Posts made by the Town Historian

This photo shows a view of Rt. 279 as seen from Ridge Road looking south. Judging from the leaves on the ground, it seems to have been taken about this time of year. The main road intersected the Ridge as it does now, but the photo shows a lesser-worn path leading east to the Ridge. The flowerbed in the resulting triangle looks as though it had experienced some colder temperatures.

The image reveals a period of transition; Gaines was not yet completely “modernized.” In order to travel directly from the hamlet of Gaines to Albion, one would have driven down a dirt road, with transmission lines from the hydroelectric plant in Waterport on the left and telephone lines on the right. Homes on this road had access to electricity in the 1890’s, long before the rest of Gaines. Ridge Road was paved with cement in the mid-1920’s, and the curb at the base of the flower bed suggests the snapshot was taken after that development.

Dean Sprague, longtime Town Clerk for Gaines, and his wife Ethel, who lived in the house on the southeast corner of the intersection, maintained the flowerbed before the State eliminated the lesser used turn-off.

Adrienne Kirby,

Town Historian
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These photographs of Teddy Roosevelt were discovered in the course of filing materials in the historian’s office at Gaines Town Hall. No information is recorded on the backs of them. Accompanying notes indicate they were donated by Dan Hatch. Although Theodore Roosevelt never spoke in our township, folks from Gaines made sure to see him speak in Albion, which he did on three separate occasions. He spoke there on Oct. 26, 1898, Oct. 31, 1900, and Nov. 1, 1910. The question is, on which occasion were these photos taken? This is where history starts to look like detective work.

These snapshots were most likely taken with a Kodak Brownie camera. The Brownie was the first mass marketed camera for the general public, and was introduced in February 1900. Therefore, these photos were not taken of Roosevelt as candidate for New York State governor in 1898. Any photographs of that speech would have been taken by a professional photographer. These photos are either of Roosevelt as governor, or as former president. The photographs produced by the first Brownie camera were about 2″x2″. In 1901, the No. 2 Brownie was released, which produced snapshots about 2″x3″. Since the above photos are elongated and not square, they were probably taken during Roosevelt’s 1910 visit.

Roosevelt spoke from a platform constructed in front of the County Clerk’s Office. The top photo shows more of this building than the others. It also clearly shows the gable of what is now the Presbyterian church’s dining room in the background. All of the photos show people gathered on the northern steps of the Clerk’s Office.

Since the bottom third of these images show a sea of hats, it seems the photographer must have held his camera over his head to take pictures, hoping he would get some good shots. It also appears he jockeyed himself among the crowd in order to get closer, as can be gaged by the proximity to the platform and changing position of the hats in the foreground. It is also interesting to note the presence of feathered hats — even though women could not vote, they were there as well.

Subscribers to the Orleans American learned of Roosevelt’s visit the week before with the following front page ad.

Roosevelt was campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Henry Stimson. The Orleans American clearly supported the Republican cause. In the Nov. 3, 1910 edition, the headline reported that Col. Roosevelt was “Enthusiastically Received By the Thousands — Splendid and Telling Speeches.” Two lengthy articles described his visit and work for the Republican party in New York. Counter-intuitively, the Orleans Republican rejoiced over the Democrat victory of John Dix as governor. In the Nov. 2, 1910 edition, buried in the middle of the paper, they described Roosevelt’s visit in three sentences, concluding with, “Col. Roosevelt gave one of his characteristic talks.”

Adrienne Kirby,

Town Historian
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A quote taken from The Home Bureau Creed, by Ruby Green Smith


One of the first items I came across in the historian’s office was a delightful scrapbook titled, “History of Eagle Harbor Home Bureau, 1953.” Home Bureau was an organization for homemakers to learn skills that would improve their homes, and ultimately their communities. The scrapbook documents meetings held from the fall of 1952 to the spring of 1954. There are Cornell Extension Bulletins, sample projects, newspaper clippings, newsletters, and programs from various events. According to a newspaper clipping inside, each Home Bureau unit was encouraged to produce a “Historical Record Book” of their activities each year. Eagle Harbor was awarded third place for their record book. The two winning units’ books were sent to the District meeting of the Federation of Home Bureaus at Hornell. A historical book was produced for all of Orleans County, which according to the article was “so complete and perfect that it received special mention from the judges.”

While the Home Bureau Federation still exists in New York State, it had experienced a significant decline in Orleans County by the 1970’s. Home Bureau was closely tied to Cornell Extension. Until the mid-1950’s, a portion of the annual dues collected from each unit was sent to Cornell Extension. Individuals in a Home Bureau unit would learn a particular skill from a Home Demonstration Agent from Cornell, and then in turn would present that information at meetings that were held twice a month. Presentations generally focused on homemaking, but parenting and citizenship were addressed as well. Topics in 1953 included “Food for the Family Menu,” “Advanced Decorative Stitchery,” “Cupboard Arrangement,” “Cooperation in the Family,” and “Trends in Federal Government.”

Gaines had six Home Bureau units in 1953: West Gaines, Gaines, Childs, East Gaines, Eagle Harbor and Gaines Basin. The Eagle Harbor unit had eighteen members. Meetings and activities took place either at members’ homes, or at the Methodist church by the canal. Below is a photo of a Home Bureau hobby show held March 25, 1954 in the Methodist church dining room. It was noted that all families participated.

Back row from L to R: Mary Hults, May Brooks, Mildred Buck, Hilda Fancher, Barbara Eddy (baby), Jean Sullivan. Front row L to R: Dorothy Hults, Duane Hults.

Because apple season will soon be here, and an article about Home Bureau would be more complete with a recipe, here is a dessert from a menu in the scrapbook for “Three Generations at One Table.”

Apple Pudding – 6 Servings

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups diced apples
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Beat together the eggs and sugar; add the flour, salt and baking powder.
  2. Stir in the apples, pecans and vanilla.
  3. Pour into a buttered baking dish or into 6 custard cups and bake at 350°F about 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Adrienne Kirby,

Town Historian
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Photo taken ca. 1919

The above photograph of an unidentified boy, most likely taken in Gaines, comes from a small photo album that belonged to Virginia Lattin Morrison. Below is a photo of Virginia found in that same album. She was a longtime resident of Gaines. Coincidentally, today was Virginia’s birthday. She was born July 4, 1906.

Photo taken ca. 1919

In 1919, she turned 13. To celebrate her birthday that year, Virginia could have gone to the recently opened ice cream parlor above Mr. Spaulding’s grocery in the rebuilt White’s Hall. White’s Hall, located on the southwest corner of 104 and 279, was a social hub. Prior to a devastating fire in 1910, it housed a grocery store, post office, grange hall and was Town Meeting headquarters, among other social activities. She would have been too young to attend the box party that evening with the Swarts Orchestra at the Grange Hall, which had moved across the street to what used to be Thurber’s Hotel in 1915. Admission was $1.00, plus 10 cents war tax. A box party was essentially a dating game. Women would make a meal for two and put it in a cardboard box they had decorated. Then men would bid on boxes, not knowing what was inside or who the creator was with whom they would share the meal. Dances and social events like this were common fund raisers for the Grange.

Adrienne Kirby,

Town Historian
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Note: I am deeply grateful to Dee Robinson for her overall encouragement, her suggestion of this topic, and for her assistance in researching it.

The New York State Fair, held Oct. 1-4, 1867 in Buffalo, was a disappointment in some ways. “The grounds, unfortunately, presented a rough surface—appearing as if tread up by cattle in wet weather, and left to dry and harden in that condition. The buildings were poor, unattractive, and, in some instances, of not sufficient capacity for the use for which intended….The victualing department did not present its usual attractions.”1 But for John A. Lafler of Gaines, it was a source of celebration. Along with at least two competitors, he demonstrated how his brick machine worked for the crowds at the fair, producing “crude” or unfired bricks. The New York State Fair report for 1868 noted Lafler “showed his iron clad brick machine, to which was awarded the first premium at the late fair in Buffalo, for making best quality of brick. We believe it still maintains its superiority.” Lafler not only brought his machine to the New York State Fair multiple times, but he also displayed it at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, an international event which covered over 285 acres in Philadelphia.

The only information we have about John Lafler comes from census records, his patent, a handful of passing references, and church records. Lafler first appears in Gaines on the 1855 census, but was most likely here in 1852, since his three year old son was noted as being born in Orleans County. Lafler was a native of Ontario County. When he decided to settle here in the 1850’s, Gaines had a larger population than Albion and at that point might have appeared to be a more vibrant community than our neighbor to the south. He and his family lived across the road from his brickyard which is now the Brick Pond on Rt. 98, a half mile south of Rt. 104.

From the information we do have, we can surmise he was a successful businessman. By the time he applied for the patent for his machine in 1863 at the age of 48, he had been in Gaines for at least ten years. He enlisted the support of John N. Proctor and Isaac Gere, both from prominent area families, to sign as witnesses to his application. His brickyard was in operation from the early 1850’s to the early 1890’s. His son Charles continued to run it for over ten years after his death in 1883. As a member of the Congregational Church in Gaines, he paid for the transom window above the double doors of the old church.

Lafler’s brickmaking machine was essentially a barrel with a vertical shaft inside that had tilted blades protruding out of it. As noted in the patent, this shaft was “rotated by any convenient power,” most likely horses or steam. The clay would be placed in the barrel from the top, and the rotating blades would simultaneously knead the clay, push it down into the molds, as well as scrape excess clay off the top of the molds. A spring-loaded “clod-crusher” would compress the clay in the molds from below. It is unclear from Lafler’s patent exactly how many bricks could simultaneously be pressed by his machine. However, one of his competitors paid for a full-page advertisement in the 1866 edition of the New York State Agricultural Society’s Abstract. It claimed that the machine “will make from 2,000 to 3,000 brick per hour, with seven or eight hands and a pair of horses.” A look at the 1875 census suggests Lafler’s machine might have required a similar amount of manpower. In that year, twelve men were listed as laborers in his household, half of whom were immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium and England. It’s reasonable to suppose that if eight men were kept busy running the machine, another four might be needed to dig the clay to feed it. If Lafler’s machine had a comparable output to his competitor’s, then the amount of bricks needed to build a small brick house about the size of the one next to the Cobblestone Church in Childs could be pressed in three hours or so.

Lafler’s brickyard was not the first in Gaines. William J. Babbit established the first brickyard around 1820, on the southwest corner of the intersection of Ridge Road and Crandall Road. It is also believed there was an early brickyard on the southeast corner of the intersection at Ridge Road and Rt. 279. Before the advent of machines like Lafler’s, brickmaking in the early 19th century was a handmade, straight forward affair. Clay was pressed into a single brick mold, and then a tool was used to scrape off the excess clay. The mold was then tipped over onto a small pallet, and hopefully, the brick would come out of the mold intact. If some clay remained inside the mold, the brick would have to be repressed – the mold placed over the brick once more, tamped, and tipped out again. Perhaps this is the problem Lafler claimed his invention overcame in the ads he placed in a few 1869 issues of Scientific American.

Another improvement of machines like Lafler’s over the ages-old method of hand pressing bricks is that they would produce more uniform, more compact, harder bricks. Prior to factories, there was no way each handmade mold would each be exactly the same. Repressing would also create variation in bricks. Using a team of horses or steam power, it is easy to understand how Lafler’s spring-loaded machine would be able to exert more pressure on the clay than even the burliest of brickmakers.

It is probable that we see Lafler’s product in many local brick houses, but we don’t have documentation. There is strong reason to believe that the First Baptist Church in Albion was constructed with Lafler’s bricks in 1858. What is now the rectory for Holy Family Parish may have also been built with his bricks as well. There is proof beyond a doubt that his bricks were used in the platform in front of the Cobblestone Church in Childs, for several have his name stamped into them.

Adrienne Kirby,

Town Historian

 

1The author adds, “[These faults] detracted from the visitors’ full enjoyment of pleasure, and were the source of petulant comment from some….We simply record the facts in making up a true account of the exhibition.”

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Nestled in the heart of Orleans County, the Town of Gaines has largely retained its agricultural character over the course of its 200 year history. In the years after the first settlers arrived in 1809, life was hard. Sometimes crops failed, and if they were abundant, there were few markets close by to sell to. Despite these challenges, the communities of Gaines Village, East Gaines, West Gaines and Proctor’s Corners (now Childs), were established on Ridge Road before the Erie Canal came through in 1825. Once the canal was completed, Gaines Basin and Eagle Harbor grew as a result of the commercial traffic. With a means of selling their crops to markets across the state at higher prices, Gaines became a little less rustic.

Confident that their town would become the county seat for the newly formed Orleans County in 1824, the citizens of Gaines were eager to prove its worth. Prior to the incorporation of the county, Gaines could boast its own newspaper, and over twenty businesses, including several factories. In an effort to make itself a more likely location for county seat, a Masonic lodge was established and a meeting house built. Although Gaines lost its bid to become the political center of the county, the plans made for a court house were refurbished to become an institution of learning, the Gaines Academy. Until 1850, the population and businesses of Gaines continued to grow.

Like many rural communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, social life in Gaines revolved around one of the six churches, the Grange, one of the two temperance groups or at a tavern, depending on one’s sensibilities. The latest news could always be discussed at one of the general stores. There were fires that devastated several of these meeting places, and there were community efforts to rebuild them.

Despite the changes that have occurred over two hundred years, Gaines has always had farmers. In the early days, farming was a necessity to survival. Later, farmers sent their commodity crops of wheat and beans along the canal to distant markets. In the 20th century, farmers grew tomatoes for the Hunts factory in Albion. Orchards have long been a part of the landscape, from the days when Gaines boasted the largest apple orchard in the world, to today where they can be found spread throughout the area.

Town Historian,

Adrienne Kirby