2020 Writing Series Dedicated to former LFHS Teacher Harold Templeman

Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence proclaimed all men as equals, but our Founding Fathers left the horrors of slavery unsettled and the status of women unequal in the United States Constitution. Abagail Adams’ plea to her husband to “remember the women” went unheeded.

This article addresses national and local events prior to the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage.

BACKGROUND

Little Falls and Women's SuffrageThe early-1800’s Second Great Awakening witnessed a number of consequential social movements, including a more aggressive abolition movement, universal public education, Transcendentalism, and “first wave feminism” associated with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention; this historical meeting produced the Declaration of Sentiments demanding overall gender equality as well as women’s suffrage. The Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton monumental partnership emerged soon thereafter.

This Declaration of Sentiments begins by asserting the equality of all men and women and reiterates that both genders are endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It argued that women were repressed by the government and the patriarchal society of which it was part.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870 during Reconstruction, stated that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Suffragists reasoned that women should thus be allowed to vote, but that right was still a half century away for white women while women of color had to wait almost a century to vote.

Around 1903, Englishwoman Emily Pankhurst helped bring the push for woman’s suffrage out of polite and subdued gatherings by generating splashy news articles and getting herself arrested. American suffragists followed Pankhurst’s lead.

By 1900, some western states guaranteed voting rights for women, first in Wyoming and then in Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. Washington state followed in 1910, California in 1911 and in 1912 Kansas, Oregon, and Arizona. As each state granted women suffrage, pressure grew in Congress for national action.

LEADERSHIP TORCH IS PASSED

The elderly Anthony retired as National American Woman’s Suffrage Association president in 1900; Carrie Chapman Catt and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw stepped to the forefront as the nation entered the progressive era; social, political, and economic reform became the norm. Thousands of college-educated women had entered the workforce and became the driving force behind various social movements in public life.

The 16th Amendment, federal income taxes, the 17th Amendment, direct election of senators, and the 18th Amendment, prohibition, were all added to the U.S. Constitution between 1913 and 1919. The 19th Amendment, woman’s suffrage, would follow in 1920, but only after protracted struggle.

The liquor and textile industries, big city political machines, and cultural conservativism all blocked the way for various reasons, but women marched steadily towards suffrage.

Female suffragists were well-dressed in traditional women’s attire so as not to appear “too masculine” to assuage concerns that voting would make women less feminine.

LOCAL SUFFRAGE EVENTS

Events in Little Falls were much influenced by both national and state trends. Little Falls became a “hotbed” of suffrage activity in Herkimer County. Zaida Zoller’s home on Garden Street was a gathering point for suffrage efforts; women’s suffrage giants Susan B. Anthony and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw both attended meetings in the Zoller home.

Shaw compared allowing men to decide the fate of women’s suffrage to submitting the subject of the equality of a goose to a fox.

In 1894, a debate on women’s suffrage was held at the Methodist Episcopal Church on Albany Street and Susan B. Anthony was in Little Falls from September 11-13, 1894. While here, she also addressed a group of suffragists at Temperance Hall in the Bidleman Block on Main Street. She stayed with Mrs. Jaynes on Ann Street while in Little Falls. During her Temperance Hall address, Anthony spoke of why she believed that the ballot should be placed in the hands of her sex.

Anthony added: “Women, we may as well be dogs braying at the moon as petitioners without the right to vote.”

On the national level, Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party’s “Bull Moose” platform called for woman’s suffrage in 1912, but the two major parties kept their distance.

In 1913, a women’s suffrage torch was carried from Mantuck, Long Island to Buffalo and as the torch passed through Herkimer County, Mrs. Frank Houghton carried it from Little Falls to Utica. July 28 saw the formation of the Women’s Political Union in Little Falls. That same year, women from Little Falls, Ilion, and Herkimer marched in the first local suffrage parade in Utica. In 1915, a huge suffrage parade was held in NYC with over 30,000 marchers, including an estimated 5000 men.

In November 1915, Herkimer County voted down a suffrage amendment to the state constitution. On June 12, 1916, the Herkimer County Suffrage Convention convened at the YWCA (then part of the YMCA) in Little Falls. A statewide petition campaign generated over one million signatures calling for women’s suffrage.

MOMENTUM STRENGTHENS

On the national level, much political pressure was brought to bear. In 1916, a California to Washington, D.C. march took place and President Woodrow Wilson was presented with a petition containing over 200,000 signatures. That same year, Alice Paul organized the National Women’s Party; a year later the group began the first peaceful protest outside of the White House; referred to as the “silent sentinels,” a number of purple, white and yellow-gold sashed suffragists were arrested. While in prison, Paul and other women engaged in hunger strikes and were force fed by prison authorities.

The bad publicity was a nightmare for President Wilson and he slowly began to change his position.

One of the posters being held stated: “President Wilson is deceiving the world when he appears as the prophet of democracy. President Wilson has oppressed those who demand democracy for this country. He is responsible for the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans. We in America know this. The world will find him out.”

Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to secure national office when she was elected to serve as a Congresswoman from Montana in 1916; while in Congress, she introduced the bill that would eventually become the 19th Amendment.

Locally, on February 28 and March 1, 1917, a suffrage school was conducted by NYC lawyer Elinoe Berns at the YWCA (YMCA). On March 26, a suffrage library was made available there. On April 1, The Little Falls Woman’s Suffrage Party met at the YWCA (YMCA) with chairwoman Miss Zaida Zoller presiding. Mrs. J.D. Frederiksen organized the event. And on August 29-30, the Herkimer County suffrage delegation attended the state suffrage convention in Saratoga Springs while carrying a petition showing 94% support of County women for suffrage.

The same year, Zoller also arranged for Dr. Anna Howard Shaw to speak at a Little Falls Suffrage Party meeting. Little Falls Mayor Abram Zoller supported his twin sister’s work.

A major plateau was attained when a woman’s suffrage amendment was added to the NYS constitution on November 6, 1917. Women had gained the right to vote in all New York elections. The Empire State had long been thought to be the key to national suffrage for women.

A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

In 1918, the House of Representatives approved the 19th Amendment by a two-thirds vote, but World War I slowed the Senate vote; in May 1919, the Senate finally approved the amendment with its own two-thirds vote and thus, the amendment had been Constitutionally proposed and moved onto the states for ratification.

On August 26. 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to approve the amendment via a majority vote; the Constitutionally mandated three-quarters of the states had approved the amendment and the woman’s suffrage amendment had thus been officially ratified and became part of our Constitution.

Success came about because of hundreds of state and local campaigns across the country; this was not a “top down” process. It was a piecemeal struggle with many setbacks. The nationwide state by state campaign of parades and public speaking tours put pressure on local politicians.

Once the 19th Amendment was safely in place, Carrie Chapman Catt went onto establish the League of Women Voters (LWV) to help guide women in political matters. Locally, Zoller was elected to lead the Herkimer County LWV in 1921 and again in 1922. Miss Lynda Billings, also from Little Falls, was elected group treasurer.

And so, the historical struggle that gained momentum in Seneca Falls,  New York in 1848  resulted in the triumphant ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920 and the single largest extension of voting rights in American history; 26 million American women had gained the right to vote.

A great story, but we must not forget that African American women (and men) were still barred from the voting booth by Jim Crow racial barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses and other racial barriers. Native Americans and Asian immigrants were largely excluded from citizenship entirely.

Millions of women were given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment, but millions more were still denied suffrage. Shamefully, most white suffragists then abandoned the cause, leaving their fellow suffragists of color to continue campaigning for voting rights.

The history books largely leave out how women of color were “sold out” after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The names of Black suffragists Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells and of course Sojourner Truth should stand alongside Stanton, Anthony, Catt, and Shaw in the history of the women’s suffrage movement.

THE SUFFRAGE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

The 1965 Voting Rights Act finally delivered the right of suffrage to African American men and women. The woman’s suffrage movement needs to be seen not as a triumphant culmination, but one landmark in a struggle for equal rights for all citizens that is not over yet.

Even today, some individuals and groups seek to deny the right of suffrage to millions by limiting poll access under the unfounded guise of combatting “voter fraud.” The fraud instead lies with those who have restricted suffrage for different groups of Americans throughout our history.

As a side note, a women’s suffrage monument on the Mall in Central Park in New York City was dedicated in August. The fourteen-foot tall monument features likenesses of women’s suffrage giants Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony.

Jeffrey Gressler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.

As told by his great granddaughter Jessie Snyder Thompson Huberty

The Honorable H.P. (Homer Peter) Snyder and the American DreamAt the end of the nineteenth century, Little Falls was enjoying the fruits of the Industrial Revolution. New factories were springing up in the town located beside the Erie Canal. It was a beehive of activity.

A young man from nearby Amsterdam, H.P. Snyder arrived in Little Falls with nothing but a desire to do something, build something.  Although I doubt that he thought of it in these terms, his life was to be the embodiment of the American Dream. In 1872 when he was nine, H.P. was taken out of school, his formal education came to an end, there was no question of him continuing. He had to contribute to the well-being of his family and thus, he was sent to work in one of the knitting mills in town. All the learning that he displayed later in his life was self-taught.

In 1886, aged 23 and recently married to Jessie Falla Breese from a distinguished family from Wyoming, Pennsylvania, H.P. settled on making his fortune in Little Falls. They had a son Charles in 1883, followed by a daughter Estelle in 1885, and finally another daughter Jessie Florence in 1893. Charles, his son and heir, died in 1906 from the measles at age 23.

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL BUSINESSMAN EMERGES

After a time managing the Saxon Knitting Mill, H.P. turned what had been an unprofitable business into a thriving one. He and Michael G. Fisher, a mechanic, developed an attachment to the knitting machine that considerably improved the texture of fabrics. They went on to form a partnership, the Snyder Fisher Company, selling their machines at first in Herkimer County, then throughout New York State, and eventually, around the entire nation.

All the while, Snyder and Fisher continued to manufacture knitting machines and inventing ways to make them better. H. P. also searched for something else to do. He soon realized that there was another market opening up, one that he felt confident to tap. A new division of the company was formed to manufacture bicycles.

The company’s first bicycles were named The Newport Swell and the The Newport Belle. After buying out Michael Fisher, H.P. formed the H.P. Snyder Mfg. Co. in 1894. It became a steady place for employment in Little Falls and was successful from the time it opened its doors until the firm was sold in 1972. Over the years, a partnership was formed with DeLancey Harris and the D.P. Harris Co. to produce Rollfast Bicycles. The company also manufactured bicycles for Montgomery Ward and Western Auto under their own label, Excelsor.

THE WORLD TRAVELER

Always looking for new ways to learn, H.P. felt travel was a necessary part of his education. The Snyders made several trips to South American countries. And then in late 1908, the Snyders and their close friends the Frederick Tealls set out on a four and a half month trip around the world. The major motivation for the trip was the Snyder – Teall mutual grandson Homer Snyder Teall who was recently born in Manila, Phillipines where his father Lt. Edward Hall Teall was stationed along with his wife Estelle Snyder.

Prior to the Phillipines,, the Snyders visited San Francisco. Honolulu, Yokohama, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Leaving the Phillipines, they proceeded around the world via Singapore, Penang, Aden, Colombo, Suez and finally Naples. Here they left their ship and proceeded overland visiting much of Italy, France and England before heading home across the Atlantic. They returned to Little Falls by rail from Newfoundland. H.P. had set himself on his chosen path in life and achieved success, now he felt it was time to give back.

The Travlers in Manila, P I

BUSINESSMAN TURNED POLITICIAN

Always interested in the betterment of Little Falls, he served on the school board and the Police and Fire Boards. He then set his eyes on politics and Congress. He first ran in 1912 but was defeated, but in 1915, he ran again and won. He left the running of his company to his son-in-law, the now Col. Edward Hall Teall, and settled in Washington where he spent the next ten years over five terms representing Herkimer County in Congress as a Republican.

In Washington, H.P. became friends with Calvin Collidge and Warren Harding, the latter asked him to be his running mate in 1920, but H.P. declined. He felt that he belonged in Congress. H.P. served on chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee that generated the Indian Citizen Act of 1924 (A.K.A. the Snyder Act), this was the piece of legislation which H.P. was proudest. This law granted long overdue United States citizenship to all Native American Indians.

H.P. SNYDER’S FINAL CHAPTER

In 1925, he returned to Little Falls full-time, spending the rest of his life with his first love, manufacturing. He was president of H.P. Snyder & Co. until his death in December, 1937. He also served as vice-president and a board director of the Little Falls National Bank. H.P. Snyder left his heirs not only with a financial inheritance, but also with a life well-lived.

H.P.’s was an America where anything was possible and he proved it by going from a little boy of nine working in a knitting mill to being an industrialist, manufacturer, and legislator who was a close friend with several Presidents.

Jessie Snyder Thompson Huberty is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.

By Jeffrey Gressler

Octagon Church Monument | Little Falls Historical Society Museum_

The Octagon Church monument located in a small park alongside lower Church Street.

Perhaps the finest view from any Little Falls public building was the view from the Octagon Church in the early 1800’s. Sitting above today’s intersection of Church, School and Prospect Streets, a panoramic view of the river and valley below and cliffs and hills beyond was possible from the Church and burial grounds alongside it.

Most Little Falls residents know about the Octagon Church, but how many of us know about the Concord Society, the Aqueduct Association, the Ellice Estate, the Old Yellow House and the Old Stone Schoolhouse? Each of these were important in early 19th century Little Falls history. This is an attempt to breathe new life into this era.

There were at least four Indian trails through Little Falls, two on each side of the river, in part to provide portages around the Little Falls river rapids. Indian spiritual incantations were likely offered nearby the river to gain favor with the natural spirits so central to Native American existence. 

These Indian trails eventually became city streets and roadways. A 1790 map shows both the “Salisbury Road” located where Salisbury Street is today and a “Fairfeld – Newport Road” where Church Street runs. Another became the route of the Utica and Schenectady Turnpike, Route 5 today.

Let’s begin with the Edward Ellice Estate. Ellice was a well-connected Scot who used his wealth and influence in the late-1700’s to gain tittle to all what is now Little Falls. During the Revolutionary War, Little Falls had a functioning lumber mill and gristmill. Ellice controlled both operations.

 Most everyone who lived in Little Falls from the 1790’s-1820’s were his tenants; this stymied population growth and economic development. Ellice maintained an iron grip, keeping the cost of living high and making exorbitant profits for himself and his son Sir Alexander Ellice.

The earliest religious services in Little Falls were likely held at either the gristmill or at the nearby Old Yellow House, both located near today’s Medical Arts Building on West Main Street. The Old Yellow House (1788) was John Porteous’ residence, a store and later a hotel. 

Octagon Church oil painting by Gwen Lee | Little Falls Historical Society Museum_-3

Octagon Church oil painting by Gwen Lee.

The religious-based Concord Society built the Octagon Church between 1792-1796, although improvements continued for the next twenty-two years. Records indicate that the church was constructed “under the direction of John Porteous, Abraham Neely, Nicholas Thumb and Henry Klock Escuires,” all members of the Concord Society. 

As a side note, the six-lock Western Inland Navigation Canal began operation in 1794 allowing boats to avoid the river rapids. The Erie and Barge Canals came later.

Often referred to as “the pepper box,” the yellow-painted, eight-sided Octagon Church was used by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists and Catholics alike. Services began there in 1796. Early on, parishioners sat on floor joists during services in the dirt-floored structure. The church was 55 feet long on the short diameter, 60 feet on its long diameter, had eighteen-foot ceilings and its front door faced east towards the Fairfield – Newport Road. Its roof sloped upward to a cupola topped by hollow gilt balls. The church could seat 300. 

The village’s first burial grounds were beside the church until the 1820’s when those bodies were reburied in the new Church Street Cemetery. It was thought that the decomposing bodies polluted the drinking water of those living downhill from the cemetery.

 A stone Octagon Church monument nearby where the Church once stood was dedicated in 1911 by the Astrogen Chapter of the D.A.R. and Mayor Timothy Dasey during a Little Falls centennial ceremony. The monument is now located in a small tree-filled park.

Continue reading the entire article here.

Jeffrey Gressler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society. 

This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram in a two-part series.

Octagon Church just one historical gem of Little Falls

By David Krutz

The origin of the sport of base ball has never been determined – the myth that Cooperstown’s Abner Doubleday was the father of the game has long ago been debunked.  It may have evolved from an English game called rounders, or from a game called “town ball.”   No matter, for base ball did evolve and just prior to the Civil War the rules of the game were standardized and base ball fever swept across America, earning the sport the sobriquet, the “National Game.”

Base ball, in one form or another, has long been a part of the fabric of Little Falls.  As early as 1827, the village Board of Trustees enacted an ordinance that no person shall “play Ball” on any village street or on the towing path of the Erie Canal.  Unfortunately, no record has yet been found of the earliest Little Falls base ball teams.  

Soon after the Civil War, “town teams” were formed in most Mohawk Valley villages. Among the earliest Little Falls teams were the Rough & Readys, the Pastimes and the Excelsiors.  These teams were essentially rostered by the same core of players but, for whatever reason, changed their team name every few years.  In 1867 the Rough & Readys bested the Phoenix of Middleville and were awarded the silver-banded, rosewood bat symbolic of the championship of Herkimer County.  As the Pastimes, the Little Falls nine repeated this fete in 1868 and 1869 beating back challenges from the Armory club of Ilion.  In 1868 Armory backers unsuccessfully attempted to bribe three Little Falls players with money and employment at Remington Arms, and in 1869 Armory brought in three “ringers” from the famed Stars ballclub of Brooklyn.  One of the “ringers” was Candy Cummings, whom many believed to be the best pitcher in the United States.  (Candy Cummings is credited with inventing the curveball and was a 1939 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.)  Cummings did not fare very well against the Pastime batsmen, surrendering 24 runs and losing the game.  In 1874, now dubbed the Excelsiors, the Little Falls team won two out of three games from the New York State amateur champions, Chelsea of Brooklyn, and for a time held the bragging rights as the Empire State’s best team.

In the 1880’s, the most notable Little Falls teams were the Alerts and the Rocktons.

An article in the Saturday Globe said of the Alerts, “The northern portion of Eastern Park was their stamping ground and there admirers of the national pastime would gather in great numbers to see them swing the hickory and make the angles.”  The Rockton team played up on “Skinner’s Flats” and was often composed entirely of African American ball players from Little Falls and the surrounding area.  On one such occasion, the Rocktons took on the “Heavy Hitters” of Canajoharie and trounced them 33 to 5 in a game shortened to six innings.  Afterwards, both teams retired to the Nellis House in Canajoharie for a wine supper.

To accommodate these teams, base ball fields sprung up on the Petrie farm on the Eatonville Road (present day Route 169), on Casler’s Flats (present day Southern Avenue), up on the hill behind Furnace Street (the aforementioned Skinner’s Flats) and on the “upper side” of Eastern Park.

Besides the regular teams in the 1880’s, it seemed that everyone in Little Falls was on a team and playing base ball.  Each hose company had a team, as did the policemen.  The mechanics of Reddy’s Foundry played against the “molders” of that mill, the north side of Main Street took on the south side of the street, and a team composed of doctors went up against a team of lawyers.  The printers “lathered and shampooed” the barbers 34 to 23 and won a year of free shaves, and the Little Falls Elks regularly vied with other area Elks lodges. With such an interest in base ball, many Little Falls residents believed that their growing and progressive community should have a professional base ball team.  Three men stepped up to bat to achieve that goal.

In the spring of 1886 Frank Burgor, Horace Tozer and Stuart Devendorf formed the Little Falls Base Ball Association (LFBBA), a stock holding company which aimed at bringing professional base ball to this village.

Burgor and Tozer owned stores on Main Street in Little Falls, and were ball players themselves, and Devendorf was the proprietor of the Girvan House.  Many prominent village residents quickly bought stock in the association, providing the capital for the venture.  The new team, simply referred to as Little Falls, was invited into the Central New York League along with professional teams from Norwich, Oneida and Canastota.  All the LFBBA still needed was a suitable field to play on and pro ball players.

Read the entire article and view the online exhibit with photo gallery here.

by Scott Kinville

Little Falls Fire Chief Alfred “Al” Munger

Little Falls Fire Chief Alfred “Al” Munger

Former Little Falls Fire Chief Alfred “Al” Munger was a true giant in the fire service, both inside and outside the city.

After serving in the United States Army during World War II, Munger joined the Little Falls Fire Department in 1950. The department was much different than it is today — this was a time of open cab apparatus, rubber turnout (firefighting) gear and an “air pack” consisted of a damp sponge covering the nose and mouth.

From the beginning, he had a deep desire to learn everything about the fire service, and it would pay off as he quickly rose the ranks. In March 1967, he succeeded Abram Swartz as chief of the Little Falls Fire Department.

As fire chief, Munger would prove to be a very effective leader both on the fireground and behind the desk. Overall, Little Falls would purchase six pieces of apparatus (vehicles) for the fire department under his stewardship.

He was also known to try to get everything he could out of the apparatus the department had, which I’m sure made the mayor and aldermen of the time very happy.

On the fireground he led operations for hundreds of fire calls both large and small.

Some of these fires longtime residents may remember include the WLFH studio, the Ann Street Market (now the Ann Street Deli), Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church on Furnace Street and of course the biggest fire he faced as chief was the Little Falls High School fire on Jan. 10, 1976.

An often overlooked aspect of Chief Munger’s career was the improvements made in the city’s ambulance service under his watch.

Prior to Munger becoming chief, the ambulance was basically a ride to the hospital. Sometimes a doctor would ride into the hospital, but the firemen didn’t have much to do with patient care.

In 1969, firefighters Mike Izzo, James Staffo and Tony Federico took the advanced first aid course. By 1975, twelve members of the department were certified EMTs and five more would follow in 1982. Not long after this, Eric Loucks and Les Congdon would become the fire department’s first advanced EMTs with the ability to do EKG’s, IV’s and give medications.

By the time Chief Munger retired, the Little Falls Ambulance was vastly improved.

Chief Munger’s influence in the fire service was not limited to the city of Little Falls. On a county level, he served on the Herkimer County Fire Advisory Board for over 14 years. He was also President of the Herkimer County Fire Chiefs Association in 1980 and 1981 along with serving on the Herkimer County Arson Task Force. Munger was also a member of the International Association of Fire Investigators and a charter member of the New York State chapter of that organization.

I once had the pleasure of interviewing the former chief about his career. One fire service achievement he was particularly proud of was being elected to the Board of Directors of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs in June of 1981.

Munger’s last day as chief of the Little Falls Fire Department was March 18, 1983. Two months later, on May 21, a retirement party was held at the DeCarlo-Staffo Post in his honor. Over 300 people attended, including most of his family.

He received many well-deserved accolades that night from neighboring fire departments, Little Falls Mayor Ted Wind and New York State Assemblyman Anthony Casale. In his usual humble fashion, Munger gave credit for his successful career to everyone he had worked with through the years.

For most people, once you retire your career is over and you ride off into the sunset. Munger, however, was not most people.

He would continue to serve in the LFFD as a call man, even becoming president of the Call Fireman’s Association. In January 2000, at the Herkimer County Fire Chiefs’ annual dinner in Dolgeville, Munger was honored once again. This time it was in recognition of his fifty years in the fire service.

A large crowd, including several of the men who had served under him, were entertained by his recollections and jokes — which he was always fond of telling.

Chief Alfred Munger died on September 11, 2014, at the age of 95.

A true legend, he was a member of the Call Firemen’s Association right up until the day of his passing. His loss saddened people throughout the Mohawk Valley and beyond as he was a well-known and well-liked man.

Scott Kinville is a Little Falls fireman and a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.

This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram on June 24, 2020.

By Angela Harris

In Fairfield, on Hardscrabble Road near state Route 29 in Herkimer County, stands a monument commemorating 100 years since the 1802 founding of the Fairfield Academy. For twenty-eight years, the academy also was the home of College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York.

Between 1812 and 1840, 3123 students attended classes. Of those, 609 graduated. Many of these doctors developed impressive reputations in medicine but one of the most notable graduates, Marcus Whitman, made his name as a missionary and visionary.

Whitman enrolled at age 23 after failing to gain his family’s support for attending a seminary. Undeterred, Whitman applied to the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (the ABCFM), one of the first Christian missionary organizations in the United States, upon completing his medical studies.

At the time, the ACCFM was evaluating The Oregon Territory (now Oregon and Washington) as its next missionary focus. The Mission Board approved an exploratory trip to the west for Whitman.

On Jan. 7, 1835, after his successful scouting trip, Whitman received a letter of appointment from the board. Encouraged to find a wife to share the mission, Whitman received an introduction to Narcissa Prentiss of Amity, New York.

Prentiss was an educated, middle-class young woman who also was seeking missionary work. Their courtship, brief and efficient, culminated in a wedding on Feb. 18.

The newlyweds traveled to Rushville and Ithaca, then Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and on to Pittsburgh. On March 15, 1835, they left by steamboat down the Ohio River to Cincinnati, joining another couple, Henry and Eliza Spaulding, also sponsored by the board. The couples continued together by steamboat to Chester, Illinois, then to St. Louis, Missouri, and finally to Liberty, Missouri (near current Kansas City, Missouri).

Marcus Whitman believed wagons could make the journey across the plains and mountains, so the couples left in two wagons — the first families to travel what became the Oregon Trail.

They followed the Missouri River into Nebraska, then traveled along the Platte. By June 10, the women were riding side-saddle, their transport for the rest of the journey.

Wagon travel was possible but problematic, so the missionaries abandoned one wagon. Trappers and adventurers had made the trip from the east, across the plains to the Rockies and beyond on horseback, but no European-American women had made the journey.

On July 4, Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding rode across the Continental Divide, the first non-indigenous women to make that crossing. The couples split up and the Whitmans reached Fort Walla Walla, their initial destination in eastern Washington, on Sept. 1. The Whitmans settled at Waiilatpu, in Washington, and the Spauldings set up their mission in Lapwai in what is now Idaho.

The Whitman Mission evolved into a stopping point for American settlers headed to Western Oregon, but the Whitmans failed to translate their vision of salvation into the Cayuse language and culture. The Spauldings adapted more successfully, but by 1842, the board was ready to discontinue its support for both missions.

Marcus Whitman returned to the east in 1842 to plead his case to continue. He secured ongoing support of the board and talked-up the idea of increased emigration. When he turned west again after almost a year, he joined up with a wagon train of more than 120 wagons, and between 700 and 1,000 people. Known as the Great Migration, it marked, once and for all, the takeover of the Oregon Territory by Americans.

But the new settlers threatened the Cayuse culture and tensions grew. In November of 1847, more than 50 people, natives and settlers, lived at the mission. When a measles epidemic hit, Marcus Whitman was able to save all the settlers’ children while several Cayuse children died.

It was the last insult, and members of the tribe attacked the mission complex. Narcissa, Marcus and eleven others were killed. Fifty others were held hostage by the Cayuse for another month.

Driven by his call to missionary work through medicine, Marcus Whitman is remembered more for his dramatic death than for his place in opening the Northwest for emigration, a journey that started in Fairfield, New York.

Angela Harris is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society. Jeff Steele, Professor of History at Herkimer County Community College, shared his research on the Fairfield Medical Academy for this story.

This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram on June 10, 2020

By Louis W. Baum Jr.

There were many battles, mostly skirmishes, fought in this area during the Revolutionary War. Inevitably, lives were lost as the British loyalists frequently trooped down from Canada with their Indian allies to raid the farms and homes of their former friends and neighbors in the upper Mohawk Valley. These raids included Andrustown (July 1778), Rheimensnyders Bush or “Yellow Church” (April 1780) and Shells Bush (August 1781). They knew the land well, for many of them had lived here for one or two generations. Many were relatives and friends of the recently deceased Sir William Johnson who had been Commissioner of Indian Affairs for North America.

The ambush was located in a ravine southeast of Kast Bridge, in the vicinity of today’s Smith Road approximately three-quarters of a mile from Shell’s Bush Road and one-half mile east of the West Canada Creek. Today, the area is open farmland.

The ambush was located in a ravine southeast of Kast Bridge, in the vicinity of today’s Smith Road approximately three-quarters of a mile from Shell’s Bush Road and one-half mile east of the West Canada Creek. Today, the area is open farmland.

A battle of local interest, one with a significant loss of lives on the part of the patriots, was the Battle of West Canada Creek, which occurred in September 1781.

Fort Dayton, near the confluence of the West Canada Creek and the Mohawk River and a short distance from Fort Herkimer, was a safe haven for the Palatine German farmers and the English speaking patriots. They desperately wanted to form a new union and be free of the yoke of British tyranny. It was well fortified and had a garrison of regular militia in addition to supplemental forces of rangers and irregulars many of whom were from this area.

Thirty-three-year-old Solomon Woodworth, a native of Salisbury, Connecticut, was living in Mayfield at the beginning of the war. Enlisting as a private in 1776 in the Third Regiment of the Tryon County Militia, he had fought in many battles and advanced in rank becoming a lieutenant in Colonel Marinus Willett’s regiment on April 27, 1781. On Thursday, Sept. 6, 1781, Lt. Woodworth, a noted scouter, marched his company of 46 handpicked men and six Oneida Indians from Fort Rensselaer (present day Fort Plain) to Fort Herkimer, then on to Fort Dayton. His group was a part of Colonel Willett’s Regiment.

The following morning, Friday, Sept. 7, 1781, Woodworth and his contingent left Fort Dayton, forded the West Canada Creek and proceeded to scout for the ever-present loyalists and Indians. They soon picked up a freshly made trail on the ridge along the eastern side of the West Canada Creek. Some of the rangers suggested that a messenger be sent back to Fort Dayton asking for Captain Garrett Putnam and reinforcements. However, Lieutenant Woodworth feared the time delay for reinforcements to arrive would allow the enemy to escape.

Woodworth and his men took chase, and about three miles northeast of Fort Dayton, in a deep ravine, they spotted a lone Indian near the previous night’s fire pit. They rushed forward and fired. Woodworth yelled “Hurra men, the rascals run.” Unknown to Woodworth, they had been lured into an ambush. Lieutenant John Clement, of Colonel John Johnson’s “King’s Royal Regiment,” and about 80 Onondaga, Cayuga and Stockbridge warriors under Daiquanda, an Onondaga chief, lay hidden in the thickets. They had formed a semicircle around the anxious and unsuspecting Americans, similar to what had happened to General Nicholas Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany in 1777.

The first volley killed Woodworth and 10 of his soldiers. The Indians then rushed forward with spears and tomahawks and the massacre was over in the matter of minutes. Of the force that had left Fort Dayton only hours earlier, 22 were dead, including two officers, one was wounded, 14 escaped back to the fort unhurt and nine were captured and taken to Canada. One Oneida Indian was wounded early in the fray and was carried back to the fort by his brethren. For the enemy, two Onondaga Indians were gravely wounded.

On the following day, Captain Putnam and his company, along with the survivors of Woodworth’s detachment, returned to the site of the ambush to perform the grim task of burying the dead. The exact location of the ambush and the burial ground is unknown. We do know that the ambush itself was located in a ravine southeast of Kast Bridge, in the vicinity of today’s Smith Road approximately three-quarters of a mile from Shell’s Bush Road and one-half mile east of the West Canada Creek. Today, the area is open farmland.

We all have heard of the Cherry Valley Massacre in 1778, where 30 non-combatants were killed, and, more locally, the Andrustown Massacre also in 1778, the Shell’s Bush Blockhouse attack in 1780 and the Grist Mill attack at Little Falls in 1782. These actions resulted in a few deaths and wounded on the part of the Americans. Seldom do we hear of the West Canada saga where 22 gave their lives.

A monument, honoring these fallen heroes, is located on Smith Road. It was erected in 1959, New York State’s Year of History, by the Herkimer County Board of Supervisors. The monument was dedicated in ceremonies conducted by the D.A.R. The plaque reads as follows:

“THIS MONUMENT

MARKS THE SITE

WHERE

LT. SOLOMON WOODWORTH

AND HIS MEN

FELL IN BATTLE

ON SEPTEMBER 7, 1781

DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR”

A note of interest: The property where the battle occurred had been in the ownership of the Smith family for seven generations, until a few years ago. Milo Smith, would not allow treasure hunters with metal detectors on his property.

By Louis W. Baum Jr. is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society. 

This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram on May 2, 2020.

By DeForest Tinkler

I was sitting across the desk from Dr. Arthur W. Brown, head of the Utica College English Department. It was autumn of 1958, and I was in for the orientation interview required of all freshman English majors. Dr. Brown was tall and outgoing, his presence filling his small, cramped office overflowing with books. I was surrounded and overwhelmed by knowledge, and it was only the first week of classes. He began to scan my anemically thin file when he stopped abruptly — so did my heart — looked straight at me, smiled and said with the confidence of one stating established and incontestable fact: “You had Mr. Templeman. Then you’re prepared.”

I felt like I had just been told that Clark Kent is really Superman.

Here was a university professor telling me in few and no uncertain words that my senior year high school teacher — whose hometown reputation was that of a reserved and scholarly tough grader — was known in the academic world as a teacher so good that his students who went on to college arrived ready to face its formidable realities. He was also telling me that I was fortunate to have been one of those students. I soon realized that he was right, and never forgot it.

Harold Templeman taught English at Little Falls High School for 40-plus yearsHarold Templeman taught English at Little Falls High School for 40-plus years. From the Jazz Age to the Vietnam Era nearly 4,000 students passed through his classroom, some going to college, others into the work world, military or homemaking. What he taught us applied to all. He didn’t teach by spoon-feeding or with quick quizzes and empty exercises. He set the bar high.

English as taught by Mr. Templeman was much more than learning good vocabulary, correct grammar, composition and a tour through dusty classics. It was about seeing relationships between learning and life, that what we were really learning were perception, reasoning and expression, skills that could mean the difference between success and failure in any job, in life itself.

As many of us would discover to our advantage in another year, he conducted his classes on a college level. Speaking from a lectern, without notes, clearly in his element, he discussed the timeless parallels between the themes that drive people and events in literature and life. He showed us how to find and use information, expected us to take notes, draw conclusions and turn in assignments on time. No whining or excuses. We listened, we read and we wrote often and at length.

Mr. Templeman treated writing as an extension of speaking. Punctuation and usage weren’t random ink nits, they were judiciously used guides to given written words the meaning and cadences of speech. To illustrate he would write a sentence on the board, punctuate it two different ways and read both, producing entirely different meanings. He expected written papers to show thought and content. A “Cliffs Notes” synopsis showed little thought, empty fluff nothing. And we courted failure if any paper we turned in bore signs of that most deadly sin: numbers in the margin showing that we paid more attention to word count than content.

Whether we were writing fact, fiction, essays or exposition, Mr. Templeman taught us that while good form is essential to clear meaning, the staying power in writing is its ability to tell readers something about themselves.

While Mr. Templeman was somewhat reserved outside the classroom, the lessons he taught from his lectern became fixed standards of excellence in Little Falls educational culture, and a half century after his retirement those standards are still fresh in an original series of written narratives from the Little Falls Historical Society.

Members and friends of the society have been researching historical records, personal collections and “attic discoveries” to create an up-close and clear look at how events have shaped Little Falls and its people. These stories of life inside history have so far included three wars, labor strife, the immigrant economic boost, sports and the generation-gap world of rock and roll. They are a work in progress, a growing library that we can learn from and enjoy.

How fitting, then, that the directors of the Little Falls Historical Society have set a signature standard of excellence for this endeavor by titling it The Templeman Writing Series.

DeForest Tinkler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society. 

This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram on Apr 16, 2020