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News & Announcements

Copies of the Historical Society's Newsletter are available here.

During this pandemic, many have found music to be an invaluable help as it changes our mood, and helps us relive memories of special moments in our lives. No matter what your age, music has the power to make us healthier and happier by enriching our lives. Two Union Springs women did all of that and more both locally and nationally through their music.

The Abbott sisters, Muriel (1887-1949) and Ethel (1885-1953) were the two daughters of well-known and prolific Union Springs' photographer, R.R. Abbott and his wife, Susan Young Peterson Abbott. Following R.R.'s death at the age of 41, Susan taught piano from their home on Cayuga St. Her musical talents were inherited by both Muriel and Ethel.

Both Ethel and Muriel studied piano and violin respectively at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University located in Baltimore. Today the Peabody is the oldest conservatory of music in the United States. Ethel had been a teacher, accompanist and composer often performing in Baltimore, New York City and other major Eastern cities. A search of old area newspapers found hundreds of references to her performing in venues throughout the East as well as locally in both Cayuga and Tompkins counties. She was described as a "gifted young woman...a pianist of much brilliancy, power and promise." In 1941, while living, teaching and performing in New York City and Washington, she was named by the State Department to the cultural division of Inter-American Friendship. The mission of this organization was cultural diplomacy, promoting hemispheric solidarity and countering the growing influence of the Axis powers in Latin America. It was led by Nelson Rockefeller. Additionally during this time, she was named to the Women's Committee of the National Symphony Orchestra, attesting to the esteem in which she was held professionally.

Muriel Abbott Marshall also showed exceptional talent while young and first studied music at Wells and in Ithaca. She then won the only full three year scholarship given by the Peabody Conservatory at that time. At the conclusion of her studies, she gave a successful recital in which Ernest Hutcheson, international virtuoso, served as her accompanist. Muriel studied in Europe, graduating with distinction from the conservatory in Geneva. She played first violin in the Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland Symphony orchestras. In later years, she returned to Union Springs, teaching violin at Wells and performing for many area organizations. On May 6, 1949 and not feeling well, she visited the office of Dr. Norman Woodford, located just across the street from her home. Shortly after arrival at "Doc" Woodford's office, she died suddenly leaving memories of her mellow tones and spirited, pure attacks on the violin to those who enjoyed her musical excellence.

In 1888, who would ever have imagined that two young girls, who studied piano in a Cayuga Street living room under the guidance of their mother, would become such accomplished and internationally recognized virtuosos? During Women"s History Month, we are honored to remember the sisters Abbott for the joy and pleasure they brought to our forebears.

March is Women's History Month, a time to commemorate study, observe and celebrate the vital role women have played in American history. In recognition, our March Hidden Heroes will focus on the accomplishments of notable women from our area.

"A skillful pilot of steam vessels and a competent and reliable engineer" is how Vernie Yates McGulpin was described on a canal boat pilots' license issued to her in 1904 by the State of New York. This license was granted to her at age 18, the earliest age at which she could receive it making her the only woman in upstate New York to be so qualified. Up until that time, Vernie had piloted vessels under a permit. In 1898, at age 12, Vernie and her parents moved from Auburn to 19 Center St. in Union Springs. Vernie's father, William Henry Yates, was a boat captain and noted artist. Together the duo traveled the Finger Lakes and Erie Canal in his 38 foot steam yacht, Vernada, while her mother ran a successful dressmaking business in Auburn employing seven seamstresses. Her mother's successful business provided the family income enabling her father to pursue a career as an artist. The Vernada was a wonderful traveling art studio for William and a great adventure for Vernie, as its pilot from an early age. Vernie recounted how they felt very safe among the canalers, known to be a rough and tumble crowd to those outside the business, but whom Vernie described as loyal and honest to their own.

Yates described his daughter as growing up on the "heelpath of the canal, like a colt." Numerous newspaper articles have shared Vernie's recollection of canal days. In one, she shares a memory of being tied up at a little town along the canal and needing milk. The lock tender directed them to the local Post Office where they found a cow in the back room. The cow generously provided a quart of very fresh milk. Vernie was surprised that the milk had not been stirred up with a buggy whip handle as she had often seen done by a Union Springs farmer and peddler.

Vernie once took up painting in her father's studio but gave it up at age six. Music had a greater appeal for Vernie who studied it at Wells later teaching in her home and directing the Union Springs and Sherwood High School orchestras. Vernie's own orchestra played at Emily Howland's 100th birthday celebration and Vernie recalled how disgusted Miss Howland was that no one noted her 101st!

Vernie left not only a legacy of musical memories but gave a great gift to future generations when, in 1973 at age 87, she penned her recollections of 74 years in Union Springs. From her reminiscences we learned of Saturday evening band concerts held on the lawn of the Backus mansion (where the present day Post Office is located) and of huge bonfires made from wooden boxes in the middle of what is now Route 90 held at midnight on July 3 to start the July 4 celebration. Vernie stated that "in those days, people knew their neighbors, and ours was a close knit community. In time of trouble or sorrow, the neighbors would rally round and do all they could to help in any way possible. And some of that beautiful spirit still survives." Wouldn't she be thrilled to know that spirit continues today!

Stay tuned for more! Linda Albrecht, member of our Curating and Exhibition Team, is currently preparing an exhibit honoring present day local women who have contributed much to our area, not unlike Vernie. Their backgrounds and experiences will surprise you and you will never view them the same. Their stories will soon be featured in the store front windows of 151 Cayuga St. We encourage you to visit this display (possibly with a child or grandchild?) to learn and share their accomplishments. We are indebted to Eric and Frances Rosenkrans, longtime museum members and volunteers, for providing this exhibition space.

Seed and garden catalogues are arriving in mailboxes every day. Many, such as Burpee and Stark's, are sources for the Adams Elderberry, a plant known for its large clusters of fragrant, white flowers that appear in spring, followed by clusters of dark purple to black berries in late summer to fall. The fruit of the elderberry can be harvested for making wine and jam or left on the plant to provide food for wildlife. William Wallace Adams (1841-1922), who resided at the corner of Homer and Ridgeway Streets in Union Springs, was the champion grower and cultivator of this plant, improving the common elderberry into a fruit as large as currents and with a delectable flavor. While his home is now gone, his legacy and reputation as a plantsman continues today in the sale of every Adams elderberry bush.

During his life, Adams was regarded by archeologists as the greatest collector of Eastern Indian relics. In a 1914 interview with the Citizen, Adams stated that he personally unearthed 55,000 specimens many of which reside in the foremost of museums where they are properly preserved and valued more highly as time goes by. One of his greatest finds was that of a wampum belt dating from the 1400's which was unearthed from a chief's burying ground north of Union Springs. Adams told in the interview that a friend took the belt with him to England and, with little knowledge of its value, sold it to the British Museum for $40. A check of the British Museum's online catalogue does indeed confirm its ownership of this belt by sadly, no credit is given to Adams for the find. Adams claimed to have been guided to his finds by premonitions which came to him during sleep. Upon awakening, he would go straight to the localities seen in his dream and find those items. A hat, embellished with intricate beadwork and which he wore on many of these finds, can be seen below and is prominently displayed in the Lake Room of our museum. For years, archeologists claimed that area Native Americans had never used flint fish hooks yet Adams found one which resides today in the Smithsonian Museum. Closer to home, many of the artifacts found by Adams are housed in the William Pryor Letchworth Museum located at beautiful Letchworth State Park. Letchworth was a valued customer of Adams.

Not a man of letters, Adams earned the name of "Professor" from locals and colleagues who sought out his vast knowledge of Native Americans, all of which was readily shared, yet never printed. A man of many talents, Adams also took pride in his having moved over 1,000 buildings in his lifetime.

Today the roots of Adams work continue to grow in Union Springs as several of his ancestors return each summer to enjoy the beauty of our lake and village.

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