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 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.