Portville gave to the Civil War, a large number of her best young men. The names of these boys are embossed on a beautiful bronze tablet hung in the vestibule of the Presbyterian Church, given by Mrs. Wm. F. Wheeler in memory of those boys who gave their all for their country. Many whose names are there suffered the horrors of Southern prison. Many came home, broken in health with nothing but their courage and confidence in themselves and their determination to put the same devotion and energy into civil life that they carried through their army life. Through the years, they have been true to their obligation as citizens as they were true in their military life. Now, most of them have been mustered out and it remains for those who come after them to carry on their work. The obligation of the citizen now is no less than was that of the soldiers in 1861. The country’s need for honest, unselfish, patriotic service is equally great now, as then.
On the tablet, mentioned above, are the names of sixty-five members of the 85th Regiment, New York Volunteers. Of these, but one remains, Addison O. Burdick of Portville. Of the 154th Regiment, there are the names of twenty-nine members, among them being that of Lewis D. Warner, the commander. None are now living in Portville. Then, there are sixty-eight names of other regiments. Among them, four are now with us: Orson F. Maxson, of the 52nd Regiment, New York Infantry, George Baker, of the 136th Regiment, New York Infantry, Dewitt E. Page, of the First New York Dragoons, and Wallace M. Skiver, of the 58th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Again, at the time of what we call the Spanish War, the call came for soldier service. Not as many went out, for not as many were wanted or needed, but they went with the same spirit that their fathers showed nearly forty years before. Portville had but few in the service, some members of what was known as the Forty Third Separate Company of Olean, and some were in the regular army. Among the latter were Martin and Wesley Skiver and L. M. Maxson. The Skiver boys served out their enlistment and came back to Portville. Wesley died a few years ago, but Martin still lives on the old E. N. Middaugh farm, which he bought many years ago. Mr. Maxson stayed in the service, giving over thirty years of his life to his country. He retired a few years ago and makes his home with his brother here. He saw service in China during the Boxer War, also in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
The World War again called for military service and again our young men responded and were found in every branch of the service, several making the supreme sacrifice. The first to die was Earnest Lamb for whom the American Legion has named the local post. Lamb died from wounds received in action on the Belgian front. Francis Riley also was killed in action as was Don Archibald. Albert Percival lost his health and for years has been an inmate of a government hospital in New York. Charles Percival was killed in a “Plane” accident in Florida, while training for flying service abroad. Frank Searles died from an attack of pneumonia at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. Names of the World War service men are enrolled on the bronze tablets in the gate posts at the entrance of Chestnut Hill where those brought back from France, sleep in their last bivouac, with the exception of Francis Riley, who was laid to rest in the Cemetery of his Church, Saint Bonaventure, at Allegany, N. Y. Gold Star Mothers are Mrs. James Archibald, now herself gone, Mrs. P. J. Riley, Mrs. Margaret Deibler, Mrs. Augusta Searles, and Mrs. W. A. Percival.
The following men from Portville and vicinity were in the service: Adolph Anderson, now in New Jersey; Clarence Anderson, in Olean; Charles Bacon, at present in New York City; Fred Bartlett, Westons Mills; Andrew Brooks, Rowland Barber, Robert Bowlsby, Howard Bell, now in California; Burrows, G. D. Carr, Clarence Carr, now in Cleveland; James Cronin, now in Wewaka, Oklahoma; William Clarke, now in San Antonio, Texas; George Costello, Henry Curtiss, Ludwig Carlson, now in Jamestown; Glenn Cooper, now at Kenmore; Lenard Cooper, Lynton Evans, Earlman Evans, Earl Eldridge, Frank Fox, and Victor Fairchild, Olean; T. H. Fitzsimmons, Edward Gibbons, Truman Green, Arthur Glover, now in Elmira; Carl Glover, also in Elmira; Harold Hotton, now in New York City; Nicholas Henderson, now at Pittsburg; Carl Holcomb, Hamilton, Rev. James Howley, Clifford Hackett, Roy Johnson, Harry Jameson, Charles Keenan, deceased; Condreva Napolene, Harmonia Eaton, Earl Lyman, Ernest Lamb, died from wounds; Joseph Lindsay, Westons Mills; Lyman Lamb, Robert Lindsay, now in California; Ralph Lindsay, Westons Mills, now in Endicott; Lewis Lindsay, Westons Mills; Carl Melrose, deceased; Lewis M. Maines, Westons Mills; Leroy Murphy, now in Olean; Hugh Miner, now in Johnson City; Bernard Mohan, now in Buffalo; Charles Percival, deceased; Albert Percival, now in New York City; Robert Parish, Francis Riley, killed in action; James Sullivan, Westons Mills; Evan Spencer, now in Ohio; Harry Swanson, Dana Scutt, now in Cuba; Charles Schifley, Charles Sundolf, now in Endicott; Clifford Sikes, now at Salamanca; Anthony Trenkle, George Tucker, Harry Thornton, now in Olean; Wilfred Thornton, also in Olean; Harold Vaughn, Robert Vaughn, Glenn Wilson, Westons Mills; Andrew G. Williams, Harris Worden, Burdette Barnard, deceased; Claude Costello, Orson Keyes, Ray Oliver, Herman Frair, Deer Creek; Robert Keller, Rev. J. Vincent Growney, Harrison M. Fairbanks, Earle Dickinson, and R. M. Marble, who now reside here, were in the service, but did not live in this village at the time of the war.
Miss Nita Humphrey was in war service for over a year and later married Waldo S. Miller and now lives in Denver, Colorado. Miss Esther J. Childs, for several years a teacher in the local school, now of Los Angeles, California, was for some months in military service as special patrol in London.
At the Methodist Church, where I attended occasionally when I first came here, I remember especially Mr. and Mrs. E. B. Percival, a wonderful old couple who were always present. Another fine character was Rev. F. Roulo, for many years a leader in every religious service of his church and, for several years, a missionary doing Sunday School work in Cattaraugus County. Later, he was made a regular member of the conference and served churches in various places in the district, always loved by his people. He was very close to all people of Portville, where he lived for more than fifty years, a happy, useful life.
I’ve been thinking of many of the old members of the Presbyterian Church as I was writing. In memory, I am looking over the congregation and there sits Mr. and Mrs. William F. Wheeler. Mrs. Wheeler is especially remembered, very mild in manner, a sweet old face that seemed almost a benediction as she greeted her friends at the close of service. In the Sunday School, for many years, she taught a class of boys. Our friend of the present day, F. W. Fairchild, was one of them. She had a fine influence everywhere. Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Wheeler had a seat on the side of the old church, but Mr. Wheeler was usually in the choir. Others who impressed me as especially worthy of confidence were Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Mersereau, Mr. and Mrs. C. K. Wright, Mr. and Mrs. Holden, Mrs. Helen Dusenbury, Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Dusenbury, and Mrs. William Livingston. In the choir were Mr. W. E. Wheeler, Mr. Holden, Mrs. E. G. Dusenbury, Mrs. H. J. Crandall, Mrs.Winterstein, Miss Alice Holden, Miss Lilla Wheeler, Miss Nellie Wright, and Sam C. Fox. Mr. Fox came here with the Producers Gas Company and after a few years went to Texas, where he died a few years ago.
Mention has been made of the Parish family, but there were two younger sons of Smith Parish who were well known and active in business and social circles forty years ago. Fred was quite an expert in interior decorating and for a number of years had charge of a dry goods store for J. H. Warden. Frank went West and died in Washington several years ago.
Fred had erected a building on the corner of what is now the library lot next to the lot now owned by Dr. Wormer, where he was associated with the late Miner Carr in the grocery business. Mr. Carr conducted a barbershop in one room of this building for several years. He later purchased the building now owned by his widow on Main Street, where he carried on his business until failing health compelled him to retire from active work. These men are now all gone. A brother, M. D. Carr, still lives here. These men were brothers of Lyman E. Carr, who has been mentioned in these notes.
Another old time barber, who was well known here, was Thomas Cox, who built and occupied the building now owned by “Poly” Olson. For nearly forty years, Mr. Cox conducted this shop until a short time before his death about one year ago. Portville now has three barbers and two shops, Mr. Olson, being the proprietor of one, and Fessenden and Hawley, the other.
Previous mention has been made of Riley Main, who was the first barber I knew here, and who built the building now owned by Mrs. M. H. Carr. At present, the front room, so many years used as a barbershop, is occupied by Pearson and Marsh as a Home Cash grocery store.
No sketch of old time residents of Portville would be complete without special mention of Asa E. Halbert, who died here in 1917 at the extreme old age of one hundred years, one month, and fourteen days, after a residence in Portville of about seventy five years filled with useful, helpful service. He was in business in Michigan for a few years but with that exception his active life was passed on a small farm near Gordons Mills, now owned by E. F. Dean. At the time of his death, Mr. Halbert was the oldest citizen of Portville. It was the writer’s privilege to call and offer congratulations on his passing of the century mark. We found him happy, cheerful, and unusually clear in mind with his old time interest in people and community affairs.
Just this side of what we know as Gordons Mills, lies the farm of A. W. Scutt. This farm was formerly owned and, for many years, occupied by Daniel R. Wood, a fine old gentleman of most pleasing ways. He was one of the pioneer farmers and regarded as successful. A son, Orson, grew up and lived in Portville until a few years ago, when he removed to Johnson City, where he now lives.
Going up the Eldred highway some time ago, my mind went back forty years when this was anything but a good road. At times, water from the river covered it for over a mile and, Fall and Spring, it almost seemed bottomless, the mud was so deep. It was not unusual to go over it in the morning dry and find water covering it at night. This did not add to the pleasure of night driving. Under these conditions, one had to trust to the instinct of his horse to keep in the road at all.
The road to Ceres was often nearly impassable because of the mud. There were places between Searles hill and the county line that, in springtime, seemed nothing but a sea of mud. Teams simply had to flounder through and nearly all the highways were the same. Mud in spring, dust in summer, and snowdrifts in winter made travel a thing to be avoided, if possible. This, compared with our present system of paved highways, running out in every direction, gives one some idea of the great advance made in all ways during the last few years. The coming generation can never know or at least cannot realize what strides have been made. All because of the American spirit to have the best obtainable. So the country has gone from mud and log roads to miles of concrete, from tallow dips to electricity, from the old log house to the beautiful cottage homes of today, from the stone fireplace, big enough to take in a four foot log, to steam and hot water heating systems, from the homemade linsey Woolsey dresses of the family to the dainty gowns of today. Oh yes, we have advanced, but with it all, I wonder if we are any happier than were those pioneers we have been writing about. Let us remember that increased comforts, greater privileges, and opportunities bring larger obligations: “Where much is given, much is required.”
About twenty or twenty five years ago a group of enterprising Portville boys organized a local telephone company and for several years did quite a business. The exchange office was in a small building on Temple Street in front of what is now the Portville Broom Company. The Keller brothers, E. R. and W. T. were among the managers and every subscriber had a special rate. This line took over a five subscriber line which had been installed by Fred Tarbell. The Portville Company was later sold to the Federal Telephone and this company was, at a later period, absorbed by the Bell company.
Mention has been made of the later life of W. T. Keller, his brother, Edmond R. went into Railway Mail service and for some years ran between Buffalo and Philadelphia on one of the flyers. He later resigned and went to Texas where he has been successful in business and is prospering.
The row of houses on what is now known as Colwell Street were built immediately after the fire of 1885 by an old gentleman named Smith Colwell, who rented them. Mr. Colwell later sold them to his son, Benjamin S. Colwell, who continued to rent them. The monthly rental was four and five dollars per month. This rate continued until after the death of Mr. Colwell when the executors of his will sold them to several different people, some of whom are still living there. Nearly all are owned by the occupants and all have been kept in good repair.
The pleasant home now owned by S. E. Sherman on South Main Street was built by Mrs. George H. Peckham as a home and was occupied by them until Mr. Peckham’s business took him to Buffalo. It was sold to George Munger who owned it for several years, later selling it to C. W. Taylor, who sold it to the present owners.
Another pleasant place is that of Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Finch, which stands just west of the Pennsylvania railroad back of the Sherman place. This house was built by W. J. McCarthy, a telegraph operator at the P. R. R. station. Soon after getting settled, Mr. McCarthy died. Later, Mr. McCarthy went to Smethport and the property was sold to Nicholas Hotton, who also died there and the place was sold to the present owners.
After years ago, the only public hall in Portville was a large room on the second floor of a building on the lot now occupied by the Townsend hardware. On the first floor of this building was the grocery store of E. E. Alderman. Here was held all public gathering except such as were held in the churches.
In 1883, the Portville Band, under the leadership of F. S. Persing, erected an opera house, which they managed for a number of years, when it was sold to Michael Mohan. Here was held such entertainment and public meetings as the community had for many years. It was never a profitable investment and Mr. Mohan sold it to be converted into an apartment house and it is still occupied as such and is regarded a profitable paying property.
In 1894 (actually 1904), the present Town Hall was erected by public spirited citizens and presented to the village. Mr. W. B. Mersereau was the largest individual contributor to this enterprise, but all our people helped as they could.
The Fireman’s Club House was erected in 1914 by W. A. and D. C. Dusenbury as a memorial to their uncle, John E. Dusenbury, who was always keenly interested in the village and its people. The ground floor of this building is occupied, on one side, as a bowling alley and the other side is used for the trucks, hose, and carts of the fire department. On the second floor is a large, pleasant parlor and reading room. There is also an office for the use of the club, a game and music room. There is also a dining hall, with a capacity for seating about one hundred and fifty guests, a private rest room and a large commodious kitchen. The entire building is furnished and equipped to meet the needs of the community and the club. The building is under the control of a house committee elected by the club members. It is not a public building, but is used exclusively for and by the club members, but for a small charge, can be had by the community for any public meeting of interest and for the welfare of the village.
Comparisons are said to be odious, but when we look at our beautiful village and the fine country round about, and then close our eyes and see it as it was fifty years ago and even go farther and see it as it was one hundred years ago, we are amazed at what the patience and labor of man can and does accomplish when he applies himself to the task. We can appreciate comparisons.
It may be interesting to note some of the changes the years have wrought.
The old toll gate, so many years a landmark, has given place to the rustic inn now owned by R. G. Lawrence and is a real beauty spot. Mersereau’s mill is gone and nothing remains to mark the spot where, for so many years, the busy machinery was turning out lumber to be used in various improvements in and around the village and surrounding country.
Fifty years ago, there were no chain stores, very few traveling men and those few only made three or four trips a year as a rule, some only two, and it was a day’s work to make two towns. Clothing salesmen usually spent the night in town. Stores did not close until from nine to eleven o’clock at night and we expected to open for business at six-thirty or seven at latest, and were open all day on holidays, except on Thanksgiving day when it was customary to close during church service, ten thirty to noon. Sometimes, on such days, if it was very quiet, the stores would as a special favor close at eight o’clock in the evening. Wages, well, there were not any. The write worked six months as above for seventy five dollars and his board and was privileged to wear a white shirt and collar every day and paid for his own laundry.
Fifty years ago, the only houses on Main Street south of Dodge Creek bridge were the old Luman Rice house, now owned by Dr. J. R. Dudley. The house on the opposite corner where Mrs. Daniel Throop kept a high class boarding house is now owned by the granddaughters of Mrs. Throop, all of whom live in the middle west, and occupied as a semi-hotel managed by Mrs. R. C. Crittenden.
The house now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Farrell on the opposite corner of Brooklyn Street was then owned by Lewis D. Warner and is substantially the same now as it was then. About three fourths of a mile further on was the Darius Wheeler farm. This street, then but a mud road, is now finely paved and well built up with pleasant homes and bordered by fine attractive grounds.
When I came to Portville, the house occupied by John Phillips was used as a manse by the Presbyterian church and was far less pleasant and attractive than it is now.
Across the street was the Methodist parsonage, an old house afterward sold and moved away to make room for the present house. The old house was moved onto a vacant lot on Maple Street and is now owned by C. L. Keenan. The lot on Maple Street now owned by Mrs. Nellie Smith was owned by Harlow Hopkins in the days of half a century ago, a small old fashioned house stood there, part of which is still on the end of the lot and is used for storage. The little house now occupied by Charles Mohan stood on the corner and was owned by W. A. Langworthy. Michael Mohan bought the lot and built the pleasant home now there. The Mohan brothers, John, Michael, and Charles, came to Portville from Pennsylvania in the late 70s and have been identified with the place ever since. Michael finished his work a couple of years ago. Charlie still lives here.
The beautiful, commodious home on South Main Street now owned and occupied by W. J. Tapp, was built about forty six or forty seven years ago by the Rice family and was occupied by them for many years. Most, if not all, of the homes on the west side of the street have been built since then. On the east side, and nearly opposite the Rice home, the late B. S. Colwell owned two small houses which he rented and Erastus Brown owned another adjoining, which he occupied.
Mr. Colwell and his family owned and, for many years, occupied the place on Maple Avenue now owned by Martin O’Connor. After the death of Mr. Colwell, this place was sold to Joseph Stull of Farmers Valley and was occupied by the Stulls until Mr. Stull died a few years later.
Mr. Stull also at one time owned the place now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Farrell and built the Eaton Garage adjoining it, which he managed for some time as a sales room and repair station.
The Wheeler home on Maple Avenue was built by the late W. E. Wheeler about 55 years ago and is still owned by the family, as Mr. Wheeler’s daughter, Mrs. T. N. Pfieffer, of New York City, now occupies it as a summer home. Among the beautiful homes on this street is that of W. A. Dusenbury and the home built and occupied for many years by Portville’s great benefactor, the late Edgar G. Dusenbury, and his wife. The home of Portville’s oldest physician, Dr. G. W. Winterstein is also on this street.
Another old home now owned and occupied by G. D. Phillips was formerly the David Persing home. The old William F. Wheeler home is also on this street and still is a Wheeler home as it is owned by Miss Lilla C. Wheeler, daughter of the late Hon. William F. Wheeler, one of the founders of Portville previously mentioned. A little further down the street is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Orr. Mrs. Orr was the daughter of the late H. J. Crandall, who built this as a home about 1877.
Among the early industries of Portville was the saw mill built and operated for some years by James H. Fairchild. Mr. Fairchild also owned and managed a shingle mill in connection with the saw mill. Mr. Fairchild later converted the saw mill into a feed and buckwheat mill. This was later destroyed by fire and Mr. Fairchild erected the building now owned by the Portville Broom Company, where he continued the wholesale and retail feed and flour business. When his son, B. T. Fairchild, reached his majority, he was taken into partnership with his father under the name of J. H. Fairchild and Son. This partnership continued until the death of the senior member of the firm. Mr. Fairchild was active in the affairs of the community and served for many years as a member of the local School Board and for some time as Overseer of Poor in the township.
Mr. Reitz, in his graduation thesis last year, very graphically told the story of the bringing of the Post Office from Millgrove, but I am sure he will pardon us if it is now made a part of these sketches. The story was told to me many years ago by John C. Middaugh. The office was named Millgrove and was located near where the farm home of W. D. Rowe now is. A John McCormick was postmaster. Mr. McCormick was an ardent supporter of the Democratic candidate for President in 1840. Mr. Henry Dusenbury being a Whig, supported the opposition candidate. McCormick insisted that Mr. Dusenbury back his support with money, and a wager was finally arranged, whereby Mr. McCormick pledged a very fine colt, which he greatly prized against a sum of money. He was so confident of winning that he was said to have told Mr. Dusenbury what he intended to do with the money after election. To his great surprise, his candidate was defeated and his disappointment being very keen, he delayed delivering the colt for some weeks, hoping something would happen to save him his colt.
After Mr. Dusenbury had waited a time and knowing how much the colt meant to his neighbor he finally said to him, “John, I don’t want your colt. But I tell you what I do want and it is something that is sure to come in time. The town is going to be built here at the junction of Dodges Creek with the river instead of where you are. Now, if you will join us in a petition to move the Post Office from Millgrove down here, we will forget all about the wager and you keep the colt.” McCormick was glad to make this arrangement so the office was finally moved and the name changed to Portville and according to old records now in the local library, Henry Dusenbury was the first Postmaster.
Probably, there are a few old timers, yet in Portville, who will remember James Wiley, who at one time, probably forty-five years ago, worked in the old Wright, Wheeler and Company Tannery. Jim later went to Chicago and was appointed a member of the Police force where he served for many years. After his retirement, he came back to Portville for a visit and the old town looked so comfortable to him, he decided to remain and make his old home his new one. One day, coming from the Northwestern Leather Company Shops, where he had been looking up some old shop mates, he was struck by a Pennsylvania train and instantly killed.
Another boy who began work in the old shop was William R. Dever, who went to Chicago, studied law, became a City Judge was elected Mayor and became influential in affairs of his adopted city. He died a few years ago. He was a boy friend of Judge Keating of Olean, also of Edward and John Gibbons.
Judge Keating began life in the grocery store of E. E. Alderman, and now holds the important office of Police Justice of Olean.
John Gibbon’s early life was passed in Portville, but for many years he has been a resident of Olean, where he has held a responsible position with the Olean Street Railway.
I close these sketches with a deep feeling of regret and sadness, regret that the work was not better done, and more deserving of the subject. It has been written entirely from memory except as to those referred to in the earlier years, which were memories of things told me or read many years ago. No records have been consulted and the work has been written as one thing has brought to mind another and so, of course, it is disconnected. It is not intended as history, but is simply a series of sketches of conditions, happenings and people of long ago, undertaken at the request of the publisher, who has encouraged the work by insisting that it would be of interest to his readers. If it has been, I am glad to have been the instrument.
I am saddened as I glance backward and realize that of the numbers active and influential in the years gone, so few remain. Nearly all have passed to their reward, their work done, their record made. And what a work and what a record they built, better than they knew.
“Lives of great men all remind us We may make our lives sublime And departing, leaving behind us Footprints on the sands of time Footprints, that perhaps another Sailing o’er life’s solemn main Some forlorn and shipwrecked brother Seeing, may take heart again. Let us then be up and doing With a heart for any fate, Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.”