Archive for the ‘Rochester 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

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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!

Inspired by Downton Abbey

December 3, 2013

Over the past two weeks, it seems as if I’ve been living and breathing Downton Abbey.  Not that I’m complaining.  Since the first season of Downton, I’ve been mesmerized by the characters and the intrigues but also, more importantly, by the elegant costumes and history of the time period.

Bruce, Alastair003Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a special luncheon presented by WXXI featuring Alastair Bruce, OBE, historical advisor to Downton Abbey.  It was an intimate gathering – just me, my friend Suzanne Lee, and 400 other fans of the show.  What a time we had!  This was Mr. Bruce’s only presentation in the United States and, I’m very proud to say, it was held in Rochester, New York.  Captivating the audience with charm and wit,  Mr. Bruce regaled us with stories about the making of the show.  Who knew that Rob James-Collier, also known as the dastardly servant Thomas Barrows, is an amazingly nice guy in real life?  Or that the actors sometimes get tired of being told to tilt their heads differently or to sit up straighter?  If I came away with anything from the presentation, it was to watch for the little details going on in the background of the show.  Did you ever notice the servants measuring how far each chair was from the table?  Those are the details that go into creating a show of such high caliber.

This week, I have the pleasure of being a guest speaker at the Barnes & Noble in Webster, New York, for their Downton Abbey event, where I will display and discuss seven Downton Abbey inspired costumes from the collection of the Perinton Historical Society (PHS) which were recently exhibited at the Fairport Museum.  The PHS has an impressive collection of over 1,000 costumes and accessories from the mid-1800s through modern times.  My original plans were to create a different costume exhibit for the museum.  However, once I saw the black gown, an inner voice that sounded much like the Dowager Countess said, “My dear, you must display Downton Abbey.  Nothing else will do!”  B&N Flyer 2013002After that, the costumes nearly jumped out of the closet.  There was an exquisite gown which would have been stunning on Lady Grantham.  Sweet Sybil was represented in white and blue, while Edith’s no nonsense attitude manifested itself in a black sheath dress.  Lady Mary wore a classic long, black gown complete a net jacket embellished with thousands of small beads.  Even Mrs. Hughes and Lady Rose MacClare were represented in the exhibit.

Although the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Fairport Museum has ended, you still have the opportunity to see the fabulous costumes at this one time event at Barnes & Noble, located at 1070 Ridge Road in Webster, New York.  It promises to be a fun evening.  Our friends from the Rochester Historical Society, whose own Downton Abbey exhibit opens today, will also be there.  So will Kristen Zory King of Writers & Books, who will give a short presentation about why the female characters of Downton Abbey draw us in.  Stop by on Thursday evening, December 5, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. to gaze at these exquisite pieces of history that were once worn by women from our own community.

Don’t Allow Your Local Historical Society to Become History

January 31, 2013
"Baby It's Cold Outside!" exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society

“Baby It’s Cold Outside!” exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society

As I walked through a Rochester Historical Society exhibit of exquisite cold weather clothing recently, I was awed by the craftmanship of the pieces.  Here was a collection consisting of velvet jackets with beaded mantles, wool capes,  plush muffs and  incredible hats trimmed with feathers, and yet the gallery was empty.  Where were the visitors who should have been relishing the experience of seeing this historical attire in such a captivating display?  

This is a common situation among small museums and historical societies.  People are busier than ever.  They are involved in charitable organizations, church groups and their children’s sports teams.  Grandparents are also playing a bigger part in the lives of their grandchildren than ever before.  Many individuals are just so busy, they don’t think to make time for something as “old-fashioned” as a visit to the local museum or to attending a program at a historical society. However, these museums and historical societies, most of which are non-profit organizations, subsist on memberships, small admittance fees and the occasional grants and donations.  They need you to survive.  They need your time and your money and they need you to know they still serve a valuable purpose. 

There are many ways to donate to these worthwhile historical organizations.  Historical societies have very reasonable annual membership fees, which can range from $5-$20 and up.  Your membership allows these organizations to purchase artifacts for their collections and to pay honorariums to speakers who provide excellent programs on historical topics.  Consider making a donation to a local historical society in memory of a loved one.  Many societies have also benefited from bequests, and have attorneys on hand who can assist with this process.  Grants can be a wonderful resource for small societies, but the process is complex, the competition is fierce and therefore it can be difficult to be awarded a grant.

Navy blue velvet hat with blue ostrich feathers.  Rochester Historical Society exhibit.  Courtesy of Cheri Branca.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside!” Rochester Historical Society exhibit. Navy blue velvet hat with blue ostrich feathers. Courtesy of Cheri Branca.

Although the gift of money is always welcome, consider donating your time.  At the Fairport Historical Museum in Fairport, New York, we have been fortunate to have many long-time volunteers who greet visitors, oversee gift shop sales and help out wherever needed.  Many of these stalwart volunteers work just two hours a month at the museum.  As time goes on and these veteran volunteers retire, fewer people are taking their places.  It becomes more and more difficult to staff the museum.  A few hours of your time a month makes all the difference between having a museum everyone can enjoy, and a building filled with historical treasures but devoid of people.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society.  Photo courtesy of Cheri Branca.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society. Photo courtesy of Cheri Branca.

Think of your childhood memories, which included visits to local museums.  Remember the childlike wonder as you beheld the treasures contained within its walls.  Now ponder a future with no museums, no treasures, no magic.  We must find a way to support these institutions for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and theirs after them.   Without your support, these societies will cease to exist.  Please consider a visit to your local museum, a membership to your local historical society or volunteer your time so you can be a steward of history.

Hero Highlight – George H. Washburn, Co. D, 108th New York Infantry by guest author Brian Burkhart

October 12, 2012

George H. Washburn courtesy of Brian Burkhart

Introduction by Vicki Masters Profitt, Illuminated History

I first met Brian Burkhart nearly three years ago, when he approached me at a presentation I gave about Perinton’s Civil War soldiers.  After speaking with Brian for just a few minutes, his enthusiasm for researching the soldiers of Rochester’s 108th New York Infantry was evident.  Since then, Brian has been a wonderful source of information about the boys of the 108th.  I’m pleased to publish this Hero Highlight of George H. Washburn by Brian Burkhart.

George H. Washburn was born October 29, 1843, the only son of Charles and Ruth A. Washburn.  He was raised in what was then called Corn Hill, Third Ward, in the City of Rochester, New York.  Young Washburn entered old Public School Number Three, situated on what was then called Clay Street, now Tremont Street, where his first teacher was Miss Sarah Frost.  In 1852, during the great cholera epidemic, his father died after a short illness, leaving a widow and two children; his younger sister, Dora (later to be Mrs. Franklin E. Purdy), and George.  Shortly afterwards, he attempted to reduce the burdens of his widowed mother and support of the family.  His grandmother, Mrs. Hannah Tozer, was living with the family.  He applied for a situation as check boy in the old dry goods establishment of Timothy Chapman, at 12 State Street.  George went to work at seventy-five cents per week, and remained there until August 1862.

He was 19 years old when he enlisted in the 108th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry at Rochester, Monroe County, New York, to serve three years.  Actually, Washburn’s first experience in military service was not with the 108th, but with the “Zouave Cadets”, composed of young lads from Public School No. 3.  On August 11, 1862 he mustered in as a Private in Company ‘D’.  He was with the regiment when it left Rochester for the seat of war on August 19, 1862.  He was wounded in action on May 3, 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was transferred to Company ‘B’, 20th Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps (no date).  He was discharged June 19, 1865 at Washington, D.C.

From Washburn’s Regimental History: “At the battle of Antietam on September 17th, the first battle the regiment was engaged in and suffered so terribly, one of his tent mates and Sunday school teacher previous to enlistment, Joseph S. Delevau, was badly wounded in the groin, and with the assistance of Sergeant John H. Jennings, another tent mate, they carried their wounded companion off the field and laid him in a place of safety, returned to the regiment and remained during the battle.  He was with the regiment on the march to Bolivar Heights, near Harper’s Ferry, and while there was assigned to duty as one of the guard on the Balloon Corps.  When the regiment moved on to Fredericksburg, the guard followed in the rear and joined the regiment at or near Snicker’s Gap, and when the regiment went into winter quarters at Falmouth, Virginia, did picket and guard duty; was in the battle of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  He was wounded during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was sent to Findley Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he remained for a long time, sick with the typhoid fever (at the time of enlistment was five feet three inches, and weighed 112 pounds).  After his recovery he was detailed at headquarters by Dr. TV. A. Bradley, surgeon in charge, and shortly afterwards ordered to report to Brigadier-General J.H. Martindale’s headquarters, corner 19th and I Streets, who at that time was Military Governor of the District of Columbia.  When General Martindale rejoined his brigade, Washburn was assigned to Major Breck’s Bureau in the War Department, Adjutant-General’s Office, and later on transferred to headquarters 22d Army Corps Department at Washington, commanded by Major-General C.C. Augur, at the corner of 15£ Street and Pennsylvania Ave., and remained there till mustered out June 19th, 18G5.  After receiving his discharge, he made application for a situation in the Treasury Department, and being backed up by strong testimonials from General Augur, Colonel J.H. Taylor, chief of staff, and many of the staff officers at headquarters, received an appointment as first class clerk by Hon. Hugh McCullough, Secretary, and assigned to duty in the Internal Revenue Bureau, remaining there till 1868, when he returned to Rochester, New York, and entered the dry goods business again, remained a short time and then entered the clothing business; continued till the fall of 1889, when he received an appointment as clerk in the Blue Line and Canada Southern Line office, Powers Block, where he is at the present time in charge of the mileage desk.

He was married November 24th, 1869, in the City of Rochester to Miss Lillian De Ette Inman, only daughter of Isaac L. Inman (formerly of his company), and has one son, Percy L. Washburn, twenty-two years of age, and 2d Lieutenant of C.A. Glidden Camp No. 6, Sons of Veterans.”

“Comrade Washburn is a member of Genesee Falls Lodge, No. 507, F. A. M.; Flower City Lodge, No, 555, I.O.O.F.; Lallah Rook Grotta, No. 3, Order of Veiled Prophets; Golden Rale Chapter, No. 59, Order Eastern Star; Grace Rebecca Lodge, No. 54, I.O.O.F.  Assistant Adjutant-General, National Staff, Union Veterans’ Union; Assistant Adjutant-General, Department New York, Union Veterans’ Union (for the past four years); Past Inspector-General, National Staff, Union Veterans’ Union.  Past Aide on Department Staff, G.A.R.; Past Adjutant, E. G. Marshall Post 397, G.A.R.; Past Adjutant, G. B. Force Command, No, 13, Union Veterans’ Union; Adjutant, W.T. Sherman Command, No. 2, Union Veterans’ Union; Secretary, 108th Regiment, New York Veteran Association, for the past twelve years.”

“Comrade Washburn, through his endeavors, was the means of gathering together the survivors of the old regiment for a social reunion, and in 1879 they held their first reunion at Newport House, Irondequoit Bay, and at that time he commenced to gather together items relative to the regiment, and through the assistance of many of the members of the organization he has been able to place before the survivors and their many friends this souvenir, trusting that what errors have been made, that they will be cheerfully overlooked by the many admirers and friends of the Old 108th Regiment, New York Volunteers.”

George Washburn died January 27, 1905 at age 61 and was buried in the Buffalo Cemetery Lot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester.  There is more on George Washburn in the green Scrapbook by William Farley Peck located in Rundel Library in the Oversize Book section of the Local History Department]; George is the author of A Complete Military History & Record of the 108th Regiment N.Y. Vols. from l862 to l894.

A note from Vicki Masters Profitt:

George H. Washburn is one of my heroes.  He was a man who took the initiative to gather information from his former comrades of the 108th New York Infantry because he saw the historical value in their war-time memories.  Thanks to George’s efforts, we have an entire volume of memoirs pertaining to the 108th.  This was no small feat.  The scope of the project is mindboggling, and even more so when one keeps in mind that George Washburn did not live in the time of the internet and social media.  The entire book was painstakingly created  through his meticulous efforts to contact the men with whom he had served through the use of letters and advertisements.  George asked the former soldiers to send autobiographies and photos of themselves.  Over 200 sketches, 48 obituaries and the addresses of over 360 men grace this book.  Yes, George H. Washburn is definitely my hero.

Mary Agnes McKenzie, Lost on the Llandovery Castle

July 6, 2012

She steamed toward England, the red crosses on her sides and above her bridge illuminating the murky waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canadian Hospital Ship, Llandovery Castle, carried 258 passengers, many of whom were members of the Canadian Medical Corps, including fourteen Canadian Nursing Sisters.  The history of Canada’s Nursing Sisters began as early as 1885, when they were deployed, along with other medical personnel, to offer aid during the Saskatchewan Rebellion.  According to Veterans Affairs Canada, “The first nurses to serve in war were women who belonged to religious orders – hence, the designation of ‘Nursing Sister’ and the traditional white veil.”  Over 3,100 Canadian nurses served during World War I, and forty six died in service.

Llandovery Castle

Near the end of the Great War, on June 27, 1918, the Llandovery Castle was torpedoed without warning by a German U-86 submarine.  The hospital ship sank within ten minutes, though not before several lifeboats were launched.  The U-boat then proceeded to surface beside the lifeboats, dashing to and fro amongst the survivors before pulling away, only to shell the lifeboats.  Just twenty four survivors in one lifeboat survived.  After the war, the Captain and two lieutenants of the U-boat were brought up on charges.  Unfortunately, the Captain had disappeared and was never brought to trial.  The lieutenants were found guilty of war crimes, but escaped from custody before they could serve their time.

Mary Agnes McKenzie, courtesy Rochester Medical Museum & Archives

All fourteen Canadian Nursing Sisters aboard the Llandovery Castle lost their lives that night.  Among them was Mary Agnes McKenzie, a 1903 graduate of the Rochester City Hospital Training School for Nurses.  Mary was born in Toronto, Ontario, April 28, 1880 (1877, according to RCH records) to Thomas and Mary McKenzie.  After attending public school and the Collegiate Institute, Mary entered the three-year course at the RCH Training School on May 22, 1900.  Her school records show that Mary excelled when put in charge of the surgical pavilion, she worked with unquestioned diligence and was graced with better than average perception.  Although Mary obeyed “the letter of the law”, her lack of neatness was called into question.  Another note in the record states that she stood just 5′ 2″ tall, and was a “pretty blond – jolly – expresses herself well.”  Mary Agnes McKenzie graduated from the RCH Training School on May 23, 1903.  She was one of just ten graduates that year.

After Mary’s graduation from RCH, she practiced as a nurse in Toronto before entering the Military Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  When war broke out, she enlisted for overseas service, working at both Ontario Hospital in Orpington, England, and the War Hospital in Kent.  Ultimately, she was transferred to duty on the Llandovery Castle, which was commissioned a wartime hospital ship in 1916 to transport wounded Canadian soldiers from Europe to Nova Scotia.

Soon after the Llandovery Castle was torpedoed, the June-July 1918 issue of The Hospital Review expressed concern for Mary’s safety, as “no cable of her having been rescued has been received, her relatives have given up all hope, and now believe her to be a victim of this latest exhibition of Hun deviltry.”  On March 29, 1920, a brass tablet was unveiled, adhered to the wall of the Parliament Building in Toronto, Ontario.  Inscribed upon it were the names of the nurses of the Ontario Hospital who lost their lives during the Great War.  When the Halifax Memorial was erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1967, it commemorated the 3,000 service members who lost their lives between 1914-1945.  Mary Agnes McKenzie’s name is immortalized on both monuments.

The photo of Mary in her uniform from the RCH files shows a vibrant and confident young woman ready to face life’s challenges.  How sad that a life of service in the medical field was cut short so soon.  A final entry was made in the RCH Training School record of Mary Agnes McKenzie:  “1918 – Lost on hospital ship Llandovery Castle torpedoed on trip between England and Canada.”

Notes from the author:  I first became aware of Mary Agnes McKenzie when I came across her photo in “To Serve the Community:  A Celebration of Rochester General Hospital 1847-1997”, a wonderful book by Teresa K. Lehr and Philip G. Maples.  Mary’s photo called to me, and I felt a need to learn more about her.  This article was originally published in the Rochester Medical Museum & Archive’s newsletter, the “Baker-Cederberg Notebook”, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring-Summer 2011.

To learn more about the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives, please visit their website,

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,

Lyman’s Story by guest author Debra Root Howie

February 24, 2012

Introduction by Vicki Profitt, Illuminated History:

Five months ago, Debra Root Howie contacted me with a question pertaining to her Civil War ancestor, Lyman Root.  We sent many emails back and forth, and I invited Debra to share Lyman’s story.  What follows is a narrative of Lyman Root’s life written by his descendant, Debra Root Howie, in her own words.

Foreword by guest author Debra Root Howie:

In March this year (2012) my father would be gone for two (2) years now. As part of my grieving process I decided to continue the genealogy I started almost twenty five (25) years ago. “Lyman’s Story” was written because of all the stories Dad gave to me through my childhood and into my adult life.

Dad told me many stories, many of which, I have been able to prove true. He said to me one day, “There was a man in the family who fought in a famous war, but I don’t know his name and I don’t know which war.” I hung on that statement from him and I decided to prove him right, again. I started with basically nothing. I had interviewed my aunt twenty five (25) years ago, reviewed the taped interview from her and found  a few hints. The name Lu Lu came up as well as ‘someone’ heading out west. Well! A few more hints!

I decided to just dig in (no pun intended) and search. I knew my grandfather’s name but not anyone before him.  I found an application for marriage made out by my Dad’s father, Carl Castor Root. That is when I found and read for the first time, my great grandparents names, Lyman and Luevilla Root.  That was the first of many thrills in searching for Lyman.

My travel through time for Lyman has been absolutely amazing and thrilling. I have learned so much more about my Dad than I could have ever imagined. I learned about his many grandfathers’ through the early years of this country’s development and how loyal and dedicated they were to God, family and country. In one of Lyman’s medical reports from the Civil War during an illness, G. W. Hannah M.D. wrote that he was ‘anxious to get back to camp’. I thought it showed how dedicated he was to the war and the other soldiers he fought with. That is exactly how Dad would have felt. He said when he was in the service he ‘never asked someone to do something he would never do himself’. I feel the quality of fairness and loyalty was passed through the generations’ right to my father, through me and into my own children.

I thought it especially appropriate that I was discovering my great grandfather Pvt. Lyman Root Civil War Soldier, during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. He was trained right here in Rochester and served with the 140th Company H! I discovered he was captured and sent to Andersonville Prison in Georgia for 6 months. Andersonville was said to be the worst prison during the war. Now that proves what kind of determination he had for survival! Dad would have been so proud to have known what kind of grandfather he had.

I hope someday to make it to Little Falls, Minnesota to view Lyman’s stone. I am told it is worn and difficult to read, but to see it for myself would be an ending to Lyman’s story and really, an ending to one of Dad’s stories told to me through my years with the gift of having my dad as my Dad.

I can’t thank the people enough who directed me into a direction in which I ran, crazed with the idea of finding my ancestors and in the end, learning more about Dad, myself and the families from which I came.


Lyman was born in Victor, Monroe County, New York, USA. Victor was the centre of many converging roads. In 1798 the site of the village contained two log houses, owned and occupied by Captain A. Hawley, Sr and his son, James.  Toward the depot lived Peter Turner and Isaac Root who was Lyman’s great grandfather. Isaac owned a farm of 100 acres which he later sold and split between two people. He and his wife, Mary were two of the original members of the Presbyterian Church. He was also one of the deacons on July 10, 1812. Both Isaac and Mary’s lives were passed in the village. The Presbyterian church still stands today in the middle of the very busy and beautiful town. Behind the church is a very well kept cemetery where Isaac and Mary are interred.

Born to parents Harry and Henrietta (Reeves) Root, Lyman’s birth date was May 22, 1847. In 1850 he was four (4) years old and living in Victor. Lyman was the first of six (6) children born. His siblings names were Adna, William, Adella , James and Edmund. In the 1865 Federal Census he was listed as “Louisa”, a male, age fourteen (14). Obviously that was a mistake and should have been Lyman.  The 1860 Federal Census, the 1865 State Census as well as the 1870 Federal Census shows the family inMendon,New York. In the 1870 United States Federal Census Noah Root was living with the family. Noah was Lyman’s uncle on his father Harry’s side of the family. Harry Root, as shown in the 1870 United States Federal Census, was a carpenter and a constable. Henrietta was keeping house.

Between 1860 and 1865 there was quite a bit of activity going on in our country with lots of changes taking place. Abraham Lincoln was president. March 4, 1861, seven southern states declared their secession and joined together to form the Confederate States of America. That act was not taken lightly by the Northern States and even some of the Southern States. In 1861 the Civil War started by the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter.

In early July of 1862, President Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each northern state to recapture federal property. The President asked for 300,000 three-year troops to bring the unnecessary civil war to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion. Within one month in Rochester, an entire regiment of infantry had been raised, along with replacements for others already in the field, but before the 108th New York Regiment Infantry even left Rochester, there came another request for troops.

This call was also for 300,000 men who would serve as reserve militia in August. Recruiting stations were set up and war meetings were held. By Friday, August 22, it was reported that 677 men had already signed up with 260 enrolling on Thursday alone. The 260 were total recruits; of that number 175 men enlisted in what became the 140th.

In 1862 Lyman traveled from Mendon, N.Y., to Monroe County, Rochester N.Y.  On the 21st of August 1862 at the age of 18 Lyman enlisted into the 140th Infantry Unit Company H for the Union side. Records state his occupation was that of being a farmer. He was 5 ft. 6” high with black hair, black eyes and a dark complexion. On the American Civil War Soldier sources Lyman’s birth year was around 1844. In order to join the 140th he had to have lied about his age as several census records show Lyman was really only 15 years of age. If the ranks had found him out, Lyman would have been told to leave as did happen to men who lied about their ages. According to the U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles sourced by the ‘Report of the Adjutant-General’ ofNew York, Lyman Root entered at the rank as a Private.

Lyman was mustered in at Camp Fitz-John Porter on September 13, 1862.  This camp was authorized on July 15, 1862. The camp was named after General Fitz-John Porter.  Its location was along the Genesee River in Rochester across from what later became the River Campus of the Universityof Rochester.  The entrance was at Cottage St. near Magnolia St.  The 108th and 140th NY Infantry Regiments trained there.  Over 500 men were housed at the camp before they left.

The 140th left Rochester September 19, 1862 on the New York Central Railroad—24 cars long—about noon.  It was heading for Elmira, then on to Washington, Baltimore, and wherever else they were assigned.

Lyman’s entire schedule after he entered the battle fields is not known, but we do know that he fought in the battle at NorthAnna River.  He became a D.S. (?) Provost Guard of Brigade Headquarters from June 20, 1863 through February 1864.  He then appeared for duty with his regiment in March and April 1864.  He was captured on May 27, 1864 at Hanover Junction and confined at Richmond, VA, May 28, 1864.  He was sent to Andersonville, Georgia on May 31, 1864 and spent 6 months in Andersonville prison.  He was sent to Camp Lawton on November 20, 1864.  He was paroled at Savannah, Georgiaon November 21, 1864.  He became sick, and in December of 1864 he was sent home on furlough for 30 days. G. W. Hannah, M.D., was caring for Lyman. In one of his reports he mentioned how Lyman was very anxious to get back to camp. He returned from Rochester to Annapolis, Maryland on the Erie Railroad on February 20, 1865 and was in the 2nd Division Hospital in March and April of 1865.  He returned to his regiment in April of 1865.  He was mustered out on June 3, 1865 near Alexandria,Virginia after serving two years and nine months.

When Lyman came back to Mendon from the war, he lived with his parents until he married Luevilla (LuLu) Hunter around 1874. Luevilla was born ca. 1855 and died May 31, 1882 in childbirth at age 27 and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Mendon Cemetery. At that time he and his wife, Luevilla, were living with his parents in Mendon.   By the year 1880, they were living in their own home with their children:  Thomas b. 1875, Claude b. 1876, Bessie b. 1877 and Carl b. 1880.  The 1880 Census listed Lyman as being a building mover and living in Mendon.

Luevilla died May 31, 1882 and was buried in the Mendon Cemetery.  Lyman was obviously in need of someone to care for his children (who were between the ages of seven and two) because he married Mary Leonard / Lenore on January 19, 1883.  Her family was from France and migrated to Canada. Mary’s birth date was about 1861. She had a daughter, Elizabeth, from a former marriage She traveled alone as a widow with her young child fromCanada to Minnesota and then to Mendon in 1882.  Elizabeth died before 1884.  Together, Lyman and Mary had four children in Mendon:  Della b. 1884, Francis (Frank) b. 1886, Lyman Jr. b. 1887, and Mary Ellen b. 1889.  Lyman applied to the US Government for an Invalid Pension in 1890.

Sometime toward the end of 1891 or early 1892, Lyman and his family moved to Minnesota.  It is not known the reason but possibly his wife Mary, had family there.   It is not known how they got there.  Pearl was born in September of 1892 in Minnesota. Lyman Jr. died one month before his father in July of 1893. Lyman died August 25, 1893 in Little Falls, Minnesota at the age of 47 after he was honored with medals from fighting with the 140th and Gettysburg. It is said he was so ill he could not accept his medals so Mary had to accept them in place of Lyman.  Lyman, his son Lyman Jr., Mary  were buried in Oakland Cemetery, Little Falls, Morrison County.  His headstone was provided by the Deceased Union Civil War Veterans organization in 1894.  His death notice from the Little Falls Daily Transcript indicated that he left a wife and several children in “reduced circumstances.”  On April 10, 1893 his wife, Mary, applied for a Widow’s Pension and never married again. She was listed on the 1920 United States Federal Census at the age of 59 but not found in the census for 1930.

Piercing Eyes, Silent Voices

November 30, 2011

“When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes.  But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls!”  Canadian photographer Ted Grant seems to be on to something with that quote.  I take many photographs that tell a story to help me remember the moment.  However, they seem to just capture the main object in the frame.  When I look at black and white photos, I feel as if I can truly see the souls of the people looking back at me.  Their eyes tell a story though their voices have been silenced.

I love digging through old photographs and ephemera at antique shops or searching online for missing genealogical links.  My goal is to find a treasure; however, my idea of a treasure has nothing to do with jewels or money.  My idea of treasure consists of locating items of local historical significance.  My treasure might be photographs of people who lived in my community generations ago.  My treasure could be a program from a 1921 estate sale which took place on the land I live on today.  My definition of treasure is knowledge.

Mustache Man

Last month, after perusing old photographs on eBay looking for interesting images, I came across a cabinet card of an unidentified man.  His eBay title was “Mustache Man”, and that is what I called him.  Mustache Man’s photo was taken in 1891 by photographer A. E. Dumble of Rochester, New York.  Despite looking at hundreds of images, I kept returning to Mustache Man.  He spoke to me.  Thankfully, Mustache Man didn’t speak to anyone else, because I won the auction and Mustache Man returned home to Rochester.  The image shows a young man, early-to-mid 30s, with dark blonde or light brown hair, a handlebar mustache, cleft chin and clear blue eyes.

After posting Mustache Man’s photo on Illuminated History Facebook, I asked for assistance in naming him.  Our Facebook friends suggested some interesting names, including Kind Hearted Ken, Handlebar Harry and Antonio.  The name that fit our Mustache Man was Samuel Everheart.  Samuel seemed to agree, because I could swear his eyes twinkled when I called him by name.

I wish I knew Samuel Everheart’s true identity.  Did he marry and have children?  Did he live a long life?  Who is this mystery man?  If Samuel’s mother/sister/wife had only placed his name on the back of the photo, we would have answers to these questions.  It is SO important to label your family photographs!  If all you have time to do is write the name on the back, that is better than nothing.  I like to include the photo date and place the photo was taken as well.  Think of how much more we could learn about Samuel if only someone had recorded these important bits of information.

The moral of the story is this:  Don’t allow your family members to become silent voices languishing in the bargain bin at the local antiques shoppe.  Label your photos and preserve your family history for generations to come.

Exciting Illuminations to Come!

February 23, 2010

Although it has been over a month since I last posted, don’t think I am slacking off.  If anything, I am busier than ever planning more illuminations!

  • On Wednesday, I will interview a World War II veteran about his experiences during and after the war. 
  • Thursday’s agenda includes a meeting with the Pittsford Town Historian to discuss various research avenues.
  • I’ve been contacted by a local author who specializes in archives.  He wants to discuss the possibility of co-authoring an article with me about the Civil War.  My appointment with him is on Saturday. 
  • My tour at Pittsford Cemetery, co-hosted with Audrey Johnson, has been scheduled for Saturday, May 15, at 10:00 a.m.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of my old friends, and meeting new ones as well, as we delve into the lives of our local Civil War soldiers and other Pittsford notables.
  • Another cemetery tour, for the Perinton Historical Society, has just been scheduled for Tuesday, June 8, 7:00 p.m., at Greenvale Cemetery.
  • I am hard at work writing an article about Civil War nurse and Woman’s Relief Corps charter member Mary Jewett Telford for an upcoming issue of the Perinton Historical Society’s newsletter, the Historigram.
  • Genealogy is a daily part of my life.  If I am not researching my Civil War soldiers, then I am working on the genealogy of my friend, Floris A. Lent.  Amazingly, Floris has many Civil War soldiers in her family.  She is also related to Dr. Robert O. Wilson, a Methodist physician who was in Nanjing, China in the 1930s during the Nanjing Massacre. Not only that, Floris is also related to Susan B. Anthony on both sides of her family.   Some people have all the luck!

In the coming weeks and months, many changes will occur on Illuminated History.  Although my heart remains with my Pittsford Civil War boys, I will begin to illuminate other local history as well.  My research into the Perinton Civil War soldiers will be shared, as will my interviews with local World War II veterans.  I’m very excited to illuminate local history for you, and I welcome your comments and suggestions.  Please feel free to post a message on Illuminated History, or email me directly at

I Feel Dead People

December 7, 2009

“I see dead people,” I exclaimed to my husband.  I could immediately see the concern on his face as his eyebrows drew up and his eyes crinkled in slight disbelief.  After assuring him I was speaking metaphorically and that I probably wasn’t crazy at this particular time, he relaxed a little.  What I probably should have said was that I feel and appreciate the history of the cemetery and its inhabitants.  To me, a cemetery is an outdoor museum and not just a park containing headstones.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been fascinated with cemeteries.  When I was young, my Gram and I would go to Riverside Cemetery and to Holy Sepulchre to visit her mother and her sister, Nellie, who had died as a child.  As a pre-teen I’d ride my bike to the little cemetery near my home, buy a Coke from the pop machine at the fire hall across the street and spend time reading the headstones.  And every summer during my teen years, I’d head to the St. Lawrence River where my friend Laurie and I would walk through the Morristown cemetery looking for unusual monuments and monikers.  Now that I am an adult, my interest in these outdoor museums has grown and sharpened.

The conversation occurred as we discussed my upcoming Civil War soldiers presentation for the Perinton Historical Society.  What was my theme?  What did I hope to accomplish?  Why did I choose these specific soldiers to discuss?  My husband hit upon the theme first.  My goal, not only for the presentation but for my entire Civil War project, is to illuminate the lives of the Civil War soldiers who lived in our neighborhoods.  Everyone has heard the stories about General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee.  Multiple books and movies tell their stories.  But who tells the stories of the regular citizens who helped in the war effort?  The men who left their families behind.  The women who tended the children, balanced the books and ran the farm while their husbands fought many miles from home.

The cemeteries hold the keys to many mysteries.  I find comfort in the fact that so many soldiers are buried beside their loved ones.  It serves as a reminder that they were loved and remembered in death, as in life.  I feel sorrow for the soldiers who are buried in single graves.  Where were their families?  Did they marry?  Were they fathers?  The first time I walked through Pittsford Cemetery photographing the graves of these men, those thoughts occurred to me.  I felt a force drawing me to them.  “Our stories must be told.  We were important, too.  Bring us to light.”

I suppose I should have said, “I feel dead people”.  That would have been the truth.  So, while the soldiers I decided to discuss at my presentation were chosen because they were Perinton residents who had interesting stories to tell, they aren’t the only ones.  I will continue on the path that was chosen for me by the soldiers of yesterday.  I will tell all their stories, one by one.

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