History of the Perinton Historical Society

By Bill Keeler, Museum Director and Curator in 2006

The First Leaders of the Society

Ten women founded the Perinton Historical Society on November 1, 1935 at the home of Mrs. Clarence Moore at 23 Pleasant Street. This was a follow up meeting to an October 25 gathering at Mrs. Gardner Bown' s house at 127 South Main Street when the forming of a club for the recording and preservation of Perinton history was first suggested.

The first order of business was the election of officers.

Marjorie Snow-Merriman was elected President. Marjorie was born in her great uncle Henry DeLand's house in 1886 at 1 East Church Street. Her father helped found the Village's first department store on South Main Street known as E.C. Snow & Co. Marjorie graduated from Fairport High School in 1904 and after marrying Paul Merriman in 1906, moved to Ithaca, New York. In 1925 the Merriman's moved back to Fairport and built a house on Ayrault Road. Ms. Merriman was to go on to compile thousands of pages of local history for the Society. The range of materials are from biographies of early settlers, land records, newspaper articles to oral histories.

Helen Martin was elected Vice-President. Her husband designed the Fairport Public Library, which is now the Fairport Museum at 18 Perrin Street. Helen went on to copy many of the land records of Perinton along with writing papers on the Carl W. Peter's mural and early settlers of Perinton.

Bertha Bruner Bown became Secretary. Bertha had written a comprehensive history of the Bown family in 1932 and was one of the first local historians to investigate and write about the Underground Railroad in Perinton.

Elizabeth Defendorf Price was elected Treasurer. Elizabeth's father, Fletcher Defendorf, ran a barrel factory and supplied the Deland Company with many barrels to ship their saleratus in the late 19th century. Fletcher was also a Democratic politician, serving as Perinton Town Supervisor for many years and in the Monroe County Assembly. Elizabeth was born in Fairport in 1874, graduated from the Fairport schools and went to the State Library School in Albany N.Y. She married George Price, a local doctor, in 1904. Mrs. Price served on the school board for 10 years and was on the library board when the proposals for a permanent library building were proposed and finally approved in the 1930's.

Charlotte Clapp was elected Custodian. The custodian was responsible for taking care of the documents and artifacts donated to the Society. Charlotte Clapp was the Town Clerk and Historian for over 30 years. Her parents were early settlers in Perinton and she lived all her life at 15 Perrin Street across from the current Fairport Museum.

After the election the very first artifact donated to the society was turned over to Charlotte. It was an old map that Lucille Redhead had acquired from a man in Rochester. The map had been used as building paper in a greenhouse wall on the grounds of the Hiram Sibley house in Rochester, N.Y. The collector was a brick driver who found it while cleaning up the Sibley House after a renovation. He was thinking of selling it until Mrs. Redhead convinced him to donate the map to the newly formed society saying that "...he could see it whenever he chose."

Research Committees

The first officers of the society spent several years in office and then left to head up research committees that dealt with different aspects of Perinton history. Members filled the committees. For the first few years, memberships to the society were by invitation only. In 1936, a year after the society was founded, 13 women were asked to join and 11 accepted.

There were standing committees for the library, publicity, meetings, materials, maps, reminiscences, and genealogy.

From these committees came such projects as the recording of cemetery records and tombstones, school histories, the plotting of the town map, textile exhibits, NYA indexing project, state marker and Erie Canal projects.

Cemetery Records: Mrs. G. H. Miller beginning in 1935 compiled most of the cemetery records. The records were compiled from tombstone inscriptions, records of various cemetery associations, church and family records, and local newspapers.All were checked against vital records from the town clerk's office. The records were then typed on 3x5 cards. As the records were completed they were published in the Fairport Herald Mail from 1935 to 1938. Mrs. Miller moved from Fairport just before the last entries were published in the newspaper.

Over the years some tombstones have fallen over or have been lost. These early cemetery records are sometimes the only source of information about people buried in a cemetery. Recently they have been published on the web and can be found at http://www.rootsweb.com/-nymonroe/index.htm.

School Histories:

This committee took many black and white pictures of all 13-district schools in the Town of Perinton. Histories were written about each school and all minutes from the various school boards and local meetings were transcribed and typed. Since decentralization in 1952, this has been an invaluable resource for early Perinton schools.

Genealogy, Map and Land Record Committees:

It is not clear who served on these committees over the years because few people signed their work. However, the genealogy committee did record who compiled their records. Every member of the society contributed his or her own family genealogy. Many letters were sent to relatives, friends and residents who once lived in Fairport and Perinton to help fill in the record for hundreds of families who settled in Perinton. There are hundreds of genealogies from members, published sources and family bibles that make up a 5-volume set with indexes.

Using these genealogical studies, cemetery records, oral histories and other sources, 3 volumes of biographies were written on Early Settlers in Perinton from 1790 to 1830. The town lot committee divided the town into 66 equal lots. They then created a file for each lot and copied all the land transactions from the Phelps and Gorham Purchase to 1850. They then added biographies of people who inhabited a particular lot and created map studies so that a researcher could follow the change of owners and houses from 1855 to 1902.

The final piece that ties together all these committees was the 1852 Early Perinton Map. This folk map was drawn by Adelaide Clark in 1959 and depicts the houses, roads, railroads and the Erie Canal in Perinton in the late 1800's. On the map were added historical notes gleaned from the research committees by Marjorie Snow Merriman. The map was then grid into the 66 lots and indexed to the lot file.

In a little less than 25 years the Society members had collected and organized mountains of data concerning Fairport and Perinton into a comprehensive system that any researcher from outside the region could readily grasp. This is an outstanding and highly focused achievement for any organization over such a long period of time especially by a group of volunteers with no formal training.

The records show that Marjorie Snow Merriman had the most influence on these committees. In 1959 Ms. Merriman donated all of her notes and reference materials to the Perinton Historical Society. There were maps, charts, and mounted newspaper articles, pages of type written text, indexes, and hand written oral histories. They came to the Society in 17 brightly colored covered bond paper boxes. In all the collection contains nearly 6,500 sheets and 4,000 index cards. The culmination of Marjorie's lifetime of work recording the history of Perinton came together in 1964 and 1965 when The History of Perinton was published in the Fairport Herald. Marjorie Snow Merriman died in 1966 at the age of 80.

The Middle Years: Finding a Home

The first meetings of the Perinton Historical Society were at member's homes. As more committees were established and more interest in local history grew in the community, meetings were held in the public library and the Potter Community Center.

After the first meeting, members and people from the community began to donate historical items to the Society. The library offered a loft room for storage and some of the larger items were stored in A.B. Hupp's barn. The library also offered space in the basement for short-term exhibits. In 1938 there was a costume exhibit, 1939 shawls and fans, 1945 an exhibit of Carman Peck's paintings and in 1946 paintings by Carl W. Peters were exhibited.

In 1951 the Town of Perinton offered the Society the old Bushnell's Basin School #1 for a headquarters and museum. The building was available because of the decentralization of the Fairport school system. The Society Board was reluctant to take ownership of the building because of its remoteness in the far southwest corner of Perinton away from the population center in the Village. The town offered this same building to the Society in 1977and the Board turned them down again for the same reason. It turned out to be a smart move by the Board because the following winter heavy snows caused the roof to collapse.

By 1964 the public library had expanded and was in need of all its storage space. Between 1964 and 1965 the Society began transferring its documents and artifacts to the Community Center at 42 East Ave. in Fairport. The building had been the former Northside School, was bought by the Crosman Arms Co. and transferred to the Village of Fairport to be used as a community center. The Perinton Historical Society was given a single room to display all of its collections. It was apparent from the very beginning that the Society and the new museum needed a bigger space. School groups who came to visit had to walk single file past the display cases because of the lack of space in the room.

In the late 1970's urban renewal was being discussed in Fairport. It was clear that this new project would make it possible for the Fairport Public Library to expand into a new building. A proposal and capability study was submitted by the Society in October of 1978 suggesting that the old library building be used as a community historical museum. The original proposal called for the donation of the building to the Village and Town by the Fairport School District. The village and town would agree to share the operating costs and both the town and Village Historians would have their offices in the building.

A three year lease agreement was struck between the school and the village, with the society owing the village $3,000 after the term of the lease. In June of 1982 the public passed amendment #4 that transferred the title of the building to the Village of Fairport. As it turned out, the Village of Fairport is now responsible for the outside of the building and the Perinton Historical Society keeps its collections in the building and is responsible for the upkeep of the inside of the building and utilities.

In June of 1979 the Fairport Historical Museum was officially opened in the former Fairport Public Library building at 18 Perrin Street. Attending the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting were Tony Teresa, Superintendent of Schools, Linda Bailey, School Board member, Elizabeth Webb, School Board President, Matson Ewell, Perinton Historical Society president, Peter McDonough, Fairport Mayor, Bernadette McDonough, Village Historian and Society board member, Town Supervisor Lake Edwards, Town Historian Helen Butler, Sheldon Fisher, Valentown Hall Curator, Trustees David Glossner and Pat Knapp, County Legislator Sue Faust and Congressman Frank Horton.

We have come a long way since 1979. We have increased our membership from 115 in 1979 to over 400 today. The Fairport fourth grades use the building for their education program every spring and we have meetings and speakers in the Merriman-Clark room once a month from September to April. The museum collections have expanded and we have begun to professionally catalog and conserve our artifacts. The future looks bright as we continue to increase our membership base and bring in new people with new ideas to lead us into the 21st century.

The Last 30 Years

If you were to make a short list of four of the most influential members of the Perinton Historical Society in the last 30 years they would be Bernadette McDonough, Matson Ewell, Ruth Ewell, and William Matthews. All of them have used their special talents and dedication to lead the Perinton Historical Society into the 21st Century.

Bernadette McDonough:

Raised in Manhattan, Bernadette and her husband Peter, moved to Fairport in 1969. This was a transition period for the Society. The founders of the Perinton Historical Society were gone and the leaders at the time were moving on. Leaders such as Bill Carr, Jim Welch, Helen Martin, Marjorie Merriman, Adelaide Clark, Clayton Bridges, Helen King and Electra Barber had all worked many years to keep the Society in the public eye. They were now looking to pass the torch on to a new generation of leaders.

Bernadette came to her first covered supper sponsored by the Society shortly after moving to Fairport. She was immediately recruited and asked to be Treasurer, a position she held for 4 or 5 years. Bernadette was in the vanguard of this new leadership team serving as president from 1974 to 1976, Board of Trustees from 1978 to 1991 and as Second Vice-President from 1992 to the present. She will have served the Society for a total of 36 years this year! During her term as president and board member, Bernadette and her husband Peter, who was the Mayor of the Village at the time, pushed for a community museum in the former library building. She also served as Village Historian and liaison between the Society, the Village and the School District. Today she is an important link with the past history of the Society and finds speakers for our monthly meetings. Bernadette’s guidance and council has made our work on the Board much better as we face new challenges.

Matson Ewell:

A native to Rochester, Matson Ewell joined the Society in 1975 at a crucial time. Urban renewal was being discussed and the debate was beginning about the fate of the Fairport Public Library. Matson, along with other Society members, were instrumental in the negotiations to move the Society from the Crosman Center to the former Fairport Public Library on Perrin Street.

Matson’s love and care of this building was to continue for the next 27 years. Matson served as President of the Society from 1977 to 1979 and was on the Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1989. Even after his term expired, Matson continued to attend Board meetings as Director of the Museum.

Matson also filled in for jobs around the museum and coordinated volunteers. His ability as speaker and teacher influenced many people in the community. Both Matson and Ruth were honored for their work in the Society by being elected Citizens of the Year in 1999

Ruth Ewell:

Ruth was the Headmaster’s Secretary at the Harley School and joined the Society in 1975. She was corresponding secretary on the Executive Committee from 1977 to 1983 and again from 1991 to 1994.

But Ruth’s real talent was as Editor of the Historigram. Her articles and columns chronicled the history of the Society for 20 years from 1982 to 2002. Ruth attended every monthly meeting and wrote about what was said by the speaker that night. In her articles, Ruth had the ability to transport the reader back to the meeting even though they may not have attended that evening.

Ruth also contributed essays on local topics, which she added to our files. Ruth Ewell’s contribution to our understanding of local history and the history of the Perinton Historical Society is immeasurable

William Mathews:

Bill’s interest in local history began with a bus tour that followed the route of the old RS&E trolley. Affectionately known as “Trolley Bill” Matthews started out on the Executive Committee as Corresponding Secretary in 1995, Treasurer in 1996 and president from 1997 to 2003.

He enjoyed renovation projects in the Museum and was responsible for the moving of the brick outhouse to the Potter grounds, the trolley waiting station now overlooking the Erie Canal and a wooden voting booth now located on the Ewell property. However, Bill’s real talent was in finance.

Through his leadership, he encouraged the Board of Trustees to make more astute financial decisions and diversify our portfolio. The endowment fund doubled in a few short years and the Society is in a much more sound financial position then it has been at any time in our history.

Bill’s last project was heading a committee to rewrite our by-laws. The finished document was passed last year by our membership and will influence how the Society is run for many years to come.

As we enter the 21st century with a new set of trustees, the future looks bright. We have some talented and diverse people on the Board. Perhaps we’ll look back in 2035 when we will be celebrating our 100th anniversary and praise some of these very people for their dedication and work for the Society.

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Recognizing Service & Long Term Members on 75 year - 2010

Clark King, President recognized and thanked long-term members of the Society at the annual meeting and picnic in May:
23 members have supported the Society for at least 35 years and 52 for at least 30 years. Bob Stevens has been a member continuously for the last 59 years.

Four members, John Jongen, Alan Keukelaar, May Thomson and Doris Davis-Fritsch were recongnized for service to the Society.

Those with long-term memberships:

50+ years

Robert Stevens

45 to 49 years

Morey & Ann Rasbeck

Clark & Sharon King

40 to 44 years

Betty Bantle

Bernadette & Peter McDonough,

Marguerite Antel,

George & Holly Wolf

35 to 39 years

Robert Wagner

Douglas & Susan Angevine

Joan Alliger

William & Elizabeth Sharffenberger

Seymour & Marilyn Rudin

Matson & Ruth Ewell

Richard & Prisilla Minster

30 to 34 years

John & Mary Gordon,

David and Linda Glossner

Geoff & Anne Johnston

Jerry & Joanne Williams

Doug & Jean Whitney

John & Lorrie McMahon

Drew & Carolyn Saum

Jim & Bonnie Smith

Carol Gardner

Warren & Pat Knapp

Carol Alvut

Franz & Joanne Sasse

Fritz & Georgia May

Don & Dorothy Naetzker

Phil & Donna Yawman

Carol Ann Britt

Others recognized for service:

John Jongen - Teaching himself HTML programing code he launched in March of 2001 the original website on "angelfire.com". This site maintained and updated for 8 years was the foundation for the site launched in 2009. He also has co-chaired the House Tours in 2007 and 2008 and served as Secretary on the Board of Trustees.

Alan Keukelaar - Chaired two very successful house tours; Egypt Tour in 2009 and the Bushnell's Basin Tour in 2010.

May Thomson - Served as Treasurer for 12 + years until 2009 and has been responsible for making the annual picnic a success for numerous years.

Doris Davis-Fritsch - Developed a plan for the new website launched in May of 2009 and worked with the web developer to design the site and navigation. The site is updated on a weekly basis to keep the information interesting and current. Over 2000 unique visitors use the site per month.

Recognizing Service 2009

Clark King, President recognized and thanked members of the Society at the annual meeting and picnic in May:

Helen Matthews - Created an index of 6000 articles that previously were only listed in a card catalog at the Museum.

Andy Gates - For 6 years, Andy designed and produced the layouts for the Historigram.

Keith Boas - Contributed his professional photography talents to the Society by photographing all the "now" photos of Perinton for the book Then and Now. This book is on sale in the Gift Shop of the Museum and there is an order form to mail in on the Gift Shop page.

Dingbat

Founding of the Society - 4th Anniversary Speech

Note: In November of 1935 a group of Fairport women got together and formed the Perinton Historical Society. The first officers for the Society were; Mrs. Paul Merriman, President; Mrs. Henry Martin Vice President; Mrs. Gardner Brown, Secretary; Mrs. George S. Price, Treasurer and Miss Charlotte Clapp, Custodian. On this, the Society’s Fourth Year Anniversary, the following was given as an introduction speech for the meeting that took place, November 14, 1939:

“We are very glad to welcome our guests and our new members this evening. This is an anniversary. About four years ago, ten of us started as a group, to look up early local history for our own amusement. We didn't really plan to have a club, but as we began to dig, we began to realize that we had tackled a big job and were going to need some sort of organization to make our work permanent.So in November 1935, we formed the Perinton Historical Society to cooperate with the Town Historian in collecting and preserving data on the settlement and growth of the township.The interest aroused was amazing. The club grew like a snowball. Now the active membership is over fifty and an associate membership is being opened for those who believe in the club's objective and want to help without being tied down to meetings and committees.The research itself is done by committees and by individuals and is so varied that every member should be able to find something to interest him.The Town Historian had already transcribed many old town records and had compiled local World War Records. We are very fortunate in having the cooperation of the Fairport Herald Mail, which publishes records and articles for us. These are clipped and pasted in scrapbooks for preservation.The cemetery records have been compiled and are being indexed and published. A series of school district histories is being written and will be published. Land records, and early census and Bible records are being copied and indexed. Family histories early reminiscences and biographies of pioneers are being gathered. Pictures are being taken of old houses. Material is being collected on the Erie Canal. A pictorial map is in progress.With the help of an NY A. Project the town records beginning in 1813, and the local newspapers are being indexed. Application is being made for State markers for some of our earliest landmarks. A good many subjects have not been touched yet. If anyone wants to do a little independent digging, here are a few suggestions; early roads, old mills and taverns, local industries and businesses, farming methods, group immigrations, lodges and societies, churches, American Revolution and Civil War records, etc.Many gifts of old pictures, maps, newspapers and documents have been received and preserved by our able custodian. Just now we are begging for copies of old Fairport papers to complete the Library files - so please look in your attics.So far, we have had two annual exhibits, the first a display of early costumes and the second of old shawls and fans. These were unusually attractive and drew a good many visitors. Next spring's exhibit has not yet been decided on, but maps, prints, and books have been mentioned and the committee would be glad of other suggestions.Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month and are alternately round table discussions of research problems and lectures here in the Library.We have had speakers on the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, early travel, westward migrations, historical methods, collecting ancient and modern playing cards, colonial and Greek Revival architecture, the geographical history of Perinton, and the organization of regional historical societies and museums.Later this year we hope to have Mr. and Mrs. Graham tell some of their experiences in China and show some their lovely ancient embroideries, and Mr. Carruth talk on American antiques.Tonight we are especially fortunate. Mr. Hiram E. Bryan, Assistant Engineer in Charge of the City Map and Survey Section, Division of Engineering of the City of Rochester, NY. He will speak on the graphic history of the land development of western New York, with special emphasis on Monroe County and the Town of Perinton.Contemporary maps are the best possible historical source material and Mr. Bryan is the best possible man to explain them. He has completed thirty years work in this field and has also made the study and collection of maps his avocation. It is rare to find a man who can bring such professional training and experience to his hobby and who is kind enough to share that hobby with others."

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