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, October 25, 2010

Pearl Wilson Fund Update

Your generous contributions have allowed the following large print books to be purchased by the Port Byron Library:

1)  In the Company of Others by Jan Karon
2)  Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Wisods
3)  Confession by John Grishan
4)  Indulgence in Death by J.D. Robb
5)  Thorn by Beverly Lewis
6)  1022 Evergreen Place by Debbie Macomber (Book Club)

More titles to come......

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Girl I Left Behind Me

Next summer we will be honoring Capt. John Lockwood who was one of our local civil war soldiers who died at the age of 20 as a POW.  In doing research on our soldier, I found a poem written by another soldier who enlisted at the age of 14 from Wolcott, NY.  He enlisted as a private and climbed the ranks to Full Sergeant.  His record can be found under the name of Adam Michael which reports his age at enlistment as 18.  Perhaps he said he was a bit older so that they would take him to serve, like so many other young men did at that time.

Adam Michel wrote a poem before he left home to serve in Company C of the NY 75th Infantry.  He sent the poem to his sister Katie.  He would also become a POW being sent to Libby Prison in Richmond before being transferred to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina where he died of starvation, never returning to see the girl he so candidly wrote about in his poem.  According to the 1942 Cato Citizen, his burial site is not known.  Adam Michel died in December 1864 just two months after our soldier. 

The poem sends a universal message for those that serve their Country to engage in the defense of our freedoms, yet not knowing what fate has in store for them.  All soldiers leave someone behind.

In the memory of those that have never returned, I share the words written nearly 150 years ago from such a courageous young man:
'Tis many days since I left home
    To join our glorious army,
I thought but of my Country's call
    And not of what might harm me:
I vowed to join both hearth and hand,
    Where duty called you'll find me,
I left my home and shed a tear
    For the girl I left behind me.

To meet the foe was my desire
    Upon the field of battle,
The Union States my battle cry,
    While cannons thunders rattle.
But while I'm fighting for my flag
    And dust and smoke do blind me,
I'll not forget to give one thought
    To the girl I left behind me.

Oh, when rebellion is crushed out
    And traitors slain or taken,
The Stars and Stripes will shine more bright
    And joy each heart awaken.
The horrors of grim war will flee
    Like troubled dreams remind me.
How sweet to know I'll meet once more
    The girl I left behind me.

Surrounded now by friends and kin,
    Who smile, weep and caress me,
I watched the tears of joy that flow
    As each dear one doth bless me.
But there is one who moves my soul,
    My tears now almost blind me;
God grant I'll be obliged no more
    To leave my girl behind me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hard at Work

Your historian has been very hard at work developing programs for the new historian exchanges.  It was a pleasure to present the life of Thomas Rooker at the Howland Stone Store Museum in September.  The first official visitor as part of the exchange will be at Port Byron this Saturday at the Port Byron Library to present a program on Willow Baskets.

Many will be surprised to learn that Port Byron was once an active grower of willow.  The plant was introduced to our area by the Italian immigrants that settled here about 1880.  Many of the early Italians worked as laborers on the railroad and erie canal.  Some also rented land and worked a farm but it took many years before they were able to purchase their own land to harvest their own crops.  Land that they occupied was often swamp land that required irrigation and drainage to become useful land for dwellings and farming, which was successful due to their hard efforts.

The Port Byron Italians did not grow the same type of crops as compared to their American neighbors.  Their crop of choice was willow and onions.  Any willow that was not used for local basket making was sold in bulk to the market at Liverpool, NY.  That is why I am so pleased to have the Liverpool Village Museum joining us Saturday.  Port Byron has a unique bond in history with Liverpool.

Tracking a product made from local willow grown from Port Byron certainly would be a tall order.  Willow sold in bulk for this time period was likely not to have been documented with lot numbers or batch numbers like we are accused to seeing today.  I look forward to learning more about the history of willow baskets and excited that our first official exchange has such an intimate connection to our own history.

Many may have been wondering why there have not been many posts over the last couple of months, so I thought I would share some of the behind the scene activities of your historian.  October 2nd we held a wonderful celebration of life ceremony at the Mentz Town Hall to honor Pearl Kilmer Wilson.  Our guests included Senator Michael Nozzolio and Principal Post from the Owasco Elementary School.  The group raised $217.00 for the Port Byron Library to be used for the purchase of large print books in Pearl's honor.  We will be adding the list of book titles at a future date so that everyone can stay connected to the project.
October also presented the opportunity to apply for two grants for historic road side markers.  The grant recipients have not been announced yet, but thanks to Cayuga County Historian Sheila Tucker who guided me thru the process as well as the fast response by the Lock 52 Historical Society, we were able to meet the deadline for submission.  I am personally anxious to see the diversity of the historic sites that are selected to receive the grants from the William Pomeroy Foundation.  Our region is so rich in history, that I am certain it will not be easy to pick the grant recipients.  Should we not make the list this year, if all goes well, we may be able to apply again in the future.

I also attended the Haiti Bridge dedication ceremony.  It was a joyous event for the residents of the island, to once again have a connection to the main highway.  We often don't think of the roads and bridges we cross every day but what happens when a critical bridge fails and there is a small body of water between you and the road that takes you everywhere else?  Thanks to the dedication of our local and State officials, a new bridge now restores services to the residents on the island.  Access is important to any community and with much of the island remaining undeveloped, who knows what events of today will make tomorrows history.