John D. Bell, Alumnus of Class of 1890
Reminisces of Early Days at Portville Meeting
Thursday, July 4, 1940
Reminiscing of the early days in Portville, John D. Bell of the class of 1890 of Portville High School,
spoke at the annual meeting of the Portville High School Alumni Association held last Wednesday
evening at the Presbyterian Church dining room. The class of 1890 celebrated its 50th anniversary
Mr. Bell’s remarks follow: “Fifty years have passed over the heads of the Class of 1890 and left
plain marks on that snowy expanse, but never mind, for as George Miner said, “We have made our
When we graduated, Prof. Hazelton Smith and I decided to dispense with all the formalities and call
it a good job well done. Years after, when visiting him in his printing office in Buffalo, we were still
good friends and both recalled, with pleasure, the days spent together in Portville Union School.
This district extended from Searles Hill to Gordon’s and up Lillibridge way.
Probably, some of you remember when Gilberts’ old white mule won the slowest race ever pulled
off in Portville. We were a hardy lot in those days and walking and running agreed with us. We
would go up above the Pennsylvania railroad bridge on the Oswayo to Searles Cove, (now dry since
the dams went out), jump on rafts called creek pieces, ride over Mersereau dam, then jump off the
raft onto the bank nearly down to the river and walk back to repeat the performance. It was a lot of
exercise and fun, like riding down hill.
There was a quiet, sheltered pond for skating at Mayville, with an old dugout canoe floating around
in the debris near the shore. It was afterward moved down on the Wheeler lawn on Main Street and
filled with flowers. This was a curiosity and divided interest with a small gooseberry bush that grew
in the tree next to the sidewalk in front of the house.
The Genesee Valley extension of the canal was from Portville to Millgrove, where large warehouses
and store buildings were located next to the locks. There were a couple of canal boats next to a
landing at Reagan’s Cove, where they rotted down and, as the locks were timber, they have nearly
disappeared too. The Canallers lived, fought, and loved around Jimmy Dunn’s Cove, just across the
creek from the Toll Gate. The Weston Dam had been raised so many times that water backed up to
Millgrove dam in the river when the slash was closed at Westons.
The first shortage in my education, noted after graduation, was English History. Got a book
memorized enough to pass Regents and still remember the five counties of Ireland and how Henry
VIII started the fashion for Hollywood divorces – quick and plenty of them. The Portville School
has always set a high standard and maintained it, which accounts for the strong personal interest of
all who have passed through its portals.
At one time, during a winter flood, the ice was fine and E. G. Dusenbury and Bill Livingstone were
jumping over the schoolyard fence. That was some old time, jumping and skating. We had a good
view of the river from the Professor’s room and watched closely while the Warren rafts were made
up and cook shanties built with bunks along the side. The sleeping quarters were somewhat
contracted for space, but when one of the men wished to change positions, he yelled “Spoon,” and
they all rolled over. The Indians were good river pilots unless a raft stove. Then, they disappeared
in the weeds. Many a log end about two feet long, carrying some Lumberman’s trade mark had
been cut from a choice, clear pine log. Probably, someone wanted a few good boards to make a
skiff and got them the easy way.
Now, the new school and addition, all in harmony with the well-planned building, with increased
personnel and equipment, have brought the school to its present state of efficiency. For more than
50 years, I have watched the steady growth of our Alma Mater and the development of our Alumni
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Portville, NY 14770