top of page

Hidden Hero - William Wallace Adams

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.


bottom of page