another powerful poem that I would like to share. 
Date of publication not known. 

The Unknown Blue and Gray
Wilbur D. Nesbet

There are unknown graves in the valleys
        That the troops of war possessed,
Where the bugles sounded for rallies
But the bullets sang of rest;
And the mountains hold without number
                   Hidden graves from the war's mad days,
Where the unknown men have their slumber
       In their shrouds of blue and gray.

And no drums will rumble and rattle,
              And no fifes blow sharp and shrill
In the valleys that knew the battle,
   Nor atop the lone high hill;
But the silent stars know the story
   And the broad sky of the day
Bends and whispers low of their glory
To these men of blue and gray.

And no banners o'er them are waving,
 No marchers come and pause
With cheers for the land of their saving
Or tears for their lost cause,
Yet the twilight stars intermingle
        With the hues when ends the day.
And the striving flags now are single
  O'er the men of blue and gray.

There are unknown graves in the thickets,
On the hillside and the plain,
Of the missing scouts and the pickets,
Yet they did not fall in vain.
Though their names may not be engraven
And their places in the fray,
In our hearts now each finds a haven
         They who wore the blue and gray.

For the God of battles is kindly
    With none of mankind's hate
That is cherished every too blindly
            And these pawns of warfare's fate
Have their tombs of nature's splendor
    Each set forth in proud array
Through an impulse holy and tender,
               Though they wore the blue and gray. 

Where once were the guns that wrangled
                Sounds the peace song of the thrush,
And the roses and vines are tangled
   In the solemn, sacred hush;
Where the cannon one day would hurtle
Their missiles in the fray
Grows the rue and the creeping myrtle
                  O'er the graves of the blue and gray.

They are nature's hand that are strewing
     The flowers on each mound;
It is God's own beautiful doing
              That each unknown grave is found
Where the cypress leaves are a quiver,
            Where peaks lift through the day,
Where the forest sighs to the river
        Of the unknown blue and gray.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Things Don't Last Forever

Photo: EPA Public Profile
Tremendous effort has been made to try to save the old mill on Green Street.

The site suffered heavy metal contamination from the operations of the RN Hitchcock Electroplating business.  It has been the home of many different businesses in its long 100+ year history.

The EPA has been working with allot of determination to try to clean and remove the contaminants so that the site could be established as a historic property with the Park Service.

Unfortunately fate has not cooperated with that goal.  Recently there were several main support beams that have cracked, causing extensive damage.  I visited the site for a tour with Michael Hoppe with the Response and Prevention Branch of the EPA on the evening of October 9th.  It was a quick reminder that history alone can not save a structure.

While the damage is evident from the outside, it isn't until you go inside that your heart sinks.  The fractured support beams has caused a significant shift to the South West corner of the building.  The damages are beyond the resources to repair it.

If there is any glimmer in our situation, it is the documentation process that will be carried out to record as much as possible about the site before it is removed.  This is an opportunity that would be lost if the structure were allowed to simply collapse.  The project site will be recorded with various photos and reports about the old mill which will be made public record.  I will record these materials on this blog for my readers as the information becomes available.  I will also add a special section on the footer of this website with the various links.  However, I wanted to share the information here so that readers will be aware that resources about the Green Street Mill will appear in the footer in the near future.

The mill will be razed by the end of this month to reduce the risk of collapse from the winter snow load soon approaching.  It is sad to see so much progress made to the site yet not be able to reach the finish line.  It is an outcome that could not have been predicted.

It would appear that prior owners were aware
Photo: EPA Public Profile
of the support beam condition, as sections of the building have had new cross beams added.  The section that failed was an area that had not had any alterations.  This was in the area previously used as office space.  Additional photos will be posted to the EPA website soon.

The drop shifted floor support beams away from the walls so that portions of the floors are no longer in contact with the beams.  Oddly, the beams were notched and butted onto the beams but never permanently secured.  This poses a continuous problem with any restoration work as the repair work itself could cause a similar shift in other areas of the structure.  It was an odd experience to look at a door frame and see a good 2 inch drop from one corner to the next in such a short span of space.  This caused the wall in question to separate from the ceiling.  Our tour did not include the second floor and I was perfectly comfortable with staying at the lower level.

It will be sad to see the structure go.  Often structures are lost with no advance warning from natural disasters, fires etc.  We will have a final opportunity to document the Green Street Mill with its written, oral and photographic history in tact.  This will serve as a lasting record that this building was indeed here and was once a vital part of our business community.  In addition, some artifacts from its contents will be transported to local museums to preserve her legacy.

Without TLC, buildings do not last forever.  Additions were added onto this structure  without ensuring foundation support would sustain it.  It would be these final additions and the final industry of its last major occupant that has closed the final chapter on this structure; it is a building that we will surely miss.

You will gain a better appreciation of the vast amount of work already made in attempts to save our mill by visiting the public profile:  (Be sure to click on the photos to the right side)

EPA Profile of the Green Street Mill

Please visit the Phase 1 report that covers the mill's historic timeline:


Again, a special section will be added to the footer of this blog as a permanent archive to our mill.  Stay tuned to the EPA Profile link shown above for additional photos as they are added.

I would like to extend my appreciation to Michael Hoppe for proving a short tour of the project site so that I could see first hand the challenges they faced.  Mr. Wilt has extended his blessing to make mention of the mill on my blog to update those interested in our history, past and present.

On behalf of the Port Byron community, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Wilt family for the loss of this historic structure that has tied several generations in their family.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Re-Trial of Mary Todd Lincoln Insanity Case

Tonight was my first experience using Livestream.  When the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum announced the performance of Mary Todd Lincoln's retrial would be on live web cast for non-attendees, I immediately knew this was something I desired to witness.

Library of Congress Digital Collection
Much to my surprise, the issue at hand at the original court trial was not to declare if she was insane, the jury had the burden to declare if Mary Todd Lincoln should be admitted involuntarily for inpatient treatment by law.  This verdict itself would carry the status of insanity for a period of one year, even if treatment ceased prior.

Many of the testimonies brought before the court were from third parties by the public which were never verified.  In addition, many of the medical testimonies made by the physicians, were made by those that today would not be considered specialists in the mental health field.

In addition, several of the medical testimonies were made by physicians that had not even examined Mary Todd Lincoln recently before giving their expert opinions.  Some of the Doctors had not seen Mary for several years prior to filing their report.

What was most concerning was that Mary herself did not feel she suffered from any mental illness.  However, the responsibility of the jury was to make a verdict on two factors:

1. Could she care for herself and her affairs.
2.  Was she at risk to cause injury to herself or anyone else.

In the retrial held on Oct. 1, 2012 at Springfield, IL, a modern day jury declared by majority vote that Mary Todd Lincoln was not subject to mandatory involuntary treatment by law, but the vote was not unanimous.

If you have the opportunity to view this broadcast, I hope you will take the time to view this program.  It brings to light the loose drug regulations where opium based products were available over the counter.  While Mary's physicians recommended them, there was little dispensing regulations at that time.  It is unclear if any of Mary's symptoms were caused by ingestion of such drugs or if her prolonged grief was at play.

Mary reported hearing voices and having visions of her immediate family that she so tragically lost.  Such occurrences can be considered a normal part of the grieving process.

Mary did display many erratic behaviors.  She equated the act of shopping to help her feel the emotion of happiness, she constantly worried that another tragedy would take her only surviving son.  There is no doubt that her son wanted what was best for her.  Unfortunately this period offered very few options for mental health needs.

There is no doubt that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered great periods of anxiety and was known to suffer migraines after a carriage accident, but her analogy in describing that pain may have been construed abnormal, likely because she was an educated woman with great verbal vocabulary.

On all accounts, the experts felt Mary Todd Lincoln suffered a variety of mental symptoms that exhibited signs of mental illness.  However, she was convicted without proper medical examinations and the use of evidence that could not be cross examined.

My final thoughts is that observing this re-trial made me aware just how far we have come with understanding and having compassion for mental health issues in today's society.  My personal opinion was that Mary did suffer mental illness but that in itself does not equate to being insane.  She experienced psychotic episodes that today we often treat successfully on an outpatient bases.  Mental illness carried tremendous stigma in her day and one would have to question if her denial of her condition was more from the social implication than irrationality.  

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum also has plans to present similar re-trials including the case of Joseph Smith the Mormon profit, so stay tuned to their facebook page for details.

I extend my gratitude to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and Livestream for making this program available to us.