News & Announcements

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

When Harriet Willey, aged 73, and Sally Shorter, aged 100, died within two hours of each other in 1874, their deaths were reported as news in several New York State papers. They had lived as next door neighbors in what was then known as "Pious Hollow" in the village of Cayuga. Today we know Pious Hollow as the area of Genesee St., just east of Route 90. These women had been neighbors for fifty years and members of the same church for 40, thus sharing a deep friendship. Harriet's obituary included the news of Sally's passing and stated "We trust that as they passed from their same earthly they entered their same heavenly home."

Sally, who was affectionately known as "Aunty" to village residents, often made treats for parties held by the ladies of the village. Children would excitedly visit her as she provided them with cookies, candy and doll clothes, but first demanding politeness from each child. "Aunty" was also known for growing the most delicious peaches and plums and freely shared these too with children. She won the hearts and admiration of her friends and neighbors with her fruit and earned their respect by her character.

Harriet, born in Ridgefield CT.,was the daughter of Abijah and Amelia Bulkeley Benedict. The Benedict and Bulkeley families have deep roots in America having emigrated from England to Massachusetts in the early 1600's. Harriet's ancestors included colonial civic leaders, Revolutionary soldiers and even a minister whose private collection of books became the nucleus of the first library at Harvard. Harriet married John Willey, a shoemaker, in Connecticut in 1825. They moved to Cayuga shortly thereafter, first showing on the 1830 census.

Sally first appeared as living in Cayuga in the 1820 census with her husband, Charles, and one son. Charles, a farmer, died in 1851. According to Florence McIntosh's History of the Village of Cayuga written in 1927, Sally was born a slave in the West Indies around 1775. McIntosh further states that Sally was sent to New York by her mistress and freed upon arrival. On the 1850 census, Charles listed his birthplace as Maryland and his age as 80. An African American born in 1770 in Maryland was likely to have been born into slavery. While no records of their family exist, a detailed description of the Shorter home, and its history, appears in Sites Relating to the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life. Their home is deemed significant as it was the home of two African American community leaders, manumitted from slavery. Their home is further described as a rare surviving example of a "shanty" built by freed African Americans.

Shorter Home today
Shorter Home before restoration

1859 map of village of Cayuga

The mere fact of its survival lends great importance to its place in the history of the settlement of freed African Americans in Cayuga County in the first half of the 19th century.

Despite their very different backgrounds and experiences, Sally Shorter and Harriet Willey forged an enduring friendship, relevant today as an example to which we can all aspire.

In late 1800's, Charley B, champion race horse, was to Union Springs as Secretariat is to America today. In 1869, Charley B was bred by Charles Burlew, thus his name. When three years old, he was purchased by James Burlew. In 1884, part ownership of Charley B was transferred to Glenn B. Flinn, who together with Burlew, would go on to own the Champion Stock Farm, located south of Union Springs and noted for breeding many winners of the day.

Charley B was described as a large, handsome bay, imposing in form and of superb individuality. He was a prize winner in the show ring, defeating many competitors and very well known beyond Cayuga County. When 20 years old, he achieved a score of 97 3/4 points on the Wallace Scale, the highest score every achieved and a record he held until his death in 1896. On the turf, Charley B was most successful trotting in 27 races achieving 23 first place wins, two seconds, one third and one fourth. Burlew maintained that Charley B could defeat any horse that did not have over him 5 seconds in speed because he had the credentials of a race horse: head, heart and handiness. Most notable, his winnings were achieved without every having a workout on any track. Fortunately Charley B could swim like a duck.

As there was no race track in this area, his training consisted mainly of working in the stone quarries and swimming. After a day's work, Charley B would swim to Frontenac Island (almost a mile away) and when he felt rested, he would make the return swim. Once he swam the entire distance across Cayuga Lake, a feat never repeated as it was too tiring. Despite his lack of the blood of a Hambletonian, the standard breed of many American trotters, Charley B sired 27 offspring with many of whom grew to become champion racers with national recognition. At the time of his death, Charley B received a two column obituary in the Syracuse Herald. His remains were interred on the Champion Stock Farm and marked by a large obelisk quarried from the stone where he worked. Today the marker is preserved on a farm near his grave, no longer visible from Route 90 south of Union Springs. The Herald reported "Another of the few good sires that was owned in central New York passes into oblivion and the chances are that no one of his sons can equal, not to say excel, the showing made by their dead sire which, in the writer's estimation, is to be regretted."

James Burlew was a well-educated man who taught school before coming to Union Springs in 1862. He started a livery stable located at the foot of Homer St. and also bought a 200 acre farm, where he raised the finest horses which were devoted exclusively to fast trotters.

Glenn Flinn, born in Springport in 1860, formed a full partnership in the farm with Burlew in 1888. Together they specialized in raising the finest racing horses. Their partnership continued until 1893 when Flinn assumed full responsibility for Champion Stock Farm. Both achieved national prominence in the field of horse breeding having almost 100 horses in their stable at any one time, many of whom were brood mares.

Flinn trained and raced his own horses and even developed a race track at the southeast corner of Ridge and Number One Roads. Races held there in 1895 included competitions for trotters, pacers, a running race and even free-for-all races for trotters and pacers. Purses ranged from $50 to $100. Flinn was also one of the founders of the New York State Fair. Burlew died in 1905 and Flinn in 1932 leaving many descendants in the area.

Note: Visit the Video Section on the museum's website to view audio recordings and recollections of growing up in Union Springs by Harry Flinn. Harry, born in 1925, was the grandson of Glenn Flinn.

On a wall in the attic of 13 Cayuga St. in Union Springs, written in pencil, is the name Junius Irving. Junius (1870-1927) was the eldest of the four children of John and Lydia Parr Irving, whose family owned the home from 1907-1946. John Irving was a Cayuga Lake schooner master and esteemed artisan known for carving stone for the earliest buildings on the Cornell campus as well as many of the marble grave markers found in our local cemeteries. His obituary states that his ability at this trade earned him the friendship of Ezra Cornell.

As a traveling salesman of printing and book materials, Junius left Union Springs for Kansas City in the late 1890's with his Union Springs' neighbor and friend, Harold Graves. He was armed with an idea - one that would eventually achieve national scope. For several years, Irving had been intrigued with new loose leaf devices and was known to spend hours working with small bits of metal wire, a paste pot and other materials used in book binding. Night after night he would work at the idea of a book in which the leaves would be held together with three metal rings which could be opened to insert additional leaves. As a salesman, such a book would be very useful as it could accommodate changing products and prices.

Irving located a fellow Kansan, William Pitt, a pattern maker, machinist, and manufacturer of novelties. The outgrowth of that partnership was the establishment of the Irving-Pitt Manufacturing Co. in 1904 and the successful manufacturing of the first spring actuated three ring notebook in a small second story loft in Kansas City.

As its practicality became apparent, demand increased and the enterprise moved to its own three-story building by 1907. By 1927, the business had additional establishments in Chicago and New York City, employing over 1,200 employees with revenue exceeding $1,000,000. Agencies had also been established in all the principal cities of Europe, the Far East, South America, Australia and Canada making their products universally attainable

The young man from Union Springs and his idea had achieved millionaire status. He never forgot his roots, visiting this area often and, according to recollections by Allen Hammond, bought the home at 13 Cayuga St. for his parents. When viewing his signature on the attic wall, one has to wonder, did this plant the seed for needing a better means on which to record his name?

In 1927, while vacationing with business associates at his 400 acre estate on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin, Irving's canoe capsized and he drowned. Ironically, the boy raised on the shores of Cayuga Lake could not swim. Active pall bearers included his childhood friend from Union Springs, Harold Graves. Notable among the 23 honorary pall bearers were several judges and the mayor of Kansas City. Irving left, in trust for his wife, over $1.5 million dollars and the business, which was valued at $3 million. In 1929 the company merged with Wilson-Jones which would become part of ACCO, which today encompasses Swingline, Mead, Trapper Keeper and more. Junius' widow, Anna Elno Irving, passed away in 1944, leaving a checking account balance of almost $350,000 and a trust fund in excess of $1.6 million. In her will, she specified several close friends to oversee the disbursement of valuable paintings and household contents,. One of those selected was her husband's valued and lifelong friend, Harold Graves, who had continued in that role long after Junius' death.