Posted tagged ‘Fairport Museum’

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!

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Illuminating Deva Ellsworth

June 22, 2015

On June 16, 2015, Illuminated History held its fourth annual cemetery tour in which fifteen actors portrayed eternal residents of three historic Perinton, New York, burying grounds: Egypt Cemetery, Schummers Cemetery and Perinton Center Cemetery.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum.

In this Illuminated History series, the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.

The first person to be highlighted from this tour is Deva Ellsworth (1894-1925) of the Perinton Center Cemetery, who was portrayed by Denise McLaughlin:

Who here likes music? Any fans of jazz here? Well, I am Deva Ellsworth, and I was a professional musician during the heyday of jazz. Let me tell you my story.

I was born in May of 1894 on a farm on Ayrault Road. Our house was across from Center Cemetery. There is a school there now, which would have been convenient when I was growing up. Instead, my three siblings and I had to walk all the way down to the end of Ayrault, where it connects to the Palmyra Road, to District School #6. It was a long walk in winter, although we enjoyed it the rest of the year. After finishing eighth grade in the District School, I went to high school in East Rochester. I graduated in 1916, during World War I.

Deva Ellsworth, courtesy of the Perinton Town Historian

Deva Ellsworth, courtesy of the Perinton Town Historian

I was a talented musician, and rather unconventional for my day (thank you, Great-grandma Irena, for my independent spirit!). Instead of staying on the farm and finding a husband, I joined the Madame Meyers Ladies’ Band as the coronet soloist. (I played several brass instruments.) Now John Phillip Sousa was the most famous band-leader of that time, and concert bands were a popular form of entertainment all over the country, but neither Sousa’s band, nor any other professional band, would hire women, unless they were either a vocalist or a harp player! Consequently, women formed their own bands. We were well-received and never lacked for playing engagements, I assure you.

Madam Meyers’ band worked in Atlantic City the summer after I graduated. I found that I enjoyed performing and seeing life outside of Fairport. Subsequently, I toured New England and also out west with several bands. Soon after I graduated, however, the United States joined World War I. My brother Elmwood enlisted right away. My sister Ruby and I, not to be outdone in service to our country, both joined the America Ladies’ Military Band, which was led by the famous Helen May Butler, America’s “female Sousa.” There were about fifty women from all over the country in our band, and all of us had brothers in the service. We toured military training camps all over the U.S. to entertain our troops.

We played concerts at camps in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri, to name just a few locations. However, 1918 brought unbelievable devastation: the Spanish Flu, which killed more U.S. serviceman than the fighting in Europe did. Our band often visited camps that were quarantined, and frequently we were playing only a few feet away from the bed of someone who was dying of the flu. One soldier’s last words were, “Please play that last selection again.” Not surprisingly, both Ruby and I caught the flu; her case was more severe than mine. We both survived, thank God. We had both hoped to go to Europe to entertain troops over there, but the war ended before we had the chance.

After the war, Ruby returned to Fairport and settled down. I, however, continued my life as a professional musician. I was in several exclusive women’s groups, including the Ladies’ Eleven Piece Jazz Orchestra. I traveled throughout New England, performing at famous, upscale resorts. I remained a performer all of my short life, working throughout the early 1920s, during the advent of Jazz and the start of Prohibition. It was an exciting time in history, especially for women.

Although I had survived the Spanish flu in 1918, I was never quite as healthy again. I became ill in late 1924, and,

Headstone of Deva Ellsworth, Perinton Center Cemetery

Headstone of Deva Ellsworth, Perinton Center Cemetery

after a lingering illness, died in April of 1925, just 8 days shy of my 30th birthday. I am buried in the family plot in Center Cemetery, across the road from where I grew up. In addition to looking eternally over the beautiful land that was our farm, I can often hear the strains of the Martha Brown band students as they rehearse; I just shake my head when they play Sousa! I am so proud that I got to spend my life working at something I loved, and I got to bring joy to so many people with my music. Who could ask for anything more out of life, however short that life might be?

Script by Suzanne Lee

(c) 2015 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Illuminated History Tour of Three Historic Perinton Cemeteries on June 16, 2015

May 31, 2015

Three historic Perinton Cemeteries will be the focus of this year’s Illuminated History cemetery tour, which will take place on Tuesday, June 16 at 7:00 p.m. at the Fairport Historical Museum.

Hear the stories of some of Fairport’s most respected pioneers, business owners and Civil War soldiers as told by the actors portraying them. Throughout the evening, you’ll meet tavern owners Cyrus Packard and Oliver Loud, of Egypt Cemetery, as they debate the merits of their businesses. Civil War mother Delia Northrop Treadwell, an eternal resident of Schummers Cemetery, will remember her four sons who served in the Union Army. Early settlers James and Lucretia Packard Hannan, of Perinton Center Cemetery, will also illuminate their lives for attendees. These stories and more will be shared on this special tour sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society.

This program, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Fairport Historical Museum, 18 Perrin Street.

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.

Greenvale Cemetery Tour – Saturday, May 7th at 1:00 p.m.

May 4, 2011

Beautiful Greenvale Rural Cemetery sits beside the canal in the village of Fairport, New York.  On Saturday, May 7th, I’ll be conducting a tour of Greenvale to introduce residents to a few of the nearly forty Civil War soldiers buried here.  After the war, many of these veterans became leading members of Fairport society and of G.A.R. Post 211. 

The tour begins at the Gazebo in Kennelley Park at 1:00 p.m. where a member of the Fairport Museum will lead the way to Greenvale Cemetery.  Once the group arrives, I’ll get the tour underway beginning with the grave of Samuel Larwood of the 33rd New York Infantry.  We will weave our way through the cemetery and hear tales of cavalry troopers, infantry soldiers and a drummer boy before ending the tour at young Shadrick Benson’s final resting place.

This Illuminated History Greenvale Cemetery tour is held in conjunction with the Fairport Merchants Association and the Fairport Museum.  We hope you can join us!

George Wiltsie’s Wartime World

June 11, 2009
George B. Wiltsie, 4th NY Heavy Artillery

George B. Wiltsie, 4th NY Heavy Artillery, standing second from left

In April I received an incredible gift in the mail, courtesy of Bill Keeler of the Perinton Historical Society and Fairport Museum.  Bill has spent much time transcribing the Civil War diary of George B. Wiltsie which came into the possession of the Fairport Museum last year.  The disk I received contained the transcription, and soon I was transported back in time, into George Wiltsie’s wartime world.

George B. Wiltsie was born on May 16, 1837, the seventh child of Thomas Wiltsie and his wife Rachel Brownell Wiltsie.  The Wiltsie family homestead was located in Duanesburg, New York until the spring of 1834, when the entire Wiltsie family traveled by packet boat on the Erie Canal toward their new home.  Maps of the time show that the Wiltsies settled on land west of the Erie Canal in Perinton, New York, right about where Route 31 passes over the canal between Mill and Kreag Roads.  It was here that George Wiltsie’s story began.

Little is known of George’s early life in Perinton.  We can imagine that life must have been hectic in a household that eventually grew to include 11 children.  Thomas Wiltsie was a farmer, and George followed in his father’s footsteps until August 12, 1862.  That was the day that George enlisted in the 4th NY Heavy Artillery.

George’s first journal entry is written one week later, and expresses his reasons for joining the fight:  “August 19, 1862 …I bid adieu to friends and old associates, feeling it a duty to [fight] for home and its comforts, to assist in the rescue of a Government in peril.”  The next few entries in the journal tell of traveling with the Army, and of the poor food and filthy conditions.  It occurred to me that through most of the diary, George was very optimistic and upbeat.  He mentioned having leave and seeing the Smithsonian and the Liberty Bell.  He commented on the beautiful architecture that he saw on his travels with the Army.  Soon after arriving at Fort Pennsylvania, George came down with typhoid fever.  He managed to pull through and rejoin his unit.  However William Cook, who was a comrade in the 4th NY Heavy Artillery and a fellow Monroe County resident, became sick at the same time as George and died within one week from the disease.  William Cook is another of my Pittsford boys who will be mentioned in upcoming posts. 

George’s happy frame of mind continued even through August of 1864 when, on the 25th, George matter-of-factly mentioned that “…the Rebels advanced on us and the battle commenced which ended with our defeat and capture of a large number of prisoners myself among the number.”  I can’t even imagine the terror I would feel at being captured by the enemy.  However, George took his imprisonment in stride and even managed to joke about his new surroundings, “Paid adieu to Libby [Prison] this morning and went to the famous resort of Uncle Sam’s boys for three days better known by them as Bell Island.”  Ultimately ending up in Salisbury Prison, George’s journal chronicles the boredom, crime and lack of proper shelter at Salisbury but still sounds optimistic.

As the days turned into months of imprisonment, George’s optimism began to fade.  The entry for November 8, 1864 noted that it was Election Day and George wished he could vote for Abraham Lincoln.  The last journal entry was made on December 9, 1864.  He may have already been ill with the typhoid fever that would take his life in Annapolis, Maryland on March 21, 1865.  His body was returned home and buried at Pittsford Cemetery beside his sisters Antoinette and Eliza and his brother Frank.  The man who remarked on the beauty of architecture and who took joy in historical monuments was dead at the young age of 28.

I have seen a photo of George B. Wiltsie.  It is in the personal collection of Jason Puckett, a Wiltsie family descendant.  Unbelievably, Jason bought the photo on eBay.  It was labeled with the names of the four soldiers pictured – William B. Lyke, George Wiltsie, Henry Root and Albert E. Lyke.  The Lyke boys are mentioned several times in George’s journal.  George is standing second from left sporting a bushy black beard.  Military service records provided by the New York State Archives show that George had brown eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and that he stood 5′ 4 1/2″ tall.

After sharing his photo of George Wiltsie, Jason shared something with me that meant even more.  In an email, Jason wrote to me, “You have taken it upon yourself to remember my ancestors and acknowledge their existence when others might just think of them as headstones in the cemetery. I honestly doubt that there is anyone that goes to visit George’s grave anymore out of remembrance of his life. You still do that, and I thank you for that respect for my family.  I really just want to say thank you because it is an honor to me and my family that someone cares enough to remember. Your passion for the Civil War and the men who chose to serve inspires me.  Thank you so much for taking your time to remember my family and the other men who were willing to give their lives to defend my family.”  Jason’s eloquence moved me to tears. 

The goal of my Civil War project, cemetery tours, speaking engagements and my Illuminated History blog is to remember these men who took time out of their lives to serve our country during a period of division and strife.  It honors the memories of our hometown heroes because their stories deserve to be told.   Every time I place a flag by a Civil War soldier’s grave, I speak their name and promise aloud that they will not be forgotten.

Historical Societies – A Researcher’s Paradise

March 30, 2009

Today I visited the Perinton Historical Society and Fairport Museum for the first time.  I was astounded by the amount of research materials available there.  One frequently refers to public libraries for research, but the local historical society is an untapped reservoir of information.

Several months ago, I had come across the online edition of the Perinton Historical Society Historigram.  George B. Wiltsie, one of my Civil War boys, was mentioned in the newsletter.  Apparently, a man named Karl Jost had donated a box full of Wiltsie and Potter documents to the Perinton Historical Society.  Included in these treasures was a transcript of George B. Wiltsie’s Civil War diary!  During my visit today, I had the good fortune to meet Fairport Museum curator William Keeler.  After explaining my Civil War project to Bill, he headed off to parts unknown and returned with the very treasure box mentioned in the Historigram.  Unfortunately, Bill is in the process of transcribing the diary so I was unable to view that yet, but the rest of the items were also of interest.  There were several photos of homes belonging to various members of the Wiltsie and Potter families.  The photo that caught my attention was a black and white 8×10 of the Wiltsie family home in Duanesburg, New York.  Pasted to the back of the photo was a long letter written by Charles H. Wiltsie, nephew of George B. Wiltsie.  The letter described in detail the house where George’s parents and older siblings lived until their move to Perinton in the 1830s.  What a find!

While discussing my project with Bill, I offhandedly asked if he had any information about the local chapter of the G.A.R., which stands for Grand Army of the Republic.  This was a national organization that was formed after the Civil War.  It is comparable to today’s American Legion or VFW.  Bill strode off and returned with more treasures for me.  The folders he handed me contained meeting notes and many other interesting tidbits of information about the E.A. Slocum Post 211.  For me, the most exciting part was seeing the applications completed and signed in the late 1890s by some of my Civil War boys.  The applications listed birth places, service dates, occupations, and even reasons for discharge. 

I would invite anyone with an interest in history to visit their local historical society.  Their holdings are more precious than gold.  Special thanks to Bill Keeler for his assistance with and interest in my Civil War soldiers project.

The life and death of George B. Wiltsie will be discussed in greater depth during my Pittsford Cemetery tour on May 16th.  Please visit the following link for more information about my tour, which is featured on page 17.  http://townofpittsford.org/files/images/publications/2009_spring_rec_brochure.pdf


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