Bicentennial Snapshot # 28 – Jerome Combs, The Cobblestone Baseball Catcher

Jerome Combs from RGE news September 1938
Jerome Combs from RGE news September 1938

This week we introduce you to Jerome Combs, the cobblestone baseball player. Did you know that some baseball players would use cobblestones as baseballs?

Well, one player could catch cobblestones and played for the North Parma baseball team and practiced catching them, which people said could not be done.

This snapshot is dedicated to the late Tom Sawnor (1961-2021). We appreciated Tom’s contributions to the Greece Historical Society and Museum. We will miss him and may his love for sports live on.

Jerome A. Combs was born on September 12, 1861, to Lewis Combs and Sarah Anne Combs. His parents moved from the town of Middlesex, in Middlesex County, New Jersey, to North Greece, in Monroe County, New York around 1840 to 1850 based on census data dated 1855 for Lewis A. Combs. The birth of Lewis Combs’s first son born in 1855 in North Greece, coincided with Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter living in the area as well. Dr. Carpenter may have been the doctor who helped Sarah Anne Combs deliver both Jerome A. Combs in 1861 and his brother Lewis A. Combs in 1855, or more likely it was his son, Dr. Abdiel Milton Carpenter.

Map of North Greece 1872
Map of North Greece 1872
Jerome A Combs property in 1902 North Greece
Jerome A Combs property in 1902 North Greece

Lewis Combs owned two businesses and had a reasonable sized farm as well. The first one was the Blacksmith and Carriage shop where the North Greece Fire Department started in 1922 at the northeast corner of Latta and North Greece Road. The second business was a butter churn factory. He had a truck farm as well. His sons Lewis and Jerome helped worked the farm when they came of age. Both Combs boys went to School Number 6 on College Ave. Combs’s Truck Farm would take fruits and vegetables to local wholesalers or the Rochester Public Market in the city. They would load the truck or horse and wagon and be on the way by 4 am to the public market and would spend a good portion of the day selling what products they had from the wagon or truck depending on the day of the week. Some of the Combs’s fruits and vegetables may have been sold to H.C. Phelps General Store, Wagg’s General store on Lake Ave, or Anderson’s General store at Ridge and Greece Center Road (otherwise known as Long Pond Road). Also, the Larkin Hotel may have bought produce from the Combs to serve at meals for patrons at the hotel.

1954 Town Seal on the Town Flag
1954 Town Seal on the Town Flag
N Greece Fire House 1926
N Greece Fire House 1926
Directory of the Clio Lodge, 1927, from hipstamp.com
Directory of the Clio Lodge, 1927, from hipstamp.com

Jerome Combs was the town assessor for twelve years, and he was a volunteer with North Greece Fire Department for twenty years. Jerome Combs was one of the founding members of the North Greece Fire Department. He was a member of Clio Masonic Lodge in the village of Hilton once called North Parma.

North Parma Baseball Team, Jerome Combs is seated in on the left in the first row,  from RGE News September 1938
North Parma Baseball Team, Jerome Combs is seated on the left in the first row, from RGE News September 1938

But in the late 1880s and the early 1890s, Jerome Combs was the star catcher for North Parma’s semi-professional baseball team. In the team picture attached to the left here, Jerome Combs is seated in on the left in the first row. He propelled them through long winning streaks. But what was more interesting and made him legendary in the semi-pro leagues was his unique ability… What might that be? Was it his hitting stances? Was it his ability to communicate his signals to the pitcher?

cobblestone baseball
cobblestone used as a baseball
1887 Baseball Card from "The Baseball Glove Comes to Baseball, 1875," www.eyewitnesstohistory.com
1887 Baseball Card from “The Baseball Glove Comes to Baseball, 1875,” www.eyewitnesstohistory.com

It was none of those. It was his ability to catch barehanded. Jerome would catch either baseballs or cobblestones (that were used as baseballs when no baseballs were available to use) with his bare hands. Seen here is an 1891 catcher’s mitt vs. a modern catcher’s mitt; look at how different they are in terms of how the glove sits on the hand and how the ball rests in the pocket of a modern baseball glove.

E. H. Decker's GATGHERS GLOVE
E. H. Decker’s Catcher’s GLOVE
Wilson A2000 2021 1790SS 34″ Catcher’s Mitt

If you want to learn more about the evaluation of catcher equipment can be found on the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website. https://sabr.org/journal/article/the-evolution-of-catchers-equipment/

Jerome would catch baseballs thrown as far as 150 feet and as close as 3 feet, but for the pitching distance, it was 50 feet. One of Jerome’s quotes from the days he played baseball was

“I guess, I was the only man who had the reputation of being willing to catch any pitcher at fifty feet using cobblestones for baseballs. Folks who didn’t know me used to bet it couldn’t be done.”

Old Time Baseball played  on the grounds of the Town Hall 5-14-16
Old Time Baseball played put on by the Rochester Baseball Historial Society on the grounds of the Town Hall 5-14-2016 – https://rochesterbaseballhistory.org/

One day he was summoned from the fields where he was working to catch for John Smith, a pitcher with a Rochester team, one of those who said it could not be done. They started throwing at 150 feet. Then, it gradually shortened the distance to fifty feet. Combs, described as a gentle giant of a man, came through with flying colors as he always did.

Did his hands suffer any damage?

They did not. He explained his technique: “I learned to absorb the shock of the stones and the baseballs at fifty feet by pulling back my hands with the catch at fifty feet. Then I kept them in shape by soaking them in hot water after each game.”

And on the day, he died his obituary headline read “Former ‘Barehand’ Catcher, Jerome A Combs, taken by death” on August 30, 1940.

If you want to learn about some of our local hometown athletes that have gone on to the pro level or just had some records set at local high schools besides Jerome A Combs, then get yourself a copy of our publication written by Marie Villone Poinan the late Tom Sawnor.

Hometown Sports Heroes of Greece NY
Hometown Sports Heroes of Greece NY
Hometown Sports Heroes of Greece NY
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Bicentennial Snapshot # 26 – Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter

Dr. Abdiel Bliss Carpenter from W.H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York, 1877
Dr. Abdiel Bliss Carpenter from W.H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York, 1877

Abdiel Bliss Carpenter was born in Seneca, Ontario County, New York, on May 11, 1809. He was the son of Daniel and Lydia Smith Carpenter. He attended one of the small one or two-room schoolhouses in the town of Seneca in Ontario county, then went on to attend Geneva Academy which now is the home of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. At the age of 17, Abdiel Bliss Carpenter was certified to teach in Benton, Yates County which is 15 minutes to the south and west of Hobart and William Smith Colleges by taking Pre Emption Road south. But Abdiel was more interested in becoming a doctor and practicing medicine; he wanted to care for people instead of teaching people. So, he began an apprenticeship with Doctor Anthony Gage in Ontario County before moving to North Greece. In 1827 he moved to North Greece / Jenkin’s Corners and continued his training with Doctor M.B. Gage who lived in North Greece.

In 1830 at the age of 21, Abdiel Carpenter married Jane Louesa Rowleyof North Greece. They settled down in a small house behind the brick church on the northwest corner of Latta and North Greece Road.

Jane Louesa Rowley grew up on the southwest side of North Greece Road not far from Jenkins’ Corners. Her family’s farm is now home to North Greece Fire Station and its North Greece Road entrance. The Rowley homestead was located directly across from the entrance to College Ave. This photo of the Rowley homestead was in a photo album recently donated to the Greece Historical Society and which we were thrilled to receive.

As you can see on this 1858 map of North Greece there are two Rowley properties one is the S.S. Rowley the other one is the H. Rowley property. The Rowley homestead in the picture to the right is that of H. Rowley.

The Rowley homestead in North Greece, from GHS
The Rowley homestead in North Greece, from GHS
North Greece map 1858
North Greece map 1858
Fairfield Medical College, Fairfield, NY
Fairfield Medical College, Herkimer, NY
Abdiel Bliss Carpenter Degree to be a Doctor
Abdiel Bliss Carpenter Degree to be a Doctor

It was common practice at that time for someone who wanted to be a doctor to attend medical school after acquiring some medical training. The year after his marriage, the twenty-two-year-old Abdiel Carpenter went to the Fairfield Medical School in Herkimer, New York. Fairfield Medical College closed in 1840, due to competition from other medical colleges opening in New York and surrounding states. This is when many of the other colleges and universities like Syracuse University and the University of Rochester were founded.

He attended Fairfield Medical College college 10 years before the school closed for good. He graduated and earned his degree to practice Physic and Surgery on January 3, 1830.

Abdiel Bliss Carpenter returned to North Greece upon receiving his degree to practice Physic and Surgery and purchased Dr. M.B. Gage’s practice and started practicing in North Greece. His career as a doctor spanned 34 years. During that time, he would keep a record of all the children he assisted into this world just like Doctor Samuel Beach Bradley did in Hoosick.

Carpenter ledger from Edward G. Miner Library
Carpenter ledger from Edward G. Miner Library
sketch of Abdiel Bliss Carpenter Greece Post 1972
sketch of Abdiel Bliss Carpenter Greece Post 1972
double-breasted Prince Albert frock coat
double-breasted Prince Albert frock coat

Frank Milton Carpenter son of Abdiel Milton Carpenter, described his grandfather Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter as “a serious practitioner, a self-made man of no-nonsense personality.” Frank remembered that his grandfather always wore a Prince Albert Coat and top hat.

What is a Prince Albert Coat?

A Prince Albert coat: “a double-breasted frock coat usually with a flat velvet collar, becoming in vogue after a visit to the U.S. by Prince Albert in 1876.” The Prince Albert coat is a variant of a Frock Coat.

What is a Frock Coat?

According to Wikipedia, A frock coat is a formal men’s coat characterized by a knee-length skirt cut all around the base just above the knee, popular during the Victorian and Edwardian periods (the 1830s–1910s). It is a fitted, long-sleeved coat with a center vent at the back and some features unusual in a post-Victorian dress. These include the reverse collar and lapels, where the outer edge of the lapel is often cut from a separate piece of cloth from the main body, and also a high degree of waist suppression around the waistcoat, where the coat’s diameter around the waist is less than round the chest. This is achieved by a high horizontal waist seam with side bodies, which are extra panels of fabric above the waist used to pull in the naturally cylindrical drape. As was usual with all coats in the 19th century, shoulder padding was rare or minimal. Learn more on Wikipedia.

Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter served two one-year terms as town supervisor once in 1843, and then again in 1848.

Grave marker of Jane Louisa Rowley Carpenter in Falls Cemetery from Find-a-grave
The grave marker of Jane Louisa Rowley Carpenter in Falls Cemetery from Find-a-grave

Abdiel Bliss Carpenter and his first wife Jane Louesa Rowley Carpenter had seven children together but she passed away in 1859. Abdiel remarried Caroline Elizabeth Carpenter and had three more children.

These are 4 of the 9 children

Two of the seven children born to Abdiel Bliss Carpenter and Jane Louesa Rowley

  • Abdiel Milton Carpenter
  • Frank Irving Carpenter

These are two of the three children that Abdiel had with Caroline Elizabeth Carpenter

  • Charles A. Carpenter
  • Helen E. Carpenter
Etching of Dr. Abdiel Bliss Carpenter, his wife Caroline, and their home on Latta Road from W.H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York, 1877
Etching of Dr. Abdiel Bliss Carpenter, his wife Caroline, and their home on Latta Road from W.H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York, 1877

Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter owned land on both sides of Latta at 3490 and 3491 Latta Road. As you can see in this 1887 map below, it now shows the land is owned by Doctor A.B. Carpenter and his son Doctor A.M. Carpenter who lived right across the street from each other. Their office was on the south side of Latta Road. Eventually, Abdiel Bliss Carpenter retired to devote his time to farming and turned his practice over to his son, Abdiel Milton Carpenter, or Dr. Mit as his patients called him.

1887 Map of North Greece
1887 Map of North Greece

Both houses still stand today. The original house at 3490 Latta Road was built around the 1840s as a story-and-a-half rectangular edifice; the small porch on the west is most likely a remnant of a porch running across the front. The house had 15 rooms after the second floor, front addition, and pillars were added in the early 1860s.

3491 Latta Rd
3491 Latta Rd
3490 Latta Rd
3490 Latta Rd

On the north side, on land that was once owned by Lewis Combs, he cleared a hundred acres and planted wheat; the first year of farming produced such a bumper crop, Dr. Carpenter was able to pay off all his debts.

agriculture arable barley blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
The grave of Abdiel Bliss Carpenter
The grave of Abdiel Bliss Carpenter

Abdiel Bliss Carpenter passed away on January 9, 1896, at the age of 86, and his remains are buried in the Falls Cemetery on West Ridge Road at Latona Road on the southwest corner.

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Bicentennial Snapshot # 22 – North Greece / Jenkin’s Corners

This week and in the following 6 six snapshots we will be exploring the North Greece area and the people, Hotel DeMay or the hotel with many names that it had over time, Jerome Combs a baseball player, Doctor Abdiel Carpenter, and so much more. North Greece Fire Department will be covered in a later snapshot along with the other fire districts in the town. But this week we will give you an overview of the area and give you a breakdown of what is in the North Greece Area.

North Greece Overview

The North Greece area is located at the intersection of North Greece Road and Latta Road the streets that are included in this area are the east side of Manitou Road, The North side of English Road from North Greece Road to the intersection of English and North Ave if Pickering and Flynn Road Connected that would be the edge of the east side of the district up to the HoJack Line on Flynn Road, it then follows the Hojack line but it drops south of G. W. Northrup’s Property on North Greece Road, then down the back sides of the properties that sit on the west side of North Greece Road as soon it comes up to Latta and head west back to Manitou Road.

North Greece Area Map
North Greece Area Map

Latta Road

Latta Road
Latta Road highlighted in red

Latta Road is one of the Oldest Routes in the county but Latta only runs from Manitou Road to Lake Ave. But as for State Route 18 otherwise known as NY 18 begins at a junction with NY 104 south of a complex grade-separated interchange that includes NY 18F, NY 104, and the Niagara Scenic Parkway on the eastern edge of the village of Lewiston. to NY 104 in Lewiston then it zig-zags thru Orleans County until it passed thru Hilton and Parma then it turns on Manitou Road then on to Latta road and passes right thru the Hamlet of North Greece it then intersects NY 390. After a small distance east of NY 390, NY 18 passes Greece Arcadia High School as well as the newly built Greece Central School District Transportation and Support Services facility, Paddy Hill School, Mother of Sorrows, and intersects Mount Read Boulevard at the Paddy Hill Hamlet before intersecting Dewey Avenue a half-mile to the east. NY 18 turns south onto Dewey Avenue; however, state maintenance continues to follow Latta Road east to where it crosses into the Rochester city limits at Charlotte. This section of Latta Road is designated as NY 941A, an unsigned reference route. NY 18, meanwhile, becomes maintained by Monroe County as part of CR 132, an unsigned designation that follows Dewey Avenue north to its end at the Lake Ontario shoreline. The route continues south on Dewey Avenue to the Rochester city line, where CR 132 ends, and maintenance of the route shifts to the city of Rochester. NY 18 ends about 1 mile (1.6 km) later at a junction with NY 104 in an industrialized area known as Eastman Business Park.

North Greece Road

Surveyed in 1807, North Greece Road started out as just a dirt road that connected these two travel arteries.  Initially, it ended at Latta Road but was eventually extended to the south shores of Braddock Bay at the point where North Greece Road turns left and becomes Hincher Road and Buttonwood creek discharges into Braddock bay. North Greece Road and Elmgrove were realigned to meet at one light between 1988 and 1993 when Elm Ridge Shopping plaza was constructed to help get commercial trucks into Sam’s Club and Walmart as well as the Hess Gas station now Speedway and Pep Boys.

1988 North Greece Road at Ridge Road1993 North Greece Road at Ridge Road
Left 1988 – Map of North Greece Road at Ridge Road – Right 1993

The Hamlet of North Greece

North Greece map 1858 from Rochester Public Library
North Greece map 1858 from Rochester Public Library

Not surprisingly a hamlet sprang up at the crossroads of Latta and North Greece Roads. Although not denoted on a map, the hamlet was often called Jenkins’ Corners. We don’t know for sure why it was called this; there was a local farmer, William Jenkins, who may have given his name to the community, or perhaps it was named after an itinerant preacher, the first Methodist circuit rider to the area, the Reverend Amos Jenks. The natives of North Greece would sometimes say that they lived “down at the Jenks.”

H.C. Phelps

We took a look at this general store as well as two other general stores in Snapshot # 14 – General Stores

North Greece Fire Department

William Schmitt, a Buick dealer, formed the North Greece Fire District. A Pierce-Arrow truck was purchased for $6,700, the first motorized fire truck in the Town of Greece. In June of 1922, the Blacksmith Shop once owned by Lewis Combs at the corner of North Greece and Latta Roads became the first firehouse, and William Schmitt, the first chief. During the ’20s the Department responded to many fires and traveled out of the District to assist surrounding Fire Departments.

In 1935, Chief William Schmitt declared 1922 Pierce-Arrow unsafe; two 1936 American-La France pumpers were purchased. The Fire Department had grown to 55 members.

On July 27, 1958, the new house at Latta Road and Mt. Read Blvd. was dedicated. In September of 1958, two new Seagrave pumpers were placed into service at the new firehouse.

On September 15, 1963, the construction of a new communication center and three-bay addition was dedicated at the station at North Greece and Latta Roads. This building replaced the Lewis Comb’s carriage and wagon manufactory with a more state-of-the-art building for fire departments in the 1960s.

More on the history of the North Greece Fire Department up to 1982 was can be found in the book Milestones Along The Way 1922 to 1982, written by Eugene Preston and John Stageman. Just this June the North Greece Fire Department Celebrated its Centennial years of service to the North Greece Community

We at the Greece Historical Society say thank you for your service to the folks that live within the North Greece Fire Department District and that the department can grow and evolve its firefighting efforts with new technology and equipment to battle fires better, as well as better building techniques that different engineering and building codes change because of fires, accidents, water rescues and some of the different natural disaster that is occurring now due to climate change.

N Greece Fire House 1926
N Greece Fire House 1926
North Greece 100 Years Service Patch
North Greece 100 Years Service Patch
Engine 5 at Station 1
Engine 5 at Station 1
September 15, 1963, Station 1
September 15, 1963, Station 1

Hiram Bice and Lewis Combs Butter Business

North Greece business notices 1872 Map from Rochester Public Library
North Greece business notices 1872 Map from Rochester Public Library

Lewis Combs and Hiram Bice went in together on a butter business together.

As their business notice said, they manufactured a butter-churn that was “acknowledged as the best churn in the United States.” 

The churn had a horizontal shaft that extended the length of a rectangular box on its legs.

A series of radial beaters was attached to the shaft. According to his patent filed in 1865, the inventor, J. F. Sanborn of Hardwick, Vermont, said that he wanted to “contrive a churn that would be efficient for producing butter from cream, and then serve as a butter worker for washing and mixing salt with the butter…” Individuals such as Lewis Combs and Hiram Bice used the design to make these churns which could produce butter in eight to fifteen minutes, half the time or less of a vertical hand churn, and much easier on the arms.

Drying House

North Greece had a fruit drying house. Drying was a major method for preserving fruit, especially apples, to export to Europe.  LeFrois’ was used into the first decades of the twentieth century until supplanted by cold storage and canning factories.

School District #6

School # 6 before 1927
School 6 1927 -1949
Present Day Private House

Perhaps reflecting the hopes of parents and students, the North Greece school was located on College Avenue. It was also called the “gooseneck” road by local residents because of the bend in the road. 

This is the old brick school.

In 1927 the school had swings, slides, and teeters outside. The pupils in the upper grades played baseball in the back of the school on the baseball field. The school had two rooms, with four grades in each room. The school was heated with a coal furnace. They had a bathroom for boys and girls. This year they had regular electric light.

In 1949, the North Greece school district joined the Hilton Central School system.

Aerial Photos of North Greece 1930-1999

You can explore some Historic Aerial photos of the North Greece area on the Monroe County Interactive Historic Data Map website it has from 1930 to 1999 aerial photos in black and white whereas Google Maps and other modern map sites now have color Satellite images on their platforms.

North Greece Post Office

The North Greece post office moved around from H. C. Phelps on the Southwest corner of Latta and North Greece Roads to the hotel on the Southeast Corner then it moved behind what was Lewis Combs’s carriage and wagon manufactory. Then at some point in the 1950s or 1960s, it moved to a brick building at 640 N Greece Rd, North Greece, NY 14515 which is south of where the DeMay Hotel stood at the corner of Latta and North Greece Road.

The Hotel of Many Names Hotel Larken, Hotel Domino, Hotel DeMay, and more names

The next 3 Weeks will be About the Southeast corner and the Hotel of Many Names. One Hotel in our Hotel of Many names is actually the Manitou Beach Hotel and which was located at the western end of the Manitou Beach Trolley Line in 1943 it closed and never reopened after that year.

If you have memories or pictures of the inside of the DeMay consider posting some to our Facebook page so you can share a piece of Greece History for the rest of us to read and see what it looked like before it left us as a staple in the North Greece area.

Till Next week… This has been your look into the hamlet of Jenkin’s Corners / North Greece.

Related Material to this snapshot:

Manitou Beach Hotel by Alan Mueller

DeMay Hotel 1909 by Alan Mueller

North Greece Post Office by Alan Mueller

Related Snapshots:

Bicentennial Snapshot # 14 – General Stores
Bicentennial Snapshot # 10 – Samuel and Lydia and George and Frances Latta
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