Saturday, August 29, 2015

Octogon Cabins, Part Two


Way back in 2014, I wrote a short post about the Octagon Cabins. These were small waiting rooms that were built for flag stops along the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern. The "bible" of all study on the RS&E, written by Gordon and McFarlane, describes the stops as such; "The standard shelter was a work of art, very possibly unequaled on any other electric line outside of the Beebe Syndicate (the owners of the line). They were built in a true octagon shape, every joint being a miter. They were 10 feet square and 14 feet high with 8 foot ceilings inside. Each building was erected on one corner of a 16 by 20 foot yellow pine platform. The framing of the shelter was hemlock and the finish both inside and out was chestnut. Each shelter had a hardwood floor and oak seats with a capacity of 8 to 10 people. All buildings were electrically lighted and under the seats three electric car heaters were provided to keep the passengers comfortable even in the most strenuous winter weather. Each shelter cost $400 (about $7600 in 2015 money)" He also wrote (in 1961) that many of the shelters could still be seen west of Port Byron.

Because of the post, I was contacted by someone in Harrisburg, PA who said he had purchased photos of the cabins at a house sale. The collection has 29 images of various quality covering the cabins, the store, and family members. As a collection on a single subject, it is one of the most complete I have seen for a local topic and gives us a fairly complete look at the cabins and the business.



The signs show that this business was owned by FD Thrush, and wife Zella. Is this a photo of the two of them?
We also have many of showing the woman with a dog that appears in many other photos. Is this Mrs. Zella Thrush?

As I wrote in 2014, Thrush sold the business sometime in the 1940's. He worked at the Smith-Corona factory in Cortland, starting there around 1943. Maybe Zella ran the cabin business while he worked elsewhere.

Sometime in the 1960's the cabins were removed. So far, I have not been able to find any record of them in that time period.

These cabins tell a story about a period of time, after the rise of the automobile and the demise of the trolley. They show what life was like before the building of the Interstate Highway system that would take people away from the small villages and rural roads. Route 31, Route 20, Route 5; all had small motels and hotels that served the traveling public. But with the building of the Thruway in the 1950's, this period came to an end.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Aerial Photos

Before the invention of the airplane, someone wanting a "birdseye" view of the village had to climb to the top of a nearby hill and hope for an open view. We have posted some of these birdseye views in prior post. After planes became available, it was easier to get a real birdseye or aerial view. Here are some we have found. 

Above- This was taken in 1938, just after the school had been completed. 


 Above- We are likely to date this one around 1947. The new concrete highway is being poured on the straightened Rochester Street. 



Above and Below- These two are very close in date, yet the one below shows work on the new firehouse and village offices.If memory serves me, a aerial was used as the inside cover of one of the yearbooks.



 Above- Bill Hecht sent along this one from 2005. 

Above- And from way up high in 1938, a crop of a high attitude military photo.





Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Canal Route Change of 1857




In the 1850’s, a battle of wills ensued in Port Byron over the route of the canal that led to great harm in the business district of the village. What is odd is that this battle seemed to be waged by local landowners with the support of State engineers. In the 1931 obituary of Mrs. Harriet Johnson, who died at the age of 102, the paper wrote, “[She] was 28 years of age when the Erie Canal was enlarged from 40 to 70 feet. She remembered the squabble that took place among the residents of her village about the enlargement of the waterway. Some advocated the enlargement along a circuitous route and others a new and direct route. The will of the latter finally prevailed and the channel was cut through the most beautiful part of the village.”
            When the State decided to enlarge the canal in the mid 1830’s, it was understood that many mistakes had been made in the original construction of the canal and that the enlargement of the canal would allow for many of these mistakes to be corrected. One of the biggest problems with the old canal was the winding nature of the construction. It seemed that any obstacle that the original builders faced was simply bypassed by going around it. So in places the canal turned in ninety degree bends. This made it difficult for mule teams to pull the boats as they went around the tight bends and even more importantly, the twists even made it difficult for the water to flow and refill the canal. It was a mess. The rebuilding would give the State the chance to remove these curves as they enlarged the canal from 40 to 70 feet in width. In the end, so many bends were straightened that the canal was shortened by fifteen miles by the time the enlargement was complete between Albany and Buffalo.
            Unfortunately for Port Byron, the village was located on a curve, and it seems that some in the community saw an opportunity to profit if they could convince the State Engineers to move the route of the canal from the business district to the “flats” slightly north of the settled area. This flew in the face of canal law, which forbade any movement of the canal away from business areas; even it meant leaving a problem area in place. The curve that Port Byron sat on was in reality quite small and if removed would only save about a third of a mile in distance. But some in the village wanted the canal moved and petitioned the State. They got Canal Commissioner Fitzhugh to agree to the change in the route even though it went against the canal law. The businessmen of the village, the men who needed the canal to keep the money flowing, protested and got the Canal Board to reverse this decision and put the route back to the old route. This move put the canal back in the business district. But then the contractors who were hired by the State to build the new route sued and got the route changed once again. After all was said and done, the new proponents of the new route won. To satisfy some in the community, mainly the large mill, a stub of the old canal was left intact, however, it was not enlarged. After the mill burned and no one used the stub, it was quickly abandoned and the businessmen were paid off for the loss of the canal.
It took eight years to settle this matter, and all through this time, shippers west of Syracuse had to continue to use the smaller “pre-enlargement” boats since the canal through Port Byron wasn’t deep or wide enough to use the bigger boats. Shippers then began to use the Oswego route, robbing businessmen from Port Byron west to Buffalo the chance to ship larger loads on the canal. Thus, the mess at Port Byron became a state wide concern as it dragged on through the years.
Once the enlarged canal was completed in 1858, the larger boats could be used to ship to Rochester and Buffalo, but they couldn’t reach the businesses of the village. The village didn’t die, but it was harmed by the loss.
This 1857 map shows the two routes along with the original canal, all laid over a image taken from Google Earth. We thank Bill Hecht for doing this.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Port Byron Became Port Byron



While writing about John Beach and his Mill, I was reminded of the stories that credit Beach with changing the name of the village from Bucksville to Port Byron. Over the years, many people have chimed in on this fascinating story, the latest was as late as 2012, when historian Dawn Roe wrote an excellent article about the subject. Years ago, I had written an article about the subject for the InPort, and looking back on it, I found it needed more details. So here is the latest entry.

There is an issue with using first person sources as people tend to mis-remember as time goes by. What clouds the facts is the fairly large event that takes place when John Beach and his partners build their very large grist mill on the banks of the Erie Canal. There is also the building of the Canal in 1820, the Incorporation of the Village in 1837, and the enlargement of the Canal in the 1850’s. So mashed all together, the events and dates tend to run together in people’s recollections.

In an Chronicle article titled “How Port Byron Got It’s Name” written by E.H. Kerns, he says when he wrote his 1922 History of the Village of Port Byron and the Town of Mentz, he could not find any record or person who could tell him why the name was changed. He goes on to say that he later spoke with Albina Treat about the issue. Mrs. Treat, who was born in1841, tells Kerns that the name was changed in 1832 after Beach built his grist mill. Remember that this major event took place eleven years before she was born. As Ms. Roe points out, Kerns “facts” are quickly corrected by George Perkins, who uses actual dated letters to place the name change prior to 1826. Perkins writes; “The origin of the village name has been a controversy for many years, and, while the story of Lord Byron, who died in 1824, and the mill owner with aristocratic tendencies is alluring, I fear it is just another of those fables which crop up in all village histories.” Perkins then goes onto write a very accurate history of the mill.

So I wanted to see what documents were available on the web that could help point to the Bucksville / Port Byron name change.

Ms. Roe mentions this very interesting death notice for Sarah Buck of Bucksville, and Giles Landon of Port Byron from February 15, 1826.



How can we have both a Bucksville and a Port Byron? Good question. From even earlier, we have this Travelers Pocket Guide from 1825, which was written in the summer of 1824.

What is important to keep in the mind is that whatever you call it, Bucksville or Port Byron, it was what we would call today a hamlet, or an unincorporated village. The actual Village was not formally created until 1837. Further supporting documents can be found in form of notices from the Post Master, telling people to pick up their mail. From April of 1827, we find this notice. And as you look it over, notice the last name, Bingham Young, more likely Brigham Young.


Yet there are conflicting documents that I won't post here. A document in the NYS Assembly from January 27, 1825 says Bucksville, as does the 1829 Natural History of NY, and the 1831 Gazetter. But the register of Post Offices in 1828 says Port Byron, as does the Niles Register of 1827.

In 1830, John Beach purchases the water rights of the Outlet and builds his mill. This probably delighted Aholiab Buck who runs this ad in the Auburn Free Press in 1830.
However, just a year later, Buck and his wife sell all their remaining village lots to Beach and Company and his family moves west. The deed is very interesting as it lists all the people that Buck had sold lots to, and all the land that Beach would own. The amount of land, basically much of the village, can be seen in the canal map from 1834 as listed as owned by Beach and Company, or Beach and Others. You can also see a part of Beach's Mill. The road running from the top to bottom of the image is Utica Street.


So let's go back to the 1824/25 Pocket Guide, which is the earliest document I could find that used the name of Port Byron.
It clearly says Bucksville, Port Byron P.O. (post office). Looking at the register of post offices, you find a Bucksville in Bucks County in Pennsylvania, and other Bucksville’s in Tennessee and Alabama. Just as the name of the Town was changed in 1808 from Jefferson to Mentz because there was just too many Jefferson’s about, the decision to change the name of the Post Office may have been one of convenience. In fact, we don't have any indication that there was ever a post office with the name of Bucksville, or that Bucksville had a post office prior to 1824 and the coming of the canal boom. Once the name of the Post Office was in common use, it was likely inevitable that the whole community becomes known as Port Byron. Was Lord Byron and his famous writings a factor in the name change? It certainly makes sense as he died in 1824, about the same time the name “Port Byron” came into use. However, Ms. Roe gives a good alternative explanation of the origin of “Byron”.

Buck may have been happy to see the big mill come to town, but as can be seen in his ad, continued to fight the name change that was occurring. It might be why Sarah Buck is listed as dying in Bucksville, where Mr. Landon was listed as dying in Port Byron. I ask you, would Aholiab allow a Buck to die in Port Byron? And the name was well used ever before John Beach built his mill, although his purchase of all the land and the leaving of the Buck family likely settled the matter



Friday, March 27, 2015

John Harvey Beach and the Biggest Mill in the State





A 1839 portrait of John Harvey Beach.

Beach’s Mill (1830-1857) Port Byron

Anyone who has picked up any history of Port Byron has seen the description of Beach’s Mill; “In 1828, Mr. Beach settled in the place, purchased the water power on the Outlet, and built a raceway, two miles in length, thereby securing a head of twenty feet. Mr. Beach put up a mill with ten run of stone, capable of manufacturing five hundred barrels of flour per day. This was at that time, and for a number of years thereafter, the largest and best constructed flouring mill in the State. The building was 120 feet long, fifty wide, with a store-house attached, 80 by 40 feet, and an overshot wheel 22 feet in diameter. It was situated on the west side of the Outlet, and on the south bank of the canal, and had a branch canal under a portion of the store-house, which afforded great facilities for loading and unloading boats. The building cost $60,000, and employed 20 to 30 hands. A cooper shop, built of stone, 200 feet long, was connected with it, and supplied a part of the barrels used by the mill. The employment which this enterprise furnished, and the traffic it built up, was of great importance to the prosperity of the village.” As a Historian, I wanted to know 1) Who was Mr. Beach, and 2) Was his mill the largest and best constructed in the State? Here is what I found.

John Harvey Beach was born about 1784 in Connecticut. He was trained as a lawyer, but becomes a miller by trade. In 1809 he moves to Auburn and begins a long career in public service. In the War of 1812, Beach rallies the people of Auburn to march west to defend the homeland against a rumored British attack. By 1814, he joined into a partnership to open the first cotton mill in Auburn. In 1815, he was the local representative to the New York State Assembly and helps to incorporate the village of Auburn. In 1816 he aids in the establishment of the Auburn prison and in 1817, he helps to organize the first bank in the village. During this time he also helps to start schools, gives money to build the new Theological Seminary, opens more mills along the Owasco Outlet, builds other businesses, and sits on a board to investigate the construction of a Owasco and Auburn Canal between Port Byron and Owasco Lake.

At the same time, John’s brother, a General Ebenezer S. Beach was buying land in northern Cayuga County and in Rochester. In 1827, E. S. Beach and Thomas Kempshall opens a large flouring mill in Rochester. This mill was six stories tall and has room for sixteen run of stone, although it appears that only ten run are installed. This mill is the first in Rochester to use a elevator system to unload wheat directly from the hold of a canal boat. The mill was capable of turning out five hundred barrels of flour per day. It is not known (at this time) what became of the land he purchased in Cayuga County.

In 1830, John Beach spent $11,000 buying land in Port Byron. Some of this land is located on the bank of the new Erie Canal and next to the Outlet, which today would be across the creek from St. Johns Church. Beach also buys easements to many parcels of land south through the valley for the construction of a two-mile long canal headrace. He built the large flouring mill as described above on the south bank of the Erie Canal. Included is a slip for boats to dock while being unloaded or loaded. About a year later, John Beach and Company (Henry Kennedy, Thomas Kempshall, and E.S. Beach) buy land just to the west of the mill, near the canal lock. (The canal lock was the first lock built in Port Byron, not Lock 52 that can be seen today.) Here they built a large cooperage that made barrels in which was packed the finished flour. Somewhere between seventy to eighty men found work in this enterprise, which consisted of the saw mill and cooperage.

To understand the large mill, one needs to understand the nature of milling at this period of history. The romantic idea of a mill might be a miller bent over a turning stone, slowly pouring the wheat from a sack, grinding it into flour. This might have happened at one of the smaller mills in town. These were typically known as a custom mill, where the farmer traded a portion of his wheat to the miller in return for grinding the rest of his crop. But Beach’s Mill was a merchant mill, designed to process large quantities of wheat into flour. A mill such as this was highly automated, with the wheat being unloaded by an elevator, moved by screw type conveyors and gravity, cleaned by air blown by large fans, ground by many stones, sifted and packed, all without the touch of human hands.

All this machinery was run by the power of a large waterwheel. This is mentioned in the description, where it states that the wheel was twenty-two feet high. What is missing is the width of the wheel, but similar sized mills used wheels eighteen feet wide. The water to turn this wheel flowed through the canal that began two miles up the valley, south of Hayden Road. This canal can still be seen today as it follows the west side of the valley between Port Byron and Hayden Road. The beginning of this race can be seen just south of where Hayden Road intersects with Route 38. (Look just downstream from where the power lines cross the valley.) At this point Charles and Amos Parks owned a dam that impounded water and increased the amount of head to the mill. This dam also served Hayden's Mill which was built right at the intersection of today's Hayden Rd and Route 38. 

The question raised by the period description quoted above is “Was Beach’s Mill the largest and best constructed mill in the state?” It appears not to be totally true, nor is it a complete falsehood. John’s brother Ebenezer had built his mill in Rochester in 1827. His mill was at least as large as the mill in Port Byron, with ten run of stone, six stories tall, and a more reliable source of water, that being the Genesee River. Both brothers used the canal to transport wheat to their mills and to ship flour out. Ebenezer was the first to use an elevator to unload the boats, although this was something already invented years before by a Millwright named Oliver Evans.

An article in the paper states;
A Mammoth Mill- The American Miller of the 8th inst[ant], describes Beach’s Mill, at Port Byron, as the largest in the State. It consists of ten run of stone, propelled by five overshot water-wheels, driving two run of stone each, with the necessary bolting and cleaning apparatus. This mill was built for the late Gen. Beach, by Robert M. Dalzell, Esq, assisted by the Messrs. Jewells of Rochester. Those gentlemen are widely known as most skillful millwrights. The mill is capable of turning out about 800 barrels of flour per day, and of consuming 3,500 bushels of wheat every 24 hours. (The Auburn Daily Advertiser, Monday November 17, 1851.)

Beach’s Mill was capable of turning out five hundred barrels of flour per day, but only if all the stones were running. What we don’t know is the size of the stones used to grind the wheat, and this would make a huge difference in these calculations. One barrel of flour weighs one hundred ninety six pounds, and it takes two hundred seventy two pounds of wheat to make one barrel. An average size (about four feet across) stone can make two plus barrels of flour in one hour, so if all the stones ran for twenty-four hours, the mill should produce five hundred twenty eight barrels a day. This would take one and half boats or about seventy-five tons of wheat. So while the period descriptions of the mill might be correct, there seems to be a tad bit of hyperbole involved.

In 1911, the Auburn Semi-Weekly said that the flour produced by the mill "maintained a reputation amoung New York City bakers for producing the best flour for cake baking of any of the up-state mills."
John Beach never settled in the village. He lived in Auburn. One of his partners, a Henry Kennedy, ran the business. Kennedy also began the process of laying out new streets in the village and seems to be a driving force in the expansion of Port Byron. Beach and Company bought large parcels of land in the village, seemingly planning for large-scale growth. Beach dies in 1839 and his son assumes John’s ownership of the mill.

In 1855, the mill is sold to Messrs Bradfield and Roberts. It is an odd time to buy such a large mill. By the 1850’s, the bulk of the milling business had shifted to the much larger city of Rochester. And in the 1850’s, talk of changing the route of the canal in the village threatened the mill and other businesses that relied on the waterway. A court battle raged between those who wish to move the canal slightly north and those who wish to see it enlarged along the old route. in 1857, the canal was shifted north, however, the State did allow the old canal to remain open to serve the mill. But this short dead end section was never deepened to the enlarged dimensions, so it was useless for canal transport.  In 1857 the mill burned. The Auburn paper states that the fire was started in the "smut Machine" and spread quickly, but that the origin of the fire was unknown. In 1906, John L. Davis told the Port Byron Chronicle that he was told that the fire was started by a night watchman who had left a candle burning in the grain room.  By this time, only twenty seven years after it was built for $60,000, the mill was insured only for $13,000. The loss of this large business and the non-related death of Henry Kennedy hurt the prosperous outlook of the village. In 1922, E.H. Kerns stated that “…Port Byron ceased to grow.”

Today Beach’s Mill is just a mention in our history books. The dams and millponds that once fed the water into the mills are all gone. Beach’s raceway remains only because it was used to feed water into the enlarged Erie Canal until 1917.




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Beach's Mill Race and the 1876 Feeder Map



One of the largest remains of our village past can be found south of Port Byron, running up the valley of the Owasco Outlet. It is the old Beach Millrace, a two mile long power canal that carried water from Hayden to the village. Built in 1830 by John Beach, it started at Parks Dam just south Hayden Road, and followed the west bank of the Outlet until it reached a point opposite where St John’s Church is today. The mill wheel it powered was 20 feet in diameter and it was all part of a four story stone mill built by a group of men from Auburn and Rochester. The mill was built to use the old Erie Canal to bring in grain and ship out barrels of flour.

The mill, once called the largest in the State was quickly surpassed by mills in Rochester that used the much larger Genesee River to power their wheels and machinery. By 1857, the mill was gone, burned, perhaps in response to the moving of the Erie Canal in the village. But the millrace lived on.

Canals are artificial rivers, and rely on natural sources of water in order to fill and replenish the water needed to float the boats. From Jordan to Montezuma, a fairly short section of canal, the water came from Skaneateles Lake through a feeder that joined the canal to the Skaneateles Outlet at Jordan. There were a couple other smaller feeders; one at Putnam Brook in Weedpsort, one at Centerport, and another at Herring Brook, just east of Port Byron. But these were very small and limited in quantities, proving water measured in hundreds of cubic feet, where larger feeders provided thousands of cubic feet. So the canal relied on Skaneateles Lake to fill and operate sixteen miles of canal. And when they turned on the canal tap, the water in the creek dried up and the mills went quiet.

The lake was able to keep up with the first small canal, but with the canal enlargement that took place from 1836 to 1862, the canal was doubled in size and now two locks did the work of one. Skaneateles Lake was in trouble.

There was another source of canal water. That would be the Owasco Lake and the Owasco Outlet that flowed under the canal at Port Byron. But with the Beach’s large mill and other mills along the Outlet, the State did not take the water. Why they didn’t take the water is a question, and why the water could not be turned into the canal once it passed over Beach’s wheel is not known or ever discussed. In 1863, the Rochester paper reported that the “extravagant demands” of the mill owners kept the State from taking the water. In 1866 the Skaneateles Democrat asserted that the State was playing favorites. Their lake was drained, the mills were silent, and the people unemployed. Meanwhile in Port Byron, the mills had water. It had been nine years since the old mill had burned, and although smaller mills were still in business along the Owasco Outlet, the water flowed under the canal instead of into it.

However, 1866 was the turning point. With Skaneateles Lake drained, the State had no choice but to tap into the Owasco flow. Since the canal was higher than the creek in Port Byron, the old mill race was looked at and ultimately used. From its ending spot up on the hill, a wooden flume was constructed that carried water overhead to a spot in the canal near River Street. 


By 1871, the flume was leaking badly. The State engineers asked to have money to replace the old wood structure. A iron pipe was suggested, one that could be buried underground and be somewhat protected from the elements. Pleas for money went on for a couple years and in 1875 the State finally gave money. In October of 1875, the Auburn paper reported that teams were busy drawing stone from Auburn to the new feeder. By 1876, the new feeder was in use and this color map was drawn to show the work.


More work was done over the years. The mill race was enlarged and a new gate house was added at Hayden. I wrote a piece about the dam at Hayden and you can find it here.

Because the old mill race was used until 1918, it's remains are still fairly intact and it is the largest structure left from our history. However, over the years, I have watched the old iron pipe fade away. It is getting really hard to see these days.

You can walk along parts of the old race, as I did a couple years back when I took these photos.


 Here is the canal dug into the hill side with a path that was large enough to allow work animals to safely walk along it.

 Hard to believe but there was once a four story stone mill located here.




This is a end of the race and the beginning of the iron pipe. You can see the old school in the back ground of the wide angle view. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shop Local!




The downtown of Port Byron has certainly had its up and downs. The old photographs and postcards show stores, restaurants, and garages, and all the needs to serve the local population. But it is safe to say that prior to 1920, the local stores were well patronized as they really were the only option. However, once the trolley line started service between Port Byron and Auburn, or even to Syracuse and Rochester, the locals had many more choices as to where to shop. And at the same time, automobiles were becoming more accessible, and the roads were getting better. Hence, we have a push by the local shops to get shoppers to shop local. These ads certainly reflect that push. The top ad is from Christmas in 1922. Need a last minute gift? Don't run to Auburn, shop here!

I ran the two page ad in another post, so you may have seen it before, but not in this context. It comes from 1932. Port Byron, like the rest of the world, was in the grips of a depression. This amazing spread shows almost every business and shop in the village, and lays it out; "Let's All Get Together and Boost Port Byron".

The struggle of the small local business to survive in a much bigger world has been going on for 90 years.