Monday, April 26, 2010

A Sheriff of Astronomical Proportions

It isn't very often I get to use a pun as great as this one.

Weston Wetherbee was born January 24, 1857 in Barre, New York to Weston and Mary Anna Smith Wetherbee. Throughout his life he worked a variety of jobs. According to the 1880 census, Weston was a carpenter. Twelve years later he claimed that he was a mechanic and eight years after that he claimed he was a Windmill Agent. From 1900 onward, Weston and his wife, Julia Goff, resided in the Village of Albion on Ingersoll St. Though he claimed his occupation as "Own Income" in 1910, he later stated that he was a retired farmer. It is without doubt that Mr. Wetherbee was a hardworking man.

What is not recorded amongst the census records is Mr. Wetherbee's service as County Sheriff. Having earned this position, it would explain why he moved from Barre into the Village of Albion even though he did not remain as sheriff very long.

Mr. Wetherbee passed away October 18, 1932 and is buried in Mt. Albion Cemetery.

I forgot the most important hobby of Mr. Wetherbee; Astronomer. It may seem hard to believe that a contributor to the astronomy community once resided in Albion. As found in one publication, which notes Mr. Wetherbee's death, states;

"He was a long-time member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He was formerly sheriff of Orleans County, New York and well known as an amateur astronomer. In 1904 he presented to our society a reflecting telescope containing a Brashear mirror 8 1/2 inches in diameter."

Mr. Wetherbee also submitted correspondence which included:

"Independent Discovery of Comet g 1911 - While observing the sky this morning at about 4:45 I saw a large and beautiful comet in the constellation Leo. Its position was approximately, 11 hours 25 minutes right ascension, and some 11 degrees north declination. Has this comet been seen before and who was its discoverer? The heavens were wonderfully clear to the horizon. Brooks' new comet, also the one just discovered by Quenisset (now in Draco) was easily seen.
Weston Wetherbee
Albion, NY Oct. 3, 1911."

In reflection of his hobby prior to his election as sheriff, this article was published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

"Candidate Wetherbee A Practical Astronomer - Albion. Oct. 13. - Weston Wetherbee, who is a candidate for Sheriff of Orleans County, is widely known in the county and elsewhere as a practical astronomer. He has discovered independently two comets and is considered an authority on cometary, nebular and meteoric astronomy. He has served his native town Barre twelve years as justice of the peace and has been a member of the Board of Supervisors two terms. Mr. Wetherbee was born in the town of Barre, January 26, 1857. He will no doubt be the next sheriff of Orleans County for he stands high in the estimation of the people in the county."

Here are a few other pieces submitted to astrological societies by Mr. Wetherbee:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beautification of The Small Country Church

As I have been writing for the past week or so about St. Mary's, on and off of course, I have failed to address the building itself. What is seen today is not what was there in years past. In fact, a considerable amount of change has occurred both inside and out which has drastically changed the appearance of the structure.

Take for example the stone exterior. Those who are unaware of the building's history might think that the church was actually constructed of stone. Instead, over 50 years ago, the church leadership voted to place a fake stone covering, known as perma-stone, over the exterior of the structure. This was to cover up the dark red brick on the exterior, which was damaged from weather and moisture. The visible pieces of Medina Sandstone on the lintels, sills, buttresses and foundation are all pieces of true Medina Sandstone.

The interior has greatly changed over the years as well. One of the first things you will notice upon entering the church is the presence of the color blue in almost everything. The carpet is blue, the back altar is blue, the windows give off blue light, etc. That was not the original plan. The church was never carpeted, though it is unclear what the original floor material was. Over the years it was covered with a linoleum and for some time the altar was covered with decorative rugs as opposed to the full covering of wall-to-wall carpet. The initial carpeting most likely took place in the late 1980s and was replaced during the 2003 renovation.

The Apse and Altar




The presence of the blue altar and mural of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (The Church's namesake) is also one which is not original. The original altar would have been plain, possibly painted to reflect a stone-like appearance to the wall. The Mary apse mural was painted in the mid to late 1940s by Polish muralist Jozef Mazur from Buffalo. This piece was touched up and altered on several occasions possibly including the 1950s, late 1970s/early 1980s and 2003. Overall the mural has retained an appearance somewhat consistent with its original look. Two murals on the sides of the apse including one of Melchezadek and the other of Abraham are both original murals by Mazur which have gone unchanged. The Abraham mural is one of several that remain in existence out of all that Mazur painted. The mural of Melchezadek is the only mural of its kind painted by Mazur, ever.

The Ceiling


When you fully enter the church, a quick look to the ceiling exposes seven murals painted upon the ceiling. These too are later additions to the church added sometime in the mid 1950s. It seems as though the apse murals were added in preparation for a jubilee celebration in the 1940s and the 1950s additions were part of a total repair/refurbishing of the complex. These murals, which depict the birth, life and death of Christ were all painted by another well known painter, Marion Rzeznik. Though it has been said that Rzeznik and Mazur (rival artists) often altered each other's work, Rzeznik left Mazur's murals untouched, most likely at the request of the priest. The changing of priests in the 1940s and 1950s explains the different choice in painters.

The stained glass windows are often assumed to be an original part of the church. These too have been changed. Again, in the 1950s with extensive work being done within the church, the original stained glass windows were replaced. Originally, the windows were of a simple pattern. They were then replaced with windows which reflect some mysteries of the rosary. The Leo Frohe Stained Glass Co. of Buffalo made the windows and each family who wanted to donate in memory towards the windows had to pay around $350.

Old Pews, Windows, Small Murals, Wall Sconces, Old Stations, Old Confessionals are visible

Along with the stained glass windows, you might take notice of stations of the cross. These too are not the original, having been replaced in past years. Prior to the set now, the stations were large paintings on canvas. The woodwork in the church has also changed over the years. Now the pews and altar furniture have a yellowish tint to them. This was changed in the 1950s as the old pews, of darker oak material, were far too damaged. Those original pews of oak were in bad shape as early as the 1930s as the Parish Council minutes reflect the complaints of the congregation regarding the pews.

Other things have been covered up or disappeared. Small murals, one of Christ and the other of an unknown subject were located near the choir loft but have since disappeared. Also, a decorative border around the woodwork can be found in early pictures. The stone appearance in the apse was replaced after the '50s with a type of garden scene and was again replaced in 2003 with the current dark blue background and gold-leaf fleur-de-lis (representing the history of Orleans County).

Enjoy the pictures!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Thriving Ethnic Community: 1900-1935

Nothing can better describe the success of one group of people than by their baseball team, right? Well St. Mary's had one of the best "A" League teams in Orleans County and arguably the area. Their stats from year to year, but overall the Polish community appears to have produced some of the best ball players around.

I could spend days talking about all of this history and don't have but the smallest space to write about it in this blog so I don't want to dillydally on too much of the well known information. May 30th, St. Mary's will be open in the afternoon as part of the 2nd Annual Olde Erie Canal Festival. You can stop by then for a tour and a full scoop on the history, plus you can ask me questions!

Anyhow, the Church constructed a new school for the community in 1907 with the total support of the Polish community. Much of the work was completed by the local immigrants and the building was paid in full. The building which was used for the school prior to the construction of the building which stands today was moved to the end of Wood St. and is still there today. Several years later in 1912, the parish constructed a new rectory for the priest.

It was during the early 1900s that the church reached its peak. Over 150 children were attending school, the parish was thriving and vibrant and a new priest came and went every year or so. Though this may seem like a bad thing, St. Mary's, over its 115 year history never lost its status as a mission church. Even into the new millennium, Hispanic ministry used the church as a place of worship. Priests entered St. Mary's as a temporary assignment; a stepping stone to which they moved to the large parishes of Buffalo. Each took the short experience gained in Albion to the new parishes in Buffalo and quickly expanded numerous parishes throughout the diocese. Rev. Hordych may be characterized as the first "permanent" rector and Rev. Borowiak as the longest serving pastor of the church.

St. Mary's Athletic Club, establish in 1924, clearly became the focal point in the male community. Serving as a place to relax, away from the nagging wives and cranky children, the establishment was a male-only club where the men could enjoy a beer or two after work, or on the weekends. Eventually, the organization became one which truly focused on athletics, or at least the sport of Baseball. It is unknown to me why the Polish men became so interested in baseball. There were numerous football teams within the area and what seemed to be the immigrant's lust for a good fight would have made more sense in a game of American football. Instead they focused on the sport of baseball and became quite successful.

Working from the 1934 and 1935 seasons, it appears as though St. Mary's boasted two teams; The Saints and St. Mary's Jr. Covering both the local "A" and "B" Leagues, the organization represented the community but more importantly, it represented the church. At this time the St. Mary's Athletic Club was still linked with the church as an off-shoot organization (though the ties would be officially cut in the 1940s). The Saints were clearly the more experienced and skilled team. The Jr. team seems to represent a "farm" team for The Saints where inexperienced players could prove their worth and move into the upper team.

The St. Mary's team would battle it out against teams from across the county including the Italian team from the Hulberton/Fancher area. The fact that in 1935, the only team The Saints lost to was the Fancher team, must have aggravated the men a little bit, but after claiming the Orleans County Pennant in 1935, they revived themselves.

When reading the rosters of other Albion teams, it is clear that Polish members of the community played for other teams as well. One of these players, whose first name failed to be printed, name Jutkiewicz was allegedly trying out to play for the Buffalo Bisons in 1935. The Saints' pitcher, John Nayman, seems to have acquired quite the name for himself as a star pitcher, having taken The Saints to numerous playoff appearances and championships.

In order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the community, more research needs to be done. I hope that I will be able to accomplish this over the coming months. My next "installment" will cover, briefly, the renovations of the interior and exterior in the 1940s and 1950s. The final installment will cover the final days of the parish with a personal reflection at the end. I know that I haven't gone too far in-depth with my blog but I hope that someday I can write a book...until then you can always contact me for more information or visit on May 30th!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Church Construction: 1890-1900

The formation of St. Mary's Assumption Parish and the construction of a church following shortly after had a profound not only on the Polish community but the entire Catholic community within Albion. In 1890, Rev. Bartholomew Swinko was faced with the task of organizing a parish for the Polish people of Albion. Not only did Rev. Swinko have to organize the parish, he also had to make plans for a place of worship. With the community now at around 800 people, this would be no small task.

As early as 1890 and into 1891 with the official formation of the parish, two men were chosen to seek land on which a place of worship could be constructed. Szczepan Danielewski and Jozef Cichocki were tasked with finding a plot of land. They chose a three acre knoll on the Southeast corner of Hall and Moore Streets, part of the old Charles H. Moore Estate. The price was approximately $3,000 for the land and the parish made quick work of paying for the property in full. A house was already located on the premise which was used to house the rector. Another home on the property was converted into a schoolhouse for the education of the local Polish children.

August 16, 1892 marked the laying of the cornerstone for the church. An anticipated crowd of 2,000-3,000 people was quickly surpassed when nearly 5,000 people were in attendance. More than half of the crowd consisted of fellow Polish immigrants who travelled from Buffalo and Rochester by train to bear witness to this historic event. A parade was led from the train station on Clinton St. to Park St., east to Main St., north on Main St. to State St., east on State St. to Brown St. and north on Brown St. to the site. The parade route was 1.5 miles in length and it is said that the parade leaders reached the parish grounds as the last people left the train station.

After the parade ended at the parish grounds, a group led by the Kosciusko Guard and St. Stanislaus Society (both from Buffalo) as well as several bands traveled to St. Joseph's Church in order to lead the clergy to the church grounds. Despite the fact that the clergy was more than an hour late to the ceremonies, the crowd remained orderly.

Following the formal cornerstone laying ceremonies, refreshments were had. Over 55 barrels of beer were provided to the crowd which managed to remain orderly despite the large amount of alcohol present. The nearby fruit orchards located along Brown St. and Moore St. provided the visitors with shade and a place to rest. Though most of the visitors left via train that evening, some souls were still found wandering around the streets the following day; perhaps too much alcohol was consumed on their part the previous day.

The red brick edifice was completed the following Spring in 1893, but that was not the end to construction and changes which occurred within the community. Later the Poles would continue to better their parish through the construction of a new rectory and school (which I will touch on in my next installment). However, construction continued in other parishes in Albion too.

Following the completion of construction at St. Mary's on Brown St., St. Joseph's Parish decided to construct a new church which was to be located on Park St. This church, built in the memory of Rev. Castaldi, with the hard work of Rev. Biden, was started in 1896 and finally completed in late Spring of 1897. The church was in a Gothic revival style and far different from the original building, located on N. Main St. and St. Mary's Church. St. Joseph's parish has it's own interesting history, but does not need to be mentioned in this line of writings unless it pertains to the history of St. Mary's.

It should be noted that by around 1892-1896, the population of St. Mary's was around 1100 persons and St. Joseph's was around 1200 persons. Interestingly enough St. Joseph's was far larger than St. Mary's despite the similar size parish, took longer to construct and was more than double the cost. Polish parishioners made quick work of paying the mortgage on the church, as noted in the area newspapers, and it seems as though St. Joseph's parish had a slightly harder time paying off theirs.

In the next couple days I will write a little about the addition of two new buildings, the changing rectorship and the formation of an Athletic organization with a "semi-pro" baseball team.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Polish Immigration & Community Beginnings (1875-1890)

Albion's origins date back to the 1820s, when the municipality was formed. With the arrival of Irish and German immigrants in the 1840s and 50s, the population significantly increased. Aid from the Erie Canal provided Albion with the tools necessary to promote economic growth and community expansion. Orleans County's rising sandstone industry created an abundance of manual jobs which immigrants could fill.

19th Century Europe was plagued with constant political turmoil, especially within Poland. Having lost their independence well before the 1870s, the old Kingdom of Poland ceased to exist and the people of Poland stood subordinate to Germany, Austria and Russia. With Prussian conquests against the Danish, Italian States, Southern German States and finally France in 1870/1, a newly unified Germany had the strength and ability to exercise complete control over Prussian controlled Poland (West Prussia). German leadership, under Bismarck, sought the assimilation of the Polish people into German culture. In order to follow through with this desire, Germany had to not only limit Polish cultural practices but they also had to limit the religion of the West Prussian Poles. This meant limiting Catholicism and promoting the Protestant faith.

Aside from these limitations, the economic status of Prussian-Poles was far superior to that of Poles living in Austrian and Russian sectors. Jobs were plentiful (thanks to industrialization) and money was available. Education was much further progressed in comparison to other areas. Large numbers of citizens were literate and well educated. Contrary to traditional stories, the immigrants from West Prussia left not because of substandard economic conditions but because their culture and religion was being suppressed.

Albion's earliest Polish immigrants can be traced to 1875. Some resources claim that there were 5 original immigrants within Albion. Later, these immigrants would be considered as the most respectable of the Polish immigrants as they were well versed in the local culture and political procedure, most likely could read and write effectively, or just well enough to communicate with the local population. The 1880 census lists one of those immigrants as John Smith. This name can only be rooted in sheer irony, as being shared with the famed John Smith of Jamestown 1607. Of course the name was an over-simplification of a Polish name whether on the part of the census enumerator or the immigrant himself.

As many immigrants were farmers in Poland, they wished to continue that lifestyle in America. Their dreams of being able to do so were quickly dampened when they either had not enough money to purchase farm land, or none was available. The only thing these new immigrants had to offer was their manual labor. The men entered the Quarry labor force, older women went to work in the canning factories and younger women entered the domestic labor force. This would eventually change as time progressed, but for this period men were restricted to the quarries.

To satisfy their thirst for religion, the relatively few immigrants of the early 1880s were appeased by services at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church. As the number of immigrants increased into the later 1880s, a Polish mission priest was commissioned to come from Lockport/Buffalo to say mass/service in the Polish language. Sacraments completed by the earliest immigrants can be found amongst the Irish names of St. Joseph's.

By 1890, the immigrants had save enough money, in less than a decade, to form their own Catholic parish and for the construction of a church.

To Be Continued...

Ode to a Beautiful Country Church

This really won't be an Ode as I am not much of a poet, but this blog posting is about a beautiful country church. I frequently open my blog posts with, "Very few people know," or, "So many take for granted," and it's not a cheesy catch-phrase that I am trying to adopt. I really do mean it and it is true. So I'll give it a shot in this one too;

Very few people know about the little church on a knoll in little ol' Albion. You might say, "Well, Matt, there aren't any churches on knolls in Albion, I don't even think there are knolls in Albion." Well there are...SURPRISE! Now that I have startled you with such an important piece of information I can keep you attention...I hope. This little church in Albion is in fact St. Mary's Assumption Church. The building is taken for granted on so many levels and many fail to even acknowledge the place when they are driving along Brown Street.

I am sure that everyone who is reading this is rolling their eyes right now, "Here he goes again on his little local history tangents." Yes, here I go again. Unlike the other topics that I post on, this particular subject is very important to me.

I grew up within 400 feet of this church and believe it or not, it has played the biggest role in my personal development. My father was baptized in that church as was his mother, his siblings, his aunts, uncles, cousins and the list goes on. I was baptized in the church, celebrated my first communion and celebrated other sacraments out of the church. Many of my family members were married and buried out of that same building, so the church has a certain place in my heart.

It wasn't much for us to walk to church as a family; over the Sandy Creek bridge, past the old Cat Lady's house and we were there. A cool, sunny morning with dew in the air and the smell of spring still remind me of those Sunday mornings. The family pew was six back from the front and we would always sit with my Grandmother. My dad's two aunts would always sit behind us. Being a young child I found it difficult to pay attention during church. When I was younger I would crawl under the pews, usually two or three ahead of where the family sat, and I would peak my head up. Usually to the disliking of my parents. Sometimes I passed the time with my eyes to the ceiling, looking at all of the ceiling murals. I didn't know what they were representing, or who painted them or why they were there, but they provided an escape from what I thought was a very boring church service.

Surprisingly, I don't remember my Grandmother ever getting too upset, it was always my parents. Strangely enough, one of the memories I have is of my Grandmother asking me if I wanted a piece of gum. Of course I wanted gum and me taking that one piece always ticked off my parents.

The community was close and everyone knew each other. Of course I didn't because I was so young, but faces were familiar. Things are different now. The parishioners are dying out or moving away, the older generation that I have these memories about are gone, I am older and the church has been closed.

So I guess that is the point of this post. I want to cover, over the next week, the history of that little church. It's a somewhat long history, which is why I would divide it up into parts. I believe the contribution of the Polish Community to Albion is often overlooked. The history of St. Mary's of course is always overlooked and few have any idea of how the parish came to be; the ceiling murals have so much history alone.

Over the next week or so I hope you will take the time to read up on a very important part of Albion's history with a light sprinkling of American and World History.


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Future of Albion; Preservation Success or Economic Flop?

This subject has been one which has bothered me for a number of years. As a member of Albion's Historic Preservation Commission, I am very much interested and committed not only to preservation but economic betterment in Albion. This doesn't mean that I haven't been interested in history or the success of Albion in the past. I was born and raised in Albion (actually born in Medina's Hospital, a small technicality), attended the small local Polish Catholic Church located right down the street, attended the Albion School district from the start and I continue to live there and plan to do so into the future. I don't want people to get the impression that I don't have the interests of the community at heart.

I can't think of a nice way to lay this out without sounding pessimistic, but Albion has been a crap-heap for as long as I can remember. Sadly, things haven't changed much. Businesses have come and gone but very few new enterprises have had longevity. Many would blame this on the inability of that person to run a successful business, but the truth of the matter is Albion's economy can't support large scale local business. That doesn't mean it NEVER could, it just means that it can't in the current state of things.

Albion has been home to numerous pizza shops and gas stations throughout my existence on this planet, so I guess variety has been limited. Then again, some people can be satisfied with a McDonald's and a K&K Food Mart and now WalMart. I am not a very creative person in regards to visual imagery, but I can lay out for you what I imagine Albion could become;

-I cross the bridge going south over the Erie Canal. There I am struck by the initial view of a beautiful Main Street, lined with cars filling up every parking spot. People line the sidewalks, exchanging stories and jokes; enjoying the day. The streetlights reflect the quaintness of Albion, they are low to the ground and reminiscent of old gas burning lamps. Many stores have beautiful hanging signs, containing the name of the business with a beautiful design and colors which compliment the signs and buildings of others. Awnings shade the entrances to many buildings and the local cafe offers customers the chance to sit on the sidewalk under a beautiful awning to enjoy the wonderful spring day. Each store front is filled with a different business, coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, the quaint local tavern, a few local attorneys, the realtors, Albion's fine newsstand. Everything works together, the businesses help draw customers for one another and the inherent beauty of the area makes it the ideal place for a day trip.-

This is all an image of what Albion could be. Here is what Albion is;

I cross the bridge over the canal and look south onto Main St. The lights are similar to those on an airport landing strip, they extend over the second story windows and shine more light upwards than on the ground. The view is naked of any trees, shrubbery or flowers; just concrete and pavement (I suppose this cuts down on mowing expenses?). So many stores are vacant, two taverns frequented by the drunk population who enjoy relieving themselves on the extra tall light poles. Windows are broken out from the upper stories which are almost never utilized. Who knows what treasures lay in wait up in those floors. We may never know.

Some people are actually OK with this. As long as no one tells them what they can and can't do, they really don't care about the economic betterment. BUT maybe they do care about economic betterment? The job of the HPC is to link preservation with economic progress. So many people see preservation as a roadblock for economic progress. For those people, I ask, "What about the 20-30 years before Preservation Law was adopted in Albion?"

Today I read a wonderful Letter to the Editor in the Batavia Daily News (and I hope many people read this blog). As opposed to sending in a response letter which can only include 250 words, I decided to address this letter in my blog. The author of this letter clearly has received their information in a one-sided and biased manner. I can tell this several ways. For one, the person refers to the demolition of the "outbuilding" of 20 N. Main St. as the demolition of an "outhouse." The incorrect term of outhouse denotes a lesser importance to the structure, making it sound as though it was nothing more than a place to dump crap. An outbuilding would refer to a part of a building which was a later addition. This term appears to have been repeatedly used in the media and by those who don't bother to attend meetings, read minutes or research the subject on their own.

We reach another point which suggests a biased story. No person from the church ever made direct contact to set up a meeting. Using the Codes Enforcement Officer (CEO) as a middle man, the CEO attempted to set up a meeting on March 10th as the letter incorrectly states March 11th. Besides that small error, there was NO official calling of a meeting. Those who can call a meeting of the HPC include the Mayor, the Chairperson and two members of the commission. Under the law, the CEO is not able to call a meeting. However, someone continuously passes around the idea that a meeting was set and then canceled by the commission when in fact there was NOT an official meeting called. We must then wonder who would say that there was a meeting and what their motive for doing so was.

When this person states that they are disgusted with the arrogance, dictatorial attitude and lack of concern  for others we must also see that this is the result of biased accounts. I am unsure how the HPC is the one who showed any arrogance when the evidence shows that members of the HPC were willing to meet with members of the church to explore all the options and in order to explain the COA process and proper procedure. If those who write and relay such stories as the one published in this paper based solely on biased stories and newspaper articles, one article stated that the church knew of the possible consequences and repercussions of their actions. To me, that reflects more arrogance than the HPC has ever shown. It is also to my understanding that the church took it upon themselves to demolish this piece of property on their own with volunteers. To me this appears to be an action which lacks concern for the safety and welfare of others.

We must not forget that aside from HPC law, which so many have chosen to focus on, there is still the matter of Building Code both State and Local which were not followed. Instead a smokescreen has been blown and the HPC again "thrown under the bus" (as one person I know puts it).

This person's logic is seriously flawed. So many times in the past have churches been labeled infallible, do we not punish them for breaking the law simply because they are a church? If I drive 45 mph in a 30 mph speed zone, do I not get punished because I volunteer my time on the weekends feeding the poor and helping under-privileged children how to read? No, I get a ticket because I broke the law. Allowing them to essentially "get away" with this tells other churches, let alone other building owners, that they can do as they wish and it sets a dangerous precedent. As others have said, I believe that a peaceful resolve can be met and that no drastic punishments need to be enacted, but to let it be is wrong.

"If the government turns a blind-eye to an action, you are giving justification and allowing for that problem to continue; silence is what gives people power." - Matthew Ballard (I made that up myself :

Anyway, I am not here to bring down the established church or seek revenge for past issues. I am looking for fair and equal treatment under the law. If I chose to demolish the back portion of my house, the CEO would be there in a heartbeat to issue me a citation; mainly because I could have compromised the integrity of the structure by doing it myself. Instead people see this type of thing as the government beating up on the poor little church.

I also want to note, as I probably did up above, that this letter was not the first publication of the incorrect information about the March 10th meeting. It has appeared twice in two articles both written by Tom Rivers. Upon contacting Mr. Rivers requesting that he correct that wrong information, he assured me it would be corrected. As it is apparent, that is not the case and it appears that no effort has been made to fix that error. So I have corrected it here.

My final piece of advice for those who wish to spread what essentially are rumors about these sorts of things, don't take everything for face value. Do the research yourself. Village minutes and codes are all available to the public both online and by visiting the Village Office.

Village of Albion Minutes
Village of Albion Codes
NYS Building Codes

Here's a link for those who aren't up-to-date on what the State Historic Preservation Office does or what Preservation is all about;


Since many would be enraged to see that I challenged their thinking process, I hope that the rest of you can now arm yourselves with the true knowledge of how things work around here. You should be able to take these resources and do the research yourself, coming up with your own conclusions and finding the truth through all the smoke. I can assure you, finding the real facts and developing ideas based off of those facts is far more refreshing and satisfying than taking the word of others.

Photo compliments

I somehow wish this picture could be displayed large on my blog, but that's OK. If you click on it you can see it larger.

Anyhow, for those residents of Albion who might find obscure local history interesting, you might take a liking to this photograph. Taken circa 1933, this self-made panoramic photograph depicts the Wastewater Treatment Plant as it was in the 1930s. The facility looks far different than it does now as the plant was upgraded in the 1970s.

I find this image interesting for several reasons. For one, I have never seen a picture of the facility from this time frame and I doubt many have. The landscape also looks far different from what it does now. The land appears much clearer and now, you would never think that the northern ends of Joseph and Knapp Streets stretched that far and were visible from Densmore St. Those streets, with houses are visible on the left side of the photo. If you closely scour the tops of the tree line you see three distinct church steeples. The left-most steeple is that of St. Mary's Assumption Church and upon a closer look you can see the top of the entire building, faintly able to make out the brick facade. The middle steeple is that of the Baptist Church and the one far right is the Presbyterian Church; far taller than the others and visible across town. Finally, if you look very closely, you might just be able to make out the top of the Courthouse.

This, of course, is if you don't care about the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An Immigrant Nation Forgets Its Roots

It is common for irregular and minor points of history to fall between the cracks and disappear forever. For a country founded on the concept of immigration, it is strange to think that we could so easily forget the important events surrounding such an act. Most can recall the colony at Jamestown, the Pilgrim landing at Plymouth Rock or the arrival of immigrants through the gates of Ellis Island in the 1890s. We fail to remember the firsts for immigrant populations which, on the surface, appear to play little or no role to the history of the United States.

The one ethnic group that comes to mind are the Norwegians. The first significant arrival of Norwegian settlers to America came in 1825, assimilated and faded into the past. For those living in and around Orleans County, many would be surprised to know that those original 53 immigrants settled in what is now Kendall, NY. Though few stayed, they helped clear the land and established farms on rich soil which still remain today.

I have taken a particular interest in the Slooper story because my 5th Great Grandfather arrived the year before with a gentleman by the name of Cleng Peerson, to purchase the land that these new immigrants would live on. Andreas Stangeland, my ancestor, traveled west from New York City to this area in order to stake land claims and construct several cabins in which the immigrants would live in upon their arrival.

The story of the Norwegian immigrants to Kendall is just one of the few which are forgotten. We tend to take for granted, so often, the true role of certain ethnic groups to the establishment of where we live today. Even those who chose to settle in Orleans County as early as 1804 were considered immigrants, settlers moving westward into the wild Black North of Western New York. Those immigrants were not from far away countries, located over the oceans. Instead, they were from Eastern New York and New England, venturing out for a chance to farm virgin soil.

Aside from those pioneer families, we also neglect to remember the large scale immigration of the Irish and Germans to America in the 1840s and 1850s. I am sure many are familiar with the story of Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine, but how many are familiar with German immigration due to political turmoil? In Orleans County, the large influx of Irish immigrants fueled the Sandstone Quarry Industry, providing large amounts of manual labor. However, the Irish immigrants also helped establish a large Catholic population in the area, which may not have happened without them. Albion's oldest Catholic Church was formed off of this large Irish population.

The Germans were important too. For example, widespread German settlements popped up in Clarkson and Hamlin in Monroe County. They expanded in farming and developed large families. Later, more groups including Poles and Italians started their immigration to America. Pushed by increasing religious persecution, cultural suppression and hard economic times, both groups attempted their luck in America. Large scale Polish and Italian immigration to Orleans County in the 1880s and 1890s continued to feed the manual labor force in the Sandstone Quarries.

Albion neglects to remember these groups and the key roles they played in the development of the area. Polish immigrants established a distinct ethnic community which was located on the outer-skirts of the village. Here they operated businesses, built a church and ran a school all for their own benefit. Today, this small ethnic community no longer exists but only remains a shell of what it once was. In larger cities such as Buffalo and Rochester, many forget these ethnic communities as well. Buffalo in particular developed similar communities with harder, more defined boundaries, based on distinct ethnic differences. For example, though immigrants were all Polish, there were 3 different types of Polish peoples; Austrian, German and Russian. Two Polish Catholic churches may have been located across the street from each other, one catering to Prussian-Poles and the other to Austrian-Poles. Many of these churches remain today but have fallen victim to the Buffalo Diocese's cuts. The ethnic populations are no longer there to support those communities and they have fallen apart and disappeared.

I would suggest that anyone interested in history, especially local history, that you read into the ethnic diversity which developed within your community. In doing so, you allow yourself to understand why things have developed a certain way and why people act the way they do. Though these old ethnic divisions may have disappeared, instinctual actions still exist today which can only be understood by learning more about the immigrants.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Glories of Genealogical Research

Genealogical research is a great thing for anyone who has the slightest interest in history or their family. I suppose that goes without saying, but for those who enjoy a good mystery or puzzle, genealogy is the way to go.

When my grandmother passed away back in 2000, I became really interested in my family's history. Growing up a Catholic and attending a Polish Catholic Church made me want to research into where my family came from. I suppose that was easier said than done, 12 years later and I am still having trouble fulfilling that goal. Once in a while I find something very interesting; pension files, newspaper articles about a family member committing a crime, the list goes on and on.

However, for me the greatest find in my genealogical research is the location of photographs. The old phrase, "A picture is worth a thousand words," is true especially in research like this. Photographs, especially candid amateur pictures put into perspective the lives of your ancestors. What kinds of activities would they do on a beautiful summer day? Who was close with the family? What did the local Polka Band look like? Sometimes the photographs reveal family traits that are passed down through the lines; pointy noses, big ears , receding hairlines, short stature, and big feet. Other times you find one of those great family portraits, professional or not. I sometimes prefer the homemade family portrait, taken spare-of-the-moment with some spontaneity. The professional family portrait reveals a lot about the family too. Were the clothes plain? Did Great-Grandma wear a lot of jewelry? Hairstyles, sitting positions and backdrops. All of these can offer a greater look into the past. Was Great-Grandpa a hard working man who barely made a living wage? Did Great-Grandma come from a well-to-do family? Did the family come into some money?

The most important contribution of the photograph is the image it paints regarding the daily lives of these ancestors and the trials and tribulations they faced. Maybe there weren't any tribulations, perhaps the family lived an easy and carefree life. Either way, understanding the life in which your ancestors lived helps you to understand who you are today and helps explain why Grandpa didn't like the doctor or why Grandma's recipes are packed with bread-crumbs.

Here are a couple pictures which have allowed me to shed some light into who my family was and where I came from;

This picture is of my Great Great Great Grandfather, William Russell (middle) and his seven children. At the time of this picture, William's first wife, Anna, was already deceased which would explain her absence. The likeness of the men to each other, with the receding hairline and distinct Russell nose is visible and there is no doubt they are all related. The similar hairstyles of the women and the presence of the nose makes the relation clear. It can be assumed that the women take after their mother but the picture doesn't allow for use to confirm that. The setup of the picture would lead us to think the man in the center is a father-figure, which is true. Clothing also tips us off a little bit in this picture as well. Most of the men in the photograph are farmers. From left to right is Jesse, Myron, Nelson and William T. When I say most of the men engage in agriculture, I mean that all but Nelson engaged in farming during the time this was taken.

Small details such as the collars on their shirts might suggest this. Most of the men are wearing rounded collars except Nelson who's collar appears to be pointed, meaning less casual and more formal. He would have owned his grocery store at this point in time. Also, William T. on the right is standing in an odd and irregular way. This could suggest that he had a physical ailment which he tried to hide or perhaps it relates to him being the oldest male child, a personality trait as his facial expression is far different from those of the other men.

As my GG Grandfather was a very handsome gentleman, I am sad that none of his traits were passed along to me.

This picture is of my Great Great Grandfather, Nelson Russell and my Great Grandmother, Mildred Russell. The picture was taken around 1913 around Rosewood Terrace in the City of Rochester, NY. The houses in the background are well kept and Nelson appears to be wearing a rather nice suit. Of course it could be assumed that he dressed in his best for the picture with his daughter. Without making too many assumptions about the neighborhood since there is such a small sample visible, it is clear that Nelson is very happy; Mildred was the first child of Nelson and Adah Russell. During this time, Nelson owned a fairly successful grocery store in Rochester which would explain the clothing and the neighborhood they lived in. When the family expanded with a few more children, Nelson sold the store and moved the family out to Orleans County on a small farm.

This final picture is of my Great Grandparents' wedding. Taken in 1919, it depicts the wedding party, which for this wedding was very small. In knowing the background, it is a little easier to understand why the bride did not wear a typical wedding dress. Perhaps you can ponder a guess? This was the second wedding for both Francis Kaniecki (left) and Rose Romanski (right). Both were married previously, their spouses dying from complications related to Consumption. The family was an old day example of the Brady Bunch, each bringing four children into their new formed family and having two more later on.

The couple was in their early thirties when this wedding occurred. The wedding party consisted of Rose's sister-in-law Mary Romanski and Frank's cousin James Kaniecki. All immigrants from Poland, their clothing depicts this, especially with the men. The suits are simple, the shoes are simple, no fancy jewelry to show off and the women's clothing is fairly simple as well.

Examining physical traits, you can see that both men have a slight curl in their hair which is a trait in descendants. The ears and mouth are also traits which have been passed along in the family. The overall pose is relaxed and more casual than what would typically be seen in a wedding picture from this time period.

So next time you come across an old family photo, look deep into it. Don't take it for face value because you may find some small interesting detail which could lead to an interesting view of your family.