Lock 52 Chronicle

Issue 2

The Newsletter of the Lock 52 Historical Society
73 Pine Street, Port Byron, NY

Spring 2016

The objective of this Society shall be to create an awareness of, and preserve the history of the village of Port Byron and the town of Mentz

Our Annual Appeal To You
Or
Why Is There a Historical Society and Why Should I Support It?
Does it seem to you that a historical society seems old and out of place in a world of instant access? People no longer need to
write a letter and mail it to the “Historian, Port Byron, NY” to find answers to their genealogical or history questions. It’s all
right there at your finger tips. So why do we even need a organization devoted to preserving the past? And why should I help
support such an organization?
I will admit that I enjoy the ease of using Old Fulton Postcards to search out history. In years gone by, I would spend hours
searching papers page by page. And I have a Ancestry.com account which has helped me fill in branches of the family tree and
make contacts with distant cousins. But as nice as these sites are, they are not able to help the researcher make the connections between their family and larger events that might have impacted why they lived the way they lived. At some point, every
researcher wants to visit the family home, and no Internet site can take you by the hand to help you make those historical connections. That’s what we can do. We help add context to your family story.
And no Internet site will collect the old family photos, the account books from businesses long gone, home movies, or three
dimensional artifacts. One of the arguments I hear is not to worry because private collectors will save all this history. I collect
cast iron frying pans and Coleman lanterns, but no one will ever see them unless I invite them to my house. The Society collects
all this stuff and we share it. There is something about being able to touch a artifact that your great grandparents may have
touched. I like to say we act as the community’s attic. And we can use these objects to help teach others about our local stories.
As an example of what we do, we have spent hundreds of dollars and many volunteer hours transferring and posting the Bruce
Carter home movies taken in the 1940’s to You Tube. I don’t know if anyone else would have done this, and it would have been
a shame if the movies were simply tossed in the garbage. (See page four for another example)
Speaking of You Tube, I really enjoy finding something new and sharing with everyone by way of YouTube, or Facebook or a
blog post. I enjoy the occasional comment. But social media isn’t really all that social when you compare it to being in a room
full of your friends and neighbors, who are all watching the same movie and sharing the same history.
The Society is really interested in getting people to come and visit. We like it when people come to Port Byron to see the sites,
and when they ask us questions about local history. But we also like to see them eat lunch, shop, or fill the tank while they are
here. I hate to call the Society a tourism bureau, but in a sense, we are in the business of promoting history and our village so
that people will come to see it.

What Does Your Membership Do?
We receive some support from the Town and Village. We also make some money by way of our fund raisers; the spaghetti dinners and the other things we do like Doug’s Fish Fry wagon visits and bake sales. And we get money from memberships and
some very kind and generous donations.
But your membership means more than money. When we apply for grants, one of the questions is “How many people does
your organization help?” and “How many members do you have?” It’s really helps us to be able to say we have 100 members
instead of saying that we have 20 or 30. So your $10 dollar membership might just help us win a big multi dollar grant.
And I will happily point out that the two sites I mentioned before, Old Fulton Postcards and Ancestry, will both will ask you for
money to help support their operations. My Ancestry account is near to $200 a year! While I don’t expect you to send in $200, I
would ask you to think about supporting the Society so we can continue with our mission of saving our local history. If you ever
wish to see what we have in our collection, or want to learn more about the Society, please feel free to ask for a tour.
Yours in History,
Mike Riley
President– Lock 52 Historical Society

2015 in Review
Programs- In May, we had a visit from Jim Brady who acted the role of Hiram Hotchkiss, a general store owner and
promoter of the use of peppermint oil. In June, Mr. Cosentino of Cosentino Florist told us about his family’s history in the floral
industry and how the industry works today. In July, Pamela Vittorio from the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum told us
about the role of women on the Erie Canal. In August, we held the second annual recognition of those who have reached their
90th year. In September Montezuma Historian Cheryl Longyear told us about the history of Howland Island, and we had a visit
from Johnny Appleseed in October. And in November, Joni and Dewey Lincoln told us about their trip to Zimbabwe.
Collections- We expanding our collection with a donation of an autograph book from 1822. This book was owned by
Delia Akin. The Akin’s were an early family who built a mill where the IR Warren mill building stands today. Somehow this book
found its way to San Francisco and a local person found it and saw that it had Port Byron written in it. So she offered to return it
home. This book will be scanned and copied, and then returned to the Akin family. We were contacted by a estate buyer who
found a photo collection showing the Octagon Cabins. The Octagon Cabins were tourist cabins, a type of early motel, that existed from 1935 to 1960. The photos were found in a house sale in the south tier region. The photos were purchased and donated to the Society. Perhaps the most exciting news was the discovery of home movies made by Bruce Carter. These were
found in the old Masonic Lodge, and thankfully given to the Society. We are working to have them transferred to DVD so they
can be viewed. And thanks to the Mentz Highway crew, the old turbine that once powered Wilt’s Mill was removed from the
Riley driveway to the back yard of the Society house. We will use it to help tell the story of water powered mills on the Owasco
Outlet.
Building- We had the Cayuga County Sheriffs Community Services gang in the basement and they cleaned out all the
old left over plaster and lath, rotted wood and other trash. We also received a nice a nice donation from John Melenick from
Montezuma who drew up plans for a remodeled basement. It is our goal to make the basement into safe and secure storage for
the growing collection of artifacts.
Outreach- We were awarded a grant from the Cayuga Community Fund to help us build a new website. Our current
website was part of the Cayuga County Genweb and certainly has served us well, but it was time to move into our own fullblown website. We launched the new site this past fall.
Other Happenings- We were contacted by the owner of 80 Pine Street, the large Greek revival house that sits up on
the hill. They wanted to donate the building to the Society. We quickly assembled a committee and had good fun breaking into
the building and going through it from top to bottom. We quickly learned that the old occupants were hoarders and the place is
full of stuff and garbage. And sadly, the building itself has been let go for so long and into a condition that was far beyond our
means to repair. We turned down the offer.
We learned that the old Frank Sperry house on the corner South and Pine Streets had been sold and we helped do
some explorations of the structure and it’s history. See the article below.
We have been watching the continued construction and development of the new Erie Canal Heritage Park along the
Thruway. This project will be complete in mid 2016.
And late in the year, Betty Smith passed away. Betty was 94, and will be remembered for her energetic volunteerism.
She was always ready to help sit at the house, she started the spaghetti dinner fund raisers, and she certainly will be remembered for her great baking.. She was a past president of the Society.

The James Pine / Frank Sperry House
In 2015, we learned that the house known as the Brigham Young
House on the corner of Pine and South Streets, was purchased by
the family of the Mormon leader Brigham Young. Mr. Young lived
in Port Byron from about 1825 to 1829, and for a time, he lived in
this small building, which was owned by James Pine. Later in its
history, the building was owned by Frank Sperry (seen here) who
resisted offers to update the house with electricity and running
water. Thus the building is in a remarkable state of preservation,
although not quite 1820’s preservation. As a building specialist
called it, a typical 1820’s canal era house. Cheaply built and very
small. But it has stood for almost 200 years.
The family is making plans to make repairs and update the later
wing to accommodate overnight stays. Work should begin sometime this year. We welcome them to the village.

2016– The Year of the Basement
Our headquarters at 73 Pine is a 1850’s one and a half story
house. If you have been there, you know it is small and a tad
cramped for space. We have a room for hosting programs, a
room for new and changing displays, a room dedicated to the
good folks that served in the armed forces, and a couple other
rooms with dedicated displays. Aside from a couple small rooms,
we have no room for our collection, and collecting stuff is what
we do best. Over the past few years, we have been inching toward a goal to make our basement into a safe and secure storage
space, and 2016 has to be the year to make it happen. It really
won’t take much. We need a concrete floor poured, a boiler
moved, some sheet rock and electrical work done. It will not be a
public space, but it will be a good place to store and organize the
artifacts people donate to us.
If you know of anyone who can help, or know of a contractor, or
even a retired husband you want to get out of the house, drop
us an email. We can use the help.

Calendar of Events
Ever since the demise of the Shopping Guide, we have heard
people say they wished for a Community Calendar of events. So
to try to help fill this void, we have built in a calendar of events
as part of the new Society website. To access it, you don’t need
Facebook or twitter or anything else other than a way to access
the web. We really encourage all the organizations and groups to
send us your events so we can add it and give people a valuable
planning resource. We also encourage event planners to check to
see who else might be doing something on the same day. We
have also listed school days off and other events that could impact your events. Email events to;

lock52hs@gmail.com

Volunteering / Scout Projects /
Community Service
We always hear about the high school teen or the Scout
that is looking for a project to help them fill out their community service time requirement, after they have done
their work. We have a great many ways for people to help
us while we help them, and it isn’t all dealing with dusty old
history books. We have construction projects, computer
based projects, gardening projects. We also have connections so that a teen thinking about going into the history
field can get some very practical experience while helping
us. We will never turn away a volunteer who wants to help.

Finding Us and Our New Website
Whether you are stumbling across us for the first time, or
you have heard about us, but are not quite sure what we
do, we have a couple ways for you to find out.
Our physical “home” is located at 73 Pine Street. We hold
our programs, show the displays, and house our collection
there. During the warmer months, we do have regular open
hours, and we will open by appointment all times of the
year. Our house is heated, so visits are welcome anytime of
the year.
Our new website is at portbyronhistorical.org. Our goal for
the site is to make it as easy as possible to find useful information about our Society, the town and the village. As we
grow and learn, we hope to expand what we have on the
site. If you have thoughts, please pass them along.

portbyronhistorical.org

Marshall’s Store
We were very pleased that the Emerson
family sent along photos of Marshall’s
Store this past year. We had been looking
for any photos of a showing the west side
of the village, and the family sent along
very nice collection of photos showing the
store and the people who ran it.
It is almost too easy to break up the timeline of the village into eras. There was the
time before the canal when the village was
a place of mills; then came the 100 years of
the canal; then for a very brief time from
1920 to 1955, let’s call it pre-Thruway, Port
Byron was a busy village on a cross state
highway. Marshall’s Store was one of the small businesses that serviced not only the village, but the cross state traffic along
Route 31. (see the Octagon Cabins article) We can see glimpses of this traffic in the Bruce Carter movies taken during the
1940’s. When the Thruway was built, Port Byron entered the last and perhaps present era, the Post Thruway period. That was
when the village and these businesses lost a major part of their business and we see a rapid change in the village. In 2015,
thanks to the good folks making donations, we made major gains in our understanding of this Post canal, Pre-Thruway era.

The Octagon Cabins
A while back, we wrote a blog post about the Octagon
Cabins, the small tourist cabins made from old Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern trolley stops. In 2015, the
Society received an email from an estate buyer in Harrisburg saying he had recently purchased a collection
of photos showing the Octagon Cabins. The problem
was that except for the name of Thrush and a sign
showing the Octagon Cabins, there was no other identifying information. He did what we all do these days,
he searched it on the Internet. In doing some research,
he found our post. He contacted us saying he had
some 30 images of the cabins and gas station. In short,
a deal was made and the photos came back home.
It was trilling to be able to see this collection. It is one
of the best collection of photos we have that deal with a single topic. And this collection of photos takes us back to a time when
the automobile was a relatively new thing for the American family and in their new vehicles they took to the roads in search for
adventure. Beginning in the 1920’s, small business owners set up what was then called; tourist cabins, tourist courts, or tourist
camps. These places were set up to accommodate people with their cars who might be looking for places to camp or stay
cheaply overnight. The local paper called the Octagon Cabins a “colony of summer tourist cabins”, and the “Port Byron Camp”.
The local business man who set up the cabins was Samuel Harnden, and he chose his spot well. Even in 1935, NY State Route 31
was over two hundred miles long and one of three routes that ran east / west across central and western New York. The other
two were Routes 20 and 104. So it follows that people wishing to travel would take one of these three routes. In doing the research on tourist camps, it was amazing to see the amount of travel taking place in spite of the Great Depression.
The life of the tourist camp was very short. After the Second World War, the Depression was over and people again had money.
When they stopped for the night, they wanted more luxury then a small roadside cabin could offer. Motels with air conditioning and TV’s and bathrooms began to replace the tourist cabin. In the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s, the development
of the interstate highway system built super highways that bypassed the small villages that were home to all the little overnight
stops. By the 1960’s, the life of the cabin was over. And this seems to be when our little Octagon Cabins disappeared.

Membership / Donations / Sponsors
If you have it this far, well congratulations. I hope we have
made the case well enough for you to consider supporting the
Society. We really do need and appreciate your past and continued support.
Here’s the good part. The Lock 52 Historical Society is the NYS
Chartered historical organization serving the town of Mentz
and village of Port Byron. We are a recognized as a educational
organization, and as such, donations to the Society may be tax
deductable. (ask your accountant) So please, feel free to make
as many large donations as you wish.
Take note, this year we raised the yearly membership to
$10.00 for a single and $15.00 for families. That’s less than one
hours work for most folks, so we think it is fairly reasonable.
And if you take a look at the website and like what you see,
you can help us maintain the site by sponsoring an ad for
$10.00 month or $50.00 for six months. You ad will appear on
the Calendar of Events and Things to See pages.

We like sharing our finds and donations, so we post photos to
our Facebook page. This kids look a lot better in color, so fly
over and check us out.
Dave Thomas donated this series showing the Port Byron
1976 Bicentennial Parade.

Lock 52 Historical Society
73 Pine Street
Port Byron, NY 13140

lock52hs@gmail.com
www.portbyronhistorical.org

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