"Sister Towns" - Stradling the border of NY & PA

Town of Genesee, Allegany County, NY

A few memories of Sawmills, Cheese Factories, Railroads, Some Personalities & some opinions along the one who lived in the Ceres area, 
Charlie Barrett.


Ceres PA Lumber Mill

Sawmill above at Ceres, PA

Hi Ron,

Well let me begin by saying that all of the lumber mill was completely in Ceres PA.

The original lumber mill was built by the son of one of the earliest pioneers of Ceres, George Smith, then it was taken over and run by the Cooper family who later sold out to Mr. White. He was very good friends with Mr. Van Wormer who owned it until it ceased operation in 1902 because they simply ran out of lumber. George Smith and Mr. Van Wormer both lived in Ceres, PA. The Coopers and Mr. White both lived on the NY side of the border. The Cooper home was (and still is) the oldest frame house in Ceres. There were originally four Cooper brothers. After they sold the mill in Ceres, two stayed in Ceres and the other two went to the top of Bell Run and set up another mill.

The mill was the main economic force in the Ceres area. Ceres at one time even had an opera house and three hotels. The owner of the general hotel noticed that the hotel on the PA side made a lot more money then he did. The reasons? It was because the PA side was able to serve liquor but Genesee, NY was a dry town and you couldn't get a drink on the NY side. Since the general hotel was built right beside the NY/PA border, the proprietor built an addition off the side of the hotel into the PA side and put a bar in this addition which was in PA.

There were three railroads and a trolley system that ran through Ceres over the years. The Bradford, Eldred & Cuba RR, The NY and PA RR (often referred to as the NIP), the Shawmut RR, and the Olean Traction Company which had its power plant in the Coliseum.

The Bradford, Eldred & Cuba RR and the NY&P RR were the first two. Both were narrow gauge rail roads. The Bradford railroad came up through Eldred, through Portville, Ran parallel to the NY&P to Ceres and continued on to Bolivar, through Allentown and on to Wellsville.  It had spurs to Cuba for a short time and also to Richburg.

The NY&P came out of Olean up through Portville to Ceres and then turned off above Ceres to go to Shinglehouse, Oswayo, to Genesee PA, Whitesville, Rexville and finally Canisteo, NY.

The Shawmut RR bought up parts of both the Eldred & Bradford RR and the NY&P RR, made some improvements to the RR grades and curves, and changed the track to standard gauge track. The Eldred and Bradford RR and the NY&P both had spurs going into the saw mill. They hauled all of the lumber from the mill. The Shawmut came along about the time the mill closed and I don't think hauled any lumber. However, when Saint Mary's Catholic Church was torn down in Olean, part of the lumber was brought to Ceres and a small Catholic church was built on the NY side. Many of the Shawmut RR track crew lived in Ceres. They were of Italian ancestry and devout Catholics This church only lasted until about 1915 when they were required by the Catholic Dioceses in Buffalo NY to attend church in Portville.  This church was torn down and I have heard that the lumber was used to build a garage.

The Shawmut RR grade from Portville, thru Ceres, thru Genesee, thru Bolivar and Richburg to Friendship is all an uphill grade. I have seen many coal trains coming through Ceres at high speed in order to make the hills ahead. ---- It was a cold and rainy day and the wind was coming out of the west blowing hard. The coal train was coming from the west also at high speed. Mira King, author of "The History of Ceres" was walking home from visiting relatives in Ceres Pa. She had her umbrella down shielding her face from the blowing rain and couldn't see the train.. Between the sound of the storm and her poor hearing, she never heard the train coming. She walked directly into the side of the speeding locomotive and died a few hours later.

When the trolley line was laying track through Ceres to Olean the RR saw the trolley as a threat to their passenger traffic and built a turn around spur across Ceres to the hillside so that the trolley would have to cross their right of way to go to Olean. This action led to blows between the trolley builders and the RR track crews. It ended up being a draw but shortly afterwards the courts ordered the RR to open the spur to the trolley so it could cross over it. There were some very rich and influential investors in the trolley line who could hurt the RR economically so the RR company wisely backed down.

Van Wormer Lumber Mills

A side note to the mill was that a gentleman named Mr. Blaisdale invented a kindling making machine that turned slabs from the mill to kindling wood that was bundled and shipped to NY City by rail for starting fires. His invention was used in several of the local mills and made him quite wealthy. He at one time lived just outside Ceres on the NY side. One of the older residents, Mrs. Rounds, told me as a girl she delivered the newspaper from the RR station to his house. She said that you could always tell when the Blaisdale carriage came into town. It was easy to tell as it was the finest in town.

The Blaisdale family later moved to Bradford PA. The son inherited his fathers knack for inventing. He made the first Zippo lighter in his fathers garage in Bradford. George Blaisdale is well know as the founder of the Zippo lighter company.

Jobs in Ceres were plentiful and anyone could earn a living if they so desired. Lumbering, farming, harness making, wagon makers, store owners, blacksmithing, etc.  The station masters log shows that one year 10,000 barrels of apples were shipped from Ceres to NY City. There was an abundance of Oak lumber to make wooden barrels. The farmers could slice the apples into thin slices and dry them in the sun and pack them into the barrels Then load them onto the farm wagon and haul them to the RR station for shipping. The farmers could also sell dairy products door to door. I even used to help my grandmother bottle milk, churn butter, make cottage cheese to sell directly from the farm. A couple of cows paid the land taxed on a beautiful 80 acre farm. Today all of these ways to make money are illegal and that is sad.

Ceres had a cheese factory as did dozens of town around. Making cheese was the best way to preserve milk before mechanical refrigeration. However, people in Albany in their misguided stupidity decided that cheese makers must change their way of making cheese. That the cheese makers must buy stainless steel cheese making equipment that costs more than a small cheese maker can afford driving most of them completely out of business. The old cheese maker from Shinglehouse, where some of the finest cheese was made, told me that one day the state man came in and told him that he had to buy all new equipment and refurbish the entire working area. The old fellow told the state man that he would do no such thing and closed the doors. Cheese has be made for thousands of years ever since the first man met the first cow. No where was it ever written that someone died from eating cheese or even getting sick from it.

The old McDowell store at the corner of NY rte 417 and rte 44 in Ceres would have a huge wheel of cheese on the counter and would cut slabs of it to sell to the customers. it wasn't wrapped in sanitary plastic as we see today. You told the clerk how much you wanted and he would cut it and wrap it in brown grocery paper for you to take home. Crackers were shipped in on the railroads packed in barrels. The barrels made really great checkerboard tables. The old timers could sit around the pot bellied stove, gossip, and play checkers all day long. The trouble with the old pot bellied stoves is that a person would be too hot on the side facing the stove but the side facing away was cold. You had to rotate like a chicken on a spit to keep warm. A couple of these stoves got too hot and caused some pretty serious fires in Ceres. Some fires took out a good portion of the town on both sides of the border.

However, one of the fires was started by the fellow who had his car parked in a shed attached to a store. He couldn't see how much gas was left in his gas tank so he lit a match so that he could see better. It was one of the old cars that had the tank just in front of the windshield. The tank was there because in those days the gasoline was fed by gravity down to the engine. He never did find out how much gas he had because the tank exploded and set the store and several others afire.

Well, I guess I've rambled on enough. I hope this answers some questions.

Charlie B 11/13/07