Monday, November 30, 2009

Cobblestone Architecture; Orleans County's Very Own Folk Art

If I asked if you ever travelled the "Old Lewiston Road" you might tell me that you never have; I wouldn't be surprised. An older gentleman I have been working for asked me the same question, "Did you take the Lewiston Road to get here?" He stumped me for a few minutes and he wouldn't give in to the cryptic part of his question. Of course I travelled the Lewiston Road to get to his house, I travel the Lewiston Road quite often.

Well by now, if you don't know what I am talking, I have your attention at least about the road. I am talking about, of course, the Ridge Road, good old State Route 104. I don't think the term "Lewiston Road" has been used in nearly 100 years, but it represents a distinct part of Western New York, and more specifically, Orleans County History (and for what it's worth, our Nation's history). It isn't uncommon to hear the stories of old Lake Ontario reaching its waters to the ridge where the shore was at one point. It also isn't too uncommon to hear the old stories of Native Americans using this natural ridge as a path to travel throughout Western New York. Those stories are not as important to this blog as the stories of colonial "explorers" venturing along a path that was, despite the current condition, was overgrown and just wide enough for one man to walk through. In spite of this it is not surprising that the "Lewiston Road" was the main highway even after the Erie Canal fully opened in 1825.

I am coming closer to the point of my post, it is important for me to discern the past events leading up to the time period I am discussing. After our wilderness hero Joseph Ellicott made his way across the uncharted lands of the Phelps-Gorham Purchase, Morris Reserve and Holland Land Purchase men journeyed away from their homes in New England to find a vast wilderness of undeveloped land where they could settle and prosper. This of course came as early as 1805 with the permanent arrival of the Brown Family in current day Carlton or the Farwell family in Clarendon, etc. My little area of focus is the town of Gaines. Men began to purchase their land as early as 1810/1, settled their families here and developed a bustling pioneer community.

This is an extreme simplification of the events behind the founding of Gaines and that's ok for this purpose.

If I asked how many people have noticed the cobblestone buildings along the old Lewiston Road, most would say they notice them but few pay but a passing glance. When I say, "Pay attention to all the cobblestone houses along Ridge Road," I mean it. Next time you are travelling from Niagara Falls to Rochester, or Albion to Greece, take note to pick out all of the cobblestone structures. Western New York, between Rochester and Niagara Falls is home to nearly 90% of all cobblestone structures in the United States. Though it isn't exclusively a Western New York piece of history, the lengthy shore of Lake Ontario and early agricultural base provided the perfect situation for this form of architecture to develop.

These beautiful structures are not limited only to the Ridge Road. Travelling north and south of the Ridge will yield an equal number of these rather interesting pieces, yet in my studies I haven't found any use of the stones south of the canal. With the distinct location of these structures, not many historians are jumping at the chance to explore the cultural significance of these structures. I am, if you want to consider me a historian as I tend to consider myself (don't tell anyone, I am 4 months away from being one on paper). With these structures being built between abt. 1830 to abt. 1860 and limited almost solely to Western New York, there must be some connection between those who built the structures. I suppose if there isn't I am just wasting my time.

My theory, as it stands now, establishes a link between the materials used to construct a house in relation to the economic and social status of the family that built the home, or in some cases community members who constructed community buildings. It is as follows:

Log/Frame (Poor-lower class/low status) ->
Cobblestone (Middle Class/moderate status) ->
Brick (Wealthy/high status)

The confirmation of this hypothesis would mean that Cobblestone houses are not folk art or art being made by the peasant of lower classes. However the structures are utilitarian in nature and evidence may be gathered to show that many families gained wealth and status after the construction of their cobblestone home.

Home of Moses Bacon

Home of Hosea Bacon

There is also the case of John Hutchinson who's house was constructed of brick but with a later cobblestone addition attached to the back of the brick home. With the building of a Universalist Church, countless schools, a Quaker meeting house and a Temperance Lodge in addition to the numerous houses, there may be a link to the beliefs of these organizations and the reason for choosing cobblestones. Evidence shows that cobblestones were clearly cheaper than bricks and abundant.

However, in light of the time period in which these buildings were constructed, there is the great possibility that there is a direct correlation between the use of this cheap and affordable building material and the Panic of 1837, the subsequent depression over the following five years and the recession that continued into the early 1850s. This is also noted in the construction of the Hosea Bacon home in which construction was held off until 1851 after the collapse of the Gaines Bank.

Next time you travel down the Ridge, do take careful note of all the Cobblestone buildings. When you take the time to notice, many will begin to appear that you have never seen before.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Puritan Rhetoric and Native Americans in New England: 1620-1700

The past 3 months I have set aside considerable time to research a subject that I have recently found an interest in. This concerns a recent research paper that I have been writing describing the changing Puritan rhetoric concerning Native Americans in mid to late 17th Century New England. The paper chooses a starting point (1620) an ending point (1700) and a middle point (1675), which I have chosen as King Philip's War to show a linear "regression" of rhetoric used by Puritans to describe the Native Americans. In the most vague meaning of my thesis, I have proved that Puritan rhetoric significantly changed as a result of King Philip's War. In a more detailed sense, New England Puritan ministers used the war as an outlet to reform the Puritan religion by using death and destruction as a fear tactic to bring wayward colonists back to the church.

The earliest examples of English views on Native Americans comes from those shared by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. These men who ventured into the vast wilderness of Central and South America shared their stories of Native "savages" with Europe upon their arrival. Other preconceived notions came from the past experiences of men who led colonization attempts in Ireland. Englishmen who had worked toward the prosthelytizing og unorthodox Irishmen found themselves carrying these ideas to the New World and applying them to Native Americans. The overall idea was Indians were uncivilized and savage and Christianity cannot survive in an uncivilized society. Civilizing and converting Native Americans was key to the fulfillment of Puritan goals in America as well as the physical survival of European colonies in America.

In order for Native Americans to become Christian they had to be educated about Christianity. As most Native Americans were semi-nomadic, staying sedentary for a portion of the year while engaging in hunting and gathering at other times of the year, missionaries could not wander into the wilderness to preach to Indian tribes. Instead, colonists built "praying towns" in which Native Americans could come to the colonists to be taught not only about Christianity but also about how to adapt and live in an English-based society. These Natives were educated by missionaries like John Eliot who believed that Native Americans not only should be converted but treated in a fair and acceptable manner. They were given a place to live, learn and practice their new religion and those who came to the praying towns were not forcibly placed there but instead came on their own accord.

These feelings remained constant up until the 1670s, ending in 1675 with the murder of a Christian Indian named John Sassamon by men of Metacom, also known as King Philip. Colonists tried three men for the murder of Sassamon and hanged all three in a hasty trial. The result were attacks on colonial villages which were responded to by attacks against Indian villaged. For a little over a year the attacks went back and forth getting progressively worse. What sparks my interest is the writings of Rev. Increase Mather and Rev. Cotton Mather. This father and son duo shared similar ideas but Cotton took his father's ideas to the next level, claiming the savagery and brutality of the Indians was far worse than what his father and others claimed. Puritan ministers such as the Mathers, wrote numerous articles, books and sermons on the war and Native Americans; these narratives have been taken as fact though historians now claim that most were exaggerated. For factual evidence regarding the true events of the conflict, we can no longer turn to these sources for information. However, whether these documents are true accounts or not, they were presented and accepted as fact at the time and these documents drastically altered the future of Colonial-Native relationships.

The Mathers presented the Indian crisis as a three-fold issue; retalliation against the colonists for falling away from the Puritan faith, a Native American attack against Christianity and a metaphysical battle between God and Satan on Earth. These ideas overlap and seem to contradict eachother on certain levels. God punishes the colonists for not following Christian teachings while the Natives attack the colonists for being Christian; this doesn't seem to make much sense. Ultimately, Puritan ministers were able to pull the fall-away Christians back to their churches by explaining the war as punishment for their lack of piety. This created a common Christian bond between the colonists. Then, by describing the Natives as extremely savage, brutal and uncivilized, ministers created a common English bond between the New England colonists against the Native Americans. The pressures from land and population expansion should not be forgotten and this was a way to justify this expansion at the cost of Native American lives.

Of course to provide a strong and undebatable thesis, the research for such a project would have to exceed the 8 week limitation that was given.