AMERICANA IN DRUMLIN SQUARE, Part 1
The book "Americana in Drumlin Square" was written in the early 1960s by Mr. Francis "Pat" Smith, a current resident of Newark, N.Y. Mr. Smith has graciously given us permission to post his book on line. "Americana in Drumlin Square" discusses the history of parts of central New York State covered by the drumlins, or formations created by the long-ago receding of glaciers. An extensive bibliography is appended at the end of our 3-part transcription. We hope you enjoy this as much as we have.
AMERICANA IN DRUMLIN SQUARE
FRANCIS (Pat) SMITH
Newark, New York, 1962
In the rural country of upstate New York there is a small unique area virtually unknown for its historical roots accented by a background of beautiful rolling hillocks known as drumlins.
The roots of the word "drumlin" are found in the Gaelic words for "ridge or summit of a hill", or "little hills". Geologically, a drumlin is a compact mound of till having its longer axis in the direction of the local glacial striation.
Nature was most selective and chose only four principal areas in which to locate clusters of drumlins: Ireland; southern Wisconsin; New England (Bunker Hill, for example) and the west-central part of upstate New York.
New York's "little hills" have been compared with Ireland's, and have a similar pattern of formation. On their northern terminals they rise abruptly, and then slope gracefully southward until they blend with and roll away into the surrounding meadows. They may be a few hundred feet to a rare thousand feet in length; a few hundred to an occasional thousand feet in width at their bases.
Before delving into a few minor technical details of how drumlins were formed by the glaciers, we shall first locate Drumlin Square and then see what connection this beautiful area has with Winston Churchill; Abraham Lincoln; the birth of two religions; and Americana in general.
About 11,000 drumlins lie in the area between Rochester and Syracuse, north of the Finger Lakes. A renowned geologist, Prof. H. L. Fairchild, wrote in 1907 that this was the most remarkable group of drumlins in the world when all the facts relating to them are taken into account.
Drumlin Square in this region, roughly 26 miles square, is what geologists further claim to be the most concentrated and scenic portion of New York's drumlin lands. Geographically it includes most of Wayne County, plus the northern borders of Ontario, Seneca and Cayuga counties.
The "Square" has its south-western boundary point in the Manchester-Mormon Hill area, its western border following a line running slightly northwest between Palmyra and Macedon into the Pultneyville region of Lake Ontario. Thence the line runs roughly east along the lake to the Fair Haven Bay region, dotted enroute with huge bluffs that are the exposed northern terminals of wave-washed drumlins.
From Fair Haven the line runs slightly southeast to the Port Byron area, thence west on an imaginary line that dips slightly south to meet the Manchester-Mormon Hill boundary point.
Perhaps the most famous drumlin in the world, if not Breed's Hill where stands the Bunker Hill monument, is Mormon Hill in the southwest corner of Drumlin Square.
Hill Cumorah, as this hill is more properly known, is the place where Joseph Smith claimed to have found the golden plates from which was translated the Book of Mormon.
This hill is a fairly large drumlin, just high enough to command a good view northward along the western boundary of the "Square". A road leads to its summit, which is topped by a large gilded monument of the Angel Moroni, said to have led Joseph Smith to the centuries-old burial place of the golden plates.
The top of the hill itself has a peculiarity fairly common to many drumlins, namely a wide base and narrow summit. Mormon Hill is several hundred feet in width at its base, but it narrows down to less than twenty feet in width on part of its northern termin summit. Such ridges were formed, and perhaps later rounded off and erased by glacial and water action discussed later on.
Although Joseph Smith was born in Vermont, his parents moved to the Palmyra area. The old homestead, a well-preserved frame house built about 1820, is only a short drive from either Palmyra or Hill Cumorah.
The western slope of Mormon Hill is the stage for a huge outdoor pageant, presented annually in August by the best talents of the Mormon Church. Given at night with the use of special lighting and sound effects, the drama is an impressive one for believers and non-believers alike, attracting thousands of viewers from far and near.
After the bustle of pageant activities, the drumlin again sleeps under the silent watchfulness of the Angel Maroni; but the events, depicted here as having occurred several hundred years ago, do live on and have become an important part of Americana legend and history.
But great were the debates in the Manchester-Palmyra region, these debates fanning across the country, when Joseph Smith published first by word, then in print, his claimed revelations.
And by coincidence at the same time, only four miles away, there lived a youth who was to become a champion debater only thirty years later. For south east of Mormon Hill, on the country road between Manchester and Clifton Springs, there still stands a pillared frame house that was the home of the famous "Little Giant", Stephen A. Douglas.
Douglas' father died in Brandon, Vermont, when the great debater was an infant. His mother married Gahazi Granger and moved with him to this Ontario County farmhouse. (Granger was the first clerk of Manchester, appointed in 1821 and reappointed several times after old histories also spell his name "Gehazi" or "Gahasa", but we have used the presumed correct spelling which also appears on his tombstone).
Douglas continued part of his education in the nearby Canandaigua Academy; (tuition $5 per quarter; good boarding - $1.75 per week, - they advertised in several 1820 editions of the ONTARIO REPOSITORY published weekly in Canandaigua) - but against his mother's wishes, at the age of 20, left in 1833 for Cleveland, and then on to Illinois for the advancement of a law career that launched him into national political prominence.
Douglas later married the great-niece of the noted beauty, Dolly Madison - the new Mrs. Douglas said to have been equally beautiful as and greatly resembling the celebrated Dolly. Douglas had indeed risen above the coarse wilderness setting that surrounded his boyhood home.
During the 1860 presidential campaign, Douglas returned to Clifton Springs to deliver a campaign talk in his opposition to Abe Lincoln. Old newspaper articles state that he rode from Canandaigua to the Springs and his mothers' home in a coach pulled by six white horses.
The Senator, in spite of the favoritism he had shown the Southern slave states, must have been either popular or a curiosity in his old home town. He is said to have drawn a crowd that would have been indeed very large for the Clifton Springs area in 1860.
For example, an 1858 printing of Peter Parley's U.S. HISTORY gives the combined population of Rochester and Syracuse, the two largest cities nearest the Springs, as only 69,000 people, including children. Yet some accounts credit Douglas with drawing an audience of 6,000, and others estimated the crowd in the local park as 20,000. Either figure seems quite remarkable for the rural village in those horse and buggy days.
However, Douglas' campaign visit to his upstate boyhood home was no doubt a real treat for the local residents, and though Lincoln received a majority of the votes in Ontario County, (5,764 votes to Douglas's 3,634) Douglas fared proportionately better there than he did in other Republican locales. And had Douglas been elected President, the old home would now be a national monument.
And the mother who didn't want Stephen to leave Clifton Springs? She clung to her upstate home and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery just west of the old homestead, in the Granger plot.
The pioneer town of Phelps, (first called Woodpecker City, and later Vienna) the "Country Lawyer" town made famous by its well-known author, Bellamy Partredge, lies just east of Clifton Springs.
As is true of most upstate pioneer villages, Phelps once had its share of carding mills, impressive old stone and frame homes, and other warp and woof of the bright Americana weave. Its old cemetery headstones too are silent sentinels to history, marking the graves of at least sixteen soldiers of the American Revolution.
The old Phelps cemetery holds the grave, also, of at least one of these soldiers who was not a native to this region. He was a New Englander who was a member of that historic band of men, the Minute Men of Lexington, who sleeps in unheralded glory, as do most of his companions.
Israel Nims of Conway, Massachusetts, died in Phelps on August 20,1828 at the age of 77, while visiting his children who lived in the Phelps area. His death was just another drop of wax from the candle of history lit at Lexington and Concord, but his quiet grave gives Phelps an echo from Lexington in the "shot heard 'round the world."
Turning northward, there are some rather attractive views of drumlins along the six miles of road from Phelps to Newark; in fact, Newark itself is cradled in the drumlins as they are on all sides of the village.
Newark has a link to the past, in the spirit world. About a mile north of the village limits is the small settlement of Hydesville, the home of the famous Fox sisters whose reports of "knockings" led to the rebirth of Modern Spiritualism. This rebirth occurred in the late 1840's when Mormonism, born only nine miles away, was fighting its battle for recognition and acceptance.
Hydesville was once the scene of much excitement, and many prominent people attended seances there and in Rochester, where the sisters took up residence.
Horace Greeley was "inclined to believe the phenomena," and the sisters visited him in New York to "demonstrate" the knocking. Greeley reportedly visited the sisters upstate, too - at least he was no stranger, as old records indicate that around 1830 he worked in a newspaper office at Sodus (only 13 miles north of Hydesville) before leaving for Erie, Pennsylvania.
Two drumlins, the smaller one supporting a wooden cross, look down on a Healing Shrine and motel built by the Spiritualists for visiting pilgrims.
A stone marker rests on the spot where once stood the Fox home. Grass and weeds grow about the marker, but the stone carries the message: "There Is No Death - There Are No Dead".
The spirit of adventure and intrigue also lies east of Newark - down a drumlin valley from Newark towards Lyons, one passes the scene of a dramatic train robbery attempt the events of which compare well with the wild-west television portrayals of today.
This area is known as the "Blue Cut", through which the mainline tracks of the New York Central run, halfway between Newark and Lyons. Here was concluded the drama of an attempted 1892 train robbery involving a quarter of a million dollars, a race between two engines, and a sheriff's posse.
The robber, Oliver Curtis Perry, had concealed himself at Syracuse between two coaches of an express train hauling the currency. The train, traveling westward, reached the small village of Jordan, at which point Perry decided to get into the money car.
Lowering himself from the roof of the car, by using a cleverly fashioned rope sling, Perry looked through the coach window into the face of the guard. There was an exchange of shots, the guard was wounded, and Perry smashed the window to the door, although the train was in motion during all this daring action on the part of Perry.
Reaching through the window, Perry opened the door, but not before the wounded guard had managed a feeble pull on the emergency cord. The train was stopped near Port Byron, the attempted holdup discovered, but Perry could not be found.
The train stopped in Lyons, and Perry was discovered nonchalantly standing in the crowd that had gathered to watch the additional search being conducted there. Perry dashed across the tracks, uncoupled a standing freight engine, and took off toward Newark and the Blue Cut, with full throttle. The railroad employees uncoupled the express engine and took off after him.
Seeing that the faster express engine would overtake him, Perry put the freight engine in reverse. As the two locomotives passed, there was a mutual exchange of shots with no one hurt.
This rather amusing, but deadly serious, series of maneuvers was repeated several times by both pursued and pursuers until the railroad men decided to return to Lyons to round up a posse. Perry, they knew, would have to abandon his engine as it would soon run out of steam.
Perry did abandon the engine, and several hours later was rounded up in a nearby swamp. He was captured by a posse led by the late Sheriff Collins of Lyons. Thus ended the freedom of the clever Oliver Curtis Perry, who was more interested in the green of paper money than the greenery of the ancient drumlin valley through which he raced his stolen iron horse.
In nearby Lyons, Taylor Park reminds one that this village was the home town of Myron C. Taylor, late industrialist and one-time Ambassador to the Vatican.
Lyons also boasts two Admirals - the late Admiral Brownson, whose flag and other personal belongings are kept in the County Museum at Lyons; and Rear Admiral Zimmerli, Retired, who lives in the old family home in the west end of the village.
And on a county road just northwest of Lyons, a historical marker calls attention to the childhood home of a writer whose works were praised by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Mary Ashley (VanVoorhis) Townsend was born here on the side of a drumlin in 1832 and in adult life became a famous writer of verse and prose. She was schooled in Lyons, but spent much of her later life in New orleans and in extended travels. She did most of her writing in New Orleans, under her own name and various pseudonyms, dedicating a book of poems to Oliver Wendell Holmes for his recognition of her works.
Little is left to mark the site of the old family residence, but this Victorian-age writer carried a nostalgic memory of the beautiful hills surrounding the home where her carefree chilhood was spent. The following poem may not be her most famous work, but reflects this nostalgia and voices the thoughts of all who may have ever lived among the "little hills" of Wayne County:
The authoress does not sleep among the hills of Wayne, but it is obvious that in life she never did forget the drumlin country of her birth.
A poetic country lies all about the Lyons-Newark area, too, where in many places are well-preserved remains of the hand-dug Erie Canal (New York's first "thruway"), and its old towpaths worn down by man and beast alike.
At the east end of Newark village there remain considerable stoneworks of one of the canal's old locks, and there are almost complete old double locks between Newark and Lyons, and at Lock Berlin just east of Lyons. Considering that many canal locks were built almost 140 years ago, their preservation is quite remarkable.
The Pilgrimsport road out of Lyons, towards Lock Berlin, snakes along quite a stretch of the original old 4-foot deep canal, and into an especially beautiful and pastoral drumlin region.
The geologist, too, would recognize much of interest in this area. There are in evidence here, to him at least, dry deltas, ancient shores and beaches, and wave-planed drumlins, all carved by a post-glacial lake thousands of years ago.
This general area, extending northward toward Lake Ontario, and south and east through the Clyde-Montezuma Swamp region, was once a large bay of ancient Lake Iroquois, whose shore lines receded into the present Lake Ontario levels.
Route 104, north of this region, generally marks the shore line of Lake Iroquois; but at Sodus the shore line breaks away dipping southward to reveal the presence of a large bay, and its backwaters, in the area extending between Palmyra and Clyde through which ropes the present Barge Canal.
This material, copyright © 1962 to Francis "Pat" Smith, may be freely used by non-commercial entities, as long as this full paragraph remains on all copied material. These electronic pages, with commentary and underlying source code, cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or other presentation, nor may this copyrighted original electronic text be used on any other site or CD-ROM or other digital storage medium.
Copyright © 1962 - 2011 Francis Smith
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