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.

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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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Bicentennial Snapshot No. 54: Gone, but Not Forgotten

Bicentennial Snapshot # 54: Gone but not Forgotten
Monroe County Bookmobile in front of the old town hall, 1955 from the Rochester Public Library Local History and Genealogy Division

Today, as we acknowledge all those who helped us produce these Bicentennial Snapshots, please enjoy photos of places and businesses no longer part of the Greece landscape.

We would like to thank the following individuals with their contributions to the snapshots:

First of all, we are tremendously thankful for all the photos provided by Society President Bill Sauers. He has a vast archive of photographs that he generously shared with us.

Edgewater Hotel from Bill Sauers
Odenbach Shipbuilding, 2012, photo by Bill Sauers

If he didn’t have a photo we needed, he went out and took one, especially for the snapshots.

We greatly appreciate Greece town historian Keith Suhr giving us permission to use photos from Greece Images.

Dutch Mill, 2017, from the Office of the Town Historian
Mount Read Chase-Pitkin

Thank you also to our other photographers or those who provided photos for various episodes: Alan Mueller, Ben Kerr, Bonnie Stemen Fiser, Carolyn Kerheart, Dick Halsey, Deborah Cole Meyers,

Douglas Worboys, who worked at Chase-Pitkin and helped you find the tools and supplies for that home improvement project you had going on in your home,

Maiden Lanes Bowling Alley, photo by Mike Callen

Gene Preston(Retired North Greece Fire Department / Kodak Fire) and owner of Preston Fresh Produce on Long Pond Road, Gina DiBella, Gloria LaTragna, Gretchen Howe, Dr. George Sanders, “Booze, Barns, Boats and Brothers” by H. Dwight Bliss III, John Cranch, Jane Grant, Author of Barns of Greece, Kathy Gray who provided pictures of Frank Siebert that were added to the snapshot on Ridge Road Fire District, Jo Ann Ward Snyder co-author of Pioneer Families of the Town of Greece, Joan Winghart Wilcox Sullivan who wrote about her father, Bernie Winghart, Gordon Massecar,

Joe Vitello, Marie Poinan co-author of Pioneer Families of the Town of Greece as well as the co-author of two books with Maureen Whalen, one book with the late Tom Sawnor, and 5 books on her own, RRFD/Greece Ridge FD Historian and District Photographer Matthew Pillsbury, Battalion Chief Brian Gebo for providing Ridge Road/Greece Ridge Fire Districts 100 Years logo for our use,

Rochester Gas & Electric, Russell Station from GHS
Lincoln First Bank postcard at Dewey and Haviland

Patricia Conklin, Paul Pakusch who let us use the personal home video that he recorded on his way to work at News 10 (WHEC) NBC in 1991 during the ice storm, Mike Parker, Robert Bilsky, Ralph DeStephano, Ed Spelman, Tom DiBello, Travis Beaver, Francis Howard Whelehan, Stanley Hwalek, Mason Winfield the Author of “Haunted Rochester”, William Aeberli, Helen Edson Slocum, Virginia Tomkiewicz, Shirley Cox Husted

We would like to thank the following organizations, news outlets, local colleges and libraries

North Greece Fire Department, Greece Ridge/Ridge Road Fire District, Barnard Fire Department, Barnard Exempts, FDNY(Fire Department of the City of New York), Greece Police, Center for Governmental Research,

Island Cottage Hotel, 1977, from GHS
Streb’s Steak House from GHS

Rochester Public Library, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Recording Studio in the Launch Pad Maker Space at the Central Library, The University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, Wayne State University, Princeton University, University of Iowa, nebraskastudies.org, SUNY School SOAR

Democrat and Chronicle, 13 Wham TV, WHEC, WROC, Spectrum News, Histrotic Detroit, The Hilton Record, Rochester Times-Union, The American Issue, New York Daily News, Global News a Division of Shaw Media, newspapers.com, Rochester Gas & Electric News Publication, Rochester Daily Advertiser,

Verhulst Brothers Farm Market from GHS
Our Lady of Mercy Rectory designed by James H. Johnson from GHS

Our Mother of Sorrows Church, Greece Baptist Church, Greece United Methodist Church,

Greece Central School District, Archive.org, BoxRec.com, US Treasury National Archives, FBI, National Archives, Department of Defense, U.S.C.G.S. ( United States Coast Guard), Library of Congress, USDA, Wikipedia, IMDB, National Weather Services, NOAA, NASA, Canadian Ice Service, US PTO(Patent and Trademark Office), Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Rochester Baseball Historical Society, Monroe County GIS Map Gallery which contains 11 interactive maps that were used in some of the snapshots as well as the parcels map that was used to verify data on certain properties,

District School #5, 2007, photo by Bill Sauers
999 Long Pond Road from GHS

The Landmark Society of Western New York, Rochester Museum and Science Center, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, mcnygenealogy.com, New York State digital archive, Monroe Historical Society, Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, Cobblestone Museum, Buffalo Maritime Center, New York State Department of Transportation, Bob Johnson Chevrolet

We relied heavily on past newspaper accounts and are so grateful that the Greece Historical Society secured grants to have the Greece Press, Greater Greece Press, and Greece Post digitized.

Bull at Scarlett’s Island Cottage from GHS
Lake Shore Drive-in Sign from GHS

History writers of the future will have a more difficult time documenting the past with fewer newspapers available.

Cine 1234 Ridge Rd (FB Gina Beebee)

The maps digitized by the Rochester Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Division are a marvelous resource.

St Charles Borromeo school photo by Bill Sauers
Movie Theatre in Stoneridge Plaza from GHS

If these Snapshots brought back memories or taught you something you didn’t know, then we succeeded in our endeavor. They will remain a resource for future students of local history.

We encourage you to get out and photograph what will be tomorrow’s history. Keep a journal documenting your lives and bequeath them to future generations.

Johnny Maier’s Hotel and Restaurant, 4454 Dewey Avenue, from GHS
Friendly’s Restaurant on Dewey Avenue from GHS

Lastly, we invite you to visit the Greece Historical Society and Museum to learn more about the history of the town of Greece.

Greece Volunteer Ambulance (GVA)
Greece Volunteer Ambulance (GVA)

This is Maureen Whalen, on behalf of the Greece Historical Society, Pat Worboys, and myself, saying thank you to our loyal viewers and wishing you the best as Greece begins a new century.

Frear’s Garden Center, 2022, photo by Pat Worboys
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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.

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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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Bible School Association of Greece

Last year the Greece Historical Society acquired a handwritten book containing the secretarial notes and minutes of the Bible School Association of Greece dated 1905-1921. Kate Huppé, a recent graduate from SUNY Geneseo, offered to write this story about what she discovered reading these minutes.

This year marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the discontinuation of the Bible School Association of the Town of Greece. At that time, the Bible School Association was reorganized to better represent the needs of Greece and the surrounding areas. Yet, what led to this reorganization by the end of 1921?

The Bible School Association of the Town of Greece convened three times yearly, once in the winter, once in the spring, and once in the summer to elect officers, according to the Association’s constitution. These meetings strove to bring together “the Bible school workers of the town, to promote more thorough study of the Bible and better teaching of its truths.” Miss Mary Moall, secretary of the Bible School Association, kept meeting minutes for each of the meetings, allowing for a deeper under­ standing of how the people of Greece, and eventually other towns, approached promoting and teaching the Bible. Record keeping by Miss Moall began on December 5, 1905, and continued through December 15, 1921.

Topics frequently discussed were the creation of an effective Sunday School, the characteristics of an excellent Sunday school teacher, and the mission of the school itself. Naturally, these topics turned towards the youth of Greece, and how to keep them involved in the church and Sunday School. Especially mentioned were young men and how to keep them in attendance – a comment which may sound familiar one hundred years later!

Meetings typically opened with a devotional led by a minister followed by the discussion topics of the day. On April 9, 1906, the Bible School Association convened at the Baptist church. A presentation, ‘The Bible- Where Is It?” given by Reverend J.J. Kelly led to the discussion of what makes a good Sunday School teacher. Miss Moall told the group “of an old Scotchman who held a class of boys by throwing out the lessons … and teaching first about the Bible.” A. E. Truesdale, a frequent attendee of the Bible School Association meetings, responded that “The most successful teachers always carry their Bibles. If we use it, and are familiar with it, it will make us tactful, it has magnetism which gives tact. Religion cannot be described but felt.” In this way, the attendees seemed to believe that a good Sunday School teacher had distinct vindication for the teachings of the Bible. They should empha­size its importance by leading through example.

As the meetings continued, readers of Miss Moall’s secretarial notes will see, attendance increased, both from individuals and representatives of churches in the surrounding areas. Publications in the Democrat & Chronicle also record an increased geographic scope. By the December 15, 1921 meeting, Miss Moall writes not of the reconvening of the Bible School Association of the town of Greece, but of the Bible School Association of the Town of Greece and vicinity. That being said, the meeting on December 15 was held at the Dewey Avenue Reformed Church, located in the Town of Greece.

It appears by the end of 1921, it made sense to reorganize the Bible School Association to better address the needs of the churches of Greece and the surrounding area. Miss Moall concludes her book of meeting minutes writing that the Bible School Association was discontinued, and the First District of Monroe County Sunday School reorganized at Hilton. A new secretary’s book was established. One may assume that topics of discussion of this new Sunday School organization followed suit of those discussed by the Bible School Association, as those remained overwhelmingly similar over the course of Miss Moall’s dedicated meeting minutes. Yet an expanding jurisdiction could have prompted discussions of various kinds.

Thank you to Professor Michael Oberg, Geneseo Center for Local and Municipal History, SUNY Gene­seo for connecting us to Kate.

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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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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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Outdoor Ice Skating

The opening of the outdoor skating rink on the Greece Town Campus should bring back memories of the “good old days” to many of us who have lived in the area for a half century or more. Back then there were many opportunities for outdoor ice skating, including public schools, community parking lots and natural ponds.

Residents of Greece were frequent visitors, until 1991, to the Maplewood Park pond. In fact, the building near the pond that is now City offices was specifically built with ice skating in mind. The Ontario Beach Park parking lot was another favorite spot for us as were the nearby ponds along the lake. A January 4, 1948 Democrat & Chronicle article talked about the thousands that crowded area skating rinks.

In the 1940s and 50s Barnard and Britton schools, and I am sure other schools, were also sites of public ice skating and they were true community endeavors. The DPW would roll down the snow and bring in an old voting booth as a shelter. The local volunteer fire department would flood the field. (No plastic liner or safety bumpers back then.) When the snow needed to be cleared off the ice, plenty of shovels were available for anyone who wanted to help clear the snow. In 1948 a group of volunteers from the Greece Youth Foundation cleared four acres of land on Britton Rd near Forgham Road for a rink with water supplied from Fleming Creek. It was on private property but was used by anyone who came by.

By the 1960s, the Town converted the lighted tennis courts at Carter Park into an ice rink in the winter and in 1975 built a shelter large enough to provide a place to change skates.

We all had ice skates back then, whether you were a good skater or not. New skates were always a great Christmas gift. If not a Christmas gift there was always Cooks Hardware who did a thriving business in used and new skates along with sharpening skates.

As indoor rinks opened and times changed, outdoor ice skating seemed to disappear around the early 1990s, albeit for a few artificially cooled rinks around the County. Maybe it was the changing climate or other activities to keep us occupied, but it seems kids don’t own skates anymore. If the weather cooperates and more outdoor skating becomes available, things may change or maybe we just never will go back to the “good old days”.

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