News & Announcements

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

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.

How many times have you passed this historical marker located at the intersection of Routes 34B and the Fleming Scipio Townline Road and wondered why George Fleming was being remembered with this sign? From this sign, we know that the Town of Fleming was named for him in 1823 but what made him significant?

At the onset of the Revolutionary War, Fleming received a commission in the Continental Army as a First Lieutenant in Henry Knox's Regiment of the Continental Artillery. During his first few years of enlistment, he was posted along the Hudson River at West Point, Chester and the Highlands where he observed the capture, trial and execution of Major Andre, as recorded in his diary. In 1781, Fleming was assigned to the staff of French Lt. Col. Louis de Portail, Commander of the Allied French and American Artillery, who were responsible for the creation of the bastion at West Point. In 1785, Fleming became the Commander of West Point which, at that time, housed the military stores of the Continental Army. General George Washington considered West Point to be the most important strategic position in America. Fleming, with the support of Henry Knox and Alexander Hamilton, desiring to eliminate America's wartime reliance on foreign engineers and artillerists, urged the creation of an institution at West Point devoted to the arts and sciences of warfare. These efforts continued following the conclusion of the war with Thomas Jefferson signing legislation establishing the United States Military Academy in 1802.

As a reward for his military service, Fleming received extensive land in this area resulting in the building of the home we see today. In 1806, Fleming and his family moved into this home which contrasted significantly from the surrounding log cabins of the area and reflected the wealth and interests of Fleming. His ninety-eight volume library was notable not only for the number of volumes, but for the numerous volumes of military related books. When the War of 1812 broke out, Fleming was placed in command of Fort Oswego as Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the defense and protection of the frontier against British invasion. As such, Fleming commanded 400-500 soldiers. Fleming next was appointed Quartermaster of Indian Troops in Buffalo serving in this capacity during several frontier wars and numerous internal conflicts. In 1816, Governor Tompkins appointed Fleming as Brigadier General of Porter's Volunteers in recognition of his military success.

Following his retirement from military service, Fleming enjoyed the life of gentleman farmer. His life of devoted military service was honored upon his death in 1822. Two companies of grenadier and dragoon soldiers led the procession from his home which included the General's horse with his boots reversed in their stirrups. The procession was met three miles south of Auburn by officers of three local military regiments, in full uniform. The church bells of Auburn tolled from 2:00 pm until sundown with cannons firing at regular intervals. Citizens joined the procession as it marched to muffled drums to St. Peter's Episcopal Church. The procession continued to the North Street Cemetery in Auburn where the general was buried. During the evening, the Auburn guards fired volleys over his grave. This indeed was a fitting tribute to a military great whose persistence led to the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point - the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.

Credit to Sheila Saft Tucker, Fleming Historian, who wrote an extensive account of Fleming in her book written in 1973 "The Township of Fleming, Cayuga County, New York" providing most of the information for this article.

"Under the utmost oppression of sorrow, I inform you that our dear Brother Elisha is no more. He expired without a sigh or groan on the 21st of August last. He died in the full faith of Christ and love to God. He has gone the way of all flesh but God the everlasting God will be our comforter, and we must soon appear before the same God for pardon and acceptance in the merits of our redeemer. He often looked wishfully at me and shed a tear or two over his dear children who were crying by his bed he attempted to speak but in vain at last fixing his eyes toward heaven he repeated these beautiful words "In thy hands I commit my soul" for thou hast redeemed me thru God of my salvation and then closed his eyes never to be opened until the sound of the last trumpet.

Elisha's funeral was attended by a great concourse of people, it was supposed that there were one thousand people that attended his funeral, there were eighty carriages and waggons (sic) numbered. There is a meeting house erected but a little distance from Elisha's. He gave two hundred dollars toward the house and likewise two acres of land for a building spot and buring (sic) ground and he had a great anxiety that the Gospel should be preached there and he is that first one that was laid in the new and solitary grave yard."

These somber words were written in 1819 by Mary Durkee Fuller to her sister, Anna Durkee Tracy, relating the death of their brother and early Cayuga County settler, Elisha Durkee. They were transcribed from a copy on file at the Cayuga County Historian's Office, Auburn, NY. the cemetery referenced in the letter is Oak Ridge Cemetery located on Route 326 on the outskirts of Union Springs. That a "concourse of people" attended Elisha's funeral speaks to the importance of the deceased.

Elisha and Hannah Gore Durkee first arrived in Cayuga County in the fall of 1789, settling several miles north of Aurora. Both the Gore and Durkee families had been deeply involved in the Indian Wars of Wyoming County Pennsylvania. Hannah, the daughter of Judge Obadiah Gore, endured the very worst of the wars witnessing death, destruction and extreme cruelty. An account of these incredible experiences, as told by Hannah herself, can be found at this link:

Elisha and Hannah were the parents of Betsey Durkee, the first white child born in Cayuga County in December of 1789. The Durkees continued to witness horrific acts against the earliest settlers of our area but they endured finally settling near Scipio Center where they raised a family of 12 children with Hannah dying in 1855. Today's challenges seem great to us but to the Durkee's and other early settlers, they would be nothing.