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.

Where was the well located in the park?

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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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A Civic Club’s Legacy

The residents of the Town of Greece enjoy a variety of parks within the Town. Their features and size are certainly diverse, from the 577-acre Greece Canal Park to the 4-acre Henpeck Park.

But their history and names are just as varied. Most parks names are either derived from their location such as Braddock Bay Park or from a prominent Greece native such as Carter, Badgerow, or Basil Marella Parks. But one park, first developed for recreation in 1934, is named after a Hilton doctor.

It all began in 1924 When Dr. Sherwood Sawyer and his wife purchased a parcel of land near the intersection of Latta Road and Long Pond Road from William Hogan. Dr. Sawyer had purchased and developed other properties in the Parma area, so we can assume he planned on developing this land at some time in the future. But with the onslaught of the depression, the town did not develop quite as fast as the doctor had assumed.

Meanwhile, Boy Scout Troop 14 at Barnard School needed a sponsor. It seems the troop had been sponsored by a series of different groups since forming in 1926 but by 1935 they were in need of a permanent responsible spon­sor. A group of concerned citizens stepped forward with a proposed program for the troop that would eventually benefit the entire Town of Greece.

In early 1935 a group of Greece men from the Dewey/Stone area formed a committee to sponsor the troop, calling themselves the Barnard Civic Club and civic-minded they were. Their first order of business was to find a suitable campsite for the boys. They found the property owned by Dr. Sawyer perfect for their purpose and the doctor of­ fered the property to the club for $400.00.

Mrs. Antoinette Grabowski of Stone Rd gave the scout treasurer $2.00 for the express purpose of starting the campsite fund. The remainder of the fund was raised by public subscription. $ 1.00 Certificates were sold with the in­scription “Invest in Youth of Today for Better Manhood of Tomorrow”.

The Civic Club purchased the property, and scouts planted trees donated by the State, built a cabin, and for many years camped on this site. They called their special place “Camp Sawyer”.

As the years passed, private camps run by individual scout troops became less common and their campsite fell into disuse. A Scout camp operated and maintained by the Scout Council had opened nearby in Webster and other op­portunities opened up with the availability of cheap transportation.

In 1958 the site was offered to the Town of Greece as long as it was used for public recreation. It took a decade but in 1970 it officially opened as a town park.

Dr. Sawyer died in 1944, the Barnard Civic Club eventually folded, and Troop 14 lasted until 1979, but the legacy of that Boy Scout troop, the civic-minded group, and the Hilton doctor lives on in a pleasant picnic ground and park behind the YMCA known today as Sawyer Park.

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Streets and Roads

 Book by May Hill & William Gray Arbuthnot January 1, 1950

Back in the 1950s many of us remember the “Dick & Jane” books or another series called “Streets and Roads. They were simple stories about living in the neighborhood and getting along with others. We never gave much thought about what a street or road was or why it was called what it was.

Civil engineers might define a street as something that connects people for interaction, while a road connects towns and cities for travel. Although in the real world these distinctions aren’t always made.

In the Town of Greece, there are over 1,050 streets and roads with all kinds of names. But are they streets or roads? Or does anyone really care?

For the trivia aficionados, in the Town of Greece, there are only 25 Streets and 173 Roads but there are approximately 369 Drives, 160 Lanes, 94 Courts, 94 Circles, 40 Avenues, 25 Ways, 7 Boulevards, 21 Trails, and fewer of Commons, Coves, Estates, Landings, Boulevards, etc.*

There are over 80 streets named after the original farm families who lived there. We have some named for the seasons: Spring, Summer, and Autumn, but no Winter. There are animal streets: Fox, Deer, Hawk, Owl, Eagle. Several have female names: Judy Ann, Jackie, Laura, Roseanne, but very few have male names and there are 14 named after saints. There are “state streets”: Kentucky, California, and Florida, but no “State Street” (although one wing of the mall calls its self Main Street but that doesn’t count), and even some named after the pilgrims; (Mi/es] Standish and (John] Alden. Wood seems to be the most popular with 97 containing the word wood in them, but surprisingly, for a town once known for its orchards, only eight with Apple. Then there are 40 Creeks and 14 Brooks, but no Stream. We even
have one named after a card game, Canasta. Of course, some developers couldn’t resist sneaking in their own names: Willis, Britton, and Alfonso (DeNardo).

You can explore the Interactive Map Here it has at least 80 of the most important named roads in Greece, NY on the map to provide you with some of the information on the naming of that road, street, drive, or other types of roads.

*The numbers are approximate and may vary somewhat from what is stated in this story.

**Our museum has a free-standing kiosk with an interactive map explaining the origins of at least 80 names.

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A German field gun helps win the war

Veterans Day and Memorial Day are special days for Americans. especially for our veterans. On these special days all across America, we gather ’round our war memorials to pay tribute to our men and women who have served and to those who have given their lives for their country.

War memorials can be nothing more than a small plaque on the wall of a town hall, a special area in the local cemetery, or in many cases a large relic from a past conflict. Many towns have a cannon or a statue in the middle of the town square, or a captured field gun like the town of Greece once in front of the old Town Hall on Ridge Road.

It was in August 1931 when a Greece Legionnaires committee, headed by Police Chief Milton H. Carter, acquired a 105 mm German Howitzer. The field gun had been captured from the Germans during the World War and was obtained from the government with the cooperation of Congressman James Whitley.

After some cleaning and polishing, it was placed on a concrete base in front of Town Hall. For a decade, the field gun was the centerpiece of the town’s Memorial Day ceremonies. However, the last time a ceremony was conducted at the field gun during peace time, was on Memorial Day 1941, when Supervisor Gordon Howe placed a wreath on the cannon, followed by a parade to Falls Cemetery, where the Rev. Alfred Wangman, pastor of Dewey Avenue Presbyterian Church, prayed “not for victory but for peace.”

Gordon Howe, Town Supervisor, lays a wreath on Memorial Day at the Town Hall, 1941, from the Office of the Town Historian
The flag of stars flew at Greece Town Hall to call attention to the number of Greece Men and Women in service during World War II. Additional stars were added as the numbers grew. From Left to Right Town Supervisor Gordon Howe, Police Chief Milton Carter, and Lucius Bagley World War I Veteran
M60 tank sits outside at American Legion Post 468 on Dorsey Road

Within a year we were totally involved in World War II. Everyone on the home front was doing their patriotic duty by participating in their local salvage campaign. Here in Greece, residents were collecting old newspapers, tin cans, rubber, you name it, when it was realized that that one field gun was worth more than a 1,000 tin cans.

Soon a decision was made by the members of the American Legion Post, headed by Commander Cyrille Ver Weire, and town officials that the cannon would be dismantled and the metal turned over for the salvage campaign “to help keep Uncle Sam’s war industries humming.”

On Sunday, Nov. 14, 1942, 66 years ago, a delegation including Carter went to Town Hall for the last look at the war relic before its dismantling.
In some respects, it must have been a sad occasion to lose their prized field gun, but the Legionnaires were informed that in return for their contribution of the gun to the salvage effort they would receive another war relic at the close of the war.

That war relic was a long time coming. It wasn’t until June 1999 that the post received an American M-60 tank, which is now on display in front of their building on Dorsey Road.

We can wonder if those Legionnaires in 1931 ever realized that their obsolete captured German field gun would someday be used to help with win another war against the Germans.

Let’s hope that we are never again in a situation that we have to salvage parts from an obsolete war relic.

Originally published in the Greece Post on November 13, 2008

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