Shining Light on Chautauqua County’s Lesser Known History

Guest blog by Aurora Treacy in partnership with SUNY Jamestown Community College’s Writing for Electronic Media course.

Chautauqua County is full of timeless stories and events that are worth being shared. Many associate Chautauqua County with Lucille Ball’s lasting legacy, or Chautauqua Institution’s intellectual history and current events, but let’s focus on bringing to light some lesser-known historical events and facts.

Lincoln-Bedell Statue in Westfield, NY

Abraham Lincoln Meets Grace Bedell

Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old of Westfield, NY, wrote to Abraham Lincoln suggesting that he grow a beard. Her claim was that it would instill a “Presidential image”, and convince more people to vote for him. Grace felt that women would swoon over Lincoln’s “whiskers” and then tease their husbands to vote for him. She also mentioned how she would vote if she could, but she is going to try and get everyone she can to vote for him. Her letter was sent in October of 1860, and a few days later President elect Lincoln wrote her back!

Abraham Lincoln expressed that he agreed with her letter but had one concern. He didn’t want anyone to think it was “silly,” and made no promises. But nevertheless, a month later when Lincoln left his Illinois home to head for Washington D.C for his inauguration, he had a full beard. His inaugural journey took him by rail through New York, which stopped briefly in Westfield on February 16, 1861. Once he arrived he called for Grace Bedell from the crowd.

Young Grace was there in her straw hat, clutching a bouquet of wildflowers, and proceeded to approach the bearded Abraham Lincoln, new president-elect. He took the moment to greet himself, show her his new whiskers, gave kiss her on the cheek, and off he went to finish his trip.

Today, in the center of Westfield, NY, is a remarkable bronze depiction of the story. The life-sized bronze Lincoln – Bedell Statue recreates this historic moment, in what is known as Lincoln-Bedell Statue park. It truly is a picture-perfect moment to see. On an interesting footnote, after Lincoln’s assassination, his funeral train went through Westfield in taking his body home to Illinois.

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Peter Toth’s Whispering Giant, Ong-Gwe-Ohn-Weh – photo credit: Bob Clendenin

Trail of the Whispering Giants

Whispering Giants is a series of public art sculptures that depict Native American people by Peter Wolf Toth. His goal was to have one sculpture in each state, luckily for Peter, he managed to donate a sculpture to not only each U.S state, but also each Canadian Province with a few donated outside North America.

The sculpture in New York is located right here in Chautauqua County in Dunkirk. The name of the sculpture is Ong-Gwe-Ohn-Weh, and it is the 7th one that was created. Peter Toth from Akron, OH created it in two months during the summer of 1973. It was carved from the lower trunk of a dead elm tree.

Upon completion, the work of art was moved to its site where it was dedicated on Sunday October 21, 1973 and accepted on behalf of the City of Dunkirk by Mayor Clemens J. Lutz. The sculptor donated his time, effort and extraordinary piece of art to the city. Mr. Toth is an advocate for the cause of the American Indian, and in his mission statement, said he wants to bring focus the culture of this nation’s original citizens.

Today it is located in a small park along the shores of Lake Erie in Dunkirk. The precise location can be found on google maps which will provide directions as well. But there’s a catch! This sculpture has special visit instructions to log your visit, which includes an optional photo of yourself or your GPS with the sculpture. It makes for an adventurous trip either with friends, family or even alone!

What To Do: Museums & History

James Prendergast built his home and sawmill in 1811. In 1815, the name Jamestown was adopted for the current City of Jamestown – image credit: McClurg Museum, home of the Chautauqua County Historical Society

Former Furniture Capital of the U.S

Jamestown had never become a center for heavy industry. The town is just too far from the main routes of transportation, and its industrial growth could not compete with Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Despite this, Jamestown survived and continued to grow through concentrating on smaller industries that did not require great investment or expensive technology. The city specialized in wooden furniture, and soon enough, by 1911, it was the leading manufacturer of metal furniture in the nation.

Prior to this achievement, James Pendergast, who the city is named after, built one of the first sawmills in 1809. The saw mills made it easier for cabinetmakers to open shops in Jamestown. In 1855, Jamestown had only one chair factory and two cabinet making shops. Royal Keyes, an immigrant craftsman from New England, started the first cabinet making shop. These manufacturers blossomed in the area and included everything from Italian and German to Swedish and other European influences. By the early 1900s, the city had twenty furniture factories and then fifty by 1930s. Economic prosperity was taking over Jamestown, all while the railroads enabled manufacturers to expand their markets.

One specific company was the Maddox Table Company founded by William Maddox. He invented a variety of furniture making machines, which he then sold to manufacturers throughout the United States. Much of his success, as a table manufacturer, was owed to his invention of a machine for polishing wooden table tops.

Furniture factories were a cheap investment mostly because they were not highly mechanized and did not require large numbers of workers. Jamestown furniture was made entirely by hand until 1837, when the first crude, water-driven equipment came into use.

Today, Jamestown is still home to many furniture makers including Royal Jamestown Furniture, Bush Industries and Crawford Furniture Company. For a place to buy wonderful and antique furniture, attend one of the antique shows or flea markets!

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Jamestown Automatic Voting Machine

Advertisement for the Automatic Voting Machine made in Jamestown

Invention of the Voting Machine

Jamestown used to be one of the country’s largest manufacturers of lever-based voting machines- the Automatic Voting Machine Co. and others called Jamestown Home, for almost a hundred years, from the late 1890s until bankruptcy in 1983. At one point, it had controlled 80% of the mechanical voting machine market. In fact, New York City used Jamestown made machines in their elections until 2010. Actually, there is even a nickname for the Automatic Voting machines among voting machine collectors simply called the “Jamestown Machine.”

This all began with inventor Jacob Myers of Rochester NY. It was embraced as a foolproof way to prevent voter fraud by replacing the hand-tabulated ballots that were used previously. The first one was manufactured in Jamestown and it took off from there. It was first used in Lockport in 1892. It was praised and installed in many town voting places. Now with the voting machine, immigrants and other illiterate voters who struggled with paper ballots could vote in secrecy, without election officials manipulating results.

It was not complication free though. The machine was eventually taken over by internal problems in the design, causing it to lose hundreds of votes. Therefore, the Myers machine was abandoned, but did generate similar machines including the ancestors of the Automatic Voting Machine Company.

In 1898, a new voting machine from the Standard Voting Machine Co. was successfully used in Buffalo and Rochester. This ensured that the voting machine was here to stay! Designed by Alfred Gillespie, an Iowa inventor who moved to WNY, the machine was the first to allow voters to change their votes and also included a privacy curtain. Gillespie and Standard had been sued by the Unites States Voting Machine Company of Jamestown, founded by Sylvaneus Davis, a former employee of Myers. The lawsuit had settled with the United States Standard Voting Machine Co. in 1900 which brought the patents of both Gillespie’s and Davis’ companies together. This combination grew into the Automatic Voting Machine Co., which in turn, dominated the lever voting machine industry.

The Smithsonian Institution currently possesses and exhibits a voting machine manufactured in Jamestown NY in the late 1890s.

What To Do: Museums & History


Image result for celoron amusement park

Celoron Amusement Park. Today the site is home to the new Chautauqua Harbor Hotel.

Celoron Amusement Park

The once booming Celoron Park all started when James Prendergast purchased 67 acres of land at a point on the southeastern end of Chautauqua Lake, adjacent to Burtis Bay in 1874, and eventually renamed Prendergast Point. Shortly after James Prendergast died, his son, Alexander T. Prendergast, left the deed of the property to his wife Mary. In 1891 they sold Prendergast Point from the estate of Mary Prendergast, to a group of businessmen, who then renamed the area Celoron. They coined the name from the French explorer General DeCeloron, and formed the Celoron Land Company.

In 1894 the new resort opens for the first time and was officially called “   THE PEOPLE’S PARK AT CELORON.” The park’s president, Almet N. Broadhead, maintained operation through three simple principles. 1: Never compromise nor lower the standards that would diminish the integrity of the park—the park is for the people and they expect a respectable amusement. 2: Be prepared for change and addition—provide a reason for people to return time after time. 3: Create an open-air picnic area; allow for a holiday atmosphere for pleasure seekers.

The park’s opening was a huge hit. Celoron provided a wonderful space of entertainment for everyone, as well as opportunities for the entire family. There were even four major hotels in addition to fifteen smaller rooming houses for those who traveled a distance. A few memorable aspects were the combination of local and national athletic events on the baseball grounds, top rated amusement rides of the day, the best quality musical performers, a beach, and family picnic areas that had made Celoron Park the top amusement park between New York City and Chicago at the time. Overall, the park had the grandest structures, the most modern and exciting amusements, the best entertainment and provided the most varied list of activities.

One of the main attractions at Celoron Park was the Phoenix Wheel. It was manufactured in Phoenixville, Pa for an exposition in Atlanta, Ga in 1895 at 115-125-feet high. It was then dismantled, loaded into box cars, and brought to Celoron Park where it revolved every season from 1896 to 1951. It became known as the Phoenix Wheel because of the place it was manufactured in. The ride had “carriages” in which passengers could ride. They were cages with benches and each carriage could hold 12-14 passengers. After the 1951 season, the wheel was announced to be dismantled for refurbishing, but instead, the Phoenix Wheel among other kiddie rides, were packed up and shipped to Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, Ca. New rides had replaced the old rides in Celoron Park, but it was never the same.

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miller cottage chautauqua

A current photo of Miller Cottage at Chautauqua Institution

Thomas Edison at Chautauqua Institution

Chautauqua Institution has been known as a popular summertime vacation learning center since it opened in 1874. But one of its frequent visitors was possibly the most famous inventors of them all, Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison was an American inventor and businessman, who is commonly known as America’s greatest inventor. He invented many devices that had impacted life around the globe including the motion picture camera, the phonograph, and the electrical light bulb. He was an avid inventor who actually held 1,093 US patents in his name.

He not only visited Chautauqua, but he met the love of his life there, Mina Miller, as well. Mina, opposite from Thomas, was a wealthy and educated woman. She was also the daughter of Lewis Miller, a co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution in 1874. With both being connected to inventors, it was almost fate that they fell in love. The two had met in Boston at the home of mutual friends prior to seeing each other at Chautauqua Institution. Edison was astounded by her beauty.

When Edison learned that Mina’s family would be staying the summer at Chautauqua, he arranged to spend time there to win her over and meet her family. Surprisingly enough, they did fall in love.

Over the summer, the two grew close. Edison’s hearing was going bad by this time, and the couple had little opportunity to talk in private in the busy Miller Cottage; one of the first buildings at Chautauqua that still exists. So, he taught her to send and receive Morse code as a way to communicate privately. On an interesting note, that summer he actually used Morse code to ask Mina to marry him. He had tapped it out on her hand, and she tapped back yes.

What To Do: Museums & History

“Lady in the Glass Case” at Lakeview Cemetery, Jamestown

The Lady in Glass

There are many myths about the Galloway “Lady in the Glass Case” memorial in Lake View Cemetery. Speculations range from the death of a young bride, to the untimely death on a prom date, to a forbidden love between heiress and her chauffeur.

Some even extend the tale and report that she roams the cemetery on dark and foggy nights, crying for her lost love. The even more creative embellishment is that the body of the young woman is encased within the statue itself. While these are just a few of the many myths about Galloway’s memorial, we actually have the truth from a descendant of the Galloway family. Elizabeth G. Smith, great niece to Grace Galloway, offered some insight into their family history.

Grace was the only daughter of three children born to a wealthy family. Her father, John Galloway had made his wealth in oil in Titusville, Pa. They had lived in a mansion that is now known as the Moose Club in Jamestown. Grace was a promising opera singer who actually frequently appeared at Chautauqua Institution. So, her family decided to send her to a Boston Institute to study music. She was a young woman with high goals, with surprisingly little time for romance.

She was said to be very friendly, outgoing and generous with her time and money for charitable work. In fact, to Elizabeth’s knowledge, Grace Galloway was never in a serious relationship before her death at the young age of 26. When she passed away in 1898, it was from a case of tuberculosis that came about during her stay in Boston, not from a broken heart.

As her parents were eager to find a cure, and sent her to North Carolina in hopes she would recover. Unfortunately, she died a year later in Pittsburgh, on her way back from a visit home. Even all of the Galloway money could not buy the life of their only daughter.

Later on, the family commissioned an artist in Italy to sculpt a statue, modeled after Grace, in Italian marble. Miss Galloway’s dress was also sent along with a clay figure of her last portrait so that it could be copied. The statue is true to Galloway’s height and figure, although some of the family felt that the face was not as accurate. It was a monument to be built in living memory. The rest of the monument was constructed by John Galloway and his father as they were both masons. When they realized that the statue would eventually be destroyed by the elements, it was encased in glass.

Although the truth is not as much of a love story as it is a tragic loss, it still makes for a unique piece of history from the 1800s that can still be visited today.

What To Do: Museums & History

Chautauqua County’s Portage Trail is an important part of our history. You can see Lake Erie in the background, stretching all the way to the horizon.

Over the Portage Trail

The Chautauqua Lake region has played a significant role in American History. It consists of low irregular hills known as the Chautauqua Ridge, which forms a watershed, separating waters that flow into Lake Erie from those that flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

On one side if the ridge, water flows northward through creeks and streams into Lake Erie and eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The waters on the opposite side of the ridge flow southward into Chautauqua Lake and empty into rivers including: the Chadakoin, the Conewango, the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Mississippi. This discovery was extremely useful to the French in their disputed land claims with the English.

Due to its strategic geographic location as a navigation link between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, Chautauqua Lake was of vital importance to both explorers and early settlers. According to the first written county records received from French explorers and missionaries, groups of Indians on hunting and fishing ventures were the first people to trek the nine-mile stretch between Lake Erie and Chautauqua Lake.

French explorer Pierre Joseph Celoron de Blainville landed at the mouth of Chautauqua Creek near Barcelona on Lake Erie in 1749. Celoron and his party were seeking a military route to reinforce the French claim on territories west of the Allegheny Mountains. As they were trailing through the vast wilderness and a gorge in the Chautauqua region, Celoron and his party followed an abandoned Indian path and successfully built the Portage Trail between Barcelona on Lake Erie and Mayville at the head of Chautauqua Lake. The accomplishment allowed the French to launch canoes on Chautauqua Lake and journey to Louisiana as they had hoped.

Eventually, the French vacated this region, and the old Portage Road became a highway for Chautauqua residents.

Today the roadway itself is till used for those traveling between Mayville and Westfield. Although it does deviate from the original trail, it is located nearby.

What To Do: Museums & History

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