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February 10, 2021 - 3:56pm

Press release:

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to welcome on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Michael Broccolo of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center as our next presenter in our Guest Speaker Series. The topic will be "The Underground Railroad in the Niagara Frontier."

The presentation will be conducted virtually via Zoom. To watch the presentation via Zoom please visit the museum's Facebook page or website for login information.

If you would like to witness the virtual presentation on the museum's big screen there will be a limited audience of 12 people. Those in attendance will be required to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols and must preregister by contacting the museum at (585) 343-4727. We are asking anyone in attendance for a small donation.

February 3, 2021 - 4:15pm
posted by Press Release in Holland Land Office Museum, news, hlom, February 2021, history.

Press release:

On Thursday, Feb. 11th at 7 p.m. the Holland Land Office Museum will be hosting its next edition of its Virtual History Trivia Night at the Museum. The topic for the month of February will be Abraham Lincoln, in honor of his birthday and President’s Day.

The program will be conducted via Zoom. If you would like to join and test your knowledge of the 16th President visit the museum’s Facebook page or website, www.hollandlandoffice.com for the login details.

On Thursday, Feb. 25th at 9 a.m. the Holland Land Office Museum will be hosting its next edition of its Virtual Java with Joe E. morning presentations. This month we welcome back local author Greg Van Dussen as he shares excerpts from his latest works on the early Methodist Church.

His latest works that will be covered are: "Circuit Riders on the Road to Glory" and "Circuit Rider Devotions Vol. 2." Both books are also available for sale in the museum bookstore.

The program will be conducted via Zoom. Please visit the museum’s Facebook page or website, www.hollandlandoffice.com for the login details.

For more information please call the museum at (585) 343-4727 or email at:  [email protected]

January 28, 2021 - 2:21pm
posted by Press Release in news, Holland Land Office Museum, batavia, history.

The Holland Land Office Museum will be returning to its normal operating hours beginning Tuesday, Feb. 2nd.

The museum will again be open on Tuesdays.

The museum will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For any questions or further information please contact the museum at (585) 343-4727 or [email protected].

January 13, 2021 - 2:38pm
posted by James Burns in news, Basom, Alabama Hotel, art, mural, history.

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A new mural was commissioned for the dining room of the Alabama Hotel, located at routes 77 and 63 in Basom.

Owner Bonnie Woodward says, the mural in the main dining room was painted as a display of gratitude for all the hotel’s guests, and it encompasses many the highlights of the local area. The theme of the mural is “All Roads Lead to the Alabama Hotel.”

Bonnie explains the elements in the mural:

  • The Alabama Hotel -- The painting of the hotel is a depiction of the structure dating back to the 1840s when it was first built. The entire section of the wall is a time capsule originating from the inception of the building, moving forward into the 1950s when the Woodward Family bought the Hotel, then forward to 2019 when Bonnie Woodward purchased it, and then finally to you -- the viewer at present.
  • 1957 Buick Convertible – Bonnie wanted to embody the time period when the Hotel was acquired by the Woodward Family – 1956.
  • Gas Pump – The building across from the Hotel, on the southwest corner, was at one point in time a gas station. The gas pump is from the 1950s and indicates the price of gas for that time period ($0.29/gallon).

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  • Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge – A very short drive west is this habitat which supports approximately 266 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, as well as fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects;
  • Giant Wheel – Representing Six Flags Darien Lake in the Town of Darien. The real Giant Wheel propels riders 165 feet in the air.
  • Darien Lake Amphitheater – Hosting performances from all your favorites with a capacity of 21,600 people.
  • Steam Engine Tractor – The steam engine is a great way to represent the nearby Town of Alexander, which has hosted the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association and their respective annual rally since 1967.

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  • Old Lockport Locks – Running 524 miles with 57 locks, 17 lift bridges, and 13 movable dams, the Erie Canal is yet another designated National Historic Landmark. The Canal was fully operational in 1825. There is an elevation change from Albany to Buffalo of 571 feet. Although the mural depicts the Lockport locks from their historical perspective, the locks have been reconstructed and now are the only double set on The Erie Canal. They raise boats 50 feet using three million gallons of water.

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  • Buffalo City Hall – Just a short distance from here is Buffalo – the second largest city in New York State. Buffalo City Hall is a historical Art Deco masterpiece that is at the center of what's happening in Buffalo today.
  • McKinley Monument – The obelisk painted in front of City Hall is the McKinley Monument. This 96-foot tall structure defines the center of Buffalo where all the main roads converge. The monument was dedicated to the memory of President William McKinley who was fatally shot in Buffalo. On Sept. 14, 1901, following McKinley’s death, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated at the Ansley Wilcox House in Buffalo. He became the 26th President of the United States.

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  • Niagara Falls – Niagara Falls is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. This major tourist destination is the result of Lake Erie dumping into Lake Ontario and it straddles part of the border between New York and Canada. You may find it interesting to know that the rate of water traversing the falls is controlled by employing a weir with movable gates upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. Peak tourist season as well as hydroelectric facilities are determinants of such control measures, as well as the extreme importance of erosion control. Niagara Falls, with its hydropower, is the largest electricity producer in New York State.
  • Wine Barrel – Since 1850 more than 5,000 people have either intentionally or accidently gone over the falls. The first person, in 1901, to survive was 63-year old school teacher, Annie Edson Taylor. She successfully performed the stunt in an oak barrel. Of the thousands of subsequent attempts, only 16 others have reportedly survived. Stunting at Niagara Falls has been illegal since 1951 and surviving such a feat could still cost a daredevil up to $25,000 (USD) in fines. 

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  • Fresh Produce – Agriculture is a major component of the local economy. The Hotel is positioned in Genesee County, which is part of the Finger Lakes Agricultural Region -- the center of NY agriculture. This region hosts the largest amount of farmland in the State and ranks first in total amount of farm sales. The neighboring Western New York Region comprises of 5,100 farms and 870,000 acres of farmland (2012 U.S. Census Report).
  • Maple Tree – The maple leaf is the chosen emblem of Canada. We are grateful to our friends to the north who have always contributed to the culture and tradition of the Alabama Hotel.
  • Apples – At one point Western New York was the leading apple producing area in the country. Today, NY State farmers grow 40 varieties of apples – more than any other state. The state is currently the second-largest apple producing state in the nation (USDA). 
  • Onions – Neighboring Elba is known as the Onion Capital of the World in large part to the fertile mucklands. This title is upheld by the town’s annual Onion Festival and the crowning of its Onion Queen.
  • Cary Seminary – Consistent with the theme of the other landmark structures, the artist captured the historic essence of the Cary Collegiate Seminary in neighboring Oakfield. The Seminary was opened in 1844 as a select boarding school and later became Oakfield High School. The building is now School House Manor – 27 apartments for the elderly.
  • Milk Can – This is a symbolic homage to the local dairy industry; which is a major part of the economy. “The state has more than 4,000 dairy farms, is the fourth largest producer of milk [in the Nation], and is the largest producer of yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream. The dairy community includes both large dairy operations and small, family-run farms. It also boasts processing of various types and sizes, from major global processing companies to small artisanal dairy product makers.” 
  • Holding Lantern – Homage to the Underground Railroad. The entire area of Western New York was filled with stops or stations with major stations in Buffalo and Rochester. At the stations, weary slaves were given food, rest and a change of clothing before continuing the last leg of the journey to freedom in Canada.

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  • Holland Land Office – Located in Batavia, the image is of the third and last office of The Holland Land Company. In 1960, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark, the first one in Western New York. If you’re keeping track, that is the third National Historic Landmark on the mural tour. 
  • Kodak Building – Nearby Rochester is known for the cultural icon of Eastman Kodak. With the slogan "you press the button, we do the rest" George Eastman put the first simple camera into the hands of a world of consumers in 1888. In so doing he made a cumbersome and complicated process easy to use and accessible to nearly everyone. Eastman’s Company has been at the center of most milestones in photography and digital imaging ever since.” 

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Signatures of artists Susan Weber from Alden and Daniel Riggs originally from Elba

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January 3, 2021 - 1:59pm
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in nostalgia, batavia, news, history, urban renewal, downtown, main street.

I always have been a follower of Hallmark movies due to their storyline's simplicity and happy endings. What I think that most intrigued me was when the main characters always seemed to go home to save a part of their town, from historic buildings to Main streets.

These stories always take me back to our Downtown. I've written many articles about urban renewal, its history, why it happened, and how it happened.

But it never illustrates the sadness we endured or the memories we cherish.

Watching a Hallmark movie with its predictable ending always makes me think about going home or being home in Batavia.

Many of these movies take me back to the '60s and the daily ritual of walking home from Notre Dame High School. As my best friend and I would cross Union Street to Main Street, our first stop would always be the Red Barn for a little snack. The next stop would be Oliver's for Molly Pops.

It was a simple time, but the memories of walking down Main Street are as vivid today as they were in the '60s.

The big red brick square building on the corner of Court Street and Main Street always intrigued me.

I knew it must have been a hotel, and standing on our tiptoes, looking at the dusty lobby always made me curious about that building.

Many years later, as I was researching the hotel, I returned to that window scene imprinted in my mind, imagining people dancing and eating in that beautiful Richmond Hotel, named after the famous Dean Richmond family.

I think some of my favorite memories were shopping. I love the clothes of the '60s. Favorite places to shop were Alexander’s Clothing Store and C.L. Carr's department store. It was always so much fun to go into the stores and look at the newest styles.

Being a Notre Dame student, we had to wear the ugliest uniforms.

What were they thinking by having the girls wear a bolero? So, the idea of getting new clothes was a big deal.

 Alexander's on the north side of Main Street had a section in the store called The Barn. It was like walking into a teenager’s fashion dream, showcasing all the newest styles.

When I was a freshman, there was a dance called the Christmas Dance, and I remember buying my dress from The Barn.

It was pink, and since this was my first dance (I was 14), and my dad being a dad, he made me add a big black velvet bow to the neckline of the dress. I always thought that was funny since I weighed about 93 pounds.

I also remember in my senior year buying my formal for our senior prom at Alexander's.

I can't forget my other favorite store on the south side of Main Street, C. L. Carr. It was like entering into many little departments that, together, created a building where you could buy almost anything.

I loved their clothes. Somehow, there was a deal with my parents, or I should say with my mom, that I could take home clothes on approval.

That was always exciting because I could pick out my favorite clothes and take them home and show my mom, and hopefully, I could keep one or two of them.

My mother would say, "Don't show your father today; wait a few days, and the day your father asks 'When did you get that new outfit?' you can say, 'Oh, I’ve had it awhile, Dad.' ”

Since we had to wear such attractive uniforms one year, the store sold mohair sweaters that we could thankfully wear over our school uniform. I didn't care that I was allergic to wool. I would wear that sweater, so did my best friend, Cathy. I think she might've had a blue sweater and I had a pink one. I loved that sweater.

I have so many memories of that fantastic store in which you could buy a particular card, vacuum cleaner, a rug, sewing supplies, pots and pans, and have gifts wrapped all year long.

I can remember buying my wedding gown in 1974 with my mom, another memory I will cherish.

It was the way the sales clerk treated you with such kindness and respect that left such a remarkable impression. I picked out our everyday dishes and "good china” at Carr’s.

They also had a travel agency kiosk called Travelore on their first floor where we bought our honeymoon tickets. You really could find everything in that store. 

Years later, I had my first child and couldn't wait to buy baby clothes.

I also would buy gifts for other friends and relatives, and somehow the sales clerks at the store knew if that new baby had already received the gift I had picked out.

When our daughter was in high school, she was one of the Christmas wrappers in the store's basement.  

With their fake snow and predictable storylines, Hallmark movies take me back to my hometown to remember what it was like before it was taken away.

The one thing the wrecking ball couldn't take away are the treasured memories of my hometown Main Street.

PHOTOS:

1) (Top) Demolition of Downtown Batavia in the name of urban renewal, courtesy of Genesee County History Department;

2) Red brick building -- Hotel Richmond, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum;

3) Hotel Richmond lobby, coustesy of the Genesee County History Department;

4) Notre Dame High School class photo of girls wearing boleros, from a ND yearbook;

5) Anne Marie Peca in her Senior Prom formal from Alexander's clothing store, courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz;

6) Anne Marie Peca wedding photo, courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz;

7) C. L. Carr store drawing, Pat Burr;

​8) (Bottom) Main Street Downtown Batavia, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum.

December 27, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, history, nostalgia, wintertime, news.

Growing up in Batavia in the 1950s provided kids with a lots of opportunities for winter outdoor fun. There were a couple reasons for this: first, there was a lot more snow to play in.

The average temperature in this area has risen almost a degree and a half in the last 50 years and the average low temperature has gone up double that amount. Even though we receive more winter precipitation, a lot of it falls as rain. You can't really build a rainman or have a rainball war.

Secondly, there are a lot more indoor electronic entertainment options now. I'm not gonna go all grumpy old guy (although I sometimes am him) and criticize kids for phones, video games, etc.. It's just a different time.

All Bundled Up

Back then in order to make it through a snowy cold outdoors day, kids had to dress warmly. This involved a lot of bulky clothes and some help from your mother. I have mentioned the movie “A Christmas Story" in my reminiscences before, but if you picture Ralphie's little brother Randy having so many clothes on that his arms wouldn't stay down, that describes us perfectly.

A bittersweet memory for me is that in 1997 my mother had a heart attack. The doctor told us that it was fatal and she only had a short time to live. As I sat trying to comfort her, I asked, “Mom, what's your favorite memory from when we were kids?” She replied, “ I think it has to be you guys (I had two younger brothers) going out to play in the snow.”

Sledding And Skating

Until age 10 I lived on Thomas and Ellicott avenues, so sledding at the State (Street) Park (now known as Centennial Park) was one of our winter activities. It was a pretty short walk there with our wooden Flexible Flyer sleds and we'd stay there all afternoon until our hands were frozen into our mittens.

I recall that over toward the west end of the park hill there was a tree that for some reason had a raised earthen circle around its base. It wasn't that high, but everyone tried to start from it to get a little extra boost in speed.

In 1957 we moved to North Spruce Street and had a lot more yard room to make snow forts and have snowball wars. Also, in the late '50s and through the '60s we got a LOT of snow.

Like most kids then, we did get ice skates for a Christmas present one year. I never did enough skating to be any good at it, but I do remember going to a rink at Williams Park on Pearl Street. One time my friend Charlie's older teenage sister who could drive dropped us off and agreed to be back at a certain time. Well, she was a teenager so she was late. Very late. By the time she got there we were on the verge of crying because our feet were so cold. I think Charlie blistered her ears pretty good as we drove home to thaw out.

On Jan. 15th 1994 I went to the coldest game in Buffalo Bills' history, a playoff game against the (then) Los Angeles Raiders with a wind chill of -32 degrees. My feet did not get as cold as that day skating in Batavia. Mostly because I was prepared with three pairs of socks and felt-lined boots. Also, because a teenage girl didn't go necking with her boyfriend and leave me there.

When we moved to North Spruce we were the last house on the east side of the street. A couple years later someone began constructing a house on the lot to our north.

Something got delayed and the basement walls were poured, but then it was left open and water got in there. We discovered by climbing down a wooden ladder that there was a sheet of ice there when the water froze. So one winter before it was closed in, we'd go down there and play hockey. Well, hockey as played by several kids who really couldn't skate on a rink about 25-yards long.

Snowball Shenanigans

Snowball wars were usually fun unless you caught one in the face. When we lived on North Spruce Street we used to go to East Main Street and bombard semi-trucks. On the north side of Main between North Spruce and Eastown Plaza there was a hill with apartment buildings on top (I'm not sure how long the hill has been gone, but I only noticed it recently). We'd go up there at night and launch our icy missles at the rear part of the trucks as they lumbered by.

While living on Thomas or Ellicott avenues my younger brother Dan and I used to take hikes out State Street Road to the airport and back. In the cold weather Mom would pack us some sandwiches and a thermos of chicken noodle soup to fortify us on our journey.

One time though snowballs got us in trouble. We got the less-than-brilliant idea to throw them at cars on the New York State Thruway from the State Street Bridge. A State Trooper saw us, turned on his flashing lights, pulled over, and came up the embankment after us. We were too terrified to run (we were probably 9 and 6 years old) and appropriately froze to the spot.

The trooper gave us a good chewing out and told us if he caught us endangering drivers like that again he'd put us in his car and take us to our house. He ordered us to be sure to tell our parents what we had done, but I can't remember if we actually did or not. That might have been one of those cases like climbing the water tower when you told them years later -- when there was no chance of punishment.

Getting the Boot

Another memorable winter incident happened on Cedar Street. My aunts Kate and Peg lived by the sand wash (now DeWitt Recreation Area) and one snowy day my brother and I had been playing somewhere past there by either the Peanut or Lehigh Valley railroad tracks.

On the way home I decided to take us on a shortcut by skirting the icy edge of one of the ponds. Suddenly, my boot sank into the snow and water started coming up around it. I was overcome by fear since us kids had heard that those ponds were hundreds of feet deep. I pulled and tugged, but my booted foot was stuck solidly.

Dan started toward me to help, but I yelled at him to get back fearing the extra weight. I yanked my leg one more time and my leg came free but the boot stayed entrenched in the slush.

I scrambled up the bank onto solid ground (under the snow), but momentarily debated in my mind whether to try to get the boot. I had seriously pictured the ice giving way and me sinking underneath so it wasn't much of a choice. I was getting the heck out of there.

I began running as fast as I could with only a wet sock on my foot through the cold and snow to our aunts' with little brother tagging behind.

As I was running, already my devious kid mind, while glad to be alive, was thinking of a way to get out of trouble. We had been warned many times to stay away from those ponds.

Aunt Kate's face turned white as I came bursting through the door possibly crying (although mostly fake I think) and blurting out a story about how I made a mistake and my boot got stuck in some water and I had to run miles (maybe a quarter of a mile) through the snow in my sock and that I'd never go near there in the winter again, and so on.

I don't think I ever saw Aunt Kate wear anything but what she called a “house dress” and she was certainly not an “outdoorsy” person, but she took Dan and went and retrieved my boot. I don't think I ever asked how, but she lectured me at length about going near the water. I don't think she ratted me out to my parents though.

Driveway Duties

At some point in the late '50s, not too long after we moved to North Spruce Street, my dad had to have surgery, so at age 11 or 12 I became responsible for shoveling the driveway. As I mentioned earlier, we got a lot of snow those winters and it was a constant battle for a kid to keep that passage cleaned out.

We had not added a garage onto the house yet, so fortunately for me my mom would park close to the street so I wouldn't have to shovel too far. I remember that she would give me the keys to start the car up and I would take breaks in there. We probably had something like a 1956 Pontiac and I'd listen to The Tommy Shannon show on WKBW radio with The Rebels playing “Wild Weekend."

Drifting Away

In the rear of our ranch-style house on North Spruce Street we had a picture window in the living room. I can recall several winters where my brother and I were sent out to shovel the windblown snow away from it so we could see out. Also, I remember drifts in the front that went up almost to the level of the rain gutters.

I would be remiss if I wrote about memories of snow in Batavia without mentioning the blizzards of 1966 (one of my previous stories was about my adventures during that epic event) and 1977. So many Batavians recall being stranded for days, getting groceries by snowmobile, and cars being buried in the piles of snow until spring.

Judging by the large number of former Batavians who have moved to Florida and other Southern environs, not everyone shares my fondness for winter nostalgia. However, I still enjoy the change of seasons in Upstate New York, but will admit that I wouldn't complain if it only snowed on Christmas Eve and Day (which it rarely does). Nonetheless, sometimes in the winter I'll “drift” off to sleep thinking of my kid days in snowy Batavia, New York.

Top photo: Dave Reilly (left) with brothers Jim and Dan 1960.

Middle two color images: Before and after photos of little Dave when a sled ride went bad.

Bottom two photos: Two views of the back of 122 N. Spruce St., Batavia, circa early 1960s.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

December 6, 2020 - 2:41pm
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in Peca family, Christmas 1960s, history, nostalgia, batavia.

I was reminiscing, thinking back to Christmases in Downtown Batavia circa 1960.

I recall a Friday night, and Main Street was decorated with holiday cheer. People from all over Genesee County had come to the city to shop and reconnect with friends.

I had made my list for Christmas, and my first two stops were Newberry’s and W.T. Grant’s. Those two stores carried everything you would need -- from a picture with Santa, a hot dog at their food counter, to a new dress and plumbing supplies. The stores were crowded, and the Christmas music was coming from outside of C.L. Carr’s.

The windows of the Carr’s building would mesmerize young and old with their moveable musical figures. It was a much slower pace in the ‘60s. People working behind the counters of the various stores knew your name and would ask about your family. Genesee Hardware was on Main Street at that time and sold toys. I remember going there to see if the wedding dress for my Barbie doll was still for sale. It was!

Other stores I remember were Thomas and Dwyer and C. F. Knox, shoe stores that were run by families. A winter ritual was driving around the city with my family to see the Christmas decorations. There was always one particular house you had to see every year with the most sparkling Christmas lights.

Your next stop would have to be NY State School for the Blind to see the magical, miniature Christmas village on the school’s snow-covered lawn.  

My memories take me back to my family — the Pecas — and those Christmas mornings with the opening of presents and the five-course meal prepared in the kitchen. One Christmas, our mother gave each of us a photo album she created with pictures of each of us in our album. I remember sitting in the living room with my brothers and sisters looking at our albums. We laughed at how we looked when we were young and couldn’t believe that our mother of six found time to create such a timeless memory.

Another favorite memory was Christmas dinner. We would eat for what seemed like hours. Our family was so big we needed the large kitchen table and the dining room table for a holiday meal. You had, to begin with, our dad saying grace and thanking God we could all be together. The feast started with an antipasto, followed by Italian wedding soup, lasagna, and a full-course turkey dinner. Later we would have a wide variety of choices of homemade pie.  

This Christmas will be different for many. I know we will not be able to see our children and grandchildren. We will be filled with memories of Christmases past and hoping all our families and friends stay safe and healthy and are filled with beautiful memories from yesteryear.

Top photo: The Peca family dressed their best for a Christmas Card photo.

Below, two of Anne Marie Starowitz's sisters, Gina, left, and Terry.

Below, Tony, Sam, Anne Marie, and their dad, with sisters Gina and Terry on his lap. (Not pictured: mom and brother Johnny.)

November 15, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in history, news, batavia, LeRoy.

In the '80s, I was a fourth-grade teacher for the Batavia City School District, and one of the many highlights of my career was teaching local history. This year, I was again able to show children where they came from through the lens of local history.

I had the opportunity to take my second-graders from St. Joseph Regional School on walking field trips to the Holland Land Office Museum. I am fortunate to meet with my students physically every day; this is not a reality for many schoolchildren.

Even though it is 2020 and the children use technology every day with Chromebooks, a tablet, or a computer, they still enjoy going back in time and learning about their history.

Every child chose a famous local person to learn about and research. With the help of their parents, the students visited various famous places in Batavia.

Since I had children from LeRoy, we also added their local history; they researched Ingham University, Orator Woodward, Herman LeRoy, and Stein Farms. I know the children and parents found this interesting. 

As we walked down Main Street and stopped at The First Bank of the Genesee, I told the story of Trumbull Cary. Our next stop was James Brisbane’s Mansion. They also enjoyed looking at the Upton Monument and learning about our famous Civil War hero, Union Colonel Emory Upton.

On our trip to the Historic Batavia Cemetery, the children connected with where their renowned person was buried. To see the children looking up at the height of William Morgan’s monument was priceless, or connecting the Richmond Memorial Library with the Richmond Mausoleum was a wonderful moment.

So, as they say, some things change, and some things stay the same; the children are the constant in my life as a teacher. Children haven’t changed. 

What is different in 2020 for all of our children is the coronavirus pandemic -- they sit at a desk 6 feet apart; they walk the halls wearing their mask and sanitize their hands entering the classroom and going out of the classroom. When they get a chance to go on recess, the children can run and skip, play tag, enjoy the playground equipment, and, most of all, just laugh.

I mostly enjoy their laughter and watching them run. I am so proud of them, so even though we live with the tangible specter of COVID-19, the children are still children and want to hear about Joseph Ellicott, Dean Richmond, and take a visit to the beautiful Historic Batavia Cemetery.

What I find so sad is that these young children don’t know what it was like before coronavirus.

They are missing sitting on a rug listening to a story, working in groups, singing in Glee Club, or playing sports. What they hear now is the humming of room air purifiers and the smell of disinfectants. Good thing that our history will never change.  

Hopefully, we will be able to return to “normal times,” and this, too, will become part of our past, not our day-to-day lives.

Photos courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

Top, St. Joseph Regional School second-graders on the steps of the Brisbane Mansion, now housing the City of Batavia Police Department.

Below, St. Joseph Regional School students at the gravesite monument of Joseph Ellicott in Batavia Cemetery.

Bottom, teacher Anne Marie Starowitz stands behind her class in front of the Holland Land Office Museum.

November 1, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in news, history, batavia, railroads.

From the mid 1800s until the 1960s Batavia could rightfully be called a railroad town. With four different rail lines going through it from Walnut Street, through the Jackson / Ellicott area and across Harvester Avenue and Cedar Street, there was train traffic 24 hours a day.

Many of the local men employed by the railroads were of Irish or Italian descent. So, on a summer day along the line you could probably smell the aroma of boiling potatoes and corned beef (on the rare occasions when it could be afforded) or garlicky marinara sauce made with homegrown tomatoes wafting from open windows.

There are many former or current Batavians of a certain age (meaning old) whose parents or grandparents made their living working for one of the rail lines in some capacity. I think my grandfather was unique in that regard because in his 30-year career he worked in several varied job positions for three different railroads: the Lehigh Valley, Erie, and New York Central.

James D. Reilly was my paternal grandfather. He died in 1931, 16 years before I came along. He was born in 1870 in Mendon to Irish immigrants Patrick and Bridget Costello O'Reilly. Patrick, who was a farm laborer, and Bridget raised six children in a house about the size of today's two-car garage. The term “dirt poor” certainly applied to them -- all the way down to the earthen-floored root cellar of their tiny house.

Rochester Junction

The house was located very close to Rochester Junction, which was a stop and transfer point on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. From there some passengers would switch trains onto a spur, which went to downtown Rochester to a station now occupied by the popular Dinosaur Barbecue Restaurant on Court Street.

As today's patrons gobble down ribs and sauce-slathered brisket they might picture in their mind the chaotic hubbub of travelers in their suits, bowler hats and corseted dresses rushing to and from the steam-emitting trains.

About 1900 James D. Reilly got a job as a laborer working for the Lehigh Valley. By 1905 he had moved to the position of Towerman and worked in the interlocking tower at Rochester Junction. It was the responsibility of the men in the tower to operate the switching equipment to enable trains to change from one track to another.

Every model railroad enthusiast worth his salt (or coal) knows that each rail company had their own distinctive color scheme for their towers. The Lehigh Valley was light and dark gray, the Erie was dark green, and so on.

The Batavia tower shown in the top photo of the track gang at the Jackson and Ellicott Street crossing was eventually bought and moved to Fairport and placed next to the Erie Canal, where it now serves as the office for a canoe rental company. This is somewhat ironic because it was the boom in railroad transportation that sounded the death knell for the canal in the late 1800s.

When James was a towerman, according to the 1905 State Census and the Mendon Town Historian Diane Ham, it is likely that he was living on railroad property in a small “shanty” with his wife, Catherine Nussbaumer Reilly, whom he had married in 1904, and her elderly father George.

By 1910 James was promoted to foreman of a track crew. It was harder work but more pay. Track maintenance was backbreaking work in the blazing heat of summer and even harder in the freezing and snowy winters, but the family needed the money.

By then his father-in-law had passed away and he and my grandmother had two children, George and Margaret. They moved to a rented house still near the railroad but near what is now Clover Street in Mendon.

Moved to Batavia

In 1911 my father James Francis was born and then my aunt Katherine in 1913, both in Mendon. At this point the Reillys (the O had been dropped from their name) with a growing family had need for better housing. You can almost hear my grandmother saying to her husband, “James, I'm sick of living in shacks with all these kids! We need a house!” So, about 1915 the family moved to Batavia. Their final child, Mary, was born there in 1919.

In Batavia, James continued as a track gang foreman, but with the Erie Railroad. At first the family lived in a rented place on Wiard Street off East Main Street between Bank and Summit streets.

But sometime before 1920 he finally was able to purchase his own home at 27 Cedar St. The house wasn't large, but had three bedrooms and two floors, which must have seemed like a mansion to someone who grew up in what was little more than a shack.

The house was directly adjacent to the four tracks of the New York Central Railroad. Chugging and hissing steam engine trains passed by at all hours of the day and night, plus they lived next to a crossing so whistles had to be blown on every approach.

This cacophony of sound might have bothered some people, but the Reillys were used to it and slept like proverbial babies.

Their next-door neighbor was Marty O' Brien, another Irish immigrant and also a railroad employee. Back in those days, crossing gates had to be raised and lowered manually and that was Marty's job, so he just had to walk past Reilly's house to his work shanty by the tracks. Marty played the violin and would bring memories of faraway Ireland with his tunes.

Cedar Street was the ideal place for railroad employees to live because the tracks of four rails -- Erie, New York Central, Peanut and Lehigh Valley -- all bisected that road at some point. But, since three of the railroads crossed Cedar at street level (the Lehigh had a bridge) traffic could be held up interminably -- horse-drawn wagons and later automobiles.

Union Man

James was a loyal union man and paid dues of $3.50 every six months to The United Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employes (sic) who were affiliates with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

This union membership paid off for him when sometime between 1920 and 1925 he sustained a serious leg injury on the job. Apparently, a section of track was inadvertently dropped on his limb causing a severe enough injury so as to make it impossible to continue on the track crew.

However, the union stepped in to make sure their brother and his family would be provided for by arranging a transfer to the New York Central Railroad. In the late 1800s that railroad had built and staffed a nursery in Batavia for the purpose of growing and providing plants and flowers for all the grounds of NYC Stations between Buffalo and Syracuse. 

James was assigned to that nursery to raise and care for the flowers as it was a less strenuous task for a man with a debilitating condition, but one that continued to enable him to earn a salary.

The End of the Line

Unfortunately, my grandfather was stubborn about his medical care, as it seems many men were in that time, and he refused to see a doctor on a regular basis. In 1931 he developed sepsis (blood poisoning) due to continued infection in his leg.

He passed away at the age of 61 in his home on Cedar Street next to railroad tracks that had been a part of his life for 30 years.

It is a fanciful notion, but it gives comfort to think that perhaps as James D. Reilly passed from this life a lonesome whistle blew on a passing train signaling the end of shift for a hard-working railroad man.

Epilogue: Even though James D. Reilly had passed away, the house at 27 Cedar St. remained a part of the Reilly family for almost 60 more years. In 1939 his wife Catherine, my grandmother, also died there.

Their son George, my uncle, married in the early 1940s and purchased a house up the street at 5 Cedar St. He and his wife, Helen, lived there until the 1980s when he passed away.

James' and Catherine's daughters, Catherine and Margaret (my aunts Kate and Peg) never married and lived at 27 Cedar until 1990. Neither of them ever had a driver's license but they both managed to work at the P. W. Minor Shoe Factory on State Street for more than 40 years.

My brothers and I spent many an hour and night at our aunts' house. We could always count on two Christmases, two Easters, and two Halloweens, courtesy of aunts Kate and Peg who fondly (and embarrassingly) called each of us “Honey Boy."

The New York Central was moved farther down Cedar Street in the late 1950s when the tracks became an interference with traffic in the City of Batavia. You could certainly still hear the sounds of the trains, but it no longer seemed that they were barreling right through the living room.

In 1989 Kate died and soon thereafter Peg went to a nursing home. The contents of the longtime Reilly home were disposed of at auction and the house was sold. It was the end of a 75-year era of Reillys at 27 Cedar St. in Batavia. 

Top photo: Track crew at the intersection of the Erie and New York Central railroads in Batavia circa early 1900s, from the Dan Orr Collection courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum.

Photo below: James D. Reilly, right, his daughter Mary Reilly and an unidentified man sitting outside a railroad crossing guard shanty in Batavia in the early 1920s. Courtesy of Dave Reilly.

Below: Interlocking tower at Rochester Junction in the early 1900s, courtesy of Diane Ham, Town of Mendon historian.

Bottom, postcard of New York Central Railroad Station in Batavia in the early 1900s, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum.

September 20, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in history, news, nostalgia, LeRoy.

Photo: Miss Anne Marie Peca's third-grade class at Wolcott Street School in 1972.

It was September 1972 and I was about to begin my first year of teaching at Wolcott Street School in LeRoy. My whole life I had wanted to be a teacher but to be able to teach where my mother grew up and where my grandmother still lived made it all the more exciting and memorable.

I have so many memories from that first year. My first week at Wolcott Street School I was in the workroom making dittos (mimeograph copies) by hand when a teacher who I think taught my mother came in and yelled at me and said students are not allowed to use the machine and ordered me back into the high school building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will always remember my very first class, of third-graders, and the many rules I broke. I didn’t realize you needed permission to take your class for a walk or you shouldn’t adjust the thermostat in your classroom to 90 degrees to teach the children about what it’s like to live in a desert. My thermostat regulated the heat for the entire second floor.

That year we did the play "Mary Poppins" on the big stage (above is a "ditto" of the program).

I do have so many treasured memories of being a teacher in LeRoy but I also have so many memories living in LeRoy.

One highlight was visiting my grandmother who lived at 25 South St. I loved going to mass with her at Saint Joseph’s Church and visiting Saint Francis Cemetery. We would water all the flowers on the graves of our relatives and it seemed like it was half the cemetery.

Later on, when I was a teacher in LeRoy I learned to appreciate the beauty of the village.

In 1974 I was married and we moved to LeRoy and lived at 15 Lake St. in Mr. Miceli’s upstairs apartment. It was a beautiful two-bedroom apartment with a living room, kitchen and a storage room. The rent was $100 a month and that included utilities.

I always enjoyed walking to school to teach because walking down Main Street was so beautiful, plus we only had one car. I would walk past the village hall and I would wave to Mrs. Fernaays, who I always thought was the mayor of LeRoy.

After school on my way home I would stop at the LeRoy Drugstore to pick up a prescription or a card. My next stop was Peck’s Meat Market to buy two pork chops or a half pound of ground beef. On Saturday, our date night we would walk to the LeRoy Theater and watch a 50-cent movie and then stroll home.

I do remember one thing that took getting used to was a very loud siren that would go off if there was a fire. We lived very close to the village hall and the first time we heard the siren go off, we jumped out of bed and thought we were being attacked.

I will always treasure my time in LeRoy, not just the beautiful village, but the wonderful friends I made, and the outstanding teachers I had the privilege to work with. I was also able to create treasured memories with my beautiful grandmother, Jennie Bellow.

Now when I visit St. Francis’s Cemetery it is to visit my grandparents, aunt, uncle and baby sister’s gravestones. As I sit there I remember that little girl running all around the cemetery watering flowers with her grandmother.

The Village of LeRoy is as beautiful today as it was when we lived there in the '70s.

My memories can’t compare to someone who is a true LeRoyan but I want to thank all of you for letting me be one for a few years!

Images courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

September 15, 2020 - 4:03pm
posted by Press Release in hlom, Holland Land Office Museum, batavia, history, news.

Press release:

Have you ever wondered how Genesee County came to be? What was the Holland Land Purchase? What is a Gibbet? How did Batavia get its name? If any of these questions peak your curiosity among many others, then volunteering at the Holland Land Office might be perfect for you.

The museum is reaching out to anyone with an interest in local history who would like to volunteer. Any amount of time that can be given is welcome, even an hour a week can make a great difference.

Volunteers can work in many different areas, and interests and strengths will be used to the most optimum affect. Areas of need include: cleaning, gift shop, docent/tour guide, documenting of artifacts, exhibits and displays, landscaping, etc.

Volunteer hours would be during the normal hours of operation of the museum are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

If you have an interest in volunteering with the Holland Land Office Museum, please contact Director Ryan Duffy at (585) 343-4727 or email: [email protected]

Information can also be found at the museum’s website.

September 13, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in news, batavia, history, education, nostalgia, covid-19, St. Mary's School.

After attending school (elementary, high school and college) for 18 years and teaching school (fifth and sixth grades) for another 33, I have been a part of opening day 51 times. And that doesn't include the overlapping times when my own two children headed back to their educational journeys.

But nothing in all that time is going to compare what the beginning of this school year will be like due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking temperatures, wearing masks, social distancing, plexiglass separating panels, lots of sanitizing, and a whole lot more that teachers and students are going to face including some days at school and other days virtually, all because of COVID-19.

I have never regretted being retired, but I am even more happy about it this year and convey my best wishes to all those who will try their best to make the 2020-2021 academic year a productive one.

Back in the 1950s at St. Mary's School in Batavia, we certainly had a less worrisome time when our summer vacation ended. Some preparations had to be made, but nothing approaching what parents and kids have to do now, even before the virus.

Bow Ties and Buster Browns

There was no fretting about what to wear to impress our classmates. We had uniforms, so each kid looked as plain and mundane as every other one. For the girls, it was a light blue blouse with a dark blue skirt, and the boys wore a light blue long or short sleeve shirt with dark blue pants. The pièce de résistance for the boys was a blue clip-on bow tie. If I had a nickel for every one of those I lost I could have bought a lot of Junior Mints.

I'm pretty sure that the school had a deal with Charles Mens' Shop (which is still in business) to stock the uniforms and each year my mom would buy me two shirts and two pairs of pants. Between roughhousing on the way to and from school and outdoors at lunchtime, by June those pants would have been patched more times than a pothole at Ellicott and Main.

When it came to shoes, things were pretty simple. We'd head to Thomas and Dwyer's Downtown and Mr. Dwyer or Skinny Weiss would find a new pair of Buster Brown's in our size. We hated those goofy-looking round-toed things, but Mom was paying so that's what you got. The girls would arrive on day one with new saddle shoes or Mary Janes. I don't think sneakers were allowed.

Lunch Box and Lunchroom

In the '50s we didn't have backpacks, but choosing your lunchbox was a big deal. This was before everything was plastic and they were made from metal and most contained a Thermos.

Howdy Doody ones were a favorite of the younger kids, while the older boys wanted Davy Crockett or The Lone Ranger. By the way, those metal boxes could come in handy if you had to defend yourself from a bully.

During the first couple years of St. Mary's existence we were housed in the basement of adjoining Notre Dame High because the elementary school was still under construction. Once we got in the new building our lunch habits changed because we had a school lunchroom.

Mrs. Isabelle Suranni, who was a chef at various restaurants in the area, prepared the food right on the premises. Unlike most other lunchroom food I encountered over the years St. Mary's was tasty, especially the spaghetti. My mom worked in the kitchen for a couple of years and whenever spaghetti was served she'd bring some home for dinner.

So, that was about it -- uniform, shoes, lunchbox. Maybe a couple pencils and a box of eight crayola crayons. There was no list sent home of all the things the parents needed to buy.

As far as teacher preparations that were made for school's opening, it was certainly a big deal for me when I was teaching. We'd head back to our classrooms a week or two early to get the classroom ready. Desks were arranged, bulletin boards decorated, name tags made, lessons prepared, and so on.

'Convent'-ional Classroom

For seven of my eight elementary school years, my teacher was a nun -- a Sister of the Holy Cross (inset photo below right from the 1950s). I don't know how many of them had formal teacher training but I'd guess not many.

I could be cynical and surmise that the nuns spent their summer sanding and honing their rulers and yardsticks to use on us little delinquents.

But, since most Catholic schools had 40-50 students in a class, more likely they were catching their breath and recuperating from the previous semester.

Maybe they had nun spas where they would go to get refreshed. Probably not.

I don't recall much about bulletin boards or decorations, but with 50 desks there probably wasn't room for any. There were always a bunch of strategically placed statues though. Some saint was always looking over your shoulder when you were about to launch that spitball.

A Long Year Ahead

I can't imagine having more than 30 kids in a class, but it must have given the nuns some preopening day anxiety. Actually, I could identify with that feeling somewhat because my very first teaching job after graduating from college in 1969 was in a Catholic school, Sts. Peter and Paul in Rochester.

I was also similar to the nuns in that I really didn't have much preparation for teaching. I had, quite honestly, taken the job in order to secure a deferment from the military draft. I had only taken a couple education classes at St. John Fisher and never did any student teaching. Essentially, I was winging it.

My very first day I started out by handing out index cards to my sixth-graders and asking them to write down their name, address, phone number, and parents' names. I had a boy in the class who was from Lebanon named Toufik. 

As I circulated around he raised his hand. “Yes, Toufik,” I said. “How can I help you?”

“Mister,” he replied. “How do you make a T?”

“Oh boy,” I thought. “What have I gotten myself into?

First Days

Only two of my St. Mary's opening days stand out in my memory of boyhood, both of which I mentioned in a previous story.

In first grade, school started on a Wednesday, but because I had strep throat, I didn't arrive until the following Monday. I was a shy kid so I was probably terrified to come in on my own.

A boy named Lenny, the briefest of classmates, had the absolute greatest opening day entrance in my 51 years when he showed up with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and promptly got expelled. There was an ad at the time which said, “I'd walk a mile for a Camel.” Lenny only got to walk about 50 feet before the black-habited arm of a nun whisked him off the premises forever.

On my first opening day after retiring, I took my boat and went fishing. On the first opening day of my longtime girlfriend's retirement, we took a day trip to the pretty little Finger Lakes Town of Skaneatles.

What will we do on the first day of school this year? I'm not sure except that it won't involve little kids. Or nuns.

Photos and images courtesy of Dave Reilly.

September 12, 2020 - 4:00pm

Genesee Community College Associate Professor of History Derek D. Maxfield (above photo) had a reception this afteroon at Roman's restaurant in Downtown Batavia and signed copies of his first book, "HELLMIRA: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira, NY."

He became an expert on the excruciating conditions at the infamous POW camp while researching material for his book.

He will be featured on C-SPAN tonight at 6 o'clock sharing what his research uncovered about this notorious time period in Elmira's history.

It is the largest city and the county seat of Chemung County. "The Queen City" was incorporated in 1864. By the late 19th century, it was a major transportation hub, connecting commercial centers in Rochester and Buffalo with Albany and New York City.

Called by some the "Andersonville of the North," the prisoner of war camp in Elmira is remembered as the most notorious of all Union-run POW camps. It existed for only a year -- from the summer of 1864 to July 1865. But in that time, and for long after, it became darkly emblematic of man's inhumanity to man. Confederate prisoners called it "Hellmira."

In the end, Maxfield suggests that it is time to move on from the blame game and see prisoner of war camps -- North and South -- as a great humanitarian failure.

"HELLMIRA: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira, NY" is available through AmazonSavas Beatie -- and was released in July as an audio book as well.

Most of the information in this post provided by GCC.

September 9, 2020 - 2:14pm
posted by Press Release in GCC, news, Derek Maxfield, civil war, Hellmira, POW camp, history, C-SPAN.

Submitted photo and press release:

Genesee Community College Associate Professor of History, Derek D. Maxfield (inset photo, left) will be on C-SPAN at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, sharing what his research has uncovered about the excruciating conditions at a POW camp in Elmira.

Maxfield became an expert on the subject while writing his first book, "HELLMIRA: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira, NY" which explores this notorious time period in the history of Elmira.

Elmira is the largest city and the county seat of Chemung County. "The Queen City" was incorporated in 1864. By the late 19th century, it was a major transportation hub, connecting commercial centers in Rochester and Buffalo with Albany and New York City.

In "HELLMIRA: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira, NY" Maxfield contextualizes the rise of prison camps during the Civil War, explores the failed exchange of prisoners, and tells the tale of the creation and evolution of the prison camp in Elmira.

Long called by some the "Andersonville of the North," the prisoner of war camp in Elmira is remembered as the most notorious of all Union-run POW camps. It existed for only a year -- from the summer of 1864 to July 1865. But in that time, and for long after, it became darkly emblematic of man's inhumanity to man. Confederate prisoners called it "Hellmira."

In the end, Maxfield suggests that it is time to move on from the blame game and see prisoner of war camps -- North and South -- as a great humanitarian failure.

"HELLMIRA: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira, NY" is available through AmazonSavas Beatie -- and was released in July as an audio book as well.

Always interested in collaboration, Maxfield partnered with GCC's Associate Professor of English Michael Gosselin who wrote an essay on Mark Twain as an appendix to the book.

The essay, called "A Foretaste of Heaven: How Elmira Gave the World Mark Twain" is about Samuel Clemen's summer home at Quarry Farm in Elmira, where he wrote many of his most famous works.

Maxfield's "Hellmira" also features a variety of photos and images contributed by GCC's Professor of English, Tracy Ford.

Since joining Genesee Community College in 2009, Maxfield has been actively involved in GCC's campus community and dedicated to providing students with an exceptional learning experience. Described by many as a gifted storyteller, Maxfield has a way of reaching students in the classroom that is memorable.

He incorporates applied learning, which gets his students beyond the classroom and experiencing the preservation of history on the ground, has created unique and engaging assignments, created new courses, and coordinates the GCC History Club's Historical Horizons Lecture Series which brings history to life for students and the College community.

Maxfield was awarded a "SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching" in 2019, holds an M.A. in History from Villanova University and a B.A. in History from SUNY Cortland.

He currently resides in Churchville.

A book publication reception is being held at Roman's restaurant in Downtown Batavia from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12. Roman's is located at 59 Main St.

All are welcome to come and meet Maxfield, purchase a copy of "HELLMIRA: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp - Elmira, NY" ($14) and even have it signed! Masks are required and social distancing guidelines will be enforced.

The publication of this book marks the second time Maxfield has appeared in GCC's Recognition Matters series. Officials at GCC have embraced this series as a way to acknowledge not only the achievement, but also the high quality of the College's recognized faculty, staff and students.

August 30, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in nostalgia, history, Holland Land Office Museum, news, batavia.

I recently spent a day at the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia and enjoyed the newest exhibits. Like most museums, it has various displays that take you back to a time when the artifacts you are looking at or reading about were used.

For example, they have a room that explains the history of the Holland Land Office building. Another room is the Land Office Room where Joseph Ellicott, founder of Batavia and Buffalo, sold land to our early settlers. There is the Colonial Kitchen depicting what it was like to cook from the flames and coals of a fireplace in the 1800s.

The West Wing is called the Military Room where you can learn about the famous men and women from Genesee County who fought for our country. The East Wing houses an exhibit on local businesses.  

I think of our minds as a museum, storing memories of artifacts we have used over our lifetimes. I guess I am speaking to the baby boomers (born 1946-64) for obvious reasons (because I am one). I have been thinking about some of the artifacts that have been on display in the past.

The old black and white Sylvania television set (once made in Batavia) takes me back to watching "The Beverly Hillbillies,"* my favorite show as a child. We were only allowed one TV show a week when school was in session.

The museum has an old Victrola. Children love to hear the history of our early records or big CDs as children often call them.

Another artifact is a vintage typewriter. Now there is something the children of today have never seen. Remember the carbon paper for the typewriter and if you made a mistake you had to use a correction tape? My roommate actually had a typewriter in the early ‘70s and I had a plastic portable record player.

You can’t forget the three-pound transistor radio that could only pick up three AM radio stations.

There are so many memories and so many artifacts.

I really loved my ball bearing roller skates that clipped onto my shoes, not my sneakers. I would wear the key on a string around my neck.

Can’t forget the balloon tires for our bicycles, a 3-speed English bike, penny loafers, high-top sneakers, madras clothing, long hair for boys and girls. We played outside, used the sewer and manhole covers as bases for kickball.

We played games such a Kick the Can, Red Rover, Freeze Tag, Cops and Robbers and an old favorite, Hide and Seek. 

I wonder if someday a merry-go-round, teeter-totter, metal slide and monkey bars will be on display in a museum or big cardboard boxes from Max Pies  (Furniture store) that were used to slide down the grassy overpass on South Jackson Street. 

Sandlot baseball was anyplace you could find an open field. The list could go on and on. These are our artifacts!

Now the artifacts are stored in our minds in a happy place.

Photo courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

*Editor's Note: This YouTube link plays the second episode of season two of "The Beverly Hillbillies" called "Hair-raising Holiday." It's a hoot!

August 24, 2020 - 10:46pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in hlom, civil war, history, batavia, video.
Video Sponsor

Ten months ago, the Civil War-era cannons that have sat as sentinels outside the Holland Land Office Museum since at least 1905, were sent to Altoona, Pa., for restoration by Seed Artillery and today, they returned to Batavia looking almost certainly much like they did when they were shipped to Batavia in the 1860s.

August 19, 2020 - 5:36pm

Press release:

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce that on Monday, Aug. 24th, the official Cannon Welcoming Home Celebration will be taking place at 10 a.m.

We are welcoming our two cannons back to their familiar spot on the front porch of the museum after a long absence due to being restored. Seed Artillery out of Altoona, Pa., spent many months carefully restoring our guns to their former glory as they would have looked in the early 19th century.

The work included rebuilding of the carriage with all new metalwork and refurbishing the cannon barrels.

The cannons will be welcomed home in style with the help of a gunnery crew of the Genesee County Militia reenactor group.

We would also like to thank everyone who contributed to our Cannon Restoration Fund.

All are welcome to attend, while observing social distancing protocols and wearing facial coverings. 

For more information please call the museum at (585) 343-4727 or email at [email protected].

August 13, 2020 - 9:17am
posted by Howard B. Owens in anti-slavery, Le Roy, history, video, Frederick Douglass.
Video Sponsor

Anti-slavery sentiment ran strong in Le Roy in the 1830s and 1840s, with much of the activity centered around the First Presbyterian Church, where at least five significant anti-slavery meetings were held, culminating in December 1847 with a speech by famed abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass.

Local history buffs have long believed Douglass once spoke in Le Roy, but the date was placed in 1838. That wouldn't be possible because Douglass was still a slave in Maryland in 1838. 

James Evinger, a Presbyterian minister in Rochester, noticed the discrepancy and that sparked his curiosity. He began digging. With the assistance of Lynne Belluscio, Le Roy historian, he started down a path where he uncovered secondary and primary sources for all of the notable anti-slavery activity in Le Roy, including the first important anti-slavery meeting in Le Roy in 1833 where Rev. Thomas James spoke.

James was an escaped slave and founder of the first Black church in Rochester. A few years later, while working as a pastor and abolitionist in Boston, James would find the recently escaped Douglass a capable speaker and mentor to the young man as a touring speaker in the cause of abolishing slavery.

The 1833 appearance of James also brought out the pro-slave racists who mobbed the church, throwing rocks at the windows, trying to drive James from the building. A Le Roy resident, Henry Brewster, sequestered James at his home. 

Thanks to the work of Evinger, the anti-slavery movement in Le Roy is now commemorated on a historical marker in front of the Presbyterian Church on Main Street.

You can read a complete account of Evinger's work and his findings in the latest edition of the Universalist Herald. Click here (pdf).

July 28, 2020 - 3:27pm

Photo of David Buckel from the nonprofit Lambda Legal.

David Buckel was an environmentalist. He was an LGBTQ advocate. He was an attorney. He started his life in Batavia. He ended it more than two years ago in New York City in an effort to draw attention to the plight of the Earth in a time when it seems so many people are focused on other things.

His death didn’t garner much attention locally, but we remember today him on World Nature Conservation Day.

Most Likely to Succeed

David was a Batavia kid, born here on June 13, 1957. His dad was an agricultural consultant and his mom was a florist.

Her maiden name was Stroh and her family ran a well known floral business in town. After his mother died, he changed his middle name to Stroh in her memory. He had four brothers, two of whom served in Vietnam.

He was a bright student. At Batavia High School, where he graduated from in 1975, he was a member of the National Honor Society and voted the boy Most Likely to Succeed by his classmates. He was active in sports as a member of the varsity cross-country, track, and tennis teams.

David went on to college at The University of Rochester graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1980. After graduation he began to show his compassion for others by working as an attendant caring for in-home hospice patients.

After earning a Juris Doctorate degree in 1987 from Cornell University Law School, David began his career as an attorney.

While living in Rochester David was introduced by friends to a man named Terry Kaelber. They hit it off, became a couple and moved to New York City.

As might be surmised from his earlier hospice work, David started his career at Legal Aid assisting those in need of help with the law who couldn't afford it otherwise.

In 1995 David began working for Lambda Legal, which helped LGBT (Q, for queer/questioning, was added to the initialism starting in 1996.) youth and he specifically became a director of the organization's marriage project.

Pair of Legal Victories, Pair of Weddings

During his tenure at Lambda Legal, Buckel was one of the counsel responsible for two big victories.

In 1996 a young gay man named Jamie Nabozny was awarded almost a million dollars after suing a Wisconsin school district for failure to protect him from bullying. The court ruling in Nabozny v. Podlesny also established a legal precedent to protect LGBTQ students from being bullied in all school systems.

In 2001 David was one of the attorneys for JoAnn Brandon, who won a lawsuit in Nebraska against a local sheriff for failing to protect her transgender child who was raped and murdered in 1993. JoAnn's daughter, Teena Brandon, had reversed her name to Brandon Teena while transitioning to a male gender identity. Hillary Swank won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1999 for portraying Teena Brandon, JoAnn's murdered child, in the movie “Boys Don't Cry,” based on the crime.

Four years after the landmark decision, there was a milestone in David's personal life when he married Kaelber in a double wedding ceremony in Canada. The other couple exchanging vows that day were lesbians with whom the men were raising a daughter. She's now a college student, scheduled to graduate in 2021.

Hooked on Urban Farming

In 2008, Buckel retired from Lambda Legal to devote his time and energy to helping preserve the environment. He became an expert in composting, the reuse of organic garbage. 

He spent several years interning at Red Hook's Columbia Street Farm in Brooklyn, where he learned the intricacies of composting peoples' kitchen waste into fertilizer to grow more food. Red Hook had been built on several old baseball diamonds to become the biggest urban farm in the United States.

Eventually, David applied his talent for organizing and planning to become the director of the Brooklyn operation. With the assistance of a large core of volunteers Red Hook was processing 225 tons of compost every year.

Buckel cultivated his workforce of volunteers as well as he did the organic material. He was respected, even beloved by the people he worked with. Several workers said that he changed their life. He ended each work day by thanking the volunteers for helping their Earth.

Buddhism, Trump and the Beginning of the End

As he developed his passion for tending to the environment he also pursued a corresponding interest in Buddhism. With its tenets of inner peace and caring for others it only seemed natural that David would be interested in this way of life. However, the Buddhist methods of protest probably contributed to his untimely end.

After the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 and the subsequent rollback of Obama era environmental regulations, Buckel's family and friends described him in news accounts as becoming increasingly upset with the trajectory of government actions or inactions.

As 2018 progressed toward April, David began sending emails to his assistant at Red Hook detailing all the things which needed to be done in case of his absence. He also labeled everything at the site, equipment, tools and supplies. His assistant asked him if he was thinking of retiring but he assured him he was not.

Then, before dawn on the morning of April 14th, David Buckel left the home he shared with his family in Brooklyn. He had a shopping cart and headed to a nearby park. He had told no one that he was leaving.

He stopped at a patch of grass in the park off the walkway and apparently built a small wall of earth around himself. He sent an email to the media detailing what he was about to do, poured a flammable substance on himself, and lit it on fire. Within a minute or two David Buckel was dead.

The obvious reaction was shock and sadness. His family, friends, coworkers, former colleagues, and former classmates were bewildered.

They couldn't believe that a quiet, gentle, private man who cared so deeply for others would choose such a public way to end his life in protest. He hadn't even said goodbye to his loved ones.

His family's comment was that they intended to honor his life by carrying on his environmental goals. Coworkers at Red Hook vowed to continue his work.

Lambda Legal issued a statement when they learned of Buckel's death.

Former Batavia High classmates commented on a Class of '75 Facebook page that several had tried to get in touch with David over the years with no success.

They were mystified over his suicide, but remembered him fondly. Former law colleagues were stunned along with everyone else.

Buckel's final email stated that, “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

So, two plus years have now passed since David Buckel's death at age 60.

No one will ever completely understand or be able to give an absolute explanation as to why he chose to make a statement by ending his life in such a horrific way.

But, hopefully people, including Batavians from the community where he grew up, will remember him for the contributions he made to the world and as the good, kind, and helpful person he was.

Read more about David Buckel's life:

A lawyer sets himself on fire to protest climate change. Did anyone care?The Guardian, April 15, 2019

Remembering David Buckel, the pioneering lawyer who championed LGBT Rights, The New Yorker magazine, April 16, 2018

What Drove a Man to Set Himself on Fire in Brooklyn?, The New York Times, May 28, 2018

Self-immolation can be a form of protest or a cry for help. Are we listening?, The Washington Post, May 30, 2019

July 12, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in news, history, nostalgia, batavia, city Parks Program, covid-19.

It is the 1950s, the first week of summer vacation and the official opening of the City Parks Program. Children would run out the door at 8:50 a.m. to be the first one waiting to meet the new or previous year’s park supervisor.

You know that a great summer is about to begin. You will spend every day at the park from 9 to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m.

Batavia at one time was divided into parks: Pringle, Kibbe, Lincoln, Austin, Williams, Farrall, MacArthur, and later as Batavia grew and some parks closed and new ones opened, John Kennedy and Lambert Park.

Children went to your neighborhood park and were so proud to say what park you were from. Parks competed against each other in softball and volleyball games. Every Friday night the scores and contest winners would be recorded in the newspaper.

There was a family feeling with every park. Every day there were scheduled arts and crafts projects.

When it was your park’s week for boondoggles (inset image left), the children would have the choice of three, four or eight strands to work on.

The park supervisor sometimes ended up making them for the little ones so they could wear them around their necks as lanyards or a small bracelet.

The favorite craft was the plaster molds. I can still picture the molds being lined up in the sun and the children standing behind the one they picked to make that particular day.

There were so many choices, a favorite was the mold for "The Last Supper." That was probably the largest mold and the most difficult to make.

There was a technique to make this craft. You had to carefully mix the plaster and when it was the right consistency you poured it into the mold. As it dried in the sun, you were hoping your plaster would set. After the plaster dried you would carefully pull back the rubber mold to see if your mold took the plaster.

You couldn’t forget the little tab you put in the back to hang this very heavy item proudly created for your parent’s wall. The last step was to paint your creation. You couldn’t wait to take it home to show mom and dad.

The highlight of the summer program was the park parade. Every year there was a theme and your park had to come up with a float to go along with the theme. Every day you would talk about the parade and the float and how this year your park would beat Kibbe.

The supervisor would keep samples of every craft because they would be judged at the end of the summer event.

Every park had been secretly working on their float that consisted of chicken wire and crepe paper flowers. Everyone had a job. Main Street would close down at the end of August and the street was transformed into a parade of children proudly walking with their float that was being pulled by a tractor.

The store owners would come out of their stores to watch the annual parade. The celebration after the parade was at Austin Park. After the parade, floats would all be lined up to view and every park had a booth. You would stand with your park friends to wait for the results of what park would be the winner this year.

Of course, you always thought your park deserved to be the winner.

It was now time to go back to school and the summer program was coming to an end. New friends were made, memories to last a lifetime were created. When the park kids return to Batavia as adults and drive by “their park,” those wonderful summer memories will come flooding back.

So, this is what we tell our children what it was like back in the day.

As someone who loved going to my neighborhood park as a child and growing up to be lucky enough to be a park supervisor, I commend the Batavia Parks Program for creating summer memories we will never forget.

My years as a park supervisor will always be a cherished time.

The rules for the parks program was to have fun and most of all, be safe. In this time of so much unrest due to COVID-19, thinking back to those summertimes makes you realize how lucky you were to be a Baby Boomer.

Please share your memories, I only touched a few.

Anne Marie Starowitz was a proud supervisor for Farrall Park for three years in the '70s (inset photo right).

Photos and images courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

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