Town’s First St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, in 1836

Our History… by Bill Sauers

Legend holds that the ancient Greeks were the first to wish someone good health while raising a glass and drinking. It is said that it was to prove that the drink was healthy (in other words, not poison). Somewhere along the line, a Ro­man custom of dropping a piece of burnt toast into wine while following the Greek tradition of drinking to one’s health gave way to the term that we know to this day as a toast. But it was the Irish that embellished the custom to a point that today a Google search of Irish toasts will result in 500,000 hits.

One hundred and eighty-two years ago the first St. Patrick’s day celebration in the town of Greece was held. Along with that celebration, the custom the Greeks started centuries ago was brought to the town of Greece by the Irish. It was at Mr. T Cleary’s tavern near Lake Ave and Latta Roads where the anniversary of Ireland’s patron saint was cele­brated.

The Rochester Republican, one of the many papers of the day, reported that … “As many gentlemen as the room could accommodate, sat down to an excellent dinner about seven o’clock. It might well be called the feast of rea­ son, and flow of soul. Never have we before witnessed on similar occasions such an exhilarating scene. It would in­ deed be impossible to describe the flow of patriotism and the reciprocity of liberal and generous sentiment which prevailed among persons, as they were composed of different creeds and countries.”

The report went on to quote the speeches and the toasts, no fewer than 13 regular toasts, and more than a dozen spontaneous ones from as many guests. After so many toasts I am sure the newspaper was correct is reporting that it was “impossible to describe the flow of patriotism and the reciprocity.”

Judge Nicholas Read presided over the celebration, with a speech about his native country and his allegiance to his new country. After toasts to God, St. Patrick, Ireland, the United States, and the President, they went on to toast the merchants and farmers of Greece, the enterprising citizens of modern Greece, and the sons of St. Patrick that live in Greece.

Then the toasts with an Irish flair began: From G. Moore “May the oppressors of Ireland never enjoy the pleasure of kissing the pretty girls of it.” From Henry Benton, “God’s last best gift to man. With them we have a paradise on earth, without them, man’s life is but a blank. From John Maxon, “May the abilities of our Irish friends keep pace with their hospitable intentions.” From Thomas Gleason, “May the sun never rise on the throne of a tyrant, nor set on the cottage of a slave.” And from Cpt Barnes, “May the sons of Erin who have met on this side of the Atlantic to commemo­ rate the birthday of their Patron Saint, never suffer the oppression which grinds their brethren at home.”

To some people, many of the toasts could be appropriate today: From James O’Maley, “May all religious discord cease throughout the known world.” From Patrick Beaty, “May the hand of friendship be ever extended to the exiles who seek refuge on our shores.” And from Mr. Blackwell “May the sordid and ambitions motives of any sect or party never predominate in these Unites States, nor sully our republican institutions by a union of church and state.”

The toasts and sentiments went on throughout the evening, and even though the drinks must have been flowing, goodwill prevailed.

This article is a condensed version of a story that originally appeared in the Greece Post on March 16, 2006.

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Greece “Roadhouse”

A Roadhouse (United States, Australia) or stopping house (Canada) according to a recent dictionary is Roadhouse: a tavern or inn along a country road, as in the 1920s.

John Frank Maier was born and grew up along with his siblings on Hague St. in Dutch (Deutsch) town. Both his parents were immigrants from Germany. His father, Wenzel, was employed by a local brewery but also was involved in a local Rochester restaurant. During the summer season, young John F. worked for the Beatty family at the Island Cottage Hotel.

He became familiar with the western area not too far from the Island Cottage Hotel. John was just 19 years old in 1919 and eager to own some property in the area of Dewey Avenue and Latta Road. Farmlands spread out in all directions. John purchased a large plot of land at the northeast corner of Dewey and Latta Roads. Within a few months, a low white building appeared at the corner with MAIERS name above the row of front windows. John was in the hot dog and sandwich business. This business prospered just as the automobile was becoming more available.

Thanks to Henry Ford and the Dodge Brothers the price of cars gradually came down and were more reliable. The wage earner and his family could now journey to the Lake or take an afternoon trip all the way to Hilton on improved gravel or stone main roads. On the return trip, the hungry family spotted Maier’s ‘hotdogs, sandwiches, cold drinks’ sign. “Can we stop there, Pop?”, went up the cry. Stop they did and enjoyed Maier’s “eats”!

Fast forward a few years to 1923. John is recently married to Olive Hager and they are looking for a home close to the hot dog stand. It’s at that point they decide, why not build a roadhouse and live on the second floor? The main floor would be a full-service restaurant. Much to the surprise of the local farmers a full two-and-a-half-story building appeared in front of the hot dog stand, which, after a bit, became a two-car garage.

Neon signs were just becoming vogue, so up went a nice sign on the top of the building advertising Maier’s Restaurant. The second floor had several bedrooms that could be rented out to boarders. Through the years, family members in need of temporary housing were always welcomed.

Prohibition, the 18th Amendment, and the Volstead Act became law in January 1920 so there was no bar built in the restaurant. But there was a small bar in the basement where liquid refreshments could be had by select patrons, friendly politicians, and the local constabulary who might wish to wet their whistle!

A great story related to me by one of John F.’s grandchildren was about three “occasional Rum Runners”. The occasional runners were all women! John’s wife Olive, her sister, Midge, married to John’s brother, George, and a friend from Island Cottage Hotel would take an inboard motorboat, on a calm day, from Island Cottage to across the Canadian line into Canada. They loaded the boat with good Canadian liquor and scoot back to Island Cottage. The border patrol never stopped them. The three women were just out for a pleasure cruise! Women don’t smuggle booze????

The depression was full-blown by 1933, the year Prohibition was repealed. John quickly closed the basement liquid refreshment bar. Remodeling of the first floor was in order. The kitchen was enlarged and moved to a new addition on the buildings rear. The former kitchen became the new Bar with entrances from the outside and from the Dining room. A small combo group, pianist, or accordionist performed in the dining room, and those who wished danced in a modest area near the music.

Other small changes occurred as time went along. After WWII, the Bar was again given a facelift with new bar chairs, and a Juke Box was added. The main kitchen staff for many years were Jim Davis and Eddie Surridge. The wait staff changed through the years with members of the family, young and old, pitching in to help.

In fact, the Maier Restaurant was the hub of most family special occasions and every holiday. That gradually diminished after Olive’s passing in 1958 and then John’s in 1965. The family gathered for the last full-service dinner in August 1968.

The bar limped along alone for a couple more years. A petroleum company made an offer to buy the land for a gas station. It was accepted, but all the buildings would be demolished. By chance, a Mr. Wagner heard about that and mentioned his interest in buying the main building. It was agreed he would buy the building, sans the one-story kitchen, for one dollar, then move the building to another location at his expense. There was just one problem. The new location was north of the Lake Ontario State Parkway and the underpass was too low for the building to pass through. The moving company solved the problem by going up the down ramp, over and down the up ramp to its new location on Kirkwood Rd. John’s “Roadhouse” was saved and has been a single house ever since. John F. and Olive Maier would have been quite happy…

A grateful THANKS to John Maier III for sharing with the Greece Historical Society the photocopies of his grandfather’s restaurant and other family photos, as well as his help in sharing many family memories of the restaurant operation. Without John, this article could not have been written.

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“Apples, Pine Trees and Boxing Gloves!”

We’ve explained apples and pine trees…… What about boxing gloves…?

Mr. Edward Sturm had once been in the furniture business on Joseph Ave. and knew well how to greet custom­ ers and run a successful retail venture. The tavern business was a bit different, but Edward slowly built the Pine Tree Inn into a profitable enterprise. Ridge Road West would become completely paved (two lanes) from Lake Ave. to Man­itou Road, the town of Greece line, and beyond. Yet, with all its popularity, Sturm decided to put the Inn up for sale in the fall of 1928.

A strapping, young, and gregarious fellow by the name of Clement Versluy, who had immigrated here with his family to the United States in 1914, bought the Pine Tree Inn in December of 1928. Despite the depression of the 1930s and prohibition until 1933 (he was cited and fined several times for having illegal spirits on site), the Inn soon became one of the most popular eateries along the greatly improved West Ridge Rd.

Clement Versluy, having dropped his Belgian name, was now calling himself, MIKE CONROY – “the boxer! Mike’s professional boxing career had its start in the spring of 1920 with his first fight in Rochester. Boxing was second to baseball in popularity during the 1920s-1950s. He was named one of the heavyweight contenders of Western New York in the early ’20s.

With Mike and his wife Alice as congenial hosts, “Mikes Pine Tree Inn” became one of the most favored spots on the west side of Monroe County. The walls of the barroom were covered with framed, autographed boxing greats and other local and national luminaries Mike had befriended. The Inn was enlarged and updated in 1948 and now had a capacity to serve 300 people in the dining room and 100 more in the “tap room”! There was also space for a band­ stand and a dance floor. Boxing legends from around the country often held gatherings at Mike’s place.

The Democrat and Chronicle on Nov. 11, 1953 headline on the sports page read: “Mike Conroy to Quit Business, To See Sights with Alice”. Their plan was to lease the business for a period of ten years so he and his wife, Alice, could travel.

Mike Conroy formerly known as (Clement Versluy)

The business was leased to Shale (Sol) Gans. Shale had been in the restaurant business on Brown St. for many years. Mike and Alice traveled to Europe, Cuba, and Mexico. Within a few years, the lease led to a sale to Gans. Shale took lit­tle time in a complete redecoration of the venerable Inn with new drapes, wallpaper & carpet, soft lighting, and over­ head stars above the dance floor. Gone were Conroy’s photo collection of boxers and notable personages. Shales was a bowling fan, sponsoring several leagues. The name was now SHALE’S and in small print for a while, “Formerly Mike Conroy’s’.

Mike and Alice enjoyed their retirement years, still traveling and visiting old friends until Mike’s health declined. Mike was “on the ropes and would soon be counted out” as longtime friend and columnist Henry Clune said in his col­umn. When Mike Conroy (nee Clement Versluy) passed in July 1964, Clune said about his friend: “a big, blustering, immensely good-natured man, who loved life and the hard sport of professional boxing” “Mike died the other day, and another colorful character departed the Rochester scene.”

As a post-script to this tale, Mike was lucky he never saw the final chapter to his once beloved Pine Tree Inn.

Shale Gans filed bankruptcy in 1964 and The County of Monroe seized the property at 1225 Ridge Rd. for back taxes. That is the end of “Apples, Pine Trees & Boxing Gloves” plus a few nicked bowling pins!

You can see Mike Conroy’s overall Boxing Stats on the Bicentennial Snapshot episode # 45 Speakeasies and on that page, it has links to BoxRec.com and link to his most common opponent the “Battling Jack Dempsey” (Henry Peaks).

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