Eighty Years Later- Camp Sawyer’s Well

In the February Corinthian, I wrote a short story, “The Stories That Find You – Camp Sawyer’s The Well”, about a well and its pump that Boy Scout Troop 14 (from a 2018 article called A Civic Club’s Legacy,) from Barnard School used at Camp Sawyer in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In the story, I wondered if the remains of the well and pump were still there. The Boy Scouts abandoned using the site in the 1950s and the Town dedicated the area as Sawyer Park in 1970.

Boy Scout Troop 14 at Camp Sawyer cabin in 1943.
Boy Scout Troop 14 at Camp Sawyer Cabin in 1943.

After reading my story, Gil (Gilbert) Holts offered to help find the campsite and possibly the remains of the well. He is the man who gave us the photo of the Boy Scouts and who is in the photo of the group standing at their cabin in 1943.

Gil Holts (Left) Bill Sauers(Right) standing over the Troop 14's well at (Camp) Sawyer now Sawyer Park
Gil Holts (Left) Bill Sauers(Right) standing over the Troop 14’s well at (Camp) Sawyer now Sawyer Park August 2023

In early August, Gil and I met at Sawyer Park. Nearly 80 years have passed since he was a Boy Scout and invasive plants, mother nature, and human development have severely changed the natural landscape of this 16-acre park. Needless to say, finding the old campsite proved more difficult than anyone thought. To my surprise after more than an hour, we did find the site and the long-abandoned tile-lined well.

It was such a pleasure to listen to Gil reminisce about the scout camp he spent so much time at many years ago. He talked about swimming in the creek, playing ball where the parking lot is now, and planting the very small pine seedlings that are now nearly 100 feet tall. I was especially excited to find evidence of the campsite and verify the stories I had read about Camp Sawyer.

Clay tile lined well and pump base.
Clay tile lined well and pump base.

The well is now covered again and camouflaged, and we will let it stay buried for now knowing that a piece of history from Boy Scout Troop 14 and their Camp Sawyer still survives in the Town of Greece.

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They Gave Their Talent for the Benefit of the Community

Deep in the back of a rather large yard at Paddy Hill, hidden among the weeds and overgrown brush, is what appears to be the foundation of an old structure. Adolescents finding this structure could easily imagine themselves as an explorer discovering the ruins of an ancient civilization. A less imaginative adult might see the remains of a long-forgotten barn.

foundation to a structure that was home to the Paddy Hill Players
“THE HIDDEN FOUNDATION”

Neither a lost civilization, nor an old barn, the crumbling structure is what remains of a forgotten story in the history of the Town of Greece, a story of a community-supported theatrical group whose trophy case once contained countless awards for their outstanding contributions in the entertainment field.

The Cat and the Canary
The “Cat and the Canary” was one of their first. The Paddy Hill Players produced over 50 plays between 1931 and 1949.

It was during the early part of the last century that a group of neighbors from the Paddy Hill area got together for the purpose of entertaining themselves by putting on plays. When the new School 5 was completed in 1931, there was a need for new equipment. The president of the school’s PTA asked a young and talented Walter Whelehan to put on a play to raise money for the project, which he did, directing a successful play with those amateur actors from the neighborhood.

The play was so successful that the group was invited to a statewide contest, sponsored by Cornell University. They went on to win the contest and for the next two decades, they were the premier amateur theatrical group in this area.

Mr. Whelehan became the president and the theatrical director of the group. He was also an accomplished actor, starring in many of the plays he directed. Proceeds from their melodramas, mysteries, and comedies helped dozens of community organizations.

With no theater of their own, their plays were produced at area schools, and a few times in the late 1930s they were featured at the Auditorium Theater in downtown Rochester, receiving accolades from both the Democrat & Chronicle and the Times-Union. By 1940, they had more than 76 productions to their credit.

The group’s headquarters was a cabin or what they called a “shanty” on the Whelehan family farm. After the war, this successful and philanthropic group had a dream of building and owning their own theater. In 1946 they incorporated and in 1947 with the help of a community fund drive, purchased seven acres of the Whelehan farm.

The “Shanty”
A house with trees around it
The “Shanty”
The unfinished theater
The unfinished theater

Construction of the theater began in 1948, but near its completion, the project and the group lost its momentum. We may never know why, but the theater was never finished. The group eventually disbanded and went their separate ways. In 1955, The Democrat & Chronicle reported that the group was inactive and still waiting for their theater to be completed. In 1957, the land was sold back to the Whelehan estate, ending forever their dream. Soon new suburban neighborhood streets would all but bury the old farms and orchards of the area and the remains of that unfinished theater.

That foundation, hidden among the weeds and overgrown brush, is what remains of their unfinished dream, but it is also a hidden monument to a group of people who gave their talents for the benefit of the community. They were the Paddy Hill Players.

NOTE: This is a condensed and edited version of a story that appeared in the Greece Post, on July 13, 2006

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The Stories That Find You – Camp Sawyer’s The Well

Every historian knows that while researching a specific subject, it is not unusual to stumble on a completely unrelated subject that sparks your interest. One day, not that long ago, while looking for an obscure fact for a story I was helping someone with, I stumbled on a 1937 Greece Press article about Camp Sawyer.

I had written about Camp Sawyer some years ago (Sept. 2018 Corinthian) called A Civic Club’s Legacy, how in the early 1930s it became a camp for Boy Scout Troop 14 from Barnard School. In 1958 the Town of Greece acquired the camp with the provision that it would become a public park. And in 1970 it was opened as Sawyer Park.

What sparked my interest in that 1937 article, was a story about a well being dug by the scouts and their leaders, that hopefully would someday provide a dependable supply of water for their camp. The article stated that the project was running into problems because of a layer of red sandstone and that Empire Clay Products would be donating glazed tile to be used to line the well once completed.

After reading the article, I remembered a photo of Camp Sawyer given to the Greece Historical Society by Gilbert Holtz several years ago. The photo, dated 1943, shows the scouts standing in front of a cabin they had built. What I had never noticed before is a pump in front of the boys. A reasonable assumption can now be made that the boys did in fact finish their well.

I never did find that original piece of information I was looking for and now I am left with several questions that may never be answered about Sawyer Park: Are the remains of that tile lined well still there and where exactly would they be? The land stood unused for several years before the Town officially opened it as a park and there have been numerous changes and upgrades since. Maybe someday, some archaeologist or amateur explorer will find the remains of that long-forgotten well and wonder about its original use. In the meantime, I need to get back to that original research task.

Well, it turns out there is an update to this story and it is thanks to Gil Holts who was a member of Boy Scout Troup 14 and camped at Camp Sawyer.

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Paddy Hill School

Every year or so, with shifts in population, there seems to be changes where our children go to school, but change has been going on since children have been attending school. One hundred years ago, most Greece children attended one-room schools in one of more than a dozen individual school districts. As times changed, new schools were built, old ones closed, and school districts merged. High school students even attended City high schools. It wasn’t until 1961 that Greece graduated its first high school class. All the while there has been one constant, a public elementary school has been at that intersection at Latta Road and Mt. Read Boulevard for 183 years.

Common School District #5
Common School District #5

In 1839 Bernard and Mary O’Neil, the owners of a large tract of land, at the Northwest corner of what would become Mt. Read Blvd. and Latta Road, sold one-eighth of an acre of their land to Common School District Number Five for $50.00.

A small school was soon built and used for nearly 90 years, until 1930 when a modern brick school building was built across the street. That brick building was demolished in 2021. It is said that the one-room school building was then moved down the road and became a private home of the first chief of police Milton Carter, but the school district remained the owner of the small one-eighth acre.

The remainder of the O’Neal property was purchased by Patrick and Margaret Rigney in 1850 and eventually owned by their only daughter Mary. In 1944 the land was transferred to the Diocese of Rochester, then to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery Corporation who had plans for a new cemetery. This action resulted in a three-year legal battle between the Town of Greece, and the Diocese. After several court battles, a final State Supreme court decision ruled in favor of the Town, leaving Holy Sepulchre no choice but to sell the land. You can read summary about the cases of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Board of Appeals and Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Town of Greece at casetext.com

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Board of Appeals, 271 App. Div. 33, 60 N.Y.S.2d 750 (N.Y. App. Div. 1946)

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Town of Greece, 191 Misc. 241, 79 N.Y.S.2d 683 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1947)

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Town of Greece, 273 App. Div. 942 (N.Y. App. Div. 1948)

In 1948, Harmon Poray purchased most of the O’Neal-Rigney land from Holy Sepulchre, and shortly after Joan and Robert Feeney purchased the original farmhouse. By the early 1950s, Greece was becoming the fastest-growing town in New York and the need for a new school was evident. In 1954 Poray sold a large portion of the land to the Union Free School District #5 and in 1955 sold the remainder of the land to Latta Real Estate Corp. Within two years Picturesque Drive was being laid out in what would soon be a sprawling sub-division and a new school, now called Paddy Hill School would open in Sept 1956 on the very corner that its predecessor, School #5, was built in 1836. In 1956, the Greece Central School District was organized with the merging of districts 2, 5, 15, and 17.

Over the years the present Paddy Hill School has expanded to meet the needs of a growing neighborhood. But we can safely say that Paddy Hill School is the oldest school in Greece and possibly Monroe County.

In 2014, as a gift to the school, the Greece Historical Society secured a grant from the William C. Pomeroy Foundation for a historical marker commemorating the history of the school. That marker sits on that original 1839 land purchase.

Learn more about the William C. Pomeroy Foundation does by going to https://www.wgpfoundation.org/

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The Dutch Mill – A Community Gathering Place

The Dutch Mill – April 17, 2022

Every community or neighborhood has a gathering place. Over time many come and go, they may change hands or change their name, but eventually something happens and the old place becomes nothing but a memory to the local old timers. Then there are places like the Dutch Mill at Dewey and Stone Roads that seem like they were always there and always will be, but maybe not!

Back in 1928 Leon Cox, who helped organize the Barnard Fire Department, and his wife, Bertha, opened a hotdog stand. Leon constructed a windmill to use as an ornament on the stand. Bertha thought Old Mill would be a good name for their business while Leon suggested Dutch Mill. Drawing straws resulted in Leon’s choice and the Dutch Mill opened with the windmill on top of the small building.

Leon Cox
Leon Cox

In 1932, with the end of Prohibition, the Coxes added a bar to sell beer and liquor. Then came a $10,000 addition. Eventually the place was sold to Donald Hall, Thomas Brierly Sr. and Thomas Brierly Jr. The trio made extensive improvements. Next, the curved front of the building was added which was designed to provide a glass windowed private banquet hall on the second floor, although that part of the second floor appears to have never been used. The main floor was altered to include a distinctive bar from the famous, now demolished, Odenbach Peacock Room from Main and Clinton in downtown Rochester. In 1947, they changed the name to the NEW Dutch Mill. Saturday afternoon movies were added and in 1948 it was advertised as the nation’s first Cinema Restaurant. Bands played for dancing in the evenings.

In 1984, Chester and Sharon Ventura bought the restaurant and remodeled it; the name went back to just the Dutch Mill. In 2016, Ann Marie and Bob Simmons took over the operation. The Simmons immediately became involved in the community by offering fundraising opportunities and participating in community events. They brought in new bands, started an open mic night, and with their big-screen television, drew packed crowds during major sporting events.

Over the years the Dutch Mill was our town’s gathering or meeting place. Nearly every organization held their meetings and banquets there. Clam bakes, dance lessons, and euchre clubs regularly met there and countless wedding receptions took place on the second floor. All the while, the old windmill, although now a bit tattered, stood atop the building.

This past spring, we were saddened to learn that the Dutch Mill was sold to the plaza owners next door. On Saturday, April 16, 2022, the Simmons served their last customers, then closed and locked the doors. Currently, there has been no announcement about the future of the old place. It is not a designated landmark, so the new owners can do whatever zoning laws allow. We can only surmise its future.

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How Did the Term HOJACK Come to Be?

Established to serve the communities along the shore of Lake Ontario, a rail line founded in 1871 was active for nearly 100 years. Over the years the line was operated by several different rail companies and was officially known as the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad, but everyone called it the “Hojack.”

With no documentation, local stories and legends emerged over the years. Like the old game “telephone,” stories changed as they passed from person to person or in this case generation to generation. Because of this, we may never know the true origin of why this rail line is called “Hojack.” For the enjoyment of our readers here are several versions of the “true story.”

Hojack originated from an engineer named Jack Welch who was also called “Big Jack.” Since Jack was a farmer and more familiar with horses than locomotives, when he stopped the train, he would say “Whoa, Jack.” This became Hojack over time.

William Aeberli sketch of the old North Greece Road Hojack station
William Aeberli sketch of the old North Greece Road Hojack station

Another story comes from the early days of the railroad when a farmer driving his buckboard pulled by a mule was caught on the crossing at train time. When the mule was halfway across the tracks, it stopped. The train was approaching, and the farmer began shouting, “Ho Jack, Ho Jack.”

Local author Arch Merrill noted the nickname stems from a similar popular mule story where a farmer’s mules. balking and bucking at the sight of a steam train, stood on the rails, causing the train to stop. The farmer called “Ho, Jack. Ho Jack,” to heel the mules and move them from the track and the name stuck.

Richard Palmer, a railroad historian, proposes that the term applies to a slow local passenger freight train.

Yet another story written on July 22, 1965, in Greece Press states, “This line [was] nicknamed “The Hojack” when it was necessary to hurriedly assemble a train crew in the wee hours of the night; the call “Ho Jack!” would boom through the rooming houses where railroad men stayed.”

Other stories state that vagrants riding the rails were classified by railroad men into three categories – the hobos, the tramps, and the hojacks, each one having a different personality.

Which of these stories do you believe or have you heard another version?

On a final note, it was reported in a 1906 Syracuse Post-Standard article that the railroad prohibited its employees from using the word “hojack.” Apparently, the railroad’s decree did no good because the old rail line will forever be called the “HOJACK.”

NOTE: More information on the Hojack Line can be found in the book The Hojack Line Remembered by Richard Chait available in our museum gift shop or through the Monroe County Public Library system.

The Hojack Line Remembered by Richard Chait
The Hojack Line Remembered by Richard Chait

Also you can look at the 2016 Hojack Trail Feasibility Study by Burton & Loguidice.

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The Ridgeway Air Park

For years during the 20th century, many communities in our area had their own airports ranging from grassy fields to paved run­ ways with hangers to store airplanes. Hilton had the Hilton Airport on Burritt Road. The Brizee airport in Pittsford was on Marsh Road. In Henrietta, there was the Hylan Airport and the short-lived Genesee Airfield. Woodward Field was well-known in Leroy; even Honeoye Falls had a small airfield. Let’s not forget the very early Britton Field on Scottsville Road organized by former Greece Supervisor Willis Britton.

What about the Town of Greece? Our first known airfield was run by WW I Ace, Roy DeVal, located in the Shoremont area in 1927. It had one of the first hangers in Monroe County. During the 1960s and 70s, the Greenleaf Flying Club had a private field on Kuhn Road. Of course, there were other landing areas on private farmland.

The largest and most infamous in the Town of Greece was located at the Southeast corner of Ridgeway Avenue and Lee Roads.

Shortly after WW II, Richard (Dick) Kaiser opened Ridgeway Air Park. At the time many veteran pilots

were looking for a place to store their planes or just a convenient field to land and rest, and this seemed to be an ideal spot. The place had a small hangar and at one time 16 private planes were quartered there.

But by the summer of 1947, neighbors began to complain about the low-flying planes over their homes. In July The Greece Press reported that the Town Board received petitions from the residents of the Latona Tract and Koda Vista neighborhood, citing flights allegedly created by the airpark that were “detrimental to the physical and mental health of the residents, especially children.” They wanted the place closed down.

Kaiser claimed that Ridgeway fliers were getting blamed unfairly for the low-flying acrobatics, but eventually did change the flight patterns of the planes flying in and out of the air park. This seemed to have calmed down the nearby residents.

However, a tragic accident occurred in October of 1947 when an Army Air Corps veteran flew too low while coming in for a landing and crashed into the Erie Canal embankment just north of the landing field killing himself and an 18-year-old passenger.

In June of 1948, a social organization, the Greece Aero Club, was formed at the airpark, and in August of ’48, Jim Earl, also an Army veteran, took over ownership of the place. But soon news reports about the airpark vanished.

Dick Kaiser and his wife, June, eventually moved to Utah. By 1956 Kiser’s wife, also a pilot, was flying in (I kid you not)a “Power Puff Derby” in Salt Lake City and Dick was employed by a company in Utah.

We are not sure when or what exactly ultimately ended the life of this airfield. There were reports of young boys using the “old field” for radio-controlled planes in 1955. Industrial expansion eventually took over the airfield land, forever covering any evi­dence of it ever having existed. Now, three-quarters of a century has all but eliminated hearing personal stories of the Ridgeway Air Park.

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Greece Demanded Decency- No Topless Bathing!

“Your Bathing Suit Must be Right Kind in Greece or You’ll Visit the Judge

This was a headline in an August 1934 issue of the Greece Press newspaper. Of course, it was about modesty, but you may not have guessed it was directed towards men.

It seems in the early 1930s, men were beginning to follow the new fashion trend of sunning themselves without the benefit of a shirt top. Greece authorities were determined to officially end this custom and return dignity to public bathing by enforcing a bathing ordinance that had been enacted a year earlier.

Man with proper bathing suit in 1935 (Sauers family album)

The ordnance stated,

”No person over the age of 12 shall loiter on the shore, swim or bath in open water exposed to the public within or bounding at any place in the Town of Greece without covering above the waist”

Section 141-C sub-section 2 from Greece Town Law in 1933

Public beaches adjacent to Greece were being patrolled regularly. Enacted primarily to end instances where the public was sub­jected to shocking scenes of topless men, people were learning that Town government demanded dignity and decency in the gentle art of public bathing.

Greece was not the only local municipality concerned about decency. Earlier in June 1934, the Democrat & Chronicle reported that the City of Rochester Public Safety Commissioner, Walter Cox, stated “the topless bathing suits for men that arein vogue on the West Coast, will not be permitted on Rochester public beaches.”

Milton Carter
Milton Carter

One wonders how long this ordinance stayed on the books. In 1937, the Greece Press reported that Chief Carter was still stressing the enforcement of the bathing ordinance, but after 1937 no mention is ever seen again.

Apparently, the topless fashion took hold and today the only reference to bathing in the Town Code refers to the restriction of bathing in certain areas.

1933 Greece Town Law

Section 141-C

Section 2. No person over twelve years of age shall loiter on the shore, swim or bathe in open water exposed to the pub­lic, within or bounding at any place the Town of Greece, with­ out covering above the waist.

Section 3. No person shall swim or bathe in open water, exposed to the public, within or bounding at any place in the Town of Greece, between the hours of 12 P. M. and 5 A. M.

Section 4. Violation of this· ordinance is hereby declared to be a misdemeanor and shall be punishable by a fine or penalty of $10.00 for the first violation and $20.00 or imprisonment for not exceeding thirty days, or both, for each subsequence violation.
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Briarcliff Club Memories

Ration coupons, victory gardens, salvage drives, saving cooking fat, “buy bonds today.” All familiar words to a home front generation during World War II. Unlike our wars since, World War II affected every single person in this country, and no matter what your occupation or financial status, everyone had to deal with rationing. Rationed items included basic commodities like sugar and butter, but nothing affected the lives of people in the suburbs more than gas rationing.

People would complain a little when there was no sugar, but they knew it was for a good cause. But lack of gasoline meant a complete change in lifestyle. Suburban towns like Greece had no parks, and no major stores, even a Sunday drive in the country was out of the question. In fact, for a while, any pleasure driving was banned.

Soon one neighborhood in the Town of Greece decided that if the gasoline shortage wouldn’t permit driving around the country for fun, it was high time the neighbors got acquainted and figured out what to do about it.

In January 1943, this group held their first meeting; about 27 couples comprised the group which tentatively called itself the “Briarcliff Club” as most members lived on Briarcliff Road. A monthly meeting was agreed on and plans dis­ cussed for various kinds of outings and entertainment.

A two-hour sleigh ride was the group’s first social activity; the Greece Press reported that “the merrymakers startled the countryside ringing with Sweet Adeline and progressed through a long repertoire of other classical and modern melodies.” They ended their day with a fish fry at the Barnard Exempts.

Throughout the next year, they planted a “Victory Garden at the Barnard Except Home, participated in bowling parties, had neighborhood picnics, held a street dance and a clam bake, and sometimes traveled in a group to a county park. A Christmas party was held at the Valleywood Club on nearby Boxart Street and, at Christmas, Santa himself visited all the children on the street and shared Christmas cheer with each of the adults. Stories were told for years after that Santa was quite a bit jollier toward the end of his journey down the street than at the beginning.

An August 1943 softball game against the Strathmore Drive Athletic Club resulted in a loss. No one will ever know for sure, but several of the Red Wing team members lived on Strath­more Drive, which may have helped that team win.

It wasn’t until March of 1944 that they had to hold a party in honor of the first member of the group to leave for the armed forces.

It didn’t take long for the group to discover they couldn’t find any better company if they drove for miles and used tanks full of Uncle Sam’s precious gasoline. In August 1945, a sausage roast and street dance were held, but the War was over by then and the reason for the Briarcliff Club, gas rationing, had ended. Soon some of the neighbors moved away, others began to relish the freedom a family could enjoy with their automobiles. The Briarcliff Club just faded away, but not the memories and the stories told to their children of how they made the best of their situation during the War. What stories are you telling your children today?

Bill Sauers grew up on Briarcliff Rd long after the Briarcliff Club ceased to exist but remembered the stories about the club told by his parents and neighbors.

Originally published in the Greece Post Nov 8, 2007

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Leaving a Message for the Future

John J. Walsh
Greece Press
1939

It is quite common here at the Greece Historical Society to receive a phone call or email asking a local history or family-related question, which we are always happy to help with. We also get calls about donating some precious antiques, family heirlooms, or other objects. With storage space at a premium and keep­ ing in mind the cost of caring for these items, we insist that any object or document we acquire will help to tell the story of Greece.

Then there is that odd call that just does not fit into any category. Last summer someone called who was remodeling their home in Greece and wanted to know if we were interested in what they found inside one of its walls. My curiosity got to me and off I went to see what they had. It was a small handwrit­ten note and some old deteriorated 1938 newspapers. Old newspapers are fun to look at, but of no real value, as they are nearly all available online, or on microfilm, but the handwritten note sent me on a quest to find out who it was that hid these items in the wall.

The note read:

“These papers were put in this wall by John J. Walsh who built this house and this year 1938 I am 47 years old and am employed as a printer and run a linotype on the Times-Union, and the Democrat & Chronicle are printed in the same building. Not knowing when these papers will be taken out of this wall, I wish the papers be shown at the Times to members of the Typographical Union men.”

John J. Walsh

With my connections in town, I did find one man who remembered John at the paper, but he was a very young Times-Union employee at the time and John was on his way to retirement, so he was no help.

Then I was off to search the website, NYS Historic Newspapers, with its treasure trove of old local papers. I found that John J. Walsh grew up in the City and moved to Greece in 1937 with his wife Julia and two daughters. He was a member of the Inter­ national Typographical Union No. 15 and as his note said, he was employed at the Times-Union.

John was highly active in the Greece Democratic Party, including serving as its chairman for a number of years. He even ran against Gordon Howe for Supervisor in 1939 and for Justice of the Peace in 1943. According to newspaper accounts, he spent quite a bit of time vociferously attacking the Republican majority in Town but still cooperated with them in promoting the sale of war bonds.

In 1944 he was recognized for his contributions to a military club that was operating a service center. He was active in St. John the Evangelist Church and on the committee to raise funds for their new school in 1946, while also serving on the Rochester OPA (Office of Price Administration) Control Board. John died of a heart attack on August 23, 1952, and was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Unfortunately, I was not able to share his old newspapers with the guys at the Times-Union. I am sure John would never have imagined that the Times-Union would stop publishing in 1997 and the profession of linotype operator would vanish with the advent of computers. l was, however, able to find stories about his life here in Greece because of the advent of computers. Af­ter finding out who John J. Walsh was, I visited his grave; l felt the need to let him know that someone did eventually find his note and those old newspapers some 82 years after he hid them in that wall.

Today there is truly little in newspapers that record the stories of local events or people. This is one reason why the NYS Education Department at the NYS Library has organized the COVID-19 Personal History Initiative to record and preserve the unprece­ dented historical events currently unfolding around us. They encourage all New Yorkers to keep a journal documenting what their daily lives are like during this pandemic: the challenges they face; the obstacles they have to overcome; and the creative ways they found to connect with family, friends, and community.

Consider documenting your story and donating it to the Greece Historical Society or any other historical society or municipal historian where it will be archived locally with copies sent to the State Library, which will preserve all the journals and stories from New York State for future generations to study and learn from.

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Rotobowling Never Quite Caught on in Greece

In the late 1940s, as bowling was becoming more popular, the residents of Greece had several choices of where to bowl, including Boem’s on Edgemere Drive and the Charlotte bowling hall on Stutson Street. Along the Ridge, there was the Lyon’s Den, Damm Brothers, and Ridge Bowling, but with no AC and the dependence on pin boys, they were not what anyone to­ day would call truly modern. The first truly “modern” bowling hall in the Town of Greece was first proposed by the Fasano fam­ily. Their plan would not only bring a modern bowling hall to the town, but at the same time introduce a new game that might revolutionize the bowling industry.

In 1946, Michael Fasano and his sons, Ernest and Donato, purchased the Lee property at the intersection of Dewey Avenue, Maiden Lane, and Stone Road and within a year proposed building a “Huge” Shopping Plaza which would include a 24-alley bowling hall. The facility would not be the standard bowling game, however, but a new revolutionary game called Rotobowl­ing.

First patented by Orville Whittle of Florida and being franchised around the country, it was unlike regulation bowling. The game used a 94-foot carpeted alley with lights along the edge, rubber cushion banks on each side, and hazard pins suspended over the courts. The balls were propelled down the alley with a device that looked similar to an upright vacuum cleaner. The game was dependent upon a player’s ability to bank shots rather than on physical ability. Scoring combined the total number of pins downed and the number of times the ball was banked.

It seems the Fasinos had some trouble explaining the game to the Town leaders who had the mistaken impression that it was a gambling game with an elaborate pay-off device.

Gambling of any kind, including bingo, was illegal in New York State at the time. There was also the fear that the bar in the facility would be too close to Barnard School. By the time things were worked out with the Town, the Fasinos began to realize there was no future in the game. They probably discovered that people were not amused with a noiseless game that took no physical effort.

The Fasinos then looked for other opportunities and in 1954 opened their plaza with a new modern Loblaw’s grocery, Cramer’s Drug Store, and several other stores, including a restaurant with a bar. We can wonder if the Fasano’s realized that as they opened their plaza, bowling was in fact, being revolutionized. Down the road a mile and a half, Sam Mink at his Ridge Bowling Hall was introducing the Rochester area public to the AMF “pin spotter”, the first automatic pin setting machine, the single most revolutionary item in bowling history.

Modern bowling halls would eventually come to Greece, but not without a struggle. In 1956 Schantz Construction proposed a bowling hall opposite the new Northgate plaza and in 1957 a hall was proposed at McCall and Stone Roads on the Frear Estate. They were both opposed by neighbors and the Town. But soon Dewey Gardens and nearby Terrace Gardens were opened, followed by Maiden Lanes in 1960.

History has all but forgotten the Rotobowling game, and the Fasino’s proposed plan. Luckily for the Fasinos, they realized the public didn’t want to play their game and gave up their Rotobowling franchise before construction began. They did build a plaza, and although the tenants changed throughout the years, the plaza itself lasted nearly a half-century.

This is a condensed version of a story that first appeared in the November 9, 2006, Greece Post

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History of Historical Roadside Markers in Greece

Roadside historic markers are our windows to the past. They educate us, they make us curious to investigate, or they provide a nice excuse to take a break and stretch our legs while we read what happened here.

These markers tell about historic events and locations and provide the public with knowledge about our history. In New York State they were first created to commemorate the American Revolution.

Although no longer funded by the State, historic markers are still being installed throughout New York State by indi­viduals, town and county governments, historical organizations, and individuals. Historic markers have become a ma­jor way to inform the public and tourists about local history.

There are thousands of “official” New York State markers around the State. They were recommended by Town Histori­ans. Because the Town of Greece did not have a historian until the mid-1940s, there are no State markers in Greece. The County of Monroe did initiate a program for a short time in the 1960s resulting in four County markers in Greece. Nearly a quarter century went by before the Canal Society installed another new one at Henpeck Park.

Nearly two decades passed until 2011 when the Town installed the Northgate marker funded by Walmart. In 2014 the Greece Historical Society learned about the William Pomeroy Foundation which would fund the purchase of a marker if the information were well documented. This resulted in the first Pomeroy- funded sign in Greece noting the history of Paddy Hill School which was the Society’s gift to the School.

Since that time, the Town has received two Pomeroy grants for markers: for the Odenbach Shipbuilding plant in 2015 and for the Revolutionary War Veteran at Peck Rd Cemetery in 2019. GHS received a Pomeroy grant for the Jean Brooks Greenleaf marker in 2018 at the Lakeshore Country Club.

As time goes by there are few physical reminders of history in our community, so take a break and stretch your legs while we read what happened here.

NOTE For a photo of each of the historical markers in Greece and all of them in Monroe County check out Dick Helsey’s website at· https://mcnygenealogy.com/pictures/2200/

One of four Pomeroy Foundation-funded markers in Greece

Walmart funded this one in 2011

One of Four Monroe County markers in the Town of Greece

Unlike many other states, New York State does not currently manage a historical marker program. Instead, local authorities are responsible for the approval, installation, and maintenance of historical markers. Anyone interested in placing or repairing a marker should thus check with appropriate county, city, town, or village historians or officials. Source https://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research-collections/state-history/resources/historicalmarkers

To learn more about the William G. Pomeroy Foundation and how the foundation is helping people celebrate their community’s history by visiting https://www.wgpfoundation.org/

HMDB.org lists

Charlotte Markers – https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?Search=Neighborhood&Neighborhood=Charlotte&FilterCountry=United%20States%20of%20America&FilterState=New%20York&FilterCounty=Monroe%20County&Town=Rochester&u=

Greece Markers – https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?Search=Town&FilterCountry=United%20States%20of%20America&FilterState=New%20York&FilterCounty=Monroe%20County&Town=Greece&u=

Historical Markers in Maplewood Historic District in Rochester, New York this one does not list Hanford Landing in their list https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?Search=Neighborhood&Neighborhood=Maplewood%20Historic%20District&FilterCountry=United%20States%20of%20America&FilterState=New%20York&FilterCounty=Monroe%20County&Town=Rochester&u=

https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?Search=Neighborhood&Neighborhood=Maplewood%20Historic%20District&FilterCountry=United%20States%20of%20America&FilterState=New%20York&FilterCounty=Monroe%20County&Town=Rochester&u=
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A Community That Saved a School

During the 1920s and ’30s Greece experienced an increase in population, especially in the Dewey-Stone area. Among that increase were very many Catholic families; so in 1926 St. Charles Borromeo School on Dewey Avenue opened with a planned enrollment of 250 students. By 1938, with some modifications, the school had eight rooms and an enrollment of 450 students.

Barnard Fire Department

On Holy Thursday 1938, the school children were sent home early to start their Easter break. Later that after­ noon, a fire alarm was turned in at 5:33 p.m. Barnard Fire Dept. was the first on the scene, soon joined by North Greece Fire Company along with Braddock’s Heights and the City of Rochester Hose Company 24. By midnight, the flames were out. All that remained of the 12-year-old school were the walls and portions of the roof. The adja­ cent church, however, was saved.

The damage was estimated to be $22,000 and although insurance would cover most of the loss of the building, where would the money come from to pay for the books, supplies, and furniture the children would need? Soon donations began to arrive.

Among the first to pledge a donation to aid the school was Simon Stein, who offered $1,000. Soon a fund-raising or­ganizational dinner was held. The chief speaker was Rabbi Philip Bernstein of Temple B’rith Kodesh who spoke about “dissolving denominational distinctions.” William Sweigle was selected campaign chairman of the group that called them­ selves “The Greece Good Will Civic Committee” and “Give the Kiddies BackTheir School” became their slogan. A campaign headquarters was set up in the Barnard School and over 250 volunteer workers started the task of raising the needed money for the school. Within 10 days $9,138 (more the $165,000 in today’s money) was raised with the expectation of more in weeks to come. According to the Greece Press, “the campaign was the first of its kind ever conducted in the Town of Greece and caused widespread com­ment throughout Western New York.”

The school was rebuilt and opened in time for the next school year with a formal dedication on Sunday, September 11th, 1938 with Bishop James Kearney officiating and Sheriff Albert Skinner cutting the ribbon.

In the years to come, the school would grow to over 1,000 students, and St. Charles Borromeo Parish for a time would become the largest in the Rochester Diocese and eventually the oldest continuously run school building in the Town of Greece. The school closed in 2008.

We should all be proud of those citizens who helped save that school. As one newspaper reported, “they were Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Republicans, and Democrats.” They were true citizens of their community. Their story may have been forgotten over the years, yet the legacy of their generosity still stands today in our community.

Now, we are left to wonder what will happen to that empty school building in the years to come.

For a complete history of the St. Charles Borromeo Parish visit https://www.stcharlesgreece.org/history

NOTE This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in the Greece Post on Feb 21, 2008.

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How Different It Might Have Been?

The fall of 1953 was a rapidly changing time for the residents of the town of Greece. The Lake Ontario State Parkway (LOSP) was under construction and contractors had all they could do to build new homes for Greece’s growing population, as 100 people a month moved into the town. According to Ray Cole, the town’s building inspector at the time, 55 new home permits were issued in September alone. Then there was the Northgate Plaza grand opening, a three-day event that drew crowds of up to 75,000. A new shopping complex today would cause little excitement, but back then it was to be the very first suburban shopping center in Monroe County.

Meanwhile, in October, a small group of town citizens would affect the future of Greece. A grassroots group, the Shoremont Association, headed by Mario Berardi of Edgemere Drive, was protesting the proposed construction of a factory at Dewey Avenue and Ling Road. It seemed that a 47-year-old local company with 800 employees was rapidly outgrowing their plant on Hollenbeck Street and other sites scattered around the City of Rochester.

The company had acquired an option on the land and was seeking a zoning change to build their proposed “campus­ type” research and production facility. The group of residents was afraid that a factory “would destroy the natural beauty of the lakeshore site, increase traffic, cause a smoke and industrial dirt nuisance and depreciate nearby proper­ ty values and those of Greece as a whole.”

A Democrat & Chronicle editorial praised the residents for their opposition to changing the towns zoning laws “that might allow the installation of a big factory in their neighborhood.” The editorial stated that “the company was one with a conscience and a sense of civic responsibility. Its officers were public-spirited, and it could be taken for granted they would not willingly ruin a great public asset”. (Indeed, the president of the company had been mayor of the City only 20 years before). ‘The citizens were wise to move rapidly in trying to repulse an effort to change the zoning laws.” Because of the residents’ protest, the company pulled out of the deal and began the search for another site.

Were the right decisions made that first week in October of 1953? Certainly, it would have changed the character of the neighborhood and we now know the site that the company had chosen would have been woefully inadequate.

Would they have soon abandoned the site when they ran out of room, leaving another empty building, such as the old Odenbach shipbuilding factory that was unoccupied for many years, or would they have continued to expand throughout the town of Greece? We will never know.

The Town of Greece certainly did prosper over the years without that factory, but so did the community that eagerly welcomed it. In 1954, Joseph C. Wilson, the president of the Haloid Co. announced his com­pany’s plans for a new complex in the town of Web­ster. Several years later in 1961, the company changed its name to Xerox.

The area as it looks today (Google Maps)

This is an edited version of a story by me that originally appeared in the Greece Post Oct 16, 2003.

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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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Proposed Community Center and Park

In June of 1929, our town of only 13,000 was growing rapidly and there were no provisions for playgrounds or rec­reation. Then W. Chandler Knapp, chairman of the Greece Planning Board, with the backing of leading residents, proposed purchasing 85 acres of land, known as Glendemere Farms, on Dewey Avenue. The land, to be used as a community center and park, was ideally suited for such a purpose, with a large barn that could be used as a community center and gym, and a building that would serve as a library, and enough land that could provide excellent facili­ ties for bridle paths and a playground. The owner had, over the past 19 years, actually developed his farm as a future park and, at age 69, was ready to sell. He had already donated some of his property to the local fire department the year before. The town council was not ready to commit to such a large endeavor at that time but would take the question up with the Monroe County Parks Commission, relative to their buying the property.”

Plat book of Monroe County, New York. Plate 33 (1924) shows you the location of George H Clark’s Property and where the proposed park would have been

In the civic planning process timing can be crucial and the summer of 1929 was definitely the wrong time. The County was in the process of acquiring land for Churchville, Mendon Ponds, and Ellison Parks, and by the time any­ one gave the Greece project any consideration is was the beginning of the Great Depression. The thought of pur­ chasing more land was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

The particular parcel of land that the Greece Planning Board was interested in was owned by George H. Clark, one of the most well-known and wealthiest individuals in Monroe County at the time. At the age of 24, he and his father purchased stock in the Eastman Dry Plate & Film Company, thereby becoming one of the original investors in what would become the Eastman Kodak Company.

Aerial view of St. Joseph’s Villa from GHS
Aerial view of St. Joseph’s Villa from GHS

Eight years after the Greece project died, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, negotiated the purchase of the farm from Mr. Clark for $25,000, forever ending any possibility of a town park and community center at that site. Although now in private hands, and developed for other purposes, the land would be used by neighborhood youth for quite some time. Ball diamonds had been laid out by its new owner, and they were open most of the time for pick-up games, the large field was excellent for Fall football, and an adjacent gully made for some of the best, although very dangerous, winter sledding in the area. For many years, long before environmental and safety rules, it was also the site of an annual community Christmas tree burning.

Barnard Fire Department Plaque photo by Bill Sauers
Barnard Fire Department Plaque photo by Bill Sauers

Most people in Greece have long forgotten the name George H. Clark, but his legacy lives on. In 1928 the Barnard Fire Department built their firehouse on the land he donated. That original firehouse still stands today, albeit with a few additions. In June of 1942 several children and nuns took a bus from the City and moved into their new home, named St. Joseph’s Villa. (now the Villa of Hope) That barn, the one George built years ago, still stands today, although the building that could have been the library is long gone due to the reconstruction and re-alignment of Dewey Avenue.

Barnard Fire District Volunteers, 1931, from the Office of the Town Historian
Barnard Fire District Volunteers, 1931, from the Office of the Town Historian

It took 77 years from that proposed community center and park at George Clark’s Glendemere Farms to the opening, in 2006, of our Greece Community and Senior Center on the Greece Town Campus. So what would we have called that community center and park in 1929? I’m sure no one will ever know, but in 1949 when Supervisor Gordon Howe announced the name of a new street connecting Dewey Avenue and Almay Road, a street that was on the land once owned by George Clark, the land that may have been our town community center and park, did he realize the irony in the street’s name, CLARK PARK?

This building might have become our Town’s community center.

This a condensed version of a story originally published in the Greece Post in 2006

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