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 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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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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