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NSG Visit May 2, 2001

A Walk through

Historic Honeoye Falls


Donovan A. Shilling

Seventeen members of the New Society of the Genesee met for an informative stroll through historic Honeoye Falls on a cool, but sunny Saturday, May 5, 2001. The group gathered in the parking lot alongside the three-story stone gristmill that now houses offices for the Town of Mendon. Here we were met by Paul and Susan Worboys, Society members and our guides for the morning tour.

Paul distributed a brochure to the group which neatly designated the important, historic sites along our planned walk. Just behind us we could hear the roar of cascading waters of the village's 23-foot-high falls. With its cacophony competing with the presentation, we learned that the village was founded by Zebulon Norton in 1791 when he built a wooden grist mill close to the waterfall. That mill burned in 1795 and Norton built a larger mill which his son Ezra operated. It burned in 1824 and was replaced by a still larger and more efficient mill by Zebulon's grandson, Lyman Norton.

The present mill building was begun in 1827 by Colonel Henry P. Culver, another grandson of Zebulon Norton. The outer walls were constructed of limestone quarried nearby along Honeoye Creek. Honeoye Falls Historical Society member John Sheret took us into the venerable mill building. The mill's interior is impressive. Huge tree-trunk-size posts support great hand-hewn timbers that carry the weight of its three floors.

Culver sold the mill to Hiram Finch and it passed through several ownerships. In 1888, William Hamilton of Caledonia purchased it. Three generations of Hamiltons ran the mill until 1951, when it was bought by Floyd and D. Sayre Beam of Hemlock. They finally discontinued operation about 1960. Eventually purchased by Ed Trenholm, the old mill was converted into a fashionable restaurant appropriately called "The Mill." In 1985 the Town of Mendon bought the historic mill. Needed repairs to the structure were made and today it contains the town offices, the town court room, and a meeting place for town board meetings.

Resuming the tour outside, Paul explained that it was New York Central's "Peanut Line" that operated the spur serving the mill up until 1939, a time when the "Upper Mill" produced 200 barrels of flour per day. Standing alongside the old Hamilton Mill and overlooking the falls, we learned that the white, church-like building across the creek was the Village Hall, constructed in 1886. At different times an upper floor in the building was a ballroom with a theater stage, a place for basketball games, and an arena for political meetings. The building's most renowned feature is, however, atop its steeple-the famous "Iron Fireman." The painted sheet-metal shape in the form of a fireman is a replica of the original which supposedly traveled from a firehouse in St. Catherine's, Canada, through the possession of several local fire departments who obtained it by stealth from one another. The "Fireman" has been in Honeoye Falls for more than 100 years now. There is some thought of returning the original to St. Catherines. To the inhabitants of the village, especially its fire fighters, it's an important trophy and a g reat source of pride.

As we walked down North Street, Paul commented on the street's landmarks: A yellow brick edifice diagonally across from the mill once held the village's primary bank that had suddenly failed in 1921. It seemed that there had been no audits during the bank's entire existence. The officers finally offered patrons twenty five cents on each dollar deposited.

The Pride Hardware store came next in view. The business has operated continuously since 1839. We then saw the barber shop where Joe Bartlett cut hair for fifty years. There is a long story of a pet cockatoo that was eventually stuffed, became cat tattered, and finally was put to rest near its doting master some score of years after his demise. Only Paul can properly tell the tale.

Gone now, but remembered by many, was Brown's Bakery. Its "Honeoye Bread," and "Brown's Brownies" were much sought after right up until the emporium closed in 1968.

We went on to Harry Allen Park for a tour of Honeoye Falls Historical Society's Museum. Curator Langdon Clay invited the group to inspect the many artifacts and priceless bits of yesterday that have been preserved by the Society. Among them were examples of A. E. Rittenhouse's doorbells (manufactured in Honeoye Falls), Victorian children's toys, and a corner filled with early home furnishings: an icebox, cast iron stove, and other domestic kitchen items used at the turn of the last century. A corn stalk cutter, made at W. R. York's foundry in Honeoye Falls, and a wooden butter churn, c. 1865, made by Ira Markham, Jr., are remaining examples of early local products. In another room there were racks with women's fashionable dresses .

A room used for special exhibits of the museum's collections was filled with printed auction bills, carnival advertisements, and posters for baseball games. Of great interest to many will be an exhibit beginning in June featuring the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the part it played in the hamlet of Mendon.

Leaving the museum building, once village entrepreneur Sylvester Wilcox's livery barn, we walked to a fully restored 1872 one-room school house. Here John Sheret related the moving and transformation of District #15's schoolhouse into a tangible memory of the past, and Marilyn Lesczynski, dressed as a school marm, described her pleasant summertime teaching experiences with fourth graders from the Honeoye Falls-Lima School District.

We walked on down the street past people gathering for a wedding in the elegant Greek-style Presbyterian Church, built in 1831, to the Lower Mill, another unique structure used today to house art shops and the Juniper Beans Eatery where we ate tasty Mexican food.

Our tour of historic Honeoye Falls with Paul and Susan was a delightful and rewarding experience.

© 2001, Donovan A. Shilling
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