Archive for the ‘Pittsford NY’ category

Fostering a Love of History with Children

March 12, 2019

One of my favorite jobs as an historian is sharing local history with children. Throughout the months of April and May, Perinton Town Historian Bill Poray and I welcome over 550 fourth graders to the Fairport Museum. The children arrive from all the Fairport

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Brooks Hill Fourth Graders

elementary schools and from Thornell Road Elementary in Pittsford. Two classes visit the museum at a time. While one class is wonderfully engaged by Bill with a PowerPoint about local history, the other class is upstairs with me taking a tour of the museum and then doing a scavenger hunt. Halfway through the morning, I ring a vintage school bell, signaling “the old switcheroo”. The classes then switch places and we do it all over again.

The best compliment we receive is when those fourth graders return to the Fairport Museum a week or a month or six months later. Then they give their own version of a tour to their families. The kids that have that spark, a burgeoning love of history, are always visible during the tours. They are the ones asking questions and staring at the artifacts like most kids ogle an ice cream sundae. They want to learn more about the Fairport Museum and its operator, the Perinton Historical Society.

1982 Vicki & Lou Gehrig's locker049

Vicki Masters Profitt at Lou Gehrig’s locker in Cooperstown, NY

I recognize that look because I was one of those children. Fortunately, I had parents who fostered my love of history and supported my interests. After watching Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper, an incredible movie about baseball legend Lou Gehrig, my family traveled to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown so I could see his locker. Another family vacation brought us to Concord, Massachusetts, allowing me to visit author Louisa May Alcott’s family home, Orchard House.

In fact, my job as an historian is due to the fact that, in fifth grade, I checked out a book about the Civil War from the school library. The

McCook, Robert L photo

Brigadier General Robert Latimer McCook

photographs of these soldiers who had lived so long ago fascinated me. One photo in particular caught my attention.  It showed Brigadier General Robert Latimer McCook of the 9th Ohio Infantry. I don’t know what spurred my interest in Robert specifically, but that was the beginning of my interest in the Civil War, which led to me researching Monroe County, New York, Civil War soldiers, which led to me being named Director of the Fairport Museum.

If you are a parent of a history-loving child, foster that love. Support that child. Encourage them to take historical books and biographies out of the library. Bring them to visit your local museum. Wonderful treasures fill the many museums in the Rochester vicinity. Visit the Fairport Museum, the Greece Historical Society and Museum, the Webster Museum, Historic Palmyra’s five museums and the Colby-Pulver House Museum on the west side. These are just a few of the many phenomenal museums in this area.

The Fairport Museum is open for the 2019 season Sundays and Tuesdays from 2-4pm and Saturdays 9am-1pm. Free admission and free parking. We hope to see you and your kids!

Welcome Home, Wyburn

October 29, 2016

There’s a grave marker in the closet! Not too many people have the opportunity to say that phrase but, in the case of James Starbuck, it was true. James had purchased a house in Westport, New York, in 2007. While renovating his new home, James located a flat, military plaque bearing the inscription, “Wyburn Litchfield Lee, QM 3 US Navy, World War I, 1893 – 1977”. Who was Wyburn Litchfield Lee, and why was his grave marker at a house in Westport, New York? The search for answers was on!

Courtesy of James Starbuck

Courtesy of James Starbuck

The package containing the grave marker was addressed to Wyburn’s brother, Gerald A. Lee, of Elizabethtown, New York. James Starbuck hypothesizes that the grave marker was unable to be delivered to Gerald Lee and somehow made its way to Carlin Walker. Carlin was a Westport postman and local historian. James believes the Elizabethtown postmaster gave the package containing the marker to Carlin Walker to track down the owner. When Carlin was unsuccessful in that endeavor, he left it in his house, which now belonged to James Starbuck. In an interesting twist of fate, Gerald Lee used to play bridge with James Starbuck’s mother!

James spent several years pondering the mystery of the grave marker. Occasionally, he would search online for answers. On May 31, 2013, I received an email from James, who had located the Find A Grave memorial I had created for Wyburn Litchfield Lee. Wyburn’s parents, George Albert Lee and Gertrude E. Ketcham Lee, are buried at Pittsford Cemetery in Pittsford, New York. They have a nice headstone with their names and dates. Underneath Gertrude’s name it says, “Son, Wyburn L. N. Lee, 1893-19__”. No death date is listed for Wyburn.

The information about Wyburn’s grave marker was intriguing. Who was Wyburn, and why wasn’t his marker on his grave? This promised to be an interesting story. I was already familiar with Gertrude Ketcham Lee. The Ketcham family was a big name in Pittsford. They even had a road named after them! Surely we could learn something more about Wyburn.

Wyburn has proven to be as much a mystery as his errant grave marker. He was the third of George and Gertrude Ketcham Lee’s four sons, and was born April 22, 1893 in Buffalo, New York. Wyburn’s father, George Lee, had risen to prominence in the 1890s as a shrewd and calculating financier. The family lived in luxury as George, known as the “Sodus Boy Financier”, spent money lavishly. The Monroe County Mail in 1899 noted that George had purchased “the table on which the Declaration of Independence was written”. By 1900, Wyburn and his family were living in Sodus with his paternal grandparents, William and Lucy Clark Lee, quite probably to escape the notoriety of George’s alleged underhanded dealings on Wall Street.

Grave marker courtesy of James Starbuck

Grave marker courtesy of James Starbuck

When the Great War arrived, all four Lee brothers – Merwyn, Gerald, Wyburn and Lowell – served in the military. Wyburn’s abstract of service shows that he enrolled at the recruiting station in Newport, Rhode Island, on May 11, 1917 as Quartermaster 3rd Class. He served at the Newport Naval District until June 4, 1918, when he became a member of the Naval Auxiliary Reserve before officially transferring to inactive service on February 9, 1919. The July, 1918 issue of The Rural New Yorker magazine features a photo of the service flag hanging in the window of George and Gertrude Lee’s home bearing four stars, one for each son serving the war effort. All four Lee brothers survived the war.

Following his military service, Wyburn lived in the New York City area, and was employed in several different occupations through the years. The 1930 census record shows Wyburn married to a woman named Phyllis, but by 1940 they were divorced. It is unknown whether Wyburn and Phyllis had any children together. Little other information about Wyburn’s life was found. Wyburn Litchfield Lee died August 26, 1977 in Palm Beach, Florida.

That brings us back to Wyburn’s grave marker. Someone ordered the marker from the U.S. government, who shipped it to Gerald Lee in Elizabethtown. Carlin Walker became the unofficial keeper of the grave marker shortly thereafter. In 2007, the torch was then passed to James Starbuck. In spring 2016, James sent the marker to Beth Knickerbocker, secretary of the Pittsford Cemetery Association. Beth coordinated the effort to install Wyburn Litchfield Lee’s military grave marker in the family plot at Pittsford Cemetery this past August.

The mystery of Wyburn Lee isn’t completely solved, though. Burial records show that Wyburn had permission from the plot owner to be buried at Pittsford Cemetery, but the records don’t definitively show that he is, indeed, interred there. Perhaps in a few years I’ll receive an email from someone that begins, “While cleaning my house, I found an urn containing the remains of Wyburn Lee.” If that is the case, we’ll have the spot all ready for him.

Welcome Home, Wyburn

Welcome Home, Wyburn

The Pittsford Cemetery Association (PCA) took on the initial financial responsibility of paying for the marker installation for this World War I soldier. If you are so inclined to honor Wyburn’s memory, please send a check payable to “Friends of Pittsford Cemetery Association” to 155 South Main Street, Pittsford, New York 14534 and note “Wyburn Lee” on the check. The PCA will utilize the funds to pay for the marker installation. Any additional monies received will allow the PCA to continue their fine upkeep of the cemetery and the graves of its eternal residents. For additional information about the Pittsford Cemetery Association, please visit http://www.PittsfordCemetery.org.

Thank you to CAPT Steven F. Momano, USN (Ret.) for his assistance deciphering Wyburn’s military abstract of service and a special thanks to James Starbuck, who worked tirelessly to ensure that Wyburn Litchfield Lee’s grave marker found its rightful home.

(c) 2016 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Historic Pittsford’s Day of the Day is November 1, 2015

October 22, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. – Historic Pittsford’s Day of the Dead program at Pioneer Burying Ground in Pittsford, New York. 

Day of the Dead cast in 2012

Day of the Dead cast in 2012

Historic Pittsford will present its Day of the Dead program at the Pioneer Burying Ground on Sunday, November 1 at 2PM. Actors in period costume will portray the lives of Pittsford’s earliest settlers at gravesides throughout the cemetery. Hear the stories of pioneers Stephen and Sarah Hincher Lusk and how they arrived in this area. Meet Colonel Caleb Hopkins and learn why our town is named Pittsford, and discover the incredible lives of other people who resided in our community in its earliest days.

The Pioneer Burying Ground is located at 210 Mendon Road, south of

Pittsford Village at the intersection of South Main Street and Mendon Road. An onsite reception inside the Mile Post School will directly follow the tour, and light refreshments will be served. Please dress for the weather.

Pioneer Burying Ground in Pittsford, New York

Pioneer Burying Ground in Pittsford, New York

There is no fee for this program, but REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Participants may park at the United Church of Pittsford (123 South Main Street, corner of Sunset Boulevard) and use a free shuttle to the cemetery. To register and for information , call the Pittsford Recreation Department at 585-248-6280 or register online via the Town website http://www.townofpittsford.org – click the “Pittsford Recreation” link, then click on “Program Info and Registration online.” The program is listed under the “Education” section.

Merritt Wells: He Died Among Strangers

February 19, 2015

The Land of the Forgotten haunts my dreams.  As an historian, it is my job to uncover the past and preserve it for the future.  My passion for delving into newspaper archives and burial records has allowed me to get a bird’s eye glimpse into past lives by researching births, marriages and deaths.  A sense of satisfaction comes when I am able to pull together a picture of a full life which was well-lived.  However, it is the stories of heartbreak that stay with me and for which I have an overwhelming desire to share; stories that preserve the histories of those long dead whose potential went unfulfilled and who lie unremembered under the cold earth.

Merritt Wells has one of those unforgettable stories, and so I will share it with you and illuminate the difficult life of a young man who died, much too soon, among strangers.

My introduction to Merritt Wells was accidental.  During my research into Pittsford resident George Lash, I came across a brief paragraph in a 1902 newspaper which mentioned the funeral of young Merritt Wells, who had recently died “at the home of George Lash, among perfect strangers”.  An aunt of Merritt’s had come to Pittsford from Gloversville, New York, and was the only relative present at the funeral.  As she was unable to take the body to his home, Merritt was buried at Pittsford Cemetery.

My heart broke for Merritt, and I had to learn more about him.  Fortunately, I found several additional newspaper articles in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Fairport’s Monroe County Mail and in the Gloversville Daily Leader which gave me some insight into Merritt’s untimely demise.

On February 5, 1902, one day after Merritt’s death, the Gloversville Daily Leader reported that Police Chief Sperber had received a dispatch from Pittsford with the brief message, “Merritt Wells dead here.  Relatives in Gloversville.  Notify and Answer”.  The following day, the Daily Leader announced that an aunt, Mrs. William Herring, and an uncle, H. A. Satterlee, both of Gloversville, had been found.  A grandmother was also located living in Kingston, New York, and it was learned that the family had roots in Ulster County, New York.

Subsequent newspaper articles told Merritt’s story in bits and pieces.  He was an orphan who had lived with his grandmother until she became unable to care for him.  Merritt had then gone to Buffalo with a friend and worked on a lake steamer, from which he was able to save $125 of his earnings.  The “friend” stole his money, and Merritt decided he had to return home to Gloversville.  He spent some time at the rescue mission in Rochester before arriving at George Lash’s home in Pittsford, where he asked for shelter.  During the week that Merritt stayed with the Lash family, George found him to be a respectable young man whose speech and manner indicated he was a man of intelligence and good breeding.  Merritt was grateful to have a place to live, and willingly helped with the farm work.

By the evening of Tuesday, February 4, 1902, it became clear that Merritt was quite unwell.  George proposed a visit to the hospital in Rochester for the following day, and Merritt agreed to go.  That evening, Merritt was so weak he asked George to carry the lamp to his room so he could retire for the evening.  After returning downstairs, George heard a loud crash and rushed to Merritt’s room to find him lying, dying, on the floor.  Merritt’s struggle for life ended just moments later.  Seventeen-year old Merritt Wells was buried at Pittsford Cemetery on February 9, 1902.  Monroe County Coroner Killip granted a certificate of death for acute consumption.

After locating census records, I learned that Merritt had been born in June, 1884.  The 1900 federal census of Shandaken, in Ulster County, New York, shows fifteen-year old Merritt working as a farm laborer for Charles Lamson.  Merritt’s aunt Elmina Satterlee Herring, who had attended his funeral in Pittsford, was a daughter of William Satterlee and his wife, Anna Maria Myers Satterlee.  It’s logical to assume that Merritt’s mother was another daughter of William and Anna Maria’s.  A quick check of the records shows they had two other daughters who are unaccounted for – Charlotte, born c 1849 and Ina, born c 1865.  I could find no record of Merritt’s father.

On December 28, 1901, Merritt was picked up by the police in Monroe County, New York, and charged with being a tramp.  He was sentenced to 30 days in the Monroe County Penitentiary.  It would have been soon after he was released that Merritt found his way to George Lash’s farm in Pittsford.

So many questions about Merritt remain unanswered.  Who were his parents?  Did he have siblings?  Why didn’t one of his aunts or uncles take him in after the death of his parents?  How long was he on his own?  Is he still buried at Pittsford Cemetery?  He is not listed in the cemetery burial records.  Did a family member bring him home?  Was he loved?

I haven’t been able to answer these questions, but maybe you can help.  If you have any information about Merritt Wells, please contact me.  I’d love to learn more about this poor boy who died among strangers.

 

Armstrong-Bacon Hall

June 16, 2014
John Buckley Bacon, courtesy of the John Bacon Family

John Buckley Bacon, courtesy of the John Bacon Family

Driving down Main Street in the village of Pittsford, one can feel the history. The four corners are anchored by three historic structures: the Wiltsie & Crump building, which was constructed in 1886; the Phoenix building and the Parker building. Just south of the four corners, the massive structure of the Town Hall, built in 1890, presides over South Main Street.

However, there’s a building at 19 South Main Street that has been a fixture in the village for even longer than the Wiltsie building and the Town Hall. Constructed about 1815 as a tavern operated by Samuel Hildreth, subsequent owners have used it as a meeting place and grocery store. Many remember the building as the home of Burdett’s Food Market. Today, 19 South Main Street houses Breathe yoga and Rocky Greco’s salon.

Charles H. Armstrong operated a grocery store out of the building in the 1870s. In the mid-1880s, Charles sold the store to John Buckley

Armstrong-Bacon Hall, 19 S Main Street, Pittsford, NY

Armstrong-Bacon Hall, 19 S Main Street, Pittsford, NY

Bacon, a Civil War veteran who was new to town and looking for a business opportunity. Buckley, as he was known, went into business with his brother, Conrad Bacon. After a short time, Conrad returned to his home in Connecticut, but Buckley remained in Pittsford and his business at 19 South Main Street flourished.

A diagram of the structure dating to 1885 details the structure plan. The south side of the building had 1, 259 square feet devoted to the store. A stairwell outside the store led to a second floor meeting room, which was used for large gatherings and as a ballroom. A dwelling on the north side of the structure was 36’ 7” wide and sat quite deep on the lot. The ice house and cobblestone smoke house stood behind the dwelling, and a well and a 1,200 square foot barn were behind the store.

Walter Rose delivering groceries for the John B. Bacon store.  Bacon's son, Howard, rides along.  Photo taken c 1893.  Courtesy of the John Bacon Family.

Walter Rose delivering groceries for the John B. Bacon store. Bacon’s son, Howard, rides along. Photo taken c 1893. Courtesy of the John Bacon Family.

On September 29, 1904, the people of Pittsford were startled by an explosion that rocked the area. The smoke house behind 19 South Main Street had been converted to an acetylene gas plant. When E. T. Tracy, the clerk at Bacon’s store, arrived at the building and opened the door, the buildup of gas exploded, blowing the roof completely off and severely burning Mr. Tracy. Another clerk, Charles Hinterleiter, was able to put out the flames by using a chemical extinguisher.

In 1905, John Buckley Bacon sold the store to Phillips and Agate, who continued to utilize the space as a store. By the 1930s, Burdett’s had opened their doors and remained in business for many decades, becoming the longest-running store in the history of the building.

*Note: This article was first published in Historic Pittsford’s Summer 2014 newsletter.

Arcadia Publishing’s Newest Book – “Pittsford”

May 31, 2013
Pittsford cover high resolution

Pittsford by Audrey Maxfield Johnson and Vicki Masters Profitt

I’m pleased to announce the publication of Pittsford, the newest title in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series.  Pittsford Town and Village Historian Audrey Maxfield Johnson and I have worked on this pictorial history of Pittsford, New York, for the last eighteen months and are thrilled with the results. 

Pittsford chronicles the lives of the earliest settlers of the town, who arrived in the late 1780s, to their descendants who reside in Pittsford to this day.  Other families have shorter roots in Pittsford soil, but have made significant contributions to its history through commerce, agriculture and education.

This book is truly a community effort, and we wish to express our appreciation to the people who shared their family photographs and stories with us.  We are grateful for the opportunity to illuminate Pittsford’s history in such a personal way.

UPCOMING AUTHOR SIGNINGS and APPEARANCES:

Friday, June 21, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. – Barnes & Noble Pittsford Book Signing, 3349 Monroe Avenue.  Open to the public

Sunday, July 14, 2013, time tbd – Historic Pittsford Annual Meeting and Picnic with Book Signing.  Open to members of Historic Pittsford

TO ORDER PITTSFORD:

Pittsford is available through

Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/073859900X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=073859900X&linkCode=as2&tag=illhisshialig-20

Barnes & Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pittsford-new-york-audrey-maxfield-johnson/1114923118?ean=9780738599007

Historic Pittsford’s Little House (www.HistoricPittsford.com) – signed copies available

New Book about Pittsford, New York

June 5, 2012

I’m pleased to announce that Pittsford Town and Village Historian Audrey Johnson and I are working on an exciting new collaboration.  Pittsford, will be published by Arcadia Publishing Company in 2013 as part of their “Images of America” series. 

However, we need your assistance!  Do you have vintage photographs pertaining to Pittsford’s people, places, businesses and buildings?  Would you like to help preserve Pittsford’s fascinating history?  We are looking for pre-1950s photographs showing what life was like in the early days of Pittsford, New York.  The importance of family collections cannot be overemphasized. Vintage photographs become increasingly fragile and by scanning and reproducing them in a book, they become available for all to see.

If you have photos to share, please contact Vicki Profitt at vprofitt@rochester.rr.com by June 30, 2012.  We can make arrangements to scan in your photos at your convenience.   

Arcadia Publishing has printed over 7,500 books about small towns and cities throughout the United States.  Additional information about Arcadia Publishing can be found on their website, www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Hero Highlight – Chester Hutchinson, Co. B, 108th NY Infantry

April 3, 2012

“Our marching and countermarching brought us on the 17th of September in front of Lee’s army.  We halted, piled up our haversacks, loaded our guns, and were ready for action…Our position was a hot one, and the air was alive with bullets, shells, shot and canister.”  Civil War veteran Chester Hutchinson’s recollection of being severely wounded at the battle of Antietam nearly thirty two years earlier.

Chester Hutchinson, the fifth of seven children born to Lewis and Betsey Palmer Hutchinson, was born in Penfield, New York, on July 12, 1841.  The Hutchinson family soon moved to Perinton, where Chester’s maternal grandparents, Ira & Sarah Beilby Palmer, were among the earliest settlers of the town.  Lewis Hutchinson supported his large family as a farm laborer and it was expected that Chester would also work the farm.  After the death of his mother in 1849, Chester moved to Pittsford, where he continued his schooling and raised vegetables to be sold in the markets in Rochester.  Ten years later, Chester moved to Fairport and apprenticed in the sash and blind trade run by his uncles, Seymour and John G. Palmer.

After three years at the sash and blind factory, the Civil War beckoned and Chester enlisted in Co. B, 108th NY Infantry on August 4, 1862.  He arrived in Washington, D.C. on a cattle car with other members of his regiment.  Rules were lax at the beginning of the war, and soldiers could sleep where they wished as long as they were present at roll call.  Years after the war, Chester recalled spending his first night in Washington, D.C. sleeping on the east stone steps of the White House.  Soon, Chester would have more to concern him than finding a good spot in which to catch some shuteye. 

One month after enlistment, the men of the 108th NY Infantry received a trial by fire.  On September 17, 1862, the regiment was led into battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland, on what would become the bloodiest single day of fighting of the entire war.  Over 23,000 Union and Confederate casualties occurred at this battle, which the Northerners called Antietam.  Chester Hutchinson was one such casualty.  The gunshot hit his right breast, “the ball glancing along the bone, coming out about four inches from where it entered and stopping” against his right arm.  It took Chester over one year to recover from this wound.  He was successful in his effort to return to his regiment in early 1864; however, Chester was once again quickly engaged in a fight for his life.  This time, it was at the battle of the Wilderness.

Struck in the left breast by a minie ball which passed through his lung, the doctor who dressed Chester’s wound after the battle of the Wilderness pronounced it fatal.  Death would come to Chester Hutchinson, but not in May, 1864.  After lying in pain for three weeks, Chester was transferred to Fredericksburg, Maryland, where he was located by Sergeant Chilson of Company B, 108th NY Infantry.  By the fall of 1864, Chester was sent to City Hospital in Rochester to recuperate, and he remained there until his regiment arrived home and he received his discharge. 

After the war, Chester Hutchinson wed Mary Grover.  For several years, the Hutchinsons made their home in West Bay City, Michigan, where Chester was employed at the Crump Manufacturing Company planing mill and box factory.  After Mary’s death in 1886, Chester and his four children returned home to New York, where they lived for many years at 6 Prospect Street in the village of Fairport.

Hattie Down Wiley became Chester’s second wife on January 1, 1891.  As the widow of another Fairport Civil War soldier, James B. Wiley of the 111th NY Infantry, Hattie brought six children to the marriage.  Chester and Hattie had one son together, Lynn, who died in 1896 at age two.  Hattie and Chester brought up their combined eleven children together and were married for over forty years.

In his later years, Chester was very active in the community.  As a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) E.A. Slocum Post #211, an organization dedicated to aiding veterans of the Civil War, Chester served in various leadership positions throughout the years.  E.A. Slocum Post #211 was disbanded in 1937 due to the death of its last member, Horace Waddell.  Chester traveled each year to attend reunions of the 108th NY Infantry and, in 1899, he won first place in the reunion shooting contest.  He was also employed as a watchman at a bank, worked at the Dobbin & Moore Lumber Company, was very active in the Baptist Church, and was appointed as a tax collector.

In the 1920s, as the ranks of the Civil War soldiers were diminished by death, Chester Hutchinson became a prominent face in the news.  No fewer than two poems were written about him, which celebrated the milestones of Chester’s 80th and 85th birthdays.   The 85th birthday poem was written by Pittsford resident and elocutionist Franc Fassett Pugsley, a daughter of Chester’s comrade from the 108th NY Infantry, Jonathan J. Fassett.   Mrs. Pugsley managed to fit into her lengthy poem information about Chester’s birth, early life, war experiences and wounds, marriages and children before bestowing this wish upon Chester, “May the sun turn the evening skies to gold and love brighten all the way.” 

The death of Chester Hutchinson occurred on April 19, 1932 at age 90.  Not bad for a man who, 68 years earlier, had been told he wouldn’t survive his wounds.  Chester was buried at Greenvale Cemetery in Fairport beside his son, Lynn, and stepsons Mark & Frank Wiley.  Hattie, his wife of 41 years, joined him in 1940.  A newspaper article written one month after his death stated that, “Chester Hutchinson joined his comrades on the march into eternity, carrying with him the reverence and respect of the people in the community, a patriot and a loyal citizen.” 

This article was originally published in the Perinton Historical Society “Historigram”, Vol. XLIV, No. 7, April 2012.  Learn more about the Perinton Historical Society by visiting their website, www.PerintonHistoricalSociety.org.

Hero Highlight – Harvey E. Light, Co. E, 10th Michigan Cavalry

January 7, 2012

A visit to Major Harvey E. Light’s grave always draws a captive audience when Audrey Johnson and I give our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  However, this year we managed to elicit gasps from the crowd when it was announced that a descendant of Major Light was in our midst.  Doug Light, Harvey’s great-great grandson, had traveled from his home in Texas to attend the tour.  This was Doug’s first trip to Pittsford, where he had come to pay tribute to the man so many admired.

Harvey E. Light’s story began in 1834, when he was born at Fishkill-on-the-Hudson, the first child of blacksmith James Light and his wife, Maria Devine.  The family moved to Fairport when Harvey was an infant.  At a young age, Harvey left school to help support the family by working on the farm of Jesse Whitney, currently the location of the Fairport Baptist Home.  He also worked on the Webster farm in Pittsford.    Harvey may have met his future wife, Mary Helen Shepard, during this time.  Mary Helen’s father, Sylvester Shepard, was an early settler to Pittsford with his brother, William Shepard.

In 1852, James sold his land in Fairport to Daniel B. DeLand and moved the family, now consisting of nine children, to Greenville, Michigan.  Harvey followed the family to Michigan in the mid-1850s where he worked as a nurseryman.  Eventually, he bought his own farm and expanded his nursery business to include 300 acres of pine trees.  Harvey returned to New York in 1861 to wed Mary Helen Shepard at the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsford.  Together, they traveled to Michigan where Harvey was elected Sheriff of Montcalm County.

Soon after the birth of his first child in July 1863, Harvey was given permission to raise a company to join in the war effort.  He hired a bugler, a snare drummer and a bass drummer to help “drum up” interest in the war enlistment meetings which were held throughout the area.  Company E, 10th Michigan Cavalry went off to war with the newly commissioned Captain Harvey E. Light at its helm.

Major Harvey E. Light, 10th Michigan Cavalry

Much of Harvey’s time with the 10th Michigan Cavalry was spent in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area.  After a time, Harvey was sent back to Michigan to recruit more men.  He must have been quite persuasive, for he managed to enlist his brother Dewitt to join Co. E.  Younger brothers Edward and George served in the 8th Michigan Infantry.  Amazingly, all four Light boys survived the war.  Harvey E. Light was promoted to Major before mustering out on November 11, 1865.

Four more sons and a daughter were born to the Lights in the years following the Civil War.  The family moved to Massachusetts in 1873, where Harvey had purchased a foundry, but returned to Pittsford several years later.  They lived on the Shepard family homestead on East Avenue, which has since been razed.  Harvey was very active in the community, serving throughout the years as an active member of the First Presbyterian church, a census taker, Grange member and Commander of the G.A.R. EJ Tyler Post #288, an organization composed of Civil War veterans.

Harvey continued to live on his farm after the death of his wife in 1902.  It was there that Major Harvey E. Light died on September 17, 1921.  He was buried at Pittsford Cemetery on his 87th birthday.  A newspaper article announcing Major Harvey E. Light’s death stated that “…in his character were to be found, in a large degree, the attributes of the gentlemen of the old school – courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness for the welfare and successfulness of others, combined with sterling integrity…the example to be found in his life is one that might well be emulated by the young men of this generation.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Historic Pittsford newsletter.

Marching On

January 1, 2012

The year 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.  In such a momentous year, I was given the opportunity to discuss the lives of our local Civil War soldiers to audiences in schools, churches, historical societies and cemeteries.

The first ever serial, in which I told the tale of A Wicked Affair:  The Lives of John Jay White and Edward F. Clum, ran in July and August on Illuminated History.  The saga lent itself well to the serial format, and it is something I would like to explore again in the future.  Through the other months of this busy year, Illuminated History highlighted the secretive – and controversial – uses of Civil War quilts, spotlighted Civil War soldier James Austen and even heralded a visit to the Perinton Historical Society by President Ulysses S. Grant, as portrayed by historian Steve Trimm of Grant Cottage.

The joy I receive from researching these local heroes is expanded tenfold every time I hear from one of their descendants.  In 2011, I was fortunate to be in contact with no less than four descendants of Major Harvey E. Light – Doug, Crystal, Mary & Glenn.  Each descendant had different information about the Light family to share with me.  On May 21, 2011, I received a wonderful gift.  Major Harvey Light’s great-great grandson, Doug, flew from Texas to attend my Pittsford Cemetery tour.  This was Doug’s first trip to Pittsford, where he had come to pay tribute to the man so many admired.  A visit to Major Light’s grave during our tour always draws a captive audience, since he is the highest-ranking Civil War soldier buried at the cemetery and he lived an extraordinary life.  At the gravesite, I gave my usual talk about Major Light and his family.  However, I managed to elicit gasps from the crowd after the talk when I said that, for the first time ever, we had a descendant of the Major in our midst.  I then introduced Doug to the group.  One of the most touching moments of my career as a historian was watching Doug place the flag at his great-great grandfather’s grave.

My hope for 2012 is to find time to post more articles on Illuminated History, to continue to contribute updates to Illuminated History Facebook, to persevere in my quest to locate more information about these Civil War heroes and to share that research with anyone who will listen.  Thank you for your continued interest in the lives of the men whose sacrifices may have occurred one hundred and fifty years ago, but whose spirits march on.


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