Ralph Francis: Black Activist and Abolitionist

In November, 2023, Marie Poinan did a program at the Charlotte Library on the history of the Charlotte ferries and their operators. She caught my attention when she mentioned that one of the first ferry operators was Ralph Francis, a black man about whom little has been documented. I was intrigued – a person of color operating a boat at the port of Charlotte during the turbulent decade between the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Civil War? Could he have been involved in the Underground Railroad? Since I was preparing a program on the UGRR(Underground Railroad), I started researching Ralph Francis.

For every well-known conductor and stationmaster such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, there were dozens more men and women who remain unknown or about whom there is little information. Out of necessity, secrecy was the very essence of the UGRR. Those who helped enslaved people on the run faced serious consequences if they were caught; they could be fined thousands of dollars and/or imprisoned for many years. Therefore, very few kept written records or any kind of documentation, making it difficult for historians to verify with any certainty the people involved in the network.

Between 1850 and the beginning of the Civil War, almost 150 enslaved people passed through the Rochester area each year on their way to Canada. Two of the “Railroad” lines led to Greece, either at Kelsey’s Landing near the lower falls or the port at the mouth of the Genesee River in Charlotte; at that time both were located in the Town of Greece. Ralph Francis had a hotel at Kelsey’s Landing and then a tavern at Charlotte during that time. Coincidence? Perhaps. However, Francis had a history of activism.

Kelsey’s Landing historical marker in Maplewood Park
https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=58198
Reynolds Arcade in 1840

Born in New Jersey circa 1811, Francis was living in Rochester by 1840 and according to the 1850 census he lived on Greig Street (or Greig Ally) in the Third Ward, where the majority of free people of color resided. He was a barber and with Benjamin Cleggett operated Francis & Cleggett Barber Shop, one of several shops owned by abolitionists, both black and white, in the Reynolds Arcade. Frederick Douglass’ North Star office was across the street to the south and the Eagle Hotel, where people could get the stagecoach to Charlotte, across the street on the west.

In 1843 Francis helped Douglass organize a four-day conference on black suffrage in New York State and in 1846 he was a main speaker at a second conference. There were two letters to the editor published in the Daily Democrat in which he advocated for the right to vote for all black men. At that time free black men who owned $250 worth of property could vote in New York State; Ralph Francis easily qualified with holdings worth $2,000. In the early 1850s he worked to get Rochester’s city schools desegregated.

To my mind it makes sense that he was engaged in getting enslaved people to Canada. Canadian vessels had a major commercial presence at both Kelsey’s Landing and the Port of Charlotte. When his former business partner Cleggett died in 1917, his obituary in the Democrat & Chronicle stated that he was likely involved in the UGRR.

Port of Charlotte 1856
Notice in the Daily Democrat, June 14, 1854
Notice in the Daily Democrat, June 14, 1854

Francis disappeared from the Rochester landscape circa 1855. He was gone from Charlotte less than a year after opening his saloon there. Both of his parents and his nine-year-old nephew, all who resided with him, died in 1854. A bathhouse that he erected at the beach in July of 1854 was burned down by an arsonist in August. Marie Poinan used her genealogy expertise and found him living in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Was that arson a warning? Was someone about to turn him into the authorities for violating the Fugitive Slave Act, causing him to flee to Canada? We may never know, but I’ll keep looking, hoping to find out more about him.

mail

Bicentennial Snapshot No. 45: Speakeasies

Today we continue our Prohibition in Greece story with a look at the speakeasies that dotted the town.

Clinton N. Howard

Clinton N. Howard was a powerful, passionate, and persuasive advocate against alcohol. He was called the “Little Giant” (he was only five feet tall) and the “Apostle of Prohibition.” Widely known as a brilliant orator, it was said that between 1901 and 1920 when the 18th amendment was passed, he had addressed more people than any other living individual. He visited almost every town and city in the nation. He gave more than 3500 sermons just in the Rochester area alone.

Broadside promoting Clinton N. Howard from digital.lib.uiowa.edu
Headline from Democrat & Chronicle July 31, 1928

Howard damned Latta Road as “the Highway to Hell” because of the number of speakeasies along its length. Once Prohibition went into effect, Howard was a constant watchman to see that it was enforced. He disguised himself (sometimes as a woman) and went into places to obtain evidence the law was being violated in more than 300 cases. During the first week of April 1921 alone, a disguised Howard (he looked like a derelict), along with two US Secret Service agents. visited 138 bars and was served whiskey at 137. He did so to prove his claim that the Rochester area was openly flouting the law and that local police were doing little or nothing to enforce it.

But the beach resorts and hotels that catered to the tourists and summer vacationers were going to continue to give their clientele what it wanted, law or no law.

Limburger Cheese Club at the Grand View Beach Hotel from the Office of the Town Historian

Grand View Beach Hotel

Grand View Beach from GHS

Anthony Kleinhans built the Grand View Beach Hotel circa 1882 at 2200 Edgemere Drive (today Old Edgemere Drive). Joseph Rossenbach, Sr. took over and then was succeeded by his son, Joseph Rossenbach, Jr. who was a proprietor during Prohibition. Newspapers referred to the Grand View Beach Hotel as an “exclusive lakeshore nightclub.” Thousands of dollars had been spent to transform the wooden building, which faced the lake, into an attractive resort. It was “one of the most exclusive of the lakeside night clubs…having long been popular with merrymakers who seek recreation at the midnight hour.” Right from the earliest days of Prohibition, the Hotel was a favorite target of dry agents.

But the year 1930 was extraordinary; in August three raids were made on the Hotel in quick succession. The raids marked the first time within the memory of any of the Rochester agents that a place had been visited two nights in succession. When the agents staged their surprise raid on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 6, four barrels of beer, immersed in the cool waters of Lake Ontario which flowed through a cellaret under the bar room were found.

Headline Times-Union August 7, 1930
Headline Times-Union August 8, 1930

The warrant used in the raid on the night of August 7 was executed in Buffalo on a complaint of two special agents, who reported they had made several “buys” of liquor at the Hotel on Wednesday night, scarcely two hours after the first raid. Agents swarmed into the crowded barroom just as the evening’s gaiety was getting underway. Catching a glimpse of the raiders approaching the door, Harry Lames, the bartender, began smashing every bottle within reach. The tinkling glass spurred the agents to greater speed. One started to leap over the bar shouting threats. Lames desisted in his efforts to destroy the evidence.

Although the agents did not enter the crowded dining room of the Grand View Beach Hotel on August 7, “news of the raid spread quickly and in a moment the place was in an uproar. Glasses were emptied surreptitiously under the tables or tossed into handy flowerpots. Agents reported several cuspidors in the barroom were filled to overflowing with liquid smelling strangely like alcohol as worried customers stood awkwardly nearby with empty glasses in hand.” On August 9, in the third raid in four days, State Troopers seized liquor samples in a midnight raid on the luckless hotel once again. Ultimately, the Grand View Beach Hotel Bar was ordered padlocked for six months in October 1930.

Headline Times-Union October 8, 1930

Sea Glades Hotel/Bar/Restaurant

Sea Glades Hotel, 1930s, Greece Historical Society

The Sea Glades hotel/bar/restaurant located at 788 Edgemere Drive was known by various names over the years, Outlet Cottage, Lake View, The Breakers, Surf Club, and Edgewater, but during the height of the Prohibition era, it was called Sea Glades. The proprietor, Ward Vaughn, was considered the most genial of hosts and a “highly personable character.” At the Sea Glades, Vaughn had a “class trade” who liked to spend freely and stay late. It became Vaughn’s custom to invite his customers to the darkened porch of the Sea Glades to watch the cases of whiskey and bags of ale as they were “imported” from Canada from a boat idling just beyond the sandbar. He figured it proved his claim that his product was “right off the boat.” The rumrunners, however, didn’t like so many witnesses, so they shifted to a nearby cove and loaded the liquor into an automobile, and then delivered it to Sea Glades. Vaughn, reluctant to give up his nighttime drama, just substituted his own employees offloading empty wooden cases from a boat borrowed from a friend, his customers none the wiser about the charade.

Mike Conroy Boxing Career

An immigrant from Watervliet, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium whose real name was Clement J. Versluys, Conroy made his professional boxing debut on May 31, 1920; and during his ten-year career, with 57 bouts he won 34, 22 of them were KOs, Lost 19, 8 of them were KOs., and 4 Draws. The remaining matches for Mike Conroy’s carrier were before he turned pro which put his record at 31 Wins, 22 of them were KOs, and 2 were either losses or draws before he went pro which puts his overall wins at 65 wins of his 79 bouts, 42 of them by knockouts (KOs). He also won several heavyweight titles here in New York State and on December 13, 1924, Mike Conroy won his match in Havana, Cuba against Antolin Fierro the match was planned to be a 10-round match but by the 5th round, Mike had successfully Knocked out Antolin Fierro and took home the Cuban Heavyweight title to Greece, New York. He was a sparring partner of Gene Tunney during the five years leading up to Tunney’s defeating “Battling Jack Dempsey” (Henry Peaks) for the heavyweight crown. Conroy also fought exhibitions with Jack Dempsey. Dempsey and Tunney were the two leading boxers of the Prohibition era.

Mike Conroy Stats from BoxRec.com and according to BoxRec.com the stats they have for Mike Conroy’s professional debut. any Fights listed in his record before that date of this fight, in record published in THE RING, were amateur affairs.

divisionheavy
statusinactive
bouts57
rounds359
KOs38.6%
career1920-1929
debut1920-05-31
ID#038308
birth nameClement J. Versluys
sex male
nationality USA
residenceRochester, New York, USA
birth place Watervliet, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium
BoutsWins
5734
LostDraws
194
Mike Conroy’s Professional Boxing Stats
Mike Conroy matchbook cover
1925 Flyer

Pine Tree Inn

Pine Tree Inn from GHS

Mike Conroy’s Pine Tree Inn, located at 1225 Ridge Road West at the terminal of Mount Read Blvd, was formerly the home of the Lay family, one of the early settler families in Greece. The name comes from the pine trees which used to surround the apple orchards. It was converted to a tavern-hotel around the turn of the 20th century and was purchased by Conroy in December 1928. The congenial Conroy, known as the Bull of Ridge Road, didn’t let the Volstead Act get in the way of his turning the Pine Tree Inn into a local hotspot. His establishment was raided by dry agents in August 1929 and in May 1930 and padlocked in December 1932. Conroy’s inn straddled “the line between the town of Greece and the city of Rochester,” and his lawyers used that quirk to beat convictions. If the warrant said the property was in Greece, the lawyer produced a paper, such as a gas bill, saying it was in the city and vice versa. In due course, agents learned to make out warrants both ways.

Domino Inn / Cosmo Club

As we told you in Snapshot 24, the hotel at Latta and North Greece roads had many names during its 108-year history. It was the Domino Inn and Cosmo Inn during Prohibition. In August 1922, private detectives caught proprietors Harry Wilson and Lewis Dustin serving highballs, cider, and whiskey. Wilson and Dustin were ordered to appear in court to show cause why they should not be removed from maintaining their property. On April 16, 1926, the Domino Inn was raided by a squad of federal agents; they confiscated a pint of gin and proprietor Lewis Dustin again had to answer for it in court. Under new ownership with a new name, the Cosmo Club, the inn was again a target for dry agents in 1932 when proprietor Ray Keck (who previously owned a restaurant at the intersection of Latta Road and Long Pond Road) was arrested for possession of two half barrels of beer and a small quantity of liquor.

North Greece Hotel/Domino Inn from GHS

T.W. Beatty & Son. Island Cottage Hotel

Island Cottage Hotel from GHS

Beatty’s Island Cottage Hotel, at 953 Edgemere Drive near Island Cottage, was a lakeshore landmark built by Thomas Beatty in 1891 shortly after the opening of the Charlotte Manitou rail line. It soon became the spot to go for summer outings and picnics. Raymond Beatty took over the operation of the hotel in 1917. It was nearly destroyed in a fire in 1932. Ray Beatty and Walter Riddell, the bartender, were arrested after a raid on July 23, 1932, when seven half-barrels of beer, 330 gallons of cider, and assorted liquors were impounded. Riddell was arrested and fined again in May 1933 just months before the law’s repeal.

Reardon’s Inn / Braddock Bay Grill

Braddock’s Bay Hotel from GHS

Reardon’s Inn, later the Braddock’s Bay Hotel, was located at 372 Manitou Road. William and Jane Reardon owned and operated Reardon’s Inn. Jane Reardon was arrested on August 13, 1931, for possessing two half barrels of beer, two gallons of cider, two ounces of whisky, and two ounces of gin. She pleaded guilty in September and was fined $100.00. Today it is the Braddock Bay Grill.

Braddock Bay Grill, 2019, photo by Bill Sauers

Grove House

Grove House, the 1910s from the Office of the Town Historian

Grove House, located at 187 Long Pond Road was established at least as early as 1880. It was considered a roadhouse compared to more upscale speakeasies.

The arrests made during raids were for comparatively little alcohol; there was “some beer, wine and cider” on August 28, 1929; 16 one-gallon jugs of cider on November 29, 1929; and a mere two gallons of cider and one barrel of beer in August 1931.

Grove House, undated, courtesy of Bill Sauers
Public Nuisance Sign from GHS

The bar was padlocked for several months in 1932.

Grove House’s alcohol was supplied by the Staud Brothers. According to Dwight Bliss, George Staud told him that they kidnapped a federal agent, who infiltrated the Staud organization and held him in the basement of Grove House where they threatened him with a “one-way ride to Lake Ontario.” The agent managed to escape, but possibly still in fear of the Stauds, requested a transfer to Detroit where he thought he’d be safer.

Grove House bar, undated, courtesy Bill Sauers
Grove House, 2008, photo by Bill Sauers

After Prohibition, George and Eddie Staud operated the restaurant at Grove House.

After the Staud brothers, Fred Rotunno owned it for a bit before it became Barnard’s Grove you can read more on the Grove house from Fred Rotunno and Edmond Uschold interview that was done by George Caswell and Edwin Spelman on August 10, 1977.

Today, it’s Barnard’s Grove Restaurant.

Barnard’s Grove, 2022, photo by Bill Sauers

Explore the Prohibition and Speakeasies Exhibit – Ended December 2023

Prohibition exhibit at Greece Historical Society and Museum, photo by Bill Sauers

To learn more about the Prohibition Era in Greece visit the Greece Historical Society and Museum at 595 Long Pond Road, where Rumrunners, Speakeasies, and Bathtub Gin exhibit has ended. The Museum’s hours are Sundays, 1:30-4 pm, March through December.

Below is a custom map created by members of the society that shows all the locations of the speakeasies.

On the Map Below the Reardon’s Inn is actually supposed to be marked on the John Mose 4 acres lot and not on F.H. Straub land

mail

Bicentennial Snapshot No. 44: Rumrunners and Bootleggers

Today we are exploring the wild and lawless days of Prohibition.

Prohibition Poster from nebraskastudies.org

In 1909, a vote to make Greece a “dry” town was narrowly defeated. The agricultural interests of the town clashed with the beach resorts and tourist attractions that catered to a clientele that drank. One newspaper account said, “The grudge of the farmers was that their hired help deserted as soon as they got a month’s pay and bathed in the alcoholic delights of Charlotte and Ontario Beach.” On the other side of the debate were the many town residents of Irish, German, and Italian descent for whom wine and spirits were an everyday part of their culture.

By the time Congress took up the question of national prohibition, 33 of the 48 states were already dry. When Congress sent the eighteenth amendment to the states for ratification, where it needed three-fourths approval, they allowed a generous seven years for its passage, but in just 13 months enough states said yes to the amendment. Drinking liquor was never illegal. People were allowed to drink intoxicating liquor in their own homes or in the home of a friend when they were a bona fide guest. And it was legal to make or consume wine or cider in the home. Buying and selling it was illegal; people were not allowed to carry a hip flask or give or receive a bottle of liquor as a gift.

Headline from The American Issue, Westerville, Ohio, January 25, 1919
Prohibition-era prescription for whiskey, from US Treasury National Archives

Exempted from the law was the use of alcohol in lawful industries, for religious practices such as communion wine, and for scientific and medicinal purposes. Intoxicating liquor could be obtained via a doctor’s prescription; the rate of sales for medicinal alcohol went up 400%.

Mother’s in the kitchen
Washing out the jugs;
Sister’s in the pantry
Bottling the suds;
Father’s in the cellar
Mixing up the hops;
Johnny’s on the front porch
Watching for the cops.

Poem by a New York state Rotary Club member during Prohibition

The poem to the right says it all; ordinary people, probably law-abiding citizens before 1920, were defying the law. And many were living in the town of Greece.

Poem by a New York state Rotary Club member during Prohibition
1924 Map of Greece With Current Street Names over the main roads in the town

Rumrunners were smuggling liquor from Canada by sea and bootleggers carried it over the roads. With eight miles of shoreline and roads leading to downtown Rochester and points west and east, Greece was a hotbed of prohibition defiance.

Some of these prohibition slang were used during the era of prohibition and speakeasies

*got to see someone about a dog –going out to buy bootleg whiskey

*needle beer –filling a syringe with pure alcohol and piercing the cork on a bottle of “near beer”

*whisper sister, ladylegger –female proprietor of a speakeasy

*white lightning –whiskey

*giggle water –alcoholic beverage

*hooch, bathtub gin –illegal moonshine

*cutting –making counterfeit liquor by mixing it with artificial ingredients to simulate the real thing

*set-up –ginger ale or soda served by speakeasies, to which customers added their own liquor from hip flasks

Canadian Ben Kerr, the self-styled “King of the Rum Runners,” was one of the most successful of the rum smugglers. He made regular trips to the beaches from Greece east to Pultneyville; he refused to land on American shores, customers had to row out to his boat, he frequently changed his drop days, and he wouldn’t travel under a full moon, preferring dark, foggy, or hazy nights. There are used copies available on Amazon via Thriftbooks or you can get it on the kindle https://smile.amazon.com/Whisky-Ice-Canadas-Daring-Rumrunner/dp/1550022490 you can preview the book here on the right.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press; Illustrated edition (July 26, 1996)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ July 26, 1996
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 192 pages

As of this post there is 1 new copy and 11 used copies available on Amazon

Preview of The Saga of Ben Kerr

Preview of Berine you’re a Bootlegger

Joan Winghart Wilcox Sullivan wrote about her father, Bernie Winghart, her paternal uncle, Ernie, and her aunt, Mamye (who was a Schaller); they were known as the Bootlegging Trio. As of this post, there are 5 new and 2 used paperback copies available on Amazon and it is also available to read on the Kindle. Check out the preview of the book on the left.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Trafford Publishing (July 15, 2010)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ July 15, 2010
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 88 pages

Andrew Wiedenmann was born on November 15, 1865, to Michael and Anna (Merdler) Wiedenmann who had eleven children together. His father Michael Wiedenmann was a cooper and worked in that trade just like Tom Toal we talked about in a previous snapshot. Anna (Merdler) Wiedenmann survived until May 1909. Three of the Wiedenmann children served in three different parts of the City of Rochester Government, William served on Detective Force; Frederick was an Attorney of the city and a member of the City Council representing the 15th ward for thirty-two years, and Andrew featured in the picture to the right, his other brother George Wiedenmann died in 1905 and was a Profession Baseball Player for the Detriot Ball Club. Anna and Edward died young. His sisters included Katherine, Julia, Minnie, and Anna (Wiedenmann) Kugler.

Andrew Wiedenmann was Collector of the Port of Rochester for much of Prohibition and as such he supervised many of the sorties against rumrunners on both lake and land throughout his district. This area covered 178 miles from the western end of Orleans County east to Oswego County. He was diligent, aggressive, and resourceful in his quest for Prohibition scofflaws.

But before he became the Customs Collector at the Port of Rochester, he attended the Whitney school as a boy later he attended the Rochester Free Academy. From 1886 to 1890 he was a Professional Baseball player for Rochester, Buffalo, Hamilton, Ontario, and Portland, Maine clubs. He went on to hold his first public office as the deputy collector for the Internal Revenue Service for his district from 1897 to 1901, then made a police court investigator for sixteen years, and then in 1917 he was elected sheriff of Monroe County and held that role until December 31, 1920, and in 1924 President Calvin Coolidge appointed Andrew Wiedenmann as the Collector of the Port of Rochester.

Andrew J. Wiedenmann taking the oath of office, Times-Union, April 30, 1928
Lake Ontario shoreline at Braddock Bay from media.defense.gov

His keen eyes and his investigative skills came in handy as well he was the Collector of the port of Rochester when he was the Head Sheriff of Monroe County he knew places where he would watch for people to sneak stuff into town and where to spring traps to collect the crooks. He once walked the beach from Charlotte to Manitou investigating rumors of liquor shipments being off-loaded in obscure spots. On the walk, he came across a group of people hiding under a tarp with contraband alcohol.

As the Customs Collector at the Port of Rochester, Wiedenmann often accompanied the Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.S) in their pursuit of rumrunners in the darkest hours of the night. He would shout: “We are United States Customs Officers. I order you to halt.”

36’ Double-cabin picket boat from U. S. Coast Guard History Program
Ridge Road near the Pine Tree Inn, 1920s, from the Office of the Town Historian

On July 12, 1924, he and his agents chased a truck laden with 1200 bottles of ale 18 miles along Ridge Road. Bullets flew as gunfire was exchanged.

Andrew Wiedenmann caught both Ben Kerr and the Bootlegging Trio. But his biggest challenge was the notorious Staud brothers from the town of Greece. By the way, all three of the books mentioned here today are in the museum’s reference library. You can at least get the first two books on a Kindle by Amazon but the book Booze, Barns, Boats, and Brothers which is about the Staud brothers is only in the museum reference library and can be viewed when the museum is open or by making an appointment to look at the book.

Booze, Barns, Boats and Brothers” by H. Dwight Bliss III
Grand View Heights Beach neighborhood, 1924,

On July 8, 1930, the Democrat & Chronicle wrote this about the Staud brothers: they are “The most dangerous and intrepid gang of rum runners in Western New York.” Local newspapers also characterized the brothers as the “most daring,” “most powerful,” and “notorious” of smugglers. The gang operated out of a home on Grand View Heights Road (today, South Drive).

Look pretty innocent, don’t they? But they were ruthless thugs when they grew up. From right to left, Karl, George, Edward, and Milton, called Midge.

Photo of Staud brothers when they were young and innocent or were they?
George C. Staud from H. Dwight Bliss III

They were the sons of George C. and Ida Staud (the couple also had three daughters); their father was the postmaster of Rochester from 1917-1921 while Andrew Wiedenmann was the Sheriff from 1917-1920. He had plenty of trouble with them as teenagers, but did not live to see their Prohibition notoriety. Their mother had also died, but their stepmother was living. Between Andrew Wiedenmann and his brothers, William who served on Detective Force; and his brother Frederick who served as an attorney for the City of Rochester may have had other run-ins with the Staud Brothers. Before the Staud Brothers went into the bootlegging business during prohibition.

Karl was the eldest, born about 1895. His nickname was “K-the Bishop.” He had a muscle infirmity and walked with a limp. He acted as the gang’s accountant, keeping the books for shipments and payments, and also for Midge’s speakeasies. He also frequently provided bail for George and Eddie. George was born in early 1900. He was described as a “scrapper,” tall and lean. Eddie, born also in 1900, “did most of the dirty work.” “Midge” was born in 1901. He was broad-shouldered and tall at 6’3”. Although the youngest, he was the boss and brains of the gang. The newspaper called him the “‘Little Caesar’ of Rochester’s rum-running hierarchy.” The reference of course being to the Edward G. Robinson movie.

Kidnapper gang from Times-Union July 19, 1930
Midge Staud and Jack Foran in Midge’s first boat, courtesy of Bill Sauers

The brothers quickly established the lakefront from Sodus Point to Oak Orchard as their “domain” and were ruthless in enforcing the boundaries.

Midge Staud had a fleet of large cars, Pierce-Arrows, and Studebakers, which he altered so they could stash up to 500-quart bottles of whiskey “in the seats, in backs of the seats, false floors and even false side panels in the doors.” The Stauds’ uncle, Fred, owned a shoe store and they would hide whiskey bottles in shoeboxes at the rear of the store until they could sell or transport them.

If you want to learn more about Pierce-Arrow cars you can visit the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum before you go to their museum check out their website to view their current museum hours at https://pierce-arrow.com/.

1928 Pierce-Arrow from eBay
Staud’s poison car, from Times-Union, circa May 1929

The Stauds altered this car so that poisonous mustard gas was emitted from the exhaust pipe. It was registered under a false name or now it is referred to As Known As or AKA or an alias which would allow someone to hide their identity or business from either the government, local authorities, or other gangs that were in the business of rum running, but there was enough evidence that proved that the car was owned by Midge. George was arrested wearing only his underwear trying to escape capture after the car was stopped by agents. This same car was involved in a Christmas Eve raid led by Andrew Wiedenmann.

The Stauds would find a cooperative farmer who would let them hide the liquor in a barn. Some had underground tunnels linking the shore to barn basements. Late at night, the beer, whiskey, ale, and wine would be transported in modified cars to speakeasies all around the area including the many that populated Greece.

Stauds’ barn on Norway Road in Kendal, New York for H. Dwight Bliss III provided by Bill Sauers
Christmas Eve Raid, Times-Union, December 26, 1928

This photo shows 200 cases of assorted liquor which was seized by border patrolmen Monday, December 24. Midge and George Staud along with four other men in their gang were arrested in connection with the raid. The liquor, which was composed of whisky and champagne, was intended for the Rochester holiday trade. Tire tracks in the snow alerted agents to this cache in a farmer’s barn.

 Towne Tavern sometime after 1945 Courtesy of Bill Sauers

George served some jail time on a few occasions, but nothing major. Authorities could never get a conviction against Midge. Later in life, Midge ran the Towne Tavern (Left) on Gibbs Street in Rochester and for many years he, George, and Eddie had an interest in the Grove House in Greece. Their career as rumrunners and bootleggers was mostly forgotten.

Family gathering of the Staud family, inside the Towne Tavern photo courtesy of Bill Sauers
Grove House bar courtesy Bill Sauers

So where was all that booze going? Quite a bit of it was staying right here in Greece. And that’s the subject of our next Snapshot.

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we take a look at Greece speakeasies.

mail

Bicentennial Snapshot No. 37: Unsolved Arson Case – The Holiday Inn Fire of 1978

Today we look back at the horrific fire at the Holiday Inn in Greece in which ten people lost their lives while staying at the Holiday Inn. Every year goes by when the generation of people who were are the scene of the horrific fire and the temperature was a balmy chilly 20°F (-6.7°C) temperature and winds out of the north around 10mph. Remember when we told you about the town of Greece didn’t join the 9-1-1 call center and operations until around 1986, before that time you would have to call the station directly or if the business had an alarm system properly wired up to the fire company’s alarm system to alert the firefighters that there was a fire at certain places of business, this also played a roll in the case of this tragic hotel fire that took the lives of ten people.

Even though the Ridge Road Fire District and North Greece Fire Department are celebrating their centennials this year there is one fire that has affected everyone at both. Every fire district in the town has battled large and small fires, auto accidents, attended training, practiced at the fire training grounds, routine fire inspections, community programs, and outreach, but never prepared them for what would become Ridge Road’s most unique fire they had to deal with in the companies first 100 years of service.

Chase-Pitkin fire, August 30, 1980, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Ridge Road Fire Department has battled many fires,

large…

…and small.

Greece Baptist Church courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Holiday Inn Fire, 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

But never anything like the Holiday Inn Fire on November 26, 1978.

On Sunday, November 26, 1978, there were about 200 people staying at the Holiday Inn in Greece. According to the report Fire Command, Volume 46. National Fire Protection Association, 1979 in that publishing it states there were 91 guest rooms at the hotel, but the exact number of guest rooms on November 28, 1978, is unknown due to the owner of the hotel began changing some of the guest rooms were converted into conference rooms. Among the guests were visitors from an Ontario, Canada bus tour here to take advantage of Thanksgiving weekend shopping specials, members of two wedding parties, a John Marshall alumna in town for her reunion, and attendees at the hotel’s Saturday night singles party.

Holiday Inn postcard courtesy of Bill Sauers
Holiday Inn sign courtesy of Bill Sauers

Around 2:30 am that frosty Sunday morning, a fire started among the paper products and towels stored in a closet area tucked under a first-floor stairway and that metal door for the closet area was not fire-rated or UL-labeled. The blaze spread quickly up the stairs where the fire doors had been propped open, raced down corridors, ignited the ceilings, and invaded the roof. And with strong winds from out of the north-north-west, and the temperature was hovering around 24.2°F (-4.333 °C) but with a wind chill, it would make it feel like 16.1°F (-8.333°C).

Two off-duty firefighters, one from the Greece Road fire department, the other an Albion FD fire chief, each driving on Ridge Road on the way home from a different workplace, spotted the orange glow of the flames approximately eight minutes after the fire started. The Greece firefighter radioed in the fire from his car and they both entered the building to start evacuating guests. Other people were calling from nearby payphones to report the fire. 911 wasn’t instituted until 1986 in Rochester (even later in Greece) and of course, cell phones hadn’t been invented yet.

Greece 1970 Interactive Historic Data Map Monroe County https://maps.monroecounty.gov/Html5Viewer2/index.html?viewer=Historic#
Fighting the inferno, 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Greece Ridge put in the call for mutual aid to help with the scene unfolding at the Holiday Inn on Ridge Road next to Corona Road. The companies that came to assist Greece Ridge were Barnard, North Greece, and the City of Rochester, who fought the blaze for two hours with more than 125 firefighters. Ten ambulances were needed at the scene. Gene Preston who was a member of Kodak Fire at the time, remembers that Kodak Fire did offer to lend assistance by connecting Greece Ridge trucks to Kodak’s water source on the ground of the Latona Road Complex, but Greece Ridge turned down Kodak Fire Department’s offer to hook up to their water source.

Rescue crews piloted 170 guests, most of them still in their night clothes and many barefoot, outside into the 16-degree cold.

As you can see on this map (Greece Ridge) Ridge Ridge had command of the scene and the Greece Ridge chief became the incident commander, he issued the call to request mutual aid as Barnard, North Greece, and City of Rochester companies arrived at the scene, Greece Ridge fire chief began assigning the assisting companies where to deploy their firefighting equipment at the scene. The blue lines on this map are hoses that ran to the water from the fire hydrants to the trucks and from truck to truck. The green lines on this map of the scene represent the hoses that were in the firefighter’s hands. A large contingent of the firefighting efforts was coming from pumper 253 on the west side of where the origin of the fire started. The red arrows represent the direction of where the fire was traveling outward from the origin to the shaded reddish, orangish zone was where the fire able to be stopped from consuming the rest of the structure.

What is a Squrt™️ fire truck? The Squrt™️ fire truck is a brand of fire truck Trademarked by SNORKEL FIRE EQUIPMENT COMPANY CORPORATION on November 4, 1969, as you can see in the Trademark filing on the USPTO website https://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4810:yri038.2.3 and licensed to different manufacturers that built these kinds of fire trucks like the one in service in North Greece was built by Young Fire Equipment Corporation in Buffalo, New York.

map of units on scene
Map of Units on Scene at Holiday Inn Fire courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Here is a list of the abbreviations of each of the different trucks at the scene means after each of the different fire fighting apparatuses is the number of that engine.

  • E – Engine
    • E-10
    • E-11
  • L – Ladder
    • L-221
    • L-251
  • M – Medic
    • M-220
  • R – Rescue Engine
    • R-222
  • P – Pumper
    • P-251
    • P-252
    • P-253
    • P-254
    • P-255
    • P-273
    • P-274
    • P-453
  • T – Truck
    • T-3
    • T-8
  • Squrt™️
    • Squrt 1
After the fire, in 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

By 4:30 the fire was out, but the building was a total loss. A few guests leaped from second and third-story windows to save themselves. Thirty-five people were injured. Tragically, ten people perished in the fire from smoke inhalation.

We Remember the guest that perished that early morning on November 26th, 1978

List of Canadian citizens who died in the Holiday Inn Fire

They were: Rubina “Ruth” Cushinan, age 81, and her daughter Ruby Cushinan, age 61, from York, Ontario, Canada; four people from Etobicoke, Ontario, Maguerrette Duncan, age 57, 67-year-old Edward Farley and his 62-year-old wife, Lorene, and Pamela Sagriff, age 30, and from Bramalea, Ontario, Huguette Sundude, age 30.

Names of the remaining three people who died

Joyce Plumb age 42 from Arlington Virginia who had attended her 25th high school reunion from John Marshall High School the day before; Stephen Gregory Ford, age 29, from Ypsilanti, Michigan who was in Rochester for his best friend’s wedding, and from Pompano Beach, Florida, Nancy Garrett, age 26.

white rose
Photo by Aidan Nguyen on Pexels.com

Results of the Fire Investigation

The hotel had a host of structural faults that contributed to the easy spread of the conflagration: The “primary factors that led to the fatalities in this incident were the combination of the highly combustible interior finish, [and] unprotected openings that existed in the stairway,” there was only one vertical firewall between the two wings and the firewalls in the buildings did not extend to the roof, allowing the fire to rip through the top floor of each wing.

Aerial view of the hotel courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Sprinkler head from fessa.com.au

The hotel was equipped with a fire alarm system that included manual-pull stations and combination rate-of-rise, fixed-temperature thermal detectors as initiating devices yet it failed to do what it was intended to do to prevent the loss of life. It lacked a sprinkler system and Emergency Lighting. The alarm system wasn’t connected to the Greece-Ridge Fire Department or any other security agency.

The alarm system consisted only of one bell in the middle of each of the two wings’ five floors. The alarm didn’t have a distinctive sound nor was it loud enough. Guests didn’t recognize it as a fire alarm; they thought it was a phone in the room or an alarm clock. Furthermore, when hotel employees realized the alarms were ringing, they rushed to get people out, but no one remembered to call the fire department.

Burned-out corridor, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Greece Police Headquarters Precinct 1, 1983 Office of the  Town Historian
Greece Police Headquarters Precinct 1, 1983 Office of the Town Historian

As news of the fire spread, the police department was flooded with calls. One volunteer Doug Worboys, recalls that after the fire he arrived home at 10:30 am, grabbed a little sleep, and returned to work the noon to 11 pm shift at the police dispatch office desk with fellow dispatchers Ron Timmons and Jim Leary. “We had callers from throughout the US and Canada; the farthest away, I think, was Puerto Rico. We referred most of the Holiday Inn inquiry calls to the front desk officer who was assigned to take all those types of calls. The next day they had a special line set up for further calls. You hear things like that happening in other places, but you never expect one like that in your own town. That day was a very busy day with all those calls along with calls for normal situations that occur day to day. That day was a very somber day for us dispatchers and all people involved in this fire.”

Although at first it was said that the fire was accidental, Police Chief Gerald Phelan, when speaking to reporters at the time, said that “his gut told him the fire was nonetheless suspicious due to its speed and intensity.”

Police Chief Gerald Phelan with Greece Town Supervisor Don Riley from the Office of the Town Historian

John Stickever joins the case

John Stickever, photo from his obituary New York Daily News, February 22, 2017
Butanone. (2022, November 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butanone

John Stickever joined the FDNY in 1959 and was assigned to Engine Co. 231 in Brooklyn. He became a fire marshal six years later. Durning Stickevers first 37 years as a fire marshall where he investigated numerous fire scenes where some were arson, and some were just accidents. In 1978, John Stickever, a New York City Fire Firefighter was just promoted to the rank of Supervising Fire Marshall in July 1978 and was an Investigator who specialized in arson and “essentially wrote the book on fire investigation training,” which is linked below. Mid-week following the fire on November 26, 1978, is when then Greece Police Chief Gerald Phelan contacted Commission Augustus Anthony Beekman of the New York City Fire Department to see if the City could send someone to help the Greece Police and Greece Ridge Fire Department to examine the Holiday Inn fire scene. It was Commissioner Augustus Anthony Beekman who called Stickever at home and the commissioner said he was the one who was selected to head to upstate New York to help with a case in Greece, NY.

When Stickever arrived he started to have firefighters clear the floor and in front of doors and other areas in the hotel, he began to notice things that the Greece Police and Greece Ridge did not see at the time of the fire which stood out to him. Stickever concluded that an accelerant of some kind had been used in starting the fire and declared it arson and the ten deaths were now ten murders. Stickever with his knowledge found burn patterns, and damage to the kickplate on the fire doors, and when the results came back from the labs, they found traces of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) otherwise known as Butanone was used as an accelerant which made the fire grow quickly in the stairwell, and with the winds at 2 A.M. were at about 10 miles an hour out of the North which help spread the fire quickly through the hotel, with that information both Stickever and then Assistant Monroe County District Attorney Crane, during in 1978 knew it had to be someone with the knowledge of MEK. In 1978 Stickever and then ADA Crane believe that someone would have to have knowledge of MEK and firefighting skills to know that MEK according to ilo.org a website that has information on all different types of hazmat chemicals notes under PHYSICAL & CHEMICAL INFORMATION that the Physical State and Appearance is a colorless liquid with a characteristic odor from ILO and WHO 2021. The other types of accelerants would have been easily found but because MEK was used as the accelerant it made it more difficult for the firefighters to fight the fire. If the chief of Greece Ridge had requested the airport chemical fire truck from the airport which was a carbon dioxide, dry agents, or alcohol-resistant foam-based fire suppression agent in its tank would have halved the time for the first responders that day, but no one knew what accelerant was used to start it.

16×9 Program on Global News From Canada

According to an interview Stickerver did with Crime Beat TV’s 16×9 – Lost in the Flames: Legacy of historic Holiday Inn fire and aired April 30, 2012, on Global News a division of Shaw Media Inc., in Canada, he remembers the interview one Greece Ridge firefighter said on the news and the body language of that firefighter on video, it set off some signs that were a sign that Stickever could tell that he was the critical suspect because during that interview that firefighter said he was driving towards the My Apartment Bar when he called the fire in. Stickevers pushed for the state to give marshals “police officer” status so they can enforce just like the police officers but with the ability to issue tickets, fines, fees, and official notices on properties that violate fire codes, fire safety, or other aspects of a building that would make the fire marshals not want to give okay to open the building or had to close the place down until it was brought up to code to ensure that it was safe for the public to enter the said structure with that state approved this the bill that created and gave the power to create a program on fire investigation and arson in every municipality in New York State you can read the bill along with the supporters and documentation by reading the New York State bill jackets – L-1979-CH-0225 by clicking the link here to see the full text of that bill https://nysl.ptfs.com/aw-server/rest/product/purl/NYSL/i/f6d59c1f-e1a7-405a-9359-6f4fe1deacd8

Here is a link to the article that was written by John Stickever in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1986 that describes the way he does arson investigations https://books.google.com/books?id=d_dcT71FVsUC&lpg=PA1&ots=auNtB2w7hF&dq=john%20stickever%20new%20york%20city%20fire%20department&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=john%20stickever%20new%20york%20city%20fire%20department&f=false

Phalen’s Arson Taskforce

Phelan formed a special arson task force, operating a command center out of the Pop-Lar Motel down the road from the fire site. The team of 23 local and state investigators conducted more than 400 interviews in the days after the fire. They settled on five “persons of interest,” but didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges against anyone. The two main suspects were the Greece Ridge firefighter who had radioed in the fire and a man who “had lived in two apartments that had caught fire, then, using insurance coverage, moved temporarily to the Holiday Inn. However, he had a confrontation with a staff member shortly before the fire, and was booted out of the hotel.” Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Crane along with his boss Monroe County District Attorney Lawrence T. Kurlander was given a list of 5 persons of interest and 2 main suspects that the Police gave to them as the possible suspects but without enough evidence from the fire scene and testimonial from guest, hotel employees, and people who lived around the area, it made the District Attorney office hard to pin a person to be held accountable for a change in one count of first-degree arson and ten counts of murder from the fire as well.

The are 5 degrees of arson that any person or persons could be charged with but Arson in the fifth degree is the lowest and is only a class A misdemeanor where as Arson in the first degree is a class A-I felony.

Postcard of Pop-Lar Motel, 2976 Ridge Road West, circa 1960 from mcnygenealogy.com
SectionOffenseClass
150.00Arson; definitions. 
150.01Arson in the fifth degree.A MISD
150.05Arson in the fourth degree.E FELONY
150.10Arson in the third degree.C FELONY
150.15Arson in the second degree.B FELONY
150.20Arson in the first degree.A-I FELONY
The different types of Arson based on its severity of the crime

Here is what the New York State’s statute defines Arson in the first degree in New York:

N.Y. Penal Law § 150.20 Arson in the first degree.
  1. A person is guilty of arson in the first degree when he
intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by causing an
explosion or a fire and when (a) such explosion or fire is caused by an
incendiary device propelled, thrown or placed inside or near such
building or motor vehicle; or when such explosion or fire is caused by
an explosive; or when such explosion or fire either (i) causes serious
physical injury to another person other than a participant, or (ii) the
explosion or fire was caused with the expectation or receipt of
financial advantage or pecuniary profit by the actor; and when (b)
another person who is not a participant in the crime is present in such
building or motor vehicle at the time; and (c) the defendant knows that
fact or the circumstances are such as to render the presence of such
person therein a reasonable possibility.
  2. As used in this section, "incendiary device" means a breakable
container designed to explode or produce uncontained combustion upon
impact, containing flammable liquid and having a wick or a similar
device capable of being ignited.
  Arson in the first degree is a class A-I felony.

To read more about the different levels that some can be charged can be found in New York Laws › Penal Law › Part 3 › Title I › Article 150 > Section 20, which can be found in ARTICLE 150 Arson on the New York State Senate Legislation Bills and Law Section

Assemblyman Roger Robach (right) with Governor Hugh Carey (center), 1979, from New York State digital archive

Assemblyman Roger Robach, who represented Greece, co-sponsored a bill in 1980 requiring hotels and motels with more than 30 rooms to have smoke detectors in every room and in hallways. It passed unanimously in the Assembly and after it was passed by the Senate was signed into law by Governor Hugh Carey.

Although an open case, it had laid dormant until 2010 when the Greece Police Department, first under Chief Todd Baxter and then under his successor Patrick Phelan, gave new life to the investigation. Everything was reexamined and witnesses were interviewed again. They concluded that the firefighter was the arsonist. The Greece PD submitted its report to the Monroe County District Attorney in 2015. At the same as Cheif Baxter began his investigation, the Canadian Government want more answers from the hotel fire as well because this was an international issue and yet to date, the Canadain Government and the families of the seven Canadians that lost their lives have not gotten any answers and are left in limbo they wish this case could be solved.

Press release from the Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan
After the fire, in 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

The District Attorney’s office, however, was not convinced that there was enough evidence to prosecute anyone. In the years since the 1978 fire, the science of arson has evolved and she didn’t feel that it was still conclusive without a doubt that it was even arson.

So, the families and friends of ten souls lost in that fire may never see anyone brought to account. The Holiday Inn Fire of 1978 was not only the deadliest fire in the history of the Town of Greece but in all of Monroe County.

Front page of the Democrat and Chronicle, November 27, 1978, clipped from newspapers.com

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we pay tribute to “the greatest generation.”

mail

Bicentennial Snapshot # 34: Extreme Weather Part 2

Today we continue our look at historic weather events.

Clip 1: DPW salt barn, 2018, Office of Town Historian

DPW salt barn, 2018, Office of Town Historian

For the most part, we Grecians take snow storms in stride; they are inconvenient but manageable. We can count on the Greece DPW to have our roads plowed and salted in a timely manner.

Most of us around the Town of Greece and Monroe county are unsure if March is going to come in like a Lamb or Lion and go out like a Lamb or Lion or surprise us with some Lamb and Loin weather events in the middle of the month not just at the beginning or end of March.

However, one has to agree with local meteorologist Stacey Pensgen, hearing the words ice and high winds in a forecast can cause some anxiety in these parts or as the cliché states, once-bitten, twice shy. Two storms, in particular, come to mind: the Ice Storm of 1991 and the Wind Storm of 2017.

ice on the tree branch
Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com
Stacey Pensgen

Ice Storm of 1991

Meteorologist Kevin Williams

Meteorologist Kevin Williams in explaining what happened said: “the ice storm commenced on March 3, 1991. It resulted from low-pressure tracking from the south into central and eastern New York. This allowed warm air from the Gulf states to flow into the upper levels of the atmosphere over Rochester, while northeast winds at the surface drew subfreezing air into the area from Ontario. Snowflakes which fell from the cold clouds above melted into raindrops upon reaching the warmer layer above the surface, only to freeze upon reaching the ground, where temperatures were below 32 degrees.”

Weather Daily Charts from the National Weather Service

Sunday, March 3, 1991, Weather Map as of 7 am
Monday, March 4, 1991 weather map as of 7 am

Greece along with the rest of Monroe County was in the “sweet spot.” Again, quoting Kevin Williams: the storm “produced a 50-mile-wide band of freezing rain aligned along the Genesee River Valley. While Syracuse to the east experienced rain, Buffalo to the west had mainly sleet and snow. But Rochester endured 17 hours of continuous freezing rain resulting in an ice accretion of more than one inch.”

It started at about 10:30 pm on Sunday, March 3, and by the early morning hours of March 4, people were awoken by what sounded like rifle shots. It was tree limbs cracking and falling to the ground. Electrical wires and telephone lines came down with the trees. Paul Holahan, Greece’s Commissioner of Public Works at the time, was alerted to the problem at 2 am and by 4 am knew it was a major event. He called John Yagielski, the school superintendent to let him know that the schools needed to be closed. They would be closed for a week.

If you like to see the Unedited version of Paul Pakusch’s 10-minute video that was posted in 2010. It Starts at Paul’s, home and yard, then his drive to work, later in the day, and the next two days around his neighborhood. Florida Ave, Dewey Ave, Seneca Parkway, Lake Ave, East Ave, Tiernan Street, River Heights, Perinton Street, California Drive, Haviland Park. Paul Pakusch worked for WHEC Channel 10 at the time during the 1991 Ice Storm.

Also if you like you can check out the March 11, 1991, NewsTeam 10 special from the Ice Storm the folks that run Rochester TV Archives on YouTube have archived that broadcast and you can check it out here.

Aerial view of police headquarters on Island Cottage Road, 1983 from the Office of the Town Historian

Crews were especially needed to clear the main streets and others were needed to pump water when, because of the lack of power, the sewage pump stations failed; the police headquarters was flooded nearly every day” for a week with raw sewage. The police station itself was also without electricity and was working through an emergency generator. Fire crews didn’t bother going home, but worked around the clock.

Storm Shelter Locations

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without power, some for as long as two weeks. Sometimes one side of the street had power and the other did not; neighbors shared generators and long extension cords snaked over lawns and driveways. Two days after the storm the temperature plummeted; shelters were set up at Hoover Drive Junior School and the Greece Assembly of God Church. In North Greece, Irene DeMay opened the doors to Hotel DeMay as a shelter as well. You can learn more about the Hotel DeMay in Snapshot 25.

Customers Without Power – WHEC’s Ice Storm Coverage March 1991 you can watch the WHEC NEWS TEAM 10 coverage of the Ice Storm on YouTube on the Rochester TV Archive channel https://youtu.be/T8ebkxRG3Fc
Aerial view of Hoover Drive Junior High, the 1940s, from the Office of the Town Historian
Greece Assembly of God
Ice storm damage, 1991, photo by Bill Sauers
Ice storm damage, 1991, photo by Bill Sauers

Trash didn’t get picked up and mail wasn’t delivered for two days.

More than three thousand trees in the town of Greece were damaged. DPW crews were busy into June clearing away brush and tree debris and hauling it to the Flynn Road transfer center; 400,000 cubic yards of it or enough wood to build 7,000 homes.

Still from Paul Pakusch 39 minute video from the 1991 Ice Storm
Ice storm, 1991, from the Office of the Town Historian

In the aftermath of the Ice Storm of ’91, the town, already operating on an austerity budget and waiting for FEMA money, had to borrow money to meet expenses by the end of the year; RG&E started a rigorous tree-trimming protocol, and residents were left with indelible memories of terrible destruction as well as breathing-taking beauty and stories to tell for generations to come about cold nights, helpful neighbors, and surviving the “Storm of the Century.”


“April is the cruelest month,”

— The Waste Land by T. S. Elliot, Poet

The poet T. S. Elliot said that “April is the cruelest month,” but weatherwise for Greece, it’s the month of March. Out of the top ten worst snowstorms in Rochester’s history, four were in March. The 1984 Leap Day storm lasted more than five days, bringing more than 30 inches. There were two blizzards at the beginning of March 1999, dropping 42 inches of snow. We got off relatively lightly during the “Storm of the Century” on March 12, 1993, with 23 inches of snow, thunder, and lightning.

Snowiest and Least Snowest Marches from 1896 to 2021 using data from Weather.gov and NOAA

Wind Storm of 2017

On March 3, 2017, we had winds gusting to 60 miles an hour, bringing down trees and power lines. But that was just an appetizer for what Mother Nature had in store for us less than a week later. Blame it on the sun. It was a gorgeous day on March 8, 2017. Now the forecast did call for high winds. But most people thought it would be a repeat of the 3rd. However, all that sunshine destabilized the atmosphere; the sun heated the air and as the warm air rose it created a vacuum and air rushed in to fill the vacuum, that is wind.

Formation of wind as a result of localized temperature differences. http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7n.html
Blue dots are Wind Speed, Greece Triangles is the Wind Gust, Gray is the Peak Wind

Winds gusted to 40, 50, and 60 mph much of the day, broke 70 mph around 1 p.m., and then hit an astonishing 81 mph at 1:35 p.m. Trees came crashing down onto streets and on top of homes and on Long Pond Road utility poles fall in a row like a set of dominoes. 40,000 homes and businesses lost power in Monroe County, a large portion of them in Greece.

Repair work was delayed as the high winds persisted into the next day, making it too dangerous for crews. Utility workers from all over came to assist RG & E. Local hotels were full of residents so a crew from Canada was billeted at the Greece Community Center. Some homes were without power for two weeks.

Repairs on Long Pond were delayed due to the lack of enough utility poles to replace all the broken ones. We’ve had more wind and ice storms since these two big ones, which is why whenever ice or wind is in the forecast, we hope it won’t be as bad as the Ice Storm of 1991, or the Wind Storm of 2017.

Thanks for joining us today. Join us again next week as we pay tribute to the soldiers of World War I.

mail

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.

mail

“Keeping Greece roads clear in the 20th century”

Winter snows prior to the early 1900s weren’t a problem for the Greece highway dept. There was no highway department, as such, and they had no snow-moving equipment. There might have been a few farmers who contracted with their team of horses to pull fairly large rollers to pack down the road snow for a path to allow various types of sleighs on the main roads. The first “improved road” in Greece was a section of North Greece Rd. from the hamlet known as “Jenkins Corner” at Latta Rd. to about a half mile north and the “Hojack” (R.W.&O.) railroad and station in 1903. Shipments could be received there from Canada and the west and from eastern New York State and Rochester.

By 1909 the town board appointed the first highway superintendent and retired the numerous “Pathmasters” who had been the overseers of Greece’s various main roads. The town board minutes of 1919 make the first mention of snow removal in the budget. Four thousand dollars were to be allotted for snow removal. Little by little, during the 1920s, early town trucks would have added snow plow equipment for winter, to keep the main highways free of snow. The increasing use of automobiles had become more reliable and those adventuresome drivers could now keep their vehicles on the road with the aid of chains on their tires, rather than being stored on blocks until spring.

The town highway department soon outgrew the several small buildings that housed their equip­ment behind the town hall on Ridge Rd. In 1935 land was bought and developed on property formerly owned by Emmett Cooper, (long-time highway superintendent) on Long Pond Rd., north of Latta Rd. A much-expanded department operates from that spot to the present time.

Snow Report from the Democrat & Chronicle

Photos, data supplied by Alan Mueller, Greece Historian’s Office.

mail