Thirteen Odd Stops and Hot Spots of Western New York
January 24th, 2013HistorySleuth
This post is part of the January 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. The prompt for this month is “The Number 13.” I decided, for this particular prompt, the best choice for a historian would be to post thirteen hot spots in my area to visit if you ever get this way. If you have time, follow the links to learn more.
1) The Jello Museum (LeRoy, Genesee Co.) Come on, who doesn’t like Jello? It was invented in 1930 in LeRoy, NY; the result of a fluke, when trying to make cough syrup.
2) Letchworth State Park (Wyoming/Livingston Counties) It is often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the East.” Originally it was the home of Mary Jemison, the “white woman of the Genesee,” who was captured as a child by the Seneca Indians in 1758. More history on the park can be found here. Here is the state website for camping, hiking and events.
3) Silver Lake (Perry/Castile, Wyoming Co.) Silver Lake is the home of a sea serpent as told by the Seneca through legend. It was later called the “Perry Sea Serpent” when, in 1856, A. B. Walker pulled the greatest hoax of the time to attract business to his hotel on the lake by creating a life size serpent. The previous link is to the story on Buffalo’s channel 2 news segment. Many newspapers across the country carried the story. You can read a PDF of the original serpent sighting in the Oneida Sachem newspaper dated August 4, 1855 here. It is at the top of the first column.
4) Genesee County Poor House aka Rolling Hills Asylum (Bethany) Despite its new name, it was never an insane asylum, although it did have a wing for those who were declared to be “lunatics” but in many cases, from reading lunacy papers, I would guess many really suffered from Alzheimer’s. It served as the county’s poor farm from 1826-1974. It has the highest amount of paranormal activity in western New York. Ghost tours are run on a regular basis. Stay overnight if you dare. It has been featured on Ghost Hunters and a recent episode of American Horror Story.
5) Chautauqua Institute (Chautauqua County, NY) Located along beautiful Chautauqua Lake the institute has long been a retreat for artists, writers and musicians since 1874. They offer workshops as well throughout the summer.
6) The Erie Canal (Niagara/Orleans/Monroe Counties and beyond) Like the song says, “…from Albany to Buffalo.” It is quite the tourist destination now with walking and biking trails. At the Lockport (Niagara Co.) part of the canal you can take a boat through the underground system.
7) Amish Trail (Cattaraugus County) No really, it’s nothing like the silly TV shows with Mennonite mafia. Livingston County also has Amish communities. Wyoming County has Mennonite communities in Perry and Warsaw.
8) Pumpkinville (Cattaraugus County) A truly fun place at Halloween time. Last year’s visitors topped 150K.
9) The Albright Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo) from classic to modern art of course, but Picasso and Andy Warhol stick out in my mind. Situated near beautiful Delaware Park near #10,
10) The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society & Museum (Buffalo) If ever a museum looked like the movie, Night at the Museum, this would be it. The society has been in existence since 1862 so you can imagine the collection they have. The building itself was constructed in 1901 as part of the Pan-American Exposition.
11) The Linden Murders (Linden, Genesee County) was our area’s Ripper type case. In 1922 a spinster, Frances Kimball, who lived alone was bludgeoned to death and stuffed up under the stairs in the root cellar of her home in Linden, NY (newspaper PDF). There was no motive and few clues to the crime. It would prove not to be a random incident. Less than two years later the bodies of Thomas & Mabel Whaley (shot to death) and Mrs. Morse (struck in the head with an adz handle) were found murdered in the Whaley home and the house set ablaze (newspaper PDF). Despite evidence gathered and several suspects, these grizzly crimes remain unsolved to this day. The evidence and photographs in the case still exists and is part of the collection of the Genesee County Historian’s office. Local author, Bill Brown, wrote about the case and published his book The Linden Murders: Unsolved in 1984. It is out of print but some libraries do carry a copy. We are hoping someday his family will reprint the book.
12) The real first female bank presidents (Perry, Wyoming Co.) This is a recent discovery of mine while researching for an article I am writing for our county historian’s office quarterly called Historical Wyoming. Maggie L. Walker is said to be the first woman to charter and become bank president in 1903. Certainly the first African-American woman bank president or the first woman to charter a bank, but not the first female bank president. That honor now goes to two women of Perry, NY who were presidents of the Smith Bank of Perry: Laura (Page) Smith 1866-1886 and Eliza (Dolbeer) Page from 1894-1907.
13) Lily Dale Assembly (Lily Dale, Chautauqua Co.) Established in the late 1800s, it is the first and largest Spiritualist community in the world.