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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


The PBS pressroom announces a new program on the War of 1812 to air on October 10th.  They issued the following press release:

For Immediate Release



— Television Program Presents American, Canadian, British and Native Perspectives, Leading the Way of Bicentennial Activities, Airs October 10 —

WASHINGTON, D.C. and BUFFALO, NY — Nearly two centuries after it was fought, the two-and-a-half year conflict that forged the destiny of a continent comes to public television in a comprehensive film history. “The War of 1812” airs on PBS stations nationwide on Monday, October 10, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings). From 1812 to 1815, Americans battled against the British, Canadian colonists, and Native warriors; the outcomes shaped the geography and the identity of North America. This two-hour HD documentary uses stunning re-enactments, evocative animation, and the incisive commentary of key experts to reveal little-known sides of an important war — one that some only recognize for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The broadcast is accompanied by a companion book and website, as well as comprehensive bi-national educational resources.
The British impressment of American sailors
on the USS Niagara, in a re-enactment
from the The War of 1812.
Premieres Monday, October 10 at 9 p.m. ET
on PBS (check local listings).

Photo credit: Photo by David Litz.
Courtesy WNED-TV, Buffalo/Toronto
and Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc.

Across the United States and Canada, communities are planning events to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812. “We have proudly created ‘The War of 1812’ for both nations,” said Donald K. Boswell, president and CEO of WNED, the producing station of the program. Broadcasting from Buffalo, New York, WNED has significant viewership in Southern Ontario. “This timely examination of a shared history allows us to celebrate our past together, and renew the bond of our present and future as national neighbors. With this production, WNED also continues a tradition of showcasing cultural and historical treasures of our bi-national region to the PBS audience.” WNED is one of fourteen public broadcasting stations that share a border with Canada, extending the national broadcast of “The War of 1812” throughout the United States into many Canadian communities.

“WETA is pleased to join WNED in bringing this important project to all viewers,” noted Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting stations in the nation’s capital and a partner in the project. “It is an excellent example of the intellectual integrity and cultural merit for which public broadcasting stands.”

Portrait of Shawnee leader Tecumseh,
who is featured in The War of 1812.
Premieres Monday, October 10
at 9 p.m. ET on PBS
(check local listings).
Photo credit: Portrait by
Benson John Lossing,
ca. 1868. Courtesy of the
 J. Ross Collection of the
Toronto Reference Library.

The War of 1812 is a celebrated event by Canadians, forgotten by many Americans and British, and dealt a resounding blow to most of the Native nations involved. The film is in many ways an examination of how the mythical versions of history are formed — how the glories of war become enshrined in memory, how failures are quickly forgotten, and how inconvenient truths are ignored forever, while we often change history to justify and celebrate our national cultures and heritage.

“The War of 1812” explores the events leading up to the conflict, the multifold causes of the war, and the questions that emerged about the way a new democracy should conduct war. It was a surprisingly wide war. Dozens of battles were fought on land in Canada and in the northern, western, southern and eastern parts of the United States — in the present-day states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Louisiana, and Alabama. There were crucial naval battles on Lakes Erie and Champlain, and a wide-ranging maritime struggle with many episodes off Virginia, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, Cuba, Ireland, the Azores, the Canaries, British Guyana, and Brazil. The U.S. proved surprisingly successful against the great British navy, but the War of 1812 also saw American armies surrender en masse and the American capital burned.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Old Occupation Titles

Every once in awhile in census records I see an occupation listed that is not common today.  A good example is a person who lists themselves as a "scavenger".  One would think perhaps this could be an alternate use for a person who may be a junk dealer. 

However, I have found an alternate list for Scottish occupations, which lists a scavenger as a person who was a street sweeper. 

Don't be overly impressed if you see someone listed as a scholar, this lists indicates that would be a child who is attending school, not the graduate of worthy abilities.

It's an interesting read, hope you enjoy the list!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Visit from the Late Penny Helzer?

Many of you may recall my predecessor, the late Penny Helzer.  I had the opportunity to briefly work with her.  During the later part of her illness, on occasion I volunteered to answer inquiries on her behalf, until she was feeling well enough to resume her normal duties.

Shortly before she passed, I received the most unusual phone call from her.  She shared with me her plans for her funeral and post ceremonies.  She left very clear directions for her son, one of which was to round up several of her closest friends for a ceremony to release butterflies in her memory.  She asked me if I would do the honor of joining her friends and family for this special task.

I was hardly prepared for such a request but felt this would be the final act of kindness that Penny would ever ask of me, so I was flattered to be in their company.  When the butterflies were released, there was one in particular that fluttered around us, almost as if it was Penny giving her final goodbye.

This week I visited the gas station on my way to work, when I noticed the most beautiful large bodied butterfly, with a color pattern that I don't recall seeing before.  It was clinging to the base of the gas pump.  After paying for my purchase, when I returned to my car, I looked to see if the butterfly was still there.  I found it on the pavement crawling, so I stood and watched to try to assess if it had been injured.  Much to my surprise, it decided to cling to the rim of my car tire.  Then I gently lifted it from the tire, to ensure it was not harmed, and watched as it flew up and away beyond my line of vision.  As I drove away, I had the thought that maybe that was Penny in spirit, sending me a brief hello. 

Penny had the butterflies mail ordered and purchased a variety that was said to be very people friendly.  I'd like to think she was checking in on me.  Perhaps this was an offspring of the butterflies released at her ceremony. 

May the butterfly continue its journey, placing smiles on the faces of everyone it visits.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Memory of Anna

Mrs. Howell in 1987
The Port Byron community mourns the loss of one of our most beloved teachers, Mrs. Anna White Howell.

In addition to curriculum, Anna taught life lessons, the virtue of kindness, self-respect, and the basics of good character in order to prepare pupils for the challenges of the future.

We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

NSDAR Literacy Promotion Contest

I am deeply honored to share that the program organized in November 2010 to honor the late Pearl Kilmer Wilson's contributions to the "Mail-It" program, has received national recognition by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in their literacy promotion contest.

When the contest was announced we didn't know if the program we held, which focused on the elderly and visually impaired, how it would stack up as compared to other more traditional programs centered on reading involving the youth.  Our program seemed to fit the contest guidelines like a glove, so we decided to give it a try.  I am pleased to report that the program placed as follows:

Contest Results
1st Place  - New York State
1st Place  - North East Division, which includes the States of NY, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT, and RI
2nd Place - National

To fully understand why reading became so important  (page 2) to Pearl, I'd like to share her story:

Pearl as a youngster worked for her family as a mule driver on the Erie Canal.  This was a task traditionally performed by young boys for hire but she always stayed with her family.

She traveled the canal from Rochester to Syracuse and from Syracuse to Albany, following the Hudson river to New York City with her father William. She had a life long fascination over shoes and her days on the canal is likely the reason.  Shoes wore out frequently due to the many miles traveled.  

           c. 1903
Pearl with her sisters
Myrtle, Pearl (center), Georgiana

While it was hard work, Pearl found the traveling to be very exciting.  One of her adventures included a boat accident.  Upon arriving at a lock, they found the lock tender was on a lunch break. A gentleman nearby assured her father he could operate the lock to get them on their way without delay. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned and the boat made contact with the chamber wall.
Pearl laughed, saying she was so scared by the water rushing into the boat, that she jumped onto a small table that was nearby.  She added that by the time her father reached her, the table was floating in the water!