Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The history behind the theatre…

If Nila Mack was known as “The Fairy Godmother of Radio,” then certainly Marge Thomas could be called “The Fairy Godmother of the Children’s Glassworks Theatre” in Cleveland, New York. I would like to say a very special thank you to this group for inviting me into their home to share their love of storytelling.

Once Upon A Time… there was a children’s community theatre group sponsored by the Cleveland Historical Society who calls home the former St. James Episcopal Church. This nearly 150-year-old building was deconsecrated and donated by the Diocese of Central New York in 2003. With the hard work of Dave and Marge Thomas, and the tremendous support of this tight-knit community, a stage was built, costumes were created, and the Children’s Glassworks Theatre put out their first casting call.

Then and now, every child who answers that call has a role to play. They participate in all aspects of the production – acting, stage management, sound and lighting control. This involvement gives each member of the troupe a vested interest in the show and all suggestions are considered. The mutual respect between the children and Marge is as evident as their shared passion for the theatre. It is this connection which drives them and makes it difficult to tell who is having more fun – the children or Marge!

Now in their fifth year, the group has put together 10 different productions, including fairy tales and family classics such as “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

In this year’s show, “House of the World,” Good Will shows a small boy how to ‘break down the walls’ of Greed, Poverty, Vanity, Selfishness and Intolerance to promote love and compassion. The play was adapted by Marge from audio tapes of the landmark children’s radio show, “Let’s Pretend.” Stage direction and an additional scene were added to the hand-written script and production got underway.

Here are a few images of what you can look forward to. However, we saved the best for last… come to the show to see the grand finale!

The history behind the “House of the World”:
The play “House of the World” was created by Nila Mack in 1934 and performed annually by children on the radio program, “Let’s Pretend.” This quintessential Christmas show promotes brotherhood and tolerance.

Nila Mack

Once Upon A Time… a pioneer radio show director blazed her own trail on the airwaves. Nila Mack created the children’s program “Let’s Pretend;” which ran on CBS radio from 1934-1954. This critically-acclaimed and award-winning show presented adaptations of classic fairy tales and other children’s stories, including Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. These weekly programs focused on education and entertainment for the whole family.

The history behind the Children’s Glassworks Theatre:
The name, Children’s Glassworks Theatre, pays homage to the industry that once made the little village of Cleveland prosperous – glassmaking. The following images appear courtesy of Mabry Benson.

Cleveland Glass Works

Union Glass Company
Once Upon A Time… a German glassmaker came to America to continue his craft and Anthony Landgraff and Sons was founded. The family began manufacturing glass in Vernon, New York before moving the company to Cleveland for the thick hemlock forests that surrounded the village. This was very important as large quantities of wood were needed for the melting furnaces. The Landgraff family continued their trade until 1861 and their company eventually came under ownership of Crawford Getman.

The Union Glass Factory was another glassmaking plant located on the north shore of Oneida Lake. It was organized as a stock company by Cleveland citizens until it too, was eventually sold to Crawford Getman. He successfully ran both companies until 1889 when he sold them to the United Glass Company.

As time went on, the Cleveland factories were re-organized and modernized before falling victim to the fast-moving tides of the industrial age. They finally closed in 1912.

The superior quality of sand found here gave the glass its exceptional brilliance. So much so, that it was used in part by Corning Glass to make the lens for the world’s largest telescope which sits atop Palomar Mountain in California. The primary product of these factories was window glass; however, collectors have found and authenticated many ‘off-hand pieces’. These items were produced by the blower after hours from leftover bits of glass and include canes, pitchers, bowls, chains and the like.

Children's Glassworks Theatre
"House of the World" Cast
The Children’s Glassworks Theatre celebrates the Christmas season with Nila Mack’s “House of the World” this weekend. Performances on Friday, December 4 and Saturday, December 5 begin at 7 p.m. Bring the family to St. James Episcopal Church on North Road in Cleveland to see this holiday classic. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for seniors and children.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Commemorating heroes of the War of 1812 (Vol. II)…

As we continue our series honoring the local heroes of the War of 1812, we would like to share the interesting tale of the brothers Meacham. Captain John Meacham and Colonel Thomas Standish Meacham were leaders in our communities and leave behind a wealth of history.

The eldest son of Isaac and Lucy, John was born in 1777 in Williamstown, Massachusetts and the younger Thomas was born in 1794 in Pawlet, Vermont. Both were great-great-great grandsons of Captain Myles Standish, a famous military captain who arrived on the Mayflower with the early Pilgrims to settle Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Meacham families were some of the early settlers of the Richland area. In 1810, John and his wife Polly moved their family to the village of Pulaski. He opened its first mercantile on the corner of Bridge and Jefferson Streets and was later joined in this enterprise by Polly’s brother, Silas.

John was one of the original nine members of the First Congregational Church of Pulaski and, together with another brother Simon, was among its first board of trustees. The founders organized the church in Pawlet, Vermont in anticipation of their relocation to Pulaski. Following his brothers, Thomas and his wife Sally soon left Vermont and settled into the Sandy Creek area.

By the start of the War of 1812, John had recruited many of his neighbors to form a military company. They were called upon to defend Sackets Harbor on two occasions and Oswego once. He died in Richland just after the war and now rests with his family in the Pulaski Village Cemetery.

Thomas was as colorful an addition to the community as John was a civic leader. He became a commandant and local military leader himself and, for many years, led the annual training on the village green in front of the courthouse – reportedly one of the best training grounds in the area. With Thomas’ flair for presentation, these lively events were as much for play as for drill and drew participants and spectators from near and far.

Despite the popularity of these events, Thomas may have been better-known for his adventures in cheese-making. In 1835, he devised a plan to create an enormous cheese round (1,400 pounds) as a gift to President Andrew Jackson. Thomas accompanied the cheese to Washington (D.C.) to make the formal presentation to the president from the “people of the State of New York.” The gift was met with cheers and ovations and, on February 22, 1836, President Jackson invited one and all to partake of the cheese in celebration of Washington’s Birthday.

Just ten years after this triumph, Thomas died and is now interred in the Pulaski Village Cemetery with his brother, John.

Yet another pair of brothers joined the Meacham’s …

The aforementioned Private Silas Harmon (sic) was also a veteran of the War of 1812. He was born in Pawlet, Vermont in 1776 to Joel Harmon Jr. and Chloe Sheldon. Along with the Meacham brothers, he was a founding trustee of the First Congregational Church of Pulaski. Silas relocated to Richland with the Meacham families and the church congregation. His first wife, Jemima Terrell, died in 1814 and he remarried to Lucy Wales of Norwich, Connecticut.

Silas joined John Meacham in the mercantile business, and the two passed the firm on to Silas’ nephew, Milton. Silas then went on to open a tavern where he orchestrated the famous 1823 Revolutionary War salute to the 32 surviving veterans in Richland. He died four years later and is buried in the Pulaski Village Cemetery.

Silas’ brother Major Joel Harmon III was in the War of 1812 as well. A musician, Joel is perhaps more well-known for writing “The Columbian Sacred Minstrel”, a book of music and anthems published in 1809. The introduction of this new style was his opposition to the fugue style that was popular at the time. Joel was a music teacher in Richland before moving to York, Pennsylvania where he died in 1833.

As we continue our series commemorating local soldiers of the War of 1812, we look forward to including yours. Please e-mail me at to share your stories.

If you would like more information about historical sites and genealogy in Oswego County, please visit our Web site at


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Geocaching IS the treasure…

Over the last few months, we toured Oswego County to discover the hidden treasures – from trinkets to history - left by those who came before us. We owe a debt of thanks to Tim, our personal guide and savant, for introducing us to the excitement of geocaching.

Similar to the 150-year-old game letterboxing (see Jessica's blog), which uses clues and references to landmarks to find hidden treasures, geocaching also uses latitude and longitude coordinates on a GPS receiver.

A History Lesson:
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a radio-navigation system that provides accurate location information through the use of satellites. In May 2000, Selective Availability was removed and the accuracy of civilian GPS receivers was increased from 100m to 20m. The hunt was on!

The first-known cache was placed by Dave Ulmer in Oregon to test the accuracy of GPS. The coordinates were posted online and readers were directed to locate the “stash” using their GPS receivers and report back. There was only one rule: “Take Something, Leave Something”. Originally called the Great American GPS Stash Hunt, this new hobby eventually became known as geocaching and a Web site was developed to track caches all over the world.

A New Adventure:
Our first geocache search led us to find Dr. Mary Walker. We enjoyed the great outdoors and learned a bit of our local history, as well:

Dr. Walker was among the first women in the country to receive a medical degree and was cited for valor for going behind enemy lines during the Civil War to attend to the wounded. For these acts of bravery, she was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only woman to receive this award. Among her many credits, she was a surgeon, a public lecturer and an early champion of women’s rights.

We had great fun in this multi-cache hunt! Using GPS coordinates and clues from the Web site, we found the first cache; which gave us the coordinates to locate the final cache. With the prize in hand, we took a token, left a token and signed the log book. Later, we went online and registered our find.

Careful not to include spoilers, we took these photos of our quest:

Our next geocache adventure led us to Mexico Point Park in the Town of Mexico. This time, we decided to hide a cache of our own! We had a terrific visit to the park and learned of its famous resident, Silas Town, an American spy and Revolutionary War hero. (See my post dated August 7, 2009)

Here are a few pictures of the park (again, no spoilers!):

It was equally fun developing clues as unraveling them! I cannot give you any further hints as to the whereabouts of this cache; however, if you would like to discover it for yourself, you can start online at Click on “Hide and Seek a Cache” and enter “GC1Z9RQ” in the GC code box at the bottom of the screen.

There are hundreds of caches hidden all over Oswego County. To find one in your neighborhood, visit the Web site listed above. Becoming a basic member is free, quick and simple. As always, please be mindful of your surroundings and respect area properties and environments.

Happy hunting, cachers!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Commemorating heroes of the War of 1812 (Vol. I)…

It has been said that people are our greatest resource. With the coming 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812, let us take a moment to remember a few of those who took part in this bit of our nation’s history.

A special thanks goes out to Shawn Doyle, Richland Town Historian and president of the Half-Shire Historical Society for taking us on a cemetery tour to learn about these local heroes.

One of the oldest soldiers to serve in the War of 1812 was Lt. Colonel Hezekiah Cole. He was born in Rhode Island in 1765 and later moved to the town of Richland. Hezekiah served in the 13th Rhode Island Militia after the Revolutionary War and through the War of 1812. He and his wife Bethani Arnold brought up seven children: Arnold, Lucia, Tabitha (Samuel Cole), Sally (Samuel Fox), Anne, Richard, and Emery (Harriet). Hezekiah died in July 1844 and now rests in the Riverside Cemetery in Richland.

Ensign Samuel Dunlap joined his brother Captain Smith Dunlap in the War of 1812. Samuel was born in Fonda, New York in 1785 and later relocated to the town of Richland. He wed Sylvia Robbins of Keene, New Hampshire in September 1811, less than a year before the war began. Samuel’s adopted daughters, Polly Ann (George R.F. Campbell) and Mary Jane (Jewitt S. Ames) evenly inherited his lands upon his death in September 1853. Samuel operated a tavern on the old Ridge Road near where he is buried in the Ferguson-Blue Springs Cemetery in Richland.

Much is known about Lieutenant John Weed, who served in defense of Plattsburgh, New York during the War of 1812. After his birth in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1765, his family moved to Setauket, New York (Long Island). John tells his story in his pension papers:

“We lived there (Long Island) until I was 12-years-old, which was in April previous to the Declaration of Independence. And in 1776, I remember hearing the roaring of the cannon at Long Island, York Island, Flat Bush and also when the Phoenix and Rose went up the North River. I think my father, a Whig, and three sons (Charles, Ira and Jehiel) were then in the United States Army. In 1777, my father came home. Got his family off the island in 1778 and landed near Norwalk Connecticut, then went into South Salem where the family resided until 1782.

“In 1780, being liable to military duty, then 16-years-old belonging to Captain Joseph Benedict’s Company, we were called out and went on to the lines near White Plains, Mile Square, King Street, and Bedford near New Castle, I think between the 15th of October and 15th of November 1780. We found chestnuts and cider secreted among the Tories of which we made free use.”

John served four tours as a private between October 1780 and June 1783. After the Revolutionary War, he met his bride Mary Townsend of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts while residing in the lower Hudson River Valley. In 1790, the couple joined several family members and relocated to Rupert, Vermont. John purchased 100 acres and held several government posts, including: Tythingman, Surveyor of Highways, and Collector of Taxes. It was during this time that John was called back to service for the War of 1812.

John and Mary raised 13 children: Ira Charles (Thankful Phillips); William (Cynthia Phillips), (Freelove Thankful Parker); Lydia (Isaac Price), James (Ruth Nelson), (Betsey Flower); Joanna (Simeon Doane); Betsey (Reuben Peck); Rebecca (Ralph Price); Susan (Horace A. Phillips); Amanda (William Kilburn); Polly (Ralph Price); John (Emily Frary); Hoyt (Harriet Maltby); and Townsend (Almira Maltby).

In 1825, John and Mary moved to the town of Richland to join their children and neighbors. John died in 1834 and is buried in the Pulaski Village Cemetery.

Ferguson-Blue Spring Cemetery, Richland

Our ancestors have many fascinating tales to tell. Thus, we begin this series to commemorate our local heroes of the War of 1812. Please let me know if you have a story that you would like to share with the rest of the group. You'll find my contact information listed above on the right.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Find the history in your own backyard…

Nestled in the little hamlet of Texas, New York, Mexico Point Park is one of the most breathtaking natural areas we have discovered in our travels. A special thank you to our tour guide Sandra for showing us around the park, which is located on the shores of Lake Ontario at the northern point of the Mexico Township.

To say that the views are spectacular would be an understatement and, while its serene beauty is unparalleled, the true charm of the park lies in its history.

Mexico Point Park
The park’s history is as colorful as its sunsets. It was once home to the Mexico Point Clubhouse, which was originally built in 1906. This lively summer resort was popular with local residents and vacationers. Guests of the inn were met at the train station by a horse-drawn bus which carried them to their summer retreat. Visitors of the clubhouse enjoyed boating, swimming, sunbathing, ball games, clambakes, dances and many other social events.

In the 1940s, boxing legends Carmen Basilio, Joey DeJohn and Joe Netro used the resort as a summer training camp.

Sadly, the resort succumbed to fire in 1952 and all that remains are the stone foundation and walls, the grand fireplace, and the heavy ship chains and connecting pillars at the former entrances of the building.

Here are some of the views of the park:

Casey’s Cottage
Another feature that remains as a testament to the park’s history is Casey’s Cottage. Formerly the carriage house of the resort, it was abandoned with the arrival of the automobile. In the 1930s, summer resident and Columbia University Professor Dr. William C. Casey arranged to take over the facility with his friend, German artist Severin Bischof. With the help of their friends, the pair transformed the barn into an 11th century English manor house.

The medieval influence is apparent in the life-size wall carvings, the leaded stained glass windows, the Great Hall with its majestic fireplace and quotes from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” carved into the broad beams. On the second floor, visitors will find an ornate chapel and a balcony overlooking the Great Hall. A porch was added to create the illusion of a moat.

The cottage was abandoned after Dr. Casey’s death in 1978. Ten years later, the Friends of Mexico Point took over the restoration efforts and now maintain the facility.

Take in these images from the cottage:

Spy Island
Perhaps one of the most fascinating tales of this park, and indeed the entire area, is that of Silas Town, Mexico resident and Revolutionary War hero. An American spy commissioned by General George Washington, Town was selected to uncover the battle plans of British Colonel Barry St. Leger.

While he was hidden on a small island in the Little Salmon Creek, Town overheard St. Leger’s intentions to attack Fort Stanwix (located in present-day Rome, New York). After much discussion, and at the insistence of Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, it was decided that the British troops would set about the charge by way of Oswego and the Oswego River. Town made haste to report his findings to the American troops at Fort Stanwix. Thus warned, the soldiers were able to repel St. Leger’s troops, forcing their retreat.

This defeat was an important factor in the British loss at the Battle of Saratoga – long considered the “Turning Point of the Revolutionary War”.

After the war, Silas Town returned to make his home in Mexico. He regaled his friends and neighbors with tales of his many adventures and endeared himself to all. Before his death in 1806, Town asked to be buried on the small island where he had hidden all those years before. Local residents honored his request and erected an obelisk monument in his name. There is now a park bench near the site where visitors can sit and pay their respects to this local hero.

Discover Spy Island with these photos:

Mexico Point Park is located on Mexico Point Drive West, just off New York State Route 104B in the town of Mexico. It is open from Memorial Day week-end through Labor Day week-end. Swimmers can enjoy the beach from late June through Labor Day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weather permitting.

In addition to spectacular views and fascinating history, the park features picnic tables, grills, a pavilion, bathrooms, a beach, park benches, trails and wooden sculptures. The park also hosts several community events throughout the year.

Don’t miss the upcoming Mid-Summer’s Eve celebration! Enjoy medieval music, food and fun from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, August 11; Wednesday, August 12; and Thursday, August 13. Admission is $25 and reservations are required. For tickets, call 315/963-7657.

If you would like more information about historical attractions and events in Oswego County, please visit our Web site at


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Discovering Christopher Columbus...

Celebrate Father’s Day this week-end with an adventure for the whole family. Come aboard and explore the Niña and the Pinta (Santa Clara) – replica ships of those used by Christopher Columbus to explore the New World.

Each of the vessels is a reproduction of a 15th century Portuguese caravel; common trading ships used by explorers during the Age of Discovery.

The Niña is considered to have been a favorite with Christopher Columbus. After returning from his First Voyage in 1492, he named her the flagship on his Second Voyage and she later sailed as advance guard on his Third Voyage. In all, Columbus recorded over 25,000 miles aboard the Niña.

In 1988, construction of her replica began in Valenca, Brazil using an archaic ship-building process called Mediterranean Whole Moulding. Using traditional tools such as axes, handsaws, and chisels, master shipbuilders constructed the Niña from the naturally-shaped timbers of the nearby Bahia forests. Without the use of power tools, it took three years to complete the project.

It was a worthwhile venture, as the Niña is considered to be the most historically accurate Columbus replica ever built. In 1991, she embarked on her maiden voyage with a 4,000-mile journey to Costa Rica to take part in the filming of Ridley Scott’s “1492”. This marked the first successful open ocean crossing of a caravel over a considerable distance.

More recently, the Pinta (Santa Clara) – a larger version of the archetypal caravel – was constructed and launched in 2005. She travels with the Niña to educate the public about early sailing vessels. Visitors can view a presentation about her construction in the main cabin below deck.

Here are a few images of the ships’ arrival:

Visit these historical sailing museums for a walk-on self-guided tour from Thursday, June 18 through Sunday, June 21. Located at the end of West First Street Pier in Oswego (next to the H. Lee White Marine Museum), the vessels will be open to the public each day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tickets are $7/adults, $6/seniors, and $5/students. Children age 4 and under are admitted free. Crew members will be at hand to provide assistance and answer questions about history, sailing and life aboard ship.

After your tour, visit the H. Lee White Marine Museum to learn about our own maritime history.

If you would like more information about historical attractions and events in Oswego County, please visit our Web site at