Low Bridge, Everybody Down

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By the time Thomas S. Allen wrote The Erie Canal Song (as the song is most commonly referred to) in 1905,1 the famous canal had already been in operation for 80 years. Allen chose the title Low Bridge, Everybody Down because the canal had just ditched the mules for steam power and he wanted to pay homage to the animal so critical to canal operations.2 That Allen celebrates the mule Sal tells us he’s commemorating a then not-too-distant past. Incidentally, the title wasn’t the only thing about the song that changed over the years, including, ironically, the word “years.” The original lyrics were “fifteen years on the Erie Canal” and  refers to the length of the partnership between Sal and his owner, while the new lyrics are “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal,” referring to how Continue Reading ““Low Bridge, Everybody Down””

The Secret of New York’s Smallest Town

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Tucked away in the southern portion of Cattaraugus County on the edge of the New York-Pennsylvania border sits the town of Red House. Guess what the town is named after? A red house, right? Nope. It’s named after the creek flowing through it – Red House Creek. The creek is named after a red house.

But did you know the story behind the crimson abode upon which the creek found its name? Originally owned by one of the area’s first settlers, it is a sorry story of family division, betrayed love and mysterious death. In the 1860’s Johnny Frecks went off to fight in the civil war, Continue Reading “The Secret of New York’s Smallest Town”

The Magician Reveals His Real Trick

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One by one the hockey heroes skate up towards the camera from the far blue line, stop with a spray of ice just missing the lens, then announce their name and team. Finally, the last professional pumps his legs forward with the smooth motion of the others and stops in the same controlled fashion. But when he announces his name, I’m shocked to discover he’s no hockey player.

“Bill Shatner. Loblaws,” states the confident former Captain Kirk.

For those not familiar, Loblaws is a Canadian grocery chain. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s they had stores in Buffalo (primarily) and Rochester (maybe just one, but I lived next to it). It was an era before Wegmans went on supermarket steroids and totally dominated the market. Loblaws was Canada’s pride but eventually sold out to Bells Markets.

In 1975 Loblaws was a player – at least in my neighborhood – and no more so because Continue Reading “The Magician Reveals His Real Trick”

Such is Fame: The Real Enduring Legacy of Niagara Falls

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In crafting a list of hidden gems of Greater Western New York, it’s apparent one must define what one means by the word “hidden.” Of course, if one of these not-so-hidden gems turns out to have inspired something truly outstanding, well, that would be worth writing about. Before I get to that, though, let me share with you my methodology for compiling this list, but allow me to do this by showing you, not telling you (assuming that’s even possible in the format of the written word).

For example, we have plenty of gems that have received broad national attention. Indeed, several people, events and activities from, in and around the Greater Western New York region have found themselves honored with places in our history books.

What school-aged child doesn’t know the name of Continue Reading “Such is Fame: The Real Enduring Legacy of Niagara Falls”

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

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Winters in New Haven, Connecticut aren’t nearly as severe as those in the Greater Western New York region. I had proudly proclaimed my home town ever since that sun-drenched day in September of 1978 when I first stepped onto campus. As a result, when the winds of winter arrived, as a native of Buffalo, I felt obliged to walk the talk. That meant, on a regular basis, when temperatures “dipped” into the low thirties, I would trudge out of my dorm in nothing but gym shorts and walk to the post office to get my mail. (Before you get too impressed, the post office was located in the basement of my hall. There was no interior access, so I had to walk outside into the raised courtyard, down the steps to ground level, then turn a quick right before descending another set of stairs before, finally, entering the mail center.)

I remember one of those treks quite vividly. There I was, sauntering (after all, walking hastily would make it seem as though I feared the frigid temperature) through the courtyard without a shirt one coolish evening. Establishing a different form of cool, I stopped to talk to some friends. (I remember one saying to the other, “It’s cold, why isn’t he wearing a shirt?” The other responded, “He’s from Buffalo.” The first person said “Oh” with a knowing nod.)Continue Reading “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It”

A Whole Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

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Now that we’ve marked the boundaries of Greater Western New York, the fun really begins. First, we can delineate the counties included. Greater Western New York contains 17 counties. These represent all the counties west of or touching the correct Pre-Emption Line. Those counties are:

● Allegany             ● Chautauqua
● Cattaraugus      ● Chemung
● Erie                    ● Genesee
● Livingston          ● Monroe
● Niagara              ● Ontario
● Orleans              ● Seneca
● Schuyler            ● Steuben            ● Wayne               ● Wyoming            ● Yates

We should note that Pre-Emption Line marks the western border of both Seneca County (maybe, depending on who owns Seneca Lake) and Chemung County. The Line slices through the counties of Wayne, Yates and Schuyler. As it stands, the eastern borders of Wayne, Seneca, Schuyler and Chemung form a fairly straight line from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania line. OK, maybe it’s not quite straight enough to convince an officer you’re not unduly influenced, but it’s close enough.

What exactly does this constellation of the 17 western-most counties of New York State tell us? I discovered this particular hidden gem while preparing for a January 2004 Continue Reading “A Whole Greater than the Sum of Its Parts”

We Preempt Westward American Expansion for…

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A funny thing happened on the way to researching my book 50 Hidden Gems of Greater Western New York. For years I had been trying to explain to people just what exactly I meant by “Greater Western New York.” From a regional mutual fund’s perspective, it was easy. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires all regional funds to specify the municipalities covered by the fund. In the case where a fund’s region encompasses only a portion of a state, the fund’s prospectus must list all the counties included in its unique definition of the region covered. Like I said, from the SEC’s standpoint, defining Greater Western New York was easy.

Beyond that, though, I had to justify why we chose those particular counties. This was especially important because we market the fund only to New York residents, specifically, Western New York residents. And the folks we consider “Western” New York residents don’t necessarily consider themselves “western.” Or, in the case of those in the Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area, they don’t consider Continue Reading “We Preempt Westward American Expansion for…”

The Lost Tribe of Western New York

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By the summer of 1679, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle had approached his wit’s end. His faithful lieutenant, the Neapolitan  Henri de Tonti, had already repulsed one attempt by the Seneca to burn La Salle’s soon-to-be sailing ship Le Griffon. A year earlier, in hopes to attain a promise of peace, La Salle had travelled seventy-five miles east to the Seneca village of Ganondagan, located on present-day Boughton Hill, just outside of the Village of Victor, about 20 miles south of Rochester.1 Peace was promised, but as the attempted arson proved, wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. So, ahead of schedule, on August 7, 1679, La Salle gave the order to weigh anchor and commanded twelve burly sailors to grab tow-lines and walk Le Griffon from the shallow ten-foot waters of Squaw Island, through the rushing rapids of the Niagara River and, with the help of a much hoped for northeast breeze, into the calm waters of what his native tongue called Lac du Chat (Lake Erie).2 Embarking on La Salle’s mission in search of the Northwest Passage, Le Griffon thus became the first large ship to grace the waters of the Great Lakes above the Niagara Falls.

But it also left several intriguing questions: How did the Lake he sailed into get its name? More interestingly, why did he need to travel to the east side of the Genesee River nearly to the other end of Western New York to speak to the Indians? Indeed, what had happened to the native (at least relative to the Europeans) Western New Yorkers?Continue Reading “The Lost Tribe of Western New York”

So This Is Why W Reunioned at the White House

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It’s 11:35pm on a Tuesday night. I’m sitting on a train, the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited, on my way to Chicago. I boarded the train in a Rochester rain at 11:25pm, twenty-five minutes later than the schedule dictated. It didn’t matter. I’m not in a hurry. I haven’t been in a hurry since the sun first rose.

Yes, my lackadaisical day began in surprising sunshine. I say “surprising” because I happened to be in New Haven, Connecticut. In another era, it would have been raining. I would have also Continue Reading “So This Is Why W Reunioned at the White House”

Size Doesn’t Matter

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It may have been my father’s greatest embarrassment, but it was my greatest loss, a loss erased only by 25 years and a chance plumbing mishap.

How my family sees my long lost 1970 trophy.

It all started on a day which lives in “famy” (as opposed to“infamy”). No, I’m not exaggerating. It really was a famous day.

On Saturday, March 7, 1970, I found myself bowling three games at Leisure Lanes in Hamburg, New York, among several dozen participants in the first Bowling Tournament my Cub Scout Pack ever had. The rest of the Northern Hemisphere spent the bulk of that sunny midday experiencing the greatest total eclipse of the sun our corner of the Earth will have until April 8, 2024. (For my own account of that day, see “Solar Eclipse, 1970 – A True Story,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, August 17, 2017.)

I had won the Big Tree Cub Scout Pack 489 Bowling Tournament that day. My father, the Pack’s Cubmaster, bought a nice bowling trophy and a brass plate to etch the name of the winner. He didn’t expect his son to take the trophy home.

That’s what embarrassed him.

So struck by the genuine joy I showed in winning it, he couldn’t bear telling me of his Continue Reading “Size Doesn’t Matter”