by Mindy Leisenring on March 9, 2017, no comments

Solon – est. 1790
Named for – a wise man and lawgiver of Athens.First Settlers of Solon

Solon, with its high hills and narrow valleys, was not easy to penetrate in early days, and the pioneers who settled there needed an extra supply of courage to clear their lands in such a wilderness. Mt. Roderick, which was partly in Taylor and partly in Solon, had already been occupied by the Rockwell family on the Taylor side of the hill (Taylor had not been separated from Solon at that time) when Roderick Beebe and Johnson Bingham pushed their way into the tangle of woods and stake out their claims on the Solon side of the hill. It is plain to see how mt. Roderick got its name. So Mt. Roderick had the honor of being the home of the first settlers of both Taylor and Solon, the former in 1793 and the latter in 1794.

(Taken from Stories of Cortland County. 2008. pg. 16)


From the vault – Francis Bickwell Carpenter note

by Lynne Lash on February 6, 2017, no comments


First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln

This 1864 oil-on-canvas painting by Homer, New York native Francis Bickwell Carpenter, depicts Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet reading the Emancipation Proclamation. From his memoir, it was learned Carpenter was deeply moved by the document proclaiming the freedom of slaves signed on September 22, 1862, “an act unparalleled for moral grandeur in the history of mankind.” He felt “an intense desire to do something expressive of … the great moral issue involved in the war.” With the financial help of Fredrick A. Lane and the influence of Samual Sinclair and Representative Schuyler Colfax, he was able to gain Lincoln’s agreement to come to Washington and begin work. Carpenter spent six months in the White House while he worked on the painting.  Lincoln and his cabinet viewed the completed work in the dining room of the White House on July 12, 1864. In 1866 Carpenter published his one volume memoir Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln. The painting is now displayed in the United States Capitol in Washington, DC

This half sheet of paper is one of several that were thrown down on the table one day for me by Mr. Lincoln, when I asked him the size of the sheet on which the Emancipation Proclamation was written. “There” said he “there is some of the very paper I believe, if not, it was just like this.” This paper I have always preserved and now present this half sheet to my dear friend Mrs J H Munger,  Homer NY  Nov. 5th, 1872

F. B. Carpenter

F.B. Carpenter note from the collection of the Cortland County Historical Society, Cortland, NY


Collections Committee

by Lynne Lash on February 2, 2017, no comments

How about this unique artifact in the collection of CCHS?

This is a dollar bill from the old Randall Bank. Connecticut natives William and Roswell Randall came to Cortland County in 1812 and quickly established themselves as important figures in the community’s emerging commercial enterprises. This dollar bill note was issued by the Randall Bank, for which William received a charter in 1853, the same year Cortland was chartered as a village. The Randall Bank was Cortland’s first banking institution. Before there was a national currency, chartered banks had the privilege of issuing their own paper notes, backed by reserves of gold and silver


Hour Trial

by Mindy Leisenring on February 2, 2017, no comments

In recognition of the challenges of visiting our location, we are testing new hours. From now until April 30 we have restructured our hours to better serve our visitors. After April 30, we will evaluate and decide if to make these changes permanent.

What does this mean for you?

Wednesday we have extended our hours until 7 pm for research, and will start our last museum tour at 6 pm. However, our Gift Shop will not open until 11:30 am (instead of 10).
Saturday you will be able to visit us between 10 and 2.

As always, we are available at times other than our regular hours by appointment.


The Conservatory of Music

by Tabitha Scoville on June 30, 2016, no comments

Conservatory of Music professorsFrom Cortland County Historical Society Bulletin, Spring 1996

Professor Burt L. Bently, music teacher and director of the Cortland Conservatory of Music for nearly 50 years, was credited in 1945 with having done more than any other individual to further the interest of music in the city.
Since 1886 an organist in Homer and Cortland churches, he had partnered with Alton E. Darby in 1896 to produce four public concerts. Darby was a symphony orchestra conductor, violinist, and also, a music teacher. From those concerts came the pairing which would result in a school, certified by the State, to teach music.
The school’s first home was on the second floor in the Mahan block on Court Street (between today’s First National Bank and Grace Episcopal Church). After seven years, the school moved into two floors of the new Tanner building opposite the Post Office.Kremlin
This was at a time when both musical instruments and lessons were financially within the grasp of the ordinary worker’s family. Demand for the schools services required, within another five years, a larger facility, and so the Kremlin Hotel on Court Street was purchased. This building had been a tavern/hotel from 1840-1907 under various managements, including circus legend, Sig Sautelle.
It was not the first time the building’s exterior had been remodeled. The dining room and kitchen located in an ell to the read, were converted into an auditorium, and the hotel rooms became student rooms. The fifteen faculty members provided lessons from the drums to the harp, from violin to vocals, and elocution and art were not neglected. Enrollment topped at 350.
Helping to support the programs was a music store available to the public. Tuition, in 1925, was advertised as being one-half to two-thirds lower than in similar institutions elsewhere.
Literally thousands of students of all ages and abilities took lessons in the ancient building until 1945, when Prof. Bently sold the property to a Syracuse couple. Their plan was to demolish the mansard-roofed Conservatory, no longer a handsome addition to “downtown,” and erect “a modern garage and sales room.” The plot became home to Buicks, and most recently, to NYSEG.


Clark Mills: The Sculptor from Taylor

by Tabitha Scoville on May 9, 2016, no comments

Clark MillsWe often talk about Francis Bicknell Carpenter here at Cortland County Historical Society. His famous painting of Abraham Lincoln hangs at the Capitol and he was born and raised in Homer. However, there is another native of Cortland County who has THREE important statues prominently displayed in Washington, D.C. Curious? His name was Clark Mills and he created the first equestrian statue in America and his life began in Taylor.
Clark Mills was born in Taylor but the information available to us does not give us a definitive date. Suffice it to say that it was between 1810 and 1815. His father died when he was just five years old and then he was placed with an uncle. This was typical of the time as women had few options to provide for a family and no real rights to their children. Mills ran away at 13 because of harsh treatment at his uncle’s and he was on his own after that. From 1828-1835, he worked a variety of jobs, including working as a farmhand, hauling lumber, and canal work. He froze his feet so badly while working in a swamp clearing stumps that he could not wear shoes for months and he had to look for less demanding work. He sought out work with a cabinet-maker for a time and then became a millwright’s apprentice. After that he was employed in plaster and cement mills. Eventually he worked in stucco and then began modeling busts out of clay. He came up with a new method of taking casts from living persons. His method was fast and inexpensive and soon he had a tremendous amount of work. He studied marble cutting as well and carved a bust of John C. Calhoun which was touted to be the best likeness of him. He was a self-taught artist who had a way of looking at a problem and solving it in a new way.
In 1848, Cave Johnson, president of the Jackson monument committee approached him to submit a design for a statue of Andrew Jackson seated upon a horse. Mills had never seen Jackson nor a statue of a horse and so at first he refused. He did some research and after 9 months, he produced a small model in bronze which was approved by the committee. The horse appeared perfectly balanced on his hind legs and was very lifelike. It was agreed that he would be paid $12,000 to execute the statue and the bronze would be provided. It took 2 years to make the plaster cast and a lot of trial and error. A statue of this size of bronze had not been attempted in the United States to that date. The bronze was from cannons which were captured by Andrew Jackson during the second war with England. The statue was dedicated in January 8, 1853 and placed in LaFayette Square in Washington, D.C. It is still there, directly across from the White House. Congress was so pleased with the delightfully original statue that they added $20,000 to the fee which had already been paid. With the mold already made, Mills was commissioned to make the same statue to be placed in New Orleans in 1856. A third replica was ordered for Nashville, Tennessee and dedicated in 1880.
Mills’ next project was an equestrian statue of George Washington. He was also chosen to complete “Statue of Freedom” which was designed by Thomas Crawford. Crawford had gotten as far as making the plaster model but had died before having the chance to cast the statue in bronze. Mills purchased land close to Washington and built a studio and a foundry to complete the orders which he had received. The Washington statue was very different from the Jackson statue and Mills was paid $50,000 to create it. The finished product was completed and dedicated in 1860 and stands in Washington to this day.
“Statue of Freedom” had an interesting story of coming into being. As mentioned before, the designer died before he was able to cast the statue, but his molds were actually overseas in his studio in Rome and had to be shipped to the United States in six pieces. The first ship to carry the molds began leaking and had to dock. The molds were placed on another ship which also had problems and had to dock. The molds finally found their way to America where Clark Mills was to work his magic and create the statue in bronze. His foreman and he had a disagreement over pay and the foreman went on strike. Mills hired African-American Philip Reid, a master craftsman (and slave), to complete the casting and assembly. When the statue was complete and ready to be placed at the top of the cupola of the Capitol building, it was hoisted in sections by former slaves and completed December 2, 1863. The statue is one of the most admired in the Capitol.
Ruby Potter, former historian for Taylor, had collected some stories from older community members and relatives as well as newspaper clippings from her mother’s scrapbook. The following information is from her sources. Mills had a brother who remained in Taylor who was blind. Mills came back to Taylor as an adult at least once to visit his brother and to leave money for him in the care of others to help provide for his care. He had a bronze replica of the Jackson statue that he carried with him and showed it to Potter’s relatives. Eventually Gurley (Phineas) Mills went to live with his brother in Washington where he died. Apparently there was another brother named John who was a horse thief.
Clark Mills was able to turn what could have easily been an ordinary life into an extraordinary one and he started out in our little town of Taylor. He has these famous statues on prominent display in the capitol of our nation, and yet we know very little about him. He was self-taught and determined to overcome the odds, and he did.


Photo of Clark Mills retrieved from here:

Photos of Mills statues may be found here:




Curiosities: Delusion Mouse Trap

by Lynne Lash on April 18, 2016, no comments



An interesting curiosity from our collection appears to be a Delusion Mouse Trap manufactured by the Lovell Mfg. Co. Limited of Erie, PA. The trap was formerly owned by Claudius Jones & Co,

IMG_1542Although the sticker is no longer visible our mousetrap matches the “leading trap in the market”.

The Delusion Mouse Trap

The mouse goes in to get the bait,

And shuts the door by his own weight,

And then he jumps right through a hole,

And thinks he’s out; but bless his soul,

He’s in a cage somehow or other,

And sets the trap to catch another.


That’s Entertainment: The Cortland Opera House

by Tabitha Scoville on April 11, 2016, no comments

Cortland Opera House Taken from the Cortland County Historical Society Bulletin, Spring 1996

Cited by city newspapers as the “finest public building ever erected in Cortland,” the Opera House on Groton Avenue, just west of the Cortland House hotel, which straddled the corner of Main and Groton, could boast of subscribers whose names were at the heart of economic progress here in the 1880’s.  Benedict, Beard, Beaudry, Duell, Fitzgerald, Edgcomb, Hollister, Jewett, Kellogg, Mahan, Peck, Sager, Sanders, Squires, Tisdale, Vosburgh, Walrad, Kinney, Wickwire—who would doubt that with men like these investing in the entertainment venture, that it would be successful.

The architect was J.H. Kirby of Syracuse, at age 40 already well known in the country.  His other designs in the city included the Second National Bank (67 Main Street), the Wallace Block (northwest corner of Main and Court Streets), and the Lawrence J. Fitzgerald house (today a college sorority) at 39 Tompkins Street.

May 20, 1884 the contract for digging the cellar was made with Jeremiah Davern for $830 and work was promptly begun.  TheKermis of the Mahan Music Festival building lot was 258 feet deep, with a frontage of 63 feet.  A ten feet lane separated it from the hotel, which was also under construction after a devastating fire.

The building’s exterior was described as modern classic, with a large gable, side brackets and large round arched windows forming its most striking features.  Three sets of double doors provided entry to the lobby.  Then through the foyer into the auditorium with its 62 by 35 ft. stage and Queen Anne-styled, two tiered boxes.  Both the main floor and the gallery seated 500.

Forty feet above the stage were suspended the various draperies and borders providing backgrounds for outdoor and interior scenes.  A large cylinder, working on a new principle, rolled the drop curtain from the top instead of the bottom, in four and a half revolutions.  Six feet nine inches in circumference and at 1000 pounds, the wooden cylinder was the largest in the state, outside of New York City.

The gala events, the stars not only of drama, but of minstrel shows and comic opera, the home talent extravaganzas, and the road companies left memories almost unbelievable, and certainly unforgettable.  The opening performance, with a packed house in full evening attire, was a Shakespearean production starring Margasret Mather, a Broadway favorite of the day.  The well-known Otis Skinner was the leading man.  Clara Kellogg, the contralto, was also one of the first artists to perform there.

Large companies, sometimes 40 or 50 strong, appeared at the theater, the best of Broadway being none too good for Cortland audiences.  The groups traveled by train, bringing their own costumes, props and scenery.

The famous Mahan conventions, musicals staged for years by Alexander Mahan, were produced there.  These festivals lasted a week in June.  Along with a score of visiting artists, choruses of 200-300 voices performed.  Hundreds flocked to the city for the week.

Both Madames Melba and Schuman Heink headed the bills.  Staying at the Cortland House, special linen was placed in Madame Melba’s room.  Recognizing the fact, Madame took one of her own towels and laid it over the embroidered bureau cover so as not to stain it with rouge and paint while she made up her appearance.

Famed stock companies performed with such actors as Tyrone Power (Sr.), William Faversham, “The Great Blackstone,” Laurette Taylor, Victor Moore, James J. Corbett, and Tom Thumb.  Plays such as “Girl of the Golden West,” “Little Minister,” and “EastCortland Opera House 2 Lynn;” musical extravaganzas as “Naughty Marietta,” “The Merry Widow,” and “Princess Pat;” and operas “Robin Hood,” “Aida,” and “Madame Butterfly” filled the house.

Unforgettable was the annual production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” with little Eva emerging in the final scene from behind curtain after curtain of gauze, and the inevitable company parade during the noon hour through the city streets with band and blood hounds.

There were hundreds of minstrel shows produced by local organizations.  When “Miss Bob White” was produced, the cast included half of the city while not one of the other half would have missed the affair.

With the coming of the motion pictures, the stage performers faded gradually, until finally—with the exception of vaudeville acts between the features—the silent screen held sway.  In February 1929, the initial performance of a talking “movie” appeared in Cortland, “The Street Angel.”

Thousands of Normal School graduates received diplomas there.  Many learned to skate there.  A man came from New York City to heckle Theodore Roosevelt there, and for a moment the crowd expected “Teddy” to climb into the gallery to get at his verbal assailant.  And who could resist attending John Phillip Sousa’s annual concert there?

The old theater had little or no wing space but heavy drafts blew through them, and the dressing room space was small and cramped.  But these did not deter the nation’s famed troopers from using them in preparation for stepping before the applauding and appreciative community of Cortland.

The Shine Theater Corporation purchased the building in 1932 and shortly after, the building was condemned.  Plans suggested erecting an eight story office and commercial building on the site, but instead, its height was reduced and its insides carted away in 1938, transforming the theater into a Sears-Roebuck store.




Curiosities: Chicago Check Perforator

by Lynne Lash on April 4, 2016, no comments

IMG_1535When you look at a curious artifact from the collection several questions come to mind. First, what is it? Then, how did it come to us and what is it’s story?

This odd looking device really doesn’t give any obvious clues. Who would suspect that it has a connection to finance? In fact, it is a check perforator. It punches small round pin-sized holes that form symbols and numerals. The check is inserted in the check writer. Using the dial combination the monetary amount of the check is entered. The dial is turned to a number and then the lever on the side is pressed down. The check is automatically forwarded by a single space ready for the next number .

FullSizeRender 2

This was an example of an early check protection device. It was a way to mark or complete a check so that it made it difficult to alter.

This check perforator was made by the B F Cummins & Co. of Chicago, Illinois., patented in 1892. It was given to Horace Stevens, owner of the James Street Grocery Store in Homer, NY, by Sig Sautelle.

Who were they?

Horace Stevens was born in Scott, NY in 1873. In 1917 he purchased the grocery store at 11 James Street in Homer which he operated until 1927.

Sig Sautelle was a flamboyant circus showman who was well known for shows beginning along the Erie Canal. He loaded equipment and animal on canal boats and performed at towns along the canal. In 1887 he went back to rolling wagons as roads improved. In 1900 he moved his base of operations to the village of Homer, NY. One of three octagon shaped circus homes still stands on Main Street in Homer.

16368333032_7e68e9e078_mSig Sautelle’s Circus House was built in 1905 to resemble a circus tent. It was the winter quarters for the entire troupe including the animals.


Climax Road Machine Company

by Mindy Leisenring on March 28, 2016, no comments

Copied from Marathon Area Historical Society Newsletter, volume 12, January 2006

As excerpted from “Marathon Past” by Robert Diehl, “Grip’s,” and “Early Marathon” from Mrs. Harold Couch

climax company article 002

The Climax Road Machine Company was originally organized as a co-partnership on October 14, 1887.  The purpose of the company, located on the south end of Academy Street near the railroad, was to manufacture and sell the Climax Road Machine, a new invention possessing many advantages and meritorious features not then known to users of road grading machinery.  They also manufactured steel for bridges, road graders, snow plows, and stone crushers.  The annual output was approximately 124 stone crushers, 200 road graders, and various other building and earth-handling tools.  The Marathon roads were among the first in the State to be improved with crushed stone utilizing local machinery.

The first buildings were purchased from the Stockwell Wagon Company.  In 1892, the agitation for good roads had fairly begun, and it was seen that a broader field for road building machinery was opening.  An opportunity presented itself to acquire the patents for a portable crusher for crushing stone for macadam road, and desiring to add other branches to its line of manufacture, the company was incorporated on January 23, 1893.  Its first officers under the incorporation were:  A.S. Manning, President; Ed L. Adams, VP; O.F.Pinckney, Secretary and Treasurer.

On May 17, 1894, its shops were destroyed by fire.  During that summer, the works were rebuilt, as shown on this page.  These shops were equipped throughout the new and improved machinery until the company was a model in its way.  The Climax had a foundry, machine shop, woodshop, forge shop, and paint shop.  There was a small building behind the foundry known as the wash house.  Before quitting time, it was the duty of one of the less-skilled foundry workers to fill the wash tank and open a valve, letting live steam into the tank to heat the water so the men could wash up before leaving.  All washed in the same wooden tank at the same time.  This might be frowned upon by the proponents of modern sanitation. In the early 1900s, the wages for a 60-hour week were $12.  There were few, if any, layoffs, and overtime was paid as straight time.

The head man was Lemuel McAlpine.  His son Arthur took over when Lemuel became unable to work and Arthur was still superintendent when the plant closed in the early ‘30s.  The largest castings they made were the frames of the stone crushers. The largest of these weighed a couple of tons or more.

Vern Braman served as Foundry Foreman, John Swartwood the Forge Shop Foreman, John Freeman the Woodshop Foreman, and Harlan Wilson (later Walter Card) the Machine Foreman.  At one time, one of Bob Diehl’s duties at the Climax was to get ice from the Mill Race, wash it off, and deliver it to the homes of the Climax employees during the summer months.

It was locally owned and operated for awhile, and then went the way of all small businesses.  An extensive bridge-building business went into oblivion when the suppliers of steel sold bridges erected for less than Climax sold the steel.  The Climax Road Machinery shipped its products to points in the United States as wide apart as Maine and Texas, and the name of Marathon was carried upon its wares to the island possessions of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Sandwich Islands before it was sold to the American Road Machinery Co. and became one of five plants of a chain.