Thursday, July 7, 2016

These Old Walkin' Shoes: Glory Days

This week’s “Walkin’ Shoes” takes a slight departure from the normal columns and from my typical route. This week, instead of walking through Lockport, I was in Lyndonville for the Independence Day festivities. We did a lot of walking and my brain was working in overdrive while we strolled the streets of that small village. I could probably write a series just about times in Lyndonville, but maybe that will be for another time. For this edition, I just had some thoughts about that town and my place in its history.

With my grandmother’s house being sold and out of the family, we have to park at a neutral location. We generally come into town from County Line Road and Millers/West Avenue as to miss the traffic mess that the parade causes on Main Street. So, we park at the canning factory on West Avenue and walk down to the school. As a result we walk by grandma’s house and a couple neighborhoods.

 West Avenue was never the high rent district of Lyndonville. However, when I was spending my summers at grandma’s house, the neighborhood was generally well kept. In the intervening years, the residents became elderly and upkeep on the homes was prioritized lower. The street fell into a state of general disrepair.  There are some sad houses on West Avenue these days.

But, all is not lost. As the original residents have moved on, younger people with families of their own have moved in. It may take awhile, but I think you will see a resurgence of the neighborhood. As each new family moves in, they will want to make their marks on their homes. Siding and new windows will go up. New landscaping will replace the rose bushes that have returned to the wild. Slowly you will see a vibrant community on the street.

As we walked by the Fire Department, I explained how there used to be railroad tracks running through the area, and how one of my favorite things to do as a kid was to follow them down to the railroad bridge. I was deathly afraid of crossing the bridge away from the safety of the iron walls. I thought for sure that I would fall between the ties into the rushing waters below. That thrill, however, was what brought me back time and time again.

Part of that railroad history was searching for spikes to carry home, and occasionally, the nails that marked the years in which certain ties and rails were laid. Somewhere in my parents’ garage is the collection I put together from that old Ho-Jack line. Or maybe my dad surreptitiously disposed of my museum pieces.

Walking up the hill, we passed the church where Wendy and I were married. My Mom and Dad were married there, as well as my Dad’s parents. I point it out to the kids every time we go to Lyndonville. This year, one of the twins mentioned it before I had a chance to bring it up. I also told them that it was my (4x)Great Grandfather, Hezekiah Bullock, who helped to found the Methodist Church in which we were married.

Lyndonville United Methodist Church
That very history got me thinking about how much the Lyndonville and Town of Yates has meant to my family. Take for example the Baptist Church in Yates Center. That church was founded by another family member, Jeremiah Irons. Reverend Irons just happened to be the father-in-law of Hezekiah Bullock. Additionally, nearly a century after its founding, another family member, my great-great grandfather, John Wirth was the minister there. Amazingly, another family member was involved with the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Lyndonville, too. 

While watching the parade, there were several fire companies in formation. A couple of them, Lyndonville and Ridgeway, had some of my ancestors as charter members. Maybe that's part of the reason I used to chase the firetrucks whenever they went out on calls when I was staying in Lyndonville. My mother used to do it, too.

Both of my grandmothers were deeply involved with the local community. My Dad's mother, Beverly, was Village Clerk. She held that position for many years. I can remember when her office was in the tiny storefront that now houses Bill's Sub Shop. Later they build the current village offices. I spent a lot of time there in the summer (again), and learned a lot on how a village is run.

Yates Baptist Church
Meanwhile, my Mom's mother, Virginia Cooper, was the historian for both the Village of Lyndonville and the Town of Yates for nearly 30 years. She was one of the kitchen historians where she had her office in her own home. Those two filing cabinets in the den were where I learned to love local history. I would regularly rifle through the drawers trying to find something interesting to read. Additionally, she was also one of the founding members of the Nutrifare program in Lyndonville. I would go with her sometimes and listen to the stories. They were better than any book.

While not the first pioneers to settle in the area (that honor falls to George Houseman in 1809), my ancestors were among the first of these early settlers. Benjamin Barry and five of his sons, including James (son-in-law of Hezekiah Bullock), arrived in 1816. They settled on Alps Road and were a large, influential family in the town.

I'm sure some of this may bore you, but it was interesting to think of the impact that Yates, Lyndonville, and the surrounding area had on my family, and vice-versa. Walking through the streets with my family, I realized that many generations of my family probably made the same trek, albeit the scenery was a bit different.

From dirt paths twisting around old growth forests, to log cabins in clearings, to asphalt highways, my family has watched the ebb and flow of the community. I thought while walking how each step of those generations helped to shape its history. Sometimes, I think that is pretty cool. We all have those stories. What are yours?

Craig Bacon tends to get nostalgic while on walks. He tries to imagine what the world looked like in the days of his ancestors.