Erie Canal, NYC RR, Lake Ontario
Incorporated Village of Brockport NY featured schools, sewers, paved streets, Civil War monument and commerce
Copyright 2013 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
These events took place in a "small town" in western New York State not long after the end of World War I. "Small" is a relative term, so let me be as specific as the elders were to me when I would ask them the "size" question. The population of Brockport, New York was 3501 persons in 1929. "Town" is a generally used designation for settlements smaller than cities, but for this story, an "incorporated village" in the State of New York had important distinctions that I did not appreciate until later in life.
The richness in schools became the village' savior. The Parochial School I attended was founded in 1875. The Brockport Normal School , its eight grade Training School (now SUNY, without that training school but with a lot more higher education offerings), and the public eight grade "Grammar School" were founded even earlier. With a good High School, all served Brockport well as the village's bristling commerce instittutions gradually disappeared during the 20th Century. The relevance of the Erie Canal and the railroad declined. Brockport's grain and produce importance departed to the west, with its vast plains, great rivers, and a coast with a warm current and onshore winds. .
My small family lived at 48 South Avenue when I first became aware of an address. That same home later became 52 South Avenue for reasons that were never made clear to me. Our telephone number was 75. At night when our parents were out, we could ask the Telephone Operator when our parents would be home. "We" consisted of Sis and me. I was Frankie. Shortly, the phone would ring and the Operator would tell us when our mother and father would be coming home. Mother was Isabel Lasher Dailey and Dad was Franklyn E. Dailey. Dad's early school certificates, which I discovered in the suitcase that he left me, recorded his name as Franklin E. Dailey.
South Avenue came into Main Street opposite Brockway Place. As a family, we occasionally drove to Niagara Falls, Ontario to have dinner at the General Brock Hotel there while enjoying its view of the falls. As a young boy, I pondered whether Brockport and Brockway might be connected with the Canadian General Brock of the War of 1812. The fact that the Canadians honored a man who might be connected with my town was one of those little mental puzzles that gathered in my mind over the years. I could have put the question to a search engine on the World Wide Web but why solve a lifelong riddle that I have enjoyed so much. (Later research using "The Town of Sweden Sesqui-Centennial 1814-1964," a booklet prepared for that event, reveals that the town and the street are named for Hiel Brockway, the village founder, who migrated from Connecticut. So much for General Brock.)
In the period from 1925 to 1935, the Village of Brockport had two funeral homes and two furniture stores. There were three different ice creams available in town. The coupling of furniture and funeral provided the livelihood for two prominent Brockport families. Many years later, it gradually dawned on me that the relationship of funeral and furniture was not entirely a coincidence. In the experience of many small towns, people didn't die every day so the undertakers needed a steady business and furniture was often the choice. It seems reasonable that a competence in casket buying was extendible to furniture. A connoisseur of fine mahogany, oak or cherry in caskets could make that expertise work twice when selecting living room pieces. Which reminds me that all the caskets I saw as a very young man were in family living rooms or parlors, not in funeral home parlors. Mr. George Dunn ran one of these hybrid businesses and Mr. A.V. Fowler, our neighbor on South Avenue, ran the other.
Mr. Fowler owned a sour cherry orchard just east of the upper end of our street. That orchard was a stone's throw from the A&P Canning Factory at the end of Fair Street in Brockport. In my earliest employment summers, before I began a regular summer work/visit sojourn at my Grandfather Lasher's North Star Fruit Farm in North Wolcott, NY, I obtained cherry picking employment in A.V. Fowler's orchard. Hidden from the road but quite visible at the back of the orchard were his retired horse drawn hearses and an old ambulance carriage. What looked like dark dried blood on the floor of the ambulance carriage activated the imaginations of the younger cherry pickers.
In ice creams, FroJoy was the trade name used locally by Sealtest Ice Cream. Matheos Brothers had a creamery in Spencerport, the next burg in line toward Rochester (if you overlooked Adams Basin, a wide spot on the Erie Canal). Matheos operated a Greek ice cream shop under the Strand movie house at the corner of State and Main in Brockport. After a movie, especially if I had been able to "sneak in" and avoid parting with my dime too early, I would treat myself to a banana split courtesy of the Matheos Brothers (and the defeated usher at the Strand). Bartholomay was a Rochester creamery. Their chocolate ice cream was my favorite. The Volstead Act, which enforced the ban on intoxicating liquors, was nullified with the repeal of the 18th amendment by the 21st Amendment. This allowed the Bartholomay plant to revert in 1933 to the beer brewing which it had been forced to give up in 1919. For 14 years, while the elders in my family and indeed in all of Brockport had to import the stuff illegally (rum running) from Canada across Lake Ontario, the younger among us benefited by having an extra source of good ice cream. Even when they got it back, the elders had to be content with 3.2% beer for the first year or two after repeal.
Brockport had four doctors, two dentists and two drug stores. Pharmacist Dobson had a soda counter in his drug store but Pharmacist Ed Simmons did not have one. This was an important distinction to small fry. The main downtown block of businesses had two smoke shops, Decker's hardware store (Alfred Decker, the son, was valedictorian of my high school class), and a downtown bakery. Mr. Davis ran a small market that stands out in my mind as the first place our townspeople, and especially my mother who was always an early adopter, could buy frozen vegetables. Birdseye was the brand. It was decades later that I discovered that there was a Mr. Birdseye.
I emphasize "downtown", as the site of Covert's Bakery. That enterprise certainly provided an appealing aroma for a small boy whose spirits were actually nourished by just walking by, which he did as often as possible. Covert's was on the west side of downtown's Main Street. Its bakery fumes were a perfect offset to the smoke shops on the east side of Main Street. For bake goods consumable by a near-addict, my own trade went to Mrs. Raleigh's, not just uptown but only two doors from our home on South Avenue. Her very dark molasses cookies with just a light sprinkle of sugar on top came from a wood stove that Charlie Raleigh, Kitty Raleigh's husband, had to re-supply frequently from a "wood pile out back."
The early inhabitants of Brockport were farmers and businessmen. It was no accident that the village was situated on the Erie Canal. When dug during the administration of Governor Dewitt Clinton, it was named the Erie Canal, and sometimes by his detractors, Clinton's Ditch. After being known, during my stay at least, as the Barge Canal, its name reverted after I left town to its original "Erie" name. I swam there.
Brockport was on the Niagara Falls branch of the New York Central Railroad. I hiked along their tracks east of the populated section, frequently as a way to the Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery and the Soldier's Monument where I liked to browse. These venerable places adjoined each other a couple of miles east of town. The monument was dedicated in 1893 as the centerpiece of a Civil War Cemetery. It was already deteriorating in the late twenties. My companions and I considered it a little daring to go to the top of the Soldier's Monument whose spiral iron stairway was rusting and barely supported by stones in crumbling mortar. Fifty-two feet high, and only about 35 years old when I frequented it, the circular sandstone tower was an abandoned relic.
The next photo was taken from an 1895 New York Central Railroad brochure promoting sightseeing.
There was no fence and no flag by the time my generation visited the monument. Other hikers along those rail tracks carried burlap bags. Their mission was to retrieve coal dropped from a steam engine's coal car or from coal being transported in coal cars. Coal was dear and by 1930, times were tough.
Brockport was an Incorporated Village. I lived in many other places in the years following Brockport, but "Incorporated" in New York State in the 1920s equated to paved streets with curbs, sidewalks, streetlights and a sewer system. Thirty-five years later, in 1962, now with wife and growing family in an urban flight suburb of a Massachusetts city, I would become the owner of a brand new home. Surprise! This home had a septic tank and leach field. My early life had gone directly from outhouse to Brockport's village sewage system, with its primary and secondary treatment plant. I know this firsthand because Brockport's sewage filtration beds were on one of my regular eastbound hiking routes. My nose is as well tuned as anyone's. I accepted all the smells of Brockport, fresh tomatoes loaded onto horse drawn wagons, pea vine processing plants, newly cut alfalfa fields, bakeries and sewage as perfectly normal conditions of my environment. That was long before I encountered the word, "environment."
Our Incorporated Village was also the home of the Brockport Normal School. Subsequently it became Brockport State Teacher's College and then SUNY (for State University of New York) Brockport. This institution will be visited again in this story. Margie Searl, an e-mail correspondent living in Rochester New York, has informed me that there is a Dailey Hall there. Perhaps, like my wishful connection of Brockport to General Brock, this too might have turned out to have no connection with my family. In an examination of papers sent to me by Wendy Bennett of the Vincent Dailey family, (Aunt Corinne, my godmother, was married to my Uncle Vin) I found a picture of Dailey Hall at SUNY. So, there must be something to Margie Searl's conjecture.
52 nee 48 South Avenue was on the very edge of town. Behind our house, open fields, broken by an occasional small grove of trees, flourished. This panorama was further defined by hardly discernible, rusted wire fencing held up by rotted, tottering posts. One other prominent break consisted of three willow trees in a line along one of the north-south section lines. Beneath those trees was a fresh water spring that often re-invigorated a hot, tired, and usually dirty little boy. In the winter months, those springs made for skating. Expect to fall through and get a "footwet" if you ventured too close to the spring. Mr. Lawler, a South Avenue neighbor owned the lot to the east of the three willow trees. His lot could be accessed through a hole in his wire fence. Just inside the lot, there was a well. Mr. Lawler kept milk cows and the well was used to keep a broad circular wooden water trough full for his cows. Also prominent there were two or three blocks of salt laying on the ground for the cows. Dunkie Smith, Mr. Lawler's grandson, used to take his visiting Michigan cousins down to the lot for corn silk smoking, and later for smoking real cigarettes. The Michigan cousins were well known on South Avenue because during their visits they were allowed to drive the family car. In Michigan at the time, no driver's licenses were necessary. We New York kids were jealous because we were some years from driving due to New York's license requirements and their stringent enforcement. Dunkie had the last laugh though. The Michigan kids got sick from smoking and Dunkie, who was immune from such distress probably due to his greater experience in the vice, not only did not seem sympathetic, he seemed to have a little smirk on his face.
Any boy who has completely soaked his shoes by falling through the ice will understand what it was like to wear them on succeeding days, until the effect "wore off." Likely, the shoes never recovered; the boy just got used to the new feeling on his feet.
I had a hand-me-down pair of hockey skates and a "boughten" pair of racing tube skates. When I was quite young, Uncle Norman came to visit. He brought me a gift. A hockey stick. Uncle Norman Lasher stayed quite awhile, and left only after he relapsed into one of his catatonic periods. Those became evident to me at the dinner table where he would neither eat nor respond to any conversation. I did not know the word then, but Uncle Norman had schizophrenia. A World War I vet of the Coast Guard, Uncle Norman had become unwelcome at Grandfather Lasher's home, especially after Grandfather took his second wife, Aunt Elsa. Seems that Harry Lasher was willing to provide support for his son Norman, but no longer in his own home. After many episodes of being farmed out, the earliest of which was to a prominent military prep school in Indiana, Uncle Norman finally settled in at the Canandaigua (New York) Veterans Hospital. Forty years later there he died. My mom visited her brother in her Red Cross Gray Lady uniform for all of those years. Occasionally, Mother took me along. I have Uncle Norman's watch, his small AM/FM early transistor radio and the American Flag supplied to vets at their death. I am really sorry that I no longer have that hockey stick. It was a prized possession, probably surrendered when leaving one of too many abodes along the way of life. We also have Mom's Gray Lady uniform. I keep asking myself how she could have been that small.
All this is merely backdrop for the culture and caring of the Sisters of St. Joseph. I came from a dysfunctional family long before that term was in use. No, don't blame Uncle Norman. He had no responsibility for the alcohol and stock market excesses that marred my father's contribution to the life of young-marrieds. The courtship and wedded period for my father and mother began with the Volstead Act and included the crash of 1929 and the bank failures of 1933. The Sisters were my salvation. I convey that in the vernacular sense and therefore did not capitalize the word, "salvation." I am not trying to prejudge what the Lord has in store for me. Then again, the Sisters always urged us to "pray for a happy death." I still do.
"My times" involved being late for school more than a few of those times. In those days you could, if you lived anyplace inside the town, be late twice a day. Walk to school. Many points of interest. Walk home for lunch. Variations in many points of interest. Walk back to school. More points of interest. You get the picture. I was late quite often. After leaving the Sisters and their school in 1932, I went to Brockport High School, then located in a few spare classrooms on an upper floor of the Brockport Normal School. Brockport's new high school, built in 1934-35, is where I went for the last half of my last year in high school, graduating in 1935. That high school was later converted to a middle school bearing the name A.D. Oliver, Brockport High's Principal while I was there. Jack Milner, the Principal of the A.D. Oliver Middle School during its reconstruction and re-dedication, opened the original 1935 cornerstone box before the 1997 celebration event commemorating the building's remodeling. In the box, resting for 62 years, he found a "late pass" for Frank Dailey.
Brockport had three schools delivering a Grades 1-8 primary school education. An integral part of the Brockport Normal School was a school known as the Training School. Here the young teachers in the Normal School obtained their OJT, a teacher's on the job training, in a fully accredited primary school. These fledgling teachers did this under the eye of ladies known as "Critics." Some of these Critics boarded with Mrs. Birdsall just across the street from our home on South Avenue. They arrived in September, left in June. I met many of them and they seemed to be very nice ladies. I must admit I had a hard time with the dictionary word , "critic," because its meaning did not seem to fit those very nice ladies across the street. Then again, I never set foot in the Training School schoolrooms where the Critics performed their duties. The student teachers may have viewed them quite differently.
"Catty corner" across from the School of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which I attended, stood the Brockport Grammar School. That gray stone building occupied a lot at the southwest corner of Utica and Holley Street. I passed the front of that building several thousand times while making my way north or south on Utica Street to and from the Catholic School. Occasionally, a shout from the Grammar School playground across Utica Street would reach my ears that identified me as a "cat licker."
While I set forth here experiences with the Sisters of St. Joseph, my thoughts extend to all Sisters who have nourished the spirits and the bodies of millions of young children in this great country. My wife and I are the grateful recipients of ministrations in schools and hospitals from caring Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of the Holy Cross. Our eight children have known the nurturing of devoted Sisters of many orders throughout the United States. My sister, Alma, received her education from the Madames of the Sacred Heart.
This 19th century photo of Brockport's first Parochial School can be found in the booklet prepared for the Town of Sweden Sesqui-Centennial Celebration. The original dwelling on the right was the Sister's convent. The addition on the left built in 1875 was the school my father attended. It was located on the southwest corner of Utica and Erie Street and faced on Utica Street. The buildings were in an advanced state of deterioration in the twenties and have since been torn down.
One of the rich memories I have of my father was being with him on several occasions when he visited the home of Charlotte Elizabeth Martin. I recall that there was no setback to her house from the street. Once inside, her home was cool and quite appealing, the house having been favored by some lovely old shade trees, a feature of the village. That house was in the block between Main Street and Utica Street on the south side of Erie Street, just a few doors from the original Catholic Church. I was strictly along for company on the trip, perhaps because there was no one else home at the time, or because my Dad sensed that something important was occurring there and it would be good for me to be present. Charlotte Martin was interviewing Dad on the origins of the Dailey family and their presence in the Town of Sweden, the township that included the village of Brockport. I learned later that Charlotte Martin had tried in vain to get the village to celebrate its 100th birthday in 1929. Failing that she determined to write the history herself and left us "The Story of Brockport for One-Hundred Years 1829-1929." Her paragraph on the Parochial School reads as follows:
"In September, 1873, a large house and spacious grounds were purchased of Mrs. M.M. Sadler, widow of one of the most prominent men of early times, and sister of E.B. Holmes. This site was for the home of a convent and parochial school. On January 10, 1876, the school was opened in a large school house erected on the same lot during the year 1874-75 under the supervision of Sisters Ursula, Louise and Agatha. The present Parochial School was built in 1915."
In the twenties, the new brick school having been dedicated in 1915, the now-abandoned school in Illustration 3 was used for bazaars (known today as "fundraisers.") Games and raffles on the day of the event had been preceded by weeks of door to door solicitation of pennies for chances. These chances originated on cardboard backs salvaged from writing pads. Onto this cardboard, squares would be pencilled in. For pennies proffered to the pupil doing the soliciting, the giver's name was scrawled into a like number of squares. Then the squares (chances) were cut up and put in the hopper to be fished out for prize-winners. I sold plenty of chances to the raffles. If I ran out of tickets, I would just go get my own tablet, tear off the cardboard back, and with my ruler scribe out some more chances. Townspeople of all faiths gave enthusiastic support to these drives. Some even asked me ahead of time when I'd be coming around to their front door. Fudge sales were a favorite cash generator at the bazaar. Fudge was not raffled but sold outright. My mother was a good cook but did not bake. She did make fudge on request and I would take it to the old school hall and give it to Sister. In the first hour after the bazaar opened, my Mom would be down to buy her own fudge back. She did not quite trust the kitchen skills of Catholic mothers.
The Sisters conducted some sort of money-raising activity throughout the school year. My favorite was the chocolate covered peppermint patties for one cent. Not just a good value as they were but if your patty had a pink center instead of white, you received five patties free. It put you to looking for money. People who look for money usually find some as I can attest from riding my bike today. In those days, one sure way to find money was to go downtown, take the gum out of your mouth, attach it to a piece of string, and drop it down through the sidewalk grates and "fish" for coins. Not just pennies but sometimes nickels, dimes and even a quarter. Half dollars were often too heavy to hold onto the gum during the process but they were worth going home and getting some heavy equipment for the job.
The mid-twenties had been an era of prosperity for almost everyone in Brockport. Buying new cars was a favorite pastime. The well-to-do men were attracted to cylinders. Cadillacs and Packards were popular and some had twelve or even sixteen cylinders. Most cars were black, and polishing was a highly visible and almost sacred ritual. Chauffeurs would make their car as prominent as possible in the master's driveway and small fry were invited for looks under the hood. There were even a few electrics around, usually driven by ladies very intent on their course. Later, as a student naval aviator, I recall the instruction to constantly employ "peripheral vision." That instruction is remembered in contrast to the lady electric car drivers who clenched the steering lever and had their eyes riveted forward. In our family's early car parade, I can recall both Model T and Model A Fords, an Auburn (the poor man's Cord) and a Chrysler 60. Coal was still being delivered by horse driven wagon and all local produce moving toward the A&P Canning Company up our street was delivered in wagons. Ice and milk were delivered and garbage was taken away in wagons. The first trucks that I recall were chain-driven Macks, with solid rubber tires on wheels with wooden spokes. Those tires had cylindrical holes bored crossways to give the driver some relief from bumps but drivers made it clear to us kids that while the intent was good, those wheels never took the bump out of a bump. Dailey Coal and Produce lost several horses in a stall fire that is one of the earliest incidents of my recall. Dad told me that horses did not know which way to go in a fire. Photos of flaming horses appeared in news accounts. Not long after this fire, coal was delivered in trucks. An early model coal truck discharged the coal sidewise to empty into a chute that was directed into a basement window. The engine driven truck did not arrive too soon to keep Sis and me from several years of joint February birthday parties whose feature would be a horse drawn sleigh-ride. The hay filled sleigh bed was a coal or produce carrier on weekdays before the machine age arrived. These occurred before the money slipped away.
Part of the learning experience for a boy in a Parochial School was the learning of the Latin for serving Mass. Each of the remaining chapters of this story will begin with this first Latin that I learned. This learning experience came in the summer between the first and second grade, the summer of 1927 for me. We learned a soft pronunciation of Latin, more like an Italian would pronounce the words. The "c" sounds were soft, not like k's. In the Brockport High School, beginning in 1932, I took Latin 1, Latin II (Caesar) and Latin III (Cicero). I had to do some relearning of the pronunciation. My wonderful Latin teacher there, Miss Alma Shulman, taught us Germanic sounds and Caesar came out more like Kai-sar than the si-zar-e-an we meet in the Passion each Lent. I have placed the English translations after the Latin. It was a much later discovery for me that the English phrases are quite beautiful. These are still relevant in the Mass today, and would be powerful words if used in more of our human discourse.
The 2005 third printing of My Times With the Sisters and Other Events, 134 pages, ISBN 0966625110; can be ordered direct from Amazon.com or from Barnes & Noble or through your local bookstore. Cover Price is $9.50. For bookstores please provide the ISBN number.