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.

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.