News & Announcements

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

On March 18, 1911 the following obituary appeared in the Union Springs Advertiser:

Entered Into Rest

Softly, as night fades into day, passed Mrs. Eunice Wolley into the light of the eternal day. Thus ended here a beautiful life, leaving behind it a radiant after-glow.

Nearly eighty-two years ago in Marlboro, NY, was born Eunice Walley (sic). She was the daughter of Abraham and Hannah Wolley and the youngest of six children. Her early life was spent on the farm. In this country home she learned to love nature passionately, to see beauty in everything and the stillness of the country appealed to her - it gave opportunity for thought and imagination.

It was while visiting a cousin, Mrs. Daniel Yawger, that she met Philip H. Yawger to whom she was married in 1857. After her marriage, her life was spent in this community and was a bright, loving, unselfish one having the welfare of home, family and friends every uppermost. To her were given four sons to whom she gave devoted mother love and to the three motherless ones, left Mr. Yawger by a former marriage, she gave the love they craved taking them with their father into her heart.

Mrs. Yawger's home life spoke of her character. Refinement, purity in language and action, hospitality so delightful, and the welcome in look and word, which means so much. She was extremely fond of company and the hour spent with her was not time idly spent, one always carried away some thought inspiring, or some incentive to better things.

In every place where she had an interest, she was most efficient.

From knowledge of the past, we realize that a rich local history of challenges to the intellect was provided by the former presence of several esteemed academic institutions. Both Oakwood Seminary and the former Howland College, together with nearby Wells College, challenged women to new levels of education and knowledge. This history, coupled with the emergence of the Gilded Age, a period of beautiful clothes and near luxury living, likely prompted Eunice Wolley Yawger to encourage her friends and family to explore the newly available wealth of knowledge and information.

On October 21, 1896, Mrs. Yawger invited a few female friends to her home at 109 Cayuga St. in Union Springs and the Leisure Hour Literary Club was formed. Its objective, as set down so many years ago, "shall be for the mutual improvement and broader social and intellectual life." Meetings were held regularly to allow members some pleasure with each other through a guest lecture, musical or other entertainment, followed by a social hour. On one of these occasions, 60 members and guests met at Mrs. Yawger's home on South Cayuga St. Leisure Hour meetings were so meaningful in the community that front page coverage of a full column in length was often reported in detail by the Union Springs Advertiser, the local paper.

Eunice Wolley Yawger is credited not only for organizing the club, but also serving as its president for many years. Today, 125 years since its founding at 109 Cayuga St., Leisure Hour Literary Club members continue to regularly meet and study the arts, history, literature and other topics, a record which has endured continuously since the club's inception. In its early years, Leisure Hour met on Tuesdays rather than their current practice of Monday. One can speculate that this choice of a meeting day was made as Monday was wash day. All linens and clothing would therefore be fresh and ready for entertaining on Tuesday.

Below is the first written program.

Gone are the servants who provided members with more time for reading and entertaining. And long gone is Eunice Wolley Yawger, as is the home in which Leisure Hour Literary Club was formed. Leisure Hour, however, continues to this day and will be celebrating its 125th anniversary this October. Little did Eunice Yawger and the group of women who met in her home in 1896 envision such a strong and enduring legacy which provided a way for women to pursue knowledge and an understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Updated: Jun 21

The Civil War challenged the lives of many - both men and women. Some women provided medical care for the sick and wounded by serving as nurses. Others formed aid societies to help both Union and Confederate soldiers. Some canned food, sewed uniforms, blanket and socks and even did laundry for the troops. Women such as Harriet Tubman, Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton and Harriet Beecher Stowe served in ways which resulted in them becoming household names even today. Brave women who wanted to get closer to the front lines served as soldiers, albeit disguised as men.

But what was the plight of the wife and mother from a small rural town? We only need to look at Deborah Carr Hoff of Union Springs to understand what they endured. Deborah (1833-1918) was the eighth of fourteen children born to Hartman and

Ann Brock Carr. In 1857, Deborah was married to Ezekiel (Esek) Winegar Hoff who served for two years, ten months, first as a Sergeant, then rising to the rank of First Lieutenant, in Company K of the 111th New York Infantry. Esek's heroic story of survival is recounted in his letters home and offers insight into the life of a Yankee soldier. His is a story which begs to be told but on another day.

Hoff enlisted in the second year of the war and during the fifth year of his marriage to Deborah. Their only child at the time, Edwin, was a mere nine months old. In the twenty-nine letters written by Deborah to Esek and found by their great great grandson, Ken Harris, in the attic of their home located at 17 Center St. in Union Springs, Deborah shares her privations and concerns, concerns which mirror those of the thousands of other women facing similar circumstances. The Frontenac is indebted to Ken for providing transcriptions of both Deborah's letters and also Esek's letters too, which totaled over 200.

With her husband away at the war Deborah had many responsibilities to address. The work her husband would have done fell to her, and work she could not do would have to be hired out. With so many men away at war there were few men available to hire. Men like Esek who volunteered for service were paid a bounty for enlisting by the Federal and State and sometimes by local governments. Most of these bounties were paid in monthly installments, so although her husband was due bounty payments they came in small amounts each month and sometimes the payments were delayed or missed. While the bounty money was very important to the families, the men away at the war also needed some cash to pay for things that were not supplied by the Army. Although they were supposed to receive pay during their service, Army pay was inconsistent and sometime not received. So Deborah wrote to her husband: "I would like to know if you're going to have pay this winter or not." And then again, "You spoke of some money. I will send you some if you say so, but I have not got a dollar.... I have no bounty yet."

War news was constant, but never reliably accurate. Families understandably wanted to know when their loved ones were in areas known to be under fire. Families in a community where many men were assigned to the same regiment or company would exchange any news they received with other families desperate for word. So Deborah wrote, "I would like to know where your destination is going to be. I can't hardly sleep nights for worrying about it. Where will they send you?" And again, "Today I do not get any letters from you and I am in great trouble. There is not one that has had a single word but hope that it will turn out that you are all safe as yet."

Throughout the war there was constant action in and around Harper's Ferry, a large town near the border between Virginia and Maryland, and the location of a large Federal arms depot. The town changed hands several times during the war, first in Union hands then in Confederate, then back to Union again. So Deborah wrote, "It made me afraid when I hear you were sent to Harper's Ferry. I am afraid you will see fighting there....for they are mowing our men down like grass."

Raising a child with an absent father would certainly mean she would try very hard to keep his father's memory alive and she would want Esek kept informed about his son's milestones, so she wrote: "Your little boy tried to walk some but he has forgot Papa for I call you and he don't know what it means."

Postal Service was inconsistent and the Army did not concern itself with mail delivery. Each man had to tell his family where he was and where to address letters, as their company moved from one location to another. People who sent cash or packages would send separate inquiries to find out if their mail had gotten through, as many letters and packages were opened or stolen or simply misdirected and discarded as unable to deliver. So Deborah wrote, "This is a letter of inquiry to you to know if you get any of my papers that I send you....I have written three and I would like to know if you have got them." And again, "I went to the village this afternoon and thought I would get a letter from you and come back feeling so full that I wouldn't keep from crying and Eddie cried to that. I did not get any."

Money was in very short supply for people in rural areas. Barter was used for much commerce, as people had very little cash or savings. There were no government programs for the poor, and very few private charities. The years of the Civil War were known for their very cold winters, and the winter of 1864-65 was especially cold. The entire surface of Cayuga Lake froze that winter. People really needed warm clothing to survive. It was thought quite humiliating to ask for help, so Deborah wrote: "I shall have to have some clothes before long, so will Eddie, and that costs money so I shall live as close (i.e. inexpensively) as I can and try to do the best I can for my part." And again, "So father has paid me two dollars for what I have done and I shall send it to you. I thought that I would get a dress for I need one very much but I was afraid that you wanted some so I will send it but I want you to keep some...." And again, "I have thirteen cents left is all I have to buy what I get. But I am glad you have got some to help yourself with. Again but Eddie and I are as ragged as we can be for we must have some clothes sincerely for Eddie and I can't go without clothes."

Of all the problems Deborah experienced, none was worse than loneliness and despair. She spoke of this often, writing: I am well now but lonesome. That is worse than sickness to me", and "I am well with the exception of being lonesome living alone. I wish you could be home. If this war would end and let you all come home would be the happiest time ever known in these Northern States but there is not prospect of that until our men are killed off so there is none left on the face of the earth." As the weeks and months and years went by her anguish deepened and she wrote, "Sometimes I think that I would hardly turn my hand over to live another day if it were not for my little boy. For he is all I have left. You have gone from me and my cow is dead. I feel most discouraged." And continued to write: "If I could see one spark of hope that you would ever come home again I should have something to cheer me up but I can never see it."

Deborah's worries were not only for her husband but also for close family members serving in the war as well as neighbors, family and friends who remained in Union Springs. Life was fragile in the 1860's even without the war. Deborah's letters also convey the unfailing support she received from her parents, other family members and neighbors.

Esek did return to Deborah where, in 1867, the first of three more children were born to them. Their son Edwin, whose love and affection offered great strength to Deborah during the time Esek was at war, sadly drowned in Cayuga Lake in 1891 at age 30. Esek followed Edwin to Chestnut Hill Cemetery in 1913 and Deborah in 1918.

Photos of the Carr and Hoff family are many but one eludes us. We know from her letters to Esek that photos of Deborah and Edwin were taken yet none have ever been found. There are many Carr descendants alive today. Should any have a photo of Deborah, we would appreciate you contacting us at 315-889-5875. Ken Harris has been so kind to share these letters with us. A wonderful way to thank him would be finding a photo of Deborah.

Thank you to Guest Editor, Patricia Deller

When entering Union Springs from the north, one's eyes are drawn to the lovely pond and the historical marker proclaiming the old stone structure as Spring Mills erected in 1839-1840 by George Howland. As you venture further south, you see a street sign for Howland Street. If you have visited the Frontenac Museum, formerly the First Presbyterian Church of Springport, you may have noted the marker in the main room indicating the land on which the church was built was the gift of George Howland. Further down the street, yet another historical marker recognizes Howland College. It quickly becomes clear that George Howland played a prominent role in the earliest days of this village.

Howland (1781-1852) made his fortune as the major owner of a New Bedford, MA whaling fleet. Between 1830 and 1860, due to the high demand for oil to light the lamps of America, New Bedford became one of America's richest cities. It is believed that Howland visited this area but with certainty, we know that he never lived here. His shrewd business sense recognized the potential this area held. Rich land was inexpensive and plentiful. And there was that lovely North Pond which, to this day, never freezes in the winter. A man of vision and great business aptitude, it is believed Howland sought to invest in this area to diversify his whaling empire as protection against possible decline.

Howland sent his two sons, Charles and Robert, to develop successful businesses in Union Springs. At the North Pond, they built, what was at that time, the largest mill in Cayuga County. As this water source never froze, the mill had an edge over other area mills as it operated year round. A saw mill, cooper shop, (the remains of which are visible today) and other necessary service industries were built along a canal connected to the lake. The original mill still stands today as testimony to Howland's insight and wisdom.

Impressive homes were built for his sons, one of which was eventually occupied by his daughter Elizabeth Howland Chase and her husband, William Henry Chase, who also participated in the management of George Howland's local business interests.

In a section of an 1853 map of Union Springs (shown below), you will see many businesses and structures marked as belong to Howland or his son-in-law who is notated as WHC.

Those who are history and genealogy buffs look to their ancestors to learn about themselves. If we look to George Howland's family history, we can quickly surmise why he had the grit and determination to be so successful. You see, he is directly descended from John Howland of Mayflower fame. John arrived in the New World as an indentured servant and later became the executive assistant and personal secretary to the first governor of the Plymouth Colony, John Carver.

As every school child knows, the Mayflower encountered strong storms during its passage, causing the ship's timbers to be damaged and taking on sea water. These conditions , combined with a lack of food and unsanitary conditions for several months, contributed to sickness and the death of two onboard. Upon arriving in the New World, almost half the passengers perished in the harsh and unfamiliar New England winter. John Howland, however, survived these conditions and thrived. During one of the turbulent storms which occurred during the crossing, Howland fell overboard. Exercising his great grit and determination, John Howland managed to grab a topsail halyard (rope) that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely. If not for John, we would be living in a very different community! Thanks be to John!